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300 Join March in Orange to ‘Save Santiago Creek’

More than 300 residents marched through the dry Santiago Creek bed Saturday to protest a proposal by the Burnett Ehline Development Co. that would create a gated community and shopping center on the 37 acres of open space.

An element of the proposal will be considered by the City Council on Tuesday.

For the second time in three weeks, longtime residents and their supporters from nearby communities protested the plan for Villa Santiago, a development that would require filling in the creek bed to build 160 homes and a commercial plaza, as well as rezoning the area to allow denser development.

Residents have battled three separate plans to develop the former nine-hole golf course and creek area in less than a decade. They want it preserved for recreation and say that they fear development would eliminate an important flood wash, creating a hazard during heavy rains.

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Sporting green ribbons and bright yellow buttons that read “Save Santiago Creek,” the protesters braved rain as they made their way from W.O. Hart Park along the creek bed to Tustin Avenue, the path the development would take.

“Open space is a vanishing commodity in Orange,” said Bob Siebert, a 30-year city resident. “And Orange does not have a good reputation as far as preserving open space. The fact that it’s rare makes it more valuable.”

David Clements, vice president of the Santiago Homeowners Assn., moved into a home in the quiet, largely upper-middle-class neighborhood along the creek in 1964. If the Burnett Ehline development is approved, Clements said he would have “a parking lot and restaurant in my back yard.”

Clements said the homeowners association represents the concerns of residents citywide and that the conflict over the creek could haunt City Council members who are up for election in November.

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“The last two mayors who ran for reelection lost because we opposed them,” Clements said. “They were pro-development.”

Mayor Don Smith and council members Joanne Koontz and William Steiner are up for reelection this year.

Joyce Gallie of Santa Ana came to show solidarity with the Orange residents. “This is my childhood park,” Gallie said.

As one of the organizers behind a movement to save liquidambar trees along Cabrillo Park Drive, Gallie said she believes in the power of protest. “Things can be done if people get together and organize,” she said, adding: “Why do they need another shopping center? It’s ludicrous. They can’t fill the stores they have now.”

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Last December, the Planning Commission advised the City Council to reject the Burnett Ehline plan. In January, the developer revised the project and scrapped plans to extend La Veta Avenue from Cambridge to Tustin streets, gaining conceptual approval of the plan from the council.

However, the city’s General Plan will need to be amended to eliminate the La Veta Avenue extension.


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