Plan to build 21,000 homes challenged

Newhall Ranch graders captured in aerial shot in March 2018. photo by Austin Dave, The Signal.
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LOS ANGELES — Newhall Ranch developers’ plan to build 21,000 homes on the west side of the Santa Clarita Valley was challenged in court Tuesday, when local environmentalists grilled the developer’s lawyers about supplying those homes with water.

Although construction for Newhall Ranch began this year, it was the hope of environmentalists to send developers back to the drawing board over the issue of the project’s water supply.

Lawyers representing the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment confronted lawyers for developer FivePoint inside a Los Angeles Superior Court Civil Division courtroom.

Although no decision was delivered at the end of the day, Judge Richard L. Fruin left the courtroom with a great deal of information to consider.

The question Tuesday focused around the adequacy of the water supply considered by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2011 when they approved the first two subdivisions of Newhall Ranch – Landmark Village and Mission Village.

The water analysis carried out for the report assessing the impact of the 6,000 homes for the two villages of Newhall Ranch on the environment – called an environmental impact report – has drastically changed since 2011, according to lawyers with the firm Advocates for the Environment.

“Something new has happened,” said environmental lawyer Kathleen R. Unger, referring to the recent, severe multi-year drought in the SCV and a drop in groundwater levels.

“The water table was affected,” she said, “and that means a new water supply analysis must be done.”

Lawyers for the developer, however, said there was only one issue on the table, and that pertained to the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The Supreme Court (of California) found fault on just greenhouse gas emissions,” lawyer Arthur G. Scotland told the court.

“There is only one question, and that is whether there is substantial evidence to support the county’s implementation of 13 new mitigation measures for Landmark Village and Mission Village will be reduced to net zero,” he said.

“The burden of proof,” he said. “Is on the petitioner.

“They have failed to show why these mitigating measures don’t support the county’s findings,” Scotland said.

SCOPE environmentalists, however, remain convinced that an updated water supply report should have been carried out and that supervisors approving both Landmark and Mission Village should have called for a new water-supply analysis.

Environmental lawyer Dean Wallraff cited the state’s water code, specifically Senate Bill 610.

“The water code spells out a number of situations that require a new water analysis,” he said.

Developer lawyer Mark Dillon argued that environmentalists failed to spell out their concerns over water supply analysis in legal briefs filed with the court.

“You’ve got to give fair warning,” he said, “that you’re raising these claims. A water supply analysis section of the California Environmental Quality Act requires it be done at the outset of the CEQA process.

“We’re not at the outset of the CEQA process, we are at the corrective action phase of something started in 2004,” he said.

County supervisors gave Newhall Ranch developers the green light in July 2017, citing the need for housing and the promise of jobs, after certifying revamped reports on their environmental impact.

Mission Village and Landmark Village are being built south of the Santa Clara River and State Highway 126, and west of Interstate 5.

Fruin did not set a return date for his decision, but planned to review the material and consider the testimony ahead of his judgment at a future hearing.

 

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