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By Jerry Nieblas, president, and Janice Pickartz, vice president/secretary, Capistrano Historical Alliance Committee

The Capistrano Historical Alliance Committee is announcing their position on the proposed “Shops at Capistrano.”

Also, while the Planning Commission has already approved the $43 million hotel and townhome project, the committee is extremely disappointed by their decision.

We, as the board of directors, must call attention to the lack of focus on the historical impact the Shops will have on this town.

Most of us know that the Mission was the first establishment in what was to become San Juan Capistrano. At 17 years old, Jerry Nieblas said the Mission was the “birthplace of Orange County,” giving it this title. From the beginnings of the Great Stone Church in 1796 to now, those walls are and always have been a place of living history, thriving culture and prayerful worship.

Historical families were raised to serve and protect the Mission, treating it as their second home. The grandeur of this most sacred ruin was such that it was once the tallest building in San Juan Capistrano. From any vantage point—driving, walking or on horseback—it is a special place of spiritual and historical significance that welcomed visitors to town. Back then or today, if you can see those walls, you are in the very heart and soul of San Juan Capistrano.

The land where the Shops are planned is sacred and rich with history that will become extinct if it’s not handled with care. That land certainly deserves better than to be cheapened and violated by what some are calling a “strip mall.”

Ask a visitor why they are here, and 80 percent of the time, their response is to “step back in time” and experience our history. Whatever their faith, they have come to see the Mission. History is first, shopping is secondary.

We ask our community leaders, historians, activists and residents to take a good hard look around town. How many commercial vacancies can you count? Adding more retail space makes no sense.

Someone in favor of the Shops used to support the history when it was needed for their benefit. Now they’re pro-development at any cost. The Shops are another tragic example of our history getting buried underneath the almighty dollar. And let’s not forget the developers who pick and choose whenever history gets in their way how to make it disappear. The end result will be irreparably damaging and changing not only the Mission and San Juan Capistrano but Orange County as well because the story started here.

It is an honor and a privilege to live in San Juan Capistrano. It is a matter of the heart. The Capistrano Historical Alliance Committee will always take a stand to protect all the local history of San Juan Capistrano. Don’t just look at the almighty dollar. Really look at San Juan Capistrano. Incorporate development to always complement our history so we can “preserve the past to enhance the future.”

The Mission will outlive and survive all of us. Over 200 years later, it still stands tall and proud because of all the contributions of many, especially the historical families. Protecting the history is expected, anything less is unacceptable. The Mission should live on not surrounded by retail shops and strip malls but clearly visible, forever representing our community and the heart of San Juan Capistrano.

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