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Newhall Ranch Plan to Be Scaled Down

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The massive proposal for a planned community in the Santa Clarita Valley should be significantly scaled back and reworked to include more low- and moderately priced housing, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors said Tuesday.

The board ordered Newhall Land & Farming Co. to make several changes to its Newhall Ranch project, which as currently envisioned would include 24,000 homes along the banks of the Santa Clara River near Ventura County.

The revisions ordered by the supervisors include reducing by about 15% the number of homes to be built in the area, and requiring that nothing be built within 100 feet of the banks of the Santa Clara River along several environmentally sensitive stretches.

Few of the speakers at Tuesday’s public hearing criticized the revisions.

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Instead, speaker after speaker praised County Supervisor Mike Antonovich for setting up the negotiations that led to Tuesday’s order.

“We look forward to a continually mutually beneficial relationship,” said Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste. She praised the proposal’s inclusion of plans for shoring up the banks of the Santa Clara River as “forward thinking.”

Weste presented the board 30 letters in support of Antonovich’s motion.

Representatives of Ventura County, perhaps the most vociferous of the project’s opponents, expressed guarded support for Antonovich’s plan.

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“You’re taking a very strong step in a direction that I think will make the regional communities very pleased,” said Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long.

Newhall Land promised to follow through on the supervisors’ requests, which spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer called “tough but fair.”

The board’s revisions include:

* Reducing the number of houses and condominiums by 3,500 and increasing the sizes of many lots.

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* Ordering Newhall Land to speed up plans to dedicate a portion of the property as parkland and to build a public trail through parts of it. Under the current proposal, the land would not be deeded to a public agency for use as a park for 10 years.

* Excluding from development two ecologically sensitive areas where Newhall Land intended to build.

* Eliminating plans to build within half a mile of the Ventura County line.

* Specifying in the early stages of the application process that the project will not rely on ground water.

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The supervisors gave the company 90 days to work out the revisions and set Oct. 27 for a discussion of the new version of the plan.

Because some of the requests were not specific but require developing new plans for dealing with community concerns, it is still not clear exactly what the project will look like at that meeting. More revisions are also likely to be sought as negotiations continue.

Newhall Ranch, which has been in the works for several years, has been hailed by urban planners as a revolutionary attempt to address the needs of an entire community at once, rather than building it in bits and pieces.

It is the largest single development application ever handled by Los Angeles County, and when completed would house nearly 70,000 people.

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It has drawn powerful criticism from prospective neighbors, including the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the city of Santa Clarita and a number of environmental and slow-growth groups.

Ventura County officials remain concerned that the project would deplete area ground-water supplies and worsen traffic.

Long said after the meeting that she now believes there is an opportunity to resolve the county’s concerns regarding Newhall Ranch without suing Los Angeles County. To that end, she said, she plans on working more closely with her Los Angeles County counterparts in coming months.

“Frankly, I did not expect it, but I was happily surprised by [Antonovich’s] motion,” Long said. “It takes care of some of our issues and leaves the window open to take care of the others.”

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Long said the county’s biggest objection to the instant-city proposal--its lack of a water source--has yet to be dealt with to Ventura County’s satisfaction. But she was encouraged that Antonovich called for Newhall Ranch not to tap into ground water, a major concern for Ventura County’s downstream farmers.

She also said county officials continue to have concerns about the building of homes in a flood plain, considering the Santa Clara River’s unpredictability. But she was pleased that Antonovich called for Newhall Ranch to include more affordable housing, because Ventura County officials are concerned that the project’s lack of low-cost housing could burden their county.

“We won a battle, but we haven’t won the war,” Long said. “For him to address affordable housing was a big surprise.”

And although the opposition was lessened by Tuesday’s action, many remain steadfastly opposed to the project.

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Alisse Weston, director of community outreach for the Environmental Defense Center, a public-interest law firm, said her organization still opposes the project’s size. She had in tow a busload of opponents from Ventura County and Santa Clarita, several of whom asked the board to consider further strengthening the ground-water protections and further reducing the development’s size. Diane Trautman, a Santa Clarita resident who opposes Newhall Ranch, said that even with 3,500 fewer houses, the project will profoundly affect the Santa Clarita Valley and nearby Ventura County.

“Everyone should have learned from the deterioration of the San Fernando Valley,” Trautman said. “I know homeowners who are already talking about relocating in anticipation of this coming through.”

Times staff writer Miguel Bustillo contributed to this story.


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