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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.

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San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano Mayors Talk about the Future of South Orange County

The newly appointed mayors of San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano (Tim Brown, Lisa Bartlett and Sam Allevato) sat down with the publishers of the Capistrano Dispatch and its sister publications to talk about the future of South Orange County.  You should read the entire article here, but we wanted to highlight some interesting tidbits.

The first subject, of course, was South County’s traffic woes.  San Juan Capistrano Mayor Sam Allevato spoke of San Juan’s efforts to soften the impact of I-5/Ortega Highway interchange construction on local businesses — an example that the other Mayors pledged to follow as construction moves to south to the Avenido Pico interchange.  The 241 extension was also a topic of conversation.

[Dana Point Mayor Lisa] Bartlett chairs the TCA’s Foothill Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (241) board. She remains an advocate for the extension, despite the recent setbacks, citing its necessity with the construction of Rancho Mission Viejo.

“That Tesoro extension, that five-and-a-half miles from Oso Parkway to Cow Camp Road, is an essential component of the mobility pattern for the entire area,” Bartlett said. “We really need to get that project moving forward.”

The common concern is how vulnerable we are with one single north/south artery connecting much of South County with points north.  Of course, water quality bureaucrats in San Diego know better than we do how to build Orange County’s infrastructure. /sarcasm.

San Clemente Mayor Tim Brown voices a lament that we have heard from San Juan Capistrano as well, namely, that the 5 freeway destroyed the character of these small, historic South County towns when it paved through the middle of the towns.

In terms of development challenges, the three Mayors noted that each city has its own unique challenges, opportunities and issues.  In San Clemente, city leaders are considering changes to the master plan:

It is something city planners, leaders and residents have spent the last four years debating, as changes are being made to San Clemente’s 20-year planning document. One alteration reflected in the city’s General Plan, which could have council approval by early 2014, is a two-story limitation in the city’s center.

“We are all atoning for the sins of the past in a lot of ways,” Brown said. “There was a whole series of planning decisions made in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s that have had an incredible impact on our quality of life. We have streets with no sidewalks, buildings with no parking and we are just grappling with the reality of what we are dealing with.”

Dana Point, by contrast, finds itself frustrated by outside agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, in its attempts to revitalize its Harbor and coastal areas.  San Juan’s challenges have been well documented here, and the article focuses on the city’s decision to simplify the approval process by eliminating the city’s Design Review Committee.

Not surprisingly, water was also an important issue.  Namely, the need to provide a safe, stable and cost-effective water supply for current populations and future generations.  With regard to San Clemente and Dana Point:

San Clemente, which imports nearly all of its water from outside sources, has embarked on one of the largest infrastructure projects in the city’s history to expand its recycled water system and treatment facility. The $25 million project will expand the city’s current system out to business parks, located in the ranchlands east of Interstate 5, and is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2014.

Dana Point, through the South Coast Water District, is also heavily reliant on imported water to service its more than 33,000 residents.

In addition, both San Clemente and Dana Point “are also part of a regional partnership in the Doheny Desalination Plant, a project to build a facility at Doheny State Beach that could pull in up to 30 million gallons of ocean water a day, treat it and produce about 15 million gallons of potable water, providing for about 25 percent of the area’s needs.”  The article notes that San Juan Capistrano was also an initial investor in the desalination plant project, but has decided to cease funding the project beyond its initial investment, meaning the City will likely lose its interest in the project or any output.

The article touches on San Juan Capistrano’s water issues, including the controversial groundwater recovery plant and the surrounding recall and water rate litigation.

San Juan Capistrano is one of the few cities in the region with its own water source, through its Groundwater Recovery Plant. At its best, the plant could produce up to 5 million gallons per day, enough to provide half of the city’s needs during the summer and entirely during the winter.  However, save for its first full year of operation in 2006, the plant has failed to produce its intended output and city officials have since scaled back their expectations. The plant’s rising maintenance costs and low output have drawn the criticism of many residents.

The article mentions the lawsuit filed by the Capistrano Taxpayers Association over San Juan’s tiered water rate structure, and the CTA’s August 2013 victory in Superior Court.

Finally, the article touches on Rancho Mission Viejo and the issue of local governance in unincorporated South Orange County.  The article mentions LAFCO – the Local Agency Formation Commission — and its role in governance questions.  Our readers are familiar with LAFCO and its role in the cityhood process.  The article also repeats a point that we’ve made before (including here), namely that the economics of incorporation have changed making it much more difficult for unincorporated areas to achieve the financial independence required for cityhood.  Yet, even though south County governance is possibly the most important issue on LAFCO’s long term agenda, South Orange County remains woefully underrepresented on the Commission:

Both mayors Allevato and Brown tried their hand at getting on the 11-member board and failed. They hoped another south Orange County representative, in addition to Supervisor Bates, would be present on the board as talks about Rancho Mission Viejo’s annexation or incorporation continued.

Currently, a city representative from a town no farther south than Fountain Valley is on the body.

“There is no appreciation for the issues of traffic, water, crowding and overcrowding,” Allevato said. “I feel there should be someone on LAFCO that is closer to the epicenter of the growth in this county.”

This is unacceptable.  Not only should LAFCO represent the entirely of Orange County, but South County governance issues should be considered primarily by a LAFCO task force consisting of a majority of South Orange County residents, leaders and stakeholders.

It’s a good article that touches on a number of the important issues we discuss here on our blog.  Make sure to read the entire original article, and we wish Mayors Bartlett, Brown and Allevato the best as they embark on an important year for South Orange County’s growth and development.

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