Lennar Corp. has purchased the former El Toro Marine Corps base in Irvine. The Miami-based developer paid $649.5 million for 3,718 acres in an online auction that concluded February 16. The other bidders were Standard Pacific Homes and an unidentified “OCHOPE.”

Typically, the military gives closed bases to local governments. But in this case, the Navy gave 1,000 acres to the Interior Department for a wildlife preserve and then put the rest up for auction in three chunks (see CP&DR Deals, May 2003). Los Angeles city officials tried to halt the auction at the last minute by resurrecting plans for an international airport at El Toro, but federal officials dismissed the pleas.

Under Irvine's “Great Park” plan, Lennar must turn over about 1,500 acres to the city for parks, museums and other public amenities. On the rest of the acreage, Lennar may develop about 3,500 housing units, 3 million square feet of commercial, industrial and retail space and a university. Lennar also is obligated to fund about $400 million worth of infrastructure, some of which will be paid by future property owners.

Lennar hopes to start building houses at El Toro by 2007. Meanwhile, the Navy is responsible for the ongoing, $300 million cleanup of hazardous materials, which is expected to take another eight years.

A SLOW-GROWTH INITIATIVE in the City of Santee failed at a special election conducted February 15. The election appears to clear the way for development of the 2,600-acre Fanita Ranch, which has served as an informal park in the San Diego suburb for decades.

Numerous plans for development of Fanita Ranch have come and gone over the years. In 1999, a year after voters rejected an initiative to limit development at Fanita Ranch, the city approved a 3,000-unit housing project for about half of the property. Later that year, however, voters rejected the project during a referendum (see CP&DR, December 1999; Local Watch, September 1999). At the same election, voters turned down a proposed parcel tax to fund acquisition of the real estate.

The latest initiative would have prohibited Fanita Ranch development within 150 feet of any permanent or intermittent water course and on most slopes of more than 20% - essentially putting 90% of the ranch off-limits to development. Measure X also would have prevented lots smaller than one acre. For the undeveloped Rattlesnake Mountain area south of Fanita Ranch, the initiative would have prevented development on slopes greater than 25%.

About 65% of voters said no to Measure X. Barratt American, which purchased Fanita Ranch a few years ago, and Greystone Homes, which has plans for Rattlesnake Mountain, poured approximately half a million dollars into the campaign. Barratt American has proposed a 1,380-house development on mostly half-acre lots, in addition to retail development. Greystone has proposed a 373-unit single-family home and condominium project for its property.

A DECADES-OLD LAND USE CONTROVERSY in Malibu appears to have reached a permanent conclusion.

In 1982, the Malibu Little League won the right to build baseball fields on 10-acres of the 93-acre, state-owned Bluffs Park. At that time, Malibu Little League needed a new place to play ball because the state wanted to restore wetlands at the site of the existing ball fields at Malibu Lagoon. Malibu's youngsters have continued to use the Bluffs Park fields even though a lease ended in 2002 and environmentalists have never been happy about the arrangement.

The agreement, which appears to satisfy just about everyone, was approved in February. State parks will donate the 93-acre park to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which will then sell 10 acres with the ball fields and other public amenities to the city for roughly $1.5 to $2.5 million. That money will go to state parks, which will put it toward the purchase of the 588-acre Soka University site in the Santa Monica Mountains, where Los Angeles County approved a huge, but never developed, campus during the 1990s (see CP&DR, June 1996, March 1994, March 1993). State parks will also devote about $7 million set aside for the Little League field relocation to the Soka purchase.

Coincidentally, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $550,000 toward the $35 million Soka site acquisition in February.

THE MODESTO CITY COUNCIL has decided not to consider any sewer extensions to new growth areas for two years. The council decided to delay future sewer trunk extensions until the city completes new master plans for sewer, water and storm drain systems.

Sewer extensions in Modesto must go to an advisory vote. With the council's decision, no such election may be conducted until 2007 unless developers foot the full cost of the election. City officials said they want a pause because they need more complete information. Recent Measure M elections have already opened about 1,600 acres to development. Even a representative of Centex Homes conceded to the Modesto Bee that the City Council “probably did the right thing.”

ORANGE COUNTY'S LONG-PROPOSED CenterLine light rail project may be dead. In February, the Orange County Transportation Authority voted to discuss other options for transit, including a possible rapid bus transit system and increased MetroLink train service.

More than a decade ago, planners envisioned the CenterLine as a 28-mile-long system from Fullerton to Irvine. Over time, the proposed project shrank until it was down to only 9.3 miles from a multi-modal transportation center in downtown Santa Ana to John Wayne Airport, with a spur to Santa Ana College.

The project is estimated to cost $1.1 billion, but $500 million the county has expected from the federal government appears to be in doubt. The agency is scheduled to revisit the matter in June.

SIXTEEN INSURANCE COMPANIES led by Lloyd's of London have agreed to pay the State of California $93 million to settle insurance claims related to the state's highest priority Superfund site, the Stringfellow acid pits in Riverside County. Although cleanup of the toxic dump is expected eventually to cost the state more than $600 million, Attorney General Bill Lockyer said the settlements “will help California recoup some of its expenses and allow us to focus our attention on the remaining defendants.” A state lawsuit against 15 other insurance companies is scheduled for trial this month.

From 1956 to 1972, manufacturing companies dumped 35 million gallons of solvents, pesticides and other toxic materials into unlined ponds at the 17-acre site just north of Highway 60 in Glen Avon. By the late 1970s, rain had caused the ponds to overflow at least once, and groundwater pollution was evident in nearby residential areas served by wells.

The state began cleaning up the site during the 1980s. In 1998, a court found the state liable for the pollution because the state had not only regulated and inspected Stringfellow, but had directed companies to use the site. Since the early 1990s, the state has sought to collect on insurance policies it purchased over the years to cover its liability.

CALVERAS AND TUOLOMNE COUNTIES have settled a lawsuit that Tuolumne had filed regarding Calaveras's approval of a 3,250-acre resort in the Copperopolis area. Tuolumne County officials argued that Oak Canyon Ranch - 2,275 houses and 1,200 visitor units, shopping areas and two golf courses - would impact a county road and two state highways in Tuolumne County (see CP&DR In Brief, January 2004).

The two counties settled the lawsuit in February when Calaveras agreed to charge, and developer Maury Froman agreed to pay, $985 per unit toward traffic mitigation. Tuolumne County will get to spend the money, which would total $3.3 million if the project is fully built out. The project has been for sale recently.

Froman also agreed to pay the two counties' legal expenses of about $130,000.

Correction. The Public Development story in the December 2004 edition regarding a project at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds contained an error. The story incorrectly stated that the subject of a 2000 environmental impact report was an outdoor amphitheater, and that the county Board of Supervisors later decided to pursue an indoor concert hall. The 1998 fairgrounds revitalization plan did call for an outdoor amphitheater, but the Board of Supervisors dropped the idea because of neighborhood opposition. Instead, the board in 1999 decided on an indoor facility, which was the subject of the EIR.