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Letter to the Editor: Banning Ranch and Sunset Ridge Park

This letter is a response to a recent column from Kurt English (“A Park without Parking”) concerning the lack of a parking lot at Sunset Ridge Park.

Mr. English should be applauded for his devotion to the community and especially for his concern for young athletes who utilize the new Sunset Ridge Park at the corner of Superior Avenue and PCH.

However, as president of the Banning Ranch Conservancy, I would like to set the record straight on the issue of Sunset Ridge Park.

In 2006, when the City of Newport Beach purchased Sunset Ridge from Caltrans, there was universal support for a park. Some citizens wanted sports fields, while many felt the site was better suited for a passive nature park.

But when the City released the plans for the park, the major public opposition wasn’t necessarily to the sports fields or, as Scott Peotter claims (per Mr. English) to the on-site parking lot. Rather, the major public opposition was to the controversial growth-inducing entrance road planned for the adjacent Banning Ranch property.

With the subsequent release of an Access Agreement (negotiated behind closed doors between the City and the developer of the proposed Banning Ranch project, NBR LLC), and the release of additional material from the City, the public’s initial suspicions were confirmed. It was clear that what was initially presented as a small park entrance road, was, in fact, designed to be the first step in the construction of Bluff Road. Bluff Road was, and still is, planned as a four-lane primary arterial highway that, by extending from PCH to 19th Street in Costa Mesa, would enable development of Banning Ranch, trample sensitive habitat in Banning Ranch, result in a new signalized intersection on PCH and grading of coastal bluffs, increase local traffic and have an ultimate capacity of 30,000-50,000 car trips/day.

All of this is counter to the priority use for Banning Ranch detailed in the voter-approved 2006 General Plan calling for the preservation of the entire Banning Ranch as open space.

The public opposition to Bluff Road, led by the Banning Ranch Conservancy, was deep and substantial and resulted in many concerned citizens organizing, writing letters, attending hearings, and contacting elected officials. Their message was loud and clear: “Build Sunset Ridge Park with an alternative to the Banning Ranch entrance road.”

Ultimately, the City revised the plans for Sunset Ridge Park. Park visitors now use a parking lot across Superior Avenue that, with the exception of the busiest summer weekends, usually has available space. And while park visitors have to cross a busy intersection to access Sunset Ridge Park, this same parking lot has served beach goers (who have to cross the even busier PCH) for decades.

I think we all share Kurt’s concern for any young athlete who has to schlep their equipment a long distance after a tough game, and agree that this situation isn’t ideal. Still, Sunset Ridge Park remains an incredible asset for the community for which we should all be proud. Kurt should reflect on a few features that the City added to the Sunset Ridge Park plan to help ease the parking situation.

  1. The timing of the cross walk signal on Superior Avenue was lengthened to accommodate younger athletes.
  2. A shuttle service leaving from the Superior Avenue parking lot can access Sunset Ridge Park via a small gravel access road off PCH. This is very helpful for elderly and disabled citizens and I see no reason why some heavier sports equipment can’t be dropped off by this shuttle.
  3. The same gravel access road allows emergency vehicles to enter Sunset Ridge Park.

Finally, the future could bring further improvements to Sunset Ridge Park. The Banning Ranch Conservancy has hired consultants to evaluate solutions. There has been talk in the community of a pedestrian bridge across Superior, entirely eliminating the need for youngsters to use the intersection. There has been discussion of an alternative entrance that doesn’t involve Banning Ranch. Sports teams could arrange their schedules to avoid the busiest summer weekends. The parking capacity of the Superior lot could be expanded and the parking fees eliminated.

It is important, as the community moves forward on both Sunset Ridge Park and preserving Banning Ranch, for all sectors of the community to talk and share and engage. This has always been the key to success. The Banning Ranch Conservancy has reached out to the new members of the City Council and plans on meetings and a continued dialogue through the next several years.

My last bit of advice to Kurt, who seems to have a genuine desire to make our community a better one, is based on my 16 years of experience organizing for Banning Ranch. While he will undoubtedly meet people who will see an issue from a different perspective than he does, it is always best to avoid labeling them with terms like “anti-taxpayer,” “anti-property rights,” “anti-efficiency,” or “anti-child welfare.”

For one thing, such terms are incorrect and inaccurate (especially in the case of the Banning Ranch Conservancy), and secondly, these types of terms tend to push people apart, rather than bring people together.

The Banning Ranch Conservancy welcomes Mr. English to become involved in the community’s effort to preserve the entire Banning Ranch as open space and leave an amazing legacy to future generations. We hope that you will reach out to us for more information on our efforts.

Terry Welsh, M.D.

President, Banning Ranch Conservancy

 

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