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].