UPDATE: Fish & Wildlife releases new analysis of Newhall Ranch impact on environment

unarmored threespine stickleback

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife released a report Thursday that addresses two key concerns raised a year ago by California’s highest court that effectively stalled plans to build 21,000 homes for the Newhall Ranch project.

State officials released what they call the Draft Additional Environmental Analysis for the Newhall Ranch Resource Management and Development Plan and Spineflower Conservation Plan Final Environmental Impact Report.

It’s their hope that changes made to the EIR would satisfy the court and place Newhall Ranch back on track for construction of the massive housing project.

They are inviting the public to weigh on their updated report.

“What we hope to accomplish with this draft, is to open it up to a public review period that ends on January 6, 2017,”  Jordan Traverso, spokeswoman for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Signal Thursday.

In November, citing the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and insufficient protection for a tiny endangered fish, the California Supreme Court tossed out the developer’s report concluding 21,000 planned homes in the Newhall Ranch project would not adversely affect the environment.

The court ruled that Newhall Land Development Inc. – now FivePoint – failed to provide evidence in its Environmental Impact Report to prove its project was consistent with meeting state guidelines to control harmful greenhouse gas.

The court also concluded that measures calling for capture and relocation of the unarmored threespine stickleback — a species of fish protected by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife — amounted to illegal movement, or “take,” of the endangered indigenous fish.

On Thursday, Fish and Wildlife officials with the help of FivePoint developers released its revised EIR addressing each of the Supreme Court’s concerns.

About protecting the federally protected unarmored threespine stickleback, the developer has proposed building special bridges that would sidestep sensitive fish habitats.

“We are building bridges that will not touch the (Santa Clara) River,” Emile Haddad, Chairman and CEO of FivePoint, told The Signal Thursday.

About reducing greenhouse gas, the developer has proposed installing solar panels on the roof of every Newhall Ranch home and installing an electric vehicle charging area in every home’s driveway.

The suggestion – a solar panel on every roof and an electric charger in every drive way – is a step toward achieving a “zero emission standard,” Haddad said.

“This will be the first zero emission community in the country,” he said, on the understanding that every car in every Newhall Ranch driveway was electric and took advantage of the feature.

“In addition, FivePoint will install another 4,000 charging stations, 2,000 on the Newhall Ranch in commercial, retail and public places, and another 2,000 around Los Angeles County,” FivePoint spokesman Steve Churm said.

Critics say the proposed changes won’t affect green house gas emissions.

“It doesn’t reduce green house gas one iota,” said local environmentalist Lynne Plambeck.

“Unless they supply Teslas with all the houses, it’s useless,” she said, referring to the Tesla electric car.

And, as for bridges intended to protect stickleback habitat, Plambeck said: “You have to have abutments that are all hard-scaping which defeats the whole purpose.”

With the release of the draft EIR Thursday, comes a 60-day public comment period.

It examines whether the revised project design and construction of proposed bridges would result in harm or other significant adverse effects to the unarmored three spine stickleback, a native fish protected under state and federal law.

“With respect to unarmored threespine stickleback, the project applicant – FivePoint LLC, formerly, The Newhall Land and Farming Company –  has proposed modified design and construction methods for bridges and bank stabilization in or near the Santa Clara River to obviate the need for the two prior mitigation measures of focus for the Supreme Court, consistent with Fish and Game Code section 5515,” Traverso said.

The additional environmental analysis also examines whether the revised project would result in significant greenhouse gas emission impacts, she said.

The revised project is designed to achieve net zero GHG emissions with the implementation of mitigation measures intended to reduce, mitigate and offset 100 percent of GHG emissions.

Haddad said he would offset the emissions by going “off site” with a plan to replace wood-burning stoves in African homes with stoves that produce no emissions.

The California Air Resources Board reviewed the revised Newhall Ranch project and concluded that there is an adequate basis to determine it does not result in any net additional GHG emissions, Taverso said.

21,000 HOMES
Newhall Ranch developers have argued in the past that the Environmental Impact Report they prepared was sound and sensitive to the environment.

The first phase of Newhall Ranch was approved by Los Angeles County supervisors in February 2012 after exhaustive studies.

The project calls for developing 422 lots on about 295 acres. That would produce 270 single-family homes, 744 condominiums and 430 apartments, along with 16 commercial lots.

The phase 1 plan also calls for 119 lots for open space, plus at least one fire station, park and school.

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On Twitter @jamesarthurholt.com

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