Commentary: Council should vote no on Banning Ranch agreement

The proposed Banning Ranch project involves 1,375 homes, a hotel and 75,000 square feet of commercial space to be built on Banning Ranch, west of Costa Mesa.

A traffic mitigation agreement has been negotiated between the city of Costa Mesa and the developer (Newport Banning Ranch LLC) and will come before the City Council on Tuesday.

The Banning Ranch Conservancy strongly recommends that the city not agree to the Banning Ranch Traffic Mitigation Agreement.

With the developer's fees and hotel occupancy tax going to Newport Beach (not Costa Mesa), and Costa Mesa bearing the brunt of the traffic, noise and air pollution, this project is immensely unpopular in Costa Mesa, especially on the Westside. The project will also result in the loss of significant biological resources. There are few, if any, benefits to the community. By entering into this agreement promising improvements to intersections, the council will be enabling this project, which is twice as large and six times as dense as anything built along the Orange County coast in recent memory.

There is a very strong possibility the California Coastal Commission will not allow access for the project at West Coast Highway. This will result in nearly all the estimated 15,000 cars a day using Costa Mesa streets. It is not wise to agree to any monetary figure when there is a strongly likelihood the traffic demands for Costa Mesa will be even larger than anticipated.

Most worrisome is the clause in the contract that prevents the city of Costa Mesa from opposing any aspect of this project in the future, or interfering in the permitting process. First and foremost, Costa Mesa must retain the right to protect its citizens from the effects of the proposed Banning Ranch project. It is not wise to tie the hands of future councils while the final details of this proposed project are unknown.

The project has not been approved by any of the regulatory agencies, including the Coastal Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and California Department of Fish and Game.

While it is understandable that the city of Costa Mesa would be interested in the financial assistance that the developer has offered to offset the costs of these traffic improvements, the city should not self-impose any restrictions or obligations. It is not at all clear that the funds stipulated in the agreement would actually cover all costs for necessary infrastructure in Costa Mesa to serve the project, let alone costs to our residents and businesses due to degraded quality of life.

The city should make no advanced promises to make the traffic improvements, much less agree to forfeit its right to be involved in future deliberations or try to make future changes in the project.

Dr. TERRY WELSH is president of the Banning Ranch Conservancy.

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