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Posted: August 30, 2008 10:08 p.m.
Updated: November 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Question: How can one get approval for a 110-student private school in a converted six-bedroom house in Castaic in four to five months without notifying the neighbors or the quisling town council?

Answer: Welcome to Los Angeles County!

The above question really happened over the last five months, during which an individual swung a permit to renovate a six-bedroom home on a cul-de-sac to eventually accommodate up to 110 students (this amounts to about one-sixth the size of an average public elementary school) without anyone in the local community knowing about it, with county officials' explanation that they followed the letter of the law that required no local notification or hearings, and the owner of the school's protest that he did not know about the Town Council.

(That should make Dave Bossert and John Kunak happy).

I hearken back to about four years ago when a Los Angeles resident bought a five-bedroom home in Stevenson Ranch and rented it to a person who made his living as a drug counselor.

Neighbors got suspicious when the renter moved in bunk beds and coin-operated washers and dryers.
Investigations of public records revealed the renter clearly intended to run a drug halfway house in a residential neighborhood, and the initial county reaction seemed tepid.

More than 100 angry residents stormed a usual sleepy West Ranch Town Council meeting, resulting in the quiet undoing of the sale.

Now read The Signal and local blogs, particularly those of David Gauny and Dave Bossert, and one would assume Santa Clarita will outdo the county in all ways in heavy-handed treatment of residents in approving local development.

Never mind the years-long struggle of G&L Realty and Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital to obtain permits for a development plan, immediately extended further by the request of that same David Gauny who sees conspiracies behind every tree in the Summit.

Never mind a request of a recycling center quickly squashed by the immediate response of residents mobilized electronically.

Never mind a multimillion-dollar bill to keep a skate park open while building a larger skate park.

Never mind the immediate withdrawal and reworking of the Smiser Mule Ranch project along Interstate 5 near the Newhall Pass.

Why the seeming good behavior of the county of late and the "evil" behavior of the city?

One phrase: Real estate downturn.

Projects approved years ago that Westsiders will not like lay fallow due to both the lack of demand and the lack of credit.

Longtime residents of the SCV know well that the opposition to the enclaves the Westsiders now occupy seemed to gain traction with the last real estate downturn and the bankruptcies of prior developers.

They kicked into high gear with a real estate bubble driven by excess liquidity and the dusting off of plans approved earlier by the county and then reapproved with substantial changes with seeming lightning speed.

Right now, the county courts the town councils with Trojan Horse promises of future cities, county facilities relocated west of the Interstate 5, hospitals and other gems.

The sad fact: When liquidity turns again, and it always does, and someone purchases Newhall Land's assets out of the company's eventual liquidating bankruptcy, the county oversight of development and the wild winds that blow west of the I-5 - if cooler heads did not annex themselves to the city - will make the back-door approval of large private schools and drug halfway houses in residential neighborhoods seem mild by comparison.

Tim Myers is executive vice president and chief financial officer of Landscape Development Inc. in Valencia. His column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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