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Lawsuit Disputes Report on Park

Environmental analysis on the former El Toro base is inadequate, Caltrans contends, saying plans understate traffic impact.

September 09, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

The state Department of Transportation has sued Irvine over its plans to develop the former El Toro Marine base, saying it understated the traffic impact if the base is converted to various private and public uses.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court, contends that the city's environmental impact report on its Great Park project inadequately addressed the traffic burden that a mix of homes, retail areas, commercial space, sports fields and parkland will create on 3,700 acres of the former base.

The analysis, for example, estimated that 148,000 vehicle trips would be generated daily by development of El Toro. The number should be closer to 500,000, Caltrans officials said.

"The department is in favor of the Great Park but not a great parking lot," local Caltrans spokeswoman Pam Gorniak said Monday.

"We want to make sure the traffic is properly mitigated and there is a full understanding of the impacts," Caltrans spokesman Dennis Trujillo said from Sacramento.

City officials said they were aware of the lawsuit but hadn't seen it.

Irvine Mayor Larry Agran said the city and Caltrans had been trying for several weeks to resolve their differences over the traffic assumptions. "For reasons that seem a little silly, they decided to file a lawsuit," he said. "My guess is it'll never be served because it will be resolved."

Added Councilman Mike Ward: "Hopefully, we can work something out with Caltrans. We're not going to give up on [the Great Park] until it's done."

The Caltrans lawsuit is the second legal challenge to the city's environmental analysis of the project, which includes 3,400 new homes and nearly 3 million square feet of office space.

In late June, the Airport Working Group and the Orange County Regional Airport Authority, two groups that supported building an airport at the site, asked a judge to reject the analysis for redeveloping El Toro and to stop the base's annexation to Irvine.

The groups criticized the city for failing to properly address the noise, traffic and air pollution that would accompany private development of about 2,400 acres of the former base.

For example, that suit criticized the city for insisting that carpool lanes on the area's toll roads would help ease traffic by 2025, despite the fact that there are no plans to build any.

They also contended that Irvine dramatically understated the amount of building allowed by its zoning. Zoning for a 270-acre parcel that is slated for 850 homes actually allows for as many as 1,755 dwellings, the suit alleged.

If a judge agrees with either of the lawsuits and orders revisions to the environmental impact analysis, the city's plans to develop Great Park could be delayed by months.

Last year, Orange County voters changed course on the fate of El Toro by rescinding zoning that called for a commercial airport. Instead, voters approved zoning for large swaths of parkland, open space and public uses. A month later, the Navy announced it would sell the base at auction after the property was annexed by Irvine, which would remove it from the restrictive zoning approved by voters.

Irvine's plan calls for new landowners to deed as much as 1,336 acres back to Irvine for public uses in exchange for development rights on the rest.

A hearing on the annexation is scheduled for Nov. 11 before the Local Agency Formation Commission, which must approve it.

A third lawsuit was filed by Airport Working Group challenging the Navy's environmental review of El Toro. It is being heard by U.S. District Judge Gary Taylor in Santa Ana.

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