A state administrative law judge has refused to throw out an environmental group’s complaint over a Santa Clarita Valley water district deal.
Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, a long-standing local environmental group, filed a complaint alleging the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s purchase of Valencia Water Co. was an “illegal acquisition of (a) water company that is slated to serve the massive Newhall Ranch project.”
The group alleges that on Dec. 17, the Castaic Lake Water Agency entered into a contract to purchase Valencia Water that contained a plethora of promises favorable to Valencia’s parent company, Newhall Land Development Inc.
Castaic Lake Water Agency, a water wholesaler in the Santa Clarita Valley, challenged the complaint, asking the California Public Utilities Commission to dismiss it.
But a PUC administrative law judge denied its motion. A Saturday email reads: “To all parties: The motion of Castaic Lake Water Agency to dismiss Complaint 13-01-005 is denied. Judge Douglas M. Long.”
The complaint is expected to be heard by the commission.
Castaic Lake Water Agency officials have consistently said the purchase of Valencia Water Co. is legal.
“There is no question that the purchase is legal and there is no question that we can legally operate it under the (California) Public Utilities Commission,” Dan Masnada, the agency’s general manager, said two weeks after the PUC complaint had been filed.
Click HERE for the article.
One remaining unresolved element in the decade-in-the-making Santa Clarita Valley master plan for development could place large swaths of land under strict new development guidelines.
The county in November approved the “One Valley, One Vision” development plan, a collaboration between the county and the city for a valley-wide general plan to map future development.
A general plan is basically a “constitution” for matters related to development, “an overarching blueprint for development and conservation,” said Mitch Glaser, a supervising regional planner for Los Angeles County.
One Valley, One Vision more than tripled the acreage designated “significant ecological areas” — or SEAs — from 12,500 acres to about 47,500 acres, Glaser said.
But county supervisors set aside the issue of new permitting and review standards for SEAs. That item came back before the Board of Supervisors last week.
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich raised several issues with the proposal, many related to how changes to taxes, fees and the permitting process could affect property owners or future development projects.
One such change would be a requirement that a biologist be present during the permit-review process for some building projects.
Extra review could also drag out the building-permit-review process, which already takes up to a year in some cases, said Edel Vizcarra, Antonovich’s planning and land use deputy.
Glaser said virtually all future development projects occurring in SEAs would be subject to increased scrutiny from the county. Some exceptions would be expansions to existing structures, like adding a second story on a house.
Smaller projects, like building a single-family house, would be subject to lesser levels of scrutiny, in most cases a site-plan review that includes a once-over from a biologist to gauge the ecological impact of the project.
Larger projects, though, will undergo a more rigorous and potentially more expensive process.
Glaser also said the proposed ordinance would create two different processes for larger developments, with projects such as subdivisions undergoing a quicker review process than large-scale developments such as the proposed Newhall Ranch project.
“Pretty much all projects are affected,” Glaser said. “But we’re trying to tailor the amount of review they undergo to the impact they will have.”
Most of the expansion to SEAs in the Santa Clarita Valley fall into two primary areas — land west of Castaic and land northeast of the Santa Clarita city limit. The latter is mostly in an area between two existing portions of the Angeles National Forest.
Glaser said the increase in SEA acreage is partly meant to link existing ecological areas to each other. Doing so prevents so-called “islands” of wildlife habitat, where open spaces are completely surrounded by urban areas.
This helps ensure that animals can move freely from one area to another and gives plants a wider habitat, according to the area plan proposal.
History of the plan
The One Valley, One Vision plan provides specific goals, maps and policies to regulate development in the Santa Clarita Valley.
The county’s plan covers all the unincorporated areas of the valley. The city of Santa Clarita has its own general plan, which was approved by the Santa Clarita City Council on June 14, 2011.
The city and the county collaborated throughout the general planning process to create a unified vision for development around the valley.
This collaboration also helps ensure that county development standards are not in conflict with the city’s, said city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz.
Prior to One Valley, One Vision, Ortiz said, county development guidelines were generally less stringent than the city’s, which led to issues when the city annexed unincorporated areas.
“We would have to go in and build new sidewalks, build new parks, things like that, to get the areas up to code,” Ortiz said.
Before the Board of Supervisors approved the revised general plan in November, county development was guided by a valley-area plan that was passed on Feb. 16, 1984, and amended Dec. 6, 1990.
The One Valley, One Vision Santa Clarita Valley Area Plan is expected to provide the valley with a developmental blueprint for the next 20 years.Scope of the plan
While the Santa Clarita Valley spans more than 485 square miles, only 250 square miles fall under the direct jurisdiction of Los Angeles County or the city of Santa Clarita.
This is because a sizable portion of the valley — around 235 square miles — is federal land overseen by the United States Forest Service.
Los Angeles County is responsible for the lion’s share of land in the Santa Clarita Valley, while the city encompasses around 52 square miles in its incorporated area and almost 30 additional square miles in its sphere of influence — land that the city could annex in the near future.
One Valley, One Vision identifies several key areas of city-county cooperation moving forward. These areas include coordinating on street design and layout, adequate parks and recreation services, preserving open-space green belts around the valley’s urban areas, conservation of historic and culturally significant resources and coordinating enhanced public and community services such as fire protection and law enforcement.
The result of this cooperative effort is a plan spanning hundreds of pages that are divided into five major elements: land use, circulation, conservation and open space, safety, and noise.
Despite its scope, One Valley, One Vision is but one part of the Los Angeles County General Plan, which provides developmental strategies and regulations throughout what is far and away the nation’s most populous county.
Significant developmental regulations contained in One Valley, One Vision oscillate between common-sense building and area-specific requirements. For instance, one provision of the plan is that higher-density development shall be targeted in areas near existing or planned roads or commercial areas.
Other, more valley-specific requirements include the protection of oak and sycamore trees and a limit on hillside development.
Ortiz said the plan represents the best interest of both the county and city.
“Working in concert to discuss big picture issues leads to good planning,” Ortiz said. “And good planning benefits everyone in the long run.”
Click HERE for the article.