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By Shawn Raymundo
More than a month after a mayoral committee conducted a pair of public workshops to gather input on how San Juan Capistrano’s Northwest Open Space should be used, the city this month launched a community survey that seeks to gain additional feedback from residents.
The online survey, which can be found on the city’s website, coincides with the city’s continued efforts to iron out the municipal code’s inconsistent and ambiguous language related to open space use and zoning.
The Northwest Open Space Community Survey “allows residents, visitors and business owners to share their thoughts on potential future use of the property,” the city’s website states, while noting that it takes a few minutes to complete and encourages the public to participate.
“The workshops were intended to gather input from the community on the future use of the NWOS,” Assistant City Manager Charlie View wrote in an email. “We are hopeful that the survey will help achieve that goal by supplementing feedback we received at the workshops and reaching additional residents that were unable to attend the workshops.”
Those who participate in the survey are asked a handful of questions pertaining to the use of the open space.
“What features and/or amenities would you like to see at the Northwest Open Space?” the first question asks. Listed are several options, including picnic areas, camping, amphitheater, live entertainment, athletic fields, community gardens and eating and drinking establishments.
The list also includes the Putuidem Village Community Park Project—the city’s longstanding plans to construct a cultural center honoring the Acjachemen tribe on a portion of the Northwest Open Space. That project has been put on pause while the city works to fix the municipal code.
The survey then looks to gauge the community’s support for the Putuidem project by asking whether it should be built by the city. It also asks whether the participant would support the $2 million project if all or a significant portion of it were paid for by a private individual or group.
Other questions in the survey include “How often do you visit the Norwest Open Space?” and “What is the primary purpose of your visit?” Toward the end of the survey, participants are also asked to rank their preferred amenities, features and objectives.
“The survey questions were developed by staff based in part on the feedback received during the workshops, as well as issues raised by the City Council and public at prior Council meetings where the NWOS was discussed,” View said in the email.
For the past few months, the Northwest Open Space has been the center of a city-wide debate that was sparked by the city council’s approval to hold exclusive negotiations with Red Tail Acquisitions, a developer proposing to implement a camping and glamping facility on the property.
In the weeks following that approval, the city council faced criticism from former city officials, one of whom threatened to take legal action against the city. The council tabled the Putuidem project and its negotiations with Red Tail after Mayor Pro Tem Troy Bourne pointed out several discrepancies in the city’s zoning laws on open space uses.
The council voted, 4-1—with Councilmember Derek Reeve opposed—to halt any development plans until the language in the municipal code is fixed and to hold the public workshops to hear what the community would like to see on the land.
While facing a bit of backlash and criticism from the Juaneño community and other advocates of the Putuidem project who feel slighted by its delay, Bourne has stressed that straightening out the code would put Putuidem on “sound legal footing” and protect the city from litigation.
During the second and final open space workshop in late June, City Manager Ben Siegel, answering a resident’s question, said the next step would be for city staff to receive direction from councilmembers, on what they would like to see, and then provide them with policy recommendations on how to implement and move forward.
According to View the survey is anticipated to being available through Aug. 31. The comments the city received from workshops as well as the survey, he said, will be presented to the council in next month.
About 200 people had participated in the survey as of Thursday, Aug. 8, View said.
Editor’s Note: An abridged version of the story was published in the Aug. 9 edition of The Capistrano Dispatch.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow The Dispatch @CapoDispatch.