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Banning Ranch Clean Up/Acquisition Alternatives
The Banning Ranch property will require significant cleanup efforts. While the extent of contamination and costs are largely unknown, there could be some funding sources from both state and federal entities. There is information available on the Environmental Protection Agency website concerning its "Brownfields Redevelopment and Land Revitalization" Grant Program to state and local governments: http://www.epa.gov/SoCal/redevelopment/brownfields.html#land.

In brief, as described on the EPA website:

"EPA is currently providing funding and other assistance to communities throughout Southern California to help clean and redevelop sites contaminated with wastes and other toxic substances." In addition to the Superfund program, EPA also addresses sites through both its Brownfields and Land Revitalization programs.

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EPA's Brownfields program empowers states, communities, and other stakeholders to work together to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields. A brownfield site is real property which needs to have contamination removed before it can be redeveloped or reused. EPA provides financial assistance for brownfields through four competitive grant programs: assessment grants, revolving loan fund grants, cleanup grants, and job training grants. Additionally, funding support is provided to state and tribal response programs."

The website then describes "Brownfields Success Stories in Southern California Communities." Of particular interest is the City of Orange "Grijala Park Expansion."

The City of Orange project as described by the EPA:
"The City of Orange was awarded Brownfields Assessment and Cleanup Grant funds to redevelop two former landfill and railroad properties into City park sites. While the City adopted the California state standard of three acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents, there has been no park development in the areas around the targeted sites over the last decade. The City has been unable to keep pace with the substantial increase in residential development in the areas around the targeted sites. The grant funds targeted the city-owned Cerro Villa site and a former railroad property. Both targeted sites have had a negative effect on the surrounding communities. Portions of the railroad property, which currently houses an asphalt batch plant, have been used as a landfill, surface mine, and materials processing plant. The Cerro Villa property, which also is a former landfill, is now surrounded by residential development. The assessment concluded that a landfill cap will be needed before the 42-acre Grijalva Park at Santiago Creek can be redeveloped.  The park expansion will include the City’s first indoor gymnasium.  The project is expected to be completed by the summer 2008."

Below is the EPA's public announcement regarding the project. As you can see, the City of Orange "was in need of open space." The City of Orange received a total of $400,000 in grants from the EPA for environmental assessment and clean up. In addition, $3.9 million was obtained from "State Proposition 40 park grants."

City of Orange grant for cleanup - Grijavla Park at Santiago Creek (pdf format)

The similarities between this City of Orange "park environmental clean up" project and the situation with Banning Ranch are compelling. The City of Newport Beach voter approved General Plan prioritizes the acquisition of Banning Ranch as "open space." The City's objection to its acquisition is based upon lack of alternatives to local taxpayer funding. Yet here is a local Orange County community that acquired and cleaned up contaminated property for a park without "local taxpayer funding."

The California Department of Parks and Recreation also could be a potential funding source. Its Office of Grants and Local Services "administers grant programs that provide funds to local and state agencies and other organizations. Grants are generally for park, recreation and resources related projects." The webpage is: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1008. The Office of Grants and Local Services lists a number of grant programs for parks, recreation and resource related projects." Of particular interest among the grant programs listed to the Conservancy regarding Banning Ranch's acquisition and clean up is "Proposition 84 -2006 Safe Drinking Water Act."  As discussed below, Proposition 84 could be a viable option as a grant program/funding source for the acquisition and restoration of Banning Ranch.
 
Proposition 84 - the "Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006"- was passed by voters on November 7, 2006 and was codified as Public Resources Code 75001. The ballot measure called for the preservation of safe drinking water, protection against catastrophic floods and pollution, and "preservation of resources." Under its provisions, a total of $5.388 billion were authorized for these purposes. Under Section 75003 it is stated "by the people of California" that it is "in the public interest to do all of the following." As to resource preservation Section 75003 includes the following: 
  1. Protect the rivers, lakes and streams of the state from pollution, loss of water quality, and destruction of fish and wildlife habitat
  2. Protect the beaches, bays and coastal waters of the state for future generations
  3. Revitalizing our communities and making them more sustainable and livable by investing in sound land use planning, local parks and urban greening
All of the above stated goals of Proposition 84 would be supported by the acquisition and restoration of Banning Ranch as parkland/nature preserve. Public Resources Code 75071 lists the "priority characteristics" to be used in evaluating potential "natural resource protection" projects under Prop. 84. According to Section 75071, in evaluating potential projects that include acquisition or restoration for the purpose of natural resource protection, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Board (Wildlife Conservation Board), and the State Coastal Conservancy shall give priority to projects that demonstrate one or more of the following characteristics:
  1. Landscape/Habitat Linkages: properties that link to, or contribute to linking, existing protected areas with other large blocks of protected habitat. Linkages must serve to connect existing protected areas, facilitate wildlife movement or botanical transfer, and result in sustainable combined acreage
  2. Watershed Protection: projects that contribute to long-term protection of and improvement to the water and biological quality of the streams, aquifers, and terrestrial resources of priority watersheds of the major biological regions of the state as identified by the Resources Agency
  3. Properties that support relatively large areas of under-protected major habitat types
  4. Properties that provide habitat linkages between two or more major biological regions of the state
  5. Properties for which there is a non-state matching contribution toward the acquisition, restoration, stewardship or management costs. Matching contributions can be either monetary or in the form of services, including volunteer services
All of the project priority criteria of Section 75071 above, is met by Banning Ranch:
  1. Banning Ranch's adjacent location to the proposed Santa Ana River Parkway/Orange Coast River Park project(s)-discussed on the BRC website - protected areas including the Talbert Nature Reserve
  2. Banning Ranch's adjacent location to the Santa Ana river and the Army Corp of Engineers' Semeniuk Slough wetlands restoration project
  3. Banning Ranch while privately owned, has been designated as critical gnatcatcher habitat by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
  4. The Santa Ana River Parkway project encompasses the entire Santa Ana River area which includes three counties - Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino;
  5. The availability of Measure M funds and/or the Federal EPA's "Brownfields" grant program (see above).
 
Listed on the Dept. of Parks and Recreation Office of Grants and Local Services webpage is a weblink to "Proposition 84 projects." One of the projects listed is the "Fort Bragg Coastal Park" described as a 30-acre new park which includes restoration of a former saw mill site. According to the link to "Fort Bragg Coastal Park" the project will include local native plants; industrial property will be restored to native habitat and the park will have four miles of multi-use trails and a ten-acre recreation field. For the project the City of Fort Bragg received $4,844,495 in Prop. 84 grant funds from the Office of Grants and Local Services. The similarities between the BRC's park objective/proposed use for Banning Ranch and the Fort Bragg Coastal Park project are very close.
 
In addition to the Department of Parks and Recreation, two other state agencies - the State Coastal Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Board - were given funding under Prop 84 for projects. Under Section 75050 (i) the State Coastal Conservancy was expressly allocated $45 million "for projects to expand and improve the Santa Ana River Parkway."  A weblink regarding Prop 84 funding of the Santa Ana River Parkway project is: http://bondaccountability.resources.ca.gov/plevel1.aspx?id=28&pid=4. According to another weblink, as of 8/08/11 the California Resources Agency lists Prop. 84 "Allocation Balance as $924,132,572." Under Prop 84/Section 75071 three separate state agencies - the Dept. of Parks and Recreation, the State Coastal Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Board - could be a source of Prop 84 grants.

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