Several environmental groups filed a joint lawsuit against Los Angeles County on Thursday for approving the 21,000 Newhall Ranch development in the northwest Santa Clarita Valley.

The suit — brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, the Wishtoyo Foundation and its Ventura Coastkeeper program — asks the court to review the legality of the county’s approval process, supporters said.

The development will “impart irreversible impacts to the ecological integrity and water quality of the Santa Clara River watershed and Ventura’s coastal waters, harming the wellbeing of watershed residents and visitors for years to come,” said Jason Weiner, associate director and staff attorney for the Ventura Coastkeeper program.

Newhall Land Development Inc. spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer said the development firm, which proposed Newhall Ranch, has not yet received a copy of the lawsuit.

But the issues raised by the group have been frequently addressed during the more than 17-year history of the proposed development’s consideration, she said.

“We know that Newhall Ranch has been thoroughly reviewed and analyzed and there is no merit to their lawsuit,” Lauffer said.

“While it’s disappointing that they’ve chosen to file this lawsuit, it’s certainly not a surprise,” she said.
Newhall Ranch would add some 21,000 homes to the Santa Clarita Valley between Interstate 5 and the Ventura County line near Highway 126.

Newhall Ranch would include residential and commercial centers in four distinct “villages,” which would be constructed in phases.

First proposed in 1994, Newhall Ranch has been through 17 years of reviews, with 109,444 pages of documents examining its compliance with county, state and federal regulations.

Three of the five county supervisors OK’d its first phase on Feb. 20.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim the development will destroy one of the last remaining wetlands in Southern California.

“This project strikes at the heart of the Santa Clara River,” said Ileene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The river is the last free-flowing river in Los Angeles County,” she said. “It’s important to preserve it and keep it intact.

“Not only does it harbor rare species of animals such as the (unarmored threespine) stickleback fish, but rare plants as well.”

The Santa Clara River is one of two major Southern California rivers remaining in a relatively natural state.

It flows for about 116 miles from its headwaters on the north slope of the San Gabriel Mountains near Acton to its confluence with the Pacific Ocean between Oxnard and Ventura.

Plants and animals indigenous to the Santa Clara River watershed include: the California condor, least Bell’s vireo, southwestern willow flycatcher, California red-legged frog, arroyo toad, southern steelhead trout and San Fernando Valley spineflower.

County supervisors last month approved three recommendations submitted to them by Newhall Land for developing the southwest corner of Highway 126 and Interstate 5 along the Santa Clara River.

After receiving approval, Newhall Land officials said they expect to start building homes for the development’s first phase as early as a year and a half from approval.

Although unlikely, the lawsuit issued Thursday by the coalition of five environmental groups could derail the project, Anderson said.

The coalition had 30 days from the time of county approval to file the suit and did so on the last day.

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