Newport Beach officials are taking issue with a flier proclaiming an “urgent health advisory” that is being circulated in opposition to the proposed development of Banning Ranch.
The flier shows an aerial photograph of the 401-acre Banning Ranch property, an expanse of scrub- and grass-covered bluffs and wetlands overlooking the ocean near Pacific Coast Highway that for years has been the site of oil-drilling operations.
The flier also contains a rendering of the proposed residential and business development, a photo of a large underwater pipe spewing a green liquid labeled “sewage” and an illustration of a surfer in a gas mask, labeled “sewage surfer.”
The flier asks Newport Beach surfers, “Is this the pipeline you’ve been dreaming of?”
A. Jensen, a Newport Heights resident who declined to give her first name, said she and a few of her neighbors created the document to inform other residents about Banning Ranch LLC’s proposal to develop 1,375 homes, a 75-room boutique inn and a commercial area on about 95 acres of the property. She said many of her neighbors didn’t know where Banning Ranch is or how the project could affect them.
“We decided to make fliers that would catch people’s attention,” she said. “It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek to raise awareness.”
Jensen said she is not affiliated with the Banning Ranch Conservancy, a local group that opposes the development.
Newport Beach officials posted a response to the flier on the city website this week, saying that neither the city nor the Orange County Health Care Agency had issued a health advisory regarding the development of Banning Ranch.
“While persons can and should make their own mind up as to whether they support the Newport Banning Ranch project, they should not be misled by this ‘advisory’ or the allegation of surfing or swimming in waters contaminated by sewage,” the city statement reads.
The Orange County Sanitation District operates a plant near the Banning Ranch site where wastewater is treated and then dispersed offshore. Newport Beach’s water quality has complied with state standards 95% of the time during yearly sampling periods from 2005 to 2014, the city says. Heal the Bay, an environmental group that annually tests water quality, also has consistently given Newport’s beaches high marks.
Marice DePasquale, a spokeswoman for the Banning Ranch project, said the flier’s claim that the development would result in ocean water being contaminated with sewage is not based in fact. If the project is built, the homes and businesses would connect to the existing sewage system, meaning there would be no new outflow pipes to the ocean, DePasquale said.
“This is a dramatic attempt to cast the project in a negative light,” she said. “It’s fear-mongering.”
Steve Ray, executive director of the Banning Ranch Conservancy, said he is encouraged by residents’ passion for preserving open space along the coast.
The land has been the subject of sometimes intense debate since 2012, when the City Council approved Banning Ranch LLC’s proposal.
The approval of the California Coastal Commission is still needed. The commission could make that decision as early as October.
The conservancy launched an online petition this month in support of its cause leading up to the Coastal Commission hearing.
“People should accept [the flier] as energized people trying to keep this project from happening,” Ray said. “Exercising freedom of speech is always a good thing.”
Newport Councilman Tony Petros, who represents the area around Banning Ranch, said he believes the flier was created to inflame the public before the Coastal Commission hearing.
“It’s completely irresponsible for someone to resort to inflammatory and harmful messaging,” he said. “No one should have any fear of going into the water now or in the future.”
This article was written by Hannah Fry from Daily Pilot, Costa Mesa, Calif. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.