Newhall Ranch isn’t just 21,000-plus houses. It’s a shot at sustainability.

Mary Leslie
President, Los Angeles Business Council
08/01/2017 12:35 pm ET

The following commentary originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature on the bill to extend our pioneering cap-and-trade program served as a compelling reminder that, even in this turbulent political climate, California has the will and ability to address the central challenges of our time.

Another reminder of our capacity for innovative, home-grown solutions came earlier this month, with county approvals for the start of the Newhall Ranch master-planned community north of Los Angeles. The state has never seen a community quite like Newhall Ranch, proposed by California developer FivePoint. It will be a carbon-neutral development in the Santa Clarita Valley that tackles such critical challenges as climate change, water conservation, and the dire housing shortage that is severely threatening our economic competitiveness.

California’s housing shortage has reached crisis proportions. Booming demand and low development rates have pushed prices to the sky, forcing workers into long, road-clogging commutes and tapping the brakes on business development. A recent McKinsey Global Institute study found that California needs to build 3.5 million homes by 2025 to satisfy pent-up demand.

This situation is simply unsustainable, which is one reason the Los Angeles Business Council supports Newhall Ranch. The community will create up to 21,500 homes, including rental units, senior housing and designated affordable housing, plus 11.5 million square feet of job-producing commercial space.

Importantly, the community will be just 8 miles from the Los Angeles city border and next door to jobs in the Santa Clarita Valley, home to companies such as medical technology firm Advanced Bionics, Sunkist and Princess Cruises.

Newhall Ranch also will be the first carbon-neutral community of its kind in the nation. The “Net Zero Newhall” initiative will lower net greenhouse gas emissions to zero through subsidies to purchase electric vehicles, an electric vehicle charging station in every home and thousands more in the community, widespread use of solar energy, an electric school bus program and more.

Sustainability investments will extend countywide to include energy-efficient building retrofits in disadvantaged communities and additional charging stations. The community also will include a dedicated water reclamation plant and will rely on recycled water for irrigation with drought-tolerant landscaping, smart irrigation systems and other water conservation practices.

The Newhall Ranch team has already secured the water supply, having worked with local water districts as part of long-range water management planning in the Santa Clarita Valley. A majority of Newhall Ranch’s water needs will be met by using water already supplied to the site for agricultural use and converting it to municipal use; it will not burden existing local water supplies. Remaining water needs will be met by other water supplies owned by Newhall Ranch.

To be sure, Newhall Ranch is not a silver bullet. But it is a major step in the right direction and a model for what is possible in the best tradition of California problem-solving. As the rest of us look for ways to harness the power of business and government to address our greatest challenges, we would do well to be inspired by the same uniquely Californian spirit.