Guest Column

Why I am Running for San Juan City Council

by Roy Byrnes, MD 

People have asked me, a gray-haired retired doc, why I am willing to spend my retirement running for office again. After all, they’ve reminded me, I’d already done my “civic duty” years ago when serving multiple terms as Mayor of San Juan.

I tell them that after spending years working to preserve our ridgelines, Open Space and in general our quality of life, I cannot in all good conscience stand by and watch San Juan continue to be hijacked by powerful people with deep pockets.

A look at my track record will reveal that during my two terms as Mayor, I along with other good citizens established the original General Plan as a guideline for reasonable and sustainable future growth while protecting the quality of life in our small town. Sadly, things have gone badly astray.

Since my time on the council I have spent many years attending City Council meetings and speaking up when I believed our original City vision was being subverted to serve the interests of a select few, known as “the good ol’ boys” by many of us in San Juan.

In my opinion, some of the goings-on at City Hall are questionably legal, as evidenced by the most recent lawsuit filed against the City by the Capistrano Taxpayers Association (CTA). That lawsuit is designed to force the City to obey the law and bring our water rates down to a reasonable, affordable figure. Too bad it takes a lawsuit to get our City Council to listen. I hope to change that.

I believe it’s time to reassess; to come together and reassert a common sense approach to operating our City with transparency and fiscal honesty. One way to do this is to renounce the current “credit card” mentality of City Hall.

Some are already attacking me based on my age but the way I see it, my age is an asset. My experience and historical knowledge of San Juan will become your assets. I know how to get things done and I will represent you the resident and not some good ol' boy who doesn't care about your quality of life and who only wants your money or your vote in order to enrich himself.

I urge you to research the candidates. If they’re City officials, look at their voting records. Look at how they’ve managed growth and our finances. Look around town and see if you like the results of their leadership, then VOTE on November 6 – your quality of life depends on it!

Follow the Money

By Clint Worthington 

I was interested to find out exactly where the campaign contributions came from for incumbent City Council Candidate Sam Allevato. I obtained a copy of Form 460 from the City Clerks office and specifically looked at “Schedule A - Monetary Contributions Received”. Keep in mind, the contribution limit is $250.00 per individual but what often happens is that many people in one company will each donate. When you have a company the size of the Rancho Mission Viejo Company, that can (and does) add up.

I was quite surprised how many contributions were from corporations or individuals that at some point received a favorable vote from Sam Allevato. Here are just a few:

1. CR&R Waste ( evergreen contract for trash hauling)

2. Tony Moiso (CEO, Rancho Mission Viejo Company, who we purchased 132 acres from)

3. Gil Aguirre (VP, Rancho Mission Viejo Co)

4. Brad Gates (negotiator on 132 acre purchase of RMV Riding Park and friend of Moiso’s)

5. Christopher Townsend ( Lobbying contract with the City)

6. Last name of Friess (I lost count of how many contributed after five)

7. Myron Sukut (Developer/partner in Distrito La Novia & proponent of Yes on Measure B, Distrito La Novia)

8. Robb Cerruti (Developer/partner in Distrito La Novia & proponent of Yes on Measure B, Distrito La Novia)

9. Gretchen Stroesher Thompson ( future hotel developer at Del Obispo and Ortega Highway)

10. Orange County Automobile Dealers (favorable signs for auto dealers and $5 million in taxpayer-funded redevelopment agency money)

I’m sure Councilman Allevato would say it’s just a coincidence; that he and the contributors have done nothing wrong. Maybe not, but it sure makes me wonder why someone would raise so much money for a job that pays so little.
What Your Neighbors Are Saying…

Since we began publication 2 ½ years ago, we have encouraged emails and letters from our readers – and boy, do we get them!

Listed below are excerpts from some of them, to let you know what your fellow residents are saying:

“I have been a homeowner in SJC for 12 years. First of all I'd like to say that I appreciate all your efforts in trying to bring transparency to our towns’ political arena (where it is so very needed).”

“Can someone do some sleuthing and find out who was taking money under the table when this [CR&R trash] contract was signed? This contract smells…”

“I commend your services in "Capistrano Common Sense". Keep it up”

“Our water rates are WAY out of line. The major rate difference from the surrounding cities plus the illegal "tiered" billing is ridiculous!! Is the City going to take another 5 years to realize that?”

“Thank you for your newsletters, helping the citizens of San Juan Capistrano be apprised of the truth.”

“I am grateful to hear that I am not the only resident in SJC who is astounded by how much I pay for water compared to friends in other nearby communities. Another example of the gross mis-management that goes on in our city government. Thanks for watching out for us all.”

“It's comforting to my wife and I, especially in these days of such widespread apathy, to know that there are still some groups around willing to fight for what's right.”

“Watch dogs can be of great service to the citizens and great balance to any entity in power. Good luck with achieving that goal.”

“I recently received the Capistrano Common Sense and you can count me as one of your fellow outraged citizens...Things must change and soon. I now pay more for water than I do for cable, gas, trash service and electricity combined. What more can be done to hold those responsible accountable and to turn this ridiculous situation around?”

“Your last three issues have covered water concerns and rising water bills, but I do not see the City Council responding in kind. The two and three tier billing is just that - more money for the city. Common Sense and other concerned people better be at all meetings hammering this council to correct all financial problems with the city. It is basically what is wrong not only local but national. There is so much apathy, directed at people who continue to turn away from the true problems we have…Thanks”

Planning Commission: Oaks’ Open Space “Land Swap” Has Too Many Unanswered Questions

Editorial

How can voters make an informed decision when they don’t know what they’re voting for? That was the question behind the Planning Commission’s 6-1 vote recommending that the City Council NOT approve placing The Oaks/Shea Homes Open Space “land swap” on the ballot in November. The Council is set to decide the issue on Tuesday, July 17.

To provide some background; The Oaks property owned in principal by Joan Irvine-Smith has asked for a General Plan Amendment (“GPA”) to swap some of her land currently zoned “Open Space Recreational” with an adjacent parcel zoned for “Residential” development. Voter-approved Measure X gave San Juan voters the right to decide whether Open Space can be re-zoned for development purposes. Thus the proposed developer, Shea Homes, and Ms. Irvine-Smith are requesting that the Council approve placing this issue before the voters in November.

We support the right of property owners to develop their property within what the law allows, but the Planning Commission has recommended that more information be provided and questions be answered before moving for a GPA and re-zone vote.

Several Planning Commissioners expressed concern about this deal being rushed to the ballot before issues have been addressed. Why the rush? The only reason we can see is to save the developer from having to pay for a special election. If the issue is put on the November General Election ballot, taxpayers pick up the associated costs which include paying our City Attorney to write an analysis and ballot label. The deadline is looming to qualify for the November ballot, so the developer wants to fast-track the planning process. But why shortchange the voters to save the developer money?

Some of the concerns raised by the Planning Commission include:
The Not-So-Open-Space Foundation

By Ian Smith

It’s truly amazing how our City Council majority continues to belittle opposition to their lavish spending agenda, especially when it benefits their cronies. This dismissive attitude towards residents was on display again at a recent Council meeting when the Council approved a license agreement for the Open Space Foundation to construct facilities on our RMV Riding Park “Open Space” property.

At first glance, the Foundation’s plan to construct these facilities using “private donations” seems like a great idea, until you look closely at the Foundation and how it’s funded.

Brad Gates, the Founder and Chairman of the Open Space Foundation, was designated the real estate negotiator on the City’s behalf for the purchase of his buddy Tony Moiso’s Rancho Mission Viejo “Open Space” property. Every San Juan property owner’s taxes were increased by about $35 for every $100,000 of assessed value for the next 20 years to pay for it.

Gates negotiated (behind closed doors) a “Rodeo License Agreement” for the annual Rancho Mission Viejo Company Rodeo which allows the Ranch to use our park FREE OF CHARGE for the next 50 YEARS. During the 50 years, NO ONE else, including our City, is allowed to hold a rodeo at any time on our property!

As if this negotiated monopoly by Gates wasn’t bad enough, Gates designated his Open Space Foundation as the primary beneficiary of the”‘majority of proceeds” from the rodeo.

So in essence every property owner in San Juan is forced to “donate” to the Foundation through the waiver of substantial fees for letting the Ranch use our property!
Water Rates; Defending the Indefensible...

Recently in the Capistrano Valley News, Mayor Larry Kramer attempted to explain away the 25.6% water and sewer fee increase imposed by the Council majority on July 1. After a rambling explanation about how frugal with water his household is, the mayor was left with the fact that it's still a 25.6% increase, no matter how insignificant Mr. Kramer wants you to believe 25.6% is. With inflation only increasing at about 2% per year, our water and sewer rate increases amount to over ten times the rate of inflation. Clearly the City will not control costs, so tax increases are their only answer.

We at CCS believe the water rates are already out of control and increasing the unreasonably high rates only makes a bad situation worse. How about you; what do you think? We’d like to hear your thoughts. We can be reached at: eboard@ccsense.com .
Tone Deaf Council Members Earn Their Bad Rap

By Kim Lefner

Politicians often get a bad rap for a reason, as demonstrated by the actions of the council majority over the years. Take the CR&R trash contract for example. At the June 5 council meeting during a discussion of the CR&R contract, several residents pointed out the following:

- CR&R was overcharging San Juan customers until they were caught; not by staff responsible for finding “billing errors”, but by resident Ian Smith, who brought it to the City Manager’s attention. Only then did staff calculate a refund owed to ratepayers. Instead of thanking Mr. Smith for looking out for the public interest, Council members Allevato, Kramer and Freese thanked the staff for doing a great job!

- For many months now, resident Clint Worthington has questioned why customers aren’t being credited for the recycled waste owed to us per CR&R’s contract. Councilman Allevato flat out denied there was a recycled waste provision, but City staffer Ziad Mazboudi admitted that we are to be credited for recycled trash per CR&R’s contract. Instead of thanking Mr. Worthington for bringing this to their attention and promising to look into it, Allevato and Mayor Kramer thanked CR&R for doing a terrific job of providing service to us!

- When residents questioned why CR&R has been granted a monopoly since 1998 (their current contract doesn’t expire until July, 2019 and automatically renews every year), one of the reasons staff gave is that CR&R had to recoup their investment from state requirements that trash haulers purchase clean fuel-burning vehicles. Questions such as why we ratepayers should have to give up anything to offset CR&R’s cost of doing business, or why staff negotiated this burden on the backs of ratepayers via ridiculous contract terms, were dismissed by these council members. Instead, Council members Kramer and Allevato thanked the staff for a negotiating a great contract!

Guest Column

An Open Letter to Council members Freese & Allevato

by Roy Byrnes, MD, former Mayor, San Juan Capistrano

Dear Sam & Laura –

I respect and like you both. I’m writing today to humbly ask that you not seek re-election to the City Council in November. It wouldn’t be fair to San Juan residents. Sam, in your case you’ve been on for 9 years. If re-elected, that would be 13 years; far too long. Time for new blood and a fresh approach.

You’ve both made too many unwise decisions that have hurt the community. Elections are “report card time” for incumbents and your “report cards” as listed below, are not good:

-  You’ve forced residents to continue pouring money into a water plant that produces water costing nearly twice as much than if we purchased it from the Metropolitan Water District. You’ve claimed that this water plant is “more reliable” when in reality it’s cost us millions more in repairs due to its flawed design. Mr. Allevato, you’ve tried to hide your failure by moaning; “This water debacle was created before I came on the Council”. But please explain why for 9 years you’ve made no attempt to either solve or correct the basic problem?

-   In 2009 you both took part in the shameful, covert conspiracy to give the Rancho Mission Viejo Co (“the Ranch”) 27.5 million of our tax dollars for 132 acres of “Riding Park” and “open space” land that wasn’t even in our City; half of which was already protected as open space.
-  Why did you agree to name this property: “The Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park”? Why name it for the seller’s city? Didn’t San Juan pay for it?
-  Why are we citizens prohibited from entering our own “Riding Park” (except for a few measly promotional hours each year)? Aren’t we paying for it?
-  Why did you sign away the rights of San Juan citizens to object to any development by the Ranch on its property across the street, no matter how adversely we will be affected by traffic and other impacts?
-  After paying millions for a large sports field at the “Riding Park”, why did you agree to the Ranch’s selfish demand that permanent night lighting be prohibited?
-  Why did you give the Ranch free use of the property for their Rodeo for 50 years? Why did you agree to restrict everyone else – including our own City – from holding a rodeo on our property for those 50 years? This single act pulls hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the pockets of San Juan citizens.
-  Why did you appoint a close buddy of the seller as the official “real property negotiator” for the purchase of the Riding Park property, then exempt him from the conflict of interest disclosure required of every single committee and commission member throughout San Juan history? Transparency rules should have required that the City’s “real property negotiator” be either the City Manager as has ALWAYS been the case, or an arms-length, licensed professional with no ties to either party. Why did you fail to do this?

-  How can you explain spending over half a million dollars for a “Downtown Business Plan” that will only obliterate our unique historic atmosphere and transform San Juan into a faux plastic “Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive”?

The prime responsibility of a City Council member covers traffic and city finances. Yet on your watch, traffic has gotten much worse and the City bond rating has dropped while debt has increased.

My request is simple and sincere: I thank you for your service, but it’s time to step aside and allow others to have a crack at it. Enough is enough; indeed, enough is too much!
Hang On to Your Wallets; City OKs 25.6% Water &Sewer
Rate Increase

By John Perry

Based on City documents, a planned water & sewer rate increase will hit consumers harder than first thought. The Water Rate Study that was approved by the City Council in February 2010 provided authority for the City Council to levy a series of rate increases on your monthly water bill.

The initial rate increase in February and July 2010 amounted to 40% for water usage plus another 5.5% for a service charge. The Council also approved a continuing yearly rate increase of 3% for water, 5.5% for service charge and 5.5% for sewer.

However, the City Staff is now calling for a “readjustment” of customer sewer rates to more accurately reflect the cost of providing the sewer service.

The residential service will be “readjusted” from 5.5% to a whopping 17.1%. Mobile home residents will be hit with an increase of an astounding 19.8%.

Meanwhile, the City is giving rate decreases to commercial users at an average of 6.5 %. So, that means that the hotel or business with many toilets pays less for their service than a homeowner with a couple of toilets, even if the commercial users are placing more strain on the infrastructure.

This “readjustment” is an obvious way of increasing “revenue” to the Utilities Department in an election year without disturbing the politically sensitive issue of the faulty and costly water plant. Most people will likely shrug off a 3% increase in the cost of water. But if you look at the total water bill, you will see a 25.6% increase, not a small increase.

From the "Gridlock Files"…

 The “Award-winning” Rancho Viejo & Junipero Serra intersection

By Kim McCarthy

During a City Council Meeting awhile back, I watched as then-Mayor Sam Allevato gushed over staff as they were presented a “Project of the Year” award from the American Pubic Works Association for “improvements” to the intersection of Junipero Serra and Rancho Viejo Road. Then-Mayor Sam was all smiles as he held the award while posing for a photo op with other bureaucrats.

Since then, every time I attempt to get through this gridlocked million-dollar intersection (no less than 4X a day), it occurs to me that the award should have been for “the latest traffic nightmare” brought to you by the City of San Juan Capistrano, at taxpayer expense.

If you don’t travel this way (but instead get your share of gridlock on the other end of town with the “Ghost Train” at Del Obispo where traffic is regularly backed up) let me offer you a glimpse of this traffic nightmare. The City has erected pylons separating the lanes. This forces cars into lanes that ultimately back up traffic even more. I have heard from so many neighbors and friends about their frustration level with the traffic congestion created by this intersection that it’s a small wonder the City finally hired a consultant to “fix” this “award-winning” million-dollar intersection.

When I went down to City Hall to ask why this intersection hasn’t been fixed, I was assured that they have hired a consultant and the intersection will be better than ever, plus safe! Does it bother you as much as it does me that it’s Other People’s Money that paid for the intersection “improvements” and it’s the same taxpayers who are now forced to pay to “fix” the “improvements”?

Oppose Water Rate Increases; Join the CTA!


The Capistrano Taxpayer Association, a California 501(c) (4) corporation, was established to serve as a watchdog over elected officials and bureaucrats who spend taxpayer monies in order to assure that the public interest is protected. The organization was formed by local residents who have an interest in assuring that governing bodies comply with State and Federal regulations.

The CTA is offering Associate Memberships for $25 per year. Membership fees will provide the member with a mailed copy of CCS newsletters for a year, access to the CTA website that contains insider information including research and reporting of issues of concern to Capistrano taxpayers and for establishment of a legal defense fund.

Membership is open to all San Juan Capistrano and nearby residents who have an interest in determining and protecting how their tax dollars are spent. To become a member or to support the CTA’s efforts, please visit the CTA website at: Capotax.org  or mail check payable to the CTA at:

Capistrano Taxpayers Association 
P.O. Box 1452 
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675 
SDG&E Requests “No Public Hearing”

SDG&E submitted an application to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on 5/18/12 for approval to double the size of the substation on Camino Capistrano and more than double the voltage on the transmission lines. Despite (or because of?) the huge impacts to our town, SDG&E is requesting that the public not be granted a Public Hearing with the Public Utilities Commission. The proposed project will:

- Build a massive new substation (doubling the size) with two 45 to 50-foot tall buildings and a 360-foot long, 10-foot high wall the length of a football field at the Northern entrance to historic downtown.

- Increase Electro Magnetic Fields (EMFs). This project will more than double the voltage on the transmission lines running throughout town, including through many neighborhoods. Health risks are unknown, but so were the health impacts from smoking and asbestos exposure for many years. Some studies suggest that prolonged exposure to high levels of EMF may contribute to health problems such as childhood leukemia and brain tumors. Families living near smaller electrical substations have experienced problems ranging from hair loss to cancer.

SDG&E employees admit that this project is to increase power to the region, not just to our town. Why are we absorbing all the risks and the visual blight with no direct benefit?

Utility expansion has been stopped or at least mitigated by community opposition in the past. You can email or write to request a Public Hearing HERE IN SAN JUAN and to express your opinion about this project to the CPUC via email at: public.advisor.la@cpuc.ca.gov , Application # 12-05-020 or via mail to: Hon. Darwin Farrar, CPUC Director, Energy Division, 505 Van Ness, San Francisco, CA 94102,  Application # 12-05-020  .

To our City Council’s credit, they recognize the impacts this project will have on our town and have drafted a letter to the CPUC requesting that hearings be held in San Juan. We will provide updates to this issue in the CCS…stay tuned!



The Del Obispo Double-Cross

by Kim McCarthy 


Sometimes when we try to make things better, we make them worse…” This statement by Council member Laura Freese during a recent City Council meeting was in reference to yet another City-created debacle, the Del Obispo Railroad Crossing just past Camino Capistrano.

Cost to SJC taxpayers: $1.1 million to “upgrade” it with a signal that creates major congestion. Apparently the signal was added because the City thought it was required in order to establish a “Quiet Zone Crossing”… until the Councilman Derek Reeve asked at a council meeting whether the signal at the railroad track was required for a Quiet Zone. The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) representative answered “no” and went on to say, “The [OCTA] project team never made that recommendation because of the concerns about traffic”. My first thought was, “then why the heck did we pay to put it there?”

Councilman Sam Allevato offered the following observation, “…the Quiet Zone was the most important thing…I understand that people might experience a slight delay…”. A “slight delay”? Really? He must not drive to the other side of town much. In his typical tone-deaf manner, he also referred to the “Ghost Train” as “…a slight irritant.” Probably because he’s a retiree with grown children who lives East of the freeway, the Ghost Train traffic is out of sight out of mind for Sam. He isn’t one of the many parents who shuttle their kids to school or the Sports Park, or one of the thousands of residents who live in neighborhoods off Del Obispo who sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic daily, thanks to the domino effect generated by this mess of an “improvement”. You can thank him at the ballot box in November.

Roll back the water rate increase!

Editorial 

As if water rates weren’t high enough already, they are slated to increase again in July. In fact, the previous City Council majority which included Sam Allevato and Laura Freese, voted to automatically increase water rates 3% every year until 2015, then by 2% until 2018.

3% doesn’t sound like much - until you do the math. Add 3% to last year’s total bills, then take that figure, multiply it by 3% and you have the present year’s total. Repeat this formula every year until 2015 then repeat the formula with a 2% annual increase until 2018. The result is a substantial overall increase in your water bill.

This increase doesn’t even include an increase to the already substantial “Service Charge”; it was raised 5.7% in 2011 and a whopping 17.1% this year. What did we get for this increased “fee”? Nothing, so far as we can tell.

The Ranch Makes its Play; They Win - We Lose!

by Roy Byrnes MD, former Mayor, San Juan Capistrano 

For years the Rancho Mission Viejo Company (“the Ranch”) has been perceived as a shadowy entity shaping City Council policy - but not for the benefit of the residents of San Juan Capistrano. In March, in a moment of high drama and fanfare, Ranch CEO Anthony “Tony” Moiso announced the start of construction of 14,000 homes which with 5 million square feet of commercial and retail space, will form the new “City of Rancho Mission Viejo” on our Eastern border.

In a shameless display of self-congratulation, Mr. Moiso proclaimed: “If you leave this world and you made it a little better… we did a good job” (sic). Of course he failed to mention the hugely destructive impacts on the quality of life of San Juan Capistrano from his massive development.

Let’s face the truth: the Ranch’s behemoth development is the death knell for this quiet village that we used to know and admire. The over-burdened traffic from this project will become insufferable as Ortega Highway is converted into a parking lot. City documents indicate that our deteriorating sewer system will be used to service this massive new development.

The fragile, unique charms of San Juan Capistrano will be forever dissipated. Our once-quaint historic community will lose its identity, becoming instead merely a freeway on-and-off ramp to serve the Ranch’s new City. This is the reason for the upcoming interchange reconstruction at the I-5 and Ortega Highway. This disruption of traffic will have a profoundly negative effect on our downtown business community. One wonders how many businesses will survive, especially when the Ranch’s new retail centers draw business away from our merchants.

This advancing disaster for San Juan Capistrano is not unexpected. For years our City Council has given the Ranch everything it wished, typically at the expense of the citizens of San Juan. Case in point is the 2009 Purchase & Sale Agreement in which San Juan property owners’ taxes were raised to pay 27.5 million dollars for 132 acres of Ranch property. The Ranch’s property was marketed to us as “open space” but a more accurate term for it is “closed space” since we can’t set foot on it without permission. I wonder if San Juan residents would have voted to tax themselves to buy it if they knew they would have to pay for their kids to play soccer on it, or if they knew that half of the “open space” was already protected with conservation easements.

Join the Capistrano Taxpayers Association!


In response to community concerns about such issues as the rising cost of water, property tax increases and various other “fee” increases passed on to residents and businesses by our City government, a group of local residents recently announced the formation of a non-profit public interest organization, the Capistrano Taxpayers Association (CTA).

According to CTA’s mission statement, “the CTA will foster and advance the interest of taxpayers within the City of San Juan Capistrano, and immediately adjacent areas. Providing research, analysis, and education on matters of interest to said taxpayers while advocating fiscal responsibility, accountability and best practices in local government affairs."

The organization was the brainchild of local residents who have an interest in assuring that governing bodies comply with State and Federal regulations, the CTA intends to serve as a watchdog over elected officials and bureaucrats who spend taxpayer monies in order to assure that the public interest is protected.

The organization also plans to monitor the voting records of elected officials, especially with respect to taxation issues and will provide a “report card” to voters to use as an election guide.

The CTA is offering Associate Memberships for $25 per year. Membership fees will provide the member with a mailed copy of CCS newsletters for a year, access to the CTA website that contains insider information including research and reporting of issues of concern to Capistrano taxpayers and for establishment of a legal defense fund. Memberships are not tax deductable because the CTA is formed as a 501(c) (4) corporation in the State of California.

Membership is open to all San Juan Capistrano and nearby residents who have an interest in determining and protecting how their tax dollars are spent. To become a member or to support the CTA’s efforts, please visit the CTA website at: www.capotax.org or mail check payable to the CTA at:

Capistrano Taxpayers Association
P.O. Box 1452
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

You may also print out a Membership Application by clicking on this link: http://tinyurl.com/bw35tas

SDG&E Project Will Have Severe Impacts; Residents Concerned About Visual Blight, EMF

By Kim Lefner

What started as a murmur is becoming a roar of protest over SDG&E’s deceptively named “Reliability Project” which will nearly double the size of the electrical substation at the entrance to downtown and substantially increase the voltage and height of transmission poles throughout San Juan.

Critics say the project is less about reliability and more about increasing power to other cities. According to SDG&E documentation, this hugely expensive project is also a result of government mandates to satisfy “Global Warming” legislation which forces cities to install taxpayer-subsidized plug-in stations for electric vehicles. This is odd considering that even SDG&E admits that less than 3% of their 13,000 customers surveyed had purchased electric vehicles. Despite the lack of demand for electric vehicles however, SDG&E claims this project is “customer driven” (click on this link to see “SDG&E Smart Grid Deployment Plan”:  http://tinyurl.com/7g4roaq). Adding insult to injury, our rates are being increased to shove this concept down our collective throats.

Besides the enlarged substation and increased pole and tower heights as high as 130 feet on hill tops and hillsides, residents are greatly concerned about the effects of Electro Magnetic Fields (EMF) from the increased voltage. While SDG&E attempts to convince us that health impacts from EMF are minimal, a recent  state-sponsored study concluded that prolonged exposure to high levels of EMF may contribute to problems such as childhood leukemia and brain tumors. This has many residents asking, “Why risk it?”

Visual impacts include a massive new substation with two 45 to 50-foot tall buildings and a 10-foot high wall the length of a football field at the Northern entrance to historic downtown. The increased EMF from the new substation is unknown, but families living near smaller electrical substations have experienced health problems ranging from hair loss to cancer (click on this link to see CBS news story “South Redondo Beach Residents Believe Stray Voltage Causing Unexplained Illnesses“:  http://tinyurl.com/85rqmd7 )

The Ghost Train

By Clint Worthington

Yes, it’s a funny name. No, you won’t find it on the Historic Society’s Halloween Walking Tour. The Ghost Train occurs when any south bound train stops at the San Juan Capistrano station, causing the gates at the Del Obispo crossing to go down for an average of two minutes. Then, just as the crossing gates go back up, the train leaves the station causing the crossing gates to go back down again for another two minutes. Multiply this by the number of trains stopping at the station daily and it adds up to downtown traffic congestion.

To compound problems, Council members Sam Allevato, Laura Freese and Mark Nielsen voted to add vehicle traffic signals to the crossing. This makes no sense since we already have traffic signals at Camino Capistrano and Paseo Adelanto. If you ask current and prior City Council members, I’m sure they’ll tell you that the signals are timed so that traffic doesn’t block the railroad crossing. But having sat at a red light many times when there’s no traffic on Del Obispo, that doesn’t ring true.

If you’re confused by this crossing, you’re not alone. Click on this link: to watch a You Tube video of a City truck not only go through the flashing red lights of the crossing gates, but also through the red traffic signal on the other side.  http://tinyurl.com/7zy9toq

The Ground Water Recovery Plant - 2008 to Present

By John Perry

Editor’s note: This is the last of a four part series to help the public understand how the City got into the water business. It is a story of mismanagement, misleading accounting and millions of wasted taxpayer dollars.

In 2008 the City and its contractor ECO Systems (ECO) were locked in a bitter fight about who should pay for frequent shut downs and mounting deficits from lack of production from the Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP). ECO was contracted to design, build and operate the GWRP for a 20 year period. According to the recent Utilities Audit, the contract negotiated by City staffers Cindy Russell and Engineer Eric Bauman provided “liquated damage penalty charges” from ECO if certain conditions were not met. Unfortunately, the contract also contained loopholes that allowed the contractor to escape paying for lost production.

When the GWRP began to produce colored water that c logged plumbing and filters, the City Council was inundated with complaints from angry residents. ECO refused to accept responsibility so the City hired consultants to identify and correct the problem at a cost of more than $500 thousand.

The City then learned that MTBE, a gasoline additive, may have entered the water supply from leaks in tanks at two Chevron stations. Tests confirmed that MTBE, which had been in the water table under the Chevron stations, had moved toward the Dancehall well that supplied water to the GWRP for processing. Even though the MTBE was well below the safety level, the City Council led by Mark Nielsen demanded that the Dancehall and Kinoshita wells be shut down in hopes of forcing Chevron into a settlement. This cost the ratepayers millions of dollars since we then had to replace the well water with water purchased from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD).

Chevron eventually agreed to a $3 million settlement, far below the $7 million the City Treasurer stated the City lost during the shutdown. In fact, the City tried to use the MTBE issue to levy a surcharge to force ratepayers to pay the entire cost of the MTBE losses, but the Council backed down because of massive public protests.

In November 2008, the City quietly fired ECO, claiming that the contractor had defaulted the contract because of lost production and contamination cleanup costs. The contractor was allowed to leave without having to fix the design defects in the GWRP and wells; those costs were instead passed on to ratepayers who continue to foot the bill for the defects.

The water wells eventually began to fail because the corrosive water was destroying the metal well structure and pumps. This was one of many design defects causing lost production which reached a peak in 2010/11 when only 1200 acre feet of water was produced the entire year. This forced ratepayers to spend millions to not only pay for the defects, but to purchase MWD water to replace the water we could not produce.

In 2010, the City Council approved a 40% water rate increase. The City had been losing money on the GWRP due to lost production and loss of MWD subsidy but also had greater operating expenses because City employees were now running the facility. The average salary of a Utilities Department employee was $105,000 annually, including pension and benefits.

Audit Report Critical of Financial Staff

By Jim Reardon 

In what is perhaps the most detailed insight into why our water bills are so high, the independent audit report by Ralph Anderson & Associates reveals a debt-ridden, mismanaged water enterprise that has been operating inefficiently and in the red for many years.

The report is especially critical of financial staff led by CFO Cindy Russell, stating;

- "It appears that cash balances of the fund were not completely disclosed to the governing body in such a manner that they would understand that there was a deficit of over $5 million [estimated at $8 million] at the end of FY 2010" 

- "The city should determine if the existing staff has the time and/or the ability to accurately forecast operating results of the water utility and if not, bring in outside competencies." 

- "The issuance of debt (bonds) appears to have occurred without consideration of the impact of increased expenses of these (bond) issues." 

The audit report also addresses the “papering over” of debt, stating,
"The city should not rely on 'one-time' resources including the CHEVRON settlement to 'paper over' the underlying financial issues faced by the utility." Our City has a long-standing practice of “papering over” debt with borrowed money. As has been stated to the Council at numerous meetings, this is like paying a credit card with a credit card and has no doubt contributed to the more than $150 million City debt we now have. To read the entire report, click on this link:  http://tinyurl.com/7dw4rvq .

The report goes on to state: 

"The water utility has not been operating efficiently from a financial perspective as it continues to have substantial losses and has not met operating expenses with operating revenues… This has also resulted in substantial amounts of property taxes and developer fees being used to provide operating capital instead of providing a source of revenue for ongoing infrastructure projects." 
- Audit Report by Ralph Anderson & Co.

An Open Letter to San Juan residents about Water

By Roy L. Byrnes, M.D, former Mayor, San Juan Capistrano 

I’m plenty mad and you should be also. You and I have been betrayed; entrapped in a water scam. We’ve been deceived into paying extra, unwarranted charges for our water. I’m referring to the excessive costs of making our own water from the Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP). This is an ill-conceived political boondoggle which costs us about $1,600 to produce one acre foot of water when that same acre foot of water can be bought from the Metropolitan Water District for $861 -- . $700 per acre foot being thrown away! Multiply $700 by 4,800 acre feet annually and you’ll see that we’re throwing overboard about $3.4 million due to incompetent City Hall leadership and political shenanigans. Have you looked at your water bills recently? If you think it’s bad now, just wait; it’s bound to get worse.

How did this happen?

Our leaders were told (and foolishly believed) that our city should have its own “private” source of water from its own private ground water recycling plant in the event that some event (political? sociological? or drought?) should cause the Metropolitan Water District (“MWD”) (which is the source for 90% of Southern California water), to sharply curtail our allotment.

I believe the truth is different. If the MWD is forced to drastically reduce its water allocation, our allotment would be reduced by the same amount of water we’re currently producing with our water plant. So, in the event of severe water restrictions, San Juan Capistrano will be just as “dry” as neighboring cities –with or without our water recycling plant.

Keep your emails and letters coming!

Of all the letters and emails received from CCS readers, the high cost of water is the most common. The stories are eerily similar; residents receive an unreasonably high water bill and when they complain to the City, they are visited by a City employee who tells them they must have a “slab leak”. After paying a leak detection service to determine there is no slab leak, the City threatens to shut off their water service if they don’t pay the outrageous (and what in many cases appears to be unjustified) water bill.

Sound familiar? If so, we want to hear from you! Please email us at: eboard@ccsense.com and let us know how much your water bill has increased and whether you were told by the City that you must have a “slab leak” only to find that you do not.

Here are some excerpts from recent letters and emails received from CCS readers about their water bills:

"Kudos to you for exposing the ridiculous and apparently illegal billing system!" 

"The city's "tiered" water billing system is as phony as a $3.00 bill. I think the City is trying to balance their budget on ratepayers like me."

SJC residents announce formation of the Capistrano Taxpayers Association

A group of local residents recently announced it has filed for incorporation of a new non-profit public interest organization, the Capistrano Taxpayers Association (CTA).

The organization was the brainchild of local residents who have an interest in assuring that governing bodies comply with State and Federal regulations and legislation such as Proposition 218, the tiered water billing system and the Brown Act, among others. The CTA intends to challenge elected officials and bureaucrats who spend taxpayer monies to assure that the public interest is protected.

In addition, the group plans to monitor the voting records of elected officials especially with respect to taxation issues and will provide a “report card” to voters to use as an election guide.

The CTA will offer Associate Memberships and will seek to build a legal defense fund through contributions from individuals and businesses. Please visit their website at: www.capotax.org  for more information.

The Ground Water Recovery Plant-Part III

This is the third installment of a four-part series
 
The mid-years: 2005 to 2008 

By John Perry 

In 2004 the City signed a 20-year contract with ECO Systems Corporation to design, build and operate the Ground Water Recovery Plant (“GWRP”). The operation phase was for a fixed price of $1.1 million per year (plus a cost of living escalator). ECO Systems was to produce 4800 acre feet (AF) of water, maintain the facility and fix any defects that might appear. The City thought it carried little risk as special insurance purchased by the City would pay off the $35 million bond owed to the San Juan Basin Authority (SJBA) if the contractor defaulted on the contract and the project would be terminated.

Due to record rainfall during the winter of 2005/06 the GWRP generated its design standard of nearly 4800 AF of water, but in 2006/07, things began to go badly. Under the contract, ECO Systems was required to drill 8 wells to supply the GWRP with enough water to produce to its design capacity, but two of the wells drilled were not viable and the contract required the City to cover the cost of drilling any additional wells. The City Council voted against drilling the 2 additional wells, instead relying on just 6 wells to supply the water needed to operate the GWRP. This was a costly mistake since the GWRP barely produced to capacity even with record rainfall.

The decision to supply less water than what was needed sealed the fate of the GWRP. The contractor could not be penalized for failure to meet the design output and the City was forced to purchase water from the Metropolitan Water District (“MWD”) to make up the shortfall. This cost the rate payers millions of dollars and during the period 2002 to 2008, water rates increased by 71.58%.
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