City’s Approval of Banning Ranch Upheld by Appeals Court

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The California Court of Appeals has upheld the city of Newport Beach’s approval of the development of Banning Ranch and rejected the Banning Ranch Conservancy’s legal challenge to the Banning Ranch development project.

In the decision filed on May 20 by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, the 31 page document noted that “Banning Ranch consists of approximately 400 acres of largely undeveloped coastal property, with active oilfield facilities and operations dispersed thereon. Project proponents seek to develop one-fourth of Banning Ranch for residential and commercial purposes, and to preserve the remaining acreage as open space and parks, removing and remediating much of the oil production equipment and facilities. The City of Newport Beach and its City Council approved the Project. Banning Ranch Conservancy, ‘a community-based organization dedicated to the preservation, acquisition, conservation and management of the entire Banning Ranch as a permanent public open space, park, and coastal nature preserve,’ filed a mandamus action against the city.

The trial court agreed with the Conservancy’s claim that the City violated the Planning and Zoning Law and its own general plan by its alleged failure to adequately coordinate with the California Coastal Commission before its approval of the Project. On the other hand, the court rejected the Conservancy’s claim that the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to identify in the environmental impact report the ‘environmentally sensitive habitat areas.’

All interested parties appealed. The Appeals Court agreed with the court’s CEQA ruling but concluded the court erred by finding the city violated its general plan. The Appeals Court reversed the judgment to the extent it provides for mandamus relief to the Conservancy.

According to Cornell University Law School, mandamus is “an order from a court to an inferior government official ordering the government official to properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion.”

According to a statement from the city of Newport Beach, this is the second time the courts have rejected the Conservancy’s claims about the city’s actions. In 2013, the Orange County Superior Court rejected the Conservancy’s claim that the city did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved the Banning Ranch project. The Superior Court found nothing wrong with the environmental impact report, wetlands surveys, and other biological analyses completed on the Banning Ranch property.

This week the California Court of Appeal reaffirmed this decision.

“We are pleased that the Court of Appeal rejected the Conservancy’s claims and ratified the city’s processing of this complex and controversial project,” said Newport Beach Mayor Edward Selich in a statement. “It is a project that deserves consideration at the Coastal Commission given its balanced approach to restoration, open space, and development. Following our approval in 2012, we are glad that the site is one step closer to remediation and redevelopment.”

According to the city, the Newport Banning Ranch project is a 402.3-acre planned community by Newport Banning Ranch, LLC, that is proposed to contain a maximum of 1,375 dwelling units, 75,000 square feet of retail commercial, a 75-room “boutique” hotel, parks and open space. The site is generally located north of West Coast Highway, east of the Santa Ana River channel, south of the Talbert Nature Preserve, and west of Superior Avenue. The project was approved by the City in July 2012 and the application was deemed complete by the California Coastal Commission on April 29.

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