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Ann Ronan, San Juan Capistrano
At the Dec. 15, 2015, City Council meeting, city staff recommended that we finally, after 10 years, move forward with widening the 0.9-mile choke point of the Ortega Highway, utilizing county funds that were committed to our city and expire Nov. 5, 2016. The goals were to increase safety, reduce flooding and reduce traffic congestion.
The council voted 3-2 to move forward on Dec. 15 and then changed its mind. Councilwoman Kerry Ferguson proposed to reconsider the vote to give the council more time to feel comfortable with making a decision and so as not to feel pressured by grant deadlines. At the Jan. 5 meeting, they voted not to move forward with the widening.
They disregarded residents who spoke rationally about how dangerous it is for them to leave their streets. They disregarded the flooding issue, first responder delays and 10 years of staff, commission and city councils’ studies. They said no thanks to more than $1 million already allocated to our city in grant funds and up to $16 million more—these funds will now go to other cities that truly care about their residents’ safety. I believe the council majority allowed a few residents, hanging on to their efforts to spite “The Ranch,” to negatively impact their good judgement about what is best for all us.
Current Planning Commissioner Lennie DeCaro, who has passionately fought against the widening project since the beginning, stated in the OC Register on Jan. 17, 2008, “If they (the Ranch) want to use the Ortega Highway as a driveway to other communities (proposed Rancho Mission Viejo communities), I will fight it the entire way.” In the Register on Feb. 12, 2008, DeCaro stated, “I think Ortega Highway is a linchpin for the development (of Rancho Mission Viejo).” “We can’t widen it because it will just encourage growth.”
Councilwoman Ferguson’s final comments on Jan. 5 included, “I still think this is a problem brought on by the Ranch, and it would be great if they would make their own solution through their own property.” (According to the city engineer, the topology (hilly) probably isn’t feasible—the area is also a nature preserve). Ferguson then made reference to a petition signed by Hunt Club residents, which has been resolved with the settlement—“285 people in Lennie’s (DeCaro) community do not want this.”
Councilman John Perry’s final comments about the matter were, “Some residents have the perspective that we’re going to have to kneel down and accommodate all the development happening out of San Juan. It’s a bulge. I won’t call it a choke point … I would remove the bulge; but, the sound walls and retaining walls are a non-starter for me. Let’s ruin a scenic road to increase traffic.”
Sound walls are required by law. Next time you’re stuck in traffic there or nearly in an accident, remember you are in a “bulge” not a “choke point.”
There has been plenty of time to get educated about this project. The council majority berated staff for not getting them information in enough time to meet grant deadlines. Grant funding announcements are almost always finalized four to eight weeks before applications are due. It takes a concerted effort by experienced staff to create a competitive application in that short time. Effective City Council members need to get up to speed quickly on issues while managing time-bound pressures. If they aren’t committed to spending the time to do so, or don’t have the capacity to do so, they shouldn’t be representing any of us. If you can’t attend council meetings, I urge you to watch the videos of meetings posted on the city’s website, www.sanjuancapistrano.org.