Guest Opinion: San Clemente’s Good Neighbor

The San Clemente City Council is presently considering the creation of a policy that would allow for the removal of trees on city-owned property in the interest of restoring private ocean views. The theory behind the proposal is that the City of San Clemente should be a good neighbor and be mindful of those who live next to city owned property.

A key example cited by proposed policy supporters and opponents alike are two clusters of eucalyptus trees in Verde Park, a small parcel of land nestled between the Broadmoor development and San Clemente High School. Some look forward to removing these eucalyptus trees to restore ocean views supposedly last seen during the Reagan administration, while others fear a deforestation of a valuable public asset. It should be noted to all parties that regardless of what policy the City Council ultimately chooses to adopt, it will not impact these specific eucalyptus trees in Verde Park.

Any visitor to Verde Park will quickly see that the two large groupings of eucalyptus trees are without question located within park boundaries. However what is not readily apparent is that these eucalyptus trees are in fact not located on city-owned land. Technically, the trees are situated on the upper campus of San Clemente High School.

The upper campus of San Clemente High School, located next to Verde Park, was opened in 1964 by the San Clemente School District as Ole Hanson Elementary School. The original dedication plaque still sits on the administration building, bearing witness to the campus’ original purpose. Because the property is located, in part, on a slope, not all of the usable land originally purchased was incorporated into the school and was instead allowed to lie fallow.

Approximately 10 years later, the developer of the Broadmoor community gave a parcel of land to the city of San Clemente that quickly became the core of Verde Park. The Capistrano Unified School District, the successor entity to the San Clemente School District, allowed the city to make use of the land it owned not otherwise incorporated into Ole Hanson Elementary. This piece of property now consists of one-eighth of the total acreage of Verde Park.

Documents from as far back as January 1975 show San Clemente asking Capistrano Unified for unrestricted public access to the land and the school district giving express permission to the city to make use of otherwise unused property consistent with its established procedure of “encouraging the joint use of school and park sites.” This is why a portion of the tennis court located at Verde Park resides on both city and school district property and the park’s swing set lies exclusively on school district land.

Admittedly, Capistrano Unified has had to take back some of the land from Verde Park for its exclusive use. With the closing of Ole Hanson Elementary in 2003, the school was transformed into a second campus for San Clemente High School dedicated to freshman as they adjust to their new academic environment. In order to unite the two campuses, Capistrano Unified built a connecting pathway on the edge of Verde Park. The vast majority of school district land in Verde Park remains open to the public with the tall eucalyptus trees now providing shade to not only park visitors, but to the students walking between the high school campuses as well.

It remains to be seen what course of action the City Council ultimately elects to take regarding trees located on city property as they relate to ocean views. I have no doubt that the City Council will take into consideration the opinions of all sides before making a sound and wise decision. But what cannot be deliberated is the fact that these eucalyptus trees in Verde Park will continue to stand as testament to the Capistrano Unified School District acting as a good neighbor in allowing the residents of San Clemente access to quality tennis courts, play equipment and park space.

John Alpay is the President of the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees. His trustee district includes most of San Clemente. He was first elected in 2010, and elected to a full term in 2012. 

via San Clemente Times.