Leon Worden

Scratching their tails in Romper Room

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, February 17, 1999

ou'd think we would have learned our lesson by now. It has been more than 11 years, and we have grown into a vibrant city of 145,000 people — large by most people's standards outside of California — in a valley of 200,000, with a highly skilled, highly educated work force and some of the most sophisticated industrial facilities in the world in fields ranging from film production to water purification.

And yet we won't let go of our small-town mentality.

The few of us who've been around awhile and bother to vote have elected people to the City Council who, for the most part, have been around just as long and remember "the way it was," murkily rose-colored though their recollections may be.

I suppose that's a good thing. On one level. I believe that to a man — or I should say, to a woman — our council members believe they have the best interests of their constituents at heart. They go about it in different ways, wildly different sometimes, but they see Santa Clarita as a small town and struggle against hope to preserve its small-town way of life.

They look to the hills about them and see rooftops where once was unadulterated skyline, tail lights where once were onion fields, trees where once was parched earth — go figure — and say, Stop! Enough! We can't have this!

Of course, they are wrong.

Santa Clarita is not a small town. It hasn't been a small town for a long time, and it will never be a small town again.

Growth can't be stopped in the Santa Clarita Valley any more than it can be stopped in the rest of Southern California. And yet for over 11 years, we have had a City Council that won't break out of the box long enough to realize that if they want to achieve their true goal — influence over development outside the city's borders, so it happens in a well thought-out, aesthetically pleasing way that has the least impact on existing city schools, roads and services — they will have to work as a team and knock off the Romper Room antics.

We at the newspaper don't help matters. Every time one of our council members scratches his butt or adjusts her brassiere we slap it on the front page of the paper. Sometimes I wish we could simply ignore the childish backstabbing of the people we 18 percent have elected and put a face on our city that says to the world, Yes! Look at us! We are adults now and deserve to be heard!

But we can't do that, because it wouldn't be the truth.

We have thus far failed to convince the county of Los Angeles to go along with our wishes for a sphere of influence, a legal mechanism that would give our city some say in the way development occurs beyond city limits. We make a fresh attempt at one every couple of years and bitch and moan when we don't get it.

But who in his right mind at the county, where real planners have to deal with real population issues in the real world, would give our City Council any influence over anything? Once again we are the laughingstock of greater Los Angeles, all because our elected officials cannot see the forest for the trees and work together as a team with a sensible approach to meeting the regional needs of our corner of Southern California.

The sad thing is that the time has probably never been more ripe for flexing our muscles and bringing our unincorporated county areas into our city. The county is more willing than ever to shed its unincorporated "islands" because of the cost and quality of services it provides there.

The city may end up providing those services to Stevenson Ranch in exchange for sales tax dollars from businesses west of Interstate 5 as a first step toward annexing the established neighborhoods there, but don't expect to see the county part with any undeveloped land.

Eleven years later, we aren't ready for that.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's business editor.

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