VIDEO: Citing Traffic Concerns, Panel Rejects Apartment Complex

The San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission said the 100 units would only add to a congested area near San Juan Hills High.

The San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission rejected plans for a 100-unit apartment complex next to San Juan Hills High at its meeting Tuesday, voicing concerns about adding more traffic in an already congested area.

The proposal, which includes an affordable housing component, lives on. It will next go before the City Council.

The commission voted 3-1, with Roy Nunn opposed and Ian Gardiner absent, to declare the related environmental documents inadequate, especially in how it planned to manage traffic.

Phil Schwartze, representing the developer, was taken by complete surprise.

“We’re not the cause of the problem,” he told Patch after the meeting, referring to the hundreds of cars that come and go to and from San Juan Hills High.

Just the same, the developer announced in June he was willing to pay for a traffic signal to aid school-generated traffic.

A consultant analyzed several locations for a traffic signal, each having pros and cons. Serine Ciandella then put together a video [see excerpts above] to show how they would work.

The first scenario, as envisioned by the environmental documents, is for no light. That would make it hard for apartment residents to exit the complex during the school’s rush hour in the morning, Ciandella said.

Other possibilities were:

  • Option A – putting the light at the intersection where the apartment’s driveway exits onto Vista Montana, which would cause school traffic to momentarily back up.
  • Option B – allowing school-bound traffic the opportunity to turn right into a campus access road from La Pata Avenue and putting the light at the intersection of the access road and Vista Montana. The access road would be open to one-way traffic only.
  • Option C – similar to Option B except the light would go at the access road and La Pata and the access road would accommodate two-way traffic, causing a possible back up in exiting parents who want to turn left on the access road instead of going straight out onto La Pata.
  • Option D – putting lights at both ends of the access road and allowing for two-way traffic on it.

Commissioner Tim Neely said several of the options required the cooperation of the Capistrano Unified School District – but he didn’t see that happening anytime soon.

In response, district spokesman Marcus Walton said: “The district is working closely and cooperatively with city staff to review appropriate traffic mitigation options in the area.”

Neely said that would take a miracle, and even if the access road could be opened up, it could have the unintended consequences of creating a drop-off area in the back of the school.

In joining the majority that voted against the project, new Planning Commissioner Evan Chaffee said he doubted any of the options would improve the commute.

“I watched those renderings… I’m just not impressed, flat out,” Chaffee said.

Commission Chair Sheldon Cohen added that he didn’t think the location was the right place for affordable housing. He said he’d prefer it be located closer to downtown, the commercial and transportation hub.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The traffic depicted in the video is going four times faster than conditions in real life, Ciandella said. The number of cars is based on a survey conducted in October, 2012.

Clint Worthington August 14, 2013 at 10:20 PM
Mr. Schwartz, you may not have caused the traffic problem, however the addition of more vehicles from your project will add to the problem.
Casey Elliott August 15, 2013 at 10:51 AM
Couple of points to go with the video. The traffic assessment was done prior to the construction of 180 new homes directly across the street (Oct 2012; majority of the 180 units still has not moved in as of Aug 2013...). No adjustment was done for the added traffic for when La Pata gets extended to San Clemente. No adjustment was done for the anticipated increase attendance at SJHS over the next 5-10 years due to all of the expansion to San Juan Cap. Furthermore the simulation runs with perfect driving execution by each car... remember this is a high school, they need to account for 16-18 year old drivers, mixed in with parents both of which are late for something school/work due to the already congested scenario.
Casey Elliott August 15, 2013 at 10:58 AM
Would like to also say that I was very impressed with the SJC Planning commission, they listened to all of the concerns voiced by San Juan residents and made a informed rational decision on all. I was there for all 3 agenda items (as the one i was there for was last...).


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