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Jurists Hear Appeal on Bolsa Chica Development

October 15, 1998|ROBERT OURLIAN

A three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal heard arguments Wednesday in the long-standing fight between environmentalists and developers over a proposal to build homes on a mesa alongside the Bolsa Chica wetlands near Huntington Beach.

The future of the project brought "extremely lively" debate during the session in San Diego among attorneys for environmental groups, the developer and the state, lawyers said.

The judges have 90 days to issue an opinion on an appeal of a 1997 ruling by Superior Court Judge Judith McConnell in San Diego. McConnell ruled that the California Coastal Commission was wrong to grant permission in 1996 to Koll Real Estate Group of Newport Beach to build as many as 2,400 houses because state law does not allow construction on wetlands.

The case is one of two on appeal. In the other, McConnell ruled in February 1998 that the Coastal Commission improperly denied public input to a revised Bolsa Chica housing plan, which would have allowed Koll to build more than 1,200 houses.

A statement by Koll said no date has been set for arguments in the appeal of the second case.

Opponents have spent years trying to block development in the area, one of the last of its kind in the state.

In a statement Wednesday, Koll officials said that winning the first appeal would cancel the second case, and construction could begin.

Foes of the proposal remain hopeful that the Court of Appeal will uphold McConnell's restriction on development.

"The people on the hot seat here are the attorney general's office and the developer," said Philip Seymour, a Santa Barbara attorney representing the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, the Sierra Club and other environmental interests.

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