LOS ANGELES— Conservation groups sued the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today for approving the controversial 12,000-acre Centennial development, one of the largest ever proposed in county history.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in L.A. County Superior Court, notes that Centennial would convert some of California’s most important remaining native grasslands and spectacular wildflower fields into a sprawling development of 19,000 homes about 65 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.
The project would develop an area larger than Griffith Park and put about 57,000 residents in a high fire hazard area, as designated by CalFire. Between 1964 and 2015, 31 wildfires larger than 100 acres occurred within five miles of the site, including four within the proposed project’s boundaries. More people in the area will likely increase the number of dangerous fires, since research shows that humans cause 8 in 10 wildfires.
“Centennial was conceived 20 years ago when we didn’t fully understand the dangers of building cities in high fire zones,” said J.P Rose, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But today’s L.A. County supervisors have no excuse for ignoring those risks. Even after last season’s tragic fires, supervisors Barger, Hahn, Solis and Ridley-Thomas set the stage for another tragedy by approving this plan to move 50,000 people into a known wildfire area.”
The supervisors’ approval of Centennial violated the California Environmental Quality Act, which prohibits them from approving projects with significant environmental effects unless the benefits of the project outweigh its environmental and public health costs.
Supervisors approved Centennial shortly after former CalFire chief Ken Pimlott urged local officials to consider prohibiting development in fire hazard areas so that homeowners, firefighters and communities “don’t have to keep going through what we’re going through.”
Centennial would also require construction of an $830 million, taxpayer-subsidized six-lane freeway. The new freeway and development would block the movement of mountain lions, which are already struggling to maintain genetic diversity because of existing highways and development.
Centennial and Tejon Ranch Company have recently been mired in controversy. The company banned scientists who had questioned Centennial from accessing the ranch, even though the company received $15.8 million from California taxpayers to preserve 62,000 acres of these lands. And the conservancy charged with managing conservation lands for the development recently announced that it will lose approximately half its staff because of funding uncertainty.
“The county’s decision to support this high-end sprawl development belies common sense and shows a tone-deaf disregard for the real people who would be living in harm’s way,” CNPS Executive Director Dan Gluesenkamp said. “At a time when California leads the world in forward-thinking solutions, Centennial is a shocking reversion to the biggest mistakes of our past, and out of step with where we need to be. The combination of wildfire risk, environmental degradation and disastrous commuter options makes it clear they can’t go forward as planned.”
Centennial would add 75,000 new vehicle trips a day to the region’s already-clogged freeways, undermining California’s climate goals and generating air pollution. The county determined public transit options to be cost prohibitive, so residents can expect commutes of more than an hour each way to reach places like downtown Los Angeles.
“The supervisors’ approval of Centennial shows they’re not serious about combating the climate crisis,” said Rose. “Their legacy will be soul-crushing traffic jams, cancer-causing air pollution and loss of human life from wildfires.”
In approving Centennial supervisors disregarded the opposition of thousands of county residents, dozens of environmental and community organizations, the California Air Resources Board, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, experts in fire safety and public health and the L.A. Times editorial board.