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.Local Recreational Equestrians say they were assured by Gates and Allevato that what is now Reata Park (approximately 10 acres) would remain natural open space and would be unrestricted for riding  horses throughout the entire acreage. Instead, the Open Space Foundation led by Brad Gates, developed the area for non-equestrian events such as weddings, and labeled it a passive park. "No Horses Allowed" signs are posted throughout the park, and approximately 1/1/2 acres out of the 10 remains for horses but is barely usable due to all of the restrictions. For instance the equestrian arena is too small to ride in, and 2.4 acres of desirable shade (ideal for tethering horses) is leased to a developer. Local recreational equestrians say they got the opposite of what Gates and Allevato promised them.

Non-equestrian residents were also promised access to the open space fields by the then-council majority, who stated that it would be available for use by a variety of youth sports including Little League Baseball. However, with the exception of occasional soccer games, for which Blenheim often charges a steep fee (see box “Soccer Field Rental Rates”), the fields have been off-limits to sports such as baseball and Lacrosse. "San Juan residents are getting cheated at the Riding Park. Instead of AYSO parents and volunteers playing soccer there, Club Teams are paying a fortune to play there... San Juan residents can’t ride their horses all over out there either, because of wealthy Hunter Jumper tournaments... All this time I thought the horse stalls out there were for San Juan residents but they aren’t; they are for out of towners. The park isn’t even open until sunset for hikers, bikers and equestrians, like most others in the county,” said SJC resident Bob Parks.

Another San Juan parent who asked to remain unnamed, expressed anger at having to pay $7 for parking at her son’s soccer tournament at  “I thought this was supposed to be our open space. Why are we being charged to park on it?” she asked. 

Residents are not the only ones questioning the expenditure of additional dollars to water the restricted-use Riding Park fields. A San Juan Capistrano Parks, Recreation and Youth Services Commissioner stated that “… priority should be given to parks dedicated to public, rather than private, use”. As a result, the issue will be placed on an upcoming agenda for discussion.

As Blenheim Equisports’ lease is up for renewal at the end of this year, the council must vote at an upcoming meeting to either renew or not renew the lease. 

Do you think the riding park property purchased as open space by San Juan taxpayers should be leased to a private company? The CCS wants to hear from you! Email us at: Responses may be reprinted in an upcoming edition of the CCS however, names will be withheld to protect privacy.


Rose Stone said...

This lease needs to be cancelled. The property should be sold or used for the residents of San Juan Capistrano. Can it be rezoned? Can it be sold? As I recall this property was purchased under the old regime and was given special lease rates (favors for friends on the council). No way would I agree to spend $500,000 for a water line from our city budget. That property has always cost us to and does not bring in a profit. If it is for city use then residents should be allowed the use of it without charge. (7.00 for a soccer game). No way. Let's get some ideas for a better use and put it on the ballot. San Juan residents we need to get involved again......

America S said...

Any long term lease to anyone needs careful language to prevent burning SJC residents.

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