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Environmentalists Praise Reduction at Bolsa Chica

November 18, 2000|DEBORAH SCHOCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Environmentalists are calling the state Coastal Commission's unanimous approval of a scaled-down development at Bolsa Chica marsh a victory of grass-roots activism over politics.

"It was like a Frank Capra movie, 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' " said Marinka Horack of Huntington Beach, a Bolsa Chica Land Trust member. The land trust would like to buy the acreage and preserve it.

On Thursday, the commissioners followed the recommendations of its staff and decided to limit development to a 65-acre portion of the marsh. Developer Hearthside Homes had hoped to build on a much larger plot, 183 acres above the Bolsa Chica wetlands, wedged between Huntington Beach and the sea.

Hearthside officials had no comment after the vote. Earlier, top company official Lucy Dunn said, "We cannot physically build this project as proposed" by commission staff on the small acreage allotted.

For three decades, the project has mobilized critics and catalyzed political and legal intrigue from Orange County to Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

Thursday was no exception.

Commissioners voted as 400 people jammed the meeting room in Los Angeles, most of them wearing anti-development stickers. Also on hand was Tom Soto, a last-minute alternate commissioner dispatched by Gov. Gray Davis' office, as well as other top-ranking state officials.

Scores of people testified for and against the project. The Huntington Beach Council on Aging organized three busloads of supporters for the larger Hearthside proposal.

"We feel they should close this thing out," said Harold Schechter, council president. "How many developers go through all this and end up with nothing?"

Preservation advocates view the land as a fragile pocket of natural coastline that has survived in an era when undeveloped Southern California oceanfront is a rarity.

Bolsa Chica--Spanish for "little pocket"--is a salt marsh teeming with rare shorebirds, speckled with oil pumps, flanked by a grassy mesa and ringed by suburbia.

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