Environmentalists file lawsuit against regional planners

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Developers wanting to build more than 19,000 homes just south of the Kern County line encountered another roadblock this week with a lawsuit filed by environmentalists questioning the job done by regional planners reviewing the Centennial housing project.

On Tuesday, environmentalists with the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit at Los Angeles Superior Court against the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning claiming planners failed to release records regarding the Centennial project proposed by the Tejon Ranch Company.

Specifically, the center is seeking to obtain “communications” between department and Tejon following an inadequate environmental review process for the 19,000-unit project.

Asked Thursday for a response to the lawsuit, Tejon Ranch spokesman John Musella said: “We have no comment.”

Center attorney J.P. Rose said Thursday: “We believe county planners succumbed to pressure from the Tejon Ranch Company and their lobbyists.”

In a written statement released earlier this week, Rose explained: “L.A. County’s review process seems to have been heavily influenced by Tejon, which will make millions if this harmful sprawl development is approved.

Transparent review

“County residents have a right to an informed, transparent review process for land-use decisions that will harm our environment and quality of life,” Rose wrote.

The Centennial Specific Plan project sits on 12,323 acres in the northwest corner of L.A. County. It is expected to accommodate 19,333 homes on about 4,987 acres set aside for residential uses.

During a public hearing on the project in June, people expressed concerns about increased traffic, air pollution, water availability and the inevitability of homelessness Wednesday.

With not a single house yet built for the Centennial project L.A. County Regional Planning Commissioners asked development reps what contingency they had for the homeless.

“You need to talk about what you’re willing to do when the homeless finds a home in Centennial,” L.A. County Regional Planning Commissioner Pat Modugno asked developer reps at the close of the public hearing in June.

“We’ve got to have some recognition that it is going to be a challenge,” he said at the time. “And, we need to be talking about it today.”

Regardless of the concerns raised publicly by county officials, Rose said planners should have done a better job of looking at housing alternatives when assessing the project’s environmental impact.

Environmental impact

Under the California Environmental Quality Act, according to Rose, the environmental impacts of the project and potential alternatives must be thoroughly analyzed. L.A. County planners released environmental review documents that failed to meet this mandate.

Center environmentalists say planners did not do that.

“The environmental document only considers a couple of different developments, each over 6,000 acres,” Rose wrote in the news release issued this week. “How can the Board of Supervisors make an informed decision when planning officials didn’t even take a look at alternatives to the developer’s proposal?”

In June, the center asked for all records of communications between department staff and Tejon’s staff, consultants and attorneys, including emails, correspondence and text messages. While the planning department has responded that it’s in possession of such records, it has failed to make them public.

According to Rose, the housing project would add 75,000 new vehicle trips a day to the region’s already-clogged freeways, undermining California’s climate goals and generating air pollution.

Project backers

County planners heard from backers of the housing project in June, many of whom cited a dire need for affordable housing in L.A. County and a more pressing need for affordable emergency housing.

“The availability and affordability of housing is critical,” said Charlie Weiss, spokesman for the California Resources Corp.

“I want my daughter to be able to afford to live in California,” he said. “The Centennial project is going to address the issue of much needed, urgently needed, housing.

“We recommend approval of this project without delay,” he said.

Tony Mize, vice president of the nonprofit National Community Renaissance, in favor of the Centennial project, told commissioners: “The crisis we’re facing right now is affordable housing.

“We are so horribly short of housing in L.A.,” he said.

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