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Cam Noltemeyer: Making diamonds from coal

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: December 31, 2008 3:26 p.m.
Updated: December 31, 2008 4:55 a.m.
The Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment just celebrated its 21st year of involvement in issues in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Local residents came together to form SCOPE in 1987, the same year Santa Clarita became a city. That year also marked another massive growth spurt in development in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Although there was great hope the Santa Clarita City Council would now be able to take a more pro-active role in managing growth, the first SCOPE members still believed there would be a great need for a group of citizens who would promote good planning and protect our quality of life as well as the environment.

For SCOPE's formation in 1987, the founding members established goals that included the environment and planning to protect the quality of life in our valley.

"Promote, protect and preserve the environment, ecology and the quality of life in the Santa Clarita Valley" is the mission statement used as a header on all our stationery.

What does quality of life mean? To members, like myself, it means good schools, nearby libraries, adequate fire and sheriff services, water supply, roads that are not so congested with traffic that no one can get across town, planning for public transportation and generally maintaining the quality of established neighborhoods.

These planning areas lie at the heart of the county Development Monitoring System, a general plan amendment written to ensure that adequate infrastructure will be included in all new development.

We have spent many years defending this system in the county planning process and long tried to promote a similar analysis for development in the city areas.

SCOPE's first public-interest litigation was filed over the environment and the inadequacy of schools and libraries.

In 1993, a judge ruled for SCOPE, the Sierra Club and the Stevenson Ranch Residents for Responsible Development, stating that the developer must follow the Development Monitoring System.

To do this, additional fees were established for schools and libraries for all new development projects. This was a huge victory for our valley, bringing in millions of dollars for school funding and new library facilities.

Also in 1993, Santa Clarita was fighting the proposal for a huge landfill in the Newhall Pass. We were, of course, part of the city coalition opposing that project, attending hearings and writing extensive comments on the environmental documents that eventually blocked the project.

This long fight recently and happily ended with the acquisition of the land into the Rim of the Valley Corridor, thus protecting this important wildlife corridor, one of the foremost goals of the city.

Our members participated in the committees that helped write the city's General Plan and the Ridgeline Ordinance and Oak Tree Ordinance, the first two ordinances passed by our newly formed city of Santa Clarita.

Such community involvement has continued with our participation in various General Plan updates last year and will continue into 2009 with our involvement in the new city and county General Plan updates.

The Santa Clara River and water supply have also been major areas of focus for SCOPE. In 2003, SCOPE was a part of a coalition including 11 public agencies and three environmental groups that complained to the court that the proposed 21,000-unit Newhall Ranch project would not have an adequate water supply, among other environmental issues.

The court sent the project back for reevaluation of the water issue.

While we have consistently commented on water-supply issues, we have never sued any water agency, as one article recently misreported.

Instead, we focused on planning for water supply and accurate water supply reporting during county and city project planning reviews. We wanted to make sure adequate water supplies existed for any additional housing approvals and that contaminated water from the Saugus aquifer was not reported as available before cleanup facilities were actually built.

Concerns over this planning issue expressed by SCOPE and other local environmental groups resulted in Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich requesting an annual water supply report for the Santa Clarita Valley.

We hope to continue our water-supply planning work next year by taking a much more active role in the
Community Advisory Group that provides oversight of the contaminated Whittiker Bermite site in the center of our city.

Our involvement in the city's recent approval of the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital expansion will continue next year.

We hope to ensure the development agreement will really provide the promised benefits for our community and protect the quality of life in the existing neighborhoods.

As in the past, we know our future efforts will only succeed after tenacious community involvement. It takes a long time to turn a lump of coal into a diamond, but we have several such diamonds in our past accomplishments.

We hope you will join us in our endeavors in the New Year.

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


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