Newhall Ranch is the largest single development project in Los Angeles County history. It will be located on Highway 126 just west of Interstate 5. Opposed by 17 environmental and civic organizations when it was first proposed in 1996, SCOPE joined four other plaintiffs (including the Center for Biological Diversity, Wishtoyo, California Native Plant Society and the Friends of the Santa Clara River) in decades of hard fought litigation in an effort to protect the Santa Clara River.
On Nov 30, the California Supreme Court ruled for the environmental groups saying:
Finally, one should not assume a sizeable new housing development planned for a site relatively far from major urban centers, to be built largely on undeveloped land with habitat for several sensitive species, will have comparatively minor impacts either on greenhouse gas emissions or on fish and wildlife. (Opinion at page 41)
In 2017, several of the large conservation groups settled for a sum of $16.5 million dollars, but we did not.
But the fight is still not over.
Newhall Ranch River Impacts
The Santa Clara River arises in the Angeles National Forest east of Soledad Canyon and flows for 116 miles through the Santa Clarita Valley, Fillmore, and Santa Paula to the seashore in Ventura County. The riparian woodland along its banks is remarkably unspoiled and supports many species of rare birds, plants and animals. It is home to the endangered least Bell’s Vireo,and a tiny silver fish, the Unarmored three-spined stickleback. The river flows past farms and citrus orchards on its way to its estuary, an outstanding rest stop for migrating shore birds.
In 1994, the US Fish and Wildlife Service dedicated a 12-mile, 3500′ wide reach of the river as “critical habitat” to protect the least Bell’s Vireo. The critical zone extends west from I5 to Ventura County; this is right in the middle of the Newhall Ranch project.
The Newhall Land and Farming Co had long cherished a lucrative future for its Newhall Ranch in this area. They are boldly planning to build a new city of almost 25,000 units for 70,000 people on this 12,000 acre parcel west of I5. The effect of a development of this magnitude is simply staggering. There is no firm water source to supply the project which will require some 19,000 acre feet per year. 1500 acres of rich farmland will disappear at a time when there is mounting concern – especially in California – for vanishing agricultural production. Increased traffic from thousands of autos in an area which is already plagued with high air pollution is unconscionable. Paving over open land for roads, homes and businesses will increase storm water runoff, adding to the flood potential. And the runoff will carry oil and gas and other familiar urban sources of pollution into the river. The Newhall Ranch is a flagrant example of urban sprawl that is engulfing the few remaining unspoiled places in Southern California.
The Santa Clara River never runs dry in this reach of the river where groundwater is pushed to the surface by underlying bedrock. When the rains come it can be a truly wild and vigorous river, sometimes changing its course. Yet the Newhall Ranch Project would impose earthen fill into the floodplain, with artificial banks, to construct subdivisions and commercial centers close to the river’s edge.
In this day and age, it is a cardinal sin to build in a floodplain. The cost of cleanup can be steep, and is usually paid for by the unsuspecting taxpayer. Levees with rip-rap will destroy our Wild River and the first flood that destroys a home could prompt a call for even more channelization. Haven’t we learned our lesson from the LA River?
For more information, please read: Plans for a new city in the Santa Clarita Valley hit another roadblock, Los Angeles Times by Maura Dolan, Louis Sahagun, and Abby Sewell