How heartening it is, the sound of environmentalists and developers harmoniously agreeing on new construction. That's what first came to mind when the Tejon Ranch Co. and such environmental heavyweights as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council jointly announced plans to both build on and preserve swaths of the 270,000-acre ranch that straddles Los Angeles and Kern counties. If all goes as intended, more than 200,000 acres would be preserved, with some as a state park and most under private conservancy.
In an increasingly built-out state where there's always a fight about a "last coastal canyon" or a "disappearing critical habitat," Tejon is nonetheless environmentally unique. It forms the bottom of the giant U that connects the Sierra Nevada with the coastal mountains, enabling wildlife to cross from one to the other. It includes favored soaring ground for the endangered California condor. And it's the last big undeveloped link between the Los Angeles metropolitan area and the San Joaquin Valley.
Considering that public officials in both counties are likely to approve some development, the preservationists cannily chose pragmatism, gaining what land they could. In doing so, however, they have cornered themselves: They now cannot officially oppose a project that they openly find objectionable. Adding nearly 80,000 new residents to the far reaches of the Los Angeles region, the Tejon Ranch plan exemplifies sprawl, with all the attendant concerns about water, traffic, air quality and fire risks. These potential problems cannot be overlooked, no matter how much land is conserved.