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Lynne Plambeck: The saga continues

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: September 16, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: September 16, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita and Los Angeles County have been working together to update the Santa Clarita Valley's general plan.

The county released a draft last year that apparently ran into some problems addressing climate change.

The city delayed the release of its plan to address these same issues, but now its plan may be released for review within the next month. It is imperative for the future of our valley and our neighborhoods that residents get involved with this plan.

So often, adjacent residents do not realize what is planned next door until the bulldozers begin flattening the hillsides, and the chainsaws destroy the oaks. At that point it is generally far too late to make any change. But a general-plan update seems so far in the future that the community thinks it doesn't have to worry about anything yet.

Not so. General plans are a roadmap to what the planners think our community should look like in the future. Density increases, changes in rules for hillsides and oaks, allowable building heights, increasing road capacity to accommodate more traffic and how we treat our natural resources will all be part of this plan. Once these changes are approved in a general plan, it becomes much harder to oppose their effect on our neighborhoods later when a development project comes before the city.

SCOPE has had a vision for the Santa Clarita Valley for many years. Our members participated in city formation to promote local control. One of our former presidents, Michael Kotch, participated on the General Plan Advisory Committee to help write our city's first general plan. We participated in the committee that formulated our city's hillside and ridgeline ordinance in hopes of protecting our local hillsides. And we participated in the city's development of the oak ordinance.

Unfortunately, the city is no longer so inclusive. It often tries to exclude members of the public who might object to its planning vision and promote a different direction. It's too bad.

Creative solutions are more likely to be developed when all ideas are placed openly on the table. The best plans are developed after honest discussion of issues.

The community's reticence to get involved is understandable. It seems both jurisdictions could do a better job of following their current plans and ordinances. While the city touts its ridgeline ordinance and the county has a hillside-management ordinance, the city has never once enforced the rule and hillsides routinely come down in the county.

Neither jurisdiction does much to require developers to build around oak trees, as was the original intent of the oak ordinances, but at least the county does a better job of requiring a 2-1 replacement.

As for significant ecological areas, the county has particular protections that must be followed. The city has an "overlay," which judging by the developments it has approved next to the Santa Clara River and in San Francisquito Canyon, gives no protection to these sensitive areas.

Most importantly, the county has a "development-monitoring system" that it is required to follow for all new development approvals. This planning tool evaluates the adequacy of infrastructure in six different areas - fire service, water supply, roads, libraries, schools and sewer, to make sure any new approval can still be accommodated when all the existing approvals are built. This is a planning tool that no community would want to lose, but the city didn't adopt it.

We understand the concept of One Valley, One Vision, but we believe it is the stronger protections in each jurisdiction that should be adopted. We support the county's significant ecological area designation and ordinance. We support the county's oak ordinance because oaks are more likely to be replaced.

Loss of the development-monitoring system in the county would not be acceptable. Both jurisdictions must do a better job of addressing climate change by requiring energy efficiencies in their plans.

One Valley, One Vision promotes a buildout out of Santa Clarita that will house more than 500,000 people. This vision is not sustainable. Santa Clarita already has massive traffic problems, reportedly some of the worst air pollution in the nation, and with probable reductions to imported water, our water supply will not support that many people.

SCOPE's vision for the SCV focuses on quality of life for our residents and sustainability for local businesses. That means not continuing to approve sprawl projects that create more traffic and air pollution and increase our taxes because of all the infrastructure that must be added. We want to see floodplains and ridgelines protected from development. These protections will benefit the whole community.

We want to see these values represented in the general plan and its zoning designations.

None of this will happen without the public's involvement. We urge you all to attend the first public hearing for thisplan on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., in the City Council Chambers, located at 23920 Valencia Blvd.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) 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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