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Yorba Linda residents fear new subdivision would pose wildfire evacuation risks

Yorba Linda residents are protesting a proposed 340-single family home development slated just north of the city because of fears existing roads wouldn't be able to handle increased traffic during a wildfire evacuation.
Yorba Linda residents are protesting a proposed 340-single family home development slated just north of the city because of fears existing roads wouldn't be able to handle increased traffic during a wildfire evacuation.
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

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Memories of traffic jams during the evacuations of the 2008 Freeway Complex Fire still haunt Yorba Linda residents who are fighting a 340-home subdivision planned above them, saying it would put more people in danger.

The proposed development, called Esperanza Hills, would sit just north of the city on 469 acres of mountainous private land currently zoned for general agriculture and oil production. The Orange County Board of Supervisors must approve the zoning change before it can be built - and about 40 people turned out for a board meeting Tuesday to oppose it. They were all wearing red shirts.

“I bought my house 13 years ago knowing I would always have road frontage on San Antonio (Road),” said Yorba Linda resident Steven Pollack during public comment. “I did not expect a new road behind my house trapping our existing homes.”

Several of the residents protesting the proposed gated-community development pointed to the 2008 Freeway Complex Fire in the Yorba Linda, Anaheim Hills and Brea areas that burned approximately 30,000 acres; it destroyed and damaged 314 homes.

During that fire, people who self-evacuated clogged the narrow streets making it difficult for residents to get out and firefighters to get in.

“We’re really concerned about getting people in and out of our existing homes,” said Yorba Linda resident Brian Gass. “They’re not proposing widening the roads.

Doug Wymore, an attorney and project manager for the Esperanza Hills development, told county supervisors the subdivision is designed with an emergency evacuation plan in mind, as requested by the Orange County Fire Authority.

“As a result of that, we added additional side roads in there so that if there were bottle necks in there, you could get out,” Wymore said.

Wymore said the development includes staging areas for emergency responders. He added that homes would be built with materials that fire resistant and with sprinklers in the house attics.

The development would be located near Stonehaven Drive, Via del Agua, and San Antonio Road and Yorba Linda Boulevard.

The developer, Yorba Linda Estates, LLC, wants to create a second entrance to the planned subdivision - but that road would go through yet another proposed development, called Cielo Vista, with more than 100 single family homes planned.

County supervisors were expected to vote on approving the plan and rezoning the area but cleared off a lot of their calendar to hear from residents and ultimately postponed the decision to June 2. They did, however, certify the project’s environmental impact report.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, whose district would include Esperanza Hills, said, this would allow the city of Yorba Linda to discuss possibly annexing the area.

“It needs to weigh in on this project,” he said.

Spitzer added that by continuing the discussion to a June, it gives the county time to consider what the other development project Cielo Vista will be.

“I have to analyze that in conjunction with Esperanza,” he said. “What does that mean in terms of all the issues that we’ve been discussing – water, evacuation, and fire?”