Judge Tosses Lawsuit Aimed at Blocking Newhall Ranch Phase 1

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by local environmentalists against Los Angeles County for approving the first phase of Newhall Ranch, a development proposed for the northwestern Santa Clarita Valley.

Newhall Ranch is slated to be built on the southern banks of the Santa Clara River near the Ventura County line. Its first phase would be called Landmark Village, and when completed it would add some 21,000 homes to the SCV.

“We are very pleased at the strong ruling in favor of Landmark Village by the court, reaffirming the county’s extensive review of Landmark and its thorough compliance with CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) requirements,” said Marlee Lauffer, spokeswoman for Newhall Land Development Inc., developer for Newhall Ranch.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio rendered his decision Jan. 31 against a coalition of environmental groups that filed a joint lawsuit in March 2012, claiming the county’s approval of Landmark Village violated California’s environmental protection laws.

The lawsuit filed by Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, commonly called SCOPE, Friends of the Santa Clara River and other environmental groups asked the court to review the legality of the county’s approval process.

“In the midst of the most serious drought in 135 years, the court insisted on upholding the county’s failure to analyze water in its Development Monitoring System and Newhall’s assertion that adding this massive housing project will have no significant impact on greenhouse gas generation causing climate change,” SCOPE spokeswoman Lynne Plambeck said in a written statement Thursday.

“We have suffered through 80-degree days in January and no significant rainfall in months,” she said. “We must begin to constructively address these problems before Newhall Ranch proceeds.

“Failure to do so will hurt our existing residents and businesses.”

In rendering his 14-page decision, Torribio cited several flaws and shortcomings in the lawsuit filed by the coalition, according to a copy of his Statement of Decision obtained by The Signal.

Environmentalists claimed in their suit, for example, that the county did not properly analyze water supply availability. Specifically, the suit claimed county officials failed to appreciate the current capacity of the Valencia Water Company to supply water when they approved Landmark Village.

Regarding that claim, Torribio said: “The Environmental Impact Report discussed the Valencia Water Company available groundwater supply and it was quantified. … The EIR also clearly established that the Newhall project would provide its own potable water demands from its present existing agricultural rights to draw from the alluvial aquifer.”

His opinion continued: “This clearly shows that water capacity issue was considered and analyzed and set forth in the EIR.”

In wrapping up his review of the “water supply” claim, Torribio said of the environmentalists’ claim: “The subsequent arguments are based on the false premise and fail.”

The judge concludes his Statement of Decision noting: “The balance of the issues raised are barred by Exhaustion of Remedies.”

This means the environmentalists cannot seek a remedy in another court or jurisdiction until all the claims made by the current lawsuit are addressed in the current jurisdiction.

The first phase of Newhall Ranch was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in February 2012, giving Newhall Land the green light to start developing 422 lots on about 295 acres. The lots would host 270 single-family homes, 744 condominiums and 430 apartments, along with 16 commercial spaces.

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.

Click HERE for the article.

Appeals Court Hears Newhall Ranch Arguments

Environmentalists opposed to Newhall Ranch, along with the developer expected to start building it, presented arguments Wednesday for and against the 21,000-home development west of Interstate 5 along Highway 126.

Officials representing the Center for Biological Diversity defended the center’s lawsuit filed in 2012 against the California Department of Fish & Wildlife. The suit claims the development would destroy natural habitat for native plants and animals along the banks of the Santa Clara River.

The center filed a lawsuit against Fish & Wildlife for granting Newhall Land Development Inc. a permit to develop an area near the river.

In November 2012, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Jones ruled there were flaws in the Environmental Impact Report prepared for the development by Newhall Land in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Newhall Land appealed the decision and, on Wednesday, that appeal was heard by three Los Angeles appellate court judges.

“One of the things I mentioned, which I thought was a key contentious issue, was how this project — which is pretty enormous — contributes to greenhouse gas emissions,” John Buse, legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Signal after the hearing.

“The heating and cooling of all those homes, plus all the cars driving back and forth from each of those homes — all these things would be producing carbon emissions,” he said.

Nehwall Land officials argued that the Environmental Impact Report they prepared was sound and sensitive to the environment.

“It was an hour of arguments.” Newhall Land spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer told The Signal following the hearing.

“We have spent a decade working with the Department (of Fish & Wildlife) and various state and federal agencies,” she said. “There is significant land dedication for environmental resource stewardship, a large habitat for indigenous species, specifically for preservation of the (protected San Fernando Valley) spineflower, and preservation of natural open space areas.”

A lawyer representing Fish & Wildlife named in the lawsuit spoke at the hearing, as did a lawyer representing an environmental group called Wishtoyo who spoke about the impact the development would have on cultural heritage of the Chumash people, Buse said.

The panel of judges for the Court of Appeal is expected to make its decision in the next 90 days.

In February 2012, Los Angeles County supervisors approved the first phase of Newhall Ranch, called Landmark Village.

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 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 include more than 20,000 residences west of Interstate 5.

Click HERE for the article.

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