$1,000 Earth Day Prize
11th Annual Anthony Prize Honors Newhall Ranch Opponent
Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE)

The Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment today announced the winner of the 2012 Anthony Grassroots Prize, an annual Earth Day award recognizing an outstanding example of grassroots environmental stewardship.

For 25 years, the volunteers of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) have promoted, protected and preserved the environment of Northern Los Angeles County’s Santa Clarita Valley, and the quality of life for its 250,000 residents. SCOPE provides a vital forum where local issues involving the environment, ecology or quality of life can be heard and discussed; and promotes community planning and design dedicated to quality, aesthetics, environmental sensitivity and consideration of community goals and needs.

SCOPE was awarded the 2012 Anthony Prize for its inspirational ‘David vs. Goliath’ advocacy to protect the Santa Clarita Valley from the mammoth Newhall Ranch development – a proposed 60,000 person city slated to be built on the Los Angeles-Ventura County line. The 12,000 acre Newhall site would be largest single development project in California history, yet is located on one of the most pristine reaches of the Santa Clara River, Los Angeles County’s last free-flowing wild river.

The area threatened by the Newhall development is home to over 117 threatened, endangered or sensitive plant and wildlife species or communities. The project would result in filling 20 miles of on-site streams and the valleys that contain them with 208 million cubic yards of fill material taken from the hill tops –  enough soil to fill dump trucks and wrap them around the earth’s equator over 3 times. In addition, the project would channelize 5 miles of the main stem of the Santa Clara River, building homes in an area where the river has historically flowed during major storm events. For more information about SCOPE and the environmental impacts of Newhall Ranch, contact:  Lynne Plambeck, (661) 255-6899, exec@scope.org.

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Development in Floodplain Would Devastate Wildlife Habitat, Hurt Cultural Resources and Cost  Taxpayers a Bundle    

On March 22nd SCOPE joined a coalition of five public-interest groups to sue Los Angeles County in Superior Court over its approval of permits for the first phase of the sprawling Newhall Ranch development — one of the largest single residential development projects ever contemplated in California — proposed for 12,000 acres along the Santa Clara River in northwest L.A. County.

Newhall Ranch would create a city of more than 60,000 on a six-mile stretch of the river that is currently rugged open space and farmland by channeling the county’s last mostly free-flowing river.

SCOPE remains concerned about the substantial burden this project will place on local residents and taxpayers.

“Before a single house has been built, Newhall Ranch has already cost California’s taxpayers and workforce, including the county’s own staff, nearly a billion dollars of lost pension funds,” said Lynne Plambeck, president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment. “Although the state will never recover any of the largest single loss ever suffered by CalPERS, and will spend millions more in public monies to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure to serve this project, the county has once again endorsed this same development that will threaten the region’s water supply, worsen air pollution and cause further gridlock on our highways.”

The construction approved by the county on Feb. 23 would require filling of the Santa Clara River’s floodplain on a large scale; channelizing over three miles of river and converting many tributary streams to concrete-lined channels; unearth and desecrate American Indian burial sites, sacred places and cultural natural resources such as the California condor; and threaten the San Fernando Valley spineflower — a species found in only one other location on the planet.

“It’s appalling that L.A. County would be so reckless with the last free-flowing river in the region,” said Ron Bottorff with the Friends of the Santa Clara River. “This area has lost all but 3 percent of its historic river woodlands; the county’s approval would replace some of the finest riparian areas remaining anywhere in Southern California with ugly strip malls and housing we don’t need.”

The Santa Clara River is one of two major Southern California rivers remaining in a relatively natural state. It flows for about 116 miles from its headwaters on the north slope of the San Gabriel Mountains near Acton to its confluence with the Pacific Ocean between Oxnard and Ventura; its watershed is home to a great diversity of very rare species, among them the unarmored threespine stickleback fish, California condor, least Bell’s vireo, southwestern willow flycatcher, California red-legged frog, arroyo toad, southern steelhead trout and San Fernando Valley spineflower. Wildlands of the Santa Clara River provides a full accounting of rare  environmental resources of this precious landscape.

“Developing in a river floodplain is never a good idea,” said Ileene Anderson, biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We should protect our precious water resources, not destroy them.”

After promising groundbreaking for the project in 2000, approval of this first phase some 12 years later is the first authorization permitting construction. Plans have been slowed by the bankruptcy of LandSource Communities Development, the predecessor of Newhall Ranch’s current developer. CalPERS, California’s public pension fund, lost $970 million of state employees’ investment in Newhall Ranch with the LandSource bankruptcy. Now, with the infusion of cash and majority ownership by several out-of-state hedge funds, investors are again looking to move forward on this destructive and questionable proposal.

“The project information was substantially changed at the last minute just prior to the final hearing before the county supervisors,” said attorney Dean Wallraff. “The public and the decision-makers should have a document they can read through in a straightforward wayto understand the environmental impacts of the project, and this isn’t it.”

The suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court under the California Environmental Quality Act, and will include additional “Map Act” and “Plan Consistency” issues. Brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment (SCOPE), and Wishtoyo Foundation and its Ventura Coastkeeper program, the suit will ask the court to review the legality of the county’s approval process in order to protect this last remaining river resource area.

Put-Down-that-Saltshakerby Lynne Plambeck

High salt levels in state water delivered from northern California have been a concern to many communities for some time.  The salt comes mostly from ocean water that mixes with fresh water in the Delta area and then is pumped into the aqueduct for delivery to Southern California.  The drier the weather, the more likely this phenomenon called “salt water intrusion” is to occur.  Reduced snow pack in the Sierras, now predicted to occur more often due to climate change, will increase salt-water intrusion in the Delta.

While the water is still drinkable, Read the rest of this entry »

The Los Angeles County Supervisors’ Jan 10th Motion (See L.A. Times article) to limit public comment at their meetings brought a flood of protest from local and statewide groups.

SCOPE was among them, fearing its potential impact on the Brown Act, California’s sunshine law. Below please find links to SCOPE’s comments and related articles and programs.

Last October, about 20 residents of the Santa Clarita Valley made the two-hour drive to Downtown Los Angeles to speak before the Los Angeles Board County of Supervisors regarding the first phase of the Newhall Ranch project.  Though speakers are normally allotted three minutes to comment, when the agenda item was announced, Supervisor Michael Antonovich told the residents they would  have only one minute. That’s one minute to talk about the many different issues from endangered species, air pollution and water contamination and availability. Even with speakers limiting themselves to only one subject, a minute was too short to adequately cover a single issue.

For a more complete discussion of this issue see David Luteness’ OpEd published in The Signal, “Limiting Free Speech hurts public input” .

SCOPE letter regarding the motion.

SCOPE letter to the supervisors regardinggood governance through the inclusion of public participation.”

Hear the Warren Olney Show, “Do LA County Supervisors Want to Limit Public Engagement? on KCRW.

The related Los Angeles Times article here.

The related DailyNews article here.

The complete motion by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky can be found here.

As we gather with friends and families over the holidays to enjoy the abundance and variety of food our country offers, perhaps we might want to give some thought to how that food is produced. We can make many choices that will not only please our palates, but will help our world.

Buying local is perhaps the easiest choice. Read the rest of this entry »