June 21, 2004--Santa Ana superior court judge Ronald L. Bauer today cleared the way for the destruction of 500 to 1,000 oak trees, many exceeding five feet in trunk diameter, in Trabuco Canyon. Bauer rejected a legal challenge to the January 2003 approval by county supervisors of the Saddle Crest and Saddle Creek housing tracts filed by RCCF, the Endangered Habitats League, the Sierra Club, the Sea and Sage Audubon Society, the California Native Plant Society, and the California Oak Foundation.
The trees would be replaced by 162 houses along both sides of Live Oak Canyon Road between Cook's Corner and the Harris Grade Summit, and along the north side of Santiago Canyon Road between Cook's Corner and Modjeska Grade Road. Grading to create large flat building pads would bury canyons and cut down ridgelines 50 feet or more, and, according to state and federal officials, threaten development of a planned regional wildlife reserve system by blocking the movement of endangered species and destroying their habitat.
According to the lawsuit, the project, proposed by Irvine based Rutter Development Corporation, would congest Santiago Canyon Road beyond the limits set by the county general plan. The project also included a 14-page amendment to the Foothill Trabuco Specific Plan exempting Saddle Crest and Creek from the grading and tree-cutting limits of this master blueprint for environmentally sensitive rural development in the Trabuco Canyon area. The amendment changed the Specific Plan's mandatory regulations into voluntary guidelines, according to the lawsuit, allowing future developers to ignore them. Bauer provided no detailed oral or written explanation of his June 20 decision. Read the trial transcript.
"We will appeal Judge Bauer's ruling," said RCCF president Bruce Conn. "The Foothill Trabuco Specific Plan was four years and over a million dollars in the making, and we're not going to sit by and let it be blown away simply for the convenience of one speculator." Friends of Trabuco Canyon are invited to support the appeal by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.