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Procedural Delay May Doom Youth Camp, Foes Hope


A controversial proposal for a youth camp at the remote eastern edge of the county has been put on hold, raising questions about the viability of a project that local residents say would irreparably disturb their bucolic community.

The Orange County Probation Department on Wednesday asked the county Planning Commission to delay certification of the project's environmental impact report. Department officials acknowledged that the report did not address all the questions raised by residents and said they will revise it.

The commission must certify the report before the Board of Supervisors considers approval for the $14-million, 90-bed Rancho Potrero Leadership Academy near Trabuco Canyon. The board was scheduled to discuss the project at its meeting Tuesday. That discussion has been canceled.

Canyon residents were elated. The environmental report "has been tabled; now the project needs to be tabled," said resident Shelly Black.

The delay does not mean the project is dead, but it makes it more difficult for the Probation Department to obtain $8.4 million in state funding needed for construction, department officials said Thursday.

"What it amounts to is we have a December 2003 deadline to complete the project" in order to receive the state grant, said Thomas G. Wright, the county's chief deputy probation officer. "Somewhere out there there is a decision point. If we haven't accomplished what we need by 'X' date, the project is not feasible anymore."

However, he added, "it is not in jeopardy at this point."

The Probation Department, which already operates the 64-bed Joplin Youth Center a few hundred yards from the proposed site, says it needs the additional facility because of an expected surge in demand for youth camps as the county's teen population grows.

The youth camps are intended to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders by removing them from the influence of gangs and putting them in a wilderness area.

"We don't want to be bad neighbors," Wright said. "We don't want to create any problems for the residents."

Residents of the roughly 200 homes in the area, however, have vowed to stall the project until the department loses the state funding and the project is killed.

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