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Santa Clarita's 25th: The road to 25 years

Posted: December 15, 2012 4:00 a.m.
Updated: December 15, 2012 4:00 a.m.

A 1989 front page of The Signal highlights city efforts to upgrade roads.

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As the largest newly incorporated city ever, Santa Clarita in 1987 had to tackle the combined infrastructure needs for 100,000-plus residents across 43 square miles.

“My wife Karen asked ‘What if we win? Then what?’ explained Allan Cameron, one of the 25 in the city’s formation committee. “We had to create a city out of nothing – the largest city at the time of its formation. So it was a significant undertaking.”

Now, 25 years later, the city has been recognized for its long-term efforts in connecting the two sides of the Santa Clarita Valley and getting the city through 11 federally declared disasters – all while nurturing a rapidly growing region and population.

Traffic and transportation were some of the biggest concerns of the initial city leadership, said Robert Newman, who started working with the city in 1991 and is the current public works director for the city.

“In those first five years, the city spent a great deal of time and resources maximizing the existing infrastructure through more efficient signal synchronization, better signal timing, and adding right-hand turn pockets where appropriate,” Newman said.

The city has been able to boast a balanced budget from the beginning of cityhood, but that meant making infrastructure improvements conservatively. A 1988 county survey concluded that the Santa Clarita Valley had a $900 million infrastructure deficit. Eighteen months into cityhood, Santa Clarita had $22 million in the bank, Carl Boyer wrote in his book “Santa Clarita.” Boyer is one of the city’s founders.

Boyer wrote that the city early on approved 19 traffic improvements that were inexpensive and improved traffic flow – from lane increases. The city also secured a $150,000 county grant for street maintenance.

The city financed road and transportation products as the funding was available but from the start, city leaders envisioned a cross-valley connector of some sort. The final links weren’t connected until 2004, nearly 20 years after the formation of the city.

“Initial plans for what is now the cross-valley connector were originally discussed in the early 1990s as a project to be spearheaded by CalTrans,” Newman from public works explained. “The original plans, which were not approved by the Santa Clarita City Council, included an expressway-style road with several on and off ramps. The original design would have essentially divided the community and City leaders felt it wasn’t the right project.”

Newman added that the cross-valley connector was years in the making, but was made at the right time and in the right fashion.

“While it may have been nice to have another roadway in the community decades ago, the cross-valley connector project happened at the right time in the right way for our community,” Newman said. “And the credit really goes to the early city councilmembers for their foresight and ability to see that waiting for the right project would ultimately be the best decision for the city.”

Emergency preparedness

The first City Council formed the city’s Emergency Preparedness program and set up an Emergency Operations Center, and through an ordinance made the city manager the director of emergency services.

One of the first organized mitigation efforts was forming the community preparedness program called SECURE, said Donna Nuzzi, director of emergency services.

“From the city staff side, emergency preparedness management was always a big consideration and priority for our city,” she said. “They support our hazards. We live within a wildland-urban [meaning at-risk for wildfires]. The San Andrea fault is not too far away and we have our own earthquake faults within our valley.”

The first major disasters in sunny Santa Clarita were actually flooding issues, which were exacerbated by the conservatively progressing infrastructure improvements.

“As a city one of the key things about our growth is mitigation. Our public works department has secured many federal grants to do mitigation projects to reduce our repetitive loss,” Nuzzi said. “We had floods in 1992, 1993. Out of that came riverbank protection. Out of the 1994 earthquake, Metrolink was formed. When disasters come, they don’t get us down; opportunities happen.”

Because of its flood-related mitigation projects and efforts, the city is a member of the National Flood Insurance Program. So Santa Clarita residents receive a reduced rate on flood insurance.

Beyond local efforts, the turning point in standardizing emergency preparedness outreach with other communities came out of the Oakland firestorm in 1991.

“Now the city uses a standard emergency management model which started in California,” Nuzzi said. “What this is all supposed to do is make us more effective in how we work together not just in our city but in neighboring counties and regions and state to state.”

One of the biggest developments in the city’s emergency preparedness structure was technology. Now, the city can post disaster information in real time on its website, and it can be hosted in another site if power completely goes down in the city.

“Technology enhances our outreach,” Nuzzi said. “More people in our community are tuned in.”

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