It all started with a map.
Called the Green Vision Map, it’s been in existence since 1999. It shows the existing protected lands and threatened lands within and adjacent to Orange County. The regional non-profit Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks organized over 80 conservation and community groups to ultimately create and support this Map, which contains a wish list of properties to be conserved.
Land can be protected any number of ways, but the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) has acquired seven properties featured on the Green Vision Map through a unique conservation mechanism.
Back in 2005, a coalition of 30+ conservation and community organizations formed to negotiate with OCTA while it considered renewing its ½ cent transportation sales tax measure. The measure, which includes funding for freeway improvements, streets and roads, and transit, also includes a cutting-edge program that allows for the permanent protection of important natural lands.
In fact, because of Orange County’s achievements, three other Southern California counties are contemplating creating a similar program.
To date, OCTA has successfully acquired 1,300 acres from willing sellers through this Environmental Mitigation Program. The Program, spanning 30 years, will use a minimum of 5% of the freeway revenues to fund acquisition, restoration and management of natural lands—as a way to reduce the habitat impacts from the freeway expansions.
An Oversight Committee administers the program and has worked with natural resource agencies to carefully select lands that match habitats impacted by 13 freeway projects.
One property, the Hayashi Preserve, was acquired in Northern Orange County and boasts beautiful vistas, important streams, and oak and walnut woodlands. OCTA’s most recent acquisition is the Aliso Canyon Preserve, which lies along the coast, high above Aliso Creek and includes stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, filling in a gap in the network of protected lands along the Laguna Coast. The remaining five properties are in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, spanning as far north as Silverado Canyon and as far south as Trabuco Canyon. Each foothill property contains important wildlife corridors and expands the existing preserve system.
Right now, the public has an important opportunity to comment on how the five foothill properties will be managed over the long-term.
Resource Management Plans have been developed for these lands and cover a variety of topics including: public access, preserve management, invasive plant control, habitat restoration opportunities, fire management and more. OCTA has prepared these plans ahead of schedule and has offered public review of the Plans to provide a more inclusive and transparent process.
Of particular interest to the general public is the availability and accessibility of trails within the Preserves. By way of background, multiple complex agreements and permits between a number of agencies, established the required terms of this conservation effort. Since the lands are owned by a public agency, many may expect these lands to be open to the public, like a wilderness or regional park. These lands are not wilderness or regional parks, instead they were acquired to protect sensitive wildlife and plants and they each have very specific standards to ensure those protections remain in place forever. Where access can be provided under a managed program, it will be. Unfortunately, the majority of these preserves are surrounded by private property and that factor alone considerably reduces opportunities for access, staging areas, and trailheads. Juggling private property rights; street, parking, and access restrictions; along with the terms of the conservation agreements is no easy feat.
FHBP encourages the public to take the time to review the Management Plans and provide substantive feedback.
The deadline to submit comments to OCTA is Monday, February 8.
Harry Huggins is a board member for Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks. Before his retirement from the County of Orange, he gained extensive history and experience working as an Asset Manager for OC Parks.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana at [email protected].