Laguna Laurel Showdown Nears : Heat Expected for Irvine Co. Plan at Meeting

Times Staff Writer

Elizabeth Brown’s war chest in her battle to keep urbanization out of one of the last natural coastal canyons in Southern California is a set of dusty file cabinets stored in her Laguna Canyon home.

The ammunition, Brown said, consists of thousands of documents that chronicle a decade of opposition to the Laguna Laurel Planned Community, a 2,150-acre project being developed by the Irvine Co. at the mouth of Laguna Canyon.

“It’s amazing to me that they want to build something there, right in the middle of the greenbelt,” said the biologist, who is president of Laguna Greenbelt Inc., a nonprofit advocacy group formed to preserve a greenbelt buffer zone around the city of Laguna Beach. “The site is the keystone to the greenbelt.”

Stepping Up Lobbying

With a county-sponsored public meeting scheduled Wednesday evening in Laguna Beach to provide information on the project’s environmental impact study, city officials and local environmental activists are stepping up lobbying for preservation of the Laguna Canyon area.

Last week, Laguna Greenbelt Inc. members and other foes of Laguna Laurel set up a weeklong picket line near the Newport Beach home of Irvine Co. Chairman Don Bren. On Monday, about 20 pickets demonstrated in the canyon, where the Irvine Co. proposes building 3,200 homes, apartments and condominiums, a shopping center and an 18-hole golf course along Laguna Canyon Road.


Laguna Greenbelt officials said the picketing, scheduled to continue along the canyon highway this week, was organized to draw attention to Wednesday’s 7 p.m. meeting at El Morro Elementary School.

Laguna Beach officials and local environmentalists argue that the 2,150-acre site in unincorporated county territory is a valuable natural resource for county residents and should be preserved as a wildlife refuge.

Tonight, the Laguna Beach City Council, which has hired an expert to review the voluminous environmental impact report, is expected to take another step to block the planned community.

City Clerk Verna L. Rollinger said the council will consider hiring Laguna Greenbelt Inc. to write, print and mail out flyers in opposition to the plan, to be mailed to residents in communities adjoining the project area, including Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Leisure World and Irvine.

At Wednesday’s study session, local residents will hear consultants describe the findings of the recently released environmental impact report, officials said. The session marks a new phase in the lengthy permit process for the Irvine Co., which first announced plans to develop the community in 1981.

Two October Hearings

The Orange County Planning Commission has scheduled two public hearings in October on the development, Irvine Co. project director Carol Hoffman said.

The project could go to the Board of Supervisors as early as November. If it is given final approval, construction could begin by the fall of next year, she said.

Hoffman on Monday expressed frustration at the strong opposition, saying company officials have repeatedly complied with residents’ demands that open space be preserved.

She also criticized environmental leaders and city officials for objecting to the project on environmental grounds at the same time that the city has been unable to stop many spills of sewage into the ocean.

“It’s just incredible,” Hoffman said Monday. “You don’t see picketers out there on the beaches protesting the sewage spills.”

She noted that about 70% of the project would be reserved as open space: “It astounds me. I wonder if they (city officials) understand the extent to which the Irvine Co. has addressed the concerns of open space?”

Hoffman said that not only will Laguna Laurel provide housing for employees of commercial and industrial developments two miles from the canyon, but the project will include widening and other safety improvements for Laguna Canyon Road, which has been the scene of frequent traffic accidents. The city so far has blocked widening the road.

“That road desperately needs to be upgraded,” she said. “The project provides for that.”

Hoffman said the company has also revised its initial plans by moving all housing into the northern section of the project area, which is bounded on the north and west by Irvine, the south by Crystal Cove State Park and Laguna Beach and the east by Leisure World.

The project also encompasses Laguna Lakes, a three-lake system that will be donated to the county for a regional park, according to Irvine Co. documents.

She said the revisions were made, in part, because of complaints that too much open space was to be developed under the original plan.

“I think it’s a very responsible project,” Hoffman said. “What (opponents) don’t understand is that the Irvine Co. has given up the best part of the land to open space. It’s a reasonable proposal.”

But environmentalists who oppose the project said the Irvine Co. has not been attentive to public will.

“We’ve shown that there is great opposition” to the Laguna Laurel project, Laguna Beach City Councilwoman Lida Lenney said during a protest last week. “People have been voicing their opposition for 10 years, and the county has not listened.”

The Greenbelt group has sued the county over the Board of Supervisors’ tentative approval of the project in a 1986 development agreement. A Superior Court judge ruled against the environmental group, which had alleged that the agreement was flawed.

But an appeal is pending before the state Court of Appeals, said Michael H. Remy, a Sacramento attorney representing the Greenbelt group.

Proposed Laguna Laurel Planned Community Developer: Irvine Co. Location: Unincorporated area south of Irvine, west of Leisure World, north of Laguna Beach andCrystal Cove State Park Size: 2,150 acres Units: 3,200 Mediterranean-style houses, apartments and condominiums Amenities: a 237- acre golf course, bicycle trails, playing fields and picnic areas Open space: 1,500 acres, including golf course