After decades of advocacy, Banning Ranch — Southern California’s largest privately-owned, unprotected coastal space south of Ventura — is slated to become a public park.

Located near Newport Bay, Banning Ranch will be renamed the Randall Preserve and officially become the latest protected area in Orange County’s fight to maintain and preserve open space.

The Trust for Public Land, partnered with the California Natural Resources Agency, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and the Banning Ranch Conservancy, announced the completed acquisition of the Banning Ranch property on Monday.

The property, which was previously an oil field, will undergo two to three years of clean-up to remove oil from the site before it can open to any public access.

Melanie Schlotterbeck, executive director of the Banning Ranch Conservancy, said the goal is for the public to be able to access the land as soon as it’s safe.

“During the oil remediation, the Banning Ranch Conservancy will be assisting MRCA (Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority) to help them develop a resource management plan and a coastal resilience plan, which informs basically where people can be and where they shouldn’t be because of the important habitats and species on the property,” Schlotterbeck said in a phone interview Monday.

Environmentalists and conservationists have eyed for the opportunity to restore coastal wetlands, address climate change and give more residents local coastal park access. The future park is expected to feature trails, camping sites and picnic areas.

The Trust for Public Land and the Banning Ranch Conservancy had been working since 2016 to raise the nearly $100 million needed to purchase the land from private owners. The acquisition was made possible by a series of donations.

Funding including a $50 million donation from philanthropists and Orange County residents Frank and Joan Randall. The rest came from state agencies.

The Wildlife Conservation Board contributed $15.5 million, $14 million came from the California Natural Resources Agency, the State Coastal Conservancy contributed $11.5 million and $8 million came from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

[Read: Banning Ranch is One Step Closer to Becoming Preserved Open Space]

“Completing this conservation project was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and would not have been possible without the incredible generosity of Frank and Joan Randall, combined with the leadership and support of the Governor, local and state elected officials, tribal and community advocates, and our state funding partners,” Guillermo Rodriguez, the Trust for Public Land’s California State Director, said in a statement. 

“We can now officially say this land will become California’s next public coastal park.”

Desires to prevent housing developments in Banning Ranch helped fuel efforts to preserve the land as open space.

Previously, Newport Beach City Council talks have included using parts of Banning Ranch to meet state housing mandates.

[Read: Newport Beach Questions Banning Ranch Park Preservation, Wants Housing There]

State officials want more than 4,800 housing units built in Newport Beach by the year 2029, and city officials had said they needed some of the Banning Ranch land to meet housing demands from the state.

But now they won’t be able to.

The project also blocks oil extraction on the land and protects various threatened or endangered animals in the area, including the San Diego Fairy Shrimp, Light-footed Clapper Rail, American Peregrine Falcon, Least Bell’s Vireo, California Gnatcatcher and Belding’s Savannah Sparrow.

“With sweeping coastal views and fantastic recreational and habitat restoration opportunities, The Frank and Joan Randall Preserve will serve 8.4 million people who live within an hour’s drive and marks a monumental step forward in helping to close the park equity gap in Southern California,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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