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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

Getting a Head Start on Rancho Mission Viejo Plans

The task of balancing competing objectives and criteria is difficult, but ultimately it is necessary to produce a reasonable and fair plan that preserves the Ranch's natural treasures.

November 03, 2002|Tom Wilson

We in Orange County have a unique opportunity to act with foresight as we plan how to deal with 23,000 acres of natural land owned by Rancho Mission Viejo adjacent to San Juan Capistrano.

I don't want us to miss this important chance to work with the landowner to preserve the quality of life we would all be proud to pass on to future generations.

Late last year, I created the South County Outreach and Review Effort (SCORE), an approach to land-use planning for the Rancho Mission Viejo property. I sought a collaborative way to bring community dialogue to the planning process.

SCORE was designed to bring early comment and community participation together with the landowner before beginning the formal county planning process. Previously, public involvement was deferred until well into the planning process and coordinated with the release of the draft environmental impact report.

Through SCORE, we already have had public input from a diverse group from throughout the community. This dialogue will continue during the drafting of the EIR.

I created SCORE to help me achieve two important objectives:

First, I wanted to capitalize on the Ranch's interest in comprehensively planning for this land, including the creation of a nature reserve. To do this, we are using two planning tools designed by the agencies whose task is protecting the environment. These tools include the Natural Community Conservation Plan, which is associated with upland areas, and the Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), which is designed to protect wetlands and riparian species. SCORE is intended to help define what occurs within the development areas designated by the NCCP/SAMP.

Second, I have sought to ensure early comment by the community on issues relating to Ranch development before formal planning begins -- not at the end -- and to set the tone for balancing critical components of future planning.

The task of balancing competing objectives and criteria is difficult, but ultimately it is necessary to produce a reasonable and fair plan that preserves the Ranch's natural treasures. We want a plan that acknowledges the property owners' stewardship of the land for so many generations, recognizes their property rights and assures the continued ranching lifestyle they have cherished.

We also want a plan that addresses such issues as traffic, public safety and local services. And it must balance the need for new housing with the need for clean air, clean water and beaches, open spaces and parks.

We have successfully completed the first phase of SCORE.

The SCORE task force, comprising dedicated community, government and environmental leaders and the landowner, has worked together to achieve important initial results. It has reached considerable agreement on performance objectives for 14 key planning criteria developed by my office. These range from traffic to housing and habitat to public safety.

Using these criteria as a solid foundation, the SCORE group has reviewed several concept alternatives that blend nature reserve and development designs provided by the resource agencies. Those agencies include the California Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.

In addition, the SCORE Urban Runoff Task Force, which included experts on water quality issues, provided a comprehensive tool kit that will allow us to implement state-of-the-art water quality standards.

Collectively, these exemplary folks have devoted hundreds of hours to the SCORE process, have had significant dialogue and shared many innovative ideas.

They have not always agreed -- but they all have provided important and meaningful input.

Next, the state and federal resource agencies will refine NCCP/SAMP reserve designs to create the land-use areas, or "bubbles," that SCORE needs for its next phase.

Each of these processes will have its own environmental review -- and all three environmental documents will be on the same track. Good science must be the keystone of a viable reserve -- a fact recognized by these agencies and the Ranch.

Phase II of our SCORE process will take place early in 2003, once we have input from the state and federal resource agencies. At that time, the SCORE group will reconvene and continue its joint process along the same lines as Phase I.

The future of the historic Rancho Mission Viejo is in the hands of a family that has nurtured the land for generations, as well as those of us who are committed to Orange County's unique quality of life.

We need to work together toward a vision that will make us all proud to call South Orange County home -- now and in the future.

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Tom Wilson is 5th District supervisor for Orange County.

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