Environmentalists sue supervisors over Centennial housing project

Site west of Neenach where more than 19,000 homes are proposed in Centennial Specific Plan. photo for the Signal by Jeff Zimmerman
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Citing trampled wildflowers and flourishing wildfires, an environmentalist group filed a lawsuit this week against the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for having approved the construction of more than 19,000 homes as part of the Centennial project.

The lawsuit, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity on Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges the housing project near the Kern County line would convert some of California’s most “important remaining native grasslands and spectacular wildflower fields into a sprawling development.”

Centennial officials responded that the environmentalist group is taking a “my way or the highway” approach and standing in the way of much-needed housing stock, including affordable housing.

The project, about 48 miles north of Santa Clarita, would develop an area larger than Griffith Park and put about 57,000 residents in a high fire hazard area, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit notes that between 1964 and 2015, 31 wildfires larger than 100 acres occurred within 5 miles of the site, including four within the proposed project’s boundaries.

More people in the area will likely increase the number of dangerous fires, said Center spokesman J.P. Rose, citing research he says shows eight out of 10 wildfires are caused by people.

“Supervisors (Janice) Hahn, (Hilda) Solis, (Mark) Ridley-Thomas and (Kathryn) Barger approved perhaps the most wasteful and environmentally damaging development in county history,” Rose said Wednesday. “In addition to destroying some of the last large wildflower fields remaining in the county, Centennial will cost taxpayers nearly a billion dollars to build a new six-lane freeway.”

County approval, company response

On April 30, county supervisors granted Tejon Ranch developers approval for the Centennial project after it was tweaked to reflect the supervisors’ affordable housing concerns, among other items.

Barry Zoeller, spokesman for Tejon Ranch, sent out a news release Tuesday in response to the lawsuit.

“To stand in the way of an approved development that will bring thousands of much-needed price-attainable homes to Southern California families who are struggling to find housing they can afford is yet one more stark example of CBD’s ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ mentality,” the statement said.

“CBD’s intransigence is not surprising. It participated in the negotiations that led to the historic Tejon Ranch Conservation & Land Use Agreement that permanently conserves 90 percent of Tejon Ranch — 240,000 acres — only to, after participating in the negotiations for more than a year, walk away from the table just before the agreement was reached,” the statement said.

“It’s worth noting that all the participants in the negotiations indicated in advance that the outcome of negotiations would result in some real estate development on Tejon Ranch, and it was representatives from CBD who proposed the 90% conservation-10% development ratio,” Zoeller’s statement said. “Now, CBD says it’s opposed to conservation agreements. Clearly, CBD would rather retain the opportunity to sue (and presumably collect attorney’s fees on the chance it was to prevail) rather than compromising to achieve a guaranteed positive conservation outcome.”

Centennial is planned 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.

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