In monumental vote, commissioners advance Centennial mega-project

After 2 decades, the 12,000-acre project will advance to Board of Supervisors for final decision

Gregory Medeiros, Gregory S. Bielli and the project
Gregory Medeiros, Gregory S. Bielli and the project

The Regional Planning Commission voted 4-1 on Wednesday to advance the contentious Centennial project, drawing the potential for a new city to rise 60 miles north of Los Angeles a big step closer.

The development, the subject of a protracted battle between developers and environmentalists for some two decades, would create nearly 20,000 new homes and 10 million square feet of commercial space. It now moves forward to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

The 12,000-acre project has become a symbol of the tension between forces searching for answers to L.A.’s affordable housing crisis and those concerned about development in far-off areas where such projects would create new urban sprawl.

To win the planning commission’s approval, Tejon Ranch Co., the developer, agreed to increase the affordable housing component from 10 percent to 15 percent. Tejon also offered to assume all the costs of building the infrastructure — including sheriff’s stations and libraries — on the undeveloped swath of land, meaning there would be no cost to taxpayers.

But Tejon refused a commissioner’s recommendation to include 300 units of homeless housing — passing that to the Board of Supervisors to decide.

The concessions did little to appease the project’s opponents, who dominated the speakers at the six-hour hearing.

The Commission “just greenlighted the most environmentally destructive sprawl project in recent memory,” said J.P. Rose, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The county should focus development in existing cities instead of approving sprawl dozens of miles away from jobs.”

David Louie, the Commission’s chairman, said he appreciated the commitment to not pass costs on to taxpayers. But he noted that the concession by developers meant they had likely raised an estimated $1 and $2 billion in fresh investment.

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Tejon Ranch developers also agreed to a 30 percent local hiring requirement, an improved transportation system, incentives to attract medical providers and six acres of open space for every 1,000 people on the ranch.

Despite Tuesday’s vote in favor, the commission left several issues to the Board of Supervisors to tackle, including homeless housing, medical care and open space requirements.

At the fifth public hearing on Centennial, 36 speakers lined up to discuss the project, which has been the subject of debate since 1999. Most said they opposed the development.

“It’s worse than urban sprawl — it’s leapfrog urban sprawl, where the cancer has gone into another organism,” said Tom Budlong, an L.A. County resident. “The impacts are unmitigatable.”

The meeting concluded with only one “no” vote, by Commissioner Laura Shell, who advocated for a public agency to govern the open spaces in Tejon.

In defense of his vote in favor, Commissioner Pat Modugno reflected the tension over the proposed project.

“Property owners do have a right to use a property to the best of their economic purchases,” he said.

Yet, he added, “I will probably not enjoy the traffic and not enjoy driving past new communities where I remembered open space.”