Grapevine project suffers setback in court

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

Tejon Ranch Corp.’s plan to develop 8,000 acres at the foot of the Grapevine suffered a setback last week when a Superior Court judge in Kern County ruled a report prepared for its Grapevine project failed to reflect how much outside traffic would actually be traveling through it.

The environmental report prepared for the Kern County Board of Supervisors failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act on one issue hinging on the number of vehicles estimated to be traveling through the project, according to the ruling.

The Grapevine project calls for 12,000 homes and at least 5 million square feet of commercial space 11 miles north of the Centennial project, which calls for 19,000 homes, near the Kern County line — and 47 miles from 21,000 homes being built in the Newhall Ranch master-planned community west of Santa Clarita.

All three projects — promising 52,000 homes in total – are along Interstate 5.

While Centennial sits tucked inside the northwest corner of Los Angeles County near Lebec, Grapevine calls for residential and commercial development north of the county line.

Superior Court Judge Kenneth C. Twisselman II heard the Grapevine case in Bakersfield on July 27.

In his tentative ruling, he concluded the environmental impact report prepared by Kern County failed “to provide an adequate and stable description of the project.”

Internal Capture Rate

He further ruled that it failed “to review the reasonably foreseeable consequence of the actual internal capture rate falling below the projected levels, which may cause significant adverse effects to the environment.”

In a nutshell, he ruled the report under-estimated the impact increased outside traffic would have on the environment.

The internal capture rate is a rate engineers use to calculate how much traffic a development is likely to experience. The rate is a percentage of total vehicle trips anticipated inside the proposed development.

In this case, the judge ruled the EIR failed to take into account the consequences of an ICR set too low — under-estimating the amount of outside traffic the project would generate.

What the ruling means for Tejon Ranch is a delay in the development of the project.

What it means for environmentalists opposed to the project is victory — perhaps a temporary one — for having received a favorable ruling on the lawsuit they filed against Kern County.

What it means for Kern County officials is a trip back to the drawing board.

What it means for the people of the Santa Clarita Valley is a delay in the development of a project expected to bring additional cars to I-5.

Tejon Ranch

“One area in which the judge needed to have more work done was consistency in the internal capture rate,” Tejon Ranch spokesman Barry Zoeller said Thursday.

“The rate is used to measure vehicle trips within the community,” Zoeller said, noting Kern County supervisors adopted a conservative traffic rate suggested to them by Caltrans.

Kern County supervisors are expected to have the EIR rewritten to address specific shortcomings cited by the judge — in this case, the realistic impact increased traffic would have on all other environmental concerns.

“We are confident with the judge’s direction, Kern County will address these concerns,” Zoeller said.

Environmentalists

Environmentalists who sued Kern County over the EIR celebrated what they considered to be a victory.

Center for Biological Diversity attorney JP Rose said Thursday: “Kern County’s environmental review was inadequate because it failed to disclose the impacts of the project on air quality and public health in the event that the county’s traffic projections were incorrect.”“This ruling makes clear that the county didn’t fully inform the public about the probable environmental impacts of adding tens of thousands cars to California’s traffic-clogged freeways,” he said. “Californians deserve real solutions to the housing shortage — not far-flung mega-developments many miles from existing cities and job centers.”

According to Rose, the Grapevine development would add about 1 billion additional miles of vehicle travel each year onto California roads.

Tejon Ranch, meanwhile, is separately seeking approvals from Los Angeles County for Centennial, Rose said.

“Like Grapevine, Centennial’s remote location would require most residents to endure multi-hour commutes to Bakersfield or Los Angeles,” he said.

Officials representing both Kern County and Tejon Ranch are expected back in court Feb. 15, 2019.

jholt@signalscv.com

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