Court Ruling Backs Aliso Viejo Project

Times Staff Writer

A six-year battle by an environmental group to block development of the mammoth Aliso Viejo planned community in south Orange County came to an end Tuesday with an appellate court ruling upholding the project.

Members of the Laguna Beach-based environmental group Village Laguna, which lost the ruling, said that they will not appeal. But they also said that they will continue to oppose the proposed San Joaquin Hills Freeway, which is essential to the Aliso Viejo development. The freeway project already has strong support from the Board of Supervisors and the majority of officials in the south part of the county.

The Aliso Viejo project would include 20,000 dwellings on nearly half of 6,623 acres between Laguna Canyon Road and Laguna Niguel, on much of the undeveloped portions of the old Moulton Ranch. Village Laguna, a group active in Laguna Beach affairs, has claimed the planned community would have an adverse effect on Laguna Beach.

Adequate Consideration

In an opinion made public Tuesday, the Orange County division of the 4th District Court of Appeal stated that the Board of Supervisors had adequately considered the environmental impact of the project before giving its final approval in 1982.

“We’re disappointed; the Aliso Viejo project is an example of mad rush development in South Orange County without anyone looking at the long-term ramifications,” said Norman Grossman, spokesman for Village Laguna.


Grossman said that the Aliso Viejo project would not only cause excessive traffic in Laguna Beach, but that Laguna Beach residents would be unfairly taxed to support services for the new development.

Grossman said that his group does not plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court. It isn’t likely such an appeal would succeed, he said.

Thomas F. Riley, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and the representative for the 5th District, where the project would be built, said Tuesday he was “extremely pleased” with the court’s ruling.

“I think we have been very sensitive to the environmental concerns of Laguna Beach,” Riley said. “You have to take into consideration the economic vitality of the county. This development has included careful planning; it’s a good project.”

Group Formed in ‘60s

Village Laguna, formed in the 1960s to fight against high-rise buildings in Laguna Beach, first filed suit against the county and the Aliso Viejo Co. in 1979, claiming that the effects on the environment had been inadequately assessed. An Orange County Superior Court judge sided with the county, but the environmental group won a major victory on appeal to the 4th District. The appellate court found in 1982 that although the supervisors had complied with state requirements for a general plan for the project, their findings supporting their approval of the general plan were inadequate.

The Board of Supervisors issued supplemental findings on Oct. 19, 1982, to comply with the court’s opinion. The Village Laguna group then brought a new legal action claiming the board still failed to justify approval of an environmental impact report for the project.

But in Tuesday’s appellate court opinion, Presiding Justice John K. Trotter stated that “the procedure followed (by the board) was appropriate.” Trotter added that the environmental group had failed to provide “substantial evidence” that the supervisors had failed to consider all possible environmental effects of the project.

Aide Ecstatic

Justices Sheila Sonenshine and Thomas Crosby concurred.

Supervisor Riley’s top aide for planning projects, Peter Herman, was ecstatic about the court’s ruling.

“It’s all over as far as I’m concerned,” Herman said.

Grossman said that the fight wasn’t over, but agreed that the court ruling virtually guaranteed development of the project unless the freeway can be stopped.

However, Laguna Beach is an extreme minority in its opposition to the freeway.

County officials for years have been planning the development of a new freeway system in south Orange County that would include three new freeways. Out of 11 cities that would be affected by the freeways, Laguna Beach is the only one that has refused to participate in a joint-powers agency that would oversee plans for financing the freeways.

$858 Million for Freeways

Under a plan adopted by the supervisors last month, developers--including the Aliso Viejo Co.--would pay about half of the $858-million cost of the three freeways.

The San Joaquin Hills Freeway would extend from the Corona Del Mar Freeway near Bristol Street in Newport Beach to the San Diego Freeway in Mission Viejo, at an estimated cost of $342 million. The freeway system would not be completed before the year 2000.

The Aliso Viejo Co. is a subsidiary of Philip Morris Inc., and is managed by the same executives who manage the Mission Viejo Co. The proposed development would be located just south of the existing community of Mission Viejo.

When the development project was first approved by the supervisors in 1979, Aliso Viejo executives agreed to dedicate a right of way for the proposed San Joaquin Hills Freeway, which will cut across the planned community.