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.
The Purchase Agreement was negotiated in secret by a longtime friend and sometime business partner of the seller. Not surprisingly, it is scandalously tilted against the citizens of San Juan in favor of the Ranch. Council members Sam Allevato and Laura Freese who approved this notorious “Agreement“ are guilty of a major breach of public trust and should be ashamed. Yet to this day, they continue to approve additional benefits to the Ranch. For this reason alone, they should be refused re-election to the City Council next November.
In order to build its 14,000 homes, it’s been convenient for the Ranch to control the San Juan City Council. The San Juan Council agreed to pay for a poorly designed, unnecessary Ground Water Recovery Plant which we don’t even own. Our citizens are required to support this lavish boondoggle – not because it benefits us but in order to facilitate the Ranch’s mega-development. Hence our water bills are astronomical! Another gift to the Ranch from Councilmember Allevato and supported by Freese.
The gifting must end; it’s time to break the Ranch’s stranglehold on our City Council before any more damage is done. You’ll have the opportunity to replace Allevato and Freese, who have voted for everything the Ranch wants, with two candidates who are willing to protect San Juan residents from the Ranch’s continuing massive impacts on San Juan. The CCS will provide analysis of the candidates and issues - stay tuned.