Banning Ranch, OC's Last Undeveloped Coastal Treasure, To Be Preserved
Banning Ranch, considered the biggest undeveloped expanse of private land along the Southern California coast, will be preserved.
A group of conservation organizations announced on Monday that the 387-acre parcel in coastal Orange County has been purchased for the public. It is now known as the Randall Preserve, in recognition of a Newport Beach couple who were instrumental in the land's purchase.
Local conservationists have been trying to preserve Banning Ranch for 23 years. The land has been privately owned and operated as an oilfield since the 1940s.
More recently, developers planned to build housing, retail space, and a resort on the land. But the California Coastal Commission denied the plan, saying it would violate the Coastal Act.
Then, in 2019, the Banning Ranch Conservancy got a $50 million donation from Newport Beach couple Frank and Joann Randall to go toward purchasing the property and setting it aside for conservation. State agencies, including the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Wildlife Conservation Board, chipped in the rest.
"This is really one for the history books," said Terry Welsh, board president of the Banning Ranch Conservancy.
The property stretches along the Santa Ana River between Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, and Newport Beach. It includes vernal pools that are home to several endangered species, and bluffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean.
The ranch is also crisscrossed with dirt roads and dotted with oil infrastructure, some of it leaky.
Welsh said the next three years will be dedicated to cleaning up the land and removing oil infrastructure. Conservation groups will also start working on a management plan with input from California Native American tribes and the surrounding community.
"The work, in many ways, is just getting started," Welsh said.
The priorities for the newly acquired land are protecting biodiversity, public access, including a potential future campground, and tribal access to the area, which is part of the ancestral homeland of the Acjachemen and Tongva people.
The land was once part of a native village site known as Gengaa (also spelled Geŋa or Genga).
Heidi Lucero, CEO of the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, wrote in a news release: "We are also excited to see what the future holds and in regaining an area for us to hold ceremony. Geŋa hold a special place in our hearts."