Site west of Neenach where more than 19,000 homes are proposed in Centennial Specific Plan. photo for the Signal by Jeff Zimmerman

Nick Jensen: Day in the life on an ill-advised development site

When the naturalist John Muir walked from California’s coast to the Sierra Nevada, he crossed vast fields of wildflowers noting that his feet “would press a hundred flowers at every step.”

More than a century later, the wildflowers that greeted early explorers have given way to development and agriculture. Californians still yearn for this beauty, however, as witnessed by the thousands of “superbloom” followers who flock to places like Death Valley and Anza Borrego. We’d hate to lose those and other special sites, but we’re now at risk of losing just such a place.

Locked behind the gates of Tejon Ranch lives a thriving ecosystem of wildflowers, native grassland, and wildlife. On this site, the Tejon Ranch Company is proposing to build Centennial, a new city of more than 19,000 homes and 55,000 residents in the far northwestern corner of Los Angeles County near the junction of Interstate 5 and Highway 138.

Given its proximity to the sprawling Los Angeles metropolitan area, Centennial is often considered for development. Yet, Centennial is fertile ground for biodiversity, a one-of-a-kind location where five different bio-regions converge. Here, where coastal habitats meet the Mojave Desert and the Tehachapi Mountains, this landscape serves as a potential refuge in a changing climate – not for humans, but for wildlife. Thanks to this confluence of interconnected habitats, Centennial provides critical migration zones for plants and animals.

Centennial is home to one of California’s last remaining native grassland habitats. These plant communities support wildlife, provide ecosystem services like replenishing groundwater, and are literally the last place in the Antelope Valley where pronghorn antelope roam. If you’re lucky you might see California condors soaring above.

In the case of Centennial, the county is poised to make a decision on a project that will not only adversely affect plants and animals, but will also negatively impact future human residents. Before we act, let’s envision what human life will look and feel like on Centennial:

Centennial’s remote location means that future residents will average 45-mile, one-way commutes to the nearest job centers in Santa Clarita, Los Angeles, and Lancaster/Palmdale. That means more than 75,000 additional vehicle trips per day on already congested roadways, resulting in more than 600 million vehicle miles traveled per year-the equivalent of 2,400 trips around Earth’s equator. Not only will these miles represent a step backward for greenhouse gas reduction, they’ll exacerbate air pollution on Centennial, which is already consistently above acceptable state and federal thresholds.

Centennial is also a dangerous place for a city. Located immediately atop the San Andreas Fault, the site fares poorly in simulations of large earthquakes. Centennial’s exposed location also encourages high wind events that occur year round, posing a constant threat of wildfires. Earthquakes, wind, and fire would be unfortunate realities of life on Centennial. And as we saw with last year’s flooding in Houston and wildfires here in California, we risk human lives when development in unsafe areas gets the green-light in spite of what science and history shows.

As a fellow resident of Los Angeles County, I urge you to tell our elected representatives to make choices that favor our collective good over a Wall Street corporation, the Tejon Ranch Company, one that answers to its shareholders not our community. Let’s ask our County to make sound planning decisions that favor affordable housing close to mass transit services and jobs, decisions that don’t negate efforts to battle air pollution and climate change. On June 6, the Regional Planning Commission will decide whether or not to recommend Centennial for approval by the Board of Supervisors. This critical decision will decide how growth in the northern part of Los Angeles County will proceed in decades to come. Please join me in asking the County to stop the Centennial development.

Nick Jensen is a Southern California Conservation Analyst at the California Native Plant Society.

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