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Mayor Kerry Ferguson. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Mayor Kerry Ferguson. Photo: Allison Jarrell

By Allison Jarrell

Each year we take the time to look back on the biggest stories of the year, so it’s only fitting that this month we look ahead at the year to come. The Dispatch sat down with San Juan Capistrano’s newly-appointed Mayor Kerry Ferguson to hear about projects coming up this year and issues she hopes to focus on in the coming months.

Three Themes

After Councilwoman Ferguson was appointed the new mayor on Dec. 12, she began her term by sharing her goals, which she said are centered around three main themes: “bring greater security and wellbeing” to all neighborhoods, “continue on the path of sensible development,” and help the town “prepare for the vast technological innovations.”

Security and Wellbeing in Neighborhoods

Ferguson said she plans to continue lobbying for streets in San Juan’s least-served neighborhoods to be repaired sooner, and will also look for ways to maximize the city’s code enforcement resources in order to deal with the impacts of overcrowding and short-term rentals in residential areas.

“I will also continue to look into the maintenance and management of some of our HOA’s to find ways to better serve their residents,” Ferguson said. “I began convening meetings of neighbors with staff to work on these problems, including neighborhood parking and safety, two years ago, and I will continue to work with this committee.”

Sensible Development

“We are mostly built out, and that makes it crucial for our remaining properties to be handled with the greatest of care,” Ferguson said.

Regarding the city’s redevelopment agency properties up for sale—the downtown playhouse property and the Lower Rosan Ranch—Ferguson had this to say:

“As we look at proposals for two of our redevelopment agency properties, we will look carefully at how each would enhance our city’s future, taking into account impacts on traffic, etc.

“I am in hopes that the downtown property that is for sale will eventually house a bonafide performing arts center that will showcase all the arts in order to offer opportunities for all, not just one,” Ferguson said, listing opportunities like hosting traveling theatre troops, operas, symphonies, ballets, mariachi performances or jazz concerts.

“A great performing arts center, even in a modest size, would be a great draw for our community, and it needs to be built as a centerpiece of our downtown core.”

Embracing Technological Advancements

Ferguson spoke extensively about her interest in switching city buildings over to solar power, pursuing urban farms that utilize vertical and hydroponic farming techniques, and encouraging more electric automobile powering stations, such as the hydrogen fuel cell power station at the 7-Eleven on Junipero Serra Road.

“We are swiftly moving into a new age of technology that our town needs to tap into and prepare for,” Ferguson said. “The LED streetlighting that both former Mayor Patterson and I proposed last year will be coming to our City Council for approval soon, and it will mean huge savings in electricity once installed.”

Projects in 2017

Downtown Hotels

Plans for the Inn at the Mission hotel were dropped last fall, but Ferguson said at the Council’s Dec. 12 meeting that she knows a four-star hotel will rise at the site. When asked why she made those comments and where that certainty comes from, Ferguson only said that she is “taking the lead in an effort to help with the few outstanding issues needing to be resolved in order for both hotels to move ahead.” Ferguson declined to elaborate on the effort or outstanding issues she referred to.

Meanwhile, the developers of the Hotel Capistrano by Kimpton recently announced their intention to open the 102-room, four-star boutique hotel in the summer of 2018. Ferguson commented at the last Council meeting that she feels adjustments should be made to the hotel’s restaurant building, and said in an interview that she’s in favor of “moving the restaurant portion of the Hotel Capistrano back far enough that the view between the Mission entrance and the unique dormer balcony of the Egan House can be preserved for posterity.

“This can be done,” she added, “without changing the design of the building or revoking any of its project entitlements.”

Landowner Steve Oedekerk said he is currently speaking with Ferguson regarding that matter, but said in an email that the “restaurant building currently has the largest setback of every one of [its] neighbors, and the Egan House is clearly visible from every conceivable angle on Camino Capistrano.”

Improving Transportation

Ferguson recently established a delegation—which includes herself, City Manager Ben Siegel, Councilwoman Pam Patterson and Commissioner Mark Speros—that she said will be meeting soon with the Orange County Transportation Authority regarding mobility for the immediate region.

“We will be discussing how to best widen the Ortega while requesting that a new east/west connector just north of the Ortega should be placed back on the Master Plan of Arterial Highways,” Ferguson said. “These improvements were the two most desired by the well-attended public forums put on by our South County Mobility Working Group this past fall.”

Ferguson said she’d be willing to revisit the Ortega Highway widening if aspects like the sound walls could be scaled down.

Ferguson also brought up the recent Transportation Corridor Agencies agreement that prevents toll roads from being constructed through San Onofre State Beach, the Donna O’Neill Land Conservancy and San Mateo Watershed.

“Councilwoman Kathy Ward and I were the only dissenting votes,” Ferguson said. “We knew as Council members that this would put undue pressure on our communities to accept this road somewhere in our midst. I will be making a closed session presentation [to the Council] on this as I’m a member of the South County Mobility Working Group.”

Ferguson also mentioned her continued efforts with the summer trolleys. She said an OCTA grant program allowed the city to secure two trolleys for this summer.

“There will be service every 20 minutes, and it will connect to Dana Point, which connects to Laguna Niguel and Laguna Beach,” Ferguson said. “This kind of regional system is what is going to be needed in the future in order to get our next generation to use cars less and public transportation opportunities more.”

On Leading as Mayor

When asked how she plans to maintain or improve communication with the public, Ferguson replied that she has “always responded to residents and met with them at their convenience,” adding that she makes an effort to reply to every person who writes to her.

We also asked Ferguson about how she plans to address the lack of decorum and civility that has been present at Council meetings over the years—how will she bring residents together?

She responded by calling out previous councilmen whom she feels opposed the new Council majority in 2014 at every turn, often with “rude and childish behavior.”

“In this last election, they lost again in both districts because, frankly, they aren’t representative of our residents,” Ferguson said. “They are a small, negative minority.”

Ferguson said she plans to utilize the skills she honed as a teacher to “maintain a respectful environment where all residents can be heard, not just a noisy few, and where no one is intimidated by the behavior of a rowdy minority.”

We also asked Ferguson if she is concerned about the perception voiced by many residents at Council meetings that she and other Council members are beholden to certain developers and show favoritism to projects. Ferguson replied that working with developers is always a part of the Council’s job.

“Every council has worked with developers,” Ferguson said. “What is important is to continue to ensure that rules are followed while doing all we can to encourage the best possible use of each parcel. Past Councils have often forgotten that. Each of us on this Council is committed to the task.”

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