Banning Ranch: Oil profits past, 100% habitat future
Keywords: Development, ESHA, coastal habitat, state park, coastal commission, newport banning ranch, Orange County, Newport Beach, OC River Park, Aera Energy
9/8/16 Coastal Commissioners lean towards Banning Ranch preservation
I'll call it a win for now, and a fairly clean one for nature. Loads of work, some very well-timed luck and enough people who simply would not give up under any circumstances. This is a rare case so I am so sure that sometime in the future, what was done last night will be remembered by those lucky characters who will experience one more place that holds the deep benefits of open wildness near endless commerce and cement. Banning Ranch will be a clear example of a focused battle over the principle of striking a balance with larger realities. Even this event does not mean its over, but the real value and status of the area has been greatly clarified, and that was the biggest step that the agency took. - Kevin
9/3/16 Nature Commission editorial published by LA TIMES Daily Pilot:
Draw the line against development at Banning Ranch: Clear borders and large size equals key nature preserve.
When is enough finally enough?
With the huge, new residential projects going up along the 405 Freeway from Costa Mesa to the Irvine Spectrum, is that not enough?
With the densely packed complexes replacing industrial buildings on the westside of Costa Mesa and Newport, is that not enough?
With the equivalent of a small town being built along overcrowded Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano by Ranch Mission Viejo, is that not enough?
Was it not enough for Newport Coast mansions to cover most of the hills between Corona del Mar and Laguna not too long ago?
With traffic impacts through formerly peaceful neighborhoods seemingly doubling every few years, is that not enough?
The relentless pressure for more development has been allowed to rule while other priorities and values are left to struggle. The root cause is a system tied too closely to real estate profits, city and county coffers and political campaign donations.
Now, development of Banning Ranch is before the Coastal Commission. Since the very wise intent of the Coastal Act was to preserve places like this, a better outcome is possible if we show up to encourage commissioners.
We teach our kids to plan ahead for the future. It is for those kids at a place in coastal Orange County with no real imperative for development that this line must be drawn. Banning Ranch has clear borders of open wildness on one side and endless development on the other. It is one of the few places where local leaders could be standing up for something of lasting value, though not of the economic kind. Where are they?
The line is a simple way to escape the fudging excuses and technical arguments of developers who can call their project green and responsible all they want, but the fact is they chose the wrong place to cover with more cement.
Banning Ranch has the size and diversity of grasslands, bluffs, arroyos and rare animal species to serve as a nature preserve of statewide importance.
It has given profit enough to the local oil company that sold the development rights to the larger corporate partnership of Shell, Exxon, Aera Energy and NBR. It deserves a different fate because it is this area's last chance to deliver a responsible outcome of balance with the natural world that is our history, our source of beauty and our gift to the future. There are no other places along the coast left for this kind of choice.
That group of companies may own the land rights at the moment, but we own the bigger picture. That picture is to leave Banning Ranch unfragmented by structures. It waits for our local leaders to stand up and seize the opportunity to create a new and important nature preserve.
It also waits for your voice to be added to those at the Coastal Commission hearing on Sept. 7 at the Newport Beach Civic Center.
Make your voice heard for nature on Banning Ranch.
As we all know, there isn’t much left of open space, farms or wild lands near where we live. That’s why those that are still around need to be left alone and treasured.
Banning Ranch is by far the best opportunity for preservation along the coast. As a diverse ecosystem of marshlands, arroyos, grasslands and bluffs and rare animals on 400 acres near the mouth of the Santa Ana River in Newport Beach, it easily rates full protection as a nature preserve.
For that to happen, the Coastal Commission needs to deny a ridiculous development of 900 units proposed by a group called NBR. At the top of the corporate pyramid on this raw deal is Shell and Exxon and their local org, Aera Energy. It seems that profiting from climate change is not enough, so paving open space is the new goal.
By writing a letter or comment on why Banning Ranch and places like it must be left wild, you are telling officials that you care, so they should as well.
Comments that are personal and to the point are best.
Here are a few subject ideas: 1. Long Term Water Shortage The more building we do, the more water we are committed to supply, but because of climate change, snowmelt losses will continue to lessen Colorado River and Sierra Nevada supplies, not to mention ongoing groundwater issues. 2. We’ve Got A Pretty Big Nature Shortage Our crowded roads and cities are clearly built out, leaving few options for people of the future. So when is enough going to be enough?
The Coastal Act is strong on protection for wild lands. The agency calls native habitat ESHA (environmentally sensitive habitat area), and the area is full of it so you can encourage them to protect every square foot of Banning.
New oil facilities are part of the development, directly next to marshlands. In an amazing display of chutzpah, the developers want 83 new wells drilled right next to the one area they are donating to the public, ruining the supposed gift.
Developers have intentionally mowed and damaged the habitat. For years Banning has been scraped and mowed without mercy in an effort to hide the truth of its biological value from agencies. Violations were successful, but penalties were weak and we can still encourage Commissioners to do some payback for the attempted con-job.
Short term vs long term planning. An overriding fact in our era is that we must achieve balance with nature over the short-term actions and thinking of financial gain. Comments that appeal for longer term planning would help.
If developed Banning Ranch will first be ripped apart. Because it is an old oil field, the site will need to be torn apart to be remediated for housing, annihilating the ecosystem and driving animals away. If left as a nature preserve, the destruction of the site is not needed because nature is doing the cleanup.
Traffic. You know this one well enough, I’m sure.
Write or email your comments to: California Coastal Commission 200 Oceangate, Long Beach CA 90802 Issue: CDP Application 5-15-2097 - Banning Ranch Email: [email protected]
NOTE: Hearing and decision day will be September 7th or 8th at Newport Beach city Council Chambers off of Pacific Coast Highway and MacArthur
In one sense, development of Banning Ranch is theft of the last opportunity for a new coastal nature preserve. If we leave it whole and unfragmented, it becomes a gift:
Imagine you are at a grand dinner table with a large group of hungry people.
You've been lucky enough to choose your share from the party's rich servings, yet there is one last portion left on the table.
Do you ignore everyone and take the last, leaving nothing for your fellows?
Will our generation take all of what's on the table or leave something for another generation?
Not too long ago, our OC table contained significant open spaces and slices of nature that were in balance with the development around them.
For instance, do you remember the wide open stretch of hills running from CDM to Laguna? How about the little place called Castaways at the south end of 17th St overlooking the back bay, or the vast orange groves that covered what is now Irvine?
Those places have been so thoroughly wiped off the map that its difficult to envision them clearly now. They were swallowed up in a party of financial gain, ignoring the principle of balance in all things and the rights of a future people to decide a few land-use issues according to the needs of their time.
Hidden in our collective backyards near the Santa Ana River, Banning Ranch has escaped the fate of the other lands. It somehow remained out of focus to the financial movers and shakers.
But the time for decision on Banning Ranch has come. Greed wants all it can get, and that is the prime driver here, make no mistake.
As the last scrap on the table of time, will it be left for the many people of the future who may need and value the experience of nature on a daily basis much more than we do?
As things stand now, the main thing standing between this injustice is you and me. Our government then needs to reflect this wisdom and act by saying NO to the development of this area.
Do we care enough to protest? To say simply and loudly: Preserve 100% of Banning Ranch!
With a little vision from us and political leaders, Banning and Talbert right next door can be combined into a new state park and left as a gift to those who will surely thank us for doing so.
Nov 10, 2015: Banning Ranch heard before Coastal Commission
In the first substantial hearing before Coastal Commissioners, CCC staff was asked to find a compromise with developers that would protect habitat and watershed features originally identified by the Nature Commission (Kevin Nelson).
These features are very significant in size and would greatly shrink the development footprint. A new plan has been submitted which removes approx 50 housing sites - but this proposal is very far from what will be needed to protect an ecosystem which is both sizable and diverse.
Below is a map of most, but not all, of the problem areas.
Further, compromise of this type has been done everywhere in Southern California, yielding immense congestion and water supply issues.
Sept 15, 2015:
Regional Water Quality Board rejects Banning Ranch permit application for insufficient and inconsistent biological reports. (Document at lower right)
This is of significance for two reasons:
1.The under-reported wetland and vernal pool features on the mesa. Many of these are fairly rare features which happen to be directly in the path of the proposed development footprint.
2.The number of federally protected species within those wetlands reinforces their importance.
The denial of the current application does not mean that a permit will not be issued at some point in the future. The agency's response says that more studies will be required.
All but a small number of these previously unknown wetlands were brought to light by Nature Commission efforts. Until 2011, bio-reports paid for by the owners stated that there were two vernal pools on the mesa, despite the fact that they were visible in satellite images. Now, the count is much higher, numbering somewhere between 15 to 30 potentially valid vernal pools. A biological report commissioned by the Banning Ranch Conservancy was also a factor in this outcome.
More accurate biological reports will now be required of developers who have attempted to hide and alter these features from agencies and the public for two decades since development became the goal of it's owners.
Along with the Coastal Commission's authority, the Regional Water Quality Board is a key agency in determinations on the various wetlands of the area.
Banning Ranch is of regional importance in Orange County due to its size, diversity of native coastal habitat, scenic values and the fact that it is the last opportunity along 50 miles of coast to create a new state park.
Located on west side of Newport Beach, near the Santa Ana River, it contains a saltwater marsh, coastal bluffs, native California grasslands, significant arroyos, a complex of vernal pools and most important - a large expanse of open space surrounded by ongoing high-density developments being approved by Costa Mesa and Newport Beach agencies.
So the question is simple: When so much money is being made by development interests within a stone's throw of Banning Ranch, why is it that the cities and the county say they have no money to help finance the purchase of this area as a nature preserve or state park? Those local agencies are generating fees and property taxes from the exploding economic activity, why cant some of this be used for the greater benefit of people and ecosystem health in the future?
It has yielded oil profits for decades and development interests bought the land rights in recent years knowing the site's primary value as native habitat, which is why a program was set in place to destroy that habitat in order to conceal it from agencies.
Updated visual tour of vernal pool complex with federally protected San Diego Fairy Shrimp
News: June 10, 2015 Coastal Commission: Habitat removal case against West Newport Oil has been postponed. The hearing is described below.
"Cease and Desist Order No. CCC-15-CD-04 (West Newport Oil Company, Orange Co.) Public hearing and Commission action on proposed administrative order directing respondent to, among other things: (1) refrain from engaging in unpermitted development, including vegetation removal and oil production activities, at properties collectively known as Banning Ranch, located adjacent to 5100 block of West Coast Hwy, in unincorporated Orange County; (2) remove certain oil production structures and materials that are present on those properties as result of unpermitted activities; and (3) take steps to address existing unpermitted development."
Latest as of May 10, 2015
The developer's (NBR) application has been deemed complete by the Coastal Commission. Over the last two years the agency correctly refused earlier versions due to wells that did not have permits, biological reports that were inaccurate and other key elements.
Sometime in the next few months a hearing date will be set.
But this habitat has been subject to an intense and intentional campaign of habitat destruction that is almost unprecedented along the southern California coast.
The owner/developers have mowed, scraped and manipulated the area to the point of obscuring the biological baseline that agencies such as the Coastal Commission and US Fish & Wildlife rely on for evaluating projects, habitat and species.
Satellite images leave absolutely no doubt on the level of destruction and the intention behind the activities in what the Coastal Commission calls ESHA (environmentally sensitive habitat area).
News article: Coastal Commission dispute and oil wells
Groups: Banning Ranch Defenders, Save Newport Banning Ranch
Commentary: Value of nature on Banning Ranch
Commentary: Balance between development and open space