By Breeana Greenberg
Continuing to work through the process of prioritizing one-time capital improvement projects to be funded with the city’s $10.5 million surplus, the Dana Point City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 1, received input from the public.
During the meeting, resident proposals for the surplus allocation ranged from arts and culture funding, voter outreach and overhead utility undergrounding. Dana Yarger, a Dana Point resident and owner of the Dana Bay Gallery, proposed the funds be used for several park improvement and art and culture projects.
Yarger commented that the city should look to erect permanent statues of dolphins and whales in recognition of the city’s designation as an official Whale Heritage Site; add an informational monument at Heritage Park sharing the history of Dana Point; and growing the city’s herd of painted elephants.
With the use of surplus funds, Yarger also envisioned a “wide, winding stairway” from the access road on Golden Lantern up to the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa. The stairway would also serve as a seating area where “residents and visitors alike enjoy ocean views and sunsets over the Dana Point Headlands,” Yarger said.
Members of the Poles and Lines Coalition commented that they’d like to see the money pay for staff time or the hiring of a grant writer to seek state and federal funds earmarked for undergrounding overhead utilities.
Members of the group also encouraged the city to create a separate fund within the fiscal year budget specifically for undergrounding overhead utilities, and asked that a portion of the surplus be set aside for that purpose.
Resident Jill Richardson advocated for the funds to be allocated to make changes to the city’s current election system, specifically creating an at-large mayor to be voted on in every election cycle.
After the current City Council voted this past August to appoint the three council candidates who ran unopposed in their respective districts in this year’s election cycle, Richardson voiced dismay over the city’s move away from an at-large election method.
In 2018, after receiving a letter threatening to sue the city for California Voting Rights Act violations, Dana Point transitioned toward districted elections, where residents within a designated district vote to elect one councilmember to represent that area.
In a letter to City Council, resident Annette Szlachta proposed the surplus funds be used for voter outreach, to create a bike lane on Stonehill Drive and to install a traffic light on Stonehill and Intera Way for residents exiting the Sunset Hills neighborhood.
Councilmember Michael Villar, in thanking the public speakers who attended the City Council meeting to voice their thoughts on how the surplus should be used, said that this is what democracy looks like.
“I do just want to thank all of you for coming to speak,” Villar said. “Anytime the public comes to speak to us, I can speak for everyone; we do hear you, and it is extremely important. As somebody said, this is a good problem to have, and you’re right, it is a good problem to have.”
Noting that the budget isn’t solely this year’s surplus but years of budget surpluses adding up, Councilmember Jamey Federico—an incumbent who was running unopposed this year—added that the city has a list of unfunded projects, generally capital improvement or infrastructure projects.
However, with members of the community voicing interest in voter outreach, arts and culture funding and grant writing, Federico said that the subcommittee could look at non-typical projects to fund.
Federico commented that the council has already approved a strategic plan but could put funding toward non-typical projects in line with a strategic plan, but in doing so, the council would be bypassing some “longtime hopes and dreams projects.”
“Four years ago, I remember sitting right here and having a subcommittee go and prioritize those,” Federico said. “There’s not enough money right now to do all of those, so we would be forgoing that to do other things.”
Mayor Joe Muller, who will term out of office next month, said that he’d like to see some of the funds be allocated toward traffic calming methods for both vehicle and e-bike traffic.
The subcommittee created during the Oct. 18 City Council meeting to lead the effort in prioritizing the projects will convene ahead of the next council meeting on Nov. 15. The subcommittee aims have a first draft of priority projects for the council to consider by then.
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