The City of San Juan Capistrano is looking to upgrade turf at the town’s sports park on Camino Del Avion since the area is frequently used for community events.
Discussion about the planned renovation came up during a budget workshop held on Tuesday, May 2, with the City Council. The city is gearing up for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2023-24 city budget and ironing out details for such as part of an annual process.
“As many of you know, our sports park is definitely in need of some attention,” City Manager Ben Siegel said. “We’ve received complaints. First of all, it’s heavily used by numerous groups on a year-round basis. It does not get enough rest.”
City representatives want to explore other site options for the car show and rethink aspects of the Fourth of July celebrations, such as the carnival and equipment storage for such, Siegel said.
“The fields haven’t been renovated in over 20 years,” Siegel said. “What it needs is new turf and irrigation and, really, a major capital project. Then, we’re going to require some more maintenance if the council is inclined to support this project and more rest.”
The potential new turf would not be artificial.
The presented draft budget estimates $2 million for the sports park renovation. The project would also include redoing the park lighting to “more focused” LED lighting.
Councilmember John Campbell said $2 million is a “significant investment in one facility.”
“This $2 million number concerns me about the sports park,” Campbell said.
Public Works Director Tom Toman said the sports park is the park that city staff hears the most about in the community, though funding has always been an issue.
“That’s the one that hosts our major tournaments,” Toman said. “It would be a good place to focus our resources.”
The city is also looking to add a new deputy from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which the city contracts with for law enforcement services, to patrol the downtown area and elsewhere as needed from Thursday through Sunday.
“We think it’s warranted based on the new development, new residents in town, activity in downtown, private investment, number of visitors here on the weekend,” Siegel said.
The cost for the deputy would be $307,000 and funded through paid parking revenue, though Siegel said that number is not what the deputy would earn.
“That’s fully loaded. That’s full overhead and everything else associated with the benefit load,” Siegel said.
Councilmember Sergio Farias said an extra deputy is “worthwhile.”
Discussions also dovetailed into the possibility of a parking pass for San Juan residents. Currently, anyone who goes to the downtown area is required to pay for parking in most lots in the area, including around Trevor’s at the Tracks, at a rate of $2 an hour. The paid parking is limited to three hours.
Some residents and officials, including Campbell during last year’s election, have called for a program in which residents can pay for a regular parking pass beforehand by registering with the city.
Mayor Howard Hart said he hoped the city would get to a point with parking revenue where they could afford administering residential passes.
“One of the arguments against parking pass program for residents was the administration costs,” Hart said. “The residents of San Juan Capistrano, quite honestly, are screaming for this. I hear it everywhere—not the least of which is every time I go home.”
Siegel said administering residential passes is “very complicated,” because three of the four downtown lots are privately owned.
“How that revenue and expenditure would be allocated is tricky, if you even have a willing private property owner,” Siegel said. “I don’t think you would have supportive property owners, necessarily, but even if we did, I don’t think that’s something we can turn on overnight.”
Siegel recommended doing a wider study on downtown parking, including expanding parking, permits for employees, and other facets of the matter.
Councilmember Troy Bourne said an entire meeting could be held about parking and that there is not a consensus among the City Council about a parking pass.
“Downtown parking, if we want to do a holistic study evaluating this in the near term, I’m open to doing that,” Bourne said. “Like (Hart), I face opposition to paid parking in my own house. I have a few licensed drivers who liked it before when they could park anywhere they wanted for free for as long as they wanted.”
Paid parking was instituted at the request of local business owners, because employees and other people previously could park in spots all day long, which meant customers couldn’t access the businesses, Bourne said.
The $2 fee is designed to be a “nuisance,” so spaces are more available, Bourne said.
Campbell suggested hiring paid officers to enforce paid parking rules instead of the volunteers who do so now on a limited basis.
“There’s really no enforcement,” Campbell said. “We lack someone who can enforce rules.”
Other suggestions made by councilmembers include talking with the Capistrano Unified School District about providing more school resource officers on campus and enhancing school safety after residents asked for the city’s help, since the city expects to have a surplus for next year’s city budget; enhancing funding for the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley; increasing street sweeping to reduce the amount of trash and gravel perceived; and sprucing up Paseo Adelanto opposite the coming River Street Marketplace and backside of Historic Town Center Park.
Regarding the expected $7.2 million surplus, Siegel said that is more a matter of the city having a “balanced budget” and may not be an ongoing occurrence.
“The city’s revenues on an ongoing, recurrent basis are sufficient to support our ongoing expenditures,” Siegel said. “As of this year—Fiscal Year 2022-23—our revenues will be higher than expenditures, which is a good thing. It wasn’t always like that. Over the past couple of fiscal year, we’ve had good years, and our revenues have been higher than recurring expenditures.”
“I wouldn’t consider it, unfortunately, a structural surplus. I think that’s primarily related to the benefit we’ve seen over the past few years in some unique circumstances in terms of high sales-tax returns,” Siegel continued. “We had an infusion of cash from the federal government in terms of the American Rescue Plan Act. Overall, we’ve had some reduced expenditures. Litigation has been down.”
Though there has been a gradual increase in property-tax revenues over the past 10 years, there is a “leveling off” in the growth of property-tax revenues as projected in Fiscal Years 2022-23 and 2023-24, City Finance Director Ken Al-Imam said.
“Sales-tax revenues are a little bit more volatile than property-tax revenues,” Al-Imam said. “We’ve had a mixed performance of sales-tax revenues over the past 10 years or so. In early years, there was mixed performance, a lot of volatility, followed by stronger performance in Fiscal Years 2020-21 and 2021-22.”
The growth in sales-tax revenue for the next few years is projected to be “very nominal and essentially flat,” Al-Imam said.
The City of San Juan Capistrano currently has 55 full-time staff members, Siegel said.
Other city governments have “overcommitted” to ongoing expenditures and get into a structural deficit, Siegel said.
City staff will return to the City Council on June 6 for further budget discussions incorporating councilmembers’ suggestions.