Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Happenings: A Promise of Plenty of Water under OVOV

above: Cross "water shortage" off your list of concerns for Santa Clarita.
below: Lynne Plambeck look skeptical.

The One Valley One Vision presentations came to an end tonight with a discussion of air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and water availability under OVOV[1]. It was as dull as it sounds, but a rather optimistic sort of dull so that those zoning in and out were more likely to hear good than bad.

All members of the Planning Commission were present, and they moved efficiently through the few pieces of business preceding discussion of OVOV. In a sign of the times, a building that was slated to become a bank on Rye Canyon Road (Home Depot shopping center) will now become a tire service center. The would-be bank was abandoned midway through construction, but through an act of architectural cunning, the structure can be adapted to accommodate four automotive service bays. The plan was approved.

Senior Planner Jason Smisko then introduced the last set of technical presentations regarding One Valley One Vision. There will be continued discussion until spring, but it will be more question-and-answer based.

The three issues presented from the draft Environmental Impact Report were handled similarly: describe problems, describe how OVOV kinda does a better job of addressing those problems than the current general plan does, and suggest some mitigation measures that have to do with commuting less and building smarter.

Realistic Air Quality Expectations

There are going to be problems with particulates and ozone in Santa Clarita no matter what is done. In fact, essentially all air pollutants are going to increase with the exception of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, which will likely decline due to improvements in automotive technology. While mitigation strategies will be adopted locally, air quality is, in a real sense, out of Clarita's hands. Chair Tim Bukhart asked Alan Sako of Impact Sciences a theoretical question: "If we zipped everything ... would we still have a problem because of the circulation within the [larger] basin?" Sako said there would still be problems because "the region [SCV] is highly influenced by factors outside the region [SFV, LA]." He noted that Santa Clarita would be part of a broader effort to improve air quality within the entirety of the so-called south coast air basin.

The Climate Action Plan: Encourage Everyone to Do Better

The City's Dave Peterson addressed how OVOV would impact greenhouse gas emissions. He explained that a Climate Action Plan ("CAP") is a requirement for general plans and must show actions consistent with AB 32 and SB 375. The CAP is being prepared by Environ Corps. Peterson said this a complex undertaking and will require a greenhouse gas inventory followed by outreach and mitigation. Apparently, they look at everything from utilities to the kind of light bulbs that businesses use. (There is a bizarre obsession with light bulbs when it comes to talk of climate change; it would be labeled as Freudian if only CFLs resembled some piece of the human reproductive anatomy).

How will OVOV reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere? Alan Sako repeated what has become the holy trinity of the SCV's smart planning: higher density, transit-oriented development, and mixed use. Peterson gave some strategies for encouraging more environmentally-friendly building practices and noted that the City is already engaging the public with its "green" website (32,000 hits from 63 countries since July 2009; when people from Kyrgyzstan or Lesotho want eco-advice, they too visit greensantaclarita.com).

Commissioner Dee Dee Jacobson noticed that a lot of the language being thrown around was along the lines of "encourage" or "promote"--she asked if it could be strengthened to "require" (e.g., require certain responsible building practices). That got a nice-idea-but-sorry-no from Smisko as it would overstep the Uniform Building Code. Commissioner Dennis Ostrom asked the simple, essential question of whether all of these actions would bring Santa Clarita in line with AB 32 and SB 375. That got an affirmative from Smisko, though Burkhart cautioned that nothing was certain until review by the Attorney General. City staff hope that prior meetings and advice from the office will ensure they submit a plan that will be found acceptable.

Water for Everyone*!
*Except those outside of the Castaic Lake Water Agency's service area

Santa Clarita needn't worry about having enough water, at least according to this evening's presentation. While State Water Project supplies are notoriously variable and unreliable, there is enough purchased water, recycled water (set to increase by a factor of ten), and ground water to see Claritans through, it seems. By 2050, there will be demand for 135,450 acre-feet per year (afy) and a supply of 138,507 afy. In drought conditions, demand is modeled to rise to 149,700 afy and supply to about 160,000 afy, depending on the duration of the drought. The obvious question--how can the water supply increase during drought years?--was answered by describing how water can be banked underground, as is done in Kern and other locations. This water will be purchased to meet the increased demand for irrigation water in dry years. So despite the fact that this is Southern California, a dry and densely-peopled place, water concerns were found to be unwarranted. Strange.

However, things weren't looking quite so rosy outside of the CLWA service area. The EIR found impacts to water supplies would be unavoidably significant and require a "Statement of Overriding Considerations." It was explained that outside of the valley, property sits above fractured rock in which groundwater is patchily distributed. Drilling wells is the only source of water in these areas (mostly the County's domain), so there is no insurance against a variable supply. As for reducing water use across the whole of Santa Clarita, there will be more homeowner education and the like, which sounds immensely promising.

Speakers Do What Their Name Implies

It wasn't a particularly topical comment period. Carole Luteness ("LUT-ness!" she said after Burkhart called her "LOOT-ness") said she wanted to see a "paradigm shift" from growth to development. A key feature of smart development would be more low-income housing to accommodate those with low-paying, service-industry jobs. Lynne Plambeck was upset that all of the comparisons were of the "plan vs. plan" type, i.e., comparing environmental impacts of the current general plan versus that proposed under OVOV. She said the law required comparisons of current environmental impacts vs. future ones, not future scenario A vs. future scenario B. Cam Noltemeyer hyperbolized a bit about air quality, predicting "air we can't breathe!" in the future. And Allan Cameron, who came in only because his TV stopped carrying the meeting, was worried that there were, in fact, two plans--City and County--when OVOV would imply one plan.

And Smisko Did Respond

Senior Planner Jason Smisko responded: he "couldn't agree more" with the low-income housing goals presented by Lutness, told Plambeck that the EIR did indeed compare the present versus future scenarios, and assured Cameron that the City and County plans are "exceedingly similar." (But if they're so similar, why not one plan?--right?)

Thereafter, members of the commission discussed a few more OVOV topics. Commissioner Kennedy asked Smisko to come back with some large-scale examples of cities where a transit-oriented plan has really worked so as to convince skeptics. Ostrom felt like he could do with more specifics as to why certain intersections and roads would experience unavoidable gridlock under the OVOV build-out scenario. And Lisa Eichman asked about bike lanes, some of which will be lost to widen roads. She observed that this wasn't so compatible with goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but Smisko said there will be a net increase in bike lanes.

Finally, during the open public comment period, Lynne, Cam, and Allan each spoke again. Noltemeyer asked how people can be expected to walk and bike when it's too rainy, too hot, or the air quality is too poor to allow it. Even if it's mild and dry and the air is fresh, she observed that some bike lanes are on hills too steep to navigate comfortably--those by COC, for instance. And she questioned the wisdom of using Granary Square as an example of a successful transit center. In short, she has considerable doubts about most aspects of the transportation and circulation systems in Santa Clarita.

The meeting ended a little after nine.

[1]Here is the agenda.


Anonymous said...

Hope springs eternal with this plan. How much discussion was there comparing existing conditions with OVOV during the meeting?

CLWA can meet any water demand if they price the water high enough to force demand down. People will be forced to abandon their landscaping, use paper plates and take a shower once a week, all in the name of acommodating more people here. A good plan to me would be to just build structures for jobs and more affordable housing for the folks already working here who can't afford to live here.

Anonymous said...

Hope? Is that what's springing eternal with the City? From where I'm sitting it smells more like BS and spin springing eternal.

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