No Surprises: Bakersfield Votes ‘Yes’ for Tejon Mountain Village

  • Bakersfield political power broker, philanthropist and former chairman of the Tejon Ranch Company board, Rayburn ?Ray? S. Dezember is the first hearty handshake of congratulations to Bob Stine, President and CEO of TRC, after the Kern County Board of Supervisor?s unanimous 5-0 vote for Tejon Mountain Village on Monday, Oct. 5.

    Bakersfield political power broker, philanthropist and former chairman of the Tejon Ranch Company board, Rayburn ?Ray? S. Dezember is the first hearty handshake of congratulations to Bob Stine, President and CEO of TRC, after the Kern County Board of Supervisor?s unanimous 5-0 vote for Tejon Mountain Village on Monday, Oct. 5.

By Patric Hedlund

With a 5-0 vote, the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously supported certification of the Tejon Mountain Village (TMV) development after an all-day public hearing which began at 9 a.m.

Mountain Community residents from Pine Mountain, Pinon Pines, Frazier Park and Lebec made the 100-mile round trip drive to Bakersfield to speak and to observe.

After the vote, Tejon Ranch Company President and CEO Robert Stine was greeted with hugs, congratulations and handshakes by supporters of the project. Roberta Marshall, managing vice president of Tejon Mountain Village, a joint venture between Tejon Ranch Company and DMB Associates of Scottsdale, Arizona, also received congratulations.

In opposition, members of the mountain’s TriCounty Watchdogs, lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity, Native American representatives and residents of Shafter, Bakersfield and other parts of Kern and L.A. counties delivered emotion-charged statements about a range of concerns, including what they said would be the cumulative impacts to the California condor if 3,450 residences, 160,000 sq. ft. of commercial stores, 750 resort hotel and spa rooms, 320,000 sq. ft of commercial support facilities, two 18-hole golf courses and two helipads are built within the endangered bird’s critical habitat.

Countering some of their arguments, consultant Peter Bloom (who had a contract with Tejon Ranch to develop a habitat conservation plan for the condor) said that the soaring scavenger is "food dependent, not habitat dependent." He maintained that building in the midst of historic condor habitat would not be a serious impediment to the California condor recovery program which has restored 72 wild birds to our area. A letter written by 11 condor experts disputed Bloom’s claim and criticized his plan, which has not been accepted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Before the formal vote, supervisors spoke of their great pride that a project which "sets the highest environmental standards" is to be built in Kern County.

They said the developer had been working for ten years to create the proposal and that the Kern County planning staff had been working on it for two years around the clock. Speakers at the hearing asked—if the process has been so long already—why the public has been asked to try to analyze 30,000 pages in 90 days.

Adam Keats, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) stated he believes Kern County has violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) with its rushed public hearing process.

Supervisors complimented the planning department team and said Kern County had never seen such a detailed proposal.

During the hearing, Attorney D. Adam Lazar, serving as a pro bono counsel to the Center for Biological Diversity, said that if TMV is completely dependent on California Water Project allocations, without a "secondary" source of water, then it is indeed without precedent in the state of California and is based entirely on "paper water."

The developers and the county planning department objected to Lazar’s comments, saying that TMV will have three sources of water to meet its annual 4,000 acre feet water requirements: 1) The state water project will supply drinking water; 2) "Tertiary recycled [household] water" will be used for landscape maintenance (including the two 18-hole golf courses) and 3) Over 28,000 acre feet of Kern Water District banked water (stored underground on ‘wet’ years when state water project supplies were ample) is contracted to the Tejon Castac Water District as back-up to cover seven-year drought events.

Lazar laughed at this assertion. "This is not three sources of water. This is three modes of conveying water from a single source: the Sacramento delta."

He said that recent court rulings have limited pumping from the delta, slashing allocations of state project water to farmers throughout the San Joaquin Valley. Lazar said that "If we are operating right now at 20, 30 and 40 percent of allocation to farmers, it is laughable that these developers are calculating their ‘worst case’ scenario as being at 63 percent."

Ernest Conant, attorney for the Tejon Castac Water District Board (which he said is comprised of Tejon Ranch Company employees only) said that some of their analysis had considered what would happen if the California Water Project could supply only 50 percent of the promised allocation.

Care of Native American gravesites and ambiguity about who owns ancient artifacts that might be found on parcels sold to people building luxury vacation homes was a source of urgent concern to numerous speakers.

In response to a series of proposals by Robert Gomez, Cultural Resources director of the Tubatulabal Tribal Council in the Kern Valley area, Tejon Mountain Village staff conferred amongst themselves and offered a 2,500 sq. foot facility in the Tejon Mountain Village commercial center as a Native American Museum that could serve as a repository for artifacts. [UPDATE: Dee Dominguez, designated "most likely ancestor" for two tribes that lived historically on the land now known as Tejon Ranch, said statements by Gomez are untrue. She said unearthed burial remains of 2,000 native people from this area that are being returned from the Smithsonian Institution are actually not "without a home," as Gomez stated to the Board of Supervisors. Dominguez reports that a burial site for those ancestors has been set aside on the Wind Wolves Preserve since year 2000. She added that a marker has already been put in place in the valley reserved for them. However, under the federal Native American Graves and Protection Act (NAGPRA), only recognized tribes have the right to ask for return of the remains. Dominguez' tribe is still seeking federal recognition. Meanwhile, Hector Lallo Franco, a Mexican immigrant who is employed as Cultural Resources Director for the federally recognized Santa Rosa Rancheria (a recognized tribe) has requested some of the remains and has buried them elsewhere, Dominguez said.]

The supervisors were unanimous in their glowing praise for the Tejon Mountain Village project: "Everyone else who comes along will have a new standard to live up to," Supervisor Michael Rubio said. District Four Supervisor Ray Watson spoke of the "green" qualities of the proposal, including a mandated water budget for each household. He topped Rubio’s praise by saying: "This sets new standards for not only Kern County, but the state and the nation."

After the vote, President of the TriCounty Watchdogs Linda MacKay and Kitanemuk- Yowlumne descendant Dee Dominguez conferred with Keats, Urban Wildlands director for the CBD. Other environmental groups did not participate in the public process mandated by CEQA. A gag rule against making any statements against Tejon Ranchcorp’s developments was agreed to by the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Audubon California, the Planning and Conservation League and the Endangered Habitats League when they signed the Tejon Ranch Conservation & Land Use Agreement. Their goal was to have the opportunity to save between 54 and 80 percent of the ranch from development. With that agreement, about 64,000 acres need to be purhased "at market value" within the next few years by public and private moneys, paid to Tejon Ranch Company. CBD withdrew from the secret negotiations before the accord was signed.

In a statement distributed Monday night, Keats said the Monday vote by the Kern County supervisors was "disappointing…We don’t believe that the EIR passes legal muster and we expect that today’s approval will result in the filing of a lawsuit."

In an interview with The Mountain Enterprise, Keats said "I never want to promise a lawsuit, but in this case I can say absolutely we will file a protest." The deadline for such an action is within 30 days of the county’s official filing of the authorization.

In its press release, Tejon Mountain Village LLC said it will now begin obtaining permits and approvals from regional, state and federal agencies needed before building can begin.

This is part of the October 09, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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