By Collin Breaux
When San Juan Capistrano Mayor Derek Reeve decided not to run for re-election this year, the first people he told were city staff.
They asked why, considering everything in town was going so well. He responded that that was exactly why he was stepping away.
Reeve has decided to leave the City Council after 12 years, because he feels San Juan is in a good place and he has accomplished his goal of making the city a better place. His last meeting as a councilmember will be on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
During a phone interview with The Capistrano Dispatch on Monday, Dec. 5, Reeve said he was “at peace” with his decision.
However, Reeve said he will “probably” be sad to some degree, since he enjoyed the routine of working with other councilmembers and city staff.
“It was the right time to take a break,” he said. “I look back, and I feel I accomplished a lot of the goals I set out to achieve.”
The City Council—also currently comprised of Troy Bourne, John Taylor, Sergio Farias and Mayor Pro Tem Howard Hart—is a group of “experienced” individuals, Reeve said.
Councilmember-elect John Campbell will be replacing Reeve in the District 3 seat after winning this year’s election. Reeve said Campbell is a “really good person” to fill his shoes.
In fact, Reeve called Campbell and urged him to run in his place when he decided not to campaign. Campbell’s name kept coming up in local circles during discussions on who would make a good councilmember, according to Reeve.
“He’s coming into a great situation, because we’ve got four councilmembers with varying levels of experience,” Reeve said.
Campbell will learn the City Council process and develop a relationship with city staff as he goes along, Reeve said.
When reflecting on his own accomplishments during his 12 years of City Council service, Reeve said one of the biggest accomplishments was the transfer of San Juan Capistrano’s water utility services to the Santa Margarita Water District—which became official in November 2021.
The annexation means SMWD now provides water services for San Juan Capistrano customers. The City of San Juan Capistrano previously provided its own water services, but city officials and staff opted to get out of the water business for a number of cited reasons, including not having the infrastructure to do so and projected increasing costs for customers if they continued to do so.
Reeve said the utility transfer is the “most transformative issue” the city has gone through.
Other achievements Reeve mentioned included the elimination of the city’s structural deficit; entering into negotiations with the Ridland Group for long-term operations of the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park, which is expected to benefit the community through more equestrian and general events and water mitigation efforts; and eliminating the Historic Town Center Master Plan.
Reeve also mentioned the recent and ongoing long-term plans to repave city roads, which has already begun on Camino Capistrano.
Challenges that Reeve faced included his first term, which he called “very rocky” due to the then-controversial state of city politics.
“I had to learn how to be a councilmember,” he said. “I made mistakes, like anybody there, and I learned from those mistakes.”
Reeve recalled the tense environment that previously surrounded the City Council, which taught him that local leaders have to sometimes “clear aside” their feelings and learn to work together.
The past few years of the general City Council, in contrast, have been a “very professional environment,” he said.
Though he decided not to seek the District 3 seat again, Reeve did run for the South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees Area 4 seat—an election he lost to incumbent Terri Whitt Rydell.
The Orange County Registrar of Voters certified election results on Dec. 2. Rydell won with 50 percent of the votes (25,445), with Reeve receiving 49% (24,590).
His platform included opposing mask mandates and restoring the Gaucho as the Saddleback College school mascot, which was removed in 2021 due to being seen as a racist Mexican caricature.
Reeve said the election was a good race and that the position doesn’t get a lot of attention, similar to water boards or judges.
He further said he knew the incumbent winning was a likely outcome, but conceded he was surprised at how close the race turned out.
“I wish her the best and the district the best,” Reeve said.
With no public office seat on the horizon, Reeve—an avid school sports fan—wants to use his newfound free time to attend more games. He has also been accepted to an online sports management degree program at the University of Texas, a subject he has always been interested in studying.
Closer to home, Reeve—like other previous city officials—will be looking for volunteer opportunities in San Juan.
Reeve labeled himself “semi-retired” and noted he has just purchased a new home in San Juan.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.