Our View | Environmental Group Plays Same Old Sad Song

By The Signal Editorial Board

Here’s a familiar tune: Environmentalists have once again sued to stop the Centennial project on Tejon Ranch, 45 miles north of Santa Clarita.

This project has gone through years of legal wrangling and compromises before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the project in April, after the developer addressed supervisors’ concerns about affordable housing and other issues. 

The lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, which challenges the supervisors’ approval, cites impacts on wildflowers and wildfire danger, alleging the development will put residents in a high fire zone hazard area. The lawsuit claims there were 31 fires of 100 acres or more in a 50-year period within 5 miles of the project site. 

One thing the lawsuit omits: The project site is isolated from existing urban areas. When brush fires occur in such an area, without structures being threatened, fire departments treat them differently than they do when a fire threatens existing homes and businesses.

How many brush fires occurred in Santa Clarita in the same period, from 1964 to 2015? How many of those brush fires would have been more than 100 acres if Santa Clarita was not developed and the Fire Department left many fires to burn themselves out because no structures were threatened? If we used the standards expected by the Center for Biological Diversity, there would be no homes or people living in Santa Clarita.

They’d probably like that. The organization’s behavior is reminiscent of anti-growth activists who move into a community and then want to freeze time.

The Centennial project is 90% open space. Ninety percent. That ratio — 90% open space and 10% development — was the result of year-long bargaining between environmental groups and the developer. The Center for Biological Diversity participated in those negotiations, almost to the very end, before walking out. Who proposed the 90% to 10% open space versus development ratio? You guessed it. The Center for Biological Diversity.

Will this lawsuit stop this development? That seems highly unlikely. The project has been approved after extensive review. It creates badly needed affordable housing. It might take a year or five or 10, but eventually the lawsuit will end and the development will proceed. It’s inevitable. The only thing this lawsuit will accomplish is adding tens and tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of what would have been affordable housing.

Who wins in that case? No one but the attorneys. 

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