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.
The issue was initially raised in 2007 when a resident living in the Hunt Club wrote a letter to the City Council and City management, objecting to the “mischaracterization” of the Hunt Club HOA’s trail easement as “multi-purpose” when in fact they were defined as “equestrian use only” in their CC&Rs. 

The letter described how the City, without permission or notice, posted a complete video tour of the City’s trails, including the one within their HOA, on Youtube. The video is apparently from the City’s website, which encourages the public to use the trails and incorrectly lists the trails as being part of the “Recreational Trail System” which includes hiking and biking.

The letter stated, “We do not allow the public to access our trails for hiking or biking, as all of our trails are restricted to equestrian use only per our CC&R’s.” The resident asked that the City, “…immediately remove the videos of the trails that were taken (without permission) by a car that rode through our area filming our entire trail system. The trails are owned by residents and not all trail easements have been accepted by the City. Further… by filming the trails, showing the homes and backyards of many residents… could seriously compromise [their] security... [which was] of primary concern when the CC&R’s were approved to include ‘equestrian use only’. To allow outside biking and hiking could lead to homes being staked out from the trails… on private property…”

The resident received confirmation that the trails were indeed equestrian-only in a letter from then-Mayor Sam Allevato. According to the letter dated February 16, 2007, Allevato confirmed that staff had researched the issue, stating in part, “...Equestrian easement is not multipurpose; we are in agreement with your statement.”
If the public is allowed complete access to the interior of the community through the trails, there would be no legal way to enforce “no trespassing” into their private communities, say residents. They point to other communities that have already been compromised through the trail system with increased break-ins and overnight camping.

In fact, the Stoneridge HOA, whose CC&Rs allow for an equestrian-only trail easement, is also listed as “multi-purpose” on the City’s Recreational Trail System. Not only are they a part of the Youtube video tour, but the City has taken the additional step of installing a large map of the trail system, with a receptacle for paper maps for trail users, at the entrance to their neighborhood off Rancho Viejo Road. Fencing that has been cut and removed, allowing entry to the neighborhood by bikes and motorcycles which are not legally allowed on the trails.  

Despite several requests for action over the years, the trails continued to be designated multi-purpose, until it was brought to the attention of new city officials who directed staff to remove at least the Hunt Club’s trails from the multi-purpose trail system. As of date of publication, no action had yet been taken on any other incorrect trail designations.

Do you have a trail around your community? If so, is it designated “multi-purpose”? Check your CC&Rs to see if your neighborhood’s current trail designation matches the original easement granted to the City. To see a map of San Juan’s Recreational Trail System, visit “Community Links” on the CCS website at:

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