On Thursday, March 12, at the California Coastal Commission Enforcement Hearing in Chula Vista, Newport Banning Ranch LLC (NBR), the developer, and the California Coastal Commission reached an agreement regarding the developer's alleged Coastal Act violations.
NBR was cited with two major violations of the Coastal Act, unpermitted habitat destruction on the Banning Ranch and unpermitted oil well activity. The settlement requires NBR to permanently halt the mowing and clearing of habitat, other than for fire prevention measures required by the Orange County Fire Authority. They have also agreed to remove or seek permits for over 40 oil wells that were drilled and operated without development permits. West Newport Oil Company, the Banning Ranch oil operator, was not part of this agreement and they are not bound by it. They are currently in negotiations with Coastal staff in an attempt to reach their own settlement agreement.
The public turned out in large numbers in support of saving Banning Ranch as open space. They held up colorful and creative signs, including hand-drawn pictures of the Banning Ranch wildlife that may be displaced or killed during the proposed development's ten-year construction period. Commissioner Mark Vargas acknowledged the crowd with his comment: "This is a very complicated issue that has a lot of public attention and our attention for the right reasons. It's the only open space left in this area of Orange County."
The Conservancy concurred with the settlement agreement, but with some concerns and conditions, which included the amount of acreage allotted for restoration and mitigation, which is less than half the 40-plus acres of habitat disturbed by the excessive vegetation removal and oil field activity. Nevertheless, Conservancy President, Terry Welsh, expressed his pleasure with one aspect of the agreement: "Three years ago, we would have only dreamed of having the mowing stopped, so you have to be happy with that."
All in all, the Conservancy believes this is a significant step forward in our 15-year effort to save Banning Ranch from development and we want to thank our amazing supporters for standing beside us at the hearing. Caring people, united in a worthy cause, can make things happen!!
The Conservancy's VISION PLAN can now be accessed online. Please click here to see our VISION PLAN.
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