Kern County supervisors could create a new city on Tuesday.
Supervisors are being asked to approve the Grapevine project by Tejon Ranch Company, which would build at least 12,000 homes and 5.1 million square feet of commercial and residential development straddling Interstate 5 at the base of the Grapevine.
When it is finished, 20 years from now, Grapevine would have more homes than Delano has now, making it potentially the biggest Kern County community after Bakersfield.
Derek C. Abbott, Tejon’s vice president of community development, said Grapevine is really a natural progression of the development.
It won’t be a community in search of jobs and business. There are already 3,500 to 4,000 jobs in the nearby Tejon Ranch Commerce Center and the Outlets at Tejon, he said.
Grapevine will, he said, “turn this area into a fully fledged community.”
It will also join in with the other Tejon development in southern Kern County, Tejon Mountain Village. Maps are beginning to be developed for that residential and commercial project and it could - like Grapevine - begin being constructed by late 2018, said Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt.
Abbott said Tejon won’t rush to build immediately.
The Grapevine project, he said, will be built when the market is there for the homes and community centers it will offer.
“What’s going to happen is we’re going to develop it organically over time,” Abbott said. Right now, he said, Tejon is taking “the appropriate steps to be ready when the market is ready.”
Grapevine is a big piece of the development puzzle that will eventually turn major chunks of the massive Tejon Ranch property - which stretches from Tehachapi to Lebec - into homes, shops and businesses.
Abbott told the Kern County Planning Commission in late October that the 2008 conservation agreement Tejon hashed out with environmental groups is the basis for the Grapevine project.
The agreement preserved the majority of Tejon Ranch in its current state while allowing development in specific sections along the I-5 corridor.
Grapevine is being built not as a single urban space but as six “villages” that would include walkable and bike-able neighborhoods, small community farms, open space corridors and 70 miles of walking and biking trails.
There would be five K-8th grade schools, a high school and around 100 acres of parks.
Open space and trails would link residents into open space in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains.
Oviatt said the project, when it is built out, would bring $24 million in taxes to the County of Kern plus another $1 million in surplus to the Kern County general fund.
Over the 20-year construction phase, she said, it would provide 56,000 direct and indirect construction jobs.
And, Oviatt said, Tejon has agreed to a number of unique development conditions that would benefit the county.
Tejon would, for example, contribute $225,000 annually - for the next four years at least - to fund low-cost spay and neuter surgeries for county residents' pets.
The county has been contributing that funding for the last several years and it has helped, along with efforts from nonprofit groups, reduce the number of animals coming into county shelters and, as a result, the number of unwanted animals the county and City of Bakersfield have had to kill.
Oviatt said her department’s two biggest concerns were the interaction of the project to I-5 and water.
They worked to make sure those concerns were handled.
Water, in particular, is a serious concern when a county whose groundwater table is in overdraft considers building a brand new city near its southern border.
Oviatt said Tejon will not draw on that depleted groundwater resource because it has made a deal with the Nickel ranching family to take 6,693 acre feet of the 10,000 acre feet Nickel Agreement water.
Under the much-discussed agreement, the Kern County Water Agency guaranteed the Nickels the 10,000 acre feet in exchange for the family’s rights for wet-year water from the Kern River, Oviatt said. The water for the Grapevine project is, she said, set for at least 76 years.
In addition, Oviatt said, the county put in requirements that all the Nickel water must be dedicated to the Grapevine project and can’t be resold.
And, she said, Tejon is designing the project to conserve water.
There will be collection basins under streets that will grab rainwater and capture it for the area’s fire station.
Each house will have a water budget and will be built and landscaped to hit that budget, Oviatt said.
“We take water very seriously,” Abbott said. “We’ve taken steps, in our communities, to be at the leading edge of water thinking in Kern County.”
He talked about the efforts to use recycled water for landscaping at Tejon Ranch Commerce Center and xeriscaping for The Outlets of Tejon.
Only two people spoke out against the project at the Planning Commission meeting on Oct. 27.
The chief was Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, who spoke out against the project and said the location of the development is a critical route for species like the blunt nosed leopard lizard to move around the county.
“Plunking down a new city in the middle of the last, best connectivity between the eastern and western part of these species’ ranges is just another large cut in these species' death by a thousand cuts,” Anderson said.
She also criticized the “piecemeal” environmental review done by Kern County.
The other speaker, representing a local labor union, spoke about general concerns with air quality, traffic and other environmental factors.
Supervisors will take up consideration of the massive project at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Kern County Board of Supervisors chambers on the first floor of 1115 Truxtun Ave.