March 31, 2010

Mar 30 2010

Update on Renewed Measure M Process and 2,935 AERA Property

HOSEC was created and operates as a unique example of a regional collaborative partnership formed to offer information and options for open space preservation in the Puente-Chino Hills land area. The cities of Brea, La Habra, La Habra Heights, Whittier, and the community associations of Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights are working together across county boundaries on this important issue.

Renewed Measure M/Environmental Oversight Committee

The voters in Orange County approved Renewed Measure M, a sales tax measure for transportation improvements in November of 2006. Included in the measure was an Environmental Mitigation Program that provides at least 5% of the total Renewed Measure M (M2) freeway budget to offset impacts to the 13 freeway projects built under M2. This was very forward thinking, as a “mitigation bank” can offer significantly more positive environmental protections and improvements than an approach that uses “piece meal” mitigation for each individual project.

The concept needed a frame work, so in the fall of 2007, OCTA established the Environmental Oversight Committee, a team of experts in environmental issues and policy level members. In May of 2008, OCTA adopted the Green Vision Map as a baseline inventory of potential conservation sites in Orange County. The map and further documentation of the sites were developed by a consortium of non-governmental conservation groups and identified properties important to resource preservation. In December of 2008, OCTA initiated the property data collection and public outreach process. During the process, willing sellers and interested parties were added to the inventory of acquisition and restoration properties for consideration.

AERA Property Submitted for Consideration/Highly Ranked by Committee

HOSEC submitted the 2,935 acre AERA property for consideration. There is currently $27.5 million allocated in the first phase of funding for FY 2009-10. Funding for this program is anticipated to be released in two additional phases over the life of the program. After a thorough review of over 100 submitted properties, the AERA property ranked in the top of the environmental criteria and landed in Group 1 of 4 groups by ranking. Group 1 were recognized for their high quality habitat, heterogeneous habitat, larger sized properties, aligns with impacted habitats, and contains species of interest to the environmental community. Of the 19 group 1 properties, only 14 were recommended by the OCTA Oversight Committee for consideration in the first round of funding, with the AERA property included in this group.

Project Dropped by Oversight Committee Due to Inadequate ‘Willing Seller’ Letter from AERA

The Oversight Committee recommended appraisal of the property along with 10 other properties out of the 14 (three didn’t need appraisals) and begin the process of acquisition. One of the requirements of the process is for the property owner to provide OCTA with a “willing seller” letter. It is important to note that a “willing seller” is not agreeing to sell their property without conditions, but rather is stating that he is willing to work together on a value analysis and negotiations. If agreement can’t be reach, the “willing seller” is not obligated to sell. After several years of HOSEC pursuing this funding, George Basyse, Vice President of AERA provided a letter, but it did not meet the OCTA threshold, so the property was dropped from consideration in this round of funding.

The letter stated:
“...Based on the public deliberations of the EOC, the lengthy list of possible candidate properties across Orange County, and our understanding of available Measure M mitigation monies, it is not at all apparent that sufficient funds would exist to acquire a large property such as ours. We do, however, support the important transportation objectives OCTA has identified and committed to in the Measure M program extension approved by the voters of Orange County in 2006. As such, while stopping short of any declaration of being a willing seller, we would be willing to continue collaborations with stakeholders regarding a resolution that might work for all parties.”

Because the letter stated “…while stopping short of any declaration of being a willing seller,…” HOSEC lost its opportunity to continue in the process. HOSEC’s Chair and Vice Chair had met with George Basye once we knew we were in the top ranking, and he had assured Bob Henderson and John Beauman that he would allow the process to continue, but when a redraft of the letter was requested by OCTA, he refused to provide any modifications. This is difficult to imagine, since the LA County Planning Commission and Sensitive Ecological Area Technical Advisory Committee (SEATAC) had reached the same conclusion as the OCTA Environmental Oversight Committee years earlier, that the wildlife corridor and this section of the Puente-Chino Hills is environmentally sensitive habitat. We are surprised that a property owner would not allow an offer to be made given the nature of this land area and based on public announcements that they are willing to listen to all offers. Furthermore, one of the areas of interest by OCTA members was to seek properties where a long-term public or non-profit ownership can be identified, preferably with an endowment. At the OCTA Transportation 2020 Committee Meeting on March 15, 2010 (the Committee that received the EOC recommendation), Brea staff communicated to the 2020 Committee that the City, based on Council direction, is willing to take ownership of the property, or a smaller portion dependent of funds available, to hold until a long term owner is identified such as state parks, and to fund an endowment sufficient to provide management of the open space.

Down, but Not Out…HOSEC Will Continue to Work to Preserve Open Space

Unfortunately we are missing out on the opportunity to continue in this first round of funding, but we will continue to press onward with our educational outreach, especially to the resource agencies and our affiliate members to let them know of this negative outcome. The current AERA development plan has been stalled for several years in Diamond Bar after it was moved to this LA County city for consideration. The last official action in Diamond Bar was approval of a Pre-Annexation Agreement in December of 2006. No other action has occurred as far as we know.