By Derek Reeve, San Juan City Council
In 2009 the city of San Juan Capistrano put pen to paper and finalized what I have referred to as the worst real estate deal in the modern history of Orange County. San Juan Capistrano purchased 132 acres of Rancho Mission Viejo owned land which at the time was not even in San Juan Capistrano, all for the radically overpriced $27.5 million. It was justified under the bogus claim of preserving open space even though at least 40% of it was already preserved as such. The terms of the agreement read more like a lease agreement than a purchase agreement since much of the control is retained by the Rancho Mission Viejo Company, including its very name, the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park.
Nevertheless our community had to address what to do with this property now that we owned it. When I took office it became clear that no plan had ever been developed. Up to this time the city contracted with equestrian events promoter Blenheim EquiSports to lease this property so that they could profit from it. This lease is soon up for renewal (it has been renewed twice already since we purchased the property). Because of this lease the people of San Juan Capistrano are restricted from using the leased portion of our park despite continually paying for it through our property taxes. The amount of money generated by this lease is less than 10% of the annual principle and interest owed on the property. The company leasing the property, Blenheim, makes a handsome profit from the equestrian events they hold on our property while San Juan property owners make the “mortgage” payment and are prohibited from using it.
In my opinion, the status quo cannot stand. This is unfair to our residents. A plan must be developed to take back our park. That plan for our future park belongs in your hands. I propose a committee of ordinary citizens be established to develop a long term plan that would utilize the park in such a way that benefits the varied interests of San Juan Capistrano. Based on input I have received from my constituents, the park should include:
- Athletic fields, perhaps modeled after Vista Hermosa Sports Park in San Clemente
- Horse pens for activities such as cow penning and rodeos
- Horse and multi-use trails throughout the park that connect with other trails throughout the county
- Day and overnight camping