A decades-long effort to acquire and preserve Banning Ranch, an oil field near the Santa Ana River, was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Costa Mesa City Council, a move that conservationists say will help seal the $97 million deal.
Councilor Arlis Reynolds asked for the panel pass a resolution supporting the acquisition of the 384-acre site – the largest tract of unprotected coastal open space in Southern California and home to at least six endangered and protected animal species – by the Trust for Public Land on behalf of a conservation of based.
“This is a project that many, many, many Costa Mesans have been working on for decades, and it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us,” Reynolds said. said tuesday, explaining that the open space would essentially connect the city to the sea.
“[I] recognize our value as counsel supporting this resolution, in terms of closing the deal for this acquisition,” she continued. “I understand it’s close but certainly not guaranteed.”
Defenders have so far raised $83 million of the total purchase price, including a $50 million donation from Newport Beach philanthropists Frank and Joann Randall and $8 million in funding from the state budget recently won by Congresswoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach).
Terry Welsh, president of the nonprofit Ban Ranch Conservancy and a Costa Mesa resident, recalled first holding monthly meetings 23 years ago to coordinate interest in property conservation and said it is only now that activists are “knocking on the door to success”.
Once the property is acquired from its current owner, Newport Banning Ranch, a two to three year effort to clean up the effects of oil operations will begin at the seller’s expense. Activists will then work with local Native American tribes to develop parks and open spaces.
The council’s support, the first such action taken by an Orange County city, will help secure two major state grants that could help close the $14 million funding gap.
“It’s going to be amazing, and it’s going to be an amazing asset,” Welsh said. “To think that Costa Mesa, my city, is the first city to consider a supporting resolution for this just makes my Costa Mesa heart swell with gratitude.”
Dave Sutton, a land conservation advocate for the Trust for Public Land, predicted escrow on the property could close as soon as June 30, when Banning Ranch would initially come under the management of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. .
Petrie-Norris told council members that the effort will not only remedy an active oil field, but also revitalize the local wetland space and provide unparalleled coastal access to surrounding communities.
“It really is something worth fighting for,” the MP said.
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