A development project that will transform 138 acres of vacant land within the city of Tehachapi into 995 single and multi-family homes is moving forward despite concerns expressed by the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District.
Sage Ranch, a master-planned development south of Valley Boulevard and west of Tehachapi High School, is a project of Greenbriar Capital, an Idaho company.
Planning for the project has been underway since at least 2018 and recent action by the Tehachapi City Council sets the stage for a planned community with higher density than earlier residential development within the city.
Paul Morris, lead representative for the project, said it would help address the housing shortage by offering eight product types in six phases built over seven years. The mix includes single-family homes, townhomes and apartments — some targeted for senior citizens. A community center and parks managed by a homeowner association are also part of the project.
Following discussion with the Tehachapi Planning Commission and engineering review, the developers made changes in the housing product mix, reducing the total count from 1,068 units to 995. The number of apartments was reduced from 252 to 204. The total number of single-family homes was increased from 211 to 258. The number of “paired homes” was reduced from 186 to 114. Other housing types are “patio homes” (165), “cottage homes” (138) and townhomes (116).
Access to the community will be from various points along Valley Boulevard, Pinon Street, Brentwood Drive and White Oak Drive.
The council’s action on Aug. 16 was to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report for the project, adopt a resolution approving the related tentative tract map and introduce by first reading an ordinance approving the Sage Ranch planned development.
As a condition of approval, the council specified that the developer must provide 175 acre-feet of pumpable water rights, which the city’s Development Services Director Jay Schlosser noted is “roughly $2 million worth of water rights.”
The second and final reading of that ordinance is likely to be on the agenda for the council’s next regular meeting. Normally, the council meets on the first and third Mondays of each month but will next meet on Tuesday, Sept. 7, because of the Labor Day holiday.
Although the agenda for that meeting was not prepared prior to the deadline for this article, Schlosser said Monday morning that a second reading and staff recommendation for the council to adopt an ordinance approving the development is planned.
“We are shooting for 9/7/21,” Schlosser said in an email.
The agenda will be posted at https://www.liveuptehachapi.com/AgendaCenter when it is available and will include a time and meeting location.
Council approval of the master plan for the development does not mean final approval for construction. The next step for the developer would be to present a Precise Development Plan for the first increment of the project.
The only objection to the project expressed during the public hearing at the Aug. 16 meeting was presented by Tom Neisler, general manager of the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District and watermaster for the Tehachapi Basin.
In a three-page document presented to the council and a statement made during the meeting, Neisler outlined the role of the water district and alleged that the city and its consultants failed to communicate with the district during preparation of the EIR and Water Supply Assessment for the project. He objected to the adequacy of those documents and proposed findings and asked the City Council not to take action to approve the project but instead to direct staff to revise and recirculate the EIR and WSA after addressing the district’s comments and concerns.
“My Board, and myself as the GM, are deeply disturbed by the haphazard manner in which the City, its consultants, and the applicant have ignored the single most important aspect of this project — the water supply and its potential impact on the environment and other water users in the Basin,” Neisler said.
He noted that the water district’s attorney, Andrea Matarazzo of the Pioneer Law Group, had provided the city with 27 pages of comments and objections to the planning documents and said that the district did not receive any written response to her comments and was not consulted.
The letter challenged the adequacy of the final EIR on a number of fronts.
“The Project’s water supply cannot be verified based on the City’s analysis in the WSA and EIR because they merely assume that the Applicant and/or the City will acquire additional water without identifying any likely source or giving any reasoned indication that the water will be available,” the letter stated.
Schlosser addressed the letter from Pioneer Law Group in his presentation to the council as part of the public hearing. He also detailed city staff interaction with the water district during the planning process, beginning with circulation of the draft WSA in March and April 2020, at which time he said Neisler commented on behalf of the water district. He said city staff met with the district “repeatedly” in the months to follow and that in January 2021, the city provided detailed growth projections to the district.
Schlosser said the city has an agreement with the district to meet the city’s “present and future water needs” and that the city pays the district to build up a Banked Water Reserve Account that is controlled by the district. In exchange, he said, the district agrees to provide the city with up to 1,153 acre-feet of water per year. According to a recent podcast released by the city, during 2020 Tehachapi households used an average of .33 acre-feet of water each (about 100,000 gallons per home per year).
Although water delivered to customers by the city of Tehachapi comes from city wells, the city relies on water pumped by the district from the California Aqueduct to help recharge the basin. The city has rights to pump groundwater and the council’s Aug. 16 approval requires Sage Ranch to bring additional water rights.
The project representative Morris, speaking during that meeting, said the developer offered 93 acre-feet initially and has since upped its commitment to 175 acre-feet of “pumpable water.”
But Neisler said “the applicant’s offer of water is not an enforceable commitment,” and said it was not mentioned in the resolutions or EIR.
Prior to the council vote, Schlosser suggested including the requirement in the approval to address Neisler’s concern.
Subsequent discussion by council members ensued prior to the 4-0 vote. Councilmember Christina Scrivner recused herself from the discussion and vote “out of an abundance of caution,” because the developer has previously made a donation to Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley Foundation, which she manages.
Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email: email@example.com.