Leon Worden

Roads: The broken promise of Cityhood

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, December 2, 1998

ore than 55 million vehicles pass through the Santa Clarita Valley on Interstate 5 each year. Among them are 30,000 big rigs each DAY.

Repair work is slated to begin in April 2001 on the Magic Mountain Parkway interchange and a freeway bridge immediately north of it, where the river is eroding away its footing.

CalTrans is talking about shutting one whole side of the freeway, then the other, throughout the three years of construction.

"We don't want them to shut the freeway and we don't want them to put traffic on surface streets," said city of Santa Clarita transportation director Tony Nisich. "But what we want isn't necessarily what we get."

Why are we still debating whether the county is going to extend The Old Road?

* * *

The saddest thing about the whole Porta Bella mess is that it has delayed the construction of roads across this valley.

Bottom line? We've been cheated. When the Santa Clarita City Formation Committee convinced local voters to turn the unincorporated communities of Newhall, Saugus, Valencia and Canyon Country into a city in 1987, they made big promises of building roads all over hell and back.

It was a ruse. Here it is, 11 years later, and the city has not built a single crosstown road. Traffic has only gotten worse.

Oh, sure. The members of the City Formation Committee probably meant well. But their plans were dashed around 1990 when someone at City Hall looked at an aerial map of this valley, saw a big, undeveloped hole in the middle of it, and decided it would be a good place to build a grand city hall compound with a bunch of roads leading up to it.

We could have built roads. We could have built roads that solved our cross-town traffic problems and put them in places that didn't pass through Porta Bella, where nothing — including roads — can be built until the California Environmental Protection Agency says so.

Instead we have a road master plan where all roads point to Porta Bella — from the Santa Clarita Parkway that the city wants to punch through the Central Park in Saugus, to the Magic Mountain-Via Princessa extension, to the Wiley-Princessa hookup.

Porta Bella has been the perfect excuse for a bunch of city politicians to do absolutely nothing. Throughout the short history of this city, any time an existing neighborhood didn't want a road to run through its back yard, all it had to do was fill City Council chambers with 200 angry people, and the City Council would cave. Every time.

Porta Bella has enabled the City Council to say, "See? We're building roads. We're building roads as soon as Porta Bella is cleaned up. And by the way, that might be 10 years, or 20 years, or maybe never."

That has been the modus operandi of this city since at least 1991, when negotiations with Whittaker Corp., the Porta Bella land owner, started to get serious. Five years later, the city approved a development plan where Whittaker would pay for some of the roads that lead to the city's whimsical Taj Mahal on the hill.

It isn't like the city didn't know it would be a long time before anything could be built on the Porta Bella property. A lot of people tried to tell them. Instead they believed lie after lie from Porta Bella huckster Sam Veltri, who said the site would be cleaned up by 1998. That's right. 1998.

Here we are at the end of 1998 and, according to Cal-EPA, the site won't be cleaned up until 2005, if then. And gee whiz, adds Cal-EPA, we really don't know how extensive the toxification is, and even if we did, we really haven't identified a way to clean it up yet.

And still the city plods blindly along, pretending it is trying to build roads. Last night the Planning Commission was scheduled to take final comment on plans for Magic-Princessa, as if the city could actually build the thing if it wanted to.

It knows it can't. The state has authority over the city, and a top Cal-EPA spokeswoman made it perfectly clear to city officials Nov. 19 that the state will not allow anything, not even a road, to be built until the site is cleaned up. "As far as focusing on the city's plan (to build a road), we can't do that. It is not scientific and we cannot do that," the Cal-EPA official said.

So. 1987. 2005. Ultimately Porta Bella will have set us back two decades, and you'll STILL be stuck in traffic at Bouquet Junction.

One wonders what the City Council might have done if it hadn't believed Sam Veltri. Build a road that didn't run through Porta Bella? Nah. That would have been too easy.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's business editor.

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