An appraisal of the land, a four-hundred-acre parcel of wetland and coastal bluffs where the Santa Ana River meets the Pacific Ocean — and the site of former oil fields — is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021. Conservationists told the Independent that the commitment by the Randalls, who previously had committed $5 million to the purchase, will help unlock state funding for the purchase of the ranch once pollution under the oil fields is cleaned up. Environmentalists in the state have lobbied for decades to protect the property, which provides habitat for protected and endangered species such as the American peregrine falcon, the California gnatcatcher, and Belding's Savannah Sparrow.
The commercial value of the land has fallen recently due to a series of court decisions that have left a local developer questioning the viability of its plans. In September 2016, the California Coastal Commission rejected a proposal from Newport Banning Ranch LLC to build nearly nine hundred homes, a seventy-five-room hotel, a twenty-bed hostel, and more than forty-five thousand square feet of retail space on sixty-two acres of the parcel. And in March 2017, the California Supreme Court dealt a second blow to the developer by ruling unanimously that the City of Newport Beach failed to adequately review the project's environmental impact. Any future plan from the developer would require that an amended environmental impact statement be submitted to city leaders for review.
With no other prospective buyers besides the Trust for Public Land and the Banning Ranch Conservancy, a fair price for the property remains to be determined. Still, local conservationists are confident the land will be preserved and improved.
"I'm extremely proud of the Trust for Public Land being the organization to take this on and our ability to leave a legacy for the millions of Americans who live by the property," said TPL project manager Paolo Perrone. "We know the coast draws people from farther than that. We are here to preserve this last largest piece of coastal open space in Southern California."
(Photo credit: Christopher Trela)