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Environmentalists file Newhall Ranch suit

Posted: June 15, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 15, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

Almost exactly a month after Los Angeles County supervisors approved the second phase of the Newhall Ranch project, five public-interest and environmental groups filed a joint lawsuit Wednesday against Los Angeles County for approving the project portion for construction.

The lawsuit is brought by the California Native Plant Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment (SCOPE) and Wishtoyo Foundation and its Ventura Coastkeeper program.

Newhall Ranch is a planned development that would add more than 20,000 new homes and a number of new commercial areas in the northwest Santa Clarita Valley.

The lawsuit challenges the county’s approval of the 1,860-acre Newhall Ranch Mission Village phase — which would have 351 homes, 3,704 multifamily units, 1.55 million square feet of mixed use/commercial space, an elementary school, a library, a fire station, a bus transfer station and 693 acres of open space.

The open space includes 26.8 acres for public parks, 14.7 acres for private recreational facilities and 85.8 acres in three preserves for an endangered plant.

Los Angeles County supervisors approved the Mission Valley project last month.

The lawsuit challenges the legality of the county’s approval process and calls the project an “urban-planning
disaster.”

“The project is part of an urban-planning disaster, urban sprawl built on environmentally sensitive land originally designated mostly for agriculture, oil production and open space,” the lawsuit states.

 “The project, as currently proposed, would harm the river in very significant ways, and have substantial negative
environmental impacts on water quality, on aquatic and riparian habitat, on wildlife movements, on greenhouse gas emissions and on Native American cultural resources, among other impacts,” the lawsuit continues.

 The lawsuit against the county for the Mission Valley phase of development is the secon joint lawsuit filed against the county for the Newhall Ranch project this year.

In March, all of the groups — with the addition of the Sierra Club — filed a lawsuit after the county approved the
first phase of the project.

The Santa Clara River Valley is home to rare species, including the unarmored threespine stickleback fish, California condor, least Bell’s vireo, southwestern willow flycatcher, California red-legged frog, arroyo toad, southern steelhead trout and San Fernando Valley spineflower, according to Ileene Anderson, biologist and public lands desert director for Center for Biological Diversity.

“Developing in endangered species habitat pushes rare plants and animals to the brink of extinction,” Anderson said in a prepared statement. “These days, smart planning protects them instead of destroying their habitat.”

The environmental group’s decision to sue the county over the project didn’t come as a surprise to Newhall Land Development Inc., said Marlee Lauffer, vice president of marketing and communication for Newhall Land.

“It is very disappointing that they chose to sue, but it is certainly not a surprise,” Lauffer said.

The Mission Village phase, along with the entire Newhall Ranch project, has been thoroughly reviewed and  researched, Lauffer said Thursday.

She said the company is still projecting it can sink shovels in the ground for the project within the next 18 to 24 months.

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