SANTA ANA — Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he will offer a compromise today under which the county would pay $4 million for the controversial Barham Ranch and preserve it as wilderness.
The 525 acres--lying southeast of Villa Park and northeast of Orange--are co-owned by the Orange Unified School District and the Serrano Water District.
The land's future has been hotly debated since two years ago, when Anaheim-based developer SunCal Cos. proposed 600 homes on the property and began negotiations with the water district.
Spitzer said Monday, "I am hoping each board, after careful deliberations, will recognize that Barham Ranch is a very important crown jewel for the county's future park acquisitions."
County supervisors and trustees for the school district and water district would have to approve the plan.
Residents and environmentalists have united in opposition to development of the hilly acreage, which was a gift to the school and water districts in the 1970s with the proviso it be used for public educational purposes.
With its equestrian, cycling and hiking trails, it is a popular recreational area that borders Santiago Oaks, Weir Canyon and Irvine Regional parks.
School district officials, too, opposed the home-building plan. But the water district expressed interest in SunCal's proposal, which would have paid about $5 million in cash to each public entity and given the school district some land elsewhere for new campuses. That triggered a legal battle in which the water district sued the school district over the future of the land.
After learning of Spitzer's proposal, SunCal officials said Monday they will bow out of the negotiations.
"We always said we would not stand in the way of the two parties reaching a mutual agreement," SunCal spokesperson Jason Grange said of the school and water districts. "We do not want to interfere."