Greenhouse Gas Goes kaBOOM on Housing

  — Published by BiA San Diego County January 29, 2016, by Borre Winckel, President & CEO. Republished by Lilac Hills Ranch February 2, 2016.


Actor Jeff Bridges has a spectacular 9,535 square-feet compound for sale in Montecito for $29.5 Million. It’s a one-of-a-kind place, located on 19.5 acres with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and of the nearby mountains. In a creative reference to the cult-classic The Big Lebowski, the property shows up in the Los Angeles Times under the moniker, “The Big Listing.”

This uber high-end residence showed up on the same LA Times website page, which yielded my search result for a certain 12,000-acre ranch property in the foothills north of Los Angeles. I was looking for Newhall Land & Farming Co.’s Santa Clarita Valley project proposal. More to the point, I wanted to read up on Newhall’s so-manieth hurdle after California’s High Court deemed its environmental impact report deficient at 5,828 pages long. Over 20,000 Los Angelino households looking for a new place to live and/or work, shop and play will have to wait while Newhall answers the Court. Without a doubt, Newhall’s revised plans will end up costing more so “poof” goes the housing dream for many.

Newhall had already gained project approval over twelve years ago for its city-scale project which would take decades to build out. When it had its day with the High Court, Newhall had been processing its vision for 20 years. Post-approval, but before its Court (dis)appointment, Newhall spent a dozen years addressing every imaginable environmental impact that project opponents had alleged remained without adequate mitigation measures. The High Court’s main beef was that Newhall’s 5,828-page environmental report failed to buttress its conclusion that it would not significantly cause climate change. That it would beneficially impact a lot of other environmentally sensitive areas and issues did not seem to sway the Court.

The Court took specific issue with Newhall’s assessment that the project’s greenhouse gas emission levels would not be detrimental and, moreover, would be balanced out by state-of-the-art building efficiencies and the latest conservation standards. Of course, all of these efficiencies and conservation standards are mandates under separate rules and regulations covered by the rest of Newhall’s 5,828-page environmental write-up.

Cities all over the State are scratching their heads how they should comply with a ruling that is long on science but short on practical application. By default and as a result of the gaseous Newhall decision many critically needed planned housing units will go poof with a “kaBOOM!” impact on housing affordability to follow.

Bear in mind that LA County’s existing 3.5 million housing units were NOT built anywhere close to the exacting environmental standards required for the Newhall’s property. Yet no one suggests that any of these 3.5 million unit dwellers will be required to offset their carbon footprint. It defies logic that Newhall could do anything more to dent the climate attack by its backyard, Los Angeles.

Newhall’s experience illustrates that it is near impossible to plan any project of any scale in the State of California, in particular, projects that offer a range of housing options and at all price points. The High Court’s latest Climate Change decision further erodes the industry’s ability to provide critically needed entry-level housing inventories. Before this ruling, development proposals submitted anywhere in California already offered the cleanest, most environmentally sensitively planned communities in the Nation. It’s why new housing is so damn expensive. Yet, Court rulings trump shelter needs and the costly consequences on people’s real lives are rarely considered.

This is precisely why Jeff Bridges can get away with asking nearly $30 Million for his one home. It’s a one-of-a-kind property and it will always be one-of-a-kind.

For the ruling, click here: Center for Biological Diversity v. Newhall Land and Farming Co.

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