Laguna Beach to sue county over development plan in Irvine

Laguna Beach leaders vowed this week to take legal steps to fight a plan to develop multifamily residential units on two pieces of land near the edge of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine, saying it would add to Laguna’s traffic and parking burdens and hinder wildlife movement.

The City Council voted 4-0 during a closed session Tuesday to file a lawsuit against Orange County over the West Alton development plan, which calls for building up to 803 multifamily residences on about 32 acres of county land near the intersection of Alton Parkway and Irvine Boulevard.

The county Board of Supervisors approved the plan this month.

Laguna Councilman Bob Whalen did not participate in Tuesday’s vote because the law firm where he works has done business with the county.

The city’s attorneys plan to file the lawsuit within a month, according to Assistant City Manager Christa Johnson.

Laguna Beach officials allege the project would add to already frequent gridlock on Laguna Canyon Road and other streets, overwhelm the city’s parking supply and place increased demand on the city’s beaches and police, fire and emergency medical services.

In a letter to the county in 2017, City Manager John Pietig also expressed concern about the project’s effects on a 300-foot-wide wildlife corridor between the two proposed development sites.

The corridor enables animals to move among the Irvine Open Space Preserve, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Limestone Canyon Regional Park, Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, Cleveland National Forest and the Santa Ana Mountains foothills, according to the letter.

“Laguna Beach is concerned that the high-density, encroaching design of the project would impede wildlife movement between these areas, thereby worsening the species isolation that is already occurring within Laguna Coast Wilderness Park,” Pietig wrote.

A county representative declined to comment Thursday.

Pietig’s letter said the plan’s environmental impact report was insufficient and “ignored or downplayed” potential effects on the community.

The environmental report, completed in 2016, states the development would not cause significant traffic issues in surrounding cities.

County supervisors voted 3-1 on June 5, with Supervisor Shawn Nelson absent, to sign off on the environmental report and the development plan.

Up to 112 units proposed for the West Alton development would be designated affordable housing and up to eight units would be transitional housing, according to planning documents.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, whose district includes the portion of Irvine outlined in the plan, voted against it, noting threats of lawsuits over the proposal.

“We know how this game is played. You end up in lawsuits, and that’s where the real negotiations go forward,” Spitzer said. “I have great concerns.”

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