A “preliminary master plan” for the Orange County Great Park has been approved by the park board. The plan for 1,655 acres of the former El Toro Marine Corps base divides the park into a series of “activity levels,” ranging from nature areas with wildlife viewing to a large sports park. There would be a “lifelong learning district,” a botanic garden, a conservatory that spans a manmade canyon, air and military museums, 50 miles of trails and an orange hot-air balloon rising 500 feet to serve as an icon.

During a presentation to the Irvine City Council, park designer Ken Smith called the release of the preliminary plan “momentous,” but he emphasized that the plan is a work in progress. Councilwoman Christine Shea, who helped lead the fight against a proposed airport at El Toro, said it was “amazing” to see the park vision come to light “after so many years of struggle.”

While the early park plans have earned high praise, some Irvine residents are urging caution. After Smith made his presentation to the City Council, one resident said he was concerned to see the estimate of park attendance rise from 1.2 million to 5 million visitors per year.

The Great Park board is scheduled to adopt a comprehensive master plan in early 2007, with construction to follow. The preliminary master plan is available atwww.ocgp.org

All 23 Enterprise Zones scheduled to expire this year have been given an additional 15 years by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

New or existing businesses in Enterprise Zones are eligible for tax credits for hiring certain employees or purchasing equipment, and may take advantage of other financial incentives.

Analysts have given Enterprise Zones mixed reviews during recent years, with some questioning the benefits of a program that costs the state tens of millions of dollars annually (see CP&DR In Brief, June 2006; Economic Development, February 2002).

But Schwarzenegger cited a report released in August by the Department of Housing and Community Development that asserted poverty and unemployment rates declined faster in Enterprise Zones than statewide from 1990 to 2000, and that income increased faster than the state average.

The extended Enterprise Zones are: City of Arvin, Delano, Fresno-City, Fresno-County, Merced, North Sacramento, Yuba Sutter, Calexico, City of San Bernardino, Coachella, City of Los Angeles-Central/Hollywood, Compton, Santa Clarita, Long Beach, Pasadena, City of Southgate/Lynwood, San Diego, Richmond, San Francisco, San Jose, Shasta, Eureka and Oroville.

A revised environmental impact report for a Highway 50 freeway interchange in El Dorado County that would serve a controversial Indian casino has been upheld.

Last year, the Third District Court of Appeal rejected an EIR for the Shingle Springs interchange because of the analysis of air quality issues (see CP&DR Legal Digest, January 2006). However, a revised version survived the scrutiny of Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly, who in November ruled against the citizens group Voices for Rural Living.

The group promised to appeal the ruling, but it is the second major blow to the group’s efforts to halt the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians from building a casino resort. In September, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors agreed to drop its litigation over the project in exchange for the tribe’s payment of up to $190 million over 20 years for law enforcement, and transportation and other projects.

An environmental impact report offering 10 alternatives for the future of the Salton Sea has been released by the state Department of Water Resources (DWR). The alternatives range from doing nothing to making a smaller lake to devising a series of lakes and brine ponds, with costs ranging from about $1 billion to $6 billion over 75 years.

State officials have yet to embrace an alternative, and neither environmentalists nor local farmers appear thrilled with any of the ideas. But nearly everyone says the state needs to chose a course of action quickly because the 360-mile lake will lose about half of its water flow starting in 2017 due to water diversions from Imperial County farms to the San Diego region. An important resource for migratory birds, the lake is experiencing rising salinity, fish die-offs and other ecological problems. With less runoff from farms, the Salton Sea could become a hazard to animals and humans.

The Salton Sea Authority, a local joint powers authority, called the state’s EIR “obsolete.” The authority supports a plan to create a separate “salt sink” next to a much smaller lake with better water quality.

The Resources Agency anticipates recommending a preferred alternative to the Legislature in the spring. The EIR is available on a DWR website:www.saltonsea.water.ca.gov.

The state budget situation is not as big a problem for local governments as it was two years ago, according to a recent survey of city officials. In the survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, the League of California Cities and the National League of Cities, 66% of respondents said the state budget is a “big problem” for cities. That percentage was down from 76% in 2005 and 90% in 2004.

In addition, the percentage of city officials who said California’s system of public finance needs “major changes” dropped from 76% in 2005 to 45% in 2006. Not surprisingly, city officials also said their local budgets are in better shape this year than during the recent past.

The complete survey regarding local government finance and infrastructure is available at www.ppic.org