A Matter of Trust

Derek Reeve, CCS Reader

At a recent city council meeting, Mayor Uso insisted that the people of San Juan Capistrano should trust their city council. It embarrassingly came across like a used car salesman trying to sell the city a lemon. The people do not trust the current city council because collectively they make maddening contradictory arguments on policy and spending. Furthermore, each has betrayed their campaign pledge for transparency in city government. You remember transparency? It is that popular yet often abused phrase that has been tarred and feathered, and locked away in a secret vault in the council’s political purgatory.

The people of San Juan do not trust the city council because many of their arguments are simply and blatantly illogical. Take the issues of revenue and spending. The city council is poised to approve the Distrito-La Novia Meadows project for the primary stated reason of increasing much needed revenue for the city. However, while the council approves transformative development projects to raise alleged needed revenues, they in turn spend money like it is going out of style. They are in secret negotiations to buy an unneeded new city hall, they spend hundreds of thousands of dollar on unwanted consultants, and they continue to acquire millions of dollars of unconscionable grants that require city matching funds. The city council however will never explain where all this money is coming from.

The most recent matching fund grant came from OCTA totaling 1.5 million dollars in order to plant native plants in the northwest corridor. This is Orange County tax payer dollars plus, according to our records, almost four hundred thousand dollars of San Juan tax payer dollars to garden our open space. Yet when it was discovered that residents in San Juan were being overcharged for trash services and an audit was needed, the city council expressed concern that the audit might be too expensive. Our city council acts schizophrenic as to whether we have money to burn or whether we need to pinch our pennies.

The hesitation to audit the trash service also has everything to do with keeping that abused transparency from peeking out of its vault. The city council does not want this embarrassing issue to become known before the upcoming historic election. So much of what the city council does is designed to keep the people in the dark. The city council agenda is often packed with non essential items while placing the more important substantive issues placed at the end of the agenda after everyone has left and gone to sleep. Take for example the issue of double tracking in San Juan Capistrano. This is an issue every current city council member campaigned against. Yet at 11:40 pm on September 21, 2010, after even the local journalists had gone home, the city council all but approved double tracking through town.

The willingness by the city council to overtly avoid transparency has legal consequences as well. All substantive council decisions must be properly noticed in the council agenda and allow for public debate. The double tracking issue was clearly not listed in the agenda. It was hidden in the agenda as a “status report” for an ad hoc open space sub-committee. It was impossible for the public to know that the double tracking issue was on the agenda and no public debate was allowed. This is not new for our city council. Remember that unneeded city hall that the council is negotiating to purchase? That likewise was not properly identified on the agenda. It is consequently not surprising that Mark Nielsen and the rest of the city council were investigated by the Orange County District Attorney for violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act. Unfortunately the investigation will not be completed until after the election.

It is no wonder the people of San Juan do not trust our city council. The council has spent tax payer funds and purposed development projects illogically. Furthermore, the council has taken every step imaginable to keep the people in the dark. I am sorry Mayor Uso, but trust is earned.

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