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Henry Schultz: Newhall Ranch demonstrates need for CEQA

Posted: October 15, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 15, 2012 2:00 a.m.

The Signal’s Sept. 2 editorial “CEQA needs to be addressed” wonders why it has taken 17 years to secure approval of the Newhall Ranch project. The Signal proposes that CEQA — the California Environmental Quality Act — needs to be revised to make it more “reasonable.”

Recent legislation introduced in Sacramento purported to do precisely that but was rejected by the Legislature. News flash to The Signal: This legislation was designed to gut CEQA, not improve it.

The Signal chooses an interesting project to demonstrate the “problems” with CEQA. Newhall Ranch was designed to be 26 square miles in area and peopled by 70,000 residents at build-out. This is certainly not a typical development.

Newhall Land wanted the whole project area to get its rezoning and permits from all agencies at one time. The words they used for this was “master planning.”

Public meetings were given in profusion over a course of years trying to convince all parties that this project was the greatest thing since sliced bread. The public was not convinced.

CEQA was designed for the public and public agencies to suggest improvements in proposed projects. This typically should involve a healthy give-and-take between developer and concerned parties.

The problem with Newhall Ranch was there was very little give and lots of take.

Of course, if a project is perfect, there is no need for give. But this was clearly not the case.

For example, parts of the project were proposed to be built in the river on fill for riverside houses, bridge supports were proposed to push out into the river, there were inadequate provisions for schools, transportation, air quality, water, parks, libraries, landslide geology, species of concern and so on.

Newhall Ranch is precisely the project that demonstrates the need for CEQA.

Many cumulative impacts arise because Newhall Ranch exemplifies sprawl. How will buses move people and schools meet the needs of the children who live there?

Further, what will happen to the runoff from rain?

Will homes survive an earthquake?

There were serious gaffes in the project design. For example, the original plan had a regional park under power lines on a steep slope. Another was set in a thin strip on the northern border under power lines.

A blue-line stream was to be moved and concreted. Newhall Land stated that car trips would be reduced because of the nearby industrial park, thereby reducing traffic.

Utter nonsense. Traffic will only become more congested.

Now, the folks at Newhall Land were (and are) competent and professional. They’re also good folks and they know what the right things to do are.

Then why were so many bad features present in the project design? Answer: Maximization of profit and maximization of project densities. This is what companies are supposed to do.

Unfortunately, this leads to the kind of hubris that the designers have shown for 17 years. And this is why CEQA is necessary. It is a powerful tool for the protection of the public against the sins of unbridled capitalism.

By the way, one of the original champions of CEQA was Fran Pavley, who is running for state Senate in the 27th District. Fran produces more good legislation to solve problems in an hour than all our local do-nothing legislators have produced in their whole life.

Nuff said.

Henry Schultz is a Santa Clarita resident and longtime local environmental activist.



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