Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff ruled that the Tejon Ranchcorp Development’s environmental impact report did not adequately address the increased wildfire risk that the 12,000-acre development — which would include 19,300 homes and over 10.1 million square feet of commercial space — could pose to the site’s surrounding areas. The project was approved in April 2019 by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
Centennial at Tejon Ranch, which intends to house some 57,000 residents, would be located along the border of Los Angeles and Kern counties in the Western Economic Opportunity Zone that has been designated in the Antelope Valley Area Plan and the L.A. County General Plan.
“The court finds the county failed to proceed as required by law when it did not analyze wildfire impacts beyond the project site,” Beckloff wrote in the 62-page decision.
“We want to thank the judge for his careful attention to this case’s numerous issues, especially his affirmation that Centennial is a fire-resilient community,” Gregory Bielli, chief executive of Tejon Ranch Co., said in a statement. “Environmental impact reports are extremely lengthy, complex documents, and it’s difficult to get everything perfect the first time out. With the judge’s direction, we will work with L.A. County to address the few remaining issues, just as we did in Kern County when a court ruled the EIR for our Grapevine community needed additional analysis. The analysis was completed, Grapevine was reapproved and the court affirmed the additional analysis was correct. We expect the same will be true for Centennial.”
Tejon Ranch Co. sees the ruling as par for the course in its quest to develop the land and create its latest mixed-use development.
“The three issues that remain (greenhouse gas mitigation without the benefit of Cap and Trade, and further explanation/analysis of off-site wildfire mitigation) will require some additional work and analysis by Tejon Ranch and L.A. County,” Tejon Ranch Co. Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications & Investor Relations Barry Zoeller told the Business Journal. “It’s a common occurrence in California, given the complexity of the California Environmental Quality Act.”
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, 31 wildfires larger than 100 acres have occurred within 5 miles of the long-in-development proposed community, including four within the project’s boundaries, between the years 1964 to 2015. Nearly all of the recent fires have been caused by such human fault as power lines and electrical equipment, and the center maintains that Centennial would only exacerbate local wildfire risk.
“The court’s rejection of the Tejon development highlights the danger of building in high fire-risk areas,” said the center’s Staff Attorney J.P. Rose in a statement. “The science is clear that developments like Centennial will literally be built to burn and our elected officials can’t continue to downplay these risks through inaccurate environmental reviews. This is a wakeup call for policymakers across California.”
Zoeller noted that, with Beckloff’s verdict, “the judge denied 20 of the 23 claims made in the lawsuits — including all those made by the Center for Biological Diversity/California Native Plant Society.”