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By Alex Groves

The City of San Juan Capistrano and Blenheim Facility Management (BFM) reached a settlement  with environmental advocacy group Orange County Coastkeeper in a lawsuit regarding the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at San Juan Capistrano, city officials announced on Friday, Sept. 7.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in July 2017, claimed the riding park contributed to pollution in San Juan Creek. The riding park land is owned by San Juan Capistrano and BFM is the operator of the park.

The city and BFM have denied the allegations in the suit. City officials said in a news release that the settlement was made as a a way to avoid “costs and uncertainties of future litigation.”

As part of the settlement, the city will fund $1 million in projects through the California State Parks Foundation that will benefit the San Juan Creek watershed.

The city will also pay Coastkeeper $1.9 million for its expert and attorney’s fees related to the lawsuit and future monitoring expenses.

Other requirements for the city and BFM include obtaining required water quality permits, developing plans for riding park improvements and implementing an employee training program on how to comply with water quality laws.

The lawsuit specifically alleged that the city and BFM were illegally discharging storm water and non-storm water into San Juan Creek without a proper permit.

It also alleged that the city did unpermitted fill projects that resulted in harmful run off in the creek.

Lastly the lawsuit alleged that the city reconstructed a storm-damaged crossing without permits and allowed unpermitted materials to stay in the creek.

Officials with the city, BFM and Coastkeeper all praised the accomplishment of a settlement.

“I’m grateful that our City’s internationally-recognized equestrian facility will be able to continue its award-winning riding competitions, annual rodeo, and other recreational and sports-related activities,” stated City Manager Benjamin Siegel. “The improvements to the Riding Park that we have agreed to as part of this settlement will benefit our community by ensuring compliance with regulatory agencies, protecting our natural resources and helping to preserve San Juan Capistrano’s equestrian heritage.”

Coastkeeper Executive Director Garry Brown said he was glad for the planned improvements to the creek and surrounding watershed.

“This agreement represents a collaborative effort to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and sustainable water resources that our communities depend on for our health and lifestyle,”  Brown stated. “We are pleased that the City and Blenheim have committed to complying with all local, state, and federal water quality regulations, and we look forward to working with them over the next few years as capital improvements are made for the betterment of our communities and the preservation of our Southern California way of life.”

This story is developing and The Capistrano Dispatch will update it with more information. 

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comments (7)

  • A million dollars here, a million dollars there…

    How about $2.9 million, right out of the city’s General Fund, to end this litigation, and then we still have the future costs associated with remediation of the damage to the creek, and obtaining necessary permits — that may not be forthcoming.

    How much money will our city council appropriate to keep the Riding Park open? Starting with the $27 million borrowed from the public for “open space”, we are now saddled with an annual $0.25 million payment to Blenheim to manage the facility, and now this.

    I’d like to know which members of the city council voted for this insane settlement. If they are the same ones who took the position that the city did nothing wrong, they should be voted out of office in the upcoming election. This council, and the City Manager, have been warned for years that the conditions and use of the creek were illegal and they simply denied it. But a $2.9 million payment is far more than “avoided litigation”, it is an admission of guilt. The terms of the agreement are an acceptance of responsibility that was always there.

    The city is so focused on its downtown controversies that the remainder of town is simply being neglected. For example, right now, there are dozens, if not hundreds of people living in the creeks, from the Riding Park down to I-5, and around the rail crossing at Verdugo Creek. These people are praying on our neighborhoods and schools, and hiding in the no man’s land in the creeks and under the bridges.

    The city is responsible for maintaining the creeks, and right now, in addition to spending millions on the Riding Park, it should be obtaining permits to clear the creeks (if only to prepare for the next rain) and appropriating money to send law enforcement into the creeks to remove people who are illegally camping EVERY night.

  • As residents, we were assured by the City Council and the City Manager that the Tenant (Blenheim) would be paying all of the legal fees. Why are the taxpayers paying the legal fees of 1.9 million dollars. Why are the taxpayers paying 1 million dollars for rehabilitation ? The taxpayers did not push dirt into the creek. It was the tenant who did this.

    Why in the world is this horrible tenant that just cost the taxpayers almost 3 million dollars not being removed from this taxpayer owned property? That 3 million dollars is more than 10 percent of the 27.5 million dollar purchase of the property.

  • Can we do a class action lawsuit against Blenheim?

  • Just curious, is any of the $1.9 million that is going to OCCK for it’s “expert fees” going to Clint Worthington or Kim McCarthy?

    • Steve Behmerwohld, you might want to read the depositions of the Cities experts prior to commenting. It will help you look smarter.

  • The research at Doheny showed that the creek run-off pollution was caused by bird feces and human feces–not equine feces.
    We’ve lived by this “creek” for twenty-eight years. In all that time it has never been “fishable” or “swimmable”.
    What a travesty.

    • Sandie Weaver, have you read the 32 pages of violations in the lawsuit? Have you read the settlement agreement? Have you read the depositions? There is a reason Mrs. Weaver that the City paid the 1.9 million in attorney fees. There is a reason the City is paying another 1 million in reperations. That is on top of the over 1.5 million the City already paid to the City attorneys to defend the case.

      Mrs. Weaver, the City paid all of this because the City they did not stand a chance winning this lawsuit. If what you stated Mrs. Weavehad any merit to it, the City would not have settled this lawsuit. By the way, you just violated Council Policy 114 which states that “City Council our staff shall discuss any party involved in litigation against the City any matters relating to that litigation without the prior approval of a consensus of the City Council given at a City Council Meeting”

      Mrs. Weaver, as a City Commissioner, I can find no record of the City Council granting this permission in any of the City Council minutes. Can you please provide when that permission was granted as this item is still ongoing litigation and is listed as so on the Closed Session items for this coming Tuesday.

      Again Mrs. Weaver, if you comments as a Commissioner had any merit, the City would not have settled the case.

      Just curious Mrs. Weaver as a Park Commissioner, why would you run a taxpayer owned park without the proper permits ?

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