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TimesOC: Movement to preserve former oil field gets more support

"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, Jan. 21. I’m Ben Brazil, bringing you the latest roundup of Orange County news and events.

The decades-long dream of local conservationists to preserve the former Banning Ranch oil field is closer to becoming a reality after the Costa Mesa City Council pledged its support this week of a plan to raise $97 million to acquire the land.

The deal has been in the works for the last year since the Trust for Public Land came to an agreement to purchase the hundreds of acres, with the help of a $50-million donation from various local philanthropists. The trust was given about a year to raise another $47 million for the deal. Reporter Sara Cardine wrote this week that $83 million has been raised so far.

Costa Mesa‘s support is significant for the movement. It is the first city in Orange County to publicly support the preservation movement, and it could help the trust secure state grants to help close the funding gap.

“This is a project many, many, many Costa Mesans have been working on for decades, and it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us,” said Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds. “[I] recognize the value of us as a council supporting this resolution, in terms of closing the deal for this acquisition ... My understanding is it’s close but certainly not guaranteed.”

A photo of Banning Ranch.
Banning Ranch, a former oil field, is winning support from preservation.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

After the property is purchased, a significant cleanup effort will be underway. Cardine said the two- to three-year effort will involve cleaning the damage caused by years of oil operations. The activists will also work with local Native American tribes with the goal of developing parks and open space. The land is located between Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.

It likely won’t be easy restoring the 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 cost millions of dollars to clean up the land.

But activists and Costa Mesa officials feel it is worth the decades of work.

“This is going to be incredible, and it’s going to be an amazing asset,” said Terry Welsh, president of the nonprofit Banning Ranch Conservancy and a Costa Mesa resident. “To think that Costa Mesa, my town, is the first city to consider a resolution of support for this just makes my Costa Mesa heart swell with gratitude.”

Bulmaro "Boomer" Vicente is the policy director of Chispa and has announced a run for state Assembly.
(Kevin Chang / TimesOC)

MORE NEWS

Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente, a young progressive activist in Orange County, has announced his candidacy for state assemblyman. He’ll be looking to challenge Tom Daly, one of the more established Democratic names in the county. Boomer was moved to run, in part, by the campaign for a new state law that allows for police officers to be decertified for misconduct, wrote my colleague Gabriel San Román. Chispa, a nonprofit Boomer is a part of, worked to get the bill approved. “It showed the power of young Latinos mobilizing, not just here in Orange County but across the state,” Vicente said. “It showed me the political will for progressive change.”

A controversial desalination plant in Huntington Beach could be in line to receive millions in state bonds. A state committee this week approved $510 million to go towards a pool of facilities, possibly including the Poseidon Water plant. The company had originally submitted an application in 2019 for $1.1 billion in funding through the California Pollution Control Financing Authority. It isn’t yet clear how much money the desalination plant could get.

The Salvation Army is looking to reintegrate homeless people back into the community with its Center of Hope in Anaheim. The center will include shelter, permanent supportive housing and a host of support services including job training and drug rehabilitation. The organization will break ground on the massive campus later this month.

Ilse Byrnes, a local historian and conservationist, is being remembered for her many accomplishments after passing away earlier this month at the age of 94. The longtime resident of San Juan Capistrano worked to gain federal recognition for many historical properties in Orange County. Of the 13 San Juan Capistrano properties listed in the National Register’s database, Byrnes submitted applications for nine, wrote reporter Meghann Cuniff. “For every single project, she never charged the city a cent,” said Jan Siegel, a longtime friend and fellow researcher. “She just took it upon herself to do all these things, and thank God she did. Heaven knows what would have happened if it hadn’t been for her.” 

Laguna Beach High has been offering students guidance on their academic future with a College Unplugged event since 2015. The event features alumni speakers who provide direction to the school’s students.

A Fountain Valley resident was arrested on suspicion of fatally hitting a bicyclist near Mile Square Regional Park. The suspect had originally fled the scene but was located by police in Westminster.

Sunny Cal Farms owner Shaun Rosendahl, center, hands out fruit samples to visitors.
(Kevin Chang / TimesOC)

LIFE AND LEISURE

Some Orange County farmers markets and restaurants get their produce from a farm based in Fresno County. Specializing in stone fruits and citrus, Sunny Cal Farms comes down to Orange County because its owner finds the markets less competitive than in Los Angeles. Customers rave about the quality of the produce. “Quality is I think the biggest reason why,” said Blake Mellgren, owner and chef at Craft House in Dana Point. “When you have things that are grown in season, you are going to get the best quality from the ingredient and in turn the best flavor profile for the customer.”

Classic cars designed by the famed Carroll Shelby are on display at the Segerstrom Shelby Event Center and Museum in Irvine. The venue is featuring 83 of some of the rarest Shelby cars ever produced, wrote my colleague Sarah Mosqueda.

Ocean View’s Jeremiah Santiago (22) drives to the basket against Garden Grove
(James Carbone)

SPORTS

The Ocean View boys’ basketball team has been contending with cancelled games and practices due to the rampant spread of the Omicron variant. During the team’s narrow loss this week against Garden Grove, it was clear that the team has been impacted by the unpredictible start to the season. “We’ve got three or four kids coming off COVID protocol, and they’re not in full condition yet, but you have to [give] Garden Grove all the credit in the world,” head coach Steve Harris said. “They did a great job of slowing us down. We’re usually a higher-scoring team, and we were forced to play their tempo, and obviously, we shot very, very poorly. Probably missed 20 shots inside the key.”

The Newport Harbor girls’ water polo team earned a strong win over Laguna Beach this week, dominating early and holding onto the lead. The Sailors are now in contention for a share of the league title.

Here’s a roundup of high school sports scores from Orange County coastal cities, including the Edison girls’ water polo team defeating Huntington Beach for the first time in seven years. Lily Ensley also scored four goals to lead the Marina Vikings to a commanding 11-4 win over Fountain Valley.

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