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By Brian Park

If San Juan Capistrano has its way, the city will be able to preserve its cherished eastern open space without any fear of an extension of San Juan Creek Road.

On Tuesday, November 13, the City Council confirmed the city’s long-standing position against an extension of the road to La Pata, although the project remains on Orange County’s Master Plan of Arterial Highways.

The county has no immediate plans to extend the road, which would cut through the city-owned Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park. Outgoing Councilwoman Laura Freese brought the item to the attention of the council to reaffirm the city’s position and to take a look into what it would take to remove the prospective plan from San Juan Capistrano’s General Plan.

“When we bought that piece of property, not only were we getting open space to stop the development of 300 homes, we had open space to stop the extension,” Freese said. “What we don’t want is for people to use the end of San Juan Creek Road as a shortcut to La Pata through the riding park.”

Mayor Larry Kramer was part of a unanimous vote to confirm the city’s position but was concerned that a move to remove the plan would welcome unwanted reprisal or other changes from the county, including a prospective plan to turn Ortega Highway into a six-lane highway.

“I have no interest or desire to extend San Juan Creek Road,” Kramer said. “My concern is how we would make up for that loss on traffic…I’m looking at the unintended consequences.”

The council also unanimously voted for staff to determine how the plan could be removed from the county’s Master Plan of Arterial Highways without delineating San Juan Creek Road.

Alan Oswald, the city’s senior traffic engineer, said the city’s General Plan must be consistent with the county’s plan and that an outright removal of the San Juan Creek Road extension could put the city in jeopardy of losing out on its Measure M2 funding.

“Defunding of our Measure M2 money would quite frankly be catastrophic,” Councilman Sam Allevato said. “Part of the reason why we purchased the riding park was to keep that in the city and keep (an extension plan) off the books.”

Several residents spoke out against an extension, citing the loss of the city’s rural character and possible safety hazards that could be brought on by additional traffic:

“One inch can become one mile…We should do everything that we can to preserve this historic community,” Jim Verbeerst said. “We need to make a statement as a city that we don’t want San Juan Creek Road going through.”

“Eventually, San Juan’s going to become another Laguna Niguel. Do we really want that? It’s going to be four lanes through every single community,” Ken Callan said.

“We love the rural area, the ambience, the feeling of community that’s there and not in any of the other parts of the city,” Marie Midgette said. “We’d lose that if we opened up San Juan Creek Road…Please do whatever you can to protect our beautiful area over there.”

One resident, however, did speak in favor of an extension.

“I think it’s about time to open it up…If we had a major disaster or something, you’d wish that road went through,” Dusty Otero said. “Things change. It’s 2012. I say open San Juan Creek Road up.”

Freese also addressed concerns about troublesome traffic throughout the city but said it’s the cost residents must pay to preserve open space.

“Traffic in this city is always lousy and will always be lousy,” Freese said. “You’ve got to live with a little congestion if you like the city of San Juan Capistrano.”

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