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Commentary: Drought is a reminder not to develop open space

The governor of California recently imposed a mandatory 25% reduction in water use because of the state's drought, now in its fourth year.

Yet, some residents are living in developments that were built in the past four years.

All one has to do is drive out Jamboree Road to the 405 Freeway, or take the 133 tollway between the 405 and Lake Forest Drive, to see huge developments under construction or already completed.

The best government is that which governs the wisest.

Is it wise for state and local government to continue to allow major developments in the middle of a severe drought?

That is exactly what the Newport Beach City Council and the Newport Beach Planning Commission did by approving the Banning Ranch development. The project calls for 1,375 homes, a 75-room resort hotel and a 75,000-square-foot commercial center.

Banning Ranch is currently open space, combined with an active oil operation. According to the Newport Beach General Plan, the preferred use of Banning Ranch is as open space. The Banning Ranch Conservancy is trying to save Banning Ranch as open space, public park and coastal nature preserve.

Why not preserve Banning Ranch as open space? The primary reason appears to be money. The city of Newport Beach increases its revenue when a new development is completed. Ironically, it also makes money from the sale of water. So instead of encouraging open-space preservation, it continues to encourage development.

If the owners of Banning Ranch were to change their goals and decide to donate the land to Newport Beach for preservation as open space, wouldn't it help to prevent an increase in water rates by reducing overall development?

Wouldn't it also help prevent increased traffic gridlock? Wouldn't it actually enhance the quality of life for everyone in the surrounding communities and allow for a regional public amenity for everyone's enjoyment? Unfortunately, one can only hope.

JENNIFER W. FRUTIG lives in Newport Beach.

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