By Hillel Aron
LOS ANGELES, (CN) The lawsuit filed by two environmental groups to stop controversial Tejon Ranch Centennial Project may continue, a Los Angeles County judge has ruledruledFriday, despite a recent settlement.
TheIt will suit youThe 2019 eviction was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity in conjunction with the California Native Plant Society. It aims to prevent a new city being built in the middle of nowhere, 65 mi north of downtown Los Angeles. That would-be city sits at the nexus of two of the state’s biggest anxieties: climate change and its housing crisis.
The Tejon Ranch Company, a publicly traded company, owns the largest contiguous piece of land in California. It spans the border between Los Angeles County and Kern counties. It is located in a sparsely populated region. The ranch has a large agriculture operation that raises cattle and grows almonds, pistachios grapes, and alfalfa.
But the ranch’s owner wants to get into the development game. It has proposed to build three separate large developments in Kern County and one at northern Los Angeles County. The Centennial project on 12,000 acres is a wild ambitious plan that includes nearly 20,000 houses and more than 10,000,000 square feet commercial, retail, and office space.
The project’s backers include the company behind it as well as labor groups. They argue that the development will create tens to thousands of jobs and housing in California, both of which are desperately needed.
“There is a collective recognition that developing in places like this has more costs than benefits,” said Nick Jensen of the California Native Plant Society. “Yes, its building housing. But at what cost?”
Opponents also point out the danger of wildfires in the area as a reason for blocking the project.
“Centennial was first conceived of 20 years ago, when we didnt fully understand these risks,” said J.P. Rose, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Developments like this are literally built to burn.”
These fears were not borne out by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors ApprovedThe developers made a huge concession and the project was completed in December 2018. They promised that 18% of the housing would be affordable. Climate Resolve filed its own lawsuit after environmentalists sued. L.A. County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckoff effectively halted the project until a new environmental impact study is completed.
But, Climate Resolve, Tejon Ranch and the developers reached a landmark agreement in December.Acceptanceto make all 19,300 homes “zero emission.” Among other things, the Tejon Ranch agreed to build the homes without natural gas hookups, to install 30,000 vehicle chargers throughout the community, and implement various fire prevention measures. Already, plans called for all homes to have solar panel. Climate Resolve was satisfied with the agreement, but not the other two groups.
“We dont think these measures go far enough in mitigating the immense climate impacts of this development located 60 miles from existing job centers,” said Rose.
Friday’s ruling, also by Beckoff, means the project’s future is still very much in question. It seems likely that Tejon Ranch must prepare a new environmental report. This is a costly and lengthy task.
“Todays ruling simply dealt with a procedural issue,” Tejon Ranch’s vice president of communications Barry Zoeller in a written statement. “We are reviewing the ruling, but given the desperate need for new housing in California, especially affordable housing, we will continue to aggressively defend Los Angeles Countys approval of Centennial, which includes nearly 3,500 designated affordable housing units. Centennial sets a new standard in California for environmentally sensitive development, and it is worth fighting for.