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Tim Myers: Placerita: The 800-pound gorilla in room

Posted: December 1, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 1, 2012 2:00 a.m.

One of my absolute favorite sayings relates to the “800-pound gorilla in the room.” According to Urban Dictionary, which accomplishes much in the definition of vernacular speech, the term references “an overbearing entity in a specific industry or sphere of activity. A seemingly unbeatable presence always to be reckoned with; whose experience, influence, and skill threatens to defeat competitors with little effort.”

In the sphere of Santa Clarita politics, when the Myers clan moved here in 1996, four 800 pound gorillas existed. In no particular order, they included Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita; Newhall Land and Farming Company; the Senior Center; and the Placerita Canyon homeowners.

In the ensuing 16 years, the weight and heft of at least three of the gorillas waned. While McKeon rather easily retained his congressional seat in 2012 against a determined opponent, all of his specifically endorsed local candidates over the last two years — from the Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat Suzan Solomon to Jon Hatami to Laurie Ender to his own spouse — lost rather spectacularly in their election or primary bids.

Newhall Land and Farming, rather fresh out of bankruptcy and swallowed by the giant Lennar in Florida, retains a very small footprint in the area, and with little unpermitted land within the city limits no longer seems that interested in local politics. Its future fights exist on county land against determined environmentalist opposition.

And perhaps most tragically, one sees the waning of the Senior Center, once a nexus of SCV political life with reliable blocks of votes in our local low-turnout elections.

Changing demographics and the problems brought on by government austerity make that touch point rather nebulous.

But that leaves the Placerita Canyon homeowners, who still quietly and stridently make their 800-pound presence known, showing no signs of weakening.

The Placerita Canyon homeowners constitute the biggest influence group that no one knows much about, primarily because they limit their influence solely to the task of preserving their putative property rights of an “equestrian and rural” nature in their Santa Clarita enclave.

The remoteness of this neighborhood and its specific isolation prevent many accidental visitors, who would find themselves shocked at the existence of this neighborhood in the midst of United States tract suburbia — with all of its soulessness — fully surrounding it.

This muscle flexing reacts to any change in the area with the hostility of a direct assault on western civilization. Woe to the many victims who fell to its wishes over the years.

First, The Master’s College that endures assault whenever it seeks to make expansions, bringing in that dearth of any orderly society: students at a Christian college.

Consider also rational city planners seeking to improve traffic flow. Any potential through streets find themselves suddenly stopped on the borders of Placerita Canyon without any further movement.

And finally, consider owners of land on the doorstep of Placerita Canyon who dare to engage in development. They will find their plans squashed under a veritable sledgehammer of that political influence.

Most recently, this influence allegedly even caused a death. The father of one Curtis Hairell claims that his son’s recent death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head resulted from despondence due to the refusal of city organs to allow the subdivision of his lot in Placerita Canyon for the building of a residence.

Father Michael Hairell has taken an appeal of this refusal before the City Council and won initial approval of the subdivision.

Now, since human beings basically remain optimistic unless they have some diagnosable condition, I believe that other factors contributed more to the tragic suicide of Mr. Hairell than the refusal to subdivide.

However, two matters give one pause. First, city professional planning staff recommended the approval of the project then refused by the Planning Commission. Second, Superior Court Judge Ann Jones, who recently issued rulings (further) delaying the Newhall Ranch project, according to Signal news reports registered objections to the project that abuts her property.

And so a perfect storm exists to test the power of Placerita Canyon. An appointed Planning Commissioner overturning the findings of professional planners employed by the city. A sympathetic father with a dead son seeking to fulfill his “dream.” And a judge whose fingerprints now impact development both near to her personal residence and far.

In some respects, I root for the City Council to change its mind and again knuckle under to Placerita Canyon. One can obtain some comfort from knowing that at least one nexus of power still exists.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. “Myers’ Musings” appears Saturdays in The Signal.


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