Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happenings: Don't Mess with "Rural Equestrian Community"

The Planning Commission spent more of tonight listening than speaking[1]. It was the penultimate meeting on One Valley One Vision. Come April 19, they’ll be weighing the Final EIR and making recommendations for the City Council, which is having a study session on OVOV in early April. The County, meanwhile, is taking its time and won’t discuss its plan until May 25. Recall that One Valley One Vision is a misnomer—the City of Santa Clarita and County of Los Angeles are both producing plans. Differences are supposed to be minor, but there are still differences.

Senior Planner Jason Smisko offered a refresher on what OVOV means for Santa Clarita: 459,000-483,000 residents, increased commercial densities, more jobs, less urban sprawl, less rural density, mixed use-development, fewer car trips... He’s had a lot of practice repeating these phrases—they come out with the rote fluidity of someone reciting a prayer, which probably isn’t too far off. Still, his delivery is consistently sincere and he never comes off as condescending. He could teach Pulskamp a thing or two. This does not preclude Smisko from making questionable remarks. Tonight, for instance, he said that Santa Clarita has “actually been a slow-growth city since incorporation” with an average of just 255 new units a year. (I think it's one of those City vs. County type statistics)

Next, the residents of Santa Clarita had their chance at the microphone. Here’s a summary:

Carole Lutness: She wants to make sure there is adequate low, very low, and extremely low income housing, saying that even rentals “ are far above fair market value, and far above what most low income people can afford.”

Diane Trautman: Clad entirely in black—a portent of impending judgment—Trautman swept up to the podium. She offered a withering critique. The massive size of the OVOV documents “runs contrary to CEQA’s purpose of informing the public and decision-makers.” She worried about transportation, about transparency, about the na├»ve expectation that all the crucial pieces will fall into place. If even a few don’t, she worried, the plan’s promises would be in serious jeopardy. She advocated taking a lot more time to consider the plan and forming a General Plan Advisory Committee.

Todd Hoover: "Reopen and extend the comment period for at least another 6 months, preferably a year.”

Minerva Williams: Williams asked a number of questions, many that she first posed at the City Council meeting last week. Funding road construction projects and cleaning up the Whittaker-Bermite site were primary concerns.

Sandra Cattell: A resident of Placerita Canyon, she worried about the potentially high-density projects coming to her neck of the woods. She dropped the phrase “rural equestrian community” four times to make it clear what Placerita Canyon and North Newhall are and ought to stay.

Valerie Thomas: “I’m back with the same comments: circulation.” She didn’t accept the response that developers are going to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for roads. As a Placerita homeowner, she also worried about proposals for the Smiser property that seem to ignore the serious possibilities of liquefaction and flooding.

Cam Noltemeyer: The local government’s persistent critic seemed a bit exasperated. She asked what good a plan is if it’s only going to be ignored. “You’ve approved a lot,” she observed, referencing exemptions to the General Plan granted to developers. Oak tree and ridgeline ordinances seem to fall by the wayside when necessary for a big development. She concluded graciously: “I know you’re going to approve it because I think you have your marching orders.”

Rob Hall: Another member of the PPP (Protect Placerita Posse), he made sure to drop the term “rural equestrian” again.

Arnold Graham: The Attorney for the Placerita Canyon Property Owners Association requested more time to sort out the concerns of residents. He was encouraged by recent meetings between members of the PCPOA and City staff. No wonder Placerita Canyon gets special treatment—half of them show up at the faintest whiff of a project near their beloved canyon, lawyer at the ready.

Ben Curtis: Also from Placerita, he said “we simply need more time to get anything accomplished” and spoke the magic words, “rural equestrian community” for the umpteenth time. Maybe “rural equestrian community” is some kind of a trigger phrase, repeated for good measure, to awaken a sleeper agent on the Planning Commission who will now work to destroy OVOV. (My money's on Eichman.)

Lynne Plambeck: Suffering from allergy-irritated eyes, she couldn’t read her prepared notes or any excerpts from the 100+ pages of comments she and SCOPE submitted regarding OVOV. So she just asked that the planners try and strengthen the language in the plan. She said that responsible development is “not gonna happen with ‘promote’ and ‘encourage.’”

Alan Cameron: Winning the night’s insensitivity award, he made a Nazi analogy. Cameron was upset that the City is accepting “F” grades for circulation on some heavily traveled roads. To paraphrase, he said that the room they were standing in could accommodate 180 people, but based on how Germans pushed Jews into train cars, it “could” conceivably fit 500 people. It was as awkward and tasteless as it was unnecessary to make his point that there’s a difference between can and should.

Jason Smisko responded. He said that the roads will get funded with a combination of City funds and developer fees, meetings about the fate of north Newhall will continue, and that he is all for strengthening the language in OVOV where possible, as Plambeck suggested. He knows not to mess with Placerita Canyon, and promised continued meetings regarding the community’s “rural equestrian” character—yes, he said it—and that new language would be drafted for OVOV based on talks with the property owners. They’ll have it to review by the end of the week. Now that’s service!

The commissioners didn’t add a whole lot. Commissioners Kennedy and Ostrom agreed that stronger language should be used wherever possible. Ostrom also touched on traffic issues and thought that “report card type designations” that grade circulation as A or F over-simplified matters.

Vice Chair Dee Dee Jacobson was relieved that the PCPOA and City were talking face-to-face and said, a little sternly, “Stay on this, get it done quickly.” Eichman concurred.

Dee Dee wants people to get their stuff in order. Fast.

The Planning Commission approved a motion to continue the item until April 19. Staff will have the final EIR, responses to comments, and recommendations for the City Council ready by that meeting.

After OVOV, the Commission passed a recommendation that the City Council pre-zone 792 acres of Elsmere Canyon for annexation. They also supported altering the designation of the area, making it "open space" instead of "residential estate" (a single home in the vicinity will maintain the latter designation). The meeting ended a little after 8 so that Chair Burkhart could dash home and watch American Idol.

[1]Here’s the agenda. Minutes are up already—how snappy these meetings are compared to the CC.

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