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Lynne Plambeck: Something's missing here

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: June 17, 2009 7:47 p.m.
Updated: June 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Last Thursday, community members filled a large local school auditorium to talk to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Fish and Game about their proposed Newhall Ranch permit.

The 21,000-unit housing development will require a permit from these agencies to allow changes to the Santa Clara River so that housing can be built in the flood plain.

All but two or three speakers stated reasons that such a permit should not be granted and asked the Corps and Fish and Game to deny the permit request.

But several individuals and agencies were notably absent.  For one thing, not a single member of the Santa Clarita City Council attended the hearing.

Now, you would think that Council members, who have stated over and over again that they want to protect the Santa Clara River and preserve a ring of open space around our city, would be concerned about a 21,000-unit project on its borders that will forever change the Santa Clara, L.A. County’s last unchannelized river — but apparently they are not.  

You would think Council members would have something to say about building in the flood plain and our water supply, or at least want to hear their community’s concerns, but apparently not.  

Three Council members announced their intention to run again Thursday — but none of them attended this hearing held the same day about a project that will substantially impact the quality of life for all Santa Claritans, increase traffic and reduce our water supply.

Not a single elected member or representative from a water district attended the hearing.  (Not even myself, since the Newhall County Water District held a meeting the same night and did not think to adjourn it so that their members could attend this important public hearing.)

Perhaps they didn’t want to admit that they already had to negotiate with Newhall Land to use the developer’s priority rights to get water out of the Kern water bank.

If they had to do this now, how will these agencies supply the tens of thousands of units already approved, but not yet built in the Santa Clarita Valley, not to mention the 21,000 units in Newhall Ranch?

We will all just use less they say, and our water rates will go up.

The facilities to clean up the polluted Saugus aquifer so that this source can supply existing residents are still not operational some five years after the agencies first said they would be completed.

And the production from the clean-up process will only generate half the amount of water previously provided by the polluted wells.

But with a slight of hand worthy of a magician before the housing crisis, the water agencies claim we will have no problem providing water for all the new housing units as well as the Newhall Ranch project.

I wonder who will bail us out with a water supply when all their predictions predictably fail. Water is not like money. You can’t just print more when you run out.

No city planning commissioner attended, though they have been taking field trips to nearby cities to observe infill and mixed use development, something the Newhall Ranch project definetely is not.

Understandably, no one from Los Angeles County would speak on this project since the project is before the Board of Supervisors.

They would not want to show bias by speaking for or against a project on which they must decide.  

But since the “preferred alternative” in this permit would change the plan currently before the county, you would think they would want someone to be there to at least to hear what others were saying.  

After all, this is the largest project currently before them. It has been controversial for many years.

It will substantially add to traffic and air pollution in Santa Clarita and the San Fernando Valley, in spite of the developer’s rather absurd assertion to the effect that everyone who lives there will work in the Valencia Commerce Center.

Lastly, you would think the county would want to hear how a company in bankruptcy and possibly facing Chapter 7 dissolution will pay for all the promised mitigation required by this project.

Will taxpayers like you and me end up picking up the tab for this huge proposal that most folks in the community don’t want?

It’s time for our public officials to start representing us. They should have attended this important hearing.

But luckily, the community has power, too. That power was demonstrated when so many people turned out last Thursday to exercise their rights and protest this hearing.

If you missed the hearing, you can still write a letter. You can view the plan for the Newhall Ranch project at www.dfg.ca.gov/regions/5/newhall.    

Lynne Plambeck is president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.

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