When my wife Pam and I moved to the Santa Clarita Valley over a half century ago, it was a very rural and sparsely populated place. It seemed very comforting because I realized my young family was going to be living just three blocks from a grammar school, and a junior high school was under construction about the same distance away.
There were no houses on the hillsides around us, and we considered it a traffic jam if two cars, traveling in adjacent directions, would arrive simultaneously at an intersection displaying four way stop signs, requiring us to patiently ponder which vehicle would get to enter the intersection first. Yep, those were “the good old days.”
As time passed, some neighbors called it progress, while others had more colorful four-letter words to describe the more and more houses being built, and the resulting traffic clogging our Santa Clarita roadways. While I have never opposed property owners developing what they own, I have also been of the opinion that “our elected officials have the responsibility to provide adequate infrastructure for the developments they approve.” Such assurance is supposed to be provided by the City of Santa Clarita establishing land use standards (the general plan), and the collection of fees and charges necessary to provide city services, one of which is adequate and properly maintained roads (bridge and thoroughfare fees). It is understandable why concern over traffic congestion has been growing for a long time. Quoting the Los Angeles Times in 2016, the “Los Angeles area can claim the worst traffic in America, Again.”
Yet, what makes the traffic situation in the Santa Clarita Valley even worse, is the streets are not laid out in a grid pattern, making it almost impossible to synchronize the traffic lights, the city bus service being established without providing egresses at all bus stops, causing buses to unnecessarily block lanes of traffic, and the failure of state, county and city officials to do much more than study the problem. Plus, if you are a regular resident who takes their children to school in the morning, or travels to work and back during rush hour, you already know where the traffic bottlenecks are. If the elected officials really wanted advice on how and where to fix the problem, all they would need to do is ask “John-Q-Public,” and then act on the feedback they receive.
But the insanity does not stop there.
Recently, the State Legislature passed some bills to help cure California’s “Affordable Housing” shortage. Starting with the passage of California SB 229 and AB 494 in October of 2017, “Accessory Dwelling Units” are now legal for construction in single family or multi-family residential zones, in addition to the existing structures. While the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) may not exceed 1200 square feet, garage conversions of 400-square feet may be used. Parking required shall not exceed one parking space per unit; however the ADU shall be exempt from all parking requirements if the property is located within 0.5-mile walking distance of a public transportation station. Changes, primarily to relax the requirements on constructing an ADU are being adopted at the state level in a fast and furious manner. At the April 9, 2019 city council meeting, agenda Item 3 staff report indicated passage of Assembly Bill 68, would prohibit the City of Santa Clarita from imposing a minimum lot size to be used for ADU construction, and also prohibit requiring new parking spaces after a garage or carport is converted into an ADU.
You may remember not that long ago, when the City of Santa Clarita was determined to eliminate illegal garage conversions and put a stop to homeowners renting out their garages as living space. Well, how things change over time. Now the State of California is making those same garages available for conversion into dwelling units. One Canyon Country neighborhood has been made aware of the first of these conversions in their area. It is being accomplished by a property owner who purchased the existing home for use as a rental and in addition is converting the garage for another rental unit. Should the owner decide to rent rooms, as is legal in the City of Santa Clarita, the likelihood is there will be a need to park five or six cars as a result; and with replacements not being required due to the garage conversion, where will they park? In front of other neighbors’ homes, of course, further congesting the neighborhood. Now start to imagine the increased congestion should other property owners follow suit.
Plus, it still isn’t over. At the July 9, 2019 city council meeting, agenda item 7, the council declared opposition to SB 330 which if passed, would prohibit Santa Clarita “from requiring a minimum parking requirement if a proposed residential development is within one-quarter mile of a rail stop …. and also prohibit the city from requiring a minimum parking requirement greater than 0.5 spaces per unit if the proposed residential development is outside of one-quarter mile of a rail stop.” I can’t imagine what planet our state legislators are from. Here on earth, virtually every multi-family development currently does not have enough parking spaces for their residents. Don’t take my word for it; verify the fact for yourself by driving up Valle Del Oro in Newhall, or Isabella Parkway next to Home Depot after 5 PM, and see if you can spot an empty space. Santa Clarita development codes need to be modified to provide more parking spaces per unit, not less. Sure, our city council members lamented about loss of local control, but are they doing any better?
At the same April 9 meeting, agenda Item 13 proposed creation of a “Jobs Creation Overlay Zone (JCOZ),” which would allow the height of office buildings to be increased to five stories without a conditional use permit and provide the Director of Community Development the authority to reduce parking requirements. They voted 4-1 to approve the staff recommended action, with no discussion about the infrastructure (road improvements) necessary to accommodate the added traffic and parking. Next came agenda item 14, proposing to award the design contract for the Dockweiler Drive extension. I rose to remind them about the plight of residents who live in the condo complex at the top of Dockweiler. If the road is constructed two lanes in each direction, with no stopping posted on each side, where will the current residents park? The answer came back that although the road would be constructed as two lanes in each direction, it will only be striped for one. I find the answer hard to believe, but we will just have to wait and see.
The thing I found most infuriating about the Dockweiler extension and 13th Street crossing improvement project discussion was Councilman Kellar’s lecture about how the current road improvement project is all about public safety. If the Council is suddenly so concerned about traffic impeding public safety, what are they planning to do about all the areas around the city which are almost in gridlock? For example, just try driving across town on Soledad Canyon Road, from Shadow Pines to McBean Parkway and then on to the Henry Mayo Hospital at 7AM when school is in session. Think about what happens to our city streets when there is an accident on the 5 freeway or Hwy 14, and how those instances affect first responders in time of an emergency.
Santa Clarita’s roadways are being clogged by the city and county approving developments without providing infrastructure to support our area’s growth. Necessary parking and road improvements are not being provided; this will force people to get out of their cars and use alternate forms of transportation, or the city is waiting for a developer to pay for it. Both of these inactions just keep making the problem worse. It is time for our state, county, and local elected officials to start realizing they cannot fix the California Affordable Housing crisis on the shoulders of our current residents, and they cannot fix our traffic problems by doubling down on solutions which have failed to even hold the status quo. If the situation continues to worsen, perhaps it is time for the public to realize we just have the wrong people representing us.
While I can remember how it was when my wife Pam and I moved to the Santa Clarita Valley, when it was a very rural and sparsely populated place, I wonder if my grandchildren will still be living here, one half century from now, and will they be relating their memories of how the City of Santa Clarita was, before the traffic and parking problems were solved.