Western spade foot toad | Photo by James Bettaso/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
It’s looking like the on-again, off-again Sterling Gateway project will be back on in 2013.
Sterling Gateway is the mixed-use development (roughly 250 homes on about 220 acres plus a 74-acre business park) that’s planned to go into Hasley Canyon behind the Valencia Commerce Center, north of Highway 126. The land was purchased in 1949 by an oil prospector named Theodore Sterling, and it’s being developed by his grandson, Robert “Hunt” Williams.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider selling a little piece of land to Williams’ company so it can meet an environmental requirement.
“The state of California Department of Fish and Game requires Sterling Gateway to dedicate land for the breeding of the (Western) spade foot toad near their proposed development as an environmental mitigation measure,” according to a report to the supervisors from William Fujioka, the county’s chief administrative officer.
Western spade foot toads are neither “endangered” nor “threatened,” but they’re classified as “nearly threatened,” and state officials want to see more of them, not fewer.
So here’s the deal.
2005 rendering of Sterling Gateway’s proposed Hasley Canyon housing project, called Green Valley Ranch. (Click to enlarge.)
Back in 2007, while it was pursuing development plans of its own, The Newhall Land and Farming Co. gave 67 acres to the county Parks Department as a requirement for getting its plans approved. The county turned the 67 acres on Industry Drive into the Hasley Canyon Equestrian Center, complete with a fenced arena, horse warm-up area, barn and trail connections. It’s used by equestrian enthusiasts and mounted law enforcement units alike.
Sterling Gateway’s property abuts the equestrian center.
According to Fujioka’s report, a biological survey found that with its topography and drainage, “a seasonal pool habitat could be created such that the spade foot toad could likely breed and thrive on a portion of the Equestrian Center which is located away from the area used by the public.”
So the plan calls for the county to sell Sterling Gateway a 9,000-square-foot chunk of the Equestrian Center (about 0.2 of an acre) for $4,000.
This would facilitate the “construction and monitoring of a toad pond to allow for the breeding of the spade foot toad for a period of four years, after which the area will be used for park purposes in perpetuity.”
Selling the 9,000 square feet requires the supervisors to declare that it’s no longer needed as a park, and if Sterling Gateway fails to use it for the stated purpose, it would revert to the county. (The bulk of the 67-acre Equestrian Center would be unaffected either way.)
It’s certainly not the first time local developers have taken such measures for the croaking Spea hammondii.
Newhall Land encountered Western spade foot toads in the same vicinity in 2004 when it was building the Valencia Commerce Center. (It ran into them again at West Creek). The creatures were found in four seasonal rain pools in the Commerce Center area, including one that had several hundred tadpoles.
A contractor, under the direction of Fish and Game, scooped up about 200 of them, and they were kept in captivity for eight weeks until their metamorphosis was complete. They were released on the south side of Hasley Creek, in open scrub brush where they like to live most of the year (when it’s not breeding season).
Newhall Land was required to construct two ponds at the base of a hill for breeding.
Apparently the time has come for another developer to advance their descendants’ life cycle.