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Lynne Plambeck: Speaking up for the environment

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: February 11, 2009 10:49 p.m.
Updated: February 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
I can't tell you how many times community members have come up to me after a public hearing and asked if I thought their presence and comments did any good.

Or how often I have heard grumbling that it wasn't worth missing the football game to show up at City Hall or the town council because the council members just voted to approve the project anyway.

My answer to them is as Margaret Meade once said: "Never doubt that a few committed people can change the world. Indeed, that is the only thing that ever does."

But change comes slowly and accomplishments sometimes occur behind the scenes. Successes may be measured in what we don't have, as well as what we do have.

I just wanted to remind everyone of some of the hard-fought battles that we have won because regular people showed up at hearings and participated in public meetings in large numbers to speak up for our community and our quality of life.

We don't have the toxic hazardous-waste landfill that was proposed to be sited here in the late 1970s. That was a first effort at community activism for many people, and it was successful.

We do not have a concrete-box-channeled river (except where it was illegally concreted by Newhall Land in Bouquet Creek) because many people spoke out against this proposal in the 1980s, attended meetings and gave their time to prepare a community vision for the Santa Clara River.

Our city was formed in 1987 by a group of volunteers who were upset about having to drive all the way to downtown L.A. for meetings and wanted more control over how our valley developed.

Community members were on the City General Plan Committee and helped write the Oak and Hillside ordinances.

We do not have a gigantic landfill in Elsemere Canyon, a huge dump that was proposed in the early '90s in the Angeles National Forest.

That dump was dumped as a result of the hundreds of individuals and organizations that spent many volunteer hours to oppose it.

Many housing proposals have been substantially altered before approval due to suggestions and concerns brought by members of the public, including members of SCOPE, a group formed in 1987 to help protect the environment.

There are many issues that still need to be addressed. We should not be building in flood plains, not only to protect residences from the Santa Clara River's periodic flooding, but also to ensure our continued water supply.

Groundwater will be perhaps the most important source of future water supplies. Building over flood plains reduces or eliminates the natural recharge of our groundwater from rainstorms.

We are still lining with concrete some of our creeks and streams, such as Newhall Creek. Such poor planning may have been partly responsible for the flooding in that area a few years ago, but also it reduces that availability of water to local wells.

We still have unresolved water and air pollution problems. Traffic is a nightmare. So our local government bodies still need to hear from people like you and me at public hearings.

They need to hear our concerns and our ideas. They need our support and thanks when they do the right thing (for instance, the wonderful community events such as Arbor Day and the River Rally).

They need to hear our opposition when they allow the destruction of oaks and hillsides or overbuild for the capacity of the existing infrastructure.

As a member of the Newhall County Water District, I also sometimes sit on the other side of the dais. It is important for me to hear from members of the public on what they support as well as their concerns.

If I only hear from the development community, it is hard to make a decision about what is best for the entire community.

Community members often tell me about issues in their neighborhoods that I would not know of otherwise.

They may bring to light errors in reports that I might not otherwise see.

Public input is instrumental to making a good decision. I am always grateful to those who are willing to give their time to the community to bring their issues to public meetings.

I hope everyone will participate in the upcoming hearings on the "One Valley, One Vision" plan. This plan will make changes in our community that we will have to live with for many years to come.

Take a little time to keep the Santa Clarita Valley on the right track with your participation. And don't ever think that your time, your letters and other efforts don't make a difference. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily that of The Signal.


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