Leece calls for another review of Banning Ranch

Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Wendy Leece has requested another hearing of her city's $4.4-million agreement with the developer of Banning Ranch to help pay for street improvements.

Newport Banning Ranch LLC, or NBR — which hopes to build more than 1,300 homes, a hotel and commercial businesses on old fields in a 400-acre section of West Newport that borders Westside Costa Mesa — made the agreement with Costa Mesa if that city agreed not to file a legal challenge against the project or oppose permit requests.

On July 17, the Costa Mesa council, with Leece dissenting, approved the agreement to the dismay of attendees, who overwhelming opposed it. If Banning Ranch is completed, the additional traffic associated with the development is projected to increase traffic.

The Newport Beach City Council unanimously approved the development of the ranch Monday, though additional approvals from other regulators, including the California Coastal Commission, are still needed.

"There was no urgency to do this now," Leece said Wednesday. "It was premature. We should really go over it with a fine-tooth comb before we vote on it like we did."

Peter Naghavi, Costa Mesa's economic development director, said at the July 17 meeting that the city would have lost much of its negotiating leverage with NBR if Newport Beach approved the development before Costa Mesa reached its agreement.

Leece will have to convince at least two other council members during the Aug. 7 council meeting to reopen the issue through a process known as a re-hearing.

In her request to the city clerk, Leece lists several disparities between the city's agreement with NBR and the development's draft environmental impact report.

According to the agreement, NBR will have to redo seven city intersections, among them, Newport Boulevard at 17th Street.

While the draft EIR calls for a fourth southbound lane and a dedicated right-turn lane, Costa Mesa's agreement only lists the southbound lane as the required improvement.

Additionally, Costa Mesa's agreement with NBR states that, outside of significant traffic impacts, there are no other adverse impacts to Costa Mesa from the development.

But Leece, in her request, says the draft EIR notes "significant and unavoidable" noise issues for Westside residents. The draft EIR also recommends that the developer install rubberized asphalt during construction, a suggestion that was not included in the city's agreement with NBR and was not discussed July 17.

"Did we settle for just the minimum, and we didn't even discuss the disparity?" Leece asked.

However, her fellow council members may once again point out that she faces a possible conflict of interest in voting on the agreement at all.

Leece lives within 500 feet of the proposed Banning Ranch development, and City Attorney Tom Duarte said at the July 17 meeting that it is a potential conflict of interest for her to vote on matters related to the development.

Duarte pointed to the state Fair Political Practices Commission statute 18705.2, which addresses economic interests in property.

Under that statute, Leece may have a conflict because her home would be affected by aspects like an increase in traffic and noise, and worsened air quality.

Leece, however, doesn't see it that way because Banning Ranch is located outside her city and is on unincorporated land.

"We're not voting on approving or not approving Banning Ranch. Costa Mesa doesn't have a say in that matter," Leece said. "This is a separate issue, and because my duty as an elected council member overrides any conflict of being within 500 feet of Banning Ranch, I owe it to the people who voted for me to ask for a re-hearing."


Twitter: @JosephSerna

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