The majority of the Banning Ranch property is under exclusive contract for the creation and permanent protection of California’s newest coastal park and preserve. Credit: Joe SorrentinoThe Trust for Public Land

The last 20 years of determination squarely landed this once-in-a-generation opportunity to permanently protect a coastal park and preserve for future generations. To be successful, conservation transactions, like this one, typically need three main ingredients: willing sellers, funding, and political/public will.  

This map depicts the location of the Banning Ranch property adjacent to the Santa Ana River and where three cities come together: Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, and Huntington Beach. Photo Credit: Melanie Schlotterbeck, Banning Ranch Conservancy

The Banning Ranch Conservancy is grateful Newport Banning Ranch LLC decided to sell 384 acres of its land for conservation. Oil operations will be consolidated on the remaining 17 acres. We welcomed our transaction partner, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), to handle the conservation contracts and shepherd this acquisition to completion.  

TPL actively pursued funding from the state and federal government to acquire this land. The purchase price of $97 million is a heavy lift, lessened through a phenomenal donation of $50 million from Frank and Joann Randall. Several grants have been awarded. Most recently an $11 million Section 6 grant was awarded from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and, through the persistent work of Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris to include an additional $8 million in the state budget. This means we are now within $14 million of the goal. Additional grants remain to be awarded, and the Conservancy aspires to be meaningful partners and assist with future long-term stewardship needs.  

And many thanks to the political leaders that have prioritized this property. Without Assemblymember Petrie-Norris and Senator Dave Min, we would not be so close to victory. The public has also been instrumental. From attending meetings to sending letters, tabling at booths, and donating—we are indebted to the public for their support.  

With year-round breeding populations gone, Banning Ranch is one of the only places in Orange County where owls migrate for the winter. Photo Credit: Banning Ranch Conservancy

If the question ever comes up about why this land is important—the reasons are many. This is the last, largest unprotected coastal property between Ventura County and Mexico. Opportunities to preserve land like this, simply don’t exist here anymore. There are also numerous important plants and animals that call Banning Ranch home—these species, like the burrowing owl and San Diego fairy shrimp, tend to be what attract funding to a conservation deal.  

Banning Ranch includes a rich history. There is over 3,000 years of evidence of habitation by Native American people. The property was owned in the 1800s by the family of Phineas Banning, the “The Father of the Port of Los Angeles.” Banning Ranch is the southernmost oil field in California and has been in production for over 80 years. It also served the country in the 1940s war effort. It can now serve us again in our efforts to adapt and mitigate climate change impacts.  

The oil operations on the Banning Ranch property will be consolidated onto just 17 acres. Photo Credit: Joe Sorrentino, The Trust for Public Land

The property is in close proximity to socially vulnerable and economically disadvantaged communities. Adding several hundred acres to the repository of conserved lands in Orange County will bring a wealth of benefits. As we learned during the pandemic, natural lands provided a respite and opportunity for relaxation amidst the chaos of COVID. This future park will do the same.  

The future of Banning Ranch is more certain now than it has ever been before. Additional grants are being reviewed and will hopefully be awarded in early 2022. We are no longer fighting a proposed development. Instead, we are working to ensure this land becomes California’s newest coastal park, with public trails, recreational amenities, opportunities to learn about the land and its many resources and history.  

For 20 years activists from all over Southern California supported the efforts to preserve this coastal property. Photo Credit: Joe Sorrentino, The Trust for Public Land

It is with substantial gratitude and enormous hope for the future that—in less than a year—the Conservancy, TPL, and current owners are able to announce that all of the due diligence boxes have been checked, the funding secured, and the land has been protected in perpetuity. Our efforts are living proof that Margaret Mead’s quote continues to apply to local activists: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  

Terry Welsh, M.D. is the President of Banning Ranch Conservancy, a local non-profit whose mission is to preserve, acquire, conserve, and manage the entire Banning Ranch as a permanent public open space, park, and coastal nature preserve.  

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