By Breeana Greenberg
With all three candidates running unopposed for this November’s City Council race, the current council will hold a special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 25, to consider appointing the candidates to the open seats and canceling the upcoming local election.
The seats for Dana Point’s Districts 1, 2 and 3 are open for the Nov. 8 election. However, each district only has one candidate seeking office—incumbent Councilmember Jamey Federico (D3); John Gabbard (D1), chairperson for the city’s Planning Commission; and Matthew Pagano (D2), the chief financial officer of Pan-Pacific Mechanical.
In the circumstance where candidates are running unopposed, California Elections Code allows a City Council to hold a vote to appoint certified candidates for the open seats, which will save taxpayer money—in Dana Point’s case, the Orange County Registrar of Voters estimates the city would save between $30,516 and $37,339.
Speaking with Dana Point Times, both Gabbard and Pagano said they still intend to spend the months leading up to November participating in meet-and-greets and talking with their constituents about their concerns.
While the city might not see council race this fall, Federico noted that the new makeup of the dais will still comprise individuals with varying perspectives.
“Healthy discussion and seeing opposite sides of issues is always good for the city,” Federico said, adding, “it’s still healthy for Dana Point, even though we aren’t going to have a contested election.”
Asked for his thoughts on this year’s race having few candidates seeking elected office, Federico posited that people in Dana Point are just generally happy.
“I like to think that people are happy in Dana Point and there aren’t people that feel that they have a lot of negative issues that they wanted to run on,” Federico said.
Leading up to Thursday’s special meeting, the DP Times surveyed the candidates on their goals for the position and main issues facing Dana Point.
What are three issues that you would like to prioritize as a Dana Point City Councilmember? What will your goals be for your term as a councilmember?
Certainly, neighborhood security, making sure that we have clean beaches, making sure that we are fiscally conservative and that we’re watching taxpayers’ money closely and that we are doing responsible development.
We need to come to a conclusion on (short-term rentals) … and then after that, I’d like to see us finish up on the Town Center Plan and then get to work on Doheny Village … Those are the top three, the other one is the desalination plant. South Coast Water District has the lead on it but I think it’s important for all of us to keep an eye on it, make sure it happens.
Other things I want to work on are things like decreasing the amount of time it takes homeowners or property owners to get through the design review process and getting a building permit. It’s quite a lengthy process and anything that we can do to make that streamlined, I think we’re going to be better off.
Just from my background, I want to make sure that the city is financially set up and being prudential with the taxpayers’ funds and making sure that the budgets run accordingly.
One thing that you see manifest in other cities, not so much in Dana Point, but I just want to make sure that we’re continuing to invest in law enforcement, making sure that law enforcement is getting what they need in order to keep everybody safe.
Controlled growth would be a big goal of mine as a local. While development is important, I think we need to ensure that it is done in a controlled and paced manner such that there’s not unintended consequences like traffic issues, keeping the values that Dana Point has had for a long time.
On a philosophical level, to provide stable, dependable leadership, maintaining a great city staff, and working through that strategic plan. We approved an updated strategic plan in April of 2022 and my goal for the next four years is to work through it.
One of the highest priority issues is going to be the pedestrian connectivity and infrastructure improvement on Doheny Park Road and Coast Highway, I think that’s really important for the community. Another initiative is quality of service in City Hall and customer service-oriented attitude at City Hall, helping residents solve every myriad of issues that they might have.
What experience do you bring to the City Council? How does your background inform your approach to the position?
Seventeen years in the Marine Corps … plus another 26 years of homebuilding experience as an executive … Certainly, having a business background and understanding how business finance works and what are the levers that they need to push in order to make their businesses be successful is a big help.
The other part of it is, my public service experience helps me understand what being in government and doing the work of the people means and how important it is.
I have a local perspective, but as a businessman, I have advanced degrees in finance and leadership.
I’ve ran and consulted for very large, sophisticated companies across a multitude of industries: nonprofit, for-profit, education, hospitals, construction, landscape, banking. So, I ran the gamut from that perspective.
I think it lends a diverse perspective on and vantage point on solving business issues.
Prior to becoming a councilmember, I was a Marine officer for 22 years and I think that my experience in the Marines makes me approach issues from a very pragmatic, practical perspective.
I’m always more interested in finding the practical solution to issues and cutting out the emotion and getting to a solution that works for people.
My experience on the City Council has been invaluable. It’s a steep learning curve once you get on the City Council to become a good councilmember, to become effective.
With the average rent in Dana Point in 2019 at $1,663 for a one-bedroom apartment, $2,088 for a two-bedroom, and $2,795 for a three-bedroom according to the Dana Point Housing Element, and the median home cost above $1.5 million, according to Zillow, what, if anything, do you believe the city should do to address lack of affordable housing?
It’s a problem. I’m all for public-private partnerships in order to help address it. If we can find some excess land and we can use that to create some workforce housing, I’m all for it.
If it’s vacant and it’s not earmarked for something and we can use it, do something like that, I would be a proponent.
Certainly, you can address that through new development with some type of housing that’s catered towards low-income. However, I think part of the allure of our town is that there’s value here and it brings a lot of different people.
The town has changed dramatically in the last 10 years as far as the citizens that occupy it and we need to ensure that we’re giving everybody an opportunity to live here, regardless of what their income is.
I don’t know that we want to wholesale change the dynamic beauty of our community by putting up a bunch of new housing, I think we’d have to take a phased approach and look at what our options are before addressing that.
I don’t know that there is a lot that the city should be doing. We can’t create more land in Dana Point and it’s a free-market system and people want to live here.
I don’t think we’ll ever meet demand for Dana Point but nonetheless, we will make sure that we’re in compliance with state directive on housing laws.
I think any future development will include various price points for housing to make sure that we’re in compliance with state laws and we have to understand that different price points of housing are important and helpful for our economy.
The Orange County Grand Jury pointed to a need for an emergency homeless shelter in South Orange County. What are your thoughts on the grand jury’s findings? How do you feel about how the city has addressed homelessness?
We in Dana Point have enough beds, in fact our count went down. From that standpoint, I don’t know if we need to expand our capacity. Certainly, other towns around us need to expand but from our standpoint, I think we’re fine.
If I was the supervisor, I would be looking for excess land where we could put a shelter up, but I think for what we need right now, I think we’re okay. I’m happy with what I’ve seen.
A couple years ago, you would drive up and down PCH and you’d see homeless people constantly out there and I think that the task force did a great job of identifying and frequent contact, making sure that there’s a facility available for them and then getting them off the streets has been an effective strategy.
Unless there is a great influx of new population, I would continue with the same program that we have.
We need to be equitable to all citizens, regardless of their financial or economic status in the community.
How deep that goes and how much is incumbent upon us, I would have to really take into consideration what’s been presented, what’s been instituted, what’s been successful, what have been the challenges and roadblocks there before I give you a particular response.
The county has the funds to provide homeless services and where they put those shelters; I’m not going to pretend to know where’s the best place. But the City of Dana Point has been very successful in utilizing the resources available and helping our homeless population get to sheltering.
I really think the long-term solution is permanent supportive housing, and that sheltering is not a solution. I serve on the Orange County Housing Finance trust, and we’ve helped fund projects for permanent supportive and low-income housing, and the shelters are not a solution.
I think the city has done a fantastic job with a very difficult issue. Our model works. We engage our homeless population, and we do everything we can to help them get to the services that are available to them.
What are your thoughts on short-term rentals and how do you believe council should address them?
I believe that so long as we’re not forcing short-term rentals into HOAs and that in the areas outside of the HOAs, that we are managing the party house syndrome and we are not turning neighborhoods into hotels, that there’s a certain amount of private property rights that every homeowner should have.
So to the extent that we’re not over saturating the market, and we’re not creating party houses, I think that it should be allowed.
Beyond the business code, I think that there needs to be a limitation on how much saturation you can have in the community. What that right number is, I’m open, in my personal opinions, I think it needs to be tied to housing stock.
Always, I think counsel should be taking into consideration the thoughts of the community. So, getting to know where the citizens stand on that I’d have to dig into more of the details.
Getting to know what the current status is, is really important before going in trying to make any changes, but I trust the direction of the previous council and I am a fan of the direction that council is going as far.
I think that the right people are there to be objective enough to listen to the citizens of the community and make the best decision going forward.
Short-term rentals have been in Dana Point since Dana Point has been a city. It’s an issue that we just need to solve. We will see what the Coastal Commission has to say about our draft policy in the coastal zone. And then we’ll go from there and we’ll solve this issue.
Ultimately, there needs to be a regulation passed outside the coastal zone and our city’s zoning doesn’t match up or overlay with the coastal zone and what the coastal zone looks like. So, after we learn from the Coastal Commission, how they feel about what that ordinance looks like in the coastal zone, we do need to have an ordinance that works with that one to solve this issue citywide.
What, if anything, do you believe the city should be doing to address coastal erosion and sea level rise, especially with its impact on Capistrano Beach?
I understand why Sunset Beach all the way down to Newport is going through this sand refurbishment bid. We’ve got the beaches down in Capo where they’re quickly eroding. There’s no easy answer for Beach Road.
To the extent that these new houses that are built, we’re bringing up out of the sea level rise predictions, so I think for the time being, that’s probably the best answer we’re going to have.
It’s absolutely happening. I have friends, dear friends that live down in Capo Beach on Beach Road, and it’s evident, you’ve seen the beach erode at—it’s eclipsed anybody’s suggestions or ideas of how fast it would happen.
So whatever would be in our power and authority to address it in order to preserve that part of the land there I think would be really important.
We need to work with all the agencies that have the resources to help address coastal erosion and figure out how best to get those resources focused to help solve the problem, particularly in south Dana Point.
With the construction on the Marina just beginning, though the harbor is county land leased to a private partnership, what do you think the city’s role is in overseeing this project?
Coming from a construction background, I want to make sure that they get these things delivered because it is going to really impact almost everybody in the Lantern District on a daily basis and all of us as we move around town. It’s going to have an impact, so the faster they get this done, the better off we’re all going to be.
My hope for the harbor is that for everybody that gets displaced, that we can find a new home for them. The good news for us is that it gives the rest of the city the opportunity to take these institutions that have been part of our social fabric for the last 50 years and find new homes for them elsewhere in the city where they can continue to thrive.
I am absolutely of the mind, unequivocally that the city should support local businesses. I’ve grown up going down to the Coffee Importers and Harpoon Henry’s, Wind & Sea, Beach Cities Pizza, which is now Beach Harbor Pizza, Turks.
That feels like Dana Point to me, and I’d want to preserve local businesses, such that they have a viable path forward regardless of what happens in the harbor.
The city has no official role in overseeing it.
We have done everything we can to make sure that the Harbor Partners understand what’s important to the residents of Dana Point but at the end of the day, it’s the county’s harbor and the county’s contract with the Dana Point Harbor Partners.
Thursday’s special council meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Council Chambers in City Hall, located at 33282 Golden Lantern, Dana Point.
Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at email@example.com