ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — It’s the kind of uninterrupted view that one might be surprised still exists in Southern California, but it is what Newport Beach resident Suzanne Forster, a New York Times Bestselling author, looks out at every day.

One day a knock on her front door changed everything. 

The conversation that followed — about preserving the property behind her backyard — created a plot twist. 

What You Need To Know

  • An $8 million grant from California Fish and Wildlife is the latest funding to help public land advocates and conservationists purchase almost all of the 401-acre property

  • Banning Ranch is a private working oilfield near Newport Beach

  • It’s currently a fenced-off working oilfield and there are a number of threatened, endangered and special species on the land

  • Advocates have $66 million of $97 million price tag

Forster said that was last novel she ever wrote, and she became a full-time conservationist. Her next chapter would be saving the property called Banning Ranch from being developed.

“He said maybe you should turn around and take a look out your back window. And I did. And I saw that beautiful expanse of property behind me that I didn’t realize was called Banning Ranch that we had taken for granted for so long,” Forster said.

After getting on board 12 years ago, she and the Banning Ranch Conservancy are on the verge of acquiring nearly all of the 401-acre property.

Biologist Robb Hamilton has surveyed the land from the edges for the Conservancy and has been familiar with it for decades.

It’s currently a fenced-off working oilfield with a number of threatened, endangered and special species on the land.

“The value of something really depends on its rarity. And you can’t get any rarer than flat land in coastal Southern California that still has its native ecosystem in-tact, so really it’s completely invaluable,” Hamilton said.

It’s been a 22-year process in total to preserve Banning Ranch, which is the largest parcel of unprotected coastal open space in Southern California.

Paolo Perrone, who works for the Trust for Public Land, reached a deal with the private owner of Banning Ranch last year to buy the land. A proposed nature park for the site would give 8.4 million people within a one-hour drive, and two communities next door considered by the state to be financially disadvantaged, access to a park and open space.

“We hope from an equity and access standpoint that we can increase Californians ability to enjoy natural spaces next to the ocean,” Perrone said.

So far the organization has $66 million of the $97 million purchase price, in hand. But their efforts have really been buoyed by philanthropist Frank Randall — a Newport Beach resident who, along with his wife Joann, donated $50 million for its purchase.

“My wallet is empty. That’s the first feeling. But no, I’m so happy to have this moment finally come. I think this is such a great acquisition for the public and for Orange County in particular,” Randall said.

The groups still has $31 million to go, but they’re excited to be getting closer.

For conservationists like Forster, having this opportunity is priceless. They’re hoping to make this preservation permanent.

“I just feel privileged to be a part of this,” Forster said.