A Superior Court judge in San Diego issued a final ruling Wednesday in the case of the Bolsa Chica wetlands, confirming an earlier tentative decision that had largely gone in favor of environmentalists and against developers.
Judge Judith McConnell ruled the California Coastal Act prohibits residential development in wetlands, even if developers play a leading role in wetlands restoration. The matter will now be returned to the California Coastal Commission, whose 1996 ruling allowing Newport Beach-based Koll Real Estate Group to build on the wetlands was overturned by the judge.
The judge’s ruling also undermined the authority of Orange County’s Local Coastal Program, which had asserted jurisdiction over development at Bolsa Chica, meaning developers will now have to obtain the necessary permits from the Coastal Commission and not Orange County.
Koll obtained commission approval to proceed with a residential development on the wetlands and the surrounding mesa, despite a wave of public protests against building on one of the largest undisturbed coastal wetlands in the state.
In a widely publicized transaction Feb. 14 , however, the company agreed to abandon plans to build on the wetlands, which were deeded to the State Lands Commission in exchange for $25 million. The wetlands area is now scheduled to become a public wildlife preserve, and the development firm plans to proceed with construction on the mesa.
The plaintiffs in the case--the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, Huntington Beach Tomorrow, the Shoshone-Gabrieleno Nation, the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation--called Wednesday’s final ruling a clear victory for them and a setback for developers with plans to build on coastal wetlands.
“It’s a victory because it’s protective of the environment,” said Debbie Cook, one of three lawyers representing the plaintiffs.