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.
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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.