Laguna Sues County Over Great Park Development

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach has sued the County of Orange and a Los Angeles-based real estate group to block the development of more than 100 acres south of the Orange County Great Park.

Attorneys representing the city wrote in a petition filed Aug. 6 in Orange County Superior Court that the Orange County Board of Supervisors’ approval of the project violated the county’s General Plan, which restricts the land’s development for education, park, recreation, cultural and other public uses.

The project includes a strip of land generally bound by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority railroad, Marine Way and State Route 133. Lowes Enterprises Real Estate Group plans to build more than 2,100 dwelling units, 220,000 square feet of retail space, nearly 1.9 million square feet of office space, and a 242-room hotel.

In November 2017, the Board of Supervisors approved the project on a 4-1 vote with Supervisor Todd Spitzer opposing the project, despite Laguna Beach’s concerns about how it would impact traffic, parkland, recreational amenities and other public services, according to court documents.

“A significant portion of the project’s traffic will travel the streets and highways within Laguna Beach,” Laguna’s attorneys wrote. “Other project impacts as well will be exported to Laguna Beach, contributing significant cumulative impacts that adversely affect [the city.]”

County spokeswoman Molly Nichelson said the county disagrees with the city’s position and will be defending itself against the lawsuit.

Laguna Beach’s claim that the development of more than 100 acres that used to be part of Marine Air Corps Station El Toro violates the county’s General Plan rests on restrictions placed on the land by Measure W. In March 2002, a majority of Orange County voters agreed to scrap the idea of building an international airport on the former marine base and instead dedicate its 4,700 acres to educational, recreation, habitat and compatible uses.

Since Irvine annexed the Great Park, portions of it have been opened up to residential and non-residential development and the area is now allowed to accommodate 9,500 residential units, according to court documents.

Laguna Beach’s attorneys argue the county shouldn’t have allowed this development to happen because it’s a violation of state planning and zoning law.

“There is a present and actual controversy between [Laguna Beach] and [County of Orange] as to the legality of the county’s practice of disregarding Measure W when considering development proposals within the Great Park, in violation of [the California Environmental Quality Act] and the Planning and Zoning Law,” Laguna’s attorneys wrote.

Besides the differences of opinion on state planning and housing law, the city’s attorneys also claim that the county fumbled sending the city notice of the Board of Supervisors’ hearing on the environmental impact report for the project.

Instead of emailing the city’s attorneys as requested, the county mailed a notice to City Manager John Pietig, which delayed the city’s review of the project.

 

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