At around 10:30 p.m. last night, the California Coastal Commission voted 9-1 against the development of Banning Ranch. The hearing started yesterday morning at 9:00 am with nearly 400 people in attendance at the Newport Beach Civic Center. Even the second room used for overflow was packed with people sitting on the ground and spilling out of the doors. By the time 10:30 p.m. rolled around, the crowd had thinned out substantially. But there were still nearly 120 people who stuck around all day to hear the Coastal Commission’s verdict.
“I’ve been telling everyone I know about what’s going to happen to Newport Beach and Costa Mesa if this project gets approved,” says Costa Mesa resident Raymond Johnson. “I didn’t go to work today for this. Skipping a day of pay is far less important to me than the consequences this project will have in the future. We aren’t the ones who are going to feel the repercussions of this—our kids are.”
Johnson, a father of two, wore a bright green “Save Banning Ranch” shirt and stayed on the outside of the main hearing room, holding up a green “Save Banning Ranch” sign against the window all day for the Commissioners to see. He arrived to the hearing at 10 am, and stayed until the Coastal Commission made their final decision. “I honestly wasn’t sure how this day was going to go,” he said. “Some faith has been restored in the commission and other state agencies. Everyone is so corrupt these days… It’s nice that corruption didn’t rear it’s ugly head today.”
The Newport Banning Ranch LLC hoped to build nearly 900 homes, a new hotel, a hostel and a shopping center. Their marketing campaign framed the project as a way not to waste the land, and in turn, clean, restore and open Banning Ranch for community use. “The land will have educational value to children and animals' habitats will be cleaned up and restored,” a development supporter told the Coastal Commission in the public comments section. “Right now the land is being wasted. How does this benefit anyone?”
Perhaps the most interesting points of view were presented when members of the indigenous tribes of Orange County gave 10 minute presentations to the Commissioners. In August, the Newport Banning Ranch developers sent out a press release stating that they had the support of the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians (Kizh Nation) and the Tongva Ancestral Territorial Tribal Nation. Yesterday members of both tribes came not only to inform the commissioners, but also to inform the public that tribe politics do exist. Tribes publicly supporting the development of Banning Ranch (Native American land) is proof of those politics, according to members of the Gabrieleño and Tongva tribes. Members of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians of the Acjachemen Nation also came to speak to the commission, emphasizing the importance of the land.
After nearly 13 hours of assessing the project, Commissioner Mary Shallenberg pointed out that the developer and commission staff were on two different pages about the recommended size of the project. Shallenberg made the motion to deny the development of Banning Ranch, saying that after the testimony from the staff report, the developer and the public it was clear to her that they were still far from agreement. “The developer has made it clear they do not accept staff’s recommendation,” she said. “This is a project we have to get right. We can’t get just good enough on this one.”
The only commissioner who supported the development project was Commissioner Roberto Uranga, who said he believes the land should be used by the public. He also supported the development of the land because of the educational opportunities he believes it offers children.
Dayna Bochco was the final commissioner to state her stance on the project. Although admitting the outcomes of the project are great, she said that the project would be better if it were to be built on different land. “I think if we support the motion of a denial today, it still won’t be the end of this project. What we really need to do is take a much closer look at this sensitive habitat. This particular piece of property is so fragile, and it has been decimated for 70 years…This project would be better in a different place.”
Although the Coastal Commission voted against the development of Banning Ranch, the fight for this open parcel of land probably isn’t over just yet. The commissioners made note of the fact that if the developers pursue litigation after the vote (which is likely), a judge may force them to pass their plans. But as for now, the sacred grounds of Banning Ranch are safe. May the Burrowing Owls and Fairy Shrimp rejoice!