By Brian Park
A project that aims to reestablish migration routes for steelhead trout drew heavy criticism from the San Juan Capistrano City Council Tuesday night over concerns regarding its funding and the extent of the city’s participation.
What was supposed to be an informational presentation left council members with more questions than answers.
Trout Unlimited, a national nonprofit and advocates for the conservation of freshwater fish habitats, and their consultants, CDM Smith, presented a 30-percent design of the project, which proposes to stabilize a portion of Trabuco Creek that runs through San Juan Capistrano so as to restore the migration corridor for adult and juvenile trout.
Brian Johnson, the state director for Trout Unlimited, and Wendy Katagi, a representative of CDM Smith, told the council only $2 million in grants had been secured for the $11.4 million project.
“There is a lot of money to be raised,” Johnson said. “Our view is let’s get the designs done and get to that stage and then go out and do the leg work to raise money for construction.”
The two asked for the city’s support when it came time to review the project, issue permits and expend staff time for meetings and other work.
The council, however, said further details were required before they could fully commit the city’s resources to the project.
“I’m all in favor of stabilizing those streams, but as I read the documents, you’re asking us to be the lead agency on most of this project,” Councilman Larry Kramer said. “To use a quote, ‘Show me the money.’ You want us to develop something that’s going to use staff time … It’s going to cost money. I don’t see how we do it without somebody giving us money to implement it.”
“I can support this philosophically, but I can’t really put the city out at any liability without getting all these things locked down,” Mayor Pro Tem Sam Allevato said. “We’d need some sort of enforceable document that can memorialize this in writing.”
Katagi said the city could be reimbursed for staff time, although additional funding has yet to be secured.
Johnson asked if the council could direct city staff to work with his organization, but City Attorney Hans Van Ligten shot down the request, saying the council could not vote on the item when no action was required.
Trout Unlimited and CDM Smith expect to have a final design available in July. Several local, state and federal permits and approvals are still required.
The council instructed Johnson and Katagi to return at a future date with a more detailed plan with some of their questions answered.
“The council is very concerned about expenses the city might incur,” Councilman Roy Byrnes said. “If you were to present a much more focused presentation bearing in mind the concerns we all share, I’d find it more informative.”
Several stakeholders in the project came in support of Trout Unlimited, including representatives from the Moulton Niguel Water District, Saddleback Valley Christian School, former San Juan Capistrano councilman Phil Schwartze representing the Hsiao Family and CalTrout.