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Commentary: Banning Ranch preservation effort shows we don’t need to give up on old Newport

Banning Ranch
The Banning Ranch property in Newport Beach.
(File Photo)

When I retired from teaching, I wanted to find some venerable causes to occupy my mind and time.

Through a neighbor, Portia Weiss, I got involved with the Banning Ranch Conservancy. I was inspired by the leadership’s intelligence and dedication to such a worthy cause as saving Banning Ranch.

Leaders like Terry Walsh, Suzanne Forster, Dorothy Kraus and Steve Ray attracted me with their intelligence, perseverance and dedication.

I used to attend their monthly meetings in the evening and really felt part of a diverse and spirited group that was totally dedicated to keeping the wetlands of Banning Ranch from being developed — one large vestige of coastal greenbelt along the county’s coast which contained many remnants of disappearing natural phenomenon-vernal pools and endangered species.


Newport Beach philanthropists Frank and Joann Randall have promised $50 million to the Banning Ranch Conservancy, a group of environmentalists that has long worked to protect Banning Ranch’s 401 acres from development.

After Banning Ranch Conservancy won the right by the Coastal Commission to prevent development, I felt it was time to donate my time and efforts to another group in Newport Beach called SPON (Still Protecting Our Newport). It too is led by an inspiring founder, Jean Watt, who is still at its helm after co-founding the group over 45 years ago.

The numerous causes and projects which this group has taken on are amazing — its goal being to protect the vestiges of the past, be they coastal houses, landmarks or open land, from being overencumbered by gargantuan houses or overlarge commercial developments.

Trying to preserve Newport’s past, working alongside my neighbors in the Heights and Cliffhaven, has proven a daunting task. So often my neighbors and I have had to go before City Council and the Planning Commission to plead our cases, and so often our requests have fallen on deaf ears— a case in point, recently when a small, dedicated group of us attended the City Council meeting to ask the council for more time and more community input before adopting its election reform package.


We felt that, as often is the case, not enough community input had been elicited. Minds had already been made up and the sympathetic ears that we had on the council, were outnumbered and thus overwhelmed by the ever- unbending majority.

It is so frustrating to try to work with a City Council that is not often open to the requests and needs of its residents. The remark was made the other night that we were only a small group who had made a request, but I have been before a similar council who turned deaf ears to very large groups of concerned citizens.

It also seems so often that issues that are important to residents, particularly longtime residents, are put last on the agenda. At such a meeting last month, would-be speakers had to wait until midnight to go before the council. The most important goal that the council should adopt is improving its mode of communication with the public — in all forms, spoken as well as written.

But all did not end on a negative note for those who would revere the past. Banning Ranch enthusiasts proved that worthy causes, long enduring optimism and hard work pay off.

They were able to catch the attention of generous philanthropists, Frank and Joann Randall, who have promised the ranch $50 million. Let’s not give up yet on preserving our traditional old Newport. As with those at Banning Ranch found out, hard work and optimism can pay off.

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