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'We Need That Trail,' City Tells Saddleback Christian

San Juan Capistrano's Planning Commission postpones a vote on plans to build out Saddleback Valley Christian School's campus. The plans hinge on giving the public a multi-use trail on the private property.

The build-out of 's campus on Oso Road was dealt a setback Tuesday.

The San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission said , generally following the alignment of Trabuco Creek.

Saddleback Valley Christian is asking for approval of plans that in the interim would locate the trail on the outskirts of its campus, abutting its athletic fields. In the future, it would like to rebuild the existing trail directly atop the creek embankment, which collapsed in the , forcing the trail's closure.

The trail is a key connector into the  and is a trigger for allowing the school to construct new classrooms and a gym. "We need that trail," said Grant Taylor, the city's director of development.

The commission said it would like the interim solution to become the permanent one.

Additionally, the school's plans for the interim trail, the commission said, are lacking key engineering details, which they believe will render it unstable. So it voted unanimously Tuesday to postpone a decision about whether the school should be allowed to start erecting the new buildings.

"I don't have any faith in this trail," said chairman Sheldon Cohen. "And I don't mean any disrespect to anyone; it's the location of the trail."

Permission to rebuild the existing embankment there must come from the state Department of Fish and Game and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Putting the trail there for the long term would keep the trail off of the school's campus, giving student athletes more room to practice.

"I'm really skeptical about whether the school will get approval from the regulatory agencies," said Commissioner Ginny Kerr. "It seems like a long shot."

Kerr explained that the embankment is cracking and would thus require substantial grading work. Shifting the dirt around would mean the school would have to rip out vegetation on the creek bed, a move that she predicted would not please the Department of Fish and Game.

She, and the other commissioners, wants plans in place to ensure a permanent trail is actually built.

Taylor said it the city attorney's opinion that the school is currently in contempt of court because it is not following through on its end of a 2005 agreement to keep a trail on its property. "They're not following through on their obligation."

But the school's architect, Terry D. Jacobson, said the city's lengthy review process is causing "a great hardship," as funding for the construction is contingent upon certain timing milestones.

"We have to move this project forwarding," he said. "We are anxious to get this project built."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the chairman of the Planning Commission.

Jenna Chandler July 27, 2011 at 08:09 PM
I was creating a dual personality super-hero: a mix between Mayor Sam Allevato and Planning Commission Chairman Sheldon Cohen! Will correct the error immediately; thanks for pointing it out.
Jim Reardon July 28, 2011 at 03:49 AM
Here we go again. Whenever somebody steps forward with a development plan on private property, the city makes a demand. In this case, a "public trail" on private property -- a successor to the original demand that the school pay for improvement of a trail along the creek in an area that washed away! Did the City offer to pay for this alternative property? Nope. Instead, they took an adversarial and delaying position to force the property owner to concede. This has been going on all over town with varying degrees of success and it is one reason why SJC is not regarded as being friendly to investment. It also explains why this city is so often sued over development issues. The commission would like, "...the interim solution to become the permanent one." Isn't that an unlawful taking of private property? Finally, I hope that Taylor was wrong when he said that the City Attorney believes that the school is "in contempt of court." Only a court can make that determination. No matter how you feel about "open space", let's not cross the line and start taking private property! What lies on the other side will be very costly.
Steelhead July 28, 2011 at 06:19 AM
Reardon: Perhaps you would be better served before expressing some negative opinions regarding the SVCS issues and the actions taken by the PC and the CC in doing some research on the years of problems associated with the project- grading done without permits, lawsuits by agencies against SVCS, settlement agreements between SVCS and the city with terms not satisfied by SVCS for years, continued expansion by the school without permits, a court order which SVCS seems to have ignored and the list goes on. It is only an unlawful taking if the school objects to the condition which to date they have not. The school is now asking for extension of expired entitlements, processing of plans before any grants of extensions and a sudden rush to process addtional expansion plans due to some urgency of potential funding.
Jim Reardon July 28, 2011 at 06:59 AM
Steelhead, "It is only an unlawful taking if the school objects...", is precisely the problem. In this town, if you object, your project is doomed. Nobody dares to object, and the city is thereby given a free hand to make outrageous demands. All the "years of problems" you cite and lawsuits "by agencies" are peripheral to the issue. It is the city that is making the demand that a temporary measure be made permanent - at the school's expense. Elsewhere, we see our city grant extensions to expired "entitlements" (actually, permits) without even been formally asked to do so. But not here. Could it be that the obvious risk of the creek caught our city by surprise, jeopardizing equestrian access to the Northwest Open Space? At City Hall: "Private property? It's no obstacle!"
Steelhead July 28, 2011 at 04:30 PM
JIM: You want to twist your opinions about issues related to SVCS to some broad unsupported argument about the the city granting entitlements ( acutally not permits in the SVCS case but entitlements and CUP ) elsewhere in the city. Try being specific for a change. Study the SVCS project and record going back to 1998. Read the staff report or contact the OCDA and read their reports. The city has not been given a free hand. They did, however, not monitor the buikding activities of SVCS and enforce the building code or CUP issues related to that parcel. Your shout out that private property is no obstacle is more Reardon naysaying and pushing your political agenda. Let's see your factual basis rather than another rant unsupported by reality.

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