Monday, July 21, 2008

Saving The Banning Ranch Discussed

Five dozen people, half of whom were from Newport Beach - including Councilman Keith Curry - attended a workshop Monday night at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center at Lions Park. The workshop was sponsored by a group of environmentalists and concerned citizens who wished to provide information to interested residents with the avowed hope to recruit more members to their group. Their goal is to have Banning Ranch - 412 acres of oil fields and coastal scrub land - retained as open space in perpetuity.


I found it interesting that no elected or appointed Costa Mesa official found time in their busy schedules to attend this meeting. That seems strange to me, since many of the elected and appointed officials are residents of the Westside, and the Banning Ranch issue will undoubtedly be a campaign issue as we move through the summer and fall. I guess they just don't care what the voters think, nor wish to hear their concerns.


Chris Bunyan, former - and maybe future - council candidate, was one of the organizers of the event and ponied up the cost of the room. Several passionate speakers addressed the small group and used slide shows to show the types of flora and fauna that might be in jeopardy should the Banning Ranch be turned into homes and shopping areas. Others spoke about how such open spaces are disappearing and covered with concrete and houses throughout the state.

The specter of the proposed development of Banning Ranch by another group - which would place 1375 homes, 75,000 square feet of retail development and a 75 room hotel - was raised to get the audience's attention. Representatives of the potential developer were in the audience taking notes and handed out their own fliers at the end of the meeting.

No firm numbers are available because this effort to buy and protect the Banning Ranch is in it's infancy. Numbers like $200 million to buy the land and $30 million to mitigate the oil wells and their attendant debris were thrown around. No one really knows how much it would take to buy the land for a permanent park/wildlife refuge. Nor does anyone have a clue about where such money might come from.


Although the speakers made the point that they didn't want their presentation to be an "us against them" situation - Costa Mesa vs. Newport Beach - it was clear that that is very likely how this will evolve because access to any kind of residential/retail development would almost certainly require the use of Costa Mesa streets. That thought seemed to agitate some of the Westside residents in attendance.


This effort is a long way from accomplishment. Time is not on the sponsor's side because the development plan for the area will be presented to the city of Newport Beach within a couple weeks. And, of course, that one-foot wide lasso of land which Newport Beach owns further complicates the issue when determining the sphere of influence issue.

The Banning Ranch will certainly generate a lot of heat during the campaign season ahead. Candidates in both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa will be asked to sign on for one side or the other on this subject. I'm expecting a lot of tap-dancing to go on throughout the fall. Stay tuned....

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Geoff for attending tonight. It was a great honor to have you.

7/21/2008 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...


I enjoyed the presentation, but think you've got a tough road ahead.

Now, about that council candidacy....

7/21/2008 11:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think how the developers want to push more traffic through "cut through" city is horrible. Plus we are totally built out. Open space is priceless. I hope we can do the same thing Bolsa Chica did. We can go after federal money, state money, bond money, money from a total of 3 surrounding cities, the county, and private donations including some very wealthy benefactors that live in the coastal area. The developers are clearly inflating the value since most of it can't be built on anyway. The value goes down more and more the more people are against this project and the more hoops the coastal commission better make them jump through.

7/22/2008 10:54:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

cm714, I hear you, but it's hard to imagine a more difficult time to find the kind of money necessary to acquire this land for preservation purposes, regardless the sources. None of the cities affected directly seem to have any spare bucks laying around - Newport Beach is borrowing $10 million to balance their budget this year. The State is currently trying to figure out how to pick our pockets even more - no balanced budget for nearly a month at this juncture.

Theoretically - based on the very expensive, flashy brochure provided by the developers representatives on Monday night - 70% of the property would be open space. You're correct that, looking at their graphics, Costa Mesa would be forced to eat most of the traffic from their plan via 16th and 19th Streets. It also looks like it would be easy to draw some more little arrows at 17th Street and others, too.

There is supposed to be an independent appraisal in the works right now to establish a value on the land. I find myself wondering if Aera Energy might not just decide to ramp-up the pumping of oil at the site now that it's over $130 per barrel. Don't put all your eggs in that "Coastal Commission" basket... they're all political appointees...

7/22/2008 11:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like you aren't much of a fighter Geoff. Good thing there are lots of people that will fight to make Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach that much better.

7/23/2008 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

cm714, thanks for your snide remark. Actually, I'm more of a lover than a fighter. That notwithstanding, the current climate will make it difficult to find funding to create a "park" on the Banning Ranch, for many of the reasons I mentioned before. The ball is in the owner's court right now - they a pumping their little heads off, generating some of that nice "black gold" as the lady from the Sierra Club called it Monday night. The land is in the county, not Newport Beach nor Costa Mesa. Newport has thrown that 1-foot wide lasso around it, so it falls in Newport's sphere if influence.

Even if a development plan were approved tomorrow, I doubt that any developer will be willing to launch off into what will be a monstrously expensive remediation process until our economy comes back. Building almost 1400 homes on spec in this economic environment is a quagmire, as our friends at Lennar have found out with their grand plans for the Great Pork, er, Park.

I do appreciate your willingness to duke it out with someone to save the open space. Who are you going to fight? Aera Energy? Newport Beach? Orange County? Most likely, all of the above.

Yes, Costa Mesa would receive way, way too much traffic from any kind of development on that bluff. Where were our elected representatives Monday night? Where were the members of the city staff? Does anybody in an official capacity in Costa Mesa really care about this issue? It appears not, or they would have been there...

Thanks for writing...

7/23/2008 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for reporting!

As long as housing remains "problematic" (I personally think 3-5 years), and oil prices high (perpetuity, of course), I suspect that development will be put in abeyance. That should buy time to round up the $$$, I hope.

7/26/2008 07:46:00 PM  

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