Commentary: Community must fight to preserve Banning Ranch

The effort to preserve a uniquely situated piece of open space rages on as herons, egrets, owls and hawks hunt for prey on Banning Ranch.

After the recent dose of solid rains, native plants are sprouting across the arroyos and grasslands of the mesa, producing a flush of spring growth and activity that is nature's trademark season.

Located on the south side of the Santa Ana River mouth, Banning is a single mass of diverse land forms, just the kind of place to create a new nature preserve and park. If left 100% whole, rather than fragmented by development, Banning holds enormous value as a functioning ecosystem for the natural world to flourish in, and for us to observe and relax into.

There are few, if any, places left along the coast where the opportunity to create a significant state-park-level preserve exists.

But the development interests keep touting their generosity in leaving the lowlands as open space in their plans while paving the vital mesa and leaving an outmoded oil operation as an incompatible neighbor directly adjacent to their "gift."

In any case, neither the life now springing up on the site nor our need to experience real disconnect from the built environment will survive the compromise being offered. Nature needs space. It can't get much simpler than that.

Luckily, the powerful California Coastal Commission is far from happy with the way things have been handled by the corporate development crew. The commission has repeatedly asked for justification of the apparently unnecessary mowing and scraping that has affected this land.

The agency has also asked where the permits are for the many wells that have been sunk in the search for black gold. Until these and other serious issues are settled, the agency's response to the proposal to build 1,375 housing units and other commercial jazz has been quite clear — the application is incomplete until the issues are dealt with.

This means that Banning has a better chance of being saved if we weigh in and demand this outcome in upcoming elections. Yes, Banning and places like it will have to be purchased, but there are existing funds set aside for lands like this, and more could be raised by setting aside very small amounts of mitigation finds from the high-density projects that are being proposed and built all around us. The money is there; it now requires the will and wisdom of our elected officials.

Looking into the decades ahead, it makes complete sense to leave big pieces of land open and wild as a gift to those who will come after us.

Nature was, and should continue to be, a fundamental element of life, even urban life. Whether our particular society recognizes such enduring benefits at a given moment is not the best measuring stick, because perspectives change and times change while wild spaces provide a point of stability that simply continues on.

This idea, called the Rights of Nature, is increasingly important as modern consumption and population growth puts pressure on ecosystems across the globe. In this new paradigm, a single world solution will not be found.

It is up to each community to lighten it's impact. Leaving Banning Ranch as a functional, accessible piece of nature in trust for distant times is surely one of the best contributions we can make.

Learn more from the Banning Ranch Conservancy town hall event at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Ave.

KEVEN NELSON is a member of the Banning Ranch Conservancy. He plans to speak at the upcoming town hall meeting.

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