Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

What if Portolá Had to Submit an EIR?
Published in The Signal, 7-24-2005.

Darryl Manzer, 2004     I wonder how much history has been lost to all the developments that cover the valley floor and hills around the Santa Clarita Valley?
    Then there are the environmental concerns. What would the SCV be like today if the environmentalists had existed when the Portolá expedition came through the valley in 1769?
    "Mr. Portolá, have you submitted an environmental impact report covering your mode of transport, waste disposal, and plan to mitigate any impact your horses and men will have on the valley? Until that is submitted, we must ask you to limit your time and get on your way to Monterey Bay."
    The Spanish missionaries returned in 1804 and must have had all the paperwork completed, because they established an estancia at Castaic Junction and later upgraded it to asistencia status — sort of like first having a locally owned hamburger stand and turning it into a Burger King.
    They had plenty of cheap labor. They conscripted (a nice way of saying, "enslaved") the local Tataviam tribe members.
    As the population of the SCV grew in people and cattle, where were the EIRs? You know cattle can leave a lot of "waste material" that is potentially damaging to the environment. Did anyone think of that problem? Nope.
    About 40 and then 72 years later came the gold miners, followed by the oil drillers. Think they had an EIR? Doubt it. Didnšt even care. Išll bet the Southern Pacific Railroad didnšt get an EIR for the tunnel to the San Fernando Valley. Could you even operate a steam engine under the pollution controls and laws now in effect in Southern California?
    For another 100 or so years, the SCV didnšt really grow that fast. Just farms, oil and gas wells and a few mines in the northeast corner of the valley. No EIR required for any of them.
    Can you imagine trying to get a permit for Bermite to manufacture explosive munitions during World War II if an EIR had been required? Japan would have loved that.
    What about that big stockyard that The Newhall Land and Farming Co. operated where Magic Mountain stands today? Did it have an EIR? Not a record of any that can be found. I wonder if the pollutants from the parking lots at Magic Mountain arenšt as bad as what used to run off that land and into the river on the way to Ventura. At least the previous runoff had some value as fertilizer.
    You know what the valley looks like today. Houses, streets, buildings, people, dogs, cats and automobiles as far as the eye can see. Išll bet you can almost jump from roof to roof and cross the valley without ever having your feet touch the ground. Mr. Portolá wouldnšt even know it was the same valley he crossed in 1769.
    So ... fast-forward 236 years. Newhall Land wants to build 1,089 homes along the river. An EIR was submitted and approved in accordance with the law. The city of Santa Clarita has approved the project. It even provides for more parkland and $25 million to complete a much needed road project. All the Išs are dotted and Tšs crossed.
    Enter the lawyers.
    Hold everything. Stop the bulldozers. Save the river. Stop the sprawl. Save the environment. Save the trees. (What trees?) Did I leave anything out?
    Now come the self-anointed — make that appointed — saviors of the SCV. They donšt want the project because the "increased water usage and pollution in Santa Clarita will have an effect on communities downstream on the Santa Clara River."
    Does that mean the river might have water in it during the summer? What are the effects they think would be so detrimental?
    And they are?
    Just the usual folks — the Sierra Club, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Center for Biological Diversity and California Water Impact Network. Have they just figured out that there is "sprawl" in the SCV?
    Portolá and his troops wouldnšt recognize the SCV for another reason. When he first looked over the valley, there werenšt many trees, except in the riverbottom. A few oaks on the hillsides, and some typical scrub trees.
    I would venture to guess that hundreds of thousands of trees are in the valley now. Just 20 years ago there were far fewer trees.
    People like trees. They like to plant them in their yards. And plant trees, they have.
    Isnšt that a goal of those environmental organizations? More trees?
    A far worse impact has already happened to the river, and the river has recovered time and again.
    There is one short-term impact for everyone in the SCV to think about right now. If the development is stopped, it may slow the cross-valley connector. Instead of the $25 million from the developer, those funds may come from increased taxes to pay for the road.
    One thing for sure: There will be winners in this case — all the lawyers.
    Funny. There wasnšt one lawyer on the Portolá expedition. How did they ever get to where they were going?

    Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.

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