The public doesn’t seem to want the Dockweiler extension. The Via Princessa extension can’t yet happen. There remains a potential conflict of interest with the mayor. Doing nothing to combat traffic concerns isn’t an option.
If last week’s City Council meeting indicated anything, it’s that there are no good choices the council could make right now. What was on the council agenda as a recommendation to hold a public hearing and then adopt a resolution certifying the final environmental impact report for the proposed extension of Dockweiler Drive to Arch Street, instead became a public grievance with no council action taken.
All 20 speakers opposed the plan, including John Fassa. “Right now, all this traffic funnels down Railroad and Newhall Avenus. It’s definitely a problem, but a shortcut through Placerita doesn’t solve it,” he said. “If your goal is to solve the traffic problem in Newhall and you care at all about your constituents, then the right thing to do is investigate real solutions and reject the Dockweiler extension.”
Additionally, five people who couldn’t attend sent comments in opposition, businesses on Pine Street sent a petition opposing it, and the council took note, tabling the matter until April.
“If this many people are here who don’t know why we want this road and why the city needs this road, then I think we have some homework to do and some outreach to do,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean, who ran this part of the meeting after Mayor Laurene Weste recused herself because her property is close to the proposed extension.
On Monday, Councilmember Bob Kellar said, “I do not want to be wrong. I’m trying to weigh all the factors and make the right decision for the City of Santa Clarita. Sometimes, those decisions aren’t easy.”
This is one of those times. Traffic continues to worsen, but the city can’t just put in roads wherever it wants to. Geographic factors such as hills, riverbeds, mountains, canyons and wildlife must be considered.
In the Beginning
The city has wanted to extend Lyons Avenue since 1991. It currently has a $30 million plan to extend Dockweiler 0.44 mile toward The Master’s University and connect at 13th and Arch streets, according to the council agenda packet. Additionally, Lyons Avenue was to be extended over the railroad tracks, the 13th Street crossing would be closed, and a new crossing would be built at Lyons and Railroad avenues.
But two alternatives emerged. Alternative 1 called for leaving the 13th Street crossing intact, in addition to the Lyons/Railroad crossing, but Hennawy said it doesn’t reduce traffic, and the city can’t get the Public Utilities Commission, Metrolink or Metro to approve it, which is important because Metro has given the city $11,374,000 in grants to build the Dockweiler extension. According to city spokesperson Carrie Lujan, one grant of $5.9 million expires in June 2022 and the rest in June 2024. Construction must be completed before those dates, she said in an email.
Alternative 2 remains viable and calls for Lyons to not be extended. Instead, Dockweiler would extend all the way to Arch, and the crossing at 13th would be upgraded. This is preferred to the original plan, Hennawy said.
Why not Market Street or Via Princessa?
But nobody seems to want any of it. Instead, people suggested several alternatives, including extending Market Street to Dockweiler, an alternative that the city previously rejected for several reasons. First, the city approved a .64-mile extension of Dockweiler to the western edge of The Master’s University in 2009 as part of the school’s Master Plan. That has yet to be built, and extending Market Street would conflict. Also, according to the agenda packet, street grading would have to be reduced from its current 11.15 percent to 6 percent, and traffic would increase by 200 percent and would require a complete redesign of the intersection of Market and Main streets. Finally, the city would have to purchase 17 land parcels and relocate 31 residential units, the Newhall Metrolink Station, Newhall Community Center, Veterans Historical Plaza and the Santa Clarita Courthouse.
A more popular suggestion was to forego Dockweiler and, instead, extend Via Princessa. “It is abundantly clear that Via Princessa is a far-better and much-more-needed east-west connection for the entire city than Dockweiler,” said the first speaker, Tony Mathess. “If you’re going to build Dockweiler, call it what it is: another entrance to Master’s College to service their expansion.”
Except that there’s no money. The Metro bonds are tied to the Dockweiler extension, Hennawy said, and it would take at least another year to secure new grants to extend Via Princessa.
But Via Princessa can’t be extended because it would go through the 996-acre Whittaker-Bermite site, which since 2007 has undergone a soil-cleansing and decontaminating process to remove all harmful chemicals, such as perchlorate.
“Trust me, this council knows, this city knows, staff knows, the importance of Via Princessa,” Kellar said at the council meeting. “But I really think we’ve got two different topics we’re talking about here. Via Princessa is still a pipe dream until we get Whittaker-Bermite cleaned up. But I will tell you, you bet when we get that cleaned up and we can move forward with Via Princessa and complete that road over the Wiley Canyon bridge, that is going to be one of the most meaningful roadways that we have created here in this city. I don’t question that.”
The problem, as it always is with Whittaker-Bermite, is when will the soil be clean. Jose Diaz, senior project manager with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversees the cleanup, said on Monday the process is expected to be completed by the end of 2018, but he said in November 2016 that it would be done by Sept. 28, 2018, and community leaders have shown the Gazette proof that it was supposed to be completed in 2015.
Plus, Diaz said, “Even if we finish, who knows when the EIR will be approved and development will start.”
A Windfall for Weste?
Weste has a different view of Via Princessa: It’s too far north and, therefore, “irrelevant to any discussion.”
Maybe so, but several people believe Weste would gain significantly from a Dockweiler extension because her property is nearby.
“The question has been incorrectly framed as which is the least offensive route to take from Dockweiler to downtown, and everybody knows it’s been framed that way because the mayor wants that project there for her own gain,” Fassa said.
“City Council members are elected by the people to do the wish of the people, not the wish of a few council members or one,” Manny Santana said.
Weste has denied she’d gain anything because the city owns the right of way, and she repeated that Monday.
“I think people have a hard time understanding that,” she said. “The city manager said that in the meeting. That’s pretty clear. They (the city) own it. I do not own it.”
City Manager Ken Striplin said that the city has the right of way for this project. McLean then asked if anybody would get monetary value, and Striplin said no, but then added that property acquisition is another, long-term issue.
Lujan explained in an email the difference: “Right of Way is the existing legal right to use property for road purpose. Property acquisition is the process to acquire the additional Right of Way for the proposed road improvements.”
Weste insisted her property is not for sale. Kellar said he isn’t aware of any negotiations or discussions between the city and Weste.
“I have never had discussions with Laurene and never will,” he said. “Ultimately, the City Council has to sign off on the project in its entirety.”
That’s not easy when there are no good options.