City Pushes for Million Dollar Water / Sewer Lines at Riding Park

At the March 21, 2017 City Council meeting, city staff recommended that the council approve spending more than $1 million to install recycled water and sewer lines at the publicly owned Riding Park.

The price of installation pales in comparison to the cost of purchasing recycled water year after year. The difference in cost is $1,567 per acre foot for recycled water compared to $150 to $289 per acre foot* for non-potable well water. City staff estimates Riding Park watering needs at up to 167 acre feet per year. At current rates, recycled water would cost the taxpayers from $156,700 to $267,000 per year, compared to well water which would cost an estimated $51,000 per year.

Less expensive water option available

An adjoining property owner currently provides non-potable well water to Blenheim Facilities Management, the private company that manages and uses the publicly owned Riding Park. The private well on the neighboring property has irrigated the Riding Park continuously for decades, including in times of drought. Ironically, Blenheim’s owner sold the adjoining property with the well and water rights to its current owner.

The current well owner extended an offer to the city to continue purchasing water for the Riding Park for a flat rate of $3,000 per month, after paying a one-time fee of $35,000. During discussion of this issue at the council meeting, City Manager Ben Siegel dismissed the option, stating that the private well water could be discontinued with a 90-day notice. However, Councilmember Patterson elicited the admission from Siegel that he had never spoken with the well owner whereas Patterson stated that she had communicated with the well owner. She stated that his intent is to continue to provide water to the Riding Park. In fact, the well owner, Jeffrey Cotton, said it was the city that added the 90-day termination language, not him. According to Patterson, Cotton also stated his willingness to adjust the water agreement with terms that the city would be more comfortable with.

City has rights to construct a well

You Didn't Cause This Problem; Should You Pay To Fix It?

The city hired Blenheim Facilities Management to “manage” the Riding Park property. Blenheim also owns a company which uses the Riding Park almost exclusively to host their equestrian events. 

Blenheim has multiple horse “wash racks” mere feet from the banks of San Juan Creek. For many years, contaminated water from the horse wash racks has drained into the creek. In addition, as noted in a Notice of Violation, Blenheim also had a human shower trailer with at least three stalls which also appeared to drain into the creek. Several PVC pipes were noted sticking out from the creek bank, which appeared to serve as drains into the creek.

Contaminated water drains from horse wash
racks (left) to creek (right)
Acting upon concerns from residents, the San Diego Water Board (SDWB) which has authority over the creek watershed, issued multiple Notices of Violation to the city to clean up these conditions. Several months after the notices were issued, the water board issued a letter of non-compliance. In reports to commissions and council, City Manager Ben Siegel denied that there were any existing code violations, even as the water board was issuing yet another non-compliance email to the city.

 In January 2017, City Engineer Hossein Ajideh wrote the following in an email to the water board about the city’s plan to clean up the contamination problem caused by Blenheim; “… We… discussed the City’s long term plan that includes expanding the City’s sewer system to capture wash rack discharges. We anticipate that the construction of the sewer expansion will occur in late 2017.” During a recent council meeting, City Manager Siegel also reiterated the city’s plan to install a sewer line to capture the contaminated water from the horse wash racks.

Blenheim’s property management agreement with the city states that they are responsible for complying with all laws, codes, etc. In addition, they are responsible for repairing any damage to the property arising from their management of it.

Why now are the taxpayers being tapped to pay $500,000 to install a sewer line to remediate a problem caused by a private business? It remains to be seen whether the city will hold Blenheim responsible for fixing and restoring any damage to the public property.   

Should taxpayers pay to remediate Blenheim’s problem? The CCS wants to hear from you! Email us at: Your name will not be printed without your permission.    

Protect Historic Los Rios Neighborhood from 60,000 sf Mall

Guest Column

                                                                By Michael Laux

There is a proposal in front of the City Council to permanently change the fabric of the Los Rios Historic District. A developer is trying to build a mall with 60,000 sq ft of retail, office, restaurant, and drinking establishments on the nursery property located between Los Rios St and Paseo Adelanto. It will also include 300 parking spaces, with the accompanying traffic congestion, noise, and pollution. It will put dumpsters, delivery trucks, AC and refrigeration compressors, grease ducts, and swamp coolers in the backyards of a substantial number of the homes. It will exacerbate the Del Obispo traffic gridlock that we already experience on a daily basis. This is a project that does not belong in the oldest residential neighborhood in California.
Proposed mall in the historic Los Rios neighborhood located on the Nursery property would add 60,000 sf of retail, buildings up to 45’ high and 300 parking spaces. Del Obispo is at lower left of photo; train tracks and Los Rios street are at bottom right; creek channel is at upper left.

Plans to Extend San Juan Creek Road to La Pata On the Horizon?

Guest Column
                                                                By Ian J. Smith

Do you live in San Juan? Do you live off San Juan Creek Road or have children attending Ambuehl Elementary? If so, read on; this issue may greatly impact you.

Look closely at the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) map within this article. Note the dotted lines at the end of San Juan Creek Road, where it dead ends at the open space property. According to County planning documents, these dotted lines indicate plans for future road widening and/or extension. This map has been available for a while and does state that roads with dotted lines “may not” be constructed; why now should we be concerned? Here’s why…

2017 Master Plan of Arterial Highways map
from OCTA shows dotted line indicating planned
extension of San Juan Creek Road.
Map Credit:Orange County Transportation Agency

In mid-December, I became aware of construction activity at the Riding Park entrance off Avenida La Pata. There is a newly widened entrance and exit being built which just happens to line up in a westerly direction towards the current ending of San Juan Creek Road. After three months of asking questions and getting nowhere at City Hall, I finally learned that this construction was authorized by our City Council in November 2013, in accordance with the 2010 Purchase Contract when the City bought the “open space” from the Rancho Mission Viejo Company. It grants construction easements to the county and the Ranch. Once again this contract reminds our residents that we continue to bear the negative burdens of the extensive restrictions contained within the Purchase Agreement.

What’s That Noise? FAA Allows Low-Flying Jets over San Juan

Guest Column
                                                              By Donna Fleming

Recently, I read an article in the OC Register about the FAA approval of a modified flight path for jet planes over South Orange County. I then read the Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) prepared for the FAA that justifies this route change. The report states, “no impact to residents,” which is untrue; the low flying jets are roaring in off the coast, right over my home and probably yours too. But much worse, the EIR did not cover impacts to wild life, which is beyond negligent. The new flight path for low flying planes at 4,500 – 7,000 feet through San Juan Capistrano air space is a blunder of epic proportions.

FAA map shows modified flight path which allows low-flying jets over San Juan.
Map credit: Todd Spitzer, OC Supervisor, Third District

Half of Eastern Open Space Given to Private Businesses, Subsidized by Taxpayers

Did you vote to give the open space you are paying for to a private business and a developer so they can generate profits for their businesses?

 That is what is happening with more than half of the 132-acre “open space” San Juan residents voted to purchase in 2009 at Ortega and La Pata. The remaining “open space” is largely unusable hilly or conservation easements.  

The two open space parcels monopolized by private businesses are the 70-acre Riding Park, used for elite Hunter-Jumper and Dressage competitions, and a 2.4-acre parcel previously leased to The Oaks when it was owned by Joan Irvine-Smith. Irvine-Smith used the 2.4 acres as an adjunct to her neighboring equestrian facility.

The lease of the publicly owned open space to a
private company restricts the public from using it.
The City collects only $4,800 per year from the developer for the 2.4 acre open space parcel while SJC taxpayers pay approximately $37,000 per year in interest on the bond payment. In addition, a boarder claimed that the developer is leasing horse “turn outs” for $1,000 per month each on the property, a
claim the developer denies.

Since February 2016, the ownership and lease of the 2.4 acres has been discussed by both the Trails and Equestrian Commission, and the Parks, Recreation, Senior and Youth Services Commission. Both commissions recommended that the City Council approve removal of the fence and giving use of the property to the residents who are paying for it, as promised in Measure Y (the Open Space bond measure).

Instead of acting on the commissions’ recommendation, the issue was discussed by the City Council behind closed doors, and has been sent back to the commissions to discuss potential uses of the taxpayer-owned property. 

Although we are unsure who is behind the effort to give the taxpayer-owned property to the developer, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the Davidson “equestrian lifestyle” residential development quotes Councilman Sam Allevato about Davidson’s development. “Mr. Davidson’s final plans for the project were well-received by neighbors and city officials. He got unanimous approval from both the city’s planning commission and city council—a rarity... They walked in and were able to build it with just some minor tweaks,” Mr. Allevato said (read the full WSJ Davidson Development article listed under “Community Links“, to the right).

                                   Lease of the 2.4 Acres; Is it Legal?

When Joan Irvine-Smith sold her equestrian facility known as “The Oaks” to developer Bill Davidson in 2013, her License Agreement with the City prohibited assumption of the lease of the 2.4 acre parcel of publicly-owned open space without prior written consent. The original 2010 License Agreement states, “LICENSEE may not assign, sublet or otherwise transfer its interest under this Agreement without the prior written consent of the LICENSOR [the City]. Any attempted assignment, sublet or transfer of this provision shall be null and void.” (see the entire 2010 Oaks License Agreement under “Community Links”). We can find no prior written consent, yet the license agreement was somehow transferred to the new property owner.

 • It is unknown why the City allowed Davidson to assume the License Agreement/lease of property that belongs to and is paid for by the public.

 • It is also unknown why the developer is being charged only $4,800 per year for the acreage, when the interest payment on the parcel paid by SJC taxpayers amounts to an estimated $37,000 per year.

Court Invalidates Previous Council Majority’s Approval of Proposed "Urban Village" Downtown Development

On August 23, 2016 an OC Superior Court judge invalidated approval of the proposed "Urban Village" hotel and residential downtown development. The project was approved by the previous council majority of Sam Allevato, Larry Kramer and John Taylor, despite warnings from the City Attorney and City Manager that the project was not in compliance with the City’s General Plan. The order mandated that the City vacate the project approval.

The action by the previous council majority spawned several lawsuits, including one filed by a group of residents against the then-Council majority’s approval. In "Save Our Historic Town Center v. City of San Juan Capistrano", residents claimed that the project was not in compliance with the General Plan or the Historic Town Center Master Plan. 

The project approval was also the subject of a referendum, approved by a majority of SJC voters and certified by the Registrar of Voters, to overturn the vote of the previous council majority. Although the referendum was successful, the developer filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate it and the subsequent vote of the current council majority which overturned it. It is unknown at this time how or if the court ruling will render as moot the developer’s lawsuit to invalidate the referendum. 

The ruling stated that the vote to approve the downtown development was invalid as the proposed development violated the City’s General Plan which does not allow residential housing downtown, and that the Floor Area Ratio (size) was nearly three times greater than what is allowed. 

The decision caps nearly 2 years of turmoil and expensive litigation.

The court ruling vindicates Mayor Pam Patterson and Mayor Pro Tem Kerry Ferguson who as newly elected councilmembers, voted with incumbent Councilman Derek Reeve and now-retired Councilman Roy Byrnes to overturn the previous council’s approval. The council members were harshly criticized by supporters of the development for approving the referendum and overturning the project approval. Referendum supporters on the other hand, called the 3 AM vote by the previous council "reckless and illegal" and criticized them for ignoring residents in the community. The CCS will keep you posted with any additional details as they become available.

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