By Jonathan Kraut: Forecast for a more blue SCV

File photo taken in March 2012 of Highway 126 looking SW showing the Newhall Ranch property. Dan Watson/The Signal

The massive residential development called Newhall Ranch celebrated a victory last week in one of what has been a long round of battles over building – or not building – the project planned from roughly the west side of I-5 to the Ventura County line north of Stevenson Ranch.

By the time the 21,000 new homes would be built over several years’ time, we would – if Newhall Ranch wins final approval – have some 58,000 new neighbors.

The developers went through great efforts to try to accommodate our local environmental concerns, and it paid off last week with the state Fish and Wildlife Department’s announced approval of the development’s environmental plans. Although there are those who would never be happy with any development there, good steps have been taken to help minimize the impact of building on what is now mostly farmland and natural space.

Right now, the development is planned to occupy county land outside the borders of the city of Santa Clarita. But we know with a penchant for annexation it is only a matter of time before our city limits would be extended west. When our new neighbors are settled in, I believe annexation by the city will be imminent.

Environmental concerns seemed to be mitigated, but the new influx of residents would still have profound effects on our local politics, tax base, street traffic, and likely our local social environment.

Santa Clarita is ranked as the fourth largest city in Los Angeles County with about 180,000 current city residents. Adding another 58,000-plus would move Santa Clarita into third place behind the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Added to Newhall Ranch’s population, one can expect thousands more newcomers from developments such as Golden Valley Ranch, Vista Canyon, River Village and Five Knolls. All these projects together should boost the city from the 24th to the 15th largest city statewide.

Just the sheer size of Santa Clarita 10 years from now will garner heightened political attention. Plus, we will need more schools, hospital space, retail sites and miles of new roads.

It might be a simple thing to say that a bunch of new homes being built to the west are out of sight and out of mind, but in reality, the impact on everything Santa Clarita is going to be profound.

More children and teens in town could necessitate a new four-year college or university be established. Maybe College of the Canyons would continue to morph with the needs of the community, or perhaps we can look forward to a CSU or UC Santa Clarita being formed.

Even prior to city annexation, a spike in retail sales would fuel our local economy and directly add tax revenues collected. Office developments and shopping centers would be erected. Opportunities for entrepreneurship and prosperity from small business and services would arise.

The demographics over the last 20 years have shifted the SCV political scene from dark red to light red. With more folks moving in from our liberal areas to the south, it is likely an influx of new voters would shift us from light red to light blue.

This political shift would clearly have an impact on our local state offices and perhaps locally as well. It is fair to say our fairly conservative valley will be a thing of the past 10 years from now. I believe moving toward a moderate stance is a good thing. Our cowboy days are over.

My dad, a builder for 50 years, would always tell me: “New buildings do not create more people; it just gives us a place to put them.”

In the same light, one could say new water and utility use is not being created with new developments, but simply moved from one place to another. But in fact, more lawns, new schools, and additional businesses and services do create new demand.

The current administration might advocate that greed and self-interest is the American way. And remember that all of us, our parents, or grandparents came from somewhere else.

It is hard to complain about growth that we enjoy while denying others the same. But my hope is that our leaders properly and thoughtfully plan our growth to minimize our impact on our resources and natural beauty.

This time development, as long as it is environmentally sensitive, can be a good thing – attracting more like-minded folks en masse who will vote with and for the people. Growth and greed may this time backfire on the old guard as our new neighbors they recruit will help bring us a more moderate and compassionate home town.

Jonathan Kraut directs private investigations and private security firms, is a published author, Democratic Party activist and SCV Interfaith Council member. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.


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