Monday, October 24, 2011

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.

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.

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):

Fourteen peop
le 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.

Representatives of the developer, Newport Banning Ranch, made their presentation and produced some interesting statisti
cs. 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)
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.


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.

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.

According to city staff, currently 1
9th 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.

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.

For example, he told the council and audience that they hoped to fin
d 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.

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.


Also lingering in my skull is the hoped-for revitalization of t
he 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.

LL 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.

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Anonymous Eleanor said...

Geoff, have you not noticed that West 19th Street is already built out? Do you seriously expect to see upscale retail shops wedged between pawnshops, liquor stores and second-hand stores? Why would residents in the Banning Ranch tract shop on 19th Street when they have very upscale stores in Newport Beach?

This proposed project is an unmitigated disaster for all of the Westside. The Bluff Road would divert heavy traffic from PCH through Westside residential neighborhoods. What an appalling idea!

10/24/2011 10:02:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Yep, I've noticed. But, wasn't the grand plan supposed to cause the earth to shift on it's axis and, according to one long-time gadfly, sweep the undesirable element from the Westside and result in a metamorphosis? I was sure that was what I heard those few years ago.

I'm trying to figure out what kind of leverage Costa Mesa has with Newport Beach on this project... none, I think.

10/24/2011 10:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Robin said...

We don't have to let them open onto our roads. They'd be stuck with Coast Highway. I don't wish that traffic on anyone, but it seems Newport would wish it on us. I don't want to see Costa Mesa become the cut-through capitol of Southern California!

10/24/2011 10:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Tom Egan (the man of few words) said...

(In case you didn't see this on the Daily Pilot's website ...)

Westsiders have heard this story before and have firmly rejected it.

For one thing, there has never been any evidence that pushing more traffic through a residential area will "improve" it. Common sense, in fact, points the other way: Would you like more traffic roaring by the front of your home?

Might more traffic entice commercial businesses to move into the Westside? Not likely, because Westside is not a destination for trips, it's a place you have to drive through as part of your commute to work or to regional shopping such as South Coast Plaza. Borrowing from airplane travelers' argot, it's flyover country.

How about extra traffic improving existing commerce? Well, Westside does have some unique destination businesses that might benefit from direct access by 1,375 Banning Ranch homes: tattoo parlors, pawn shops, thrift shops, and hookah lounges. It’s questionable, though, how much money Newporters would spend at these establishments.

The basic problem that commerce has in Westside is that residents have, on average, little wealth. This is due to a large and growing population of low-income immigrants living in high-density apartments. Over the years, commerce has adapted to suit this demographic. An example of this is the absence of any supermarkets in this area of about 30,000 residents.

So, even if every resident of Banning Ranch, say 3,000 people total, promised to shop in Westside Costa Mesa instead of Newport’s Pavilions and Albertsons, adding that 10% to the 30,000 low income Westsiders wouldn’t be enough to draw supermarkets.

Even W. 19th St. wouldn’t flourish from the traffic on the way to and from the 55 freeway. Commuters don’t bother to stop at the minimarts, liquor stores, bars, fast food restaurants, and the typical businesses in a low-income residential area. After all, why would any Newport Beach resident stop in Goat Hill when they could spend their money in their own Banning Ranch neighborhood?

Besides, commuters are usually in a hurry to get to work or to get home, and will tend to shop at either end, not along the way.

So, contrary to what the developers promise, Westside Costa Mesa would just be driven farther into slumsville if Banning Ranch traffic is dumped into it.

10/24/2011 10:41:00 PM  
Anonymous No financial nor political support said...

Yes. Do you have any political support?

Ah, er, um ... Wendy Leece.

10/25/2011 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

Tom - yep. It's like they think if they build a bunch of new homes, gentification will happen in the West 19th neighborhoods. Gentification that sticks is usually ground up, young people with money, moving into poorer places and either bring dollars for new stores, or opening up stores themselves. Then the big money comes in. This won't happen with this project, this folks will shop in NB and HB, not on the Westside. And that's fine, I don't want a huge line at El Toro Bravo. I'd rather have a nice spot to eat my tacos in :)

10/25/2011 04:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Terry Welsh said...

Help Stop Bluff Road!!! Please attend the Coastal Commission hearing on November 2 in Oceanside. Newport Beach is trying to build the first stage of Bluff Road as the entrance road for Sunset Ridge Park. Support an alternative entrance. Call 714-719-2148 for information. Visit

10/25/2011 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Original Max said...

It seemed as though Naghavi's presentation only accounted for traffic produced by the project itself and did not factor in cut through traffic. The EIR says the road will be designed for 34,000 cars a day on average. Once word gets out it's a shortcut, I imagine it will be much more.

That $19M figure probably wasn't very accurate. Ultimately, there really isn't anyway of knowing what it will sell for. They can't build on most of it (the only reason why there will be open space). That heavily discounts it right there. They haven't received all of the approvals they will need. That's another discount. This is especially true judging by all of the wildlife they will kill and habitat they will destroy.

Some other factors to think about: How inflated is the clean up cost? Will they discount to an altruistic entity or government? How fast will their units sell?

As far as raising money goes, Measure M and private donors will hopefully be a good source. There are plenty of people that can give up $50K in this area to help prevent the owners from breaking laws and building on such a priceless area. Plus, there are a few people with huge dollars that can help buy it and give it a new name.

Here are some nice photos of the area by the way. The owners misrepresent it and try to tell everyone it's ruined. It's clearly not. It's also not a super fund site like they suggest. It can sit there for 100 years just the way it is and not harm any animals or plants (including humans). There is no rush to clean it up. If it was an immediate danger, the government would have forced the owners to clean it up a long time ago. It's just one more thing Shell and ExxonMobil are doing to play with the numbers. I say Shell and ExxonMobil because they are the majority owners.

10/25/2011 11:10:00 PM  

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