Deal Clears Challenges to Massive Development in Santa Clarita Valley

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Environmental groups today reached a deal with developers that could clear the way for the massive Newhall Ranch project on a swath of undeveloped land along the Golden State (5) Freeway in northern Los Angeles County, possibly ending decades of legal battles and protests.

“This is a tremendous settlement that provides for added protections for Native American resources and the environment and allows one of the nation's most innovative new communities to take an important step forward -- addressing California's housing crisis and fueling the region's economy,'' said Emile Haddad, president and CEO of developer FivePoint Holdings.

FivePoint officials said the deal will provide “critically needed housing and jobs'' to the area, while protecting Native American cultural resources and protecting “sensitive species'' in the Santa Clara River watershed.

According to FivePoint, the company will create a “Santa Clara River Conservation Fund'' aimed at promoting conservation of endangered species in the area. The Los Angeles Times reported the company plans to put $25 million into the fund to protect species along a six-mile stretch of the river.

Under the agreement, Newhall will provide about $16 million to establish an independent conservancy led by representatives of the environmental groups, and an additional $8 million to manage spineflowers and enhance their habitat, according to the Times.

The company also reached an agreement with the Wishtoyo Foundation, a nonprofit Native American organization, to provide a parcel of land and undisclosed funding for construction of a multimillion-dollar cultural center on ancestral lands within the development, The Times reported.

As a result of the agreement, a coalition led by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper, the California Native Plant Society and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians will drop legal challenges to the project. Two other environmental groups, however, opted not to join in the settlement and continue their legal challenges.

Lynne Plambeck of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment -- one of the groups that opted out of the settlement -- told The Times the deal is a “Faustian bargain.''

“We've gotten something material and we've sold our souls,'' she said. “We would not be able to say anything on the next 21,000 units. We would not be able to object if the (greenhouse) gas mitigation didn't come through as required. We would be precluded from saying anything if gas started seeping into people's homes.''

The project is envisioned as housing 58,000 people, and including 13 million square feet of commercial space.

The Times reported that Newhall Ranch will join other large developments to be built along the Interstate 5 corridor. To the north, developers built a massive outlet mall and are planning a housing and resort project at Tejon Ranch.

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