State water agency seeks $9.1-million fine against Newport Beach developer

The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued an administrative complaint against Newport Beach-based developer Baldwin & Sons, seeking more than $9 million in connection with an investigation of runoff from the Oaks at Portola Hills luxury home development in Lake Forest.
(Bing Maps / Daily Pilot)

A state agency is seeking more than $9 million in fines and penalties from a Newport Beach-based developer related to runoff from a Lake Forest luxury home development.

The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, which covers the coast from Laguna Beach to the Mexican border as well as 50 miles inland, issued an administrative complaint Friday against Baldwin & Sons, seeking $9.1 million in connection with alleged violations and $96,594 in expenses for staff investigation of runoff from the Oaks at Portola Hills community in Lake Forest.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 8 in San Diego.

A message left with Baldwin & Sons was not immediately returned Tuesday. The firm’s website says its companies have built more than 20,000 homes from Los Angeles to San Diego since 1956.

The 900-home Portola Hills development is on a steep and sloping 95-acre parcel at Glenn Ranch and Saddleback Ranch roads.

Water board officials say violations were first documented in August 2015 by the city of Lake Forest. The complaint documents allegations of violations through March 31, 2016, though officials say some violations extended beyond that.

“Construction at the site resulted in a significant loss in wildlife habitat that needed to be mitigated, both to compensate for permanent loss of habitat, as well as restrictions during construction to minimize temporary impacts,” the water agency said in a staff report.

The water board alleged that Baldwin & Sons ignored city orders to stop work, prompting the city to turn to the board for help. The board says the investigation was further hindered by the developer’s battles against subpoenas issued by a San Diego County Superior Court judge.

“This homebuilder’s conduct is particularly egregious and deserving of a substantial penalty,” according to James Smith, the water board’s assistant executive officer.

Daily Pilot staff writer Hillary Davis contributed to this report.

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1:46 p.m. Jan. 15, 2020: This article was originally published at 8:55 a.m. and has been updated with additional information.