Spitzer: OC Paying Too Much for South County Road Extension

OC Public Works

Workers work on building a bridge in May as part of the La Pata Ave. extension project.

As construction work continues on the $127 million La Pata Ave. extension in South Orange County, county supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer says the private development that’s largely benefitting from it should be contributing more towards its funding.

Spitzer recently noted that when the county reached its funding agreement with the Rancho Mission Viejo Company in 2004, officials expected a parallel toll road – the SR-241 extension – to accommodate much of the new traffic from the 14,000-home Ranch Plan development.

But the toll road project was abandoned last year after environmentalists, surfers and other advocates successfully lobbied state and federal officials to turn down the project, amid concerns about impacts to wildlife and recreation, including plans to have the road run through part of San Onofre State Beach.

“La Pata is gonna end up being…the solution to carrying all the traffic in that portion of the world between Antonio [Parkway] and Ortega [Highway],” said Spitzer, who represents parts of South County like Irvine and Trabuco Canyon, during the Sept. 22 county supervisors meeting. “And I’m real concerned about it.”

“La Pata was not intended to be” the main road between Ladera Ranch, the Ranch Plan developments and the I-5 freeway, he added.

The developer’s Ranch Plan calls for 14,000 homes and over 5 million square feet of commercial space on undeveloped land east of Ladera Ranch and San Juan Capistrano.  Some of the homes are already occupied, though most of the plan has yet to be built.

Due to its location in unincorporated county territory, the area’s land use, building permits, transportation projects and infrastructure taxes fall under the county’s control.

As of 2013, Rancho Mission Viejo was to chip in $25 million for the La Pata project, with another $16 million coming from a tax on future residents and businesses in the development, for a total of $41 million.

The other $51 million was to come from taxpayer funding outside of the area, such as county-wide road funds and the county-wide Measure M2 transportation tax.

But the project’s cost has grown from earlier estimates.  And the county now has a $40 million funding gap to fill, according to county Public Works Director Shane Silsby.

That puts other crucial county road projects – like Carbon Canyon Rd. in North County – at risk, Spitzer said.

“When I see the amount of money going into La Pata” the county will have have to borrow “at the peril of other projects that are just as pressing, it bothers me,” he said “At the same time, you can’t say to these people, welcome to your neighborhood, but by the way don’t back out of your garage” because you can’t get anywhere.

Spitzer suggested the development agreement, which calls for some of the La Pata project to be funded by future residents through extra taxes, needs to be re-examined.

That idea, however, was met with resistance from Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who represents most of South County, including the project area.

“I really would be very hesitant at this point to try to go back and renegotiate the development agreement,” said Bartlett, pointing to the possibility of lawsuits and delays.

“We have a number of [tax districts] in the future that are going to come forth” for this project and the county should focus on those instead of looking back at the past, she said.

But Spitzer has leverage in the debate.

He’s a crucial swing vote on approving much of the Ranch development’s infrastructure funding, which is done through tax increases on residents and businesses in the area.  It’s known as Mello-Roos taxes or community facilities districts.

They require approval by four out of five supervisors to move forward, and Supervisor Michelle Steel has consistently voted against them as they come up. That gives Spitzer the opportunity to be in the driver’s seat.

“They are one vote away from no new [community facilities district],” Spitzer said Tuesday of the developer.  “They need to pay for the infrastructure new housing is creating or that area will have permanent gridlock.”

The exact amount the developers are currently required to contribute to the La Pata Ave. costs could not be determined Tuesday, as neither Silsby nor Rancho Mission Viejo representatives returned calls seeking comment.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • Just make LA Pata a tol road project and you’ll get all 5 Supervisors to approve it. They’ve managed to scam the public on the I5 and I405 toll projects by laying the blame on Caltrans. They can easily pull smoke and mirrors to bring this about.

  • Paul Lucas

    Heck why not? The Poseidon plant is already being paid for or trying to be by way of parcel tax to benefit this development why not stick us north county peeps with the cost o their roads too?

  • Jacki Livingston

    Wow. I haven’t seen Stitzie so passionate since he got all twisted up a get his gun. Of course, it would be for the relatively wealthy folks in South County. They are his bread and butter. Maybe he could work up the same lather for the tens of thousands of people who work hard for the County, but whose wages are so stagnant that they cannot afford to buy homes in the County that they serve, but drive in the worst traffic in SoCal on the 91 every day.

    • David Zenger

      Just more grandstanding. He doesn’t even understand the territory: there is no “world” between Antonio parkway and Ortega Highway – they are perpendicular to each other.

      • Jacki Livingston

        You got that. He didn’t care about nursing home patients being ripped off and killed, why would he care about anything else. He is the definition of a souless opportunist.

        • David Zenger

          The simple fact is that the residents of “The Ranch Plan” are going to pay for La Pata anyway one way or another – whether it is via CFD taxes or higher house prices. Spitzer’s compassion for the “one mill” homeownwers stuck in their own gridlock is no more convincing as public policy than his Karma the Wonder-Wolf Dog comic opera.

  • Bob Brock

    Expense vs. value. Today the I-5 freeway is the only way through this area of the County… The only area of the County I’m aware of that has no alternate route. Punching LaPata through may prove to be critical in terms of public safety in an emergency situation by offering an alternate route. Connecting the 241 to the I-5 remains of paramount importance to the region. Regulatory roadblocks for infrastructure projects are often difficult to overcome, but the need remains.

    • I get it. But who is creating the traffic. Is it fair for new homeowners to pay 1 mill for a house and 1 percent property tax and 2 percent Mellon roos and still sit in gridlock while all the already programmed road fund money for the entire county is being siphoned to LA Pata?

      • I want the 241 built. But is the TCA capable of moving this project forward. Based on the last decade of no progress it seems highly unlikely.

  • David Zenger

    Too bad the only person keeping track of the SCRIP and the RMV DDA is Harry Persaud.

    • Al Gibson

      Zenger, while you’re at it, why don’t you get a job? You’re unemployed and unemployable. Are you still trying to shakedown the taxpayers at the County in your lawsuit? Pathetic.

      • David Zenger

        Thank you “Al.”

        I have a job. Several, in fact. And I also find just enough time to harass the greedheads and their pathetic apologists like you who haven’t got the huevos to use their own names. Why the anonymity “Al?” What are you of?

        • Al Gibson

          Your welcome “David”… What anonymity are you talking about? Paranoid are we? Didn’t know you were able to parlay your blogging into a full-time gig but congrats! And you don’t even have to get out of your PJs!

        • Kathleen Tahilramani

          Mr. Fake Al is afraid of getting caught blogging on county time. 🙂

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        Al Gibson – creative fake name. By the way – until and unless you have been a county employee subjected to the abject hypocrisy, corruption and have been forced to protect yourself -vs- breaking the law by means of legal action – well you have no ability to comprehend the pressure high level people put on staff to do what is wrong and take the heat and fallout. And by what arrogance do you have the right to deem someone, “unemployable”. You are the one that is pathetic.