California Native Plant Society

Conservation Program

Newhall Ranch Development

Current Status:

On January 3, 2011, CNPS and several other environmental groups filed suit against the California Department of Fish and Game in San Francisco County Superior Court. The groups argue the state insufficiently assessed the impacts on the watershed, surrounding riparian areas, and the San Fernando Valley Spineflower, a state-listed Endangered species. CDFG's certification of the Development's EIR and issuing of a "take" permit (under §1081 of CESA) will destroy about 25% of the San Fernando Valley Spineflower. Citing CEQA, CESA, and CDFG provisions, CNPS and others look to decertify the EIR and rescind the "take" permit.

An article in the Ventura Star summarizes the issues raised in the lawsuit.

For the past 10 years, CNPS's Channel Islands Chapter has taken an active role in both monitoring the Development's progress and commenting on CDFG's environmental reviews. The Newhall Development's information, history, and resources, can be found on the Channel Islands Chapter website: http://www.cnpsci.org/Conservation/NewhallRanch.htm.

Background:

The Newhall Land and Farming Company, a large privately held corporation in eastern Ventura County and western Los Angeles County is proposing to build a new city, called Newhall Ranch, on their property just east of Ventura County on the north slopes of the Santa Susana Mountains west of Valencia (and Magic Mountain). This proposed project will have tremendous impacts of the natural and human environment. Below are a series of articles on the project, authored by CNPS member David Magney, that appeared in various issues of the Channel Islands Chapter newsletter, Matilija Copy.

January 2001

Even though the environmental community, and Ventura County (and others), defeated Los Angeles County and Newhall Land and Farming Company (and their consultants Impact Sciences) in a court battle in 2000, Newhall is coming back and trying to cram their huge development (of 24,000 homes and 70,000 people) down our throats. But not without another fight. CNPS provided comments in November 2000 on their new Notice of Preparation (NOP) on what and how they should address the environmental issues of the proposed project. . Even before the NOP comment deadline had closed, Impact Sciences had already prepared and submitted their administrative draft documents to Los Angeles County for review (not to the public however). And, as you might guess, they totally ignored the comments CNPS, and others, submitted on the NOP (but then again, how could they have even considered them since they had already written their document). Needless to say, this project would have huge impacts on the environment (in the large sense) of Ventura County, not to mention northwestern Los Angeles County. And guess what, Impact Sciences claims that the development will not have any significant impacts on the Ventura County environment. But then, they did not use scientific methods as we know them to make their conclusions, they used their own brand of logic, which is entirely flawed (illogical). I guess the good news is that since the environmental document they prepared is so bad, it will be easy to have it thrown out by the courts again. What a waste of time and money by Newhall to prepare an environmental document that guarantees a lawsuit, and losing their case. Why don't they just do it right and save everyone a lot of time and money, including themselves? Stay tuned.

March 2001

Last newsletter (January 2001) I described recent events on what is happening with the Newhall Ranch development project in western Los Angeles County immediately east of the Ventura County line along State Route 126 and the Santa Clara River. I want to make a correction to the first sentence of that article. "Even though the environmental community, and Ventura County (and others), defeated Los Angeles County and Newhall Land and Farming Company (and their consultants Impact Sciences) in a court battle last year, Newhall is coming back and trying to cram their huge development (of 24,000 homes and 70,000 people) down our throats.” This sentence inadvertently suggested that the environmental consultant to Newhall Land and Farming Company (Impact Sciences) was named in the lawsuit that Ventura County and the environmental community filed, and won, on the previous EIR for the project. Impact Sciences was not a named party in that lawsuit, as the consultants that typically prepare EIRs for lead agencies such as Los Angeles County or City of Oxnard, are not specifically named, only the lead agency and the project proponent. The president of Impact Sciences complained about the inference, and CNPS hereby retracts any such inference.

At this writing, there has been no new developments with this project, other than the fact that several populations of the endangered San Fernando Valley Spineflower are known to occur on Newhall’s property. The frustrating, and in my opinion, paranoid, and narrow-minded thinking of Newhall, they will not share their knowledge of this with the interested public, and refuse to let resource agencies (i.e. US Fish and Wildlife Service, California Dept. of Fish and Game) or CNPS onto their property to examine this fabulous resource. Seems to me they have something to hide. If the quality of scientific work presented in the project EIR is any indication of how they work, they certainly do have a lot to hide, and don’t want the public or the resources agencies to know exactly what important biological resources they do have on their property. This attitude certainly does not create a level of trust with what they say.

June 2001

Newhall Ranch Specific Plan EIR – Again! The Newhall Ranch development is back in the public review period, with the release of Newhall’s "Draft Additional Analysis” that Impact Sciences prepared as a consultant directly to Newhall. Even though all California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) documents are to be prepared by the lead agency, in this case the County of Los Angeles, lets developers hire the consultant directly, and then the County accepts it as if it was prepared directly on behalf of the County. The County doesn’t appear to assert any real quality control over Newhall’s consultant. L.A. County is about the only jurisdiction in California that allows CEQA documents to be prepared in this way, which smacks of real conflicts-of-interest issues when a critical document is prepared by the applicant. Some lead agencies go so far as to forbid the EIR consultant to talk to the applicant to prevent any such conflicts, not L.A. County. As evidenced by the first EIR prepared by Impact Sciences for Newhall on this project, the courts threw the EIR out as insufficient in meeting minimum standards under CEQA. Did you know that the L.A. County planner position for this project paid for entirely by Newhall Land and Farming Company? That sounds like a situation with great potential for bias in favor of Newhall.

Now Newhall and their consultants are back with their "Additional Analysis” to try to satisfy the judge. (What type of document is a "Additional Analysis”? There is no such thing in CEQA.) The judge specifically identified a number of issues that were not properly assessed, to which Newhall and Impact Sciences are taking very narrow views on how to address them and keeping many of their analyses to the bare minimum to try to get by.

CNPS submitted detailed comments on the Notice of Preparation for the "Additional Analysis”, which Newhall and Impact Sciences basically ignored. Impact Sciences claims that the building of 5,100+ acres near the Ventura County line with houses, roads, industrial, and commercial development (and eventually 70,000 residents) will not have a significant impact on the biological resources of Ventura County, but they fail to provide any substantial evidence to support their claims, just their opinions. Did Impact Sciences consider CNPS’s comments on the NOP? For the most part, no, at least not on the issues of most importance. What they did do was include a list of the biologists that worked on it, which is required by CEQA. They did not even mention the presence of the San Fernando Valley Spineflower (Chorizanthe parryi var. fernandina) within the Newhall Specific Plan area, which we know occurs there. They also did not mention the presence of the Arroyo Toad, another listed species recently discovered on Newhall lands. They did not conduct any surveys for lichens or plant species of local concern. They did not follow proper protocols for conducting botanical or wildlife field surveys, even though they claimed to do so.

August 2001

The public review period for the huge Newhall Ranch development California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) documents has closed, at least on the draft EIR. I, with the assistance from Dr. Shawn Smallwood, a certified wildlife biologist, prepared extensive critical comments (78 pages of them) on Newhall’s "Draft Additional Analysis” that Impact Sciences prepared as a consultant directly to Newhall. Even though all CEQA documents are to be prepared by the lead agency, in this case the County of Los Angeles, L.A. County lets developers hire the consultant directly, and then the County just accepts it as if it was prepared by the County. L.A. County is about the only jurisdiction in California that allows CEQA documents to be prepared in this way, which smacks of real conflicts-of-interest issues when a critical document is prepared by the applicant. Some lead agencies go so far as to forbid the EIR consultant to talk to the applicant to prevent any such conflicts, not L.A. County. As evidenced by the first EIR prepared by Impact Sciences for Newhall on this project, the courts through the EIR out as insufficient in meeting minimum standards under CEQA. Did you know that the L.A. County planner position for this project paid for entirely by Newhall Land and Farming Company? That sounds like a situation with great potential for bias in favor of Newhall.

Now Newhall and their consultants are back with their "Additional Analysis” to try to satisfy the judge. (What type of document is a "Additional Analysis”? There is no such thing in CEQA.) The judge specifically identified a number of issues that were not properly assessed, to which Newhall and Impact Sciences are taking very narrow views on how to address them and keeping many of their analyses to the bare minimum to try to get by.

CNPS submitted detailed comments on the Notice of Preparation for the "Additional Analysis”, which Newhall and Impact Sciences basically ignored. Impact Sciences claims that the building of 5,100+ acres near the Ventura County line with houses, roads, industrial, and commercial development (and eventually 70,000 residents) will not have a significant impact on the biological resources of Ventura County, but they fail to provide any substantial evidence to support their claims, just their opinions. As an example of how we believe Newhall, Impact Sciences, and L.A. County have utterly failed to comply adequately with CEQA again, they never once mentioned that the endangered San Fernando Valley Spineflower has been found in the Newhall Ranch Specific Plan Area. In addition, Newhall refuses to let any independent biologists or agency biologists onto the property. Do you think they can be trusted? This project would have tremendous impacts on the biological resources of the region, including loss of rare upland habitats and the Santa Clara River, and would significantly increase traffic on State Route 126. Please send letters to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to oppose this project. We don’t need it, it will seriously impact our native plants, it will degrade the human environment, and it will not provide any benefit to society, only money in the pockets of the developer.

January 2002

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors postponed their hearing on the huge urban sprawl project proposed by Newhall Land and Farming Company, in part to give them time to review the legal aspects of two recent court cases that have bearing on the Newhall Development project. The Friends of the Santa Clara River, which CNPS is a member, recently won a lawsuit on water availability for the development, which could present difficulties for Newhall. Newhall had been clearing land on portions of the development site under the name of "agricultural practices”; however, they failed to obtain the required grading permits from the County, who were forced to issue a cease-and-desist order on Newhall at the urging of the CDFG. The "additional analysis” Impact Sciences did on behalf of Newhall for L.A. County never bothered to mention that the San Fernando Valley Spineflower has been found on the ranch and on Magic Mountain property. Why not? Are they trying to hide something? It is CNPS’s opinion that the impact assessment was entirely inadequate and did not fairly or truthfully assess potential project-related impacts to the environment. Your lives and lifestyle WILL be adversely affected by this project if it is approved. Ventura County is fighting this project because of the impacts it will have on the citizens of Ventura County.

Below are some aerial photographs of the Grapevine Mesa portion of Newhall Ranch taken by CNPS to document the destruction of San Fernando Valley Spineflower and natural habitats, with aerial photography from AirPhotoUSA before the grading occurred.



September 2002

A decision on the massive Newhall Ranch development in the Santa Clara River Valley/on the east end of the Santa Susana Mountains just east of Ventura County has been delayed again by Los Angeles County. Newhall Land & Farming Company (Newhall) is in trouble! Newhall is being investigated for criminal and civil violations of CESA because they illegally graded areas that had supported the endangered San Fernando Valley Spineflower [SFVS] (Chorizanthe parryi var. fernandina), which was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered at the Ahmanson Ranch site in 1999 (see rare plant article on Page 3). Around the same time or a little earlier, a specimen showed up for identification at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, but lacking locality data. Where did it come from? The botanist who submitted the specimen for identification isn’t telling because her client has forbidden her from doing so. She submitted a specimen for identification to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in 2000 from the "Castaic area”, but was prohibited from disclosing the exact location by her client, Newhall. This is a common and routine practice by Newhall, forbidding all their botanists working for them from disclosing any of their survey findings. Was the specimen from the Newhall Ranch? The botanist who found it won’t tell because she is forbidden to do so by a confidentiality agreement required by their client. Why would Newhall, or any client, require such a gag? I can think of only one reason, so they can hide the information from the permitting and regulatory agencies during the environmental review process. Of course, this would be fraud, but how would anyone find out?

The EIRs prepared by Newhall on their project NEVER reported the occurrence of SFVS on their project site, even though Newhall admitted it was present on Grapevine Mesa on 6 June 2000 when Mark Subbotin of Newhall faxed a map to Diana Hickson of Calif. Dept. of Fish & Game (CDFG). During their search, under a search warrant, CDFG found numerous "populations” of SFVS on Newhall’s development site, specifically on Grapevine and Airport Mesas, many of which had been disturbed by illegal grading activities, in direct violation of the CESA and CEQA. Newhall was cited by Los Angeles County for the illegal grading, and forbad CDFG from inspecting the population Newhall had previously reported occurring on Grapevine Mesa. Why? Newhall has a long history of violating environmental laws, and getting away with it because the state and federal agencies are understaffed, their consultants are gagged, and Newhall contributes handsomely to local, regional, and statewide politicians. Is that right? Absolutely not! CNPS hopes that all the environmental crimes committed by Newhall will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and that all damaged biological resources are properly restored. Otherwise, why have the laws at all.

Presumed Extinct Plant Discovered on Newhall Ranch.

Botanists subcontracted to Dudeck & Associates, a consulting firm working for Newhall Land & Farming Co. on the Newhall Ranch development project found the Los Angeles Sunflower (Helianthus nuttallii ssp. parishii), a plant thought to be extinct, which had not been seen since 1937. The plant was apparently found in a boggy area of the Santa Clara River in Newhall Ranch someplace, but Newhall won’t tell exactly where yet. A Newhall spokesman said that Newhall has sent a letter to the California Department of Fish and Game to request that the Los Angeles Sunflower be listed under the California Endangered Species Act. Newhall claims that this important discovery will in no way affect their plans for their new city. That remains to be seen.

Charges Filed Against Newhall Land & Farming Company.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney has filed charges against Newhall for violating Section 1600 et seq. of the California Fish & Game Code. That is, Newhall mucked around in a creek without a permit. The maximum fine is $1,000 for each incident, which will certainly set Newhall back financially for years! Apparently, other charges for other environmental crimes are pending.

The following is an article from the 9 October 2002 Los Angeles Daily News.

This is likely the first in several misdemeanor civil and criminal charges to filed against the Newhall Land and Farming Company for violations of the California Fish and Game Code. The maximum fine for violating Section 1600 of the Fish and Game Code (filling streams without a permit) is a paltry $1,000. This small amount certainly is not a deterrent to large corporations such as Newhall. Our environmental laws are extremely weak when it comes to punishment for willful violators. Call your state representative and encourage them to make our environmental laws stronger, so that they will truly provide our most sensitive biological resources real legal protection.

"Newhall Land Denies Illegal Grading" - By Daily News Staff

SANTA CLARITA - The Newhall Land and Farming Company pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a charge of illegally altering a streambed on the site of the proposed 22,000-home Newhall Ranch project. The company claims it's trying to understand the complaint that says the violation occurred on 20 acres it graded for to farm Agave, which is used to make tequila, but plans to ask the Los Angeles District's Attorney's Office to dismiss the case. "We are very confident that there were no violations of any of the codes related to streambed alteration in that area”, said Marlee Lauffer, Newhall Land spokeswoman. "We are trying to understand what these allegations are”, Maureen O'Brien, deputy district attorney, said her office plans to proceed with the case. It's scheduled for trial on Nov. 20 in Newhall Superior Court. If convicted, Newhall Land faces a fine of up to $1,000. The charge comes in the midst of an investigation that began last spring into accusations that the developer cleared habitat for the endangered San Fernando Valley Spineflower under the guise of grading land for farming, state Fish and Game Department officials said. The misdemeanor count represents a violation of the state Fish and Game Code, officials said. Investigators believe the company graded the land in an effort to clear it of an endangered species.
- David Magney

January 2003

The Revised Draft Additional Analysis (Los Angeles County Project Number 94-087) CEQA document is out and available for public review. Copies of the document can be found at the Fillmore, Piru, and E.P. Foster, and Blanchard Community Libraries in Ventura County and at several libraries in the Santa Clarita area. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the Newhall Ranch development project on Tuesday 28 January 2003 at 9:30 a.m. in Room 381B, Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, 500 West Temple St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Your attendance is requested. Let us assure you, you WILL be impacted by this project, as well as significant botanical and wildlife resources.

The proposed project will, if approved, consist of over 21,000 dwelling units, commercial and business uses, and lots of infrastructure (roads, pipelines, bridges, etc.) at the southeast "corner” of I-5 and SR126 (W of Magic Mountain) on the eastern end of the Santa Susana Mountains and along the Santa Clara River.

June 2003

As you likely read in the newspapers, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve Newhall Land & Farming Company’s "Additional Analysis” (L.A. County Project Number 94-087) prepared by their consultants, Impact Sciences. CNPS reviewed the information and found it to be lacking/inadequate, although at least this time they owned up to actually having lost of San Fernando Valley Spineflower (Chorizanthe parryi var. fernandina). The project will consist of over 21,000 dwelling units, commercial and business uses, and lots of infrastructure (roads, pipelines, bridges, etc.) at the southeast "corner” of I-5 and SR126 (W of Magic Mountain) on the eastern end of the Santa Susana Mountains and along the Santa Clara River. The Kern County courts will now review the new document and Supervisors’ decision and determine if they are adequate, this because the "Additional Analysis" was required by the judge for a previous CEQA lawsuit.

November 2006

Los Angeles Sunflower Update

The most recent taxonomic studies (November 2006) have suggested that the plant found is likely not Helianthus nuttallii ssp. parishii; rather, it is an unnamed subspecies, yet to be formally described. Regardless, the sunflower found at Newhall Ranch is indeed a very rare plant.

In 2010, the plant was named Helianthus inexpectus, Newhall Ranch Sunflower. It is known only from a freshwater spring next to the Santa Clara River on Newhall Ranch.

August 2009

Newhall Ranch Specific Plan San Fernando Valley Spineflower Plan and Wetland Permit DEIR/EIS

Newhall Ranch has applied for permits from the California Department of Fish and Game to "take" at least 30 percent of the occupied habitat for the San Fernando Valley Spineflower, a state-listed as Endangered. In addition, Newhall Ranch has applied for permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill many acres of jurisdictional waters of the U.S. and wetlands. These two permits require environmental review through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), respectively. CNPS and the Friends of the Santa Clara River provided comments on the DEIR through DMEC in August 2009.

DEIR comments are located here: DMEC comments on the DEIR/EIS [PDF] and the responses to those comments can be found here: responses to DMEC's comment letter [2 MB PDF]. Comments by the Channel Island Chapter point to conducting field surveys for lichens, bryophytes (mosses, liverworts, and hornworts), and terrestrial gastropods because: 1. They are part of the biodiversity, and 2. Rare species of each group are known to occur in California and may occur on Newhall Ranch. Even though the field surveys were not required, Newhall conducted them and found three rare native terrestrial gastropods. No rare lichens or bryophytes were found. Discovering these three rare native terrestrial gastropods raised a point of contention as they are not listed by CNDDB and therefore not perceived as rare by Newhall Ranch.

Based on communication with Barry Roth, the expert on Helminthoglypta (shoulderband snail) species, two of the species found may be new to science. Interested in native terrestrial snails? Visit the Sespe Institute website and click on the List of Terrestrial Snails of Los Angeles County.

The Final EIR/EIS on the SFVS Plan and wetland permitting were issued in June 2010; however, CDFG has yet to publish their decision on the "incidental take" permit. The U.S. EPA has also notified the Corps that the environmental assessment is flawed. Here is EPA's letter criticizing the Corps' EIS on the Newhall Ranch because the Los Angeles District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did such a poor job of evaluating the project's impacts on wetland functions and resources. A legal challenge is expected.

Understanding the ecology and habitat requirements of the SFVS is necessary and members can review the Draft SFVS Conservation Plan [11.4 MB PDF] and the biological resources section of the DEIR/EIS [11.2 MB PDF file].

February 2010

Landmark Village Development

Newhall Ranch is proposing a dense urban development to be placed along State Route 126, in the river floodplain portion of the Newhall Ranch Specific Plan area, and in some areas, including three major bridges, to the south of the Santa Clara River. The County, through Impact Sciences, released a Recirculated DEIR for the proposed development in late January 2010. CNPS and the Friends of the Santa Clara River provided comments on the DEIR through DMEC in March 2010.

Read the DMEC comments on the DEIR [PDF]. The Final EIR on the Landmark Village project has yet to come out.

The biological resources section of the DEIR is available for downloading here [very big PDF file - 32.3 MB, so it will take awhile to download].

November 2010

Mission Village Development

Newhall Ranch is now proposing a dense urban development for the easternmost portion of the Newhall Ranch Specific Plan area, just west of Magic Mountain. The County, through Impact Sciences, released a DEIR for the proposed development in October 2010. With an extension, comments on the DEIR need to be sent to the County by January 4, 2011.

The biological resources section of the DEIR is available for downloading [huge PDF file - 71.1 MB, so it will take awhile to download].

CNPS and the Friends of the Santa Clara River have contracted David Magney Environmental Consulting, to critically review the biological resources section of the Mission Village DEIR. These comments (which can be located here: comments) were submitted to Los Angeles County Regional Planning on January 4, 2011.

December 2010

Spineflower Conservation Plan EIR Certified

The California Department of Fish and Game certified its EIR on the Newhall Ranch Spineflower Conservation Plan on December 3, 2010. CDFG is also issuing a "take" permit under Section 1080 of the California Endangered Species Act. This will allow Newhall Ranch to destroy about 30 percent of the population of the San Fernando Valley Spineflower, which is state-listed as Endangered. This link announces CDFG's decision to certify the EIR and issue permits.

 

Get more info from the following sites:

 

 

Copyright © 1999-2017 California Native Plant Society. All rights reserved. Contact Us | Privacy