By Alex Groves
The San Juan Capistrano City Council on Oct. 2 voted to state what the final closed session vote was that led to a $2.9 million dollar settlement to a lawsuit filed by OC Coastkeeper, but did not waive confidentiality on any of the motions or votes that led up to it.
City Attorney Jeffrey Ballinger stated that the final vote was 3-2 in favor of settlement with councilmembers Derek Reeve and Brian Maryott opposed.
Though the final vote had not been announced during a city council meeting prior to Oct. 2, it was technically not confidential; it could have been requested of the city by the public any time after the settlement was completed.
What was confidential were any of the prior motions or votes made that did not go through. Mayor Sergio Farias had been hoping to waive confidentiality on them in an effort to “bring more transparency to city government and to the residents of San Juan Capistrano.”
“I believe the residents of San Juan Capistrano will make an interpretation of the actions taken by their council in closed session and I believe that they are owed that, especially with a settlement that has cost millions of dollars to the taxpayers of this city,” Farias said.
Mayor Pro Tem Brian Maryott argued Farias’ point, saying he believed that the only vote that mattered is the vote that resulted in the settlement. The only purpose of revealing earlier votes would be political, he said.
“There have been comments made tonight about not liking to be political and we don’t want to be political,” Maryott said. “It’s time that we started practicing what we preach.”
Farias and Reeve were the only councilmembers in favor of revealing the earlier motions and votes so the agenda item was not approved.
A substitute motion by Reeve to state the final vote during the meeting was unanimously approved.
The lawsuit, filed against the city and Blenheim Facility Management, alleged that the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at San Juan Capistrano was contributing to pollution in San Juan Creek. The city owns the riding park land and BFM is the park operator.
In addition to paying $2.9 million, the city and BFM have to meet a variety of other requirements, including obtaining required water quality permits, developing plans for riding park improvements and implementing an employee training program on how to comply with water quality laws.