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Caltrans, Irvine Settle Suit Over El Toro Plans

The city agrees to another study to determine impact of Great Park proposal on traffic. The state transit agency had argued estimates were too low.

September 19, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

The state Department of Transportation and Irvine have settled a lawsuit that threatened the city's plans to develop the former El Toro Marine base.

The city agreed to an additional review of traffic burdens caused by transforming the base into the proposed Great Park -- a mix of homes, retail and commercial space, sports fields and parkland.

That study also will examine the cumulative impact of new traffic from other developments approved in northern Irvine.

"This allows the Great Park to proceed while still addressing the traffic impact on the state highway system," Caltrans spokeswoman Pam Gorniak said Thursday. "We're pleased with the outcome."

The study must begin within two years of the base property's being sold to private owners. It will be coordinated with Caltrans, the Orange County Transportation Authority and the agency that operates the county's toll roads.

The results will determine if other measures should be taken and who should pay for them, Gorniak said.

The settlement brings Irvine a step closer to annexing most of the 4,700-acre base.

A hearing will be held in November by the Local Agency Formation Commission on whether to expand city boundaries to include the former El Toro base.

Irvine Mayor Larry Agran predicted the traffic quarrel would be resolved.

"It's in everybody's interest to better understand the common traffic challenges that we face," he said, "but more than anything, this represents working out an amicable agreement to agree to agree at a future date."

In its lawsuit this month, Caltrans had said Irvine understated the traffic impact from building on El Toro, which is now largely undeveloped.

Irvine estimated, for example, that cars would make 148,000 trips a day after development; Caltrans put the number at closer to 500,000. The city also said future car-pool lanes on area toll roads would help keep traffic moving by 2025, even though there are no plans to build any.

The Caltrans lawsuit was 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. They also contended that Irvine dramatically understated the amount of building allowed by its zoning.

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

The Navy, which still owns the property, plans to sell 3,738 acres of the former base at a public auction next year, with the requirement that the buyers then deed portions -- 1,336 acres in all -- to the city for public use.

The remaining 2,402 acres will be privately developed into such projects as golf courses, an exposition center, homes and businesses. An additional 1,000 acres has been set aside by the federal government for wildlife habitat.

A third lawsuit, filed by Airport Working Group against the Navy's environmental analysis of El Toro redevelopment, is expected to be settled soon.

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