The two California Department of Fish and Wildlife scientists charged with doing environmental work on the proposed Newhall Ranch development had a daunting task.
They were to help review whether and how the largest residential development ever approved in Los Angeles County — 20,000 homes stretching across a bucolic valley — could be built without undue harm to the environment, protected species and Southern California's last major wild river, the Santa Clara.
The project was controversial and dizzyingly complicated. It has already been the subject of multiple lawsuits and generated more than 110,000 pages of records.
But there was at least one perk for the scientists: new vehicles to get around in, courtesy of the developer, Newhall Land and Farming Co. The developer gave the 2008 Ford Explorer and the 2008 Ford 150 truck to the agency that year as the state employees dug into their review of the company's proposal. The state still has them.
Loyola law professor Jessica Levinson, vice president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said the gift of the cars raises questions about a conflict of interest.
"The developer is giving something to the people who are making a determination as to a project that could benefit it," she said.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife has no record of having accepted other cars from a private company in the last decade, according to documents and spokeswoman Jordan Traverso.