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Lynne Plambeck: We need the full story on Newhall Ranch

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: July 21, 2010 8:28 p.m.
Updated: July 22, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

As many people are aware, the Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing a permit that will allow Newhall Land Development LLC to alter the Santa Clara River in order to build the massive 21,000-unit Newhall Ranch project. It’s not just the river that would need to be changed. The original proposal included channeling as much as 80 percent of the tributaries.

Every environmental group from the National Sierra Club, to local groups like Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and Friends of the Santa Clara River has long opposed the Newhall Ranch project. It is opposed by many agencies as well; although some — such as Ventura County and United Water — settled in 2003 for strong conditions to protect them after bringing a lawsuit.

Concerns range from traffic, air pollution and greenhouse gases to water supply and quality, as well as protection of endangered species. The river permit is central to addressing these problems.

Questions surrounding the legitimacy of putting more infrastructure costs that benefit large developers on the backs of local taxpayers also abound. Should taxpayers have to pay for freeways and off-ramp expansions that accommodate new development? How about expanded fire services and flood control? Expansion into new undeveloped areas is very expensive, and more often than not it is the taxpayer who foots the bill.

For instance, the need for a sanitation-fee increase that will fund infrastructure to reduce chloride releases to the Santa Clara River is necessary to address the high salt content in imported water. Imported water is required for new development because we no longer have adequate local supplies. Two Santa Clarita City Council members opposed this increase.

But ironically, according to a letter written in August 2009, the city strongly supports full build-out for Newhall Ranch. They can’t have it both ways, and apparently — out of the view of the public — they have once again sided with a large, out-of-state development corporation against the interests of current residents.

The city also purports to want open space around its boundaries. It has used millions of dollars from the open-space parcel-tax assessment to purchase some acreage. However, this same letter, after carefully analyzing the amount of open space for each alternative, supports the alternative with the least amount of open space.

Of course, that is the alternative supported by Newhall Land/Lennar Corp.

The city’s reasoning is that supposedly the least amount of open space will provide more building and more business space, and thus, more jobs. What are they thinking? With a 29-percent vacancy rate in local commercial property in town, anything that far out will be even harder to rent. Not to mention that the service jobs provided for most of the planned commercial will not provide a high enough salary to allow workers to buy or live locally. (This will obviously create more commutes and local traffic, not less.)

So, the city must be talking about the creation of construction jobs. We already have 30,000 units approved but unbuilt in this valley, way more than Newhall Ranch. Where are the construction jobs? Obviously no such jobs will exist if no one is buying houses. When the market picks up again, we certainly have an adequate amount of previously approved projects to hold us for quite some time.

It seems that the city is speaking with a “forked tongue.” While appearing to support the public on such issues as a sanitation-fee increase, behind the scenes they are supporting the causes of such increases.

Last week, the Army Corps extended the comment period on the Newhall Ranch project to Aug. 4, so you can still write a letter about all of this if you want to.  Send your letter to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Branch, Attn: CESPL-RG-2003-01264- AOA, 2151 Alessandro Drive, #110, Ventura, CA 93001.

For more information you can view the Newhall Ranch documents online at www.dfg.ca.gov/regions/5/newhall.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.

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