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Commentary: Coastal Commission meeting raised concerns

I woke up Thursday morning with this question: "What happened?"

I am referring to the Coastal Commission hearing concerning the Banning Ranch development permit.

I was there at 9 a.m. with about 350 others, having taken a day off from our busy schedules to be present.

After our lunch break, I noticed about 30 newcomers with bright orange T-shirts that read, "Beyond green." I asked a young lady wearing one of those shirts the meaning of it. I received a kind, but extremely vague, response so I assumed she wasn't sure about it herself.

After the commission introduced the project, the developer voiced his disagreement with the findings of the commission staff, which was expected, but I had hoped for some semblance of appreciation for the habitat and wildlife that exists on the site as the development promotes itself as being dedicated to conservation.

Various presentations about the environmental sensitive habitat areas — wildlife, flora, wetlands and vernal pools on the 401 acres that constitutes Banning Ranch — ensued.

Concerns about the toxicity of the soil, due to the oil operations, that might be released during the grading of the soil, the extent of the grading needed to support such a development, the impact on our scarce water supply, our schools and the increase in traffic were also brought up.

I left around 5:30 p.m., as I had to get back to my family, as did most of us who had arrived in the morning. At this point, we felt very hopeful: we were more than 300 who attended the hearing. We had more than 7,000 signed petitions.

The commission staff had recommended, after completing an extensive and thorough 316 pages' report, a denial of the proposal of development, and we had one expert after another who had demonstrated the uniqueness of the Banning Ranch site and the multiple negative impacts development would have on our communities.

I continued to follow the hearing through the live stream and noticed that orange became a recurrent color at the lectern after our departure, with the main message being, ironically, to support the development to allow access to Banning Ranch, as if the creation of a permanent public open space would interfere with public access.

The commission's one visit to Banning Ranch became the most referred item to back the opinion of some commissioners, having apparently paid more attention to the abandoned oil processing equipment than to the actual habitat. It was as if some of the commissioners were relying solely on their personal history.

The resulting vote to postpone for 90 days left me with an uneasy feeling. I don't mind difference of opinions. I believe that it is good to challenge one's beliefs. I do mind ignorance though.

By the way, the staff report is an interesting read, that is, if you are interested in that sort of thing.

ISABELLE PHILLIPS lives in Newport Beach.

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