San Clemente City Council members greenlit one of the largest construction contracts in city history to rebuild Casa Romantica, a historic cultural center and one of the city’s landmarks, after it was damaged by a landslide.  

The landslide took out portions of the center’s terrace, which collapsed onto the Amtrak Surfliner rail line and shut it down for several weeks in April. 

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The city hired Alliance Diversified Enterprises Inc, a drilling company based out of Escondido, in May for the emergency repairs after the slope collapsed, but stopped work on June 2. 

By June 5, the slope was still continuing to creep forward, according to the staff report. 

At the city council’s July 18 staff meeting, staff recommended that Alliance be given another $7.8 million contract to complete the repairs, without putting the contract out to a competitive bid, an idea that was approved by the city council. 

Yet council members didn’t actually see the contract until August 15, when it was put on the consent calendar, which means council members usually won’t publicly discuss it unless one of them pulls it up.

But one public speaker, who only identified himself as Mike K, stepped up to the podium and brought up some concerns with the contract. 

“My biggest problem is this is ongoing and there’s no end in sight,” he said. “I don’t feel there’s enough oversight.” 

Councilman Steve Knoblock also raised some concerns with the contract, asking why they couldn’t take more time to find a competitive bid in hopes that it would reduce the price. 

“An amount that large should be competitively bid,” Knoblcok said. “I’m convinced that if we had competitive bidding this contract could be bid for potentially millions less.” 

It remains unclear how Alliance was selected for the original work. 

“We determined early on that we felt they’d be the best,” said Public Works Director Kiel Koger at the council’s Aug. 15 meeting. 

Koger also confirmed the slope hasn’t moved in two months after being asked by Knoblock, but added that “a couple million dollars,” may end up going to local San Clemente businesses to help move dirt off the site. 

“It won’t be half the project, but it might be a couple million dollars,” Koger said. “We have some work we have to do before we really start moving some dirt, but (Alliance) are talking to these contractors to see if they can give them a piece of the pie.” 

City council members and staff insisted they’d keep a close eye on the project as it unfolded to ensure there weren’t cost overruns, but that the work needed to get done before heading into winter, where the potential for more storms could cause further damage. 

“There just really aren’t that many people who can take on this kind of project,” said Councilman Rick Loeffler. “We had to get something done … sooner or later we could suffer.” 

Council members ultimately voted unanimously to push the contract forward, but directed staff to keep a close eye on all the spending. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.


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