Appeal Filed In Tejon Mountain Village Suit

Update

By Patric Hedlund

The Center for Biological Diversity filed an appeal with the 5th Appellate District Court in Fresno on February 9 to contest the November 2010 ruling by Kern County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Twisselman in favor of Kern County and Tejon Ranch Company.

Twisselman said that the Kern County Board of Supervisors had proceeded lawfully in certifying the Environmental Impact Review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). That certification, if it stands, will clear the way for Tejon Ranchcorp and DBM Associates, Inc. to seek county permits to develop the resort hotels, restaurants, stores and 3,450 homes that they plan for their gated Tejon Mountain Village resort community.

The development is to be located on about 5,000 acres just east of Interstate-5 in the Lebec section of the Tejon Ranch property. The stores and restaurants would be clustered around Castac Lake.

The national Center for Biological Diversity was joined by Mountain Community plaintiffs, the TriCounty Watchdogs, with the Wishtoyo Foundation and the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. They filed their first challenge in late 2009, not long after the Kern County supervisors’ unanimous vote in favor of the project.

The plaintiffs argued that Kern County violated CEQA law and that officials ignored the project’s potential threat to the endangered California condor. The plaintiffs also challenge whether the developers have a dependable water supply for such a large project of luxury homes with several golf courses.

Kern County maintained that their CEQA procedure was correct, that the environmental impact report was thorough and that the public was given an adequate opportunity for review and comment.

Observers have noted that if the list of plaintiffs fighting for the survival of such an iconic species as the California condor seems sparse, it is useful to remember that in May 2008, five large environmental groups revealed they had entered into secret negotiations with Tejon Ranch to accept land and money from the developers in exchange for staying silent during this permit- seeking phase. They agreed not to testify, comment or litigate about the environmental impacts of any of Tejon Ranch Company’s development plans. There was one exception to that pact, when Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council urgently requested that Tejon Ranch Company release documents about condor research which had been part of a 10-year gag order under TRC litigation.

In interviews, CBD representatives have said that the Tejon Ranch Conservation and Land Use Agreement is a political and public relations smokescreen that does not address the need to preserve critical habitat for the endangered California condor. They say that it preserves land, “but not the right land.”

The groups that joined in the Tejon Ranch Conservancy agreement (the Endangered Habitats League, Audubon California, Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League and Sierra Club) claim that the prospect of saving 240,000 acres of habitat is worth the bargain.

Executive Director Tom Maloney said in an interview with The Mountain Enterprise at about the time of Twisselman’s ruling: “we are committed to hold total silence, to be ‘agnostic’ about the developments, and to talk about the value of the Conservation and Land Use Agreement for the whole 270,000 acres of this iconic area….”

That same month the groups secured $15.8 million from the state taxpayer-funded Wildlife Conservation Fund to purchase 62,000 acres of conservation easements from Tejon Ranch Company that will allow wildlife migration through the development areas.

The groups receive $800,000 annually in interest-free advances until 2014—which extends to mid- 2022 at the time the easements are purchased, according to the agreement—an estimated $11.2 million. Transfer fees of .25 of 1 percent on residential sales transactions that result from Tejon Ranch Company’s development will sustain the conservancy after that, tying the “Big Greens” into a partnership dependent on the developers’ success. CBD attorney Adam Keats calls it “hush money.”

[____At the end of our story in the print issue of The Mountain Enterprise this week,  this appears,]:

Meanwhile, another suit filed by David Laughing Horse Robinson on behalf of ownership claims by the Kawaiisu Tribe to Tejon Ranch Company lands has been dismissed by the same court that will be hearing the CBD appeal.

Robinson was serving as his own lawyer. CBD and the TriCounty Watchdogs are represented by attorneys who are skilled in this field of law.

[_____However, George Garrigues of Lake of the Woods has brought this additional item to our attention, which is from an IndyMedia news site, indicating that Judge Wanger of the Eastern District Court has granted an extension to David Laughing Horse Robinson to file an amended complaint:

Kawaiisu Tribe case to continue in Federal Court
by Kate DeVries
Wednesday Feb 9th, 2011 7:31 PM

A lawsuit filed by the Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon has survived several Motions To Dismiss filed by Defendants Department of Interior, County of Kern, Tejon Mountain Village and Native American Heritage Commission. An Amended Complaint incorporating their NAGPRA, aboriginal title and equal protection claims is due by February 19, 2011. The Kawaiisu 25:640 Indian Tribal Rights Case is No. 1:09-cv-01977-OWW-SMS in Eastern District Court.

Judge’s ruling keeps Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon case in Federal Court

A ruling was published Monday for the Civil Rights case filed by Tribal Elder,
David Laughing Horse Robinson and the Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon, in
California’s U.S. Federal Eastern District Court.

The Tribe filed the lawsuit in November 2009 after County of Kern approved a CEQA
FINAL EIR that states that a U.S. Corporation now owns their Ancestors
remains and grave goods. The document states: “and the property owner (who is
also the owner of the remains), and of any associated archaeological materials.”

U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger issued his ruling on Feb. 4, 2011
with page 24 and page 25 summarizing the outcome. The Judge gives the
Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon 15 days to Amend their Complaint and states:
“(6) Plaintiffs shall be afforded the opportunity to assert a land-based
claim for enforcement of aboriginal title in any amended complaint.”

The Judge also allows the Tribe to pursue its NAGPRA claim against
Defendants County of Kern and Tejon Mountain Village saying,
“(2) (c) the NAGPRA claim is GRANTED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND.”

Additionally, the Judge also allows the Tribe to pursue it’s Equal Protection
claim against the California Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC),
“(3) Plaintiffs’ unopposed request for leave to amend its section 1983/equal
protection claim against NAHC is GRANTED and NAHC’s motion to
dismiss is DENIED AS MOOT.”

The Tribe’s Amended Complaint is due February 19, 2011.

Monday’s ruling allowing further argument to protect Ancestral Graves,
Sacred Sites and Indigenous title is a victory for Human Rights, Indian
Country and the Kawaiisu people.

The Kawaiisu are a historic and ancient people, the descendants of,
and political successor to, signatories of the December 30, 1849
Treaty with the Utahs (ratified Sept. 9, 1850) and the June 10, 1851
California Treaty D at Camp Persifer Smith (not ratified-1852).

The first Indian Reservation in California (Tejon Sebastian Indian Reservation)
was established in 1853 where Treaty D was signed.

To learn more, visit the Tribe's blog. ]

 

This is part of the February 18, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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