Grapevine project image

An artist's rendering of what Tejon Ranch Co.'s master-planned development known as Grapevine might look like.

A judge has ordered Kern County to fix a traffic-related inconsistency he identified in its environmental review of Tejon Ranch Co.'s proposed 8,000-acre, master-planned residential and commercial development at the foot of the Grapevine.

Kern Superior Court Judge Kenneth Twisselman II ruled Friday that the review relied, in part, on faulty estimates for how many people would have to commute to the development from outside the area. As a result, the county may need to consider how to lessen the environmental and traffic impacts of a larger than expected population driving to the development.

Twisselman's decision does not necessarily delay the project known simply as Grapevine, for which Lebec-based developer Tejon Ranch has released no official timetable. But it forces the county and the company to rethink, by mid-February, how the plan might be changed to accommodate more commuters.

"We didn’t do enough analysis," said Lorelei Oviatt, director of Kern's Planning and Natural Resources Department. She said a possible solution may lie in distinguishing how many people will commute to Grapevine early on, as opposed to later in its phased development over a period of years.

She added the county will look to Tejon Ranch to find a remedy to the discrepancy Twisselman noted.

Tejon Ranch spokesman Barry Zoeller noted the judge sided with the county on six of seven issues raised in a lawsuit brought in January 2017 by the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety, an environmental advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

Environmental reviews "are lengthy, complex documents, and there’s always a possibility that there could be a minor issue that needs to be addressed," Zoeller said. "But we think that with the judge’s directions the county will have no problem with addressing this issue and that we’ll be able to move forward."

In a news release, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, J.P. Rose, called Twisselman's ruling "a victory over a massive leapfrog development."

"This ruling makes clear that the county didn't fully inform the public about the probably environmental impacts of adding tens of thousands of cars to California's traffic-clogged freeways," he wrote. "Californians deserve real solutions to the housing shortage — not far-flung mega-developments many miles from existing cities and job centers."

The two sides are scheduled to return to court at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 15 to discuss ways to fix the environmental review's discussion of traffic issues.

If fully built out, Grapevine would contain 12,000 new homes and 5.1 million square feet of commercial space.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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