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.
The widening will not help, it will increase traffic, noise, pollution, speed, and the intersections will still remain failing, at Level of Service "F". The "failing" level of service was not addressed in the Grand Jury report. 

The Grand Jury also stated that the delay "jeopardizes the safety of those who routinely travel Ortega Highway" and "these concerns were brought to the 2016-2017 O.C G.J. in the form of a petition advocating the completion of the Lower Ortega Project."

Fact: As you may recall, Community Common Sense addressed the faulty information that was distributed in a flier to over 4,000 people that became part of a drive to get the widening completed. We know that many of the respondents did not live in SJC, but rather in the new development(s) to the east. It’s not surprising that they would want the road widened as it benefits them, not SJC.

The claim that Ortega is less safe was proven completely false, and in fact the area to be widened is currently actually safer than comparable roads.

The real question is; who is behind the mailers and why would they want to substantially increase traffic? For those answers, see excerpt in the box to the right from the April 2017 CCS about this issue.

What is terribly concerning is that through a Public Records Act request, it was discovered that the group behind the fliers was also given a private meeting with the major players from the Orange County Transportation Agency. It is unknown whether the Grand Jury was made aware of this "back room" meeting, or that accident data was omitted which made it falsely appear that the road was unsafe, or any other misleading information, such as the false assertion that the public is clamoring for the widening. 

The Grand Jury is to be commended for their hard work, but sometimes they get it wrong when they don’t have all of the correct, unbiased information. It is unfortunately too late for the retired Grand Jury to change their written opinion, but the public has a right to know that the report was based  on faulty assumptions.

1 comment:

JesseHanson said...

Well thank God the report is not that bad and everyone is on the safe side. I'm at least happy to see that someone actually stood for something which was right.

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