Gary Horton: Fast growth requires fast road building

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Santa Clarita has just posted employment data and we’re pegging the needle on jobs and economic growth. The SCV has grown to 300,000 souls, we’re running at 3.8 percent unemployment, and we’re adding jobs at 2.5 percent with another 10,000 local jobs expected to be added by 2022 with 300,000 more people tagging along.

The SCV is a national leader on jobs and population growth. If you’re a pro-growther, this is great news as opportunity abounds for upward mobility and economic profits. If you’re a slow-growther, you have real reason to be worried as right now, apartments and single-family homes are running way, way behind our growth curve.

The big picture? More people, jobs, cars—all over the place.

The downside? More “millennials” staying longer at home, more folks crammed into the same house and rents and housing costs rising increasingly out of reach for many. And this isn’t just a liberal cry and moan. It’s easily measured.

More people, jobs, cars and not enough housing and road infrastructure to keep pace.

“We’re on it,” is the message taken from the SCV Economic Outlook Forum last week. Builders are building and working to ramp up to demand. But housing lead time is notoriously slow in the L.A. area and California, and land costs and zoning can be prohibitive. Little housing and infrastructure was built during the Great Recession and even planning was curtailed.

Now, we’re behind the curve.

Unfortunately, in our pumped up SCV economy, with surging biomed, travel, tech, healthcare, aerospace and construction sectors—we’ll benefit from the growth and in the short term at least, pay for it all with continuing rising housing prices, apartment shortages and ever-more traffic frustrations.

Last week’s SCV Economic Outlook Forum was enlightening as it dealt not only with the economists’ viewpoints and guesses, but also hard figures on present building permits, pending leases and sampling from large local developers.

Pending an external detrimental event, even facing rising interest rates, the SCV will likely add 1,500,000 new square feet of commercial and industrial buildings. But, even with 10,000 new housing units also planned, “places to live” will still be running behind.

And then, there’s the roads. Famously, in “Back to the Future,” we learned that, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

This rings true. Within 30 years, “autonomous ride-sharing” will be the way of the road, eliminating most traffic. But, for the here and now, SCV is stuck between our present and our future—while anchored to the old transportation modes of our past.

While waiting for our carless future, we have got to get from the SCV into L.A., from the SCV into the Kern and Antelope Valleys; We’ve got to get to Ventura into San Bernardino; or just to the mall; or across town; or to the school. All this, lined up in an ever-increasing cue of frustrated drivers on what seems to be ever- decomposing roads.

L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger was present at the outlook meeting and assured us, “We’ve got it covered.”

Coming soon: A fix to the Old Road to provide a secondary artery out of the SCV. Money poured into the freeway system. A push to fix our Metrolink trains, which according to Barger, only make it on-time 3 or 4 times a week.

Well, here’s the rub: “Show me.”

The SCV is an economic powerhouse and is becoming more so by the day. We are a golden tax goose laying golden tax eggs to the county. Like our Measure H homeless funds largely getting shipped out of our valley, so too much of our tax dollars.

And what would we like in return? What should the county be supplying amidst all this growth and economic goodness?

Roads. Bridges. Parks. More roads. Maintenance on roads.

Landscape. upkeep. Efficient public transportation. Parks and recreation investment. Health and human services as required.

But more than anything? New roads, and upkeep and repair of the existing. Keeping traffic flowing and providing pleasant transportation experiences will, perhaps more than anything, keep our cool during such a period of hot growth.

Right now, we’re in a hole. We need strong action, real graders, real paving machines, real construction right now to get and stay ahead. We need the willpower to push construction through.

Here’s one to start with: Thousands of SCV folks go to work in the Valencia Commerce Center. It’s giant and getting even larger. And each morning and night they’re greeted by a lofty-sounding “Commerce Center Drive”—the inlet to surely one of the county’s largest tax bases. And traversing Commerce Center Drive we all encounter a road straight out of war-torn Syria—with potholes, shattered pavement, and cracks that might have easily been caused by 10,000 tanks rolling back and forth. And an IUD or two. That road is shoddy, and it’s a terrible introduction to newcomers coming into our business community.

There’s more of course, and need abounds. The key point: Growth is here and now. The county, and our city must put transportation first on their “must do’s.” Our future will be without cars. But our present demands investment and building now.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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