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L.A. County Approves Revised Newhall Ranch Project

THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY Board of Supervisors has approved a revised environmental impact report for the proposed Newhall Ranch development in the hills just west of Santa Clarita. The revised EIR was required because a Kern County judge in 2000 found the original study lacking. Among other things, the judge found that the study did not adequately address where the project would get its water. The court will now review the revised environmental analysis. The revised EIR points to two primary sources of water: 7,038 acre-feet per year from landowner Newhall Ranch and Farming Company's agricultural supply, and 1,607 acre-feet annually transferred from a Kern County farmer. Those two sources are adequate to meet the needs of the project, according to a report by county Planning Director James Hartl. Additionally, Newhall secured an additional entitlement to 7,648 acre-feet per year from the oversubscribed State Water Project, purchased 55,000 acre-feet of groundwater banking storage capacity and determined that the local aquifer can be used for banking. The revised EIR and a settlement among Newhall, the Department of Fish and Game, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney spell out how to handle the San Fernando Valley spineflower. The endangered flower that was found on the site since the county originally approved the development in 1999, and Newhall was accused of hiding the species' presence. (see CP&DR Environment Watch, March 2003). Under the settlement, Newhall will set aside 64 acres for a spineflower preserve and provide DFG with better access to the site and to biological reports. The Board of Supervisors also voted 4-1 to approved various general plan and specific plan amendments and a zoning change to allow the project to proceed. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who voted for the project in 1999, was the dissenter. "We are on a course that is demonstrably wrong," Yaroslavsky said during the board meeting. He called an analysis that found that less than 10% of Newhall Ranch residents would commute outside the Santa Clarita Valley for work "laughable." As approved, Newhall Ranch calls for 20,885 housing units on 11,963 acres. There would also be millions of square feet of commercial and industrial development to provide about 19,000 jobs. Roughly half the site would remain undeveloped. Environmentalists and, possibly, Ventura County, are expected to renew their legal challenges to the project. ******** TEJON RANCH COMPANY and the Trust for Public Land (TPL) jointly announced they are working on a deal in which the TPL would acquire up to 100,000 acres of the 270,000-acre Tejon Ranch north of Los Angeles. No price or timeline for signing a contract were announced. The land would provide habitat for rare species and oaks, and serve as a wildlife corridor that connects open space near the coast to the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. "To help us in planning the future of this historic ranch, we have created a long-term vision that calls for permanent conservation of about 100,000 acres of the most highly prized and environmentally sensitive lands in our nation," Tejon Ranch CEO Bob Stine said in a prepared statement. Tejon Ranch is developing a 20 million-square-foot industrial project in Kern County and is seeking Los Angeles County approved for a 23,000-home new town at Interstate 5 and Highway 138 (see CP&DR Local Watch, April 2003). Some environmentalists worried that the TPL purchase would only encourage development of the rest of the ranch. ******** A NEW U.S. INTERIOR DEPARTMENT proposal for solving water conflicts in western states during the next two decades concentrates on getting more out of existing resources. The report, "Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West," does not call for building additional reservoirs or relaxing environmental regulations two notions that past Republican administrations have advocated. Instead, the report calls for additional research and development for things such as conservation and desalination. The report also calls for modernizing the water infrastructure to stretch existing supplies. "Crisis management is not an effective solution for addressing long-term systematic water supply problems," Interior Secretary Gail Norton said upon the release of the report in May. The report lists six principles: Respect state, tribal and federal water rights, contracts and decrees of the U.S. Supreme Court. Maintain and modernize existing water facilities so they continue to provide water and power. Enhance water conservation and resource monitoring. Use collaborative approaches and market-based transfers to minimize conflicts. Improve water treatment technology, including desalination. Derive additional benefits from existing water supply infrastructure. The report lists 10 hot spots where water conflict is most likely during coming years. Three of the hot spots are in California the Colorado River, the Lake Tahoe region, and a region stretching from the San Francisco Bay delta to the northern San Joaquin Valley. The report is available at www.doi.gov/water2025. ******** RANCHERS AND PROPERTY RIGHTS ACTIVISTS in San Benito County have presented the Board of Supervisors with about 5,300 signatures on a referendum that seeks to overturn a recent board decision to adopt a slow-growth initiative. That initiative encompassed some existing growth-control policies and downzoned tens of thousands of acres of farmland and pasture. When presented with about 5,600 signatures on the initiative in April, supervisors chose to adopt it rather than put it on the ballot. The downzoning especially upset landowners, who responded with the referendum. As of early June, the board had not taken action on the referendum because of legal uncertainties regarding the measure's language. ******** A STUDY OF TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENTS by Caltrans reports that there are significant barriers to development near public transit stations, and recommends that the state modify policies and provide financial incentives to encourage this type of development. The study, "Statewide Transit-Oriented Development Study: Factors for Success in California," lists five major obstacles: Transit system design, local opposition, local zoning, high development risk and cost, and difficulties with financing. The report recommends that the state sell land it owns near major transit stations for transit-oriented development, encourage better coordination of land use and transportation planning, review state environmental requirements, provide funding to local government for transit-oriented development planning, allow greater flexibility in spending state transportation funds, and offer financial incentives. The report is available at www.dot.ca.gov/hg/MassTrans/tod.htm ******** A CONTROVERSIAL PROPOSAL to widen Highway 101 through the San Fernando Valley and eastern Ventura County has been suspended by Caltrans. The May decision came shortly after local representatives Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) and Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) announced their opposition. The freeway has become one of the most clogged in a heavily congested region, but public outcry against the proposal was overwhelming. Caltrans had estimated it would have to acquire about 700 homes and 250 business locations to accommodate the widening.
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