Gary Horton | Understanding Road Work in Santa Clarita

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You know the story. Perhaps the streets outside your home appear a bit “alligatored” – with unsightly cracks and maybe even a touch of grass growing in the gaps. Maybe, on the way to work or the store, you hit a patch of rough road and you wonder, “Why aren’t these things taken care of?” 

And then there’s the occasional Santa Clarita pothole that gives a pretty good jolt to your suspension and perhaps even to your spine. Fortunately, we don’t have too many of those in Santa Clarita. Most of the genuine potholes around here are found right next door, in less well-managed, unincorporated L.A. County.

Two weeks ago, I wrote of my experience of driving around our Commerce Center with an L.A. County field officer, attempting to coerce some roadway maintenance out of the county’s roadway “priority list” for this important industrial area. I also wrote of concerns inside the SCV itself. 

I’ve still not heard back from the county, but meanwhile, responding to the column, Mr. Robert Newman, director of Santa Clarita Public Works, reached out and arranged for a phone-in meeting to discuss the state of our SCV streets and roads. They called me. Nice! 

So, Robert, General Services Manager Cruz Caldera, Communications Director Carrie Lujan, and myself all had a nice nearly hourlong chat on what’s happening in the SCV public works, what we can expect in road maintenance here, and how you and I can interface with the city when we have immediate concerns.

I learned we have “priorities” here, too. Funds are indeed limited; the city doesn’t just print it, and we’re famously known for living prudently within our means. We do have a great-looking city, I’ll say – and we see that our money is well-spent. Nevertheless, priorities rule when street and landscape budgets are allocated.

The city spends about $12 million per year maintaining our roads and sidewalks. Robert Newman explained that our recent gas tax increase has been a godsend – adding about 20 percent to the city’s road maintenance budget. Your property taxes don’t pay for our roads. Road maintenance funds come from a myriad of allocated sources – and the recent gas tax increase really “pumped up” what the city can now do. Expect improvement, Mr. Newman explained.

Of this $12 million, funds are allocated (prioritized) logically. Safety issues are prioritized over all else. Major arteries are always prioritized over residential streets. Then comes ride quality. And finally, aesthetics. Yes, that’s right: Your alligatored, aged-looking but reasonably drivable, quiet residential street is way at the bottom of the list.

There’s hope for your road: The city has a rotating five-year plan, budgeting funds against all the roadways in town. Road conditions are routinely monitored for condition. In general, all roads, including your quiet little street, should receive either slurries or overlays every 10 to 15 years. Properly constructed and maintained, local roads should last 50 years before requiring major reconstruction.

Why have some of our roads seemed to disintegrate so quickly? Robert explained that up until 10 years ago or so, county specifications for developer road construction allowed processes that compromised the roads right from the get-go. As areas have been annexed into the city we’ve inherited these weak links and chickens come home to roost in the form of your cracked asphalt. Today, our city insists on higher construction standards for new annexed areas.

It’s plain the city is aware of what’s going on. I learned that they inspect all sidewalks and paseos for gaps and lifting – all of them, every single year. And lifted edges over 1 inch are systematically ground down or overlaid with asphalt to cure the safety hazard. That’s a lot of sidewalks to keep up. Compare this to what we see just over the hill in the San Fernando Valley, or worse, the giant 1- and 2-foot heaving on L.A. City sidewalks over by LAX and other older areas. We’re in wonderland by any meaningful comparative measure.

So, what can you do to help keep up our local roads and to push your concerns about your own street? First, there’s a website dedicated to just this: Here, you can check the city schedule for road work and see where your street is on the list. And, there’s a list of contacts you can call for input, discussion and general begging.

And here’s what’s really cool: There’s a mobile app for your cell phone where you can just snap pictures of potholes or other roadway problems and it zips the pic right over to Public Works, along with the exact location of the problem. Zippity Doo-Dah. It’s called “Santa Clarita Mobil App” and you just download it for free at the app store. Try it!

Plainly, Santa Clarita is “on it,” working responsibly with the money we’ve got, and has made public outreach and input extremely easy. We’re genuinely fortunate to have such a responsive city, attuned to maintaining our public assets. 

Just remember, when setting personal expectations, “First comes safety, then ride quality, and finally aesthetics. And big roads always come before our little streets.” Meanwhile, use the app, use the website – and indeed, “They will get to it.”

Robert Newman closed our conversation with the invitation, “If anyone has any questions, please just call me over at the city.” 

That’s being accessible.

Meanwhile – I’ll keep pushing on the county to spruce up what should be an attractive and inviting Commerce Center Drive…

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared on Wednesdays in The Signal since 2006.

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