Former President Richard M. Nixon's original vision of a presidential library next to the Yorba Linda house where he was born may come true, ending San Clemente's plans for the library, a Nixon spokesman said Friday.
"The issue is not dead (in San Clemente), but it is the feeling of Mr. Nixon and the foundation that it is increasingly likely that it will be in Yorba Linda," said Nixon's special assistant, John Taylor. A decision probably will be made within three weeks, he said.
Yorba Linda City Manager Art Simonian recently notified the Richard Nixon Presidential Archives Foundation that the school district had agreed to sell a nine-acre site next to Nixon's birthplace to the city for $1.3 million.
Simonian said Friday that the city's staff is drafting the proposed terms for building the library on the former site of Richard Nixon Elementary School, which closed four years ago.
"We believe whatever we do we're going to do it in a more timely fashion than San Clemente," Simonian said.
In 1984, the San Clemente City Council approved a plan for the library on 17.6 acres atop coastal bluffs overlooking the former president's Western White House. But construction was stalled when the Lusk Co. of Irvine, which had donated the property, said it would not build the library until the city approved the Marblehead Coastal Plan, a 253-acre residential and commercial development that included the library.
After a year of meetings, the City Council last month approved the first phase of the project. Lusk had been preparing to present the plan to the California Coastal Commission for approval.
Although the Yorba Linda proposal might now thwart those plans, San Clemente is not giving up.
"From what we've been told by the Nixon foundation, the deal has not been consummated yet. And the way these things go, it's not over until it's over," San Clemente City Manager James B. Hendrickson said Friday.
Taylor said Nixon was delighted to hear about the agreement between the Yorba Linda School District and the city. Nixon originally wanted the library there when he and foundation members began looking for a site more than four years ago, Taylor said. But the school district land was unavailable then.
Although Nixon appreciates the support of San Clemente officials for the library project, Taylor said, building the library in Yorba Linda also would take less time.
"One would just assume it will be a somewhat speedier process because you do not have the (California) Coastal Commission involved, and it is not accompanied by a large commercial and residential development," Taylor said.
The cost of the project will still be about $25 million, Taylor said. Only a few of the donations for the project were contingent on the San Clemente site.
Just last week, San Clemente City Council members had requested a meeting with Nixon to convince him of their support. Taylor said Nixon chose not to meet with them because "he wouldn't learn anything new from it."
"It was never an issue of persuading him one way or the other," Taylor said.
If Nixon chooses the Yorba Linda site, the entire Marblehead Coastal Plan returns to the drawing board.
"We're extremely disappointed in what we're hearing," said Donald Steffensen, executive vice president of the Lusk Co.
However, he said his company still intends to work with the city to develop the land. "It's a very fine piece of property," he said. "With the library gone, certainly we would have to take a very hard look at the plan, as would the city."
In addition to the $1.3 million Yorba Linda will pay for the school district land, it agreed to build a community center on school district property next to Yorba Linda Junior High School, Simonian said.
The Nixon house, built by his father, Frank, is owned by the Nixon Birthplace Foundation.