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Friends or Foes? : Environment: Critics say the Amigos de Bolsa Chica has sold out. But group defends support of plans for a 3,300-home tract in a sensitive coastal area.


Not all environmentalists agreed. In 1992, opposed to what they saw as the Amigos' capitulation to developers' interests, some members of the group and others formed the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, which favors complete preservation of the wetlands as open space and has, with various other groups, been at odds with the Amigos ever since.

Recently LaBedz asked the Campaign to Save California Wetlands, a statewide coalition of environmental groups, to remove the Amigos from membership on the grounds that the group "has been taken over by the wetlands developer."

A spokeswoman for the campaign said no decision had yet been made on how to respond.

At the Amigos' annual meeting last month, a group of disgruntled members attempted unsuccessfully to unseat and replace the organization's leadership. And three weeks, ago a coalition of groups filed a lawsuit citing environmental and economic grounds in challenging the project that the Amigos, the county and the developer have so painstakingly attempted to mold.

"Accepting 3,300 homes at Bolsa Chica is not a position congruent with an environmental viewpoint," said Connie Boardman, president of the Land Trust.

Amigos leaders make no bones about their friendly relations with county officials and the Koll group.

"We've become very skilled at working within the process," said Chuck Nelson, the organization's president. "We have built a reputation in local, state and federal governments."

Every year, Morrison said, the Koll group contributes $1,000 to help sponsor the Amigos' annual 10-K run, its major fund-raiser. Last year, when the organization's offices were ransacked, Koll donated furniture to the organization. And about twice a month, Morrison said, Amigos leaders meet with Koll executives to discuss various topics of mutual concern.

All of which sounds highly suspicious to LaBedz.

"My take is that they're not the same group that they were in the 1970s," he said of the Amigos. "It's a Koll-dominated organization now. I consider Amigos de Bolsa Chica as much my enemy as I do the Koll Real Estate Group."

Times correspondent Debra Cano contributed to this report.

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