By Jan Siegel
San Juan Capistrano is a remarkable community. We actually voted to tax ourselves before the government could come and do it for us. Before the government said we had to raise taxes to pay for infrastructure such as roads, schools and water, we agreed to add to our property bills the cost of buying and maintaining open space in our community.
In 1990 and in 2008, we purchased land as a community to keep it from going to developers for more housing. But we did even more. In 2008, we also passed Measure X, which requires voters to approve any changes to land designated as open space in the city’s General Plan.
In 1990, 70% of San Juan’s voters approved a bond measure to purchase the Northwest Open Space. The Northwest Open Space is designated as a Community Park—one of eight designations for open space land use, according to the city’s General Plan.
This has led to confusion. Measure X only requires voters to approve a change to open space land use, but with eight categories to choose from, the city can opt to change from one designation to another without voter approval, provided that the changes stay within the open space designations. It all comes down to your definition of “change.”
At a public workshop on June 5, Marlene Draper, one of the leaders instrumental in the passing of the1990 bond, stated that at the time the voters knew exactly what they were voting for and that they knew that a community center would be built, sports fields put in, etc.
One of the considerations for the current site is Putuidem Village. This area is all that is left of the largest Native American village that populated this area thousands of years before the arrival of the missionaries. Because of its Native American history, the area is an archeological site.
As an archeological site, many improvements to the property cannot be made. Therefore, bringing in plumbing, electricity or building foundations become a challenge. Having a museum and community events highlighting the Native American culture are in keeping with a community park, along with sports fields.
This part of the Northwest Open Space package sat locked up and vacant for more than 20 years because the city did not have the funds to make it accessible to the public. In 2005, the city established the San Juan Capistrano Open Space Committee to make recommendations to the city council about open space issues. Public hearings were held.
This is what led to Measures X and Y and the purchase of Reata Park and the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park. Again, voters knew exactly what they were voting for. They wanted to keep the riding park.
In 2009, the Open Space Foundation was formed. Foundation volunteers independently raised money for improvements to open space areas. They also spent thousands of hours doing hands-on work at no cost to the city.
In 2017, when the city council started looking into improvements to the Northwest Open Space, they ignored the Foundation. The city should include the Foundation and the Putuidem Village Committee on any discussion on what happens to this site.
Spend a Moment In Time and let the city council know how you feel about keeping the last part of the Northwest Open Space for the community.
Jan Siegel is a 28-year resident of San Juan Capistrano. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years and has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 18 years. 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.