Driftwood project faces challenge

Barbara Diamond

A new neighborhood association has been created to steer the course of

the Driftwood development proposed for South Laguna.

“The goal of the Aliso-Hobo Canyons Neighborhood Assn. is to prevent


or seriously modify the development on 200 acres of open space above

Driftwood Drive,” Jeanie Bernstein said Monday at the Laguna Canyon

Conservancy monthly dinner meeting. “We want each of you to be there

whether you make comments or not. We need the bodies as a measure of the


importance of the development to the community.”

An environmental report for the proposed 18-lot project, which is

limited to less than 20 acres, is scheduled for a first hearing at the

Planning Commission meeting Wednesday. The hearing is expected to be

limited to process and scheduling of future hearings.

Bernstein said one of the opponents’ objections to the project is the

likely destruction of plants that grow nowhere else. Big-leaved crown

beard plants have been found living there.


“It is very rare,” said Ann Larson, senior city planner.

“What’s interesting is that it is growing really, really thick on the

remainder acres [not included in the project],” she added. “But there are

a few growing in the fuel modification area, which the developer has

agreed to keep in place.”

An 8.8-acre open lot is proposed to compensate for the loss of

chaparral and coastal sage scrub.

The property, which is owned by the Esslinger Family Trust, is zoned


R-1, meaning single-family homes only, unless changes are made.

“We also fear ‘mansionization’ -- houses that would just loom over

us,” said Bernstein, a resident of Driftwood Drive. “The houses around

here are of a nice size, mostly one-story, with good setbacks.

“And additional noise and traffic is always a concern. We don’t have

big, wide streets.”

The project is subject to the city’s subdivision ordinance.

The proposal encompasses 19.4 acres: 4.7 acres for single-family

homes, 1.6 acres for streets and 13.1 acres for open space, including the

open-space lot and a one-half-acre public view park. Nothing is proposed

for the remaining 208 acres of the parcel.

Grading has been done -- neighbors say illegally. However, architect

Morris Skendarian has shown city officials aerial photographs reportedly

taken in the 1970s showing the site as graded.

“We think it may have been graded in the 1960s, but there is no

documentation of how it was done or whether it meets today’s standards,”

Larson said.

“However, the applicant’s consultant has recommended that the soil be

dug up from two feet to 20 feet and re-compacted. The city’s geologists

have reviewed the geo-technical report and found it acceptable.”

The city’s planning department has taken no position on the project.

“It is too early,” Larson said. “The [environmental review] process

hasn’t even been completed yet.”

An environmental report was circulated for public comment for 45 days,

ending Dec. 1. It also was submitted to state and federal agencies for


The city received about 50 letters. Those comments were reviewed by

the applicant’s environmental consultant and responses were prepared.

“The responses are almost as thick as the environmental report],”

Bernstein said.

Trouble spots include a mapped water course in the project area, which

High Point Developers proposes to develop. And a variance might be

required to provide secondary access through an easement.

“This is going to be a long process,” said Planning Commissioner Anne

Johnson. “The project probably will be the most scrutinized development

since Treasure Island.”