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Supreme Court accepts review of Newhall Ranch case

Posted: July 11, 2014 5:43 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2014 5:43 p.m.

The California Supreme Court has agreed to review aspects of an appellate court decision on the Newhall Ranch development project, officials said Friday.

The court decided this week to review three aspects of the case, including Newhall Ranch’s impacts on wildlife in the project area, namely the unarmored threespine stickleback fish; its impact on greenhouse gas emissions; and questions related to whether some public comments about the project should be accepted.

Newhall Ranch is a more-than-20,000-home development proposed for the western Santa Clarita Valley near the Santa Clara River and Highway 126. Initial planning meetings on it were held some 20 years ago, but no shovels have yet turned soil.

The proposal was approved by Los Angeles County planners but has met with determined opposition from area environmental groups.

The Supreme Court’s ruling “is something that is going to affect the entire project,” said John Buse, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Everything about this review has consequences for the overall project and its effects on the environment,” he said Friday.

The Supreme Court review comes after a decision from Second Appellate District Court judges, who ruled in favor of the project’s developer, Newhall Land Development Inc.

“A three-judge Court of Appeals panel issued a definitive, 112-page opinion regarding the Newhall Ranch development, and we are confident the California Supreme Court will uphold it,” said Marlee Lauffer, vice president of marketing and communications for Newhall Land.

Buse said the review was “exciting news” because “it totally wipes out losing at the Court of Appeals.”

Officials representing the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and Newhall Land alleging that the Newhall Ranch project would destroy natural habitat for native animals and plants along the banks of the Santa Clara River, such as the San Fernando Valley spineflower and the stickleback.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Jones ruled in favor of the environmentalist groups’ challenge of the project on Oct. 15, 2012.

Newhall Land appealed the decision and, in February, both sides presented their arguments before a panel of three Los Angeles appellate court judges.

The Court of Appeals decided in favor or the developer in March.

“Judge Jones made a very detailed and well-considered opinion,” said Lynne Plambeck, president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.

“We really think the Appellate Court made an error when they decided they were going to reverse her.”

The environmental group, known best by the acronym SCOPE, is one of the parties in legal action against the Newhall Ranch project.

Newhall Ranch would be a master-planned community from the same firm that planned and developed Valencia. After the projected 25- to 30-year construction period for the project, Newhall Ranch would include more than 20,000 residences west of Interstate 5.

The timeline for the Supreme Court review has yet to be finalized, but Buse said the review could have far-reaching impacts.

“I think at a minimum this would send the whole project back to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife,” he said. “It would certainly undo the approval for the project.”

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