Possible Development of `Centennial' City in L.A. County Moves Forward

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The conversion of 12,500 acres of open space on the edge of Los Angeles County into a 19,000-home community was approved by the county's Regional Planning Commission today over the objections of environmentalists and others who called the project out of step with modern approaches to urban development.

The long-planned Centennial project is being proposed for a 270,000-acre plot in the Antelope Valley billed as the largest continuous piece of private property in California. The land is owned by the Tejon Ranch Co.

The project would include not only housing, but also 10 million square feet of commercial space, schools, fire stations, a police station and a library, all at what Tejon Ranch says will be no cost to county taxpayers.

Before approving the project, the commission heard more than two hours of public comment, with many speakers expressing concern about the environmental impact on the open space, while others said the idea of a master- planned community of such magnitude was a relic from the past -- despite the housing shortage in the county.

“L.A. could be an innovative leader in urban planning that protects our wildlife spaces, while also reducing tailpipe and traffic emissions and prioritizing transit-accessible affordable housing in places where people already work,” said Ash Lauth of the Center for Biological Diversity, echoing many of the concerns expressed at the meeting.

She added, “Isolated leapfrog development undermines the affordability and health of the entire metropolitan area by increasing traffic, requiring more public spending on infrastructure and worsening air pollution.”

The Center for Biological Diversity has argued the project would destroy grasslands and habitat for rare plants and animals, contribute to air pollution by generating more than 75,000 new vehicle trips a day as drivers commute into Los Angeles and present a safety risk to its residents because it is located in what the county considers a fire hazard zone.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is now set to consider the project, which would take 20 years to fully construct.

The Tejon Ranch Company has presented the project as an economic win the for the county, predicting it will create 19,000 permanent jobs, 25,000 construction jobs and a $31 million annual public revenue surplus for the county. The project has also been pitched as an environmentally friendly “sustainable” community that will conserve water and energy.

The project developers have committed 10 percent of the units to be affordable, although the exact mix of low- and moderate-income has not been finalized. The commission recommended that it be raised to 15 percent, along with consideration that a certain amount also be set aside for supportive housing for the homeless.

Responding to the concerns over air pollution, Tejon Ranch officials said the project has measures that will promote electric vehicles and complies with per-capita greenhouse gas emissions for the state's 2030 and 2050 targets. Representatives of the company also said the reason the area is considered a fire hazard zone is because there are no fire stations there, but the creation of fire stations would change the designation and concern.

Some representatives of business organizations expressed support for the project.

The development would “help alleviate the housing crisis that our state and county continues to face,” said Armondo Flores, legislative affairs manager with the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, which represents hundreds of businesses and nonprofits in Los Angeles County. “California has a tremendous housing deficit, and that deficit grows every year as production of homes continues to fail to meet demand.”

A lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity said the organization hopes the Board of Supervisors will stop the project.

“We're hopeful that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors will reject the commission's recommendation. The county should focus development in existing cities instead of approving sprawl dozens of miles away from jobs,” attorney J.P. Rose said.

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