The Progressive


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For Immediate Release
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Lawsuit Challenges Second Massive Newhall Ranch "Village"

Sprawling Development in Floodplain Would Devastate Wildlife Habitat, Hurt Cultural Resources


Five public-interest groups sued Los Angeles County in superior court on Wednesday over its approval of permits for the second phase of the sprawling Newhall Ranch development -- Mission Village. The Newhall Ranch development, conceived in the 1980s as one of the largest single residential development projects ever contemplated in California, is archaic and out of step with contemporary urban planning.

The project is intended to eventually include 60,000 housing units -- the size of a mid-size city -- including development in the floodplain along the Santa Clara River, the last mostly free-flowing river left in Los Angeles County. The sprawling project threatens endangered species and natural areas and will bury many of the river's tributaries.

The lawsuit -- brought by the California Native Plant Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment (SCOPE) and Wishtoyo Foundation and its Ventura Coastkeeper program -- challenges the legality of the county's approval process in order to protect the rare plant, animal, cultural resources and water quality.

The plan approved by the county on May 15 will develop open space that is home to endangered species in and along the Santa Clara river; eliminate habitat for the highly endangered San Fernando Valley spineflower; harm California condor habitat; and unearth and desecrate American Indian burial sites, sacred places and cultural natural resources.

"Decades have passed, planning principles have shifted and improved, and yet the county has failed to incorporate contemporary planning principles into this dinosaur of a project," said David Magney with the California Native Plant Society. "As a result, rare plants, including the San Fernando Valley spineflower, are going to be needlessly bulldozed and replaced by more strip malls, parking lots and houses no one can afford."

"It's unimaginable that L.A. County is so reckless with the last free-flowing river in the region," said Ron Bottorff with the Friends of the Santa Clara River. "Southern California has paved over and lost all but 3 percent of its historic river woodlands, yet these are resources are key to protecting our precious water."

The Santa Clara River Valley is home to a great diversity of very rare species, among them the unarmored threespine stickleback fish, California condor, least Bell's vireo, southwestern willow flycatcher, California red-legged frog, arroyo toad, southern steelhead trout and San Fernando Valley spineflower. Wildlands of the Santa Clara River provides a full accounting of rare environmental resources of this precious landscape.

"Developing in endangered species habitat pushes rare plants and animals to the brink of extinction," said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "These days, smart planning protects them instead of destroying their habitat."

Los Angeles County approved an overall plan for the Newhall Ranch development more than a decade ago. Approval of this second phase, called Mission Village, follows just months after the county approved the first phase, Landmark Village. Northern Los Angeles County is already plagued by high foreclosure rates and thousands of permitted housing units that have not been built. Financial bankruptcy by the development's previous investors cost California's public pension fund more than $970 million of state employees' retirement. New investors are out-of-state hedge fund managers with no interest in California's rich natural legacy.

"Before a single house has been built, Newhall Ranch has already cost California's taxpayers and workforce, including the county's own staff, nearly a billion dollars of lost pension funds," said Lynne Plambeck, president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment. "Although the state will never recover any of the largest single loss ever suffered by CalPERS, and will spend millions more in public monies to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure to serve this project, the county has once again endorsed this same development that will threaten the region's water supply, worsen air pollution and cause further gridlock on our highways."

"The project will impart irreversible impacts to the ecological integrity and water quality of the Santa Clara River watershed and Ventura's coastal waters, harming the wellbeing of watershed residents and visitors for years to come," said Jason Weiner, associate director and staff attorney for the Wishtoyo Foundation's Ventura Coastkeeper Program.

"The impacts to hundreds upon hundreds of our burial sites, and natural cultural resources such as the California condor that are such a vital component of our culture and religious practices, will be devastating and irreversible," said Mati Waiya, a Chumash ceremonial elder and executive director of the Wishtoyo Foundation.

"Mission Village contains a former oil field now proposed for housing. Project information on toxic contamination was substantially changed at the very last minute just prior to the county's approval," said attorney Dean Wallraff. "Tetrachloroethene (PCE) contamination was discovered on the old oil field but the public was not given a chance to review any of this data in the review process, which is a violation of law."

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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