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As he prepares for his new job, columnist Jonathan Volzke bids a fond farewell to his column and weekly Coffee Chat
By Jonathan Volzke
It’s been just over two years since I signed off as editor of The Capistrano Dispatch, and today I find myself saying more goodbyes.
I’ve taken a new post as public information manager at the Santa Margarita Water District and the demands of the new job will keep me from a couple of things that have been part of my life for well over a dozen years: writing this monthly column and hosting the community Coffee Chat.
I’ll miss both, but I’ve always been an advocate of term limits and change, so these transitions are fitting, if not overdue.
Capistrano, of course, is home to plenty of vibrant voices, so I’m sure lively discussions will continue in the pages of The Dispatch. When I was editor, my favorite editions were packed with letters to the editor. We had six pages of just letters once.
Plenty is going on to discuss and debate in the months ahead. We have three council members—Larry Kramer, Derek Reeve and John Taylor—whose terms are up. Kramer and Taylor have said they’re seeking re-election, while we haven’t heard of Reeve’s intentions. Business owner and chamber leader Stephanie Frisch and volunteer and historian Jan Siegel have announced they’re running, so already we’ve got four good folks vying for three seats—and that’s without any word from Reeve or folks who have run unsuccessfully in the past.
Around town, Urban Village has landed a Hilton but needs final City Council approval to bring that four-star hotel to the downtown, along with 33 homes. At Ortega Highway and El Camino Real, Goveia Real Estate proposes a retail center to replace the Plaza Banderas Hotel. Full disclosure: I worked on outreach for both projects.
While a few folks around town like to say I supported the projects because I was hired to, I truly believe both would be great additions to the town and was honored to work with them. Brian Lochrie, my boss at Communications LAB, hated when I said this, but I would have worked for both for free, just as a resident excited about what they can bring to our city.
Speaking of Communications LAB, the past two years were great. The owners, Lochrie and his wife, Arianna Barrios, were the best bosses I’ve ever had and I was lucky to work with great clients, including Duane Cave at San Diego Gas & Electric, which was Capistrano’s “Business of the Year” last year for all of the support it gives community events.
Thanks, too, to Roger Faubel, who mentored me on the transition from journalism to public affairs. I learned a great deal—with the most enduring (and confounding) lesson that much of what happens in government that frustrates us is pretty much happening as it has to. It’s easy to blame people—from elected officials to staffers—but the system is pretty convoluted, redundant and … messed up. The people involved make good things happen despite a tangled web of regulation and requirements.
The toughest goodbye comes in my farewell to the Coffee Chat, where I play the role of Regis Philbin to Erin Kutnick’s Kelly Ripa (she doesn’t like the Kathie Lee comparisons).
We started the weekly gathering nearly 20 years ago, when I was at the Register. Editors there thought it would be useful to hold a Friday morning open focus group to hear community feedback on each week’s edition of the paper and gather story ideas. It lasted beyond my career at the Register, beyond my decade at The Dispatch and through today. Coffee Chat outlasted several coffee shops, too, bouncing around a few times before landing now at Mission Grill. We can sit there and chat and watch the town go by for a couple of hours.
We’ve learned great history lessons from old-timers at Coffee Chat, which draws 50 or so on a good Friday. Sometimes more, sometimes less. We’ve debated the future with elected officials. City Council candidates have announced their runs for office at Coffee Chat and every serious candidate for the fifth district seat on the board of supervisors came by to introduce themselves and take questions in the past election cycle.
We’ve celebrated birthdays, mourned losses, met new babies, some just weeks old. The Capo Girls Softball team brought trophies a couple of weeks ago when they were talking about their historic run for a state title. Jim Reardon grabbed an empty cup and passed it around and we donated $320 for the effort. Things like that have happened before, too.
But my favorite part of Coffee Chat was always just sitting back and watching folks gather. Some have come to the chat for a while, others are new. Folks sort of cycle through. It’s supposed to start at 8 a.m., but never really did—that’s when friends who might not otherwise see each other got to catch up a bit.
I’d wander in and let Steve Behmerwohld make his weekly joke about my being right on time at 8:15 a.m., and I’d just take a look around. No matter what’s happening east of us, no matter whether we’re debating hotels or houses in our own city, for those 90 minutes or so each Friday, San Juan Capistrano was a small town again.
Many of you haven’t been shy about letting me know The Dispatch has not only survived my departure, but improved. No argument here, and I expect the same thing to happen with Coffee Chat. Erin has promised to continue her duties, and a host of volunteers have stepped up to take a turn in the moderator’s chair next to her.
And we know there will always plenty to talk about. Just as I enjoy the surprises I find as I turn the pages of The Dispatch now, I look forward to returning to Coffee Chat when I can.
But I’ll be sitting in the back, enjoying a view of our open hills and loving our small town.
San Juan Capistrano resident Jonathan Volzke is an award-winning journalist for the Orange County Register and founder and former editor of The Capistrano Dispatch.