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Orange County Focus

ORANGE : Project Criticized for Peril to Rare Species

January 23, 1991|MARY HELEN BERG

A plan to build 1,800 homes in Peralta Hills may endanger the California gnatcatcher and other sensitive species, according to a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The advisory report gives new ammunition to residents who have sued to stop the Woodcrest Development Co. project by citing "major concerns" about possible destruction of sensitive habitats and species."

". . . The service believes that several rare and thus sensitive species occur on site and that these species would be adversely impacted" by the Serrano Heights project in northeast Orange, the Fish and Wildlife report says. The report cites the California gnatcatcher, golden eagle, northern harrier, San Diego Coast horned lizard and the orange-throated whiptail, all candidates for the endangered species list, as potential inhabitants of the project site.

Residents of Mabury Ranch and Peralta Hills sued the city and Woodcrest Development in October, charging that environmental reports for the project were inadequate. Deborah S. Bucksbaum, the Los Angeles attorney representing the residents, said the Fish and Wildlife report shows that "the federal government has confirmed that the report submitted by residents is correct."

Woodcrest Development officials say the 730-acre development includes 476 acres of open space and provides ample wildlife habitat. The Fish and Wildlife report comes too late, the officials said, since the final environmental review was approved by the City Council last October.

"If we had received this letter before, we would have gone through and addressed it point by point," said Frank Elfend, president of Elfend & Associates, the Newport Beach consulting firm that conducted the environmental review. "At this point, it is not usual to respond to something on a draft (environmental report) after the final (report) has been approved."

"We sent that draft environmental impact report when it was originally written to all the necessary agencies, including Fish and Wildlife, and had no response," said Jim Highland, executive vice president for Woodcrest.

"If nobody did a project because there was an animal on a list that might sometime be endangered and might not be, there'd be no development at all in Southern California," Highland said. "Practically everywhere in Southern California that's not developed is a habitat for some animal."

The Serrano Heights project, more than five years in the making, also calls for massive grading of a ridge north of Mabury Ranch and south of Anaheim Hills and would require moving about 12 million cubic yards of earth, according to planning reports.

Last weekend, Woodcrest cleared more than 50 acres of brush for fire-prevention purposes, angering residents.

An April 10 preliminary hearing is scheduled for the lawsuit.

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