Foothills Sentry: Open letter to Supervisor Spitzer, Save Our Specific Plans

The following is a story by the Foothills Sentry newspaper, a Voice of OC media partner covering Orange, Villa Park, Orange Park Acres, Anaheim Hills, North Tustin, Silverado Canyon, and Modjeska Canyon.

This story was published in the Sentry’s June 2016 edition.

Mr. Supervisor: Our specific plans are important to everyone.

You might not know much about our “specific plans,” but they benefit you and everyone in this county. Specific plans protect our special areas by laying out clear rules limiting development.

Decades ago, the citizens of Orange County decided they wanted our eastern foothills to be free from the urbanization happening elsewhere. The specific plans created to do that keep it open, rural and preserved, for things like recreation, wildlife, wilderness access, habitat, education, county heritage and tourism.

Third District Supervisor Todd Spitzer spoke at Inter-Canyon League’s April meeting about the state of our specific plans. The crowd received shocking news. Spitzer said the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan, adopted in 1977 to preserve the rural character of Silverado and Modjeska

Canyons, “isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” Yes, he used those words – before rephrasing that the county now views the Sil-Mod plan as unenforceable.

Why? Spitzer asserted an arcane legal technicality: the plan was passed by “resolution,” not “ordinance.”  Sorry, guys:  what we’ve promised you for four decades was a pact to preserve the canyons has now been conveniently bulldozed aside.

Residents at the meeting were dumbfounded. None more so than Judy Myers, who helped craft the Sil-Mod Plan. Myers flatly stated to Spitzer that nobody ever raised this distinction when the supervisors passed the plan into law. Indeed, the county passed amendments to the plan at least five times, suggesting that the county knew its plan was binding.

On a related topic, representatives of various specific plan areas met last year with Spitzer. Our plea was for him to reverse the appalling slew of changes to the Foothill-Trabuco Specific Plan and the county’s general plan, rammed through by then-Supervisor Bill Campbell to grease the way for the Saddle Crest development near Cook’s Corner and future tract clones in the canyons. A reversal would not affect Saddle Crest’s existing approvals, nor require new environmental studies. But nothing has happened.

I, and others here, have pressed Spitzer to establish a simple Sil-Mod area review board so our community would at last receive notifications on major development projects. Other areas have this. Yet, no action there either.

This all illustrates the longstanding pattern of weakening these plans, partly though governmental neglect and indifference, but often by intentional and malicious efforts, such as bizarre legal reinterpretations and lobbyist-inspired plan “amendments.”

The net result leaves the areas these plans were designed to protect ever more vulnerable to the inappropriate development the plans were carefully crafted to restrain. This is simply unacceptable to the residents of these areas and the citizens of this county, who should, and do, expect far better leadership.

Mr.  Supervisor:  You are the only one who can fix this mess. If we need an ordinance plan, then begin that process. It’s been almost a year since you met with the Save Our Specific Plans coalition. You indicated you were working on a specific plans policy. Yet we have not seen any proposals.

Mr. Supervisor: The rural specific plan we seem to have now is a “plan” to do nothing. And if nothing is done much longer, the result will be exactly what these plans were adopted to prevent: creeping, irreversible, metastatic overdevelopment of our canyons.

Mr. Supervisor: Cost and difficulty cannot be made a scapegoat here. Land-use planning is one of the most important missions county government undertakes, and maintaining specific plans is a state-mandated responsibility.

Mr. Supervisor: Will you represent us?

Modjeska Canyon resident Steve Duff is a member of the Save Our Specific Plans coalition and vice-president of the Inter-Canyon League.–save-our-specific-plans.html

  • pamragland

    I have to say I was pretty shocked when Todd Spitzer’s new planning guy informed me the SilMod plan was not an “ordinance” so it didn’t have to be followed. It sounded to me like a way to try to BS people and get around long standing plans.

    Todd is an attorney. He knows that the intent of the law is the first thing you look at to clarify a law. It is CLEAR the intent of SilMod was to protect the rural space buffer to our national forest.

    Instead we have seen the OC Supervisors gut not only the SilMod Plan–but also the Foothill Trabuco Specific Plan, which supposedly WAS passed (later) by an ordinance.

    It is very hard to sit back and watch the creek diverted as in the development by Whiting Ranch, the planned community cookie cutter type developments in the open space — and the utter disregard for the precious and irreplaceable in our lifetime resources.

    For example, an oak that may be 500 years old can now be cut if it’s “too hard to move”. Previously the developments needed to be planned around this special resource we are lucky to have.

    What kind of protection is THAT??? Absolutely none.

    OC has acquired and been given a significant amount of open space. Rural buffer areas exist in the canyons. The plans are meant to manage and protect these valuable and historical resources.

    Yet, the trail plans, SilMod and FTSP plans are all but forgotten.

    OC needs to not only honor what exists – but create a county wide plan to consistently protect and properly manage what is the very last of these special resources, which benefit all of OC and the surrounding areas.

  • Maureen Voehl

    Upon reading your commentary in the Sentry I sent this email to Todd Spitzer, have not received a response as yet.

    Dear Representative Spitzer,

    As far as I am concerned Steve Duff hit the nail right on the head! I was so overpoweringly disappointed to see the canyons sold out by Bill Campbell and have had hopes that you would be the representative we could count on to protect our precious canyons.

    Please do not disappoint us! Read Steve Duff’s commentary again and do what is right.

    Thank you,
    Maureen Voehl
    Your constituent, Modjeska resident.

  • Susan Hardy

    Thank you for your succinct and articulate letter in the Foothills Sentry, Mr Duff. I was present at the April meeting featuring Mr. Spitzer and his pals and you could hear a pin drop when he spoke those words about our SilMod Plan.being useless. I am so glad that Judy Myers was there to question him face to face! A plan is a plan and should be honored as it was written in the day as it was meant to be and do! No changes by newer wording should alter that!

  • Linda May

    Thank you, Mr. Duff! Well said! Our Specific Plan is important to current property owners and residents. We have a right to expect certain conditions unless those plans are formally changed.

  • Natalie Garth

    Steve, thank you for your comments. This needs to be resolved. I actually think the county is approaching this wrong –I wonder why ( don’t have to wonder too long). What was binding once is still binding now if the Plsn was adopted in the manner provided for at that time. In any event, your commentary raised important, very important, issues relevant to just how long Orsnge County can have the benefit of this beautiful rural area. Once gone, gone forever.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Good luck with that, hon. Spitzer represents Spitzer. He has no interest, whatsoever, in representing the people of this county. Most especially, he is not interested in protecting those with no voice. You might want to print this letter out and deliver it with a bag of fish tacos and cash. He might actually give you two minutes of his precious time.