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Image of a horse
Horse; image courtesy of timokefoto via Pixabay, www.pixabay.com

Blenheim Facility Management (BFM) and the City of San Juan Capistrano recently agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the Orange County Coastkeeper regarding the “Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at San Juan Capistrano.” The lawsuit was filed back in July 2017 in the U.S. District Court and argues that the riding park, which is owned by San Juan Capistrano, “contributed to pollution in San Juan Creek.” According to the suit, the “BFM is the operator of the park.”

Despite the allegations, the city and BFM have so far denied the allegations. Some city officials even issued a news release claimed the settlement was a way to “avoid costs and uncertainties of future litigation.” But what happened? Why was the lawsuit filed in the first place? Well, according to the lawsuit, Orange County Coastkeeper alleges the city and BFM illegally discharged “storm water and non-storm water into San Juan Creek without a proper permit.” Additionally, the suit claims the city took part in “unpermitted fill projects that resulted in harmful runoff in the creek,” and alleged the city “reconstructed a storm-damaged crossing without permits and allowed unpermitted materials to stay in the creek.”

Image of Downtown San Juan Capistrano
Downtown San Juan Capistrano; image courtesy of Toksave via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org

As part of the settlement agreement, the city will “fund $1 million in projects through the California State Parks Foundation that will benefit the San Juan Creek watershed.” Additionally, San Juan Capistrano will “pay Coastkeeper $1.9 million for its expert and attorney’s fees related to the lawsuit and future monitoring expenses.” On top of that, BFM and the city will have to obtain “required water quality permits, develop plans for riding park improvements, and implement an employee training program on how to comply with water quality laws.

Many have applauded the settlement, including city officials, BFM, and Coastkeeper. In a recent statement, City Manager Benjamin Siegel said:

“I’m grateful that our City’s internationally-recognized equestrian facility will be able to continue its award-winning riding competitions, an annual rodeo, and other recreational and sports-related activities…The improvements to the Riding Park that we have agreed to as part of this settlement will benefit our community by ensuring compliance with regulatory agencies, protecting our natural resources and helping to preserve San Juan Capistrano’s equestrian heritage.”

Garry Brown, Executive Director for Coastkeeper, said he is looking forward to the planned improvements and added:

“This agreement represents a collaborative effort to protect and restore fishable, swimmable and sustainable water resources that our communities depend on for our health and lifestyle. We are pleased that the City and Blenheim have committed to complying with all local, state, and federal water quality regulations, and we look forward to working with them over the next few years as capital improvements are made for the betterment of our communities and the preservation of our Southern California way of life.”

Sources:

San Juan Capistrano, Blenheim Facility Management Settle Lawsuit Regarding Riding Park

Coastkeeper Takes Legal Action to Protect San Juan Creek and Doheny Beach from Illegal Pollution

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