Plans for the Newhall Ranch residential development project hit a snag this week as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a preliminary ruling supporting allegations that the project does not do enough to protect endangered species in the area.
In her statement of intended decision, Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones wrote that studies had been insufficient to determine whether construction of the planned community might endanger plant or wildlife in the area.
The lawsuit challenges the county’s approval of the Newhall Ranch Mission Village, phase two of the development planned east of Castaic Junction along the Santa Clara River.
When completed, Newhall Ranch would add more than 20,000 new homes and a number of new commercial areas in the northwest Santa Clarita Valley.
John Buse, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said he thinks the judge’s statement is a good sign for the environmental groups that sued developer Newhall Land Development Inc.
“I don’t expect the final verdict to change greatly and I think that’s favorable to the groups challenging the project,” he said.
Newhall Ranch has been in the works for more than a decade. Environmental groups sued to stop construction from beginning in June on claims of potential adverse effects to endangered or threatened species in the area, among them the unarmored three-spine stickleback and the San Fernando Valley spineflower.
The groups that sued — Friends of the Santa Clara River, the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, the Center for Biological Diversity, the California Native Plant Society and the Wishtoyo Foundation — allege the development would cause irreparable harm to the ecosystem along the river. The Wishtoyo Foundation is also moving to block the project due to alleged potential damages to Native American cultural sites.
“We believe that the decade-long environmental review process, which resulted in significant additional riparian land and spineflower preserves, was very thorough and detailed,” said Marlee Lauffer, spokeswoman for Newhall Land.
“We are working with the Department of Fish and Game to fully assess the court’s initial ruling and to review all the legal options.”
Mike Taugher, communications director of the California Department of Fish and Game, said the agency is still reviewing the decision and has no comment at this time.
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After more than a decade of addressing water and environmental concerns, officials at Newhall Land Development Inc. announced Tuesday they have received a green light from the regional water board to proceed with Newhall Ranch.
Newhall Land officials received word from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board on Friday that board members had unanimously voted to issue a 401 Water Quality Certification of the Army Corps 404 permit issued last summer.
“This is an important governmental approval,” said Marlee Lauffer, vice president of marketing and communication for Newhall Land.
“We are pleased to bring this community to fruition,” she said, referring to the planned 20,000-home Newhall Ranch development, to be located along Highway 126 west of Castaic.
“The issuance of these final permits allows us to be able to put this plan into reality,” she said.
In a media release announcing the board’s decision, Lauffer said: “This action completes the more-than-a-decade-long process of obtaining all the federal permits relating to environmental issues on Newhall Ranch.”
“Over the last several years, Newhall Land has been working with the Regional Water Quality Control Board on the incorporation of state-of-the-art water quality control and treatment facilities within the Newhall Ranch plan and have obtained long-term federal and state environmental permits from a variety of agencies, including Department of Fish and Game, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Army Corps of Engineers, and US Environmental Protection Agency,” she said.
Water board representatives could not be reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon.
In March, the board publicized notices of public hearings on the environmental concerns surrounding Newhall Land’s application for water quality certification.
Written comments were welcomed by the board until April 9 with the understanding that the board would approve certification in May.
Newhall Ranch is a master-planned community from the same firm that planned and developed Valencia. It would add more than 20,000 homes and a number of new commercial areas in the northwest Santa Clarita Valley.
Construction of the community is expected to take 25 to 30 years.
The plan, according to Lauffer, provides a “critical balance to allow for a 3-1 jobs-to-housing ratio, an array of housing types, transportation improvements and key environmental protection.”
Project planners boast more than 50 miles of trails that are expected to extend from the hills flanking the Santa Clara River Valley to the Santa Clara River and connect to trails within the city of Santa Clarita.
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