Environmentally Disastrous Gated Community Given First City Green Light in Browns and Mormon Canyon Core Habitat, Santa Susana Mountains
by Paul Edelman of Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy(SMMC) and contribution by Garrett Weinstein, Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority (MRCA)
(See helpful map links at the end of article)
Hidden Creeks Estates is a Texas-based company's proposed luxury housing development that, if built, would eliminate more than 235 acres of core habitat from the Los Angeles River watershed in unincorporated Chatsworth. The proposed gated community requires extending four-lane Mason Avenue three-quarters of a mile through a mountainside (at a depth an 18 story building) into the wildest part of the Santa Susana Mountains above Porter Ranch. (See Map 4) The project would effectively extend urban development deep into Browns Canyon that anchors the 12,000 contiguous acres of public open space associated with Michael D. Antonovich Regional Park at Joughin Ranch. The project proposes to sandwich 188 homes and a private equestrian center on a 170-acre landslide complex between the two premiere perennial streams on south-facing slope of the mountain range. Stabilizing the site requires over 7 million cubic yards of grading (37,235 cy per house) and 3,000- foot-long by 350-foot-tall (35 story building height) fill slopes. The Texas-based company controls 285 acres but also needs the Southern California Gas Company to give the City of Los Angeles a 50-acre easement to blast this road into the next watershed.
The down slope limits or foundation of this mass grading effort is proposed on top of over nine acres of Porter Ranch Development Company-owned habitat mitigation land in Mormon Canyon. (See Map 4) That landowner has never granted permission for such an incursion and hopefully with adequate citizen pressure, the city will not make the mistake of giving away this public open space for Hidden Creeks’ detrimental private purposes. The Final EIR and staff report make zero mention of this egregious breach of this decades-ago-required habitat mitigation. This riparian corridor must first be offered to the City of Los Angeles when Porter Ranch Development Company soon seeks to record one of the final tract maps of its 1,500-plus-acre 1980's approved project. It is imperative that public outcry prevent the City from granting permission to the Hidden Creeks project to conduct mass grading and drainage work on this future Department of Recreation and Parks open space that harbors an existing phenomenal trail and shaded perennial stream. Such an act would violate the public trust and interest at a magnitude never seen before.
Unfortunately, the project is plowing through the City approval process cloaked with a turnkey, active public park with ball fields. Besides the usual "we must sacrifice this expendable piece of the mountains for short term job growth pitches," the applicant's outreach espouses fire protection for existing Porter Ranch residents by locating the Hidden Creeks community as a sacrificial island of new development that would burn first. The local equestrian community, other than the current operator who will get his equestrian facility rebuilt, is near unanimously against the project. Nineteen local biology professors have signed a letter saying the project would result in unavoidable significant adverse ecological impacts to the Santa Susana Mountains ecosystem. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Save Porter Ranch, SFV Audubon Society, Santa Susana Mountain Park Association, Food and Water Watch and other conservation groups are opposed to this development.
In November 2013 the Citywide Los Angeles Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend certifying the Final EIR and approving the project to the City Council.
The Final EIR reenters the pre-California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) dark ages by concluding that 7 million cubic yards grading, extending a four-lane road three-quarters of a mile into core habitat, and eliminating over 400 native trees is a mitigatible biological impact. The Conservancy, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the Chatsworth Neighborhood Council, and at least 19 PhD biologists are on record in strong disagreement with this conclusion.
The Final EIR contends that the whole 170-acre landslide has to be excavated 100-feet-deep and put back in place in order to develop the site. The Texas developer full well knew that when they bought the land, which now happens to be zoned for just 33 homes.
The environmental documentation for the Hidden Creeks Estates Project (ENV-2005-6657-EIR) is unforgivably flawed. How can grading more than 230 acres of the Santa Susana Mountains and Upper Los Angeles River watershed not be considered a significant impact? The Final EIR reenters the pre-California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) dark ages by concluding that 7 million cubic yards grading, extending a four-lane road three-quarters of a mile into core habitat, and eliminating over 400 native trees is a mitigatible biological impact.
THE NEXT STEP:
In June 2015 there was a hearing before the City's Deputy Advisory Agency (DAA) to consider approval of the Vesting tract map (with grading dependent on Porter Ranch biological mitigation land) and the FEIR. The comment period was until July 10, 2015. It is safe to say that at some point the Conservancy and individuals most likely will be appealing a DAA tract map approval back to a hearing of the Citywide Planning Commission. However, seriously flaws in the vesting tract map’s trail and street system integration were raised at the June public hearing. In addition serious deficiencies were raised about the EIR’s analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The possibility remains that the applicant will need to submit a new tract map that could trigger the need for a revised EIR and both would require public comment opportunities.
Shy of a new tract map or re-circulated EIR, unless the Planning Commission reverses its unanimous support for the project, the next public hearing would be before the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee of the City Council for everything, EIR included. Because the project is an actual annexation from the County into the City, a final City Council vote is necessary for approval.
There really could not be an ecologically worse or Planning 101 worse project than Hidden Creek Estates. Why the Citywide Planning Commission and Councilmember Mitch Englander think a gated 188-home community in the hydrological and ecological sweet spot of the southern Santa Susana Mountains is worth ruining the experience of 12,000 acres (costing millions of public dollars) making up the Antonovich Regional Park open space is beyond our comprehension.
VIEW MAPS OF HIDDEN CREEK AREA & PLANS
Map #1 Good map to show the proposed HC project and the public lands surrounding it.
Map #4 This map shows how close the grading will come to the Mormon Creek stream