Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel
Banning Ranch, a 401-acre stretch of private land that parallels the Santa Ana River and ends at the Pacific Coast Highway above Newport Beach, CA may not look like much…just scrub brush, wildflowers, cactus, wetlands, and some oil pumps. But, to developers it’s a potential goldmine.
Now that home – where the owls nest, hunt for food and raise their young – is threatened by a ruling in May from the California Coastal Commission that deems Banning Ranch “appropriate” for development…
with 895 homes, 45,000 sq.ft. of retail space and a hotel possibly going on the site. Plus a sports park and skateboard park, two parking lots and 4-lane, 50 mph roadway. (The developer Newport Banning Ranch LLC wants 1,375 houses.)
The ruling is controversial not only for going against staff recommendations to reject the project, but because it came after the firing of previous coastal commissioner Charles Lester, which upset environmentalists, who fear the commission is becoming politicized.
Now, on September 7 the Coastal Commission is voting on whether or not to approve the project.
Steve Ray, executive director of the Banning Ranch Conservancy, says the commission’s current recommendation underestimates the amount of natural habitat the owls need to survive. He notes that it fails to consider the owls’ daily activities. “The birds don’t just need a place to sit on a bush where their nest is. They need to forage and disperse.”
SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel learned that the Burrowing Owls are federally protected in the U.S., Canada and Mexico by the U.S. Migratory Birds Treaty Act.
They are also considered to be at risk at the state level and, depending on the state, are designated as “endangered,” “threatened,” or a “species of concern” (in California).
What’s more, the owls aren’t alone.
To date 93 species of birds have been identified at Banning Ranch, including the endangered California Gnatcatcher and Cactus Wren.
Assorted mammals, reptiles, amphibians and aquatic creatures live there, too. If the development proceeds, these animals and many of the site’s native plants could be threatened.
In addition to serving as a home to the Burrowing Owls and other animals, Banning Ranch is an important stop for migrating and wintering birds, who are increasingly finding fewer and fewer places to rest and nest in today’s urbanized environment.
After more than a century of development in Southern California, Banning Ranch is one of those rare stopping points and is the largest parcel of coastal open space and wetland property remaining in Orange County.
Banning Ranch images by Nature Commission
Along with this, SurfWriter Girls found out that Banning Ranch was once a ritual and trading hub for the Tongva and Acjachemen Native American Nations. Eight Native American cultural sites have been identified at the ranch.
Some sites, estimated to date back over 3,000 years, are so significant that they have been listed as “sacred land” by the California State Native American Heritage Commission.
Any proposed development would have to ensure that these ancient sites are protected – a difficult task considering the project requires moving 2.8 million cubic yards of earth as part of the planned grading activities.
How big will our carbon footprint be? How much increased water usage, energy consumption and urban pollution can we tolerate?
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
The California Coastal Commission is meeting again on September 7, 2016, at 9 a.m. in the Newport Beach City Council Chambers, 100 Civic Center Drive, N.B., 92660, to vote on the fate of Banning Ranch.
Will anyone speak for the owls? Hoo?
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