UPDATE: Court Denies Newhall Land Attempts to Remove Judge

Newhall Land Development Inc. has failed in its bid to remove the judge who ruled that Newhall Ranch needs further environmental review.

The motion by Newhall Land asked that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Jones be disqualified from further ruling on cases related to the more than 20,000-home development planned west of Santa Clarita, according to documents obtained Friday by The Signal.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Glenda Sanders ruled Jan. 10 that Newhall Land’s challenge failed to establish any basis for Jones’ disqualification.

The disqualification proceedings were conducted by an Orange County Superior Court judge to prevent potential conflicts of interest. This is a common practice in such matters, said Frederick Bennett, Jones’ court counsel.
Bennett praised Sanders for her thorough review during the proceedings.

“We’re very grateful that Judge Sanders devoted the time and effort necessary to rule correctly,” Bennett said. “In these cases you need a judge who can cut through a mass of paperwork and examine the issues, and (Sanders) left no stone unturned.”

Jones ruled against Newhall Land on Oct. 15, citing environmental concerns over Newhall Ranch, which has been proposed for nearly 20 years and has received permits from Los Angeles County to move ahead. Jones’ ruling halts any progress toward construction, at least for now.

Jones was set to rule on two other cases related to Newhall Ranch — the Landmark Village and Mission Village portions of the overall project — after hearings were complete.

Both of those portions are facing environmental lawsuits from environmental groups in and around the Santa Clarita Valley.

Newhall Land had alleged that Jones’ dispute over a lot split in her Placerita Canyon neighborhood, as well as her cooperation with members of the Sierra Club during that dispute, constituted sufficient bias to remove her from ruling on Newhall Ranch cases.

Jones petitioned both the Santa Clarita Planning Commission and the City Council to deny the lot split, which divided a two-acre parcel into two parcels to allow for the construction of an additional house on the land. The commission agreed with Jones’ position, but the City Council granted the split.

Newhall Land alleged that Jones — who claimed the land division violated local standards and would negatively affect the area — never disclosed her involvement in the proposed subdivision during any court proceedings.

Jones’ involvement in a development dispute with her neighbor represented a conflict of interest, Newhall Land alleged.

Sanders rejected that line of reasoning in her ruling, writing Newhall Land’s allegations were based on “attenuated relationships and speculation.”

Newhall Land spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer said the decision was disappointing. Newhall Land now has 10 days to decide whether to appeal the disqualification.

But regardless of the outcome, Jones was recently reassigned in Los Angeles Superior Court and is no longer the presiding judge in cases related to California Environmental Quality Act challenges against Newhall Ranch, Lauffer said.

Newhall Land has appealed Jones’ order for an environmental review of Newhall Ranch. That appeal is pending.

Click HERE for the article.

Ed and Joan Dunn: Water Plan is Repeating Bad Precedent

Regarding “Valencia Water Co. buy approved” (Dec. 13), $73.8 million paid to Newhall Land Development/Lennar in a special meeting with only 24-hour notice just before the holidays! What ever happened to transparent and honest government?

When there is little oversight on Castaic Lake Water Agency, its management feels confident about breaking the law by acquiring water companies outside their legal borders and using your hard-earned dollars to hire consultants to promote a false image of entitlement.

Is history repeating itself? In 1999, Castaic Lake Water Agency (CLWA) spent $63 million dollars to purchase Santa Clarita Water Co., a privately owned water company with two of its largest wells contaminated by ammonium perchlorate, a hazardous chemical.

This $63 million purchase was about four times over the appraised value of the company. CLWA then had to spend several more millions in attorneys’ fees suing to get the wells cleaned up.

Now they are buying another water company with two wells closed due to pollution.

We objected to the purchase of this polluted water company in 1999, and later Joan and others won in court. Then CLWA went to the state government and got the law changed to allow the purchase.

Now, after a year of secret closed-door meetings between Newhall Land (the owner of Valencia Water Company), the CLWA general manager and a few sympathetic directors, this deal was rushed through with virtually no notice and no public hearings.

The majority of directors were not allowed enough time to review and understand the complicated financial issues or the laws governing these matters. CLWA may again have to go to the Legislature, after the fact, to try to get permission for a deal it had no right to complete.

This seems a little like running a red light and then arguing that the law should be changed so that the scofflaw can get by without a ticket and a penalty.

Castaic Lake Water Agency says lower rates will result from this big water monopoly. However, after the purchase of Santa Clarita Water Co., it raised the water rates by 37 percent. In fact, Valencia Water Company has already applied to the California Public Utilities Commission for a rate increase.

Valencia rate payers will have to pay CLWA to buy their company from Newhall Land. CLWA bought Santa Clarita Water Co. on the backs of its ratepayers in 1999 and is doing the same thing again with Valencia Water Company.

As part of the agreement with Newhall Land/Lennar, the Castaic Lake Water Agency agreed that it would provide water for future Newhall Ranch projects “notwithstanding any contrary rule, regulation, policy, resolution, or ordinance of the agency, the company, the PUC, or LAFCO. …” (page 25 of the agreement).

We guess that means that, again, the agency doesn’t have to follow the law. When it comes to sending our water to Newhall Ranch, it appears Newhall Land will get it under any circumstances, legal or not.

With probable future reductions in state water supplies due to less snowfall in the Sierra Nevada or levee failures, how can CLWA promise away our water for the future? Will our ground water go to Newhall Ranch and leave existing residents high and dry?

What happened to CLWA’s obligations to ensure that existing residents have an adequate water supply?

Edwin and Joan Dunn are Santa Clarita Valley residents. Ed Dunn served four years on the Newhall County Water District board and four years on the Castaic Lake Water Agency board and is a retired aerospace engineer. Joan served four years on the Newhall County Water District board and worked for NACA/NASA.

Click HERE for the article.

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