Plans for the proposed development of Banning Ranch cleared a major hurdle this week, with the Newport Beach Planning Commission's endorsement of a voluminous draft environmental impact report.
The commission approved the document 4 to 1 Thursday for the consideration of the City Council, which will make the final decision.
"Supporting the [report] doesn't mean support of the project," Chairman Michael Toerge said. "It means that the environmental issues have been adequately and fairly disclosed."
Commissioner Jay Myers dissented, and Commissioners Kory Kramer and Fred Ameri were absent.
"It's a gigantic project — about 9,000 pages of very detailed, often very complex information that was drawn out by very skilled experts," Myers said Friday. "There's a huge amount of moving parts involved. It was my sense that, given all the opposition, most of it very emotional … in my mind enough reasonable doubt existed that maybe not everything was perfect."
A standing room-only crowd, which spilled out into the Council Chambers lobby and building courtyard, was at Thursday's meeting.
"This is an issue we shouldn't even have to force," Banning Ranch Conservancy Executive Director Steve Ray said. "The general plan of Newport Beach in 2006 laid out, as a priority for Banning Ranch, that it would remain permanent open space and parks. That's what we are working toward."
The conservancy had hoped to present a four-hour comprehensive argument against the draft report, he said, but Toerge denied the request.
"There is simply no way to accommodate that and still remain fair to other members of the public who wish to be involved in the process," Toerge said just before the item was opened up to a public hearing about 9:30 p.m.
About 30 members spoke out against the report, citing concerns such as the identification of sensitive habitats and vernal pools, endangered species of rodents, birds and other native wildlife. There were also concerns over noise and pollution that could be caused by the nearly 400-acre Newport Banning Ranch project, which would include both residential and commercial properties.
"There are so many issues with this development that are not being taken seriously, and it's way too serious to turn a blind eye," said Susan Forster, a Newport Crest resident. "We're talking about people's health here."
About 2.6 million cubic yards of contaminated soil, caused by the oil fields, will have to be moved, risking harm to families who live and recreate in the area, Forster said.
"Kids are going to be playing in that park right next to ... the excavation and grading," Forster said. "I'm astounded on the lack of concern on the part of our local government."