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Commentary: Politics aside, Banning Ranch agreement is good for Costa Mesa

August 04, 2012|By Byron de Arakal | By Byron de Arakal

It's always a bit dicey to scan the merits and malignancies of an issue through the prism of politics. Facts become pink elephants, context vanishes and fear runs around in our heads breaking all the dishes. I think that's what's happening in this regrettable dust-up over the Banning Ranch traffic mitigation agreement.

The Banning Ranch project is good — and, in my opinion, vital — for Costa Mesa. Thousands of new construction-related jobs, new consumers, more retails sales, new sales tax revenues, more revenues for local schools, new public recreation amenities and public access to one of the most beautiful coastal lands in Southern California.

But to the point here, the traffic mitigation agreement is reasonable and more than fair. I'll share why I think so in a minute.

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This Tuesday the Costa Mesa City Council will noodle on Councilwoman Wendy Leece's request to re-hear the council's July 17 approval of the Banning Ranch traffic pact. The agreement would funnel about $4.4 million into the city's bank account to help pay for road improvements needed to manage the roughly 15,000 daily car trips (not all of which will impact Costa Mesa streets) the Banning Ranch community is projected to generate. That's about $4.4 million more than Costa Mesa has the legal authority to extract from the developer.

Leece believes that's not good enough and that the city committed itself to the agreement too soon.

Now, I have the utmost respect and admiration for Leece. I had the pleasure of working with her on the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission. She cares deeply about Costa Mesa, and her commitment to the community is as real as it gets. Nevertheless, on this one I think she's wrong and the council should stick with its decision to enter into the agreement with the Banning Ranch folks.

Here's why.

Costa Mesa has no legislative authority to approve or deny the Banning Ranch project. That's because the project site is on unincorporated land within the sphere of influence of Newport Beach. Neither does Costa Mesa have the say-so to independently impose on the developer any kind of fee to help bankroll fresh roadway bandwidth within the city to accommodate traffic from the new community.

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