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  

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