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San Juan Capistrano City Hall

Steve Behmerwohld, San Juan Capistrano

Did you know that Item F8 on the agenda at the City Council meeting of May 5 was for a general plan amendment to allow “very high density” housing to be built for “very low income” residents less than a mile from the Mission? You may not have noticed because the council chose to approve the item without any public discussion at all. The item was buried in the meeting’s consent calendar, which Mayor Derek Reeve introduced as “items that are considered routine.” The hidden vote highlighted at least three broken promises made by the new council members during their fall campaigns. Throughout the campaign, and during the referendum efforts they led, Kerry Ferguson and Pam Patterson criticized incumbents for voting to amend the city’s general plan. During these attacks, they claimed the general plan was the constitution of our town and should be held sacred and not changed. What happened? Did our “small town character” change that fast?

At the previous council meeting, on April 21, the council majority voted against a general plan amendment to allow 240 homes at the Vermeulen Ranch site. Mayor Reeve and Councilman Sam Allevato voted in favor. The housing density at Laguna Glen was less than half the density that was approved in the initiation of the general plan amendment at the City Hall site, just two weeks later. The Laguna Glen project was previously approved, but that approval was subsequently overturned by referendum, without a vote of the people. When Laguna Glen moved its project to Rancho Mission Viejo (although the project still borders San Juan on two sides), the developer saved $15 million. The city of San Juan lost $20 million in fees for that project. By denying the general plan amendment for the residences, the City Council basically condemned the Vermeulen site. The city essentially told the developer that they had to leave this 29-acre parcel a “farm.” Over the years, the city has previously allowed nearly all of the surrounding properties to be changed from agriculture to residential. A 100-acre parcel might be feasible for a farm. A 500-acre parcel would be more realistic. A 29-acre farm is not viable.

By denying the general plant amendment and condemning the Vermeulen property, the council is inviting a slam-dunk lawsuit that will make the Scalzo lawsuit look like peanuts. By voting to initiate a general plan amendment at the city’s own property two weeks after denying a general plan amendment at the Laguna Glen site, the council majority has greatly contributed to the credibility of the lawsuit that will undoubtedly be filed by the Vermeulen/Laguna Glen people.

Consider: $20 million lost by overturning Laguna Glen + $40 million in the next lawsuit = bankruptcy.

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