Photo by Jeanne RiceIt was a classic moment, illustrating precisely the politics of the county's Board of Supervisors: on July 24, the same day the board approved six housing-tract construction permits, the stupes quietly deleted a proposed ordinance that would permanently protect all of the county's 30,000 acres of parkland from development. That move came after the board had delayed addressing the law three times, going back to May 8.
There's no question that the proposed ordinance is necessary. A year ago, Orange activist Shirley Grindle discovered that just nine of Santiago Oaks Park's 454 acres in Orange were protected from future development. A subsequent county Harbors, Beaches and Parks (HBP) report elaborated on Grindle's finding, concluding that one-third of the county's parks—more than 10,000 acres across the county—had no deed restrictions.
"This is the dirty little secret the board doesn't want out," said Grindle. "But the county didn't get all this parkland just so they can turn around and sell it to some developer."
Without restrictions against development written into the deeds, it's relatively easy for county supervisors to approve development in the park. For instance, in 1997, the county was able to build a massive metal water reservoir in Whiting Ranch because of that park's weak deed.
Since spring of last year, staff at HBP have pored over maps and deeds, diligently detailing the hundreds of park parcels that would require protective restrictions. With Grindle's assistance, they came up with a three-part solution. First, write into all park deeds the phrase "for park purposes only." Second, mandate that all future parks be automatically designated off-limits to development.
Third—and most important—adopt as law a copy of the current state park abandonment law. Under that law, the signatures of just 200 residents could put any proposed park development on the ballot for approval by the voters. Under that provision, no future Board of Supervisors would be able to undo these restrictions.
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That proposal was added to the board's May 8 agenda. But the supes delayed hearing the new law until June 5. At that meeting, the item was delayed until June 19 and then to July 24—the day they essentially killed it by simply erasing the item from the agenda.
Phil Pauley, an aide to Third District Supervisor Todd Spitzer, denied the ordinance is dead. "Basically, it was deleted in order to give the new Orange school board members a chance to get up to speed," said Pauley. Trustees there had been threatening to build an elementary school on wilderness land they own in the massive 570-acre Barham Ranch. Pauley says new members of the board are more amenable to the idea of selling the ranch to the county as parkland.
However unlikely it seems that the supes are serious about park protection, Pauley guessed, "The ordinance will probably come back in 60 days."
Bet the Irvine Co. never had to wait 60 days for anything.