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Delaying Wetlands Review Is Fairest Move : County Deserves Chance to Examine, Rebut Commission Staff’s Opposition to Project

The 1,600-acre ecosystem at the Bolsa Chica wetlands along Pacific Coast Highway is a critical battleground for developers and environmentalists.

After years of tug-of-war over the fate of development at the site, the issue was to have gone before the Coastal Commission last week. At the request of Orange County officials, a state panel will delay until early next year its review of those plans. The latest controversy arose when the commission staff weighed in with a 260-page report that recommended against allowing Koll Real Estate Group to build 900 homes on 185 acres of wetlands as part of a 3,300-home development spreading over the Bolsa Chica mesa and the lowlands.

A dispute in which the partisans are familiar with every nuance of the development is unlikely to turn up much new by postponement. Nevertheless, county planners understandably were concerned that their work to craft a balanced plan appeared to be swept out summarily by the commission staff. The county deserves additional time to evaluate the findings and to respond to them.

The delay in bringing this long-running issue before the commission was a disappointment for many. However, a recommendation from the commission’s own staff ought to be considered potentially decisive. Given the many years the proposed development has been under consideration, a bit more delay does not seem out of line. That will serve the interest of having a full and fair evaluation by the people who stand to be overruled because of the staff report.

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There are not many occupying middle ground in this test of wills. It seems almost certain that somebody will be very disappointed whatever the outcome. The most satisfactory resolution lies in working out the separately proposed purchase and restoration of the wetlands by the Interior Department. The federal government and the developer should redouble efforts to reach an agreement on price.

As for the delay before the commission, the public interest will be served best by having the fullest evaluation of the facts, even if that means waiting longer for a resolution.


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