The Capistrano Dispatch

Before we move full steam ahead into 2018, let’s take a moment to reflect on some of the highlights and biggest headlines of 2017.

JANUARY

Hotel Capistrano developers announced a 2018 opening for the 102-room, 4-star boutique hotel, despite an unresolved lawsuit from a competing developer opposing the hotel’s approval. On Feb. 11, demolition of structures, including the vacant Birtcher-Pacific Building, began at the 3.18-acre hotel site. Landowner Steve Oedekerk said at the time that once demolition and some minor grading were completed, construction would begin. Since then, the Kimpton has remained mired in litigation, with several trial delays. The city announced in November that two lawsuits involving the previously approved Urban Village project have been settled—a move city officials hope will lead to the resolution of the Kimpton lawsuit. The city filed notice of the lawsuit settlements with the court on Nov. 14, and a few days later, a status conference for the case was scheduled for Jan. 12 at 9 a.m.

Despite her wish to serve another year on the Transportation Corridor Agencies board, Mayor Kerry Ferguson lost her TCA seat to District 5 Councilman Brian Maryott in a unanimous vote of the City Council on Jan. 12. Maryott told the Council that he offers a “fresh approach” on some of the region’s high-stakes transportation issues.

The Judge Egan House, which now houses Ellie’s Table, was added to the National Register of Historic Places, effective Jan. 17.

Since being featured in The Capistrano Dispatch’s “Green Issue” in April 2016, 7-year-old recycling entrepreneur Ryan Hickman, owner of Ryan’s Recycling, has made national and international headlines, from being interviewed on the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on Jan. 30, to being featured as one of five CNN Young Wonders in December. Hickman was also named San Juan Capistrano Citizen of the Year by Mayor Kerry Ferguson on Dec. 5.

FEBRUARY

After closing for renovations last April, Trevor’s at the Tracks—formerly Sarducci’s Capistrano Depot—officially reopened to the public on Feb. 23 with a ribbon cutting and chamber mixer.

MARCH

On March 1, the La Novia roundabout was completed and reopened to traffic, marking the end of about seven months of construction that transformed the four-way stop into a traffic circle.

The City Council voted unanimously March 7 to approve a schematic design for a proposed skate park in town, but the project is still far from becoming a reality. The approval marks the first step in what could be a lengthy fundraising process for the park, which is now estimated to cost about $2 million.

City staff presented the Council with its mid-year financial report on March 21, and due to some significant unexpected expenditures, staff concluded that without additional revenue from incoming projects, the city faces a $1.5 million general fund deficit in the years ahead.

The Council approved the $1.7 million Del Obispo Street widening project on March 21, as well as adding a sewer line to the city-owned Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park by appropriating $462,900 from the agricultural preservation tax fund and $92,300 from the eastern open space fund.

APRIL

The San Juan Capistrano City Council voted on April 18 to take a non-toxic approach to weed and pest control at city parks and open space areas by directing city staff to develop a new policy that would eliminate the use of weed killers such as Roundup in favor of organic methods.

MAY

San Juan’s beloved cliff swallows returned to nest at Mission San Juan Capistrano this spring, which Mission Executive Director Mechelle Lawrence Adams described as a “sign of hope.” Dr. Charles Brown, a swallows expert, had been working for years on luring the swallows back to the Mission, and said a variety of factors may have contributed to the return, including the rough-winged swallows that were spotted nesting in the ruins of the Great Stone Church.

The Capistrano Unified School District officially broke ground at the Esencia K-8 school site in Rancho Mission Viejo on May 9. The school will open for the 2018-2019 school year beginning with kindergarten through fifth grade classes, and adding grade levels over time.

New flight paths from John Wayne Airport drew the ire of some South County residents who vocalized their concerns about increased airplane noise at a May 2 City Council meeting and at a May 15 community forum held by Orange County Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Todd Spitzer in Laguna Niguel. The Council voted on May 2 to draft a letter to the Federal Aviation Association voicing the concerns of residents.

After considering 11 proposals, the San Juan Capistrano City Council voted in closed session on May 16 to enter into negotiations with Frontier Real Estate Investments, LLC for the sale and development of the downtown playhouse property and adjacent parking lot. Frontier’s proposal includes space for the “Capistrano Center for the Arts”—a new performing arts center with an auditorium seating approximately 250 people, a secondary black box theater with 60 to 100 seats and classrooms. The plan also includes street-front restaurants and retail shops, an open-air plaza adjoining the theater with the restaurants and shops, a boutique second-story creative office space, and two levels of subterranean parking that will provide approximately 250 parking stalls. The project will require a general plan amendment, and $10-12 million will need to be raised for the construction of the arts center.

The city rejected two notices of intent to recall filed May 19 and May 22 for Council member Sergio Farias because the petitions were “legally insufficient.” The group of residents who filed the petitions claimed Farias reneged on his campaign promise to oppose San Diego Gas & Electric’s substation expansion, even though he’s consistently voted to oppose the expansion.

JUNE

On June 5, the Orange County Grand Jury issued a report, “Ortega Highway: Unnecessary Delays Have Cost Us Millions,” that claimed the San Juan Capistrano City Council’s inactions and delays to work on widening 0.9 miles of Ortega Highway have resulted in the loss of millions of dollars of taxpayer money. On Aug. 15, the Council voted 4-1 to publicly support Caltrans’ efforts to widen Ortega Highway, with Council member Pam Patterson opposed.

The San Juan Capistrano City Council voted 4-1 in closed session on June 6 to file a complaint in federal court against the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding its decision to approve San Diego Gas & Electric’s substation expansion in a residential area of San Juan. The city filed the lawsuit on June 23. The CPUC denied the city’s request for a rehearing on Sept. 28, and U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford dismissed the city’s lawsuit on Oct. 16. The Council voted 4-1 on Oct. 17 to appeal the U.S. District Court’s dismissal. As the city enters the appeal process, SDG&E is continuing to do work at the project site that does not require city permits, such as surveying, soil borings and cleanup inside the old substation building. SDG&E does not yet have permits from the city to begin demolition, grading and construction.

The San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce installed its new board of directors and bid farewell to its departing CEO Mark Bodenhamer on June 7 at El Adobe de Capistrano. Bodenhamer was named Honorary Man of the Year for his seven years of service to the chamber. Gerald Muir, who serves on three different city commissions in addition to his work with other local organizations, was honored as 2017 Man of the Year. Ann Ronan, outgoing chamber board member and local travel agent, was named 2017 Woman of the Year for her work with numerous organizations in town. Annabelle Isky, a 44-year resident of San Juan, was named the Ambassador of the Year. And Buy My Bikes, owned by Jim Curwood, earned the title of 2017 Business of the Year for outstanding customer service and devotion to the community.

Following a year-long hiatus, the San Juan Capistrano summer trolley service returned on June 9 for 13 consecutive weekends. The city reported that ridership exceeded expectations this year. While there currently isn’t funding in the city’s budget for future trolley service, city staff is working on securing funding from other sources for a 2018 summer trolley.

On June 12, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department officially stopped including detailed summaries for each of its sheriff’s blotter entries, a move that has limited the media’s and the public’s efforts to glean information about recent crimes or calls for service in their communities.

FBI agents raided the behavioral health treatment provider Sovereign Health on June 13 for reasons not yet disclosed by authorities. The FBI also raided Vedanta Laboratories and the home of Tonmoy Sharma, CEO of Sovereign Health. Sharma later said in a statement that the FBI had unfairly accused the business. Sovereign filed a lawsuit in August that blamed an insurance provider for the FBI raid.

Contract negotiations between the Capistrano Unified School District and the Capistrano Unified Education Association stalled on June 29 after 16 bargaining sessions. The school district’s last offer to the union was a “two-year agreement that includes a 1.5 percent ongoing salary schedule increase effective July 1, 2016, a two-year increase (for plan years 2017 and 2018) to health and welfare benefits, and a retirement incentive for 2017-2018.” CUSD and CUEA still haven’t reached an agreement and have entered into the fact-finding process after mediation failed. Fact-finding will continue in January.

JULY

Advocacy group Orange County Coastkeeper filed an amended lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of San Juan Capistrano and Blenheim Management over alleged Clean Water Act violations at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park—a 40-acre, city-owned equestrian and sports facility. The city is working on forging a long-term contract with park operator Blenheim Facility Management, while also working with state regulators to address concerns about riding park operations. Officials from the city and Blenheim say that since 2006 they have been making adjustments and improvements to the park’s procedures in order to comply with state regulators’ recommendations and current Best Management Practices, but Coastkeeper says those improvements are “piecemeal” and short-term.

On July 18, the Council approved a contract with Siemens Industry, Inc. to complete the initial analysis required to convert the city’s high pressure sodium street lights to LED technology. The final street light conversion contract is set to go before the Council for final approval on Jan. 16.

AUGUST

The City Council voted unanimously on Aug. 1 to approve an exclusive negotiation agreement with Ganahl Lumber Company for the sale and development of the Lower Rosan Ranch—a 15-acre property off of Stonehill Drive. Ganahl Lumber’s initial proposal includes the Ganahl facility, a restaurant concept, and self-storage and car storage for neighboring auto dealers. The Ganahl store will sell lumber, building materials and hardware primarily to contractors and other professionals.

The crowd of seniors that packed into City Hall on Aug. 15 erupted in cheers after the Council voted unanimously to create permanent zoning for four seniors-only mobile home parks in town. San Juan is home to seven mobile home parks, and four of those parks are seniors-only communities (ages 55 and over). The ordinance took effect in September.

Hundreds of people flocked to Caspers Wilderness Park on Aug. 21 to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse.

The Blas Aguilar Adobe Museum and Acjachemen Cultural Center celebrated its grand reopening on Aug. 26. After more than two years of closures, the museum officially reopened to the public back in April and has been open to visitors on the weekends ever since. Domingo Belardes, of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, curates the museum and has been working with the Blas Aguilar Adobe Foundation on renovating the adobe, creating the native garden, and restoring the courtyard between the Blas Aguilar Adobe and Casa Tejada. The Blas Aguilar Adobe is the last of 40 plaza adobes that were constructed in 1794 near the Mission to house soldiers and Acjachemen families.

SEPTEMBER

The Capistrano Unified School District held ribbon cuttings and tours of two new classroom buildings on the campuses of San Juan Hills High School and San Clemente High School on Sept. 21.

The city of San Juan Capistrano revived the popular Citizens Leadership Academy— a seven-week course that provides residents and business owners an opportunity to learn more about city structure, operations, projects and programs. A group of 25 residents participated this year and “graduated” on Nov. 15.

On Sept. 13, homebuilder Taylor Morrison officially broke ground on 70 new homes at Pacifica San Juan. The Cove at Pacifica San Juan will feature three open-concept floor plans that range from 1,836 to 2,068 square feet. Prices start in the low $700,000’s.

OCTOBER

State Assemblyman Bill Brough and State Senator Patricia Bates, in partnership with the Capistrano Unified School District and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, hosted a presentation at San Juan Hills High School on Oct. 3 on increased opioid and heroin use in South Orange County. Speakers presented information about local and national drug use trends, warning signs, progress with new policies addressing drug trafficking, and solutions such as educating the public and having first responders distribute the medication naloxone to reduce the number of opioid overdoses.

Dozens of joyous shoppers lined the sidewalk of the Mission Village Center on the morning of Oct. 11 for the grand opening of the plaza’s new 14,000-square-foot anchor grocery store, Trader Joe’s. The grocer initially received approval to open in the former Big Lots location in January.

Local nonprofit Goin Native Therapeutic hosted its first ever Fall Fest on Oct. 15 at Reata Park and Event Center.

On Oct. 22, Rancho Mission Viejo unveiled the final phase of homes in its Esencia community—the NorthWalk Neighborhoods. The first three neighborhoods unveiled are priced from the high $300,000’s to over $1 million. The rest of the new NorthWalk Neighborhoods will be unveiled with a series of grand openings taking place through early 2018.

NOVEMBER

On Nov. 7, the San Juan Capistrano City Council voted 4-1 to move forward and initiate work on an environmental study and traffic impact analysis for the proposed River Street open-air marketplace off of Los Rios Street. With the approval of the environmental study and traffic analysis agreements, the project is on its way to eventually be reviewed by the city’s Design Review Committee, Cultural Heritage Commission and the Planning Commission before ultimately going before the Council for final approval. Public input will be received at commission and Council hearings throughout the process.

The Council also voted unanimously on Nov. 7 to pursue amending the city’s General Plan and zoning map/development code in order to correct inconsistencies and ambiguities between the city’s guiding documents, including the Historic Town Center Master Plan (HTCMP). The Council initially discussed the possibility of repealing the HTCMP on Oct. 17, when Councilman Derek Reeve brought the idea forward. Reeve said that since the plan’s adoption in 2012, it’s been an “ongoing source of confusion and conflict.”

The Planning Commission voted unanimously on Nov. 14 to approve a request from Mountain View Church to plant its congregation within an existing 17,000-square-foot vacant building that was most recently occupied by Hanson’s Market, which closed last year. The church will be the new anchor of the Vermeulen Ranch Center.

Council members Kerry Ferguson, Derek Reeve and Pam Patterson were each served with notices of intent to recall. Those petitions are still moving through the review process and have not yet been approved for circulation. Once the City Clerk’s office has verified that the recall petitions meet all the requirements of the California Elections Code, the proponents will have 120 days to collect the signatures of 20 percent of the city’s 19,227 registered voters—3,845 residents—for each petition. The cost for an at-large special election would range from $95,000 to $106,000.

DECEMBER

The San Juan Capistrano City Council reorganized at its Dec. 5 meeting, appointing Councilman Sergio Farias, of District 1, as the city’s new mayor and Councilman Brian Maryott, of District 5, as mayor pro tem.

Dozens of parents attended the Council’s Dec. 5 meeting to implore city officials to implement solutions at a San Juan Hills High School crosswalk where two students were recently hit by cars while trying to cross Stallion Ridge. Hundreds of concerned residents, parents and students have signed an online petition in an attempt to get the city to man the crossing with a guard, put in a light, or move the crosswalk toward the school so kids avoid contact with additional traffic from the Whispering Hills neighborhood.

The Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Dec. 6 to award an $18 million contract to REC Solar Commercial Corporation for the conversion of six high school campuses and the district headquarters to solar power.

On Dec. 13, the San Juan Capistrano City Council appointed lifelong resident and former city commissioner Matt Gaffney to a vacated seat on the city’s Planning Commission.

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