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Community Commentary: Initiative needed to finish city's 'greenbelt'

June 02, 2011|By Elisabeth M. Brown

There aren't a million ways to protect open land from being developed: It can be mitigation for development; it can be exchanged for permits to build elsewhere; it can be donated for federal tax credits; or it can be bought. The source of funds can be federal, state, county, city, corporations, private foundations or a few individuals.

The only question is: Who pays the tab?

For 25 years I lived in a deep side canyon in Laguna Canyon. Instead of a grid pattern, houses followed the creek bed, or were built on small, perched, flatter areas on the slopes. This meant that houses often confronted each other in unpredictable ways. Old parcel maps showed a nonexistent little cul-de-sac right behind our property. Like most of the old city maps, lines were drawn without allowing for the steep terrain.

Access for the cul-de-sac was drawn boldly across the creek and up a steep slope to a possible building pad just above us, with a commanding view of our house and patio. The city would not allow that route, so would-be builders tried to gain access from the top off a narrow private lane — actually a shared driveway — just above our garden. Their only hope was to tempt someone with an easement to sell them access. Every time this happened, we held our breaths until everyone finally turned down the offer.

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After a particularly close call, we joined with two other neighbors, bought the land and divided it among us so the lots disappeared. This sort of private action happens from time to time all over town, to safeguard views, privacy or solitude. Even billionaires have these problems; one bought the house across the street from his because its blue roof spoiled his view.

Of course, there has to be a source of funds, and this is always the problem. Pooling funds is the answer.

Measure M is the half-cent sales tax for transportation projects in Orange County passed in 1990, and reauthorized in 2006 as M2. Measure M2 created the OCTA Environmental Mitigation Program, a fund of almost a quarter of a billion dollars. These funds are allocated according to a comprehensive program for land purchases. The criteria include ecological factors like habitat quality and quantity, size, proximity to other open space, or being a corridor between protected open space parcels.

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