Ventura County Weighs Newhall Ranch Lawsuit

Times Staff Writers

Ventura County officials said Monday that they are considering a new legal challenge to the 21,600-home Newhall Ranch subdivision, based on allegations that the developer withheld information about an endangered species that it was later accused of destroying.

They also urged neighboring Los Angeles County to send the development -- the largest in county history -- back to the drawing board, saying they do not trust the environmental reports filed by Newhall Land & Farming Co.

“We’ve called into question ... the truthfulness of all of the work that’s been done by Newhall, based on issues related to what we feel is a blatant covering-up of actions that violate [state environmental law],” Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long said. “I’ll be talking to my board about this.”


The fresh assault on the Newhall Ranch project, which would abut the Ventura County line and has been opposed by supervisors there for years, is based on an investigation into how the developer handled the presence of the endangered San Fernando Valley spineflower on its 12,000 acres of land in the Santa Clarita Valley. Newhall has not to date been charged with any crimes relating to the spineflower.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office last year launched a probe seeking to determine whether the developer underreported the number of flowers. Top officials working for Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley narrowed the probe, blocking efforts to search Newhall’s offices and instead focusing on scouring the ranchland to find the flowers.

That investigation has resulted in one misdemeanor charge of altering a streambed, to which Newhall has pleaded not guilty. Officials have said the investigation is continuing.

Newhall contends there are no legal grounds for charges and that work done last year that might have destroyed spineflowers was legal farming.

Long said the company may have violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not fully disclosing in documents the number of flowers. Long said that at tonight’s Ventura County supervisors meeting she would call for a closed-door session next week to discuss the possibility of a lawsuit.

It was Ventura County’s original 1998 legal challenge that has delayed the Newhall project. The action forced the developer to rewrite key environmental documents. One ruling required Newhall to demonstrate that it has enough water to support the development. Los Angeles County supervisors will consider the revisions March 25.


Aides to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district includes Newhall, would not address Ventura’s newest objections. But he asked planning officials earlier this month to determine if the company violated any rules.

The Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department concluded that Newhall did not withhold any information about the tiny plant. However, Darryl Koutnik, head of L.A. County’s Impact Analysis division, acknowledged that his agency did not review papers Newhall filed last year that reported that known spineflowers were in a single stand on the property.

At that time, Newhall had already found a second field of the flowers, according to its most recent environmental filing.

Newhall spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer said all the company’s environmental documents were completely trustworthy and the company has fully disclosed the flowers on its property.

But Assistant Ventura County Counsel Dennis Slivinski alleged that Newhall only gave this full accounting of all the flowers on its property after state Department of Fish and Game investigators obtained a search warrant and raided the Newhall Ranch property in May.