Appeal to Save Trees Is Issued

Times Staff Writer

Six environmental and community groups on Thursday appealed a controversial Orange County Planning Commission decision that would allow more than 1,000 oak and sycamore trees to be cut down or endangered by home development at the county's eastern edge.

"We don't think the Planning Commission did the right thing. They didn't give us a fair hearing," said Ray Chandos, a longtime area resident and secretary of the Rural Canyons Conservation Fund who has fought to maintain the area's strict zoning.

Brian Murphy of the Orange County Planning and Development Services Department said the appeal was expected and that county supervisors would have to vote anyway on whether to uphold, deny or modify the Planning Commission's decision.

A vote by the supervisors has not been scheduled, and it is not clear if it will be held before or after a special election to replace former 3rd District supervisor Todd Spitzer. The project area is in the 3rd District.

Rutter Development Corp. of Irvine won major zoning amendments to build 162 homes in the Saddle Crest and Saddle Creek projects on 598 acres in a scenic canyon area bordering the Cleveland National Forest.

The changes will allow substantial grading of steep hills, mature woodlands and other open space that normally would have been preserved. The developer has promised to move 47 trees and plant 11,000 seedlings and acorns to compensate for the loss.

Foes say there is no evidence the plantings will survive, and are not adequate replacement for mature live oaks, some of which are hundreds of years old.

In addition to the conservation fund, the Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society, Endangered Habitats League and two clean-water groups appealed the votes to the Board of Supervisors.

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