Newhall Actions Prompt Review

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County planning officials proposed revising their guidelines on environmental reports Tuesday after allegations that the developer planning the largest project in county history secretly destroyed endangered plants without public review.

In a report, the county Department of Regional Planning said it needs new manuals on how environmental consultants should conduct themselves and how the state's planning laws, which call for full public disclosure, should be followed.

The document was issued after some environmentalists and critics complained about confidentiality agreements that the Newhall Land & Farming Co. signed with consultants who surveyed its land for the San Fernando Valley spineflower in 2000 and 2001.

Newhall allegedly destroyed several spineflowers after binding its consultants to confidentiality deals, according to court records. The developer denies wrongdoing and is proposing a preserve to protect the foot-tall plants.

Although the county report states that Newhall ultimately did not withhold information on the spineflowers, it also notes that the county's manuals do not provide guidelines on environmental contracts or confidentiality deals.

The report argues that the county's unusual policy of letting developers select their own environmental consultants is legal and sound.

An aide to Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who requested the county study, said the document would be examined to ensure the planning process was just. "Mike is concerned that the process is open and fair to the public," Conal McNamara said.

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