The land flows upward from the lake in waves to the horizon, covered in grass dried golden by the summer sun and a lacework of oaks.

Vistas on the working cattle ranch are serene. The air is quiet.

But this corner of massive, privately owned Tejon Ranch along Interstate 5 near Lebec is nonetheless the site of a raging public battle over commercial and residential development.

On Thursday that battle will advance to the Kern County Planning Commission as the Tejon Mountain Village plan faces its first public hearing by a government body.

Kern County Planning Department officials are recommending approval of the project. The Planning Commission will, in turn, make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which has the final say.


Tejon Ranch and its partner, builder DMB Associates, want to create an exclusive, private mountain resort community in the hills east of Lebec.

The Tejon Mountain Village vision would be filled out by two golf courses, 3,450 homes, a 160,000-square-foot public shopping center near I-5 and a maximum of 750 hotel rooms.

Houses and apartments would be grouped in small enclaves around the lake and on the level tops of surrounding ridges.

Larger lot custom homes would rise from the more remote hilltops in the northwest and northeast sections of the development area.

Buildings would be designed to fit into the existing land rather than the land being molded to fit the buildings.

But not everyone thinks as highly of the project as Tejon and DMB do.


Tejon has spent years preparing for the inevitable opposition to its plan -- addressing the area's importance to the endangered California Condor, the delicate balance of water resources in the area's upland valleys, the threat of fire, the proximity of the San Andreas Fault and the sense from the nearby Frazier Mountain communities that they have a personal stake in what happens on the ranch.

Tejon went so far as to craft a careful deal with major environmental groups, including the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, which prevents urban development on the vast majority of the sprawling Tejon Ranch in exchange for those groups' not opposing building on the remaining sections of ranch land.

"We believe this project has been thoroughly reviewed," said Lorelei Oviatt, special projects chief in the Kern County Planning Department. "They subjected their own plans to the variety of the scientific and environmental review. I think it shows they are open to the public impact and the scientific input."

But not all the project's environmental impacts can be completely eliminated.


Tejon Mountain Village will induce growth, impact the condor, create glare, worsen air quality and increase traffic, according to the environmental analysis of the project overseen by the Planning Department.

Planners have received 2,217 written comments about the project.

County Planning Director Ted James said the vast majority of those comments -- some 2,086 -- were submitted through an electronic form petition titled "Send Tejon Mountain Village back to the Drawing Board."

Jan de Leeuw -- a UCLA professor who lives in the area -- said his three most critical concerns are tied to the condor, water and traffic on I-5.

He acknowledges Tejon Mountain Village has committed to take all the project's water from the California Aqueduct.

But he is skeptical that the supply in an ever-drier California will be there when the development needs it.

He believes project drivers will clog I-5 and that the developers hope to use permits from wildlife regulators to chase condors out of the building area.

"It's clear that it's a less offensive project than (nearby proposed development) Frazier Park Estates," de Leeuw said. But "these impacts on the freeway, on the condor, on the aquifer need to be addressed seriously."

Lloyd Wiens of the Grapevine Resource Group can see the benefits of more jobs and shopping for the surrounding community.

But like de Leeuw, he worries that water supplies will fail Tejon Mountain Village and it will be forced to pump from the surrounding aquifer the mountain communities share.

Area resident Mary Griffin worries the project sits in fire-prone areas and saving the homes there in a wildland fire could cost taxpayers millions.


Laer Pearce, spokesman for Tejon Mountain Village, said it understands the concerns.

But project leaders feel they have ambitiously pursued every option to address those fears and prevent the worst-case impacts.

Tejon Ranch spokesman Barry Zoeller said Village partners feel a strong sense of stewardship of the land and have gone a long way to ensure their plan will do as little environmental damage as possible.

Committing to build a quality project and handle environmental impacts is just good business, he said.

But for neighbors it is a trust issue.

"The surrounding community doesn't think that their main purpose is to be good stewards of the environment. Their main purpose is to sell a lot of homes and get out of here," de Leeuw said. "But that's just my opinion. I could be too cynical."