Conservation Update, 2018 Jul | Coast to Cleveland Corridor, Newport Beach Dunes and Plovers, Tree Ordinance

From the Desk of Celia Kutcher, Conservation Chair

 

COAST TO CLEVELAND WILDLIFE CORRIDOR  

The OC Board of Supervisors gave final approval, 3-1, to the West Alton Parcel Development Plan despite long and steadfast opposition to the Plan by an enviro coalition spearheaded by Laguna Greenbelt. OCCNPS has long been a member of the coalition and a signatory to the coalition letter opposing the development.

The Plan puts about 900 dwelling units (5-story condos) on about 45 acres at the northwest corner of Irvine and Alton Blvds. See Exhibit 1.3 (p. 11 of 266) and other maps in http://www.ocgov.com/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=75748.

The site:

  1. abuts the southern end of the 900-acre FBI property, which is de facto wildlife corridor connecting to National Forest and Central NCCP Reserve lands.
  2. straddles the West Alton Segment of the Irvine Wildlife Corridor, which connects southward, ultimately to Coastal NCCP Reserve lands.

The Plan leaves only a narrow gap (pinch point) to allow wildlife passage between the FBI parcel and the West Alton Segment. Such a pinch point is a possibly severe obstacle to the Corridor’s purpose: to allow wildlife passage (= gene flow) between the Central and Coastal parts of the NCCP Reserve. The whole corridor must be functional to work.

The corridor’s proper functioning is not only essential for OC’s wildlife, but also for protecting the hundreds of millions of dollars of OC taxpayer funds that have been invested over decades into our wilderness parks and other open space.The County had previously agreed to designate the West Alton site as wildlife corridor, so why is it now placing land uses adjacent to the corridor that would jeopardize its success?

DUNES AND PLOVERS IN NEWPORT BEACH

Despite heavy human use of the City of Newport Beach’s 8-plus miles of ocean-front beach, a couple dozen acres of native dune vegetation still exist near the jetty (southerly end) and near the Santa Ana River’s mouth (northerly end). These dune areas meet the Coastal Act’s criteria for Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA). The dunes near the jetty are home to a population of Western Snowy Plover (WSP), a small shorebird that is ranked as Federal Threatened and a California Species of Special Concern.

Coastal Commission staff has repeatedly advised the City that ONE plan, that includes ALL of the City’s beachfront, is a Coastal Act requirement. Instead, the City seems set on doing a series of plans for the different areas of its beach.

The City has recently issued a draft WSP Management Plan that covers only the +/- 25 acres of dunes near the jetty where most of the plovers roost: newportbeachca.gov/trending/projects-issues/snowy-plover. The Plan is due to be up for approval at the Coastal Commission hearing in August, despite its not complying with the stated requirement as well as being otherwise flawed. Stay tuned.

OC TREE PRESERVATION ORDINANCE:  

In 2015, OCCNPS joined Friends of Harbors Beaches and Parks (FHBP) and other groups in drafting a sample OC Tree Preservation Ordinance. The impetus was that OC does not and has never had a county-wide ordinance aimed at protecting native trees on unincorporated lands.

The groups’ draft Ordinance was submitted to the OC Planning Dept. in 2016. There, it was folded into the overall Zoning Code Update project, Orange is the New Green, then getting underway. (The comprehensive update’s intent is to make the county’s policies and practices “greener”: more sustainable and environment-friendly. See: ocpublicworks.com/gov/pw/ds/planning/projects/orange_is_the_new_green.asp)

The Zoning Code Update, including the Tree Preservation Ordinance, has been examined at a series of Planning Commission workshops beginning in early May.

OCCNPS’ specific comments on the Ordinance:

  1. Clarification of the types of native oaks and other species and how they grow.
  2. Suggestions for additional preservation categories.
  3. An annotated list of OC’s 34 native tree species (including oak hybrids).

FHBP et al had many comments as well. Contact  for copies of the letters and list.

The “workshops” consisted of the Commissioners discussing the Ordinance’s provisions in the presence of the few members of the public in attendance. There were defined Public Comment periods during which attendees had 3 minutes each to comment on the Ordinance.

Discussion among the Commissioners revealed that:

  • They felt a lack of focus in what the Ordinance should cover, both which tree spp. and what area(s).
  • The Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan area (which is conventionally zoned despite being in a Specific Plan) is the only Specific Plan or Planned Community area that has big old oaks on large parcels of private land, and that doesn’t have a Habitat Conservation Plan or similar that addresses the oaks’ preservation. The suggestion was made to add oak preservation to the Sil-Mod SP, rather than institute a county-wide ordinance that in practice applies almost solely to the Sil-Mod area.
  • Specific-Plan and Planned-Community areas are excluded from the Ordinance’s provisions because they already have Habitat Management Plans (HMPs) or similar, which are ”tailored” to their sites. The HMPs’ mitigation measures and/or design requirements were set up as part of their areas’ development processes. The HMPs are essentially contracts with USF&W and/or CDFW, and difficult to remove in favor of the Ordinance.

The Commissioners did direct staff to seek answers to several specific questions. The answers were presented to the Commission on June 27, see ocpublicworks.com/ds/planning/hearing/pln_comm/pcmeeting, “ Att. 4 Tree Preservation Ordinance (Follow-up Response)”; the two attachments are pertinent maps. See also the community plans and maps at: ocpublicworks.com/ds/community_plans.

The Zoning Code Update is due to be presented to the Board of Supervisors in September. Stay tuned for what happens next with the Tree Preservation Ordinance.


 

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