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Mailbag: Planners limited debate on Banning Ranch

April 03, 2012
  • An Egret fishes in one of the lower ponds on the west side of Banning Ranch property.
An Egret fishes in one of the lower ponds on the west side… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

This is an open letter to the Newport Beach Planning Commission.

On March 22, my husband and I were among the standing-room-only crowd assembled at City Council Chambers to hear the two agenda items scheduled by the commission for public discussion ("Planners send review onward," March 24).

We were there for the second item, the Banning Ranch draft environmental impact report (DEIR), but we noted a common thread throughout both deliberations: Change is inevitable. Indeed, one of the commissioners justified his vote for the first agenda item, development in Corona del Mar village, by saying that, and I am paraphrasing, things change and we have to adjust.

Change may or may not be inevitable, but change isn't inevitably for the better. Change can benefit one group over another. Change can hurt all concerned. It can take several steps back rather than forward. At its worst, change can cause precious things to be lost in the trade-offs that unrelenting progress demands.

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After sitting through six hours of proceedings that night, waiting for decisions on two development projects — one of them Banning Ranch, which is arguably the most ambitious project in Newport Beach history — my husband and I agreed that we could sum up the results with a score card: Goliath: 2, David: 0.

Development won the night — and a very long night it was. The crowds packing the chambers were adamantly against more development. In the case of Corona del Mar, they wanted the area's unique sense of community and architectural traditions respected. In the case of Banning Ranch, a 400-acre parcel of coastal land in West Newport Beach, they wanted an irreplaceable natural resource preserved and protected as open space. The West Newport residents wanted protection from the traffic quagmire the huge development will create and from unsafe levels of air and noise pollution. The health and safety hazards of developing a 70-year-old oil field with nearly 500 wells were also grave concerns.

In Chairman Michael Toerge's preamble to the Banning Ranch public hearing, he noted that public comments could be intimidating, but also emphasized the strict three-minute time period, pointing out yellow and red lights that would assail commenters as they talked. I wonder when Toerge was last limited to three minutes to speak of profound impacts to his life, health and safety. I wonder how effective he would have been in his comments.

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