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.

Mission Viejo Guest Column

                            $7.7 million Cost Takes Big Bite Out of Budget

                                                                             by Cathy Schlicht, Mayor, Mission Viejo

Mission Viejo Mayor Cathy Schlicht
In September 2011, the prior council approved a $3.7 million budget that grew to $5.6 million to complete the Marguerite Tennis Pavilion in the Marguerite Recreation Center, which includes the Marguerite Aquatics Complex and the YMCA.

The question before the city council is whether the city should now spend another $7.7 million on the Marguerite Aquatics Complex to create a world-class facility so the private, nonprofit Nadadores Swim Club can host National and International events. The answer isn’t as easy as one might think when you considering the following facts.

The Nadadores have an exclusive 20-year, rent-free Facility Use Agreement. The Nadadores are one of the largest swim and dive clubs in the United States. It is a business with more than $1 million paid in salaries and benefits, and it raises revenue.

 Not only do the Nadadores have free use of the Marguerite Swim Complex, the taxpayers are paying 55% of its utility bills.

Am I committed to repairing the Nadadores' swim center? Absolutely I am. On June 6, 2011, I placed on the agenda an item for a vote to start the necessary renovations after the 2012 Summer Olympics. My motion received unanimous support from the council, Coach Rose and Mission Viejo Olympian swimmer Chloe Sutton. However, the purpose of this badly needed expenditure changed from creating a safe and inviting environment to building a world-class facility.

Ladera Ranch

                  CUSD Update; Seeking Relief from Overcrowding  
                                           by Jim Reardon, Trustee, Capistrano Unified School District

CUSD Trustee Jim Reardon
The school district is continuing address verification of all new and continuing students at four Ladera Ranch schools in order to alleviate overcrowding. Information submitted by parents is being cross-checked through Experian, and a private investigator is following up on discrepancies including information received from the Fraudulent Residency Notification link on CUSD's website and returned mail. Notification letters are being sent to families who have not provided requested documentation.

In other news, planning for the addition of 24 permanent classrooms and 80 parking spaces at San Juan Hills High School is underway. Optimistically, these will be in place for 2017-2018 school year. Our school board has also approved a cooperative parking agreement with the LDS Church to be built adjacent to the school.

For more information, visit the CUSD website at:

San Juan Capistrano

                                                       Letters to the Editor     
                                      Residents Respond to OCSD Article

Editor’s note: We received a number of responses to the article “Does $8 Million Buy Quality Service?” in the May edition about the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Listed below are some of the emails we received. Names have been withheld upon request.

It was my home that a prowler attempted to break into on April 2. It was I who tackled and held the criminal until the sheriffs arrived. It was I who then watched them drive him to the safety of his own secure home.

We subsequently learned that on the same night, within the same hour, two of my neighbors had somebody try to break into their units also (sheriffs took reports). Weeks later another neighbor returned home from a trip and viewed the same prowler on a surveillance video tape (face is clearly visible) trying to enter their unit on the same night & hour (provided to sheriffs).

 As far as I know, there have been no arrests to date. I’m sure that the local sheriffs and district attorney have difficult jobs with many difficult obstacles to hurdle, but…

Satisfied? What do you think? I’d like a tax refund please to pay for a security system and Tazer Gun.


Of course there are two sides to every story, and the example given [in the article in the May edition of CCS] would be frustrating. But I somewhat have my doubts, especially seeing that the officer took the offender home. That sounds like the officer knew that would be the best course of action. How do we know the person doesn't possess some sort of mental issue? By all means arrest the confused! Now let's move on a bit. 

I lived in a few communities in my 51 years as a Southern California native, in my experience there are some law enforcement agencies that are good and some not so. This being my very first community (San Juan) that employed the OCSD. I can tell without a doubt you are getting a good deal and a well trained and level headed team. Look at your police blotter and the trivial calls they get here just make me laugh. But all in all they respond and address each one that other agencies wouldn't even bother showing up for.

 They support every live event we have with a friendly smile and a professional demeanor. When I had to call in a drug enraged neighbor, they showed and took control and to boot the came by the house a few days later to see how things are going. Really? Who does that? You are getting a good deal and I back these men and women one hundred percent. Just drive north and you will see how bad it gets. Be thankful.

John Crane

Mission Viejo

San Juan Capistrano

                                      Removal of Signs Leads to Resignation 

When a group of residents fighting the expansion of the SDG&E substation in San Juan planned a rally, they couldn’t have imagined they would also be fighting City volunteers, one of whom admitted to taking the signs they posted in advance of their rally. The signs were subsequently thrown in the trash.
SJC residents hold rally signs taken by City volunteers
According to rally organizers, they followed the City’s Municipal Code in posting the signs however, on Thursday morning prior to the rally on Sunday, May 24, the signs were taken just three hours after being posted. A witness reported that he saw ‘two City volunteers on bikes’ pulling up the signs and taking them to a City truck parked in the SDG&E driveway on Camino Capistrano. 

Political campaign signs are protected; even if the signs violated city code, which the group maintains they did not, the City is required to keep the signs and return them. A member of the group attempted to contact the City Manager and City Planning Director to find out who took the signs, why and where they had taken them, but stated they received no response.

San Juan Capistrano

SJC Councilmember Kerry Ferguson
inside the vintage trolley
              All Aboard for the Free
        San Juan Capistrano Trolley!
       by Kerry Ferguson, San Juan Capistrano City Council Member

Our new free trolley system is moving into place the connections that will make getting around in our town much easier in years to come.

The trolley takes a proactive approach to bring residents back to our Historic Downtown for dinner and shopping while alleviating parking and traffic congestion challenges. This is a way residents can support the fine restaurants and shops in San Juan Capistrano and bring the kids, have a fun senior outing or a couples' romantic night out.

If residents embrace this, we hope to extend it to outlying neighborhoods for pick-ups and drop-offs as well as connections to Dana Point and San Clemente. Besides the fun it provides and the businesses it will serve, it will make parking easier and ease traffic congestion while improving air quality. It also has the potential to stave off large investments in infrastructure that cut swaths through our cities and fail to make things better on our roads. 

This summer, one trolley will pick up at our hotels, several senior apartment complexes and the park 'n ride, bringing passengers downtown to the Mission San Juan Capistrano, the Regional Library (famous for architecture by Michael Graves) and to our train depot right next to Historic Los Rios Street. 

Most of the funding came from the Air Quality Management District, with a few thousand added from the City and a generous gift of Marketing from the Heritage Tourism Association.

Come aboard, and enjoy the ride!


Mission Viejo

                                                    Letter to the Editor         
                                              Residents Deserve Better

A video surfaced on May 5, showing Councilwoman Wendy Bucknum harassing residents of the Coronado Homes (off Avery Pkwy east of Marguerite, near Capo High School).

During public comments of the May 4 city council meeting, one of the residents reported Bucknum and another person came into his neighborhood to “harass residents” regarding a parking issue. Bucknum evidently didn't know she'd been caught on a home security camera. She argued that she was instead watching the children, and she added, "You're entitled to your opinion." CouncilmanGreg Raths entered the discussion, siding with Bucknum.

 The video and viewers' comments can be found on

Videotape from a home security camera shows Bucknum on April 24 driving slowly by homes of residents who support the current parking permit hours near the high school. Bucknum stops in front of a home, and her passenger gets out of the car to photograph the home. Bucknum's passenger then "flips off" another resident who drives by and stops. 

After Bucknum's passenger photographed homes, another video shows the city's Code Enforcement paying the neighborhood a visit. Is Bucknum using Code Enforcement as a weapon against residents?

In addition to exposing Wendy Bucknum's frequent ethical lapses, Community Common Sense has published her council votes, her conflicts of interest and ties to such businesses as San Diego Gas & Electric.

On Apr. 20, Bucknum enthusiastically supported SDG&E's expansion of a substation in a neighborhood close to homes. On June 1, Bucknum was in the 4-1 majority to sink $7.7 million taxpayer dollars into the Marguerite Swim Complex remodel. Bucknum should have recused herself from the vote because of her longtime involvement in the swim club. During the council discussion, she repeatedly referred to the swim club as "we."

Mission Viejo residents deserve better than this.

Joe Holtzman
Mission Viejo


San Juan Capistrano

                    Residents Speak Out: Water Rate Refunds

Editor’s note: Last month we asked readers whether San Juan water customers who were over-charged for water should receive refunds. Due to space limitations we are unable to print all of the responses, but have listed excerpts from some of them below. 
  •  You asked the question: "Do you think customers who were overcharged for water should be refunded?"  The answer: Of Course! The money was taken from customers illegally! What kind of thinking says, "we know we stole money from you illegally, but we're going to keep it anyway."  That's nuts!
          - Cathy, SJC resident and homeowner for 25 years

  •  Customers who were overcharged for water since 2010 should be refunded.
          - Jack, San Juan Capistrano

  • Yes indeed I do believe customers who have been overcharged, and still are, should definitely be reimbursed. In any business it is common practice to immediately refund monies to anyone who has been overcharged. 
          - Shirley, San Juan Capistrano

  • It costs us taxpayers over $1 million to prove what we already knew; that the water rates were extortion. We also got to see the contempt these politicians have for citizens and tax payers, using rates to punish law abiding tax paying citizens for not believing tin the mythical [ground water plant]…. Why is it up to the Extortionists to decide whether to refund the money?
          - Robert, San Juan Capistrano

  • We live in San Juan Capistrano and definitely think the customers that were overcharged for water should receive a refund... Thanks for standing up for the citizens of San Juan Capistrano.
         - Ken, San Juan Capistrano

  • Customers who were billed illegally for water should definitely be refunded what they were over-charged. Thanks for staying on top of this issue.
        - Jim, San Juan Capistrano
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