It was a year marked by the Swallows Day Parade, restaurants opening and an election in which candidates campaigned on looking after San Juan Capistrano.
That description could recap any year prior to 2020, but it particularly describes 2022, in which the calamity and restrictions brought about COVID-19 largely faded away, as San Juan Capistrano resumed going about business as usual.
That’s not to say there weren’t significant changes and developments, though. The City Council decided to go with a new city seal logo designed by resident Kimberleigh Gavin that features a Mission bell, swallows and other San Juan iconography—but which removes the old seal image of Saint Junipero Serra hugging a young Indigenous boy.
The Rooftop Kitchen + Bar, Pacific Pearl Café, Breezy and Bloom Restaurant + Bar continued the trend of San Juan becoming a culinary destination, with three out of the four opening downtown.
A new In-N-Out Burger location at the former Marie Callender’s building on Del Obispo Street was allowed by the City Council, a decision that drew significant backlash from residents due to expected traffic increases.
After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, the Swallows Day Parade finally returned to fanfare—though without horses due to an equine viral outbreak.
Camino Capistrano, from the city limits at Dana Point and Laguna Niguel, started to get repaved as part of an ambitious and multi-year plan by the city to fix local road conditions.
Due to essentially being forced to sell by the state government, the City Council finally approved an agreement to sell the Camino Real Playhouse property to local developer Dan Almquist, who plans to turn the property into a parking structure and office/retail space—a decision that elicited some controversy in the community, including from the current Playhouse operator.
City staff and officials said goodbye to the old City Hall, which will be torn down for a new City Hall facility. It was “temporary” for decades.
Last but not least, John Campbell won this year’s election for the open District 3 seat on the City Council, replacing outgoing Mayor Derek Reeve—who decided to not run after 12 years of service.
Here’s the rundown of some of the biggest stories of 2022:
Reeve promises that 2022 will bring back “fun” community events, including the Swallows Day Parade, during a sit-down interview with The Capistrano Dispatch about the year ahead.
The City Council renders a split vote, conditionally approving a new In-N-Out Burger location on Del Obispo Street. Then-Mayor Pro Tem Howard Hart and Councilmembers Troy Bourne and Sergio Farias voted yes. Reeve and Councilmember John Taylor voted no. Numerous residents decry the decision, because the coming new restaurant was expected to make traffic in town worse. The location is still being developed and has not yet opened.
Almquist hosts a groundbreaking ceremony for River Street Marketplace, a coming agrarian-themed retail and community center expected to open in late summer 2023 near Los Rios Street.
The Swallows Day Parade returns after being postponed in 2020 and 2021, though sans horses. Locals and visitors celebrate on the streets of downtown as vehicles and people pass by. There were no arrests or violent incidents reported by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
The Rooftop Kitchen + Bar opens on parade day above Selma’s Chicago Pizzeria. It serves modern American “comfort cuisine.”
Pacific Pearl Café also opens on Rancho Viejo Road, next to Ball Park Pizza. It sells coffee and cookies. Owner Michael Campbell also does catering.
Floraison Bridal Loft, a venue for pre-wedding gatherings, opens near Diamond Salon. It is operated by local resident Rebecca Stafford.
Justin Montano becomes the city’s new police chief.
An indoor mask mandate for California students, in place since the start of the pandemic, is lifted. The Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees decides not to approve lifting the mandate—as suggested by Trustee Lisa Davis—days before the state approves ending the mask mandate. Trustee Pamela Braunstein resigns soon after due to backlash for supporting mask requirements.
The City Council approves a “trial run” to extend business hours at Los Rios Street restaurants The Tea House and Ramos House Café. The eateries want to offer dinner service. The City Council will revisit the decision in two years, and the restaurants will have to proactively apply for extended service again.
The City Council approves plans and specifications for a pavement rehabilitation program that starts on Camino Capistrano, with street repaving beginning later in the year.
Preserve Our Farm SJC—a local group that includes former Mayor Carolyn Nash—files a lawsuit to halt the building of a local skatepark. Nash had previously spoken against plans for a new skatepark due to opposing development on the Kinoshita Farms property, one site in mind for the amenity. An environmental review is then commissioned on the project, and city officials vow the skate park will still be built.
Marco Forster Middle School math teacher Sergio Sanabria is named a Teacher of the Year by the Orange County Department of Education, the only CUSD teacher to receive the distinction.
The City Council approves a city budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23, which provides funding for the repaving project and a new City Hall facility that will incorporate affordable housing for at-risk people. The city no longer has a structural deficit and is generally perceived as being in good financial shape.
Jim Taylor, president of the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association—which organizes the Swallows Day Parade and related events—announces movie star Dennis Quaid will be the Grand Marshal for the 2023 parade during the city’s Fourth of July celebration. Quaid, who is also a musician, played at The Coach House in May.
Cindy Russell—a San Juan resident who has worked for the city in numerous important roles since 1986—is named the Woman of the Year during the SJC Chamber of Commerce’s annual Installation and Awards Banquet. Almquist is named Man of the Year.
Downtown restaurant Ramen Shack closes after less than a year of being open, due to owner and chef Keizo Shimamoto experiencing health issues.
Candidates John Campbell, Paul Lopez and Cody Martin announce their intentions to run for the District 3 seat on the City Council and are certified to do so in the November midterm election. Reeve, then the District 3 representative, decides not to run for re-election after 12 years on the dais, because he feels San Juan Capistrano is in a better place than when he began serving. Though the District 2 and 4 seats were also up for election, incumbents John Taylor and Troy Bourne retain those positions because no other candidates decided to run.
CUSD had its first day of school, which is the first one that students don’t have to wear masks while indoors.
After months of consideration, the City Council selects a new city seal design, which features a Mission bell, swallows, horse rider and other local features. Though the new seal includes Saint Junipero Serra’s name, it no longer depicts him hugging a young Indigenous boy. While the given reason for updating the seal was to include more aspects of local history and so the design shows up better on a smartphone, criticism of Serra’s treatment of Indigenous people has grown in recent years. The change is well-received in the community, including among Indigenous descendants.
After months of tweaking their local housing regulations, the city’s Housing Element gets certified by the state government. Updates for a city’s General Plan, which includes the Housing Element, are required every eight years by state law. The city had to prove it could accommodate 1,054 new housing units through 2029, including through the construction of residential complexes.
San Clemente parent Kevin Pratt files a petition with CUSD for a potential new charter school called California Republic Leadership Academy in South Orange County. After the Board of Trustees takes no action on the proposal, school leadership appeals to the Orange County Board of Education.
Mission and city leadership celebrate Old Mission Road, the newly renamed portion of Ortega Highway in front of the historic site. The corridor’s name is changed so the Mission is easier to find and to pay homage to its legacy.
A new restaurant called Breezy opens, replacing Ramen Shack. It is an island-themed breakfast/brunch spot that serves pancakes, acai bowls and coffee.
Beloved local news reporter Fred Swegles dies at 74 after suffering health complications from a brain tumor. Swegles wrote for the Daily Sun-Post, Orange County Register, San Clemente Times and The Capistrano Dispatch.
Campbell wins the District 3 election. There are no personal attacks during the campaign, and Campbell compliments Martin and Lopez for running without rancor.
In other elections: Michael Parham secures the CUSD Board of Trustees Area 4 seat against Kira Davis; 74th Assembly District incumbent Laurie Davies keeps her position after running against San Clemente City Councilmember Chris Duncan; then-Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear wins the District 38 State Senate race against Matt Gunderson; 49th Congressional District incumbent Mike Levin fends off another challenge from former San Juan City Councilmember Brian Maryott; and Katrina Foley defeats then-State Sen. Patricia Bates in the Orange County Board of Supervisors 5th Supervisorial District race.
The City Council holds its last meeting in City Hall. The old and “temporary” facility is being torn down to make way for a new building. City officials say goodbye and even use hammers to knock holes in the wall to playfully kick off the transition. Meetings will be temporarily held at the Nydegger Building and then permanently move to the Community Center, once a new City Council Chamber is built at the latter.
The City Council also approves a sale agreement of the Camino Real Playhouse to Almquist, who plans to turn the property into a parking structure and office/retail space—a decision that elicited some controversy in the community, including from current Playhouse President Leslie Eisner, who said the community could lose the theater and asks people to donate for a relocated venue. Almquist is separately working on bringing about a new performing arts venue.
The city starts a new Facebook page to keep residents informed about local news and events. The page is the brainchild of Hart, who wants to keep residents informed and keep the city transparent.
Saladworks, a “healthy quick-serve” franchise eatery, opens a location in San Juan in the Del Obispo shopping center near Aspire Dental. It serves salads, smoothies, paninis and other items.
A bomb threat is made against San Juan Hills High School and CUSD after Fox News reports on a LGBTQ classroom library maintained by an English teacher named Flint. Some parents are outraged over sexually explicit content in one of the books. Students and supporters of Flint say the criticism is anti-LGBTQ bigotry. Flint said the book was removed after the content was discovered and students are not being exposed to porn. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t find bombs during a campus search, and the threat is under investigation by OCSD and the FBI.
Hart becomes the new mayor, Campbell is sworn in, and Reeve says goodbye to the dais during the last City Council meeting of 2022. The three give complimentary remarks about each other, and Hart previews what’s in store for 2023, including a vow to protect San Juan’s open space from state government encroachment.
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