In a landmark decision, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve the highly contentious Centennial project, setting the stage for the construction of a massive planned community in a region starved for housing.
The 4-1 vote allows for the construction of nearly 20,000 housing units and 10 million square feet of commercial space in Tejon Ranch, an undeveloped swath of land 60 miles north of Los Angeles County.
Centennial has been the subject of a protracted struggle between environmentalists and Tejon Ranch, the developer, since its inception nearly two decades ago. At Tuesday’s hearing, more than 100 speakers gave emotional testimonials about the project — both in favor and against.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was the only board member to vote against the project. She said she was concerned about wildfires, affordable housing and urban sprawl.
“I think there are an enormous amount of things wrong with this project,” Kuehl said during the five-hour long hearing. “I don’t understand and believe the affordable housing promises. I can’t support it.”
In contrast, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the district where Centennial will be located, called the project “balanced” and “a forward-looking way of governance.”
Much like the previous Regional Planning Commission hearings, affordable housing took center stage during Tuesday’s discussion.
After some deliberation, the board passed a motion requiring the developer to hike the affordable housing component from 15 percent to 18 percent. Originally, the developer had proposed building only 10 percent affordable.
Greg Madeiros, vice president of community development at Tejon Ranch, said any increase in the affordable housing component would add an average of $25,000 to the price of market-rate housing. The firm has also yet to determine how they are going to determine who qualifies for affordable housing.
Many of the testimonials against the project cited concerns about the project location. It currently sits on a “high” and “very high” fire-hazard severity zones, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“Centennial will pave over thousands of acres of irreplaceable wildlands, put residents at extreme wildfire risk, and clog our already congested freeways,” said J.P. Rose, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. ”Our county needs housing near existing job centers, not isolated developments in remote wildlands.”
Others, such as the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, welcomed the news.
“VICA applauds the board for choosing to build more housing and approving this forward-thinking project that will provide over 19,000 new homes and generate 23,000 jobs for LA County,” VICA president Stuart Waldman said in an emailed statement.
The Regional Planning Commission voted in late August to advance the project.
The Board of Supervisors’ decision to approve the project comes just days after the Kern County Board of Supervisors rescinded its approvals for another Tejon Ranch project — Grapevine. Late last week, a judge rejected the project’s environmental impact report on the basis that it failed to consider fully how traffic will impact the area.