Sprawling development threatens key habitat on California's largest private landholding
February 5, 2004
Excerpted from the report, California's 10 Most Threatened Wild Places.
The Tejon region is an irreplaceable California landscape of mountains, creeks, oak woods and golden grasslands, whose future deserves careful consideration. Within this region, the wildlands and open spaces of the 277,000-acre Tejon Ranch, the largest single private landholding in California, are critical for their unique wildlife and biological values.
Recently, several sprawling industrial and residential projects have been approved or proposed on the Ranch which threaten these values. In addition, the ongoing General Plan updates for both Kern and Los Angeles counties could pave the way for piecemeal development of the Ranch.
There is compelling scientific evidence that Tejon Ranch plays a crucial role for the conservation of biodiversity on a regional, state and national level. Tejon Ranch spans two counties, Los Angeles and Kern, and lies at a unique crossroads of five geological provinces and four ecological regions, all within the global biodiversity hotspot recognized by scientists as the California Floristic Province. Within this wildlife hotspot, the 277,000-acre Ranch supports 23 different vegetation communities, critical habitat for the endangered California condor and potential habitat for 20 state and federally listed species, and 61 other rare and endemic species, all within about 40 miles of the largest population center of California. Tejon Ranch provides a unique opportunity to conserve low-elevation grasslands and oak woodlands that are under-protected in the region. Conservation on the Ranch is critical to ensuring that other conservation reserves nearby remain intact, and to linking the Sequoia National Forest with the Los Padres National Forest.
Tejon Ranch is also an important open space for national security purposes. All three known development projects proposed for Tejon Ranch would underlie a number of military training flight corridors, threatening the continued viability of these routes.
Threats -- Industrial and Residential Development
Three major development projects are slated for Tejon Ranch, all in areas of high core biological values and military flyover routes.
The Tejon East Industrial Complex would destroy 1,100 acres of farmland and grasslands and lies within an important wildlife linkage along the San Joaquin Valley floor, including habitat for the threatened San Joaquin kit fox. At 15 million square feet, it would be one of the largest industrial developments in Kern County history and would greatly increase diesel truck traffic and air pollution in this already highly polluted air basin.
The proposed Centennial project along Highway 138 in northern Los Angeles County would replace more than 12,000 acres of grasslands, chaparral, and juniper and oak woodlands with 23,000 homes and 14 million square feet of associated retail and commercial developments.
Tejon Mountain Village would be located in the secluded hills and canyons surrounding Castaic (Tejon) Lake. Based on concept plans, the project would impact 37,000 acres of oak woodlands, grasslands, chaparral, montane hardwoods and conifers, pinyon-juniper woodlands, wet meadows and riparian woodlands.
In October 2003 a Kern County Superior Court judge struck down the county's January approval of the Tejon East Industrial Complex, finding that the county failed to analyze impacts on wildlife and air quality. This lawsuit, brought by the Kern Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Center for Race, Poverty & Environment signals the first round of a long-term effort to protect the Ranch from the sprawling development and air pollution that characterizes much of southern California.
The Tejon Ranch Company has filed an application with Los Angeles County for the Centennial development. Preliminary environmental review by county staff is underway.
U.S. Navy officials in October 2003 asked Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to ensure a coordinated master plan for Tejon Ranch because Centennial and other proposed developments would undercut important low-level flight paths for military training.
Reports issued in 2003 by the Conservation Biology Institute on the Conservation Significance of the Tejon Ranch and by the South Coast Wildlands Project on Key Wildlife Linkages underscored the significance of Tejon Ranch for its wildlife and core habitat values, and as a linkage to maintain the wildlife network in the broader region.
In May 2003 the Tejon Ranch Company and the Trust for Public Land announced an agreement for the purchase of a portion of the Ranch for conservation. Ideally, such a purchase would only occur if the company agrees to participate in comprehensive conservation planning for the entire Ranch before seeking additional development approvals; the company has not yet agreed. Some believe the company is offering to conserve remote areas in order to smooth development of other biologically critical areas.
A draft of Los Angeles County's general plan and a revised draft of Kern County's general plan are both expected in 2004.
Tejon Ranch's globally important biological resources warrant a comprehensive master plan for the entire Ranch, rather than piecemeal development and conservation of isolated portions. The State of California should sponsor a joint regional planning process to create such a master plan, with an emphasis on preserving biological values. It may be that little or no development is appropriate on this last great intact landscape in the region.
The Tejon region needs "smart growth" solutions that direct new growth to existing urban areas, provide jobs in balance with housing, and conserve high-quality agricultural and habitat lands. Air pollution in Kern and Los Angeles Counties is among the worst in the nation. New development outside of existing communities generates costly impacts related to air quality, traffic, and the loss of habitat and prime agricultural lands. The counties of Kern and Los Angeles have a responsibility to engage in a regional planning process to ensure that land uses permitted on the Ranch will protect the region's agricultural heritage, unique biological values, and national security interests.
Because the entire Ranch has tremendous resource values, any lands purchased for conservation should be those with the highest biological value and those directly threatened by development. Conservation funds should not be spent solely on remote areas of the ranch that are not in harm's way.
What Can You Do
Sign a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger requesting a statesponsored joint planning process to create a comprehensive master plan for the entire Tejon Ranch, to ensure protection of biological resources, air and water quality, and national security interests.
Sign the letter at http://www.savetejonranch.org.
Write to the Boards of Supervisors of Kern and Los Angeles counties and ask them to reject all piecemeal development projects on the Ranch until there is a larger regional vision for the Tejon Ranch.
Write to the California Wildlife Conservation Board and urge them to spend state conservation funds on Tejon Ranch only if: the funding is spent on lands that are both high-value for resource protection and threatened by development; and the Tejon Ranch Company agrees to participate in a comprehensive conservation plan for the Ranch before additional development rights are sought.
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Read the whole report.