By The Capistrano Dispatch
San Juan Capistrano made headlines in 2012 and ushered in several changes that are likely to have lasting impacts. In City Hall, the most notable change was in its leadership, as the City Council welcomed back council members Roy Byrnes and Sam Allevato.
There was plenty of controversy in town, as both the City Council and Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees elections were notable for their contentious campaigns. The Groundwater Recovery Plant and the city’s tiered water-rate structure continue to be hot debate topics, going so far as to push some residents to file a lawsuit against the city. Of course, the status of Juan, the dinosaur at Zoomars, made headlines locally and nationally and has yet to be resolved.
Even in our offices at Picket Fence Media, The Capistrano Dispatch underwent drastic changes in our 10th year, as we bid adieu to our founder Jonathan Volzke, welcomed Brian Park and launched a new website and a new design for our paper.
Here are just some of the highlights of 2012:
SONGS Shutdown: A leak in the steam generator tube in Unit 3 at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station forced its shutdown, and nearly a year later, it remains offline. In the same month, similar wear was discovered in Unit 2, after it was removed from the power grid for a scheduled refueling.
So Long, Redevelopment: The City Council agreed to become the successor agency to the dissolved redevelopment agency and also created the oversight board to help supervise any remaining redevelopment business.
Governor Brown Visits San Juan: Gov. Jerry Brown joined several of the city’s civic, community and business leaders at El Adobe to celebrate San Juan Capistrano’s 50 years of incorporation. To a packed banquet hall, Brown gave a six-minute speech that focused on the importance of state and community history.
Quarantine: Rancho Sierra Vista Equestrian Stable was quarantined after 16 horses were discovered to be infected with neuropathogenic equine herpes-1, a potentially fatal virus. The quarantine was lifted February 13, after three weeks passed without any new visible symptoms.
New Hotel: The city celebrated the grand opening of the Marriott Residence Inn with a ribbon cutting ceremony. City officials said the hotel would boost business, in addition to increasing bed-tax revenue.
Time Capsule: The Celebration Committee, organized to commemorate San Juan Capistrano’s golden anniversary as a city, buried a time capsule in the walkway in front of the O’Neill Museum. The capsule contains a cellular phone, copies of The Capistrano Dispatch and a DVD of Gov. Jerry Brown’s speech at El Adobe. The capsule is scheduled to be opened in April 2016.
A New Chapter: Beloved librarian Teri Garza retired after a decade at San Juan Capistrano Library and was honored by city officials and community leaders.
Dumping the Desalter: The city pulled out of a multi-million-dollar project aimed at converting sea water into drinking water, citing the project’s growing cost.
Swallows Day Parade: Thousands of residents, 400 horses and 11 marching bands took part in the Fiesta Association’s 54th installment of the Swallows Day Parade. San Juan Capistrano resident Herb Langefeld took part in the parade in his motorized wheelchair, only after the City Council voted in favor of his request in February. The Fiesta Association has long advertised the event as the largest non-motorized parade in the country.
Downtown Master Plan: The City Council approved a Downtown Master Plan, which aims to create a more pedestrian-friendly downtown. Some residents criticized the plan, saying that it would change the city’s historic character.
New Finance Director: The Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees hired Clark Hampton as its new deputy superintendent, business and support services. Hampton was offered the job after the board’s first choice accepted it and then turned it down after school officials offered a reduced salary.
Leaving The Dispatch: Jonathan Volzke, a 27-year journalism veteran and founder of The Capistrano Dispatch, announced his departure from the paper for a new venture with Faubel Public Affairs. Volzke continues to write a regular column in the paper and continues to host his weekly Friday morning Coffee Chats at El Adobe.
Changes at City Hall: Bill Ramsey, a 21-year city employee, was named assistant development services Director, after previously serving as principal planner. City Engineer and Public Works Director Nasser Abbaszadeh was also let go from his post.
Swallows Vocalization Experiment: With the help of two ornithologists, Mission officials began a vocalization experiment in an attempt to lure San Juan Capistrano’s famed cliff swallows back to nest.
Wall of Recognition: San Juan Capistrano residents Eden and George O’Connell and former city councilman Tom Hribar were inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition for their contributions and service efforts in the community.
Red-Light Cameras: The City Council unanimously voted to do away with the red-light cameras at two San Juan Capistrano intersections because of a projected loss in revenue from citations. Although accidents were never a major concern, the cameras did lower the number of collisions. The cameras were finally removed later in October.
Trash Fees Increased: The City Council approved a fee increase for trash removal services. For an average-sized household with three 67-gallon trash bins, the resulting total rate increased by 3.89 percent.
SDG&E Protest: The city sought a public hearing in protest of San Diego Gas & Electric’s attempt to demolish and rebuild the Camino Capistrano substation. The council voted to draft a letter to the state Public Utilities Commission, after they were notified that SDG&E had filed a notice with the commission to proceed with plans without any public hearings.
New Name, New Park: The city-owned land, formerly known as the East Open Space Lemon Grove, became the Reata Park and Event Center, after the City Council approved its name and a conceptual design for the park. The winning submission to name the park came from resident Gunnar Ohlund.
Dinosaur Debut: Zoomars Petting Zoo owner Carolyn Franks installed a 13-foot-tall, 36-foot-long apatosaurus replica on her property, but less than 24 hours later, she received a stop-work notice from the city after a group of residents complained the structure created a mockery of the Historic Los Rios District.
Graduation: San Juan Hills High School graduated 439 students in the class of 2012—only the second graduating class in the fledgling school’s history.
School Calendar Cut Short: The Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees approved five additional furlough days to be tacked onto the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
Business of the Year: At their annual Installation Dinner and Awards Banquet, the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce awarded San Juan Hills Golf Club as its Business of the Year. San Juan Capistrano residents Ray Perez and Marianna Taylor were honored as the Man and Woman of the Year, respectively.
Auto-Dealer Signs: The City Council unanimously approved a code amendment that allows auto dealerships to display banners, flag, inflatable corporate logos, bounce houses and other attention-getting devices.
Late Bills: Many San Juan Capistrano residents were left waiting for their July water bills, after printing and computer software errors caused delays in the billing process. The city was more than two weeks late in delivering water bills to over half of its 11,200 customers.
The Race Begins: Incumbent Councilman Sam Allevato and residents Melissa Abbott-Kaffen and Tom Marantz are the first to pull nomination papers in the race for two City Council seats.
Freese Says No: Councilwoman Laura Freese announced she would not run for reelection in the November election due to her husband’s recent cancer diagnosis. Meanwhile, former mayor Roy Byrnes, Capistrano Common Sense editorial board member Kim McCarthy, student Joe Love and Planning Commissioners Robert Williams and Ginny Kerr pulled nomination papers.
A Week of Rodeo: The San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce’s Rodeo Week debuted with a kickoff barbecue event. The week lead up to Rancho Mission Viejo’s two-day rodeo at the Riding Park, which raised $100,000 for Camino Health Center, Shea Therapeutic Riding Center and CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital.
A Sequel: San Juan Capistrano residents, and husband-and-wife duo, Bob Kline and Stephanie Heredia brought back the West Coast Film Festival for a second time. Their first film, Chariots of Fire, was the first event at St. Margaret’s brand new Performing Arts Center.
An Anniversary: Jonathan Volzke, founder of The Capistrano Dispatch, and the entire Picket Fence Media team celebrated the paper’s 10th anniversary.
Water Lawsuit: The Capistrano Taxpayers Association, a local taxpayers’ rights group, filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the city’s tiered water-rate structure is in violation of Prop. 218, which requires rates to be relative to cost of service.
New City Attorney: City Hall said goodbye to City Attorney Omar Sandoval and bid welcome to new City Attorney Hans Van Ligten.
Abbott-Kaffen Withdraws: Melissa Abbott-Kaffen announced her withdrawal from the City Council race and her support for the joint campaign of Roy Byrnes and Kim McCarthy. Calling it a “coalition-building move,” Abbott-Kaffen cited the pair’s work with the Capistrano Common Sense newsletter as an indication of their shared political philosophies.
Library Bookstore: The City Council and the Friends of the Library signed off on a memorandum of understanding to relocate the Mollie Burke Bookstore from its current location in the rear of the library to a more visible area in the Bland Garden.
CUSD Withdrawal: Capistrano Unified School District Trustee candidate Michele Taylor-Bible announced her withdrawal from the race in Trustee Area 2, leaving San Juan Capistrano residents Jim Reardon and Don Franklin Richardson and Ladera Ranch resident as the remaining candidates.
Riding Park: The City Council agreed to a one-year extension to a license agreement with Blenheim EquiSports for continued use of the city-owned Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park.
Ruptured Pipeline: San Juan Hills High School was temporarily locked down and traffic was closed due to a fractured natural gas pipeline caused by a construction accident. Traffic was eventually reopened and students and staff were later released after utility workers shut off a nearby valve.
Fish Out of Water: San Juan Hills Golf Club made national headlines when a live leopard shark was discovered on the 12th tee. Club employees believe the shark was dropped by a bird of prey. The shark was rescued and released into Dana Point Harbor.
Poll Results Are In: Former mayor Roy Byrnes, who previously served on the council from 1972 to 1976, finished first in the polls and was elected into the City Council. Incumbent Councilman Sam Allevato finished second. In the race for Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees, San Juan Capistrano resident Jim Reardon, a former council candidate, won in Trustee Area 2. In Trustee Area 1, San Juan Capistrano voters also voted in Amy Hanacek. John Alpay and Gary Pritchard were also reelected.
San Juan Loses ‘Ditty’: Floyd Hugo “Ditty” Nieblas, patriarch of one of San Juan Capistrano’s historical Juaneño families, died November 3. A funeral mass was held in Serra Chapel at the Mission, followed by a traditional Capistrano funeral procession to the gravesite.
Dignitaries: The Fiesta Association elected Pamela and Jim Schuler of Dana Point as Ms. Fiesta and Señor San Juan for the 2013 Fiesta de las Golondrinas season and Swallows Day Parade. Julia Delamare and Julian Cereghino, both from Mission Parish School, were selected as the two junior dignitaries.
New Council: The new City Council unanimously elected John Taylor as mayor and welcomed back Councilman Sam Allevato and former mayor Roy Byrnes to the dais. Allevato was elected mayor pro tem, over Councilman Derek Reeve, by a 3-2 vote.
Dinosaur Approved: The Cultural Heritage Commission approved Zoomars owner Carolyn Franks’ proposed revisions to her conditional-use permit, which would allow her to keep her dinosaur replica on her property in the Historic Los Rios District. The commission’s narrow 2-1 approval represented the city’s first show of support for the dinosaur.
San Juan Loses Two: Beloved veterinarian Jack Mannix and Juaneño leader Francine Yorba both died in their sleep. The City Council dedicated their December 11 meeting to the two.
Taylor Assaulted: Mayor John Taylor was attacked by two unknown assailants while walking home with his wife from a Christmas party in the Historic Los Rios District. Taylor was treated at a local hospital for cuts and contusions and was later released. Authorities continue to look for the two suspects in what is called a random attack.
Guns in Schools: Less than a week after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Councilman Derek Reeve sent a letter to Capistrano Unified School District officials, asking them to allow willing teachers to carry firearms as a safety measure. The district immediately rejected the idea.