Half of Eastern Open Space Given to Private Businesses, Subsidized by Taxpayers

Did you vote to give the open space you are paying for to a private business and a developer so they can generate profits for their businesses?

 That is what is happening with more than half of the 132-acre “open space” San Juan residents voted to purchase in 2009 at Ortega and La Pata. The remaining “open space” is largely unusable hilly or conservation easements.  

The two open space parcels monopolized by private businesses are the 70-acre Riding Park, used for elite Hunter-Jumper and Dressage competitions, and a 2.4-acre parcel previously leased to The Oaks when it was owned by Joan Irvine-Smith. Irvine-Smith used the 2.4 acres as an adjunct to her neighboring equestrian facility.

The lease of the publicly owned open space to a
private company restricts the public from using it.
The City collects only $4,800 per year from the developer for the 2.4 acre open space parcel while SJC taxpayers pay approximately $37,000 per year in interest on the bond payment. In addition, a boarder claimed that the developer is leasing horse “turn outs” for $1,000 per month each on the property, a
claim the developer denies.

Since February 2016, the ownership and lease of the 2.4 acres has been discussed by both the Trails and Equestrian Commission, and the Parks, Recreation, Senior and Youth Services Commission. Both commissions recommended that the City Council approve removal of the fence and giving use of the property to the residents who are paying for it, as promised in Measure Y (the Open Space bond measure).

Instead of acting on the commissions’ recommendation, the issue was discussed by the City Council behind closed doors, and has been sent back to the commissions to discuss potential uses of the taxpayer-owned property. 

Although we are unsure who is behind the effort to give the taxpayer-owned property to the developer, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the Davidson “equestrian lifestyle” residential development quotes Councilman Sam Allevato about Davidson’s development. “Mr. Davidson’s final plans for the project were well-received by neighbors and city officials. He got unanimous approval from both the city’s planning commission and city council—a rarity... They walked in and were able to build it with just some minor tweaks,” Mr. Allevato said (read the full WSJ Davidson Development article listed under “Community Links“, to the right).

                                   Lease of the 2.4 Acres; Is it Legal?

When Joan Irvine-Smith sold her equestrian facility known as “The Oaks” to developer Bill Davidson in 2013, her License Agreement with the City prohibited assumption of the lease of the 2.4 acre parcel of publicly-owned open space without prior written consent. The original 2010 License Agreement states, “LICENSEE may not assign, sublet or otherwise transfer its interest under this Agreement without the prior written consent of the LICENSOR [the City]. Any attempted assignment, sublet or transfer of this provision shall be null and void.” (see the entire 2010 Oaks License Agreement under “Community Links”). We can find no prior written consent, yet the license agreement was somehow transferred to the new property owner.

 • It is unknown why the City allowed Davidson to assume the License Agreement/lease of property that belongs to and is paid for by the public.

 • It is also unknown why the developer is being charged only $4,800 per year for the acreage, when the interest payment on the parcel paid by SJC taxpayers amounts to an estimated $37,000 per year.

Court Invalidates Previous Council Majority’s Approval of Proposed "Urban Village" Downtown Development

On August 23, 2016 an OC Superior Court judge invalidated approval of the proposed "Urban Village" hotel and residential downtown development. The project was approved by the previous council majority of Sam Allevato, Larry Kramer and John Taylor, despite warnings from the City Attorney and City Manager that the project was not in compliance with the City’s General Plan. The order mandated that the City vacate the project approval.

The action by the previous council majority spawned several lawsuits, including one filed by a group of residents against the then-Council majority’s approval. In "Save Our Historic Town Center v. City of San Juan Capistrano", residents claimed that the project was not in compliance with the General Plan or the Historic Town Center Master Plan. 

The project approval was also the subject of a referendum, approved by a majority of SJC voters and certified by the Registrar of Voters, to overturn the vote of the previous council majority. Although the referendum was successful, the developer filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate it and the subsequent vote of the current council majority which overturned it. It is unknown at this time how or if the court ruling will render as moot the developer’s lawsuit to invalidate the referendum. 

The ruling stated that the vote to approve the downtown development was invalid as the proposed development violated the City’s General Plan which does not allow residential housing downtown, and that the Floor Area Ratio (size) was nearly three times greater than what is allowed. 

The decision caps nearly 2 years of turmoil and expensive litigation.

The court ruling vindicates Mayor Pam Patterson and Mayor Pro Tem Kerry Ferguson who as newly elected councilmembers, voted with incumbent Councilman Derek Reeve and now-retired Councilman Roy Byrnes to overturn the previous council’s approval. The council members were harshly criticized by supporters of the development for approving the referendum and overturning the project approval. Referendum supporters on the other hand, called the 3 AM vote by the previous council "reckless and illegal" and criticized them for ignoring residents in the community. The CCS will keep you posted with any additional details as they become available.


Nearly $10 Million in Legal Costs Incurred Under Previous Council Majority

Councilman Sam Allevato

Former Councilman
Larry Kramer

Former Councilman
John Taylor
Councilman Sam Allevato has repeatedly claimed that the current City Council majority is "responsible for eleven lawsuits" totaling "millions of dollars".

We decided to do some fact checking to see when lawsuits against the City were filed amounting to more than $10,000, and how much the City taxpayers paid to defend and/or settle each case*.

We submitted a Public Records request for information dating back to 2013, the year prior to the election of the present council majority. The results are listed under "SJC Legal Fees 2013 - present" to the right, under Community Links.


Code Enforcement Takes Action on Violations at Eastern Open Space

In a previous issue of the CCS, we printed photos of what appeared to be multiple code violations at the Riding Park open space property at Ortega and La Pata. The violations were brought to light by several Parks & Recreation Commissioners who after touring the property, expressed concern about apparent risks to health and safety. The City responded by issuing a Notice of Violations and required Corrective Actions, (see below). The company that is managing the Riding Park for the City has ten days to correct the violations.

As background; the 70-acre Riding Park was purchased by SJC taxpayers, whose property taxes were increased to purchase 132 acres of what was supposed to be "open space for the public to enjoy." The City instead hired a company to manage the Riding Park property. The company keeps the revenue from the events.

In response to code complaints and a directive by the San Diego Regional Water Board to clean up any illegal dumping of waste water into the protected creek habitat, City Code Enforcement issued the following Notices of Violation and  Corrections to the Riding Park property manager, Blenheim Facilities Management. See photo pictorial "Eastern Open Space Code Violations" to the right, under Community Links.

Letters to the Editor

Editor’s note: Due to space limitations, we are only able to reprint a few of the letters we received. Unlike other publications, we offer to protect the identity of letter writers. As a publication that has been targeted and ultimately banned for exposing the truth about local governance, we know better than most about retaliation by community members, including elected officials, who have an opposing point of view. In an effort to shield our readers from such retaliation, we offer to withhold their names from letters thus, some will have names withheld.
                       SDG&E  No Friend to Residents

The local San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce voted to support SDG&E’s doubling of their substation in the middle of our family neighborhoods, schools, and Mission - instead of a perfectly good alternative location in Rancho Mission Viejo east of town.

 The new Chamber Board just named as their Ambassador, Steve Behmerwohld , who along with SDG&E representative Duane Cave, stole permitted signs from a rally our families had organized to oppose the expanded substation. Steve Behmerwohld took down signs while volunteering as an “ASAP” senior police services volunteer, and consequently had to resign. Duane Cave refused to return the signs as requested by former City Manager Karen Brust.  

SDG&E works with our State, Chamber and our City, to promote projects that are destructive to SJC families health and property values, yet they try to portray us and others who "have their number" as ignorant, over-reactors who don't know what we're talking about.

 Name withheld
SJC residents

                                 Why No Watering of Ortega Trees?

Please pass on my concerns to our City Council members about what appears to be the intentional non-watering of mature trees and plant material along the Ortega Highway so-called “chokepoint” – as if having dead trees and plants will be part of the answer to the road widening. Some trees are already dead and others appear to be suffering from lack of water.

The City, having reduced water usage by far more than required or requested, ought to look into keeping our mature street trees alive and well. Lack of water weakens these trees to pests that can also kill them off. Please reverse this practice, and turn on the water for our trees!

I have previously written and write again, thanking our Council Members for blocking the widening of the Ortega Highway.

Catherine Croisette
SJC resident

                                       Sick of “Bias”

I am so sick of your extreme bias against the horse park in San Juan Capistrano. Having a world class horse events center is such a benefit to our community and we all should embrace it and cherish it instead of bashing it and wanting more soccer, baseball, football fields. Don’t we already have enough of those?

There are numerous community events held at the park. It is so obvious that there is some sort of personal vendetta going on. Your paper is so slanted and definitely written by a vocal minority. And Ortega needs to be widened. I can’t wait for the next elections.

Lauren Horn
SJC resident
                           Hold Riding Park Accountable

My husband and I support an investigation of the outrageous mis-use of tax payer property [at the Riding Park] and appreciate the investigation under way. Residents should get frequent and either free or inexpensive use of the property, along with reasonable rent from the Brandes, if they are even allowed to stay, given the many safety liabilities and broken rules. Think like a Trump and negotiate a MUCH better deal!

Name withheld
SJC residents

                               Open Up the Open Space

I saw the pictures in the recent CCS and can't believe that our open space is being abused in this way. What is the city doing about this? Why is that business even allowed to use our open space to make money?
This is really appalling. I hope the city manager does something about this situation - like open up the property for us all to use. That's what we voted for after all.

Thanks for reporting on this.

Name withheld
SJC resident

       The Riding Park: Open Space or Commercial Business?

How refreshing to see the truth revealed, especially to many who were unaware of what was going on on Sacred lands....The photos clearly show the Riding Park committing violation after violation of city and state codes! Sacred lands are being abused and desecrated - usage conditions were put in place to protect those sacred lands and yet the pictures show the exact opposite. Electrical next to very dry brush, chemicals being stored out in the open, polluted water draining in multiple spots including next to federally protected habitat, mattresses, a makeshift bathroom - seriously? This list goes on: broken RV hoses, appearances of long term tenancy (a satellite dish), a nurseries empty pots. It leaves one to wonder how much more is going on that wasn't able to be photographed. These photos tell a story of disregard for city laws, the photos tell a story of look what the riding park can get away with....

It is hoped the city will step in and take whatever measures necessary to make sure the riding park is in compliance on every single square foot of land they cover. It is up to the city to enforce the protection of the open spaces and ancestral lands that San Juan Capistrano is very proud of...please do so.

Respectfully submitted,

Board of Directors, Capistrano Historical Alliance Committee

Residents, Local Equestrians Weigh In On Proposed Uses of Open Space

In a special joint meeting, the City's Trails and Equestrian Commission and the Parks, Recreation, Youth and Senior Services Commission met to discuss options for proposed uses of 2.4 acres of public open space that is currently being "leased" to a private developer.

During the meeting, residents and local recreational equestrians were invited to provide input into proposed uses. See pictorial "Residents, Equestrians Weigh in on Proposed Open Space Uses" to the right under Community Links.

City Council Progress Report

Now that we are facing an election for two new City Council members in November, we thought we would take a look back at the accomplishments of the current City Council majority. Below is a partial list of some of the council actions that impact your quality of life.
  • Implemented Sports Park fields rehabilitation program (re-seeding, watering and on-going maintenance)
  • Listed SJC street maintenance as a #1 priority, and obtained $6 million in county funding to improve San Juan streets 
  •  Approved adding signal and crosswalk on Rancho Viejo & Paseo Espada for safety of seniors and students 
  • Turned down 2 development projects that were too large for their proposed locations (Laguna Glen and Urban Village)
  •  Replaced proposed strip mall across from the Mission with 4-star Inn at the Mission Hotel
  •  Replace proposed Urban Village residential and hotel development with Hotel Capistrano by Kimpton boutique hotel
  •  Limited commercial photography in historic Los Rios neighborhood to improve residents quality of life 
  • Approved and implemented Putuidem/Juaneno Band of Mission Indians/Acjachamen Nation Cultural Heritage Center at Northwest Open Space 
  •  Approved and implemented World Class Skateboard Park at the Sports Park (after 10 years of discussion)
  • Approved and established Trolley program funded by OCTA to increase mobility and parking options for visitors to downtown 
  • Hired a broker to sell surplus city-owned property
  • Created needed equestrians improvements at Reata Park and Northwest Open Space 
  • Assisted El Nido Mobile Home Park residents with obtaining fair hearings against large rent increases  

The Riding Park: Open Space or Commercial Business?

     Serious questions raised about the use/abuse of Open Space

Did SJC residents vote for Open Space for use by the general public, or did they vote for a for-profit commercial equestrian business on Open Space? That was the basis of a discussion at the last two Parks and Recreation Commission meetings. Discussion also included the following issues:

· Conflict of interest

Melissa Brandes of Blenheim Facilities Management was contracted by the city to manage the 70-acre “Riding Park” (part of the Open Space purchased by SJC taxpayers at Ortega and La Pata). However, Brandes works simultaneously as VP of Marketing for Blenheim Equisports, an equestrian events company co-owned by her father, RJ Brandes. Thus, Blenheim Facilities Management rents fields to its other entity, Blenheim Equisports.                    

· SJC taxpayers restricted from using the property

    Blenheim Facilities Management office at the publicly
owned Riding Park is pictured above, with Blenheim
 Equisports "Showpark" offices located in the building
 in the background. Questions raised include why the
two related entities are allowed to both manage and
largely monopolize the open space for money-making
   equestrian events serving mostly out-of-town equestrians

 Because Blenheim Facilities Management gives the lion’s share of event dates to Blenheim Equisports, commissioners questioned whether this amounts to a monopoly, pointing out that the company rents fields essentially to themselves in order to generate significant profits for their events company, while restricting the use by SJC taxpayers who pay the mortgage on the open space property (approximately $2 million per year) through increased property taxes.                                   

 · Eliminating competition for Riding Park field rentals 
San Juan sports teams are supposed to be given priority for field rentals however, property manager Blenheim Facilities Management charges field rental fees that are so steep (four times higher than field rentals of other city parks) that most soccer and other sports groups are priced out of the Riding Park. This in turn frees up more event dates for her own company to continue to generate profits. In addition, soccer groups have been charged up to $7 per vehicle for parking at the Riding Park, while parking for equestrian events is often free.

  · No-bid contract  
City code states that Professional Services contracts amounting to more than $125,000 per year must be put out to bid. There are three exceptions to this rule however, Blenheim does not appear to meet the definition for exception. Records indicate that no bids were solicited or obtained for management of the Riding Park open space property; the contract appears to have been simply granted to Blenheim.

 · Possible code violations

Photos taken at the Riding Park during a recent tour were shared with the Parks, Recreation and Youth Services Commission at their July 18 meeting. The photos depict what appear to be code violations, health and safety issues and conditions prohibited by Blenheim’s management contract (see "Riding Park Powerpoint presentation - July 2016" under Community Links to the right).


Guest Column: Don't be Fooled – Let’s Press for Real Solutions for Ortega!

                                                   By Mayor Pro Tem Kerry Ferguson

The original plan submitted by Rancho Mission Viejo Company (“RMV Co.”) to the County was to build 5,000 homes east of San Juan Capistrano, leading the County to take an important east-west arterial road near Avery Parkway off the County map.

In 2000 however, the RMV Co. increased the number of homes they wanted to build to 14,000 but instead of putting the east-west arterial back on the map, they pushed for widening Ortega as a solution for the greatly increased congestion. In San Juan Capistrano, there was understandable fear that our history-rich village would be overrun by a new community to the east and made little more than a doormat for the RMV Co’s increased traffic. In fact, former mayor Wyatt Hart once told the LA Times: "This city was well planned. Our problem is the other communities; widening would only push the city toward the failing point."

In the 2002, our city paid $200,000 for a Strategic Transportation Plan. Civil Engineer Les Card
looked at the entire region and made 11 recommendations which included putting the east-west arterial between the 73 Toll Road and Antonio Parkway; extending La Pata; adding lanes to I-5; adding another north-south route to I-5 south of San Clemente, and last on the list; adding two lanes to Ortega Highway. Mr. Card made it clear that widening the Ortega without committing to or completing the other 10 improvements would only add to our congestion.

Ortega - to Widen or Not to Widen; Readers Weigh In

                                          Letters to the Editor                                              

We received a number of emails about the letter and petition card mailed out to residents in SJC and surrounding communities, asking them to petition the SJC City Council to revisit the issue of widening Ortega Highway. Due to space limitations, we are only able to print a few of the letters below. Names have been withheld to protect privacy.           _____________________________________________________________

"By all means, stop the widening of Ortega. The Ranch and there friends need to stay out of trying to run our city (San Juan Capistrano). 

All they want is more homes and thus more dollars for there pockets. Let the Ranch find another way to get people into there new development, but not through widening Ortega." 

SJC resident


 "As a resident and homeowner in SJC for the last 9 years it is my opinion that we should not widen Ortega Hwy in San Juan Capistrano. Having been born and raised in Orange County… I have seen many cities improve for the better and worse. How could building high ugly retaining walls, increasing speed limits in a residential district be for the good of our city? 

Yes, I agree with SJC residents that widening Ortega Hwy will undoubtedly turn it into a freeway on-and-off ramp for the Ranch's new city. The retaining walls will be an eyesore, the speed will increase, there will be added pollution causing allergies and other illnesses, and the traffic noise will be unbearable. The worst part are the dangers that will be thrust on… residents that live 100 Feet or less from Ortega Hwy, as well as the surrounding area. The quality of life as we know it will be gone forever. It will be altered dramatically for the children that play in their backyards and front, the teens that are new drivers will be at risk learning to maneuver around the busy interstate. Lastly, the hard earned dollars the residents invested in their homes will be devalued and lost. Some homes may be destroyed to make way for the widening as well as businesses. It will cause a frenzy exodus of residents forcing home prices down.

Laguna Beach, San Clemente, and Dana Point, have kept 35 mile speed limit in their cities with no ugly retaining walls despite the tremendous traffic that flows through. These surrounding cities mentioned were desirable destinations back since their conception and for me as a teen in the 70's as they still are today. These cities put their residents first and the integrity of the city not monetary gain. Yes, there's tons of traffic in our city, but widening Ortega Hwy, building a high cement retaining wall won't alleviate the traffic. Widening Ortega will increase traffic bringing noise and pollution while the cars whizz though our town to the freeway." 

SJC resident

"I am absolutely AGAINST the widening of our beautiful Ortega Highway. I do not want more traffic, faster speeds, and especially a 25 ft. Sound wall! (Not to mention 14,000 additional homes, thousands of additional cars, and the traffic horrors that would be caused by the increases of semis, cement trucks, etc. to build said # of homes!) 

If County approval for 14,000 additional homes is DEPENDENT upon "adequate road capacity to handle the greatly increased traffic that will be generated" then let the Ranch spend their OWN money and put their arterial road at Avery or Junipero Serra or Stonehill. 

Ortega Highway and the adjacent residents already have been abused more than enough by the decision to let other cities use our dump. 

Add a signal, but do not widen!" 

30-year resident of San Juan Capistrano


 "As a long time San Juan resident, I am disappointed in the actions of those who want to try and shove more Ranch traffic down our collective throats. It makes no sense to widen the Ortega – it will only invite more traffic and will increase the speed limit, making it less safe – not more safe like the Ranch cronies claim. 

Then there’s the visual blight; why on earth should we turn what is now a scenic road into a freeway on and off ramp for new development that’s not even in our town? This makes no sense…" 

SJC resident
             Efforts to Revisit Ortega Widening Stir Controversy

A mass mailing with a letter and a petition card urging residents to support the widening of Ortega Highway has some residents upset. Residents question why a handful of people would push so hard to have the council change its position after voting not to widen the scenic Ortega.
Residents are concerned that scenic Ortega
will be turned into a freeway on-and-off
ramp with 25' high sound walls
Emails we received about this issue pointed out inaccuracies and falsehoods in the letter that accompanied the stamped and pre-addressed petition card. Listed below are known facts about the issue, according to county and city records.

           Quick Facts about the Ortega Widening:
• The Rancho Mission Viejo Company, aka “The Ranch” received conditional entitlements from the county to develop 14,000 homes and 5 million square feet of commercial and retail on land they own east of San Juan.

• In order to get county approval to complete all phases of development, the Ranch must demonstrate they have adequate road capacity to handle the greatly increased traffic they will generate.

• If Ortega is widened by Cal Trans/OCTA, the taxpayers pick up the estimated $30 million tab. If the Ranch is forced to pay for their own road in another location, it will cost them tens of millions of dollars.

• An alternate location for the Ranch’s arterial road has already been studied, near Avery Parkway. It will direct the Ranch’s traffic away from Ortega.

• SJC Residents are concerned that widening Ortega would turn it into a freeway on-and-off ramp for the Ranch’s new city, with increased speed limit and sound walls up to 25 feet high.

• The new council majority voted “no” on the widening, instead encouraging the Ranch to pursue the alternate location for their arterial.

• CalTrans has already dropped all efforts to widen Ortega.

• Widening would make Ortega less safe, as it will increase the speed limit and add more traffic. SJC traffic engineer admitted to giving the council incorrect accident data for that stretch of Ortega. Traffic data proves the stretch of Ortega they claim is unsafe is currently four times safer than a comparable road.

                                Who is Behind the Letter?

By our estimates, the mass mailing with the letter and petition cards was an expensive undertaking. The letter and card claim "safety" is their primary concern. The claim makes no sense however, when widening Ortega would only increase the speed limit and add more traffic. In addition, the traffic consultant they claimed has been working on this issue since 2002 has in fact not studied it since then. He merely wrote a brief memo about the widening at the request of Ranch-friendly Councilman Sam Allevato.

So who else is behind this effort and why are they going to such lengths to pressure the council to widen the road? We did a little digging, and the results are listed below: 

Brad Gates – Close friend and former business partner of Ranch CEO Tony Moiso. Gates was the lead negotiator for the purchase of 132 acres of "open space" from Moiso at the corner of Ortega & La Pata, with $27.5 million in public bond money. Gates negotiated the deal entirely behind closed doors. The deal is so one-sided in favor of Moiso that it reads like a lease. As a result, residents are restricted from using the property they are paying for, while Moiso gets to use it for free for 50 years for his annual rodeo. Gates also negotiated that the "majority of the proceeds" from the rodeo be donated to his private "charity", the Open Space Foundation.

Eric  Sellas – Ranch executive who is married to Ranch CEO Tony Moiso’s daughter.

Buck Bean – Long time Ranch executive, retired from the Ranch after approximately 40 years.

Wyatt Hart – Ranch-friendly former SJC Mayor. Owns one of ten properties that could split $4.3 million in eminent domain taxpayer funding for a portion of relatively useless property along Ortega should it be widened.

Marlene Draper – Former Capistrano Unified Trustee who was targeted for recall by residents angry at mismanagement of school district finances. As a trustee, Draper voted to construct the
126,000 sf "Taj Mahal" headquarters building while children were crowded into moldy, 25-year-old portables. Draper served as a Director on Gates’ Open Space Foundation, and on the Open Space Committee that advocated for purchase of the "open space" property with public bond monies.


                   “Voters Rights Law” = “Voting by Race”
                                                               By Donna Fleming 

There is nothing more corrosive to our form of government than to “hard wire” the election of lawmakers based entirely on their race/ethnicity. Nothing in the U. S. Constitution guarantees that Americans must vote by race. Yet that is what California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”) lawsuits are about. That, and litigation fees.
A post on Facebook shows a check made payable to attorneys
Shenkman & Hughes for $4.3 million from the City of Palmdale.
The post below it reads "Picture me rolling bi*ches"  

Though I am a resident of San Juan Capistrano, I may no longer vote for the best candidate(s). If I live in District 5, I must cast my vote for a candidate from District 5 whether I believe they are the best qualified or not. As an American and resident of California, I no longer have a say in who runs my city. How can that be constitutional? How did this happen?
City Taxpayers Pay Legal Fees - Win or Lose
Our town has been targeted by an attorney who is exploiting a flaw in the legislation to force every city with a minority population to abandon voting at large and convert to voting by district. The CVRA requires mapping and districting to insure that minority populations are represented. The current law allows attorneys like Kevin Shenkman to collect legal fees - whether they win or lose. Shenkman finds a plaintiff who either lives in or moves to a city and claims that his/her voters’ rights are not represented. The plaintiff need not have even voted in that city. That is the case with Tina Auclair who shortly after moving to SJC, filed a lawsuit with co-plaintiff Louie Camacho, the husband her Regency Real Estate partner Anna Dickinson. Public voter records indicate that Auclair had not voted in an SJC election prior to filing the lawsuit. Her attorney stated in the broadcast media that San Juan was racist “at levels rarely seen in the 21st century.” Had Auclair lived here longer, she would have known that we have had two Hispanic mayors within the past 8 years, one of whom served twice as mayor.
              Sports Park Soccer Fields Need Improvements

A resident volunteer in youth sports recently urged the city council to give some TLC to city-owned soccer fields at the Sports Park. In a letter to the council, Tifani Brakke-Strane wrote;

 “I am a parent, soccer coach & community member of San Juan Capistrano. I am writing you regarding the very poor condition of our soccer fields at SJC Sports Park. We participate in tournaments all over South Orange County, and sadly, our fields are by far the worst we’ve seen. We love our town and do everything we can to support our local community, however, our fields are an embarrassment when we have to host other local cities, and often dangerous because of the condition of the fields. I am speaking on behalf of my team, my family and many friends in San Juan Capistrano, and hope you will seriously give this some much needed attention.  

Furthermore, in an additional effort to support our SJC community, I have been volunteering my time to plan and run the Swallows Classic Soccer Tournament on June 25 & 26 at the SJC Sports Park soccer fields. As a committee, we are all very concerned about the condition of our soccer fields. Teams are coming from all over to participate in this tournament, and they will be here for 2-3 days spending money on local hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions in San Juan Capistrano, but will likely be very disappointed when they show up on Saturday morning and see the condition of our fields. They’re spending a lot of money to participate in the tournament and spend a weekend in our town…we should be able to provide them with decent fields to play soccer on, or they just won’t come back, which would be shame for AYSO, and also all our local businesses who benefit from the business that weekend. We really need your help! Time is of the essence as our tournament is just a month away. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE look into this and help us get our fields in better shape. We live in a beautiful area, and our children deserve to play on nice fields… it’s the least we can do, particularly when all of our neighboring towns have nice soccer fields for their children to play on… “

The letter highlights the lack of attention given to the Sports Park fields, while the council is considering spending $500,000 to install a recycled water line to the Riding Park fields at Ortega & La Pata (see CCS - April edition).

Letters - Residents Say "No" to Ortega Widening

Although we have received a number of emails about the letter, due to space limitations we are listing below only a few. Names are being withheld to protect privacy.

“We were “served” with [the letter] from a bunch of unelected “kings” who are spending big money and confusing the facts like it’s an Olympic sport. Included is a pre-stamped [petition] card that we’re supposed to return to them.
The errors and omissions in the letter are really blatant… consider the following claims. My response (the truth) is listed below each claim:
 Claim:  “We face danger every day as we try to enter and exit our communities”

Would traffic flying by at 55 / two lanes in each direction somehow make that safer?
 Claim:  “Just recently a horrific crash between a car and a truck occurred and one person died”

If this is the accident I think it is, it happened just before the choke point and the person was allegedly speeding and drunk.  
 Claim:  “In 2015 alone…37 injury accidents occurred on Ortega or cross streets to Ortega”

99% of them were (far) East of our city’s boundaries, or nowhere near the “choke point” (This definition allows an accident on Rancho Viejo and other major streets - anywhere - to be counted…because they cross Ortega)
Claim:  “The city has been planning for years….but the 0.9 mile portion…leads to increased traffic accidents” 

That total lie has been disproven repeatedly by the city’s traffic engineer ~ yet it continues to be stated as “fact”
Claim:  “[Traffic engineers who conducted a study many years ago] … strongly recommend completion…as it ‘provides direct safety benefits’ ”

Isn’t this the same study that required a variety of other major events to occur – first;  (La Pata connection to San Clemente, etc.)
Claim:  “San Juan is in danger of LOSING the $10 million…Denying the Improvement Project will not stop traffic… this is a state highway, not a city road” 

Pretzel logic on display here.  If the city has no say, why bother with the city council? Could it be that the OCTA no longer supports this project and without the city demanding it, will not be done? As far as LOSING the $10 million, I’m far more upset I personally LOST the $380 million lottery on the $1 ticket I (never) bought.  These are the same people that think taxpayer-funded grants are endless sources of money to be spent – whether or not they make economic or logical sense.

What really upsets me is the signers to this letter. It’s positioned as if they’re the authorized representative for the tracts they live in. Not sure about you, but I certainly never elected Ted Rosenfeldt [one of the letter signers] to speak on my behalf.  
"Who, exactly, are the “Neighbors for Ortega Highway Chokepoint Improvements” ~ or is this just another name for the Rancho Mission Viejo Company?”

Recently I received [a letter] asking me to sign a petition card to support the widening of the Ortega. To me, the letter makes no sense. How can widening a road, which will increase the speed limit, make it safer; especially when high-school drivers will be competing with multi-ton trash trucks at higher rates of speed? These people just need to accept that many of us residents like our semi-rural road the way it is…”

"Thank you {council members Patterson, Ferguson and Perry] for halting the expansion of the Ortega Highway at it’s .8 of a mile-long 2-lane stretch.

 My property and house border that stretch of road, and you [council members] are the only ones giving a voice for those families that will suffer the greatest impact of a widening project, and those persons wanting to retain the natural beauty of the area. We who border this part of the highway don’t want to stare at a wall, feel imprisoned by a wall, nor hear the noise walls will cause by bouncing sounds between the them and the Northside hills. We don’t want to lose the large mature trees which line the highway, shade our yards, provide natural soundproofing and natural privacy. We don’t want to see the hillside carved and concrete lining this otherwise beautiful area.

The site for the High School was chosen despite this stretch of the road. It is not dangerous and cannot become more dangerous. More traffic is dangerous. With the State in a drought crisis, I believe there should be a moratorium on building now. I also believe that La Pata may ease many of the traffic problems (to the dump and the High School).

 Ex-sheriff Brad Gates expressed horror over a fatality on this stretch, but he failed to mention that fatality accident happened at 2:30 a.m. on the Easter Weekend. In all my 16 years living here, there has never been a fatality besides the recent sad one mentioned here, but not to be blamed on the width of the road or traffic delays.

The current level of traffic noise we are used to. We don’t want it doubled. Those who live here know how to deal with the traffic delays and, like anywhere else, planning ahead for it is a way of life. The delays are not all day every day – like anywhere else, the traffic increases only during rush hour. There are no safety issues.

I know [council members] are taking terrific hits over [their] stance; however, I remember [they] campaigned on that very platform and it was a big reason [they] were voted into office. I believe most people want to keep the integrity of the natural beauty of the highway. It is the entrance to our charming city, after all.

 Thank you for your efforts. "

Guest Column

                          Whole Council Fails to Get It Half Right                        

    Council's Unprecedented 20-year Lease to Ecology Center Sells City, Taxpayers Short

                                                                 By Jim Reardon

SJC resident Jim Reardon
 Facing a serious fiscal shortfall, the City of San Juan Capistrano announced it must tighten its budget to maintain essential services. The City Council conducted a budget workshop to ponder difficult choices. Unfortunately, a workshop is no solution, because shortsighted decisions made by the Council and staff all year long weight most heavily on city accounts.

Take the Council’s contradictory decision to extend the lease on the historic Congdon House to the Ecology Center for 20 years, while adding the surrounding South Coast Farms parcel to a list of properties to be sold. The Ecology Center lease may be the most expensive decision made in the term of this Council. Over the next two decades, Center Director Evan Marks will enjoy a gift of below-market rent ($2,000 a month), and will be allowed to conduct what amounts to a private business at the Congdon House. At the end of that period, assuming he hasn’t departed for greener environs, the costly $500,000 + taxpayer-funded improvements made by the City during restoration will be worn-out by use and the City will have the obligation to restore Congdon House again, a perpetual financial drag.

The simple solution is to sell the Congdon House to the Ecology Center. A hypothetical sale at $479,000 would result in the same $2000 per-month payment required of the lease. Fair-market price is higher still. The avoided cost of perpetual restoration is approximately $1 million over the life of the lease, whether or not Mr. Marks remains to the end to mesmerize councilmembers.

The cloudy issues of heritage and environmentalism have produced a financial decision adverse to the City taxpayers. By selling at market-value, the Council could improve the city’s financial picture by more than $1.5 million, and perhaps strengthen the Ecology Center at the same time. It isn’t too late to remedy this.

Letter to the Editor

                    Mobile Home Park Owners' Attempt at 
          Rent Control Forfeiture is "a Greedy Grab"

"Robert Coldren and Dick Worley are attacking El Nido mobile home residents once again, a mere seven months after the San Juan Capistrano City Council unanimously denied their prior greedy grab to double resident’s space rent. This latest round by Coldren is pure and simple harassment and a transparent manipulation to leverage more rent out of seniors hoping we do not have the will or the dollars to defend and will simply capitulate. 

This time he is asking $403 a month increase (my current space rent is $637). Concurrently with sending residents notice of the $403 space rent increase, Coldren sent a letter to our attorney, Bruce Stanton, giving him a “heads up” that the residents would be calling him regarding the rent increase. He cavalierly goes on to state, “We of course would not want to fight this year, if we don’t have to, and are rolling out a program designed to allow us and the tenants to get the amount of that payable down to something less than 60 bucks.”

Mayor Seeks Water Citation Relief for Residents

 3,217 Administrative Citations (fines) for “excessive water use” were issued to SJC customers in October, November and December of 2015 and applied to customers’ February water bills. Water fines for the First Quarter, the dryer months of July, August and September, totaled 2,166, but were not issued, according to City staff. The fines result from Governor Brown’s Emergency Executive Order that cities reduce water consumption by 28% annually during the drought. Failure to meet the reduction goal could result in hefty fines to the City.

City staff say they calculate fines quarterly based on the “budgeted amount” of water customers used in 2013, rather than on their actual usage. However, Proposition 218 states that the City may not charge more for water than what it actually costs to deliver it to customers.

Mayor Pam Patterson believes part of the problem may be the City’s tiered water billing formula, for which the City was sued in the past. During the April 19 City Council meeting, Patterson stated, “Despite the clear language of the Governor’s Order, it appears that the City of San Juan Capistrano is imposing punitive measures against its residents beyond that which is required by [the] Executive Order. In fact, it appears that, once again, the City continues to base its water charges on a tiered system already found to be in violation of Proposition 218 by the California Appellate Court. ” As a result, Patterson, who is an attorney, introduced a resolution which seeks to reduce rates by reviewing and if necessary revising, the City’s tiered billing and water citation formulas.

City Considers $500,000 Water Line to Riding Park Property

While fining residents for using too much water, City management has indicated its desire to spend approximately $500,000 to get water to the “Riding Park” equestrian fields being leased by a private company.
Taxpayers purchased the property, which includes the 70-acre Riding Park, as “open space” in 2009. Since purchasing it however, the Riding Park has been leased to privately owned Blenheim Equisports, which uses it to generate revenue from elite equestrian events. As a result, the public and local equestrians are restricted from using the property they are paying for.

The source of the water the City has used for the Riding Park is now the subject of a lawsuit. The water is pumped from a well on an adjacent property formerly owned by Blenheim Equisports owner Richard Brandes, which he sold in 2014 to the Cotton family. The City, along with several others, has been named in a lawsuit filed by the Cottons asserting their rights to the water on/under their property. The litigation is on-going, but the City now claims it must spend money to install a recycled water line to the property in order to have an alternate source of water. Considering that the Riding Park is used almost exclusively by a private company, community members question why the City would spend money that benefits a private monopoly on publicly owned open space.

The lease of the Riding Park to the private company has come under fire recently from SJC residents, who say they no longer want to pay for a monopoly for an elite equestrian group when their property taxes have been increased to pay for property they are restricted from using due to the lease. To spend taxpayer dollars from a City fund to ultimate benefit a private company runs counter to the reason for purchasing the open space to begin with, say residents, especially when only four of San Juan’s approximately 30 parks currently have access to recycled water.

Lawsuit Claims City Elections are “Racist”

                                                                     By Jim Reardon

 Do you consider yourself racist? At least two of your neighbors who filed a lawsuit* against the city apparently do. In their lawsuit, plaintiffs Tina Auclair and Louie Camacho claim the city’s “at-large” election method denies representation to the city’s Latino community. They seek to break the city into districts that they claim will be more representative of the Latino community.
Plaintiff Louie Camacho,
 pictured with Anna Dickinson
Plaintiff Tina Auclair
Plaintiff’s attorney Kevin Shenkman claims that, “The city’s political culture is infected with anti-Latino racism to a degree rarely seen in the 21st Century. “ His lawsuit claims that while 40% of San Juan Capistrano’s population is Latino, the Latino voter registration level is at only 16%. Without facts, Shenkman argues this is racist; the suit offers no direct evidence of the alleged racism. In fact, it fails to acknowledge that several candidates elected to council seats in the recent past and who went on to become Mayors, were Latino. One of them, Londres Uso, was an immigrant from Mexico. Another, Joe Soto, was elected to multiple terms and twice served as our Mayor.
The percentages quoted in Shenkman’s lawsuit are based on the U.S. Census which did not determine citizenship status nor whether individuals are eligible and/or registered to vote. Residents here illegally and all children are included in the racial population figure.

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Water Refunds

 By Kim Lefner

 A Class Action Lawsuit filed on January 8 by a group of San Juan Capistrano residents in OC Superior Court alleges that customers are due “millions of dollars… illegally and wrongfully assessed” for water services from at least February 2010 to July 2015.

The lawsuit states, “SJC failed to calculate its costs in setting its water rates, instead arbitrarily increasing those rates and using improper tiers with no support, justification or relationship to the cost of supplying the water, as required by Proposition 218 and was found by the Court of Appeal and the Orange County Superior Court. SJC’s attempt to escape the consequences of its illegal conduct by accounting sleight of hand should be rejected.”

The suit is based on the outcome of a 2013 lawsuit filed by the Capistrano Taxpayers Association (“CTA”), which successfully sued the City after repeatedly warning the City Council that customers were being overcharged for water in violation of the California Constitution. The council ignored the warnings. A lawsuit was subsequently filed, and an OC Superior Court judge agreed that the water rates violated Proposition 218, which holds that water fees must be reasonably related to actual cost of water service.

The CTA’s win in court was welcome news to the many residents who implored then-council majority members to address runaway costs in the utility department and lower, not raise, water rates. Rather than listening to the concerns and financial hardships expressed by residents, then-city council members Sam Allevato, Larry Kramer and John Taylor voted to use taxpayers’ monies to file an appeal of the ruling, and continued to charge the illegal water rates. On April 20, 2015, they lost again when the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court ruling.

What is “Capistrano Forward”?

Following their election to the City Council in November 2014, the new council majority of Pam Patterson, Kerry Ferguson, Derek Reeve and appointed councilman John Perry have repeatedly been publicly criticized by members and/or supporters of a group calling themselves “Capistrano Forward”.

Members of the group include some of the same supporters of a now-disbanded group calling themselves “San Juan Cares”, which supported the previous “old guard” council majority of Sam Allevato, Larry Kramer and John Taylor. Residents may remember when several years ago, San Juan Cares mailed out glossy flyers to all residents depicting then-council candidates Dr. Roy Byrnes, Councilman Derek Reeve and several prominent community members as clowns and circus characters. The mailers attacked individuals who were on the opposite side of issues promoted by the old guard, and the mailers were widely denounced by residents.

 “San Juan Cares” disappeared, and as near as we can tell, has been resurrected under the name, “Capistrano Forward”. In addition to attacking those with whom they disagree, Capistrano Forward has posted signs along city streets criticizing the current council majority.

Residents who have publicly identified themselves as members and/or supporters of the group are listed below:

                                                                                                                                                            Tom Scott - According to domain registration records, Tom Scott was the original registered owner of the Capistrano Forward website, and used the Camino Real Playhouse address as the group's address (see domain registration listed below*).
Scott has been leasing the taxpayer-owned and subsidized Camino Real Playhouse for the nominal sum of $100 per year from the City, and his lease only allows him to use the property for theater-related activities. In addition, according to the Camino Real Playhouse website, Scott has listed the theater for rent for a fee, in violation of his lease agreement. 

Tina Auclair – After Scott was warned by the city that his use of city-owned and subsidized property for political activities violated the terms of his lease, the website domain registration was taken over by Tina Auclair.

 Auclair has been a frequent public critic of the newly elected council majority and outspoken supporter of the old guard. Auclair filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that San Juan’s election method is “racist” as it does not proportionately represent the Latino community. Auclair claims in her lawsuit that Kim McCarthy and the CCS are “racist”, while failing to acknowledge that McCarthy was a campaign manager for former Councilman Londres Uso, an immigrant from Mexico; established and operated an afterschool “Homework Club” primarily for English Language Learners at a local elementary school and who, as a Parks & Recreation Commissioner, voted to recommend that the city council charge nominal rent to “Creer”, a group established to service local Hispanic youth.
 Anna Dickinson – Local realtor and partner of Tina Auclair in “Regency Realty”; Dickinson lives and owns a home in San Juan with Louie Camacho. Camacho is co-plaintiff in the lawsuit with Tina Auclair claiming that San Juan’s election process is “racist”................................................................................. Stephanie Frisch - Failed council candidate in the November 2014 election, and supporter of the old guard council majority. Expressing bitterness over the election outcome in 2014, Frisch publicly stated in several online posts just after the election: “Educated voting or influence of propaganda… It’s not that I didn't win, it's that all the qualified people didn't and the ones that don't know more than a thimbleful did…”  
"Sad, sad day for our town..."
“This is going to be a very dark time for our town. I am literally afraid for what is going to happen...”

Letter to the Editor

                                            Kudos to the Council for Protecting Ortega         

Having researched the widening of Ortega Highway for the past ten years, I am dismayed by the misinformation being given to the public about this issue.   

The issue is not about simply eliminating a perceived “chokepoint”. In fact, lane reduction is a proven safety measure called “traffic calming” which is used to reduce accidents.  

What this issue is really about is a landowner/developer’s need to have adequate “road capacity” in order to complete build out of their planned developments to the east. Contrary to what some have said, the landowner does NOT automatically have the entitlements to build 14,000 homes and 5 million square feet of commercial/retail space; he must first demonstrate to the county that there is adequate “road capacity” to accommodate the thousands of vehicle trips per day generated by each new development phase. 
Getting the taxpayers to pick up the lion’s share of the 30 million dollar tab for the widening is what has really been behind the push to widen the road. Elimination of the so-called “chokepoint” opens the door to further widening.
Now you might ask, can’t the developer just pay to build the roads that they need in order to handle all of their traffic? Of course, and we SJC residents should demand that the developer do just that. The developer can and should put in their own road on their own land, with their own money, to accommodate their own traffic. The developer’s original plan was to build an east-west arterial road to the north on their own land (listed as a top priority in the 2002 Strategic Transportation Plan), which would redirect hundreds of thousands of vehicle trips away from Ortega.

San Juan Capistrano

                    Commission to Explore More Public Access  
                                     to Eastern Open Space 

                                                                       By Kim Lefner

 After six years and numerous requests to open up the publicly owned but privately controlled “Riding Park” property to the general public, the issue will finally be discussed by the City Parks and Recreation Commission at their meeting on December 21.  

The problem began in 2008, when City leaders “sold” voters on the concept of taxing themselves to buy open space in the City of San Juan Capistrano. In 2009, San Juan voters approved a $30 million bond to purchase open space in town, and property taxes were increased to pay for the purchase.

What City leaders did next was inexplicable. They allowed three private citizens (one of whom is friends and former business partners with the seller) to negotiate behind closed doors the purchase of property outside the City, from the Rancho Mission Viejo Company (“the Ranch”).

As the deal was negotiated behind closed doors, the public was not aware of what the City was buying with their tax dollars. To make maters worse, nearly half of the property was already protected open space thus obviating the need to buy this property to "protect it" from development. The planned development of up to 14,000 homes and approximately 5 million square feet of commercial and retail space is continuing across the street from the "open space".  

“Open Space” is restricted
The biggest bone of contention is that the most valuable and usable portion of the 132-acre “open space” property, the approximate 70-acre “Riding Park”, is leased to a private, for-profit equestrian events promoter. The company, Blenheim Equisports, uses the publicly owned property to generate substantial revenue from equestrian events. As a result, the public is only “granted” access to the property that they own six days per year.

Possible bond violations
One potentially serious problem for the City is the fact that a “Public Purpose Bond” was used to purchase the open space. Because it is tax-exempt, it has restrictions on the amount of revenue that can be generated on the property (see definition of “Public vs. Private Purpose Bonds” at end of article). It also restricts the percentage of public property that can be allocated (leased) to a private business. As stated previously in the CCS, we believe the City may have violated the terms of the bond by leasing such a large portion of the property to a for-profit company that generates revenue far in excess of what is allowed by a Public Purpose Bond – especially when such lease restricts the general public from accessing or using the property. The CCS has joined residents in questioning whether this arrangement constitutes a gift of public funds.
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