Mayor Seeks Water Citation Relief for Residents

 3,217 Administrative Citations (fines) for “excessive water use” were issued to SJC customers in October, November and December of 2015 and applied to customers’ February water bills. Water fines for the First Quarter, the dryer months of July, August and September, totaled 2,166, but were not issued, according to City staff. The fines result from Governor Brown’s Emergency Executive Order that cities reduce water consumption by 28% annually during the drought. Failure to meet the reduction goal could result in hefty fines to the City.

City staff say they calculate fines quarterly based on the “budgeted amount” of water customers used in 2013, rather than on their actual usage. However, Proposition 218 states that the City may not charge more for water than what it actually costs to deliver it to customers.

Mayor Pam Patterson believes part of the problem may be the City’s tiered water billing formula, for which the City was sued in the past. During the April 19 City Council meeting, Patterson stated, “Despite the clear language of the Governor’s Order, it appears that the City of San Juan Capistrano is imposing punitive measures against its residents beyond that which is required by [the] Executive Order. In fact, it appears that, once again, the City continues to base its water charges on a tiered system already found to be in violation of Proposition 218 by the California Appellate Court. ” As a result, Patterson, who is an attorney, introduced a resolution which seeks to reduce rates by reviewing and if necessary revising, the City’s tiered billing and water citation formulas.

City Considers $500,000 Water Line to Riding Park Property

While fining residents for using too much water, City management has indicated its desire to spend approximately $500,000 to get water to the “Riding Park” equestrian fields being leased by a private company.
Taxpayers purchased the property, which includes the 70-acre Riding Park, as “open space” in 2009. Since purchasing it however, the Riding Park has been leased to privately owned Blenheim Equisports, which uses it to generate revenue from elite equestrian events. As a result, the public and local equestrians are restricted from using the property they are paying for.

The source of the water the City has used for the Riding Park is now the subject of a lawsuit. The water is pumped from a well on an adjacent property formerly owned by Blenheim Equisports owner Richard Brandes, which he sold in 2014 to the Cotton family. The City, along with several others, has been named in a lawsuit filed by the Cottons asserting their rights to the water on/under their property. The litigation is on-going, but the City now claims it must spend money to install a recycled water line to the property in order to have an alternate source of water. Considering that the Riding Park is used almost exclusively by a private company, community members question why the City would spend money that benefits a private monopoly on publicly owned open space.

The lease of the Riding Park to the private company has come under fire recently from SJC residents, who say they no longer want to pay for a monopoly for an elite equestrian group when their property taxes have been increased to pay for property they are restricted from using due to the lease. To spend taxpayer dollars from a City fund to ultimate benefit a private company runs counter to the reason for purchasing the open space to begin with, say residents, especially when only four of San Juan’s approximately 30 parks currently have access to recycled water.

Lawsuit Claims City Elections are “Racist”

                                                                     By Jim Reardon

 Do you consider yourself racist? At least two of your neighbors who filed a lawsuit* against the city apparently do. In their lawsuit, plaintiffs Tina Auclair and Louie Camacho claim the city’s “at-large” election method denies representation to the city’s Latino community. They seek to break the city into districts that they claim will be more representative of the Latino community.
Plaintiff Louie Camacho,
 pictured with Anna Dickinson
Plaintiff Tina Auclair
Plaintiff’s attorney Kevin Shenkman claims that, “The city’s political culture is infected with anti-Latino racism to a degree rarely seen in the 21st Century. “ His lawsuit claims that while 40% of San Juan Capistrano’s population is Latino, the Latino voter registration level is at only 16%. Without facts, Shenkman argues this is racist; the suit offers no direct evidence of the alleged racism. In fact, it fails to acknowledge that several candidates elected to council seats in the recent past and who went on to become Mayors, were Latino. One of them, Londres Uso, was an immigrant from Mexico. Another, Joe Soto, was elected to multiple terms and twice served as our Mayor.
The percentages quoted in Shenkman’s lawsuit are based on the U.S. Census which did not determine citizenship status nor whether individuals are eligible and/or registered to vote. Residents here illegally and all children are included in the racial population figure.

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Water Refunds

 By Kim Lefner

 A Class Action Lawsuit filed on January 8 by a group of San Juan Capistrano residents in OC Superior Court alleges that customers are due “millions of dollars… illegally and wrongfully assessed” for water services from at least February 2010 to July 2015.

The lawsuit states, “SJC failed to calculate its costs in setting its water rates, instead arbitrarily increasing those rates and using improper tiers with no support, justification or relationship to the cost of supplying the water, as required by Proposition 218 and was found by the Court of Appeal and the Orange County Superior Court. SJC’s attempt to escape the consequences of its illegal conduct by accounting sleight of hand should be rejected.”

The suit is based on the outcome of a 2013 lawsuit filed by the Capistrano Taxpayers Association (“CTA”), which successfully sued the City after repeatedly warning the City Council that customers were being overcharged for water in violation of the California Constitution. The council ignored the warnings. A lawsuit was subsequently filed, and an OC Superior Court judge agreed that the water rates violated Proposition 218, which holds that water fees must be reasonably related to actual cost of water service.

The CTA’s win in court was welcome news to the many residents who implored then-council majority members to address runaway costs in the utility department and lower, not raise, water rates. Rather than listening to the concerns and financial hardships expressed by residents, then-city council members Sam Allevato, Larry Kramer and John Taylor voted to use taxpayers’ monies to file an appeal of the ruling, and continued to charge the illegal water rates. On April 20, 2015, they lost again when the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court ruling.

What is “Capistrano Forward”?

Following their election to the City Council in November 2014, the new council majority of Pam Patterson, Kerry Ferguson, Derek Reeve and appointed councilman John Perry have repeatedly been publicly criticized by members and/or supporters of a group calling themselves “Capistrano Forward”.

Members of the group include some of the same supporters of a now-disbanded group calling themselves “San Juan Cares”, which supported the previous “old guard” council majority of Sam Allevato, Larry Kramer and John Taylor. Residents may remember when several years ago, San Juan Cares mailed out glossy flyers to all residents depicting then-council candidates Dr. Roy Byrnes, Councilman Derek Reeve and several prominent community members as clowns and circus characters. The mailers attacked individuals who were on the opposite side of issues promoted by the old guard, and the mailers were widely denounced by residents.

 “San Juan Cares” disappeared, and as near as we can tell, has been resurrected under the name, “Capistrano Forward”. In addition to attacking those with whom they disagree, Capistrano Forward has posted signs along city streets criticizing the current council majority.

Residents who have publicly identified themselves as members and/or supporters of the group are listed below:

                                                                                                                                                            Tom Scott - According to domain registration records, Tom Scott was the original registered owner of the Capistrano Forward website, and used the Camino Real Playhouse address as the group's address (see domain registration listed below*).
Scott has been leasing the taxpayer-owned and subsidized Camino Real Playhouse for the nominal sum of $100 per year from the City, and his lease only allows him to use the property for theater-related activities. In addition, according to the Camino Real Playhouse website, Scott has listed the theater for rent for a fee, in violation of his lease agreement. 

Tina Auclair – After Scott was warned by the city that his use of city-owned and subsidized property for political activities violated the terms of his lease, the website domain registration was taken over by Tina Auclair.

 Auclair has been a frequent public critic of the newly elected council majority and outspoken supporter of the old guard. Auclair filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that San Juan’s election method is “racist” as it does not proportionately represent the Latino community. Auclair claims in her lawsuit that Kim McCarthy and the CCS are “racist”, while failing to acknowledge that McCarthy was a campaign manager for former Councilman Londres Uso, an immigrant from Mexico; established and operated an afterschool “Homework Club” primarily for English Language Learners at a local elementary school and who, as a Parks & Recreation Commissioner, voted to recommend that the city council charge nominal rent to “Creer”, a group established to service local Hispanic youth.
 Anna Dickinson – Local realtor and partner of Tina Auclair in “Regency Realty”; Dickinson lives and owns a home in San Juan with Louie Camacho. Camacho is co-plaintiff in the lawsuit with Tina Auclair claiming that San Juan’s election process is “racist”................................................................................. Stephanie Frisch - Failed council candidate in the November 2014 election, and supporter of the old guard council majority. Expressing bitterness over the election outcome in 2014, Frisch publicly stated in several online posts just after the election: “Educated voting or influence of propaganda… It’s not that I didn't win, it's that all the qualified people didn't and the ones that don't know more than a thimbleful did…”  
"Sad, sad day for our town..."
“This is going to be a very dark time for our town. I am literally afraid for what is going to happen...”

Letter to the Editor

                                            Kudos to the Council for Protecting Ortega         

Having researched the widening of Ortega Highway for the past ten years, I am dismayed by the misinformation being given to the public about this issue.   

The issue is not about simply eliminating a perceived “chokepoint”. In fact, lane reduction is a proven safety measure called “traffic calming” which is used to reduce accidents.  

What this issue is really about is a landowner/developer’s need to have adequate “road capacity” in order to complete build out of their planned developments to the east. Contrary to what some have said, the landowner does NOT automatically have the entitlements to build 14,000 homes and 5 million square feet of commercial/retail space; he must first demonstrate to the county that there is adequate “road capacity” to accommodate the thousands of vehicle trips per day generated by each new development phase. 
Getting the taxpayers to pick up the lion’s share of the 30 million dollar tab for the widening is what has really been behind the push to widen the road. Elimination of the so-called “chokepoint” opens the door to further widening.
Now you might ask, can’t the developer just pay to build the roads that they need in order to handle all of their traffic? Of course, and we SJC residents should demand that the developer do just that. The developer can and should put in their own road on their own land, with their own money, to accommodate their own traffic. The developer’s original plan was to build an east-west arterial road to the north on their own land (listed as a top priority in the 2002 Strategic Transportation Plan), which would redirect hundreds of thousands of vehicle trips away from Ortega.

San Juan Capistrano

                    Commission to Explore More Public Access  
                                     to Eastern Open Space 

                                                                       By Kim Lefner

 After six years and numerous requests to open up the publicly owned but privately controlled “Riding Park” property to the general public, the issue will finally be discussed by the City Parks and Recreation Commission at their meeting on December 21.  

The problem began in 2008, when City leaders “sold” voters on the concept of taxing themselves to buy open space in the City of San Juan Capistrano. In 2009, San Juan voters approved a $30 million bond to purchase open space in town, and property taxes were increased to pay for the purchase.

What City leaders did next was inexplicable. They allowed three private citizens (one of whom is friends and former business partners with the seller) to negotiate behind closed doors the purchase of property outside the City, from the Rancho Mission Viejo Company (“the Ranch”).

As the deal was negotiated behind closed doors, the public was not aware of what the City was buying with their tax dollars. To make maters worse, nearly half of the property was already protected open space thus obviating the need to buy this property to "protect it" from development. The planned development of up to 14,000 homes and approximately 5 million square feet of commercial and retail space is continuing across the street from the "open space".  

“Open Space” is restricted
The biggest bone of contention is that the most valuable and usable portion of the 132-acre “open space” property, the approximate 70-acre “Riding Park”, is leased to a private, for-profit equestrian events promoter. The company, Blenheim Equisports, uses the publicly owned property to generate substantial revenue from equestrian events. As a result, the public is only “granted” access to the property that they own six days per year.

Possible bond violations
One potentially serious problem for the City is the fact that a “Public Purpose Bond” was used to purchase the open space. Because it is tax-exempt, it has restrictions on the amount of revenue that can be generated on the property (see definition of “Public vs. Private Purpose Bonds” at end of article). It also restricts the percentage of public property that can be allocated (leased) to a private business. As stated previously in the CCS, we believe the City may have violated the terms of the bond by leasing such a large portion of the property to a for-profit company that generates revenue far in excess of what is allowed by a Public Purpose Bond – especially when such lease restricts the general public from accessing or using the property. The CCS has joined residents in questioning whether this arrangement constitutes a gift of public funds.

San Juan Capistrano

                            The Facts Regarding the Vermeulen Lawsuit

                                                By Kerry Ferguson, San Juan City Councilmember

SJC Councilmember Kerry Ferguson
You may have heard rumblings about the City being sued by the Vermeulen family and Troy Bourne of Spieker Development (“Plaintiffs”), over the unsuccessful development of the Vermeulen property. Some supporters of the development have gone so far as to predict that the lawsuit will bankrupt the City. Allow me to set the record straight.

 Here's what our critics haven't told you:

 The City strongly disagrees with the claims alleged in the lawsuit and on Friday, September 18, 2015, the City filed a motion challenging the lawsuit on many grounds.

It is the City's position that the lawsuit improperly seeks to usurp the City's broad police powers and to dictate how a City Council should exercise its discretionary legislative and zoning authority by effectively forcing the City to “up-zone” the property from Agricultural-Business uses to dense residential uses. This is contrary to California Law.

The Plaintiffs' position is also not supported by the facts. Although the Vermeulen property has been used for farming and other agricultural uses since 1938, Plaintiffs' claim that it can no longer be viably used for agricultural and other uses allowed by the Agri-Business General Plan designation of the property is patently false. The property has been leased to Armstrong nurseries since 1998, a T-Mobile facility provides extra beneficial use, and the Retail Center, which is part of the Vermeulen Ranch, continues in business to this day. 

The Agri-Business zoning allows many different types of uses, but the Plaintiffs never applied for any of those uses. A mere desire to up-zone and build a more lucrative project than historically existed or currently exists does not provide any basis, constitutional or otherwise, for forcing the City to change the General Plan designation.

 It is also the City's position that the lawsuit improperly seeks to undermine the will of the voters. Last November, well more than the required number of voters in the City exercised their inherent referendum powers by challenging the resolution that had approved a General Plan Amendment and Specific Plan for Spieker Development's Project.
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