California Condors Given Execution Reprieve At Newhall Ranch

Location of the Newhall Ranch development | Map via the California Department of Fish and Game

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed some spine yesterday by denying Newhall Ranch developer Lennar Corp. a special exemption to kill California condors in service of its 60,000 person development in the Santa Clara River Valley. The L.A. Times reports, however, that the developer will be allowed to capture and relocate one condor in the next 25 years. There are only 196 condors flying free in the wild (108 are in California) and the Newhall Ranch project has been documented as a feeding ground in the past.

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Though not allowed to kill the condors, Newhall is on the verge of receiving a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to bulldoze and fill in the rare alkali wetlands of the Potrero Canyon--an important condor breeding site. The E.P.A. has questioned the environmental sensibility of that decision and may step in should the Corps permit the fill.

Mind you all these terrible environmental sacrifices are being considered to build thousands of homes in an area that is among the leading foreclosure capitals of the world. There were 1,000 foreclosures in Santa Clarita last year. That didn't stop the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission from recently approving construction of Newhall's 4,200-unit second phase of construction. Local planning groups are livid at the fact these new homes will be linked up to the already overworked Valencia Water Treatment Plant--which could cost taxpayers upwards of $250 million in upgrades to handle the increased flow.

All in all, everything about this project reeks. From its proposed destruction of wetlands, to its shady financials, to its threat to endangered species, to its previous bilking of CalPERS to the tune of nearly a billion dollars, to its potential to destroy regional sustainable transit planning, to the sewer flow that may wind up in the Santa Clara River without proper treatment. And yet despite the insanity, local planning boards seem to be letting this project sail through with no opposition.

Speak up now Los Angeles, or enjoy your new Orange County to the north.

The L.A. Vitamin Report is a column about quality of life issues by Matthew Fleisher. It is brought to KCET's SoCal Focus blog in partnership with Spot.Us, which receives support from the California Endowment.


For the Record: An earlier version of this post stated that there were only 150 condors in existence and that the project breeding site was a primary breeding ground.

About the Author

I'm a veteran LA-based journalist and editor who has been a staff writer with the LA Weekly and senior editor of the LA City Beat. I'm currently a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Magazine, editor for Fishbowl LA, and ...

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Dear Mr. Fleischer,
What is your source of information that canyon land south-east of Hwy 126 is "breeding habitat", rather than just foraging habitat, for the California condor?

Also, what do you make of the 1.5 mile radius "activity exclusion zone" at the construction site as listed in the CA DFG's "Notice of Determination" (should a condor roost during construction) when other economic activities that are known to the Condor Recovery Program are permitted with .25 miles and are allowed to continue?