SCV environmentalists sue Newhall Ranch developer, county

Proposed site of Newhall Ranch development, looking southeast on state Route 126 in Castaic. Dan Watson/The Signal.
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Santa Clarita Valley environmentalists who vowed this week to stop 21,000 Newhall Ranch homes being built have unveiled the bite behind their bark – a lawsuit filed against the project developers and the county supervisors who backed them.

In a civil action filed Thursday with Los Angeles Superior court, members of two local SCV environmental groups named in their lawsuit the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Newhall Land and Farming Company.

Developer, FivePoint – formerly Newhall Land – could not be reached by press time for comment.

On Friday, the groups – Friends of The Santa Clara River and the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment – pledged to keep fighting to stop the development which was first proposed in the early 90s, and which environmentalist have been fighting to stop for years

The civil action launched by the coalition of these two groups challenges the decision made last month by county supervisor who gave Newhall Ranch developers the green light to proceed with two Newhall Ranch housing projects after certifying revamped reports on their environmental impact.

Environmentalists in their lawsuit, allege both housing projects – Landmark Village and Mission Village: “are located adjacent to, and partially within the current floodplain of, the Santa Clara River – the last river in Southern California that is still in a mostly natural state.

“The projects, 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.”

In their lawsuit, environmentalists get right down to the ground, close and personal with every little living thing affected by each of the respective projects.

Landmark Village

The Landmark Village community involves developing 293 acres within Newhall Ranch and is expected to contain up to 1,444 residential units, about 1 million square feet of mixed-use commercial space as well as an elementary school and park.

Environmentalists take a closer look, however, as to what exists at the site now and what stands to be affected by development.

“The Landmark site provides habitat for an exceptionally diverse range of wildlife, fish, and plants, including several critically endangered species,” they claim in their lawsuit.

“California condors visit and forage on the site and three other birds protected under federal and/or state law, the southwestern willow flycatcher, the Least Bell’s Vireo, and the yellow-billed cuckoo, nest in riparian vegetation on the project site.

“A rare fish fully protected under state law, the unarmored threespine stickleback, is also found on the project site,” the groups challenge.

Respecting the environmental laws that protect the minnow-sized stickleback was one of two causes of concern voiced by the state’s highest court in its ruling issued nearly two years ago.

The California Supreme Court ruled in November 2015 that Newhall Ranch developer – Newhall Land Development Inc. – that measures in the developer’s Environment Impact Report 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.


Mission Village

The Mission Village project site – located right next to land planned for the building of the Landmark Village – is expected to be developed on 1,262 acres and contain up to 4,055 residential units and 1.5 million square feet of mixed-use commercial space, along with an elementary school, fire station and public library.

Again, in their lawsuit SCV environmentalists point to the sensitive critters affected by the building of Mission Village, listing – again – its effect on California condors and other rare birds.

“Other rare fish and wildlife found on the Mission Village site or in downstream reaches of the Santa Clara River include the California red-legged frog, the golden eagle, the white-tailed kite, the unarmored threespine stickleback, members of the terrestrial snail genus Helminthoglypta, and the Southern California steelhead (trout).”

The group also focused on impacts to the very rare San Fernando Valley spineflower, a plant named in a similar environmental lawsuit by another group also aimed at stopping Newhall Ranch.

Last fall, in response to a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protections for 757 species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to protect the San Fernando Valley spineflower as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Such a designation would impose strict environmental rules calling for protection of the flower and its habitat.

Steve Churm, spokesman for current Newhall Ranch developer, FivePoint Holdings LLC, said in a prior interview that such a designation would not affect development plans.


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