Environmentalists sue over huge Calif. development

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 13, 2009 13:22 hrs

A coalition of environmentalists filed a lawsuit Thursday to stop the development of a 5,000-acre resort community on the sprawling Tejon Ranch property some 60 miles north of Los Angeles.

The lawsuit filed in Kern County Superior Court argues that county officials ignored its potential impact on the endangered California condor while discounting flaws in the project's water-use plan and air pollution problems from increased traffic in the now undeveloped area.

"All of California will suffer if this project gets built — more water will be stolen, the bird that graces our quarter will be doomed, our air will get dirtier," said Adam Keats, a director at the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Kern County supervisors last month unanimously approved the Tejon Mountain Village project, which includes 3,500 homes, two golf courses and resort hotels in the Tehachapi Mountains. The rustic area is along heavily traveled Interstate 5 between metropolitan Los Angeles and the southern San Joaquin Valley.

The project is the smaller of two developments planned for the Tejon Ranch Co.'s 270,000-acre property, the largest piece of privately held land in the state. A separate 23,000-home project known as Centennial is currently undergoing environmental review.

Tejon Mountain Village LLC spokesman David Crowder said county officials were right to approve the project that met high standards for conservation and sustainable development.

"We feel that the record will show that the county made a well-reasoned decision and that the courts will find in our favor," he said.

A phone message left with Kern County spokesman Allan Krauter was not immediately returned.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and the Wishtoyo Foundation, a Chumash Indian environmental group.

Tejon Ranch made a deal last year with several other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, to preserve a 240,000-acre, or 375-square-mile, swath of wilderness in exchange for the groups not opposing development on other parts of the ranch.

The Tehachapi Mountains are important habitat for the California condor, a giant species that soars on wings spanning 9½ feet and almost became extinct in the 1980s.