By Select Board Members, Mission Preservation Foundation
We are writing this letter to invite the business leaders and members of our village-like community to consider what it means when we as a community approach new projects with a mindset of saying, “We need to be pro-business.”
Years ago, being “pro-business” in San Juan Capistrano was focused on providing financial or human support through obtaining advertising; focusing on retention efforts and identifying constraints to business success that needed to be removed; securing public funding for capital projects that would improve the comfort of the downtown; adopting historic preservation easements to protect the look and feel of the Mission; and working to adopt Mills Act status for properties to reduce historic properties’ tax burdens so they stayed historic were among our priorities.
The community focused on resolving public safety issues and worked toward helping to maintain the unique balance of the delicate Los Rios Historic District as both a residential and commercial area by creating commissions that met regularly to exercise deliberation and communication over what could be allowed to happen in the name of commerce in that special area.
“Business friendliness” meant helping the downtown get more parking or improve the signage rules. The city adopted ordinances to allow outdoor dining areas to provide more activity on the streetscape. We worked to get downtown lighting, public parks installed, American flags installed and tried to visually knit together the best visual elements and traditions that could comprise a quaint downtown.
Despite all this “business friendliness,” there was always a shared concern for improving and protecting the aesthetics while also enhancing the operational aspects of the area. Respecting the scale and intimacy of a historic downtown was debated and discussed with regular vigor. Having a sense of saving or protecting the core area’s look and feel was integral to most people’s feelings about enacting progress.
In a post-recession world, we stand at an important intersection of opportunity and consequences without decision making. It is clear to us that the best asset San Juan Capistrano has in the marketplace is its unique brand of “being historic.” People discover, shop and dine in the Mission business district because it has a world famous mission. If there were no mission, what would happen?
As we consider these projects, and whatever it means to be business friendly, perhaps we need to really ask ourselves when new and significant projects proposed: Are there new directional signs about the area? Are there public amenities serving guests? Is the project supporting the “feel and look” of the area? Is it helping to market the other businesses, or promising to do business with the others? Ask ourselves collectively, is the new proposal just going to take business away from already struggling businesses or is it going to reorient the core delivering more traffic, congestion and a barrier to discovering the historic core of the area? How can the project reinforce our brand versus undermine it, if it indeed has to go forward? How high are the buildings? Are we protecting cultural resources?
Summarily, taking a “pro-business” position should involve a discussion on how any new and significant development helps our Mission business district community.
We need not be sorry for developers and we need not be “wishy-washy” by sending them mixed signals. In fairness, to be business-friendly, we need to tell them what we expect and want so they can incorporate those items in their plans early on. We tried doing this through a master plan process and perhaps that document needs to be reconsidered for its relevance today.
We are offering these comments out of a sense to be constructive and supportive to development in the area and to help in doing the right thing for the long run of our historic community—not to take on a fight or be difficult but to remind everyone that what we allow today, will be here for future generations of residents, businesses and visitors.
Mechelle Lawrence Adams, on behalf of Mission Preservation Foundation President George O’Connell, Founding President Tony Moiso and board members Bill Cvengros, Paul Mikos, Madeline Swinden and EJ Tracy.
Editor’s Note: Gretchen Stroscher Thomson, the landowner and applicant behind The Shops at Capistrano, is also a member of the Mission Preservation Foundation’s board. Her name, however, was not included in the letter.