Two villages, part of the overall $12 billion Newhall Ranch project, will be built along the Santa Clara River, south of Highway 126, and west of Interstate 5 near Magic Mountain. (File photo by David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News-SCNG)Map of the Newhall Ranch development in north Los Angeles County. The 21,500-home community is billed as a “NetZero” development.An artist’s rendering depicts what a town center in one of the first Newhall Ranch villages may look like. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the first two of nine villages: Landmark with 1,444 homes, and Mission with an additional 4,055 homes. (Courtesy of FivePoint Communities)An artist’s rendering depicts what a town center in one the 4,055-home Mission Village and the 1,440-home Landmark Village, the first two of Newhall Ranch’s nine developments. Project backers expect to take 15 to 20 years to complete all 21,500 homes and 11.5 million square feet of commercial space. (Courtesy of FivePoint Communities)Don Kimball, Newhall Ranch Community President, describes current plans for the project near the Magic Mountain theme park. The 15,000-acre development has been on the drawing board for three decades, but was delayed by environmental battles, litigation, and the housing downturn. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)Matt Carpenter, FivePoint’s vice president of environmental resources, explains how Newhall Ranch will become a carbon neutral project. A 2,135-home development near Escondido, Newland Sierra, also seeks to be a carbon neutral project, and developments in south Florida and Abu Dabai seek to be all-solar. But Newhall Ranch is one of the nation’s first large-scale developments seeking to eliminate or off-set all its greenhouse gases (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)Builders say this area of the Santa Clara river along Highway 126 will remain in it’s natural state. The river runs through one of Newhall Ranch’s first developments, Landmark Village. The project seeks to be a net-zero producer of greenhouse gases through solar and electric vehicle chargers, along with other green building initiatives. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)A water reclamation plant is planned for this site along Highway 126 in north Los Angeles County. Treated wastewater will be used for irrigation throughout the Newhall Ranch project. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)A panoramic view of the Landmark Village site, one of two new housing projects approved for the 21,500-home Newhall Ranch development next to the Magic Mountain theme park. Landmark Village will have 270 houses, 1,174 condos and apartments and just over 1 million square feet of shops and business space. Three hundred units will be used as affordable housing. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)A panoramic view of the 1,262-acre Mission Village site in the 21,500-home Newhall Ranch project near the Magic Mountain theme park. Plans there call for construction of 351 houses and 3,704 condos and apartments, including 300 affordable housing units. 469 of those homes will be for seniors, and 1.55 million square feet of commercial space is planned for Mission Village. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)Developers plan to add fill dirt to the Landmark Village development site to raise future homes and businesses above the adjacent Santa Clara River, said Matt Carpenter, FivePoint’s vice president of environmental resources. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)Construction of the “Mission Village” development in the 21,500-home Newhall Ranch project started in October with graders, earthmovers and scrapers preparing the site for installation of roads and infrastructure. Mission Village is one of two developments approved for the long-stalled Newhall Ranch development. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)A view of the “Landmark Village” development, part of the 21,500-home Newhall Ranch project along the Santa Clara River in north Los Angeles County. The project will be net-zero producer of greenhouse gases, Orange County developer FivePoint Communities says. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)Don Kimball, Community President of FivePoint Newhall Ranch, right, and Steve Churm, Chief Communications Officer of FivePoint Communities, at the site of the Newhall Ranch development along Highway 126 west of the Magic Mountain theme park. The 21,500-home project will be net-zero producer of greenhouse gases, FivePoint says. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)An artist’s rendering of the Newhall Ranch development. (Courtesy of FivePoint Communities)A view of the Mission Village site in the 21,500-home Newhall Ranch project along Highway 126 freeway in north Los Angeles County. Orange County developer FivePoint Communities says the project will help combat global warming by eliminating 100 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions through a combination of on-site and off-site mitigation measures like solar power generation and encouraging use of zero-emission vehicles. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)Show Caption of Expand
On sprawling farmland and chaparral-covered foothills cradling Magic Mountain, earthmovers are carving out what some developers and environmentalists see as a new benchmark in the fight against climate change.
After 20 years of battles over traffic, water and endangered wildlife, brush clearing and construction of roads and infrastructure is underway on 21,500-home Newhall Ranch, which is being marketed as one of the world’s first large-scale planned communities that will add no new greenhouse gases to the environment.
Builders selected to construct different neighborhoods are expected to start buying land parcels and pouring foundations in late 2019. By 2020, the first residents could be moving into homes using solar power and equipped with individual charging stations for electric vehicles.
Orange County-based mega-developer FivePoint Communities, which has brought thousands of new homes to the master-planned community of Irvine and owns Newhall Ranch, says it will reach its so-called “net zero” goal for greenhouse gases through a combination of high-tech solutions on-site and far-flung projects across the region, the state and around the globe that will compensate for carbon emissions that can’t be eliminated within the development.
Among other things, the company plans to offer subsidies to Newhall Ranch residents, schools and bus services for buying zero-emission vehicles; install 3,000 electric vehicle charging stations elsewhere in Southern California; and fund worldwide forest conservation projects and environmentally clean cook stoves for rural Africans.
In all, the net-zero efforts, pursued by FivePoint after a state Supreme Court setback, will cost about $200 million over the 15-to-20-year build out of the development, or about 2 percent of the development’s $12 billion price tag, the company says.
FivePoint CEO Emile Haddad said he expects the re-conceived project to be profitable, while meeting the region’s need for more housing and providing a model for combating global warming.
“You kind of look at your role as a leadership role, and you go, ‘I might have part of the answer,’ ” he said.
The development has won the backing of some environmental groups, but continues to draw criticism from others concerned about traffic and urban sprawl.
Lynne Plambeck, president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, or SCOPE, one of two environmental groups still fighting in court to block Newhall Ranch development, argues the project won’t eliminate all its greenhouse gas effects because the development’s impacts haven’t been fully assessed.
“A lot of this is a PR hype,” she said.
The “Neto Zero Newhall” plan is advancing as California seeks to meet ambitious, self-imposed goals to combat global warming. The state is committed to reducing carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and then cutting them another 40 percent by 2030.
Builders are facing a separate state mandate to have all new homes produce as much energy as they consume by 2020.
Newhall Ranch will go beyond those requirements, according to FivePoint. Industry leaders say there are few developments so large attempting to be so green.
“There have been various builders … who do net-zero homes,” said Bob Yoder, Southern California division president for Shea Homes. “But not a net-zero project.”
Getting to zero
Newhall Ranch’s developers say they chose to turn a legal setback into an opportunity.
On the drawing boards for almost three decades, the proposed 15,000-acre development lies 37 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, along the Santa Susana Mountains between the 5 freeway and the Ventura County line.
Plans call for homes, businesses, parks, schools and fire stations in nine “villages.” A third of the land is being set aside as permanent open space, and on-site sewage reclamation plants will generate recycled water for irrigation.
Working toward a ‘net zero’ community
Newhall Ranch by the numbers
The first 5,500 homes won county approval in July, and the graders, earthmovers and scrapers went to work in October.
It’s a dramatic turnaround from two years ago, when the California Supreme Court ruled FivePoint’s 120,000-page environmental impact report failed to adequately address greenhouse gases and protect a tiny endangered fish — the unarmored threespine stickleback.
FivePoint had a lot at stake. With initial home prices ranging from $350,000 to $1 million, the development could be worth billions in gross revenue.
In the year following the high court ruling, FivePoint executives crafted their response, studying ways to protect the endangered fish and curb the project’s greenhouse gas production.
In the midst of the meetings, FivePoint executives recalled, Haddad asked, “What can we do to go to zero?”
FivePoint decided to put an electric vehicle charger in every garage and hook every home up to solar panels, either on their roofs or using small neighborhood power grids. The company said selected neighborhood builders will be required to construct net-zero homes, leaving some design details to the home builders.
Two thousand electric-vehicle charging stations throughout the site were added to the plan, along with the program to subsidize electric vehicles for residents, schools and transit services.
But such on-site efforts will eliminate only 53 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, FivePoint’s analysis shows.
The remaining emissions produced by the project would be offset by reduction programs elsewhere, including retrofitting homes and buildings in low-income Los Angeles County neighborhoods, and installing additional electric vehicle charging stations in Los Angeles and nearby counties, according to FivePoint. Among other things, the company plans to fund methane capture programs on California dairy farms.
FivePoint already has distributed 10,000 clean-burning stoves in Zambia and plans to pay for tens of thousands more in Africa, said company spokesman Steve Churm.
To make sure the combined measures are adequate, FivePoint has hired Climate Action Reserve, a carbon offset registry, to track the program’s effectiveness.
“We can quantify what kind of greenhouse gases have been mitigated or reduced over time,” said Matt Carpenter, FivePoint’s vice president of environmental resources.
‘A catchy phrase’
FivePoint says Newhall Ranch is creating “a new paradigm for responsible development.”
But Plambeck, a long-time Newhall Ranch foe, characterizes it differently.
“This ‘Net-Zero Newhall,’ it’s really quite a catchy phrase,” she said. But installing electric vehicle chargers in homes doesn’t guarantee residents will drive EV’s, she said.
“It’s still urban sprawl. There’s still a lot of traffic,” she said. “When you have people standing in traffic, it adds to greenhouse gas.”
She also questions whether there are adequate water supplies on the site for 60,000 new residents, as the developer claims.
FivePoint’s Haddad said those arguments already have been refuted in court.
“Every one of these issues has been taken through the court system for the last 14 years, and the Supreme Court itself has said all of these claims are wrong,” he said.
Plambeck said new evidence has surfaced about water supplies and circumstances have changed since the high court ruling two years ago.
“There are some really big issues here,” she said. “This is not resolved.”
Some environmentalists also question the validity of using carbon offsets to justify “greenfield” development outside existing urban boundaries. For example, the practice doesn’t fully address unhealthful air pollution in local communities, said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the San Diego-based Climate Action Campaign.
“In lieu of identifying direct emission reductions, people are looking for an escape value to buy their way out of compliance, and that sets a dangerous precedent,” Capretz said. “It continues sprawl development housing projects. We would much prefer to see them maximize what we develop in the urban footprint.”
Haddad said FivePoint already is doing the most it can on-site with today’s technology to reduce greenhouse gases.
“Our goal was to get to net zero,” he said. “To get to net zero, we had to go to the other incremental mitigation (off-site).”
He argued further that Newhall Ranch is “not in the middle of nowhere.” It’s next to Santa Clarita, the third-largest city in Los Angeles County, he said.
The Newhall Ranch plan has drawn support from some environmentalist groups, among them original litigants who were part of the suit that reached the state Supreme Court, and have since settled with FivePoint.
“We are cautiously optimistic about this approach,” said John Buse, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of four groups that joined a legal settlement with FivePoint in September after more than a decade of litigation.
“It can be a model for other large-scale master-planned developments,” he said. “There are uncertainties in its implementation. And we’d prefer that a larger proportion of greenhouse gas emissions reductions be achieved on site, rather than with off-site offsets. But through the settlement, we’ve been able to address some of these concerns.”
Climate Resolve, a Los Angeles environmental nonprofit, is partnering with FivePoint to install “cool roofs” and solar power systems on homes elsewhere in Los Angeles County. Climate Action Reserve’s independent verification of results was key to his group’s participation, said Executive Director Jonathan Parfrey.
“That was one of the terms of our agreement with FivePoint, so no one could ever accuse us of greenwashing their project,” Parfrey said. “They’re doing it right. They are following the right protocols. They’re using the right methodologies. They’re doing it by the book. There’s no shading of what they’re doing, and that’s why we aligned ourselves with them.”
Building industry insiders laud the project’s goals, but question whether Net Zero Newhall will be a practical model for other builders.
“If Newhall can put solar on every roof and can put an energy station in every garage, why can’t everyone?” asked Kathleen O’Prey Truman, an attorney who represents developers facing environmental litigation. “The answer is the cost.”
FivePoint estimates the net-zero programs will add about $15,000 in building costs per home.
“Many builders would love to be more environmentally conscious, but consumers … aren’t willing to pay for it,” said home building research analyst Alex Barron of El Paso-based Housing Research Center.
Haddad said his company, at least initially, may have to absorb some of the added costs. But he added, “I look at it as the right thing to do.”
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