Despite protests last year from business owners in the , the wall they feared would block I-5 Freeway drivers' view of their storefronts is going up.
And no one knows why.
Within the seven years since the project was planned, not one party has spoken up in support of the wall, said Ron Lane, co-owner of .
“No one wanted it, no one asked for it,” he said. Worse yet, “we were never told of a way to stop it.”
Caltrans spokeswoman Gloria Roberts said the sound wall is being built to protect the residential neighborhood to the south.
"The residential area behind the commercial building was identified as the beneficiary for noise abatement via a sound wall," she said, adding that Caltrans made sure the public was notified and environmental standards were met.
Lane remembered that placed a small ad in then-weekly Capistrano Dispatch in 2005 about its plans for a wall. Only those who could have seen it could have responded to it.
“Everybody stood in amazement about the 2005 notification,” said Jim Carter, co-owner of .
Even without the wall, the Capsitrano Home Center has never been easy to find. It has no visibility from city streets, only the I-5 Freeway.
Mayor Larry Kramer acknowledged the shopping center is not the best location. It has no visiblity from city streets. Only the freeway.
"To put it politely, [it] is a difficult center to be successful at," he said.
Furniture stores have come and gone.
During an Aug. 26 City Council meeting last summer, council members asked Caltrans to investigate alternatives to the wall.
Owners at American Horse Products and Comfort Gallery Mattress favor the alternative of having double-paned windows installed in all of the houses along the back of the Home Center.
The owner of , Dennis Penman, who has since moved his store from the blocked corner in the shopping center to Laguna Hills, also favored the more cost-effective alternatives.
“The city really went to bat for us,” Carter said.
However, Caltrans's answer back to the city was that the project had already been approved.
A Simple Equation: Less Advertising = Fewer Customers
“It has dramatically affected they amount of traffic coming into the center,” said Mark Jennings, an employee at . The store has been a tenant in the Capistrano Home Center for nine years.
Long, well established stores still need visibility, agreed Carter at American Horse Products.
“We are a destination store, but every destination store needs to get new customers,” Carter said.
Heather Mineo and Edward Maher Jr., veterinarians at , are glad the wall will block out the sound, but are disappointed that it will block their sign.
To regain their visibilty, one set of owners, Ron and Ronnie Lane, who own , is moving locations within the strip mall.
“I am relocating to where was, further up along the wall. The sign is a lot taller there then our marque here,” Ronnie Lane said.
“The devastating thing is that tenants are leaving. Dunn-Edwards moved a lot of traffic in the shopping center. Renaissance Home Furnishings on the most-blocked corner left, too. Those were the two main sources of traffic. Dunn-Edwards brought in the right clientele for us,” Ronnie Lane said.
“It really makes it tough for merchants who are trying to make a living back here,” he added.
The Lane family business has been in the center since 2005, the same year the ad hit the Dispatch.
“We never knew anything when we signed our lease,” Ronnie Lane said.
The Next Step
“Unfortunately, it is what it is, they [Caltrans] are trying to put up that wall as fast as they can. They are going to be laying blocks the next couple of days,” Ron Lane said.
The city approved a sign within 20 feet of the wall, so that freeway traffic can see what stores lie behind the wall, Carter said. The tenants are going in on the costs.
“The next step is people getting to know this place,” Hamid Bakian, owner of Model Center Consignment, said.