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Newhall Ranch Plea Not Heeded

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shrugging off the threat of a lawsuit, Los Angeles County officials Tuesday dismissed Ventura County’s claim that it has shared authority over the giant Newhall Ranch housing project because a small part of the property crosses over the county line.

“I concluded that despite the contentions of the county of Ventura that Los Angeles County can go ahead” with planning of the proposed 25,000-home development, Deputy County Counsel Charles J. Moore said at a public hearing on the project’s environmental report.

In a memo to Los Angeles County planners, Moore stated that even if three existing parcels cross the county line as alleged, Ventura County would still have no authority because no portion of the project would be built within its boundaries.

Also, according to Moore’s memo, the parcels to be developed have been legally documented by Los Angeles County, which he said means that the project can be developed without Ventura County’s approval.

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But Moore’s statements were disputed by Ventura County officials, who renewed their threats to take legal action to halt the project until the impact on local water supplies, flood control and traffic is adequately addressed.

“I think the only way to get their attention is to take them to court,” Ventura County Supervisor John K. Flynn said. “This is the way they generally do business in Los Angeles County. They run over everybody. They don’t even know what planning is.”

Ventura County Counsel James McBride said his office disagrees with Moore’s assessment of the law, saying the county still believes that it has a direct interest in the project.

“We believe if there are parcels that cross over the county line, they have to deal with us,” McBride said. "[Moore] disagrees with that interpretation. But I guess that’s why there are lawsuits.”

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Supervisor Kathy Long, whose district abuts the proposed project site, said she and Flynn plan to meet next week with Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich to personally state the county’s objections.

Long said she is most concerned that the developer is going to pump water out of Ventura County ground-water basins to support its development. Newhall Land & Farming Co. owns 15,000 acres of land in Ventura County that includes some ground-water wells.

“Water has always been the one thing that we war over in this state,” she said. “And it may be that this is what we war over here.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, representatives from the Ventura office of the Environmental Defense Center argued that the project’s environmental impact report does not specify where water supplies would come from. The proposed housing development would transform a 19-square-mile tract of ranchland at the county line into a community of 70,000 residents.

In their rebuttal, representatives for Newhall Land said 45% of the water for the massive development would come from the developer’s legal right to flood waters collected at Castaic Lake, another 30% from reclaimed water and the remainder from the State Water Project.

“At the time we go in for our specific tract maps, we have to show that water is indeed available or we don’t get our building permits,” Newhall spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer said. “So the public is protected because we have to prove where the water is coming from.”

Meanwhile, a recent study commissioned by opponents of the Newhall project found that its environmental impact report is “fatally flawed” because it contains an inaccurate fiscal analysis of the development.

In his report, conducted for Friends of the Santa Clara River, consultant Bob Braitman said the environmental report should be revised because it was done before the November passage of Proposition 218. The statewide measure significantly limits the ability of local governments to create assessment districts to pay for services, he said.

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For example, eliminating assessments would reduce revenues for library services by more than $560,000 annually, he said.

But Lauffer said the developer believes that any financial losses that may occur because of Proposition 218 would more than be offset by tax revenues created over the 25-year build out of the housing development.

“We estimate that there will be a $50-million surplus to Los Angeles County during this period that could specifically be used to offset the impacts of 218,” she said.

The proposed development is scheduled to go before the Los Angeles County Planning Commission on April 23.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Los Angeles County Planning Commissioner Richard Wulliger said he would probably oppose the development if the company continued with plans to build in the flood plain of the Santa Clara River. He also requested that the population density of the project be reduced and that the company devote more of its area for open space.

The commissioner’s comments came despite Newhall Land’s offer to make some concessions.

For example, Executive Vice President James Harter said the company had decided not to place 15 large luxury homes in the ecologically sensitive Santa Susana Mountains.

Harter also said Newhall Land had agreed to perform an environmental review of the Salt Creek Canyon wildlife corridor before building a road in the area. The company also agreed to place a traffic signal in the neighboring community of Val Verde, where residents have complained about the increased traffic the project would bring.

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However, environmentalists and officials in Santa Clarita said Newhall Land’s concessions were not nearly enough to change their opposition.

“I think in comparison to the impact of the project, [the promises are] minuscule,” said Lynne Plambeck, a member of SCOPE, the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment.

The commission may vote on the project this spring. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and various state and federal agencies must also approve the project before construction can begin.

Times staff writers Timothy Williams and Greg Sandoval contributed to this story.


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