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Harlan: Councilmen should explain their Banning votes

July 28, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

If you listened carefully July 17, about 10:30 p.m., you could hear Newport Banning Ranch LLC, the namesake project's developer, wrapping its arms around a huge pile of poker chips and drawing them near as it suppressed a smug smile.

Costa Mesa, suckers.

That's the image that came to mind after the Costa Mesa City Council majority approved an agreement with the developer to accept $4.4 million for traffic mitigation of the yet-to-be-entitled Banning Ranch project.

Oh, and the city walked away from the table only after signing away our legal rights to oppose the project too.

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In two hours of public comment, all but one of the 35 speakers voiced their well-reasoned concerns about entering into an agreement with the developer so early in the entitlement process.

After the community consistently made its case that this action was premature, not based on all of the necessary facts and generally a horrible deal for all Costa Mesans, the council took all of 15 minutes to ask staff a handful of questions.

And before you could even blink, a motion was made and seconded, the question was called, and the council majority voted.

Maybe even more troubling than the vote was the fact that not one council member had the decency to explain his position to the public. (Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissented.)

Obviously, the proposed Banning Ranch development is a contentious issue (despite the fact that this item was placed on the consent calendar) and would impact the city as a whole.

While the questions from the dais may have shed some light on the councilmen's thought process, we deserve to hear directly from them why they cast their vote in favor of the agreement.

Here's a brief list of questions I'd like the councilmen to answer:

•Why are they taking any action now when the approval process will continue for at least another year?

Although the Newport Beach City Council, as expected, unanimously approved the project this week, the developer ultimately needs final approvals from the California Coastal Commission and other state and federal regulatory agencies. This is far from a sure thing, and will not be decided for several months, if not much longer. By accepting this agreement now, the council eliminated all of the city's leverage in the negotiating process. Why go all in now when there are plenty more cards to be played?

•Why are they willing to accept only $4.4 million for traffic mitigation when Costa Mesa is expected to bear the brunt of the project's impacts?

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