Environment & Science

CA high court deals blow to Newhall Ranch development project

An aerial view of the Santa Clara River, which is the last major free-flowing river in Southern California. A six-mile stretch of the river is included in plans for the Newhall Ranch development.
An aerial view of the Santa Clara River, which is the last major free-flowing river in Southern California. A six-mile stretch of the river is included in plans for the Newhall Ranch development.
brewbooks/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

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The California Supreme Court on Monday rejected the environmental impact report for the proposed Newhall Ranch development, declaring that it understates the impact of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions and doesn’t properly protect an endangered species of fish.

The ruling is a blow to the project, which is designed to build more than 20,000 new homes, a commercial district and several schools on a roughly 2,500-acre parcel in Santa Clarita. The entire 12,000-acre project is largely undeveloped open space. 

The high court ruled on a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity challenging the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's 2010 certification of an environmental impact report on the project. A Los Angeles County Superior Court had overturned the certification, but the 2nd District Court of Appeal later reinstated it.

With the high court's ruling, there are no further avenues of appeal for the defendants in the case, the Newhall Land and Farming Company and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Each defendant issued a statement on Monday.

From the Newhall Land and Farming Company:

"We are reviewing the decision of the Supreme Court and will continue to consult and work with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on appropriate next steps consistent with the Court’s guidance. We remain committed to realizing the vision of Newhall Ranch and the significant benefits it promises for the economy and future of Los Angeles County."

From the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

"The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) only received the decision this morning. It covers important issues raised in a long-running legal case. With the Court’s remand for additional legal proceedings, CDFW must fully review the decision to determine appropriate next steps. We may have more to say then. Meanwhile, CDFW remains committed to preserving and protecting the state’s natural resources for the nearly 40 million people of our great state."

An attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity said no development has begun on the project site and that the decision would likely push back any anticipated start date.

"There really needs to be fundamental changes in the approach and the configuration of this development, and that’s going to take time. It’s going to take some real effort," said John Buse, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity.

California is required to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels within the next 15 years and to 80 percent by 2050.

Buse said the environmental impact report improperly measured the estimated greenhouse gas emissions from the project against  a statewide standard, with the effect of understating the emissions’ impacts.

"They acknowledged that it would be emitting something, a quarter-million tons of CO2 equivalence a year but that there would be no impact from that — so basically, the project was the same in terms of significance as the green field that previously existed there," Buse said.

"I think that’s such a facially absurd conclusion that I think that really helped our case," he added.

Buse said the court’s decision could have wider impacts on other projects that used similar metrics to determine greenhouse gas impacts.

Text of the court's decision