Last May, the California Coastal Commission postponed a decision on whether to build on the 401-acre parcel of land in Newport Beach known as Banning Ranch. Much controversy lies around the rundown, barren land because it's home to several nearly extinct species, like the burrowing owl and the fairy shrimp— who go through an entire reproductive cycle each spring in the land's vernal pools. But Banning Ranch is also a documented Native American settlement, used by many Southern California Native American tribes. Thus, the land is considered sacred by the descendants of these Native peoples.
On August 4, Newport Banning Ranch (NBR), which hopes to develop the land, sent out a press release announcing that the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians (Kizh Nation) and the Tongva Ancestral Territorial Tribal Nation are supporting building on the land. According to NBR's new development plans, the project will remove the fence that lines the perimeter of the grounds and create hiking and biking trails. 70 of the 401 acres will be used for limited housing, a boutique hotel and hostel, and a retail center. This new plan, according to NBR, uses about 35 percent less land, and claims to reduce the development footprint to less than 20 percent of the property.
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At 1:30 pm today, the Newport Banning Land Trust and Gabrieleño Indians are teaming up to host a hands-on educational tour for local youth at Banning Ranch. According to a press release issued earlier this week, environmentalists, biologists and local tribe leaders will take youth around the property and teach them about native plants and animals. Chief Ernie of the Gabrieleño Indians will be there sharing artifacts with kids and teaching them about every day life as a Native American.
“The [Newport Banning Ranch owners] have gone the extra mile and are respectfully taking all the important measures to ensure our needs are met to protect and preserve areas of this remaining site,” Chairman Andy Salas of the Gabrieleños, said a press release. "If this project does not go through with this developer and the land conserved for perpetuity, who's to say that the next land owner will have the same heart and respect as these folks.”
Although a compromise was reached between the Gabrieleño Indians, the Tongva Ancestral Territorial Tribal Nation (who are closely related tribes that dominated the Los Angeles area) and NBR, questions remain. What about the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians of the Acjachemen Nation, who were the first inhabitants of Orange County and actually used Banning Ranch on a daily basis? What about the nearly extinct fairy shrimp and Burrowing Owl that use Banning Ranch to survive? And does coastal Orange County really need less open space and more real estate development?
On September 8th, the California Coastal Commission will meet in Newport Beach to vote on what to do with the 401 acres that make up Banning Ranch.