OCTA buys open space for preservation


The Orange County Transportation Authority last week purchased 151 acres in Laguna Beach that will be protected as open space.

This is OCTA’s first coastal Orange County land purchase and seventh overall for its Measure M Freeway Environmental Mitigation Program.

Under the program, OCTA buys open space from willing sellers through agreements with state and federal wildlife agencies in exchange for accelerated environmental permits for 13 freeway improvement projects.

The agency paid Driftwood Properties LLC $2.2 million for property adjacent to the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and Moulton Meadows Park.

OCTA officials eyed Aliso Canyon for its diversity of habitat, which includes chaparral, coastal sage scrub and native grassland, according to a news release.

“The newly purchased land will have a lasting impact on Orange County’s environment,” Jeff Lalloway, OCTA chairman and Irvine’s mayor pro tem, said in the release.

With the Laguna Beach property, OCTA has purchased more than 1,300 acres for preservation. The agency bought four parcels in Trabuco Canyon and one each in Silverado Canyon and Brea.

Laguna Canyon Foundation board member Derek Ostensen praised OCTA’s decision to buy the Aliso Canyon land.

“Huge applause to OCTA to negotiate and fund [the acquisition],” Ostensen said. “This is probably the most important remaining coastal open space in the 22,000-acre South Coast Wilderness area.”

Biologists identified several at-risk species, called special status species, either on the site or near the area, including coastal whiptail lizards, northern harriers, coastal California gnatcatchers and American peregrine falcons.

The OCTA will work with state and federal conservation agencies to determine who will oversee the land going forward, spokesman Eric Carpenter wrote in an email.

A marked ridgeline trail used by hikers and bicyclists will remain.