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Shop Owners ‘Scared to Death’ of Ortega Construction

City Council members urged to reach out to businesses when the interchange construction begins.

Business owners are “scared to death” that the two-year-plus Ortega Highway interchange project will keep customers away from San Juan Capistrano, the City Council learned Tuesday.

The city has put together an Economic Preservation Committee to combat the logistical nightmare a multiyear construction project on the city’s most traveled freeway interchange could pose to businesses. The project starts this month.

“Already the rumors are flying,” said former Councilwoman Laura Freese, a member of the special committee.

  • See related story, Money to Help Businesses Proves Controversial

She said a salon owner on Camino Capistrano expressed concern her building would be torn down – even though Caltrans has already taken the property it needs.

Another owner of a business on the east side of the freeway told Freese she’s extremely worried that clients on the west side will stop coming once construction is under way.

Freese gave the council a laundry list of actions it could take right now to reassure the business community, including having the mayor walk into every establishment in town to communicate directly with the public.

“Please, please get into action now. Make this a priority, we already have people who are too panicked,” Freese said.

Mayor John Taylor later acknowledged in the meeting that proprietors are “scared to death” of the havoc the construction project could bring.

CEO Will Kempton of the Orange County Transportation Authority has said never in the history of the county has there been such an improvement project which could so severely impact a community, said John Gillotti, owner of Mission Grill and also a member of the Economic Preservation Committee.

Gillotti himself has heard customers who have said they will avoid downtown where his restaurant is located once construction has started.

Councilman Larry Kramer said he will do his part. Even though he doesn’t eat out very often, he and his wife have decided to make it more a habit.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story identied OCTA CEO Will Kmpton as retired. His retirement doesn't take effect until the end of this month.

Jill February 06, 2013 at 10:06 PM
I attended the meeting with Caltrans held at St. Margaret's recently and left with far more concerns than I had going in! The belief on Caltrans part that they have adequate detours using San Juan Creek Road and Juniperra Serra seem really misinformed and researched. The confusing landing on Juniperra Serra combined with JSerra high school and the Park and Ride lots has the recipe for nightmare traffic jams, not to mention the increased accident risk. San Juan Creek already has backups, partly due to the still unfinished roadworks and with three schools in the area I feel I will be much less inclined to leave my home located off San Juan Creek. I volunteer in town both at the Mission and a downtown business. I also eat in town at least twice a week. I'm not looking forward to the next two years+. A turn right filter from Ortega onto the Southbound I 5 would have aloe boated so much traffic from the town years ago.
John February 07, 2013 at 08:17 PM
If the time of construction for the Camino Capistrano south bound I-5 exchange is any indication, Ortega's two year projection is grossly optimistic. The impact on San Juan Creek and Ortega residences will be far worse than estimated and now the council acts like this is a sudden surprise. They never really fought this issue with Caltrans because the big growth factions backed by the "Ranch" wanted it.
ca February 07, 2013 at 09:10 PM
agreed! San Juan city council members... what are you doing about this? who's advocating for our fair city??
Matt Gaffney February 07, 2013 at 10:24 PM
As a member of the City's Transportation Commission I've been privy to this process from the start. Past Councils negotiated with Caltrans from the beginning to cut the best deal possible for Capo. Caltrans originally wanted a full blown clover leaf intersection, we were able to negotiate the project to it's present configuration. People don't realize that Ortega Hwy is a State Hwy, & as such we have limited input into how Caltrans wants to handle this project. This intersection is, with a few minor alterations, the same intersection opened in 1958 when the Freeway came to town. There were numerous public workshops, conducted by Caltrans, soliciting input from the citizens of Capo. Attendance was pretty sparse at the ones I attended. Like it or not this is a project that we're all going to have to live with until it's conclusion. As for "fighting this issue" we fought for the best deal we could cut with Caltrans & this is it.

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