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Los Rios Dream Turning into Headache

Owner of the building that houses the Hummingbird House Café and two stores gets some bad news about expansion plans from the Planning Commission.

As a girl in her teens, longtime San Juan Capistrano resident Monica Mukai remembers walking through the with her mom and making a silent wish she could someday live there.

In 2005, her dream came true. She bought the Lupe Combs House, the site of the at the corner of Verdugo and Los Rios streets.

At first, Mukai tried to live there. It was hard getting used to living in a “fish bowl,” she said.

“If I came out in my pajamas to enjoy a cup of tea, there were people painting or taking pictures of the home,” she said.

And then there was the noise. The house is right on the railroad tracks, and while she could tolerate the trains themselves, it was their whistles she couldn’t take, Mukai said.

She moved out and currently leases it to three businesses, the café, Blue-Eyed Girl women’s clothing and Tina’s Garden, which specializes in miniature gardens and garden decor.

Owners of homes that also serve as commercial businesses on Los Rios Street are required to live on the premises. But a previous owner of the Lupe Combs House received an exemption with the condition that all retail activities take place indoors.

Tina’s Garden operates outside.

Earlier this month, Mukai received a notice of violation because of Tina’s Gardens from city code enforcers. It threatens to revoke approval of the Hummingbird House Café’s operations.

So Mukai came before the Planning Commission Tuesday to ask that outdoor sales be allowed on her property. She also asked that Hummingbird be allowed to serve beer and alcohol.

And while she was at it, she wanted to see how the commissioners would feel about turning an ancillary building that abuts the into a bed-and-breakfast.

Several residents wrote into the Planning Commission in support of Mukai’s applications. Some came in person. Others showed up to oppose the plans.

Stephen Rios of the original Rios family that settled in the area in the 1700s urged the commission to shoot it down.

“The trade-off for not living there is that all the sales would be kept inside,” he said.

He also believes alcohol should stay out of the area.

“We have a residential neighborhood, where children and grandchildren live. You want to drink, go uptown,” Rios said.

For a brief period of time, businesses were allowed to apply for the right to serve alcohol. Ramos House and the quickly turned in their applications, said associate planner Nick Taylor. Seeing a trend that could change the character of the neighborhood, city officials changed the rules, and now, only Ramos House and the Tea House serve alcohol.

Others said they liked Mukai’s plans. Don Tryon, a local history guru who recently retired from the Cultural Heritage Commission, said he didn’t have a problem with beer and wine at Hummingbird.

“The serving of alcohol is certainly keeping with our town in certain ways,” Tryon said, citing nearby watering holes at Ramos House and across the tracks at .

He also called the idea of a bed and breakfast in the building that used to house a jail a “cute idea.”

Ultimately, commissioners said the rules are the rules, and their hands are tied. If Mukai wants to lease out space to an outdoors retailer or if a restaurant on her property wants to serve alcohol, those are changes to the Los Rios Specific Plan which governs land use in the area. And only the City Council can change it.

They did say they would entertain a formal proposal for a bed and breakfast, which would require the construction of a bathroom, although some were doubtful it would be feasible so close to Ramos House, the train tracks and without parking.

After the meeting, Mukai said she does not know yet whether she’ll take her case to the City Council.

“I have to think about it,” she said.

Dr. Marina Dery March 28, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Selling alcohol in that area is going to destroy the image of the one of the most beautiful places in California. Profit that these people are looking for does not justify the peaceful, safe and historical atmosphere of the location. If you want to bring people that will enjoy a drink or two...or three...or four and loud music that goes along with it, go ahead and destroy the one of the last historical places places where where people can actually enjoy themselves without any stimulants! Dr. M.Dery.
SJC Fan March 28, 2012 at 06:27 PM
I don't get it. Why should this decision give Ms. Mukai a headache. Simply follow the rules or ask the City to change them.
Penny Arévalo March 28, 2012 at 06:38 PM
In all fairness, "headache" is my word. I was looking for a word to juxtapose with "dream" and "nightmare" seemed too drastic. Perhaps the headache is more for the owners of the Hummingbird House Cafe, as they're the ones who stand to lose should Tina's Garden not comply.

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