Speaking With One Voice is
Key to Overcoming Traffic Troubles.
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 1-9-2005.
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My mother was a school board member for the Castaic Union School District in the 1950s. She fought long and hard against creating a unified William. S. Hart Union School District. In those simpler times, it had more to do with local taxes staying in the local district.
It was a long drive to Sand Canyon or Saugus. Traffic wasn't much of a problem. Valencia wasn't even a dream. (The Newhall Land and Farming Co. was still mostly, well, farming.) The major employers were the oil companies with wells in the area, the prison, and Bermite. Building a new house in the valley might have made news on the front page of The Signal.
Fast-forward to 1969. I enlisted in the U.S. Navy. You could still count all of the stop lights in the Santa Clarita Valley without taking off your shoes.
That same year, I went to a naval school in Virginia Beach, Va. a place called Dam Neck Naval Guided Missiles School. It was still a fairly rural area, too. Leave it to the Navy to find a place on the Atlantic Ocean to put a major school command in a hurricane zone, with most of the buildings at or a couple of feet below sea level. But that's another story.
I transferred many places with the Navy over the next 20 years, as both a sailor and Navy civilian: Connecticut, northern California (Vallejo), Washington state (Bremerton), and in 1989, back to Southeast Virginia.
Because I'll always consider Newhall my "hometown" and because my sister still lives in Newhall, I've been "back home" many times over the years. I've watched Valencia go from fields to what it is today. I'll never forget the time, on one visit in the Œ80s, when I got lost someplace in Valencia trying to find Lyons Avenue.
Southeast Virginia, usually called "Hampton Roads," has also seen explosive growth since 1969. The population here has gone from about 300,000 to 1.5 million. New housing developments are everywhere. Farmland is hard to find. Growth problems are legendary. It is a collection of seven cities and two counties. It would help if the cities and counties would communicate with or among themselves. They don't do it very well.
The Santa Clarita Valley has transportation and road problems. I've been in congested traffic going south from Newhall on both Interstate 5 and state Route 14. I know it is only getting worse for the folks of the SCV. It is the same here in Hampton Roads, with almost five times the population.
I did some research for this column. It turns out, the land area of the Santa Clarita Valley and Hampton Roads is about the same. In 1969, the folks here in Virginia estimated the population would be around 500,000 in the year 2000. Instead, it is now 1.5 million. I couldn't find a 1969 estimate for the year-2000 population of the SCV, but I doubt it was as high as the 225,000 you have today.
The problem here in Hampton Roads is, we're still making plans based on data from the past.
A standing local joke is that those seven local cities and two counties always plan 20 years in the past. We can't even agree on hurricane evacuation routes. Consider the problem with that: We have only four major highways to exit the area, and those roads are all four-lane freeways or divided highways (two lanes in each direction). So, we have to move 1.5 million folks to higher ground over those four roads.
In the 1994 earthquake, the SCV had its two major roads to the south cut off. (Again.) Many of you learned to commute by train. We can't decide where to put our light rail here in Hampton Roads. Let's just say, the cities still won't talk about it.
It may not appear so to those of you in the Santa Clarita Valley, but you've had some cohesive planning. Sure, you need a better way to connect from I-5 and SR-14 to the northern part of what I used to call Saugus. You could also use a center-of-the-valley freeway. But it looks like you may have planned at least a couple of years into the future.
It also looks like once in a while, the city of Santa Clarita, various town councils, Los Angeles County and the state sit down and talk together. If they hadn't been talking, you would still see roads like we have here in Southeastern Virginia.
Like my mother, I'm still not an advocate of having all the towns in the SCV (such as Castaic) joining into one city. It may happen one day, but not soon, I hope. Those little towns are unique and could be lost in the bigger "sprawl" of Santa Clarita.
Even in the days of one high school (not five), one junior high and a few elementary schools, the little parts of the valley still talked to each other. In most ways, we were unified in our concerns for the entire valley. We didn't always agree on the solutions, but we went as a unified valley to voice them at the county and state level.
We aren't unified here in Hampton Roads, Va. We don't go to Richmond with a unified voice. Thus, our citizens suffer the poor roads and transportation problems. We complain about "Northern Virginia" getting better roads when we have a bigger population. We complain that we couldn't get a Major League Baseball team to come here. ("Norfolk is too small to support baseball.")
So, folks, what I've spent so many words trying to say is this:
* Agree on the problems you have in the Santa Clarita Valley without voicing solutions. Those solutions will come when you learn how to discuss them.
* Look at the projected population figures for 20 years from now, and double them. Plan your solutions on those doubled figures.
* Communicate inside the valley without stopping, and never give Los Angeles County or those folks in Sacramento any reason to think you are not one unified voice a very large and loud, unified voice.
And when you get that accomplished (maybe in a couple of months?) send some people here to Hampton Roads, Va., who can teach our seven cities how to do the same.
When they get here, they should know not to say, "We do it better in California."
"Why, them folks was on the wrong side during The War."
But that is another column for another time.
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.