A group of residents, businessmen and a former San Clemente City Council member have formed a group to support and substation in San Juan Capistrano.
The group held a press conference Thursday to introduce itself.
“We want to put faces to the names,” said group member Mark Bodenhamer, CEO of the . “We’re real people with real concerns.”
Meanwhile, San Juan Capistrano officials may consult with an expert in electric utilities to help city officials respond to aspects of the overhaul that bother them, chiefly safety and aesthetic issues, the city’s principal planner, Bill Ramsey, told the Heritage and Cultural Commission on Tuesday.
Calling itself Citizens for Safe and Reliable Power, the pro-upgrade group lists 17 members on its letterhead. Eight met the press at restaurant at the train depot. Two are San Juan residents, five are from San Clemente and one lives in Irvine.
“By uniting this way, we think we are the voice of safe and reliable power,” San Juan Capistrano resident Reed Royalty said.
Among the members are former San Clemente City Councilman Joe Anderson, retired state Sen. Dick Ackerman (a Republican who held that office from 2000-2008), and San Juan Capistrano resident Stephanie Frisch, who serves as co-chair with Anderson.
Royalty said SDG&E encouraged the formation of the group, although many of the members were already speaking publicly in favor the project.
“None of us are being paid to do this. They bought our breakfast. There’s no exchange of money,” he said.
Several panel members addressed the growing list – – of objections to the plan, but said the benefits of having a reliable power supply far outweigh any short-term inconveniences of the construction.
“Was anybody in this room surprised there was opposition to this project? No. That’s how we make decisions,” Royalty said.
San Juan Capistrano resident and Executive Director of Arts Orange County Rick Stein said that although he understood some San Juan Capistrano residents’ concerns about tearing down the existing building, circa 1918, at the substation on Camino Capistrano at Calle Bonita, it isn’t on par with some of the other historical structures in town.
“The was built in the late 1700s and there are a couple of adobes from that time frame. A[n 80]-year-old utility building, I don’t think it’s in the same category,” he said.
Members of the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission disagree. They met Tuesday, and one of the topics was the SDG&E project.
“We’re very concerned about the loss of a historic structure. We’re very concerned about two modern buildings and walls that are out of character with the historic nature of our city,” said Grant Taylor, San Juan’s community services director.
Although a major portion of the upgrade, the substation, is in San Juan Capistrano, neither city officials here nor San Clemente get to approve the project. As a utility, SDG&E is regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission, which will have the ultimate say on the project, Taylor said.
However, the utility will have to conduct an environmental report to detail side effects and come up with plans to reduce them, and it is in that process the city may be able to exert influence, Taylor said.
Cultural Heritage Commission Chairwoman Lorie Porter said she found it very “troubling” SDG&E wants to tear down the vine-covered building that fronts the substation. She described the current mock-up as “really ugly.”
SDG&E officials have said there is no way to blend the existing building into its future plans. It has offered to sell the building to anyone who wants it for $1.
Ramsey, who attended a recent SDG&E outreach to the community at , said he found company officials “conciliatory.”
“But there’s no doubt this is what they’re going after. … They have an objective, and I think what’s easiest, quickest and cheapest is to tear that building down to meet that objective,” Ramsey said.
He added that city officials may hire their own electric utility expert to help them respond to the plan.
Royalty responded to recent rumblings among San Juan Capistrano residents that their city must bear the brunt of a project that serves a large swath of South Orange County.
Royalty responded: “I’ve never considered having reliable electric power the brunt of anything.”
Bodenhamer added that residents in San Juan probably wouldn’t want to trade places with those who live near the , which also serves a much larger population than just San Clemente.
SDG&E’s system is “antiquated and needs to be upgraded. It just needs desperately to be updated to 21st century technology,” he said.