LOS ANGELES (CN) – Environmentalists asked Los Angeles County officials on Tuesday to stop or modify a proposed housing development that will be located between two national forests, which they said acts as a wildlife corridor for mountain lions.
The proposed site for the Northlake development project, which is near Castaic Lake and between the Angeles and Los Padres national forests, will include up to 3,150 residential units.
In their appeal of the county planning commission’s approval, environmentalists say the 1,300-acre development would pave over a stream, disrupting mountain lions and bears who travel between the two national forests.
Appellants the Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Center for Biological Diversity questioned the developer’s efforts to mitigate impact to the local environment.
Castaic, which is in northern Los Angeles County, has an estimated population of 19,000. Along with the 3,150 proposed housing units, the developers hope to inject an economic boost to the area with schools, a fire station and commercial businesses.
County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said the project will provide some relief to the housing demand in Los Angeles. The state Department of Housing and Community Development estimated that Los Angeles County needs to build 180,000 new housing units a year to keep up with prices and demand.
“We’re nowhere near meeting that goal,” said Barger. “This project is a step in that direction.”
Sandia Ennis, Castaic resident and town council member, said at Tuesday’s meeting the developers have worked to balance both the environmentalists’ and residents’ concerns.
In 1992, county officials approved a development plan for the area, and residents have been waiting for development since then, Ennis said. County staff say the developers have updated their application to include more green space and use of solar power.
“Bulldozing creeks, evicting animals and creating more traffic congestion just aren’t the answer to California’s housing challenges,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney Ross Middlemiss said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote.
The statement also said that the proposed community would leave thousands of residents in “an isolated area far from existing communities and jobs.”
County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was sympathetic to the environmentalists’ concerns, including the issue of wildlife crossing Interstate 5. County staff said some type of opening could be left under the freeway.
“A utility tunnel doesn’t do it,” Kuehl said, noting that something like that would still be a barrier to wildlife.
Before the vote, attorney for the developers Damon Mamalakis said years of study have gone into the area’s role as a wildlife corridor, which Mamalakis implied was overblown because it’s already so close to the highway.
According to a May 2018 article from the Los Angeles Times, California’s freeways already hamper mountain lion diversity.
Earlier this year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced an ambitious effort to conduct a statewide population count of mountain lions. The San Luis Obispo Tribune reported that this count would be the first done in decades.
The mountain lion habitat in question stretches from the Modoc Plateau in Northeast California to the hills above Los Angeles.