By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
This sordid history may put the county and Newhall back in court, where the project has been stymied by Kern County Superior Court Judge Roger D. Randall. Three years ago, Randall ordered Newhall to re-evaluate the project’s impacts on water use, animal life and sensitive wildlife ranges. The developer must now convince the judge that the project is environmentally sound.
Opponents will focus their courtroom efforts on the secrecy surrounding the environmental-impact reports filed by Newhall. Much of the detailed findings of their hired biologists had been kept from public scrutiny until 15 days before the board’s latest vote. Newhall had enforced confidentiality agreements, which are now under attack in the state Legislature, to keep its environmental consultants from revealing their raw data — 43 boxes full of field notes. How could there be full disclosure, Buse has asked, if no one has been able to review the science and query the scientists? “Rather than full and accurate disclosure,” Buse says, “the new information documents a failure of the [California Environmental Quality Act] process.”
In addition, there remain persistent questions not just about whether there will be sufficient water to supply 70,000 new residents and hundreds of new businesses — given the diminishing supplies and growing demand statewide — but whether the new development will dump toxins into the already tainted Santa Clara River. The Regional Water Quality Control Board, in February, issued a report accusing Newhall of failing to calculate how much “chloride, nitrogen and other pollutants . . . the project will add to the watershed.” These chemicals are harming the aquatic habitat “in the vicinity of the project area” and affecting the viability of agriculture downstream in Ventura County. It warns that the project could have significant detrimental effects on the Santa Clara River. The chief culprit, the board found, is imported water — exactly what Newhall relies upon to claim it has sufficient supplies — which is directly linked to rising levels of damaging salts. And recent residential construction contributes 500 percent more salts per home than older residences, the report states, “and will significantly exacerbate the chloride impairment.” What’s more, Newhall has no plan to comply with water-quality standards and no proposals to mitigate the additional pollutants.
These objections were either disregarded or dismissed by county officials. The suggestion made by several witnesses on May 27 that the vote be delayed to digest the previously undisclosed information, as well as new seismic-survey maps showing that most of the Newhall Ranch housing will be constructed in landslide and liquefaction zones, was ignored. Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who has received $70,000 from Newhall during his 23-year tenure on the board and was the project’s chief backer, called it “smart growth. These homes will be built in an area that will be creating [19,000] jobs in those communities for those residents.”
It was time to vote. The supervisors set aside any misgivings they might have had about promoting the disappearance of this plein air landscape, and set out to induce the birth of yet another folly in sprawl.
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