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By Jan Siegel

Next Tuesday, the city council will be making one of the most important decisions in its tenure.  The council will be asked to consider whether the Ramos House Café and the Tea House should be able to sell all alcoholic beverages—and if these restaurants can remain open until late at night and serve dinner. 

All of these structures are in the Los Rios Historic District. The District is on the National Registry as the oldest residential neighborhood in California. I repeat—the oldest residential neighborhood in California. That is a big designation and the reason that so many visitors come to San Juan Capistrano. The atmosphere of Lo Rios Street cannot be replicated. 

The Los Rios District is first and foremost a residential area. The businesses operate within that framework. All of the people asking for change came into the District understanding the rules and regulations. While it is true that in the 1990s exceptions for beer and wine were granted to the Ramos House and the Tea House, it was only when the establishments were serving lunch.  And they are allowed a few special events throughout the year.    

In that same period, the restaurants around Verdugo Street—such as Trevor’s, Hennessey’s, and others—have changed hands more times than I can recall, and they all served spirits. If serving alcohol is the reason for success, McDonald’s and Starbucks would have gone out of business long ago. The Ramos House Café and the Tea House must be doing something right. And they have been good neighbors by letting the street return to being a residential neighborhood at 6 every night. 

Besides being the oldest residential neighborhood, the street is home to the Rios Adobe. Built in 1794, this home is also the oldest residence in California with the same family living in it. The Rios children are 10th generation, but noise, traffic, and crowds could cause the next generation to move if it is no longer a residential neighborhood. 

Old Town San Diego and Olivares Street in Los Angeles were once residential neighborhoods and now, even though some of the buildings are from an older period, none of the ambience of the street has remained. They are both filled with just shops and restaurants no longer representing the history of the area. This could easily happen to Los Rios Street.

The lighting on Los Rios Street is not the best. With restaurants open until after dark, is the city going to spend millions of dollars updating the lighting on the street? Are the restaurants willing to take responsibility for any accidents that may happen, or will the city be liable? How will the increased lighting affect the residents and their quality of life? 

San Juan Capistrano is a very unique and special town. The city has worked hard to maintain our history and our culture while still allowing for growth and modernization. The rules and regulations for Los Rios Street are important for keeping that history and culture alive for generations. 

Spend a “Moment In Time” and let the city council know how special you think that Los Street is to our city, to our heritage, to our history. The city motto is “preserving the past to ensure the future.” Preserving history is worth something. It is not just a phrase. For San Juan Capistrano, it is a way of life. 

Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.

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