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High rises and CEQA

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: May 16, 2008 2:07 a.m.
Updated: July 16, 2008 5:03 a.m.
 
Did you buy into an older, established neighborhood in the belief that you would be safe from bulldozers and houses abandoned to subprime mortgages? Did you check the city zoning ordinances and thought you knew what was planned for this neighborhood? Or have you just lived there for 20 or so years in the belief that life would go on as it had been planned when you moved in?

Well, think again. As Santa Clarita continues to grow at one of the most rapid paces in Southern California, older tree-lined streets must be sacrificed to wider lanes for more cars, bike lanes disappear and high
rises never envisioned by planners or residents are proposed.

Residents must be ever vigilant if they want to keep their neighborhoods close to the idyllic lifestyle that they originally bought all those years ago.

The shock of high-rise proposals has now hit two older Santa Clarita neighborhoods: Valencia, with its hospital office space expansion proposal, and the Hidden Valley area of Newhall with the euphemistic
"Avenue of Santa Clarita." (I suppose this is supposed to be an allusion to the Avenue of the Stars, the high-rise neighborhood of Century City.

Someone should probably mention to those developers that most folks in Santa Clarita moved here because they didn't want to live in Century City.)

Zoning and planning laws, general plans and guidelines and the California Environmental Quality Act were established for a reason. They are supposed to protect residents, communities and the general public by
giving them the knowledge of what to expect in the future and the tools to have a say in any proposed changes.

Would you buy a house that you knew would be in the shadow of a 10-story building six hours a day, or whose back porch view would end up being eye level with a new heliport? I don't think so.

What about the sleepless nights lost to thrashing copter blades and screeching horns? Or the air pollution created by all those additional car trips? These are all impacts covered by our city's general plan and
zoning laws.

Any proposed project that will create environmental impacts (and this means affecting your quality of life, too) will be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.

CEQA is a revered planning law established some 30 years ago.

Far-sighted legislators wanted to make sure that planners and decision-makers were really evaluating all aspects of proposed projects that were brought before them.

Did they consider water supply? Did they consider the flooding problems that might be created by channeling the creek or the Santa Clara River?

Did they consider the traffic that would occur from a 13-story hotel on what used to be a mule farm? Did they consider the noise generated from that traffic?

All those issues must be addressed in an "environmental impact report," or EIR for short.

Since it is the developer who is responsible for writing the EIR, and of course, the developer wants to get his project approved, he obviously might paint an overly rosy picture of any potential impacts from his
project.

So CEQA law provides that public hearings must be held and that comments by the community must be considered and evaluated. If the city fails to follow the lawful planning process, the courts may overturn the EIR and tell the parties to do it all again.

CEQA is not about stopping projects. It is about making projects better for everyone in the community and trying to address as many of the downsides as possible. CEQA works best when the community gets involved and the planning agency listens.

The result is usually a much-improved project that encompasses the well-being of the community and the neighborhood far into the future.

If no one shows up at the public hearing, or community members don't understand how to use this marvelous tool, then projects may be approved without the thoughtful input that could have eliminated future problems.

That is why Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment is joining with the Planning and Conservation League to bring Santa Clarita a community workshop on the California Environmental Quality
Act, entitled "How to Make the Best of Our Town," on May 17.

It will feature attorneys speaking about CEQA from a community prospective to encourage effective local participation in the planning process. We hope you will join us for this fun and informative workshop
that will help you become a stronger voice for good planning in our community.

If you are interested, just visit our Web site at www.scope.org for more information.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily that of The Signal.

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