City to vote on $4.4 million proposal

The Costa Mesa City Council plans to vote Tuesday on a proposed deal with Banning Ranch developers that would give the city $4.4 million for traffic improvements.

However, if the city of Costa Mesa accepts money to make the improvements it must agree to forgo any formal opposition to the project, which would include homes, commercial development and a hotel just across city limits in Newport Beach.

The contract with Newport Banning Ranch LLC is expected to bring Westside Costa Mesa residents and Banning Ranch development critics out in force, many of whom argue that building on the 401-acre site would hurt the environment and bring unwanted noise, pollution and traffic.

Costa Mesa has no formal say in whether the old oil fields in Newport are developed, but the city is expected to see increased traffic as a result since the development is so close.

"We don't approve or disapprove the project, we're just saying if it gets approved you get this process, you're required to pay us this much money for mitigation," Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said Monday. "What we do have the ability to do is say there's costs here and we want to be reimbursed for those costs."

Costa Mesa City CEO Tom Hatch placed the agreement on the consent calendar section of Tuesday's agenda, where items are deemed non-controversial and don't warrant council discussion.

However, a member of the council can pull a consent calendar item for discussion, as is routine, city spokesman Bill Lobdell said in an email.

Environmentalists who want to clean up Banning Ranch, which has been contaminated by oil production, and make it passive open space rather than see it developed for homes. They plan oppose the item on the council agenda and speak out at the council meeting.

They'd rather not see Costa Mesa agree to the terms of accepting payment for traffic improvements.

"I hope these guys realize what a mistake they're making," said Costa Mesa resident Terry Welsh, president of the Banning Ranch Conservancy, a grass-roots group opposed to developing the site.

Under the contract, Newport Banning Ranch LLC would pay Costa Mesa $4.4 million spread out over the time of construction to fund changes to seven Costa Mesa intersections.

Turn lanes or a through-lane would be added to Newport Boulevard between 17th and 19th streets, a westbound turn lane would be added to Superior Avenue at 17th and traffic signals would be added to Pomona Avenue at 17th and Monrovia Avenue at 19th.

The draft environmental impact report for the development estimated about 65% of the 15,000 daily vehicle trips to and from Banning Ranch would go through Costa Mesa.

"At the end of the day, whether [Banning Ranch] gets approved or doesn't get approved isn't a function of our city, it's a function of Newport Beach," Councilman Steve Mensinger said Monday. "We have to figure out how to mitigate the impacts as they occur."

Welsh said the city's hands are not tied.

"Yeah, they will not vote on it, that much is true," Welsh said. "Hey, I won't vote on it either, you won't either. But does that mean you can't do anything about it? Absolutely not … they can file lawsuits to stop it, they can use the power and resources of the city to study it."

The agreement states that the money — above and beyond what city officials say the developer would owe — covers all potential traffic impacts. The project includes a 75-room hotel, nearly 1,400 single and multi-family residential units, and 75,000 square feet of commercial development.

"The city further agrees and acknowledges that the project will not create and [draft environmental impact report] does not identify any other adverse impacts on the city, environmental or otherwise," the agreement reads.

The next clause prohibits Costa Mesa from suing or opposing any permits for coastal developments or buildings.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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