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Bolsa Chica's Wetlands Again Under Scrutiny

January 02, 1994

* The future of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands is once again in public focus and the county of Orange has this time put forward an alternative development plan less dense than its forerunners. This is especially significant in that 2nd District Supervisor Harriett Wieder has been quoted as giving support to the less intense plan with its lowland recreational element.

From my perspective as a three-term past president of the Amigos de Bolsa Chica (1983-85), I have to wonder what grand progress we might be making now in the 1990s on funding the wetlands restoration if the county's planning staff and supervisor Wieder had reached these same conclusions in the early 1980s when the county and the landowner were in lock step promoting a marina, hotel complex, and a waterfront residential community on the wetlands.

Those early plans and "compromise" plans were vigorously fought by the Amigos de Bolsa Chica all the way through the Coastal Commission and the Legislature twice, as well as in the court.

During this same time frame, the early 1980s, the future of the Irvine Coast was also being argued.

It is noteworthy that in the case of the Irvine Coast, there was more timely resolution (albeit as an indirect result of a lawsuit settlement). Once moderate development rights and open-space acquisition terms were agreed upon, elected officials' support quickly followed and behind it public funding from all levels--local, state and federal. Now in the 1990s we are all enjoying the sight and use of the public open space that was gained.

How are these two environmental/open-space issues different yet the same? They are the same in that there was an effective, vocal opposition advocating preservation. Each property was owned by a large, powerful development company. The county planning staff was the same then as now. What strikes me as being different is the fact that the properties are in different districts with different seated supervisors.

I'm glad the Sierra Club in the 1990s has a more committed local membership supportive of maximizing preservation, that the new Bolsa Chica Trust exists to participate, and that our county's planning staff has redirected its efforts. We are all now moving in the right direction.

LORRAINE FABER

Huntington Beach

* The Environmental Impact Report concerning the proposed Koll development project on the Bolsa Chica has identified a biodiversity park as the environmentally superior alternative to the Koll project. The report states, however, that there may not be funds available for the alternative--one which would keep the Bolsa Chica free from any residential development. This raises the question: What is the worth of the Bolsa Chica?

The monetary value of the Bolsa Chica can, with an appropriate appraisal, probably be determined with some accuracy. This appraisal would have to consider the value of the property as it stands now--with no building entitlements--as opposed to the Bolsa Chica's value should Koll persuade the county that the county's general plan should be amended so that building could proceed.

The developer's representatives, apparently assuming that the county will approve its request to build 4,884 homes on the Bolsa Chica mesa and wetlands, has stated that the value of the Bolsa Chica is as high as $1 million per acre.

Bolsa Chica Land Trust, formed in May, 1992, is one of thousands of land trusts formed throughout the country in recent years to protect special places like the Bolsa Chica.

The trust hopes to persuade Koll to sell its interest in the Bolsa Chica to the trust so that it may be preserved for future generations as open space.

We in Orange County are wrestling with significant issues relating to growth. In this regard, the county of Orange has been given the responsibility of reviewing the environmental concerns inherent in the Koll project.

The county must hear from us about our concerns for quality of life in our urban culture. How do we redefine community development? Are corporate property rights and community rights compatible? Who speaks for the citizens, who have no paid lobbyists? Where will we go when open space is no longer there to offer respite?

In the opening days of 1994 and as we approach the end of the 20th Century, we can take the opportunity to reflect on these questions, to listen, and to make a decision about Bolsa Chica from which our children will benefit.

FLOSSIE HORGAN

President, Bolsa Chica Land Trust

* Re: "Developing Wetlands Criticized (Dec. 22)," addressing the recent publication of an Environmental Impact Report for the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach: The purpose of this letter is to point out that this new Environmental Impact Report has convinced me that 4,000 new homes adjacent the Bolsa Chica wetlands appears to be inconsistent with the highest and best use of this area.

I have lived in Huntington Beach for 20 years and never gave those "mud flats" a second thought. However, in the last year or so, two new events have come to my attention via The Times: a) Wetlands were routinely filled before I realized what they really meant to me personally, and b) A large body of scientific study has evolved, enough that I believe that I and others have now been provided with sufficient information to quantify the cost vs. effective value and make a judgment on the matter.

There is no question that we property owners in Huntington Beach could use the added tax base that 4,000 houses and families would generate. But I have to bite the bullet on this one; it looks like we had better leave my mud flats and adjacent open area as they are.

JOHN F. HILL

Huntington Beach

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