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A tale of 2 housing projects: Tejon Ranch and Newhall Ranch developers take different paths on global warming

Two new communities the size of Diamond Bar are on the drawing boards in Los Angeles County’s northern frontier.

Both would contain more than 19,000 new homes built over the next two decades, transforming undeveloped valleys and hillsides into houses, schools, libraries and parks. Both ultimately would house more than 57,000 residents in nine new “villages,” and both are subject to the jurisdiction of the same governing body, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

But when it comes to reducing auto emissions that cause global warming, the two projects are following starkly different paths.

The 21,500-home Valencia FivePoint project on the former Newhall Ranch seeks to become a “net-zero” development, where carbon emissions from homes and vehicles are eliminated or offset by backing green programs elsewhere.

Environmental plans for the 19,333-home Centennial project on Tejon Ranch offset just 35% of its greenhouse gas emissions, a recent court ruling found. And the company has no plans to go net-zero.

The law “does not require a net-zero approach,” Barry Zoeller, Tejon Ranch’s senior vice president for corporate communications, said in an email. “Instead, feasible measures must be incorporated that minimize impacts, not eliminate them completely.”

Earlier this month, L.A. Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff threw out Centennial’s approvals, meaning the developer has to go back to the supervisors for a new environmental review. The company’s current “environmental impact report,” or EIR, included inadequate measures to reduce global warming and wildfire risks, the court found. The process could delay Centennial’s groundbreaking by at least a year, Zoeller said.

The Valencia FivePoint development near the Magic Mountain theme park, meanwhile, is getting ready for its first sales appointments.

“The first of 1,400 homes go on the market in the next month or two,” said FivePoint spokesman Steve Churm.

A model development

FivePoint’s 15,000-acre development lies 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, just west of Santa Clarita. In addition to homes, plans call for 11.5 million square feet of commercial space, 11 parks, 19 recreation centers and seven new schools.

It would be home to about 60,000 residents when completed.

Homebuilders work in the hills behind Six Flags Magic Mountain on Thursday, April 15, 2021, as crews prepare the first of 21,500 homes for sale at Valencia FivePoint later this spring. Environmentalists and state regulators have used the “net-zero” carbon emission project as an example for Centennial, a proposed 19,333-home development 35 miles to the north on the Los Angeles County line. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

To reach its net-zero goals, FivePoint plans to create neighborhood solar grids to supply power to all the homes, which will all have electric vehicle chargers in their garages. It also plans to build homes and buildings to net-zero energy standards and install 2,000 electric vehicle charging stations within the project.

The company promised to offer subsidies to residents and bus providers to buy electric vehicles.

And it’s offering a range of programs elsewhere to offset emissions that can’t be eliminated. That includes 2,000 electric vehicle charging stations throughout L.A. County and solar installations on homes in low-income neighborhoods in the region.

“We went all the way to Africa and, as we speak, replaced tens of thousands of cooking stoves to mitigate for greenhouse gas,” FivePoint Chairman and CEO Emile Haddad said in a video on the Valencia FivePoint website. “The world has changed, and we have to change with it.”

Thirty-five miles up the 5 freeway near the L.A. County line, the 12,300-acre Centennial project would consist of nearly 5,000 acres of residential development, plus 10.1 million square feet of development for business parks, commercial and civic development. Nearly 3,500 units would be affordable housing.

The project — which would include at least 20 neighborhood parks, at least seven schools and three new fire stations — would have 57,150 residents when finished.

A view of the eastern edge of the proposed 19,333-home Centennial housing development from 300th Street West, on Thursday, April 15, 2021. Earlier this month, a superior court judge overturned the project’s approval, forcing developers to seek new environmental reviews before it can go forward. The judge said the company’s plan would reduce auto emissions generated by the development by just 35%, contributing to global warming. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Environmentalists and state regulators have held up the Valencia FivePoint development — or Newhall, as some still call it — as a model for Centennial. A 2018 letter from the California Air Resources Board cited the project as proof Centennial can do more to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

“The greenhouse gas mitigation measures proposed for Tejon are far weaker than what was included in Newhall,” said J.P. Rose, an attorney for the Center for Biololgical Diversity, one of the three environmental groups involved in the lawsuit over Centennial’s EIR. “Newhall committed to zero net energy for the project, while Tejon refused to do so.”

Flawed reasoning

In his April 5 ruling, Beckloff agreed that Centennial doesn’t have to be a net-zero project.

But the judge found the project improperly relied on “upstream” cap-and-trade offsets by utilities and oil refineries and included those offsets in its calculations.

“The cap-and-trade program does not provide any reduction to the project’s (greenhouse gas) emissions,” Beckloff wrote.

The judge found proposed mitigation measures would reduce greenhouse gases just 35%, rather than the 96% claimed by the development’s EIR.

In addition, Beckloff ruled the company’s plan to reduce wildfire risks is flawed because it only focused on measures within the project, ignoring off-site risks in an area that’s “highly vulnerable” to fires because of heavy brush and steep slopes.

The project adequately protects homes with landscaping and construction techniques designed to fend off fires, the judge ruled. But the company failed to explain how developers would protect the surrounding area from increased wildfire dangers caused by the new residents.



The Valencia project, on the other hand, isn’t as prone to wildfires, said Rose, the attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. Much of Valencia’s housing is located in the lowlands near the Santa Clarita River, where wildfire risks are lower.

“In contrast, Centennial is in a wind tunnel at the apex of the Antelope Valley, which will fan flames as ignition sources increase as a result of more people in the area,” Rose said.

He added the science now shows building codes aren’t necessarily effective in protecting homes from catching fire.

“The science is clear that developments like Centennial will literally be built to burn,” he said.

Tejon Ranch’s Zoeller said his company doesn’t plan to appeal Beckloff’s ruling, focusing instead on drafting a supplemental EIR to address the plan’s shortcomings.

“We will certainly do our fair share — and probably then some — to reduce overall GHG emissions related to Centennial,” he said.

But Rose said this month’s ruling could potentially kill the project, which faces new reviews before a board with one new member. New county policies also oppose urban sprawl and large-scale development in fire zones, he said.

Zoeller noted, however, that the judge upheld the project’s EIR on 20 out of 23 issues.

“All of this speaks to the challenge of complying with very complex and ever-changing (environmental)  regulations, which is a primary reason California is in the midst of a housing crisis that it can’t seem to fix,” Zoeller said.

“These measures will come at a cost, which makes it increasingly difficult to build houses that people can afford, which is at cross purposes with other state priorities.”

Source: Orange County Register

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