With an ocean view purchase in Aliso Canyon, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) finalized its very successful initial set of land purchases and restoration projects.

The 2006 transportation sale tax reauthorization, called Measure M2, allocated $240 million (including the costs of debt service) to habitat mitigation for freeway improvements, such as highway widenings. The OCTA Board of Directors agreed to advance funds from the original Measure M in order to jumpstart the program. The timing was fortuitous, as the recession resulted in many willing sellers who would have otherwise pursued development. 

In total, OCTA has acquired seven properties comprising 1,300 acres in Laguna Niguel, Brea, Silverado Canyon, and Trabuco Canyon. Most of the linkage between the Central/Coastal and Southern portions of the Nature Reserve of Orange County is now in place and important additions were made to Chino Hills State Park. Coastal sage scrub has been a main beneficiary. In addition, many restoration projects have been funded, mostly for wetland and riparian habitats but also for coastal sage scrub. Wildlife movement under the 91 freeway was improved with fencing and revegetation.  In all, nearly $42 million has been spent.

To ensure a scientifically sound mitigation program, OCTA retained top biologists and prepared a comprehensive species conservation plan – a Natural Communities Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan under federal and state law, respectively. This plan, as well as management plans that include public access, are awaiting approval. In order to secure wetlands credits from the Army Corps of Engineers for the restoration projects, an innovative “advance mitigation” permit was crafted. This permit is now out for public review.

Since the program’s inception, EHL has served on an Environmental Oversight Committee that has advised the OCTA Board. The Committee recently recommended a long term financing plan that was adopted by the Board. However, as a result of the need to build a management endowment, additional acquisitions are now some years away. 

We congratulate OCTA on the success to date and for the transparent process that has involved the public at every turn.