The San Fernando Valley Spineflower Is Back
October 06, 2011, 04:33 PM
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People wonder why California housing is subject to booms and busts. How come supply couldn't keep up with spikes in demand when the Fed cut interest rates in 2002?

HillsFrom the Los Angeles Daily News:

After 15 years of litigation and protests over the 21,000-home development, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors gave its blessing Tuesday for the first phase of the Newhall Ranch project to break ground.
The board's decision marks a major step forward for the Santa Clarita-area master planned community that has survived bankruptcy and legal challenges since it was first proposed in the mid-1990s. ...
"This is the 15-year culmination of getting state and federal approvals," said Marlee Lauffer, vice president of marketing and communications for Newhall Land. "This is the approval of our first neighborhood." 
Located between the Santa Clara River and State Route 126 [west of 6 Flags Magic Mountain], Landmark Village will consist of 1,174 condominiums and 270 single-family homes, all connected by plazas, retail centers and parks. Groundbreaking is expected in two to three years, Lauffer said. The development will be built out over 30 years.
A mere 47-48 years total. They may get Phase I built out before I hit 100. Or, then again, maybe not.
Landmark Village is part of the larger Newhall Ranch project, which is planned to stretch over 12,000 acres near the 5 Interstate and the 126 Freeway.
While boosters describe Landmark Village as a quaint small-town neighborhood with condos, porch-front homes, and corner stores, critics call it a planning disaster.
Newhall Ranch still faces staunch opposition from environmentalists and some Native American groups, who filed a lawsuit in January arguing the state Department of Fish and Game issued permits that allow the project to build in the Santa Clara River flood plain, desecrate Native American burial sites and destroy San Fernando Valley spineflower habitat. The case is expected to be heard next year.
California SpineflowerAh, yes, the San Fernando Valley spineflower ... where would I be for material without you? I've been writing about this ugly dime-sized weed since the 1990s. I don't know how many millions of dollars in hourly billings lawyers and environmental consultants have racked up discussing the San Fernando Valley spineflower over the last 15 years.

The Save the San Fernando Valley Spineflower Movement is one of the funnier scams around. This weed was first listed in a botanist's book in the early 20th Century, then forgotten about. To the extent that anybody noticed it (and why would they? It's a tiny, abrasive-looking weed), it was lumped in with the virtually identical San Gabriel Valley spineflower, which is said to be all over the place (although how would I know?).

Then, in the 1990s, neighbors wanting to stop the Ahmanson Ranch development had biologists comb the property looking for some kind of endangered species to use in halting the project. They found the San Fernando Valley spineflower. Not that it was on any endangered species lists. In fact, nobody had either noticed it or missed it for two generations. But, the burden of proof was then on the developers to prove that the San Fernando Valley spineflower wasn't only found on the Ahmanson Ranch, that it was all over the place. They eventually gave up and turned it into a park. (A very pretty place to hike, by the way, but the one time I went hiking there I came back covered in ticks. I don't like ticks.)

But, amazingly enough, this incredibly rare and endangered San Fernando Valley spineflower keeps turning up on whatever proposed megadevelopment neighbors want to block: first the Ahmanson Ranch, now the Newhall Ranch:

This variety of spineflower was thought to be extinct, having not been seen since 1929, until it was rediscovered accidentally on the Ahmanson Ranch development site in southeastern Ventura County.   It was presumed to be extinct by CNPS and botanists until June of 1999 when botanist Rick Reifner found it at a previously unreported locale on Laskey Mesa in the Simi Hills of Ventura County, just north of Calabasas.   It has also been found at several locations on Newhall Ranch near Valencia/Castaic Junction area ...
You know, you might almost think that the San Fernando Valley spineflower is not really that endangered, that it's just that nobody ever looks for this tiny, unpleasant plant unless they want to find it to use the Endangered Species Act to stymie a development.

Obviously, the hubbub is not really about the San Fernando Valley spineflower, it's about things like traffic. This proposed development is on one of the few spots of level land (the Santa Clara River floodplain) in the rugged Transverse Ranges north of the San Fernando Valley. The single route to the jobs of Los Angeles area is I-5. People who commute on I-5 don't want more commuters on I-5. If I commuted on I-5 from Santa Clarita into LA everyday, I'd probably be signing "Save the Spineflower" petitions against Newhall Ranch, too.

That's the inevitability of combining scenic terrain with a large population: you get very long development times and a high cost of living. You can blame ideology, but my guess is that, in the long run, terrain drives ideology. If the populations of Texas and California switched homes tomorrow, in a couple of generations attitudes on environmental restrictions on development would be right back to where they are today.

Personally, I'm in favor of all sides in these debates: property rights, environmental preservation, affordable housing, fast commutes, limiting carbon emissions, etc etc. I think the wants of citizens on all sides are not unreasonable. There's no single Solution.

Yet, there's an obvious way not to exacerbate these conflicts of interests among Americans: don't let vast numbers of foreigners into the country. Pointing this out makes me some kind of extremist kook.