Leap of Logic

With millions of dollars and the future of northern L.A. County at stake, debate over the massive Newhall Ranch development can turn passionate, vexing and, sometimes, simply absurd.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky achieved all three toward the conclusion of a marathon hearing last week over new environmental studies conducted after a judge rejected several elements of the board’s initial 1999 approval of the project. Among his concerns: the status of a small and retiring creature known as the arroyo toad.

Yaroslavsky noted that consultants to Newhall Ranch had conducted a field survey and found that the toad was living upstream from the project, and downstream from the project, but somehow was absent from the development area itself.

Incredulous, Yaroslavsky asked a biologist for the county to explain the phenomenon. “I’m just curious. In your professional opinion, does it make sense to you that the toad would be here and here but not here?”

“It depends on the survey protocols,” came the judicious reply. “Yes, there are circumstances, survey circumstances, where that could be correct.”

Yaroslavsky moved on, but the question nettled him. “Back to the toad,” he said later.

“When you have a toad upstream and a toad downstream, is it plausible to you . . . that between those two points where the toad has been found, that there wouldn’t be toads in between?”

The reply came right from Alice’s looking glass. “Yes, there’s logic that there wouldn’t be any,” said the biologist. “We don’t know why they don’t occur in certain areas . . . We will be requiring a current survey for all of those locations where the habitat is available, but there’s no specific parameters by which you can actually predict where certain locations are going to be.”

Yaroslavsky paused, then put the matter in layman’s terms. “It’s at the sole discretion of the toad.”

Said the scientist, “It is indeed.”

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