Editors Note: The hearing scheduled for next month on the coastal development permit (CDP) for the proposed Banning Ranch project has been postponed and is expected to occur March 9 – 11 at a location that has yet to be announced.
We need to Save Banning Ranch and Orange County’s Native heritage.
The still wild and open Banning Ranch, despite decades of abuse as a coastal oil field and now targeted with massive commercial and residential development, remains as an important testament to Orange County’s rich Native heritage. Located at the mouth of the Santa Ana River, between Huntington Beach and Newport, and within the ancestral territories of the Tongva and Acjachemen Native American Nations, the 400-acre Banning Ranch is the largest privately owned coastal open space remaining in the County. Serving as an oil field precluded dense development characteristic of the surrounding communities, which also preserved it as a wildlife refuge, fostered unique plant and animal habitats, and left relatively intact several Native American cultural sites.
Tongva and Acjachemen Village of Genga
Banning Ranch is part of the several thousand-year-old Native American village Genga. The coastal mesa served as an ideal place for Indigenous settlement due to the proximity of the Santa Ana River estuary and the rich food supply that it provided. It is no wonder then that visible markers of tribal use remain throughout the mesa today. Evidence of these original Californians, such as beads, milling stones and tools, have been identified at Banning Ranch and are estimated to be at least 3000 years old. The village of Genga, including the Banning Ranch area, is an important historic and cultural site for both the Juaneño (Acjachemen) and the Gabrielino (Tongva) Nations.
The area was listed on the state Sacred Lands Inventory maintained by the California Native American Heritage Commission at the request of local tribal leaders many years ago and meets the criteria to be considered a Tribal Cultural Resource under the California Environmental Quality Act as recently amended by AB 52. Additionally, eight Native American archeological sites have been documented on the property, with at least three of these eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and the California Register of Historical Resources (CRHR). The entire area is also likely eligible for listing on the National Register as a Traditional Cultural Property.
A Great Threat Looms
Although the cultural resources and archaeological sites on Banning Ranch have been adversely impacted as a result of oil operations on site, previous disturbances do not compare to the damage that could result from the proposed project. The 895-home Newport Banning Ranch development would require moving 2.8 million cubic yards of earth through planned grading activities associated with the development. This would most certainly result in the unearthing of Tongva and Acjachemen cultural items of great significance to both tribal communities. Additionally, creating a new housing development the size of the City of Bishop would impact the integrity of the site as a traditional cultural property and would impair the ability of contemporary tribal citizens to utilize the area for traditional cultural practices today.
Respect the Locals
Despite the fact that Southern California was once home to thousands of Native American villages, over 90% of the known Native American traditional cultural properties and archeological sites in the Orange County area have been destroyed by development over the last 200 years. . A project of this size and scale will result in severe impacts to traditional cultural sites of great spiritual, historical, and cultural significance to the Native Peoples living today. The Acjachemen and Tongva evidence on Banning Ranch must be left in place.
No one would suggest that it is okay to build a shopping mall on the Athenian Acropolis in Greece as long as the Parthenon was boxed up and stored in a safe place. No one would accept building condos on the Gettysburg battlefield with the historic cannons and bullets being hauled off to a warehouse as mitigation. Similar respect should be given to the last few remaining pre-contact Native American coastal settlements in Southern California.
Save Genga and Banning Ranch—Join Us at the Coastal Commission Hearing in January
The Banning Ranch Conservancy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit group, is a local grassroots, volunteer-based organization dedicated to preserving Banning Ranch as a public open space and coastal nature preserve. We need a huge turnout at the January hearing to urge the Coastal Commissioners to deny the proposed project. We are working with environmental organizations, tribal community members and Indigenous-led grassroots organizations to protect this area and raise awareness about its importance as a Native American traditional cultural property, rare wildlife habitat, and one of the few remaining coastal open space areas in Orange County.
The California Coastal Commission is expected to vote on the developer’s proposed project sometime in March.
Meanwhile, here’s how you can make a difference:
• Sign our petition at www.banningpledge.com/brc/. By signing the petition, you will have the opportunity to reserve a spot on our buses.
• Send a letter to the Coastal Commission at email@example.com .
• Spread the word to all you know and all who care.
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact us.
(Dr. Welsh is the President of the Banning Ranch Conservancy and Chairperson of the Sierra Club Banning Ranch Park and Preserve Task Force). For more information, go to
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana at firstname.lastname@example.org.