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By Brian Park

The San Juan Capistrano City Council unanimously voted to reverse a previous decision and will not increase the speed limit on a portion of Ortega Highway, after council members were inundated with angry emails from residents before Tuesday’s meeting.

The council previously voted on November 13 to increase the speed limit on Ortega Highway, between La Novia Avenue and Via Cordova, from 40 mph to 45.

In emails addressed to council members, residents’ complaints ranged from concerns regarding safety to difficulty traveling into and out of residential neighborhoods. Many wrote that increasing the speed limit would encourage even faster traffic on Ortega Highway, where they regularly observed vehicles traveling in excess of 50 mph.

“Why the change? The speed limit is 40 and people do 50 or better. So by changing it to 45, will they be doing 60 or better?” resident Debbie Salat wrote in an email.

“This change is completely inappropriate for a primarily residential area,” wrote resident Gila Jones, also a member of the city’s Housing Advisory Committee. “It is already extremely difficult to make a safe turn from one of the residential streets onto Ortega. Raising the speed limit will make turning from our streets onto Ortega even more difficult and extremely dangerous.”

Any change to speed limits on Ortega Highway, a state highway, is ultimately up to the state, according to Jim Ross, interim director of public works. Ross also told the council that any change the state would make would likely be in line with the city’s assessment.

“My guess is that they’ll go with legislative criteria and move it up to 45 mph,” Ross said.

City Attorney Hans Van Ligten told the council speeding tickets issued on that stretch of Ortega Highway could “theoretically” be unenforceable someday.

The City Council did, however, approve two speed decreases from 35 mph to 40 on Ortega Highway, between Interstate 5 and Rancho Viejo Road, and Junipero Serra Road, between Camino Capistrano and Rancho Viejo Road.

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