Concerned about the threat of increased traffic and pollution, city officials said Tuesday that they will file suit this week in an effort to block the development of a 1.4-million-square-foot business center in neighboring Laguna Hills.
Laguna Beach City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said the lawsuit will seek to overturn a General Plan amendment by which the county would allow Rossmoor Business Park to be built on acreage currently zoned for open space. In addition, he said, the city will challenge the adequacy of the environmental impact report for the project.
The office of Stephen Coontz, the lawyer representing the city, said the lawsuit to be filed Thursday in Orange County Superior Court will name as defendants the County of Orange and Rossmoor Partners L.P., the business park developer.
Recently the Orange County planning division and Board of Supervisors unanimously approved plans for the park, a scaled back version of a proposal submitted to the county in 1988.
The developer also defused some of the opposition posed by the nearby Leisure World community by reducing the scope of the project, agreeing to phase its construction with regional road improvements and possibly adding a golf course.
Ed Estrin, president of the Community Assn. for Residents of Leisure World, which last spring gathered 8,454 signatures on a petition to stop the project, said that while he sympathizes with Laguna Beach, he does not believe that the city's position is realistic.
"We'd like to see the whole thing remain open space too. But it is not in the cards," he said.
Although the city of Laguna Beach voiced objection to the business park during the public hearing process, county Planning Commissioner Tom Moody said he was "a little surprised" by the decision to sue.
"I really think Laguna Beach is about the only one in the world not satisfied with the compromise," he said. Moody added that he has been on a committee looking into the possibility of preserving some open space in the project as a golf course "and there has been good progress made."
Paul Freeman, spokesman for Rossmoor Partners, said it is difficult to respond to the lawsuit until it is filed and he can read the allegations. But he added, "We are certainly confident that the EIR (environmental impact report) is sufficient and legally defensible."
Freeman contends that traffic generated by the proposed business park will be a "drop in the bucket" compared to the impact of much larger developments in the area, such as the Aliso Viejo planned residential community and the massive Irvine Spectrum business and industrial park.
"We don't know why this relatively small project is being singled out" by Laguna Beach, he said. He also argued that the proposed Rossmoor Business Park will provide jobs badly needed in South County and allow people to work closer to where they live, thus reducing air pollution from commuter traffic.
But Laguna Beach officials say the project will worsen traffic on Laguna Canyon and El Toro roads, two main entrances to their city, and that the rezoning of a 173-acre open space parcel for commercial development undercuts recent actions by their city to buy and preserve land for open space.
"In the scope of South Orange County it is a small project," Councilwoman Ann Christoph said. "But it could be important as a precedent."