San Juan Capistrano

Recall Exposes Big Money Influence in San Juan
By Christie Smead

Those who have done it will probably agree that gathering signatures for a ballot measure is a lot of work, but is also a great way to conduct an informal survey of your community. So what have we learned about our community while gathering thousands of signatures for the recall of Mayor Sam Allevato?

We learned that about 8 out of 10 residents do not believe that Sam Allevato represents their interests.

We learned that the majority of residents believe that their water rates are too high, the traffic has become too gridlocked from over-development and that our city council majority should stop wasting our money on unnecessary lawsuits, including unconstitutional actions such as banning newspapers on City property, which they have yet to justify.

We learned that the many residents who signed the recall petition are united in their desire to stand together; not for Sam, but for San Juan.

We also learned that there is apparently no limit to the amount of money that outside, wealthy and financially invested special interests are willing to pour into Allevato’s campaign to keep him seated on City Council. 

Allevato reported more than $70,000 collected in just 90 days from developers, unions, attorneys, lobbyists and city consultants/contractors who rely on his vote to benefit their financial interests. This amount doesn’t include the money spent by San Juan Cares, a group run by former and current city commissioners appointed and/or approved by Allevato. San Juan Cares spent well over $50,000 on attack mailers vilifying two sitting councilmen and residents who disagreed with Allevato, Kramer, and Taylor. It is incomprehensible to me, and the residents in San Juan, that Robert Ferguson who ran San Juan Cares, is allowed to continue serving on a city commission (as Chairman of the Open Space, Trails and Equestrian Commission) when he violated the city’s ethics policies by attacking sitting council members Byrnes and Reeve, not to mention residents.

Mission Viejo

                                                Banner Blight?
                                  By Steve Magdziak

The Mission Viejo (MV) city council voted 5-0 to approve the concept of getting 60-plus new 8'x30" banner signs installed on light poles. The banners were moving forward until I raised more questions during a Community Services Commission meeting. I was told I couldn't disagree with what the council wanted; that I had to go with the majority, that answering my questions was just belaboring a point that had already been decided. I asked, “What is the point of a commission if your only option is to agree with what is passed? Why would the public come and offer their opinion? Why not just start a club? Why not just get up, put a sign on my chair with a YES vote and leave?”

The banners were to be installed east and west on Alicia at Marguerite by the lake. When   comparing codes in MV to cities 50-plus miles away, a disturbing trend emerged. It seems that   the larger the signs in a city, the poorer the residents; the smaller the signs, the wealthier the residents. We already have 32 banners in MV year-round and sometimes 10 or more banners are added to that figure. In my opinion, they cause blight and obstruct the view of the greenery we are so lucky to have in MV. With the addition of the new banners being proposed, we would have had 92-plus banners in MV. How many more banners would we need to champion everyone’s cause; 500? 1,000?

San Juan Capistrano

Guest Column
$$ and Our City Council

By Roy L. Byrnes, San Juan Capistrano City Council Member

City council politics has become a new “blood sport” in San Juan Capistrano. In my opinion, this serves all of us poorly. My vision of our council is one of neighborly volunteerism. The people who serve as council members shouldn't be monied professional politicians.

Yet sadly, recent elections have transformed the landscape and the result is not good. Too much political money is flowing in, causing a problem, I think. Our council members seem to feel that they must spend huge amounts of money to mount an election effort. Larry Kramer and John Taylor each collected over $50,000 from donors, many from outside the city, when they campaigned three years ago. Recently, Mayor Sam Allevato rocked this community when he gathered over $67,000 just to prevent his name being put on a recall ballot. That doesn't even include the actual cost of a recall election campaign. His partial list of contributions includes thousands of dollars from sources with direct and indirect business with City Hall.

There is no obvious illegality here. Yet, to me it does not seem right. I'm worried about this new game of “money-politics as a blood sport.” It's a clear warning to community members seeking to serve to; “Stay away; the city council is for professional politicos only.” These days, one doesn't just seek public office, one buys it. A more direct method!

This saddens me. I'm sounding an alarm about the recent intrusion of “big money professional, Chicago-style politics” into our little town. When Mr. X donates $5,000 to a candidate, he's apt to want something in return for his money. Or he already has it.

What to do? I favor a requirement that, as each council member casts a vote, he is required to disclose what gifts he has received from the applicant. For example: “I vote in favor of Mr. X's project and, by the way, he gave me $5,000 last year.” Such a requirement would go a long way towards providing the transparency that our council members say they support.

Meanwhile, we are left to ponder this question: Why would anyone pay $67,000 for a council position that pays $350 per month? The obvious answer is troubling.

Mission Viejo

It’s Not the Event; It’s the Lack of Accountability

By Ed Sachs

In a long line of Mission Viejo’s missteps of overspending public funds comes year two of the International Tennis Federation (“ITF”) Wheelchair event. I reported on last year’s event in the February issue of CCS.

Council members approved year two of this event during the Feb. 3, 2014, council meeting. We can only hope that the accounting and budgeting are tighter than the first event. Residents should not have to continually fund event and capital improvement cost overruns.

A budget of $55,000 was requested of council to host the 2013 ITF Wheelchair Tennis event after approval of the event. City staff made the critical mistake of providing council members with only the first 11 pages of a 28-page contract. The missing pages included the city’s expenditure responsibilities. Yet, council approved the event nonetheless.

To help illustrate the cost to taxpayers of this event, I have an exercise for you that I will call the “reader participation” section of this article. Get a piece of paper. On the left side of the paper list the following expenses:

- Hotel (252 room nights)
- Transportation for players and their guests 3 days prior to and 2 days after the event, to and from airport
- Event venue
- 3 daily meals for players, coaches, ITF staff, referees, sponsors and guests

Provision of:

San Juan Capistrano

                                                                                                                        Letter to the Editor

Editor’s Note: It is not our practice to respond to Letters to the Editor however, our records indicate that Councilman Kramer’s claims in his letter below about the true cost of water cry out for a little fact checking. Our observations are printed at the end of his letter.
Metropolitan Water District (MWD) Rates

By Councilman Larry Kramer

There seems to be a feeling or belief that if we only imported water from MWD that there would have been little or no water rate increases over the past few years. That is not true.

MWD has increased water rates an average of 7.4% per year over the past 10 years. The increases have varied from under 2% to nearly 20%. What this means to the average customer is that if your water bill were about $50 in 2004 it would be over $100 in 2014.

Over a longer span of time the MWD average rate increase has been about 5%. Thus in calculating the new water rates in San Juan Capistrano, the city is assuming that MWD will continue to increase rates at 5% annually.

Fact Check: Councilman Kramer omits the fact that the City has increased its rates by 112.6% during the same 10-year period he mentioned (from 2004 to 2014). And the council majority of Kramer, Allevato and Taylor just voted to increase water rates an additional 34% over the next 5 years, which will bring SJC’s rate increases to 146% since 2004. In addition to the MWD rate increases, the City was forced to increase rates to cover expenses of the underperforming Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP) plus the staff for maintenance and operations of the facility.

The rate payers are in reality supporting two water systems; the MWD and the GWRP, resulting in water rate increases that exceed 12% per year. The solution should be to seek the most efficient and cost effective method of providing water service. The obvious choice is the one that saves money and has the capacity to deliver water in the long run. The MWD currently serves 19 million Southern California customers with a proven track record of over 80 years of uninterrupted service, at a cost that is less than water produced by the GWRP.

Mission Viejo

Letter to the Editor                                                                                                   
                 Follow the Money

When Wendy Bucknum lost her race for Mission Viejo City Council in 2012, many voters didn’t know her. The focus was her controversial support for jumbotron-type electronic billboards in the south part of Mission Viejo.

On the November 2012 ballot, Bucknum identified herself as a “commissioner/businesswoman.” If she fully disclosed her occupation, would voters want a housing lobbyist on the council?

During her 2012 campaign, all references touting Bucknum’s “award-winning” lobbyist skills disappeared from her employer’s website. The following is from a site that hasn’t been scrubbed. Read a “guest post from Wendy Bucknum” on the California Legislative Action Committee of the Community Associations Institute website. Bucknum describes her lobbyist expertise:

“Wendy Bucknum rounded out the day along with special guest Shawna Rimke, District Director with U.S. Congressman Ken Calvert’s office sharing expertise on how to ‘Lobby Your Legislator.’ Which provided tips and tools for everyone as they headed out to visit their respective legislator offices. Chapter members visited the offices of Assemblymembers Solario, Miller, Norby, Wagner and Harkey.

Martin Paine, District Director for Senator Mimi Walters‘ office came to the Chapter office to visit with everyone from CAI-OCRC. Day in the District 2011 wrapped up with a successful debriefing session on the visits. This was done in an effort to educate our attendees about the importance of advocating on behalf of our industry at the local, state and federal levels!”

Bucknum’s description is an eye-opener for the public on lobbyists and elected officials teaching each other how to lobby. It’s no coincidence this “commissioner/businesswoman” knows all the elected officials and got their endorsements.

Bucknum is running again for a Mission Viejo council seat in November 2014.

Joe Holtzman
Mission Viejo

San Juan Capistrano

Letter to the Editor 
                 A Message to "San Juan Cares"

Dear San Juan Cares:

Please don't insult me by sending a "second request" to take a ridiculously worded and deliberately misleading survey. If you had sent a series of "honest" questions and you wanted "honest" answers, you wouldn't have sent such an elementary and very immature survey - and one that had only choices that would support your position.

I am pretty balanced in my opinions and thinking, but the emails you and Sam Allevato send to the residents are making you look very desperate and it appears that you are grasping on for dear life. Stop embarrassing yourselves - this is a terrible reflection of Sam Allevato and the other two city councilmen.

But then again, maybe it is an "exact" reflection of them......hmmmm; perhaps things are becoming more clear for me. I guess I should thank you.

- Terri S. (last name withheld on request)
San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano

Letter to the Editor           
                     “San Juan Cares” not so caring?

Did you receive the email with the "survey" from the group calling itself “San Juan Cares”? Well I did and I’m so angry after reading it and looking at the phony survey linked in it that I'm doing something I don’t normally do - writing a letter to the editor.

The claims in the email and the survey are false and misleading. I clicked on the survey link as I was curious about what was in the “survey”. Among the false claims in the survey questions:

The same wealthy homeowners that have sued the city over water rates are attempting to recall Mayor Sam Allevato...” This is blatantly false. I happen to know that many of the residents who signed the original recall petition are far from "wealthy". Some of them who I know live in low-income neighborhoods and some are residents on fixed incomes who can hardly afford to pay their water bills thanks to this irresponsible council majority. I have one neighbor who moved awhile back, partly because she said her family’s water bills were too high.

Mission Viejo

Improve, Don’t Move!

By Larry Gilbert

In Part One of the Trust But Verify series, the focus was on Mission Viejo's "Improve, Don't Move" (IDM) permit fee waiver program that was in effect for six months in early 2012. The title of the program implies that homeowners were going to leave our city yet decided to stay and renovate because we were waiving their permit fees. Really. You don’t just pick up and move unless you already have plans to do so. You surely don't make a decision based on, of all things, a discount from the city.

Both the city staff and councilman Ury have engaged in generating "spin" about the nearly $500,000 in taxpayer funds that were given away unnecessarily with this program. Let's not overlook our payment to a third party for administering the Permits, where they received 58% of the actual Permit value.

Without full support from the City, conducting an audit of approximately 1,700 residential and commercial permits is a tedious job but I am up to the task. Although the Public Records Request I submitted to find out about this program included asking the city to provide the data which supports their claim, researching this report has been a struggle. They have yet to produce a complete list of the permits and publicized valuations as requested. Let me share some of my latest facts and figures on the residential permits.
Copyright © 2014, All Rights Reserved - LLC