Laguna Council Will Fund Canyon Buyout Measure

Encouraged by fresh poll results showing three-fourths of city voters would pay higher taxes to preserve Laguna Canyon as open space, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pay for the costs of placing a bond measure to buy the canyon on the November ballot.

If approved by voters, a $20-million bond would be financed by an increase in property taxes of just under 8% for 20 years. The average yearly cost to a property owner whose home has an assessed value of $300,000 would be $144.

The proposed bond measure would be used to buy at least part of a 2,150-acre Laguna Laurel development site between El Toro Road and the San Diego Freeway. The Irvine Co. owns the land and has planned to build the 3,200-home Laguna Laurel development on the site.

Mayor Lida Lenney said that voters need to be educated about the proposal. "We cannot assume that it's in the bag for November," Lenney said.

The money to pay for placing the measure on the ballot will come from the city's open-space fund, money set aside to purchase open land. The cost of the bond measure is uncertain, but the City Council on Tuesday committed to spending $30,000 on the election.

The value of the site has been estimated at between $70 million and $100 million, but city officials say the $20 million would be a start toward purchasing the land.

"I think it's going to take a program of funding from different sources," City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said Tuesday. The city has set up a special fund to accept tax-deductible donations to be earmarked for Laguna Canyon preservation.

"We just got our first $70 donation a couple days ago," he said.

For months, Irvine Co. and city officials have been meeting in hopes of resolving the future of the pristine canyon property, an emotionally charged issued in Laguna Beach. Irvine Co. vice president Carol Hoffman said in a statement Monday that the company will continue to support the city's efforts to "develop a realistic plan" to buy the property.

A telephone poll last week of 300 likely voters showed that 74% supported taxing themselves $150 a year to save the canyon from development. The bond measure would require a two-thirds vote. The poll, conducted by a Sacramento-based polling firm, has a 6% margin of error.

The City Council is expected to formally approve placing the bond measure on the ballot at its next meeting, Aug. 7.

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