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Lynne Plambeck: A holiday gift from our planning agencies

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: November 10, 2010 5:19 p.m.
Updated: November 11, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Every year as the holidays approach, it seems that the number of large projects moving through the city and the county public portion of the planning process increases.

One can only surmise that this phenomena is due to a hope on the part of developers that the public will be busy with friends, family and holiday cheer, and thus not paying attention to local politics and land-use planning.

This year is no exception. All at once as the holidays draw near, Santa Clarita Valley residents have been bombarded with huge planning documents that will make a substantial difference for our quality of life in the future.

Even though thousands of vacant, graded lots abound in West Creek, Riverpark, Golden Valley Ranch and Keystone, and approximately 40,000 other units are approved but not built, the planning agencies seem incapable of slowing the flood of additional housing entitlements.

The city of Santa Clarita has just begun the public process for the Vista Canyon project in the Sand Canyon area. Although the county of Los Angeles would allow only 700 units in its jurisdiction for this project, the city is proposing to annex it and nearly double the number of units to 1,350.

So much for the city’s line that it is the county that continues to approve so many housing units.

This project will fill the flood plan, and requires a general-plan amendment at the very time the city is updating its general plan.

Why is a project that requires a general-plan amendment being rushed through right before this extensive plan revision? One can only wonder.

Mission Village, the 4,400-unit second tract in Newhall Ranch received its first hearing Wednesday. Landmark Village, the 1,444-unit first phase, has still not been approved, and neither project has received permission to altar the Santa Clara River.

So why must this huge environmental document totaling around 10,000 pages be rushed through the process on a short review period during the holidays?

Such a lack of responsibility over development can only be adding to our foreclosure woes. Developers get entitlements that they know cannot be built in the current market or that may even be infeasible due to the amount of the new infrastructure required.

However, when the entitlements are approved, the property appraisal increases in value, thus allowing more borrowing against the land. If the limited liability corporation goes bankrupt, no problem. Unlike consumers or homeowners that overextend, they just walk away from their debts and start a new corporation in another name doing the same thing. 

And they work hard to try to get the taxpayer to pick up the tab for needed road, sewer, school, sheriff and fire protection improvements.

Hopefully the decision makers will not allow more Mello Roos districts or new benefit-assessment districts for these services that end up on our taxes.

But will the public be watching out for this over the holidays?

One Valley, One Vision (which really must not be one valley or one vision because there are two gigantic and separate planning documents), is also under way.

With hearings set before both the city and county on these two separate plans, the public is expected to review thousands of pages in each document. The city will give you a free disc of the plan and draft environmental impact report for your holiday reading pleasure, available upon request at City Hall.

The California Environmental Quality Act was written to ensure the public’s knowledge, views and concerns will be included in the planning process.

Undisclosed problems brought to the attention of the decision-makers, and requirements that would reduce impacts of new development on the environment and the community have resulted in better projects because of this law.

It appears that between these four projects, the public is expected to review some 60,000 to 70,000 pages immediately before and during the holiday period.

We all want the best for our community. We all want to have our say and be involved in these important projects and general plan updates, but how is it humanely possible to read and comment on all these documents at once?

Because of the importance of public involvement in the planning process, Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) has asked both the city and county to extend the comment period on these four projects into the new year.
We urge community leaders to join in this request.

It is important for all of us to be involved in these plans that will irreversibly shape the future of our community. That won’t happen if such extensive documents are rushed through without good public review.

Lynne Plambeck is a Santa Clarita resident and president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays and rotates among local environmentalists.


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