By Allison Jarrell
In an unexpected turn of events, the San Juan Capistrano City Council voted 3-1-1 on Jan. 18, with Mayor Pam Patterson dissenting and Councilwoman Kerry Ferguson abstaining, to approve upgrades to a 1,000-foot stretch of the San Juan Creek Trail. The trail runs along the creek and is adjacent to the incoming Oaks Development, which includes 32 homes along with an equestrian facility.
The City Council originally approved renovations to the multiuse trail in conjunction with The Oaks development in 2014—including a Class 1 paved bike trail and an unpaved multiuse hiking/biking/equestrian trail that would complete the gap in the San Juan Creek Trail system.
But the multiuse trail became a major topic of contention over the last six months, moving slowly from its design stages in the Trails and Equestrian Commission to City Council amid debate that evolved into arguments over whether the trail is safest left as is or with a divided multiuse trail and paved Class 1 bikeway. Opponents of the bikeway often cited issues with horses being spooked by cyclists, while cyclists in favor of the renovated trail said the path is dangerous and at times impossible to traverse due to ruts created in the dirt.
At the Nov. 17 City Council meeting, councilmembers decided to allow The Oaks developer to obtain building permits and certificates of occupancy “pending the city’s final determination of whether and what trail and bikeway improvements would be required, if any.” Since that meeting, developer Tim O-Grady had offered to place a cash deposit with the city in exchange for being relieved of any obligation to construct the trail improvements.
However, after numerous public comments and lengthy council discussion, Councilman Sam Allevato made a motion to put in the Class 1 bikeway along the development with the equestrian trail along the creek, separated by a split rail fence, rather than collect the deposit from the developer. Councilman Derek Reeve seconded the motion, and Councilman John Perry was the defining yes vote, notably changing his mind since previous discussions where he questioned having a bike path and multiuse trail next to one another and fought to further examine the issue of equestrian safety on that section of the trail.
“I am ready to end this thing tonight and say build the damn trail … and do it however you want, and if it turns out that it is unsafe, as some people claim, we’ll know that pretty quick,” Perry said. “I don’t want to fight it anymore with all the animosity and 200 emails from people all over the world. This is absolutely a waste of time.”
With the council’s approval in place, the trail improvements can now be constructed and installed by The Oaks development. The only costs the city incurs will be the trail’s maintenance once completed.