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County Sues to Block Newhall Ranch Project

Development: Officials allege that L.A. supervisors gave the go-ahead for a plan that subdivided land illegally and provided too little water.


Citing a litany of land-use issues, Ventura County filed a lawsuit late Wednesday afternoon against Los Angeles County seeking reversal of its approval of the immense Newhall Ranch development.

The suit, filed in Ventura County Superior Court a day before the deadline, is expected to stall for at least several years the new 22,000-home suburb planned just east of the Ventura County line. Two private organizations intend to file separate suits against the project today.

Ventura County maintains that Los Angeles County illegally subdivided land that straddles the two counties, provided a flawed environmental report and failed to provide enough water for the housing project, which would serve an estimated population of nearly 68,000.

"Obviously we think we have a good chance of winning this lawsuit or we wouldn't have filed it," said Antonette B. Cordero, assistant county counsel, adding that the county is expected to spend at least $250,000 in the court fight.

Cordero downplayed the significance of not having the city of Fillmore join the suit. The city, whose 13,000 residents would be most affected by the Newhall development, decided last week not to join the county-led lawsuit because of financial concerns.

"I don't think the loss of Fillmore affects the legal basis of our suit whatsoever," Cordero said. "We thought it would be appropriate for them to participate. But the legal arguments remain exactly the same."

Los Angeles supervisors and Newhall Land & Farming Co. officials have maintained that their environmental report will withstand any legal challenges.

According to the 50-page suit, Los Angeles County broke federal law by subdividing three parcels that span two counties. Under the Subdivision Map Act, lots that cross a county line may be subdivided only with approval of both counties, the suit says.

The Newhall Ranch project would split three rectangular lots that stretch into both counties. The 11,963-acre development site is just west of the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park and extends to the Ventura County line.

"The trans-county lots cannot be subdivided lawfully without concurrent approval of both Ventura and Los Angeles counties," the suit says.

Joining the county's suit is the Ventura County Flood Control District, Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, the cities of Oxnard, Ventura and Santa Paula and the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency.

Meanwhile, the Ventura office of the Environmental Defense Center is expected to file a separate suit today on behalf of Friends of the Santa Clara River and the Sierra Club's Los Padres and Angeles chapters. The Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment is expected to join the suit.

The nonprofit group's lawsuit will argue against building such a dense development near the Santa Clara River, which is home to federally declared endangered bird species including the least Bell's vireo, and fish such as the unarmored three spined stickleback, and mountain lions, a federally protected animal.

The California Rural Legal Assistance said it plans to file a third suit against Los Angeles County today on behalf of two Ventura County farm workers and two low-income Los Angeles County residents, who claim the project will increase demand for available affordable housing in their areas.

Many of the low-income people who will work in the new community as maids, gardeners and food servers, for example, will seek housing in Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula, according to the organization.

Despite threats of lawsuits from their neighbors, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted late last month to approve the environmental report on the giant suburb.

"This project is unique and innovative," Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich has said of the development, which would be built in his district " . . . The community will benefit considerably."

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