Commentary: Partner with developers or plan for balance with nature?


In cruising cable channels recently, I happened onto a classic sci-fi movie called “Silent Running” about a crew of people operating a greenhouse aboard a spaceship.

The captain (Bruce Dern) said to the crew, “Do you know why there are no flowers, no fields of grass to lay in, no beauty back home? Because nobody cared!”

His point is well taken when looking at how local leaders in Newport and Costa Mesa are handling the fate of Banning Ranch.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday the Costa Mesa City Council may vote to take a few million in traffic mitigation money from developers. In doing so it will be giving tacit approval to development, and the public will be closer to losing the opportunity we are so lucky to have in this 400-acre ecosystem.

Consider what Banning Ranch is:

•It is a complex and diverse area of grasslands, bluffs, arroyos and wetlands filled with native Californian plants. More important, it is not an industrial wasteland as the developers have led us to believe.

•Because of this mix of landforms and habitats, Banning Ranch is attracting species of birds and other animals that have few, if any, other places to go.

•Along 100 miles of Southern California coastline, it is one of the last chances to create a nature preserve of such space and diversity.

Considering the enormous amount of development in our region and the lack of balance between the built environment and open space, it is not good planning to “spend” such a scarce resource for short-term benefit of owners Shell, Exxon and their local entity, Aera Energy.

Yes, they own the land but the nature is ours. And until every last effort on preservation has been exhausted, the focus should stay on that worthy goal.

City managers can easily change course from partnering with the developers to focus on forming a coalition of citizens, state agencies and nonprofit groups like the Banning Ranch Conservancy with the goal of keeping 100% of this area wild. Now is the time for this and Banning Ranch is the perfect place.

This coalition could be our local contribution to the change people are calling for in the face of climate change, deforestation, species extinction and water shortages around the world. These issues are real, as shown by the planning for sea-level rise that Newport Beach is in the midst of.

As a nature preserve, Banning Ranch would be priceless to the entire region, placing the importance of this decision far above the typical local interest issue. Mark Tabbert, who ran for Newport Beach City Council and works on climate change awareness said, “Banning Ranch has always been for me our Rain Forest, our parcel of open space to save, to do right by. Imagine the Back Bay without the work of Peter and Mary Muth.”

Our elected officials can do better than accept a traffic mitigation pay-off to ignore what may be the last chance for a new coastal park and nature preserve.

KEVIN NELSON is a member of the Banning Ranch Conservancy.