The battle between environmentalists and the developers of the sprawling Newhall Ranch property in Santa Clarita has been long and contentious, and it shows signs of only getting more so.
The stakes are high for all — the developers of one of the largest residential and commercial projects in the county, the environmentalists who have fought to preserve wild open space there, the endangered creatures and flora that flourish in that habitat.
And much of what happens rests in the hands of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones, an expert on the state's environmental regulations, who was assigned to hear three cases filed against the project. The most significant of them, brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, contested the environmental impact report and plans for a conservation program. In that case, Jones ruled recently that the report was flawed and needed to be redone, a huge setback for the developers, who filed an appeal Tuesday.
Now the developers have filed a motion to disqualify the judge from sitting on the other two cases, arguing that she has a conflict of interest. It seems that Jones, who lives in Santa Clarita, is engaged in a property dispute with a next-door neighbor over his desire to split his lot. To fight his application to the Santa Clarita Planning Commission, Jones marshaled support from other neighbors in the community. One of those neighbors, who signed a petition supporting Jones' complaint and spoke against the lot-splitting proposal before the commission, was a local Sierra Club activist named Sandra Cattell.