Appellate Court Rejects Reversal in Newhall Ranch Case

A California appellate court has ruled in favor of developers planning to build 21,000 homes on the banks of the Santa Clara River and has tossed out a 2012 court decision opposed to the project.

Judges of the Second Appellate District Court announced Thursday a reversal of a court decision made in 2012 in favor of environmentalists who sued Newhall Land Development Inc. They argued the company’s Newhall Ranch housing development, which has yet to break ground though it’s been planned for some 20 years, would destroy natural habitat near the river.

“This ruling fully vindicates our decade-long efforts to secure all the state and environmental permits necessary for Newhall Ranch,” said Marlee Lauffer, vice president of marketing and communications for Newhall Land.

Newhall Ranch would be 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.

Two years ago, officials representing the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and Newhall Land alleging Newhall Ranch would destroy natural habitat for native plants and animals along the banks of the Santa Clara River, among them the San Fernando Valley Spineflower and the Unarmored Threespine Stickleback fish.

On Oct. 15, 2012, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Jones ruled in favor of the environmentalist groups’ challenge of the project.

She cited 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.

In February, both sides presented their respective arguments before a panel of three Los Angeles appellate court judges.

On Thursday, those judges announced their decision in favor or the developer.

The previous court ruling made by Jones was rejected, or in the words of the Second Appellate District Court, “reversed with directions.”

“It’s a full reversal of the lower court ruling and firmly upholds our permits,” Lauffer said. “We are reviewing the ruling.”

One of the many environmental arguments made by Center for Biological Diversity officials in February was how a car parked in the driveway of every one of the 21,000 Newhall Ranch homes — an impact John Buse, legal director for the center, called “pretty enormous” — would contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Buse could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The 112-page court decision released by the appellate judges Thursday and obtained by The Signal dismissed that argument and upheld the findings of the project’s 5,828-page Environmental Impact Report prepared by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

On the specific issue of greenhouse gas, the court concluded the environmentalists’ contentions had no merit.

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

The first phase of Newhall Ranch was approved by Los Angeles County supervisors in February 2012 after exhaustive studies.

The project calls for developing 422 lots on about 295 acres. That would produce 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.

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Appeals Court Clears Path for Newhall Ranch

An appellate court panel found in favor of Newhall Land and Farming and the Department of Fish and Wildlife in a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity regarding environmental reports for the 20,000-plus home Newhall Ranch development.

The decision by the three-justice panel of the California Second Appellate District unanimously overturned Judge Ann Jones’s 2012 judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, which include local environmental group SCOPE, or Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.

“The appellate decision fully vindicates the decade-long effort to secure all of the state environmental permits necessary for Newhall Ranch,” said Marlee Lauffer, Newhall Land spokeswoman. “We had great confidence in the diligence the Department of Fish and Wildlife undertook to certify the EIR and the Court’s action today affirms that process.”

An official with Center for Biological Diversity did not immediately respond to a request for a statement.

The 2012 ruling by the Los Angeles Superior Court set aside the development project’s 5,828-page Environmental Impact Report, as approved by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2010.

“The appellate court’s reversal of the trial court’s decision is validation of years of hard work on environmental documents and subsequent permits,” said Jordan Traverso, spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We always work meticulously to ensure documents and permits such as these are sound. We especially do so on a project of this magnitude.”

A call to SCOPE officials was not answered Thursday.

The environmental groups that brought forth the suit sought to halt the 20,000-plus home project slated for the west side of the Santa Clarita Valley on the grounds the environmental impact reports were not conducted properly, Newhall Land officials said.

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Another Suit Filed Over Newhall Ranch

Environmental groups have again sued over the proposed Newhall Ranch development, alleging this week the federal agencies that approved permits for the planned community did so in violation of federal environmental protective legislation.

The move comes about a month after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge tossed out a lawsuit filed by environmentalists against Los Angeles County because of its approval of the Newhall Ranch proposal.

The more recent suit was filed Thursday in federal court and names the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for issuing permits for Newhall Ranch in 2011.

“These federal permits pave the way for the destruction of the Santa Clara River, one of the most endangered rivers in America, by bringing massive development within the river’s floodplain and along its tributaries,” said John Buse, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the public-interest groups that filed the suit.

The suit says the federal agencies failed to comply with the Clean Water Act by issuing the permits. It also claims the development would destroy or damage habitat for a variety of rare animals and plants, including the unarmored threespine stickleback, the California condor and the San Fernando Valley spineflower.

Proposed in the 1980s and put through a rigorous environmental review process in the 1990s and 2000s, Newhall Ranch would add to northwestern Santa Clarita Valley some 21,000 new homes, along with commercial development and schools and fire stations, in a master-planned community.

Planned by Newhall Land Development Inc., the same company that developed Valencia, Newhall Ranch would be located near the Santa Clara River off Highway 126.

Among the groups that joined in the lawsuit was Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Three other groups plus the Center for Biological Diversity filed the federal suit and have long souNEWHALL RANCH – The Ranch on the Riverght to block the development since it was proposed.

On Jan. 31, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio ruled against the coalition in a joint lawsuit filed a year ago, saying the groups’ suit against the county failed to make its case and that the environmental reviews conducted for Newhall Ranch clearly addressed the issues raised.

Three years ago an environmental coalition sued the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for a permit issued on the project.

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