October 30, 1991 - From the October, 1991 issue

Santa Clarita: Young City Grapples with Rapid Growth

Even in the Santa Clarita Valley, located just north of the San Fernando Valley and including Magic Mountain, the pro-growth sentiments which dominated the L.A. area for the past 40 years are being challenged. 

In 1987, the communities of Newhall, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, and Sand Canyon united around growth issues to form the new City of Santa Clarita, incorporated with 147,000 residents. Today, a Santa Clarita citizens group is attempting to place on the ballot a stringent cap on new housing units, similar to the initiative passed by Pasadena voters in 1989. Santa Clarita approved its first general plan in June, and is now working on several major implement­ing ordinances to the plan. 

To provide an update on growth management in Santa Clarita, The Planning Report interviewed the City’s Deputy City Manager for Community Development, Lynn M. Harris.

In light of the forces that led to the creation of the city and of the citi­zens’ initiative, does this symbolically mean that the pro-growth movement is dead, even in Santa Clarita? 

First, it is important to note that the initiative has only qualified for circulation, for the collection of sig­natures. When the citizens group asked the City Council to place it on the ballot directly, the Council refused by a four to one vote. The Council’s refusal is based on the fact that we just adopted our first general plan in June and the majority sentiment is that the general plan should be given an opportunity to work. 

The general plan includes strong growth management language, and the Council feels this should be put into place through implementing or­dinances before jumping to the con­clusion that a cap ordinance is the right way or only way to control growth. I would characterize the entire City Council as being pro-controlled growth.

What are some of the motivating issues that have led the Council and the citizens group to look at managing growth through the political process? 

The most important factor was the rapid pace of development al­lowed by the County of Los Angeles through the 1980’s. What became the City area doubled in population from 77,000 in 1980 to 147,000 in 1990. This was permitted to occur through case by case amendments to the County’s general plan, exceeding the general plan’s densities by a huge margin without providing adequate infrastructure at the same time. 

How are you addressing the problems of rapid growth? 

The General Plan holds that envi­ronmental issues are just as important as the private property owner’s return to the property. It also says that we will not approve any new development that does not provide the needed infrastructure to service the develop­ment. It’s called “pay as you go,” and the language is strong. 

What sorts of developer fees is the City looking at for the Plan’s implementation? 

We are doing an impact fee study which we plan to use as a nexus study to enact developer fees for new residential, as well as commercial and industrial, development. Our direc­tion to the consultant was to investigate all sorts of fees that are commonly used, including child care fees and public art fees. The policy decision on what fees to enact, and the analysis of whether we’d be harming housing production, have not been made. We’re doing a grab-bag study of what could be done. 

What role have you given to urban design and design review in your planning process to date? 

It’s evolving. A common com­plaint here has been the lack of architectural review under the County. One of our 12 elements of the general plan is called the Community Design El­ement. I would predict that we will have design review boards formed at a local level because of the direction in the community design element. 

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What are the mechanisms for you to interact with other jurisdictions?

Our progress with LACTC is par­ticularly important. We lobbied LACTC, demonstrating why it made sense to extend commuter rail into the Santa Clarita Valley, and we expect to have a hub station in Santa Clarita up and running in 1992. We also have to work closely with L.A. County because they control more land in the Valley than we do. 

Since the General Plan calls for a city center to be created virtually from scratch, how is the City shaping the center’s growth? 

We’re trying to find how residents envision it. Everyone has wanted a mall, and we’ve recently wooed our second corporate headquarters build­ing. We are interested in becoming self-sufficient, and that means providing jobs here, since we already have a wide range of housing choices.

The flavor of the city center is captured by the statement that the majority of people want to ride their horse to Nordstrom’s. The Santa Clara River completely bisects our city boundaries and is mostly in its natural state. The general plan envisions a natural river lined with equestrian trails and bike trails, and it envisions housing close to retail and services, wilh transportation linked with the commuter rail station. 

As part of the city center, there are also plans for a 3,000 unit housing development near the commuter rail station. What is the significance of linking major housing development to a rail station for similar possibilities elsewhere in L.A. County?

The housing development is ac­tually a mixed-use development on almost 1,000 acres in our city center area. We intend to put employment as well as housing directly adjacent to the station; the conceptual plan in­cludes a funicular going up the hill-side to the residential development. 

Redevelopment authority offers older cities the same opportunities that vacant land affords us. LACTC is very interested in joint venturing with cities in the region to help them develop facilities and housing around the station. 

While everyone envisions people getting on the train to downtown L.A. to work, people will also eventually go the other way, coming to Santa Clarita to work and wishing they could live here. 

If they come, they won’t find a better place for their families, they can’t beat the convenience, and there’s a wide variety of housing. A lot of people today ask, “Where’s Santa Clarita?” In the future, other areas will be boasting, “We’re only ten miles from Santa Clarita.”

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