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Why can’t planners just say no?

Posted: August 27, 2008 6:49 p.m.
Updated: October 29, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Last Wednesday the Los Angeles County Planning Commission approved a controversial senior housing project next to Towsley Canyon Park.

Not only will it require the removal of 162 oaks, including 13 heritage oaks that were here before the American Revolution, but it will also grade into two "Significant Ecological Areas."

These areas were established in the 1980 General Plan in a citizens' effort to preserve the important natural areas in Los Angeles County. They are governed by strict planning regulations, but in this case, senior housing has apparently become the loophole to allow their partial destruction.

Both Santa Clarita Orgamoizatopm for Planning and the Environment and the Sierra Club have made protection of these areas a high priority for many years.

The staff report also indicated seven areas that will be drastically and negatively affected by this project, more than any other recent project by the county. They include sheriff's services, air quality and noise.

Again, a "need" for senior housing seems to be the loophole used to allow the commission to ignore these impacts.

But perhaps most disturbing of all, the findings clearly state "The Project site is located in Fire Zone 4 (Very High Fire Hazard) due to wildfire hazard."

Only a pad for the fire station is offered to protect the seniors, and we taxpayers will have to come up with the rest of the money to build the station, not to mention fighting any fires that may threaten the future senior citizens that will live there.

Only 93 units, about half this project, are designated for senior housing. Much of the destruction to the environment will occur as a result of the "density bonus" allowed to build additional 93 non-senior housing units.

Giving a project a senior housing "density bonus" to encourage this needed housing category in general seems like a good idea until one looks more closely at this project.

While our state Legislature struggles to come up with good planning rules about fire zones due to the millions of dollars spent to fight fires, our local planners already had plenty of good legal reasons to just say no to this project. But probably the best reasons are just plain common sense.

None of us wants to place our seniors in the way of a wildfire.

So we have to ask, why would planning commissioners use the loophole of senior housing "density bonuses" to allow double the amount of units for this project when they know seniors will be placed in a high fire hazard zone?

Why would they allow a senior project that is not close to any senior services, medical facilities or even on a regular bus route? Why would they allow a senior housing project so far out that it will diminish sheriff services for the whole community?

Why would they give approvals to a developer that is already in financial trouble based on that developer's ability to provide needed infrastructure? And why must the community pay for another fire station and the expensive wildfires that are sure to follow?

Santa Clarita already has 12 senior housing and assisted living facilities located in safe areas near to services that seniors need such as medial offices, shopping and transportation. Our seniors should not have been used as the excuse to approve a "density bonus" for this developer.

The county was able to find a way to say no to Palmer's Las Lomas project, just down the road a few miles from Lyon's Canyon. Why can't the Planning Commission just say no to this developer and protect our seniors?

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and a board member of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of the The Signal.


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