Critical Habitat saved in Calabasas

By Joey Farewell, CNPS Los Angeles / Santa Monica Mountains Chapter Conservation Chair

Catalina mariposa lily (Calochortus catalinae), a Southern California endemic species, grows on the site. Photo by Laura Camp (CC BY-SA 2.0).

On May 17, the Calabasas City Council voted unanimously to deny an incursion by the New Home Company into some of the city’s last remaining open space. The West Village Project would have impacted upland oak savanna and coastal sage scrub habitat, a riparian area, and an ancient landslide. The rejected proposal would have required extensive re-grading of steep habitats –– destroying both woodland and coastal sage scrub in the process –– and would have paved over the site’s rare riparian habitat as well. Coastal sage scrub is a precious and threatened plant community influenced by climatic conditions adjacent to the the coastline defined by a diverse suite native shrubs including California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.) and wild lilacs (Ceanothus spp.). Studies estimate that between 70 and 90 percent of the original acreage of this habitat has already been lost to development. This decision preserves  a vital piece of this vanishing and imperiled habitat, which is an integral part of the natural heritage of Calabasas. 

CNPS proudly stood with numerous organizations, including the Calabasas Coalition, the Sierra Club’s San Fernando Chapter, the Center for Biological Diversity, and countless local residents, in opposing this destructive project.

Julie Clark de Blasio and I submitted comprehensive public comments, provided testimony to both Planning Commission and City Council meetings to Calabasas council members and staff. 

To its credit, the Calabasas’ City Council rose to the occasion, rejecting New Home’s proposal and saving irreplaceable habitat. We now have a chance to conserve this area, in perpetuity, ensuring that future generations will have the opportunity to appreciate its numerous botanical riches including Catalina mariposa lily (Calochortus catalinae), coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia), mulefat (Baccharis salicifolia), and yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica).

In explaining their decision, the councilmembers underlined two pivotal issues: first, that open space is precious, and should be protected, and second, that we are living in a new era of wildfire –– one that requires more careful scrutiny and risk assessment than many developers are ready (or even willing) to perform. 

Needless to say, CNPS could not agree more. And between this victory, Tejon Ranch’s recent wildfire-related rejection at the Superior Court level, and the California appellate court’s denial of the Agoura Cornerstone project, it is looking more and more like California’s state and local governments are starting to make planning decisions that are good for communities and the environment.   

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