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Planned growth is a good thing

Our View: Development

Posted: January 17, 2009 7:20 p.m.
Updated: January 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.
There sure is a whole lot of planning going on in Santa Clarita these days.

Every time you turn around, it seems there is a new master plan for something-or-other. There is a master plan for parks and recreation. There is a master plan for the arts.

There is a master plan for "non-motorized transportation" so you can walk or ride a bike from one side of town to the other without getting run over. There is even a master plan for the "beautification" of the city.

As of last month, there is a master plan for the hospital in Valencia and, as of last week, there is a master plan for the Christian college in Placerita Canyon.

There's more. There is a specific plan for the redevelopment of Newhall. There is a specific plan in the works for the area north of downtown Newhall.

There are specific plans for parts of Valencia and, outside the city, for The Newhall Land and Farming Co.'s Newhall Ranch project.

A specific plan is essentially the same as a master plan. It's a roadmap. In the case of development, it's a tool that puts flesh on the bones of a general plan.

You've heard of that one. In Santa Clarita they're calling it "One Valley, One Vision."

You might have a vision for what you want in a particular part of your community, but it's the master plan or specific plan that shows you how to get where you're going.

If you're in business, you're familiar with the concept. You've probably got a three- or five-year plan that shows where you are and where you want to be, with some explanation of how you'll get there. If you don't, you'll be long gone by then.

Master plans and specific plans do the same thing for a community. Look at the newly approved master plan for The Master's College.

Sure, the college could have asked the city to approve one project at a time - maybe a chapel this year, a new dormitory next year and some houses the next - and it probably would have gotten the OK.

But what would it mean for the residents of Placerita Canyon? In five or 10 years, they'd be living next to a bunch of new buildings used by hundreds of new students who'd be clogging a little private road and blaring their raucous gospel music every Sunday morning in a new outdoor amphitheater.

So they didn't do that. At the request of their canyon neighbors, college administrators put all of their development plans for the next decade into one package and tied it up with a bow so city planners could examine the cumulative impacts of the entire expansion - rather than look at each separate building in a vacuum.

What effect will the next 10 years of development have on the local aesthetics, air quality, biological resources, geology, hydrology, water quality, land use, noise, population, housing, public services, roads, transportation and utilities?

Each separate building might not have much impact on those things. Taken together, all of the buildings will. A master plan enables the city to examine the effects of the whole 10 years of development at one time, and to require the college to make necessary accommodations.

It's good to have a plan.

With so many plans guiding the growth of our city today, it's odd to think that Santa Clarita didn't always operate that way.

When the city was a young pup - it was only "born" in 1987 - it took a laissez-faire approach to development. City officials even trumpeted that phrase, as if it were a good thing. Roughly translated it means, "Let the free market dictate" how we grow. In plain English it means, "Let the developers decide for themselves" where and what they'll build.

Ironically, that's just what Los Angeles County did in our area in the 1970s and '80s. It let the developers build one project at a time, wherever they wanted, with no regard to the cumulative impact.

Pretty soon we didn't have enough parks, schools or roads to accommodate our exploding population.

The locals loathed the result so fiercely that they rebelled and formed their own city. We weren't going to stand for that type of non-planning anymore.

It took the new city more than a decade to get off the dime. Blame it on its newness, or blame it on Newhall Land. Goodness knows almost anything could be blamed on Newhall Land.

Truth be told, Newhall Land was a big part of the reason the city didn't do much planning in its early years.

Newhall Land was the one exception to the rule of "anything goes" when Santa Clarita was unincorporated county territory.

The big development company's business model relied on sound planning to attract customers, i.e., Valencia home buyers. Its Valencia master plan provided not only roads, schools and parks, but also pedestrian walkways, industrial centers, a civic center, hospital, community college, arts institute and a major amusement park.

Newhall Land was still rolling out its master plan for several years after cityhood, giving municipal leaders a vaguely viable excuse to leave the planning to Newhall Land. But that excuse went only so far. And it was justified only on the west side of town.

And it lasted only so long. With Newhall Land all but a faded memory, there is nobody but the city to fill the void today.

Thankfully, our current city leadership has stepped up to the plate.

From parks to bike trails, from hospitals to colleges, Santa Clarita is up to its eyeballs in general plans and master plans and specific plans to guide the growth of our valley. And that is a good thing.

We won't all agree about every detail of every master plan. But without one for each of our city's major development projects, we'll look back one day and wonder who let the dogs out.

It won't have been the county this time.


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