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!
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