Yesterday, the California Supreme Court held that the City of Newport Beach must conduct further environmental analysis for a proposed housing development outside the city limits. The property at issue is Banning Ranch, a 400-acre plot of largely undeveloped coastal property in unincorporated Orange County. The proposed development would add much-needed housing in the area, while still leaving a majority of the property as open space.
Prior to approving the development plan, Newport Beach drafted an environmental impact report pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. The City examined the potential environmental impacts, and outlined a plan to mitigate those impacts. The City, however, decided not to issue a determination about whether there were any environmentally sensitive habitat areas (ESHA), as defined by the California Coastal Act. Instead, the City left that determination up to California Coastal Commission, which has final authority over issuing the development permit.
The California Supreme Court decided that the City’s environmental review was inadequate. Despite the fact that California Coastal Commission is required to conduct its own review about ESHAs, the city must go back and make a redundant analysis before new housing can be built. In the case, PLF filed a friend of the Court brief in support of Newport Beach. PLF pointed out how excessive environmental regulations can stifle new housing projects without any corresponding benefits to environmental protection. Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court’s decision goes the other way, and adds untold delay to an already eight-year development process.