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City's biggest issue: Public safety from ground up

Posted: March 16, 2008 12:02 a.m.
Updated: May 17, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
When we think about local public health and safety, we picture our sheriff and fire departments, our hospital, and the county health department. We check the county's health ratings before we enter our restaurants; we count on first responders to be there for us when emergencies strike; and we need sufficient operating rooms and hospital beds to provide timely health services.

City staff have been very proactive about emergency preparedness and rapid response during crisis situations. Still, we often think of public safety only from a reactive position - guarding what we have - and while it's always nice to have more deputies on the street (and we certainly need a sheriff's substation in Canyon Country, and a new, expanded sheriff's facility in a new, expanded civic center), we cannot ignore the fact that public safety can be built in to the very fabric of the communities we create. Here are some policies I would support once elected to the city council, starting with the creation of vibrant communities.

For more than 60 years, city planning has been dominated by a separation of uses - zoning for commercial, residential, etc. Such planning, which focuses mostly on the placement of structures, as opposed to creating truly livable places, has done a great deal of damage to a great many cities.

Communities are safest and most successful when parks, shops, public places, and residential areas are configured to encourage a diverse combination of people, buildings, and activities and a steady stream of foot traffic throughout the day and evening. This vision for vibrant communities is now the trend in city planning.

New model
Have you ever wondered why neighborhood watch programs are usually so successful? It's because residents tend to police the areas in which they live. It makes sense, then, while designing these vibrant communities, to incorporate affordable housing for the elderly and for our workforce.

Multigenerational projects ensure that there are people throughout the day and night to keep an eye and an ear on the neighborhood. This is the opposite of the standard bedroom community neighborhood, which is frequently vacant and vulnerable during the day. Santa Clarita is working toward this new model with the redevelopment of Old Town Newhall, and considering other locations for combined commercial and residential development. I strongly support incorporating affordable housing into these projects.

Sports activities keep our kids occupied and out of trouble during the day, but many adults in our community, and quite a few of our teens and young adults, would love to see more nightlife brought to our city. And so would I. A few quality establishments for dining and dancing and perhaps band performances would give our young folks a place to hang out with their friends in a safe environment, and it would give the rest of us a chance to enjoy a late night meal. When strategically placed, these establishments would contribute to the lively neighborhoods that ward off crime because of the presence of people who have a vested interest in the success of the area.

My next priority would be building a community center in Canyon Country that serves citizens of all ages. The opportunity for youth and the elderly to interact would be beneficial for both groups.

Studies have shown that senior citizens live healthier, longer lives when children are a part of their lives. At such a center, our seniors could provide attention and support for children after school and before parents return from work, minimizing the amount of unsupervised time our young folks have, and preventing them from "falling in with the wrong crowd." This is the best kind of public safety program, because it prevents people from getting involved in crime in the first place. I would also support the inclusion of that sheriff's substation I mentioned in such a facility, which would provide an added measure of safety to the entire area.

Next, I would work to update local transportation by expanding and promoting the use of our bus system for local non-work related trips.

This will improve public safety by enhancing movement for emergency vehicles and making it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. It will also reduce congestion for commuters. Then there is the issue of pedestrians attempting to cross any of our multilane highways, like Newhall Ranch Road or Bouquet Canyon Road. They would be a lot safer if these major roadways included pedestrian bridges and wider medians - "refuge islands" - on which students, the elderly, and the less mobile among us could wait until it's safe to cross.

Finally, I would work to bring another hospital to this valley. Though the city cannot dictate the location for a new facility, I would start discussions now with potential providers. More new residences are on the horizon for the eastern and northeastern portions of our valley, so it would be wise to consider a hospital in the east valley, or at least an annex with a helipad to move patients safely and quickly from Canyon Country to a trauma center. This will become increasingly important as new development brings more cross-valley traffic.

We're all very proud of the work done by our fire fighters, sheriff's deputies, medical personnel, and city staff in protecting our loved ones and our homes. As the City of Santa Clarita grows, I want to support their efforts, and create a safer city tomorrow by planning safer neighborhoods today.

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