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‘Urban center’? Not in Santa Clarita!

Posted: June 27, 2008 2:36 a.m.
Updated: August 28, 2008 5:01 a.m.

This aerial view to the northeast from late April 2008 shows the Santa Clara River (lower right), the California Aqueduct (north-south) intersecting with the Cross Valley Connector under construction (center right), and the first single-family homes built in a new development between the river and the connector(foreground).

 
It seems Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp is being raked over the coals these days for allegedly uttering the term - dare we use it in a family newspaper? - "urban center."

Specifically, a reader has dredged up a brief profile published by The Mighty Signal in which Pulskamp was paraphrased - not quoted, please note, but paraphrased - as saying one of his goals is turning Santa Clarita's suburban bedroom sprawl into a legitimate urban center.

Ugh.

Far be it for Santa Clarita to have an urban center. We'd much prefer to go on with our suburban sprawl, bulldozing hills into housing tracts that offer little or no tax base from which the city can draw funds to provide services. Right?

We'd all much rather drive through Newhall Pass to get to our jobs every day, idling in stalled freeway traffic for an hour in each direction as gas climbs to $5 a gallon. Right?

We'd also much rather have to go over the hill for our entertainment because, after all, "urban centers" have things like movie theaters, live theaters, wide selections of restaurants, and fun and quirky shops to browse.

We sure don't want that in Santa Clarita.

Not to mention office buildings that can house businesses such as law firms, medical centers, and accounting firms. You know, businesses with the kinds of jobs where people can actually make a living wage.

No way. Not in Santa Clarita.

And there's that other thing that can go with an urban center: denser and thus lower-cost housing, where people who aren't lawyers or doctors or accountants might actually be able to buy a home, rather than driving into the Santa Clarita Valley every day from Palmdale.

Nope. We'd rather just have big and bigger single-family homes flattening our hillsides, taxing our roadways, sucking up our water supplies to keep their lawns green, driving up the cost of electricity so they can air-condition all those rooms.

That's us, right? That's the Santa Clarita we all want?

Sadly, those who prefer such a Santa Clarita may be disappointed to learn that an urban center was part of the plan from the get-go - long before Ken Pulskamp was hired as Santa Clarita city manager.

When The Newhall Land and Farming Co. laid out Valencia back in the 1960s, an urban center was part of the plan. A Signal story dated Oct. 21, 1965, lauded the "compact, towering civic center" planned for Valencia.

Newhall Land had hired Victor Gruen, a European planner, to lay out a city with a legitimate urban center, which was to be surrounded by what we now call open space, even a chain of lakes.

That plan wasn't realized, largely because California home buyers of the day wanted suburban sprawl - single-family homes with large yards, maybe even a picket fence around those green, green lawns.

Of late, though, there's been a movement across the country called "sustainable communities" - a movement aimed at treating our environment more kindly (that means not taking bulldozers to it), at building more densely so public transit can be used by residents, at providing centers where people can work, play and live without having to travel 60 miles in their cars to get anywhere.

Sound familiar? Gruen was obviously ahead of his time.

Condensing homes, jobs and entertainment means not sprawling, but rather going vertical - building what you might call an urban center.

At least, that's what we'd call it.

And we think bringing jobs and entertainment here - not just a bunch of homes - is a really good idea for the Santa Clarita Valley.

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