San Juan Capistrano

Guest Column

Down the Rabbit Hole into San Juan-derland
SJC resident Tom Perrin

                             By Tom Perrin

Things in San Juan Capistrano (SJC) just get “curiouser and curiouser.” I now suspect that the “Mad Hatter” is in charge of city planning, as the city’s perspective seems wildly distorted. While many large cities try to restore and enhance their “old town” areas in order to attract more tourists, SJC seems to want to modernize and blur our town’s distinctive heritage.

The rationale offered for some of the actions taken by the city include rejecting “In-n-Out” restaurant’s downtown application because it might add to the traffic congestion; forcing the “unpainting” of the red door of the “The Woman’s Club of San Juan Capistrano” because the city felt the color was inappropriate, and the eviction of the dinosaur from “Zoomars Petting Zoo,” because, according to SJC city staff, it didn’t fit with the area’s historical character.

Yet now, the SJC Planning Commission apparently wants to create an “urban village - complete with restaurants and retail space,” by building 33 townhomes and a 136 room hotel directly in the center of town. How does this fit into the area’s historical character? To me, it looks like these proposed projects are a far greater threat to SJC than the dinosaur evicted from Zoomars, and it raises a more important question; how will this development impact the existing traffic congestion?
I for one do not think that enlarging the freeway on and off ramps is really going to improve the traffic in town by all that much. If you consider the additional traffic in the downtown areas that would be produced by the estimated 136 automobiles belonging to the hotel guests, and the potential 66 cars belonging to residents of the 33 townhomes, the city would be introducing approximately 200 more cars into this traffic morass. Even if the hotel owners built a two-story, subterranean parking structure with 139 parking spaces as suggested, I suspect it would barely accommodate the hotel guests and employees, and would do nothing to alleviate the overall parking problems within our town.

I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live right in the middle of a town which at times is almost impossible to get into, or out of, and I am sure the additional traffic congestion would not please the rest of the residents of our community.

Further exacerbating the situation is the proposal for a “retail plaza,” basically a strip mall, right across the street from the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano. What kind of shops are planned that would differ so much from those already offered in San Juan or neighboring cities?

I would think that establishments that lure people to our town without adding to the traffic would be more logical choices for our town than a hotel, townhomes and a strip mall. How about enhancing some of the unique historic character of our town and showing some support for our live theatre - the Camino Real Playhouse, which provides quality entertainment and attracts visitors not only from SJC, but also from surrounding communities?

Surely much more can be done to increase the appeal of our town than to morph it into just another dense Southern California city. Do we really want to be Irvine, or Santa Ana?

Where are the voices of the residents of SJC who moved here to escape the crowds and crime that permeate many larger cities? Where is our Historical Society, whose stated goal is to protect and preserve the history of our town? Where is the “Fiesta Association,” and the ranchers and horse owners? Are they willing to let this remaining Orange County “western” town ride off into the sunset?

Thomas “Tom” Perrin, Jr. has been a San Juan Capistrano resident since 1988. He holds an AA Degree in English Literature, a BA Degree in Business Administration and an MS Degree in Management. He is the founder and President of Frontline Management, Inc. a California engineering consulting company.

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