Collection Scope and Content Summary
Title: Frank and Frances Robinson files on Upper Newport Bay preservation
Identifier/Call Number: MS.R.090
Special Collections and Archives, University of California, Irvine Libraries
Language of Material:
30.0 linear feet
(23 record cartons, 2 document boxes, and 4 oversize flat boxes)
Date (bulk): Bulk, 1889-1989
Date (inclusive): 1841-2003
This collection consists of Frank and Frances Robinson's research materials relating to issues surrounding the proposed land
exchange between the County of Orange and The Irvine Company that would have allowed the latter to develop the Upper Newport
Bay, California. Included are court materials relating to the subsequent trial and electioneering and publicity as well as
subsequent activities in the development of the Upper Newport Bay as a nature preserve.
Collection is open for research.
Property rights reside with the University of California. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and
their heirs. For permissions to reproduce or to publish, please contact the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
Frank and Frances Robinson Files on Upper Newport Bay Preservation. MS-R090. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine
Libraries, Irvine, California.
Gift of J. Frank Robinson, 2002.
A minimal collection-level record was created by Carole McEwan in 2012. Processing and description by Patricia Glowinski,
2012, with additions by Audra Eagle Yun, 2013.
Frank and Frances Robinson moved to the Westcliff community of Newport Beach, California, in 1962. Frances ("Fran"), a Los
Angeles native and longtime environmentalist, and Frank, an aerospace engineer born in South Carolina, became aware of the
importance of wetlands in the ecosystem and were alarmed at what they began to observe in 1963 in the Newport Beach Upper
Newport Bay area. Signs reading "No Trespassing" and walls were erected, while fill dirt was dumped onto the beaches that
were until that time available to the public, to make way for new development.
As the population of Orange County grew during the 1950s and 1960s, The Irvine Company and the Orange County Board of Supervisors
began a series of land exchanges in order to prepare the Upper Newport Bay area for residential and recreational development
similar to the Lower Newport Bay boat harbor. At the same time, public awareness of environmental issues was increasing. Soon
the Upper Newport Bay became a disputed wetland area between developers and environmental preservationists.
The Robinsons and others founded Friends of Newport Bay (FONB) in 1967 to educate the public about the environmental issues
pertaining to Upper Newport Bay. The activists involved with FONB recognized early on that the fight to preserve Upper Newport
Bay also needed to focus on legal and political issues, so the Orange County Foundation for Preservation of Public Property
(OCF PPP) was formed to focus on legal issues while FONB focused on environmental issues and education. Chuck Greening was
one of the early presidents of FONB. He served in the late 1960s to early 1970s. In the 1970s, FONB also kept records for
Friends of Bolsa Chica.
Frank and Frances Robinson pursued two lawsuits during a roughly 20-year period regarding the legal designation and ownership
of land in Upper Newport Bay, and helped establish the Upper Newport Bay as a nature preserve. The first lawsuit the Robinsons
entered regarded the constitutionality of the Upper Newport Bay land exchange between The Irvine Company and the County of
Orange, and occurred from 1969-1975. The Robinsons and two other couples (Harold and Joan Coverdale and Wesley and Judith
Marx) petitioned the court and were granted the right to “intervene” on behalf of the county in opposition to the trade. In
1970, a Superior Court judge ruled the exchange constitutional; however, in 1973, an appeals court reversed the decision.
In 1975, the Upper Newport Settlement Agreement was signed by The Irvine Company, County of Orange, City of Newport Beach,
and the Department of Fish and Game authorizing the State to purchase 527 acres within Newport Bay from The Irvine Company
for $3.48 million. Combined with 214 acres of tidelands, the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve was created.
The second lawsuit pursued by the Robinsons (among other plaintiffs) and filed by Orange County Foundation for Preservation
of Public Property regarded the rightful ownership of islands located in Upper Newport Bay, and occurred from 1979-1987. The
lawsuit against The Irvine Company, First American Title Insurance Company, and the State of California asked for the return
of the $3.48 million plus interest to the State of California. The case rested upon the plaintiffs proving if the islands
were originally tidelands when California became a state in 1850. At that time, under California law, tidelands were to be
held in the public trust (as public lands), making a purchase by the state of its own land invalid. Of great importance to
the Robinson's research were the field notes and surveys of Newport Bay by S. H. Finley, dating from the 1880s. Historical
maps acquired by the Robinsons illustrated that the three islands in Newport Bay in question during the first lawsuit were
originally designated as tidelands, thus putting them in the public trust under California law. The Irvine Company argued
that the chain of title was valid through the Company's good-faith belief in the settlement agreement. In 1987, a judge ruled
in favor of The Irvine Company.
In 1999, the bay's Interpretive Center main exhibit was named after the Robinsons. Both Frank and Fran Robinson received numerous
national, state, and local awards for their work in preserving the environment surrounding Orange County. Fran Robinson died
on June 30, 2001 at the age of 82; Frank died on April 10, 2003 at the age of 84.
||Frank and Frances Robinson and their two children move from La Canada to the Westcliff neighborhood of Newport Beach, California,
two blocks from Newport Bay.
||The Robinson’s son Jay discovers "private" signs posted along the beach in Newport Bay (Back Bay).
||Frances collects news clippings detailing a proposed channelization and development of Upper Newport Bay. Included would be
a land exchange between the County of Orange and The Irvine Company.
||Orange County Board of Supervisors approve the land exchange. The State Lands Commission vote to withhold approval.
||The State Lands Commission reverses its non-approval position on the land exchange. The Robinsons become more determined to
keep fighting and they continue to travel, lecture, write letters, and talk to people to gather public and political support.
||Friends of Newport Bay (FONB) formed.
||Santa Barbara oil spill. The devastation spurred a growing awareness and interest in the United States of ecological issues
and of the issues and importance of coastal wetlands.
||A “friendly” lawsuit is brought by the County of Orange against The Irvine Company (TIC) in order to establish legality of
the trade and finalize TIC’s title to the tidelands. The Robinsons and two other couples (Harold and Joan Coverdale and Wesley
and Judith Marx) petition the court and are granted the right to “intervene” on behalf of the county in opposition to the
||Orange County Foundation for Preservation of Public Property founded.
||The California Department of Fish and Game issue a report warning of dire ecological consequences if major modifications are
made to Newport Bay and support preservation of the bay.
||Orange County Superior Court Judge Claude Owens rules in favor of the land exchange.
||Orange County Board of Supervisors oppose the land exchange.
||Orange County Board of Supervisors hire attorney C. E. Parker to investigate the validity of the Irvine Company’s Swamp and
||California State Court of Appeal reverses the 1970 Superior Court ruling and deems the land exchange unconstitutional.
||Upper Newport Settlement Agreement is signed by The Irvine Company, County of Orange, City of Newport Beach, and the Department
of Fish and Game authorizing the State to purchase 527 acres within Newport Bay from TIC for $3.48 million. Combined with
214 acres of tidelands, the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve is created.
||Following the settlement agreement, Parker’s investigation was terminated by the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Parker
continues an investigation regarding titles during the second lawsuit (1979-1987).
||Frank Robinson receives a copy of Solomon Finley’s field notes of his 1889 survey of Upper Newport Bay. In the field notes,
Finley classifies all of the islands in Newport Bay as tidelands.
||Orange County Foundation for Preservation of Public Property files lawsuit against The Irvine Company, First American Title
Insurance Company, and the State of California for the return of the $3.48 million plus interest to the State of California.
||Judge Judith Ryan rules in favor of The Irvine Company.
Collection Scope and Content Summary
This collection comprises files maintained by Frank and Frances Robinson during roughly a twenty-year period as they pursued
two lawsuits regarding the legal designation and ownership of land in Upper Newport Bay, as well as concurrent activities
related to the establishment of Upper Newport Bay as a nature preserve. Included are research materials, legal documents,
organizational files, and personal files relating to issues surrounding the proposed land swap between Orange County, California
and The Irvine Company that would have allowed the latter to develop Upper Newport Bay, as well as material relating to the
establishment of rightful ownership of land in Upper Newport Bay. The collection contains correspondence, legal documents,
newsletters, notebooks and notes, clippings, photographs, publications, audio recordings, maps and plans, calendars, and ephemera.
This collection is arranged in eight series:
- Series 1. Lawsuit 1: County of Orange and The Irvine Company v. V. A. Heim, the State of California, and Frank and Frances
Robinson, Harold and Joan Coverdale, and Wesley and Judith Marx, as residents and taxpayers of the County of Orange, 1952-1977,
bulk 1963-1975, 3.25 linear feet
- Series 2. Lawsuit 2: Lawsuit: Orange County Foundation for the Preservation of Public Property, et al. v. The Irvine Company,
et. al., 1919-1990, bulk 1985-1988, 1.75 linear feet
- Series 3. Friends of Newport Bay, 1965-1994, bulk 1968-1977, 1.75 linear feet
- Series 4. Orange County Foundation for Preservation of Public Property, 1919-1984, bulk 1965-1970, 1 linear foot
- Series 5. Robert Battin files, 1963-1975, 2 linear feet
- Series 6. C. E. (Ted) Parker files, 1858-1996 and undated, 2.65 linear feet
- Series 7. Subject files, 1841-1991, 6.5 linear feet
- Series 8. Research material and notes, 1916-2003, 10.5 linear feet
Funding for processing was generously provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by the Council on Library
and Information Resources (CLIR). The UC Irvine Libraries Department of Special Collections and Archives was awarded a Cataloging
Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from 2010-2012, "Uncovering California's Environmental Collections," in collaboration
with eight additional special collections and archival repositories throughout the state and the California Digital Library
(CDL). Grant objectives included processing of more than 33 hidden collections related to the state's environment and environmental
history. The collections document an array of important sub-topics such as irrigation, mining, forestry, agriculture, industry,
land use, activism, and research. Together they form a multifaceted picture of the natural world and the way it was probed,
altered, exploited and protected in California over the twentieth century. Finding aids are made available through the Online
Archive of California (OAC).
Related materials can be found in the following collections:
- Ray E. Williams files on Newport Bay environmental issues. MS-R108. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt3b69r8n9
- Collection on Upper Newport Bay. MS-R094. http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt2s20114p/
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Environmental Coalition of Orange County, Inc (Calif.).
Friends of Newport Bay.
Activists -- California -- Orange County.
Coastal ecology -- California -- Orange County
Ecological reserves -- California -- Upper Newport Bay
Environmental protection -- California -- Orange County -- History -- Sources
Environmentalists -- California -- Orange County
Land use -- California -- Upper Newport Bay
Land use -- Environmental aspects -- California -- Orange County
Land use -- Law and legislation -- California -- Orange County
Legal documents -- California -- Orange County -- 20th century
Newport Bay (Calif.) -- Environmental conditions -- 20th century
Orange County (Calif.) -- Archives
Wetland conservation -- California -- Upper Newport Bay
Wetland restoration -- California -- Upper Newport Bay