J.P. Rose: Centennial threatens untouched corner of L.A. County

View of Neenach and the surrounding Tejon Ranch early on a January morning. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman

It’s a massive sprawl development that would increase traffic, add to our region’s air pollution burden and destroy some of California’s last remaining native grassland.

Dubbed “Centennial” by developer Tejon Ranchcorp, the project would radically transform a remote, rural area along Highway 138 at the base of the Tehachapi Mountains near Gorman.

This destructive development could still be stopped by Los Angeles County’s Regional Planning Commission. The commission will soon decide whether to approve Centennial – and the right choice couldn’t be more clear.

With a 6,500-acre development footprint for 57,150 people, Centennial would be more than five times larger than the entire city of West Hollywood. The 5,500 acres of rare native grasslands, home to pronghorn and foraging habitat for California condors, would be wiped out.

Notably, 99 percent of California’s native grasslands already have been destroyed by development, so the project site represents the last, largest remnants of this beautiful habitat.

Even Tejon’s former consultants marveled that these grasslands are “unique in California” and support more than 70 native wildflower species.

That beautiful tapestry would fall to the bulldozers if this project is approved. But Tejon downplayed this fact by hiring new consultants to hide the importance of the grasslands in Centennial’s environmental review documents.

Centennial is not just another sprawl project. The new city is proposed next to the Angeles National Forest and is far from the county’s existing development – a leapfrog sprawl project if there ever was one.

Residents would need to commute many dozens of miles to work in Los Angeles or Bakersfield.  Even accepting Tejon’s improbable claim that many residents would work onsite, Centennial would still result in more than 622 million vehicle miles traveled per year.

Adding tens of thousands of cars to the region’s roads would generate more air pollution, cause more lung cancer and asthma, and further clog Interstate 5, which is already a traffic nightmare.

Centennial would also undermine California’s position as a leader in fighting climate change. The project would lock in millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions generated by lengthy automobile commutes.

And the project would pave the way for more development in one of the last untouched corners of California. In fact, Caltrans recently approved expanding the existing two-lane Highway 138 to a massive six-lane freeway in anticipation of Centennial and other projects.

People love California for its gorgeous landscapes and incredible biodiversity. Sacrificing our environment to accommodate more sprawl development betrays that legacy. California should tackle the housing shortage by concentrating new development in urbanized areas instead of approving sprawling cities in remote areas.

We live in a time of unprecedented attacks by the Trump administration on our climate, public lands, and air quality. Here in L.A. County, we can take a stand for a livable climate, clean air, and California’s natural heritage by telling the county to say “no” this project.

At the end of the day, what kind of California do we want to leave for our children? A Golden State rich in wildlife, gorgeous wildflower displays, and untouched mountain landscapes?  Or more sprawl, traffic, and air pollution?

J.P. Rose is an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s urban wildlands program.



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