Bolsa Chica Plan Backed by County Commission : Development: Koll company could put up 3,300 homes in return for building tidal inlet to restore wetlands. Some environmentalists object.


Calling it the best option for restoring deteriorated wetlands, the county Planning Commission on Wednesday voted to allow a developer to build 3,300 homes in the Bolsa Chica area in exchange for creating a tidal inlet to benefit the marshes.

Supporters said the plan balances environmental concerns with the developer’s need for a financially viable project, but opponents blasted the vote, insisting that no homes should be built on the ecologically sensitive area.

“Considering where we’ve been with this and how many years we’ve been working on it, we’re very pleased,” said Adrianne Morrison, executive director of Amigos de Bolsa Chica, an environmental group. “It’s an excellent beginning step. . . . We think it is going to be of great benefit” to the wetlands.


The commission’s decision, which capped months of public hearings on the issue, is not expected to end the long-running debate about what to do with the land.

The County Board of Supervisors is set to vote on the plan Dec. 14. The project also requires clearance from the California Coastal Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Planning Commission will return to the issue again next week when it is scheduled to vote on a development agreement for the project. The hearing is expected to generate more objections from environmentalists as well as city and school district officials.

At Tuesday’s hearing, representatives of Huntington Beach and two local school districts argued that the plan does provide enough revenue to offset costs that government agencies will incur from the development for such services as streets, sewers and fire protection.

“The city might have to come up with millions of dollars for these things without any remuneration” from the developer, said Councilman Ralph Bauer, who unsuccessfully sought to delay the vote until city officials could examine the plan more closely. “That’s not fair,” Bauer said.

An attorney representing both Huntington Beach school districts said the proposed fees and taxes do not come close to covering the costs the districts will face when reopening schools and buying new buses to serve children from the Bolsa Chica area.


Lucy Dunn, senior vice president of the Koll Real Estate Group, the developer, denied that a funding gap exists. She said the data the company used to craft the plan was based on information from the school districts and city.

Dunn said the development would not place a financial burden on local governments and that some of the school districts’ cost estimates appeared high.

The plan approved Tuesday allows for about 1,000 fewer homes than Koll sought. But Dunn said the project appears to be financially feasible.

“It will be very tight. If we don’t have any surprises, it should work,” Dunn said. “The company is trying to be responsive to the community and to the county and do the best (wetlands) restoration possible.”

The centerpiece of the restoration plan is the $20-million tidal inlet, which would connect the marsh area to the Pacific Ocean.

County officials and some environmentalists said the inlet would benefit the wetlands by providing them with a direct flow of water from the ocean.


Currently, ocean waters must flow more than four miles from Anaheim Bay, through Huntington Harbour and into the wetlands, said Ron Tippets, the county’s chief of coastal planning. It takes about 30 days for water to circulate from Anaheim Bay to the wetlands and back to the ocean, he said.

But some activists Tuesday questioned the benefits of the inlet. Gordon LaBedz, a member of the Surfrider Foundation, said the inlet would pollute nearby beaches with bacteria from the wetlands and could erode beach cliffs in the area.

“This is not the right biological solution,” he said.

Other opponents said the process should be put on hold because the Department of the Interior is interested in possibly acquiring the wetlands from Koll.

But both Koll officials and the county downplayed any Interior Department action. Dunn said the department had expressed interest in only a portion of the area.

“Do you think a Republican Congress is going use federal money to (buy the wetlands) when they can have them restored for free?” Dunn asked.

Supporters of the plan also said the development would give the economy a boost, providing jobs and increased tax revenue.


The plan for 3,300 homes approved Tuesday was crafted by county planners based on testimony presented at seven public hearings on the issue.

Many nearby residents have said Koll’s plan for 4,286 homes was too intense. Before this week, county planners had suggested two alternatives. One plan called for 3,200 homes; the other called for 2,500. Neither plan required construction of the tidal inlet.