Brad Gates, Space Cowboy

The ex-sheriff's open-space dealmaking has some in San Juan Capistrano crying foul

“I wanted to thank you again for your time yesterday,” Gates wrote in May to OCTA CEO Arthur Leahy. “It was nice to just sit and talk about old times and friendship. The citizens of SJC will appreciate your help in solving the issue of the crossing.”

Reading through the e-mails, one gets the impression Gates is a cordial, persistent deal-maker. “Time is of the essence,” he wrote in one message seeking to set up a meeting. In another, he mentioned to an OCTA staffer that he knew the staffer’s father. If Gates is working for someone other than the city, he hides it well. And if he’s not, he may just be the town’s most effective volunteer lobbyist.

“In a lot of ways, San Juan is a city in transition between the old-boys style of government that worked here for a long time and a new, modernized version,” says Jonathan Volzke, editor of the Capistrano Dispatch. “For a lot of people, Brad represents the old-boy style that they don’t understand or fear.”

Brad Gates rides in the 2010 Swallows Day Parade
John Gilhooley
Brad Gates rides in the 2010 Swallows Day Parade
Rancho Mission Viejo planned to turn the park into a retirement community, housing development and a community park before San Juan Capistrano bought it
Jonathan Ho
Rancho Mission Viejo planned to turn the park into a retirement community, housing development and a community park before San Juan Capistrano bought it

Gates insists the time and energy he puts in on behalf of his hometown is done in the spirit of public service. “It’s been fun,” Gates says. “It’s taken a lot of time for all of us, but it’s fun because you’re accomplishing something in a positive way that’s going to be there for my grandkids and beyond.”

He knows that some people think he’s a menace. But he’s used to that.

“I’ve had those kinds of critics off and on through my entire career,” Gates says. “I’m sorry people look at things that way, but if they look at my track record over all my time in San Juan Capistrano, I don’t know what I’ve ever received out of this other than a lot of work.”

skornhaber@ocweekly.com

This article appeared in print as "Space Cowboy: Retired OC Sheriff Brad Gates’ open-space deals for San Juan Capistrano have some critics crying, 'Whoa!'"

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