In a ruling distributed Thursday, Kern County Superior Court Judge Roger D. Randall ordered the 21,615-home project be put on hold until its developer -- The Newhall Land and Farming Company -- addresses concerns about the project's water supply, its biological impacts on the Santa Clara River area, and its traffic impacts on Ventura County roadways.
Planning experts who have followed the case said Randall's decision is important because trial judges--following direction from the state Supreme Court--have been hesitant to stop projects because of flaws in environmental reports.
"So the fact that he found defects suggests it
will affect the project," said William Fulton, editor of a statewide planning
newsletter and author of numerous books on development. "Ultimately,
this might shrink the project."
"The judge determined that the project is inconsistent with the Los Angeles County general plan, which requires protection of significant ecological areas," said attorney John Buse of the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center.
Santa Clarita Valley environmentalists also hailed the ruling as a significant victory.
"We won," said Lynne Plambeck, first vice president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment. "We're so excited to have someone vindicate us. We've been working so long to prove this water issue . . . [that] they are over-committing the water supply."
In his ruling, Randall accepted opponents' arguments that imported water supplies to the Santa Clarita Valley were only 50 percent reliable. If that interpretation stands, it would affect planning decisions in the city of Santa Clarita and throughout Los Angeles County.
Randall also ruled that Los Angeles County's policy requiring developers to prove water supplies is inadequate. That policy stipulates that developments have to show proof of an adequate water supply only when developers file for final subdivision maps.
In his decision, Randall concluded that the EIR was "inadequate in its approach to the availability of water resources to supply its project."
Lynne Plambeck of Santa Clarita, an outspoken opponent of Newhall Ranch, said Randall's ruling on water supplies should be a wake-up call to local planners.
"I just hope it will be a red flag to the county and city planning agencies that there really is a problem," she said.
Doug Carstens, one of three attorneys representing environmental groups in the case, said the ruling on a county-designated significant ecological area along the Santa Clara River could lead to greater protection of such areas in the future.
This preliminary article was assembled from reports in the Los Angeles Times and Daily News. A more detailed report will be included at this site soon.
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