By Breeana Greenberg
In 2014, Joe Muller and Richard Viczorek ran for City Council in order to be a part of the city’s forward momentum, with both setting their sights on developing the Town Center, Doheny Village and the Dana Point Harbor.
After moving to Dana Point in 2006, Muller noticed empty lots on Pacific Coast Highway. In 2013, as the city began to work on the Town Center Plan, Muller said, “I want to be a part of that,” and decided to run for City Council.
“I love the Lantern District,” Muller said, standing at the corner of Del Prado Avenue and PCH. “This was such a controversial project when I got on.”
“People that didn’t like it, you still have some naysayers that they still like the old stuff, and I understand it; we all do. But cities need to evolve and advance; otherwise, their budgets go south and bad things start happening.”
Both Muller and Viczorek served two stints as mayor during their concurrent eight years on City Council. When the two were first elected, both Muller and Viczorek prioritized the completion of the Town Center Plan.
“When I ran and when Joe ran, we had similar visions, and we wanted to keep the city moving forward,” Viczorek said. “That included making sure that the Town Center continued to develop.”
Viczorek noted that he ran for office, not because he was upset or that something was wrong, but because “I thought the city was great, and I wanted to be a part of that and making sure that the city continued moving forward.”
In addition to the town’s development in the Lantern District, Doheny Village and the harbor, Viczorek added that he’s proud of the city’s $10.5 million budget surplus this past fiscal year.
“I ran as a fiscal conservative,” Viczorek said. “It was important that we take good care of the people’s money to try to balance the budget. We ended up here, now, not just a balanced budget but with a surplus.”
Muller added that he was especially proud of the changes to the Town Center and more recently, the Doheny Village Plan.
“People are starting to see what Dana Point can really be,” Muller continued. “The connectivity project that we have going on right now to connect Doheny Village to Doheny State Beach … those are two of my favorite things that we’ve done.”
Looking to the future of Dana Point, Muller hopes to see the revitalization project at the harbor get built soon.
“That’s another controversial project. Whenever you go through change, change is tough,” Muller said, adding: “I hope that Dana Point gets to a place where people can embrace change that’s done the right way.”
Through the development of the Lantern District, Muller noted that he thinks residents are coming along to changes in the city. He added that the council has worked hard to keep the charm of Dana Point while advancing development in the town.
“We’re not Irvine, we’re not Anaheim, we’re not Santa Ana; that’s not who we are,” Muller said. “We’re Dana Point. This is surf culture, this is laid-back, it’s slower and a little bit more relaxed, and I hope we can keep that feel.”
After serving eight years on Dana Point’s City Council, Muller and Viczorek are stepping down from the dais. Neither councilmember thinks about legacy, but rather hopes that residents feel that they’ve done their jobs well.
“I don’t really think about legacy; I think you do your job, and my legacy will be whatever people decide it’s going to be in the future,” Muller said.
Noting that in the Marine Corps, a common phrase was “leave the place better than when you found it,” Viczorek added that “if there’s a legacy, I hope that that’s it, that Dana Point is a better place than when I started.”
“I have a family, and they’re going to grow up here,” Viczorek continued. “I want the city to be the best city that it could be for the citizens of the town.”
Reflecting on their two terms in local office, Viczorek and Muller both described their experiences as “fantastic.”
“It was everything you could hope for when you take leadership in a small town,” Viczorek said. “The people are great, the citizens are great, the people who are the staff at the city are great, and you really get a chance to do things that make a difference in people’s lives.”
Looking back on his two terms on the council, Muller said the experience was “really rewarding.”
“It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, dealing with issues that a lot of people just never think about, but it’s been a fantastic experience,” Muller said.
With their terms coming to an end and the councilmembers’ final meeting coming up in early December, Viczorek said he was looking forward to continuing to practice law and spending more time with his family.
“City Council is supposed to be a part-time job, but it’s not really,” Viczorek said. “I have a regular job that I want to continue working at.”
“I’m going to continue to try to stay active in the community, whether it be with the (Veterans of Foreign Wars) or just coaching my kids at Dana Point Youth Baseball,” Viczorek said. “Still going to be out there doing the things that the citizens do in the city.”
Muller will continue working for the public in a new role representing South Coast Water District’s Division 1.
“I want to help the water district get the Doheny Desal plant built,” Muller said. “That’s kind of my last goal. After that, just, looking forward to my wife retiring one day, and then she and I can go enjoy our lives.”
“I really appreciate the people of Dana Point (who) gave me the opportunity to do this and trusted me with it,” Muller continued. “It’s a bittersweet moment.”
With Planning Commission Chair John Gabbard and Pan-Pacific Mechanical Chief Financial Officer Matthew Pagano set to be sworn in at the next council meeting, Viczorek advised the new councilmembers to be true to themselves and what they think is best for the city.
“Focus on your character and doing the right thing for the right reasons, which I’m sure they will do,” Viczorek said. “I have every confidence that they are going to do well as councilmembers. They probably don’t need my advice.”
Dana Point City Council is expected to set its new leadership for the year, assign a new mayor and mayor pro tem during its Dec. 6 meeting.
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