Adam Keats, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity greets Tejon Ranch Company CEO Bob Stine outside the Kern County Board of Supervisors chambers last year. CBD’s lawsuit against the county and Tejon Mountain Village won no points with Judge Twisselman last week.
Judge Denies CBD Lawsuit, Plaintiffs Vow to Appeal
By Patric Hedlund
Tejon Ranch Company’s development strategy seems to be moving forward according to plan. They raised $60 million in a stock subscription initiative this year and now the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board appears poised to allocate $15.8 million on November 18 for the purchase of conservation easements from the company to create linkage corridors for the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.
That purchase was foreseen as part of the deal with five environmental groups that created the conservancy. The price the participating environmental groups paid? They had to agree to stay silent about TRC’s development plans for the balance of the ranch, and sit out any environmental litigation efforts. The benefits of that provision were on display last week when Kern County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Twisselman, according to Center for Biological Diversity attorney Adam Keats, agreed with virtually all the arguments made by attorneys for Tejon Ranch Company, development partner DMB Associates, their Tejon Mountain Village project and the Kern County Board of Supervisors.
On Friday, Nov. 5 Keats said, “We are very disappointed by Friday’s ruling and strongly disagree with Judge Twisselman. But this is just the first battle of what will certainly be a long war. We are not discouraged; we will appeal. We will continue to do everything we can to protect the California condor and its precious habitat. Tejon Mountain Village should never have been proposed and it certainly should never have been approved. But if we have any say, it will never be built.” An appeal won’t be filed before February of 2011.
Tejon Mountain Village has received the green light from the county to build up to 3,450 homes, multiple golf courses and resort hotels, plus a collection of commercial services planned to be built on the ranch’s property in Lebec.
“We are elated…” wrote Tejon Mountain Village spokesman David Crowder in a statement released shortly after the judge’s ruling on Friday: “This ruling is a testament to the quality of the plan and the many years of planning, community input, environmental and public review that it was subject to.”
TRC President and CEO Robert Stine was quoted as saying, “Tejon Mountain Village is going to be quite an asset for Kern County. It sets a new standard for environmental sensitivity, sustainability good planning, and soon, good living. We’re pleased the judge’s ruling gives us the green light to move forward with our plans.”
DMB Associate’s Eneas Kane concluded: “We are very proud of the hard work and planning that has gone into Tejon Mountain Village which is destined to become a remarkable mountain resort community and an essential part of the conservation of the vast majority of Tejon Ranch.” He added that the ruling, “is proof that the development community and environmental community can work together successfully.”
“This was a complex case,” CBD’s Keats said. “There were six different major areas of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) procedure that we were complaining about, with numerous violations of the law. The judge did not agree with us on a single one. We didn’t win anything. That is the nature of how this beast works. In generalization, he gave significant deference to the lead agency, (the Board of Supervisors) almost exclusively. Parts of CEQA require that of the judge…”
Twisselman is known as “Kern County’s CEQA judge.” He presided over the Tejon Industrial Complex East challenge which held up that project for several years and cost millions of dollars, but ended in TRC prevailing.
Meanwhile, CBD is also litigating Tejon Ranch Company’s interest in the Kern Water Bank, which is slated to supply Tejon Mountain Village its water.
“How will they build a project on water that is no longer controlled by Tejon Ranch?” Keats asked. “They are free to go ahead with this foolish project; it is not our intent with this lawsuit to stop them from building, but we recognize that this issue is very much related to Tejon Mountain Village. If they want to go ahead and start building based on paper water, that is their choice,” Keats said in an interview November 8.
On November 10 it was reported that Tejon Ranch seeks to pay $11.7 million to purchase irrigation water from two Kings County farmers.
This is part of the November 12, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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