Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan - Spitzer responds

Dear Editor:

When making land use decisions, jurisdictions look to important guiding documents, like specific plans that set standards for development and preservation. Recently, different groups and residents from the canyons have reached out to me, asking the county to consider updating the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan (SMSP).

As a county supervisor, I have the ability to weigh in, shape policy, and consider project approvals that are consistent with protecting the natural beauty and character of the canyons. I believe that I have consistently worked hard to protect the canyon communities.

It is important that the Inter-Canyon League (ICL), the Save Our Specific Plans Coalition, and the canyon community are on the same page when asking the county to move forward with a formal update to the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan, for two reasons.  The first is that the cost to update a specific plan is over $1.5 million per plan. The second, is that updating a specific plan requires an open community process, takes at least 36 months to complete, must be approved by a majority of the Board of Super-visors, and invites anyone who is interested, including the Building Industry Association and private developers, to the table to provide input.

I have also received a letter requesting the creation of a Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan area review board, similar to the North Tustin Advisory Committee (NTAC). There is a key distinguishing factor between the two plans, and that is the NTAC provides input for projects under the North Tustin Specific Plan, and the SMSP was adopted by resolution without an environmental or CEQA review.

According to OC Public Works and county counsel, the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan was intended, and adopted, as a policy document. It was adopted by Resolution 77-1436 and not by ordinance, which provides the legal teeth that I believe the community is seeking.  The current guidelines that the SMSP contains do not supersede regulations contained in the Zoning Code or Zoning Map. State law will not allow the current SMSP to be amended and become a regulatory document.

I have held numerous constituent meetings, responded to letters and emails, and directed county staff to conduct research and prepare a PowerPoint presentation, which we spent two hours presenting in April at the ICL, to help organize and identify commonality in the various requests from the community and residents, related to updating and upholding specific plans.  Representatives from OC Public Works, OC Fire Authority, OC Parks, California Highway Patrol and my staff attended the Inter-Canyon League to answer questions about the process to update a specific plan, and to explain the legal and financial barriers that an update would face.

The county presented next-step options to the ICL, and my office was informed that after the meeting, the ICL sought legal counsel.  There may be a way to move forward to continue to preserve the unique and beautiful canyons while protecting our quality of life. I have yet to receive a formal alternative opinion, which I believe will be useful to advance the discussion. I look forward to a unified response from the ICL as to whether or not reopening the SMSP is the best path to move forward, and a financial plan to cover the cost of such an endeavor.

Todd Spitzer
Supervisor, Orange County 3rd District