Despite last Friday’s postponement of the Coastal Commission’s vote on Banning Ranch, environmentalists will gather tomorrow morning at 8:00am for a press conference outside of the Newport Beach Civic Center to express disapproval of developing the 400-acre parcel of coastal bluffs. After addressing the press, those who gathered in support of saving the land will attend the Commission’s monthly meeting at 9 am.
“Although Banning Ranch isn’t on the agenda for [tomorrow], a lot of people are expected to address the Commission during the public comments period about why they shouldn’t approve the project,” says environmentalist Terry Welsh, who’s been fighting to save Banning Ranch for 17 years.
A member of the Banning Ranch Conservancy and Chairman of the Sierra Club, Welsh explains that building 895 homes and a hotel on 90 of 400 total acres isn’t just going to cause severe damage to the land, but will also destroy rare wildlife habitats. “There are Burrowing Owls that live on Banning Ranch, and they’re almost extinct. They make us environmentalists very excited every time they come and spend the winter in Southern California, but it’s hard to get the average Joe excited about trying to save the rare habitat.”
Banning Ranch is also home to one of two vernal pools, or temporary ponds of water that provide a habitat for distinctive plants and animals. The seasonal pool, according to Welsh, comes alive every spring, as it becomes the location in which fairy shrimp go through an entire reproductive cycle.
Although wildlife and native plants are signs of the land’s fertility, Banning Ranch is marred with oil rigs, abandoned wells and rusty pipes. The developers, Banning Ranch LLC, have promised a clean up of the land along with the new development, according to Welsh. “[Banning Ranch] has been an oilfield since the ’40s, so the land is unsightly in some areas. The developers have taken the Commissioners out to those areas, and sometimes the visual impression of seeing the eyesore of it all can kind of outweigh the science. But when you look at the data, animals don’t seem to think of the land as unlivable or unsightly, as many continue to come back year after year.”
But the land doesn’t just offer a home to rare wildlife and native plants, such as the prickly pear cactus. Banning Ranch is also a documented prehistoric Native American settlement, Welsh explains. “Many people don’t know that the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation are the original inhabitants of Orange County. The Juaneños and the tribe native to Los Angeles used Banning Ranch because the Santa Ana River was the dividing border between tribes. The descendants of those Native Americans are very concerned about the land and want to see it left alone because they consider it sacred.”
The Banning Ranch press conference will take place at 8 a.m. tomorrow with the Coastal Commission meeting immediately following at 100 Civic Center Dr., Newport Beach, Ca 92660.