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The public is entitled to transparency

Posted: October 1, 2008 9:03 p.m.
Updated: December 3, 2008 5:00 a.m.

From budget delays to the notorious bailout, the American public and Santa Claritans in particular are faced with economic decisions that will affect our quality of life.

High gas prices mean that people will probably not be able to afford long commutes to work. The price of gas and the mortgage crisis have brought the over-building in outlying urban sprawl areas, such as the Santa Clarita Valley, to a grinding halt.

Many of us are furious about the proposed Wall Street bailout because of the basic failure of government oversight and transparency that it represents.

It was common knowledge to everyone that lending standards were too lax, that loose standards were creating a housing bubble just as had happened 20 years ago, and that the bubble would eventually burst, leaving homeowners with diminished values and the economy in a shambles.

And that is not to mention grading away our local hillsides and leaving a bunch of empty lots. History is merely repeating itself here.

And, oh, by the way, the public got stuck with bailing out the savings and loans 20 years ago, too, remember?

But for many of us who have worked on environmental and planning issues in this valley over the last 20 years, the lack of transparency and disregard of reality and its consequences permeates every level of government right down to our own City Council.

Let me just give you two quick examples: Water supply and affordable housing. SCOPE and the Sierra Club have worried for many years about the adequacy of our water supply, especially in drought years.
We have also expressed concern about relying on the polluted Saugus aquifer before facilities to clean up the pollution were operational.

In spite of reams of data indicating problems, the water agencies continued to paint the rosiest of pictures.

Now the Saugus wells are still not cleaned up and the Santa Clarita Valley is facing massive state water cutbacks that will require far more than a "drought alert" next year.

Why did our public officials, like banks and their lax lending standards, ignore the obvious?

Not having an adequate supply of affordable housing is another issue.

When the City Council allows a developer to pay a mitigation fee instead of building the required affordable housing, of course we are not going to have enough affordable housing.

And how does this benefit the public?

Some $700,000 in affordable housing mitigation fees from a developer were used by the City Council to finance the Hideaway Apartments in Canyon Country.

That project is subsidized housing with the government paying a portion of the rent.

That is different from affordable housing, which is built based on a ratio of income and cost of housing in an area that makes it possible for purchase or renting without the rent being subsidized by the government.

Another $2 million of redevelopment funds from the Newhall Redevelopment were used for this subsidized apartment building in Canyon Country. How does this benefit the Newhall Redevelopment area?

Much of such bad governing decisions both in Santa Clarita and in Washington could be avoided with more transparency and an honest government that works for the people rather than well-heeled special interests.

Transparency will allow the public and others to see what is going on.

It's the public's job to pressure politicians to make honest decisions.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and board member of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE). Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily that of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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