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Cam Noltemeyer: Community speaks up to City Hall

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: July 29, 2009 3:29 p.m.
Updated: July 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Yet another well-organized citizen's group recently challenged a project from the Planning Commission to the Santa Clarita City Council.

Residents of the Woodlands area of Valencia are concerned about another very high-density project being placed once again in close proximity to their residential neighborhood. It seems a developer would like to replace the small golf course at the corner of Valencia Boulevard and McBean Parkway with a new high-rise hotel.

This appeal continues a trend of more and more residents taking a stand at City Hall and asserting their right to have a say in what happens in their neighborhoods.

From folks upset about a 13-story building proposed next to a residential neighborhood on the old Smiser mule ranch in Newhall to those worried about the city siting a transfer station or "dump" near their neighborhood, residents are standing up to City Hall.

Developers tend to refer to such folks as "NIMBYs" ("not in my back yard"). But the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) has always applauded such grass-roots activism as the seed to start civic involvement.

It usually takes something happening right next door to get people out and talking to their neighbors about planning issues. And when residents take that first step up to the podium at City Hall to speak to the council or Planning Commission about what a project means to them and their neighborhood, they have started down the road of empowerment.

As residents' involvement continues, they can't help but learn about the planning process, how our city is run, and that their voice really does make a difference.

SCOPE has tried to aid residents in this process since our formation in 1987. In fact, trying to involve the public in the planning process is a part of our mission statement.

To that end, we have conducted workshops on the California Environmental Quality Act, California's foremost planning tool, held meetings on issues of civic and planning interest and spoken regularly at city and county meetings on planning and environmental issues.

We also challenge projects with inappropriate density in residential neighbors such as the huge office expansion approved for an area previously zoned "residential low." Here, the proposed density and height of these new enormous medical offices next to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital would change the whole aspect and quality of life for the local neighborhood.

But NIMBY-ism shouldn't just be about density - it should be about wanting good projects and good planning throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, because this whole valley is really our community.

So at SCOPE, we not only objected to the effects of this office expansion on traffic and quality of life in the immediate neighborhood, but also worried about this approval not delivering benefits needed by our entire community. We wanted to ensure that the promised hospital facility improvements would actually occur and that the structure would be built to the latest "green" building standards.

Such standards for energy efficiency, water-conserving plumbing, and so forth will be required statewide in the near future, and are already required in nearby cities, but not in Santa Clarita. They will help reduce air pollution and added pressure on our local water supplies. The city can and should require them, but didn't.

We applaud the residents of the Woodland for taking the time to become involved in local planning. We urge them to reach out with their concerns to encompass the whole valley.

Why not demand "green" LEED building standards for any approval that might replace this golf course? Hotels use an enormous amount of water and energy. Why not ask for solar roofs, native landscaping that will conserve water, adequate parking and public transportation to reduce traffic? Such demands will ensure a better project for whatever compromise is reached by the Council.

Now, if people would just become as interested in and worked up about the proposed General Plan update, known as "One Valley, One Vision." It will guide the development of our city and valley for years to come. Does it meet your vision for our future?

What about the City Council elections? There are three council seats that will be on the next ballot. Are there candidates running who represent what you want for your city and your future?

Get involved. We might really change the way our city does business.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) board member 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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