To B—that the answer.
By a comfortable margin Tuesday, voters in San Juan Capistrano gave developers the go-ahead to build a disputed 500-horse equestrian center, hundreds of homes and commercial, office and retail outlets just south of the .
Of the 30 percent of registered voters who cast ballots in the citywide special election, to Measure B, edging out those who believed the project the town’s “rural” lifestyle.
Supporters—an array of movers and shakers including the local , a majority of the City Council and the California Realtors Association—celebrated their victory at El Adobe in downtown, the same spot where they launched their two months ago.
“This was the right decision,” Mayor Sam Allevato said from the dais in City Hall upon adjourning the night’s City Council meeting just as the Orange County registrar of voters posted the election's final results.
Allevato went on to cite a list—from new jobs and more tax revenues for city coffers—of ways in which the development would benefit San Juan Capistrano. The 153.8-acre lot where the Distrito La Novia-San Juan Meadows project may now be built currently sits vacant, straddling La Novia Avenue east of Valle Road.
There was no party for resident John Perry. He was among the residents who led the fight for a referendum against the project and was one of the three who subsequently led the No on B canvass.
Speaking to Patch.com on the phone from his home that skirts the putting green of the golf course, Perry said the outcome of the election was "disappointing" but not unpredictable, given the amount of money Lake Forest-based Advanced Real Estate Services pumped into its campaign.
"This sounds like sour grapes, but this town is for sale," he said. "Little people under these circumstances do not have a chance. When you get outspent 25 to 1—or whatever the number turns out to be—it's such an unfair advantage."
Citizens for Sensible Development, a committee formed to oppose Measure B, spent roughly $7,000 on its campaign at last count.
Perry preferred older plans for the property that were overturned with a vote of the City Council in 2010. The plans from the 1980s called for a resort-style hotel with a conference center, more single family-houses and a public institutional building, such as a school or a church.
Opponents said the 2010 plans would increase traffic, send water rates soaring and harm existing businesses.
The plans are the result of negotiations between two former city councilmen and ARES executives, as well as input from the public.
If Measure B had failed, an entirely new plan could have been hammered out. Those who opposed the 2010 plans had hoped for such an opportunity.
When Perry and others led their fight for a referendum earlier this year to get the measure on the ballot, he said, ARES representatives offered to scale back the 2010 project. They have characterized it as including a retail strip mall with 40 apartments on top, a market, restaurant, offices, 90 condominiums and an equestrian center that could ultimately house 1,500 horses.
They have also argued it will have a four-level parking structure and 10 three-story buildings on 18 acres. But Perry said he had no power to change the blueprints and had already promised citizens they would have the final say on the matter via the election.
With Measure B upheld, supporters said residents can look forward to a project that is less dense than the 1980 plans, will preserve open space accessible to the public and will provide more equestrian opportunities in the "horse capital of the West."
City Councilman Derek Reeve reacted optimistically toward news of Measure B's approval. He was the lone member on the council to oppose it.
"For anyone that is disappointed," he told the nearly empty chambers in City Hall, "San Juan Capistrano is going to remain a wonderful city to live in, and there is no doubt about that."
Vote Count Percentage Yes 3,372 55.5% No 2,704 44.5%
Turnout Percentage Total Registered Voters 19,805
Precinct Registration 19,805
Precinct Ballots Cast 1,828 9.2% Early Ballots Cast 0 0.0% Vote-by-Mail Ballots Cast 4,262 21.5% Total Ballots Cast 6,090 30.7%