By Jonathan Volzke
Now that I’ve taken a real job, I can’t spend my days in Capistrano wearing blue jeans and flip-flops anymore. As much as I miss that, I am really fascinated by what I’ve learned working on other projects in other cities—from San Clemente to Yorba Linda.
As I drive town-to-town, it’s hard to miss one thing: It’s election season. Signs are up from one corner of the county to another, asking for votes for City Council candidates whose names are emblazoned in orange or similar eye-catching color.
But not at home, yet. Capistrano’s yards, posts, fences and medians remain sign-free. It’s not that we don’t have an election, of course. It’s that we have a sign code that prohibits the election billboards from going up until a month from the election. That, by the way, is something we should take another look at—In this day of vote-by-mail, a good percentage of votes are cast before code enforcement has the chance to take down the first wave of signs. Since voting has moved up, candidates’ ability to put up signs should move up, too.
But the lack of signs doesn’t mean that campaigning isn’t already underway in town. Not by a long shot.
Sam Allevato—the only incumbent running because Laura Freese decided not to seek reelection for family reasons—has for all practical purposes partnered up with Ginny Kerr, another equestrian who has sat on the Planning Commission for a few years. While political newcomer Tom Marantz is in the race, the battle figures to be Allevato and Kerr against City Hall critic Kim McCarthy and retired doctor Roy Byrnes.
Candidates are holding quiet meet-and-greets and shaking the bushes to raise money, but the gloves are already off. The majority of the council is at stake: If McCarthy and Byrnes win, they’ll team with Councilman Derek Reeve for a 3-2 majority over Mayor Larry Kramer and Mayor Pro Tem John Taylor, whereas Allevato and Kerr are more likely to be in step with Kramer and Taylor.
Behind the scenes, though, the politicking has already been pretty bruising. Allevato and Kerr went to the OC Republican Central Committee to seek an endorsement, but were met there by McCarthy-Byrnes supporters who were able to toss up enough chaff that any action on the endorsement was put off until October 4. Allevato tried again with Republican Assemblywoman Diane Harkey speaking on his behalf, but was again delayed.
Then this week, Capistrano attorney Ed Connor filed a complaint that Capistrano Common Sense—the newsletter for which McCarthy and Byrnes both write—is working like a political action committee without filing the proper disclosures. Anyone who thinks Connor is just standing up for Allevato missed the battles between Connor and McCarthy over her attacks on alleged illegal immigrants in town. The Mission and Mission Hospital fell into her sights, and the Connor family members are longtime, strong Mission parishioners.
So the gloves are off before the signs are up.
I’m voting for Allevato and Kerr. I’ve cast votes for Allevato before and shared that here. It’s not because I agree with him on his stance on every issue, but it’s because I believe Allevato—and Kerr—understand Capistrano. And while long-term incumbency can sometimes be a detriment, a lack of council experience can be just as bad or even worse.
Voting “no” on everything is not leadership.
The more I’m out and about in various Orange County communities, I see examples where past councils—from years and years ago—failed by not being involved in regional efforts. Capistrano too often is seen by those around us as a town quick to say “no.” That’s not a good reputation, because it prevents our leaders from gaining full seats on regional boards—boards that oversee major infrastructure improvements and grants of millions of dollars.
Even if I accept that those at Capistrano Common Sense have their hearts in the right place, there’s a huge gap between sitting on a dais and taking potshots from the stand. The stories in there can be well researched, but they’re researched not to discover a truth, but to prove a preconceived point. The water rates? When Common Sense compared our rates to those in nearby cities, the writer didn’t know that agencies such as Moulton-Niguel Water District, with apparently low water rates, actually put surcharges of $1,000 or more on property-tax bills. When San Clemente raised its rates a couple of years ago, staff there published a true comparison. Capistrano’s rates were a tad higher but not enough to be worthy of the continual shrill tenor that would make Chicken Little envious. Another thing about water rates—you’ll hear candidates say the rates have increased 105 percent since 2004. That’s true—sort of. Actually, 2004 was just the first year the council had the courage to raise the rates, which were eating into the General Fund. Rates hadn’t been raised for more than 15 years before that. So that means any increase has to be taken back to 1989, but saying 105 percent over nearly 25 years doesn’t get as many votes.
Ironically, of course, McCarthy got her start in the public arena writing a column for The Dispatch. And she has done good for the community. But she won’t get my vote until she works to understand, rather than undermine, city government. And Byrnes is a former Mayor, true, but he last held office when I was 10-years-old, so I’m not sure the experiences he gained then are commiserate with the challenges we face now.
A solid new administration in City Hall, a new hotel, new car dealerships, the Groundwater Recovery Plant working better than ever before, increases in sales tax. Things are going in the right direction for Capistrano. It’s not time for a detour, no matter how crazy the coming weeks prove to be.
Jonathan Volzke is an 18-year resident of San Juan Capistrano who founded The Capistrano Dispatch. He now works for Faubel Public Affairs. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.