Tejon Mountain Village Wins Unanimous Approval

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (October 5, 2009, 5:35 p.m.)  With a 5-0 vote, the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously supported certification of the Tejon Mountain Village (TMV) development at about 5 p.m. today, 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 and Native American representatives from Bakersfield delivered emotion-charged statements about a range of concerns, including what they said would be the 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, 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.

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. 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 the state water project, 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 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 is comprised of Tejon Ranch employees only) said that some of their analyses had considered what would happen if the California Water Project could suplly only 50 percent of the promiesd 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 of the TubatulabalTribal Council in the Kern Valley area, Tejon Mountan Village staff conferred among 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.

The supervisors were unanimous in their glowing praise for the 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 attorney Adam Keats, Urban Wildlands director for the Center for Biological Diversity. Other environmental groups did not participate in the public process mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A gag rule against making any statements against Tejon Ranchcorp’s developments was agreed to by the Sierra Club, Audubon, and the Natural Resources Defense Council when they signed on to the Tejon Ranch Conservation & Land Use Agreement. The Center for Biological Diversity withdrew from the secret negotiations before the accord was signed.

In a statement distributed Monday night, Keats said the vote was "disappointing, particularly because of its dependency on a paper water supply, its devastating impacts to the California condor, as well as its severe impacts to air quality, traffic, global warming, and cultural resources…It is speculative real estate development at its worst and should be opposed by all who care about California’s rich legacy of natural and cultural resources…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."

[Updated Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 6:30 and 10:30 a.m. Watch for more reporting in The Mountain Enterprise print edition Thursday, Oct. 8.]

This is part of the October 02, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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