Supreme Court Accepts Review of Newhall Ranch Case

The California Supreme Court has agreed to review aspects of an appellate court decision on the Newhall Ranch development project, officials said Friday.

The court decided this week to review three aspects of the case, including Newhall Ranch’s impacts on wildlife in the project area, namely the unarmored threespine stickleback fish; its impact on greenhouse gas emissions; and questions related to whether some public comments about the project should be accepted.

Newhall Ranch is a more-than-20,000-home development proposed for the western Santa Clarita Valley near the Santa Clara River and Highway 126. Initial planning meetings on it were held some 20 years ago, but no shovels have yet turned soil.

The proposal was approved by Los Angeles County planners but has met with determined opposition from area environmental groups.

The Supreme Court’s ruling “is something that is going to affect the entire project,” said John Buse, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Everything about this review has consequences for the overall project and its effects on the environment,” he said Friday.

The Supreme Court review comes after a decision from Second Appellate District Court judges, who ruled in favor of the project’s developer, Newhall Land Development Inc.

“A three-judge Court of Appeals panel issued a definitive, 112-page opinion regarding the Newhall Ranch development, and we are confident the California Supreme Court will uphold it,” said Marlee Lauffer, vice president of marketing and communications for Newhall Land.

Buse said the review was “exciting news” because “it totally wipes out losing at the Court of Appeals.”

Officials representing the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and Newhall Land alleging that the Newhall Ranch project would destroy natural habitat for native animals and plants along the banks of the Santa Clara River, such as the San Fernando Valley spineflower and the stickleback.

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

Newhall Land appealed the decision and, in February, both sides presented their arguments before a panel of three Los Angeles appellate court judges.

The Court of Appeals decided in favor or the developer in March.

“Judge Jones made a very detailed and well-considered opinion,” said Lynne Plambeck, president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.

“We really think the Appellate Court made an error when they decided they were going to reverse her.”

The environmental group, known best by the acronym SCOPE, is one of the parties in legal action against the Newhall Ranch project.

Newhall Ranch would be a master-planned community from the same firm that planned and developed Valencia. After the projected 25- to 30-year construction period for the project, Newhall Ranch would include more than 20,000 residences west of Interstate 5.

The timeline for the Supreme Court review has yet to be finalized, but Buse said the review could have far-reaching impacts.

“I think at a minimum this would send the whole project back to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife,” he said. “It would certainly undo the approval for the project.”

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California Supreme Court to Review Opinion in Newhall Ranch Dispute

The California Supreme Court has agreed to review a petition filed by environmental and Native American groups opposed to a recent state appellate court opinion in the decades-long dispute over plans to build a community of 60,000 residents about 35 miles north of Los Angeles.

“We’re delighted that the Supreme Court has agreed to consider our arguments,” John Buse, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview Friday. “They involve issues essential to the state’s environmental review process and the privileged role of the public.”

The opinion by the three-judge panel of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal exempts developers from certain legal protections provided the endangered unarmored threespine stickleback fish in order to accommodate construction of the 2,587-acre Newhall Ranch project along the wild Santa Clara River.

The petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper and the California Native Plant Society argues that the opinion will also apply to all other fully protected species, including the California condor.

The petition also argues that other aspects of the opinion discourage participation in land-use issues by requiring that public comments be submitted early in the environmental review process rather than up to the time of project approval.

“The appellate court panel issued a thorough decision and we’re confident that the Supreme Court will uphold it,” said Marlee Lauffler, spokesperson for Newhall Land and Farming Co., which plans to build the project in phases over 20 to 30 years, ultimately creating a new city of 19,812 residential units and about 5 1/2 million square feet of commercial space.

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