City Council candidates Chris Hamm and Michael Mortenson and incumbents Jim Dahl, Bob Baker debated hot button topics such as the city’s general plan, public safety and traffic at St. Andrews by the Sea on Thursday evening.
Each candidate was allotted one minute to voice their opinion about each matter.
“Our city has always been an issue-driven community,” said Dahl. “During these difficult economic times, it is crucial to support the business community.”
Though the returning candidates Baker and Dahl expressed their thoughts on specific aspects of city issues, Mortenson and Hamm offered perspectives on general city issues.
“Our historic resources and village character ― I believe that those two things along with our beach atmosphere are what make San Clemente so special,” said Hamm. “My signs are in residents’ yards. My family is from San Clemente. My life revolves around this community.”
Both Dahl and Mortenson agreed the city needs an economic development director to guide the city’s economic development plan, while Baker voiced reservations about the potential cost of said position, a $250,000 salary.
Dahl also argued for the need to make San Clemente more business-friendly.
“We lost two businesses in the last six months,” said Dahl. “ I’m going to dedicate myself to improving the business climate in San Clemente.”
Three-story Economic Development
On the divisive issue of three-story downtown developments, Dahl advocates for form-based codes to regulate development as opposed to a ban on tall building.
Baker and Hamm stressed that towering buildings compromise the city’s small-town character.
“The General Planning Advisory Committee has seen this over and over again,” said Hamm. “It does not fit with our small town character, that’s what we are trying to protect, that is what makes us unique.”
Mortenson had different thoughts about the development of three-story buildings.
“The down town area is the heart of San Clemente,” said Mortenson. “It has been zoned for three-stories since 1949. Let’s make it more rigorous to develop three-stories and consider things on a case-by-case basis.”
Traffic, La Pata Extension and Nuclear Station
Both Dahl and Baker support the use of Measure M funding for new lanes on the 5 Freeway.
“The La Pata extension will be a tremendous help,” said Baker. “Orange County thinks they have the funding for that.”
However, due to time constraints, the candidates did not address how the community would bridge the $9 million funding gap for that project.
Audience-based questions centered on longstanding issues such as the 241-toll road extension as well as the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station’s restart.
“I don’t think SONGS will be running any time soon, they have a warranty issue with Mitsubishi,” said Dahl, adding, “We are prepared with a nuclear evacuation plan.”
Baker also shed light on the ongoing process, noting that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a roundtable discussion Oct. 9.
“The attorneys for Mitsubishi and Edison are doing battle as we speak,” said Baker. “To take down the power plant is a tremendously expensive process.”
The infamous 241-toll road extension came down to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. Baker and Hamm both voiced “no” while Dahl and Mortenson gave ambivalent “someday” and “lack of data” answers, to which the majority of the audience collectively booed.
Following the debate, some in the audience said they still wanted to know more about how each candidate would handle the big issues confronting the city.
“It seemed like some of the candidates skated around the important issues,” said General Plan Advisory Committee chairman Alan Korsen. “We’ve been wrestling with the importance of the small town village character for two and a half years. I don’t believe we gave the candidates enough time to get to know them.”