Club joins lawsuit to stop massive Ranch Plan in OC

  • Posted on 28 February 2005
  • By Gail Prothero

The Sierra Club has joined an environmental lawsuit challenging the Nov. 8, 2004, decision of the Orange County Board of Supervisors to approve the application of Rancho Mission Viejo for a massive development known as the Ranch Plan.

The Ranch Plan proposes the development of approximately 14,000 residential units and 5 million square feet of commercial space in the largest area of privately owned open space left in Orange County. The project would add more than 30,000 new residents to southeast Orange County, a population similar to some nearby cities. The project amends the County's general plan and zoning ordinance, which previously limited the use of the property to primarily agricultural and open space uses. The project also includes a development agreement to lock in the property owner's right to develop at the newly approved densities and intensities for 30 years into the future.

Scientists have called the area a 'globally significant ecological jewel' and a 'hot spot' of biological diversity. It is one of the most important sites in California for the protection of irreplaceable biological resources, including California gnatcatcher, coastal cactus wren, arroyo toad, and other rare species. The Ranch Plan provides for roads and development to crisscross large expanses of intact open space, fragmenting the habitat into patches that will not adequately protect wildlife and polluting the only undammed watershed in California south of Ventura County.

State and federal agencies have recognized the critical importance of protecting the project site's natural resources and have initiated a planning process under the Natural Community Conservation Planning (NCCP) program, designed to preserve and protect important habitat on the site. Prior to approving the project, the County established a public participation process under which project review would proceed concurrently with the NCCP process. However, the County failed to follow its established process and approved the Ranch Plan ahead of the NCCP. The approval of the Ranch Plan now effectively forecloses the ability of the resource agencies to successfully complete the NCCP process.

The supervisors approved a flawed environmental impact report that glosses over the adverse impacts this development will have on natural habitat, water quality, traffic, and quality of life. The lawsuit will challenge the project's inadequate environmental assessment and will seek to reverse the County approval and keep the project from moving forward until a better plan is created.

Gail Prothero is finance chair of Friends of the Foothills.

Take Action

BUY a ticket to the April 17 Annual Starr Ranch BBQ-a portion of the proceeds benefit the Friends of the Foothills campaign. Please see story on this page.

CONTACT Brittany McKee, Friends of the Foothills coordinator, or Gail Prothero, FOF finance chair, to find out how you can help. McKee: 949-361-7534,, Prothero: FOF Finance Chair, 949-347-1255,

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