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HISTORY OF THE BANNING RANCH CONSERVANCY

As with most nonprofit organizations dedicated to worthy causes, there was no one catalyst that led to the creation of the Banning Ranch Conservancy in 2008.  Many forces, events and selfless people came together to give form to the organization and the Sierra Club Banning Ranch Park and Preserve Task Force was instrumental in blazing a trail for the Conservancy, as you will see by the timeline below.

The timeline chronicles the highlights of the Conservancy’s journey to present day, including our ongoing efforts to create public awareness of the rising threat of development of Banning Ranch, the only remaining coastal open space of its size in Orange County.  Because of the public’s overwhelming response, the Conservancy was able to accomplish major achievements in recent years, as the timeline reveals.  The Conservancy also partnered with environmental organizations  whose support was invaluable to us.  Battles have been won and lost in the David and Goliath effort to save Banning Ranch, and the work isn’t over, but, like David, we have made surprising strides.  Our enduring thanks go out to all who are helping to realize the dream of a forever park and nature preserve on Banning Ranch!

BANNING RANCH CONSERVANCY TIMELINE

1999       Creation of the Sierra Club Banning Ranch Park and Preserve (BRPP) Task Force with the goal of 1) stopping the proposed 1750-home Banning Ranch project, and 2) preserving the entire Banning Ranch as open space.

2001       Homebuilder Taylor Woodrow pulls out of their 1750-home Banning Ranch project, effectively stopping the project.

2005       Cherokee Investment Partners, of Raleigh, North Carolina, buy out Rancho Santiago Partnership to become, along with AERA Energy LLC, (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil and Shell Oil) the major owners of Banning Ranch.  Along with Newport Beach-based developer Brooks Street, they form Newport Banning Ranch LLC to seek development entitlements on Banning Ranch.

2006          Newport Beach voters approve a ballot initiative amendment to the Newport Beach General Plan with the priority that Banning Ranch remain permanent open space, that oil operations on the site be consolidated, that wetlands on site be restored and that Banning Ranch be used as a public park.

2008          Formation of the Banning Ranch Conservancy (BRC), a 501c(3) nonprofit conservancy dedicated to the “Preservation, Acquisition, Conservation, and Management of the Entire Banning Ranch as Permanent Public Open Space, Park and Coastal Nature Preserve.”

2008          Going forward, the BRC, the Sierra Club BRPP Task Force and other environmental organizations work together to save Banning Ranch from development.

2008          Newport Banning Ranch LLC (NBR) submits to the City of Newport Beach their proposed development plan for Banning Ranch:  1375 homes, a resort hotel complex and 75,000 square feet of commercial space.

2012          The City of Newport Beach releases, for public comment, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the proposed 1375-home NBR project.

2012          In July, the Newport Beach City Council votes unanimously to certify the Environmental Impact Report and to approve the proposed 1375-home NBR project.

2012          In August, the BRC files a lawsuit against the City’s approval of the EIR and the project, claiming the City has violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and its own General Plan.

2013          The Orange County Superior Court rules in favor of the BRC on Banning Ranch Conservancy vs the City of Newport Beach.

2013          NBR submits their Coastal Development Permit (CDP) Application for a 1375-home project to the California Coastal Commission (CCC).

2013-15     NBR receives multiple Notices of Incomplete Application (NOIAs) before the CCC finally deems their CDP application complete.

2014          The City of Newport Beach appeals the Superior Court’s ruling.

2014          NBR and the Banning Ranch oil operator, West Newport Oil Company/Armstrong Petroleum (WNOC/AP), are named in a CCC Notice of Violation letter for Coastal Act violations, including unpermitted vegetation removal and oil production activities on Banning Ranch.  WNOC/AP sue the CCC to seek relief.

2015          The California Court of Appeals (Fourth District, Division Three) rules in favor of the City of Newport Beach.

2015          In March, a Settlement Agreement is reached with NBR that stops the excessive mowing and allows for restoration of affected areas.

2015          At the October 7 CCC hearing on the proposed project, NBR reduces the project to 1175 homes.  A huge turnout of Banning Ranch advocates and supporting organizations attend the hearing.  The CCC staff, due to significant impacts to Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA), recommend denial of the permit.  The hearing is postponed and Commissioners direct their staff to work with NBR to reduce the project to make it consistent with the Coastal Act.

2016          Following the loss at the Appellate Court, the BRC petitions the California Supreme Court.  The California Supreme Court agrees to hear the BRC’s case.

2016          At the September 7 CCC hearing on proposed Banning Ranch project, NBR reduces the project to 895 homes.  CCC staff still recommends denial based on significant Coastal Act inconsistencies.  Commissioners vote 9–1 to deny the project.  NBR subsequently sues the CCC.

2016          In December, the CCC and WNOC/AP settle their litigation.  The CCC issues a permit to allow WNOC/AP to continue their oil extraction operation on a smaller area of Banning Ranch.

2017          In February, the State Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) issues a Notice of Violation letter to WNOC/AP requiring the clean-up of debris and detritus from previously abandoned wells on Banning Ranch.

2017          In March, the California Supreme Court decides Banning Ranch Conservancy vs the City of Newport Beach in favor of the BRC, requiring the City of Newport Beach to vacate their 2012 approval of the project and requiring all future EIRs from the City, including any for Banning Ranch, to account for impacts to ESHA.