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Brea Hires PR Firm to Fight Development

Company will head a campaign in an effort to stop planned home projects in nearby hills.

October 23, 2003|Mike Anton | Times Staff Writer

The city of Brea will spend $250,000 over the next two years for a public relations effort to stop development outside city limits on thousands of acres of hills straddling Orange and Los Angeles counties.

The City Council late Tuesday voted 3 to 1 to contract with a Newport Beach consulting firm to develop a campaign targeting residents in six communities that would be affected by a plan by Aera Energy to build as many as 3,600 homes on 3,000 acres in an unincorporated area bordering a wildlife corridor.

"What we are talking about is educating people [about] why these hills are worth preserving," said Brea Mayor Bev Perry. "We want to help them understand how they can get involved and make a difference."

The property in question, currently used for oil production and cattle grazing, offers a microcosm of the development debate in Southern California -- a debate that pits the need for housing with concerns over increased traffic and density and the desire to preserve environmentally sensitive lands.

More than two dozen people spoke during Tuesday's council meeting and were about equally divided as to whether Brea should commit the funds, which also will go to study what it would take to buy the land from Aera.

Councilman Roy Moore voted against the expenditure, in part because the city faces a projected $1-million budget deficit next year and a $2.3 million deficit the following year.

"I'm in favor of limiting development of the hillsides," said Moore, who'd like to see the city join with others to purchase the land. "We already have public opinion on our side. Why do we want to hire a consultant to produce glitzy brochures? It's a lot of money."

But Perry said the campaign's ultimate targets are Orange and Los Angeles county supervisors, who are expected to consider the development next year after a draft environmental impact report is completed. In addition to Brea, the city hopes to encourage residents of five communities that are accustomed to seeing the pristine hillsides -- La Habra, La Habra Heights, Whittier, Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights -- to oppose the development.

Aera isn't the only property owner wanting to develop the hills north of Brea, but its plan is the biggest. The company's land lies in the middle of the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor -- a 40,000-acre swath that has been assembled over the past two decades and connects to the Cleveland National Forest.

Aera's proposal would set aside about half its land as open space. About 700 acres would specifically be earmarked to expand the wildlife corridor.

"It's unfortunate that the city thinks this is the path they need to go,'' said Aera Energy Vice President George Basye. He called the public relations effort "very premature" given that the environmental impact report isn't finished and "in light of the budget situation cities find themselves in these days."

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