March 28, 2004 - From the March, 2004 issue

Meeting The Demand for Housing? Tejon Ranch's Centennial Project Plans 23,000 New Homes

Despite the opposition faced by developers seeking to build large master planned communities beyond the urban fringe, there seems to be no shortage of projects in the works. One such project is Centennial, a 23,000 home master planned community near the LA County/Kern County border. In this interview Greg Medeiros, Centennial Founders' VP of Community Development, argues that large-scale greenfield development-in addition to infill-is needed to accomodate Southern California's rapid growth.

Greg, TPR recently carried an interview with Robert Stine about plans for Tejon Ranch, and most specifically about Centennial, the master planned community that will include 23,000 homes built over the next 25 years. Pardee Homes, Standard Pacific and Lewis Investment Company along with Tejon Ranch comprise the development team, Centennial Founders. Tell us about the development, the promise and the planning challenges.

As you know, Southern California is facing substantial growth in the next 20 years. The challenge for the area is to be pro-active and address that growth in a sensible manner. Based on studies, the best we can hope for is about 40% of the growth being accommodated by infill development. A Department of Housing and Community Development study, "Raising the Roof," indicated that the existing urban area plus one mile of outgrowth could accommodate about 65% of the expected growth. That still leaves a shortfall of about 35%, which is where we come in. We believe that master-planned new towns that incorporate smart growth principles, sustainable development, and environmentally sensitive design are one means of addressing the housing shortfall. That's really the premise behind Centennial.

Describe how this development rolls itself out - the steps being taken to realize the vision.

If you believe that growth is inevitable, the next step is to find a site that is ideal for growth and development. Centennial is just such a site. Besides its natural beauty, Centennial is located near the National Forest and many recreational opportunities which will provide our future residents with a great aesthetic setting and very high quality of life. The site, adjacent to I-5 and SR-138, is relatively flat, has been grazed for about 150 years, and possesses little biological diversity. In fact it is free of any endangered species. Equally important, existing infrastructure runs through the site including the California Aqueduct, a Southern California Edison power substation, fiber optic cabling, and a high-pressure gas line.

Where in the development process is Centennial?

We have submitted our planning entitlement request to the County of Los Angeles, which includes a specific plan for the entire site and tentative maps for the first phase of development. We anticipate that a notice of preparation will be sent out this month, which will kick off our environmental review process. We are hoping to have a first draft of a screen-check EIR in about three months.

We've spent the better part of the last two years studying the site, and preparing the reports dealing with hydrology, geology, biology, archaeology and water availability. Most of those studies are completed and ready to be incorporated as part of the first-screen check EIR. I anticipate that the County is probably going to take upwards of nine months or so to review the screen check EIR before it's ready to be released as a draft EIR. At that time we will begin our public hearing process-first with the Regional Planning Commission, then with the Board of Supervisors. I anticipate that the process could take a year to a year-and-a-half for review and approval of the project.

Building a town of 23,000 homes over 25 years is a high profile development effort. Many like master planned efforts-Newhall, Ahmanson, Playa Vista and now even Las Lomas-are viewed in hindsight as having been so high profile that they drew like a magnet NIMBY attack and public resistance. Is your development's review process likely to be more political than rational? What can be done by a developer to tilt review more towards the latter?

Obviously, a large project is going to draw a lot of fire. But we think it is a worthwhile effort because a large master-planned community allows us to address some of the more important issues to the region, such as quality of life, jobs/housing balance, sustainable development and environthis process, we looked at a number of master-planned communities/new towns that have been developed throughout the United States. We created what we considered to be the ten key principles of development for Centennial: (1) environmental sensitivity; (2) conservation of natural resources; (3) jobs/housing balance; (4) community, social and recreational amenities; (5) health and wellness; (6) life-long learning; (7) mixed-use neighborhoods; (8) advanced technology; (9) sense of place; and (10) land stewardship. The trade-off is that in order to address those ten principles of development, you have to be a fairly large project.

We've seen that the way projects are financed often results in separation of uses rather than in mixed-use. How does a developer create place, neighborhood centered schools, and mixed-use given how their developments are financed and the review processes that often unintentionally influence site utilization?

A lot of times, people believe that mixed-use has to be vertical. I've seen a lot of excellent examples of horizontal mixed-use. One is Valencia Town Center that horizontally integrates a hotel, health club, apartments, and main-street, retail and entertainment.

In our particular case, the community is actually made up of a series of villages. The basic building block of each village is the neighborhood. We were very careful in integrating our neighborhoods to achieve a mix of housing types. At the core of the village is our village center. Typically, it will be anchored with some type of retail and/or civic use. Of course, each village will have its own public spaces such as bike paths, trails, parks, etc.

Describe the place-making role you envision for schools, preschools, after-school & life-long learning, in your planned villages?

High quality schools are an essential component of Centennial. Unfortunately, a lot of schools today have a 9-to-3 function. At the end of the school day, the school does not become a community amenity. One of the things that we're looking at is expanding the role of the school-putting in multi-purpose rooms, allowing the school to become an adult education facility in the evenings, a recreation amenity on weekends and social gathering place. That way you get a better return on your school investment and the community has a facility available to it for various community-wide functions.


The other feature of life-long learning relates to the technology of the community. All of our businesses and homes are going to be wired. Centennial will include a community intranet, which will connect the community via the internet with institutions of hisgher learning and libraries throughout the United States.

Could you comment, given Pardee's involvement in Centenial, on the need for new infrastructure to bring this home building development to life? How involved is the partnership in the transportation and water bills pending at the federal and state level?

Absolutely. For example, we are involved in the Golden State Gateway Coalition, a broad-based coalition of businesses and community organizations with the purpose of bringing attention to Interstate-5 as a vital transportation corridor for goods movement and mobility for Southern California. The Coalition's objection is to ensure adequate funding at the state and federal level so that I-5 will continue to operate at an adequate level of service.

If we were looking down from 30,000 feet on Southern California, one might better see a pattern of growth migrating from Santa Clarita through the Newhall Pass to the Central Valley, nourished by plans for Las Lomas and Tejon. Is this where you think the growth in Southern California is most likely to occur over the next 25 years?

Yes, if you look at the demographics, you see a trend of development towards north Los Angeles County for both housing and job growth. We definitely see a place for infill development, but clearly infill cannot handle all of the growth that's projected.

Centennial has the advantage of being separated from Santa Clarita and Castaic by the National Forest, which creates about a 2.1 million-acre open space buffer.

Speaking of that, Tejon is currently a good distance from major employment centers in Los Angeles. As you develop this project, what do you see taking place with respect to a jobs/housing balance in this North County area?

Actually, we are about the same distance to downtown Los Angeles as Palmdale-Lancaster. We've set aside about 700-800 acres for employment. We're planning on about 12 million square feet of business park/office uses and about 2 million square feet of retail/commercial uses.

In addition, Tejon Ranch has begun development of the Tejon Industrial Center at the foot of the Grapevine. Centennial will not only provide about 31,000 jobs, but also has the potential of being able to provide housing for the Tejon Industrial Center.

Greg, let's close with a recapping of the Centennial partners' vision both for open space and architectural design.

Our vision goes back to the principle of land stewardship. Tejon Ranch has done a wonderful job over the last 150 years as a protector and steward of the land. We want to emulate that. This involves, first of all, setting aside about 50% of our property as open space.

As for architecture, community groups in the area have asked us to use an authentic design that fits with the history and culture of the area. We hope to bring an architectural style reminiscent of early California-including porches, verandas and overhangs on the homes. This idea of authenticity is one that the Centennial Founders have embraced for the entire community.


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