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Why we need a development monitoring system

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: June 19, 2008 12:55 a.m.
Updated: August 20, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Just look around you.

Our schools are overcrowded - or in the case of Castaic High School, not yet built - and students from new housing developments must be bused all over the valley to find classrooms.

The huge office expansion proposed for the Newhall hospital complex may not have an adequate sewer trunk line to support it, nor do the nearby streets have the capacity to handle so much increased traffic.

The 13-story high-rise hotel proposed for the Smiser mule farm isn't close to any fire station, even though several wildfires have burned within a quarter of a mile of the proposed project location in the past few years.

As of the last council meeting, taxpayers will now pay for the costs of county sheriff's services to accommodate the increased need to police all this new growth.

What about the quality of life of existing residents? When will the needs of the neighborhoods be considered?

That is the purpose of a Development Monitoring System. Right now a DMS exists only in the county General Plan as an amendment (SP 86-173) that was authorized by the Board of Supervisors on April 21, 1987.

It was developed with the oversight of James Kushner acting as court referee. It was the result of a court settlement for public interest litigation brought by the Center for Law and the Public Interest to try to ensure that infrastructure needs were not ignored in the rush to approve new development.

In an article written by Mr. Kushner for the "Zoning and Planning Law Report" in May 1988, he describes the purpose of a DMS: "The Los Angeles County Development Monitoring System (DMS) utilizes computer technology to determine capital facility supply capacity and demand placed upon that system by each approved and proposed development. The computer warns decision-makers when demand exceeds capacity and instructs planners on system capacity expansion to meet projected demand."

In other words, if there aren't enough school classrooms to serve the new development, the project must be downsized, delayed or denied until there are. This also goes for sewer capacity, library facilities, water, roads and fire service. (For some reason, sheriff's services were left out. This is an additional area that SCOPE has proposed for inclusion for years.)

In 1996, then-SCOPE President Michael Kotch gave a presentation about the DMS to the city of Santa Clarita with the recommendation that it too should adopt this important tool to ensure adequate infrastructure will accompany any approved growth.

Carl Boyer was mayor at the time and lauded the presentation as one of the best he had ever seen by a community group. But unfortunately this high praise did not result in the adoption of a DMS by Santa Clarita.

Now, with some 8,000 additional units approved in the city and most of those already built since the 1996 presentation, the need for a DMS is even more obvious.

Those who chant the mantra of "growth is good no matter what the cost" and bully others who have legitimate concerns about counting contaminated water or the location and adequacy of school facilities often seem to be tied in to the development industry. Their financial interests overshadow the importance of our quality of life. We want safe neighborhoods that are not overwhelmed by traffic and noise.

We want to be able to send our children to schools with adequate classroom space. We want to make sure existing residents have adequate and safe drinking water and don't have to suffer cutbacks so that another 1,000 housing units can be built in Canyon Country.

We don't want to pay tax increases in water rates, sewer fees and fire and sheriff services to provide for the new growth. Growth should pay for itself, not become a financial burden on the backs of existing residents.

Such concerns expressed by residents throughout this valley are logical and reasonable. They have all worked hard to provide their families the quality of life we enjoy now in Santa Clarita. When valid concerns are raised, accusations like "you are just trying to stop growth" are no longer an appropriate or acceptable response. Ensuring adequate infrastructure is about maintaining our quality of life. It's about safe and healthy neighborhoods for our families.

One way to address these issues is for the city of Santa Clarita to adopt a Development Monitoring System to ensure the adequacy of infrastructure as growth occurs. Therefore, we urge the city of Santa Clarita to adopt a DMS in conjunction with its upcoming General Plan update.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and board member for Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE). Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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