Sunset Ridge application headed back to Coastal Commission

The California Coastal Commission is scheduled to rehear Thursday the application for Sunset Ridge Park, a proposed Newport Beach city sports field.

The hearing will be a showdown between city attorneys and commission staff members, who have repeatedly rejected the park.

Planned for the bluff above West Coast Highway and Superior Avenue, the park would add needed playing space for the west side of town. But some commissioners and their staff have flagged the park's impact on protected bird habitat.

In November, commissioners said a park entrance road would really be part of the larger Banning Ranch development planned for neighboring land, and the road should be considered in context of the larger project's environmental impacts.

City staff members withdrew the park application before it could be denied, and resubmitted the proposal without the access road. The revised plan has people parking across Superior and walking to the sports fields.

But the commission staff recommended that the new application also be denied because coastal sage scrub on the land is habitat for the California gnatcatcher, a protected bird. It also claims that the city's landscape maintenance there — including the mowing of scrub — is illegal.

The city says that the mowing has been taking place since the 1960s, and that it's permissible regardless. City attorneys also contend that California Department of Transportation sold the city the land in 2006 with the understanding that it would become a park.

In other Coastal Commission news, the state body decided in a closed meeting not to appeal a decision by the California Supreme Court to allow homeowners on the private Bay Island to keep a new bridge private, according to the chief counsel of the group. An appellate court ruled in June that homeowners could keep a new bridge private, despite a commission order to make it public.

Twitter: @mreicher

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