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Commentary: Draw the line against development at Banning Ranch

When is enough finally enough?

With the huge, new residential projects going up along the 405 Freeway from Costa Mesa to the Irvine Spectrum, is that not enough?

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With the densely packed complexes replacing industrial buildings on the Westside of Costa Mesa and Newport, is that not enough?

With the equivalent of a small town being built along overcrowded Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano by Ranch Mission Viejo, is that not enough?

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Was it not enough for Newport Coast mansions to cover most of the hills between Corona del Mar and Laguna not too long ago?

With traffic impacts through formerly peaceful neighborhoods seemingly doubling every few years, is that not enough?

The relentless pressure for more development has been allowed to rule while other priorities and values are left to struggle. The root cause is a system tied too closely to real estate profits, city and county coffers and political campaign donations.

Now, development of Banning Ranch is before the Coastal Commission. Since the very wise intent of the Coastal Act was to preserve places like this, a better outcome is possible if we show up to encourage commissioners.

We teach our kids to plan ahead for the future. It is for those kids at a place in coastal Orange County with no real imperative for development that this line must be drawn. Banning Ranch has clear borders of open wildness on one side and endless development on the other. It is one of the few places where local leaders could be standing up for something of lasting value, though not of the economic kind. Where are they?

The line is a simple way to escape the fudging excuses and technical arguments of developers who can call their project green and responsible all they want, but the fact is they chose the wrong place to cover with more cement.

Banning Ranch has the size and diversity of grasslands, bluffs, arroyos and rare animal species to serve as a nature preserve of statewide importance.

It has given profit enough to the local oil company that sold the development rights to the larger corporate partnership of Shell, Exxon, Aera Energy and NBR. It deserves a different fate because it is this area's last chance to deliver a responsible outcome of balance with the natural world that is our history, our source of beauty and our gift to the future. There are no other places along the coast left for this kind of choice.

That group of companies may own the land rights at the moment, but we own the bigger picture. That picture is to leave Banning Ranch unfragmented by structures. It waits for our local leaders to stand up and seize the opportunity to create a new and important nature preserve.

It also waits for your voice to be added to those at the Coastal Commission hearing on Sept. 7 at the Newport Beach Civic Center.

KEVIN NELSON is the head of the Nature Commission.

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