By Collin Breaux

John Alpay and Howard Hart are the two candidates running for the District 5 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 upcoming issues.

What’s your perspective on business and housing development in San Juan Capistrano, and concerns from some residents that some development may be too much or doesn’t fit the town’s current vibe?

John Alpay: Looking at recent actions taken by the City Council as well as its future agenda items, I believe there is merit to these concerns. 

The City Council recently approved placing 169 residential units on 35 acres off Del Obispo with no concern for the projected increase of traffic. Traffic is already a major issue, and adding additional car trips without any form of mitigation is not the answer.   

Coming up soon is the proposed development off Camino Las Ramblas, which is an intended project seeking to convert an unused seven-acre lot to a new residential community consisting of 67 high-density, three-story residential units.  These new homes would potentially block ocean views from existing District 5 properties and at the same time create a traffic bottleneck on a high-volume road.   

There is no question that we need to build additional housing units, and the State is imposing new burdens on local municipalities making the task more difficult. But this should not be an excuse to systematically alter the City’s essence. The City needs to remain true to itself, approving projects that exist in harmony with the local environment and with adequate traffic mitigation measures. 

If the Camino Las Ramblas project is approved as currently proposed, we will further pervert the General Plan and common vision of our community.  District 5 residents will be left with a significant increase in traffic, as well as an eyesore that is not in harmony with the surrounding neighborhoods.   

What we need is a leader committed to maintaining the essential elements of our small community so that collectively we may perpetuate for future generations the essence that is San Juan Capistrano.              

Howard Hart: Our neighbors’ concerns about development are understandable. Relative to the San Juan Capistrano of my youth, our city has expanded quite a bit. And to preserve the charm of our city, it is important that we be judicious with any new development, and we must protect our open spaces and ridgelines. I commit to doing that. Just recently, as a Planning Commissioner, I just approved a zoning change that, with the addition of the Putuidem Village, preserves the Northwest Open Space in its current state.

I cannot envision vacant downtown lots being compatible with a vibrant and beautiful San Juan. In that regard, I am proud to say that I support the River Street Marketplace development. Moreover, as Chairman of our Planning Commission, I reviewed and approved the plans for the Verdugo Street beautification project. This project has transformed that avenue into the heart of our town.

Recently, we have seen some housing development approved. In the case of the Vermeulen property, this followed years of acrimony, referendums and threatened litigation. I grew up driving past those empty fields off Del Obispo, and I would have loved to see that property remain undeveloped in perpetuity; however, that was not a legally defensible position. In the end, the city ultimately honored the owner’s property rights. We should not blindly accept a stance of never building anything, but rather give each case careful consideration, lest we promote shortsighted and unconstitutional policies that put our city in a legal bind at taxpayer expense. Going forward, we need to pursue constructive and judicious policies that balance private property rights with finding the best possible solution for our town. As someone dedicated to our community and well-versed in the city planning process, I am the natural choice for that. 

If elected, how will you help with the economic challenges the town faces during the pandemic?

John Alpay: If elected, I will continue with the leadership that I have provided as Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. 

The Chamber of Commerce is viewed by many local officials as the City’s Economic Development Department. It is in that spirit the Chamber acted swiftly in response to COVID-19.  We affirmatively reached out to local businesses and helped them access government programs, including:

  • Paycheck Protection Program
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans
  • Main Street Lending Program
  • Orange County Small Business Grant Program
  • San Juan Capistrano CARES Grant Program 

When major banks were slow to approve loans, we worked with a local institution to secure SBA authorization to allow them to issue emergency loans. 

When a local business was in a cash crunch, the Chamber sought to negotiate a tax deferral agreement. 

In part because of these efforts, multiple businesses have kept their doors open and their workers on payroll.  

But our job is not done.  Under my leadership, the Chamber has built a financial reserve that can be used to affirmatively protect and support San Juan Capistrano’s vital economic interests. 

We have notified members of the Equestrian Coalition and City personnel that the Chamber has partnered with a prominent local law firm that it can use to intervene in any future non-meritorious environmental litigation filed against the local equestrian community.  It is often forgotten how critical the equestrian community is to the economic vitality of the community, and they need our support.    

It is essential that we protect local business interests.  This is the kind of bold leadership I seek to provide.   

Howard Hart: Our City Council and the OC Board of Supervisors have done a tremendous job in helping our small businesses and restaurants weather the storm. By encouraging outdoor dining and relaxing commercial sign restriction enforcement, the City Council and staff have shown themselves to be deeply committed to helping our small businesses. In fact, the outdoor dining has proven so popular that we should continue to encourage more sidewalk dining, where appropriate. 

The OC Board of Supervisors has helped through the disbursement of relief funds. And let’s not forget the local community. As a proud Rotarian, I volunteered to provide personal protective equipment to numerous San Juan Capistrano shops and restaurants, supporting their safe reopenings. And as is so often the case, individual San Juanians came to the rescue by consciously making the decision to order takeout meals as a means of saving our favorite restaurants.

It now appears that we are beginning to emerge from the worst of the pandemic. Some local businesses will not reopen, but most will. Assuming this to be the case, it is time for the government to step back and allow free enterprise to take over. Government intervention is not always the solution, especially when it comes to spurring local growth.

That does not mean that government has no role. Our city government must foster conditions for prosperity by pursuing business-friendly policies that reduce red tape and unnecessary regulations. As we do so, San Juan Capistrano will earn the reputation as a business-friendly town, and prospective entrepreneurs will take notice. I have confidence that as San Juan Capistrano emerges from the pandemic, our most prosperous days are ahead of us.

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