A $108,000 contract from the Orange County Transportation Authority to promote commerce in San Juan Capistrano turned controversial Tuesday when a city councilman said the money smacked of political payback.
The funds will be used to encourage people to continue to visit and shop in San Juan Capistrano during the two-year-plus construction of the new Ortega Highway interchange at the I-5. The project starts this month.
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Councilman Roy Byrnes, the No. 1 vote-getter in a hotly contested November election, said OCTA’s gift didn’t look right because it extends a contract with Faubel Political Affairs.
In April, Faubel hired former Capistrano Dispatch editor Jonathan Volzke, who was very vocal in his support of Sam Allevato (who won) and Ginny Kerr (who lost) in the City Council election.
“The appearance of impropriety is as bad as an impropriety,” Byrnes said.
Volzke could not be reached for comment.
OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik said Faubel is OCTA's contracted firm in South Orange County and was already working with OCTA and Caltrans on other local projects.
“It’s really a shame that OCTA’s plans to help the businesses and residents of San Juan Capistrano would be turned into a political issue,” Zlotnik said.
Just before exiting the dais in protest, Byrnes said he did want local businesses to benefit from the money, he just didn’t want it to go through Faubel.
City Attorney Hans Van Ligten said Byrnes was under no legal obligation to recuse himself, and when fellow councilmen asked why he was leaving the discussion, he responded: “Because I said so.”
Byrnes declined to elaborate after the meeiting.
Allevato said he had nothing to do with the $108,000 offer of help. “If there is some impropriety here, I would like to know about it,” Allevato said.
Volzke told the council his firm had an existing contract with OCTA before he joined Faubel, and the money – half of which will go to concrete items such as banners – is just an extension of that contract.