Plans for the Newhall Ranch residential development project hit a snag this week as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a preliminary ruling supporting allegations that the project does not do enough to protect endangered species in the area.
In her statement of intended decision, Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones wrote that studies had been insufficient to determine whether construction of the planned community might endanger plant or wildlife in the area.
The lawsuit challenges the county’s approval of the Newhall Ranch Mission Village, phase two of the development planned east of Castaic Junction along the Santa Clara River.
When completed, Newhall Ranch would add more than 20,000 new homes and a number of new commercial areas in the northwest Santa Clarita Valley.
John Buse, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said he thinks the judge’s statement is a good sign for the environmental groups that sued developer Newhall Land Development Inc.
“I don’t expect the final verdict to change greatly and I think that’s favorable to the groups challenging the project,” he said.
Newhall Ranch has been in the works for more than a decade. Environmental groups sued to stop construction from beginning in June on claims of potential adverse effects to endangered or threatened species in the area, among them the unarmored three-spine stickleback and the San Fernando Valley spineflower.
The groups that sued — Friends of the Santa Clara River, the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, the Center for Biological Diversity, the California Native Plant Society and the Wishtoyo Foundation — allege the development would cause irreparable harm to the ecosystem along the river. The Wishtoyo Foundation is also moving to block the project due to alleged potential damages to Native American cultural sites.
“We believe that the decade-long environmental review process, which resulted in significant additional riparian land and spineflower preserves, was very thorough and detailed,” said Marlee Lauffer, spokeswoman for Newhall Land.
“We are working with the Department of Fish and Game to fully assess the court’s initial ruling and to review all the legal options.”
Mike Taugher, communications director of the California Department of Fish and Game, said the agency is still reviewing the decision and has no comment at this time.
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