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.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for explaining who these people behind the letter really are! I was around in 2008 when anyone with half a brain was outraged that Caltrans was trying to widen Ortega, ruining our town just so the Ranch could get their needed road on Orange County taxpayer dime!

San Juan sued to stop the widening and now, a bunch of "connected" people are spending alot of money to get Ortega widened? This makes no sense until you read your article and see who is actually behind this. Widening is not good for our City, we aren't Anaheim and don't want to be. Widening would only bring lower property values because it would bring a ton of ugly soundwalls, much more traffic, noise, removal of our huge old trees, and unhealthy air for those who live close by.

These guys that wrote the letter want us to think that they want to help our town, right? Or is it more likely they are getting something out of this? I'm sick of these people.

Unknown said...

Anonymous....you got it right. This is the real deal. These people are not doing us a favor. The "Connected " people are ruining our town. They have a financial interest in widening the road. It is not better for us, it is better for them.

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