Leon Worden

Santa Clarita: Too good for an all-city award
By Leon Worden
July 2, 1999

It might have been nice to be able to put up signs around town saying, "Welcome to Santa Clarita, an All-America City."
    That's the way the folks at City Hall in Santa Maria answer the phones, according to a woman who helped organize her city's successful bid for one of 10 "All-America City" awards last year.
    "While I can't say it has had a definite economic impact, I believe companies looking to relocate to Santa Maria (consider the award) a benchmark," she said. "It's like a good housekeeping seal of approval."
    Santa Clarita's business community looked forward to sticking yet another feather in Santa Clarita's already brimming capful of status symbols. According to City Manager George Caravalho, local companies donated $40,000 toward the $75,000 cost of sending 58 delegates to compete for the prize in Philadelphia last weekend.
    (Fifty-eight wasn't exorbitant, by the way. Tallahassee, Fla., sent 110 delegates and Fresno sent 106; Moorhead, Minn., sent the fewest, with 17.)
    Monday morning always brings a lot of quarterbacking, and I'm sure there was no dearth of it this week at our own City Hall. Now that it's over, however, it's probably just as well Santa Clarita didn't come home with a trophy.
    We're too good to be an All-America City.
    Seriously. The All-America City award doesn't go to the "best" cities. It goes specifically to cities that demonstrate they have brought together government, corporations and nonprofit groups to overcome community-wide adversity.
    Any way you slice it, most of the 10 winners had far more adversity to overcome than Santa Clarita. Look at some of the winning communities.
    I've driven through Union City. I can't say I ever wanted to stop there. Hell, gang crime was so out of control that their police chief was shot and killed. And Stockton? The Sacramento Valley isn't anywhere I'd want to call home.
    The men and women who stay in Union City and Stockton and work to make them better places to live are bigger people than I. Or crazier.
    During the competition, Don Rodriguez, our local sheriff's captain, and Deputy Alan Young from COBRA talked to some cops from Fresno, which has just over twice the population of the Santa Clarita Valley. A couple of years ago, they said, there were 73 homicides in a single year in Fresno, two-thirds of them gang-related.
    Since 1995, Santa Clarita has seen two gang killings.
    We don't compare. And Fresno didn't even win, despite the remarkable efforts of their community leaders.
    All that's not to say we haven't brought together government, corporations and nonprofit groups to solve our problems, because we have. But we do it so proactively and effectively that we stop our problems— at least our crime-related problems— in their tracks, before they explode.
    Santa Clarita wanted to convince the judges, 12 national civic leaders, that our rapid growth in recent decades brought an escalation of crime and gang activity.
    Did it?
    It's not easy to prove. Most people who moved here recently— people who fled crime in the San Fernando Valley— didn't bring crime with them any more than did the people who moved here 20 or 30 years ago— people who fled crime in the San Fernando Valley. They're of like minds. Most of them aren't criminals.
    The numbers don't really uphold the notion that Santa Clarita had a serious crime problem. True, 150 gang members were counted locally in 1991, compared to 1,300 in 1995. But the reality is, the Sheriff's Department counted them differently. The 1995 numbers included wanna-be's, at a time when it was "cool" for kids to affiliate with a gang.
    If our population doubled in "X" amount of time, it's reasonable to believe our crime doubled along with it. It certainly did not quadruple or quintuple or "soar."
    In fact, Santa Clarita was the nation's fourth or fifth safest city in both 1995 and 1999. Class-one crimes decreased from 4,100 a few years ago to about 2,800 last year, thanks in part to the great community programs spotlighted by the Santa Clarita delegation in Philadelphia— but also because the whole state and nation have ridden a wave of lower crime during the current good economy.
    If we couldn't convince the judges we worked as hard as Union City or Stockton to overcome crime, maybe next time, if there is a next time, we should focus on the other growth problems we've been working to overcome since city formation in 1987.
    • We have united four disparate communities under one flag. We still have our work cut out for us to bring the east side of town up to the level of the west side in terms of retail, commercial and industrial development.
    • We have built an excellent trail system. We still need more playing fields for our estimated 6,000 youth soccer players, although the coming Central Park in Saugus is a good beginning.
    • We have annexed several neighborhoods, bringing them local governmental control. We have a lot of talking to do before the county will let go of the Valencia Marketplace, Stevenson Ranch and, eventually, Newhall Ranch.
    Even with all that work in progress, I'm not sure it would win us All-America City status. We're simply too good for what they seem to want.
    It's tough to convince anybody we ever had serious problems when the thing we bitch about most is Nordstrom.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's business editor.

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