San Juan Capistrano

                            The Facts Regarding the Vermeulen Lawsuit

                                                By Kerry Ferguson, San Juan City Councilmember


SJC Councilmember Kerry Ferguson
You may have heard rumblings about the City being sued by the Vermeulen family and Troy Bourne of Spieker Development (“Plaintiffs”), over the unsuccessful development of the Vermeulen property. Some supporters of the development have gone so far as to predict that the lawsuit will bankrupt the City. Allow me to set the record straight.

 Here's what our critics haven't told you:

 The City strongly disagrees with the claims alleged in the lawsuit and on Friday, September 18, 2015, the City filed a motion challenging the lawsuit on many grounds.

It is the City's position that the lawsuit improperly seeks to usurp the City's broad police powers and to dictate how a City Council should exercise its discretionary legislative and zoning authority by effectively forcing the City to “up-zone” the property from Agricultural-Business uses to dense residential uses. This is contrary to California Law.

The Plaintiffs' position is also not supported by the facts. Although the Vermeulen property has been used for farming and other agricultural uses since 1938, Plaintiffs' claim that it can no longer be viably used for agricultural and other uses allowed by the Agri-Business General Plan designation of the property is patently false. The property has been leased to Armstrong nurseries since 1998, a T-Mobile facility provides extra beneficial use, and the Retail Center, which is part of the Vermeulen Ranch, continues in business to this day. 

The Agri-Business zoning allows many different types of uses, but the Plaintiffs never applied for any of those uses. A mere desire to up-zone and build a more lucrative project than historically existed or currently exists does not provide any basis, constitutional or otherwise, for forcing the City to change the General Plan designation.

 It is also the City's position that the lawsuit improperly seeks to undermine the will of the voters. Last November, well more than the required number of voters in the City exercised their inherent referendum powers by challenging the resolution that had approved a General Plan Amendment and Specific Plan for Spieker Development's Project.

Mission Viejo

                     Beware the Risks of PACE Solar Financing

                                      By Cathy Schlicht, Mayor, City of Mission Viejo

 Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) or “HERO” financing is a taxpayer-backed government loan program available for property owners to finance energy-saving upgrades such as solar power. The loan is attached to the property as a voluntary tax assessment, and it becomes a "super lien," jumping ahead of all existing liens on the property. 

On August 25, our city council passed the PACE/HERO financing with a 3-2 vote, even with the knowledge that the Office of the Comptroller issued warnings to its national banks not to approve financing for a property carrying PACE-type financing. Councilman Ed Sachs and I cast the dissenting votes.

 Earlier this month, I received an e-mail from the Director of Finance for New Jersey PACE, asking me to share my reasons for rejecting PACE-type financing. Following is my (paraphrased) explanation.

Ladera Ranch

                                 Future of Local Governance Explored

The Ladera Ranch Civic Council (“LRCC”) has been working with key decision-makers at the County and the Local Agency Formation Commission (“LAFCO”) to determine what options exist for local governance of Ladera Ranch. At the regular October meeting of the LRCC, Carolyn Emery, LAFCO Executive Director, previewed findings that will be presented to the commission for formal adoption.
    
 Ms. Emery reported that LAFCO will find little opportunity for incorporation or annexation to bring local government to Ladera in the next five years. Timeframes remain 15 years out and are constrained by the progress of the Rancho Mission Viejo development and the absence of financial support from the state and county. Several short-term options exist, including some that have been considered and ultimately adopted by other nearby communities.

One example is the City of Laguna Hills, where community leaders faced similar challenges for establishing governance in their area. The LA Times on June 25, 1989 listed the following options which were considered at that time by residents and taxpayers in Laguna Hills. These options could also apply to Ladera Ranch:

San Juan Capistrano

                                                                                                                  Guest Column
            The Case for Moving SDG&E Substation
                                Out of San Juan


                                             By Dominic Fergus-Bentall

I am puzzled by SDG&E’s continued pursuit of the doubling of the substation in the middle of San Juan Capistrano residential neighborhoods when a better alternative exists. SDG&E’s “Option F” plan would move the substation away from homes and people, by putting it on vacant Ranch-owned property east of town. And yet the proposal by SDG&E, which claims to be a good neighbor by sponsoring our annual Fourth of July fireworks display, will no doubt be destructive to the property values of hundreds of homes. More importantly, the doubling of the electro-magnetic fields (“EMF”) which will result from the expansion, pose a potential health risk to the people who live, work and play near the high voltage transmission lines.

It is unclear why SDG&E continues to pursue building a huge substation hub in the middle of historic San Juan. According to their own documentation, moving the substation to vacant Ranch-owned property away from homes and people, is indeed an option. And it makes sense to move it to the Ranch property, considering that their new developments are creating the need for increased power, not San Juan. San Juan is built out; it’s not us who need it. 

Mission Viejo

                              Should City be in the Wi-Fi Business?

                                                              By Larry Gilbert

Should the city of Mission Viejo get involved in providing wireless Internet service to tenants in one of our strip malls? If so, what added support would be required should we become a “partner”?

 At the October 27 City Council meeting, staff added Agenda item (#12) to offer support of high- speed wireless internet (Wi-Fi) connectivity at one of our original strip malls across the street from our city library. The proposal included a spread sheet of possible charges to the (15-20 interested) users/tenants in the Village Shopping Center based on their projected bandwidth needs.

For years, the City has attempted to get cooperation from the dozen-plus property owners in this Center to modernize their parcels. Council member Ed Sachs was very vocal and frustrated with representatives from COX cable, who basically holds the keys to our City communication, for failing to work with the small businesses after five years of interfacing to install the required infrastructure.

This fight is between the tenants and the property owners. While Mr. Sachs points out possible sales tax leakage (as consumers may not shop in this center due to the lack of Wi-Fi) what is overlooked is that the tenants knew in advance what they are getting from the owners. It's called their leases. If Wi-Fi capability is not included in their lease, that is a factor they should have considered when signing or renewing their leases. I am certain that their lease rate per square foot is likely less than similar parcels in the City and surrounding areas that offer Wi-Fi service.

San Juan Capistrano

DA’s Investigation Concludes
           No Wrongdoing

Another door in the saga of the Urban Village referendum was closed recently with the conclusion of investigations sparked by complaints filed with the Orange County District Attorney’s (“OCDA”) office. The complaints alleged wrongdoing by Council members Kerry Ferguson, Pam Patterson and a community member, and voter intimidation by the proposed developer during the Urban Village referendum process.

According to OCDA Spokesperson Roxi Fyad, the claims were investigated, insufficient evidence of wrongdoing was found and no charges will be filed.

 The ”Urban Village” downtown hotel and residential development was the subject of a referendum after the City Council majority of Sam Allevato, Larry Kramer and John Taylor voted to approve it over the objection of many in the community. Residents voiced concern about traffic and other negative impacts. After their concerns were dismissed by the council majority, a group of residents quickly raised more than the required number of signatures for a referendum to repeal the council’s approval of the project. A lawsuit was also filed challenging the project approval, alleging that it violated the Historic Town Center Master Plan on a number of fronts. The lawsuit is on-going.

Mission Viejo

  Letter to the Editor
                              
                The Vicious Cycle of Costly Replanting 

Vegetation can be both beautiful and drought-tolerant. This is a dry climate, and Mission Viejo residents should wonder if city hall's landscape planners acknowledge where we live.

During droughts, the city says the medians must be replanted with drought-tolerant vegetation. During a year with normal rainfall, they decide to beautify and upgrade with thirsty sycamores and Hall's Honeysuckle. If they're not replacing turf with jagged rocks, they're adding pillars, obelisks and big, brown pots. The vegetation is inconsistent.

When the city targets a street for landscaping, it can involve medians, corners and roadsides. Traffic is disrupted, and the area is unsightly for months. Thriving vegetation is removed for the new plants, which take years to fill out.

San Juan Capistrano


                                City to Correct Mis-labeled Trails 

In the September edition of the CCS, we printed an article about the City having illegally re-labeled equestrian-only trail easements as multi-use (hiking/biking/equestrian). Residents in several neighborhoods have complained about hikers, bikers and ATVs accessing trails on private property that were intended only for equestrian use. According to residents, break-ins have increased, fencing has been removed to allow access for recreational vehicles in areas with dry brush, people using the trails for parties have left trash and other paraphernalia behind, and bikers have spooked horses on equestrian-only trails, posing a risk to riders.

The City's Recreational Trails Map incorrectly designates
several trails as being "multi-use" when the easement
for them was granted to the City as "equestrian use only".
Source: City of San Juan Capistrano

The City has printed and distributed maps, posted signs on the various trails and on Ranch Viejo Road (with a receptacle for maps), posted the incorrect trail map on their website and videotaped the trails which until recently were also posted on the City website. The videos subsequently made their way onto YouTube. The Chamber of Commerce has also promoted the incorrect trail maps.

We reached out to the City to determine what if any, action was being taken to correct the mis-
abeled trails. According to Assistant Interim City Manager David Ott, City staff are currently finalizing the review of all trail easements. "Staff will very soon be walking any identified trails that have easements indicating for equestrian use and [will] remove signage that indicates multi-use trails. New signs will be ordered and installed when they are received" said Ott. The City has already removed videos of the trails.

San Juan Capistrano

        Equestrian Trails Incorrectly Re-labeled Multi-purpose
                                                                      By Kim Lefner

A request from at a local Homeowners Association (“HOA”) to remove their equestrian-only trail easement from the City’s “multi-purpose” trail system raises questions about other neighborhood trails. It appears that City staff at some point may have illegally re-labeled easements in some neighborhoods intended for equestrian use only, to include use by hikers and bikers. 
Fences have been cut and removed along the
Stoneridge trail by people illegally accessing
the trail on ATVs and motorcycles 
Although it is unclear why the trails were re-labeled without the apparent knowledge or consent of the property owners, one explanation may have to do with the siren call of grant money. The Orange County Transportation Authority (“OCTA”) and the state Department of Parks and Recreation has endeavored to connect hiking, biking and equestrian trails throughout San Juan and to the new Rancho Mission Viejo developments. The “Recreational Trail Program” offers cities taxpayer-funded grant money to construct and connect these hiking, biking and equestrian trails.  

While the goal may be a noble one, equestrians have expressed concern about sharing trails with bicyclists who at times ride the trails at high rates of speed, which can spook horses and create unsafe conditions. In addition, residents have expressed concern about people accessing gated or remote neighborhoods via the trail system, as well as trail easements being used for parties and encampments.

Mission Viejo

                          Grass Facts Prove Lawns Are Way Cool
                           By Cathy Schlicht, Mayor, City of Mission Viejo

Under the pretense that California’s dry climate is not suitable for lawns, we have been urged to rip out our lawns and replace them with drought-tolerant plants.
Photo credit: freefoto.com

“We have been told that turf serves no functional purpose other than its looks.” That statement made by Bob Muir of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California may not be true.

 In the 1960s, China eliminated much of its grass and trees during its Cultural Revolution. Now, more than 30 years later, China is repairing its landscape by replanting trees and lawns to help reduce its severe pollution problems.

 Grass protects the soil from wind and rain. It prevents soil erosion and traps dirt and dust. It acts as an air filter by removing pollutants. Grasses remove about 6 tons of carbon dioxide per acre per year and convert it to oxygen through photosynthesis. Not only does grass absorb contaminates from the air, it purifies water when its root system soaks up the rain, helping to recharge the groundwater.

Ladera Ranch

                          Civic Council Requests 4-way Stop Sign
                      

After hearing public testimony about the number of traffic and pedestrian safety issues associated with the roadway at Narrow Canyon and Aura Lane, the Ladera Ranch Civic Council drafted a letter to the Orange County Traffic Commission, which is expected to address the issue at their public meeting in October. As an unincorporated area, Ladera Ranch must rely on the County for enhancements to public safety, such as stop signs and/or traffic signals.

This is not the first time that the issue has been raised with the OC Traffic Commission. A report in the OC Register by Marie Ekberg Padilla in September, 2014, stated “…the area has been on the Traffic Commission’s radar since 2006, when the first of several actions – the establishment of the 35 mph speed limit – was taken. In 2007 and 2008, when evaluations for a four-way stop sign were performed, the intersection failed to meet the criteria. In 2011, pedestrian crossing signs were installed and three more speed limit signs were installed along Narrow Canyon. In 2012, the yellow center lines were extended along Narrow Canyon. In 2013, there was a speed survey.”

San Juan Capistrano

Mayor Pro Tem Patterson
                                                                                          Guest Column
              Revitalizing Marine Battalion 1/11 
                    
                        By SJC Mayor Pro Tem Pam Patterson

Several years ago, I volunteered to help with a welcoming party for Marines returning from the Middle East. I was so impressed with the soldiers that I met that day. I was impacted by their service and how much we owe them as a nation.


Now, as a member of the City Council, I am pleased to be committed to the City’s adopted “1/11” Battalion. The 1/11 is an artillery battalion with four firing batteries and a headquarters battery. The City’s involvement with the 1/11 Battalion dates back to 2006, when the Council was approached with the concept of officially adopting a Marine battalion, specifically the First Battalion of the 11th Marine Regiment, based at Camp Pendleton. On August 15th that same year, the 1/11 was officially adopted by the San Juan Capistrano City Council. The resolution declared that, due to the City’s close proximity to the Marine base, and its long history of community involvement and volunteerism, the Council wanted to expand the community’s support and to show appreciation for our military.

Mission Viejo

                                     Tax Dollars Wasted ... Part II
                                                               
                                                                 By Larry Gilbert

 Editor’s note: In the August issue, writer Larry Gilbert outlined the history of the original proposed construction of Mission Viejo’s City Hall near the old Mall and Mission Hospital, off Crown Valley Parkway. He then addressed the City’s efforts to create a Town Center in the strip mall across from the library and the present-day City Hall, to compete with other south county cities. The City spent $1 million on the design prior to obtaining voter input. When put to a vote, 75% of voters at the time rejected the construction of the City Hall at that Crown Valley Parkway location. Gilbert also pointed out that the “Village Center” strip mall on Marguerite was never intended by the Mission Viejo Company to become part of a master planned downtown area. 

Listed below is Part II of the article, which addresses the taxpayer-funded redevelopment agency’s role in the proposed “enhancement” of the strip mall and subsequent waste of taxpayer dollars.


Having only three minutes to speak under Public Comments at the August 25th council meeting about the proposed enhancement of the “Village Center” strip mall across from the library, I was unable to include background information about the original intent of the Mission Viejo Company and the will of the voters in developing a Town Center master plan. However, I did address the issue at hand, which is listed in my remarks to the council below.

San Juan Capistrano

                                                                         Rumors vs Reality

In our on-going effort to separate fact from spin, we have listed below several rumors that have been floating around town about City governance, versus the facts based on our research and documentation.

Rumor: Current city council members are being investigated by the OC District Attorney.

Fact: Documentation confirms that both sides (proponents and opponents) of the December 2014 “Urban Village” referendum filed complaints with the OC District Attorney (“OCDA”). The entire matter is being investigated by the OCDA. Although details of the investigation are not open to the public, a copy of the resident’s complaint was forwarded to the CCS and can be found along with the OCDA’s response, on our website at: www.ccsense.com, under “Community Links”.

Rumor: The hiring of consultant and former Laguna Niguel councilmember Robert Ming was being done "under the radar" on the Consent Calendar, and not all councilmembers were in agreement about retaining him as a city consultant.

Fact: In order to set the record straight, the new council majority waived confidentiality of the discussion about this issue, which originally took place in a closed door session of the City Council. The now-opened closed session discussion reveals that all five councilmembers were in agreement with hiring Ming as a consultant, and agreed to have staff work out the details before placing it on the next City Council agenda.   

Rumor: Water refunds will be paid by the taxpayers.

Fact: Refunds are the taxpayers' dollars, illegally collected in the first place.









Mission Viejo Letter to the Editor


                            Political Water Pressure

Huge kudos to Mission Viejo Mayor Cathy Schlicht for standing against the replacement of our city parks' natural turf with artificial turf. She warned against possible unintended consequences and unknowns like soil alterations, heavy rain runoffs, etc. (Granted, there's nothing as irresistible as "free" money forked over by hardworking federal, state, county and city taxpayers.) But her concerns have proven correct.

Three years ago in an unfortunate effort to cooperate with the Brown Administration's Taxpayer Funded Water Conservation Program, Los Angeles high schools installed artificial turf on all their football fields. This summer, however, the artificial turf melted on all the fields. And after the plastic melted, the little, green blades of "grass" transformed into little, hard rocks; making the fields completely unfit for any athletic activity.

To our detriment the Brown Government Policies are destroying California, and what has

happened to L.A.'s football fields is only one example of Jerry Brown's failing policies. True, California's urban populations have saved about three percent of the state's water, but thousands of gallons of water are wasted and flow out to sea every day simply because Mr. Brown refuses to build a dam or two.

It's as if a plumber thought he could solve a customer's high water usage problem by fixing some leaking household faucets, but at the same time he turns a blind eye to the 15-foot geyser jettisoning out of a pipeline in the front yard with a wide river of water flowing down the street out to sea. And then when the customer complains about the continuing high numbers on his water meter, the plumber suggests cutting back on water usage.  

California's problem is not lack of water! No! California's problem is lack of good government and good "plumbing"! California is no longer green and golden! Instead, we are "Jerry Brown" Brown and that is our New Green. Water tables are low, agriculture is suffering huge losses, forests fires are unabated. And California, once a Refuge from the Dust Bowl, is becoming its own Dust Bowl.

When Mr. Brown's term finally expires, California citizens should seriously consider building a monument to his memory. It would be timely and appropriate to build a water reservoir. And it could be named "Dam Jerry Brown."

Again, kudos to Mayor Cathy Schlicht for standing against political pressure and for standing for water pressure!

Paula Steinhauer
Mission Viejo


 

San Juan Capistrano

                       Committee Considers Moratorium
                        on Neighborhood Rehab Facilities

In response to a sudden proliferation of “sober living” rehabilitation homes in some San Juan neighborhoods, Councilmember Kerry Ferguson scheduled a Town Hall meeting at City Hall on September 24 to give residents an opportunity to offer input on the issue, and has asked that the issue be placed on the October City Council Agenda.
 
As the council member serving on the Neighborhood Quality of Life Committee, Ferguson has met with residents to find solutions to problems such as parking, overcrowding and other situations that cause a deterioration in their quality of life. It was during these meetings that the issue of sober living homes in various neighborhoods was raised.

  Although legally allowed under state law and believed by many to be a beneficial part of alcohol and drug abuse recovery, Ferguson said, “many of these homes fall under the radar of reasonable regulation that would benefit both those living [in the facilities] and their neighbors.”

Mission Viejo Letter to the Editor

                                     Stop the Mini Billboards            

From the beginning, our town has controlled commercial signage. This originated with the Mission Viejo Company and was adopted for many years by our city councils.

Gradually, the leasing companies illegally increased the size of their signs, ignoring regulations, yet for years the city code enforcement did nothing about it. When they finally did address the issue, rather than enforcing the original ordinance, they increased the size of allowable signage!

This is a breach in our city's history, a reversal of and an assault on our founder's vision.

In the city's own book, page 43 of “Mission Viejo the Ageless Land,” it states “…commercial signage strictly controlled by size, height and structure..."

We as citizens and stewards of this community must respect, “…land is so precious, so development must happen carefully with the long-term vision for the future...” page 44

Increasing the commercial signage in amount and size goes against the dictates of “land so precious.”

It goes against the admonition “commercial signage STRICTLY controlled by size, height and structure.”

I was one of the few residents who spoke against the ordinance change when it occurred.

I would like to suggest that citizens contact the Heritage Committee and the Transportation and Planning Commission to voice your opinions and help rectify this increase of sign blight in our community. 

Joseph M. Tully
Mission Viejo

 

San Juan Capistrano

                                                                                                                                Guest Column           
                      Valuing the Juaneno Culture and Heritage
Councilmember Ferguson
        By SJC Councilmember Kerry Ferguson

As the Mayor’s liaison to the Mission San Juan Capistrano, I was invited to attend a profoundly significant event at Serra Chapel recently; a Juaneno Mass of Unification, led by the first Juaneno Priest, Father James Nieblas; “Father Jimmy.” All of our Juaneno families participated in a special mass that was both Catholic and Traditional. Father Jimmy began with a special message of the importance of unity for this family of Mission Indians of the Acjachamen people who have lived here for more than 10,000 years. He stressed the importance of keeping their traditions, teaching them to new generations and sharing them with others.

Jacque Nunez shares stories of the
Acjachamen Indian Tribe
Then, he made a remarkable announcement; Father Jimmy, who was born and raised in San Juan Capistrano, baptized in Serra Chapelo and the first Juaneno to become an ordained priest, has been selected and invited to attend the canonization of Father Serra on September 23rd in Washington, D.C. It was especially meaningful that he made the announcement in the only chapel in California where Father Serra celebrated mass.

I am also gratified that Acjachamen Cultural Heritage will be celebrated at our Northwest Open Space (“NWOS”). Last spring, I urged the City Council to revise the plan for the NWOS to simplify and maximize the natural atmosphere of this important San Juan asset. We also decided the Cultural Heritage area should be designed by the Juaneno Band of the Mission Indians Acjachamen Nation, with the approval of the Cultural Heritage Commission, the Parks, Recreation, Senior and Youth Services Commission and the City Council.

San Juan Capistrano

                   Water Overcharges Awarded in Small Claims Court
                                                                           
                                                                            By Kim Lefner


The first challenge to the City’s illegally charged water rates in Small Claims Court resulted in a nearly full refund for former San Juan resident Eric Krogius. Krogius, who has since moved out of San Juan, was awarded a refund of approximately four years of illegal charges, as opposed to the 10 months of refunds being offered by the City. 

Krogius stated publicly that the [Small Claims] court went back as far as the statute of limitations allowed, which in his case amounted to about $3,500 over a four year period. He stated that had he filed a claim with the City, he would have only been refunded an estimated $1000.

City Attorney Jeff Ballinger claimed that the City was limited to one year of refunds due to a Government Code which he says establishes a statute of limitations. However, the statute was not discussed in detail in open session at the council meeting at which the refunds were approved, and the City website states only that “the law provides for a one year statute of limitations,” but offers no supporting documentation.

Mission Viejo

                                         HERO Program - Buyer Beware
                                                                         
                                                                     By Kirk Kelley

The city of Mission Viejo is again considering the HERO program after turning it down in 2014. HERO stands for Home Energy Renovation Opportunity.

The HERO program allows homeowners to make solar and energy-efficient improvements they might not otherwise be able to afford. The improvements increase their property values. The HERO program also touts the jobs and economic development it will bring to cities.

 If a city council adopts the HERO concept by signing on to the Property Assessed Clean Energy Program (PACE), residents can access financing for purchases and installations. Homeowners repay through "voluntary annual assessments" on their property tax bills.

However, despite great reviews from HERO's own representatives, there are downsides. Because little or no cash is needed up front, some lenders say the program takes advantage of homeowners with poor credit ratings.

Mission Viejo

                 Tax Dollars Wasted On a Ship That Has Sailed

                                                                   by Larry Gilbert

The Mission Viejo city council is trying to create an enhanced Town Center in the strip mall across from our library and city hall to compete with other south county cities.
 
What many residents, and perhaps newer members of our city council may be unaware of, is that the Mission Viejo Company and our original city council never intended for our permanent city hall to be at the intersection of Marguerite and La Paz Road.

In 1992, 75% of the voters (14,297 residents), rejected Measure A which read, "shall the city of Mission Viejo construct a city hall near the intersection of Los Altos and Crown Valley Parkway on the permanent civic center site dedicated at no cost to the city." If constructed, this complex would have been located close to the mall, its many stores and movie theaters. The 1992 council included members Cody, Breton and Withrow, who jumped the gun and wasted over one million dollars on architectural plans before the voters opposed that Ballot Measure.

Ladera Ranch

     School District Recognizes Ladera Ranch Civic Council

                     By Jim Reardon, Trustee, Capistrano Unified School District, Area 2

CUSD Trustee Jim Reardon
The Board of the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) approved official recognition of the Ladera Ranch Civic Council (LRCC) on August 12, when it voted unanimously to create an Ad Hoc Committee consisting of two members of school board to meet regularly with LRCC. 

This arrangement follows the model used by the school district to formally work with cities within CUSD. The board designated that I serve on the Ad Hoc committee, along with Trustee John Alpay from San Clemente.

CUSD has a broad relationship with LARMAC and the Ladera community represented by LRCC, and this committee will ensure that concerns unique to the community are represented to the school board.

Questions and/or comments can be directed to Trustee Reardon at: eboard@ccsense.com.




San Juan Capistrano

                    The Vermeulen / Spieker Development Lawsuit

The struggle over development of the Vermeulen Ranch property continues. After publicly stating that “Spieker Development is not a litigious group”, Spieker Development partner Troy Bourne is suing the city along with the owners of the Vermeulen Ranch property. The lawsuit accuses the city of “Eminent Domain/Inverse Condemnation”.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn the council’s repeal of the zoning, claiming five causes of action, including; “Taking without Just Compensation”, “Denial of Due Process” and “Denial of Equal Protection”. The claim describes a long history of broken promises by the city (see bottom of article for link to lawsuit).

Background
According to the claim, the city desired to protect the last remaining agricultural properties from development, and dating back to 1977, at various times promised to compensate the property owners for the re-zoning of their properties to “Agri-business” rather than the previously designated “Medium Density Residential development”. The idea was to provide an incentive to maintain their property as agricultural until the city could raise money to purchase it as Open Space.

The claim describes how the city raised enough from the 1990 tax increase (bond) to purchase the Kinoshita property and several smaller, outlying properties in the Northwest Open Space however, there wasn’t enough to purchase the Vermeulen Ranch property. Meanwhile, the Medium Density Residential designation was removed from the Vermeulen Ranch property. 

The claim states that the city again declined to purchase their property with the Open Space (Measure Y) tax increase (bond) approved by the voters in 2008. They point to the fact that the city opted instead to purchase property outside the city limits (which was in violation of the bond requirement that the open space be IN the city of San Juan) from the Rancho Mission Viejo Company. Former Councilman Larry Kramer stated at a council meeting in 2014 that “we” (presumably city representatives) approached the Vermeulens about selling their property but that they were unresponsive. The lawsuit indicates that was not the case. 

San Juan Capistrano

                                                                                                                     Mayor’s Message

                                            Delivering on the Change You Voted For

                                                 By Derek Reeve, Mayor, City of San Juan Capistrano

SJC Mayor Derek Reeve
San Juan Capistrano is on the move, with projects big and small, for the betterment of our residents. Listed below is an update of just a few action items being undertaken or considered by the City Council.
 · The council has hired a new esteemed city attorney for a cost-saving flat fee.
 ·  Our city is dramatically improving our parks, open space and equestrian facilities.
 ·  The council has placed new emphasis on capital improvement projects including street paving and pedestrian access.
 · We welcomed a new summer trolley providing complimentary service in and around downtown, from all corners of the city. In its first year it has been quite a success.
 · We are considering a request for proposals to retrofit all of the city street lights in order to reduce electricity and provide dramatic savings to the taxpayers.
 · Selecting a new city manager is the most critical decision the council will make on behalf of the residents. To facilitate that process, we requested the assistance of Robert Ming. Robert is the two time Mayor of Laguna Niguel and eight-year councilmember. He also personally participated in the search and selection process for the Laguna Niguel City Manager, the CEO of TCA and the District Director for the Orange County Vector Control. He also advised several other Orange County cities on a confidential basis in their city manager selection processes. Most importantly, Robert was brought in for his understanding of city government and his private enterprise experience. We are not interested in doing something just because that is the way government is “supposed” to work. Instead, this council is determined to take action that will ensure a new positive direction that will empower residents.

San Juan Capistrano

                                                      Rumors vs Reality

In our on-going effort to separate fact from spin, we have listed below several rumors that have been floating around town about city governance, versus the facts based on our research and documentation.

Rumor: The 241 tollroad extension would alleviate traffic for San Juan residents

 Fact: The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) has been attempting to extend the tollroad from its current end point at Oso Parkway in Mission Viejo, to Cow Camp Road, just down the road from Ortega Highway. According to Mission Viejo City officials, approximately 8,000 cars per day exit the tollroad onto Oso Parkway. Logic dictates that if the tollroad was allowed to be extended, thousands of vehicles would exit at Cow Camp Road, and thus onto Ortega. This would have the effect of turning Ortega onto a freeway onramp/offramp for the Ranch’s new developments to the east. We are at a loss to understand how that would “improve traffic” for San Juan residents. We can already see the effects of the “traffic improvements” negotiated and/or approved by the previous council majority; long lines of vehicles backed up to get on/off the freeway and through town; congested intersections, etc.

Rumor: Our Sheriff’s Department has been pressured to “arrest” our own citizens if they do not agree with the new council majority and their supporters.

Fact: Although we are unsure exactly where this whopper originated, it likely refers to a request from a group of residents whose signs opposing the SDG&E expansion were illegally taken by “ASAP” police volunteers and thrown into a dumpster, just days before their planned rally. Several of the signs were given to an SDG&E representative by an ASAP volunteer who admitted his friendship with the representative, Duane Cave. Cave refused to return the signs in time for the rally. Residents believe the police volunteers intentionally took their legally permitted signs in order to silence their opposition to SDG&E’s proposed expansion in their neighborhood. Residents maintain that the police volunteers’ and Duane Cave’s actions were an attempt to stifle their constitutionally protected right to free speech.

Rumor: The Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park generates $250,000 in income per year.

 Fact: This is technically false and certainly misleading. The principle and interest alone on this property costs the taxpayers of San Juan more than $2 MILLION per year. That puts the taxpayers in the hole by about $1,750,000. The biggest beneficiary of the riding park is Blenheim EquiSports, the equestrian events promoter that leases it from the City for only $250,000 per year. It is estimated that Blenheim generates in excess of $1 million per year from the taxpayer-owned property. Due to the lease agreement that the previous council approved with Blenheim, the taxpayers paying for this property are restricted from accessing it, at least until the lease expires in December 2016.







 









Mission Vejo

MV Mayor Cathy Schlicht
                                                                                  Guest Column

                     Let's Invest in Our Kids

                    By Cathy Schlicht, Mayor of Mission Viejo

 The City of Mission Viejo has a wide variety of events and activities for families, but one element that is missing is a center dedicated solely for our youth. Our teenagers don't have a place to gather and socialize in a safe and secure environment.

 Let’s work together on keeping our adolescents out of speeding cars and from hanging out in secluded parks late at night. Let's offer them meaningful and healthy activities. We need to increase their opportunities for fun and entertainment so they can make safe choices in an environment that is free from bullying and peer pressure.

 Can the Felipe Tennis Center be repurposed into a Youth Recreation Center?

Mission Viejo

                                                    Letter to the Editor

                                                  Comments, Not Attacks Please

For the first part of 2015, public comments during Mission Viejo council meetings were mostly civil. Why did the tone change? The comments turned into attacks at about the same time the council was discussing the contract to update the Nadadores' swim club facility.

The contract for the remodel is going to cost taxpayers $7.7 million. The amount alone is astounding. Councilwoman Cathy Schlicht was the only one who questioned the price tag, preferring the less costly option recommended by the Community Services Commission. Consequently, she voted against the most costly option, which passed 4-1. 

A taxpayer revolt against spending $7.7 million would have been understandable. As a consequence of spending money the city doesn't have, any shortfall will impact parks and infrastructure. Ironically, it is the supporters of the swim club project -- a handful of them -- who have gone on the attack.

Nadadores supporters filled the council chamber during the meeting in May when they were cheering for their cause. However, remarks turned negative and continued after the vote. Public comments during council meetings and other public events have become personal attacks, especially against Councilwoman Schlicht.

Speakers can use any tone they want to make public comments, but they are also saying "everyone" feels the same animosity [when] they are speaking for themselves. 

Taxpayers are very generously funding a facility for the use of a private group.

Joe Holtzman
Mission Viejo

 

San Juan Capistrano

SJC Councilman John Perry
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Guest Column
           Exciting Changes to Downtown

            By San Juan Capistrano Councilman John Perry

I was pleased to receive the announcement that Mission Inn San Juan Capistrano signed an operating agreement this month with the Autograph Collection of Marriott International. We will now have a 4-star luxury boutique hotel and spa downtown, across from the Mission Basilica, on the already approved site of the former Walnut Grove and Mission Inn. The project is able to move forward quickly, with groundbreaking expected this fall, due to the 2010 approval of the site by the City Council for a hotel.  

This 124-room hotel will go far towards alleviating downtown parking issues, as the hotel will provide more parking than is required by city code. It will also include valet service and a much-needed conference center.

San Juan Capistrano

    Why Only One Year of Water Refunds?
                                  By Kim Lefner
                                
While the SJC City Council voted on June 16 to refund to ratepayers an estimated $4.1 million in illegally billed water fees, some residents are questioning why they are only being refunded for overcharges for a one year period. After all, they say, a previous council majority implemented tiered rates in 2010 that were later ruled illegal by the courts. Therefore, they should be refunded the fees illegally collected from 2010 to the date of the court ruling in 2014. 
The reason for the one year limit appears to be based on a case cited by City Attorney Jeff Ballinger in which utility customers in Los Angeles won a lawsuit over whether interest rates applied to overcharged and voluntarily refunded sewer fees. The case, “Utility Audit Company, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, B163797*,” was heard by the Second District Court of Appeals and cited Government Code about limitations on refunds. A cursory review of the code however, does not readily reveal the answer about what the statute of limitations may be in this case. A call to the City Attorney seeking clarification had not yet been returned prior to publication.

Mission Viejo

CVHS Parking Decision Celebrated
                    
                                                                                         By Don Wilder

On Saturday afternoon, July 11, about 30 residents of the Coronado homes, Mission Viejo’s southernmost neighborhood, celebrated a decision by the Mission Viejo City Council that will help preserve the quality of life for local residents. Residents were joined by Mayor Cathy Schlicht.
Residents of the Coronado homes neighborhood
gather to celebrate the City Council decision

For years since Capistrano Valley High School (CVHS) first opened in 1974, residents of these Coronado homes had endured the growing problems of student parking on the neighborhood streets, along with litter, the inappropriate behavior of some students and commuter traffic congestion on their otherwise quiet residential streets. Neither the high school administration nor the Capistrano Unified School District had done much to mitigate the problems, at one point even tacitly approving the use of the nearby residential streets to augment the adequate but inconvenient student parking on campus.

Ladera Ranch

CUSD Trustee Jim Reardon
           Ladera Mello-Roos Refinancing       
                      Results in Savings
                     
                            By Jim Reardon, CUSD Trustee - Area 2

In many “newer” communities, Mello-Roos fees are a way to pay for school construction. When a developer still owns all the land, a Mello-Roos or “Community Facilities District” (CFD), is formed. This requires only that the developer and the "lead agency" such as the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD), approve. 

The advantage of CFDs is that rather than paying cash for the construction of needed schools which is a requirement in state law, the developer can commit to tax his property and the lead agency can then borrow the needed money, using the tax as the guarantee of repayment. These are generally 20-30 year bonds. The bonds are paid off by future homeowners based on a tax that is calculated on the size of their home.

San Juan Capistrano

                                                 Rumors vs Reality

Perhaps you have heard some of the following rumors that have been floating around town. In an effort to lay them to rest, we have listed below the rumors, and the facts based on our research and documentation. Due to space limitations, we will print additional rumors vs. facts in upcoming issues.

Rumor: Water rate refunds will increase your water rates.

Fact:
There is no data to support the claim that refunds will increase water rates. In fact, if we merged with a larger water agency as has been proposed, rates would likely decrease, as the hugely expensive cost to operate and maintain the water plant (that we are only leasing) would be spread over a larger customer base.
 
Rumor: The “Riding Park” property pays for itself and its maintenance.

Fact: This is perhaps the biggest fallacy. The principle and interest on the “open space” property alone is more than $2 million per year. The majority of the flat, useable property within this “open space” is the Riding Park.  
The Riding Park has been locked up with an exclusive annual lease granted to a private equestrian events promotion company by previous city council majorities, for which the private company pays around $200,000 per year. That’s less than 10% of the annual principle and interest payments.

Because it is leased to a private company, San Juan residents are prohibited from using the property they are paying for, which increased the average SJC property tax bill by several hundred dollars per year.   


The only one who benefits from this deal is the private company that is leasing the Riding Park. They generate an estimated $2 million per year on our publicly owned, taxpayer funded property. 
 Rumor: The new city council majority’s appointment of fresh faces on the city commissions is “retaliation and payback”.

Fact: Many of the commissioners had served on the city commissions from between 18 to 31 years. New applicants stated they had previously applied for commissions but were rejected by the previous council majority who they believed were granting commission appointments to their friends and supporters. As a result, the number of applicants for the commissions this year nearly doubled under the new council. The new council opened up the opportunities to all, not just a select well-connected few.

Rumor: The referendum against the Laguna Glen and Urban Village developments robbed San Juan of much-needed developer dollars for infrastructure improvements and maintenance.

Fact: Large developments put additional strain on infrastructure such as adding traffic congestion, wear and tear on roads, strain on sewer and water systems and creating additional demand for scarce water resources. The infrastructure strain is costly, and as we can see from the traffic generated by developments approved by previous council majorities, has a devastating impact on small-town quality of life. 

 Rumor: The free Downtown Trolley takes people out of downtown, sending them to outlying areas away from the downtown shopping and attractions before returning them to their cars parked downtown.

Fact:
The Trolley is designed to bring people in to the downtown from outlying areas, not the other way around. The Trolley picks up shoppers and diners from areas east of the freeway such as the Park n’ Ride and seniors facilities, and from the Marriott Residence Inn at the west end of town. The Trolley will help to relieve parking and traffic congestion downtown.
 

Mission Viejo

                                 Letter to the Editor

                               Questions Resurface About Councilman’s Past

When Mayor Pro Tem Greg Raths announced during the July 6 council meeting that he had been threatened, what was the nature of the threat? Rather than physical harm, his comments indicate someone intended to embarrass him.

Is the threat related to information that came out in 2014 about Raths' past? Some Mission Viejo residents first learned about the accusations against Raths in an article that was published on missionviejopatch.com. Those who saw the post said it contained complaints about Raths' immoral behavior, with specific examples and an offer of verification from the writer.

If the allegations posted online are false, Raths can go after the writer or those who provided the material for publication. 

If the allegations are true, the city should be aware of the liability of having such a person in office. Raths used the word "blackmail" in his comments from the dais. Blackmail works only if the allegations are true.

(Name withheld by request)
 

San Juan Capistrano

        Ghost Train Really Gone?

In the last issue of the CCS, resident Clint Worthington wrote about the steps being taken to eliminate the “Ghost Train” effect, which activates the guard gates across the railroad tracks on Del Obispo near Camino Capistrano. It’s called the Ghost Train because the gates are triggered to come down even when no train is present. This causes already congested traffic to back up even further.

The fix, as Worthington pointed out, is simple. A report by CTC, Inc., a firm hired to study the crossing, showed that slowing south bound passenger trains as they approach the Train Depot will eliminate 100 percent of the crossing gate activations at the Del Obispo crossing. According to the report, the cost to implement this procedure is less than $10.00 and delays the train by only approximately 21 seconds.

According to City sources however, passenger carriers Amtrak and Metrolink are resistant to slowing their trains down on the approach to the depot to pick up passengers. Instead, they are offering an alternative solution to decrease the number of gate activations, which they will present at an upcoming City Council meeting. 

Worthington, who is a locomotive engineer, feels we have waited long enough. “For nine years I have been asking the various council majorities to approach the rail authorities with this simple fix. I then learned that for two years, Metrolink has been sitting on a report that comes to the same conclusion. Nine years is long enough; it’s time to get this done,” said Worthington.  

Are you affected by the “Ghost Train” traffic? The CCS wants to hear from you! Email us at: eboard@ccsense.com.










 

Mission Viejo

                               Letter to the Editor
 
                                                  Hold city officials accountable

Thanks for a great and informative article ["City Property Appraisal Way Off," by Kirk Kelley, June 2015]. Absolutely, the city should obtain another appraisal regarding the sale of Site C.  

To sell it without doing so is, in my opinion, a total breach of the council's responsibility to do their due diligence on behalf of the taxpayers in this city. It smells VERY fishy when a quick, inside deal like this is done.

Also, WHAT HAPPENED to the two other "fiscal conservatives," besides Councilwoman Cathy Schlicht, who I voted for to avoid this very thing? They promised they'd be fiscally conservative, and then as soon as they got elected, they jumped on the "tax & spend" bandwagon with the others on the council who would also have been voted out if they were running for re-election. Cathy seems to be the only one who consistently sticks to her principles. 

It's VERY disheartening to see this. With all of the unfunded pension expenses that we have, we should be building a bigger reserve and stop all of this reckless behavior on the council. This applies to both the property not having multiple appraisals and also the HIGHEST-priced plan for renovation of the Nadadors swim center.  

Keep their feet to the fire and make this widely known to residents. If more knew about this, I believe there would be an uproar.

It seems at every level of politics now, the voter is ignored, and politicians do what they please. At the very least, they should do some polling and see how the residents here really feel about these issues. 

Thanks for keeping us informed.

Dan O'Connor
Mission Viejo

 

Ladera Ranch

               CUSD to Consider Formation of Ladera Ranch
                           Civic Council Ad Hoc Committee

 On August 12, the Capistrano Unified School District (“CUSD”) school board will consider a proposal by Trustee Jim Reardon to formalize its relationship with the Ladera Ranch Civic Council (“LRCC”) through creation of an Ad Hoc Committee.

Reardon, whose area of representation includes Ladera Ranch, recommends that the committee be comprised of two members of the LRCC Board and two members of the school board.

Ad Hoc committees exist for each city within CUSD's 181 square mile boundary, providing an opportunity for board members and staff to regularly confer on matters of interest to a specific community. “I support creation of this committee, look forward to serving on it and welcome your thoughts about the work of such a committee,” said Reardon.

 Trustee Reardon can be reached via email at: jmreardon@capousd.org.

San Juan Capistrano

                San Juan Capistrano’s Free Summer Trolley a Hit

                                             By Kerry Ferguson, San Juan Capistrano Council Member

 San Juan’s free trolley system is making new friends every day that it runs. Already, ridership is meeting or exceeding our goals each weekend. Last weekend saw half again as many per hour as our goal. 
Councilman John Perry joins 20 residents of
Brookdale Senior Living on a Trolley ride downtown 
 People who ride have really nice things to say. Tiffany from North Carolina wrote, “Our entire family enjoyed the ride and are hoping to hop on again this weekend. We are looking forward to touring the Mission and learning more about the history of San Juan Capistrano...thank you for your kindness and conversation...it made our visit here even more memorable.”

Riding along last Friday evening, we had pickups of entire families as well as a mother with a half dozen girls in tow at the Park ‘n Ride, the Residence Inn, the Train Depot and the cluster of Senior apartments on Rancho Viejo Road. All came into town to the stop at the Mission and to enjoy restaurants, the theater and shops.

With the new Trolley Tracker, you can check the location of the trolley every 30 seconds and plan accordingly. We never had to wait more than 5-10 minutes for it to come to our chosen stop. It is so cool!

The trolley is primarily funded by grants from the Air Quality Management District, with only $3000 coming from San Juan Capistrano’s General Fund. The Mission San Juan Capistrano and the Heritage Tourism Association provided all the marketing. Next year, we hope to extend it to outlying neighborhoods for pickups and drop-offs as well as connections to Dana Point and San Clemente with grant funding from OCTA. The trolley is fun, it brings people into town to shop and dine, it eases traffic and parking, and it helps our air quality.

 Hours for the trolley are:

 Fridays: 4 p.m. - 10 p.m. 

Saturdays: 9 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Sundays: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

 Now’s the time to get on board and ENJOY THE RIDE!






San Juan Capistrano

           Council Seeks to Refund Water Overcharges


SJC Councilman John Perry
                      by San Juan Capistrano Councilman John Perry


Now that the City Council has settled with the Capistrano Taxpayers Association (CTA), all that remains to close out the lawsuit is to refund to City residents the illegally collected water rates. The City Council must now adopt a procedure for the residents to file a claim and receive their refund in a fair and timely manner.

The first part of the equation is to determine if the court itself agreed with the CTA that all Tiers above Tier 1 were illegal because the city could not provide evidence that the Tiers were based on actual costs of service. To do this we must refer to the court’s final Statement of Decision and Judgment.
 
Now that the City Council has settled with the Capistrano Taxpayers Association (CTA), all that remains to close out the lawsuit is to refund to City residents the illegally collected water rates. The City Council must now adopt a procedure for the residents to file a claim and receive their refund in a fair and timely manner.

The trial court decision was issued on August 28, 2013 and signed by OC Superior Court Judge Gregory Munoz. On page 3 of the decision Judge Munoz stated, “CTA has no quarrel with respect to the new rates (February 2010) under Tier One, but argues that in substantially raising the water rates under Tiers 2, 3, and 4, the City failed to provide any evidence to justify the new rates as required by Proposition 218.”
 
The Judge went on to write,This Court finds that the City failed to carry its burden of proof of establishing that the rate increases were proportional to the costs of providing water services to its customers.”

Mission Viejo

                                   City Property Appraisal Way Off

                                                                  by Kirk Kelley

During the May 18 Mission Viejo council meeting, the council voted to sell city-owned property ("Site C") near the animal shelter. The speed with which it happened is one thing, and the questions about the value of the property are a whole other matter.
The 33-acre parcel was appraised in 2007 at $57.5 million. Eight years later, the same parcel was appraised at $7.96 million.

 To put the decreased value into perspective, a similar property in Mission Viejo (28-acre Casta del Sol open space) was appraised in 2008 at $840,000. In 2014, the value was $3.6 million.

Can anyone explain why the Site C appraisal plummeted while the Casta open space appraisal increased by 400 percent? No notable changes took place on either property during the time frame.

Ladera Ranch

                                                           Cityhood or Annexation?

                                                                             by Larry Gilbert

Last month the OC Register questioned consolidating our 34 Orange County cities into one large, rather than 34 smaller, cities in order to have clout both statewide as well as for national assistance. There are surely arguments to be made for either concept. This report will slice this topic a little closer to home.
As the south Orange County planned community of Ladera Ranch is basically built out, should they form the 35th city in Orange County? Currently they are served as one of the unincorporated communities in our County. In speaking to members of the Board of Supervisors over the years I've been told they (the county) would prefer giving up these "islands" of responsibility.

At this point the residents of Ladera Ranch have optional approaches to consider should they prefer getting out from under county rule. One such approach is annexation.

San Juan Capistrano

                                                                   Ghost Train Gone

                                                                            by Clint Worthington

My father once told me that if you believe in something, to never ever give up in pursuing it. After nine years, 35 appearances before the City Council, and being told by Councilman Sam Allevato that it can't be done so many times that I have lost count, I am happy to report that the Ghost Train is finally going away, which will eliminate 100% of the “Ghost Train” traffic and decrease the traffic backed up at the Del Obispo railroad crossing traffic signal by an estimated 75 percent.
Long lines of traffic at the Del Obispo
Crossing may become a thing of the past
 

A report by CTC, Inc., a firm hired to study the crossing, showed that slowing southbound passenger trains as they approach the Train Depot will eliminate 100 percent of the crossing gate activations at the Del Obispo crossing. The report states that the cost to implement this procedure is less than $10.00 and delays the train by only approximately 21 seconds. In addition, the report states that the traffic signals at the Del Obispo crossing are being activated as many as 286 times per day. The report indicates that purchasing a module that only activates the traffic signals when trains are nearby will eliminate 215 activations of the red traffic signal per day.

Why Metrolink did not immediately implement this procedure is unknown as this information was presented in the CTC report that Metrolink in September 2013. Can you imagine what a difference eliminating the Ghost Train effect and having a traffic signal that works properly at that crossing will do to traffic?

This situation demonstrates that persistence and refusing to take no for an answer can amount to huge benefits for our town. 

Clint Worthington is a locomotive engineer who is a founding member of the Capistrano Taxpayers Association. He has lived in San Juan for more than 23 years and has spent the past nine years advocating for elimination of the “Ghost Train” effect in order to improve traffic downtown.
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