The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors gave Tejon Ranch developers the green light Tuesday to start building more than 19,000 homes near the Kern County line as part the Centennial Project.
After hearing from scores of people for and against the housing development project — in a downtown Los Angeles meeting that was streamed live on the internet — four out of five supervisors endorsed a motion by Supervisor Kathryn Barger to approve the project.
Citing concerns about affordable housing so far away, the threat of wildfires and temporary as opposed to permanent jobs, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted against it.
Citing job creation, the construction of affordable housing and a boost to the local economy, Barger called Centennial: “Not just another sprawl project.
“It includes key amendments that address fire safety by requiring peer review, by or in coordination with CAL FIRE, at all points of the implementation, create 20,000 new long-term jobs and establish a partnership for a job training program — all to ensure that we have a comprehensive and resilient community,” she said.
Over the last 14 years, the Centennial project has gone through extensive public debate and review, including five public hearings and a lengthy and comprehensive environmental impact review process, Barger said, after the vote was taken.
“It is a responsible, forward-thinking project,” Barger said, “that exceeds the goals of the county’s general plan for smart, sustainable growth and sorely needed housing stock, including 18 percent of affordable housing units, which is approximately 3,500 units.
Tejon Ranch has set aside 90 percent of its holdings — 240,000 acres — for permanent conservation, which Barger said “will ensure the protection of expansive open space for generations to come.”
Greg Mederos of the Tejon Ranch Co. called Centennial “the largest commitment of affordable housing by a private developer.”
Going into Wednesday’s public session, Centennial developers had committed to 15 percent of the housing earmarked as affordable housing.
After hearing many speakers emphasize the urgency of the issue, Supervisor Hilda Solis put forward a motion bumping that commitment to 20 percent.
After Barger suggested a compromise, the board voted to approve the project if it allotted 18 percent housing devoted to affordable housing.
Supporters included: Robert Lovelace, representing the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters; Shomori Davis, representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and Brett Tremaine, senior vice president of Majestic Realty Inc.
“We strongly believe Centennial will benefit the entire region,” Tremaine said.
Enrique Armente, speaking for the regional governing office of general contractors, said: “This project will assist in alleviating the housing crisis.”
Local thumbs up
At least two speakers from the Santa Clarita Valley urged supervisors to approve the project.
Troy Hooper, speaking on behalf of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce aqs the immediate past chair, called Centennial “a boost to the local economy.”
Wendy Heffernan, of Santa Clarita, told the board she took a day off work in June to voice her support for the project, and took a day off Wednesday to do it again.
“I believe this to be a well-planned project,” she said. “I believe Tejon Ranch to be a good steward of the land and more importantly, as the mother of three adult children who live in Santa Clarita who are priced out of the housing market, I want my kids to be able to live close to me.”
While several speakers agreed with Barger on many fronts and, most vigorously on the prospect of jobs created through “local hire” considerations, there were many who remained opposed, concerned about fire safety.
“It’s in a high fire-severity zone,” Fire Chief Daryl Osby of the Los Angeles County Fire Department told the board.
“We’ve worked with the developer to determine the number of fire stations needed and for the project to have, around its perimeter, the proper fuel modification,” he said.
Those opposed to the project included Joseph Maizlish, who asked: “Where is the comprehensive countywide social impact report?
“The people who need the housing the most have not been here today to testify,” he said. “They would say let’s have 85 percent low-cost and no-cost housing. How you do that is a big, big challenge but you’re not engaging in it by approving this today.”
One of many voicing concerns about fire safety was Clifford McLean, president of the San Gabriel Mountains Chapter of the California Native Plant Society:
“Because of its location, surrounded by highly flammable grassland and subject to very high winds, it is extremely vulnerable to deadly wildfires,” he said. “If I was the supervisor, I would not want the deaths of residents on my conscience for having approved this project.”
The Centennial project calls for 19,333 homes on close to 5,000 acres. It includes about 8.4 million square feet earmarked for a business park on close to 600 acres and
1 million square feet of commercial user space on 102 acres.
About 1.6 million square feet on 110 acres is to be set aside for institutional and civic land uses for things such as schools for higher education, medical facilities and a library.
On 75 acres, about 130,680 square feet will be reserved for recreational and entertainment uses such as space for a clubhouse, farmers market, child care facilities and health clubs.
The project also calls for major utility facilities that would serve the entire community, including two wastewater reclamation facilities and a water treatment facility on 191 acres.Land set aside for schools — including kindergarten through 12th grade schools — encompasses 146 acres.
As for open space, about 5,624 acres of the 12,323-acre site — just over 45 percent — is for open space.
Centennial is to be built in stages over 20 years. It includes the construction of nine villages that will each contain a mix of land uses that enable residents to live near schools, recreation, shopping, neighborhood businesses and services, civic buildings, medical facilities and employment centers.