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Commission Says No to Placing the Oaks Development on Ballot

Residents come out to speak against the plan, which would rearrange the open space. The City Council will determine whether the voters will get the final say.

Should a measure be placed on the November ballot allowing a builder to move around some open space to accommodate a proposed 29-home development at the Oaks Farm? The Planning Commission said no Tuesday night.

The 20.64-acre property – owned by Joan Irvine Smith of the pioneering Irvine family – , and Shea Homes of Walnut is willing to develop it and preserve the equestrian facilities, if it can rearrange the open space.

Currently, about half of the property, 10.31 acres, is designated open space. It runs along the creek on the south side of the property.

Shea Homes would like to reconfigure the open space and increase it slightly, to 10.51 acres, moving it to the east of the property and having the housing development .

But residents of the Mission Springs tract said they like the open space right where it is.

“This is our backyard view. This is what we see from our back yard,” said Dale Rosenfeldt. “We paid a premium for that, believe me.”

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If the city is so willing to alter open space, “then what is sacred? What can other homeowners bank on?” Rosenfeldt asked.

In fact, it is only the voters who can approve any changes to land designated as open space. Measure X, a ballot initiative approved in 2008, set up such a system.

Nearby resident Emily Burke said the character of the open space would change dramatically if it were reconfigured. Right now, it serves the entire community, who come with their dogs and children, as well as horses.

In the design Shea Homes wants, the open space would only serve the future residents of the proposed gated community, Burke said.

“It’s very much a community-use area,” she said.

Two of the planning commissioners were leaning in favor of the project, but in the end, they voted 6-1 to recommend the City Council not move forward with a ballot initiative. Commissioner Ginny Kerr was the lone dissenter.

Kerr said the development of equestrian-themed communities, such as Nellie Gail in Laguna Hills or Coto de Caza, enhance neighboring home values. And, she wants to preserve San Juan Capistrano’s reputation as the center of all things equestrian on the West Coast.

“We’re losing stables right and left,” Kerr said. “If we’re serious that’s what we’re about, than we need to be supportive of those who would support that mission.”

Bob Yoder, president of Shea’s Southern California division, said the project is very unusual for its size and character. It’s not often the developer is fighting to preserve heritage oak trees and world-renown equestrian facilities.

“We would argue it’s a preservation plan; it’s not a development plan,” Yoder said.

But residents said they only see a profit motive.

“I would say it’s much more profitable to put a house by the creek than Ortega, just logically,” said Mission Springs resident Mark Speros.

Commissioners and staff noted that the property owner does have the right to build as many as 35 homes on the property, they would just be on the other side, where the derby area and other equestrian facilities are.

That would be OK with Speros, he said. At least he wouldn’t have to look out his yard and stare at two-story homes blocking his current view of trees and mountains.

The City Council is expected to take up the issue July 17, when it will decide whether the matter should be placed on the November ballot. 

Jim Reardon June 27, 2012 at 06:11 PM
In all this discussion, has it been mentioned that the east boundary of this site is the location of a 238KV overhead electrical transmission line? Also, beneath the ground at this location is a 16-inch high pressure liquid fuel transmission pipeline that carries gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel from refineries in LA to San Diego County users ("Kinder-Morgan pipeline"). All liquid fuels consumed down south go through this pipeline -- under extremely high pressure. While the pipeline is underground, it is located in a very narrow right-of-way. It's obvious that the developer is trying to maximize the area of property usable for houses by creating a large setback from both of these dangerous facilities. Houses located too close to the east boundary would be undesirable and therefore less valuable. There is a public safety issue in play here too. The CIty of San Juan Capistrano has no building setback requirement covering this type of pipeline. The existing right-of-way is very narrow because it was created when the area was rural. Since the annexation, the land is now within city jurisdiction, and since it is subject to development, it is time for the City to do the right thing to protect future residents. This property may not be able to support the number of homes in the proposal unless the open space is reconfigured. Too bad about Measure X. Be careful what you wish for! See the photos - taken in August 2008 at the site.
Frank E. June 27, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Although I wasn’t at the meeting last night, isn't it a little presumptuous for the Planning Commission to deny us the right to vote on this?
Penny Arévalo (Editor) June 27, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Technically, Frank, the commission is forwarding its opinion to the City Council, which will have the final say (as indicated in the article) on whether it will reach the ballot. In this case, the PC is acting as an advisory panel.
Mark Speros June 27, 2012 at 11:23 PM
It's not that the planning commission is trying to deny the right to vote, it raises the question of why is the planning commission in existence if regardless of what they vote for or against, it goes to vote. My hope was for more knowledgeable minds to realize that they were being put in a "no win" situation, vague drawings, suddenly the emergence of a commercial facility using the same access (private stables), and 2/3rds of the proposed homes being shifted from the previously "low/medium density" area to the current "open space" area. While the developer's line was that the did this to save as many Old Oaks as possible I'm sure it would be much easier to sell a home that backs to a private reserve next to a creek...than a 4 lane state highway that's soon going to have 45,000 residents accessing it.
Frank E. June 27, 2012 at 11:49 PM
Mark: While i don't believe I am of a "less knowledgeable mind", my whole point was that Measure X was passed so the public would decide any changes to open space. While you raise many valid points about the project itself, it will not surprise me one bit if our CC says "let the voters decide". Should they???
Jim Reardon June 28, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Since the city taxpayers would have to pay for the election, it would seem a reasonable question that the City Council ask itself: "Would we approve this development after the voters approve the change?" Obviously, if the voters say no, the matter is moot. If the voters say OK, then is the development consistent with the General Plan? Does it make sense? Traffic? Safety? Pipeline? Power lines? Creek proximity, including flood? Even if voters said yes, any one of these issues could kill the development and the election money would have been wasted. Isn't Measure X fun? This is what happens when a progressive-liberal City Council goes haywire and advocates that voters not trust the future judgement of elected officials.
Penny Arévalo (Editor) June 28, 2012 at 12:43 AM
They discussed a negative declaration, not an EIR (for those less planning savvy, and to keep it simple, an environmental impact report is an in-depth review of all potential environmental impacts -- including traffic, cultural artifacts, as well as more obvious environmental detriments -- and how to mitigate them. A negative declaration says an EIR is not necessary.)
Jim Reardon June 28, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Incidentally, Kinder-Morgan designates the area of its pipeline through the Oaks and past SJHHS to be a "high consequence area" (HCA). This designation imposes special requirements on the pipeline operator and is intended to serve as a warning to those that live and work nearby. The pipeline is in operation 24x7, and a rupture between the Ortega crossing and the creek crossing (yes, the pipe is buried under the creek bed) would have life-threatening consequences, even now. Fuel flows through this pipeline at the rate of 4200 gallons per minute under pressure (1400 psi). In a rupture, the entire 16-inch column of fuel from Ortega Highway back to the area of the Honda Center in Anaheim would burst out through the opening. There are no automatic shutoff valves to prevent this. However, there is a check-valve on the opposite side of the creek to prevent fuel already past the site from flowing downhill (backward) to a rupture near the creek. The last time a similar pipeline ruptured in Southern California, 450,000 gallons of fuel was expelled -- a sufficient mass to uncover the buried pipe instantly.
sjcnative1 June 28, 2012 at 03:51 PM
What a sham. The taxpayers are required to pay for an election out of their own pocket, that benefits the developers. It does not cost the developers of the land anything to have an election. Heck, they could not even bring complete information to the Planning Commission. Nice job developers.
sjcnative1 June 28, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Mark, just to give you a heads up, the residents of our City don't have a choice on the Planning Commission. It is required by law.
sjcnative1 June 28, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Jim Reardon, I did some research on this and found several Los Angeles Times articles referencing what you are talking about: http://articles.latimes.com/1987-01-10/local/me-3289_1_gasoline-spill . One of the articles said that nine firefighters were hospitalized and 1500 people were evacuated. I am sure this is the same pipline that you are referencing as they are both Kinder-Morgan piplines. Like you, it bothers the heck out of me that the City would even think of allowing homes and schools be built next to the pipeline. I can only imagine what would happen if this pipeline ruptured like it did in Tustin and spill 462,000 gallons of jet fuel into the creek. Doesnt the City receive it's drinking water supply from this creek? I find it shocking that they allowed a school to be built next to the pipeline let alone now they want to build homes. The only thing we are missing in our City is a 50 year old high pressure natural gas pipeline through our City like the one up north that burst and killed so many people.
Jim Reardon July 07, 2012 at 08:22 PM
The pipeline referenced in your article is the predecessor to the one that passes by The Oaks site. It was 10-inches in diameter. The new one is 16-inches. The 10-inch pipeline no longer operates, though the right-of-way still exists -- it crosses directly under the middle of the RMV Riding Park -- just purchased by the City. When you travel up La Pata, you'll see two pipeline crossings. The first one is the 10-inch, the second (and operating) pipeline is the 16-inch, about 900 feet from SJHHS. A major section of the 10-inch pipeline was removed when Ladera Ranch was developed. Consequently, it is unlikely that this pipe will ever be used again. As for the "50-year old high pressure natural gas pipeline", we do, in fact have just such a facility running along Camino Capistrano to Los Rios, across the creek, and then down Alipaz to Dana Point. It is exactly the same age an type of pipeline that destroyed that San Bruno neighborhood. But that is clear across town from The Oaks.

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