SCV environmentalists: Newhall Ranch is not a done deal

File photo taken in March 2012 of Highway 126 looking SW showing the Newhall Ranch property. Dan Watson/The Signal

As developers proceed with their plan to build 21,000 homes between the interstate and the Ventura County line and press on after last month’s ringing endorsement by county supervisors, some local environmentalists concerned about the water promised for those homes are digging in their heels to oppose the project.

Environmentalists with the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment – who voiced their opposition to the Newhall Ranch project at a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting last month but whose voice was drowned out by twice as many people who spoke in favor of it – issued a news release Friday stating “No. It’s not over.”

Last month, embracing the need for housing and the promise of jobs, County supervisors gave Newhall Ranch developers the green light 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.

On Friday, SCOPE wanted the residents of the Santa Clarita Valley to know that the group’s fight to oppose the development continues.

The group, however, did not outline any new actions taken, or planned, to slow the progress.


Promised water

Topping the list of SCOPE’s concern, however, is the issue of water and specifically, water promised to a thirsty 21,000 homes.

“It’s not just the loss of ground water recharge areas buried under 7 million cubic yards of fill in the flood plain and wetlands, the loss of magnificent thriving natural habitat that serves as home to several threatened and endangered species,” SCOPE spokeswoman Lynn Plambeck said in a statement issued Friday.

“It’s the water supply,” she said.

“After six years of drought that caused the Santa Clara River alluvium to drop as much as 80 feet and caused several wells to go dry, the need to re-evaluate water supply was obvious,” she said.

“But the County refused to look at this new information.”

Plambeck shared the “new information” with The Signal which, she contends, shows that the water agency made sweetheart deals with Valencia Water Co. – formerly owned by the developer – an Newhall/Lennar/FivePoint, promising to always say that there will be an adequate supply for their properties in preference to other users in the region.

According to Plambeck, the documents – called Agreement Establishing Process For Determining Water Demands – signed according to the copy shared with The Signal on Dec. 12, 2012, between the Valencia Water Company and Newhall Land and Farming Company – call into question the veracity of the water reporting for the Newhall Projects.

The Castaic Lake Water Agency, a public agency with an elected board and SCV’s water wholesaler, bought up Valencia Water Company’s stock in December 2012.

Before the purchase, Valencia Water Company founded in 1965, belonged to Newhall Land Development Inc.


Water official’s response

CLWA General Manager Matt Stone was asked Monday about the agreement’s water promise.

“My read of the agreement is that it is intended for the parties to acknowledge and agree to abide by the approved water supply plans in the County’s approved Specific Plan and related EIR for the Newhall Ranch Project,” CLWA  Matt Stone, general manager, told The Signal Monday.

“Part of that plan is the dedication of groundwater production historically used for the Newhall Ranch’s agricultural lands in Los Angeles County,” he said. “This simply acknowledges that the plan and intent is to dedicate this previous agricultural groundwater pumping used by Newhall Ranch to the Specific Plan’s potable supply needs as its agricultural lands are retired.

One clause in particular seems to spell out the type of water promising of concern to Plambeck.

It reads: Valencia Water Company “shall never contend or authorize or encourage any other person or entity to contend that the groundwater is not available to serve elements of the Newhall Ranch Specific Plan due to the need to use such supplies to support of the water needs of other existing or future water users within or outside the service areas of the company.”

That clause, however, may be intended to safeguard water supplies for the development.

“This is to make certain that as groundwater production and supplies are turned over to the Valencia Water Company by the Newhall Ranch, they not be used to support development needs outside of the Newhall Ranch,” Stone said.

“This makes sense given this is the Newhall Ranch’s historic groundwater pumping on their lands and their plan is to discontinue their agricultural uses and convert the groundwater supply for use on the new Newhall Ranch Specific Plan areas.

“The Specific Plan – and this agreement – specifically limit the amount of groundwater that can be used to no more than 7,038 acre feet, which is acknowledged to be within the historic amount of agricultural use for the Newhall Ranch lands within L.A. County,” Stone said.


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