The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a last-ditch effort by two Santa Clarita Valley environmental groups to stop the 15,000-acre, 21,500-unit Newhall Ranch mixed-use development to be built along six miles of Highway 126 west of Interstate 5.
In its ruling Monday on the complaint filed in October 2017 by Friends of the Santa Clara River and Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment (plaintiffs-appellants) against the United States Army Corps of Engineers (defendants-appellees) and the Newhall Land and Farming Company (intervenor-defendant-appellee), the court determined the Corps had properly determined the development’s potential environmental impact.
The court also refused to overturn a lower court ruling that upheld the permit the Corps issued pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to developer Newhall Land & Farming, now part of FivePoint Holdings.
Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1344, the Corps may issue permits authorizing the discharge of dredged or fill material into the navigable waters of the United States.
Circuit Judges Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Sandra S. Ikuta and Jacqueline H. Nguyen affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the Corps and Newhall Land & Farming, authorizing the discharge of materials into the Santa Clara River as part of the Newhall Ranch project.
After this case was argued on appeal, the Corps and Newhall Land settled with four of the six plaintiffs in September 2017.
The Center for Biological Diversity, California Native Plant Society, and Wishtoyo Foundation and its Ventura Coastkeeper program agreed to withdraw their ongoing legal challenges to the development per the settlement.
The Corps acknowledged the remaining plaintiffs, SCOPE and Friends of the Santa Clara River, had standing to pursue their Clean Water Act claim.
The panel held the plaintiffs also had standing for their National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act claims.
However, the court ultimately rejected challenges under the Clean Water Act to the Corp’s permit issuance, concluding the Corps complied with its obligations under because the Corps properly considered practicability as required under the Clean Water Act’s Section 404(b) guidelines.
The panel further concluded the Corps complied with the ESA because its determination that Southern California steelhead trout would not be affected by the project, and its corresponding decision not to consult with the National
Marine Fisheries Service, was not arbitrary and capricious.
For similar reasons, the panel concluded the Corps reasonably assessed the project’s potential impacts to the steelhead and provided sufficient discussion to satisfy its NEPA obligations.
The Newhall Ranch development was first proposed in the 1980s and was subject to numerous state and federal legal challenges by conservation groups. Monday’s ruling effectively ends all pending litigation and allows the project to move forward.
FivePoint began grading on the Newhall Ranch construction site soon after the September ruling. Groundbreaking on the construction of the project’s first two phases is projected for later this year.
Read the complete Ninth Circuit ruling here.