Chiquita Ridge History and Property Usage

3 Parts of the Property

Pursuant to the terms of the Settlement Agreement, if the 92-acre City-owned property is developed, it must be comprised of three parts:
  1. Usable Acreage (55 acres)
  2. Disturbed Acreage
  3. Preserved Acreage

Usable Acreage

Future development on the property (if any) must include an active sports park that is a minimum of 23 acres, including parking improvements, leaving approximately 32 acres for other potential uses. 

The property's Usable Acreage is currently zoned as "Open Space." The City must comply with all land use entitlement procedures, including zoning, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and permitting through outside agencies if there is development on the remaining 32 acres (23 + 32 = 55 acres).

Disturbed Acreage

Any portion of the remaining 37 acres may be disturbed and temporarily used for construction activities (55 + 37 = 92 acres). Disturbed acreage must be restored.  A portion of the disturbed acreage may be used for fuel modification.  Additional natural habitat would be enhanced and restored at a 2-to-1 ratio to accommodate for fuel modification.

Preserved Acreage

Any portion of the 92-acre property that is not part of the usable acreage or disturbed acreage is considered preserved acreage. The City has a duty to preserve and protect habitat value of this parcel from third-party encroachment.

Chiquita Ridge Property History

In 2005, the City of Rancho Santa Margarita began legal action against the County of Orange regarding several hundred acres at the southern boundary of the City, collectively known as Chiquita Ridge.   After years of discussions and negotiations, a Settlement Agreement (PDF) between the City, the County, and an environmental group known as the Endangered Habitats League established the City’s right to own the Chiquita Ridge property.  As part of the settlement agreement, signed in January 2009, the acreage is distributed as:

  • 410 acres are added to O’Neill Park to be forever preserved as open space
  • 100 acres are declared as local protected open space as part of the Dove Canyon Preservation Easement
  • 15 acres were purchased by the City and transferred to the County as part of O’Neill Park
  • 92 acres became City-owned

Environmental Conservation Restoration Component

As part of the Settlement Agreement, the City was required to enhance and restore approximately 83 acres of property in the Southern Subregion Habitat Conservation Plan (within O’Neill Regional Park). The location of this conservation property is located in the northwestern portion of the City and is referred to as the Upper Oso Restoration Project (Restoration Project).

In May 2014, the City Council approved a Professional Services Agreement with Habitat Restoration Sciences, Inc. to implement the Restoration Project. The Settlement Agreement and the obligation to restore this property is ongoing and will remain with the City regardless of whether or not development occurs on the Chiquita Ridge parcel.