San Clemente Urban Design Guidelines
"Restoring the Founder's Vision"
Client: City of San Clemente, California.
El Camino Real. New pedestrian-oriented infill development.
The San Clemente General Plan Urban Design Element and citywide Design Guidelines were
prepared during a two-year study process that included close work with a Council-appointed
Citizens Advisory Committee. The process involved extensive citizen participation through
public workshops, meetings with City Commissions and close liaison with neighborhood
The Urban Design Plan and Guidelines establish clear design policies and specific
guidelines for future development in the city. Many of the design principles of the city's
historic 1925 plan, considered one of the most innovative town plans in the western
states, are restored. The guiding principles of the new Plan promote development of a
denser, more compact city that maximizes pedestrian opportunities and provides new
protection of hillsides, canyons and other important natural features.
The San Clemente Plan of 1925
San Clemente was founded in 1925 as a planned community with a strong design vision
that gave a clear order to the older districts of the city. The original city plan
contained many concepts that are relevant today: a downtown and residential neighborhoods
with pedestrian emphasis, high-quality public places located throughout the city,
sensitivity of development to the natural setting.
The 1925 San Clemente Plan was a modified grid carefully adapted to topography. It
minimized grading, preserved coastal canyons and landforms, and emphasized connectivity of
neighborhoods. Major streets were oriented perpendicular to the oceanfront in order to
create public view corridors toward the water and visually connect the entire community
with the sea. The Plan created an exceptional pedestrian environment through wide tiled
sidewalks, street trees and public buildings sited at visually prominent places throughout
After a successful initial building period during the late 1920's that produced most of
the city's public buildings and distinguished older neighborhoods, the vision fell victim
to the Depression. Most building stopped and was not resumed until after World War 11.
During the postwar period, much of the city deteriorated to the automobile-dominated
development patterns common to other areas of Southern California. San Clemente had lost
the strong urban design direction upon which it was founded. Most recently, development of
the inland hillside neighborhoods during the early and mid 1980's brought problems of mass
grading of hillsides, complex street patterns that divided neighborhoods into isolated
enclaves, virtually complete reliance on the automobile for transportation, and
repetitive, monolithic residential building types.
The San Clemente City Council initiated the Urban Design Element and Design Guidelines
in an effort to reverse the prevailing design and development practices that were rapidly
destroying the community's historic character and landscape.
San Clemente. Oceanfront grid and neighborhoods developed under the City
Plan of 1925.
Plan Elements. "Restoring the Founder's Vision"
The Urban Design Element and Design Guidelines re-establish a set of strong, clear
urban design principles for future development in the city.
A revitalization program for the Del Mar (Downtown) business district provides
incentives for mixed-use development, including new infill buildings and live-work
opportunities. A parking district with shared public parking will replace many of the
private lots and reduce on-site parking requirements which had hampered new businesses and
Throughout the city, emphasis is placed on creating high quality pedestrian
environments. Strong site planning principles for building frontages, public streetscapes,
on-site open spaces and parking lot locations are specified in the Design Guidelines.
Illustrative designs were prepared for the historic Pier Bowl and North Beach
districts. These areas are centers of public activity for residents and visitors.
Design principles for the Marblehead Coastal Development, a large undeveloped area of
prime land on the coastal plain, emphasize building a walkable urban neighborhood focused
on public places and a clearly perceived street system oriented toward the oceanfront.
Design principles for the inland neighborhoods emphasize developing mixed-use village
centers with pedestrian access to all residential areas and public transit connections to
other parts of the city and region. Strong measures to protect hillsides and other natural
features from development are prescribed through ordinances and design principles
illustrated in the Guidelines.
Principals: Gerald Gast and Dan Hillmer. Kathryn Fulhorst, Landscape Architect. Tim
McGinty, Consulting Architect.
City of San Clemente: Jim Barnes, Planning Director. Catherine O'Hara, Project Manager.
El Camino Real Street Design.