Mailbag: Planners limited debate on Banning Ranch

This is an open letter to the Newport Beach Planning Commission.

On March 22, my husband and I were among the standing-room-only crowd assembled at City Council Chambers to hear the two agenda items scheduled by the commission for public discussion ("Planners send review onward," March 24).

We were there for the second item, the Banning Ranch draft environmental impact report (DEIR), but we noted a common thread throughout both deliberations: Change is inevitable. Indeed, one of the commissioners justified his vote for the first agenda item, development in Corona del Mar village, by saying that, and I am paraphrasing, things change and we have to adjust.

Change may or may not be inevitable, but change isn't inevitably for the better. Change can benefit one group over another. Change can hurt all concerned. It can take several steps back rather than forward. At its worst, change can cause precious things to be lost in the trade-offs that unrelenting progress demands.

After sitting through six hours of proceedings that night, waiting for decisions on two development projects — one of them Banning Ranch, which is arguably the most ambitious project in Newport Beach history — my husband and I agreed that we could sum up the results with a score card: Goliath: 2, David: 0.

Development won the night — and a very long night it was. The crowds packing the chambers were adamantly against more development. In the case of Corona del Mar, they wanted the area's unique sense of community and architectural traditions respected. In the case of Banning Ranch, a 400-acre parcel of coastal land in West Newport Beach, they wanted an irreplaceable natural resource preserved and protected as open space. The West Newport residents wanted protection from the traffic quagmire the huge development will create and from unsafe levels of air and noise pollution. The health and safety hazards of developing a 70-year-old oil field with nearly 500 wells were also grave concerns.

In Chairman Michael Toerge's preamble to the Banning Ranch public hearing, he noted that public comments could be intimidating, but also emphasized the strict three-minute time period, pointing out yellow and red lights that would assail commenters as they talked. I wonder when Toerge was last limited to three minutes to speak of profound impacts to his life, health and safety. I wonder how effective he would have been in his comments.

Toerge also cautioned people to address the substantive issues of the DEIR, a 7,000-page highly technical document, which may have led to the very atmosphere of intimidation he wanted to avoid. I personally know several people who decided not to speak, believing their comments weren't significant enough. I questioned the validity of my own comment about the 2.6 million cubic yards of contaminated soil to be moved during construction, creating toxic dust exposure even to children playing in the city park next to the development.

Perhaps unwittingly, Toerge also set up unreasonable expectations for the public. How could mere residents possibly meet the bar set by experts who testified on behalf of the development for hours? At the Banning Ranch study sessions, Toerge assured crowds that everyone would be heard at the public hearing. The March 22 meeting was a public hearing. Public comments are not unlike facing a firing squad with three minutes to save your life. Every member of the audience who had a concern should have been urged to come forward.

Esteemed commissioners, I offer these questions for your consideration.

Why were the developers and their consultants allowed unlimited blocks of time to present while opposing groups were denied them, even during public comments?

The Corona del Mar opposition was granted a block of time. Why not Banning Ranch, a development that will negatively impact the entire region?

Why did the commission defer to the city staff on virtually every question raised, including staff's "opinion" that the 19th Street bridge was still on the Master Plan of Arterial Highways? The bridge was removed at the March 12 Orange County Transportation Authority board meeting.

Why was the DEIR deemed fair and adequate without a traffic analysis to reflect new highly negative impacts?

Most significantly, when can the welfare of those severely impacted by development be denied in favor of public benefits, i.e., tax revenues and project amenities? To what extent is the commission or any other government body willing to make West Newport-Mesa collateral damage to the greater good?

I respectfully submit that the impacts were not "fairly and adequately resolved" and the public was not given reasonable or equitable access at the March 22 public hearing. I ask that the DEIR recommendation be rescinded and another public hearing scheduled. Thank you for your consideration.

Suzanne Forster

Newport Beach

The writer is a member of the Banning Ranch Conservancy.


OCTA failed to get Newport's agreement

I applaud the Newport Beach City Council's decision to "pursue litigation against the Orange County Transportation Authority [OCTA] regarding a recent decision to remove the 19th Street bridge from the county's master plan," ("Newport to sue over 19th Street bridge," March 29).

Although I am not necessarily a proponent of the bridge, I am an opponent of the OCTA's failure to obtain agreement by Newport Beach as an affected party, as is typically done for significant decisions. Prior to their decision, the OCTA neglected to conduct a formal environmental analysis or take into consideration the appropriate mitigation measures necessary.

I attended a Jan. 5 "community meeting" organized and attended by numerous elected officials to provide information regarding the 19th Street bridge. Unfortunately, the vast majority of attendees at this meting clearly were not interested in being informed because their minds were already made up; moreover, their behavior was rude and obnoxious.

Regardless of the outcome, issues such as the 19th Street bridge should be addressed with civility and respect for the arguments and objectives of all parties involved. Unfortunately that does not appear to be what has occurred to date.

Thomas R. Damiani

Newport Beach


Shipwright's wrongs

Having been a Newport Beach resident since the 1940s, I was going to add my two cents about the fire pit controversy, but because everything has already been said, I'll weigh in on that scofflaw Dennis Holland ("Protesters rally to save sailboat," March 25).

Come on Dennis, the jig is up! I clearly remember your first endeavor, the Pilgrim some years ago, and all the hoopla in getting it from your backyard finally to the water. Where were those neighbors recently, because I loved the pictures of the folks in costume who lived everywhere else but in your own neighborhood.

I have to agree with Councilman Rush Hill, who said it's time to remove the "industrial activity" out of your backyard to a suitable area! Your neighbors rode with you when you built the Pilgrim, but I think Shawnee has overstayed her welcome. Of course your family and supporters can say you need more time, but I think a reasonable amount of time expired some time ago! Make peace with your neighbors, Dennis, and move on.

Pete Rabbitt

Newport Beach


Wu is just tongue-in-cheek

Jack Wu's recent opinion piece has really gotten the community's thought leaders up in arms over the beach fire pit issue ("Fire pit removal illustrates lack of conservatism," March 25).

It would appear that these folks are taking Jack way too seriously. Most people in Newport get it, that old Jack just wants to give the city leadership a little friendly needling. They sure need it since Dolores Otting and Sid Soffer are now gone.

I am sure that most Newport Beach residents believe, as I do, that the fire pits are a health and safety hazard and should be removed. However, in the past, the city has had a habit of enacting ordinances that are politically correct but very impractical to enforce. So a little needling from time to time may be in order.

Jack is just doing his job, providing commentary on some of the issues that a few residents in Newport and Corona del Mar who may have a little too much time, and a little too much money, on their hands get overly involved in — those "quality of life" issues that are really just speak for "not in my neighborhood." Let's all try keep in mind that most of these issues are not life and death.

Jack's columns may be provocative, but they are also about showbiz, just like Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher. Most of the smart people don't take them too seriously either.

Bill Garrett

Newport Beach


Board researching residential trash service

Board member Jim Fitzpatrick recently wrote that the Costa Mesa Sanitary District board of directors was trying to railroad him off the board ("Fitzpatrick retains counsel ," March 14).

An issue he noted was his call for "competitive bidding for a trash contract." His request was actually to implement a six-year sunset clause in the present 10-year trash contract, which began in 2006.

I want to share the logic I used to evaluate my no vote on taking the contract out to bid. My reelection was based on "no increase in residential trash fees." There were no increases during my first four-year term. In addition, the trash contract costs are near the average of the surrounding communities and the district has negotiated several service enhancements without contract increases.

I heard only one trash service complaint while walking nearly the entire city during my election and reelection.

Based on the present trash contract beginning in 2006 — low cost to residents, no trash fee increases in site and the contractor's excellent service record — I voted not to implement a six-year sunset clause to take the trash contract out to bid. The process for why the district has apparently never gone out to bid for trash services is of interest to me, but it is far down the list of whether the contract should be bid upon. When I believe there is value to bidding the contract out, I will support that.

Staff is researching if there has ever been a bid for the trash contract. Municipal agencies are not required by law to put this type of service out to bid as they would a public works contract. The history of who has performed the trash hauling and disposal is in the Costa Mesa Sanitary District March agenda which can be found online or by requesting a copy from the district office at (949) 645-8400.

The most recent trash contractor is CR and R, who acquired Costa Mesa Disposal in 2006. Whether or not the district should implement the six-year sunset clause in the present contract is the question. The staff and board are gathering the pros and cons on very complicated and difficult-to-compare-with-other-communities trash services issues. Trash vendors and the public are also providing input. The board has been requested to revisit the question of whether or not to sunset the present vendor's hauling and disposal contract in either the April or May board meeting.

Robert J. Ooten

Costa Mesa

The writer is president of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District.


Great to educate about Persian new year

I enjoyed Mona Shadia's article "Celebrating Persian new year in CdM" (Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C., March 15).

Being a ethnic Parsi (Persian) Zarathushti (Zoroastrian) myself, I was happy that she was educating readers about this event, which was celebrated by Zoroastrian emperors and subjects throughout the vast Persian empires (559 B.C. to 652 A.D.)

Even after the Arab occupation of Persia and forcible conversion of the masses to Islam, the Iranian people refused to give up their ancient Zoroastrian festivals and their Persian language in spite of the Mullahs trying to discourage them.

Today, the Persian new year is also celebrated by several countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, and by Zoroastrians of India whose ancestors migrated there to preserve their monotheistic religion and culture among the peaceful Hindu populace who welcomed them.

By the way, for the information of your readers, the original word "Parsi" meaning Persian was pronounced by Arabs as "Farsi" because they don't have the letter "P" in the Arabic alphabet.

Maneck Bhujwala

Huntington Beach

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