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Kerry Ferguson
Kerry Ferguson

By Mayor Pro Tem Kerry Ferguson

For those who might think the city is selling the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano or discontinuing the fine activities that already go on there, think again. I am the City Council’s liaison to the equestrian community, and I recently had a chance to talk with Melissa Brandes of Blenheim EquiSports and Mechelle Lawrence Adams, executive director of Mission San Juan Capistrano and founder of the Heritage Tourism Association, about promoting greater use of the riding park by San Juan Capistrano residents.

To further the dialogue, I called a kick-off meeting in late November to generate ideas for enhancing public access that are consistent with the current program, which includes the fine jumping and dressage competitions that have made our Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park one of the finest venues in the country and more than once the site of Olympic trials in both sports. The discussion was lively and positive and harnessed ideas from Commissioner Robert Parks of the Parks, Recreation, Senior and Youth Services Commission, Commissioner Jill Hannah of the Trails and Equestrian Commission, Melissa Brandes, Olympic equestrian coach Robert Ridland, city staff and myself.

A later meeting with John Berney and Julie Ryan-Johnson, both of the San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition, also was fruitful.

While the riding park management agreement has a lot of restrictions, it reveals a lot of permitted uses for the public in addition to sporting and equestrian events, including pageants, fairs, carnivals, growing dry-farmed crops and farmers’ markets.

Here are some of the suggestions that have been put forth so far:

  • Expanding the public picnic area to include bocce ball, volleyball and playground equipment
  • The city assuming responsibility for scheduling sports groups such as soccer and lacrosse, with priority given to San Juan Capistrano-based teams
  • Blenheim EquiSports conducting an open house event at the facility to welcome the public and show them the amenities and opportunities for public access
  • More Western-style riding events
  • A day to “Test Drive a Quarter Horse,” so that our youth who haven’t had an opportunity to ride horseback can try it out
  • A “Ride for the Homefront” to benefit our military
  • A “Western Movies Under the Stars” series
  • A “Classical Champagne Picnic Concert”

As you can see, there is a wide range of ideas, and everyone in attendance felt like they had barely scratched the surface. If you haven’t visited the riding park lately, I suggest you do. It is open to the public, and it is a beautiful place for a picnic. The idea is to develop the most efficient and best use of this grand space so that the greatest number of San Juan Capistrano residents can enjoy it.

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comments (15)

  • Thank you for writing this. The Riding Park is a beautiful place for San Juan residents to spend their time. It’s the best-kept secret in town!

    • Residents can only spend less than ten days a year at our public park. What kind of horrible deal is that ? The City needs to not renew this lease when it is up and let the residents use this public park when they need to.

      Not even Bernie Madoff would have made a deal like this. It is a horrible, horrible investment of 30 million tax dollars. Sell the property and buy something that is worthwhile. If this property is so good and a riding park is such a great investment, there should be no problem finding a buyer for our public park.

      The residents spent 30 million dollars to use a public park ten days a year. What a horrible investment. The residents were sold down the river.

  • I am so glad I read this,I was worried that it was going to be sold om goodness that would be terrible.I go to all the horse events there,my friends are from all over the united states,i get to talk,and its so nice to have this land in my Beautiful home town San juan capistrano.To see the smiles ,good food,Some of the best jumper horses in the nation,right here every year in our city.I worked on this land when it was a corn field,and to see all of this is wow,,I have some great ideas too.thanks Kerry Ferguson also for writing this.

  • Clint,
    Investing in open space sometimes seems “horrible” and a waste of money in the short term but in the long run it pays off. Opens space is worthwhile. Walk the trails in San Juan Capistrano and find out. Walk the trail “Arizona Crossing” Sandi Weaver suggested. Would you have rather there be more houses on that corner? This saves this land from being over developed. If you want to play flag football or baseball in SJC no one is stopping you. Go to ACU, Sports Park, Marco, Mission Bell, etc. We have used them all for impromptu games of soccer, football, ultimate Frisbee, tag, capture the flag, etc.. All you have to do is have the initiative. The riding park brings in revenue to the local businesses and the taxpayers. Is that a bad investment for the taxpayers?

    • It is when forty percent of the property is already deemed open space due to conservation easements in the deed restrictions which prohibit developing the property. Can you imagine purchasing property to preserve open space when it is already open space and cannot be developed ? Shelly, you might want to complete your research some more.

      • Clint,
        And 60 percent was not deemed open space. So would you have preferred that this land be houses? So what do you want the city to do? Break the rules and default on the property? Break the lease? Give it back? Sell it? What? Or just be angry. And trails are considered to be part of parks. Have you ever hiked before?

    • The property was already forty percent open space due to conservation easements and could not be developed. What a buy ! Purchasing a property when it is already open space to preserve open space that could not be developed ! You might want to do your research Shelly.

      • Clint,
        I asked what you want the city to do now. Sell it, default on it by breaking the rules, what? The deal was already made whether it was wrong or right. Whether you agree with it or not do you want to sell it now. Who would buy it? You can complain all you want but what is your plan? It is 100% designated open space now.

  • Keeping open space is great, but it was already open space before the CC (at the time) drew up a purchase contract to buy this land for open space. The contract was created behind closed doors. Residents of SJC were not polled or given a vote on this land contract to purchase unusable open space (for residents) in SJC. The horse people are given the use of the land, but the residents may use it only 10 days a year with extensive limitations. The 8 suggestions noted for possible use of the parcel seem pointless when the purchase contract restricts access to the park to only ten days a year for the residents of SJC. To recap: The land for the park was included in the city’s $27.5 million purchase of the 132-acre Riding Park. And, The city will pay for the ongoing maintenance of the park, predicted by City Hall employees to cost up to $300,000 each year. Most of the cost will be covered by the Riding Park’s contract with Blenheim Facility Management, which pays City Hall $225,000 each year. Again, the CC purchased this land behind closed doors. The populace of San Juan Capistrano got screwed. Blenheim puts on equestrian events for the horse people, but this is private enterprise. Blenheim makes money. It does not benefit San Juan Capistrano coffers or the residents.

  • Rose Stone – please check your facts. For the details on the land use restrictions on the Riding Park, please see the documents attached to the agenda of the December 21st, City Parks and Recreation Committee Meeting. You can also listen to an excellent summary of the agreements and conditions here There is much misinformation being spread. The best way to reach decisions is with accurate, non-biased facts. For the record, the Riding Park is open to the public on a daily basis.

  • Rose Stone – Please check your facts. Most importantly, the Riding Park is open to SJC residents at no charge, every day – there are use limitations but they in no way preclude the use by San Juan Capistrano residents. Under Workshop for Riding Park you can read the original documents related to the RMV Riding Park here under Agendas, Parks and Recreation Committee, December 21, 2015

    • Lori Savit, the riding park is leased to a private entity. It is not open to the public at any time. If it was open to the public at anytime, the City would not have a sign at the entrance to our City Park that it is leased to a private entity. After attending the meeting, and reading the agenda, can you please point me to the section where the City Attorney states that “the Riding Park is open to the public on a daily basis”?

  • Rose Stone–Before San Juan bought the Riding Park, there was a housing development planned there for people 55 years and older. It was designed with cul-de-sacs. I went several times and looked at the site plans. The city of San Juan had no say over whether these homes would be built or not because the land was not in the city’s boundaries.
    And, yes, the Riding Park is open every day for you to enjoy. My friend and I walk her dog. We ride our horses there. It is a beautiful place for San Juan residents to spend their time.

  • Sandie Weaver, the housing development was not built because of the numerous conservation easements that are in the deed restrictions. The developer found the conservation easements in the deed restrictions to onerous to build the development. Anyone can make plans to build a development. However, getting all of the necessary approvals to comply with the numerous conservation easements, getting approvals to build over the easement of the high pressure jet fuel line that runs through the property (keep in mind this same exact high pressure fuel line previously ruptured in Tustin spilling 500,000 gallons of fuel and sending a Orange County Fire dozer operator into early retirement as a result of lung problems from the inhalation of the fumes), the two water well issues and water rights to the property ( currently, the City is involved in a lawsuit regarding water rights regarding a well on the former Blenheim property brought by the new owner of the property). The list goes on and on. If the property could have been developed it would have been, but it could not.

    As for the City limit boundaries, you are not correct. As the property was in County territory at the time, the City has a “sphere of influence” that extends past the city limits. The property does not necessarily have to be in the City limits for the city to exert its sphere of influence.

    • Clint, There are also restrictions in the documents of sale that prohibit the City from attempting to extend their “sphere of influence” into any RMV/DMB land. Additionally, if the City violates any of the conditions (County restrictions and RMV requirements) the land reverts to RMV. There are also restrictions on the number of cars that can be allowed to enter the property, no cell phone towers, limits on water management, and so on. If the City tries to find a buyer, ALL conditions currently on the property “run with the land” meaning any subsequent owner must also adhere to all restrictions of property use. The land is full of identified endangered flora, animals and has an active water way running through it. It could be classified as “mitigation land”; i.e. land that is heavily protected in order for the land owner to get development rights for other parcels. The lease to Blenheim is for 50 years and it also runs with the land. The City is prohibited from any participation in the profits from the Rodeo, all of that goes to RMV charities, so it’s probably NOT going to cover any of the City’s maintainence costs.

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