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After A Decades-Long Battle, L.A. County's Largest Housing Development Just Got the Go Ahead

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Gear up for more traffic on the 5 Freeway. Environmentalists and developers signed an agreement on Monday to green light the Newhall Ranch project, a massive residential development that would house nearly 60,000 people in the Santa Clarita Valley, the L.A. Times reported Monday. (By comparison, the entire population of the city of Palm Springs is roughly 47,000 people.)

The controversial housing project, which has been called the largest in development in Los Angeles County, has been stalled for more than two decades by groups claiming it would negatively impact the air quality, deplete the local water supply, ravage Native American burial sites, and threaten endangered species and their natural habitats.

As a compromise, developer FivePoint Holdings—which has also engineered sprawling residential communities in San Francisco and Irvine—agreed to invest $16 million in the founding of an independent conservancy, according to the Times. That conservancy will be spearheaded by members of the Center for Biological Diversity, the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, the California Native Plant Society, and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash indians, all groups that previously opposed the project and agreed to drop their lawsuit against the developer.

Under the terms of the agreement, the developer will also be responsible for contributing $8 million toward the protection of the area’s native spineflowers, an extremely rare endangered plant species that up until the 1990s was believed to be extinct. A separate deal FivePoint Holdings made with Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at preserving Chumash history and culture, sets aside funds for the creation of of an on-site cultural center on ancestral lands.

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“We are glad to have the important benefits in place for the climate and for the community, the Center of Biological Diversity’s staff attorney, Aruna Prabhala, told The Santa Clarita Valley Signal. She called the developer’s efforts to protect the spineflower “huge and more than we’ve seen from any other development.”

But not everyone is pleased with the terms of the agreement. Two local environmental organizations, for example, are still planning to proceed with a lawsuit they filed against FivePoint Holdings and L.A. County last month. The complaint alleges that the County approved the development in July without addressing concerns that it would potentially harm plants, wildlife, Native American burial sites, and the nearby Santa Clara River, which dumps into the ocean via the Santa Barbara Channel.

Lynne Plambeck, a spokesperson for Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, one of the groups who filed the lawsuit, called the new agreement “Faustian” in an interview with the L.A. Times. “We’ve gotten something material and we’ve sold our souls,” she said. FivePoint Holdings did not immediately return LAist’s request for comment.

Some real estate agents have suggested the Newhall Ranch Project, which is set to build 21,500 units, including 10 percent set aside for low-income families, during the next 20 years, will help ease Southern California’s housing crisis. But UCLA Ziman School for Real Estate director Stuart Gabriel isn’t overly optimistic. In a July interview with KPCC, he called the development “helpful, but not curative.”