The Capistrano Dispatch
As part of The Capistrano Dispatch’s ongoing coverage of the San Juan Capistrano City Council election, we asked each of the eight candidates—two in District 1 and six in District 5—five questions about local issues. In the editions of The Dispatch leading up to the Nov. 8 election, we will publish their answers in the order their names will appear on the ballot.
In our last issue, we asked the candidates about their vision for development in San Juan Capistrano. This week, we asked:
Transportation issues such as congested roadways and lack of parking are increasingly on the minds of residents in San Juan Capistrano. What course of action do you feel the city needs to pursue to improve traffic flow? What steps would you take to create more parking downtown?
Sergio Farias, Small Business Owner
To address traffic concerns, Farias said he’s in favor of removing the Ortega Highway choke point, “not only for traffic, but for the safety of our residents and students.” He also thinks the city needs to encourage the 241 Toll Road extension. Farias said that even though the “ghost train” is a difficult issue to address, it should not be forgotten about, as it lowers the quality of life for residents.
“It’s federally regulated, so there’s not much you can do there,” Farias said. “The technology is there to improve it, but because of red tape, it’s going to be an issue for a long time.”
Farias said parking is, by far, the biggest issue in District 1. He said much of the issue has to do with overcrowding and lack of workforce housing, which “holds back our economy.” Farias said solutions to the city’s parking woes should include partnering with private property owners to help create more parking, while also enforcing the current parking regulations.
“We need more code enforcement officers,” Farias said. “Law enforcement is saying that this is not a priority for them, so if we get more code enforcement, we’ll be able to enforce the current rules in the books.”
Nathan Banda, Businessman/City of San Juan Capistrano Commissioner
Banda said the widening of Ortega Highway needs to be revisited. He drives his high school freshman to San Juan Hills every morning along that stretch, and is concerned that the needs of the city’s young families are not being addressed. Banda said he thinks some people “get too hung up” on not widening it because of Rancho Mission Viejo, rather than finding a compromise.
“We need to think bigger than that. Our town is divided—people are sticking their heels in the ground and not looking out for what’s best in the community,” Banda said. “I’d bring consensus; I’m able to work with everybody.”
Banda said much of the funding for increased parking downtown will likely come from new development, which is why, he noted, “it’s really important to get these hotels pushed through.” Banda listed potential solutions such as “creating a private-public opportunity for parking,” which could be another parking garage, or consulting with the business community to see if the city should move to metering. Banda said currently some businesses are having issues with people parking there all day long.
“If we designated some areas for long-term parking, we might have more available parking for downtown business patrons,” Banda said.
Larry Kramer, Retired Submarine Captain
If elected, Kramer said his first goal would be to bring the widening of Ortega Highway back before the Council and “to get it done.”
“Ortega Highway is a no-brainer to me—that 0.9-mile choke point needs to be widened,” he said.
Kramer said it’s important for the city to listen to people and take the lead on design so that staff can work closely with Caltrans to keep it “looking as rural as possible” with stepped walls and a sidewalk.
Kramer mentioned other traffic alleviation projects on the books, including adding two more lanes under Interstate 5 on San Juan Creek Road and the widening of Del Obispo. He thinks the “ghost train” can be solved, but the solution “is not simple.”
“I think if we can improve our relationship with OCTA and other outside agencies, we’d have a better chance of solving it,” Kramer said.
As for parking, Kramer said he doesn’t know exactly where a new structure should go, but the mostly likely spot “seems to be where the playhouse is,” which he noted is in the downtown master plan. Kramer doesn’t see the need for meters right now, but said if a new structure is built the city may have to implement metering to pay it off.
Jim Schneider, Professional Geologist/Professor
Regarding the widening of Ortega Highway, Schneider said he’d like to understand the issue more, as he’s heard people say the road in its current state is a “safety issue.” He said the City Council “must have had a compelling reason to not widen it.”
“I’m not opposed to widening Ortega, but we’re going to have to use eminent domain, take some of the residents’ land, build 30-foot retaining walls and get rid of a bunch of trees,” Schneider said. “That should be a last resort, but it’s probably inevitably going to happen.”
Schneider said the city “wouldn’t have a parking issue if we could revisit the master plan.” He wants to see the entire downtown revitalized in the future by transforming Camino Capistrano into a greenbelt, with added parking structures behind and a back alley for residents and commercial trucks to get in and out. Schneider said retail with livable space above would line the street and the area would become more walkable and bike-able for residents and visitors.
“A greenbelt is unique, and something I would like to go to,” Schneider said. “The Mission is a big draw, but comparing ourselves to other cities, I think we need a bigger draw.”
Robert Parks, Retired Disposal Manager (DROPPED OUT OF RACE)
Parks said he finds it “ridiculous that we have to pay back the money” for the Ortega Highway widening because “three people on the City Council stopped that project.”
“We have a choke point that needs to be widened. Those three people on City Council need to be held accountable for what they’re doing,” Parks said. “I’m going to bring the widening of Ortega Highway back up so we can get it finished. We can still get it done if we sit there and renegotiate everything.”
In response to a claim that some officials have made, Parks said that San Juan Creek Road connecting to a new road and relieving congestion “is never going to happen.”
Parks said he looks forward to the new hotels helping “a little bit” with parking. He thinks parking meters “would cause more problems than they’re worth.”
“We have a big problem. We have to sit down and say, ‘Hey, there’s no place to put more downtown parking; we’re limited to where we can park,’” Parks said.
Mechelle Lawrence Adams, Director, Historic Mission
Lawrence Adams said she’s in favor of revisiting Ortega Highway in order to improve safety, while also working on project elements such as the height of the retaining walls and the inclusion of mature trees.
“I don’t think an absolute ‘no’ is a responsible decision,” she said of the widening. “It should be ‘yes’ with conditions, which have to reflect some of the specific needs of our residents.”
Lawrence Adams said she wants to see the city utilize its institutional knowledge and staff to create some “short-term pilot parking programs,” such as a community valet program, which could “lead to long-term infrastructure solutions.” She sees parking shortages mainly from Thursday evening to Sunday, and said the city needs to “understand the peak period” and start by freeing up parking that is currently being used by employees, in addition to looking for public-private partnerships. Lawrence Adams added that the focus downtown should be on business retention and not adding more “event uses.”
“The Mission funded [a valet program] last year, and we were able to get 30 percent more parking during peak period,” Lawrence Adams said. “I’m cautious about spending taxpayer dollars on quick, knee-jerk solutions or Band-Aids. Longer-term solutions involve parking decks and parking structures, no doubt, but they’re not the first answer.”
Ronda Mottl, Media Executive
Mottl said she was “initially for the widening of Ortega Highway” but recently changed her position on the widening after speaking with more people. She said her “number one priority is safety” and “something has to be done,” but she prefers options such as adding turn lanes or lowering the speed limit. Mottl said with 14,000 homes going into The Ranch, “eventually something will need to be addressed, but why do it twice?”
Mottl also noted that the city needs to work with OCTA to address the ghost train because it causes “needless backups.”
As for parking solutions, Mottl points to other cities like Laguna Beach, where people pay for parking. She said that if San Juan implemented a similar model, the revenue would “help cover added infrastructure that we need for parking.”
Mottl said she doesn’t know exactly where additional parking should be and would need to look at the zoning requirements. She believes the city should be getting revenue from parking.
Brian Maryott, Financial Services Executive
Maryott said he doesn’t support the “current situation with Ortega Highway,” including “some of the arrogance and assumptions that were made” regarding the widening project.
“We have four lanes at both ends closing down to two, and it is not a natural traffic situation,” Maryott said. “I don’t think we have a safe situation there now.”
Maryott said he supports being a “partner in the process, rather than trying to wait it out to prove a point, and then have it done without our partnership,” which he thinks would ultimately occur.
In general Maryott, said he doesn’t think the city has a “terrible traffic issue now.”
“I think we have an events issue and maybe a bit of a weekend issue,” he said, adding that he thinks the broader issue in San Juan is “heavy traffic at strange times.”
Maryott said he’s “torn” on the “ghost train” issue, because it’s his understanding that it can’t be fixed without going underground or moving the stop, which he feels “adds a certain charm to the city.”
Maryott said parking has become more of an issue recently with the “collective renewed enthusiasm for downtown development and redevelopment.” He recommends the city embark on a “collaborative and inclusive” effort to construct a new parking structure downtown.