Commentary: Banning Ranch vote will hurt Costa Mesa

Re. "Commentary: Banning Ranch traffic agreement is a win for Costa Mesa," (Aug. 4):

The traffic impact mitigation agreement for the proposed Banning Ranch project may be good for Mayor Eric Bever and the other councilmen who voted for it, but it is premature and bad for Costa Mesa.

It's no surprise that Bever supports the agreement, which silences all official Costa Mesa opposition to the proposed Banning Ranch development. For at least the past 12 years, Bever has vocally supported a 19th Street bridge because, he admits, it would reduce the traffic in front of his home and divert it to 19th Street, in front of other people's homes.

Pacific Coast Highway traffic that now goes north on Brookhurst Street, across the Hamilton Avenue bridge and east on Victoria Street, in front of Bever's home, would turn east at 19th Street instead. That would make Bever's life more pleasant and potentially increase the value of his property.

The proposed Banning Ranch development includes a "bluff road" that connects PCH to West 19th. The development would also increase pressure for a Santa Ana River overcrossing connecting Brookhurst to 19th. Either one would divert PCH-Brookhurst traffic away from Victoria to 19th Street.

I am one of the homeowners who live adjacent to 19th Street, but I do not have a conflict of interest because, unlike Bever, I am not a city official and, therefore, I cannot use an official position to influence the decisions affecting the Banning Ranch project or its impact on my property.

Bever defends the traffic impact mitigation agreement at length because he says (1) the development project is a done deal; (2) the $4.3 million or $4.4 million is the most the city could get; (3) the developer may later agree to mitigate noise and pollution impacts; and (4) Costa Mesa can do nothing but accept the agreement or file suit on the EIR.

None of these assertions is supported by evidence.

On the first point, the California Coastal Commission has yet to approve the project and is not likely to approve it in its present form. If the commission disapproves an entrance-exit on PCH, all project traffic, rather than 65%, will flow through Costa Mesa; the traffic impacts in Costa Mesa will increase dramatically, as will the cost of constructing street improvements to handle it.

This is far from a done deal.

Second, Bever fails to mention that the project approval by Newport Beach contains a condition that the developer mitigates its impacts on Costa Mesa. Further, he repeats the baseless assumption that the same per-trip fee should apply to this out-of-town project as applies to projects in Costa Mesa. Trip fees for in-town projects are set well below the actual cost of the required improvements, partly because the project will produce revenue for the city in more sales tax, property tax, etc. In contrast, all tax revenue from the Banning Ranch project would go to Newport Beach.

Third, as to noise and pollution impacts, the developer has little incentive to provide more than token mitigation once all official opposition has been silenced by the traffic agreement.

Fourth, the city could oppose the project at the Coastal Commission hearing that is coming up soon in Santa Cruz. The massive impacts on Costa Mesa, some of which cannot be mitigated to an acceptable level, could well influence the Coastal Commission's decision.

The City Council should honor Councilwoman Wendy Leece's application for reconsideration of the traffic impact mitigation agreement and do the right thing for Costa Mesa.

ELEANOR EGAN lives in Costa Mesa.

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