Plans to start prep work on two potential parking lots at North Beach advanced Tuesday, despite a lawsuit over the project money that could result in a $9-million fee payback by the city to residents.
The San Clemente City Council Tuesday voted to move ahead with designing and preparing construction bid documents for a 33-space parking lot on the North El Camino Real site the city owns. The site is next to Kalani's Coffee.
The council also voted to put together a negotiating team to see whether land across the street from the El Camino Real lot -- the "Gallery site" – could be purchased at a reasonable price. However, the city stopped short of starting designs and bid documents for a proposed parking structure there.
"We need to see if this is even feasible before we spend a dime," said Councilman Jim Evert.
Mayor Bob Baker voted against the proposal, arguing that the proposal to purchase the Gallery site was overkill. The proposed El Camino parking lot would be enough to meet the city’s North Beach parking needs, he said.
"Going one inch further with this" is going too far, he said.
If the council moves to buy the Gallery site, the total cost for design, land acquisition and construction for both lots is estimated to be about $7.23 million, according to staff reports. The total cost for the El Camino Real lot alone is estimated at $698,000.
City staffers said the costs for initial design and paperwork would be relatively minor. However, the design and bids would have to come back to council for another vote.
Costs serving North Beach's commercial needs will be paid for with non-Beach Parking Impact Fee funds, and the spaces designed to meet the needs created by the ranch housing development inland of the I-5 Freeway will be paid with the Beach Parking Impact Fees, according to city staff reports.
Those fees are at the center of a lawsuit filed by San Clemente resident Brad Malamud in 2012. Malamund contended the city is legally obligated to give back $9 million in fees it collected to build beach parking that never materialized. Malamud, who owns an accounting-related business in town, said the city owes $750 to $1,500 to each of the homeowners east of the I-5 Freeway in homes built after 1988.
Malamud gave a heated presentation to the City Council Tuesday imploring the city not to adopt the item.
"I think what your going to find is the court is going to stop you from spending the beach parking money, and you would have to pay back the money from the general fund," Malamud said. "This whole thing is a sham. Let the lawsuit play out, and you'll still have time to spend the money if, legally, you can."
Malamud, among a number of other points of law, argued that beachgoers wouldn't be using the new parking. Patrons of private businesses like Casino San Clemente and any future customers of the vacant Miramar Theater would use it. Which means, he said, that the city would be using beach parking tax money for private business parking, a move he contends is illegal.
City Attorney Jeff Goldfarb said, however, those patrons historically used existing parking. When the Casino and Miramar closed, the spots emptied out, leaving places for inland beachgoers. Now that North Beach was being revitalized, those patrons would be coming back to fill the existing spaces, and others would have to be built for beachgoers, according to a study contracted by the city.
Some residents heartily disagreed with Malamud.
"Build it now," said North Beach Resident George Gregory. "Let's see some movement on this. I'm tired of this constipation."
About Malamud and the Talega property owners filing the lawsuit, Gregory said, "They're all a bunch of crooks.""
Resident Alan Korsen, however, urged the council to hold back.
"It seems like we're coming up with a bunch of schemes to use this money because the time is running out," he said. "Well, the time has already run out. Please don't rush."
Goldfarb predicted the suit would likely be resolved in trial court within six months.
The city council voted 3-1 to start with planning, minus design work for the Gallery site. Baker was the lone dissenter, and Councilman Tim Brown was absent.