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Builder Is Accused of Rushing the Review of Newhall Ranch Project

Development: Environmental coalition seeks more time for the public to analyze a report on the 70,000- resident community, planned near the county line.

August 24, 1996|JOHN M. GONZALES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VALENCIA — A coalition of environmental groups has accused the development firm that wants to build a 70,000-resident town near Ventura County's border of trying to rush a public review of the project.

It has also warned that the Newhall Ranch project--the largest planned community in Los Angeles County's history--could affect neighboring Ventura County's agricultural areas.

Newhall Land & Farming Co. hopes to begin work in 2000 on Newhall Ranch, a town that would cover 12,000 acres between Six Flags Magic Mountain and the Ventura County line.

Representatives of the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and local groups this week called on Los Angeles County planning officials to double the time--from 90 days to 180--that the public has to review the 4,700-page environmental impact report on the site.

The review period is now scheduled to end Oct. 9, when the County Regional Planning Commission holds its first big hearing on the development.

"It's ridiculous. They know we can't get things done in 90 days," said Lynne Plambeck, vice president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment. "It's like they're trying to bulldoze this through."

Plambeck also expressed concern for area farmland. "The Oxnard Plain is very dependent on water supplies from the Santa Clara River," she said, noting that urban runoff could degrade the river's water supply.

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Newhall Land has already accepted a public review period that is twice as long as the 45-day legal requirement, responded Marlee Lauffer, a spokeswoman for the development company.

More time is unnecessary because the company has already held more than a dozen open meetings to address public concerns, she said.

Lee Stark, the county planner for the area, said that the Planning Commission will probably extend the review time. "This is a big project and a lot of members of the community will want to know more about it," he said.

Opponents of the project held a news conference Thursday on the bank of the Santa Clara River, saying the project would kill wildlife in the river and in the nearby Santa Susana Mountains, including the Least bell's vireo, a bird on the national endangered species list.

Lauffer replied that "a lot of attention was paid to making Newhall Ranch environmentally sensitive. Over half the property will be dedicated as permanent open space and the river will be maintained . . . and the habitat will be preserved."

Environmentalists have called Stark biased toward the developer because the developer pays part of his salary under a special agreement with the county.

The arrangement is designed to save taxpayers money by having developers pay for the county's hours needed to review their projects, Stark said.

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Newhall Ranch, which would have its own golf course and seven schools, would take 25 years to build, the development company projects.

When completed, it would be home to 20,000 jobs and generate a $20-million annual tax boost for the county, according to company projections.

But Michael Fitts of the Natural Resources Defense Council said during the news conference that the development exemplifies urban sprawl, which he said fills freeways with cars and creates air pollution.

He called for more concentrated population centers with cleaner mass transportation, such as electric trains.

"Newhall Ranch is just another example of the type of growth that perpetuates our auto dependence," he said. "While it may create a high level of amenity for some individuals, it creates tremendous [environmental] burdens for us all."

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