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Cam Noltemeyer: When enough is enough

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: February 18, 2009 7:41 p.m.
Updated: February 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Last Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission held a hearing on two projects in the Haskell Canyon area that would add yet another 500 units to the huge backlog of housing units either lying empty or unbuilt in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Local residents brought up the oft-heard complaint of additional traffic ruining their lives and their home values. Of course, the developer of their own community told them that no project would ever be built behind them. (Our advice - don't ever believe the developer. Go to the department of public works and read the maps of your area yourself.)

This project proposal would require an amendment to the General Plan, the Local Plan, a zone change, a conditional-use permit, not to mention permits to grade away the hillsides, remove oak trees, to alter streams and channel the creek. So, in essence, the proposal didn't comply with any of the existing zoning regulations.

In this area, close to the national forest, a recent wildfire already required the evacuation of some 15,000 residents. Luckily, roads were sufficient to handle such an evacuation and the residents received adequate warning. But in this new proposal, where the closest fire stations will take between 15 and 18 minutes to arrive on scene, some housing areas in the project only one exit on a narrow road.

When we brought this to the commission's attention, one commissioner asked if we thought the park and school site would be sufficient for evacuations. I guess the new idea is that people must not have adequate escape routes to flee with their cars, children, animals and important papers and family items.

Rather, they must abandon everything, run to the center of a park, hope they can all fit in, and hope that the fire and wind is not so hot that they will not be incinerated. Is this good planning?

So when is enough, enough? Thankfully, the county thought this project was too much. In an unusual move, the commission sent the proposal back to the drawing boards, making local residents very happy.

But what will be in store for all of us as the city of Santa Clarita and L.A. County work through the new "One Valley, One Vision" General Plan update that proposes zoning changes to accommodate more than 500,000 people in the Santa Clarita Valley (the current population is around 270,000 when city and county-area populations are combined). Do we have an adequate water supply for such a large increase in the number of people? Must we all suffer through an "F" traffic level? How will our ridgelines, oaks and significant ecological areas be preserved under such an enormous population increase? When is enough, enough?

One also has to wonder how such a rezoning would affect the current housing downturn. Will adding thousands of new housing units really help the housing market? Or will such an artificial glut, fabricated by the swish of a pen, merely further depress our already overbuilt housing economy?

Often residents turn out in anger when a project is proposed that will affect their immediate neighborhood, but fail to act when the broader underlying plan is changed. Somehow the General Plan is too vague, too distant. They are not threatened by immediate grading and the spectre of thousands of additional car trips moving through their quiet neighborhood, so don't get involved and don't speak out.

But the proposed changes to the General Plan are huge. Noise-level standards may be reduced, affecting how much noise your neighborhood can be subjected to. Maybe that means a large road could be planned through your neighborhood that wouldn't have been allowed before. Traffic patterns can be altered. Areas designated for low-income housing are decided. Densities are increased.

In an effort to encourage public involvement in the One Valley, One Vision General Plan update, we invited former Councilman TimBen Boydston to our SCOPE meeting Thursday evening to discuss this plan. We also invite SCV residents to attend, discuss issues and find out how you can get involved. See our Web site ( for location and directions.

Cam Noltemeyer is a member of the board 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 those of The Signal.


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