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Our View: The sound and the fury drown out the issue

Posted: June 19, 2010 9:33 p.m.
Updated: June 20, 2010 4:30 a.m.

“How often misused words generate misleading thoughts.”
— Herbert Spencer

When Santa Clarita City Councilman Frank Ferry labeled as local residents who have aggressively opposed construction projects as “developmental terrorists,” everyone lost.

Behind his flamboyant rhetoric, Ferry’s point deserves serious consideration: that there is a valid planning process developers undertake to seek city approval, and that the process is being undermined by “self-serving antagonists.”

Ferry claims former Councilman TimBen Boydston is raising a ruckus to gain political points with residents.

His comments stirred up a hornet’s nest of public response — much of it critical of Ferry’s bullying tone.

And therein lies the problem. Ferry may be frustrated with opponents he says are spreading misinformation, some to gain political clout.

If that’s the truth, then it’s understandable that he’d let passion get the better of him and give Boydston and company a tongue-lashing.

That doesn’t make it right. By making the issue intensely personal, Ferry — who has publicly locked horns with Boydston before — has, in fact, distracted everyone from what really matters.

“Developmental terrorists.” “Self-serving antagonists.” “Local haters.” By lobbing those verbal firebombs into the public arena, all Ferry has done is exacerbate things by conjuring up mental images of anti-development jihad — rather than provoking honest, productive back-and-forth dialogue.

As an elected official, Ferry should expect inflammatory rhetoric from his critics. But as an elected official, he is held to a higher standard, and would be wise to not contribute to such rhetoric.

In a June 6 column, Ferry explained that he welcomes anyone to speak to the City Council on any topic. What he doesn’t welcome, he said, is dissemination of misstatements.

In that, he is correct.

If residents are concerned about development in the city, it is vital for them to make their voices heard both early and often. But there’s a lot to be said for objectively understanding the facts first.

Take, for example, a plan submitted to the city’s planners in 2007. Dubbed “The Avenues,” the project would have turned a vacant mule ranch along Interstate 5 near the Newhall Pass into a 37-acre development packed with almost a million square feet of office space, a 12-story hotel and nearly 1,000 condos.

That project quickly flared tempers in the neighborhoods across Wiley Canyon Road, with residents turning out to city meetings to protest what they said was too much proposed development for a relatively small swath of land. By 2008, the developer put its plans on hold.

The thing is, The Avenues proposal never went before the Planning Commission or City Council for consideration. Planned public scoping meetings were never held.

Was the project as proposed too much for that site? Absolutely. But could it have morphed into a welcome addition to the western gateway of our valley? We may never know.

Now turn your gaze toward downtown Newhall, and consider the open plain at the corner of Railroad Avenue and 13th Street, 95 acres of it owned by Casden Properties and all of it within the Newhall Redevelopment Zone.

Paranoia and assumptions — primarily among the residents of semi-rural Placerita Canyon — have fueled opposition to a project that hasn’t even been proposed.

Yes, city officials expect Casden wants to develop the site with several hundred residential units, but no one yet knows for certain, because a project has not been submitted.

It’s good to be concerned, and it’s vital to speak up and speak out. But at the same time, there is a reason we have a public planning process. Developers have the right to submit proposals, work with city planners and make presentations to the Planning Commission.

Residents have a duty to respond — be it in support or opposition — once they hear the facts.

There’s still a place for the public process. We encourage both sides to sit down at the table reasonably and hear each other out.

And leave the jihadist rhetoric at the door.


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