Bolsa Chica Plan Must Strive for Balance : * Environmental Issues and Development Rights Should Be Weighed in Negotiations

One way to look at it was as a wishful way out of the jobs versus the environment dilemma posed by the huge housing development proposed for the Bolsa Chica wetlands area in Huntington Beach.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would like to swap parts of the Tustin or El Toro Marine Corps air stations for 1,700 environmentally sensitive but privately owned acres. And for its part, a local environmental organization, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, said it was working with the federal agency to make it happen.

If it sounded too good to be true, it was. The developer, Koll Real Estate Group, said it had not been contacted either by the trust nor the wildlife service about the disposition of its property. The company is proceeding with plans to build 4,286 homes on 400 acres of the wetlands and to restore about 1,100 acres.


Indeed, even in the unlikely event that the developer was willing to allow a local environmental group to broker a deal on its behalf, it is hard to imagine that it would consider just such a swap attractive. Rare coastal property for other rare coastal property might be conceivable, but what group would trade for the opportunity of developing housing on ex-military sites where there might be additional problems and delays posed by hazardous waste? If there is anything that unites the partisans in the Bolsa Chica debate it is their understanding of the value of the land over which they are squabbling.

Even the federal government had little time for the proposal. And Tustin city officials said that the opportunity to acquire a portion of the Tustin Marine base had passed.

Unfortunately, there is probably no painless way out of the old dilemma of development rights on the one hand versus the preservation and restoration of important wetlands. It has to be done the old-fashioned way, through pragmatic negotiation and careful land-use planning that strives to balance competing interests.