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Lynne Plambeck: One Valley, One Fantasy?

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: October 14, 2009 8:34 p.m.
Updated: October 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Many of the proposed General Plan updates for both the city of Santa Clarita and surrounding areas are based on a projected huge population increase — more than double our current population — in the next decade. Such a projection will require densification and subsequent zoning changes that will increase property values for developers, but could destroy the quality of life in many neighborhoods.  

Such projections are nothing new. We thought it might be interesting to re-visit a portion of an editorial by Michael Kotch, a former SCOPE president, written in 1996.

“When the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and the population planning section of the county’s Regional Planning Department issue massive growth projections for our valley — and when county and city decision makers (or others such as school or water boards) accept these projections without scrutiny — the first question should be, ‘What they heck are they smoking?’

“If SCAG or another agency of government states that there will be 500,000 people in this valley by 2010, (and not the previous 270,000 predicted in the last plan update) many land use decision makers and utility planners scurry to convert this tentative, speculative, unproven guesstimate into a goal. ‘SCAG has spoken, we must follow blindly.’

“Suddenly we are considering increased urban land uses and increasing expensive infrastructure to support the goal. Even if the emperor is on parade without clothes.

“A rational and sober analysis on this new ‘goal’ for the Santa Clarita Valley follows:

n We have today about 170,000 people living here in 56,700 dwellings.

n To have 270,000 of us in the next 15 years means we need to accept 100,000 more bodies, or 55,000 more dwellings. That’s a little more than 2,200 new dwellings sold every year, or six new homes a day seven days a week.

n To achieve 500,000 people in this valley by 2010 requires that we, starting today, sell 20 new homes per day.  A local real estate broker reported that 20 new units sold in a month is more typical. That’s far short of the goal.

n Our growth rate in the ‘booming ’80s was 5 percent a year. To achieve 270,000, we have to grow about 4 percent per year. Growth in the Santa Clarita Valley was 2 percent per year over the past six years. Achieving 270,000 is plausible, but will not happen if our economy stays flat.

n Housing 500,000 requires a 13 percent growth rate — a rate nearly three times that experienced in the expansive ’80s.”

Now, almost 15 years after Kotch wrote that analysis, his words ring true. Even with the rapid growth that occurred before the housing downturn, we have not reached even the 270,000 predicted in the last general plan update of 1993, far less the 500,000 that SCAG began pushing in 1996.

Estimates for current population in the SCV are around 252,000 (draft OVOV plan, page 3.19-1). The city’s Web site ( states that the growth rate between 2000 and 2008 was just over 17 percent, or slightly over 2 percent a year. Again, not anywhere near the projected growth rate that would put us past the 500,000 people projected by our new “One Valley One Vision.”

So whom does such a large projection benefit and who does it hurt?

It benefits developers, engineering firms, concrete contractors — anyone who would have to supply public services to support such a large projection.  

It hurts the taxpayer who must pay for all that expansion even though the actual people most likely will not arrive. It will be reflected in tax increases, water and sewer charge increases and money spent to expand schools that may in fact be unnecessary.

It will hurt the environment by promoting and “visioning” expansion beyond our carrying capacity. Santa Clarita has some of the worst air pollution in the nation. More cars and more vehicle trips will add to that. Do we have enough water for all these people?

How will we manage the traffic when many roadways are already at level D and cannot be expanded?

So as we move forward in our discussion of One Valley One Vision with yet another huge population projection, the city and the county, out of common decency, must put those clothes back on the emperor and not parade such naked exaggerations. Don’t make our plan “One Valley, One Fantasy.”

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment 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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