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JONATHAN VOLZKE, San Juan Capistrano

In 2010, the City of San Juan Capistrano purchased 132 acres of Rancho Mission Viejo property, which included the 40-acre Blenheim Riding Park, in a behind-closed-doors deal that alienated many residents. History has shown that the $30 million deal has benefited the city with new permanent open space and a riding park that is a crown jewel in Capistrano’s equestrian lifestyle. But the opaque process planted seeds of mistrust in City Hall that blossomed into political weeds over the next eight years.

I fear we failed to learn from that experience: the city for months has negotiated with agencies interested in taking over Capistrano’s water service. Yet, none of the information has been shared with residents—who will live with, and pay for—this critical decision. The issue has not even gone before our Utilities Commission, comprised of residents tasked with being experts about our water system.

Councilmembers must represent residents, not City Hall, in this decision. While it’s easy to see any transaction as a “sale,” and demand the city be compensated for the assets of the water system, our leaders must remember the system does not belong to City Hall; it belongs to residents.

Through rates, residents have already bought and paid for the water infrastructure. Any transfer of the system will be to another public agency, which can only raise funds through water rates. Any money extracted from a new agency will ultimately be passed on to ratepayers, and Capistrano residents will again be paying for infrastructure they already own.

As our leaders make good on their promise to “get out of the water business,” they should recognize that only City Hall is getting out of the water business—but residents will forever be tied to the system as ratepayers. The decision is best framed that City Hall is merely the operator of the system, while the residents are the owners. Any transaction is changing the system operator, not the ownership.

Regardless of what agency is selected, two things are certain: our rates will go up as the new operator makes much-needed repairs, and Capistrano residents will have less voice as we become a small part of a larger agency. These negotiations are our last chance to be heard. The process needs to be inclusive and transparent. One thing we know: nothing will make the weeds of discontent sprout faster in Capistrano than water.

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About The Author Capo Dispatch

comments (4)

  • Well said Jonathan. Mayor Maryott spoke about this at Coffee Chat on Friday. After he spoke, I asked him about, what I had heard, was a lack of input to Council from the Utilities Commission. He said something like, “Council had received lots of input from the Utilities Commission”. After Coffee Chat was over, I asked Ray Miller and Jack Hunt, Utilities Commission Chair and Commissioner, how much input they had given to Council. Their response was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “SQUAT”. Next week’s Council agenda isn’t out yet, but according to the latest City Manager’s Weekly Update, “On February 5, the City Council will consider an important step in the potential reorganization of the City’s water and wastewater utility system”. Also in the Update, “A decision to select one of these agencies for exclusive negotiations may occur on February 5 or at a future City Council meeting”. Ray and Jack are about as knowledgable about our water utility as anyone I know. I hope that before Tuesday’s Council meeting, these very knowledgable and experienced Commissioners are allowed to advise the whole Council, before the Council makes one of the most important decisions in our town’s history.

  • Just more evidence of how incompetent our current Mayor and City Council are when it comes to serving the people. Jonathan is correct, the taxpayers, are the owners and given the current situation with water, the last thing we want is to give control of the system to someone else. The mismanagement of our water by current and past City Councils is beyond comprehension.

    There is a push to build a desalination plant in Dana Point, that will allegedly produce about 15 million gallons of fresh water daily. Yet, we are dumping some 11.3 million gallons of recycled water into the ocean daily through the Dana Point outfall. We seem unconcerned that levels of groundwater — the ultimate drought reserve — are at historical lows and dropping as a result of heavy well pumping in recent years, coupled with increasing population demands.

    The San Juan Basin aquifer has been emptied to the point that we are apparently seeing saltwater incursion into the basin because of inadequate rain to maintain levels. Why are we not pumping the recycled water into the basin to prevent saltwater incursion and rebuilt our water supply? Then we could put our Ground Water Processing Plant to work reprocessing the water for our use after we have allowed the supply to rebuild.

    We can not survive without water, and as water resources become more scarce, the cost will escalate. Do we really want someone else managing our water? Do we really want to privatize our water supply? Privatization has never worked. Ask the people of Bolivia what happened when they were forced to privatize their nations water supply. Or ask the people of Stockton, California about their experience. The side effects included waste overflow, surface water pollution, and decreasing water quality.

    If the City Council persists in doing everything behind closed doors, without public oversight, then they should be recalled.

    We are a small community, a community that has to import the bulk of its water.

  • Does anyone besides me see the conflict of interest in having the City Council still responsible for approving new building projects that will need water, and the obvious lack of responsibility in trying to turn over water management to some other agency? In order to build new homes, or business’s there must be water to service them. The City Council cannot be allowed to discard this vital function of a city government.

  • Don’t worry about the water,you can always ask our President Donald Trump to make it Rain again.Once the recycled water reservoir is built out on the south west Rancho Mission viejo build out,everything will be fine.We need to keep building more homes,and commercial outlets.
    The Ranch build out is all Brand new shopping,schools,bike trails,and we are very lucky to enjoy all of this.

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