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Council Passes Ordinance Banning Sleeping in Cars

Also at the busy meeting, officials received an update on the weekend's officer-involved shooting and honored a teen and a high school employee for their efforts in saving a man from drowning.

Officials voted in an ordinance that bans sleeping in cars, two lifesavers received standing ovations for their efforts in rescuing a drowning man and the chief of police services updated RSM residents on the status of an officer-involved shooting—all at the same busy City Council meeting Wednesday.

With a vote of 4-1, the Rancho Santa Margarita lawmakers signed off on a new law that prohibits sleeping in vehicles on the city's public roads between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Council supporters have said the ordinance is a tool to help local Orange County Sheriff Deputies to approach vehicles with cause, and that it will decrease safety risks and sanitation problems that can result from people sleeping or living in their cars.

The ordinance, which passed in a second reading last night, passed its first reading Feb. 22.

According to City Attorney Greg Simonian, violating the ordinance would be classified as a misdemeanor offense—punishable with a maximum of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

However Simonian said that his office would have the discretion to downgrade the punishment to a code “infraction,” and that the punishment for the infraction would range between $35 and $50, and the fine would be no more than a maximum of $100 on first offense.

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Before the vote, one person spoke during public comments.

Jim Tusko, a Rancho Santa Margarita resident, said that he disagreed with proposed legislation and called it an “unwise, unjust ordinance.”

Tusko said that he works 18- to 20-hour days and spends much of it on the road and that the only way he could make it through is by taking naps in his car, rather than driving drowsy.

“Again, I think this is unconscionable, that under this fine I could face six months in jail or a $1,000 fine,” Tusko said. "Would you rather I keep driving?”

Mayor Tony Beall said he appreciated Tusko’s comments and said that the objections Tusko raised had already been addressed at the Feb. 22 meeting when the council vetted concerns about the ordinance.

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Beall added that the ordinance would not ban Tusko from sleeping in the well-lit parking lots of city parks or commercial centers.

After Tusko spoke, councilman Jesse Petrilla, who cast the sole dissenting vote on the item in February, said that his decision had not changed.

“I continue to express my opposition to this ordinance,” Petrilla said, after mentioning an article by an Orange County Register columnist that criticized the proposed law.

Beall moved the item and councilman Jerry Holloway seconded it.

The ordinance passed 4-1, with Petrilla dissenting. The ordinance is scheduled to take effect in 30 days.

Life savers

The city honored a Rancho Santa Margarita teen and Santa Margarita Catholic High School employee for their efforts in saving a man from drowning in the SMCHS aquatic center.

In December, Mission Viejo student Brandon Neilson, 16, and SMCHS employee Samuel Medina rescued Jose Luis Mendoza, another Santa Margarita Catholic High School worker, who had fallen into the high school’s pool.

Mendoza didn’t know how to swim.

Beall praised both Neilson and Medina for their “heroic, unselfish and quick actions.”

Mendoza's wife and children had a front-row seat to the proclamation.

Update on Shooting

An investigation into an is still ongoing, the chief of police services told officials last night.

Lt. Brian Schmutz said he understands that people want to know all the details instantly, but he urges patience as investigations can take time.

Schmutz said that officials don't want to give rushed or inaccurate information to the public "simply to appear responsive."

The Orange County District Attorney is currently investigating the incident, and Schmutz said that it could take several months for the investigation to come to a close.

Schmutz’ update came at the request of the mayor.

Beall said that he wanted to show residents that the city aims to keep locals informed.

“In Rancho Santa Margarita we have a proud record of always carrying out the people’s business with openness, honesty and transparency,” Beall said.

Other business

  • The City Council voted to enter into a agreement with AshBritt—a Florida-based disaster recovery contractor—to help take care of the city’s debris removal needs in the event of a disaster.
  • Officials honored four Rancho Santa Margarita students, freshman Taylor Comroe and seniors Steven Holcomb, Alexandra Rupp and Nick Wu.
  • The next City Council meeting takes place March 28. 

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