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Riding Park preserves open space and equestrian heritage while hosting variety of events
By Councilman Sam Allevato
The City Council was asked by a local opinion paper to respond to a question relating to supporting access to “Open Space” properties in the town for youth sports and Western equestrian events. Because the editor only allowed a 100-word answer, I chose to answer in The Dispatch instead. But first, a little background.
The property in question is the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano, located at Ortega Highway and La Pata. It is comprised of 132 acres of open space, natural riparian preserve, fields for equestrian and various field sports use, and the Reata Park and Event Center, improved for our residents by the Open Space Foundation at no cost to the city. This property was previously owned by RMV Community Development, LLC and was planned for several hundred homes similar to what you see in the new Sendero community. The property was purchased in 2009 after it was annexed into the city limits. Appraised at $33 million by public appraisal, it was purchased with 2008 Open Space Bonds (Measure Y approved by over 70 percent of the electorate) for $27.5 million. As published at the time, Measure Y would protect our property values, preserve open space forever, prevent overdevelopment and traffic, retain the historic, rural and equestrian character of our city, and protect creeks that flow into the ocean. By any measure, the purchase of the 132 acres delivered on the promises of Measure Y.
The riding park is a multiuse, world-class sports facility, managed by Blenheim Facility Management, LLC. It hosts equestrian, various field sports and community events on approximately 50 acres. Blenheim Facility Management is solely responsible for all maintenance and staffing expenses. In addition, the city receives approximately $250,000 per year in revenue from the operation. There are 26 parks in our city and this is the only one that generates that kind of income. An economic study has been commissioned through Chapman University to help quantify the revenue the current use of this park brings to our city merchants.
The Riding Park was purchased to preserve open space and the equestrian heritage of our town. I feel that many are unaware of the multitude of activities that go on at the park such as soccer, lacrosse, interscholastic equestrian competitions (which include Western and English disciplines for kids from kindergarten to 12th grade), the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo, show jumping events and many free community events. Olympic Trials for both jumping and dressage were held at the park in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Suggestions for uses for the park are always welcome, as long as they come with a sustainable economic plan.
There has been discussion about limited access to this property. The 30-plus acre Reata Park and Event Center (part of the original 132-acre parcel) is open to the public daily for picnics, barbecues, dog walking, hiking and bike/equestrian riding—all in a beautiful California native-planted park that was donated to the citizens of San Juan Capistrano.
Isn’t our town with the proud title of “The Equestrian Capital of the West Coast” worthy of maintaining a riding park dedicated to preserving our equestrian heritage before every horse disappears from Orange County? Shouldn’t we be proud that, due to engineering fields for horses, we have some of the country’s safest soccer fields? Just as the much larger South Coast Farms preserves our agrarian heritage and is maintained by a private lessee, the riding park provides for equestrian activities and youth activities and may accommodate other activities in the future, provided we are all willing to work together.