Timeline Marking the Contentious History of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands

The ongoing battle between environmentalists and developers regarding the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

The Bolsa Chica Wetlands near Huntington Beach has long been prized by historians and environmentalists. As the site of an important ecological reserve and with 95% of the state’s coastal wetlands already destroyed, preservationists have fought to save the Wetlands for years and years. However, with coastal properties in high-demand, developers have fought for control of the wetlands, desperate to build homes and reap the financial gains. To understand how long this battle has been brewing, here is a timeline of this contested piece of land.


Oil is discovered in Huntington Beach, and the Wetlands are forever altered by the introduction of oil rigs, pipelines, and service roads.


The government steps in and constructs a flood control channel. This channel forever alters the landscape and ecosystem of Bolsa Chica, cutting off the lower wetlands from the upper mesas. The channel also pollutes the area with urban runoff.


2,000 acres of Bolsa Chica are acquired by Signal Landmark. The company plans to build a massive housing development and a marina. However, state officials object to this plan.


The developer sets aside 300 acres of wetlands along Pacific Coast Highway. These wetlands would become the original Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.


Members of the League of Women voters are upset at how the wetlands are being destroyed. In response, they create Amigos de Bolsa Chica (Friends of Bolsa Chica). This new group begins to fight to save the wetlands.


Slowly, the proposed development starts to decrease in scope. The Bolsa Chica Land Trust is created to preserve all of the Bolsa Chica area, not just the lower wetlands.


The Bolsa Chica Stewards is formed with the goal of restoring the native plant habitat on the upper mesas of Bolsa Chica. They also work to open the trail to the public.

December 1994

The OC Board of Supervisors approves the Koll Co. development at Bolsa Chica despite major opposition from the community. The Bolsa Chica Land Trust files a lawsuit to overturn this decision.

January 1996

The Coastal Commission approves the Koll Co. housing project. Again, the Trust files a suit to fight this decision.

November 1996

The Metropolitan Water District deeds the 22-acre Pocket wetlands in trust to the Bolsa Chica Land Trust.


The lower Bolsa Chica wetlands are preserved when the state of California purchases 880 acres of the developer’s holdings. Another 41 acres are obtained from Fieldstone. Restoration work begins and would be completed after seven years at the cost of $147 million.

July 1997

The Land Trust wins in court and the Koll development is sent back to the Coastal Commission.

October 1997

The Coastal Commission approves the Koll project again. The Ancestor Walk begins, and the Land Trust begins their annual beach clean-up efforts.


The state appellate court issues the “Bolsa Chica Decision.” The court rules that “The Coastal Act does not permit destruction of an environmentally sensitive habitat area [ESHA] simply because the destruction is mitigated offsite.” The court also agrees that neither the residential development of the wetlands nor the destruction of the pond is allowed.


The Coastal Commission determines that the development will be limited to the upper half of Bolsa Chica, and spare the lower half. In response, the developer sues the Commission (the suit was later dropped) and helps to campaign for California bond measure Proposition 50, which includes specific language to purchase land at Bolsa Chica.

November 2000

The Coastal Commission votes to limit the Koll Co. development to the upper bench of the Bolsa Chica Mesa.


Developer Shea Homes proposes 170 houses on the Upper Bolsa Chica Wetlands.


Prop 50 is passed, allowing the state to purchase 118 acres of the lower bench which is then added to the Ecological Reserve. With this purchase, the proposed development of 5,000 homes, major streets, a marina, a hotel, and a school is limited to just 379 houses.

June 2009

The City approves the Shea Homes development; the Land Trust opposes.

October 2012

The Coastal Commission approves the Shea Homes development, with 23 acres to be restored as habitat and passive park.


The Upper Bolsa Chica Wetlands and the Sacred Cogstone site continue to be threatened with destruction. The Bolsa Chica Land Trust fights on with the goals of saving this important piece of land.

This is a brief overview of the contentious history of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. Interested in staying up to date with the latest real estate news? If so, then contact the experts at California Commercial Realty Advisors, Inc. Our dedicated team is eager to assist you with all your real estate needs today.

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