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Judge tosses lawsuit aimed at blocking Newhall Ranch Phase 1

Posted: February 6, 2014 4:22 p.m.
Updated: February 6, 2014 4:22 p.m.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by local environmentalists against Los Angeles County for approving the first phase of Newhall Ranch, a development proposed for the northwestern Santa Clarita Valley.

Newhall Ranch is slated to be built on the southern banks of the Santa Clara River near the Ventura County line. Its first phase would be called Landmark Village, and when completed it would add some 21,000 homes to the SCV.

“We are very pleased at the strong ruling in favor of Landmark Village by the court, reaffirming the county’s extensive review of Landmark and its thorough compliance with CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) requirements,” said Marlee Lauffer, spokeswoman for Newhall Land Development Inc., developer for Newhall Ranch.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio rendered his decision Jan. 31 against a coalition of environmental groups that filed a joint lawsuit in March 2012, claiming the county’s approval of Landmark Village violated California’s environmental protection laws.

The lawsuit filed by Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, commonly called SCOPE, Friends of the Santa Clara River and other environmental groups asked the court to review the legality of the county’s approval process.

“In the midst of the most serious drought in 135 years, the court insisted on upholding the county’s failure to analyze water in its Development Monitoring System and Newhall’s assertion that adding this massive housing project will have no significant impact on greenhouse gas generation causing climate change,” SCOPE spokeswoman Lynne Plambeck said in a written statement Thursday.

“We have suffered through 80-degree days in January and no significant rainfall in months,” she said. “We must begin to constructively address these problems before Newhall Ranch proceeds.

“Failure to do so will hurt our existing residents and businesses.”

In rendering his 14-page decision, Torribio cited several flaws and shortcomings in the lawsuit filed by the coalition, according to a copy of his Statement of Decision obtained by The Signal.

Environmentalists claimed in their suit, for example, that the county did not properly analyze water supply availability. Specifically, the suit claimed county officials failed to appreciate the current capacity of the Valencia Water Company to supply water when they approved Landmark Village.

Regarding that claim, Torribio said: “The Environmental Impact Report discussed the Valencia Water Company available groundwater supply and it was quantified. ... The EIR also clearly established that the Newhall project would provide its own potable water demands from its present existing agricultural rights to draw from the alluvial aquifer.”

His opinion continued: “This clearly shows that water capacity issue was considered and analyzed and set forth in the EIR.”

In wrapping up his review of the “water supply” claim, Torribio said of the environmentalists’ claim: “The subsequent arguments are based on the false premise and fail.”

The judge concludes his Statement of Decision noting: “The balance of the issues raised are barred by Exhaustion of Remedies.”

This means the environmentalists cannot seek a remedy in another court or jurisdiction until all the claims made by the current lawsuit are addressed in the current jurisdiction.

The first phase of Newhall Ranch was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in February 2012, giving Newhall Land the green light to start developing 422 lots on about 295 acres. The lots would host 270 single-family homes, 744 condominiums and 430 apartments, along with 16 commercial spaces.

The plan for Landmark Village, Phase 1 of Newhall Ranch, also calls for 119 lots for open space, plus at least one fire station, park and school.

Newhall Ranch is a master-planned community from the same firm that planned and developed Valencia.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




CastaicClay: Posted: February 6, 2014 4:42 p.m.

*The panel of judges for the Court of Appeal is expected to make its decision in the next 90 days.* Or it was made 7 days ago.

castaicjack: Posted: February 6, 2014 7:11 p.m.

CC: The suit in this case was against the county of Los Angeles. The one on appeal is against the decision of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to permit it. Two different entities.
Unfortunately, I anticipate the same decision in both instances. I seriously doubt the judges will buy the global warming argument on greenhouse gases, not because it isn't valid but it's too broad-based. I don't know what sort of land claims the Chumash Indians have in the area but I doubt the swath of land in question will be delegated to their wishes. Sad but true, IMO.

ricketzz: Posted: February 7, 2014 6:28 a.m.

The price of gas needs to be $10 a gallon. People need to adapt to the idea that cars are grossly inefficient, if we are to survive the climate crisis.

I will stop driving when you do. Soon.

Planned community downstream from a sewer plant?

Will Pico go through to Piru?

castaicjack: Posted: February 7, 2014 7:07 a.m.

Well, we now have it on good authority(John Torribio) that there is no water shortage. All they got to do is use the agricultural rights of Newhall Land and Farming and and take it out of the alluvial aquifer. Then you can shove in the 21,000 homes.
Easy peasy, nice and easy...

philellis: Posted: February 7, 2014 10:24 a.m.

What climate crisis?

shawhouse: Posted: February 7, 2014 1:40 p.m.

Even if there wasn't a global climate crisis, the water in the aquifer that supplies SCV is not unlimited. I'm not against low density housing for the area, but 21,000 units has to accommodate around 80,000 more people. That's simply crazy, and puts short term profits way ahead of quality of life issues for everyone.

davenscv: Posted: February 7, 2014 1:45 p.m.

The firm that built Valencia was locally owned, and now is now owned by hedge funds in New York. They do not worry about traffic, road maintenance, water availability after they have sold their houses and moved on.

philellis: Posted: February 7, 2014 1:56 p.m.

I think the solution to our excessive water demands and excessive population is to "evict" everyone who has moved here since 19xx (pick a date that you like).

SCVMJB: Posted: February 7, 2014 2:16 p.m.

Not only is the firm that built Valencia located on the East Coat of this continent, but so is the owner of Valencia Water Company!
BTW, it would have taken the article's author less than a full line to mention that the other litigants along with SCOPE are: the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Ventura Coast Keeper and Friends of the Santa Clara River.

Nixiesixie331: Posted: February 7, 2014 5:39 p.m.

Well I guess if Marlee Laufer says it's okay then it must be okay .

castaiclocal: Posted: February 8, 2014 9:24 p.m.

Water is a central issue for any development drawing on the local supplies. Our arid area has been challenged by both limited quantity and compromised quality. The "politics" of water led to a shooting war with the ranchers in the Owens Valley over the aqueduct and the tragedy of the San Francisquito Dam break (and the consequent loss of life.)

This giant development will lead to trouble.

ricketzz: Posted: February 8, 2014 6:46 a.m.

Crisis! What crisis? The one that dumps all our water on SW England, this week.

ozarknature: Posted: February 8, 2014 7:50 a.m.

The Newhall Ranch mega-project is based on a 1960s approach to real-estate development. That was back in the heady days of cheap transportation (freeways), cheap land (paving over agricultural land and wilderness) and cheap water (which depended in large part on the unrealistic promises of the State Water Project, which today we might call the State No-More-Water Project). This build-anywhere, bulldozers all-steam-ahead mindset is very much in evidence with Newhall Ranch.

The Santa Clarita Valley--and the rest of the state, for that matter--needs to take the lead in turning around the trends that drive anachronistic projects like Newhall. We need to protect the Santa Clara River and preserve whatever natural areas remain today. Adding 21,000 residences will only diminish the quality of life we have now, while increasing demand on our highly stressed water supplies, increasing the polluted runoff from new streets and parking lots, and increasing auto traffic with its associated pollution of our compromised airshed.

The Valley should not subscribe to the sprawling growth model that has made one California community after another unsustainably polluted, expensive and inconvenient places to live.

I for one appreciate the tireless work of Santa Clarita community activists and groups like SCOPE, Friends of the Santa Clara River, and their allies. Without their dedication and commitment to a vision of a liveable Santa Clarita Valley, we would have seen the paving of most of the valley years ago, our water shortage would be much more severe, and the river would be little more than a drainage channel.

Thank you! And may you prevail in your appeal of Judge Torribio's unfortunate decision!

David Orr

cccpnch: Posted: February 8, 2014 6:42 p.m.

This week the Santa Clarita Valley Water Committee directed residents to cut water use, due to the severe California drought, the worst in 135 years. Yet, unbelievably, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, also this week, tossed out a lawsuit filed by local environmentalists, who asserted that water problems must be constructively addressed before the Newhall Ranch developers proceed. Unless this court decision is reversed on appeal, area residents and businesses will be hurt by worsening water shortages. Will common sense and science prevail? I sincerely hope so!
Connie Hanson, Director, Christians Caring for Creation

ricketzz: Posted: February 9, 2014 6:04 a.m.

A new mindset of scarcity is essential to get through the crisis. The cornucopia has been upended and the goodies are gone. Now that we know what we [don't] have we can intelligently value it.

Aristotle: Posted: February 9, 2014 1:37 p.m.

Sad news for Newhall Land & Farming lovers. A win at trial in the Superior Court on a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)case is like kissing your sibling. The Court of Appeal reviews the factual evidence and then applies California law "de novo" meaning that the Court of Appeal starts all over again.

The case referred to in Jim Holt's story was not "tossed". The case file is still open. Upon the filing of a one sentence "Notice of Appeal" the case will be on its way to California's Second District Court of Appeal, where 3 judges familiar with CEQA will have their say. That Court has a history of closely looking at the availability of drinking water in Santa Clarita. That Court's judges are not blinded by the baloney peddled by Newhall Land's employees and their puppets on local water agencies.

The thought process of the 70+ year old trial court judge from LA County on this project will be rendered meaningless on the legal issues once the Court of Appeal looks at the case.

So no Santa Claritans, Newhall Land & Farming will not be allowed to rip off your drinking water.

castaicjack: Posted: February 10, 2014 10:35 p.m.

John Torribio determined that Newhall Land and Farming could use its existing AGRICULTURAL rights and draw water from the alluvial aquifer to supply/build 21,000 HOUSES. That's obviously why we've got agricultural rights so we can build houses on top of our agriculture. Makes perfect sense. Thank you, John.

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