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SCV ponders ‘one vision’ for growth

Our population could nearly double to 450,000

Posted: October 4, 2008 8:11 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Smiser Ranch, shown here in May 2007, could be the site of a residential and commercial development. The project is one of many that could nearly double the Santa Clarita Valley's population to 450,000.

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Editor’s note: As development becomes an increasingly charged topic in the Santa Clarita Valley, The Signal begins "The Big Picture," a series on plans for growth in the SCV. Click here for the rest of the stories.

“We enjoy looking at the hills from our back porch,” says Jim De Vries, gesturing to his view of a grassy field and hillsides dotted with ancient oaks.

“It may be a little selfish, but after 41 years in the same house, I don’t want to look at a bunch of tall buildings.”

De Vries has a clear view of Towsley Canyon, but he’s worried a cluster of high-rise buildings will one day be all he sees from the back porch.

Developer Monteverde Companies submitted plans about a year ago to build a residential and commercial development — including at least one 12-story building — on the grassy field De Vries enjoys.

Amid an outcry from neighbors, the developer announced it suspended the plans and will redraw them.
“I’m not against growth, but you know, be a little responsible about it,” De Vries said.

A long-term planning document that will be the beating heart for growth standards in the Santa Clarita Valley is set for a series of public workshops in November.

That general plan, dubbed “One Valley, One Vision,” will for the first time meld the city of Santa Clarita’s and Los Angeles County’s visions for the big picture of growth in the 250-square-mile Santa Clarita Valley.

Expected to be good for at least 10 years, One Valley, One Vision will serve as the Santa Clarita Valley area plan for the county and the new general plan for the city.

The draft plan addresses population density, public safety, noise, conservation and open space.
Planners hope to release a traffic section this month and a housing section by the end of the year, said city Community Development Director Paul Brotzman.

“The supervisor wants to work cooperatively with the city to come up with an overall general plan for the entire Santa Clarita Valley,” said Paul Novak, planning deputy for county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. “With continued public outreach, we’re hopeful we have a plan or plans that are approvable by both the City Council and the Board of Supervisors.”

City and county planners estimate the Santa Clarita Valley could someday be home to 445,000 people — nearly double the current population of approximately 260,000.

Considering the average growth rate of 6,000 new residents per year, the Santa Clarita Valley would continue growing for another three decades.

Planners expect new homes to sprout on the east and west sides of the valley’s unincorporated areas. Within the city, planners hope to redevelop some existing areas and concentrate growth in areas already heavily populated.

“We don’t want urban development spreading over every hill and over every valley, so we’ve come up with essentially an urban limit line,” Brotzman said. “We really are trying to preserve those rural areas and we’re really trying to limit urban sprawl.”

The rural areas should feed into a buffer zone of open space, he said. “We really want to concentrate the density that’s already on the corridors like Lyons, Soledad, downtown Newhall and the town center,” said Santa Clarita Senior Planner Jason Smiskso.

Two general plans have guided the Santa Clarita Valley’s growth over the last two decades. Last updated in 1990, the county’s Santa Clarita Valley area plan governs Stevenson Ranch, Westridge, Castaic, Agua Dulce, parts of Canyon Country and the other unincorporated areas in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The city of Santa Clarita adopted a general plan of its own in 1991, four years after it became a city.

Twenty-four colors
Though general plans by definition are general, the state-mandated documents must include a map that details exactly what type of development can occur on every inch of land.

Coded with 24 colors, the Santa Clarita Valley’s land use map tells city planners, developers, council members and the public what can be built where.

“There are so many factors that go into it,” said Mitch Glaser, county supervising regional planner. “It’s not a science.

“If we could just plug it into a computer and have it spit out the perfect land use plan, that would be great. But there’s a lot of research and evaluation and field work that goes into it.”

A team of city and county planners, engineers and consultants trekked the Santa Clarita Valley in four-wheel-drive vehicles to look at every hill and canyon to determine potential uses for the land, said Planning Manager Lisa Webber.

“We really looked with our own eyes,” Webber said. “We had maps, we had graphics, we had statistics with us, overlays that showed where flood zone areas were, where earthquake faults were, where future roads were planned.

“We got out of the car and rolled everything out onto the hood of these jeeps. We looked at it and then we looked up and looked around us. We asked, ‘What makes sense for the future land use for this area?’”

‘We’ve tried’
For areas they couldn’t visit by car, they hopped in a county Fire Department helicopter and scoured the land with an eagle’s eye, she said.

They looked at water supply, road capacity and a jobs/housing balance and found the population number of 445,000 passed the tests, Brotzman said.

“We’ve tried to do the best job that we can at planning to make that as this valley develops out, the infrastructure will be there to meet the needs,” Brotzman said.

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