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Cam Noltemeyer: Neighborhoods at risk due to commercial ‘mansionization'

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: May 26, 2010 8:37 p.m.
Updated: May 27, 2010 4:55 a.m.
For some 30 years, McBean Parkway has offered an inviting tree-lined welcome into our city, helping to ensure Santa Clarita’s long-held “Tree City” status.  But apparently not for much longer.

As old eucalyptus trees fall to Beverly Hills developer G&L Realty’s parking structures and massive office expansion, and neighbors rally weekly to halt yet another huge commercial proposal, one wonders what happened to the Valencia “planned” community concept.

Planned for whom? Originally, it was for the residents. The well-established neighborhoods along McBean were staunch supporters when we proudly voted to become a city in 1987. That vote was an effort to “take back” our community from the county and protect our neighborhoods. They participated in the General Plan Advisory Committee to ensure that the zoning fit existing neighborhood norms and the desires of the community.

And for some 30 years, all was well — but not anymore.

Now it appears that Santa Clarita residents must regularly turn out in protest to take back their neighborhoods from their own City Council. They must spend their evenings at meetings to protect their existing zoning from general plan and zoning changes, variances and conditional-use permits regularly granted by the Planning Commission and City Council.

If a proposal comes in that does not fit the neighborhood zoning, instead of telling the developer to come back with a new plan, the planning department just brings back a long list of changes, exemptions, variances and conditional-use permits to accommodate the request of the developer.

And the Planning Commission always seems to vote for the staff recommendations, with nary an objection. Where is the representation for the residents? Even with a master-planned community there is no protection.

So it looks like this quiet, Valencia neighborhood, lauded for its paseos and family orientation, will become the new high-rise commercial “mansionization” corridor of Santa Clarita.

With G&L office buildings and parking structure expansion; the five-story office buildings at Singing Hills and at Old Orchard; and a hotel at Valencia Boulevard and McBean Parkway, the trees will all eventually be eliminated for road widening. The noise and traffic will become unbearable, not to mention the air pollution.

The City Council — and representatives of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital — are trying to pass off the current increase in intensive-care unit beds from 12 to 18 and a proposed neonatal intensive care unit as the promised hospital expansion in the Master Plan they approved, which they are not.

They are part of the current emergency-department expansion that was approved prior to the master plan. That expansion did not create a complaint by the community, because it was built with respect for the surrounding community. They even had a helicopter landing pad approved in 2004 that was above and west of the emergency room at a height of 32 feet.

What made the change? Perhaps the residents should look at how our City Council members are elected. Who pays for their campaigns? The council appoints the planning commissioners.   

What can the public do? We can continue to rally, but perhaps it is time to turn up the pressure. Do we need a referendum on the next zone change? Should we start looking at recall efforts for those council members who promised to protect neighborhoods when they campaigned, but then promptly forgot about the residents after they were elected?

It is time to take back our city for the residents and stop subsidizing commercial mansionization by waiving fees for developers, that then end up being paid by the taxpayers.

It is time to take back our neighborhoods.

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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