LA County Grants Approval to Massive Development Near Mojave Desert

Tejon Ranch from the Tehachapi Crest, with Frazier Mountain in the background. (RangerX via Wikipedia)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – After more than a decade of deliberations, county officials on Tuesday approved an expansive development project set to bring 19,000 homes to undeveloped Los Angeles County – much to the dismay of environmental preservationists.

After the vote, supporters and staff with developer Tejon Ranch Co. – some of whom were cheering – shook hands outside the county building.

“We’re obviously very happy that the county supervisors joined us in our vision to address the housing crisis in California,” Barry Zoeller, vice president of corporate communications for Tejon Ranch Co., said in an interview, noting that a previous report found the project site suitable for up to 23,000 homes.

Located on the edge of the Mojave Desert, the Centennial site is expected to bring 20,000 long- and short-term jobs to Los Angeles County and 19,333 homes to the foot of the Tehachapi Mountains over the next 20 years.

Tejon Ranch Co., one of the largest private landowners in the state, says the project is meeting the demand for housing in the region and that they intend to build four fire departments, schools, and more to grow the development into its own city.

Opponents of the project say the development is an example of urban sprawl over an undeveloped area that will not be able to keep up with the increased traffic, pollution and wildfire danger. The development is in a high-risk fire zone, according to fire officials – and the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board opposed the project due to concerns about fire danger and traffic. Critics also worry the development will permanently change the wilderness and destroy habitats for wildflower fields, the California condor and the San Joaquin kit fox.

About a decade ago, the developers agreed to conserve approximately 90 percent of their 270,000-acre parcel of private land in an agreement with several environmental groups.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the project’s application in a 4-1 vote, but not before hundreds of residents and representatives from local government boards and trade associations spoke during a public comment period.

Building trade groups and local chamber of commerce boards applauded the project for its promise of economic growth in the Antelope Valley, located about 40 miles from the nearest commuter rail service and about 50 miles south of Bakersfield in Kern County and 60 miles north of Los Angeles.

Before granting approval, county officials required 18 percent of the homes built at Centennial to be affordable housing. According to county staff, the development will include a mix of affordable housing rentals and regularly priced homes to purchase at approximately $450,000.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who voted against the project, worried too many promises wouldn’t be kept.

“I can’t support it,” said Kuehl. “To build a brand-new city so far away from everything else – because of the fire concern, because I don’t quite understand and believe the affordable housing promises, because of the job promises after the construction jobs are done.”

Botanist Nick Jensen with the California Native Plant Society accused the county of favoring a corporation over the people of Los Angeles.

“This will be their legacy,” Jensen said. “This will be the largest legacy that any of these supervisors will ever have had to vote on.”

Recently, a Superior Court judge in neighboring Kern County said approvals for an 8,000-acre Tejon Ranch project along the Grapevine – another planned development – would need to be rescinded because the environmental report underestimated the project’s impact on health and the environment.

In July, the court found the county’s review of the project violated the state’s environmental law when it did not take traffic projections into consideration.

That lawsuit was filed by the nonprofit the Center for Biological Diversity, who have called into question reviews done on the Centennial project in Los Angeles County as well. The group sued Los Angeles County in October to obtain communications exchanged between the Tejon Ranch Co. and county staff.

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