Banning Ranch Study Session Impressions(Updated)
As you know, last Thursday the Costa Mesa City Council hosted a joint Study Session with the Costa Mesa Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission on the proposed Banning Ranch development in neighboring Newport Beach. Members of the Newport Beach Planning staff, representatives from the developers and the opponents of the development all were provided time to make presentations and a snippet of time was also provided for public comments.
LARGER VENUE NECESSARY
The meeting was originally scheduled to be held in the Costa Mesa Police Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the adjacent Police facility, but was changed at the last minute to the City Council Chambers in anticipation of a large crowd. That was a good move because there were more than 150 people in the auditorium for most of the meeting. Based on the crowd responses during the evening, I'd say most of those in attendance were against the development.
MONAHAN RAN A TIGHT SHIP, SO TO SPEAK
Costa Mesa Mayor Gary Monahan ran what was certainly the most crisply-conducted meeting I've ever seen in the chambers in a decade of watching these things. Although it started 15 minutes late, he kept it close to the schedule and it finished at 6:45. You can view the streaming video of the meeting HERE. You can also read Mike Reicher's Daily Pilot coverage HERE and Sean Greene's Orange County Register report HERE.
NOTE: Here's the replay schedule for CMTV, Channel 24 (Time Warner Cable) and Channel 99 (ATT U-Verse):
SHORT AND SWEET
Fourteen people filled out speaker's cards, so Monahan allocated the 15 minutes available for Public Comments - one minute each - and it worked. The comments were crisp and to the point. Most opposed the development.
SCOPE OF PROJECT
Representatives of the developer, Newport Banning Ranch, made their presentation and produced some interesting statistics. We already knew the scope of the project - 1,375 home (952 condos/townhouses, 423 single family residences); 75,000 square feet of neighborhood commercial; 75 room resort inn and 40+ acres of park space. The current plan provides for 235 acres of open space and a total of 52 acres of parks and trails. (Click on the image to enlarge it)
THE OIL WELLS STAY
We also learned that there was, at one time or another, 480 oil wells on the property and that there are currently 80 active wells pumping. There are 40 miles of pipeline criss-crossing the slightly over 400 acre property. It will take at least $30 million to clean up the site and the owner of the mineral (oil) rights will eventually be restricted to 17 acres in two sites, from which they will be able to "slant drill" using contemporary technology. I tried to imagine being the owner of one of those lovely, very expensive view homes and wondered how I'd sleep at night knowing the area is honey-combed with pipelines and drilling may be going on directly beneath my house.
COSTA MESA GETS MOST OF THE TRAFFIC
We were told that the traffic impacts on Costa Mesa would be around 15,000 trips per day, distributed on 19th Street, 17th Street, 16th Street in Costa Mesa and 15th Street and Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. According to a subsequent report by Costa Mesa Interim Assistant Chief Executive Officer Peter Naghavi, 65% of the traffic will end up departing the project via Costa Mesa streets.
IMPACTS ON THE WESTSIDE WILL BE SIGNIFICANT
When Naghavi made his presentation he told us that the bulk of the Costa Mesa traffic would end up on 17th Street - 75% - and that the rumored resurrection of a 19th Street Bridge over the Santa Ana River was not part of any discussion of the Banning Ranch Development and the traffic impacts of such a bridge were not included in his projections. One thing was very clear, though - Newport Beach gets the meat of this project - new view homes and parks and the sales tax and property taxes that go with them - and Costa Mesa gets the gristle and bone - the traffic. The vast majority of the traffic will end up on Newport Boulevard, most likely heading for the 55 Freeway - already Costa Mesa's most heavily impacted arterial and the subject of it's own traffic management plan. Naghavi's presentation included many mitigation alternatives, but it's too detailed to present here. They studied 31 Westside intersections and determined that seven would be most severely impacted: Monrovia at 19th Street; Pomona at 17th Street; Newport Blvd at 17th, 18th, 19th and Harbor Blvd and Superior at 17th Street.
19TH STREET IMPACTS
According to city staff, currently 19th Street in the area from Newport Boulevard to Park Avenue carries approximately 32,000 cars per day - most of it too and from the freeway. If a 19th Street Bridge was to be built, it is projected to add another 24,000 cars to that segment of roadway - without the Banning Ranch impact. Naghavi did indicate that it would be possible to stop the Bluff Road at 17th Street, eliminating 19th Street entirely as a access point to the project. That just shifts the 10% of the traffic anticipated for 19th Street to other sections of roadway.
PLENTY OF PASSION - NO PLAN, NO MONEY
The discussion for the Banning Ranch Conservancy - the group opposing this project for a dozen years - was led by Dr. Terry Welsh, a pathologist and president of the organization. Quite frankly, his presentation and response to questions posed by members of the City Council was best described as weak. He did outline the environmental impacts of the development, including fragile habitat for birds, fairy shrimp and other forms of wild life. There is no doubt that, despite leaving a significant portion as open space, there will be a large impact on the environment. However, when politely grilled by the council, Welsh had virtually no answers - many of which you would expect after a twelve year fight on this issue.
WHERE'S THE MONEY?
For example, he told the council and audience that they hoped to find enough funding - but couldn't tell us where it might come from - to spend $19 million to purchase the property "as-is". That is, in an un-mitigated condition. Many on the council fancy themselves as "numbers guys", and they certainly couldn't understand how the Conservancy could come up with $19 million to purchase it, then another $30+ million to clean it up. Welsh didn't provide any answers, either.
LOTS OF NEGOTIATION AHEAD
Clearly, we are a long, long way from seeing this project launched. However, assuming it will, eventually, be built, there's going to have to be a lot of conversation and negotiation between the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach about the traffic impacts on the Westside of our city.
WHAT ABOUT THE "WESTSIDE PLANS"?
Also lingering in my skull is the hoped-for revitalization of the Westside. The plans we've seen for the past half-dozen years that were so carefully hammered out by previous councils and citizen groups present many opportunities when the economy finally turns around and development dollars free-up again. Most of the plans include some retail elements and retail sales require traffic past their stores to survive. The development of Banning Ranch as an upscale enclave right on our western border could provide plenty of shoppers for new, upscale shops along 19th Street. That doesn't seem to be so bad to me, but has gotten no conversation in this plan.
WENDY'S TOWN HALL ON 11/9
I'm sure the Banning Ranch will come up at council woman Wendy Leece's Town Hall meeting, scheduled for November 9th at Pomona School. Details of that event are pending. I'll report more when they become available. Leece had to recuse herself from the meeting last Thursday because her home is within 500 feet of the property line of the project.