LA County Sued for Records on Desert Housing Project

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

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A conservation group sued Los Angeles County on Tuesday seeking emails, text messages and other documents exchanged with the developer behind a 12,000-acre planned community on the edge of the Mojave Desert.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the county and its regional planning department for not releasing key environmental documents on the Centennial development, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Developer Tejon Ranch says the planned community will bring 19,333 homes to the region and meet a demand for more housing. Environmental advocates say the project’s footprint on the ecosystem will drastically alter the remote region about 60 miles north of LA with increased daily traffic and pollution.

This past summer, the developer received approval from the LA County Department of Regional Planning board. The project has yet to receive final approval from the LACounty Board of Supervisors, but as the project has been in development for several years it is nearing its home stretch.

The Center for Biological Diversity says the county’s report on the project’s environmental impact favors the developer. The group wants to see all exchanges between the developer, the county and consultants.

In a statement, the center’s attorney J.P. Rose said, “County residents have a right to an informed, transparent review process for land-use decisions that will harm our environment and quality of life.”

The environmental impact report prepared for the Centennial development by county staff “was clearly designed to support Tejon’s proposal,” according to the center, and all other options that could have reduced the project’s footprint called for at least 19,000 units and the development of at least 6,000 acres.

“Likewise, the EIR and supporting materials contain clearly erroneous claims promoted by Tejon or its attorneys designed to downplay Centennial’s enormous environmental impacts,” the group says in its lawsuit.

The county’s report said California’s cap-and-trade scheme would offset 96 percent of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, which the conservationists say is false.

This past June, the group requested all communications for the project under the California Public Records Act. County officials initially directed the group to a public website for the project’s specific plan and later provided another link to 2,760 pages of additional information that were only “marginally related” to the records request, according to the lawsuit.

The group says the request is timely and they’re entitled a court order to produce the records.

Developer Tejon Ranch is one of the largest private landowners in California. The land for the proposed community is near Interstate 5 in northern Los Angeles County on the developer’s 270,000-acre property.

Almost 20 years ago, the developer agreed to conserve 90 percent of their property as undeveloped, according to the Los Angeles Times. Several environmental groups signed onto that agreement, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, but the Center for Biological Diversity did not.

Environmentalists say the project is an example of urban sprawl and would destroy thousands of acres native grassland and wildflower habitat.

During the public meeting this past August, county officials questioned if the developer would have adequate resources to combat wildfires. The developers said they would need to build fire roads and fire stations.

The county did not respond to an email seeking comment by press time.

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