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.
The Newhall Land and Farming Co. announced Tuesday that the Los Angeles Superior Court has upheld the extensive environmental review process that was conducted for the company’s Mission Village development, a village within Newhall Ranch.
In upholding the environmental review, the court denied in its entirety the writ filed by Friends of the Santa Clara River, SCOPE and others to nullify approval of the Environmental Impact Report for Mission Village by the County of Los Angeles.
The 4,055-home Mission Village community would be the second phase of Newhall Ranch, following the initial 1,342-home Landmark Village development west of Interstate 5.
Today’s action follows two other court victories by Newhall Land. On Feb. 3, the Superior Court decided in favor of the Newhall Ranch Landmark Village development and its related EIR. On March 20 the Court of Appeals upheld the extensive EIR approved by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for the entire Newhall Ranch project.
“We are very pleased with the strong and clear ruling by the Superior Court that affirms the County’s extensive review of Mission Village and its detailed EIR complying with the California Environmental Quality Act requirements,“ said Marlee Lauffer, Newhall Land spokesperson.
“During the past 15 years, Valencia and Newhall Ranch-related projects have been subject to more than 20 lawsuits, filed mostly by the same group of opponents,” said Lauffer. “Their repeated arguments have been systematically rejected by the courts.”
When fully built out, Mission Village is anticipated to include 4,055 homes, an elementary school and almost 6000 permanent new jobs on 1,262 acres just west of Magic Mountain and directly south of the SR-126/I-5 interchange. The project, which includes nearly 600 acres of open space, is part of the fully approved and court validated Newhall Ranch Specific Plan.
The Superior Court’s decision upheld the Mission Village EIR, determining that the County of Los Angeles had acted appropriately and with sufficient information to approve all environmental clearances. “Today’s decision once again confirms further that the environmental analysis and work by the County of Los Angeles was completed diligently and properly”, said Emile Haddad, President and CEO of Five Point Communities, the development manager for Newhall Land. “We continue to value our working relationship with the County and are thankful for their efforts. We look forward to bringing to life this Mission Village community as part of the Newhall Ranch master plan.”
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.
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.
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.
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.