Originally posted at 12:13 a.m. Jan. 22, 2014.
Believing low-income apartments aren’t compatible with the area, the San Juan Capistrano City Council unanimously rejected Tuesday a bid to build 100 units next to San Juan Hills High School.
The council chamber was standing-room only, filled with San Juan Hills parents present and future and residents from the nearby Valinda/Mirador tracts. The vast majority opposed the project, holding orange signs saying no to the rezoning and apartments.
Only two of some 14 speakers favored approval.
“I’m going to concur with the Planning Commission recommendation,” said Mayor Sam Allevato. The commission shot down the apartments in August, but city staff was recommending the City Council say yes.
The 4 acres where the apartment complex was proposed are part of a bigger, 10-acre site that is currently zoned for 14 or so homes.
While many of the speakers and some of the councilmen – notably Roy Byrnes and John Taylor – cast doubt on the traffic studies which said the apartments wouldn’t make the congestion any worse than it already is, the main point of contention was eliminating any chance for the school district to acquire the property and expand the high school.
The Capistrano Unified school board two weeks ago voted unanimously to urge the council to deny the apartments with a resolution which underscored a capacity crisis: When La Pata Avenue is punched through to San Clemente, Talega residents will have priority enrollment, possibly displacing San Juan Capistrano students from their hometown school.
That issue hit home for several speakers.
“Our children will be turned out of their own high school,” said San Juan Capistrano resident Shelly Welcome, who also asked an often politically divided council to “put aside your differences and look out for the children of San Juan Capistrano.”
“If the school cannot grow, the kids at Kinoshita cannot go to San Juan Hills. The people who pay Mello-Roos have priority,” said Gila Jones, who works with students at Kinoshita.
“Education is another basic service and we should be allowing the kids of our city to go to this school and not foist them off to other areas,” Jones said.
Former Mayor Mark Nielsen got the only considerable applause of the evening, as Allevato tied to discourage cheering and jeering.
“Yes, I was opposed to the project and the high school at that site. However, it is done and is now our high school. Our job is now to support it and make sure we do nothing that will damage its future ability to best serve our residents,” Nielsen said.
School capacity was also a salient point for Councilman Larry Kramer.
“I would probably do almost anything if the district would guarantee a seat to our children. I thought they were guaranteed a seat,” he said.
Several councilmembers were critical of the school district, even as three trustees, John Alpay, Jim Reardon and Ellen Addonizio were in the audience, saying that the district created the mess by not having a better traffic plan.
“Can you visualize another 600 students coming up there every day [from Talega]? Horrible. You gotta do something about that,” Kramer said.
A city traffic engineer, George Alvarez, noted it took him 13 minutes to drive from the bottom of the hill to the school during the morning rush hour.
The councilmen suggested resuscitating a city-school district sub-committee.
After the meeting, Reardon said he would welcome the effort.
“Of course they’re right. There should be better communication between the school district and the city," he said. He added that he appreciated the decision because it buys the district more time to figure out how to accommodate all the students who want to attend San Juan Hills.
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