San Juan Capistrano’s “open space procurement”

While I commend the city of San Juan Capistrano for their stated efforts to preserve their “open space” in the heart of south county, their participation with Continuing Life Communities LLC of Carlsbad, CLC, in the related acquisition of 116 acres of raw land which CLC is purchasing from Crystal Cathedral Ministries, known locally as Rancho Capistrano, is somewhat suspect.

As I research the property in question, which I have visited previously, there is an ongoing problem relating to access. While there is an emergency road behind the Mercedes Benz of Laguna Niguel dealership the MPAH plan to add the graded Los Padres Road from Golden Lantern to Camino Capistrano was deleted from the 2030 MPAH. As such the developer is in a box as it requires a government agency to obtain approval to add a public crossing of a railroad. As such no private sector interest could gain access. It has been noted that the Cathedral intends to retain the existing retreat center and chapel complex.


It is one thing if the developer was building affordable housing but that is not their plan. CLC’s project will be high end senior housing without meeting any of the state mandate for low cost affordable units at a time when the city is out of compliance to the housing element.
I need to use caution in quoting dollar figures of the acquisition in that the initial outlay is stated at $10 million yet I see other data suggesting a cost approaching $85 million over the next 20 years.

Without assistance from the city of San Juan Capistrano, namely obtaining the railroad crossing, CLC cannot move ahead with their planned development.

I can understand the citizen concerns in that the city has already commenced the procurement of land after approval of a $30 million dollar Bond Measure. That involved acquiring the parcel containing the equestrian center on Ortega Highway at La Pata from Rancho Mission Viejo for a cool $27.5 million.

Perhaps the city should take a lesson from all of the Orange County developers who have taken a beating on unsold and unfinished housing projects in Anaheim and Irvine. While CLC may have excellent plans for these retirement homes, the council should be careful in spending the sales and property taxes or paying off the Bond costs in advance of the project being successful.
Word on the street is that  the Cathedral Ministry, realizing that a public access across the railroad is part of the CLC Agreement, is considering the construction of 200,000 square feet of office space on part of their remaining land. I wonder if CLC was aware of that possibility and whether or not it impacts their 34 acre development.

This is truly a case of opening Pandora’s Box. The land locked Williams property, just north of J Serra High School, will now be able to become a player in this development that the city is “spinning” to its citizens as protection of open space.

One needs to question Mayor Nielsen and the council on the risks Vs the rewards of this ambitious activity when many cities are tightening their belts as we await the other shoe to fall from Sacramento.

About Larry Gilbert