NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., Sept. 1, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Local citizens' groups and environmentalists praised the Coastal Commission's most recent staff report on Banning Ranch, with the Banning Ranch Conservancy calling it "a major step that will save some of the last burrowing owls on the Southern California coast." Ahead of the project's Coastal Commission hearing for Banning Ranch on Wednesday, September 7th, the Banning Ranch Conservancy still plans to urge for increased protections of wetlands and a smaller, denser development plan.
According to the Coastal Commission staff report released last Friday, Banning Ranch is "the last remaining privately owned lands of its size along the coast in Southern California," and consists of wetlands, coastal bluffs, arroyos, and vernal pools. The staff report recommended that the proposed development of 900 homes, a hotel resort, and strip malls be significantly reduced. While Coastal Commission staff had previously recognized the need to protect the owls' burrows, they acknowledged criticism by professional biologists that without foraging habitat, the rare owls could not survive on site.
"To hunt for prey, burrowing owls need open fields," said Robb Hamilton, biologist for the Conservancy. "Carving up and paving over the grassy mesas with roads, trails, and structures would eliminate the owls' ability to overwinter on Banning Ranch. I'm happy that the staff report recognizes the science here."
Terry Welsh, the Conservancy's president, says the developer has yet to provide the minimum level of scientific information the Coastal Commission needs. "Many of the vernal pools and wetlands on Banning Ranch, which are home to endangered species, have been under-measured. We are still in a major drought, and when normal conditions return, these wetlands will grow. This should be taken into account when establishing buffer zones around the areas."
Welsh added that even with the Coastal Commission staff's reduced project footprint, at the developer's proposed densities, several hundred homes could still be built, resulting in one of Orange County's largest coastal developments ever. "Most Newport Beach real estate developers would love to build on 20 acres with an ocean view."
The final Coastal Commission hearing for Banning Ranch will be on Wednesday, September 7th, at Newport Beach's City Hall. The public is encouraged to voice their concerns. Free parking is available. Learn more: http://www.banningpledge.com/sbr
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SOURCE Banning Ranch Conservancy