Smisek: Another Point of View on The Sil-Mod Plan

Recently you published an article from the Foothill Sentry written by Steve Duff. Every story has two sides, so as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now for the rest of the story”

The Sil-Mod Plan is the most misunderstood and misinterpreted document in the canyons. In a recent ICL meeting, local environmentalists and ICL members were shocked and dismayed that the Sil-Mod PLAN is not a mandated regulatory document, as they had been lead to believe. The Sil-Mod Plan was never intended to be code-enforced, or to restrict development. It was designed only to provide community input, to be considered, in the approval process of local development. Moses did not come down from Saddleback Mountain with two stone tablets, one inscribed “SIL” and the other “MOD” and declared it to be the law of the land.

To understand Sil-Mod you have to go back to its’ origins.  In1974 a developer had plans to build a massive, 350 “cracker box”, home tract on the Holtz Ranch property. Learning of this, the community contacted Orange County officials to object. Such a development would overwhelm our small community and adversely affect our rural lifestyle. We were informed that we could not stop development, but if our canyons had a community plan, it would be considered in the County’s approval process.

Sixteen members formed a committee, which included Residents, Developers, Land Owners, Real Estate Representatives and Business Interests, along with ICL members. We hired a consultant, J L Webb Planning, and conducted a series of meetings. The result was a 112-page document, titled the FOOTHILL CORRIDOR POLICY PLAN. It was produced in October 1974, and accepted by the OC Board of Supervisors. The sole purpose of this Plan was to mitigate massive residential tract development by providing community input on rural aspects to be considered. It was never about “open space” or restricting individual property owners’ rights.

In 1977 the FOOTHILL CORRIDOR POLICY PLAN was condensed to an eleven-page document. The OC Board Of Supervisors adapted this abbreviated version, called the SIL-MOD PLAN, on August 31, 1977. SIL-MOD It retained the original intent of the FOOTHILL policy.  It was, and is a list of guidelines for new development, to be considered in the effort to retain the rural character of our canyons.

The language and content of the SIL-MOD PLAN was derived from the original FOOTHILL plan which was written by Larry Webb, with input from the original 1974 committee. I was part of that group and remain the only member of that committee still residing in Silverado. The name, Tom Smisek, appears on page one of the report, which is on file with the County.

It should be noted that Mr. Duff represents the Inter Canyon League, a non-elected, organization restricted to resident membership only. Of the 2,000 residents in the 92676 (canyons) area code, there are only about 20 are members that regularly attend meetings. Of that, 4 or 5 have chosen to volunteer to be on the Sil-Mod Committee and thus speak for the community. While resident homeowners, renters and borders can vote, local business owners, property owners, absentee homeowners and other community interests have no voice in the ICL. So the Inter Canyon League does not represent our community. Rallying under the mantra of “Save the Sil-Mod Plan”, a small group of environmentalists and NIMBY’s have inaccurately portrayed that Sil-Mod is about to be lost. It is not. There is no effort to discard it.

While the SIL-MOD PLAN is not perfect, as it leaves much to interpretation, has inaccuracies and contradictions, it has served the canyons well, and continues to do so. Since its’ inception in 1974, there have been no mass developments in the canyons. Even though the SIL-MOD PLAN has been touted in several lawsuits, brought by environmental groups, the courts have found no violations. Zoning and County Building Codes provide adequate protection against mass canyon development. No one wants mass development in our canyons. But neither do we want a self-appointed committee of environmentalists, with no qualifications in engineering, land use, or construction, attempting to impose and enforce their subjective version of SIL-MOD on to our community. SIL-MOD PLAN is fine the way it stands.

Tom Smisek, Silverado Resident since 1970

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

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at

  • Steve Duff

    If Tom Smisek wants to put forth this self-aggrandizing vision of himself, it might help his case if he first got his facts right. And his assertion that the Foothill Corridor Policy Plan was “condensed” into the Sil-Mod Specific Plan is flat wrong.

    The 1974 Corridor Policy Plan was a preliminary, privately-funded, ad-hoc overall survey covering 120 sq. mi. from Irvine Regional Park south through Coto De Caza. It laid out a framework (p.100ff) for conducting actual community studies.

    The peculiar 3-year gap obvious in Tom’s timeline is in fact when that comprehensive and detailed Sil-Mod community study and EIR was underway. And it was the recommendations in the resulting 200+ page Sil-Mod Community Plan Report that were distilled in 1977 and adopted by the county as the Sil-Mod Specific Plan. Not the Corridor Policy. (All these documents are available on the plans page at

    And this is something you’d think Tom ought to know as it’s plainly stated on the very first page of the Plan he professes to have invested himself in creating. But perhaps he really does know, as he apparently attempted at the time to get himself voted onto the Sil-Mod community plan committee but was rebuffed.

    Past this, it is impossible for me to comprehend how anyone can conclude, as Tom does, that the Sil-Mod Plan “is fine the way it stands,” given Sup. Spitzer’s recent, starkly contrasting statement that the county now views the Sil-Mod Plan as “not worth the paper it’s printed on.” Over three years of community plan work resulting in a document now seen by its very executors as worthless? It truly begs a real question of what status it possibly could have that he would see as ‘not fine.’

    I think the Plan itself belies his central contention that it was never intended to “restrict development.” Or that it is only just about precluding “mass development,” whatever that exactly means: none of these documents employ that phrase or articulate it, which I think is odd for what Tom wants to claim was the only real objective.

    The Sil-Mod Plan does spell out clear limits on grading, dwelling unit density, sightline limitations, signage restrictions, precludes new commercial operations, and so forth. The obvious question is: if these aren’t designed to “restrict development” then what would they be? The inherent value of a land-use plan that doesn’t limit development in some way is zero; ‘guidelines’ and ‘suggestions’ are just made to be bulldozed through by developers, lobbyists and lawyers, as they have been in recent years.

    I won’t waste anyone’s time responding to Tom’s usual shopworn attacks. But in the interest of economy and as Tom appears to greatly enjoy CAPS, I will suggest he come up with his own acronym to shorthand it in the future. “Self-Appointed NIMBY Environmentalists.” So how about just calling us all ‘SANE’ people?

    • David Zenger

      “Over three years of community plan work resulting in a document now seen by its very executors as worthless?”

      Mr. Duff, the document is not “worthless,” of course, but as one of the custodians of it for almost eight years I am happy to share my opinion that the 35 year old format and survey are completely dated and from a “usefulness” standpoint problematic.

      I had argued (unsuccessfully) that the SP needed to be done again with modern GIS information, accurate survey, parcel information, ecological data and any other changes the people of Silverado and Modjeska might want to entertain. The end result would have been a document that not only commanded respect but would have been unequivocally enforceable as a matter of planning law.

      Nobody was interested. The County functionaries had gotten used to abusing it with impunity and the environmentalists feared (rightly given that the 3rd District Supervisor was intent on doing any damn thing he wanted in the canyons) that any changes would be for the worse.

      Maybe it’s not too late. Good luck.

      • Steve Duff

        Yes I agree, and thanks for the thoughts.

        I would only add the Sil-Mod Plan needs to be enforced while better solutions are worked out. To that end ICL is now getting to the county a detailed legal opinion from a respected land-use attorney (John McClendon) laying out exactly why that is required.

        The purpose for my commentary was not to deliberately rankle anyone. I also didn’t want to get into the weeds on solutions. It was to simply to push the discussion on updating, fixing and enforcing our specific plans, as state law requires. A process that’s been going nowhere far too long while these force of these plans have decayed through a toxic combination of neglect, indifference, funding concerns, and occasional mendacity.

        My personal opinion is that the “be careful what you wish for” argument no longer holds much water in the case of Sil-Mod. Especially as you (and many others) note, the Plan pretty clearly is in need of an overhaul. I believe eventually placing the eastern canyons in a single development profile with a modern, unified plan could benefit all parties as well as reduce conflicts and costs. But no small task is that.

        Others see things differently of course, and all stakeholders with honest views should have a voice here. I am an optimist; it is not too late and I believe it possible find a center. But I also am under no illusion that it will be easy, quick or painless.

  • Judy Myers

    As a member of the group that actually did write the Sil-Mod Plan, I want to correct Tom Smisek’s inaccurate account.

    The Corridor Plan was never the basis for the Sil-Mod Specific Plan. The county required citizens to pay for and produce an overall corridor study for the eastern foothills before they would do any in-depth community plan studies.

    The Sil-Mod Specific Plan came out of a nearly 4-year study called the Sil-Mod Community Plan, not the Foothill Corridor Policy. I was its co-chair. Tom Smisek had no role in it.

    I clearly remember the kick-off meeting at the Silverado community center where those of us who wanted to join the Sil-Mod community plan group were asked to give a short statement of our views. Tom stood up and said “you know, bigger houses make for better people”. He was not voted in.

    There actually are three of us from that original Sil-Mod planning group still living in the canyons. Myself, Wayne Scharfe and Maryann Brown. Our Sil-Mod planner was a young, talented and dedicated Rick Cermak. He went to work for the Irvine Company and I believe he still works there.

    It was the expectation of the Sil-Mod community plan group that when the Sil-Mod Specific Plan was adopted county planners would enforce its provisions. The amendments in the plan testify to that.

    Judy Myers
    Sil-Mod Community Plan co-chair
    Silverado resident since 1968

  • Shirley L. Grindle

    Back in the early 70’s when I was on the Orange County Planning Commission, I initiated the concept of creating land use plans for unique areas of the County. The first plan to be done was the Orange Park Acres (OPA) Specific Plan adopted by both the City of Orange and the County in the mid 1970’s and which remains the bible for development in OPA to this day. Following the success of the OPA plan, a land use plan for the unincorporated area between El Modena and Orange Park Acres was developed (with the help of J.L.Webb) and It too has been used as the guide for land use development in this area. These plans were the model for the Silverado-Modjeska Plan – which was processed after I left the Planning Commission. Unfortunately, this latter plan has not been given the same status as the Orange Park Acres and East Orange Plans were given. If the Sil-Mod Plan was not intended to guide development in the canyon area, then what exactly was it intended for? Shame on the County for not making sure the Sil-Mod Plan was given the status the residents of the canyon areas were led to believe they had.

  • David Zenger

    Somehow the Sil-Mod Specific Plan was deemed to not have the force of law by County planning and legal apparatchiks, which never made any sense to me. I treated it with the deference it deserved when I was on the County Planning Commission; however, as Smisek notes, the plan is sorely dated both in format and survey. It should have been modernized years and years ago.

    Weather the plan has served the community well is a matter of opinion. County staff (directed by Bill Campbell) consistently undermined the obvious intent of the SP, most notably with the Giracci Vineyard affair.

  • Ray Chandos

    Throughout his discourse on the subject, Tom Smisek has carefully avoided referring to the “SIL-MOD” plan by its proper name, the “Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan.” This is significant, because state law clearly says that specific plans are far more than “guidelines…to be considered.” California Government Code 65455 mandates that no subdivision or zoning ordinance can be approved unless “consistent with the adopted specific plan.” Section 65451 states that specific plans include “[s]tandards and criteria by which development will proceed, and standards for the conservation, development, and utilization of natural resources, where applicable,” along with “[a]program of implementation measures including regulations, programs, public works projects, and financing measures….”

    Accordingly, the Sil-Mod Specific Plan contains such standards, criteria, and regulations, such as the following: “For any grading activity, the vertical height of any cut shall not exceed 10 feet,” and “[c]ommercial facilities in Silverado and Modjeska are limited to existing sites and shall not be allowed in any residential category in this plan.” The Sil-Mod Specific Plan also contains a land use map that sets forth the allowable building density in each area, for example, 1 dwelling unit per 2 acres, or 1 dwelling unit per acre.

    Thus by upgrading the Sil-Mod Community Plan to a Specific Plan on August 31, 1977, county supervisors infused it with the force of state law, making it legally binding. Indeed simple common sense would dictate that they do no less. Does Mr. Smisek really believe that an unenforceable “list of guidelines…to be considered” could possibly prevent the overwhelming “mass developments” in the rural canyons that he seems to decry, any more than a 25-mph unenforceable “guideline to be considered” in front of an elementary school would deter speeding and accidents?

    Steve Duff, his neighbors, and indeed all county residents have a reasonable and legitimate expectation that the Silverado-Modjeska can and should be enforced in order to preserve the area’s rural environment and lifestyle while providing for compliant development.
    Ray Chandos
    Secretary/Treasurer, Rural Canyons Conservation Fund