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Ventura County Perspective

Seek a Regional Resolution

April 11, 1999

The battle over Newhall Ranch moved from the political to the legal arena with the unanimous vote of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to sue Los Angeles County to halt the project. A posse of Ventura County cities, water districts, environmental groups and low-income housing interests has saddled up to support that litigation.

The bad news: Legal fees are sure to total a million dollars, probably much more.

The good news, for Newhall opponents: Groundbreaking will be delayed an estimated three to four years, maybe much longer.

Is this any way to make regional planning decisions? No, but unfortunately it's business as usual. That's dictated in part by the way land-use law has evolved since Proposition 13 encouraged public officials to squeeze development into pockets where its negative effects get dumped on neighboring jurisdictions.

The fundamental issue here is whether you believe every geographical area of Southern California has an obligation to accommodate growth. Los Angeles County has a 75-year history of doing whatever it can to literally pave the way for new development--and then go find water for it by whatever means it deems necessary. Ventura County, in sharp contrast, has generally preferred to manage growth much more closely and to let individual cities call the shots. Now that its Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) restrictions have put much of Ventura County off limits to new construction, the pressure to build in adjacent areas (of which the Newhall Ranch site is only one) has risen substantially.

The Times believes the right course is not to deny that the population will grow or to muscle that growth into corners where the costs are forced onto another jurisdiction. Growth needs to be accommodated, in locations that make sense and with a regional plan in mind.

Newhall Ranch has its merits. The range of its home prices would attract families of various incomes, and Newhall Land & Farming Co. has proven in nearby Valencia that it can produce quality communities.

But the location is a problem. The development would sit in a flood plain, astraddle Southern California's last wild river. Its traffic would jam both the Golden State Freeway and California 126. And the specter of the Owens Valley haunts Los Angeles County supervisors' assurances that Newhall Ranch wouldn't be allowed to drink up the water that now supports productive agriculture throughout the Santa Clara Valley.

Ventura County's goal should not be to kill the project altogether but to win solid, enforceable mitigation of the ill effects that Newhall Ranch would dump across the county line.

It is probably too late for Los Angeles Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's suggestion that both counties renegotiate both Newhall Ranch and Ahmanson Ranch. The legal fallout from trying that at this point would be colossal. But the big-picture spirit is right, and it should guide further modifications of the Newhall project as the matter moves into the courts.

Far more important, it should guide future development proposals that would impact both counties. Regional problems, such as traffic, smog and water quality, cross political lines and demand cooperation, not competition.

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