As Banning Ranch developers prepare their application for the California Coastal Commission, conservationists are still hoping they will someday be able to buy the ranch's 400 acres and preserve it all as open space.
But after Monday night's 6-0 vote by the Newport Beach City Council, the ranch's owners are one step closer to 1,375 homes and other land uses, approvals that would make the West Newport property much more valuable than it is today as open space and oil fields.
Banning Ranch Conservancy leaders say they aren't daunted. They hope a $5-million anonymous gift announced Monday will be "a game-changer" and "a catalyst for more private donations" that get them closer to the sale price. In 2008 the land was pegged to be valued between $138 million and $158 million.
But the conservancy faces many obstacles. The land owners have a list of conditions they say haven't been met, and experts say the conservancy has a slim chance of raising enough money in the first place, considering the scarce government and private funds available today for open-space acquisitions.