SAN FRANCISCO, March 31, 2017— The California Supreme Court unanimously rejected the city of Newport’s approval of the controversial Banning Ranch project, finding it didn’t properly analyze impacts to environmentally sensitive habitat areas. The decision overturns a Court of Appeals ruling that had sided with the city and developers in a lawsuit filed by the Banning Ranch Conservancy.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the California Native Plant Society, which filed an amicus criticizing the city’s approval, hailed the ruling as an important victory for California gnatcatchers, San Diego fairy shrimp, burrowing owls and state laws that require protecting the habitat of imperiled wildlife.
“This significant victory puts agencies and developers on notice that the Coastal Act’s vital habitat protections can’t be ignored,” said Aruna Prabhala, a Center staff attorney. “The Supreme Court affirmed the importance of rare and sensitive coastal habitat while rejecting the city’s attempt to weaken environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.”
In a separate administrative process, the California Coastal Commission rejected the 895-home Banning Ranch project in September 2016 because of its impacts to sensitive coastal habitat and burrowing owls. The proposal would have brought homes, hotels and shops to one of the largest remaining private parcels of land on the Southern California coast.
The Supreme Court decision strengthens previous court rulings that the California Environmental Quality Act and California Coastal Act require developers and cities to take into account critical coastal habitat when considering new development projects. .
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“This ruling ensures that any future proposed development on this vital piece of California’s shoreline will have to undergo a thorough environmental review that fully analyzes threats to vulnerable wildlife and adequately protects this biologically rich habitat,” Prabhala said.
“The Supreme Court decision preserves an important piece of California’s coastal habitat and reaffirms the laws meant to protect our state’s plants and wildlife,” said California Native Plant Society Conservation program director Greg Suba.