March-April 2006 Year 12, Number 2.
North Newhall, Home Inspections
And Eminent Domain.
By LEON WORDEN
Editor and Publisher.
The ink is barely dry on the specific plan for Old Town Newhall and already the city of Santa Clarita is at work on a second specific plan.
This time they're looking at "North Newhall" the 213-acre swath of mostly vacant land east of San Fernando Road between Thirteenth Street and the Circle J community (see story, page 3). You might know it as the "Glaser property" or the "Cowboy Festival parking lot." Today half of the land is controlled by Casden Properties Inc., a development company that bought it from the Glaser family in 2004.
The decision to draft a specific plan is yet another sign that the city is done with the "anything goes" type of development that Santa Clarita Valley residents came to know under county rule and in the early years of cityhood. Just like the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan, this approach will enable property owners, city planners and residents to work together to "concept" the best development for the area.
Should there be homes? Should there be retail stores? Should there be offices? Should there be an entertainment complex? You'll have a say. Watch the Gazette for upcoming meeting dates. The City Council is expected to launch the specific plan process formally in April.
The process will cost something short of $1 million. The city is asking Casden to front about half of the cost, and Casden has agreed. The other 40 to 50 smaller property owners will be expected pay their proportional share on the back end when they submit their projects for approval.
One idea that's being kicked around is a mixed-use development on some of the 213 acres, with residences upstairs and retail shops downstairs. If that sounds familiar, you may recognize it from the specific plan for Old Town Newhall. Or you might have seen it in the plans for The Newhall Land and Farming Company's Soledad Village, to be built between Soledad Canyon Road and the company's Riverpark project.
As time goes on, we'll see more and more infill projects that build "up." Santa Clarita is largely built "out." Gone are the days of building vast, single-family housing tracts with neighborhood shopping centers surrounded by acres and acres of ground-level parking.
A specific plan is the perfect approach for the North Newhall property. Buildable land doesn't stay vacant forever. It's going to be developed. A specific plan gives the community a voice and, with careful attention, can lead to something that really compliments the Old Town next door.
The city has tried several approaches over the years to improve living conditions for downtown Newhall residents, particularly those of modest means. Renters often find it difficult to persuade absentee landlords to maintain homes and apartment units properly.
In January the city hired a housing inspector who will go door-to-door to make sure homes both rental and owner-occupied meet all health and safety codes. The inspector will assess structural integrity and look for leaky roofs and plumbing, exposed electric wiring, unsealed windows, hot and cold running water and so forth.
He'll also make note of how the dwellings are being utilized. While there is no limit on the size of a family that can live in a home, occupancy limits apply when it comes to subletting to non-family members.
Inspections will be voluntary at first; then they will be mandatory, annual and unannounced. They will also happen in other parts of Santa Clarita. It's not an alien concept; apartment building owners are used to annual impromptu health, fire and building inspections by the county of Los Angeles.
Kudos go to Newhall Redevelopment Committee member Amparo Cevallos for facilitating outreach about the inspection program to Spanish speakers in Newhall.
Three initiatives have entered circulation to limit the use of eminent domain. Two are sponsored by state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks; Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby; and Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. The third is sponsored by Douglas Adams McNea, a congressional candidate in San Jose, and Karin Annette Hipona, a San Mateo school trustee.
The initiatives need 598,105 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Taken together, they go beyond anything the U.S. Supreme Court contemplated in Kelo v. New London, Conn., where the court held that a city could use eminent domain for economic development purposes as long there was an approved plan that complies with state law similar to the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan.
According to the League of California Cities, the three initiatives "would significantly undermine the ability of the state and local governments" such as the city of Santa Clarita "to make public investments in roads, schools, housing and other essential infrastructure."
Moreover, as they apply to Old Town Newhall, the measures could "significantly limit efforts by cities and redevelopment agencies to revitalize blighted areas, thereby condemning many economically stressed neighborhoods to a continuing downward spiral."
Certainly there have been abuses of eminent domain in other communties. Those abuses should be addressed. Santa Clarita has not abused that power. So far, the city has used eminent domain just once for Newhall revitalization (part of the Anawalt property, for Metrolink parking); the owner was justly compensated.
For a city such as Santa Clarita that needs so many roads, and for a community such as Newhall that has struggled for years to arrest its "continuing downward spiral," further restraints can only hurt.
©2006, Old Town Newhall USA. All rights reserved.