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).

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.  Present
According to several city sources, Bourne and the Vermeulens are on questionable legal ground, considering that the previous council majority approved the General Plan Amendment and re-zone of the property, which was then overturned by a legal referendum process. 

The referendum petition stated that if the required number of signatures were collected, the city council had two options; they could either vote to repeal the previous council majority’s approval, or the council could call for a special election. Due to the overwhelming support the referendum received from the community and the estimated $100,000 cost of a special election, the city council majority voted to repeal the development.

Councilman Sam Allevato voted not to fight the lawsuit. At the most recent council meeting, Allevato stated, “The vote to approve the hiring of this law firm was 4-1 with me dissenting as I believe there is a better way to treat the Vermeulen family than to proceed with fighting this lawsuit.” Allevato’s statement about treatment of the Vermeulens raises the question about his treatment of them in 2008 when he voted (behind closed doors) to approve purchase of the Ranch property outside the city limits with taxpayer-funded bond money, instead of purchasing the Vermeulen property. Some observers question whether Allevato’s about-face has to do with his acceptance of a $1,000 campaign contribution from Vermeulen during his fight against an attempt to recall him in 2014. The recall organizers dropped their effort, but not before Allevato collected tens of thousands of dollars from various sources, including business interests with pending projects in front of the city.

Spieker Development has maintained a lease of the property which expires at the end of 2015. Bourne has publicly stated his desire to see the Vermeulen property developed, but many residents, especially those in the neighborhoods surrounding the Vermeulen property, have a different vision; one that includes the property becoming the open space that they were led to believe their tax dollars would purchase. They remain hopeful that the new city council can work out a solution.

To access a copy of the lawsuit, visit: ; click on “Vermeulen/Spieker Lawsuit” under “Community Links”.


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