A state appeals court on Thursday overturned a lower court ruling that found environmental review of the planned Newhall Ranch development in the Santa Clarita Valley was inadequate.
A three-judge panel of the Second District Court of Appeals set aside a 2012 decision by a L.A. Superior Court judge who sided with environmental groups alleging the California Department of Fish and Wildlife should not have signed off on the development.
The groups, led by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, argued the EIR on the 20,000 home development did not address all important issues, including the amount of greenhouse gases it would produce.
“Plaintiffs’ argument is that the environmental impact report did not examine existing onsite emissions,” the panel wrote in the decision. “We, with respect, reject plaintiffs’ challenges to the greenhouse gas analysis in the environmental impact report.”
Newhall Land & Farming Co. is seeking to build 20,000 residences and 5 million square feet of office space over more than 2,500 acres along Highway 126 west of the Golden State (5) Freeway. The project could take 30 years to come to fruition.
Emile Haddad, chief executive of Five Point Communities in Aliso Viejo, the development manager for Newhall Land, said the ruling would pave the way for development plans to move forward with initial wetlands restoration and other environmental mitigation.
“Today, the exhaustive work of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which took over a decade to complete, was proven by the Appellate Court to have been completed diligently and properly. We are thankful for their efforts and look forward to implementing the plans previously approved by the Department,” he said in a statement.
However, the project’s legal woes are not over. Earlier this month, the environmental groups filed another lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claiming they should not have issued permits for the project.
John Buse, legal director and interim general counsel for the biological diversity group, based in Tucson, told the Business Journal that the ruling was a big blow, but would likely be appealed.
“When we get a bad ruling, we’re disappointed. But this goes beyond disappointment, it goes to dismay. We were expecting something different,” he said. “It’s very likely we will seek out additional review from the state Supreme Court.”
Newhall Ranch, first conceived in the 1980s, has been consistently opposed by environmental groups, which have been successful in delaying the development.