By Steve Duff
Mr. Supervisor: Our specific plans are important to everyone.
You might not know much about our “specific plans,” but they benefit you and everyone in this county. Specific plans protect our special areas by laying out clear rules limiting development.
Decades ago, the citizens of Orange County decided they wanted our eastern foothills to be free from the urbanization happening elsewhere. The specific plans created to do that keep it open, rural and preserved, for things like recreation, wildlife, wilderness access, habitat, education, county heritage and tourism.
Third District Supervisor Todd Spitzer spoke at Inter-Canyon League’s April meeting about the state of our specific plans. The crowd received shocking news. Spitzer said the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan, adopted in 1977 to preserve the rural character of Silverado and Modjeska
Canyons, “isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” Yes, he used those words – before rephrasing that the county now views the Sil-Mod plan as unenforceable.
Why? Spitzer asserted an arcane legal technicality: the plan was passed by “resolution,” not “ordinance.” Sorry, guys: what we’ve promised you for four decades was a pact to preserve the canyons has now been conveniently bulldozed aside.
Residents at the meeting were dumbfounded. None more so than Judy Myers, who helped craft the Sil-Mod Plan. Myers flatly stated to Spitzer that nobody ever raised this distinction when the supervisors passed the plan into law. Indeed, the county passed amendments to the plan at least five times, suggesting that the county knew its plan was binding.
On a related topic, representatives of various specific plan areas met last year with Spitzer. Our plea was for him to reverse the appalling slew of changes to the Foothill-Trabuco Specific Plan and the county’s general plan, rammed through by then-Supervisor Bill Campbell to grease the way for the Saddle Crest development near Cook’s Corner and future tract clones in the canyons. A reversal would not affect Saddle Crest’s existing approvals, nor require new environmental studies. But nothing has happened.
I, and others here, have pressed Spitzer to establish a simple Sil-Mod area review board so our community would at last receive notifications on major development projects. Other areas have this. Yet, no action there either.
This all illustrates the longstanding pattern of weakening these plans, partly though governmental neglect and indifference, but often by intentional and malicious efforts, such as bizarre legal reinterpretations and lobbyist-inspired plan “amendments.”
The net result leaves the areas these plans were designed to protect ever more vulnerable to the inappropriate development the plans were carefully crafted to restrain. This is simply unacceptable to the residents of these areas and the citizens of this county, who should, and do, expect far better leadership.
Mr. Supervisor: You are the only one who can fix this mess. If we need an ordinance plan, then begin that process. It’s been almost a year since you met with the Save Our Specific Plans coalition. You indicated you were working on a specific plans policy. Yet we have not seen any proposals.
Mr. Supervisor: The rural specific plan we seem to have now is a “plan” to do nothing. And if nothing is done much longer, the result will be exactly what these plans were adopted to prevent: creeping, irreversible, metastatic overdevelopment of our canyons.
Mr. Supervisor: Cost and difficulty cannot be made a scapegoat here. Land-use planning is one of the most important missions county government undertakes, and maintaining specific plans is a state-mandated responsibility.
Mr. Supervisor: Will you represent us?
Modjeska Canyon resident Steve Duff is a member of the Save Our Specific Plans coalition and vice-president of the Inter-Canyon League.