Leon Worden

Worried about Newhall Ranch? Speak up!

By Leon Worden

Wednesday, June 21, 1995

Its adobe walls are lost to the sands of time, but the historic site of the old Asistencia de San Francisco Javier at Castaic Junction will be preserved when a new town crops up west of Interstate 5.

The Asistencia, a major outpost of the Mission San Fernando Rey de España, was built in 1804 to discourage homesteading on the 48,000-acre Rancho San Francisco.

It was a losing battle. Trains deposited people in Newhall and Saugus; by car, they came home to Valencia.

The next 25 years will see 70,000 more people establish 25,000 new homesteads on a particular 12,000-acre chunk of the Rancho San Francisco. They'll call it Newhall Ranch.

The single largest planned development in the Santa Clarita Valley's immediate future, Newhall Ranch will impact our valley in myriad ways.

Is the developer planning enough roads, schools and places of worship? Where will the water come from? Will the Santa Clara River corridor and other biota be adequately protected? How will waste disposal needs be met?

How many jobs will the new town create? Will shopping and employment centers lie closely enough to homes so that these new residents won't drive across our valley all the time and jam city streets? Will mass transit and walking and biking trails take enough people out of their cars, so they don't pollute the air?

Will current Santa Claritans get new recreational opportunities? Or hiking and equestrian access to the High Country? Will historic and prehistoric sites be sufficiently preserved?

The Newhall Ranch Company, a subsidiary of The Newhall Land and Farming Company, has initiated an extensive education process — education of the community and, in turn, of itself — to resolve these and other issues.

James M. Harter

"With a project of this magnitude," company vice president Jim Harter says, "the community must be made aware of exactly what we're proposing, and we want to know and address everyone's concerns."

To that end, the Newhall Ranch Company has thus far conducted 18 public meetings, two hikes and a bus tour of the project area. Over 700 local residents responded to the 14,000 brochures that were mailed last year to nearby neighborhoods. All were invited to join community task forces to review transportation, land use, economic development, park planning, open space, recreation, river issues and more.

The developer will synthesize the task force recommendations and incorporate them into an environmental impact report and Specific Plan, which will serve as a town blueprint. The documents should be readied this fall or winter.

Rooted in the philosophy of conserving natural resources while enhancing land value, Newhall Ranch is envisioned as a new town of five distinct, pod-like villages on either side of the river. They will sport village centers and single-family homes, apartments, condos, ranchettes, schools, parks, churches, shopping centers, restaurants, medical and public facilities. Roads, river trails, foot- and bike paths will link villages to employment centers, freeways, hotels, an 18-hole golf course, a 15-acre man-made lake and a visitors center where travelers can study area history.

Master-planned as was Valencia, that's where the similarity ends. Newhall Ranch boasts some of the Santa Clarita Valley's most spectacular real estate: from Potrero Canyon, where Newhall Ranchers first struck oil in the 1930s, to the oak woodlands and breathtaking sheer cliffs of the Santa Susanas, like those you encounter in Stevenson Ranch. From one point in the Newhall Ranch High Country — 3,900 acres to be set aside as an ecological preserve, with trail access — you can see from Catalina to downtown Los Angeles.

At build-out, the neighboring Valencia Commerce Center and Valencia Industrial Center will provide 45,000 jobs. Newhall Ranch itself will create another 19,000 permanent jobs. Company officials say Valencia and Newhall Ranch will one day provide 67 percent of all Santa Clarita Valley jobs, though residents of the two towns will need only 38 percent of all jobs.

Recycled water from a future wastewater treatment plant will reduce the new town's water needs by 45 percent.

Highway 126, currently two lanes from Interstate 5 to Ventura County, will be widened to four and eventually six lanes, providing access to the Ranch at Commerce Center Drive, Wolcott Way (where the new light is) and Chiquito Canyon Road. Rights-of-way are being reserved to connect Santa Clarita with Ventura by Metrolink.

Everyone who cares about this valley should make Newhall Ranch their business. Even Newhall Land's harshest critics are encouraged to participate — and, to their credit, have been participating — in the public input process.

Newhall Ranch meetings will resume in September, after a summer break. To join a task force or simply add your name to the company mailing list, call Gloria Glenn or Jim Harter at 222-2598. (Yes, 222 is local.) They'll only know your concerns if you tell them.

Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears Wednesdays.

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