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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Always in Such an Amazing Rush

January 23, 1991

It ought to be easy to differentiate between those who oppose any new development and those who favor a careful process of environmental review. But in Orange County, it isn't always that simple.

The trouble is, county planners have been so eager to approve new development that any concerns raised about thoroughness may be portrayed as extremism.

That seemed to happen recently when Ernie Schneider, the county's administrative officer, declared that environmental impact statements had become little more than vehicles to tie things up in red tape. His remarks were in response to the filing of a lawsuit by the local chapter of the Audubon Society seeking to overturn the county's recent approval of the Las Flores planned community, a huge new housing development in the wilderness of southeastern Orange County.

It's true that under some circumstances, environmental objections can serve as a stalling tactic. But one need not evaluate the lawsuit on its merits to know that this particular project's journey through the review process left much to be desired. It's not hard to see why frustrated environmentalists might turn to the courts to get new public hearings and environmental reports, and to freeze construction until matters are sorted out.

This is, after all, a project that the county's own consultant had said ought to have more acreage set aside to protect wildlife. That suggestion was rejected in the rush to approval. And one planning commissioner wondered aloud why his colleagues were not hearing testimony from some key parks officials.

But the Board of Supervisors, at a stormy meeting in December, charged ahead with approval, despite pleas for a more measured look. Having failed to get a thorough review through normal channels, is it any wonder that environmentalists looked to the courts for relief?

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