By Scott Breeden


The county Planning Commission voted Jan. 24 to approve use of a Modjeska-area residence for weddings, parties and other events for up to 200 people at a time.

Red Rock Gardens, on Santiago Canyon Road at Bolero Lookout Road, was authorized to host 12 events per year, subject to such conditions as widening Santiago Canyon and Bolero Lookout Roads, the addition of turn lanes, alteration of bike lanes, removal of vegetation, construction of an on-site parking area, and additional permanent signs on Santiago Canyon Road, plus portable changing message signs (flashing) during events.

County planning staff had recommended denying approval, stating that the proposed use (Commercial Outdoor Recreation/  Event Facility) does not comply with (1) the county’s General Plan, (2) the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan, and (3) the zoning code.

Project applicants argued, though, that use would be just like that at the Giracci Vineyards site, which was approved in 2013. But staff maintained the Giracci site is an exception, due to an existing, non-conforming use established prior to creation of the specific plan.

Facing conflicting predictions from applicants and the public, the commission reduced the number of events from 20 to 12, to “see how things go.” County legal counsel stated that commissioners have the discretion to interpret their own documents, but that whether interpretations hold up in court is a different matter.

Dammed if you do ...
The Cleveland National Forest Service (USFS) announced that removal of dams on local streams would continue.  Four such dams have already been removed from Silverado Creek, along with others in Trabuco Creek and Holy Jim Creek.  Blasting of dams in Silverado last year was met with local protests.

According to the Forest Service, the purpose of the dam removal project, begun in 2013, is “to enhance aquatic organism passage and stream habitat in Silverado, Holy Jim, Trabuco and Upper San Juan Creeks.”  The intent is to support native fish, amphibians and other aquatic species; to allow potential re-establishment of species formerly present like Southern California steelhead trout; to eliminate safety hazards; and to make stream conditions more natural.

Arguing in favor of leaving the remaining dams in place, some residents have cited recreational and educational benefits of pools or “swimming holes” behind the dams, plus possible harm to wildlife and habitat during dam demolition.  Joel Robertson of local nonprofit Naturalist For You said that dams could be left to erode naturally, but for the moment they could provide pool/outcrop habitat for such creatures as the western pond turtle found last year in the forest along Maple Springs Road.  

Last year, U.S. Marines blasted Silverado dams.  Other removal methods being considered by the USFS are excavators and hand crews. As to fish like steelhead, which migrate up streams from the ocean to spawn, it was pointed out that their path is currently blocked by larger obstacles, like the Irvine Lake Dam.  The Forest Service does not dispute this, but has said that other species would benefit from removal of the smaller dams.

The 81 original dams, each about two to 12 feet high, were built by the County of Orange over a number of years, beginning in the 1940s.  Purposes included water for firefighting, plus recreation through stocking of fish, but not flood control. The county later stopped maintaining the dams, and agreed to provide funds for their removal, according to the USFS.

Park and ride
Silverado-Modjeska Recreation and Park District Directors Phil McWilliams and Tara Saraye will lead the Open Space and Trails Committee established years ago, but inactive of late.

Orange County has a Master Plan of Regional Riding and Hiking Trails (and map).  SMRPD created its own Draft Master Plan of Trails (and map) in 2004, which describes over two dozen local and nearby trails.  Plan goals include creating trail linkages, partnering with other agencies and landowners, and allowing for efficient acquisition, development and operation of the trail system.

At the district’s Silverado Children’s Center, 28 preschoolers were enrolled at last count.  Meeting on Jan. 16, the SMRPD board decided that it could not sponsor a chili cook-off fundraiser for the center as currently proposed, due to risks associated with alcohol and horses at the site. But a private event could make a donation as long as it did not use the SMRPD name or logo.  Separately, the board approved Melissa Clemmons’s application to start a healthy cooking class for children.

Boom Town
A January 25 earthquake was centered east of Silverado, just over the county line.  Unscrupulous Riverside silver miners, probably without an approved earthquake permit, were suspected of seeking a back entrance to Silverado’s legendary Blue Light Mine.  But since a construction crew ruptured a nearby gas pipeline at about the same time, the earth may have been just experiencing gas pains.

Recreational weddings