Embracing the need for housing and the promise of jobs, County supervisors gave developers the green light Tuesday to proceed with two Newhall Ranch housing projects after certifying revamped reports on their environmental impact.
Supporters of Mission Village and Landmark Village – cornerstone housing projects of the plan to build 21,000 homes as part of Newhall Ranch – outnumbered opponents of the projects two-to-one during public comment on the issue.
Two dozen business and community leaders took turns at the podium Tuesday urging supervisors to approve the projects, many of the speakers describing them as environmentally friendly, state-of-the-art, unparalleled and a template for sustainability in California.
Opponents of the projects, numbering about a dozen, complained of the proposed homes’ proximity to the Chiquita Landfill and that estimates of reduced greenhouse gas emissions were distorted.
In the end, four of Los Angeles County’s five supervisors voted to approve of the environmental impact reports prepared for that first part of the Newhall Ranch Specific Plan in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl abstained from voting on each of the projects.
Speaking in favor of both housing projects, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said: “In addition to creating thousands of new jobs and economic growth for our region, these projects demonstrate the developer’s unprecedented commitment to balance the environment with the need to grow our communities responsibly and with the strong support of the community.
“Having adopted measures to protect wildlife and water resources, the projects provide needed housing and are part of the nation’s first and only development that offsets all greenhouse gas emissions with innovative and state-of-the-art strategies, amenities and services.”
“The ‘Net Zero Newhall’ plan provides solar energy units, electric vehicle charging stations in every home, subsidies for zero-emission electric vehicle purchases, zero-emission school bus and electric bicycle programs, transit subsidies, and bike and car share programs,” she said.
Speakers rose to support or oppose the project were each given 90 seconds to speak.
One of the first to explain the developer’s net-zero impact plan, created to satisfy earlier challenges to the project, was FivePoint Chairman and CEO Emile Haddad.
“For the last decade the issue of greenhouse gas emissions has taken center stage, globally,” he said. “Countries in every corner of the world have been setting targets and looking for solutions to those targets.
“This is a plan that will produce 130,000 jobs, thousands of well-needed homes and zero impact on greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
Speakers to the microphone echoed the same sentiments.
Matthew Shepherd, chief financial officer, for the Valencia-based internet marketing firm Scorpion said he chose to set up shop in SCV “because we see potential for this area to become the Silicon Suburbs,” noting Newhall Ranch promises to perpetuate that image.
Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation echoed that sentiment and applauded the developer’s approach.
“They’re embracing of new technology is unparalleled anywhere else in California,” Schroeder said.
Calling the developer “the most electric vehicle friendly in California history” was Joel Levin, executive director of the non-profit firm Plug In America advocating the use of electric plug in vehicles,
Predicting they would “become iconic,” Mary Leslie is president of the Los Angeles Business Council called them “one of a kind.”
And, Mike Balsamo, CEO of the Building Industry Association, Southern California, said the developer “goes well beyond what the state green code calls for.”
When opponents were given their chance to weigh in, however, some criticized the developer for bussing people to the hearing.
Many made reference to supporters having been bussed to the meeting by the developer and treated to a free lunch.
When asked about the claims, FivePoint spokesman Steve Churm spokesman confirmed that some people were transported to the meeting, but pointed out that “more than 350 supporters” were at the Hall of Administration for today’s hearing.
“We did bus about 80 FivePoint associates from the Valencia and Orange County offices. Environmentally it was the right thing to do,” he said.
“In a show of appreciation, we provided our supporters with sandwiches and water. Besides our associates, we had a diverse mix of local and county residents, business leaders, community stakeholders and environmentalists,” Churm said.
The opponents, however, had other issues they wanted to address as well.
David Warren, of the Sierra Club said that people “strongly opposed to the projects wrote thousands of opposition letters,” and also urged supervisors to consider that supporters had been bussed to the hearing.
“There are many greenhouse gas issues that remain unaddressed,” he told the board.
Lynne Plambeck, spokeswoman for SCOPE, told supervisors the two housing projects were to be built, in part, on top of oil pads. She also said the public did not have “adequate time” to express their concerns.
“There are some serious water issues with this project,” she said. “The water table dropped 80 feet.”
Plambeck also touched on the (Chiquita) landfill issue, reminding the board that “the landfill was not included in the (draft) EIR.”
In challenging the developer’s plans to equip each home with an electric vehicle recharging station, Cam Noltemeyer of Santa Clarita told the board: “You cannot make them (homeowners) buy electric cars.”
Elliot Bronwein drew attention to the same issue.
“Just because you put an electric vehicle charger in every garage doesn’t ensure a reduction in green gas emissions. That’s like saying just because you put a stethoscope around someone’s neck you’ll ensure they will become a doctor or nurse,” he said.
SCV resident Sally White told supervisors: “The Newhall Ranch plan does not pass muster.”
And, Snowy Dodson, of the California Natural Plant Society, called the amended environmental impact reports “flawed and too narrow in scope” leading ultimately to “inevitable habitat destruction.”
Mission Village and Landmark Village will be built south of the Santa Clara River and State Highway 126, and west of Interstate 5 Freeway.
The developer was sent back to the drawing close to two years ago, however, when environmental concerns were raised in court.
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 homes in the Newhall Ranch master planned community project would not adversely affect the environment.
The court ruled that Newhall Land – 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 stated 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.
Tuesday’s ruling by County Supervisors, however, essentially stated the developer has now addressed those concerns.