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By The Capistrano Dispatch
As part of our ongoing coverage of the San Juan Capistrano City Council election, we asked each of the eight candidates four questions about local issues. In the editions of The Dispatch leading up to the Nov. 4 election, we will publish their answers, verbatim, in the order their names will appear on the ballot.
Note: Greg Acho withdrew from the election after the official deadline to do so. His name will still appear fourth on the ballot, but he will not be included in our Q&A series.
We asked the candidates:
The city is considering several major development projects that have sparked heated discussions among residents. Which projects are of the greatest concern to you? As a council member, how would you balance the desire to add responsible developments with the need to preserve San Juan Capistrano’s historical character?
Jan Siegel, Community Volunteer
We need a smart, educated balance between growth and development in our downtown historic area.
As a 13 year member of the Cultural Heritage Commission and an active member of the Historical Society, I am a firm believer in preserving history. But I want the City to flourish economically too. Council members must be very protective of that balance. In 2012, the City Council passed the Downtown Historic Master Plan after working with the community for over a year. The Plan is specific when it states how the historic downtown should be protected with development.
The project which concerns me the most is the one across from the Historic Mission. It is the gateway to our City, and next to the most historic site in Orange County. Developers must realize that when they come into Historic San Juan Capistrano they must work within our guidelines, and not simply copy what has worked in other communities.
There are things that we need in the City, such as a downtown hotel. If we follow the guidelines outlined in the Historic Downtown Master Plan it can be done in a constructive way. Businesses in our downtown should compliment our culture and history.
Derek Reeve, Councilman/Constitutional Attorney
I have fought for property rights, yet three development projects require careful scrutiny: The Spieker Development; Urban Village downtown hotel/residential project; and Capistrano Shops next to the Mission.
Spieker proposes high-density development on land surrounding Armstrong Nursery. The developer demands a General Plan Amendment to replace zoned agriculture land with 519 residential units on 33 acres that will further burden our streets and strain our water supply. The property is not zoned for high-density development. Property rights include the thousands of residents who live around land zoned agricultural.
Urban Village will forever destroy the traditional character of our downtown. While I support a boutique hotel, jamming a large hotel with 30 residential units will further strain our water resources, increase traffic, reduce parking capacity and urbanize our town.
Capistrano Shops as proposed is ill suited for its location. The Mission is the soul of our town and nearby development must be carefully considered. The proposal calls for a strip mall with aesthetics reminiscent of Irvine, not San Juan. Any project at this location must adhere to a façade of Mission architecture.
As in the past four years, I will continue to fight for the residents and against these projects.
Pam Patterson, Constitutional Attorney/Businesswoman
I am 100% in favor of smart development that puts our residents first, and takes care of people who are already coming here. However, San Juan CANNOT endure one more car on our roads, nor any further demand on our water supply. My candidacy was spurred by the likelihood the Council majority would approve Laguna Glen and the hotel/townhomes. Both would significantly harm the historical character of San Juan Capistrano—large scale “Irvine” projects being crammed into our small village-like setting—and further encumber an already overburdened infrastructure. Thus, these projects are of greatest concern to me at this time.
Our town is filled with unattractive, rundown strip malls. Let’s take care of what we have before we add more, and let’s do a superior job of it. By doing so, hundreds of out-of-town parents who drop off children at our private schools will be more inclined to stay and shop. Upgrading our strip malls would be a win-win for San Juan business, residents, city revenues, and those already driving here daily without adding to our traffic and water problems. Put San Juan residents first!
Creative solutions that put residents first is the way to progress for San Juan Capistrano.
John Taylor, Businessman/Councilmember
As a current council member and member of the Real Property Sub-committee, I have seen many of the projects from their inception. We attempt to steer a developer or property owner to a successful outcome that will respect our cherished historic, small town feel.
As a 33 year resident and owner of a home on the National Register of Historic Buildings in Los Rios Historic District, and after saving the Yorba/Love House from demolition and restoring it to it’s original beauty, I believe I have the experience to know when a project meets that deliberate balance between the necessary economic development to keep a city alive and yet maintain the character we all love and cherish about San Juan Capistrano.
I was involved in the establishment of the Historic Town Center Master Plan, and supported its passage while on city council. The first project that we have seen completed is the new Mission Gatehouse and retail store. This is a perfect example of the quality and balance that we all speak of, and I believe preserves the historic character of our city, that’s what I am looking for. I will continue to fight for responsible growth that preserves our history.
Robert Williams, Architect/Business Owner
“Balance,” “Responsible” development, and “Historical character” are key words. They all require vision and leadership. Our city council is seriously considering several projects, two of grave concern. If either is approved, the historical landscape of our downtown will be forever changed; not for the better:
- “The Shops at Capistrano.” Right next door to our historic Mission … a retail “Strip Mall!” Nothing about it enhances our Mission or strengthens our economy. It’s just a second-rate space-filler, and violation of our Historic Town Center Master Plan. This is our gateway, so must represent who we are. This strip-mall is not worthy of that distinction.
- “Urban Village.” A 136 room, three story hotel with 30 town homes, three stories high! This is a massive proposal, and dwarfs our historic downtown. It also significantly deviates from our downtown plan. A charming boutique hotel would indeed fit, but this overreaching proposal isn’t the right fit.
We need leadership and experience to:
• Implement the Historic Town Center Master Plan.
• Work up-front WITH developers and communicate our goals.
• Celebrate our historic structures, not hide them.
• Develop an overall traffic solution with developers.
Our unique charm must be protected, not sold to the highest bidder.
Stephanie Frisch, Independent Insurance Broker
San Juan Capistrano is unique-40% of our town is, and always will be, Open Space. That makes what we do with the other 60% extremely important. We need to generate income and rebuild the tax base for our City. In my opinion, it is possible to balance our open space environment with economy and history. We aren’t a rural town, but the presence of open space and horses can give that impression. San Juan is an urban environment. Our city has the I-5 freeway and a regional railroad dissecting it. We are a “short-cut” city for commuters in neighboring towns. That traffic brings no revenue to our town unless we give them a reason to stop.
We must pick developments that bring not only tourists, but also residents and neighbors into our downtown commercial corridor. We need to look at the tax revenue these developments will bring so that our town shines as brightly as it can and should because we are the home of the prized jewel of the missions; Mission San Juan Capistrano.
My biggest concern is the mudslinging, the lying and the immature attitude of a noisy minority. Decisions should be based on what’s best for EVERYONE.
Kerry Ferguson, Businesswoman/Educator
New buildings haven’t been approved downtown in years. Opposition is strong to the Laguna Glen proposal by Spieker, another outside developer. The planning process for San Juan Capistrano, under the current council majority, is flawed.
It’s time for a fresh look. Instead of encouraging developers’ over-sized projects that are insensitive to San Juan’s atmosphere, I know we can do better!
A smaller boutique hotel downtown wouldn’t burden our daily lives with more traffic and parking headaches. Similarly, a plaza for shopping and dining that complemented the Mission would make better sense than the current proposal.
My greatest concern is the huge Laguna Glen proposal – on land promised to us for a park, now a planned high-density city within a city with 519 total units, a medical building and other facilities. While desirable for elite seniors able to afford $700,000-$1,000,000+ and $3500-$4000+ monthly fees, it’s too big for our small town and narrow streets, and traffic will increase!
If elected, I will use my experience with creative solutions and fruitful negotiation to help forge a better planning process, one that will preserve the historic character and small town atmosphere that attracted all of us to San Juan Capistrano. I ask for your vote!
Larry Kramer, Retired Submarine Captain
Two major downtown projects are in jeopardy. Urban Village is stalled because it includes housing, which is not allowed by the General Plan. Since the current city council will not vote to allow housing the project cannot move forward. The Shops at Capistrano are being opposed because they do not reflect the historic nature of our town center.
I support a hotel, some housing, more retail and another breakfast restaurant. The proposed projects contain these elements, but need to fit into downtown.
The Historic Downtown Master Plan protects the character of San Juan Capistrano while laying out a general development plan. We should adhere to the Master Plan , but fine-tune it . I believe in the processes established by the city. We encourage public input, have project advisory commissions and have a strong and caring city council. Our talented and experienced city staff helps to balance development while preserving the character of San Juan Capistrano.
I am concerned that no downtown projects will be implemented. Some growth is needed to maintain a healthy downtown. Great strides have been made but we must continue to move ahead while respecting the historic character of the city.