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Cam Noltemeyer: Public shut out of developer needs process

Enviornmentally Speaking

Posted: September 2, 2009 9:00 p.m.
Updated: September 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

After being away for a week I read with interest the Signal article "City OKs portion of fluid plan" regarding the 21-point stimulus package that appears to be missing the back up for point seven. So I made a point of watching the tape of the city council meeting. I checked the city council minutes of April 28, 2009. There it was, Economic Development 21-Point Business Plan for Progress. It received a unanimous vote from the city council. Along with that approval came $800,000 in funding, $500,000 from contingency accounts and $300,000 from LMD fund balance. Now it seems none of them really remember what they approved.

At least that was certainly the way it seemed at the Council meeting Tuesday night. Why call it the 21-point Business Plan for Progress if none of the Council members seemed to remember exactly what they were and the city refused to provide them to the press? Great confusion arose over the lists of proposals and their contents. The agenda item didn't have a list attached or a history of the origin of this proposal.

The motion on Tuesday's Council agenda was to delay payment of developer mitigation fees for one year to stimulate economic growth in the city of Santa Clarita. Just exactly what fees?

If you had the staff report you would know that the City Council approved the deferment of the collection of Quimby (Park fees), Bridge & Thoroughfare and Transit Impact development fees for one year. What infrastructure will be delayed? How much money are we talking about? How will it affect the city budget? Which developers will this affect?

Many infrastructure needs require fee payments. These include parks, school fees, library fees, streetlights, road improvements and all the necessities required of subdivision.

Thanks to Diane Trautman, who appeared as a member of the public, these questions were at least asked. But even though they remained unanswered, the City Council voted unanimously to approve this strange proposal.

Schools, water districts and local municipalities now look to surety bonds, deposits or permit restrictions to make sure required infrastructure is built. While other jurisdictions scramble to find ways to ensure that promised community benefits from development projects will really be forthcoming in spite of the economy, our own City Council wants to delay those payments. Wouldn't requiring a bond serve the same purpose while still protecting the public? One has to wonder because by now everyone knows there is a council election coming up in the next year.

One can only wonder why, when just a month ago, the city stood to lose over $500,000 in the Landsource Bankruptcy due it from Newhall Land for required road improvements. In the end, Newhall promised to pay the city, but others in the bankruptcy proceedings were not so lucky. Will this be one of the fees delayed for a year?

So how is it that a group of developers and other business leaders met with city planners to make an agenda anyway? The city staff report states that this was one of several recommendations made by the Development Process Advisory Committee. The big question of the evening was, is this a formal committee of the city council? If so were the meetings open to the public? How does the public receive notice of the meetings? Obviously, no one can attend a meeting without knowing the date, time and location.

While we strongly support our local business community, letting developers off the hook for required mitigation fees does little to help those businesses or the taxpayers. Indeed it may even put a greater strain on our local economy as the city struggles to provide services that otherwise might have been paid for by these fees.

We believe that the city must re-visit this proposal. We all need to know exactly what this proposal will cost the taxpayers, what mitigation will be delayed and how that will affect the community. Planning meetings between developers and city staff should be posted on the city's Web site for all to see and to attend if they so wish. Open meetings and transparency in their actions would go a long way to solve this problem.

And one last question: How can the city ask residents to vote to increase their storm water fees at the same time they delay fees for the developers? Taxpayers are facing hard times too. Is this really equitable?

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) board member and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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