Preserve Laguna Laurel Parcel

Laguna Canyon Road near Laguna Beach has breathtaking beauty, and enough surprising turns to keep drivers on full alert. Along this spectacular road, which features some of the county's last remaining scenic terrain, site after site has become a battleground over land use. The proposed public purchase of one large parcel slated for development needs to be closed soon.

The past decade has provided moments of inspiration in that continuing story and, as is happening now to the 175-acre Laguna Laurel parcel owned by the Irvine Co., moments of frustration. The opportunity to sew up the deal on a plan to set aside this land in perpetuity may not last forever. There is $12.5 million in state bond money already committed, but other discretionary state funds might not always be obtainable. The Irvine Co. in the past has expressed a commitment to getting this deal closed, so it ought to return to the bargaining table sooner rather than later. Those who want the land undeveloped, from the Laguna Canyon Foundation and the intended purchaser of record, the city of Laguna Woods, need to be realistic about the price they must pay.

The relentless march of the bulldozer long has been a factor in the canyon environs. In 1989, the Irvine Co. and local environmentalists were at loggerheads over a nearby planned 3,200-unit development, one so unacceptable to so many that 8,000 people once protested in the canyon. The result was a historic agreement for the city of Laguna Beach to buy the land from the company. Residents, by a remarkable 80% vote margin, agreed to pass a $20-million bond issue.

What all parties learned was the necessity of finding common ground, at the risk of suffering either a huge public relations defeat or the loss of open space forever. Also in this pristine neighborhood, the foundation has worked to set aside land as part of the sprawling greenbelt.

We also know from the lingering bad feeling over the nearby San Joaquin Hills toll road the cost of failing to reach agreement. These lands have yielded both victory and setback to development interests and environmental groups alike. For its part, the Irvine Co. has had much recent experience with the increased knowledge and sophistication of forces seeking to limit growth or stop new development. A luxury project at Crystal Cove has been stalled, and the planned expansion of the Newport Center business park was halted in the face of a recent slow-growth initiative in Newport Beach.

Getting a deal done at Laguna Laurel will be good for the soul of a county still catching its breath from recent bursts of high-end housing development.

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