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Did the city get a turkey this holiday?

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: November 26, 2008 8:58 p.m.
Updated: November 27, 2008 4:55 a.m.
Did our community get a "turkey" of a project this holiday season, or a hospital? That is the question after the Santa Clarita City Council last week approved the hospital and multi-story office expansions.

Like everyone in Santa Clarita, we support a hospital expansion.

But we do have concerns with the centralization of facilities in the Valencia area that will probably exclude the future development of needed services in Canyon Country. And like a large majority of folks in the adjoining neighborhoods, we have a lot of questions about the massive office buildings that are a central feature of this project.

In an area zoned "residential low," these buildings will generate significant amounts of traffic, air pollution and noise in a community not planned or designed to handle such large commercial structures.

Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment has been following the process for the hospital/office expansion since it began several years ago.

One point of particular interest is that this project is the very first master plan ever approved in the city of Santa Clarita. The "master plan" tool for project approvals was added to the city's codes in 2005, just before the hospital/office expansion was first proposed. A master plan must consider specific criteria that include:
* Harmony in scale, bulk, coverage and density;
* The availability of public facilities, services and utilities;
* The harmful effect, if any, upon desirable neighborhood character;
* The generation of traffic and the capacity and physical character of surrounding streets.

It is very difficult to see how the multi-story office buildings and tower in this project could comply with the requirements of a master plan as set out in our city codes. How will that affect the approvals for other master-planned projects? What kind of precedent is this setting for planning in our community? We also wonder whether any of the hospital portions of the plan will actually ever really be built. This is perhaps the biggest issue.

The developer agreement does not guarantee the inpatient building that is supposed to house the hospital expansion will ever be built.

The development agreement approved by the City Council by a 3-2 vote last Wednesday clearly states in Section 4.6: "No Obligation to Develop - Nothing in this Agreement is intended, should be construed, nor shall require Developer to proceed with the construction of any Project Improvements on the Campus Property."

The assistant city attorney confirmed this problem at the public hearing. Without a guarantee that the inpatient building and its expensive hospital improvements will be built, all the community may have in the end is a lot of traffic and multi-story offices. The city's Planning Commission denied the development agreement and sent the master plan to the City Council with the direction that they didn't have sufficient information to make the needed findings for a master plan.

After voting against the project Wednesday, Mayor Bob Keller was quoted as saying, "It is a train wreck waiting to happen in the future. It is a bad business decision on both parties (the hospital and G&L Realty), and unfortunately we are caught right in the middle of it here at City Hall."

This is obviously not a question of just a few neighbors worrying about their own backyards, as Councilwoman Laurie Ender was heard to state after she voted for the project. These are serious issues for the future well-being of our community and for the goal of actually receiving new hospital facilities.

Here's one last question, just "food for thought" over the holidays. If this project could really stand on its own legs rather than wobbly "turkey" legs, why did the proponents need four lobbyists at City Hall?

Why did they put up huge, expensive billboards all over the city touting a hospital expansion that is not guaranteed in the development agreement? Why did the community receive so many mailings in support of a hospital expansion, just as though this were a political campaign?

Why did G&L Realty spend $30,000 in an independent expenditure campaign for Laurie Ender in the last City Council campaign? This is high-powered lobbying for a hospital that everyone in the community wants. Could it be that there is a lot more to this project than a hospital, and maybe also a lot less hospital than anyone really knows?

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita resident and board member 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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