Lynne Plambeck: Newhall Ranch Vote Misguided

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the long-contested first phase of the Newhall Ranch development project on a three-supporting, two-abstaining vote.

The Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment believes approval of this project was a mistake and said so at the board meeting, bringing up many facts to support our argument.

One of the particularly discouraging parts of testifying before members of the board of supervisors is the aura of unreality that seems to surround their decision-making.

For example, as part of the approval process, they must make certain findings, including the need for additional housing.

Many homeowners in the SCV face foreclosure, and several housing projects — including at least two projects owned by Newhall Land Development Inc. — remain unfinished due to lack of buyers and thousands of additional units are already approved but not yet built. This project approval was certainly not necessary to provide housing here. We already have plenty. How did they get around this fact?

According to a country supervisors report: “In response to claims that a 33,000-unit oversupply of approved housing units exists in the Santa Clarita Valley, staff explained that, while many of these units may have certain land use approvals, they are not necessarily approved for immediate construction. Therefore, there is no existing oversupply of existing housing in the area.”

Wow, the staff needs to review their files and maybe even take a tour of local construction sites to make sure they have their facts straight. But why did the supervisors believe them? Surely an elected official who cared about his or her community would have asked a few questions about this statement.

After all, this project will have a huge impact on our community. Not only will it destroy a particularly sensitive area of the Santa Clara River, Los Angeles County’s last free-flowing river, but local residents will also face increased air- and water-quality problems, the costs of potential downstream flooding and substantial added traffic to the freeways and local streets.

There is no guarantee that Newhall Land and its checkered financial history will have the funding to pay for needed infrastructure for the project.

In spite of residents’ requests for bonding to ensure that taxpayers would not get stuck with the bill, the supervisors accepted the developer’s statement that everything was fine because it had thus far paid its share on two freeway off-ramps required for previous project approvals.

Among the other findings made for this project:

The board finds that the design of the subdivision and the proposed improvements will not cause substantial environmental damage or substantial or avoidable injury to fish and wildlife or their habitat, as appropriate mitigation measures have been incorporated into the conditions of approval.

The board finds substantial benefits resulting from implementation of the project outweigh its unavoidable significant effects on visual, quality, air quality, solid-waste services and agricultural resources.

I wonder how many local residents would agree that building Newhall Ranch is really so important that the added air pollution, trash and loss of the scenic highway status (the Santa Clara River will be hidden behind strip malls when this project is built) is an acceptable trade-off. Do the people in Val Verde really think that expanding Chiquita Canyon Landfill is just fine because Newhall Ranch will be a substantial benefit to them? I doubt it.

“The board finds that there is no evidence that the proposed project will be materially detrimental to the use, enjoyment, or valuation of property of other persons located in the vicinity of the project site,” a country report stated.

What about the downstream property owners that raised concerns about flooding and water pollution? What about parents who are worried about increasing asthma rates from air pollution. What about commuters already facing severe traffic jams?

How could the three supervisors who voted for this project honestly believe these statements?

Most residents in Santa Clarita don’t have time to read the board’s agenda packets; far fewer take time off work to attend their meetings. We depend on elected representatives to make good decisions on our behalf. But, perhaps it is time for all of us to watch a little more closely.

In a new era of public demands for fiscal responsibility, transparency and fairness from government agencies and officials, SCOPE believes this approval represents a disservice to the taxpayers, homeowners and residents of the Santa Clarita Valley and to the entire county.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.

Click HERE for the article.

Phase 1 of Newhall Ranch Gets Three Thumbs Up

Los Angeles County Supervisors gave three thumbs up Tuesday to the 1,444-home Landmark Village tract – the first phase of the planned 20,885-home Newhall Ranch “mini city” west of Interstate 5 in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the area, was joined in the 3-0 affirmative vote by Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas, while Gloria Molina and current board Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky abstained for unspecified reasons.

The vote was a long time coming for the developer, The Newhall Land and Farming Co., which started planning the housing project in 1996.

In a deja vu of sorts, Tuesday’s action included the approval of a tentative tract map for Landmark Village – something that already happened in 1999 before several unforeseen factors intervened, most significantly the decision to place all of Newhall Land’s future “west side” projects under the umbrella of a single specific plan. That plan was approved in 2003.

Bounded by Highway 126 on the north and Six Flags Magic Mountain on the southeast, Landmark Village spans 263 acres and will include 70 single-family homes, 1,105 multi-family units and 69 mixed-use units – plus an elementary school, park and fire station.

It is also expected to provide 3,700 jobs and add 1 million square feet of space to the Santa Clarita Valley’s commercial and retail inventory.

While providing the county with 60 acres of open space, plans call for moving 7 million yards of earth and removing 65 oak trees including 10 heritage oaks.

Several conditions were placed on the company as part of the approval, said county planner Samuel Dea, including bank stabilization in the Santa Clara River. To keep chloride discharges below 100 parts per billion, a 1.2-acre “demineralization” facility and a 1.6-acre brine disposal well would have to be installed before any building permits are issued.

Local environmentalists told supervisors Tuesday the housing project would harm the river and isn’t needed.

“We believe approval of this project was a mistake,” said Lynne Plambeck of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. “At a time when … tens of thousands additional units are already approved but not yet built, this project presents an unnecessary burden to our community.”

She said the development will add to the area’s air, water and traffic problems.

Dea noted that the One Valley One Vision city-county general plan, which heads to the supervisors for final approval next week, calls for an additional 84,000 homes when the Santa Clarita Valley is “built out” – more than the 33,000 approved-but-unbuilt homes Plambeck cites.

Newhall Land spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer said last week the first Landmark Village homes could be built in 18 to 24 months, but the time frame depends chiefly on the status of active and threatened environmental lawsuits.

Not yet calendared for final approval is the 4,000-home Mission Village, the second phase of Newhall Ranch. Supervisors signaled their intent to approve both Landmark and Mission villages when they approved the two projects’ environmental documents last fall.

Click HERE for the article.

Phase 1 of Newhall Ranch Gets Supervisors’ Nod

With county supervisors approving the first phase of Newhall Ranch on Tuesday, officials at Newhall Land Development Inc. expect to start building homes for the development’s first phase as early as 18 months, a spokeswoman for the long-standing local land developer said.

On Tuesday, three of five Los Angeles County supervisors approved three recommendations the development planned for the southwest corner of Highway 126 and Interstate 5 along the Santa Clara River.

Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich, Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas voted in favor or all three recommendations, while Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky abstained.

“We’re very pleased with the Board of Supervisors finally approving the tentative tract map,” Marlee Lauffer, vice president of marketing and communication for Newhall Land, told The Signal on Tuesday.

“It’s certainly been a long process that has been thoroughly reviewed, analyzed and commented on,” she said.
Asked when shovels were expected to go into the ground for homes built as part of Newhall Ranch’s first phase of development, dubbed Landmark Village, she said within the next two years.

“We’re guesstimating that within one and a half years to two years, we can begin to start to develop,” Lauffer said.

Before Tuesday’s vote was held, a handful of Santa Clarita Valley residents expressed concerns about the project’s impact on water and air quality and about its environmental effect on riverside birds and wildlife.

Among those opposed to the project who spoke was local environmentalist Lynne Plambeck, who told supervisors she was concerned about worsening air quality and a widening plume of contaminated groundwater.

Antonovich asked Newhall Land officials about water and air quality.

Newhall Land President Greg McWilliams directed his attention to water and air experts consulted by the developer in preparing the environmental impact report.

Satisfied with the answers given by company officials to questions about environmental impacts, the majority of supervisors voted in favor of the development.

“We believe approval of this project was a mistake,” Plambeck said in a written statement issued after the vote and on behalf of the local environmental group Santa Clarita Organization for Planning The Environment.

She said with homeowners facing foreclosures, some housing projects approved but not built and others only partially built, “this project approval presents an unnecessary burden on our community,” she said.

A gray-haired woman who identified herself to the board as a Newhall resident echoed concerns about the developer’s ability to see a large project through to completion.

“If you have a builder who doesn’t have any financial backing, or strong financial backing, they can walk away from a project and leave roads incomplete and a leave a real mess that someone is going to have to step in and fix the problem,” she said.

“We have to make sure the finances are in place,” she said.

Antonovich asked McWilliams about Newhall Land’s financial stability.

“On July 1, 2009, we emerged from Chapter 11,” McWilliams said. “During the time we were in bankruptcy, we moved forward with development and re-invested about $40 million at the time and have invested (more) in restructuring.”

He told the board that Newhall Land has continued its development of “critical projects on Interstate 5” at Magic Mountain Parkway and Hasley Canyon Road.

“Our track record is continuing to build infrastructure,” he said.

The project calls for developing 422 lots on about 295 acres. The lots would mean 270 single-family homes, 744 condominiums and 430 apartments, along with 16 commercial lots.

The plan for Landmark Village, Phase 1 of Newhall Ranch, also calls for 119 lots for open space, plus at least one fire station, park and school.

Newhall Ranch is a master-planned community from the same firm that planned and developed Valencia.

After its projected 25- to 30-year construction period, it would be home to more than 20,000 residences west of Interstate 5 and south of Highway 126.

Click HERE for the article.

County Board to Vote on Development

County supervisors are today expected to give Newhall Land Development Inc. the green light to start building homes in Landmark Village, the first phase of Newhall Ranch.

Three recommendations regarding the land development are on today’s budget at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting in Los Angeles.

All three are expected to be approved.

People for and against the project had an opportunity to voice their opinions in October, when the board listened to public comment.

Today’s recommendations calling on the board to approve the developer’s “vesting tentative map,” which outlines details of the building project and the conditional-use permits requested of the county in order to carry it out.

In considering the recommendations, supervisors are also expected to approve changes the project is expected to make to the county’s general plan.

In October, supervisors indicated they would likely approve the recommendations after they heard from a variety of people representing different points of view about Newhall Ranch.

The proposed zoning changes would usher in the creation of 422 lots on about 295 acres. The lots would mean 270 single-family homes, 744 condominiums and 430 apartments, along with 16 commercial lots.

The plan for Landmark Village, Phase 1 of Newhall Ranch, also calls for 119 lots for open space, plus at least one fire station, park and school.

Newhall Ranch is a master-planned community from the same firm that planned and developed Valencia.

After its projected 25- to 30-year construction period, it would be home to more than 20,000 residences west of Interstate 5 and south of Highway 126.

Click HERE for the article.

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