Written By SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel
Spartacus – a tiny rescue owl with an epic name – stood patiently on his perch surveying the crowds outside the California Coastal Commission meeting in Newport Beach on Wednesday, September 7, where the fate of the proposed Banning Ranch development project was being decided.
With his damaged eye and beak, Spartacus, a burrowing owl the size of a man’s hand who lives at the Orange County Bird of Prey Center, stood in silent testimony to the need to save Newport Beach’s 401-acre Banning Ranch property from residential and commercial development that would threaten the home of the burrowing owls and other endangered species that live on the coastal land.
Hundreds of people turned out for the public meeting, which started at 9 a.m. and lasted more than 13 hours.
Spectators stood along the walls and filled an extra, overflow room. More than 400 people signed up to speak.
Prior to the meeting Steve Ray, Executive Director of the Banning Ranch Conservancy, told SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel, “All of us working together are going to save Banning Ranch.”
And, finally, when the vote was taken late into the night, demonstrators against the project cheered. The commissioners voted 9 -1 against the proposed development, which would have put 895 homes, 45,000 sq. ft. of retail space, a hotel, and more on the site.
After a 20-year battle, environmentalists who want the oil company land restored and preserved, could breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate.
Darrel Ferguson and Tony Soriano, chairpersons of the Surfrider Foundation’s Newport Beach and Huntington/Seal Beach chapters, showed up to protest the development. Soriano said, “The Surfrider Foundation is about protecting the natural environment for everyone to enjoy.”
Merle Moshiri, of local organization Residents for Responsible Desalination, said, “We share the victory of the Banning Ranch Conservancy, but we have to remain vigilant. There’s too much exquisite land for developers to give up on.” Quoting the late Peter Douglas, the commission’s executive director for 26 years, she added: “’The coast is never saved, It is always Being saved.’”
Information booths were set up outside the civic center including one where people could make their own handmade signs.
The Coastal Commission’s acting executive director Jack Ainsworth told the audience he had made a promise that “our recommendations are based on facts, sound science and the law.” He emphasized “It is critically important that we get it right because we may not get a second chance.”
Along with the owls, 93 species of birds and many endangered wildlife reside in Banning Ranch and it is a resting point for migratory birds. (See SurfWriter Girls previous story in Surf’n Beach Scene Magazine. Just click: Owls)
In making its ruling, the commission said that the developer Newport Banning Ranch LLC can resubmit another proposal in six months.
Like his historical namesake who led a rebellion against the Roman army in 73 B.C., Spartacus, the owl, showed that he could win against a powerful force, too.
The little owl and its endangered brethren prevailed, charming people’s hearts.
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