Tejon Ranch owns what might be the largest contiguous stretch of land controlled by one property owner in California. Since the mid-19th century, the Tejon Ranch property, located along present-day Interstate 5 in Los Angeles and Kern Counties, has served primarily for cattle grazing and sport hunting.
But Tejon Ranch Company, a publicly traded corporation, is now pursuing major development projects on opposite ends of the ranch: a 1,400-acre industrial park at Interstate 5 and Highway 99 in Kern County; and a new town of 23,000 housing units on 11,700 acres at I-5 and Highway 138.
The new town would lie the edge of the Tehachapi Mountains and the western Antelope Valley in northern Los Angeles County. Tejon Ranch is also pursing a resort development of some type, but the company has declined to elaborate publicly.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved the Tejon Industrial Complex in January, but environmentalists have filed a lawsuit that alleges the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act. Los Angeles County planners have only begun to process the application for the new town. Environmentalists are demanding that the company release a master plan for its entire 270,000-acre (420-square-mile) ranch before proceeding with individual projects. But Tejon Ranch officials say their current plans cover only about 5% of the ranch, will take years to build out, and projecting beyond those projects is too speculative.
"They [environmentalists] keep asking, ï¿½What else are they going to do?' Well, we don't know," said Barry Hibbard, vice president of commercial and industrial marketing for Tejon Ranch.
Center for Biological Diversity attorney Kassie Siegel does not believe it. Kern and Los Angeles counties should insist on a master plan before processing any Tejon Ranch development proposals so that all of the potential impacts are known, she said. "They [Tejon Ranch] have been piecemealing this all along the way," she said. Kern County Planning Director Ted James did not believe a master plan was necessary for the county to process the industrial complex application.
"If this had been a 100-acre project site on the valley floor, and they were only going to develop 40 acres, I'd say, ï¿½Why don't you do a master plan?'," James said. But the ranch "is so diverse geographically" that master planning would be nearly impossible, he said.
At times, it is difficult to tell if environmentalists and Tejon Ranch are talking about the same land. Environmentalists say the ranch ï¿½ which stretches from the outskirts of Bakersfield over the Tehachapi Mountains to the Antelope Valley ï¿½ is an important corridor for wildlife movement and provides habitat for numerous species.
"It is an absolutely critical area in California," Siegel said. "It is the last remaining linkage between coastal Southern California and the Sierra Nevada for wildlife."
Tejon Ranch, meanwhile says the sites for the industrial complex and new town have little habitat value (partly because of years of grazing) and that I-5 and the California Aqueduct, both of which bisect the ranch, already inhibit wildlife movement.
The Tejon Industrial Complex attempts to take advantage of two things ï¿½ Kern County's need for employment, and the site's proximity to existing trucking routes. In 2000, Kern County supervisors approved 5 million square feet of industrial development on 320 acres west of I-5 (see CP&DR Economic Development, October 2000). Shortly after receiving approval for that project, Tejon Ranch filed an application for 15 million square feet of industrial development on 1,100 acres east of the freeway. In January, the county approved a general plan amendment, rezoning, specific plan and development agreement for the 1,100-acre project. The county also canceled a Williamson Act contract for 130 acres of farmland on the site. Project backers foresee the industrial complex becoming a major distribution center for the western United States, employing as many as 6,800 people. So far, an 850,000-square foot Ikea warehouse has been built, and a second warehouse of the same size for the furniture retailer is under construction, according to Hibbard.
Another 650,000-square-foot warehouse is complete and half leased. Plans for an additional 600,000 square feet of space are in limbo because of the general economic uncertainty, he said. Build-out of the entire 20 million square feet will take seven to ten years, he estimated. The site is advantageous to shippers because it does not take any longer to move freight from ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles to the Tejon Industrial Complex than to logistics hubs in western San Bernardino and Riverside counties. But Tejon Industrial Complex provides better access to Northern California population centers, Hibbard said. Even the site's east-west access is good, thanks to nearby Highway 58, which intersects with Interstates 40 and 15 in Barstow. Kern County's unemployment rate is typically among the highest in the state, so distributors have been swamped with job-seekers, Hibbard reported. Those new jobs were enticing to county leaders, James added.
The site is marginal farmland at the confluence of two highways, "so it was a logical place for trucking or travel-related activities," James said.
But project opponents argue that a major employment center belongs in an established urban area. Bakersfield is about 30 miles away, while the smaller communities of Arvin and Lamont are about 20 miles from the industrial complex. Forcing thousands of workers to drive 40 to 60 miles roundtrip will only exacerbate air pollution in a region that compares to the smoggy climes of the Inland Empire and Houston, project opponents contend. In fact, air pollution is one of the key issues surrounding the project.
The county adopted findings of overriding consideration regarding air quality because the project's air quality impacts could not be mitigated ï¿½ a common practice in the Central Valley. The county did impose conditions, such as requiring all on-site forklifts to be fueled by propane or electricity, and requiring trucks to connect to electricity hookups rather than run their diesel engines all night. Also, car-poolers will get priority parking, and bus service, which now runs four times per day, will expand. Those conditions did not satisfy environmentalists, and air quality is one aspect of their CEQA lawsuit.
The lawsuit ï¿½ filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, the Sierra Club and the Kern Audubon Society ï¿½ also claims the environmental impact report did not adequately address loss of habitat and farmland, growth inducement, impacts to water quality and other issues. Attorney Siegel said environmentalists submitted hundreds of comments during the review process, but the county largely ignored the input. James said the county expected environmentalists to sue over the project, so officials were extra careful with their review.
Hibbard said the project has "a well-documented EIR and we're very confident." "Kern County grew 42% during the 1990s," Hibbard continued. "These people need somewhere to work. We think this is a great place for commercial and industrial development."
James believes it would be logical for the area near the freeway junction to become a city in the distant future. He noted that a specific plan for the 9,400-acre San Emedio Ranch ï¿½ where a housing subdivision was approved 11 years ago but never developed (see CP&DR, October 1992; CP&DR Legal Digest, June 1993)ï¿½ remains in effect for property just west of the industrial complex. Los Angeles houses While the industrial complex is the farthest along of Tejon Ranch's projects, the proposed new town would be significantly larger. Tejon Ranch has joined with three developers ï¿½ Pardee Homes, Lewis Investment Company and Standard Pacific Homes ï¿½ on the project, which is called Centennial.
The proposed specific plan, which proponents filed with Los Angeles County in early March, calls for 23,000 housing units, 12.2 million square feet of office and industrial space, and 1.9 million square feet of retail development. Roughly half of the 11,700-acre site would be parks, golf courses or open space. Development would occur over 20 years. The county's general plan currently designates the site as a special ecological area or a hillside management area, according to Russell Fricano, acting head of the county's zoning permits section. Centennial would be about the same size as the proposed Newhall Ranch, a project 20 miles closer to Los Angeles that has become a lightening rod for criticism. The idea behind Centennial is the creation of a self-contained city, said Greg Medeiros, vice president of community development for Centennial Founders, LLC.
Project designers have drawn ideas from a number of the best-known new urbanist and neo-traditional developments around the country, including Celebration in Florida, Kentlands in Maryland and Summerlin in Las Vegas. Centennial is proposed to have a traditional village center surrounded by more typical suburban housing subdivisions. Retail and office development will be integrated throughout the project, and an open space buffer, which includes Los Padres National Forest, would circle the town.
"If you believe that growth is inevitable, then you should be looking for appropriate sites. This site is ideal," Medeiros said. "There is very little biodiversity. There are no endangered or threatened species ï¿½ it has been grazed for about 125 years. There are mostly non-native grasses on the site." Moreover, the California Aqueduct, a high pressure natural gas line, fiber optic lines and two highways run through the site, which also has a Southern California Edison substation.
Project backers have undertaken an extensive public outreach campaign for the approximately 6,000 people who live in Frazier Park, Gorman, Pine Mountain and other small communities in the vicinity, Medeiros said. Feedback thus far has been mostly positive, and, indeed, environmentalists have remained in the background. But no one expects that to continue.
One of the major issues environmentalists are likely to press is water. Proponents are working on a water plan, Medeiros said. He conceded that the plan will rely partly on the State Water Project. However, the State Water Project can deliver only about half of what it has promised to farmers and urban areas, and courts are beginning to block projects that rely on the State Water Project as a primary source.
Barry Hibbard, Tejon Ranch, (661) 248-9000. Greg Medeiros, Centennial Founders, (310) 446-1278. Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, (909) 659-6053. Ted James, Kern County Planning Department, (661) 862-8600. Russell Fricano, Los Angeles County Planning Department, (213) 974-6443. Tejon Ranch website: www.tejon.com