Even More Homes? - The Baker Squeeze

Dr. Jim Gardner
Dr. Jim Gardner

Baker Ranch wants to add 250 more homes into the Foothill Ranch Portola section of town.

That’s on top of the 2,200+ they are building right now.

And on top of the 4,700+ new homes that are already approved to be added, most of which are in a thin slice of land one mile East and West of the 241.

That’s the bottom line that came out of the Planning Commission (PC) meeting of March 27, 2014.



Baker Ranch LLC  is asking to squeeze 250 more homes into a 30 acre plot opposite the Sports Park, thereby changing the General Plan zoning from commercial to residential. The company proposes to build 112 single family residences on approximately 4000 sf lots, and also to add 138 multi-family units in a separate 12.5 acre section. Along with all these homes they propose a 0.5 acre recreation area, which seems small for such a project, but the developers point out that with a Sports Park across the street the project doesn’t need onsite recreation areas.

There will be a single gated entrance to the project, facing opposite to the entrance to the Sports Park, and regulated with a traffic light.

Click on the imagine above for a very tentative site plan.



There wasn’t a lot more detail than this at the so-called “workshop”. Most of the presentation was taken up by a history of what good things the Baker family and Baker Ranch LLC have done for the City. What wasn’t said, of course, was how much money they made from their holdings, nor was there any mention of the thousands of dollars they have delivered to the campaign coffers of various City Council members over the years, allowing them to get the votes Baker Ranch needed to make their fortune. In fact, Baker Ranch was busy giving money to City Council candidates in Lake Forest even before there was a city here. As far back as March 1991, before incorporation, Baker Ranch gave a very generous $1,000 each to Marcia Rudolph, Richard Dixon, and Helen Wilson, all of whom became council members.

But neither the largesse of the Baker family and Baker Ranch LLC nor their past forays into local politics should be on the table in a discussion of their new project.



Following the opening comments by Baker family grandson Michael Watkins and Baker Ranch attorney Larry Tucker, the PC opened the questions up to the Commission members, all of whom lavished praise on Watkins and Tucker for what seemed to me was a rather ordinary, and some might even say, subpar presentation. Most of the answers to the questions were “We don’t know yet” and “The HOA will have to handle it”, showing that indeed this project was at an early stage, although apparently Baker Ranch has already engaged companies to do the research required for projects of this nature (e.g., CEQA).

With a General Plan change on the table, it was incredible that no one on the Commission addressed this issue. Instead, they fretted over how tall the walls were going to be, how the gate was going to work, and how big the garages were. At one point Commissioner Fuentes wanted to know “how big” the 30 acre site was going to be, reminding me of one of the questions from Jay Leno when he walks on the streets and asks people “What was the color of George Washington’s white horse?” She was assured that this 30 acre project was going to be 30 acres.

Only 10 year veteran Jerry Verplancke hinted at the enormity of what the PC was being asked to do. He wanted to know what new “stresses” this 250 unit project would put on the City, singling out water. Baker Ranch spokesman Tucker assured Verplanke and the multitudes assembled that he would get a letter from IRWD saying they would supply the water. What he didn’t say, of course, was who was going to supply IRWD with the water so that they could supply it to everyone else.

When the mutual admiration society had finished, newly appointed Chairman Hamilton opened the comments up to the public, and all 4 speakers expressed their disappointment that the PC seemed to have already made up their minds to approve the project, and only the details needed to be worked out. Foothill resident Tim Morisette lamented “my quality of life is going down”.  Another Foothill resident, Wayne Hofman asked them to “just think with some vision” and worried aloud about the impact on the neighborhood, especially the schools. Indeed, he suggested that the 30 acres would make a great location for the school that should have been built to accommodate the 6,000+ new students who will be arriving in Lake Forest as a result of the 4,700+ new homes already approved.

Following the lambasting from the residents, each of the Commissioners assured the audience that their minds had not been made up, but there was little evidence of that on display.

Tomorrow we’ll go into more details about the project.

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Larry Tucker April 10, 2014 at 05:47 PM
Mr. Gardner, we do not have a website. You probably are confusing Baker Ranch Properties LLC with the Shea Baker Ranch Associates which is developing the project between Alton and Bake Parkways being marketed as Baker Ranch. We sold our 1/2 interest in that property in June, 2012 to Toll Brothers so you will need to talk to the developers of Baker Ranch about what is on their website. We haven't decided whether to support any candidates this year because we do not know who they are yet. But we supported no candidates in 2012 and none of the other sitting Councilmembers in 2010 and may well choose not to contribute again this year. As for the proposed projects at the end of, or near, Peachwood, we have no interest in those properties.
Jim Gardner April 10, 2014 at 06:01 PM
Mr. Tucker. Yes. I was referring to the Baker Ranch project that is now is between Alton and Bake. Thanks.
Jim Gardner April 10, 2014 at 06:10 PM
Hi Old Timer. Without doing a lot of research as far as I can recall Mrs. McCullough never received any money from any developers, and as far as I can recall, everybody else from the "old regime" did including Herzog and Tettemer. I have a very large report called "Follow the Money" dated 9/21/2010 and this was the basis for some of my past articles. If you e-mail me at DrJGardner@gmail.com I would be happy to send you a copy and you can get the exact details from that report. I just want to reiterate what I have said in the past - IMO there is nothing illegal in these activities, nor do I fault the developers from giving money to candidates or elected officials whom they believe support their philosophical POVs. My criticism is for the Council members who appear to violate their own code of ethics by accepting the money and then voting to approve the projects. IMO they should admit they accepted the money when the topic comes up on the agenda (which they don't) and then either recuse themselves from the discussion/vote or return the money and go ahead and vote.
OldTimer April 10, 2014 at 07:10 PM
In my limited experience (I don't make a habit of it) of watching elected officials vote on items during public meetings that benefit a special interest I have never witnessed any elected official say in one form or another "I feel obliged to declare prior to this vote that I have accepted $xxxxx from company xxxxxx, which has submitted a bid for this project and that I fully intend to vote to award them with this contract". Such a statement would probably be aired on the nationally syndicated Brian William's nightly news it would be so rare. A politician is only as good as his next election. Why would he poop in his own nest? That's just not the way our macro American political system is designed, code of ethics or no code of ethics. I don't agree with it. But unless it changes in Congress and in the State legislature and at the Board of Supervisors - hoping for change at the LF council level is like wishing for a unicorn that emits US currency with Andrew Jackson's photo on it. Won't happen. And unless the average voter is suddenly transformed and chooses an elected official based on his qualifications as opposed to how many of his signs line the boulevard or his hairstyle - nothing really changes. And I just don't expect that transformation unless some unforeseen event occurs that force the voters to reevaluate their own participation in the process.
Jim Gardner April 10, 2014 at 08:16 PM


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