PR Tug-of-War Fought Over Ruling on Tejon’s Grapevine

LEBEC, CA (Tuesday, July 31, 2018 at 5 p.m.)—Kern County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Twisselman II ordered legal sparring partners Tejon Ranchcorp and the Center for Biological Diversity to reappear in court February 15, 2019 after announcing his verdict  that there are flaws in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Grapevine development plan approved by Kern County in 2016.

The plan calls for 12,000 homes at full build-out (which could take 20 years to achieve). It is one part of the portfolio of entitlements being compiled by Tejon Ranchcorp for massive developments along the Interstate 5 corridor.

Twisselman said that the EIR, “has failed to comply with CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act] by failing to provide an adequate and stable description” of the traffic that would be generated by the project. The judge said this failure “may cause significant adverse effects to the environment.” He added that the developer and the county must “also address whether such a reasonably foreseeable circumstance may have significant adverse effects to traffic, air pollution, GHG [greenhouse gases], noise, public health and growth-inducing impacts.”

An entertaining spin-contest about the ruling was observed between Tejon Ranchcorp and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). Both raced to make their own point of view dominant in Bakersfield media and throughout the state. Tejon Ranch’s Barry Zoeller said the ruling was a very minor win for environmentally concerned groups. The Bakersfield Californian’s report appeared to characterize the plaintiffs (CBD and the Center for Food Safety) as from New York and Arizona, meddling in the affairs of Californians. But the suit was filed and prepared by organizations deeply involved in California-based ecosystem, water and human health concerns. Tejon Ranch’s board, too, has broad horizons. It is studded with individuals engaged in national development, New York-based hedge funds, a Florida-based national real estate fund, as well as California developers.

Zoeller is quoted as minimizing the impact of the judge’s ruling. He is telling news media it will not stop developers from moving forward with the 8,000-acre project. The ruling comes at a time when the TRC stock —which, at $19, had been lazy for a NYSE company —is now on a run-up to as high as $26 in just a few months, with substantial institutional buying. Perhaps this is in anticipation of the progress being made toward a vote by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Grapevine’s giant sister-development, Centennial, with 19,333 projected homes, also adjacent to the Interstate 5 corridor.

The plaintiffs had another spin. They said the ruling by Judge Twisselman, found that Kern County’s environmental review was inadequate, and failed to disclose the impacts on air quality and public health in the event that Kern county’s traffic projections were incorrect.

“This ruling makes clear that the county didn’t fully inform the public about the probable environmental impacts of adding tens of thousands of cars to California’s traffic-clogged freeways,” said J.P. Rose, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Californians deserve real solutions to the housing shortage — not far-flung mega-developments many miles from existing cities and job centers,” Rose said.


This is part of the July 27, 2018 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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