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Bolsa Chica
Photograph by Connie Boardman
  Fact Sheet

Bolsa Chica Campaign:
A Success Story

Contact:
Rudy Vietmeier, Bolsa Chica Campaign Chair, 562-866-8978
Jennifer Robinson, Conservation Program Coordinator, 213-387-4287 x204

Recent Developments

On December 21, 2005 a 118 acre portion of Bolsa Chica was purchased by the State of California for 65 million dollars. The state used funds from Proposition 50, a 2002 initiative that provided 3.4 billion dollars for environmental projects and acquisitions. It caused concern in Huntington Beach area.
The Bolsa Chica Mesa will be added to the 1,100 - acre Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, portions of which are undergoing an 80 million dollar restoration. .
When the Bolsa Chica Land Trust was formed, there were 4,884 houses proposed at Bolsa Chica, 900 in the wetlands and over 3,900 on the mesa. That has been reduced to zero on the wetlands and 349 on the mesa..
While we are pleased that the lower bench will be preserved for future generations, there is still a lot of work to be done. The Land Trust continues it’s advocacy role and continues to engage the democratic process, working to preserve the remaining private parcels at Bolsa Chica. This includes the historic upper Bolsa Chica Wetlands, threatened by a 175 - unit housing development and the culturally significant sacred cogged stone site, a six acre parcel the owner hopes to put a housing development. .
This is the culmination of 13 years and thousands of hours of work by members of the Land Trust and other organizations in our community..
While the restoration of the wetlands is under way and the lower bench of the mesa has been acquired, there still remains the question of who will manage this incredible resource. None of the state agencies seem to be anxious to step up to the plate. The Land Trust, the Amigos de Bolsa Chica and others are currently meeting with state officials to resolve that question..
Today the Bolsa Chica Land Trust offers two programs for the public, Miracles of Marsh and the Bolsa Chica Stewards. Miracles of the Marsh is an elementary school education program which brings third grade students to Bolsa Chica for a docent - led tour of the wetlands and mesa. The Bolsa Chica Stewards operate the Land Trust’s restoration program and have planted over 8,000 native plants using an all-volunteer community work force.

Ecological Background

The Bolsa Chica is a rare coastal ecosystem in Huntington Beach, containing an unusually rich diversity of habitats such as freshwater wetlands, coastal bluff scrub, grasslands, and a stand of eucalyptus that provides critical habitat for raptors and herons. However, a proposed residential development by the Hearthside Homes Company threatened to harm this critical habitat while adding the problems associated with additional housing—contaminated runoff, traffic and pet-caused dangers to wildlife and all that comes with suburban sprawl.

The Sierra Club’s Bolsa Chica campaign joined with the Bolsa Chica Land Trust and other concerned environmental groups to oppose the proposed development on the Bolsa Chica and to protect a unique bit of Orange County’s natural heritage.

The Bolsa Chica provides a refuge for migratory birds and permanently resident bird species. As many as 321 out of Orange County's 420 bird species have been sighted here in the past decade. These include the endangered San Clemente loggerhead shrike the Bald Eagle, a threatened species. Visitors to Bolsa Chica can observe a wide variety of waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds.

“This is truly one of the last undeveloped coastal wetlands of any significant size in Southern California, an area that is under the greatest development pressure of anywhere in the nation,” states the U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks George T. Frampton, Jr. “At the same time, the last undeveloped wetlands on this coast are critical to the survival of fish, waterfowl and migratory bird populations, including threatened and endangered species, that depend on the Bolsa Chica tidal lowlands for vital habitat.”

History of the Campaign
In 1992, the Koll Development Company proposed to build over 4,800 houses on the Bolsa Chica. In response, local volunteers created The Bolsa Chica Land Trust to counter the proposed development.

In 1993, the Bolsa Chica Land Trust group sought support from the Sierra Club to aid their efforts in opposing the development of the Bolsa Chica. The Sierra Club formed the Bolsa Chica Campaign, where volunteers met twice a week to establish strategies for preserving the threatened area.

In 1996, the Sierra Club was party to a law suit, filed by the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, which challenged the county’s decision for violating the California Coastal Act by approving the Koll Company’s plans for a housing development on the wetlands.

In 1997, the state of California purchased 900 acres of wetlands from Koll, using mitigation funds from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

In 1999, the Land Trust won a Court of Appeal decision that further protected the Bolsa Chica wetlands, Warner Pond and the eucalyptus grove on the Bolsa Chica Mesa. The court’s ruling set a precedent ruling, commonly referred to as “the Bolsa Chica Decision,” holding that real estate developers may not disturb sensitive habitat for the convenience of proceeding with their project.

In 2000, the developer Hearthside Homes reintroduced a plan to build 1265 houses on the Bolsa Chica Mesa. The Coastal Commission unanimously voted to allow the 1265 houses on the upper bench of the Mesa; however it protected the entire lower bench of the Mesa from development as a tradeoff.

In 2002, Proposition 50 passed with specific wording for the state to purchase “no less than 100 acres of the Bolsa Chica Mesa.”

In 2004, the State Lands Commission agreed to purchase 103 acres of the lower bench with the contingency that the Coastal Commission approves Heathside’s plan to build 379 houses on a greatly reduced parcel of 65 acres on the upper bench. The Coastal Commission is scheduled to hear the developer’s proposal in October 2004.

Campaign Partners and Supporters

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This page updated 1/30/04

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