Banning Ranch development approval didn’t violate law, court rules

A state appeals judge ruled Wednesday that Newport Beach’s approval of development plans for Banning Ranch did not violate city laws.

Judge Raymond J. Ikola, writing for a three-judge panel of the California 4th District Court of Appeals, said that the city did not violate its general plan, which prioritizes that land in West Newport be kept as open space, during the process of approving the development project in 2012.

The development planned for the 401-acre parcel of land overlooking the ocean near Pacific Coast Highway includes 1,375 homes, a 75-room hotel, a commercial area and a portion of open space.

The Banning Ranch Conservancy, an environmental advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court against Newport Beach after the City Council approved the development. The conservancy argued in the lawsuit that the city did not work with the Coastal Commission in prioritizing specific areas of preservation in violation of city laws.

The conservancy also alleged that the project’s environmental impact report did not detail mitigation for the project’s significant impacts, according to court documents.

In late 2013, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled in the conservancy’s favor on the alleged general plan violation. However, the judge also ruled that the project’s environmental impact report was adequate.

The city filed an appeal in January 2014.

Ikola wrote in his decision Wednesday that the city repeatedly acknowledged that the Coastal Commission would need to provide a coastal development permit before the project is built.

“The city also cites various mitigation measures included in the [environmental impact report] as proof that it intends to work with the Coastal Commission in the future,” he wrote.

Coastal Commission staff was also able to submit comments that were included in the environmental impact report, according to court documents.

“The city’s decision to forgo additional engagement with the Coastal Commission prior to the project approval did not make the project inconsistent with the general plan,” he wrote.

The ruling also means the conservancy will have to pay back the city’s costs for appealing the lawsuit. It is not clear how much the city has spent on the lawsuit.

Banning Ranch Conservancy President Terry Welsh said he is “very disappointed” with the decision.

“We’re contemplating our next move,” he said.

The California Coastal Commission will decide whether to approve the Banning Ranch project during a hearing in October.