Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Happenings: Behold, OVOV's Time is Now

Paul Brotzman has been wary of the myths and misinformation being spread about OVOV.

Tonight’s Planning Commission meeting was the first for Lisa Eichman, appointed by Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean. McLean chose Eichman over reappointing Diane Trautman, arguably the hardest-working, most capable commissioner we had. It was a petty political grudge that led McLean to make the switch[1]. It was swell timing, too, as the Planning Commission is just now beginning work on the complex, all-important General Plan.
In any case, the first major task for the Planning Commission was to determine who would serve as chair and vice-chair[2]. Bill Kennedy immediately nominated Tim Burkhart to lead the PC. All supported the nomination without further discussion. When it came time for Burkhart to vote in favor of his own chair-hood, he paused and quipped, “That’s a trick question!” but eventually gave himself a “yes” vote. Ingratiating chuckles followed.
Dee Dee Jacobson was elevated from commissioner to vice-chair with the same efficiency and unanimity, but without the chuckles.
By 7:04, it was time for Senior Planner Jason Smisko to formally introduce the draft General Plan for One Valley One Vision. (The comma that once halved “One Valley One Vision” is gone; the Orwellian connotation remains). Smisko expressed a mix of anticipation and anxiousness over OVOV, its corpus comprising draft general plan elements and land use maps complemented by a draft EIR[3]. He emphasized that this was just the beginning of meetings focused on OVOV. Staff recommended that the Planning Commission continue the public hearing to November 16th, again to December 7th, and finally to January 18th. At each of these subsequent meetings, specific portions of the plan will be discussed in more detail and the City will respond to public feedback.
Planning Manager Lisa Webber spoke next. Her face was wan and her voice quivered a little, but she was otherwise composed as ever. She spoke about how the planning process started long ago, hearkening back to the “Flapjack Forum Kick Off” held on January 28, 2001. If people can't unite over pancakes, what can they unite over? Since then, she noted that LA County has adopted more progressive planning philosophies; greenhouse gas emissions have gone from a peripheral to central consideration for planners; and trends towards walkability, mixed-use communities, and sustainable developments have firmly taken root. In short, Santa Clarita’s General Plan has evolved a lot over the past decade.
Jason Smisko took to the microphone again and tried to give an over-arching idea of what OVOV is. In his words, it is a collection of over 800 “goals, policies, and objectives.” The land use map is the other major component. Four themes unify the plan:
1. Valley of Villages. Santa Clarita will be developed in a way that preserves the character of its neighborhoods. “We want these communities to maintain their distinctive community character,” said Smisko. I presume their are limits to the acceptable degree of distinctiveness.

2. Valley Center. There will be an effort to bring more “regional shopping, dining, and entertainment opportunities” that also generate more tax revenue and create local jobs.

3. Jobs-Housing Balance. Smisko said that about 50% of the workforce leaves Santa Clarita every day (is that all?), a trend the City hopes to counter by creating 1.5 jobs per residence. Number of good-jobs-per-residence will be somewhat less.

4. Preservation of Open Space/Valley Greenbelt. Claritans value open space, so there will be an effort to expand the greenbelt around Santa Clarita and to protect sensitive habitats like riparian areas.

OVOV tries to balance the four themes, some of which go hand-in-hand (2 & 3) and others of which work in direct opposition (4 vs. everything else). Determining the pattern of land use that best supported the themes involved visits to literally every property in the planning area.
Compared to the existing general plan, the new one emphasizes mixed use developments, increases commercial densities, and features a climate action plan. Indeed, there was a certain amount of paranoia over AB-32 and SB-375, the acts that compel the City of Santa Clarita to aggressively address greenhouse gas emissions towards meeting California’s climate change goals. Assistant Planner Dave Peterson said that he and his colleagues have been meeting with the State Attorney General’s office to ensure that the City’s plan for dealing with greenhouse gases is acceptable. The most recent of these meetings took place last month, and things seem to be looking OK.
Jason Smisko next moved, with some trepidation, to the topic of population growth. He showed a slide with some staggering numbers. For example, within the planning area, there are 80,500 existing units. OVOV anticipates 155,000 total potential units (40,500 units are “entitled unbuilt units," meaning they could be coming very soon). That’s double the number of homes currently found in the Santa Clarita Valley. It was stressed that the 155,000 figure represented capacity only--what might happen if demand is high, etc. The next alarming number was the projected population. Smisko placed the value as somewhere between 459,000 and 483,000 Claritans. [Insert gasp of horror here.]

Watch Clarita grow.

Mitch Glaser, Principal Planner for the County of Los Angeles, spoke next. He said “we’re a little bit behind the City” in terms of revisions and circulating documents. Glaser predicted that the Board of Supervisors might be considering the plan for county lands “sometime in the middle of next year.” There was, of course, much reciprocal back-patting between planners from the City of Santa Clarita and those from the County of Los Angeles.

Glaser was followed by Susan Tebo of Impact Sciences, Inc., Project Director for the EIR. She remarked, “If the OVOV plan were [sic] implemented, there would be significant and unavoidable impacts associated with implementation of this plan.” (Few minded the redundancy as her presentation style was clear and methodical—though perhaps a bit slow.) Among the significant, unavoidable impacts is diminished air quality with regard to certain, but not all, pollutants. 200 acres of prime farmland would be lost to other uses. Landfill space is filling up fast, and there would be problems as landfill capacity is reached around 2021. Greenhouse gas emissions would increase even with mitigating actions. Some special status plants and animals and the habitats on which they depend would be lost. Water services outside of the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s service area would face significant impacts.

Here's how the air you breathe is expected to change under OVOV.

Paul Brotzman, Director of Community Development, was the final staff member to speak. He began his remarks by bracing for criticism. “I would anticipate that we would have quite a few people who would have concerns,” he said. Brotzman tried to allay concerns over population growth in particular. He said that it would be about 50 years before 46,000 more residents are added to the City of Santa Clarita’s population—just 1,000 or so per year. However, he observed that vastly more population growth would take place outside of City boundaries. Potentially 170,000 may join the 80,000 now dwelling in unincorporated areas. He also observed that density was being increased in the City of Santa Clarita to allow for lower density land uses around the periphery of the planning area.
With the introductory presentation of OVOV concluded, Commissioner Bill Kennedy asked why there was no cap on maximum population or the maximum extent of development. He wanted to know which operational constraint would limit growth first, whether greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste disposal, or water. Lisa Webber said that she would provide more specifics at the next meeting, but assured Kennedy that they had taken a conservative approach in estimating limits to growth.
Commissioner Dennis Ostrom rambled nonsensically about his many years of service on the Planning Commission; the right- and left-handed sides of his brain being in conflict with one another; questions regarding the ability to amend the General Plan; and some ambivalence towards public “inputs.” He seemed a bit befuddled throughout the meeting, a quality I would find charming were he my grandfather, but one that's less endearing given his seat on the Planning Commission.
Vice-chair Dee Dee Jacobson requested that Susan Tebo “dummy it up for us” when it came to the draft Environmental Impact Report. Jacobson was seemingly overwhelmed by the list of environmental thresholds being exceeded and impacts that were unavoidable.
It was time for public comments next. Sandra Cattell, representing the Sierra Club, voiced opposition to allowing development in floodplains. As a Placerita Canyon resident, she said that she was also upset that the General Plan would permit denser development in parts of Placerita. Valerie Thomas shared Cattell’s concerns about Placerita and the Casden property in particular. She said that the people of Santa Clarita needed more time to review the thousands of pages of OVOV documents and that it was silly to let the EIR review period end on December 22, when everyone is busy with the holidays.
Diane Trautman, saying more in her three-minute comment period than her replacement would say the whole night, echoed calls for more time to review the plans. She also wanted to know how proportionally greater reliance on public transit, bike lanes, etc. in future communities would be paid for.
Lynne Plambeck found little to like about the City’s vision. She lamented urban sprawl in “the hinterlands” (i.e., Newhall Ranch). She pointed out that the City was accommodating high-density projects and trusting the County to keep the periphery of Santa Clarita green and open, something that couldn’t be assured without direct control. Plambeck was also troubled by the City’s use of Impact Sciences to prepare the EIR, a choice she found “extremely concerning.” They prepare EIRs for Newhall Ranch, too, so how could they be truly critical of and fairly evaluate their own previous work? Cam Noltemeyer continued the OVOV attack by ridiculing the City’s tendency to use General Plan amendments to do what it wanted, essentially ignoring the current General Plan. She feared the same thing would continue to happen in the future. Finally, a lawyer from the Natural Resources Defense Council said that he was optimistic about the City's commitment to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but that his group was not yet prepared to issue comprehensive statements about the General Plan.
In response to these comments, Jacobson asked what NRDC stands for (Natural Resources Defense Council), Ostrom ventured “I see maybe water as a big issue”, and Chair Burkhart recommended a “see how it goes” approach before affording the public more time to review OVOV documents. After some updates from Lisa Webber, the meeting ended at 9:20.

Previously, I haven’t really bothered watching Planning Commission meetings. Since OVOV is rather important to Santa Clarita’s future, though, I think these meetings may be worthwhile. And there’s certainly plenty that requires additional examination (the antics of Dennis Ostrom; the fast-talking ways of Dee Dee Jacobson; the incomprehensible hair of Jason Smisko, etc.). Thus, I’ll make an effort to watch the next few OVOV-centric meetings.

[1]I find her quotations in this article from The Signal to be petty.
[2]Here's the agenda.
[3]I’m going to drop the “draft” hereafter, but assume all documents are still drafts unless otherwise stated.


Anonymous said...

The biggest problem with OVOV is the word "overlay." This one little word allows ANY project to be enlarged beyond the square footage "suggested" for the site, meaning Lyons Ave. will be having high-rise projects proposed, but not just the two-story buildings that exist now, developers will be allowed their 5 story projects if the word "overlay" is allowed into the final OVOV draft.

The Smyser property was finally given around 850,000 square feet as a designated development cap, but then the city added an "overlay" allowance, meaning that the Smyser property was right back to the possible 2,000,000-plus square feet that the Calgrove residents originally opposed. Because of the "overlay" allowance, Calgrove residents were right back to square one in their opposition to a high-rise, 2,000,000-plus square foot project that would spell disaster for the Calgrove community. A proposed size, I might add, that was even bigger than the Las Lomas project our city fought. Yet when dealing with the Calgrove residents opposition to a 2,000,000 square foot project from Jay and Joyce Rogers, city staff added the term "possible overlay" to the suggested 850,000 square feet that Calgrove residents accepted as a reasonably sized development for the Smyser property. Adding "possible overlay" to the city's proposed, downsized 850,000 square feet insures that the Smyser property will still be able to be developed with a 2,000,000-pus square foot project if that is what a developer proposes.

OVERLAY - this is how the city will get their high-rise buildings approved, no matter where they are proposed. The neighborhoods that abut the commercial side of Lyons Ave. should be very afraid of what city planners propose for Lyons ave, since all neighborhoods close to high-rise commercial projects will suffer greatly from overflow parking.

Placerita Canyon also has much to fear from the Casden Project with the term "possible overlay" being included in by city planners, as Paul Brotzman did Tuesday night.

"Possible overlay" allowances for proposed projects MUST be excluded from the final OVOV draft.

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