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Are we an urban center, a bedroom community, a suburb, or something else?

Live From City Hall

Posted: July 13, 2008 12:13 a.m.
Updated: September 13, 2008 5:02 a.m.

A 1965 issue of The Signal trumpeted "The birth of a city" and included a line illustration of downtown Valencia, with high-rise buildings surrounded by a forested area and lakes. The original plans for Valencia called for a centralized urban area; residents were expected to get around locally by way of electric carts that could be driven on pas...

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What is Santa Clarita? A bedroom community? A suburb of Los Angeles? An urban center? I would argue that Santa Clarita is all of these things in part, and none of these things entirely.

Santa Clarita is a great place to live. We're ranked as one of the safest cities in California, with a great education system and some of the best parks, trails and recreation opportunities in the region. We have been recognized as "The Best Place to Live in California" by CNN/Money Magazine.

But it's been a long time since Santa Clarita was a bedroom community. The city is home to the largest master-planned industrial park in all of Southern California. We are home to global businesses such as Princess Cruises, Mann Biomedical, Remo Drum and Advanced Bionics. This is also part of what makes Santa Clarita a great place to live - quality, high-paying jobs that employ our residents.

Are we just a suburb of Los Angeles?
Los Angeles is one of the biggest cities on the planet, and so I can understand how we sometimes get lost in its shadow. However, Santa Clarita is more than an L.A. suburb.

We are the fourth largest city in Los Angeles County, the 25th largest city in California and one of the 150 largest cities in all of the United States, based on population.

We are bigger than other, older California cities such as Pasadena, Ontario, Burbank, Santa Monica and Santa Barbara. We are also bigger than state capitals such as Topeka, Kan.; Hartford, Conn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Columbia, S.C. We are comparable in size to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Santa Clarita's population increases are occurring because people who live here, who visit us, like it here and want to move here! While it is important that we are able to keep a small-town community, we also have to recognize that we are a major city.

As your mayor, I talk to residents and business people every day, and they tell me how great our city is and how much they love living and working here.

I love hearing this from people and will continue to do everything in my power to keep Santa Clarita a great place to live and work.

Are we an urban center?
There are many definitions for an urban center. The Westfield Valencia Town Center could be described as an urban center with its mix of multi-story office buildings, retail and restaurant spaces, as well as residential and hotel uses.

The same could be said about the Valencia Industrial Center or Centre Pointe Business Park, with its dense office, industrial, and commercial development.

However, we also have thousands of acres of parkland and open space, as well as a mix of single-family, suburban and rural equestrian-friendly neighborhoods. So, although we do have urban centers throughout Santa Clarita, we are not an urban center.

What is the plan for Santa Clarita?
You elected my fellow City Council members and me to make decisions that steer our community toward the best possible future for Santa Clarita. We, in turn, hire a city manager who implements our direction and manages the day-to-day operations and staff at City Hall.

Your City Council, city manager and city staff work every day to make the city of Santa Clarita a premier city.

To accomplish this endeavor, we need to plan for a sustainable future and reduce our dependence on the automobile. We need to explore all viable options to find the right solutions for Santa Clarita.

These can include development planning tools such as mixed uses, greater density and urbanization in specific areas - as long as they are balanced by meeting the other infrastructure, residential, parks and open space needs.

These tools allow us to create more livable and walkable neighborhoods and communities, while at the same time reducing the sprawl of subdivision development over every hillside in the Santa Clarita Valley.

As an example, Santa Clarita is the only city outside of Los Angeles to have three Metrolink stations.

Good planning practices dictate utilizing these "transportation corridors" and creating "a valley of villages" near them that include housing, shopping and other amenities in the same general area. In this way, residents can live and shop near transportation hubs that can also take them to work outside our community if they wish.

One of the ways to ensure sustainability is to develop a strong and diverse economy that grows at a pace at least equal to the demand for city services, while providing the funds to meet the needs of residents.

It takes money to pay for sheriff's and fire personnel, for parks, trails, roads and other infrastructure needs. When the demand for these services grows because of an increase in the population, the economy must grow at a proportional rate to keep the same level of services, and grow at an increased rate to increase the services.

In Santa Clarita, we do this with a three-part economic development strategy which focuses on:

n Creating high-quality, high-paying employment opportunities for residents

n Creating an economic base by increasing sales tax generation

n Creating community wealth by attracting external monies from tourist visitors or film companies that come to Santa Clarita, spend new money and do not substantially increase the demand for city services.

To meet the first part of our strategy we have committed to a goal of two jobs in Santa Clarita for every household. Achieving this goal will do two great things for the quality of life of our residents - it creates jobs, and it reduces traffic.

Communities that create a strong jobs-and-housing balance create wealth within their communities and generate higher property values.

It is also important to make sure that jobs are located throughout Santa Clarita, not just in one geographic location. By clustering work centers and retail/restaurant centers for employment, shopping and entertainment throughout Santa Clarita, we effectively reduce traffic congestion on Santa Clarita surface streets and reduce our dependence on the automobile, as well as traffic on freeways.

There are more than 175,000 residents in the city of Santa Clarita, and the City Council works hard to look holistically at the needs of the entire community in an effort to both preserve and enhance the quality of life for all current and future residents.

This means balancing equestrian-friendly neighborhoods and trails, parks and recreational areas, shopping, restaurants and jobs.

One of the projects that best exemplifies this philosophy is the One Valley, One Vision project, which is a long-term partnership between the city of Santa Clarita and the county of Los Angeles to plan land use for the entire Santa Clarita Valley.

Since the kick-off meeting for One Valley, One Vision in 2001, more than 100 public meetings have been held to better establish an open dialogue with the public and ensure that the plan meets the needs of those residing in the Santa Clarita Valley.

This plan will help us to balance and encourage responsible, strategic growth, and also retain and enhance the quality of life for our community.

This means we must continually balance experiences from our past and the community's present needs with our goals and ideals for the future. It is no easy task, but I assure you the city of Santa Clarita is dedicated to working with residents, business owners, and other agencies to ensure Santa Clarita is a place we are all proud to call home.

So to answer my earlier questions, Santa Clarita is both a big city and a small community. We are a great place to raise a family and a great place to grow a business. We truly are a premier city, and that is what makes me so proud to serve as your mayor.

Bob Kellar is the mayor of Santa Clarita. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. "Live from City Hall" is a column provided to The Signal by the city of Santa Clarita.

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