Citing a need to address growing traffic concerns and the potential for short and long-term economic benefits, a partnership of state and county agencies is planning to break ground on a $50 million project to expand and reroute Highway 126 near the Valencia Commerce Center.
As designed, the project would entail construction of a bridge to lift Highway 126 over Commerce Center Drive in Castaic, improving traffic flow on both routes, according to Paul Maselbas, a principal engineer with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.
The project, a cooperative effort between Public Works, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the California Department of Transportation, would also add new lanes on the highway, expanding it to three in each direction.
Maselbas said Tuesday that more than 40,000 vehicles roll through the intersection of Commerce Center Drive and Highway 126 every day.
“The primary purpose of this project is to address existing traffic congestion,” Maselbas said.
But long-term relief for commuters could come at the cost of some temporary delays along Highway 126, which serves as the primary route to some segments of the Santa Clarita Valley, including Val Verde and portions of Castaic, as well as parts of Ventura County and Highway 101.
Jeffrey Payne, construction manager for the Highway 126 project, said Tuesday the highway should be fully open during peak travel times in the morning and at night, but could be reduced to one lane in each direction during construction hours.
He also said there would be “very little” work on weekends or at night in the area.
While $9 million in funding for the project comes from a Metro grant, the lion’s share of funding for the $50 million project is in the form of bridge and major thoroughfare construction fees.
Those fees are part of the costs that accompany residential and commercial development, such as the Newhall Ranch residential development project, which would add more than 20,000 homes along Highway 126.
Though future developments would stand to benefit from the highway expansion, Maselbas said the project was not planned to benefit any specific development.
“This project is needed to address the current situation that exists and not to further future development,” Maselbas said.
The project also includes adding on- and off-ramps from Highway 126 to Commerce Center Drive and Henry Mayo Drive, realigning and extending Henry Mayo Drive, adding new traffic signals at the intersection of Commerce Center and Henry Mayo drives and at the intersection of Highway 126 and the access road to the Valencia Travel Village RV park.
These road improvements could have a defined economic impact in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to Maselbas, as construction alone could create 1,600 temporary jobs.
Maselbas also said the completed project could result in the creation of 7,000 permanent jobs in the nearby Valencia Commerce Center as it is built out.
The project also entails planting new landscaping to help stabilize the bank of the Santa Clara River near Highway 126 and removing some invasive species to improve water flow in the river.
The plan is to start construction on the project sometime in mid-July or early August, according to Maselbas, though that could change depending on the outcome of biological studies in the area.
The potential for such delays was built into the construction contract for the project, which was awarded to local developer C.A. Rasmussen, Inc.
“We’ve got it built into our contract that the environment takes precedence over all else out there,” Maselbas said.
Public Works also has to relocate some utility services in the area to accommodate construction, according to Payne. But there should be no interruption in any services during relocation, he said.
The project is slated to be complete in late 2016.
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Santa Clarita Valley, CA – In a detailed letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, delivered to the Los Angeles office last Friday, and a second letter to the California Public Utilities Commission, the Sierra Club listed extensive objections and legal impediments to the acquisition of Valencia Water Company (VWC), formerly owned by Newhall Land and Farming, asking that both agencies commence a formal investigation of this apparently illegal transaction.
The acquisition was completed just before the winter holidays in a lightening quick legal maneuver that avoided meaningful public input through a series of short notice special meetings and limited disclosure of deal points. The full implication of the $73.8 million dollar purchase by the state water wholesaler, Castaic Lake Water Agency, only came to light after a number of public record requests and legal analysis of the impacts of the purchase.
Newhall Land and Farming is the developer of the massive 21,000 unit Newhall Ranch project and the former parent company of Valencia Water Company. Sierra Club participated in the successful litigation brought over its approval in 2000 and is currently a party to challenges to the still unbuilt first phase of the proposal.
“It is troubling that Newhall Land and Farming now has a sweetheart deal for access to water that supersedes the needs of existing residents and other approved developments supplied by Castaic Lake Water Agency[i],” said Ron Silverman, Executive Director of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter. “Sierra Club has long opposed the Newhall Ranch project over concerns of adequate water supply and the project’s impacts on the Santa Clara River, Los Angeles County’s last free-flowing river.”
Additional objections to the purchase include 1) The acquisition is not authorized by statute; Castaic Lake Water Agency acted knowingly in contradiction to its own enabling legislation. 2) The illegal acquisition creates the vertical monopoly of a state water wholesaler operating a water retailer, contrary to existing state law for this agency as well as prudent economics. 3) The pollution plume emanating from the closed Whittaker Bermite munitions manufacturing facility is now migrating in a westerly direction in VWC’s service area, causing the closure of two additional Valencia water wells. These closures affect the community’s water supply and will result in expensive remediation. The impacts to the public water supply were not considered in the deference granted to Newhall’s projects in the purchase contract, which additionally includes language causing the public and therefore the local taxpayers to indemnify Newhall for these costs.
The Public Utilities Commission will hold public hearings on this purchase and the proposed 16% water rate increase purposed by Valencia Water Company on May 16th at 1PM and 7PM at the Santa Clarita City Council Chambers, 23920 Valencia Blvd., Santa Clarita 91355.
The Sierra Club Angeles Chapter is the local voice of the Sierra Club, America’s oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. Over 110,000 members and supporters in Los Angeles and Orange counties strive to explore, enjoy and protect nature in their communities and the planet. For more information, visit www.angeles.sierraclub.org.
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Like some unending TV soap opera, the efforts to permit the Newhall Ranch and the persistent opposition of community activists continues — and it’s far from being over yet.
More than a year ago the Sierra Club joined four other environmental organizations to challenge the first phase approval of the massive Newhall Ranch project that would bring 21,000 new housing units. The largest “new town” urban sprawl project ever approved in the state of California is located adjacent to the Santa Clara River, Los Angeles County’s last free-flowing river. The preservation of this rare gem, inhabited by several endangered species and remaining a prime example of what the Los Angeles River could have been without all that concrete, has been a focus for Angeles Chapter activists for more than a decade.
After successful litigation against the Ranch Specific Plan (where a court decision in 2000 set the project EIR aside for failure to address questions surrounding its water supply), the developer simply returned with an additional eight volumes of reports. In spite of all the disclosed impacts, the county simply couldn’t say no.
The original owners, the Newhall Land and Farming Co., did not survive the housing downturn. But after a bankruptcy that cost the California Employees Pension Fund (CalPers) its biggest loss ever (approximately 1 billion dollars), the project has returned from the dead, now funded by several New York hedge funds. No longer locally owned, Newhall Ranch has now raised the ire of a much broader group of people.
Who foots the bill? Taxpayers, of course
As local taxpayers realize the potential costs of the infrastructure that they apparently will be made to fund, and the impacts of global warming become more apparent, this massive auto-oriented project makes less and less sense. Rising gas prices may ring a death knell to the project as moderate economic level homeowners find it more and more expensive to fill a commuter gas tank every week.
In the meantime, a lawsuit filed by several national, state and local environmental groups against the California Fish and Game Department for its approval of Newhall’s River Alteration permit, along with Sierra Club’s action against the first phase approval, have delayed its groundbreaking.
After a ruling in favor of the conservation groups, the developer’s attorney did the unthinkable: He filed a bias claim against the judge, apparently in large part because his clients didn’t like her opinion against them. Whatever happened to the Rule of Law? The judge was rightfully and quickly cleared of any misconduct, but this unseemly tactic threw a well-warranted delay into the legal proceedings. With the alteration permit still up in the air, a stay was granted on the phase one proceeding to which Sierra Club is a party.
The action apparently has left the developer and its hedge fund owners a bit out of pocket. To make up for these delays and the continued slow real estate market, Lennar Corp., the Florida-based builder and parent company of Newhall, held a year-end fire sale, casting off several real estate assets to beef up December cash balances. One of those assets was the water company they had owned for decades, the same water company that served their many developments and is scheduled to serve Newhall Ranch.
New water company purchase contract makes improper assurances about water for Newhall
In a lighting quick back room deal over the holidays with only 24 hours notice to the public, Castaic Lake Water Agency moved $73.8 million in public funds into the hands of this corporation and their New York hedge fund owners. They bought Valencia Water Co. without conducting a CEQA review and with an advance promise to serve all of Newhall’s projects in the Purchase Contract, a promise they cannot legally make. But perhaps the most disturbing fact about this transaction is that Castaic, a state water wholesaler, is legally prohibited from owning this water retailer. At its recent executive committee meeting, the Angeles Chapter voted to approve a resolution asking the Public Utilities Commission to investigate the actions of the water company and its owners, and to send a letter to complaint to the Office of the Attorney General.
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The Newhall Land and Farming Co. has met with a series of roadblocks as it seeks approval for its Newhall Ranch development west of Interstate 5. A lawsuit was filed by local environmental groups last week, but the Newhall Ranch Sanitation District will conduct its first meeting Tuesday – just another administrative step before Newhall Land can break ground.
The Newhall Ranch County Sanitation District will hold its first Board of Directors meeting during the regular meeting of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
The Newhall Ranch Sanitation District was originally formed in 2006 by the Local Agency Formation Commission and approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2011.
Due to the economy and litigation, the Newhall Ranch development was postponed.
The first two of four phases for Newhall Ranch, Landmark Village and Mission Village, were approved by the county board in 2012, said Edel Vizcarra, planning and public works deputy for Supervisor Michael Antonovich.
Both villages were litigated, said Newhall Land Spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer.
“The litigation against Landmark was rejected,” she said.
The lawsuit against Mission Village is still ongoing, in addition to the most recent lawsuit filed in federal court by the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, among other environmental groups.
This lawsuit addresses the whole development and the validity of permits issued by federal agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers.
SCOPE was not available for comment as of 2 p.m. Monday.
Taking the lawsuits into consideration, Newhall Land hopes to be able to break ground within a year, Lauffer said.
“A variety of different things that need to occur before we break ground, but certainly the litigation plays a role in some of that,” she said.
Another step is the first meeting of the Sanitation District.
“The (Newhall Ranch Sanitation) District board has not met, because there was nothing for them to do until now,” said Ray Tremblay, head of facilities planning for L.A. County Sanitation Districts.
The meeting will focus mainly on administrative actions.
The district’s board of directors, which includes Board of Supervisors Chair Don Knabe, will vote to appoint a secretary and board chair, adopt a seal and amend the name of the district, according to board documents.
Pending approval of the board, the district will also seek to join the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, an organization of “23 independent special districts serving about 5.5 million people in Los Angeles County,” according to the agency’s website.
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A state administrative law judge has refused to throw out an environmental group’s complaint over a Santa Clarita Valley water district deal.
Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, a long-standing local environmental group, filed a complaint alleging the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s purchase of Valencia Water Co. was an “illegal acquisition of (a) water company that is slated to serve the massive Newhall Ranch project.”
The group alleges that on Dec. 17, the Castaic Lake Water Agency entered into a contract to purchase Valencia Water that contained a plethora of promises favorable to Valencia’s parent company, Newhall Land Development Inc.
Castaic Lake Water Agency, a water wholesaler in the Santa Clarita Valley, challenged the complaint, asking the California Public Utilities Commission to dismiss it.
But a PUC administrative law judge denied its motion. A Saturday email reads: “To all parties: The motion of Castaic Lake Water Agency to dismiss Complaint 13-01-005 is denied. Judge Douglas M. Long.”
The complaint is expected to be heard by the commission.
Castaic Lake Water Agency officials have consistently said the purchase of Valencia Water Co. is legal.
“There is no question that the purchase is legal and there is no question that we can legally operate it under the (California) Public Utilities Commission,” Dan Masnada, the agency’s general manager, said two weeks after the PUC complaint had been filed.
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