Navigating Land Use Approval
Located in the Tehachapi Mountains adjacent to Los Angeles County, Tejon Mountain Village was proposed as an environmentally sensitive resort community that would integrate conservation, limited development and continued ranching and farming on the 240,000-acre Tejon Ranch. The project moved forward based on the historic Tejon Ranch Conservation and Land Use Agreement, a pact among the Tejon Ranch Company, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the Planning and Conservation League, the Endangered Habitats League and Audubon California. Hailed at the state and national levels as a model for consensual conservation and development planning on private lands, the Agreement required the preservation of 90 percent of the 240,000-acre Tejon Ranch and restricted development to three projects on the remaining Ranch areas, including the Mountain Village project.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) was a participant in the early environmental group negotiations for the project but walked away instead of supporting a 90 percent preservation solution for the 240,000-acre Ranch. Kern County approved both the project environmental impact report and the 21,000-acre project in 2009, and CBD filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the project approvals and environmental impact study, focusing on the adequacy of the analysis and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions as well as other climate change impacts relating to water supply (including reliance on a privately-controlled underground water bank during the extended droughts predicted to occur with climate change), enhanced wildfire and flood risks predicted to occur due to climate change and biological resources (including the endangered California condor and more than a dozen other species as well as habitat changes expected to occur as a result of climate change).
Holland & Knight's West Coast Land Use and Environmental Practice Group served as lead environmental and land use counsel during the environmental advocacy group negotiations and settlement agreement and continues to serve as lead counsel during the environmental, permitting and litigation phases of the project. The project was unanimously approved by the Kern County Board of Supervisors and was subsequently defended in the state court challenge. In a landmark decision, the trial court held that the project's environmental studies and mitigation requirements met or exceeded all applicable legal requirements, including California's landmark greenhouse gas reduction legislation (AB 32). The state court lawsuit is on appeal.
The West Coast Land Use and Environmental Practice Group is also lead counsel on environmental permitting for the project, including the pending Habitat Conservation Plan and other federal and state permits involving water, wetlands and habitat.
In addition to serving as lead counsel during the environmental, permitting, settlement and litigation phases of this resort project, our team also serves as lead land use and environmental counsel on the companion Centennial project, a 22,000-home "new town" project on Tejon Ranch that has been proposed in Los Angeles County. The Centennial project application remains pending in Los Angeles County.