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Council Votes $20+ Million Deficit Spending

At the June 17 City Council meeting, members of the Town Center Committee, which includes two city councilmen, and property and business owners in Town Center, contrived to take $7.7 million from Dana Point reserves for Del Prado improvements, making the city’s two year deficit spending on Town Center total above $20 million.  Dana Point's depleted cash and reserves will then be left at the lowest level in 15 years. The published agenda for the City Council meeting did not include any mention of a budget addition for Del Prado improvements.  The motion for Del Prado looked like an orchestrated proposal by one of the two city councilmen who happen to be on the Town Center Committee.   The attendance of so many Town Center proponents suggests that this special interest group was well aware of the tactic beforehand.  

Because of the published agenda only a few concerned residents were in attendance.   They hopelessly pleaded on behalf of all Dana Point residents.  They argued that residents should be informed about the cost of the Del Prado project and given a realistic idea of expected future development  in order to achieve the vision of the Town Center plan.  Allocating  $7.7 million was too big an item to be so casually added to the budget.  Residents should receive a full accounting of the the city's reserves and the effect that the spending would have on the financial security of the city.   The spending amounts to over a 60% reduction of the city’s reserves in two years. Dana Point has limited resources and residents will realize that when, in the years to come, they are told that because of Town Center there is no money available for other projects that would benefit the city;  or worse, that a budget crisis necessitates cutting back on programs or services.  

You would think that the Town Center community would express some gratitude to the taxpayers of Dana Point.  Town Center improvements along PCH of over $10 million were already paid by taxpayers in FY 2013-2014.  Most residents were unaware of the huge cost of the project and were led to believe that the improvements including palm trees, new sidewalks, and sewers and water infrastructure paid by SCWD rate payers, would trigger the development of a pedestrian friendly environment, with new shops, restaurants and mixed use buildings.  There is no significant development in Town Center as a result of these improvements to date.  The achievement of this vision is probably 10 to 20 years away which makes the huge deficit spending seem unnecessary and unwise.  

There is no credible reason to rush all of the Del Prado improvements or slide in an entry feature costing an extra $600,000.  A plan to do the improvements in stages could be implemented.  The striping of the street to accommodate two way traffic would be relatively inexpensive.  Rather than giving the money to property owners and increasing the cost of the property, tailored improvements, to entice a developer, could be negotiated and completed well before any sizable project could be constructed.  Money could be better spent to increase available parking, which is very important to customers. Most importantly, the city’s reserves could be judiciously managed and conserved.  Leaders of the Town Center Committee, however, insisted that all the improvements should be done immediately. 

The City needs to develop a comprehensive plan to achieve the vision of the Town Center and avoid costly mistakes. This plan would contain stages with detailed cost estimates and defined decision points for development progress expected to be achieved before further spending. It should maintain flexibility to adjust the plan for unexpected needs, such as the replacement of the Town Center sign constructed in error.   Dana Point has a yearly budget of approximately $30 million in income.   The PCH and Del Prado improvements will amount to deficit spending of $20 million beyond current income.  Dana Point residents want Town Center to succeed but deserve a more competent plan.