by Alan Ferdman
Does this show major incompetence at City Hall?
Having moved to the Santa Clarita Valley long before the city was formed, I can remember how it was when the population was about 20 percent of what it is today. As the area grew, there came a time when our residents felt the need to have a larger voice in local government services. Committees formed to work on the problem, and the population voted to establish the City of Santa Clarita.
Now that the city is celebrating its 30th anniversary, it seems we need to take a realistic assessment of how well our city is managed, how well our residents’ needs are being met, and what we need to improve upon to ensure Santa Clarita’s future remains bright. If you attend or watch our City Council meetings regularly, I am sure you have memorized our council members’ overused speeches praising the staff and all they do. While I am all in favor of complimenting our city’s employees when they provide excellent service, it is equally important to identify when missteps occur and provide the public a briefing on the corrective actions implemented. By doing so, it makes the times they offer praise to be even more rewarding and significant.
As an example, let’s take the installation of solar panels on the hill above Canyon View Estates. The panels were installed in a hodgepodge manner, not only creating an eyesore for the Canyon View Estates residents, but for residents across the valley as well. They can be seen from the backyards of homes in Shangri-La, in North Oaks, and on Soledad Canyon Road looking north to the hills.
In the past, I have attended City Council meetings when council members were so concerned with aesthetics they had developers change building architecture, landscaping and building placement. At the last council meeting, Councilmember Marsha McLean went so far as to criticize the color of a building on a project’s artist’s rendering because, as she put it, “It stood out like a sore thumb.”
Yet, when complaints started rolling in to the city about the solar panels above Canyon View Estates, the answer came back as, “There is nothing we can do about it, because the permit authority for manufactured home parks rests with the State of California Housing and Community Development Department. According to Santa Clarita’s City Manager Ken Striplin, “We found out about the project when everyone else did, when it was built.”
Looking back at the timeline, on June 28 construction had started and KHTS published an article, authored by Perry Smith, alerting the public. Officials at the State Housing and Community Development (HCD) were contacted and indicated there is no appeal mechanism in their permitting process. Ms. Evan Gerberding, deputy director of communications and tribal liaison, was contacted and quoted.
“HCD officials consider local city and county ordinances that would be applicable. Based on HCD’s consideration of local zoning and laws, the project wouldn’t have been stopped,” Gerberding said. “There was no basis for us to say no, or deny that permit. HCD evaluates the safety of the project as well as any regulations the city or county may have in place, before issuing a permit.”
Lastly, the article told of Mr. John Caprarelli, Santa Clarita building official, indicating, “A city inspector was on site recently to verify the project did have the necessary permits filed with the HCD.”
So much for the claim that the city was unaware of the project until it was built. I also have to wonder if the city inspector verified that the project meets Santa Clarita building codes, or did he just verify an HCD permit existed?
Well, the issue continued to gain steam. Canyon View Estates residents hosted a community meeting and were left with few alternatives but to hire an attorney and litigate. At the August 22 City Council meeting, Councilmember Bob Kellar broke the silence and acknowledged the high number of complaints.
He went on to say, “We did not do it. It was completely carried out in Sacramento. We have generated letters to Sacramento, (asking) them, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s absolutely an abomination.”
But, results of a Public Records request showed Councilmember Kellar signed and sent letters to our state elected officials asking for legislation that would require the state to coordinate projects of this nature with local authorities. No letters were written and sent to State Housing and Community Development discussing their permit decision.
I was disappointed, so I went to the State Housing and Community Website to better understand the HCD permitting process. My search led me to HCD’s “Mobile Home and Special Occupancy Plan Review Booklet.” Getting to Page 2, I found a checklist titled “Documentation Standards for Permits.” Item 1 asked for “approval and signature from the local planning department on the Mobile Home and Recreational Vehicle Park Government Agency Approval form or equivalent document.”
I’m wondering which city employee signed off on this permit, so I raised the issue at the September 12 City Council meeting. Mr. Striplin indicated the city did not approve the project. In addition, the City was not aware of the HCD Booklet or requirements. Councilmember Marsha Mclean asked staff to look into the matter.
That brings me to the point of wondering about competence at City Hall. They are the experts; why weren’t they aware of the HCD requirements for local approval? If the required local approvals were not obtained, isn’t it fact enough to go after the state to revisit the project? HCD Officials indicated they “consider local city and county ordinances that would be applicable.”
If their statement is true, are Santa Clarita ordinances so loosely written they would allow a project to be built so haphazardly? Does city staff need to review and revise our requirements to prevent a recurrence of this problem?
Lastly, no one has identified the boundaries or provided documentation which established Canyon View Estates a manufactured home park. Is the hill behind the park even a part of the park?
Mr. Barnathan’s article in this week’s Gazette indicated additional solar panels would be installed in December. It appears there is time to put our city attorney to work getting a ‘Cease and Desist Order,” which would put a halt on future parts of this project, and give us time to validate overall project compliance with the HCD permitting process and local requirements. When I look at the project, the haphazard way it was built, the way the vegetation was removed from the hill, the way some of the Solar Panels are angled at the homes, I am concerned for the residents. This winter may be another wet year, leading to mud slides and water being channeled into resident’s homes. For a city which has spent over $10 million fighting CEMEX, we should be able to squeeze out a little to protect our residents. In addition, since we have learned we can indirectly set requirements for Manufactured Home Parks, we need to review our building and zoning codes and make the necessary changes.
The Canyon View Estates Managing Partner Kerry Seidenglanz was quoted in a June 28 Signal article by Gina Ender: “Residents don’t need to be concerned. … The park is completely covered by insurance.” I am sure that is a true statement and having an insurance contract probably helps Kerry sleep peacefully through the night. Yet, if I were one of the residents living in Canyon View Estates, I don’t think I would be as confident, or as comfortable.