Not often do conservationists find opportunities to thank developers. But now is such a time.

Last week, the Board of Supervisors officially accepted The Irvine Company’s gift of 2,500 acres of undeveloped land in East Orange and Anaheim Hills for conservation and recreational uses that will add to the County’s park system.

The Irvine Company wields plenty of power to change the shape of our environment with its vast land holdings. It certainly has done so with planned communities throughout Orange County.

It can be said that the County’s historically “developer-driven” posture is attributable to the tremendous influence of The Irvine Company and other large landowners like it.

But in celebration of his company’s 150th anniversary, Chairman Donald Bren appreciated a different vision – one that will forever benefit the public and the environment and preserve Orange County’s unique natural heritage.

The land donation is all the more impressive because, despite long and hard-fought land-use battles by conservation proponents, The Irvine Company had in its hands the entitlements to build 5,500 homes on 1,100 acres in Anaheim Hills and 1,400 acres in East Orange.

The East Orange project would have carved up hillsides and foothill canyons for a massive 3,000 home development along rural Santiago Canyon Road near Irvine Lake and Silverado Canyon.

The Anaheim Hills project would have packed in another 2,500 homes near fire-prone Gypsum and Weir canyons.

Mr. Bren’s conservation vision is generous and bold. Maybe he is helping redefine the County’s predisposition to development.

By his directive, we can be thankful that the bulldozers will never be seen on these lands and that the traffic and impacts on our natural resources and quality of life will never be realized.

We can only hope that other large landowners with important pieces of Orange County’s heritage will follow his lead with more donations like this.

Thank you, Donald Bren and The Irvine Company, for your monumental gift to the public. It is truly a lasting legacy.

Gloria Sefton is co-founder of the Saddleback Canyons Conservancy and a member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.

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