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.
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