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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