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Coastal Commission affirms denial of Banning Ranch project; developer vows to continue fight

After a roughly nine-hour session in September, the California Coastal Commission voted 9-1 against a residential and commercial development proposed for Banning Ranch in Newport Beach.

On Thursday,  the commission confirmed its reasons for denial of plans for the 401-acre undeveloped coastal expanse.

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The commission's latest move was largely procedural, formalizing the panel's reasoning for rejecting Newport Banning Ranch LLC's proposal for 895 homes, a 75-room hotel, a 20-bed hostel and 45,100 square feet of retail space on 62 acres.

The commission is concerned that the development does not comply with environmental laws that protect the area's various species and habitats.

Newport Banning Ranch attorney Steven Kaufmann contended that the commission's vote Thursday would preclude any future consideration of development at Banning Ranch.

But the commission's staff said the developer is not prohibited from presenting another project.

Kaufmann asked that the commission include language in its denial saying it lacked "site-specific or scientific information" and thus could not determine whether the development is consistent with the state Coastal Act. He said the commission didn't have enough information on the potential environmental impacts and mitigation measures when they initially voted in September.

Steve Ray, executive director of the Banning Ranch Conservancy, which opposes the project, compared the request to a desperate "Hail Mary" pass in football.

"They're asking you to throw them a Hail Mary pass in the end zone ... to maybe have a ghost of a chance of winning in court," Ray told the commissioners.

Ray questioned why Newport Banning Ranch refuses to accept the commission's decision. The company filed a lawsuit in November challenging the panel rejection of its project.

"No means no," Ray said. "It doesn't comply with the Coastal Act ... this [project] didn't pass the smell test. It was not to be there."

After the meeting, Newport Banning Ranch spokesman Sam Singer called the commission's report on its denial "riddled with errors, misinformation and incorrect data."

Singer said the commission threatens to keep Banning Ranch — some of which is an active oilfield — fenced off for future generations as an "industrial brownfield."

"The commission has passed up a vital opportunity to obtain additional information about the Newport Banning Ranch site — something the commissioners specifically requested at the September 2016 hearing," Singer said in an email. "Their action today attempts to cement the incomplete view of the evidence, questionable analysis and unfair and unfortunate conclusions."

He said the company will continue with its lawsuit, which he said will "demonstrate the extraordinary and unprecedented amount of procedural errors, misinformation and errors in fact that failed to provide the opportunity for a balanced decision that considered all the facts."

"These actions have led to the illegal taking of our property rights and is a violation of the 5th and 14th amendments to the Constitution," Singer said.

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Twitter: @BradleyZint

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