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Rancho Ortega Blog discusses matters of public interest in South Orange County, including the communities of San Juan Capistrano, Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo.

The writings of Don Juan Ortega on the Rancho Ortega Blog are the personal views of the author. This blog is not authored by nor does it have any affiliation whatsoever with any other person, place or entity using the name "Rancho Ortega" (or any similar name).

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San Juan Cares Group Formed to “Correct the Record”

We saw this “advertisement” in the most recent issue of the Capistrano Dispatch, and we like the content of Ferguson’s open letter to the residents of San Juan.  We are going to follow San Juan Cares and see what they have to say:

Screen grab from November 8, 2013 issue of Capistrano Dispatch (p. 4)

7 comments to San Juan Cares Group Formed to “Correct the Record”

  • MarkofSJC

    Sorry, but will respect, Mr. Ferguson is factually incorrect.

    No where have I read the group want to CLOSE the plant, but rather use it as it’s original intention ~ an emergency source of water. (Isn’t that why the city council just spent $492,000 on emergency generators for the plant during the August meeting?).

    And let’s talk about performance ~ more specifically lack of it. While the goal in acre feet of production is continually reduced (started initially at 5,000 and now stepped down to 3,650 – talk about lowering the bar by 27%!)…even WITH that lowered goal, the plant fails to produce at even close to those numbers!

    And even if it could achieve those numbers, which it’s never managed for any sustained period, it’s not like we’re just sucking water through a straw stuck in a swimming pool. The body of water we’re drawing on is more like a small bucket. Draw too much, and the surrounding seawater invades the ENTIRE water table, not only killing our plant but any adjacent wells.

    The irony of “who should pay” on the huge groundwater recovery plant debt (which I believe is more than double the amount listed counting principle and interest), is that the residents will be saddled with that burden…but won’t own the plant nor much of the production after the initial contract lapses. So we keep literally pouring dollars into an asset whose fixed costs will never justify it’s economic benefit…even if Metropolitian water DOUBLES its current rates.

    So let’s bring out the hard, unvarnished facts that seem to be held hostage for no defensible reason and REALLY look at the truth of the matter. It’s simple math, but without the key figures it’s just a bunch of people spinning one story after another.

    Bring out the hard facts and this turmoil will quickly end. Who knows, the plant may be the best financial investment we’ve ever made…but from the few facts I personally have been able to gather, it certainly doesn’t look like it. I’d like to be wrong, as I was a strong supporter of the concept.

  • Don Juan Ortega

    Thank you for your comment, Mark. We have purposely not taken a position on the Groundwater Recovery Plant in SJC for the same reasons — namely, that it’s hard to get raw data and technical analysis on the plant’s performance and potential without getting a big helping of politics along with it. But regardless of what the right course of action is regarding tiered water rates and the future of the water plant, we think that there are better ways of addressing those issues than misguided recalls and Brown Act investigations. Would you agree with that? Perhaps the entire water issue ought to be turned over to a special, impartial committee? That can’t be more expensive than paying for a recall election and special investigation, right?

  • MarkofSJC

    It really depends on your definition of misguided. You said it yourself ~ raw data has become a political hostage. I searched on the city’s website for a solid week and could only find snippets of factual reports prepared by staff. At the last council meeting I raised the issue and Sam himself assured me it was all in the City Managers’ Weekly Reports.

    Well guess what… Those reports weren’t on the web site. In fact the City Clerk had to work to pull a years’s worth together (discovering that they are either NOT weekly, or many of them are missing). So, after spending considerable time looking at the city’s OWN reports, someone either needs new batteries for their calculator or there’s an obvious move toward “rewriting” history. I tend to believe a combination of both.

    in the 10/26/12 City Manager’s report, they compared our “normalized” average water rates with those of seven other adjacent cities or water districts. At that time, they quoted ours at $129.05/household. But they claimed “the Median (NOT the average)to be $125.69….but the median is just the middle number when all the numbers are in rank order (if there are a even number, you average the value for the two middle ones). “Real Math” reveals the Median to actually be $119.75 ~ 5% lower. Funny that they didn’t refer to the AVERAGE cost, oh, that was because it was only $116.16 ~ 8% lower than the stated Median cost. Why does it matter? Because our “normalized” water rates (per their report) went from being just 3% higher than the stated median to being more than twice that, or 10% above the Average cost…or the third highest of all surveyed! So, what’s your definition of “misguided”?

    But that could be explained as a “whoops!”

    Let’s talk about the ever-changing production “goal” of the GWRP. In just the fiscal year 12/13 that goal was REDUCED three times! From 4545, to 4000, to 3670 acre feet annually ~ a 19.25% total reduction. Yet in that same 10/26/13 report they used that original “goal” of 4545 to determine the projected cost per acre foot of the GWRP. The major flaw? They’re mixing fixed and variable costs without identifying either, and while the report trumpets a total projected cost per acre of $1,093, the ACTUAL COST based on production at the end of the fiscal year was $1,419 ~ a 33% upwards spike. Oh, and that declining goal that bottomed out at 3670? They (we?)didn’t even make that…final reported production was 3,657 acre feet.

    So did they restate the budget vs. actual production numbers, once known? NO! THAT, in my book, is MISGUIDED and MISLEADING. Especially when they KEEP QUOTING that original cost of $1,093 per acre foot when they know that figure is FALSE. And I know my calculated number isn’t 100% correct either, as the variable costs will change with the decrease in production, while the additional “investments” that year (and there were MANY) will raise the total fixed costs. BUT NONE OF THAT DATA CAN BE SOURCED. It would not surprised me if the city itself doesn’t know what the REAL cost is…purposely fighting to stay away from that spotlight of truth.

    Listen, I like Sam Allevato as a person. But his actions as a Councilman are frequently at odds with the very residents he was elected to represent (but, oddly, always perfectly in alignment with Rancho Mission Viejo’s needs). I hate the thought of spending $95,000 on a recall, but I’m waking up to the fact that the amount will be considered a pittance compared to the dollars the city illegally collects with each water bill they mail. And when they lose the appeal, where, exactly is THAT money going to come from?

    PLEASE, don’t believe me! I’m not an expert and it’s possible I made errors. Let’s unite and demand ALL the raw data be published for EVERYONE to review. If that could be done and we could conclusively prove that the real financial dealings surrounding our water rates are on solid footing, I’d be the first to say the recall is a bad move. But this refusal to divulge ANYTHING of substance leads any logical person to believe the skeletons are piled high in a very deep closet.


    And the question has to be asked, exactly WHO is the one one being “cared” for in San Juan Cares?

  • Don Juan Ortega

    Thank you, Mark, for your thoughtful comments. While we disagree with the recall as a political strategy, we would absolutely support this insofar as the community needs to understand the facts surrounding the water plant:

    “Let’s unite and demand ALL the raw data be published for EVERYONE to review.”

    That being said, I’m curious if a supporter of the water plant has a different opinion? If you want to register to comment, send us an email and we’ll get you registered.

    Thanks again, Mark. Appreciate your input.

  • MarkofSJC

    Thanks for providing the neutral forum to look at all sides of the issue.

    I truly believe the root cause of many of our biggest issues is the inability for many people from all sides to gather and truly debate the facts of any issue. I’ve certainly reconsidered my thoughts and actions after hearing discussions from people who had experience and education different from my own.

    That being said, why wouldn’t free and easy access to your blog be open immediately to all?

  • Don Juan Ortega

    You’re welcome. We try to remain neutral and present facts for people to be more informed, so thank you for recognizing that. Even when we have an opinion, we hope that we are able to express it in a respectful way.

    “That being said, why wouldn’t free and easy access to your blog be open immediately to all?”

    Our blog is completely free and accessible to everyone at all times. Registration is not required to read anything on this blog. Registration is required to register and comment for the first time, and first time comments are held for moderation. Once a reader’s comment has been approved, that reader can instantly post comments without any further moderation or delay.

    This procedure is solely to avoid spam comments. In the short time I held registration open for you, I had about two dozen spambots register for the site and start commenting. Fortunately, my anti-spam software prevents the comments from showing up on the blog, but cleaning out the registrations takes some work. Right now, we have a lot of readers, but not many commenters so it makes more sense to hide the registration link and occasionally open up registration for someone like yourself. If and when we get to the point were we have daily registrations, I’ll leave the register link open and just do my best to manage the spambots.

    Again, if anyone would like to register, send me an email and I will enable registrations.

  • ChristieSJC

    I am writing in response to Robert Ferguson’s letter to the community.

    Water should be paid for as prescribed by California law which dictates that a municipality cannot charge more for water than the cost. We cannot be charged for something we are not getting, but we are currently charged for recycled water without most of us actually getting it. This is, in part, the basis for the judgement in favor of the Capistrano Taxpayers Association against the majority council’s decision to fight the lawsuit.
    No one at Residents4HonestGovernment ever suggested shutting the groundwater recovery plant down. We just want the water purchased from the cheapest source.
    The recall, according to the figure offered during the November 5 City Hall meeting, was estimated at $95,000. That is less than $5 per household. That one time $5 cost is a lot less expensive than the illegal charges a household has had to pay through water bills in just this past year alone.
    The groundwater recovery plant has never met the required output, and therefore I think a breech in contract occurred a long time ago which might make paying back any bond a moot point.
    At any rate, current technology is not sufficient enough to effectively run the plant. It is a very expensive thing to maintain, especially when one considers how we could be getting our water from the Metropolitan Water District at rates around 60% cheaper.
    What the City Council Majority has done is spent a lot of our money to keep this project going when it is not good business sense. Perhaps there is a time in the future when we can make use of the plant; a time when materials which surpass the nuclear-grade quality of our current filters are developed. Presently, we use up filters rapidly due to the caustic nature of our town’s contaminated water. Until that time comes, it should be preserved for future use.

    Unlike walking away from a mortgage, an analogy which fits better is like knowing when to stop making expensive repairs on an old car and just go buy a new/gently pre-owned one. In the long run, that is a decision which is cheaper and more reliable.
    For the sake of the residents, we need to look into garaging this plant, and getting our water from the cheapest source.
    Respectfully, I request that Mr. Ferguson remove the language “Recall leaders have proposed shutting down Groundwater Recovery Plant.” No such request has been made by Residents4HonestGovernment.