Early developer behind Portola Center in Lake Forest fined $6.6 million for alleged runoff – Orange County Register

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A regional water control board has ordered a $6.6 million fine against developers overseeing a sprawling neighborhood construction project in Lake Forest for more than 6 million gallons of sediment-laden storm water that ran into the Aliso Creek between 2015 and 2016.

The seven-member San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board approved the fine last week, following a series of public hearings held earlier this year on a complaint filed in 2020 against then Portola Center South developer Baldwin & Sons and its partners.

The agency alleges the developer violated a number of permit requirements for controlling runoff from construction, including ones governing sediment and erosion control, as well as failed to comply with corrective or cease-and-desist orders from the city of Lake Forest.

The fine levied against Baldwin & Sons is the largest ever considered by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board for construction stormwater violations, its executive director, David Gibson, said.

“And it was merited because of the sheer number and types of violations,” he said, along with the instances of runoff into the Aliso Creek “that were not adequately controlled through the best management practices.”

Gibson said the city contacted the agency after numerous attempts to get the construction site into compliance with municipal codes.

“They were compelled to bring an enforcement order of this magnitude to the water board,” he said. “That’s that’s not something that happens routinely.”

A representative from Baldwin & Sons did not respond to a request for comment on the board’s findings.

Portola Center South, one section of a sweeping 195-acre neighborhood construction project off Glenn Ranch and Saddleback Road, promises to feature more than 500 single and multi-family homes, 58 senior units and a mixed use element once completed. The bulk of the site was sold in 2015 by Baldwin & Sons to Landsea Holdings Corp., but Baldwin was the company that filed for the site’s permit, Gibson said, and “they were the ones who initiated the construction and were responsible for the site for the vast majority of the time of the alleged violations.”

Officials with the water control board say 6.3 million gallons of runoff from the 95-acre construction site are believed to have flowed into the Aliso Creek during rain storms over four days in 2015 and 2016.

While the stormwater permit requires developers to stabilize slopes and have in place measures to control erosion and sediment movement in case of rain, Baldwin & Sons is alleged to have failed to curb runoff “or contain fluids leaking from equipment,” agency officials said in a news release, “despite repeated notices and orders issued by the city.”

Untreated stormwater can leave behind a host of repercussions for the plants and animals, the news release said, including clouding water, “which reduces the amount of sunlight reaching aquatic plants,” and it can “clog fish gills, smother spawning areas, and transport other materials such as nutrients, metals and oil and grease that negatively impact aquatic life and habitat.”

And implementing erosion control is important for maintaining infrastructure such as roads and sewers, and avoiding flooding properties downstream, Gibson said.

The company has 30 days from the release of the order to pay the fine. The funds go into the State Water Resources Control Board’s Clean Up and Abatement Account, which pays for “remediation projects and provides safe drinking water to Californians,” the release said.

Portola Center South is still in development. All of the more than 300 single-family homes slated have been built, and the multi-family units are expected to be completed later this summer, Lake Forest spokesman Jonathan Volzke said. Construction on the mixed-use space broke ground last month.

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