The Vermeulen’s on their family farm in the early 1950s. Virginia Vermeulen Germann is the child pictured second from the right with her father, Charles, standing behind her. Photo: Courtesy of Virginia Vermeulen Germann
The Vermeulen’s on their family farm in the early 1950s. Virginia Vermeulen Germann is the child pictured second from the right with her father, Charles, standing behind her. Photo: Courtesy of Virginia Vermeulen Germann

By Virginia Vermeulen Germann, San Juan Capistrano

Our family has been part of San Juan Capistrano since we began farming our property on Del Obispo Street in 1959, over 55 years ago. I was a young girl at the time. We operated our farm for decades until the economics of small-scale farming became financially impossible.

Contrary to some of the misinformation published last fall, the city has not always planned for our property to be used for agriculture. The property was formally designated by the city for construction of a neighborhood of homes—like those now built all around it. However, a previous City Council revoked our residential rights in exchange for a promise to compensate our family for the loss in value. Despite the best of intentions, that compensation never came.  Several times over the past decades, the city has raised public funds to purchase development rights and preserve open space on otherwise developable lands. Each time the city possessed the funds, its officials and unelected appointees postponed their commitment to our family and opted to buy other properties—both in and outside the city limits.

It was not until after the city used public funds to purchase Reata Park in 2009 that we pursued restoring our property’s value through a development project. We selected a partner known throughout the state for its operation of high quality, low impact senior communities—where we hoped to retire with our friends and neighbors. We followed every application requirement and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city to pay for its study of every aspect of the proposal. The project was approved only after city staff concluded (after over a year’s worth of study) that the impacts of the project would be far less than those of the uses built around it.

After the approval of the project, a new City Council majority was elected. As one of its first actions, the council stripped our property of its new approvals, blocking the public vote they promised during their campaign. We do not fault the members of the new council for not understanding decades of city history and commitments related to our property. Several of them are new to city management or new to our town. However, their refusal to even meet with us to discuss alternatives has forced our family to turn to the courts for help.

It saddens us that for the first time in our family’s history, we are required to take legal action against the town we love. It is not our objective to damage the city’s finances but simply to require the city to keep its commitment to either allow us to use our property, as they have our neighbors, or compensate us for the rights they have taken.

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comments (4)

  • Clint Worthington Reply

    If each time City officials postponed the commitment to purchase the property, then who were the City officials that made the commitment to purchase the property ?

  • Clint. Maybe you missed the entire point of this letter. Your friends in council think they can get away with ruining families lives. I’m pretty sure if you combine the years of residency of City Councilman Perry, Ferguson and Patterson it would not equal the 55 years the Vermeulen family has owned their land.

    This post has been edited for content.

    • Clint Worthington Reply

      Don Harry, I hope you can understand that length of residency in a town is not a determining factor in making a General Plan Amendment. Keep in mind, twice the amount of people needed (3,451 signatures) signed the referendum in less than 19 days, without any advertising, or even a website.

      The people of our town have spoken loudly and clearly that they did not want this project in our town.

      The City Council decision was made on the referendum before them, which they were required by law to do. With so many people who actually live in our town who were against this project, it is very difficult to ramp up public sentiment for the lawsuit.

      It is my understanding that the residents of Sendero are looking to block the Reata Glen project.

  • I am at sendero almost everyday,,,and that project is ugly and will ruin the main entrance to the 987 homes in that neighborhood.I agree with clint on this one..and btw our family the daneri italian farmers ,,across the street from vermeulen’s property,,,was establish as a walnut grove in 1887 my friend .. and years living here to not matter…lets have some peace here,stop these lawsuits please.

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