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By Collin Breaux | Email: | Twitter: @collin_breaux

Taking into consideration some project delays due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, the San Juan Capistrano City Council passed a budget for fiscal year 2020-21 during a meeting on Tuesday, June 16.

A two-year budget is usually provided, but city officials decided on a one-year budget this time due to the uncertainty surrounding conditions from the health crisis, as recommended by city staff. City officials and staff will monitor ongoing conditions and report back quarterly. Total city funds for 2020-21 are approximately $91 million.

The delayed projects are the Putuidem Village at the Northwest Open Space, a new skateboarding park and landscaping for the city entrance at Ortega Highway.

Projects that are budgeted and will go forward include pavement maintenance work for several residential streets, including Via De Agua, Avenida Calita and Calle Esperanza; a traffic signal at Stonehill Drive for the Lower Rosan entrance; and water and sewer capital projects. The council awarded a contract to R.J. Noble Company, the lowest bidder at approximately $3.136 million, for the pavement maintenance work. Construction could start in July and end in September or October.

The estimated revenue loss for 2020-21 is $2.1 million, and $1.7 million for 2019-20. Most of the impacts have been mitigated by the use of reserve funds, said City Finance Director Ken Al-Imam.

The use of reserves was $1.75 million for 2019-20, and is expected to be $149,000 for 2020-21.

“The majority of the general fund services are funded by property taxes and sales taxes,” Al-Imam said. “Even after the significant reductions of sales taxes in fiscal year 2020-21, the sales-tax revenue still funds 27% of general fund services.”

Staffing reorganization is also expected due to COVID-19 impacts, which will include eliminating vacant positions and combining some positions across departments.

Former Mayor Kerry Ferguson spoke against the delaying of the Putuidem Village project, saying the community has been waiting a long time for the construction of the village to honor the Native American Acjachemen tribe.

“Why does this project not have the importance it should have?” Ferguson said.

City Councilmember Brian Maryott noted how the park has been promised and the “emotions and drama around it and so many votes on it,” in response to Ferguson.

“Just an important point to remember, that we’re making our way here through a difficult fiscal environment, which was acknowledged by the speaker. We don’t know how things will change and be modified,” Maryott said. “We all understand how much disappointment is attached to that.”

In other meeting news, city officials also discussed consulting with downtown restaurant owners on the possible expansion of outdoor dining opportunities to meet social distancing requirements, which could require a temporary closure of the recently renovated Verdugo Street. If deemed feasible, the city manager is authorized to proceed with the temporary closure.

City officials also mentioned funding from the federal CARES Act. San Juan Capistrano will receive $313,614 per an agreement with the County of Orange. The funds can only be spent on a short list of specific expenses directly related to COVID-19 and can’t be spent on revenue losses. Any money not spent on Dec. 31 must be returned to the county.

Some in attendance also briefly touched on recent “Black Lives Matter” protests, which have occurred in San Juan Capistrano and throughout the country and world, and related calls to defund the police. Longtime San Juan resident John Perry said he supports first responders, particularly members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

“I’m nearly 85 years old and have never seen anything as stupid as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ demand to defund the police,” Perry said. “The police of our nation daily put their lives on the line to protect public safety, not only from criminals, but in true emergency situations such as burglaries, break-ins, domestic disputes, accidents, too numerous to list.”

Maryott, who is running in the November election for the 49th Congressional seat as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Mike Levin, said recent local protesters were passionate, organized, concerned about racial bias, peaceful, and “relative to our little city, large in numbers.”

“We appreciate their activism. We also appreciate our first responders, their being on hand, their professionalism, and the great work they do,” Maryott said. “The risk they take every day is something we have to keep in mind.”

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