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Jonathan Volzke
Jonathan Volzke

By Jonathan Volzke

They say a messy desk is a sign of a messy mind, so indulge me in a little desk cleaning.

I supported the City Council decision to eliminate the Design Review Commission. I told the council that night that San Juan Capistrano’s reputation as being less than business friendly is largely rooted in the work of the DRC, which was a subcommittee to the Planning Commission.

I sat through many a DRC meeting back in my days as a reporter. The attention to detail commissioners paid to potential projects at first seemed laudable, but after a while, a pattern of over-management became clear. I actually watched commissioners debate the radius of arches on projects, the colors of flowers in ground covering. I watched project proponents go through three meetings, four meetings … seven meetings—all while paying architects and others to attend or make changes. I saw suggested changes incorporated in plans, only to be changed again at a following DRC meeting.

All of that was before a project went to the Planning Commission, where the project was again “reviewed” for consistency with the city’s standards. Somewhere along the way, the charter of the Design Review Commission was lost: It was set up, city staff told the City Council, “to offer advice to applicants.” That would have worked fine—an applicant could hear the “advice” and be free to accept it or reject it, taking their chances with the full Planning Commission or City Council. But somewhere along the way, the DRC took on a power to have applicants jump through hoop after hoop after hoop.

Some of the work they did—on projects ranging from office parks to housing developments to simple commercial remodels—was excellent. But in the end it was just too much.

Now, some I’ve talked to have said this just creates more work for the Planning Commission, but I hope that wasn’t the City Council’s intent. I’d suggest the message is that city government quit worrying about trying to design projects on the dais and focus on ensuring they fit the city’s written design guidelines. Between planning staff and our commissions—we still have more than any other city around (Laguna Hills doesn’t even have a Planning Commission!)—projects will continue with the quality we’ve come to expect in town.

Bummer that the Metrolink Holiday Toy Train has been cancelled by budget cuts. That was always a big night downtown and a lot of fun—but also carried a hefty bill. The Orange County Transportation Authority’s share was $270,000. There’s talk about it coming back through private donations in the future, but Santa will be sticking to the sleigh instead of the train this year. Remember, the downtown Christmas Tree lighting, another great night, is still on for December 7.

Speaking of City Hall, you’ll be finding a little balance in your mailbox soon. The city has revived its newsletter, which will be mailed to residents and provide accurate information. I didn’t like when the city did away with the printed edition a few years back. Cities from Westminster to San Clemente publish some sort of City Hall news, so I’m glad we’ll be able to get the news straight from the horse’s mouth at least once a month. (Oops, twice when The Dispatch is published, of course.)

Something else new: I’m working with a group of folks in town on ways to ensure the reconstruction of the Ortega Interchange doesn’t hurt businesses downtown. One of the items we’ve come up with, borrowing from other places that have successful programs, is a Downtown Host program. The idea is that some friendly volunteers with a bit of knowledge of San Juan Capistrano would make themselves available in the downtown, offering a friendly greeting and any necessary advice to visitors. “Where’s a good place for Italian food?” “Where can I get batteries for my camera?” “Where’s a bathroom with a diaper-changing station?” The Mission has been a great partner in laying the groundwork for the program, and, honestly, I’m excited to show off our town a bit. It’s always humbling to see the license plates from states all over the country parked in our downtown.

If you’re interested in volunteering, please call Pat March at the Mission, 949. 234.1322. We plan our first meeting at the Mission on July 24.

OK, now that the desk is clean, better head out to the garage.

San Juan Capistrano resident Jonathan Volzke is the founder of The Capistrano Dispatch and now works for Faubel Public Affairs.

In an effort to provide our readers with a wide variety of opinions from our community, The Capistrano Dispatch provides Guest Opinion opportunities in which selected columnists’ opinions are shared. The opinions expressed in these columns are entirely those of the columnist alone and do not reflect those of The Capistrano Dispatch or Picket Fence Media. If you would like to respond to this column, please email us at

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