SUPERVISORS REBUFF PUBLIC PETITIONERS, APPROVE CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTOR’S PROJECT
Rejecting a petition signed by over 2,000 county residents and others from across California and the nation, Orange County supervisors unanimously approved a controversial housing tract, “Saddle Crest,” in rural Trabuco Canyon and repealed longstanding community rules the developer refused to follow. The October 2 vote gives Rutter Santiago LP the green light to build 65 houses along Santiago Canyon Road north of Cook’s Corner, and rescinds key provisions of the Foothill Trabuco Specific Plan (FTSP), enacted by county supervisors in 1991 to preserve the area’s rural character and scenic natural resources, allowing Rutter and future developers to replace healthy mature oak trees with acorns, count manufactured slopes as “natural open space,” and bulldoze ridgelines, hillsides, and canyons without limit. Saddle Crest will cut down over 150 mature oak trees, some over three feet in trunk diameter, and cut and fill hillsides and canyons over 70 vertical feet. Supervisors also favored Rutter with amendments to the county general plan, deleting a requirement that Trabuco Canyon development be “rural in character,” tripling the permissible volume of traffic on two-lane Santiago Canyon Road, and allowing county supervisors to find projects like Rutter’s in “overall harmony” with the general plan and approve them, even if they violate some general plan provisions. Read the FTSP and general plan amendments here.
Rutter and his lobbyist, Lyle Overby, gave campaign contributions to all five supervisors.
From the outset, Rutter CEO Dave Eadie, who criticized the FTSP as “very ineffective” and “outdated,” and called his acorn planting scheme “superior biologically” to preserving the existing oak woodlands, refused to submit a plan that complied with the FTSP, and instead proposed amending the provisions his project violates. “The applicant made it very clear to us that it’s all or nothing,” said Mark Anderson, civil engineer and chairman of the FTSP Review Board, in testimony to the Orange County Planning Commission. “Change one word, and we walk away.”
Only three persons—two of them developers—testified in favor of the project at the October 2 hearing, with 23 against. (Watch video here starting at 1:09:59).
Richard Gomez, co-founder of the Saddleback Canyons Conservancy presented a petition signed by over 2,000 residents of the county, state, and nation urging supervisors to uphold the FTSP and deny Saddle Crest.
Steven Duff of Modjeska Canyon told supervisors “The citizens of this county who put you up there to represent their interests don’t want this. You’re gutting the FTSP to make one developer happy.” “When the owner of this property doesn’t do due diligence, it’s not your responsibility to bail them out,” said Silverado resident Linda May.
Dramatizing and satirizing Rutter’s self-serving plan amendments, Trabuco resident Don Segien told supervisors that he is petitioning to change the 25-mph speed limit signs in front of Trabuco Elementary School to “Drive Carefully.” “The current law is outdated,” said Segien facetiously. “My expert consultant says ‘drive carefully’ is actually superior to these outdated 25-mph zones, and children benefit from it—it improves their reflexes.” “That’s an absurd thing to say,” he added, “and revising the FTSP and general plan to meet the needs of one developer is also absurd.”
In a similar vein, Silverado resident Scott Breeden satirized Rutter’s characterization of the amendments as mere “clarifications.” “In the spirit of clarification, this is my parking stub,” said Breeden. “I would like it clarified to mean that I don’t really have to pay, and, to make it seem like I’m not a special case, I would like everyone who parks after me not to have to pay.”
Anthropology and archeology professor Patricia Martz, and native American Alfred Cruz expressed concern that future residents of Saddle Creek would vandalize and desecrate a cave and springs on the site, a registered archaeological site considered sacred by the Juaneño Indians. The Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation are the original inhabitants of the lands that ultimately became the County of Orange.
Several speakers requested community and public involvement in the amendments. Longtime Trabuco resident Denis Clarke contrasted the present hasty, applicant-initiated effort with the painstaking process employed in developing and approving the FTSP, involving 58 community meetings, 33 planning commission study sessions, two environmental impact reports, and 10 planning commission public hearings before final board approval in December 1991. “Communities affected by the changes must be part of the equation,” said Silverado resident Wendy Hayter.
Claire Schlotterbeck from the non-profit Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks reminded board members that they had adopted a “sustainable communities strategy” policy document discouraging sprawl projects like Saddle Crest located at the urban wildland interface. “This project doesn’t satisfy even one of these strategies," said Schlotterbeck. “At what point will you actually honor the policies you adopted?”
Following the public hearing, three supervisors—Shawn Nelson, Pat Bates, and John Moorlach—weakly expressed some misgivings about the project and the future effects of the amendments, but ultimately voted for them anyway at the urging of pro-developer stalwart Bill Campbell.
Their well-reasoned pleas having fallen on deaf ears, opponents’ only recourse lies with the courts, who in 2005 shot down the previous iteration of Rutter’s project in the case of Endangered Habitats League v. County of Orange brought by RCCF and other public interest plaintiffs. To contribute online through Paypal to the legal defense fund, please go here and click on the “donate” button at the bottom of the page.