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Ron Bottorff: Newhall Ranch cannot duck climate change analysis

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: December 9, 2009 4:19 p.m.
Updated: December 10, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
To do its part in minimizing the risk of catastrophic impacts from climate change, California has set the target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Newhall Ranch, a planned Valencia-sized community of more than 70,000 people plunked down in open space and wildlife habitats along five miles of the Santa Clara River, is exactly the type of sprawl development that must be curtailed if California is to successfully make the transition to a low-carbon future.  

Recent comments submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity regarding the Newhall Ranch Resource Management and Development Plan Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report highlight the project’s effort to downplay its serious greenhouse gas impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The center pointed out, in determining the project’s greenhouse gas impacts are not significant under CEQA rules, the DEIR wrongly uses the criteria: “Will the proposed project’s (greenhouse gas) emissions impede compliance with the GHG emission reductions mandated by AB 32?”

Compliance with AB 32, which set California’s short-term emission reduction target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, is not the appropriate standard for determining the significance of Newhall Ranch emissions.

Instead, the emission reduction targets set forth in AB 32 mark only a first and interim step toward avoiding dangerous climate change.

By myopically focusing on AB 32, the project ignores the long-term emission reductions necessary to stabilize the climate.

These reductions are significant and must be covered in any CEQA analysis of Newhall Ranch, including the EIS/EIR now under consideration by the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Fish and Game.   

And Newhall Ranch is not the only place such a failure occurs.

The under-development One Valley, One Vision general plan update for the Santa Clarita Valley, has similar failures.

In a comment letter dated Dec. 1 and addressed to the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department, the California Attorney General’s Office wrote:

“The failure to evaluate the impacts of the proposed plan, as measured against existing conditions, not hypothetical future conditions, results in the DEIR finding the plan would have no significant impact on climate change (despite adding almost four million metric tonnes to the atmosphere), on air quality (despite doubling existing pollutants into an air basin that is already the most polluted in the nation), on transportation (despite increasing average daily trips by 120 percent) and other areas.

“We believe that these findings are not supported by substantial evidence and render the DEIR legally inadequate.”

Friends of the Santa Clara River supports the Attorney General’s arguments.

In general, the alternatives section of the General Plan EIR is completely inadequate and not nearly as comprehensive as is warranted by the very large consequences of adopting this plan.

We recommend at least two additional project alternatives be developed, with growth reductions of 15 percent and 30 percent below the proposed level.  

We also support retention of the Development Monitoring System as necessary to providing assurances that supporting infrastructure is available for any approved growth.

This system has worked well to date in Los Angeles County and is integral to responsible planning.

Friends of the Santa Clara River requests the Newhall Ranch Resource Management Plan Draft EIS/EIR be revised by the Corps and Department of Fish and Game, and that the General Plan update be revised by the county to reflect actual scientific data on needed emissions reductions.  

Real mitigation must be proposed to address climate change and air quality; both documents must then be re-circulated for further public comment.

All of us owe this to our children and our future.

Ron Bottorff is chairman of Friends of the Santa Clara River. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among several environmentalists.


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