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
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