EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated to include comments from San Juan Capistrano Councilman Sam Allevato. Originally posted at 11:44 a.m. Dec. 2, 2013.
Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, San Juan Capistrano residents were treated to an election season-type mailer, accusing one political faction in town of courting lawyers to file big-bucks lawsuits against the city.
The flier comes from San Juan Cares, a new group in town saying it just wants to report the facts.
So who is San Juan Cares? The front man is Robert Ferguson, a member of the Open Space, Trails and Equestrian Commission who says he’s a neutral third party in the midst of two warring factions in town, the council majority and a group of disgruntled citizens looking to recall one of them, Councilman Sam Allevato.
“I started San Juan Cares because I was tired of the tone, tenor and personal attacks in our local politics,” Ferguson told Patch. “There are no sides here. It is the political environment, and anyone that would support bringing civility to it I welcome.”
But he surrounds himself with people who are clearly partisan – in support of Allevato – and even out-of-town political operatives. Ferguson’s mailer, a glossy, full color four-pager, attacks the people behind the Community Common Sense newspaper and the Capistrano Taxpayers Association but has no issues with Allevato or the council majority.
When San Juan Cares announced its formation, an email went out to the media from David Ellis, a Newport Beach political consultant known more for his efforts on the Orange County Fairgrounds Board of Directors.
When asked why he was involved, Ellis told Patch he was simply helping Ferguson out with “logistics, like email.” He also acknowledged putting together the group’s website.
Ferguson said Ellis’ involvement communicates that San Juan Cares “is about facts and figures, not people,” he said.
But in emails publically available through City Hall, Ellis does go on the attack himself. In response to a nay vote council minority members Derek Reeve and Roy Byrnes cast against monument signs at the Reata Park and Event Center which are to include a flag, Ellis called them “communists.”
Subsequent emails between Allevato, Ellis, former sheriff Brad Gates and political consultant Eileen Padberg show them strategizing in July how to use the Reata sign vote.
“We should take some shots now - letters to the editor from outraged citizens just so that we can reprint articles/columns in direct mail,” Padberg writes.
Ellis has also requested all emails between Byrnes and Reeve and a number of Common Sense and Capistrano Taxpayers Association members.
Allevato told Patch he has nothing to do with San Juan Cares.
"My campaign group is Friends of Sam Allevato Against the Recall 2014. I am registered with the city, county and state," Allevato said. "All of my contributions will be reported on time, and I choose only to run a positive campaign, based on the truth."
Allevato does know Ellis and consults with him about political matters. In another email, Ellis, Padberg and Allevato are discussing a newsletter Newport Beach sends out. Ellis recommended it for San Juan Capistrano.
“It is very much an advocacy piece masked in the façade of an official city mailer,” Ellis writes. But, at least in Newport Beach, no one complains about the tax dollars spent on it.
Yet another out-of-towner, Rancho Santa Margarita Councilman Steve Baric, is also involved. The pre-Thanksgiving mailer identifies three locals by name, one of them Capistrano Unified School District Trustee Jim Reardon.
Reardon’s name appears on a wheel of fortune for having cost Capo Unified $600,000 in legal fees and judgments, a claim that came up during his run for office in 2012 and which he disputes. When Reardon contacted Ferguson about the matter, he said he got an email from Baric the next day, representing San Juan Cares as general counsel.
“I am disappointed to be have my name dragged into a matter that doesn’t presently concern me,” Reardon said. “The allegation -- or implication -- contained in the hit piece is false. It was discussed publicly in the 2010 election, and again in 2012 when I was elected to the school board. …
In response, Baric emailed and warned Reardon to stop harassing Ferguson, Reardon said.
When Patch asked specifically about the mailer, Ferguson could not be reached. He earlier said he has yet to raise enough money to accomplish his goals. When asked how much he’ll end up spending, Ferguson replied: “Whatever it will take that I can raise.” The group placed more generic advertisements in the Capistrano Dispatch and Patch.
The mailer also includes a not-so-flattering, bare-belly photo of Clint Worthington, the face of Allevato recall attempt. Worthington said he cannot talk about the photo, which depicts him in an intimate moment with an unidentified woman on a beach.
“I would love to talk about the photo, but I can't,” he said. “However, take a close look at the photo. What is wrong with it? She is prepared. She has her beach stuff out. Beach clothes. Beach chair. Look at me. I have my standard white T-shirt, Levi's, sock and shoes on. I am laying directly on the sand, not on the towel. I have no beach ware. Why would she have her head buried in my shoulder?”
However, Worthington wouldn’t go as far as saying the photo is doctored.