Keywords: Development, ESHA, coastal habitat, state park, coastal commission, newport banning ranch, Orange County, Newport Beach, OC River Park
In one sense, development of Banning Ranch is theft of the last opportunity for a new coastal nature preserve. If we leave it whole and unfragmented, it becomes a gift:
Imagine you are at a grand dinner table with a large group of hungry people.
You've been lucky enough to choose your share from the party's rich servings, yet there is one last portion left on the table.
Do you ignore everyone and take the last, leaving nothing for your fellows?
Will our generation take all of what's on the table or leave something for another generation?
Not too long ago, our OC table contained significant open spaces and slices of nature that were in balance with the development around them.
For instance, do you remember the wide open stretch of hills running from CDM to Laguna? How about the little place called Castaways at the south end of 17th St overlooking the back bay, or the vast orange groves that covered what is now Irvine?
Those places have been so thoroughly wiped off the map that its difficult to envision them clearly now. They were swallowed up in a party of financial gain, ignoring the principle of balance in all things and the rights of a future people to decide a few land-use issues according to the needs of their time.
Hidden in our collective backyards near the Santa Ana River, Banning Ranch has escaped the fate of the other lands. It somehow remained out of focus to the financial movers and shakers.
But the time for decision on Banning Ranch has come. Greed wants all it can get, and that is the prime driver here, make no mistake.
As the last scrap on the table of time, will it be left for the many people of the future who may need and value the experience of nature on a daily basis much more than we do?
As things stand now, the main thing standing between this injustice is you and me. Our government then needs to reflect this wisdom and act by saying NO to the development of this area.
Do we care enough to protest? To say simply and loudly: Preserve 100% of Banning Ranch!
With a little vision from us and political leaders, Banning and Talbert right next door can be combined into a new state park and left as a gift to those who will surely thank us for doing so.
Nov 10, 2015: Banning Ranch heard before Coastal Commission
In the first substantial hearing before Coastal Commissioners, CCC staff was asked to find a compromise with developers that would protect habitat and watershed features originally identified by the Nature Commission (Kevin Nelson).
These features are very significant in size and would greatly shrink the development footprint. A new plan has been submitted which removes approx 50 housing sites - but this proposal is very far from what will be needed to protect an ecosystem which is both sizable and diverse.
Sept 15, 2015:
Regional Water Quality Board rejects Banning Ranch permit application for insufficient and inconsistent biological reports. (Document at lower right)
This is of significance for two reasons:
1.The under-reported wetland and vernal pool features on the mesa. Many of these are fairly rare features which happen to be directly in the path of the proposed development footprint.
2.The number of federally protected species within those wetlands reinforces their importance.
The denial of the current application does not mean that a permit will not be issued at some point in the future. The agency's response says that more studies will be required.
All but a small number of these previously unknown wetlands were brought to light by Nature Commission efforts. Until 2011, bio-reports paid for by the owners stated that there were two vernal pools on the mesa, despite the fact that they were visible in satellite images. Now, the count is much higher, numbering somewhere between 15 to 30 potentially valid vernal pools. A biological report commissioned by the Banning Ranch Conservancy was also a factor in this outcome.
More accurate biological reports will now be required of developers who have attempted to hide and alter these features from agencies and the public for two decades since development became the goal of it's owners.
Along with the Coastal Commission's authority, the Regional Water Quality Board is a key agency in determinations on the various wetlands of the area.
Banning Ranch is of regional importance in Orange County due to its size, diversity of native coastal habitat, scenic values and the fact that it is the last opportunity along 50 miles of coast to create a new state park.
Located on west side of Newport Beach, near the Santa Ana River, it contains a saltwater marsh, coastal bluffs, native California grasslands, significant arroyos, a complex of vernal pools and most important - a large expanse of open space surrounded by ongoing high-density developments being approved by Costa Mesa and Newport Beach agencies.
So the question is simple: When so much money is being made by development interests within a stone's throw of Banning Ranch, why is it that the cities and the county say they have no money to help finance the purchase of this area as a nature preserve or state park? Those local agencies are generating fees and property taxes from the exploding economic activity, why cant some of this be used for the greater benefit of people and ecosystem health in the future?
It has yielded oil profits for decades and development interests bought the land rights in recent years knowing the site's primary value as native habitat, which is why a program was set in place to destroy that habitat in order to conceal it from agencies.
News: June 10, 2015 Coastal Commission: Habitat removal case against West Newport Oil has been postponed. The hearing is described below.
"Cease and Desist Order No. CCC-15-CD-04 (West Newport Oil Company, Orange Co.) Public hearing and Commission action on proposed administrative order directing respondent to, among other things: (1) refrain from engaging in unpermitted development, including vegetation removal and oil production activities, at properties collectively known as Banning Ranch, located adjacent to 5100 block of West Coast Hwy, in unincorporated Orange County; (2) remove certain oil production structures and materials that are present on those properties as result of unpermitted activities; and (3) take steps to address existing unpermitted development."
Latest as of May 10, 2015
The developer's (NBR) application has been deemed complete by the Coastal Commission. Over the last two years the agency correctly refused earlier versions due to wells that did not have permits, biological reports that were inaccurate and other key elements.
Sometime in the next few months a hearing date will be set.
But this habitat has been subject to an intense and intentional campaign of habitat destruction that is almost unprecedented along the southern California coast.
The owner/developers have mowed, scraped and manipulated the area to the point of obscuring the biological baseline that agencies such as the Coastal Commission and US Fish & Wildlife rely on for evaluating projects, habitat and species.
Satellite images leave absolutely no doubt on the level of destruction and the intention behind the activities in what the Coastal Commission calls ESHA (environmentally sensitive habitat area).
A vernal pool complex exists on the Banning Ranch mesa