City Sued over Riding Park / San Juan Creek Violations



Several PVC pipes such as this one appeared to drain
contaminated water from the Riding Park into San Juan Creek.
Although the pipes have since been removed, the amount of
contaminated waste water drained into the creek is unknown.
For many months, Parks and Recreation Commissioners and the San Diego Water Board had made the city aware of environmental damage to San Juan Creek at the Riding Park. The City obfuscated remediation of the damage until ultimately, a non-profit environmental protection organization took legal action in an effort to compel the city to resolve the many violations. On June 2nd a lawsuit was filed in OC Superior Court against the City and Blenheim Facilities Management by the Orange County Coastkeepers. The lawsuit alleges 1,825 violations accumulated over a number of years, related to contamination of and damage to San Juan Creek at the city-owned Riding Park, Reata Park and the Arizona Crossing in San Juan Creek.

Allegations include deposit of unpermitted fill dirt into the creek, unpermitted drainage of contaminated water into the protected creek and unpermitted structures such as horse wash racks on the creek bank which allow contaminated water to flow into and pollute the creek.

City Given 60 Days Notice
On March 31st, the Coastkeepers sent a "Notice of Violations and Intent to File Suit Under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act" to the City and Blenheim Facilities Management. The warning notice states in part, "… Coastkeeper's investigations indicate an ongoing failure by the Notice Recipients to comply with the requirements of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act at the Riding Park, Reata Park, and Arizona Crossing properties. Individual examples of failure to comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act [are listed within the notice]… including creek contamination and volumes of soil allegedly pushed into the creek with heavy equipment …" (see a copy of the Coastkeeper’s letter on our website at: www.ccsense.com).

After giving the City and Blenheim 60 days to negotiate remediation of the violations, they met with City Manager Ben Siegel, an attorney hired by the city to protect its interests, several city employees and Melissa Brandes of Blenheim, in an effort to resolve the violations.

The Coastkeepers however, were disappointed in the city’s apparent lack of understanding of just how serious the damage is, or their role in it. They failed to reach an agreement and according to the Coastkeepers, the City and Blenheim continue to violate the Clean Water Act. On June 2nd, a lawsuit was filed in OC Superior Court against the City and Blenheim Facilities Management.

Lawsuit Validates Commissioners’ Concerns
The allegations by the Coastkeepers vindicate city commissioners who filed complaints with the city about on-going code violations at the Riding Park and damage to San Juan Creek. The two Parks, Recreation, Senior and Youth Services Commissioners initially expressed concern about the numerous violations at the Riding Park and the creek in July of 2016. In the following months, the city manager’s written reports and claims that all violations had been resolved were not supported by the evidence. Commissioners continued to document on-going problems including contaminated water and fill dirt being deposited into the creek. When the commissioners attempted to follow up on the violations by asking for a status report from staff to the Parks and Recreation commission however, their agenda items were repeatedly removed and/or blocked.

City Manager’s Continued Denials
The multiple violations listed in the lawsuit contradict City Manager Siegel’s repeated denials about on-going violations. In several city memos, reports and in a city Press Release dated April 11, 2017, Siegel claims that soil and debris deposited into the creek is a result of "storm activity". The Coastkeepers say that the city/Blenheim failed to secure the proper permits for grading that the city claims was necessary due to the alleged storm activity. The city manager's denials ring hollow in light of heavy equipment at the Riding Park/San Juan Creek which has been observed and photographed in recent months, after the storm season activity had ended. Heavy equipment tire tracks leading to the creek bank into which large volumes of soil and debris had been deposited were also observed and photographed on numerous occasions by residents and commissioners, including during dry summer months. In some cases, mature trees appear to have been plowed under and/or buried under soil and debris including trash, concrete, and sod.

Whistleblowers Allege Retaliation for Filing Code Complaints

In July 2016, commissioners from the City’s Parks, Recreation, Senior and Youth Services Commission were invited to tour the publicly-owned Riding Park at the Eastern open space. The property is managed for the city by Blenheim Facilities Management, which also uses the Riding Park for their other business, Blenheim Equisports, a private equestrian show business.

Concerned by the condition of the property, one of the commissioners submitted a complaint to City Code Enforcement about what she believed were health and safety issues.

Photos (later printed in the CCS) show electrical wiring and extension cords strung through dry trees and brush, extension cords buried underground to serve as electrical conduits to multiple RVs, waste water draining to the creek from RVs and from horse wash racks, extension cords affixed to the sides of plywood panels and strung overhead in makeshift hay storage units, trailers which appeared were being used as permanent residences, and soil, concrete, trash and sod that had been deposited into the creek.

City code enforcement eventually cited Blenheim for most of the conditions, but advised the commissioner to file a complaint with the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) about the fire safety concerns. Following is an account of what occurred next, based on documentation obtained by the CCS.

Selling Out San Juan

                                                                             Editorial

San Juan’s General Plan is being threatened. The very roots of the rurally founded San Juan community are being snipped off one at a time. The State of California requires all cities to have and follow a General Plan. The town’s General Plan is literally defined by the California Supreme Court as the "constitution for future development." The General Plan is there for all citizens to understand, work with, and rely upon - it is the guiding light.

The preamble to San Juan’s General Plan says:

The underlying philosophy of the General Plan should be to preserve the present character of a small village-like community with abundant open space.

A community that recognizes the contributions of its historic and cultural foundations, is in harmony with its natural valley-like setting, as defined by its creeks and ridgelines, and strives to embrace unique solutions to issues that may arise in the future, to ensure that this vison continues to be carried forth for future generations. (Introduction, Page 1 of the 2002 General Plan) .


San Juan has a long history of cherishing it values and incorporating them into the General Plan. In 1965 the city adopted its first General Plan with a goal to become a large  urban community of 84,000 ( the population is 37,000 today.) In 1974 a group of concerned citizens did not believe a large urban community was the best for San Juan. These people advocated and pushed for the adoption of a new General Plan "emphasizing our small village-like character, preservation of major ridgelines, setting aside of 30% of the city as open space, maintaining a rural equestrian lifestyle and establishment of goals and policies for the future management of growth in the community." * Because of the activism of this special group of citizens in the early 1970’s we now have something special in our town. We are special because we stand out as a historic, low density, rural, and equestrian community in a sea of urban and suburban sprawl.

Council members Farias & Maryott - Voting Record


SJC Residents Deserve to Know Real Impacts from Development

 Guest Column
                                                                            By Michael Laux

There is a lot of talk about the size and impact of various development proposals in the downtown area. The plans are available on the City website, and the residents are encouraged to study them to understand what these projects will look like. There is a problem with this.

For most people, including those in the building trade, it’s challenging to determine what the size and mass will be in relation to the surrounding structures, and the neighborhood in general. Currently the City of San Juan Capistrano does not require that development plans include "shadow elevations" (where surrounding buildings are drawn to scale in the background), or "story pole staking".

Story pole staking (SPS) is probably the best way for a community to see exactly the mass and scale of the building(s) being proposed. You’ve probably seen a certified SPS array with strings and streamers that show how big a building will be in its actual setting. All of our neighboring cities require it for commercial buildings (some for residential). It takes all of the guesswork out of trying to take two-dimensional plans and imagine what it will look like in three dimensions on the building site.

City Proposes Raiding Street Repair Fund to Close Budget Gap

At the June 6, 2017 City Council meeting, City Manager Ben Siegel disclosed a projected $1.2 million budget deficit in the ending balance for Fiscal Year 2017.
$600,000 earmarked for pothole and other street repairs
was instead deposited into the general fund to
plug a $1.2 million deficit.

City employee costs account for approximately $12 million of the $27 million annual budget. The city manager’s compensation package with benefits totals $312,000 per year. Siegel also created a new position for an "Assistant City Manager" which costs taxpayers more than $256,000 per year with benefits. In addition, the city manager added another Administrative Specialist/Assistant position with a compensation package of approximately $100,000, with benefits. The total compensation for just the city manager’s office alone totals approximately $668,000, not including monies spent on new furniture, including flat screen TVs. 

Siegel however, blames a majority of the problem on rising compensation costs for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) contract, which increased approximately 10% over the prior year. It increased by $476,000 in 2017 for a total cost of approximately $10 million.

According to the city manager’s budget agenda item, in addition to the Sheriffs’ contract increase, sales tax is forecast at $362,000 less than anticipated, and development fees/ charges are projected to be $251,000 less due to the delay of projects that were expected to move forward in 2016-17. The City also experienced an increase in animal control costs of $130,000, and $50,000 in storm drain costs.

To solve this shortfall, the City Manager proposes to move $600,000 to the General fund from the "Landfill Mitigation Fund" the City Council negotiated with the County to remediate impacts to Ortega Highway from trash trucks. The City Council had directed that the fund proceeds be earmarked for maintenance of City roads and streets.

SJC Equestrian Coalition "Economic Study" Qestionable At Best

                              Failure to Provide Backup Data Undermines Validity of Study
                                                                             Guest Column
                                                                                  By Ted Shown

The San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition presented an economic impact study to the City Council on June 21, 2016 asserting that the Equestrian community brings in more than $50 million to the San Juan Capistrano community each year. Equestrian economic studies are not uncommon; a Google search will find many such reports for communities across the country.
Having written many economic reports in my career, primarily in the aviation and logistics field, I was interested to know the methodology by which the $50,000,000 figure was arrived at. I discovered that although the results had been presented to the City Council and other groups, the actual report has not been made available despite being requested. 

According to the press release, the study was conducted by Dr. Raymond Sfeir, Associate Dean of Economics and Management Science at Chapman University. I reached out to Dr. Sfeir requesting a copy of his report. His response was that the report belonged to the Equestrian Coalition and I should request a copy from them. I contacted the Equestrian Coalition and learned that they had decided not to release the report. I was told by an Equestrian Coalition board member that Dr. Sfeir attended the meetings where the results were presented and answered questions, but that they would not release the study itself. 

City’s, Farias’ Actions Called into Question in Recall Attempt

One of the proponents of a recall movement against Mayor Pro Tem Sergio Farias called into question the timing of Farias’ apparent about-face on the SDG&E expansion project. The proponent also questions the appropriateness of the city manager’s actions relative to the release to the public of an unverified petition.

 After pledging during his campaign to fight the SDG&E expansion project "with whatever it takes", proponents say Farias changed his tune once elected. They pointed to a number of statements Farias made publicly after the election, such as that residents would "… have to accept the reality" that the expansion project in their neighborhood could not be fought. Farias made additional statements indicating his position had changed say proponents, including; "… campaign promises can’t always be kept", and telling his constituents, "… you guys need to go to San Francisco and complain to the CPUC [California Public Utilities Commission]." 

"His own statements prompted the recall," proponent Dawn Fusco stated. "After promising the voters that he would do ‘whatever it takes to fight the expansion’, he almost immediately threw in the towel, telling us that we need to just accept that it was going to happen," Fusco said. "He did not vote with the council majority to retain an outside attorney to fight the expansion until after proponent signatures were being collected for the recall," she added.

In fact, prior to a March 7th special closed session council meeting at which hiring an outside attorney to fight the project was to be discussed, a number of residents addressed the council. The residents urged the council to protect them by hiring attorney Michael Aguirre, who has had success in fighting the CPUC. Councilmember Pam Patterson made a motion to report out in open session who voted which way [about hiring Aguirre]. The motion was seconded by Mayor Kerry Ferguson. But Farias joined Council members Derek Reeve and Brian Maryott in voting to shield from the public the result of the vote, and the motion failed.

The council did not report out in open session a vote on hiring attorney Aguirre at that time, which indicates that they did not vote on the item. Had they done so, the law requires them to report in open session the result of any votes taken in closed door sessions (if not who voted for what). "Why would [councilmember Farias] want his vote kept from the public, unless he did not support hiring the outside attorney at that time?" asked Fusco. Farias also stated publicly at another council meeting that hiring the outside attorney "… wouldn’t likely change the outcome" of the CPUC decision, which recall proponents say runs counter to his pledge to vigorously defend their neighborhoods from the negative impacts of the expansion project.

It was not until nearly two months later - after a petition began circulating to collect recall proponent signatures - that the council reported out in open session a unanimous vote to hire attorney Aguirre, say proponents.

Fusco also questions the city manager’s actions which led to the media being informed about the rejection of the initial recall petition - before she was even made aware of it. "I dropped off the petition in a sealed envelope addressed to the city clerk on a Friday afternoon, and learned that [City Clerk Maria Morris] was gone for the day. By Monday, I was being contacted by the media about the city clerk’s rejection of the petition – before I even knew about it. How did the media know about this before I did? Someone obviously leaked it to the media."

City Manager Ben Siegel sent an email to Fusco, explaining that he was the one who opened the envelope addressed to City Clerk Morris. The city manager admitted that after opening the envelope, he called Farias, who immediately went to City Hall and took a picture of the unverified recall petition. By Monday morning, the picture of the unverified petition with all of the proponents’ signatures was posted on Councilmember Derek Reeve’s Facebook page, on another publication’s website, and Fusco was contacted by two reporters.

Recall proponents maintain that it is a matter of trust and values – or lack of them. "This is about Sergio Farias’ betrayal of his campaign promises. It didn’t take him long, once elected, to renege [on them]," Fusco said.

Abolish the TCA - A Threat to Our Quality of Life

                                                             By Pete Van Nuys

Editor’s note: As the author of the article below has stated, "Engineers know that Induced Demand - increasing traffic through the illusion of more road space - is the reason ‘you can't build your way out of congestion’..."

As a community watchdog, we believe the developer, not the taxpayers, should pay to build the infrastructure, including roads, to support their development. As a result, we are re-printing the announcement below from Pete Van Nuys, which is a petition to abolish the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA). Read on for more information. If you agree, a link to the petition is provided at the end of the article, or on our website at: www.ccsense.com.

TCA's agenda and failed financial policies threatens to sever communities and diminish our quality of life.

Proposed Toll Road extension is opposed by several south county cities
Orange County's Transportation Corridors Agency has failed in its stated mission "enhancing mobility in Orange County and Southern California." The agency's roads are among the least used in Orange County, providing benefit to a tiny minority of the millions mired in daily commutes. Because of their failed financial model TCA's original tenet-- that tolls would retire the bonds and their roads would become freeways-- will never be realized. As a result, TCA's roads are little more than empty promises for home buyers lured by the illusion of ready access; OC residents resolve instead to join the congestion on freeways they can financially afford. Meanwhile we all pay to maintain, patrol, and fix TCA's tollways with our tax dollars.

The agency's #1 priority now is self-preservation, promoting projects fraught with environmental damage which cannot be mitigated. Their dogged promotion of the San Mateo alignment ended with multiple defeats by every agency they faced. Their pursuit of that alignment combined with damages now owed to NGOs adds to their already unmanageable debt.

Their claim that a "parallel route to the I-5 is needed" has not been validated by other transportation authorities. Still they attempt to push it through cities in South Orange County already paying the price for facilitating transportation on the I-5: noise, air pollution, and arterial congestion. TCA seeks to decimate zoned open space with a six lane alignment which includes surface and elevated right of way in San Juan Capistrano, on and off ramps, and a major interchange in the center of San Clemente's most congested arterial intersection.

It's clear TCA is wantonly tone deaf. Whatever actual transportation value TCA may have provided in the past has long since expired. Equitable transportation management for all the citizens of Orange County can be carried out by OCTA and Caltrans. TCA's power of eminent domain is clearly in the wrong hands; their joint powers authority must be rescinded. The agency must be abolished.

This petition will be delivered to: CA Assembly Transportation Commission, CA Senate Transportation Commission, Senator Pat Bates and Governor Jerry Brown.

To sign the petition, enter the following address into your web browser: https://tinyurl.com/y83aj7d3, or click on the link on our website at: www. ccsense.com
 

Letter to the Editor

                   Winners and losers of the Distrito La Novia/Meadows Project

At the May 16th San Juan Capistrano City Council public hearing on a 4 year extension of the Distro La Novia/ Meadows project Development Agreement, it occurred to me that a number of competing interests were in play. I will attempt to categorize the groups that will benefit or lose from the proposed project.

WINNERS:

-  The City of San Juan Capistrano gets millions of dollars in developer fees for a variety of purposes

- Advanced Real Estate Services (ARES), becomes a big winner:

- Inexpensive property gets rezoned to a more desirable entitlement from old restricted zoning. The zoning alone could add millions to the potential worth of property owned by ARES. They could choose to sell off the rezoned property without building anything.

-  The equestrian community is a big winner; the project includes the proposal to build facilities to house 500 horses, together with stables, exercise yards, show stadiums, trails, trailer parking, manure collection and storage facilities.

LOSERS:

-  The downtown merchants and nearby property owners will become big losers when the Distrito/Meadows development is completed. Downtown business owners and merchants who will see much of their current business move to the new and trendy shops and restaurants in the Distrito development. The clientele who now frequent shops and restaurants in the old section of San Juan Capistrano will be attracted by the new and modern facilities constructed by the eventual builder.

-  The residents of the entire City of San Juan Capistrano, especially those who live along San Juan Creek Road will experience increased traffic as a result of the construction of the Distrito and Meadows projects. San Juan Creek Road will bear the brunt of the increase in traffic of 8,000 trips per day when the grading for Distrito and Forster Canyon landfill excavation begins and buildings are completed. The noise, dust, and reductions in air quality will last for several years

Ten three-story buildings and a parking structure with elements towering nearly 45 feet in the air will dominate the view toward the South from San Juan West and East residential with night lighting from the project obliterating the sunsets and stars.

I have covered just some of the elements of who wins and who loses. It seems to me that after the project is built and the developer has sold off all the buildings and homes and has filled the stables with horses, the residents of San Juan Capistrano especially residents of San Juan Hills East and West will have to live with the consequences of extremely poor planning and judgment on the part of our current and past City Councils.

John Perry
San Juan Capistrano







Letter to the Editor

                                        Los Rios Development


There has been a lot of talk lately about our decision to sell our land, the Ito Nursery, and the development that is being proposed by the buyer. Doug and I are feeling like we are being attacked for our decision to sell. We feel a little background might be helpful for you in understanding our family’s history and where we are coming from.

Jimmy and Hiroko Ito purchased the land in 1959. Thus, the Ito family has owned the nursery property for 58 years, longer than San Juan Capistrano has been a city, and well before the Los Rios Specific Plan was originally put in 1978.

Jimmy and Hiroko Ito chose San Juan as a haven to grow their family business and to own land they hoped to leave as a legacy for future generations. This was especially important to them since despite being U.S citizens, during World War II, they along with other family members were sent to the internment camp of Manzanar. At this time all of the Ito family businesses and property were confiscated, never to be returned.

After the war, when they were finally released from Manzanar, times were very hard with the lingering antagonism towards people of Japanese heritage. Jimmy took on jobs no one else wanted, to earn money to try and restore his family’s economic stability, with the eventual goal of owning a piece of property that he could pass down to his children.

Because of his time incarcerated in Manzanar, and the loss of all he previously owned, Jimmy was determined to be seen as a good citizen and neighbor, so that he and his family would never have to experience the devastation of losing their material possessions and livelihood again. When the Los Rios Precise Plan was being constructed in 1978 and then updated in 1997, Jimmy went along with the designations to his property, first because he knew his sons were going to continue working at the nursery, and he didn’t envision potential change until long after he was gone.

Secondly, he did not want to go against what was being suggested and be perceived as a troublemaker. He’d had too much of that during the war. Lastly, he was assured that this specific plan was put in place to protect the historic structures that already existed and that it would not affect the future value of his land. 

For decades, we’ve had many offers from people and developers to buy our land. After years of contemplation, we decided it was time to sell, and spent more than a year researching and interviewing potential buyers. We looked for someone that would bring a wonderful vision to our property and town; a project that would open up our property for the enjoyment of locals and visitors alike. The final decision was not solely about money. Our hope was, after 58 years of ownership, we could leave a positive legacy for the Ito family.

Truth, honesty, transparency, and a willingness to work with and listen to the residents are the qualities we looked for in a buyer. Dan Almquist and his company, Frontier Real Estate, have exhibited these qualities and behaved with the utmost integrity in all their actions.

We hope that our esteemed city council will remember, when making decisions about our land that the Ito Family has rights too. 

We hope that in the coming months when the "River Street" project comes before the various committees and eventually to the city council, you will make the best decisions for the entire community.


Sheree & Doug Ito
San Juan Capistrano







Letter to the Editor

                      Proposed Development Over-Commercializes Historic Los Rios 

The [River Street development project’s] site plan density, building mass and height, setbacks, parking density, and over-commercialization of the area are so outrageously inappropriate for the Los Rios area that I am having difficulty believing that the Council entertained the idea of an amendment to the zoning, let alone initiated an amendment on this property. 

I’d like to tell you about how the Los Rios Specific Plan came into being and why so many people in this City who have worked so many years to protect the history and character of the area are now concerned with the changes the Council is considering. 

In l972, when the City was adopting a new General Plan, the Los Rios area was specifically set aside to be studied as a special area of major historic value. Most citizens felt that the entire Los Rios area was too important to be included with the major planning changes being considered for the rest of the City. Significant planning and study were required to develop a plan that preserved the area and addressed all aspects of development for the future. 

After the General Plan was adopted, many Council members, Planning Commissioners, Los Rios Committee members, other committees, and hundreds of citizens held meetings and public hearings, and spent thousands of hours over several years just developing the Los Rios Specific Plan.  

The 1997 plan update furthered the preservation goals. Subsequent actions over the years by Council and Commission members have continued to maintain the integrity of Los Rios and the rural atmosphere that attracts so many visitors. 

Too many of San Juan’s residents, including me, have worked too many years on preserving this area to stand by and watch a high-intensity shopping center plopped in the center of Los Rios. There is only one area in San Juan that is zoned Low Density Commercial (LDC). It was created specifically for this section of Los Rios, [to] allow low intensity uses that are compatible with the rural character of Los Rios, and prevent the type of blatant over-development that is being proposed with the River Street project. 

Carolyn Nash
Former Mayor and Council Member
San Juan Capistrano

Grand Jury Report on Ortega Widening Sorely Lacking in Facts

A recent Grand Jury report concluded that the City of San Juan Capistrano’s removal of itself from being the Lead Agency on the widening of Ortega Highway resulted in costing taxpayers millions of dollars in delays. This and other conclusions, and how they were arrived at, raises serious questions.

First, it is important to remember that the Grand Jury only serves in an advisory capacity. They cannot render legally binding judgments; only recommendations to various government entities.
The first and most obvious question is; why are the taxpayers     paying to widen a road for a private developer?
Widening Ortega will only serve to facilitate traffic generated by the large development to the east of SJC. And yet, the developer is only paying for a fraction of the proposed widening; only $450,000 of the estimated $53 million cost. Setting that issue aside for a
moment, let’s focus on the facts versus the erroneous assumptions
in the Grand Jury report.

Fact: The City Council is in no way responsible for millions of dollars in increased costs, as it was Caltrans who was the Lead Agency during the entire EIR process, beginning with the Project Study Report (PSR) in 1997 through 2013.

Caltrans controls Ortega Highway (as it is a State Highway) and their authority as the Lead Agency was appropriate. After Caltrans was sued by both the City of SJC and the Hunt Club which resulted in a 2011 settlement, Caltrans reportedly had zero interest in pursuing the widening, nor was there funding available. Caltrans may have realized (from a report they commissioned) that widening roads due to induced demand doesn’t help with congestion relief, so this might account for their no longer pursuing the widening.

Any Grand Jury implication that increased costs were due to delays from the City, would more appropriately be attributed to past delays while Caltrans was the Lead Agency.

Project costs are merely projections, so maybe taxpayers should really ask why they should have to pay $53 million of our tax dollars in order to provide "capacity" for the development of 14,000 homes on our border.

Who is Behind the Effort to Widen Ortega?

A mass mailing with a letter and a petition card urging residents to support the widening of Ortega was sent to residents in SJC and to communities east of town.

By our estimates, the mass mailing with the letter and petition cards was an expensive undertaking. The letter and card claim "safety" as their primary concern. The claim makes no sense however, when widening Ortega would only add more traffic and increase the speed limit.

So who is behind this effort and why are they going to such lengths to pressure the country 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 and developer 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.

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

Buck Bean – Long time Ranch employee, 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.

City Pushes for Million Dollar Water / Sewer Lines at Riding Park

At the March 21, 2017 City Council meeting, city staff recommended that the council approve spending more than $1 million to install recycled water and sewer lines at the publicly owned Riding Park.

The price of installation pales in comparison to the cost of purchasing recycled water year after year. The difference in cost is $1,567 per acre foot for recycled water compared to $150 to $289 per acre foot* for non-potable well water. City staff estimates Riding Park watering needs at up to 167 acre feet per year. At current rates, recycled water would cost the taxpayers from $156,700 to $267,000 per year, compared to well water which would cost an estimated $51,000 per year.

Less expensive water option available

An adjoining property owner currently provides non-potable well water to Blenheim Facilities Management, the private company that manages and uses the publicly owned Riding Park. The private well on the neighboring property has irrigated the Riding Park continuously for decades, including in times of drought. Ironically, Blenheim’s owner sold the adjoining property with the well and water rights to its current owner.

The current well owner extended an offer to the city to continue purchasing water for the Riding Park for a flat rate of $3,000 per month, after paying a one-time fee of $35,000. During discussion of this issue at the council meeting, City Manager Ben Siegel dismissed the option, stating that the private well water could be discontinued with a 90-day notice. However, Councilmember Patterson elicited the admission from Siegel that he had never spoken with the well owner whereas Patterson stated that she had communicated with the well owner. She stated that his intent is to continue to provide water to the Riding Park. In fact, the well owner, Jeffrey Cotton, said it was the city that added the 90-day termination language, not him. According to Patterson, Cotton also stated his willingness to adjust the water agreement with terms that the city would be more comfortable with.

City has rights to construct a well

You Didn't Cause This Problem; Should You Pay To Fix It?

The city hired Blenheim Facilities Management to “manage” the Riding Park property. Blenheim also owns a company which uses the Riding Park almost exclusively to host their equestrian events. 

Blenheim has multiple horse “wash racks” mere feet from the banks of San Juan Creek. For many years, contaminated water from the horse wash racks has drained into the creek. In addition, as noted in a Notice of Violation, Blenheim also had a human shower trailer with at least three stalls which also appeared to drain into the creek. Several PVC pipes were noted sticking out from the creek bank, which appeared to serve as drains into the creek.



Contaminated water drains from horse wash
racks (left) to creek (right)
Acting upon concerns from residents, the San Diego Water Board (SDWB) which has authority over the creek watershed, issued multiple Notices of Violation to the city to clean up these conditions. Several months after the notices were issued, the water board issued a letter of non-compliance. In reports to commissions and council, City Manager Ben Siegel denied that there were any existing code violations, even as the water board was issuing yet another non-compliance email to the city.

 In January 2017, City Engineer Hossein Ajideh wrote the following in an email to the water board about the city’s plan to clean up the contamination problem caused by Blenheim; “… We… discussed the City’s long term plan that includes expanding the City’s sewer system to capture wash rack discharges. We anticipate that the construction of the sewer expansion will occur in late 2017.” During a recent council meeting, City Manager Siegel also reiterated the city’s plan to install a sewer line to capture the contaminated water from the horse wash racks.


Blenheim’s property management agreement with the city states that they are responsible for complying with all laws, codes, etc. In addition, they are responsible for repairing any damage to the property arising from their management of it.

Why now are the taxpayers being tapped to pay $500,000 to install a sewer line to remediate a problem caused by a private business? It remains to be seen whether the city will hold Blenheim responsible for fixing and restoring any damage to the public property.   

Should taxpayers pay to remediate Blenheim’s problem? The CCS wants to hear from you! Email us at: eboard@ccsense.com. Your name will not be printed without your permission.    

Protect Historic Los Rios Neighborhood from 60,000 sf Mall

                                                                        Guest Column
                                                                           By Michael Laux

There is a proposal in front of the City Council to permanently change the fabric of the Los Rios Historic District. A developer is trying to build a mall with 60,000 sq ft of retail, office, restaurant, and drinking establishments on the nursery property located between Los Rios St and Paseo Adelanto. It will also include 300 parking spaces, with the accompanying traffic congestion, noise, and pollution. It will put dumpsters, delivery trucks, AC and refrigeration compressors, grease ducts, and swamp coolers in the backyards of a substantial number of the homes. It will exacerbate the Del Obispo traffic gridlock that we already experience on a daily basis. This is a project that does not belong in the oldest residential neighborhood in California.
Proposed mall in the historic Los Rios neighborhood located on the Nursery property would add 60,000 sf of retail, buildings up to 45’ high and 300 parking spaces. Del Obispo is at lower left of photo; train tracks and Los Rios street are at bottom right; creek channel is at upper left.

Plans to Extend San Juan Creek Road On the Horizon?


                                                                        Guest Column
                                                                       By Ian J. Smith
Do you live in San Juan? Do you live off San Juan Creek Road or have children attending Ambuehl Elementary? If so, read on; this issue may greatly impact you.

Look closely at the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) map within this article. Note the dotted lines at the end of San Juan Creek Road, where it dead ends at the open space property. According to County planning documents, these dotted lines indicate plans for future road widening and/or extension. This map has been available for a while and does state that roads with dotted lines “may not” be constructed; why now should we be concerned? Here’s why…

2017 Master Plan of Arterial Highways map
from OCTA shows dotted line indicating planned
extension of San Juan Creek Road.
Map Credit:Orange County Transportation Agency

In mid-December, I became aware of construction activity at the Riding Park entrance off Avenida La Pata. There is a newly widened entrance and exit being built which just happens to line up in a westerly direction towards the current ending of San Juan Creek Road. After three months of asking questions and getting nowhere at City Hall, I finally learned that this construction was authorized by our City Council in November 2013, in accordance with the 2010 Purchase Contract when the City bought the “open space” from the Rancho Mission Viejo Company. It grants construction easements to the county and the Ranch. Once again this contract reminds our residents that we continue to bear the negative burdens of the extensive restrictions contained within the Purchase Agreement.

What’s That Noise? FAA Allows Low-Flying Jets over San Juan

                                                                     Guest Column
                                                                     By Donna Fleming

Recently, I read an article in the OC Register about the FAA approval of a modified flight path for jet planes over South Orange County. I then read the Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) prepared for the FAA that justifies this route change. The report states, “no impact to residents,” which is untrue; the low flying jets are roaring in off the coast, right over my home and probably yours too. But much worse, the EIR did not cover impacts to wild life, which is beyond negligent. The new flight path for low flying planes at 4,500 – 7,000 feet through San Juan Capistrano air space is a blunder of epic proportions.




FAA map shows modified flight path which allows low-flying jets over San Juan.
Map credit: Todd Spitzer, OC Supervisor, Third District

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