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By Collin Breaux | Email: | Twitter: @collin_breaux

John Alpay and Howard Hart are the two candidates running for the District 5 seat on the San Juan Capistrano City Council. Ahead of the November ballot, we asked them questions about various topics of interest and are publishing their answers. More questions and answers will be published in an upcoming issue. Read the first part here.

What’s your perspective on homelessness and homeless people in San Juan?

John Alpay: Homelessness is a multifaceted issue that defies a simple and elegant solution.  When asked about homelessness, most people think about individuals with mental health issues who live on the streets. That does exist, and it is a real problem. To that end, the City must continue to partner with the County and other agencies that provide mental health and ancillary services.

However, in District 5, homelessness wears a slightly different face. Given our proximity to Doheny State Beach, with its availability of showers, toilets and septic disposal, it is not uncommon for the homeless to live in campers, dilapidated motor homes or simply their car.  When night comes and the beach closes, these people have traditionally parked in Capistrano Beach, but increasingly they are finding the streets in San Juan Capistrano a safer haven.

District 5 is residential, and motor homes on our streets or people sleeping in their cars is not ideal or necessarily safe. The City should designate a City parking lot in an industrial or commercial area as a designated safe zone for the homeless to park their vehicles at night where they can securely sleep. The lot would provide for adequate lighting and allow for proper security and regular cleaning. With the rise of the sun, these individuals can go about their affairs.   

This proactive approach has many other benefits, including potential avoidance of future litigation regarding homeless issues. The Federal courts have looked to South Orange County as a place in need of a county-operated homeless shelter. If the City can show that it has taken concrete actions within city limits to establish homeless-related facilities such as a night parking facility, it will be far less likely that the courts will seek to impose the placement of non-community-supported facilities within our boundaries.              

Howard Hart: In Boise v. Martin, the federal court system ruled that cities such as ours are not allowed to enforce anti-camping and other ordinances unless we provide emergency shelter services to the homeless population. While one can argue the merits of the ruling, it is the current law of the land.

People experience homelessness for a variety of reasons. Substance abuse, mental illness, and economic misfortune all contribute. As a community, our first priority ought to be to help those who want help. In this regard, I support current plans to build permanent supportive housing in conjunction with a new city hall on its current location.

However, that is not enough. Homelessness is a regional issue, and all solutions must, therefore, be regional solutions. In order to enforce our anti-camping ordinances, South Orange County communities must team up with the County government to make available access to emergency shelter services. This cooperative—and cost-sharing—approach is the only rational approach. Only then, after offering regional services to those who need and want them, can we truly address the homelessness issue.

With my extensive relationships throughout South Orange County and possessing a reputation for honesty and fair-dealing, I am the only candidate who can get this done.

What do you think about road pavement conditions in San Juan, and what can be done to fix streets?

John Alpay: Our roads are abysmal, and we all know it. The one current City road improvement project underway is in the Meredith Canyon, Viewpointe, Alta Capistrano and Connemara communities, and it is happening due in part to the advocacy of the Meredith Canyon Community Association, my local HOA. 

My colleagues on the HOA Board and I had the foresight to meet and discuss road conditions with key City personnel. We also worked cooperatively with the Santa Margarita Water District regarding possible repairs to existing water leaks under the roadway.   

Did we get everything we wanted in the road improvement project? Absolutely not, but we do have a tangible project underway to replace the existing roads, which were neglected since their construction in 1976. 

It is often possible to tell the health of a City’s budget by the conditions of its roads. San Juan Capistrano has room for improvement. 

Years of neglect and lack of proper preventative maintenance dictate that many of our roads must be entirely rebuilt. This fundamental lack of long-term vision has created our current plight, with no easy solution. 

The City is hampered by the fact that it has a long-term structural budget deficit that is presently masked by depleting existing reserves. In addition, the City’s own projections show a 28% decline in sales tax-related income directly attributable to COVID-19. Budgetary issues are just beginning.    

The next and perhaps only major road improvement we will see in San Juan Capistrano is the widening of Ortega Highway. This is a certainty for no other reason than the fact that this is a County project, as opposed to a City initiative.   

Following the success of Meredith Canyon, I propose in the near term to work cooperatively with County officials to pursue funding and advocate for the expedited widening of Ortega Highway.   

Howard Hart: If you believe that the quality of San Juan Capistrano’s roads could be improved, you aren’t alone. This past December, City Manager Ben Siegel stated that our city’s roads are in “fair” condition, based on a Pavement Condition Index score of 72.7. In other words, our pavement earned a C- grade. It is unacceptable to have C- roads in our A+ town!

Road conditions affect everything from car maintenance to how visitors view our city. What’s the use of improving Verdugo Street and revitalizing downtown if visitors have to travel over decrepit streets to get there?

We can do better, and we will do better. An overnight long-term fix does not exist. However, as we emerge from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to examine how we prioritize our General Fund expenditures. Improving our roads needs to be brought to the very top of that list.

However, the long-term solution is to increase the size of the General Fund. That means we need to continue aggressively pursuing revenue-generating retail businesses. I point to the construction of Ganahl Lumber as an example, for which I advocated, reviewed, and approved as a Planning Commissioner. It is anticipated that once Ganahl Lumber opens, they will generate nearly another half-million dollars in sales-tax revenue for the city. Only by bringing similar revenue-generating businesses to town will San Juan Capistrano residents get the roads we deserve!

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