Debating Banning Ranch

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At the recent Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Mayor Rush Hill gave a preview of his State of the City speech that he’ll deliver next week.

One of the things that he talked about was the Banning Ranch project. Banning Ranch was one of my 10 new year’s resolutions. I called it a win-win. Last November a Superior Court judge ruled that the City’s approval was flawed and granted the Banning Ranch Conservancy (a non-profit conservancy dedicated to the preservation of Banning Ranch as public open space and nature preserve) a Writ of Mandate. Hill said the final ruling is due out anytime.

What is Banning Ranch?

Approved by the city in 2012 after years of studies, Banning Ranch is touted as the largest privately owned undeveloped piece of land on the southern California coast. Located on the inland side of Coast Highway near the Huntington Beach border, it has been under lock and key for 70 years as an oil field, according to the property owner’s website.

The proposal, which has gone through years of studies and as approved by the city council, includes nearly 300 acres of open space including a sports park, with all the oil wells relocated to a single 20 acre area and all the habitat cleaned up and restored. There are plans for 1,375 homes and a boutique hotel. All available to the public at NO COST. The Developer gets to build on their property (what a novel concept) and the public gets nearly three quarters of the land as improved open space at no cost.

In other words, “WIN-WIN.”

Writ of What?

The flaw, according to the court, was that the General Plan required the City to consult with the California Coastal Commission on “how wetlands could be affected by the project.” Therefore the city had violated its own General Plan in its approval. The OC Register put it succinctly last November: “The judge granted the conservancy’s request for a ‘writ of mandate,’ a legal mechanism that forces a government body to take further action. It means the City Council would have to consult with the Coastal Commission before approving the Banning Ranch development again.”

What the City Said

According to the Register, Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp said the city’s failure to consult with the California Coastal Commission is “moot” because the developer now has a separate application pending before the commission.

What the Banning Ranch Conservancy Said

According to the Register, John G. McClendon, a lawyer who represented the conservancy in court, said, “It’s a huge victory for the right of the people to control their land-use destiny over a city council that may come and go.”

What Rush Hill Said the City Will Do

The Mayor said that the city will modify the General Plan to eliminate the requirement to consult ahead of time with the Coastal Commission, since the process is already complete at the city and the Coastal Commission is currently reviewing the plan.

What Do We Care?

What is important to note is that this is a technicality and that the Conservancy lost on its arguments that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was flawed and that the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Conservancy has had over a decade to raise the money to purchase the property and still has nowhere near the money necessary to buy it, much less clean it up and restore it. The development provides three quarters of the land to the public and includes the restoration and cleanup in exchange for being able to develop the remaining portion at NO COST to the public.

What Should Happen

The Conservancy should drop the lawsuits and stop wasting the public’s and the developer’s money defending a good project in court. The only money that the conservancy is spending to acquire the project is on attorneys. The Conservancy should stop attacking the public treasury, stop acting like a bunch of NIMBYs, and support the project at the Coastal Commission.

Scott Peotter is an Architect and former Planning Commissioner in Newport Beach. Scott can be reached at [email protected].


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  1. Banning Ranch isn’t ‘under lock and key’ from my personal experience of having ridden my bike onto the property and then hiked several of the trails criss-crossing the property. I am sure in favor of the Newport Beach City Council plan for the property.

  2. Scott, the term “mutually-exclusive” best applies in this case.

    Changing the rules after the fact is not something you want your govt to do is it?

    You might not like the next plan they come up with that is based on violating their own charter or laws/rules they create.

    I agree the plan is a Win-Win and should go forward.

    Nonetheless making govt. follow their own rules is always a good thing.

    Just changing them after the fact isn’t.

    Also leaving the law to be decided by the city’s own lawyer is not something I’d ever support either.

    They’re biased 🙂

  3. Unless the oil companies that own that land want to break a bunch of laws protecting that area, the land isn’t really worth all that much.

    Remember, the free land they are giving up is land they can’t build on anyway. Sometimes Donald Bren will do that with his land but this isn’t the case with the oil companies.

    To have a higher quality with more nature and open space is much better than more traffic and more noise. Just look at how much nicer the Newport Back Bay is because Peotter wasn’t on council back then. He probably would have been fighting citizens to put in the University bridge and develop homes in all the areas that were saved.

    If Newport had intelligent forward thinking politicians that cared about our quality of life, this would already be an open space nature park.