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Coastal Commission Oks OCTA’s Habitat Restoration Plan for Laguna Beach

This article originally appeared in the LA Times on September 12, 2019.

One could say the grass is about to be greener on the other side of the Ranch at Laguna Beach.

The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday approved a coastal permit application submitted by the Orange County Transportation Authority for a restoration project at the Pacific Horizon Preserve, a 151-acre property owned by the county agency and tucked among the Ranch hotel, Barracuda Way and Loretta Drive.

OCTA plans to close an unauthorized 843-foot trail and restore a half-acre of habitats disturbed by the unapproved modifications. It also will remove bike jumps and repair any damage caused by erosion.

Plans also include removing invasive plants, including artichoke thistle, pampas grass and ice plant, on about four acres of the preserve and replacing them with native vegetation such as Dudleya multicaulis, a perennial succulent.

OCTA also intends to repair 1,114 feet of fencing and install new signs and three monitoring cameras on the preserve.

“With Coastal Commission approval, OCTA staff will now work with the city of Laguna Beach to get final plan approval,” OCTA spokesman Eric Carpenter said Thursday. “The schedule for work to begin on the property, likely beginning with removal of invasive plants, has not been finalized but is anticipated for late fall and will continue into next year.”

According to a Coastal Commission staff report, the unauthorized path runs through sensitive habitat subject to disturbance by mountain bikers. Carpenter said the trail has been built up and that biking berms — known also as “banked turns” — were expanded, leading to greater weed growth and less room for native plants to thrive.

Closure of the unauthorized path will not prevent public access to the preserve, officials said. The report describes the path as “duplicative” of the main trail.

Carpenter said hikers and mountain bikers will still be able to access Pacific Horizon through Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and Moulton Meadows Park and will have access to an adjacent trail.

“Because of the land’s proximity to the coast, OCTA has worked closely with the Coastal Commission to ensure that all proper procedures are being followed, and OCTA has received positive feedback from the commission and the environmental community so far,” Carpenter said.

Karl Schwing, South Coast District director for the Coastal Commission, said there was no known opposition to the plan’s approval.

OCTA initially purchased the Pacific Horizon Preserve in 2015 as part of the Environmental Mitigation Program included in Measure M — a half-cent sales tax for transportation infrastructure improvements approved by county voters in 1990 and extended in 2006. Measure M is expected to generate more than $13.1 billion through 2041.

The mitigation program allocates funds to acquire land and pay for habitat restoration efforts to offset the environmental effects of freeway projects. Pacific Horizon is one of seven properties the agency has purchased.

“The issue before the Coastal Commission is part of OCTA’s ongoing effort to protect what’s most valuable about the property,” Carpenter said.

The agency will have a five-year authorization for ongoing restoration at the preserve.

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