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David Lutness: One minute for the Santa Clara River

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: October 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: October 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
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On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors tentatively approved the first phase of the Newhall Ranch project, the phase that is probably the most environmentally damaging.

Travelers on Highway 126 will no longer be able to see the river once the new strip malls are built. Housing will replace prime agricultural land, river habitat and flood plain in this now-former significant ecological area.

Los Angeles County’s last free-flowing river will be devastated by all the impacts that go along with commuter-oriented urban sprawl.

Though residents traveling from Santa Clarita to downtown Los Angeles for the hearing spent nearly two hours fighting traffic, and many had to take a day off of work, they were afforded only one minute to speak.

That’s one minute to talk about the many threatened and endangered species that will most likely be lost to this project. One minute to talk about our Santa Clarita ozone levels that are now classified by the EPA as “extremely hazardous” and how this commuter-oriented project will add to that pollution. One minute to talk about our children’s increased levels of asthma.

One minute to talk about how storm water will affect the water quality of the river and our water supply.

One minute for the newly discovered contamination in the now closed Valencia drinking-water well. One minute to object to the Newhall Land Development Inc.’s use of the Valencia treatment plant, and explain how it will add to the chloride levels in the river, increasing sewer costs for local residents.

One minute to talk about Newhall Land’s bankruptcy and how financial instability might affect its capacity to pay the high costs of all the infrastructure expansion needed for this project.

No one even had time to bring up the question of why all these units were being approved when entitlements for some 10,000 fully approved but unbuilt units already exist in Santa Clarita.

Why should strip malls be built on a former scenic highway when commercial land in Santa Clarita already has a high vacancy rate?

Needless to say, a one-minute time limit was completely inadequate for such important issues.

With supervisors talking on their phones, walking around and working on their computers, one has to wonder how much of a speaker’s one-minute comment was really even heard.

In spite of last week’s vote to delay the meeting by a week, some 25 people still attended the hearing to speak against the project. So, although the message was garbled and cut into tiny sound bites, concern for the Santa Clara River, our air and water quality, as well as added traffic, seemed to come through.

Two supervisors left the room, apparently refusing to vote on the project. Only supervisors Michael D. Antonovich, Gloria Molina and Don Knabe were left to cast a vote, but that was enough to tentatively move this project forward.

The vote was “tentative” because, according to The Signal, the project will return to the board in the future after attorneys develop specific language to address the many issues brought to the board in correspondence and in the comments at the hearing. 

This was not the final vote, but newspaper headlines read as though the project could begin grading tomorrow. Was this an effort to discourage any continued opposition?

The question now is, with the housing downturn and our current poor economy, just exactly who is that will be buying all these houses in a project that will do so much damage to our regional environment?

Will hedge-fund investors really pay to build housing that no one can afford to buy? Or will this house of cards, paper profits and public taxpayer subsidies collapse before we lose the last free-flowing river in Los Angeles County?

David Lutness is a Valencia resident.

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