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Cam Noltemeyer: Why is the city lowering its standards?

Environmentall Speaking

Posted: May 12, 2010 5:52 p.m.
Updated: May 13, 2010 4:55 a.m.
At a recent Santa Clarita Planning Commission meeting, commissioners approved an amendment to Title 17 of the city’s Unified Development Code (UDC), “to add Section 17.01.180 Annexations to authorize the City Council to (1) grant certain exceptions from development standards contained in the city’s Unified Development Code (UDC) (i.e.: permitted uses, parking, setbacks, floor area ratio, signage, architectural design elements, right-of-way improvements, landscaping, and/or hillside development) for properties proposed for annexation to the city in accordance with entitlements approved by Los Angeles County; and (2) approve modifications to these projects in accordance with the existing provisions of the city’s UDC and California Environmental Quality Act” (See Planning Commission agenda, April 20).

According to the staff report, this item was brought to the commission at the request of several eastside developers and, interestingly, appeared right before the council election.

It mentions the fact that housing remains that is unbuilt outside the city.

The staff report went on to state: “These developers are generally in favor of annexation into the city. However, given the fact that these projects have been approved under the county, an issue has been raised regarding different development standards in the county that are not consistent with the city.”

Therefore, staff recommended changes to our code sections that would not comply with the General Plan.

Instead, they would vote that it was all right not to comply.

So why did we become a city?

I thought the reason was so that we could require improvements in new development over what the county might require.

Some of those improvements included a strict hillside ordinance and parking requirements.  

The county also recently approved green building ordinances and a landscape ordinance that developers would most likely want to avoid.

Why is our city helping them evade these important advances in land-use requirements for county areas?

Could these code changes have anything to do with the 1,200-unit Canyon Vista development that does not comply with our General Plan?

Is this merely a way for one developer to get around requirements of our General Plan, rather than submitting to the extensive review required for changes to the General Plan?

Is it for the several other projects in Canyon Country across from the Cemex mine property?

Or is it the 1,260-unit Pardee Skyline project that will add additional traffic onto Bouquet Canyon Road?

Obviously, part of the problem in the SCV housing market was overdevelopment of overpriced houses. We already have approximately 30,000 approved units in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Like so many other Sunbelt cities, when the housing bubble burst, a huge inventory of approved units remained unbuilt.

Who is going to build them when there is no market?

So now the very developers that helped push us into the housing bubble are running to school districts and the city, demanding that the fees and requirements they agreed to pay be reduced or eliminated.

Some of these requirements, such as school fees, were established as much as a decade ago and have nothing to do with the housing boom/bust cycle.

But developers are using the downturn to push “growth at any cost” councils like ours to get rid of previous requirements.

Who will pick up the tab for schools for these new houses now?

You and me, of course.

Who will suffer when requirements are relaxed to make it “easier” to develop?

All the residents of the SCV.

One doesn’t have to wonder for long why the city is reducing fees and requirements that help local developers but isn’t worried about reducing the quality of life or increasing taxes for local residents.

One only has to look at the campaign donations and political-action committee funding for our council races.

It must have been nice for the incumbents to have city staff negotiating with the developers for lower standards during the campaign. I guess that is one way to get campaign contributions.  

I thought our city was supposed to be working for us.

Could these proposed changes have anything to do with the substantial contributions from developers to our three incumbents?

We believe lowering development standards and reducing required fees that will later have to be picked up by the taxpayers and residents is not a good deal for our community.

Perhaps it would be best to leave these developments outside the city, if they don’t want to abide by our rules and want the taxpayers to pick up the expenses of new development.

We believe it is time for the city to start representing the taxpayers of this valley.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita resident and a 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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