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By Roxanna Watrous, Dana Point

Regarding the Town Center-Lantern District, concerned Dana Point residents want to know:

  1. Exactly how much money have we spent on the Town Center project so far?
  1. As of right now, what have we gotten for our money?
  1. How long did it take Dana Point to save the money that was spent on Town Center?
  1. How long, in concrete numbers, before we get a return on our Town Center investment?
  1. How does around $20 million spent on palm trees and sidewalks financially incentivize developers or new desirable businesses to move into Dana Point Town Center?
  1. Aside from the Majestic Project, how many other Town Center projects are underway?
  1. Was the Majestic Project specifically enticed to develop base on our $20 million expenditure?
  1. If the primary goal of the Town Center Plan was to create a vibrant shopping district while maintaining our small beach town atmosphere, how does approving a high density apartment development that looks like a prison, achieve this?
  1. If we want a vibrant shopping district, why didn’t we pursue the types of businesses we want directly by providing tax breaks or other incentives instead of spending our money on palm trees and sidewalks? It’s like spending money on flowers to attract bees instead of just buying some honey.
  1. Moving forward, what measures will the current City Council take to curtail this path of wasteful spending and uphold its fiduciary duty to the taxpayers?

For more information on Dana Point residents’ concerns regarding the Town Center project, please contact local civic advocate and attorney Roxanna Watrous at roxannawatrous@gmail.com.

 

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About The Author Dana Point Times

comments (37)

  • 1&2, I believe we have received outstanding value. Fro example with low cost effective changes, it now feels like you arrive in actual town when traveling from north east or south.
    Rest of these questions are just trolling.
    We do need and want high quality middle class housing in walkable surrounding, exactly what DP can now provide if we are willing to implement reasonable parking policy, ie reduce ridiculously expensive parking minimums.
    Thanks to great leadership we are moving in the right direction, now let’s just pick up the pace a bit and create a town with real vibrant center we can be proud off.

    • I don’t believe Dana Point residents want our Town Center to be filled with middle class housing as you suggest. Taxpayers were led to believe they were spending $20 million to implement the Town Center Plan, providing a retail district with restaurants and stores in a pedestrian friendly village atmosphere.

      So far the results are very disappointing. We have three high density condo buildings entitled over the objections of hundreds of residents. City staff has admitted that the new, costly sidewalks were constructed too narrow to accommodate the desired pedestrian traffic. There is traffic congestion on PCH and a significant loss of street parking there. Del Prado businesses are suffering. New proposals by the City staff to change the Town Center Plan will encourage more residential development and there has been no effort to seek out and attract key businesses. And there is no long term parking plan and any proposal on how to pay for it.

      Hopefully the new City Council leadership will review results and ask the same questions before allocating more taxpayer money to Town Center. Concerned residents and taxpayers should always be asking the City the types of questions in the letter. The needs of all areas of Dana Point and the financial security of the entire City are major concerns and need to always be addressed.

      • I recognize a lot of anti middle class sentiment and that’s why I speak up. We need reasonable priced new housing in walkable surrounding, not more parking lots and high speed traffic.

        • The rest of the city is full of middle class housing. The Town Center is designated for shops/ restaurants. Why should the center of our town be housing too? Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose?

          As for traffic . . . that has gotten worse since the city implemented it’s “plan.” The only thing that would make it worse still, is high density housing located at the epicenter of the traffic problem.

          • Roxanna Watrous

            The rest of the city is full of middle class housing. The Town Center is designated for shops/ restaurants. Why should the center of our town be housing too? Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose?

            As for traffic . . . that has gotten worse since the city implemented it’s “plan.” The only thing that would make it worse still, is high density housing located at the epicenter of the traffic problem.

    • It’s seems that the dana pointer is Bob thiel. And of course he wants reduced parking so that he can build more units on his lot. Kinda self serving. We all want a vibrant town center and a place we want to be proud of. I believe we have the people to make it happen in place if they will stick to their guns.

      • Whether I am or not, why not let developers build as a great town, instead of paving paradise and putting in a giant parking lot?

  • I and many of my friends/relatives must say that the 10 questions were exactly what we wanted to voice. We do feel that politicians and supposedly civil service offices in Dana Point have not been putting the town and its residents on their priority list. In fact, one of my neighbors complained, “they are destroying the harbor.”

    Sorry and sadly to say this, “definitely we are beleiving that corruption is in town.”

    • Instead of trolling, show us some specific examples of actual corruption?

      • Danapointer- Since when is informing the public and our politicians of current political sentiments considered trolling? Olivia Ha is entitled to inform the politicians and public of her views. Public forums like this one are exactly how those ends are accomplished. Bravo Olivia for speaking up.

  • DanaPointer- I spoke up because I believe we can acheive the vision of a thriving pedestrian oriented Town Center full of shops, restaurants and entertainment that we were promised by our politicians. I’m going to speak to why my questions are important and what is wrong with our spending thus far. Then, I’m going to offer a framework for a solution.

    My questions are not trolling. They are the types of questions our politicians are required to ask and answer in order to meet their due diligence requirement to us, the residents and tax payers. Unfortunately, these types of questions were not asked despite Dana Point making the biggest expenditure in its history–$20 million plus dollars. It took our city roughly 15 years to save enough in reserves to spend this money. We are almost out of reserves. So palm trees and sidewalks are it in terms of major improvements that cost money…at least for the next fifteen years.

    To relate why I feel our money was poorly spent, I offer an analogy. Our $20 million plus spent on sidewalks and palm trees to attract shops and restaurants is like spending money on a football stadium then waiting for a team to show up. Or, more accurately, it’s like pouring a concrete sidewalk in the shape of a circle, lining it with palm trees then waiting for a football team to drive by, decide to invest their money to build a stadium then play there. Not only that, we’re also expecting that the right team comes along…the team we actually want (shops & restaurants as opposed to residential buildings). What are the odds of this happening? In my opinion, slim to none.

    So how do we change the odds and get them in our favor? I have a solution. We scale back on infrastructure spending and instead focus on targeting the exact businesses we want in our Town Center. We can’t acheive our goal until we get specific. To get specific we need to create target lists based on input from residents. For example, “a shops target list” could include Bananna Republic, American Eagle, specific boutiques etc. Then we contact the businesses directly and ask them what it would take to get them to locate in Town Center. This is how it was successfully done in other cities.

    Each business may have its own requests but there will be commonalities. The point is, once we know what businesses actually want from Dana Point, then we will know how to spend our money/ use incentives like tax breaks to attract them.

    With effective leadership and a targeted approach I’m sure we can accomplish our goal well before the 35 year estimate recently given at a city council meeting and we can do so despite our lack of funds.

    • Thank you for your insightful questions. I went to the Planning Commission hearings on the Majestic project for Town Center and was discouraged by the City staff’s utter disregard of the Town Center Plan and the public’s overwhelming negative comments towards the Majestic proposal. Then when the City Council approved the Majestic project over the Planning Commission’s disapproval, I felt it was time for new leadership. If we exercise our power as voters, we can make our voices heard.

      It is unfortunate when someone asking for nothing more than information from our elected officials about the use of our tax dollars and rationale for questionable decisions yields a response directed at the person rather than the issues raised, i.e. trolling. The response looked more like a paid political speech than a thoughtful opposition to Roxanne’s letter.

      Fortunately, most of the comments appear to applaud Roxanne’s position. I would also like to see those questions answered. You go girl!

      • D in Dana Point- Thank you for speaking up! Agreed, our power is in our votes and by the looks of these comments, we have a lot of power.

  • Wow! I don’t know what Danapointer means by “low cost effective changes”. $20 million plus is not a “low cost” for a City of Dana Point’s size, especially when those expenditures virtually depleted years of reserves. $20 million is a huge investment and it’s not over yet. Now the City wants taxpayers to lease parking spots from private owners to supplement the parking they “forgot” to put into the plan. And more to the point, what DID we get for our money? I don’t see how palm trees and concrete sidewalks suddenly create a wonderfully vibrant environment. Perhaps Danapointer can specify what revenue has accrued back to the City. Or better yet, what projects are underway that will make Town center into what we were promised- a pedestrian friendly commercial and retail center? As for “middle class housing”, the Majestic project contemplates $700,000 for a tiny condo with one parking spot. Don’t most middle class couples have more than one car? And heaven help them if they want to have friends over. Where will they park? This dog simply doesn’t hunt. Let’s stick to the facts and show us the return on investment to taxpayers. This plan was pushed through with little debate and no consulting with potential developers and retailers. The Council thought, “if we build it, they will come. “. So far, it doesn’t look like they’re coming. Roxanna’s questuons are practical and valid. We need facts not opinion from Danapointer and others who think this plan showed great leadership. Where are the returns on taxpayers’ investment? In fact, we’d all be better off if someone had asked the right questions before we spent most of our treasure going down this road. Dana Point deserves some answers,

    • ” could include Bananna Republic, American Eagle, specific boutiques etc. ” 🙂
      Let’s pay specific retailers you like… Definitely better than good town planning and solid urban design.

      • What good town planning? We were promised a thriving pedestrian retail and restaurant center, but instead all of Dana Point’s money was spent on palm trees and sidewalks that were poured too narrow by mistake.

        I’m open to any shops and restaurants that people want, as long as we actually get them. So far it’s just been a political bait and switch. Now all our money is gone and the promise is completely unfulfilled because we don’t have a single business or restaurant to show for it.

        Clearly, the “plan” didn’t work because it wasn’t executed properly. The disconnect between pouring concrete and attracting retail would have become apparent otherwise.

    • I agree…and happy to see other concerned residence United! The town center is going down. The plan is not being carried through.

      So when will city council answer these questions? (My bet is they won’t. )

  • What low cost effective changes? It looks almost the same. Also, how is $20,000,000 low cost?

    We’re still missing the whole point of spending the money–which is to have a Town Center. Every town needs a center that attracts people. To get that we need more businesses, not housing.

    For a beach city, we don’t have enough attractions for people to want to come here. With the money we have left, we should fix this.

    • “As for “middle class housing”, the Majestic project contemplates $700,000 ”

      Have you actually looked at what housing costs in south county today? Getting a newly built unit with 2br/2ba for this is indeed a bargain. Go park your 1960s Cadillac for free in Texas!

  • Well it is obvious that DanaPointer either is misinformed or has another agenda. Also DanaPointer was not at Planning and Council meetings for months listening to residents of our beautiful city stand up almost “begging” to be heard only to be totally ignored by three of the past city council with not even a thank you for giving your devotion and time to the proposed Town Center Plan Majestic Project. Presently, an arch costing another one-half million of taxpayer money is like “the bridge to nowhere!” Del Prado businesses seemed to have also been sold a false storyline.

  • Dana Pointer says that thanks to great leadership we are moving in the right direction. For the record the “Great Leadership” that voted for spending the second phase funds all at once, without proof of efficacy, consisted of then council men Bill Brough and Steven Weinberg and our current mayor, Carlos Olvera. If Mayor Olvera runs for reelection in 2016, we will have a chance to ask him why he thought this was a good idea.
    Not surprising that someone who can characterize this badly executed project as low cost and effective would also think the people who thoughtlessly initiated it are Great Leaders.

  • As someone who lived in and grew up in Dana Point, it saddens me to see that $20 million was spent on palm trees and sidewalks, with no apparent plan to bring businesses into the center. I believe that the people making decisions such as these should be held accountable for their actions and be required to answer the questions that residents and tax payers are asking of them. I regret not standing up to ask why the streets my neighborhood were being repaved once a year and landscaping (non-drought resistant, no less) in the medians were being over-watered, ripped out, and replanted multiple times a year while I was growing up. This was unnecessary spending on a much smaller scale, though it still deserved to be questioned.

    Dana Pointer – You have missed the point of this letter and it’s obvious that you supported this sad state of affairs, and the current people in leadership on the city council who backed it. “Trolling” is not the right term here, because these questions are precisely those that need to be asked. You did not back up any of your statements with facts, and did not specifically address any of Roxanna’s questions as they were written. Please explain to me how you can substantiate the claim that we have received “great value” for the Town Center project. What low-cost effective changes have been made? $20 million is not low cost, so I assume that you are referring to something else? I have never had a problem identifying where Dana Point city limits are, and I didn’t need palm trees to do it.

    Let’s get back on track and do what we can to accomplish the goal of creating a Town Center with businesses – not palm trees, empty lots, and high-density housing. People can’t walk to a business that is not there.

  • Richard Henry Dana Reply

    We need to recoup the Dana Point Town Center improvement investment by encouraging new businesses and taxing these viable businesses. We cannot get a return on the City’s Town Center investment if the planned businesses suddenly become residences.

  • Having moved to DP in 2012, I think the Town Center project so far is a great improvement to what was here when I moved. Although I may have done a few minor things differently so far (not a fan of the palm trees, for one), it’s definitely moving in the right direction toward a walkable, thriving down town. Without housing, you have people driving there which defeats the purpose. I would love more middle-class, high-density housing in DP to counter the abominable McMansions that tower over Strands.

    • Great to hear other positive comments. I agree with you on the palm trees, and wider sidewalks would have been nice, but let’s not perfect be the enemy of the good.
      Same people who complain about $20mil would of complained even more had we spent more to plan more shade trees and taken away a car lane for wider sidewalks and protected bike lanes even though I’d obviously would of liked those.
      Town center is a great improvement for the city, and if we can only solve the crazy expensive parking minimum issue by requiring reasonable in-lieu fee for parking, we can have mixed used buildings with nice retail on ground floor and housing upstairs, like other nice towns all around the world throughout human history.
      $20mil will be recovered via reasonable development fees and increased property taxes thanks to higher value land use, and maybe then we even can invest further to even nicer sidewalks!

      • Why would tax payers want to pay higher property taxes and parking fees so that you don’t have to pay to put in parking spaces during development? I, for one, avoid places that charge for parking (especially those with steep rates). So unless I lived in these planned houses above the retail stores that have yet to be procured, I would never patronize the stores. Not a great plan if you expect to keep tenants in the retail spaces and recoup the cost of the development.

    • My main issue is financial. Usually developers cover the cost of sidewalks and trees for landscaping around their property. Cities negotiate for this. Ergo, we spent $20 million for nothing. It’s huge mistake. If a consultant was hired first, the Dana Point city council would have known that.

      If those trees and sidewalk expenses were covered by a developer instead, we still would have had the $20 million in reserves for emergencies or other improvements around the city.

      You said, “without housing, you have people driving there which defeats the purpose.” No it doesn’t. You park once, then you walk along the promenade of shops. Driving to a destination doesn’t prevent you from walking once there. I drive to Laguna Beach all the time, park once and walk to all the stores. It’s fun.

      If we have enough parking, I’m optimistic that we can have a mini-version of Laguna style promenades here.

      I going on record to say I don’t like high density housing. We don’t need it. There isn’t a housing shortage here. Plus, high density housing lowers surrounding property values rather than raising them like a shopping district would.

      The height required to build high density housing blocks out a lot of sunlight and the pretty views. Also, the city hardly receives any tax returns on their investment for having them, yet bears extra infrastructure expense to maintain them (like the $5 million of Dana Point tax payer money the Water District just spent to install thicker pipes that reach up 3 stories. This in in addiction to the $20 million spent). Finally, high density housing in the middle of Town Center would exacerbate the already congested traffic and take parking spaces away from business owners who already complain of a parking shortage.

      Town Center zoning is for business/commercial or business/ commercial and residential mixed use.

      My solution to the problems I have listed is to promote cheaper to build single story storefronts that won’t require as much parking, while keeping promenade like atmosphere and look aesthetically pleasing because they don’t block light or views.

  • You can add another 6.5 million to the total that the South Coast Water District had to spend to install the infrastructure to make Town Center happen. That is 6.5 MILLION DOLLARS of
    RATEPAYER money, not tax dollars. If you pay for water then that’s you’re money they’re using up for a very small area of this town. So the total is now up to almost $27 million and the city still keeps on wanting to give more and more concessions to developer instead of making them pay for improvements the way other cities have done. The Weinberg/Brough/Olvera group were so desperate to have a legacy on which to run on for future campaigns that they sold out the Dana Point/Capo Beach residents to make themselves look good. All I can say is, let’s make sure Carlos Olvera is a one-term councilman in 2016!

  • I also support the town center updates. The town center looks so much more inviting, clean, and vibrant. I suspect that this was the expectation for the longer term town center vision. Create a clean inviting community for retail, commercial, and residential spaces, and it will be a much easier sell to get them to come here.
    So with that in mind, I do think Dana Point should focus on recruiting businesses as Roxanna suggests. However, I don’t think there is any evidence that they are not currently pursuing this (no evidence they are either – but it would seem like common sense).
    I don’t understand why everyone is so focused on what they perceive as the negative aspects of this process. All of these mixed development projects have significant retail square footage on the ground floors planned – exactly what the community has asked for – it just comes with the housing on the upper floors. Isn’t that what we would have expected anyway? I don’t think it would be reasonable to see 3 stories of retail shops?
    So far the big missing piece of this is the town center has not seemingly made any progress in attracting commercial buildings with new office space – you know – bringing some actual jobs to the city.
    Here is to hoping that the town center continues to bring us vibrant mixed use developments that provide the desired shops, boutiques, and restaurants and maybe even a few commercial office spaces.
    Stay positive Dana Point.

    • Dana Point Dad- I appreciate your support for recruiting businesses. As to whether or not the city is actively recruiting businesses, shops and restaurants, we’d know the answer to that if the city council answered my 10 questions.

      Also, under what paradigm does inviting, clean and vibrant sidewalks attract developers? That’s not the type of metric developers look to, because well, they’re developers and can develop their own sidewalks. It may be a metric shops and restaurants look to but, only if there’s a building to move into.

      Even assuming their is a building, which there’s not, in this case we accidentally poured the concrete too narrow for a promenade and way too narrow for a restaurant to have outdoor seating. So despite our expenditure we have not created an inviting environment for investors at any rate.

      I don’t see negativity here, only proactivity. The commenters here recognize that being a resident isn’t just about enjoying rights, but it is also about fulfilling duties. When we as citizens notice wasteful spending, illogical planning or simply veering off course from a wonderful vision, it is our duty to speak up in a public forum and let our politicians know so we can get back on track. I commend everyone for being so responsible, not negative as you put it, but proactive.

      Also, one story retail space is completely in accordance with the plan. There is no requirement to build three stories up, nor is there a housing requirement. Housing is merely permitted as a mixed use with business.

      I do think bringing jobs to the city is a good idea though.

      Keep it proactive Dana Point. Together we’re going to see positive changes.

  • Hi Dana Point Dad,

    I generally agree with your optimistic view for Town Center. However, I would prefer more planning and less hoping. The entitled Majestic Project is 86% residential usage, hardly the definition of “mixed use”. The changes now proposed to the Town Center Plan seem to promote similar projects in the future. It’s time for the City to reveal its plan to attract businesses and restaurants in Town Center. And most importantly, Town Center must not be allowed to become a continuous drain on City finances.

  • You can add another 6.5 million to the total that the South Coast Water District had to spend to install the infrastructure to make Town Center happen. That is 6.5 MILLION DOLLARS of
    RATEPAYER money, not tax dollars. If you pay for water then that’s you’re money they’re using up for a very small area of this town. So the total is now up to almost $27 million and the city still keeps on wanting to give more and more concessions to developer instead of making them pay for improvements the way other cities have done. The Weinberg/Brough/Olvera group were so desperate to have a legacy on which to run on for future campaigns that they sold out the Dana Point/Capo Beach residents to make themselves look good. All I can say is, let’s make sure Carlos Olvera is a one-term councilman in 2016!

  • We need an honest auditor and the forensic accounting. All service providers and suppliers who got paid for more than the fair price for the same services/supplies will have to pay back.

  • The auditor(s) must be totally independent from those who have made decisions in spending the 20 millions dollars. The auditors’ reports, together with the statement of all expenditures, will be public records, open for inspection by all DP tax payers.

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