Keep government out of Banning Lewis

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City Councilman Sean Paige has been kicking around the idea that the city should buy the bankrupt Banning Lewis Ranch.

He’s thinking we could build an equestrian center, trails, perhaps even an Olympic training facility.

It’s not a new idea; Paige promoted it last year when he sought appointment to the vacant city council seat he now occupies. But the concept, at least in Paige’s way of thinking, merits closer scrutiny now in light of the company’s Chapter 11 filing late last month.

Risk can beget reward but as much as we all enjoy the outdoors, this idea just doesn’t excite us. Just the reverse, actually.

Rather inconsistently, Paige, one of the better-known proponents of limited government in these parts, is suggesting we use taxpayer money to do this deal.

He’d like the city to purchase the 21,000-acre development, preserve some, perhaps even all of it, as open space and, as opportunity arises, sell off parcels piecemeal to developers down the road.

If you favored the nationalization of, say, banks, that sounds like a reasonable idea. But we don’t, and the way affairs have unfolded at Banning Lewis, finding developers willing to take over even smaller parcels is sure to take years, if not decades.

Paige reasons that the purchase would give the city more control over development plans and push back the deadline to complete the 62-mile Southern Delivery System, which will provide water for the development.

Perhaps SDS should be delayed, but we’re not in favor of Paige’s approach.

There are instances, projects, initiatives and so on in which it’s appropriate to use tax money. But not on projects like this, especially during times like these. The city already exerts plenty of control over Banning Lewis. After all, no development in the city can move forward without the approval of planners and council members.

The notion of using tax money to preserve open space is a nice idea. But what’s really most troubling is Paige’s idea that some of the money the city derives in spinning off Memorial be used to pull off his vision of what should or could happen at Banning Lewis. That money should be used for one thing only: establishing a health care foundation that tends to the neediest in our community.

Perhaps the councilman deserves credit for thinking out of the box. He’s right when he says the Banning Lewis bankruptcy represents an opportunity for the city to perhaps “re-envision” the eastside.

But the bottom line on this is straight-forward: we prefer to allow the free market to dictate what happens with Banning Lewis.

You want to carve out a new area for recreation? Sure, fine. Let’s talk about it. But forgive us if we can’t be enthusiastic about notions that city government will do any better than the parade of speculators and developers who have already lost tens of millions at Banning Lewis.