Photo by Jack GouldAs the sun begins to go down and the sky turns pink over my head, I stop climbing the narrow trail halfway up Puma Ridge, past the sign warning that hikers are entering “Mountain Lion Country.” I turn. Balancing my feet between the rocks and rust-colored soil that line the trail, I stand perfectly still and close my eyes. I'm standing in Orange, but the air is fresh and thick—and cold, which isn't surprising considering that winter, at this time, is only a week away. There are toll roads to my left and behind my back, but I can't hear them—just birds chirping and an occasional car leaving the bright green meadows that make up Irvine Regional Park.
Then I open my eyes and see the road. The one the Irvine Co. cut back in July. It's right in front of me, a massive snake corkscrewing its way through the brown coastal sage that covers these Santiago hills. No one could miss it, as a recent spray of grass seed has brightened it to almost turquoise. It could not be easier to spot had Jerry Garcia tie-dyed it.
Today the road serves no purpose other than to symbolize the Irvine Co.'s contempt for the county's remaining open space and the environmental regulations and procedures designed to protect it. After all, it is their land—all 7,000 acres of it, now dedicated to the construction of hundreds of new Irvine-style residential neighborhoods.
It was the morning of July 18 when stunned hikers in Irvine Park discovered the new road, slashed by a company subcontractor to make way for drilling equipment designed to prove the area's suitability as a suburb. It was as easy to see then as now—a blood-colored scar cut in the earth by a dozer, in some places spotted with freshly shredded cactus plants.
Never mind that the project's Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was still unapproved, or that the EIR was one of the worst ever written in the history of big, Orange County development projects. And forget that no construction had been authorized, no one had conducted biological studies of the habitat, and—most galling to locals—no one had even bothered to alert county planning officials. Why bother asking for approval from a county that always says yes?
The hikers shouldn't have been surprised; the county has a history of grading hillsides and filling in canyons to benefit every developer that passes through 10 Civic Center Plaza. This year was no different.
Measure F—designed to stop the construction of El Toro International, as well as jails and toxic dumps—passed overwhelmingly in March. County officials immediately sued—successfully, it turned out—and trashed the initiative that would have forced future noxious developments to first get voter approval. Just like that, the county blew off 67 percent of its own electorate. Promotion of a massive international airport at El Toro continues unabated, despite its bankrupt design and paltry approval rating with the public.
Then there was the embarrassing revelation that one-third of all county parks lack proper legal restrictions against development. The Board of Supervisors still hasn't done anything about that. But it's just parkland. Parks don't hire slick lobbyists or craft impressive-looking PowerPoint presentations, and they certainly don't donate thousands of dollars to election campaigns.
In any case, Irvine Co. officials apologized for cutting the road. The spraying of grass seed was their attempt to return the area to a natural state. It would be nice if they now took a shot at repairing our ostensibly representative government.