Private 384-Acre Oilfield One Step Closer to Becoming Oceanfront Parkland Thanks to $50 Million Gift

Southern California’s largest swath of unprotected coastal open space is now under option. The project would restore coastal wetlands, address climate change, and create park access for millions.

May 20, 2021
LOS ANGELES

Today, The Trust for Public Land and the Banning Ranch Conservancy announced that Banning Ranch in Orange County is one major step closer to being permanently protected and restored. Thanks to a $50 million donation from philanthropists and longtime Orange County residents Frank and Joann Randall, The Trust for Public Land has been able to secure an exclusive agreement to purchase the property. This is the first time the property has been for sale and under option in more than a half century.  

“This year especially, the outdoors has been a lifeline,” said Diane Regas, president and CEO of The Trust for Public Land. “But if you are one of the 100 million people, including 28 million kids, who don’t have a park close to home, it means you are vying for the same patch of outdoor space as many of your neighbors.” Regas continued, “The Randall family’s donation illustrates the transformative impact that a gift of this scale can have. With sweeping coastal views and fantastic recreational opportunities, a future park at Banning Ranch could serve 8.4 million people who live within an hour’s drive. I am deeply grateful to the Randalls for their incredible generosity. If we can secure the remaining funds to complete the purchase, we will have made significant progress towards increasing park equity and access in Southern California.” 

Equivalent in size to 290 football fields and directly adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, the 384-acre property has long been eyed for development.  For more than two decades, a coalition of nonprofit organizations, government partners, and community activists has fought to preserve it and transform it as a regional public asset. 

“I hope that what I’ve done to preserve open space for the public inspires other people in my position to do the same. I'm just amazed at how beautiful all of this is. I hope to be able to come here and enjoy watching the public enjoy this park.” said Frank Randall, who recently turned 91, during a recent visit to Banning Ranch.   

Within an hour’s drive from the property, about half of the population is considered low-income, one-third of residents live in park-deficient communities, and 66 percent of residents are of Hispanic or Asian descent, making the project a high priority for addressing the park equity gap region-wide.  

"No one will see a parcel of undeveloped coastal property this size available for conservation ever again in Southern California,” said Terry Welsh, president of Banning Ranch Conservancy. “Frank and Joann Randall's game-changing $50 million donation, combined with the diligent work of The Trust for Public Land and years of work by a coalition of environmental, neighborhood, and other groups has brought us to the doorstep of success.  Please join us in creating a public open space, park, and coastal nature preserve for the ages at Banning Ranch, which will serve not only the immediately adjacent economically disadvantaged community of west Costa Mesa and local tribal interests, but also residents region-wide."  

Project partners envision turning the property into a vast public park that would provide coastal access with trails, camping, and picnic sites. It would connect to a nearly 1,000-acre network of parks and open space that would be linked by bike and walking trails and easily accessed by public transportation.  The project would also secure protection for critical biological diversity. There are approximately 100 acres of coastal wetlands and 200 acres of coastal sage scrub, and critical habitat for as many as five endangered species on the property. Additionally, protecting this property from development aligns with the State of California’s climate goals and Governor Newsom’s 30x30 Initiative, which calls for the protection of 30 percent of the state’s land and coastal waters by the year 2030.  

“This contribution represents a huge down payment on regional efforts to expand equitable access to open space for communities in the area,” said California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot. “We are also excited that it complements our efforts to conserve 30 percent of our lands and coastal waters by 2030 and helps maintain California’s valuable biodiversity. We look forward to this project contributing to our commitment to Outdoor Access for All.”

Proponents of the project include CA Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris, who championed the effort from the time she came to the Assembly in 2018, and was joined by Senator Dave Min and local Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley after they took office this year, along with the Orange County Community Foundation, state agency leaders with the California Natural Resources Agency, University of California at Irvine, The Nature Conservancy, and many other conservation and community leaders. 

“Forever protecting Banning Ranch is a one-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris, whose district includes the property. “This project will restore vital coastal wetlands, provide unparalleled coastal access for surrounding underserved communities, and preserve this jewel for all Southern Californians to enjoy.”  

“This moment in time represents a culmination of two decades of community organizing to protect access to nature along our beautiful coast. It’s our last chance to significantly expand the region’s coastal wetlands and open space reserves,” said Katrina Foley, Orange County supervisor, Second District. “We are grateful for the gift by the Randalls that helped propel the opportunity forward.” 

"The Orange County Community Foundation is honored to play a role in bringing outstanding coastal access to the more than eight million people who live within a short drive from Banning Ranch," said Austin Muckenthaler, donor relations and programs officer, OCCF. "We are incredibly proud to seize this opportunity to make a special landscape public for all to experience and enjoy." 

Over the next year, The Trust for Public Land and Banning Ranch Conservancy will work to secure the additional public and private funds to complete the $97 million purchase. The property will then need to undergo remediation to remove oil facilities and clean up the land. A robust community engagement process to plan for the property’s future will also be initiated. 

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About The Trust for Public Land  

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a 10-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org. 

About Banning Ranch Conservancy 

The mission of the Banning Ranch Conservancy is to preserve, acquire, conserve and manage the entire Banning Ranch as permanent public open space, park and coastal nature preserve. Visit www.banningranchconservancy.org to learn more.