Ron Bottorff: Sides in Newhall pact chose option they thought was right

Friends of the Santa Clara River and its fellow petitioners have steadfastly opposed Newhall Ranch in multiple actions and lawsuits in both state and federal courts over the last 20 years. We were one of two petitioners that decided not to settle with Newhall in the recent Newhall Ranch settlement agreement. The Center for Biological Diversity, Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper and the California Native Plant Society agreed to the settlement. Since then, several related opinion pieces and letters to the editor have appeared. Terms such as “Faustian bargain” “another betrayal by environmental groups”… “they sold out”… “groups gave up on Newhall Ranch”…have been used to describe the signers. Everyone, regardless of where they stand on Newhall Ranch, should consider this fact: both signers and non-signers simply chose the option they felt would provide the best long-term overall outcome for the project. Signers, although they cannot challenge project approvals, now have an agreement enforceable in court to ensure that Newhall observes all conditions of prior court rulings and agency/County approvals. They can point to Newhall’s agreed-to avoidance of development on an additional 55 acres of Santa Clara River floodplain and the $16-million conservation fund that will become available to protect endangered plants and animals elsewhere in the watershed. These are all very positive outcomes. Non-signers are free to oppose all existing and future approvals of the Newhall Ranch project, some of which could well involve issues not on the radar or not well-understood at this point in time. We may be able to achieve further improvements to the project. Over the years, much has been achieved to limit and mitigate project impacts. These include a reduction in project size by about 4,000 units; protection of 1,500 acres of the critical Salt Creek wildlife corridor; very substantial improvement in the treatment of Native American sites; significant reductions in greenhouse gases and in the treatment of the endangered San Fernando Valley Spineflower and unarmoured threespine stickleback; and mitigation for impacts to the California Condor. Both signers and non-signers have, over two decades, proven their mettle and their commitment in this unbelievably long battle. All were part of the effort that carried several issues all the way to wins at the California Supreme Court level. Oh, how we were slapping each other on the back and hoisting the glasses at that time! I would urge that everyone, both petitioners and members of the public, keep in mind these outstanding legal victories along with all of the other project mitigations that have been achieved over the years. Sniping from any quarter will not help – on the contrary, those of us who have fought to gain an improved result for this massive project must continue to move forward with a common front aimed at bringing about the best real-world outcome for both people and nature as well as for the health of the Santa Clara River. Ron Bottorff is chairman of Friends of the Santa Clara River