11-23-21 | Department

Saving Aliso Creek

by Robert Borthwick, ASLA, Founder and Senior Principal of BGB Design Group

This photo from 1974 shows Aliso Creek California in its native state. Robert Borthwick joined the "Save the Creek" volunteer group to help devise a plan to keep Aliso Creek, California from channelization. The 19-mile creek was saved due to the group's efforts and the ensuing "Aliso Creek: Forest-to-the-Sea" planning document.
Aliso Creek Trail was developed with a paved bike and hiking trail due in part to Borthwicks work with the Aliso Creek Study Team. This volunteer work that Borthwick took part in right after graduation catapulted his career into a stewardship centric path.

In 1973, Robert Borthwick, a recent Landscape Architect graduate from Cal Poly Pomona, was living in Orange County when the young architect discovered a project that would spark a love for developing projects to help the community. Beginning in the post-war 60s, former orange groves and cattle ranches were making way to suburban development and restructured waterways in turn. A primary natural watercourse, Aliso Creek, had been recently channelized with concrete in some locations to facilitate new development.

Borthwick was concerned about the loss of this beautiful 19-mile-long creek to channelization and because of this fear, he discovered a volunteer group was being organized, dubbed "Save the Creek." He went to the first meeting of the Aliso Creek Study Team and immediately joined the group of approximately 20 volunteers that all ranged in experience and professional background. The group met weekly for over six months, developing concepts for creek preservation, trail locations, and compatible land uses that would not compromise the natural creek. The Study Team was led by Ron Yeo, a local architect, and former County Planning Commissioner.
In 1974, the group assembled their concepts and created the planning document, "Aliso Creek: Forest-to-the-Sea." The master plan concept was presented to the Orange County Board of Supervisors at their monthly meeting. As part of the presentation, the Aliso Creek Study Team created a 10-minute narrated slide show that was complete with background music. It was a presentation that came from the hearts of the volunteers, and the Board agreed with the group's mission and concepts. They voted unanimously to hire a staff planner to prepare the Aliso Creek Corridor Specific Plan, which eventually made the dream of preserving the creek and creating a regional trail system a reality.
To guide the preparation of the Specific Plan and to review proposed developments in the vicinity of the creek, the Board created a task force comprised of the Directors of Flood Control, planning, parks, and public works. They selected Robert Borthwick as the only public member of this Task Force.
"Thinking back, this was a gift... an opportunity to interact with older and more experienced professionals, while at the same time gaining confidence through my participation," Robert Borthwick now founder and senior principal of BGB Design Group in Costa Mesa, CA, reflected on.
"For those who may be considering volunteering for any type of worthwhile community project, whether it be environmental, educational, or coaching young people," Robert Borthwick remarked, "Go for it! You will find that the rewards you receive, both tangible and intangible, will far exceed the time you have donated."


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