Los Angeles is internationally known for its sprawling freeways and appalling traffic. Unfortunately, our crowded highways are about to get even worse.
On July 11, Los Angeles County’s planning commission may recommend the construction of an isolated new city called Centennial that will put 60,000 residents on top of pristine wildlands at the county’s northern boundary.
Located 65 miles from downtown LA, Centennial would add at least 75,000 long-distance commuters a day to our already-clogged freeways.
Why is this happening? Wall Street-backed mega-developer Tejon Ranchcorp and its army of attorneys and consultants have spent 15 years packaging this harmful project as a “solution” to local housing needs.
But Centennial is the wrong vision for LA.
This project will come at an immense cost to taxpayers. To accommodate thousands of new cars leaving Centennial every morning, the sleepy two-lane State Route 138 would need to be converted into a six-lane freeway.
Caltrans and the LA County MTA have not identified the $830 million needed to fund this freeway. Although Tejon claims this freeway would be built with or without Centennial, Caltrans has stated it only plans to move forward if “demand requires.”
And such “demand” will only exist if the county approves Centennial. Californians will be left footing the bill for the freeway to serve Tejon’s city, and Tejon’s Wall Street investors will walk away with millions. That’s unacceptable when California faces a $59 billion shortfall for deferred maintenance on roads, which Senate Bill 1’s tax increases are supposed to address.
Californians supported SB 1 to improve roads in our neighborhoods, not provide a windfall to Wall Street.
The costs of urban sprawl like Centennial are well-documented. A national study found that sprawl costs more than one trillion dollars annually.
Building sprawl far from the urban core requires funding for new schools, police stations, libraries, and roads. That means that county funds that could be spent to benefit LA’s existing communities will instead go to this entirely new city.
Tejon’s attorneys and PR reps claim Centennial will provide needed affordable housing. But county documents released last week revealed that only 870 of the proposed 19,333 units would be available for low-income households.
Centennial is not the solution to our current housing shortage. The truth is that Centennial will not provide any housing where it is actually needed—close to jobs and in or near existing cities. Instead, it will dramatically increase the long commutes, traffic and smog that undermine our quality of life.
Centennial also would irreparably harm California’s natural resources. With a footprint larger than the City of Santa Monica, Centennial would pave over some of California’s last remaining native grasslands and wildflower fields. Ninety-nine percent of our state’s native grasslands have already been destroyed.
Rare wildlife like the San Joaquin kit fox and California condor would also lose thousands of acres of habitat. Scientists warn that habitat destruction is already pushing our planet into the “Sixth Extinction”—the most devastating mass extinction event since an asteroid exterminated the dinosaurs. We have a responsibility to protect California’s rare wildlife from shortsighted development that leads to further extinction.
Instead of acknowledging these unique natural wonders, Tejon executives have systematically barred scientists from entering Tejon Ranch if they make comments critical of Centennial, according to a July 6 report from The Mountain Enterprise. Tejon’s suppression of scientific information undermines what is supposed to be public and transparent decision-making process.
County leaders will be making a choice on July 11. Will they stand firm in protecting our communities and shrinking wildlands? Or will they bend over backward to accommodate Tejon’s desire to make money at the expense of county residents and wildlife?
J.P. Rose is a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Urban Wildlands program.