A divided Orange County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday approved the controversial Laguna Laurel development agreement, dashing the hopes of an overflow crowd that had packed the board chamber to oppose development in Laguna Canyon.
The 3-2 vote in favor of the agreement, which would protect the Irvine Co.'s plan for a multimillion-dollar housing and commercial project in part of the canyon, was met by shouts of disapproval and boos. It was followed by the announcement of a planned recall drive targeting Board Chairman Harriett M. Wieder and Supervisor Thomas F. Riley.
Wieder and Riley, along with Supervisor Don R. Roth, voted to approve the agreement.
Recall Plan Draws Ovation
"Laguna Laurel is the straw that broke the camel's back," said south county resident Tom Rogers, one of the leaders of a successful drive to get a slow-growth initiative on the June 7 countywide ballot. Rogers has been an outspoken opponent of a series of such development agreements approved by supervisors in recent months.
When Rogers announced the recall plan, scores of people who had jammed the board chamber in Santa Ana gave him a standing ovation.
The development agreements, according to Rogers and many who packed the board chambers, are an attempt to circumvent the slow-growth initiative and the desires of the citizens of Orange County.
Residents of both Riley's south county coastal district and Wieder's west and central county district, Rogers noted, had signed petitions to qualify the initiative for the ballot.
Saying he spoke for himself as an individual, as well as for homeowner groups in Riley's and Wieder's respective districts, Rogers told the supervisors they "must be held accountable for their actions."
Rogers said steps to begin the recall process will begin as early as next week. Wieder and Riley were the only supervisors targeted, he said, because they were the "swing votes" in the approval of the Laguna Laurel measure.
Wieder said later that she thought it "unfortunate" that Rogers was "exploiting this (the Laguna Laurel) issue for other purposes."
In 10 or 20 years, Wieder said, "People will thank me for my vote. The bottom line is that it (the Laguna Laurel agreement) is another way to alleviate traffic. The (planning) staff directed us to do it."
Wieder accused Supervisors Roger R. Stanton and Gaddi H. Vasquez, who voted against the agreement, of doing what was "politically expedient."
Of Rogers' announced plans to try to recall her, and the possible effect on her campaign for the 42nd Congressional District seat, Wieder said: "I have a lot of faith in the voters. I have a lot of faith in their integrity. I've represented the constituency for 10 years and I wasn't going to change today because I'm a candidate for Congress.
"So everybody calls me a stinker. . . . I have to sleep with myself."
'Have to Fight Harder'
Wieder said the threat of a recall would force her to run harder in an effort to capture the seat being given up by Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach). "I don't take it for granted. . . . I'm going to have to fight harder for it," she said Wednesday night at a candidates' forum in Huntington Beach.
Wieder has been considered the front-runner in the eight-way GOP primary race to replace Lungren, who is giving up his seat to pursue the state treasurer's post. She termed the recall threat "a political ploy," adding, "I hope that the voters will recognize they want statesmen, not politicians."
She defended her vote on Laguna Laurel, saying, "I did it because of the potential of lessening the traffic congestion. . . . It meant 75% open space to preserve that canyon. It meant safety on a canyon road that has had 48 deaths. So I feel I did it for the right reasons. And you know that the people who wanted so much to have the canyon space sacrosanct or shut the county down didn't care about the rest of the county.
"They are looking at the world from just that corner of the world and I had to look at the whole county," she said.
However, two of her Republican rivals, Andrew Littlefair, a former aide to President Reagan, and former Cal State Long Beach President Steven Horn, both charged again that Wieder is out of touch with the prevailing public sentiment on slow growth in Orange County.
Not Worried, Riley Says
Riley, who left the board meeting before Rogers' announcement, saying he knew what Rogers was going to say, flew immediately to Sacramento for a meeting of the California Council on Mental Health.
Reached in Sacramento late Wednesday, Riley said he was not worried about the threat of recall. He said he trusted voters of his district and would stand on what he called "a pretty fine record."
"I guess if you serve in office and want to maintain your integrity, you have to do what you think is in the county's best interest," he said. "I'd hate to think what would happen if our transportation program fails."
Before casting his vote, Vasquez, who is seeking election for the first time to the 3rd Supervisorial District including most of eastern Orange County, said he did not think the Laurel Canyon agreement or six others before the board on Wednesday reflected good regional planning.
Stanton, who represents much of the central county, has consistently voted against the developer agreements in recent months, saying he fears that legal issues surrounding them will adversely affect the county's ability to sell bonds for the promised road improvements.
The development agreements protect the land-use and zoning plans of developers' projects in exchange for the developers' help in financing county road improvements and other "public benefits."
In the Laguna Laurel agreement, the county guarantees that it will not tamper with the Irvine Co.'s land-use and zoning plans for 3,204 housing units, 475,000 square feet of commercial space and two golf courses in exchange for commitments by the firm to help the county finance $14 million in road improvements and provide 17.4 acres of open space. Under other county requirements, the company must also provide another $36.7 million in road improvement financing and 1,340 acres of open space. In addition, the development agreement called for $1.3 million for park improvements and $1.7 million toward construction of public facilities such as a sheriff's substation, a library and a county emergency communications center.
Board Opposes Initiative
The slow-growth initiative, if approved by voters, would not allow the county to approve a development until adequate roads and other services already were in place.
All of the five supervisors have expressed disapproval of the initiative, but the board voted to place it on the ballot.
Wednesday's vote on Laguna Laurel and the recall announcement came at the end of more than four hours of a sometimes emotional, sometimes combative public hearing before an overflow audience packed with people wearing "Save the Canyon" stickers and sweat shirts.
A majority of the people who got up to speak at the hearing, including the mayor of Laguna Beach and three City Council members, urged supervisors to reject the agreement, which protects Irvine Co. plans for 900 acres in the canyon.
Some project opponents submitted what they said were a total of more than 14,000 flyers signed by residents of Wieder's and Riley's districts who shared their sentiments and wanted development kept out of the canyon. Two weeks ago, about 9,400 similar signatures, said to have been from people all over the world, were submitted to the supervisors.
2 Other Agreements OKd
In addition to the Laguna Laurel agreement, the board approved two others--also on 3-2 votes--and rejected another on a 3-2 vote. A total of 15 such agreements had been approved by the supervisors this year before Wednesday's votes.
Before taking action on Laguna Laurel, Wieder expressed her approval of provisions calling for the Irvine Co. to set aside portions of the development site for open space, contribute millions of dollars toward road improvements and provide other "public benefits" in exchange for protection of its land use and zoning plans. She said the promised road improvements are a crucial part of the planned San Joaquin Transportation Corridor freeway project, part of which is planned to cut across Laguna Canyon.
Riley, whose district includes Laguna Beach and Laguna Canyon, praised the agreement for the same reasons.
After the Laguna Laurel vote, many in the audience shouted angrily. Their boos turned to cheers, however, when Rogers announced the planned recall drive.
County Registrar of Voters Donald Tanney said Wednesday that to start a recall effort, proponents must first inform the targets of the drive, in person or by certified mail, of their intentions and file a notice of those intentions with the registrar. The notice must also be published in a general circulation newspaper.
Within seven days, the target of the recall effort may file a response with the registrar and the proponents of the drive. Ten days after receiving the response, recall proponents must submit to the registrar properly worded petition forms, which must be reviewed for conformity to state codes.
Proponents then have 160 days to collect signatures of 10% of the registered voters in each of the affected districts, 20,270 signatures in Wieder's 2nd District and 25,456 signatures in Riley's 5th District, based on the latest voter registration figures submitted to the state.
If the signatures are verified, the matter would be submitted to the Board of Supervisors, which then would have 14 days to certify an election. If supervisors fail to act in the alloted time, the registrar would have five days to set the election.
The election would have to be held in not less than 88 days and not more than 125 of the certification.
If the process up to the election certification is completed by Aug. 12, Tanney said, recall measures against Wieder and Riley could be on the November ballot.
Most of those in the audience Wednesday were supporters of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, a 4-month-old environmental group that opposes the freeway project through the canyon, plans by the Irvine Co. to widen Laguna Canyon Road and any development projects in or near the canyon.
The conservancy this week made an offer to buy the canyon from the Irvine Co., an offer that an Irvine Co. representative termed unrealistic after Wednesday's vote.
But Richard Harris, president of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, said Wednesday that the drive to raise money to buy the canyon would continue.
Harris said he personally supports a recall drive against Wieder and Riley, but added that the conservancy leadership had not yet had a chance to discuss it.
The conservancy and its supporters turned the supervisors' chambers Wednesday into an art gallery, displaying all around the room paintings of Laguna Canyon. Some of the paintings were products of turn-of-the-century California impressionists. Others were more recent.
Michael J. Lavery, an artist and resident of Laguna Beach, used two of his paintings--one of Laguna Beach as it is, and one as he envisions it after the nearby canyon is developed--as "notes" in his presentation.
The second painting, which Lavery called his "nightmare" showed Laguna Beach and the surrounding area as an overdeveloped bastion of commercialism.
Attacks by Other Speakers
One speaker, a teen-ager who identified himself as Clay Leeds of Laguna Beach and an opponent of development, offered to play a tape-recording of a song he and his friends wrote called "Look to Tomorrow." But he couldn't get his tape player to work properly.
Other speakers attacked the project from every possible angle.
Many complained that there had not been sufficient studies of the environmental impact of the Laguna Laurel project, that the public had not been properly informed of actions by county officials relating to the project, and that the Irvine Co. had not done enough to ensure that water runoff from the project would not end up in Laguna Beach.
One man said the "mental quietude" of those who traveled through the canyon would be so disturbed they wouldn't be able to concentrate on their work. Another pleaded for more study of microorganisms in the soil.
Members of the county's planning staff, who negotiated the agreement, and an Irvine Co. official discounted all of the criticism, except that regarding the water runoff.
'It is our hope that the opponents of (the Laurel Canyon) project will eventually come to the conclusion that the board did, that Laguna Laurel represents public benefits that address the county's traffic problems," said Carol Hoffman, a senior manager for the Irvine Co.
Hoffman said the company will comply with a directive by Riley that the runoff issue be resolved. A resolution attached to the agreement requires such a resolution before the agreement can go into effect.
The two other development agreements approved Wednesday were for a plan by M.J. Brock & Sons Inc. to build 625 housing units in the south county Casa del Oso development, and the Presley Co.'s plan to build 600 units and 105,000 square feet of commercial space in the Nellie Gail development.
The Casa del Oso agreement calls for the developer to help the county finance, through bond sales, $1.15 million in road improvements. The Nellie Gail agreement calls for a same amount of financing help.
Supervisors rejected an agreement for a project on the Dana Point headlands, calling for 340 housing units and 693 feet of commercial space in exchange for the H.M. Sherman Co.'s help in financing $800,000 worth of road improvements.
Dana Point residents pleaded with the supervisors to leave the decision about the proposal to Dana Point residents, who will decide in June whether to incorporate the area for cityhood.
Wieder said she had come to the meeting with intentions to vote for the Dana Point Headlands agreement, but changed her mind after hearing the pleas.
Supervisors Riley and Roth were the only ones to vote for that agreement.
Times staff writers Dave Lesher and Jeff Rabin contributed to this report.