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Our View: Don't divide a united valley

Posted: May 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.

 

“It looks like we will need to cut up the Santa Clarita Valley. It’s not like it is one city.”

So, according to several reports, went the first discussion by the California Citizens Commission on Redistricting about redrawing local district lines to reflect 2010 population figures.

At issue: whether the Santa Clarita Valley gets a united voice in Sacramento, and the power that goes with that voice. Or whether that voice is divided among differing interests -- leaving the voice to die away as an echo.

Not to worry, say some local leaders and a spokesman for the redistricting commission. That was just preliminary talk. No maps, not even proposed maps, have been drawn.

But we are worried. Commissioners staged two public hearings in our general vicinity, at which 26 residents voiced, and others loudly applauded, one unified message from the Santa Clarita Valley: “Keep us together!”

If these commissioners came away with the impression that we’re some loose amalgamation of separate bergs with nothing in common, we’re most worried.

If 14 good people — selected, so we’re told, for being apolitical, and not one of whom hails from anywhere closer to the SCV than Los Angeles or Santa Paula — have the impression the Santa Clarita Valley isn’t one community, then they’re not paying any attention, and their hearings are a farce.

Difficult task
We concede the commissioners have a tough job in the case of drawing state Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization districts for our area.

While dividing the state’s population evenly among voting districts, they have to protect voting rights of minority communities, including vast swaths of the San Fernando Valley.

They’re charged with preserving communities of interest from gerrymandering, unifying them to preserve voting powers.

And they’re to honor, whenever possible, existing boundaries such as city and county lines.

Our case is particularly troublesome. United, this valley lacks sufficient population for a single Assembly district, and Assembly districts are the building blocks for other state elective districts.

Yet during hearings in San Fernando and Lancaster, residents of the San Fernando and Antelope valleys, along with some rural Ventura County communities, said they didn’t want to be linked with the Santa Clarita Valley.

Dividing us up and sticking a few neighborhoods with each of those nearby geographic areas might seem a convenient solution to the commissioners.

But it completely defies their directive.

This valley is — and has been since it was populated — a community of common interest.

We stand united
Consider these facts, commissioners:

n One Valley, One Vision is the first-ever general plan drawn up in Los Angeles County jointly between a city — in this case, Santa Clarita — and the county. It’s a historic document, representing unprecedented cooperation between city and county planning departments — and it presents a unified plan for growth in the entire valley, not just the city.

n Some of our western communities talked about forming their own city a few years back. But when it came to a vote of the people, they agreed overwhelmingly to stay the way they were — county unincorporated territory — or to join with Santa Clarita. Overwhelmingly, they did not want to separate themselves from the rest of us.

n Our highly successful enterprise zone has been approved for expansion from a strictly city phenomenon to a valleywide welcome mat to job-creating industries. The only thing that can kill it is state budgetary shortsightedness.

n Although Santa Clarita is only 23 years old, it has partnered with the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests to form the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp., whose focus is to help develop a strong economy for the entire Santa Clarita Valley so that residents may work, live and play right here, not “over the hill.” Not in Newhall only. Or Saugus only. Or Castaic only. In the Santa Clarita Valley.

n Our trails system, which is still growing, germinated with a planner’s good idea, was cultivated by the city, and now spreads throughout the valley, disregarding city lines to encourage all local residents to bicycle, skate or walk throughout the valley. It helps unify us as a forward-looking, environmentally sensitive, high-quality-of-life community.

Historic unity
The mountains that divide the Santa Clarita Valley from the San Fernando and Antelope valleys also threw us together in our isolation from the outside — first as Spanish or Californio settlers establishing outposts for missionaries and travelers; then as ranchers with vast tracts of grazing land and cattle but little else; later as farmers and small-town merchants who shared challenges of moving merchandise on the rail, enduring droughts and range fires and floods, chasing down rustlers in posses — together.

When William Mulholland’s ignorance of geology caused the worst dam disaster in California history, we hunted for survivors and for our dead side by side through the mountains of mud, through the dark and the daylight.

When industry came to the Santa Clarita Valley, we welcomed new workers who made glass jars and constructed munitions so the U.S. could win wars.

When disaster struck — when another explosion boomed through the valley from the Bermite Powder Company or fire hollowed out Thatcher Glass — we gathered together in groups to mourn. Some of us made our way to the scenes of those disasters to help our fellow residents.

The flood of suburbanites that followed the excavation of the Newhall Pass and improved freeway access meant a lot of growth, but these new residents joined with the old and voted overwhelming to secede from Los Angeles County and form our own Canyon County. Twice we approved that plan, and twice the voters of Los Angeles County refused to let us go.
So we formed our own city instead. It’s not our fault that this valley isn’t united as one city — it was an agency of the county that thwarted the initial plan for Santa Clarita to take in the entire valley.

And slowly, only at the request of residents outside the city line, Santa Clarita is annexing areas to become the valleywide city it should have been, the valleywide city that the county Local Agency Formation Commission wouldn’t let it become in the first place.

You think we’re not united anymore, commissioners? How about the group of local residents who, sick of long commutes on Interstate 5, formed the Golden State Gateway Coalition, linking with leaders in the San Fernando Valley to convince the state Department of Transportation to build more truck and carpool lanes on I-5?

United, they succeeded.

If you don’t think we’re one community, commissioners, we invite you to turn out at Central Park this summer during one of the city’s outrageously popular Concerts in the Park. People come from all over this valley, and they act like neighbors because they are.

Preserve our voice
You don’t think we’re one community, commissioners? You think the Santa Clarita city lines create divisions?

We’re united by geography, by common values, by common goals and by a common school district.

Castaic doesn’t have more in common with Santa Paula or Bakersfield than it has with Valencia. Canyon Country doesn’t have more in common with Palmdale than it has with Stevenson Ranch or Newhall.

We call on you, commissioners, to preserve our united elective voice. Keep us together, and you can expect great things from us.

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