Compromise Takes Us Out of Quagmire : Planners Answer Both Developers and Environmentalists on the Bolsa Chica Issue


It would have been impossible to devise a plan for the development of the Bolsa Chica wetlands that would satisfy everybody.

Accordingly, it was predictable that there would be some strong reaction to the county Planning Commission’s staff recommendation for a compromise proposal. But the plan, which strives to balance the rights of land development with sensitivity to the environment, is probably about as good as can be expected.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Dec. 15, 1994 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 15, 1994 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 2 Column 6 Metro Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Bolsa Chica--A story Nov. 30 and an editorial Sunday on the Bolsa Chica wetlands development misidentified the head of the environmental group Amigos de Bolsa Chica. Chuck Nelson is the president of the organization.

The plan would allow construction of as many as 3,300 homes and would require the creation of a tidal inlet connecting the sensitive ecological area to the ocean. It was not even out of the gate when an official of the Koll Real Estate Group, which wants to build as many as 4,286 homes on the land, criticized it. The official said the county was being too tough, and that there was a question whether it would even be financially feasible. By the time the plan was approved, the Koll group official was saying the project appeared to be feasible, even though it allowed for about 1,000 fewer homes.


On the other side of the debate, project opponents were saying that the inlet would pollute nearby beaches. Others hoped for Interior Department action on possibly acquiring the wetlands.

For their part, county planners knew all along the difficulty of their tasks, having said previously that they were suggesting two alternatives, one for 3,200 homes and the other for 2,500. While the final recommendation calls for the tidal inlet that was contained in neither original plan, it has come in relatively close to what they said. The inlets plan, while criticized by some, was warmly received by Chuck Smith, president of the Amigos de Bolsa Chica, an environmental group that has taken a more moderate position all along.

Clearly, there will be a price to pay for somebody. There was no way the county was going to allow a density of 4,286 homes, and there was no way that it would satisfy the extreme position on the other side.

What the county has come up with is a plan that still has a lot of units while addressing environmental concerns. And it has done so after a commendable period of thorough review.

The plan now goes on to the Board of Supervisors for consideration and will require clearance from the California Coastal Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But in general, the Planning Commission has done important work along the road of this contentious development proposal.