OPEN MEETINGS -- A local residents group today threatened a lawsuit if the City of San Juan Capistrano does
not withdraw from plans to buy 116 acres of open space now owned by Crystal Cathedral Ministries, reports the Orange County Register.

Under
a plan announced in January, 170 acres of Rancho Capistrano in
northwest San Juan would be split in three. The city said it is
prepared to spend $10 million for 116 acres. Continuing Life Communities
would buy 34 acres to develop an upscale assisted living/retirement
community. Crystal Cathedral would keep 20 acres for a retreat and
chapel.

Three residents sent a letter to the city attorney today
alleging that the purchase agreement, which gives San Juan the option
to buy its portion of the property, was drafted in violation
of California's Ralph M. Brown Act, which requires that public business be conducted in open meetings.

The
residents are former Mayor Roy Byrnes, aerospace engineer Jim Reardon
and Kim Lefner, who was active in the recall of two Capistrano Unified
School District trustees in 2006.

"This (purchase agreement) was
never on the agenda of any public session of the City Council, the RDA
(Redevelopment Agency) board or the city's Open Space Committee … at
any time prior to the Jan. 20 meeting," the letter states. "Far from
being a technicality, this is an egregious violation of (the) law."

Mayor Mark Nielsen said the letter represents a "misunderstanding or mischaracterization."

"This
whole project is just in the beginning phases," he said. "This project
still has to go through all the public hearings, all the public
discussion and dialogue. The statements of fact in that letter are
incorrect. Nothing was hidden."

The actual acquisition of
land would take place over the next four to five years, according to a
city announcement in January. However, the option agreement pulled the
land from the open market.

The Brown Act provides that those seeking court action to nullify unlawfully secret decisions must first send the suspect government body a written notice spelling out the alleged violation of the law and demanding a cure and correction.  If they fail to do so within a certain deadline—in this case 90 days from the date of the challenged decision—they cannot go to court to have the decision undone.