A Tough Neighborhood

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I remember growing up and my parents planning building their dream house down by the beach. They saved for years and finally bought the property. But now they couldn’t afford to build on it. That was OK; eventually they would. Every other week we would drive down to the beach and see the property. We would bring our lawn mower and keep it mowed. We would pick up any trash and make sure that we were good neighbors.

Back then we didn’t need fences. Insurance companies didn’t care back then. The neighbors liked our property, as well. The neighbors behind us got an ocean view, which after the house was built would go away. The neighborhood kids also loved it – they played baseball and soccer (yes back then they played soccer, it just wasn’t organized). My brothers and I played with them when we were around. It was a grand time.

Heck, one time when we went down there a family of birds was nesting in a corner. We didn’t mow that area for a month or so. We went down one time and saw a black spot on the sand. It smelled like oil. Apparently someone was changing their oil on the property and not using a pan to pick it up. They just drained it onto the lot. We had to put rocks along the alley to keep, whoever it was, from draining his oil there. When it rained the water stayed in the middle of the lot, and all sorts of birds gathered there. It was cool.

All these memories and we didn’t even have a house there yet. After many years of saving, my parents finally saved enough, but they decided that they were too old to take on a project like that. A short time later they passed away. My brothers and I decided to honor our parents and finish their dream house.

So we went to the city and they had us apply for a Conditional Use Permit. We didn’t want anything that everyone around didn’t already have. But the code had changed. We ended up having to plan a much smaller house than our neighbors had, even though it was the same size lot. Then we had to do studies on the nesting habits of the birds that had been nesting there off and on for 20 years. Then we had to do studies on the wetlands (remember the rainwater ponding?) to determine whether there were any other birds that had to be relocated.

Then of course we had to do some environmental cleanup of the oil spill. Oil spill? Oh that car that changed their oil on the property. The setbacks had gotten bigger and the height limit got lower, and then with “beach access” we could only build half of the house that our neighbors had.

Then after all the studies we went to council meetings and all of the neighbors paraded in front of the council and complained about how our dream house was an environmentally sensitive habitat. How the “view shed” was important to the city (that was from the neighbor behind us that had an ocean view). They wanted the city to buy the property, so that it could remain open as a park, wildlife habitat, and open space.

I thought these guys were friends. We played baseball with their kids. We only wanted to build the same as everyone else. It seemed like we were being penalized because we were building so much later than they did and they kind of liked the way that the property had been maintained so nice for their use for so many years without their having to pay a dime for it. Needless to say we didn’t get along that well with our “neighbors” after that.

Now we were “bird killers,” destroyers of sensitive habitat, polluters, massive developers, and butchers of the land. And all we wanted to do was build half of what all our neighbors had. Fortunately, the City Council saw this for what it was – our neighbors wanting to continue to use our land without paying for it. They wisely approved the project after hearing all of the issues – and us paying consultants more than our neighbors paid for their entire house.

It takes fortitude to stand up for the rights of the individual property owner (we didn’t even live there and couldn’t vote for them) over the desires of the “mob.” So finally we had “permission” to build our family’s dream home.

Now the twist: that “dream home” is Banning Ranch.

The City Council is the Newport Beach City Council and the complaining neighbors and issues are countless. Kudos to the council for its special five-hour hearing on Monday and for the councilmembers’ unanimous support for the Banning Ranch plan.

The council put up with the parades of neighbors trying to convince the council to stop the development for any reason, so that they can use the property free. Doing what is right, in the face of opposition is always admirable. The city gets a great new neighbor, who is cleaning up the property, developing the open space, and donating more than 50 percent to the citizens of Newport Beach. If only the Coastal Commission were so honorable …

Any comments please feel free to contact me at [email protected].

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  1. NIMBYs are amazingly selfish and short-sighted. For years I have heard Irvine’s NIMBYs condemn developers, always as “greedy.” How is anyone to remain in business while constantly losing money? These are the things NIMBYs never consider. Then there is the issue of where our children and grandchildren are supposed to live. NIMBYs don’t care. They have theirs, and the heck with everybody else. Irvine’s Chief NIMBY is Larry Agran. Funny how he always votes last on the City Council with such Pomp and Circumstance.