If you are unfamiliar with this parcel of land and the standing, the city has the information and history on this link and I have an article with additional information here. On July 26, 2016 there was a special meeting of the city council where prospective partners spoke with the council, the recording can be heard here. A resident survey was finally done for the first time in 2017 and you can read my write up on the results here. What is clear is that in the nearly 10 years since the city acquired the property and failed to execute, is that the time is past. This property has cost the city over $6 million so far and is a continuing drain on our budget as we satisfy our commitment for ecological remediation. I’ve been told by city officials that the property is being held now as an emergency asset that can be quickly sold for many tens of millions of dollars to a housing developer when the city runs out of money, which is currently happening and will only be a stop gap measure. It is time to find a way to get rid of the property and give it back to the county.
The recent Holy Fire illustrated for us once again, how quickly a fire can spread in this desert area. Decades of misguided land management have lead to the significant accumulation of fuel for fires to feed on. It is time for our city to assert some authority on responsible land management that affects our residents. There are literally too many trees for the available water, they become very dry and during a fire will go off like a bomb. The cessation of responsible logging, brush clearing and controlled burns have led to this perfect storm, which seems to make every fire worse than the one before. As a member of the city council, I will work with county, state and federal officials to modernize the land management of Cleveland National Forest.
Despite protestations to the contrary, the traffic signal lights in our town are not well synced, or synced at all. Applied Medical is a great partner in our town and the #1 employer and user of commercial building space, but their distributed nature has created some traffic issues along Empressa because of higher than normal crosswalk usage. We can work with the civil engineers to research and implement a more sophisticated timing scheme to maximize the traffic along this road for example.
Whether you subscribe to anthropogenic climate change or not, we can all agree that cleaner air is better. I did an analysis and published a paper on how much of a difference that properly synchronized traffic signals can make in reducing smog. There are no smoking factories in RSM, so this would be something we could do to help reduce air pollution.
All the schools in town have less than optimal traffic flow patterns, and could benefit from serious evaluation and re-architecting, but two of them have items that can be addressed fairly easily as an interim step. First is Sierra Catholic school at the corner of Antonio and Banderas. This solution deals with the collateral traffic that aren't trying to go to the school, the traffic flow pattern in the school needs a serious in depth review. The issue is that if you are travelling south on Banderas and want to make a right onto Antonio, it is nearly impossible. There is no crossing guard, so when you have the green light, people are in the crosswalk. When the N/S lanes on Antonio have the turn signal, the ones going north are doing a U-turn, so you can't turn. Then the straight ahead light turns green and you can't turn because of the flow through traffic. You're just stuck. A very short term solution would be a crossing guard that managed the pedestrian flow so cars could turn right. The permanent solution is to put a right turn arrow on the traffic signal in that intersection.
Tesoro High School has a truly frustration traffic situation. It can take me 40 minutes to do the 8 mile round trip to the school. In 2010 I started to evaluate what was happening and timing the lights. The exit light from Tesoro was 19 seconds. The entire traffic flow pattern is locked up on people getting out (the safety factor of this death trap design in an emergency is a much larger issue). I spent a significant amount of time finding and contacting the person responsible for traffic signals and he was going to address it and then was in a near fatal car accident and I believe retired. In 2013 as my 2nd child needed rides, I did a fresh analysis, contacted the school and spoke to other people. Two simple things can be done, and I tested them, in 2015 I convinced the school to do one of them. Namely, have everyone pull forward to the tennis court to drop off. This helped the traffic flow a good bit. The other thing that can be done, and I tested this by pushing the crosswalk signal to extend the green light on the exit, is to have the green light extended to 2 minutes from the current cycle. If the county can't or won't do it, then school proctors or even students can just push that crosswalk button. Just needs about 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon and you'll have a much improved experience.
Did you know that the traffic tickets the Sheriff Deputies write up in town generate no income for the city? We are paying the bill to have the Deputies here, but this activity generates no income. Maybe law enforcements time and priorities could be better allocated.
Our current city council has a representative on the Toll Road agency, which makes the dangerous and likely illegal work on a toll road extension next to Tesoro High School even more puzzling. I haven’t seen any statements from our council in the time that this has been going on. The website CUSD Watch has a wealth of information on all the specifics that you should review. The reality is that there is no reasonable route left for a toll road with all the construction that has happened in the last 20 years, as science fiction as it might sound, it is like self driving cars that will end up being the answer. The pace they are being developed will likely see them on the roads far before anything else can be completed, I published an article on this in 2014.
Do you have an electric "smart meter" on your house? Edison started putting them out 7 years ago and shortly after ours was put in, I discovered something. They interfere significantly with 2.4ghz WiFi technology, the kind that is in most people's homes. I had Edison out to my house and we ran tests and it was obvious what was happening. I published an article in 2014 on the topic that you can read here. This is a public safety concern as many people are using VoIP (phone over the internet like Skype) to communicate, and if you are losing your WiFi signal and unable to connect, and you have an emergency, that can lead to a life threatening situation. I've brought this to the council several times over the years that Edison needed to address it, but nothing happened.
For such an amazing town, we have a fairly significant issue with drugs as well. I run across heroin needles on my hikes, I've seen people making deals on heroin, xanax, oxy, pot and ativan at some of the popular bars in town, either inside or just outside the door. Even with police on site at the high schools, the drugs flow pretty readily. My kids see other kids trading fairly often. Perhaps more sting operations can be organized to cut it off at the source. I actually had names and phone numbers of two dealers, I spoke to the police narcotics division and they wanted me to get even more information, which didn't sound safe or smart, I was hoping they'd do some work based on what I had already provided. Our city council failed to fill the open positions for law enforcement in their preventative crimes division that would work on this kind of issue.
As an objective observation, our town is quite safe, and our city council likes to talk about the 2016 FBI crime report that shows our low crime rate. Sadly, with the passage of AB109, Prop 47 and Prop 57 in California, there has been a real surge in crimes. This is only half the equation though, because crimes also have to be reported and filed. I know for myself and some others I’ve spoken to over the years, we’d been actively discourage from filing an official report for some lower level crimes.
Since 2000, there have been 9 deaths on the Santa Margarita Parkway bridge over Trabuco Creek. 2 were accidental (people didn't know the drop was on the other side of the guard rail) and 7 were suicides. I saw one of those suicides happen and another was a friend of mine. That guard rail is ridiculously low, and while it is true that someone who is determined to kill themselves is going to do it no matter what, we don't have to make it easy for them in this town, and we can prevent those accidental deaths. In 2013 the city staff put together some prices and came up with $1.2 Million for a fence similar to what is on Banderas over the toll road, with a $12,000 per year maintenance fee. That price seemed high to me, I don't know how many bids went out, but councilman Holloway is the only one that supported the notion of the fence. I did some checking and the absolute lowest I found, not counting whatever State costs might occur, was $900,000. You have 1800 feet and 4 sides to cover, not to mention having to work about 70 feet off the ground on the outside edge. I think a much cheaper price could be found with a bit of effort and possibly state or federal matching funds as it was a state project. That current fence is only 42" high, the city is in real financial risk potentially over this hazard and it should be addressed.
City Council Changes
I am FOR term limits. Let’s at least follow what is in place for the US President, two terms at most, and if you were appointed with less than 3 years left, then you could also do two terms. This would set the max at 10 years in special circumstances and 8 years under normal circumstances. Currently, everyone on the council has been at city hall between 8 and 18 years.
Did you know there is no way to officially get the city council to entertain an issue? It is entirely dependant on you having a private conversation with them and if they like it, then they might put it on the agenda. I proposed a more democratic method that would work outside of the electoral process and get more engagement, you can read the details here.
The State of the City needs to be free, for some reason it was turned into a paid event under the direction of the previous Chamber of Commerce leadership, then we had one free one and now it is a paid event again that members of the chamber get a discount for. What does the Chamber of Commerce have to do with the State of the City and where does the money go to and why are companies who have contracts with the city paying extra to sponsor the event? This needs to stop, the event needs to be free and open, maybe host it outdoors in central park so as many people that want to attend, can attend.
Sadly, our city will be bankrupt in 12 years according to city officials, without a new revenue source to compensate for the rising law enforcement costs, which are projected to be 58% of our city budget this next year. There are two major revenue sources for the city, they are car dealerships and restaurants. The city use to publish the tax revenue statistics, but they stopped after the first quarter of 2017 for an unknown reason, but you can read the old ones here.
When RSM had four dealerships, we were in good shape, but we have been down to three for a long time now and there is nowhere to put a fourth. I have a solution however, as I’ve spent much of the last 18 months reaching out to various electric car companies that would make RSM a destination and be able to fit in a showroom, like a Tesla, and I’m happy to say that I found a really amazing company to work with. They are Triple O Automotive and I have their letter of interest from their founder and award winning car designer here.
For some reason the teen council in the city was disbanded years ago. During the 2014 election I tried to convince candidates to get more involved in trying to create youth job fairs in town and provide more opportunities for entertainment to the youth in town. This is still something that I am passionate about, with over 1,100 businesses in our city, if we can coordinate to advance youth employment for opportunities, internships, apprenticeships, etc., it can help kids get a jump start on their lives, keep them out of trouble and away from drugs.
As you are likely aware, the homeless situation throughout Orange County really reached a boiling point in 2018 and we are seeing it start to enter RSM with some homeless encampments in O’Neill Park and surrounding areas. The first problem is the safety of the individuals, there are wild animals that can kill you in those spots. The second problem is public safety, some of the worst fires in our state have been started by fires at a homeless camp. Many of these people are suffering from mental disorders and need help. It is important to address the homeless and help them with information and access to services, of which there are many available. Some just need a helping hand for a while from falling on hard times, but others have serious drug and mental issues that are not helped by living on the street. Each person should be helped based on their need.
Use of Technology
Our city doesn't make nearly the use of the technology that is available that they could. For example, we have street sweeping in town, but it seems to be a mystery to everyone I've asked as to when they come through. If the city isn't going to put up street signs notifying when it will happen (they should, and they could also ticket, which would be a revenue source and prevent people from putting their cars in front of other people's houses to make sure they get a cleaning). The city could make much heavier use of push technology like Twitter to send notifications of events in town, like street sweeping, the summer concerts, RanchoFest, City Council meeting reminders, etc. These can be queued up in advance in a software platform like HootSuite for example.
In 2014 I presented to the City Council in open comments about using a technology platform like SeeClickFix as a way to notify the city of issues around town by the residents, for a more effective method of being informed and fixing them. In 2016, as part of the new website rollout, the also rolled out a companion app that was similar to what I had described, however I want to go much deeper with it. Consider our relationship with SAMLARC, and then Mission Viejo for Animal Control (recently County of Orange), SMWD, Street Sweeping, etc. Who is it that handles what? As a resident, you shouldn't have to know which of these various agencies to contact for issues. Imagine just being able to take a picture in the city's app of whatever it is, a broken sprinkler at 9pm, a dead dog in the road, graffiti on a wall, etc. Then a city employee in their spare time can route those requests to the appropriate agency. All the technology exists already, this would be fairly easy to implement and maintain with an enormous benefit.
Make use of technology to better inform residents of council meetings and other city events and functions, such as Twitter and Facebook.
I've seen a lot of discussions online about the kind of businesses people would like to see in town. Those businesses need to be enticed to the city, and in the past there was a specific relationship with an Independant Consultant to that end, but that ended in 2014 and now the city's Development Services Director performs the Economic Development task. A lot of factors go into the consideration a business must make of where to open a new place, and desire of the residents is one of them. One problem that we've had in town is that of the business property landlords.
We've had a perpetual problem over the years of beloved businesses leaving town because of landlord issues. Ball Park pizza is an example, but a very recent example is the closure of Pier One in town. This was one of their most successful locations, but the landlord decided he was going to create a drive through Starbucks, but he didn't get it approved first, and it wasn't approved, now the location has been segmented for multiple businesses, some of which have historically high failure rates or currently have a high density rate in the city. If elected to the city council, I will do my best to find out if there is a way to mitigate this persistent issue.
We need to stop rezoning non-housing areas into high density housing. The current issue on the table is the same one from 2016, namely Raintree Investments and their purchase of Dove Canyon Plaza and stated desire to re-zone it as high density housing. The current council refuses to address the issue in any way at all because no proposal has been brought before them, however there are ways to deal with the potential issue in advance that I have proposed. I am strongly against any rezone of the Dove Canyon Plaza.
The city council voted in 2016 to keep out any cannabis related business from the city, including legitimate medical forms such as CBD. To be clear, I am against having a standard “pot shop” in town, however I have had too many friends and family have medical issues resolved from various distillations of CBD, such as oils, pills and creams, to not be aware of the medical benefit. There is even an argument to be made for a properly done pot shop, where education of the laws is included, as of right now, many people still acquire it illegally, which makes it available to anyone. Considering the dozens of liquor licenses in town, it can’t be concern over inebriation. The extent to which CBD products can be allowed and recreational pot shops can be strongly regulated, I would be in favor of that change. There is a lot of research and planning that would need to be done to come up with an appropriate change.