NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The California Supreme Court heard oral
arguments on Jan. 4 in a case to decide the fate of Newport Beach’s
The Banning Ranch Conservancy alleges
that the city of Newport Beach violated the city’s general plan
when it approved a development for the 401-acre site.
“We’re hoping that the court will maintain as it has in many
cases that a city’s general plan is indeed its land-use
constitution and it must be treated as such. Our issue in the whole
case is that the city didn’t follow its own general plan, it
violated that,” Steve Ray, executive director of Banning Ranch
Conservancy, told The Northern California Record.
"The priority for Banning Ranch is that it will remain
permanent public open space and park, that’s what the general plan
says,” Ray said. “And it says if there is to be any development,
then the city must follow all of these procedures to assure that the
environment is protected.”
He alleged that when the city approved a development by Newport
Banning Ranch of 1,375 homes, a hotel and a shopping center, “the
city did not follow these procedures, that’s the crux of the matter
… The Coastal Commission wrote a long letter detailing all of the
problems with the environmental-impact report and the project, then
they offered to assist the city in identifying the environmentally
sensitive habitat areas and wetlands.
“The city basically blew off their obligation under the general
plan and blew off the Coastal Commission and just declared there’s
no ESHA or wetlands on site even with all the evidence that says
“The city’s primary argument was that the city did work with
Coastal during the environmental process and the general plan
directive is ongoing and includes ‘working with’ the Coastal
Commission during the commission’s permitting process,” City
Attorney Aaron Harp told The Northern California Record.
“The city argued a deferential standard of review should apply
to the city’s interpretation of its general plan,” he added.
“This means, unless the city is acting in an arbitrary manner, the
court should defer to the city council’s interpretation of the
city’s general plan.”
In September, the developer provided a revised proposal, scaled
down to about 900 homes, but the Coastal Commission rejected it.
“When it comes to compromise, Banning Ranch was 11 times bigger
than it is now. Ninety-one percent of Banning Ranch has already been
developed, this is what’s left … The 9 percent that’s left is
the compromise,” Ray said. “We do, however, recognize that as the
owners of the land, they have the right to develop the land in
accordance with the law… We determined that there may be up to 6.7
acres of developable space that is acceptable on the property… We
don’t consider that a compromise, we consider that a recognition of
the legality of the land.”
The case was first
decided in trial court in 2013, where it was found
that by approving the project, the city had violated its general
plan. This decision was overturned in 2015 by an appeals court.
The California Supreme Court is expected to make its decision