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TimesOC: Land scarred by oil and gas industry may be restored in Newport Beach

"Sign up for our TimesOC newsletter" and the L.A. Times logo over the Huntington Beach Pier at sunset.
TimesOC, a newsletter about Orange County, is published Wednesdays and Fridays.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning and welcome to the TimesOC newsletter.

It’s Friday, May 21. I’m Ben Brazil, bringing you the latest roundup of Orange County news and events.

For more than a decade, conservationists have been trying to turn the former Banning Ranch oil field into a public park.

The battle has been long and arduous, but on Wednesday, the Trust for Public Land said it came to an agreement to purchase the hundreds of acres, with the help of a $50-million donation from various local philanthropists. Reporter Louis Sahagún wrote that the trust will now need to raise $47 million in a year to be able to foot the $97-million bill.

Sahagún wrote that it won’t be easy restoring land — which has fairy shrimp, peregrine falcons and gnatcatchers — that has been damaged by the oil and gas industry. The landowner has begun removing some of the wells and piping that wind throughout the property. It may take millions to clean up the land.

“An urban oasis will soon blossom in a place that has been mired for so long in legal strife and politics,” Guillermo Rodriguez, the Trust for Public Land’s state director, told Sahagún. “People have been waiting a long time for this, an immense new public park and nature preserve with easy access to public transportation and crisscrossed by bike and hiking trails connected to camping and picnic sites with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.”

Also somewhat environmentally related on Thursday, a 65-foot dead whale washed up on Bolsa Chica State Beach. Authorities said it would take a couple of days before the carcass could be removed.

Reporter Matt Szabo wrote that the U.S. Navy and National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration will investigate the death of the endangered fin whale. The Laguna Beach-based Pacific Marine Mammal Center also gathered samples of the animal.

The whale is believed to be one of two killed off the coast of San Diego by an Australian Navy ship.

“It’s proving to be just a little bit difficult, just because the whale is pretty decomposed,” Pacific Marine Mammal Center public relations manager Krysta Higuchi said to Szabo. “But we’re trying to take this sad incident and gather as much research and knowledge as we can, trying to get more metrics and life history of this animal. We don’t normally get this opportunity to get these types of samples from these animals.”

Coastal sage scrub blooms in the Banning Ranch oil field on the border of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

NEWS

— An Anaheim elementary school teacher was arrested this week on suspicion of possessing child pornography. Joseph Williams Page, who is on paid administrative leave, has been with the district for five years and has taught multiple grades.

— The Santa Ana City Council provided initial approval to an ordinance that allows police to target spectators who knowingly attend a street race within 200 feet of the event. Although a violation may include a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, the city must first provide a written warning to any accused spectator.

— Newport Mesa Unified School District Supt. Russell Lee-Sung announced this week that he will retire after 36 years in public education. Lee-Sung helped guide the district through distance learning as many called for schools to reopen during the pandemic. He is less than halfway through a two-year contract.

— The Community Action Partnership has been collecting school supplies and funds for low-income students as part of its Backpacks for Success program. The nonprofit said there is an increased need for the students, who range from kindergarten to high school seniors.

— A new flagpole hanging the American flag carries much significance for the seniors of a Huntington Beach community. Most of the residents of the Huntington Landmark senior community served in the military, so the flag is a potent symbol for them.

— Two UC Irvine physicians started producing face masks for hospital workers from a material used to sterilize surgical equipment. The pair formed a nonprofit, Recyclablu, and produced 10,000 masks for UCI Health employees from 1,200 pounds of medical waste. Now the nonprofit is focused on delivering masks to underserved communities.

— The Anaheim City Council this week denied a mandate to require hero pay for grocery and pharmacy workers. The ordinance would have allowed an increase of $3 per hour for 60 days. Several cities in Orange County have approved temporary wage hikes for grocery workers, but a few have been sued.

— Orange County is now in the yellow tier of the state’s color-coded reopening guidelines. While the county is now in the least restrictive reopening phase, residents and businesses are looking ahead to the state’s reopening of the economy on June 15.

SPORTS

— Mike Trout will likely be out of the Angels lineup until July due to a strained calf. Staff writer Bill Shaikin explains what the Angels can do in the meantime.

— The Fountain Valley High School girls’ tennis team defeated Sage Hill to advance to its first CIF final.

— A roundup of high school sports new from Orange County’s coastal cities.

LIFE & LEISURE

— An exhibition of works from plein air painter Rick J. Delanty will be on display at Casa Romantica in San Clemente. “Beauty Unites Us” showcases art inspired by the artist’s journal entries during COVID-19. Most of the pieces focus on landscapes in Orange County and the rest of the country.

OPINION

— A rundown of some grammar mistakes made when writers try too hard from columnist June Casagrande.

— Lynnette Mitchell, the director of nursing at Laguna Treatment Hospital in Aliso Viejo, wrote about the challenges of treating addiction during the COVID-19 pandemic.