In 2023, Mike Frost, Dana Point’s new mayor, strives to improve the city’s customer service with residents and small businesses by focusing on City Council and staff interactions with the public.
Frost was elected to the City Council in 2020 and served one year as mayor pro tem. As mayor this year, Frost has set his sights on updating the city’s General Plan, reviewing the municipal code, improving connectivity in Doheny Village and facilitating nonprofit collaboration with the city’s Arts and Culture Commission as top priorities.
“You look back upon Dana Point, maybe the last 10 to 15 years, a lot of the big-ticket issues we’ve dealt with are in commercial zones—the Town Center revitalization, the Doheny revitalization,” Frost said during an interview with Dana Point Times.
“While those oftentimes did take into account the resident perspective, I think we’re going to be even more sensitive to that this year, and some of those projects that you’ll see in the strategic plan, focusing on that mindset,” Frost continued.
REVAMPING CITY CODES
Focusing on residents and small businesses, Frost noted that he’s excited to tackle an update of the General Plan and review of the city’s municipal code.
Over the next few years, the city will be looking to update its General Plan, which has not, as a whole, been updated since 1991.
“The General Plan is awfully neat because it determines how we operate, the look and the feel for 20 years out,” Frost said. “This is why this year is so important, because we’re going to do it from a resident and small business perspective.”
Over the next year, the city will be looking for resident input on how they envision the city over the next couple of decades.
“That’s how we’re going to maintain small-town character, historical significance, interacting well with our nonprofits and other groups that represent the history of Dana Point.”
Frost also aims to promote the city’s character and historical significance through promoting collaboration with the city’s Arts and Culture Commission and local nonprofits, as well as looking at the municipal code and building codes to ensure that there’s no red tape preventing a business from operating in a historical building.
In addition to updating the General Plan, Frost said he looks forward to reviewing the city’s municipal code.
“We’re going to go back through all our zoning code and all our building code and all our municipal code and say, ‘Hey, does this make sense? Is this policy helping ensure quality of life for the adjacent neighbors, as well as the community as a whole?” Frost said.
Frost added that since most of the people who interact with the city’s Community Development Department are residents, the city aims to make residents’ lives easier when working with city staff.
“A lot of times, people think that development and large-scale businesses are oftentimes how we’re interacting as far as zoning code, municipal code, building code,” Frost said. “It’s, actually, quite the opposite. Roughly 85% of the people who walk up into our community development department are residents.”
“Another 10% are local businesses doing tenant fit-outs, and really a small portion of our interactions through the Community Development is actually these large-scale development companies or large-scale commercial or corporate business,” Frost continued.
Hoping to cut through extra “bureaucratic red tape,” Frost would like residents and small businesses to feel that policies and processes are “intelligent and make sense.”
“We want to make it easier to do business in Dana Point, especially for the resident and small business,” Frost said.
Over the next year, Frost would like the City Council and staff to review the municipal code “line by line.”
“Detail matters,” Frost said. “It’s no one (legislative) bill’s intention, but regulation builds upon regulation, builds upon regulation, and there’s never the sort of political will or efforts to go back through and clean it up.”
Frost likened this work to cleaning out a messy garage.
“Nobody wants to do it; it’s not sexy, you don’t want to spend your weekend doing it,” Frost said. “But I’ll tell you what, when you clean it out, you organize it, you get rid of the junk and you can park your car in the garage, that feels so great.”
“There’s nothing magic about it,” Frost continued. “We’re going to go step by step.”
Frost added that these two projects are “not something a politician generally would hang their hat on,” but “when we clean it up, we should interact with residents and small businesses in a much more positive manner.”
TACKLING BIG PROJECTS
In addition to updating the General Plan and reviewing the municipal code, Frost noted three “big ticket items” that he’s excited for the city to undertake in 2023: deciding how to spend the city’s surplus, improving connectivity with Doheny Village and facilitating collaboration with the Arts and Culture Commission and local nonprofits.
“We’re going to analyze how to spend our capital improvements fund, which is roughly up to about $12 (million) to $15 million right now,” Frost said.
One way Frost would like to see the capital improvement funds used is improving connectivity with Doheny Village.
“If you’re thinking about it, we really don’t have a great way to get from Doheny State Beach over into the Capo Beach area, where some of the small restaurants and the car wash is, and it gives that feeling of disconnect,” Frost said.
Frost added that the city’s trolley program has helped to improve connectivity, where residents can travel easily from Capistrano Beach to the town center to the harbor to Doheny Village without the use of a car.
However, the city will move forward with improvements aimed to promote pedestrian and bicyclist safety in Doheny Village in the new year.
“From an infrastructure perspective, connectivity with Doheny Village, Capo Beach area, figuring out how we get people from the Capo Beach area to feel more connected with harbor, to feel more connected with Doheny Village, Capo Beach itself,” Frost said.
Additionally, Frost would like to encourage more collaboration between the Arts and Culture Commission and local nonprofits at events such as the REDO Vintage & Maker’s Market and Dana Point ArtFest.
“We’ve got some really intelligent folks on there,” Frost said. “I’m excited about leveraging their enthusiasm to further help local residents, local businesses, local artists.”
Frost added that he hopes to maintain the city’s historical and cultural significance through work with the Arts and Culture Commission.
“It’s a component of our strategic plans, our unique sense of place,” Frost said, noting that it’s No. 5 in the strategic plan. “We value those relationships (with nonprofits). We value the Historical Society being successful. We value the Dana Point Surf Club being successful. We value the Art Alliance being successful.”
“It’s sort of no different than the municipal code,” Frost continued. “We value residents being successful, and as long as we have policies, interactions that gear ourselves towards that, I feel comfortable that we can maintain it.”
In reviewing the municipal code, Frost noted that the staff will look to see how the city can support small businesses and historic structures.
“We need to look at ourselves, internally, and say, ‘Hey, what can help somebody be successful in an old, historic building from a structure perspective?’ ” Frost said.
Frost added that the Jack’s building, owned by the Winklers, is a perfect example of the city working with a developer to ensure that a historic structure does not get demolished.
“The more we do that—the most successful way to keep sort of corporate, big business out of our downtown is to make the small business successful,” Frost said.
COASTAL CITY ISSUES
Addressing residents’ concerns about sea-level rise and coastal erosion at Capistrano Beach, Frost emphasized that residents along Beach Road have not been forgotten.
“Coastal erosion down at Capo Beach is an important issue for us,” Frost said. “Even though technically it’s a county beach, we do have a lot of residents down there. A lot of people have enjoyed that beach for years.”
“Our role is to support Orange County in getting a long-term solution to the extent they can interact with the Coastal Commission in a positive manner,” Frost continued. “We’d like to see this get done sooner than later.”
When asked how the city should address a lack of affordable housing, Frost answered that the city’s recently certified Housing Element and completed rezoning efforts are the first step in addressing the issue.
According to Dana Point’s Housing Element, the average apartment rent in 2019 was $1,663 for a one-bedroom; $2,088 for a two-bedroom; and $2,795 for a three-bedroom. Additionally, 80% of the city’s renters spend over half of their income on rent.
A lack of affordable housing is not unique to Dana Point, coastal cities or even the state of California, Frost said.
“Addressing housing affordability, we do a couple of things,” Frost said. “No. 1, we got our Housing Element agreed upon by the state that identifies locations for zoning. Now, the private market needs to come in and do that.”
Frost added that the city participates heavily with the Orange County Housing Finance Trust, “where we help allocate tens of millions of dollars to projects, not specific to Dana Point, but within Orange County.”
The Orange County Housing Finance Trust was developed in 2018 to address homelessness by funding solutions such as the planning and construction of permanent supportive housing.
“And, personally, I’m on the county’s Housing and Community Development Board,” Frost continued. “We’re always talking about ways, whether it’s Section 8 vouchers, community grants, specific development grants.”
Affordable housing development is on the City Council’s mind, Frost said, and they aim to “properly integrate that within the residents that are already here.”
THE BUSINESS OF PEOPLE
After two years on City Council, Frost said he’s “sensitive to interactions with individuals” when gathering input and feedback from residents.
“When you realize that the city itself is really just a mechanism to provide services for the residents, who are the customers, it’s easy to get feedback,” Frost said. “It’s easy to have a fair dialogue, it’s easy to debate, because we’re just looking to provide the best services possible to the residents.”
“I hope people notice that when they talk to me, there is an honest, genuine service aspect to this,” Frost continued. “Doesn’t mean you’re always going to agree, we’re always going to have the same opinion; you may not like some decisions we made, but you deserve a good, thorough debate, discussion and honesty.”
Looking forward to this next year as mayor, Frost said that city staff and councilmembers’ goal is to “listen, have compassion, understanding and configure rules, regulations, interactions which further promote a quality of life in Dana Point that we all agree upon is neat.”
“The last two years, we’ve had a really good council, again, not because we’ve agreed; I’ve disagreed with a whole bunch of stuff,” Frost said, adding that he hopes residents have seen that the council can disagree while understanding each other’s perspectives.
“I’m excited about the new council coming in,” Frost continued. “I’ve met both gentlemen, Matt Pagano and John Gabbard. They possess the most important quality: they care about the community; it’s not about them. So, we’re going to have a good year.”
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