While city and mall officials said as of Tuesday they’ve yet to hear from any members of Santa Clarita Safe and Strong, which was formed to appeal a mall expansion, a lawyer for the group, who’s so far the only member to come forward, contends his numbers are growing.
The mall’s proposed expansion, known as the Patios Connection project, consists of turning the former Sears building into a Costco with a rooftop parking lot and a 30-pump gas station, as well as other amenities that range from a luxury cinema to a health and fitness center.
The attorney, Tal Finney, has done similar work in appealing multiple commercial projects across California, representing groups with characteristics similar to Santa Clarita Safe and Strong, such as “Keep Taft Great,” which sought to oppose a Grocery Outlet in Kern County, and “Residents for Orcutt Sensible Growth” in Santa Maria. None of that group’s members attended a hearing at the time the city of Santa Maria reviewed the project, according to the Santa Maria Times.
A spokesman for the Westfield Valencia Town Center said no member of the group has contacted Westfield, which hosted a series of meetings to address potential traffic concerns before coming to the Santa Clarita Planning Commission with the plan.
The Santa Clarita Planning Commission approved the proposal Jan. 21, but an appeal arose just 10 days later by Santa Clarita Safe and Strong, a group described in the appeal as “an unincorporated association of residents of the city of Santa Clarita and the Valencia community.”
The five-page appeal by the Los Angeles-based attorney says members of the appellant group are concerned that they “may be adversely affected by the potential traffic, air quality, soil quality, groundwater quality, noise, public health and safety hazards imposed by the project.”
The group incites the community in a call-to-action message on its website, santaclaritasafetstrong.com, stating, “If we don’t speak up, this traffic-busting and parking nightmare will be passed by our City Council and we will have to live with all of the negative impacts it will create.”
Mall officials have worked with the city to address concerns raised during community meetings organized by Westfield Valencia Town Center before the project was presented to the Planning Commission. Among them was traffic, in which six mitigation measures, including reconfiguring six major intersections, will be looked into. Another concern raised was the possibility of the former Sears automotive center depositing oils and other toxins into the soil. After a two-phase investigation and a comprehensive analysis, “no mitigation was found to be necessary,” said John Bellas with Michael Baker International, a consultant to the city.
Objection to the project just days prior to the public hearing with the Planning Commission came as a surprise for mall officials as, “We have been active in building support over the last year within the community and have met with dozens of community organizations and neighbors over the course of that time,” said John Musella, spokesman for Westfield Valencia Town Center.
“The plan approved by the Planning Commission last month represents substantial input from various constituencies, and we are proud to have created a project that enjoys overwhelming support of individuals and families living in Santa Clarita,” he said, adding that he has not yet heard from any members of Santa Clarita Safe and Strong.
So has been the case with the city, according to David Peterson, associate planner with the city’s planning division, who said, “We have not had any residents reach out directly to the city.”
City and mall officials have only been able to exchange dialogue with Finney. When reached for comment about who and how many members of Santa Clarita Safe and Strong he represents, Finney said only via email that “because they received no notice of the project expansion even though they live adjacent to the mall, and because of the weighted presentation and hearing before the Planning Commission in favor of Westfield, (they’re) nervous about revealing who they are out of concerns that they might be bullied.”
Some residents of Valencia apartments and condominiums near the mall said they, too, have not heard about Santa Clarita Safe and Strong.
No members of Santa Clarita Safe and Strong appeared to have attended the Planning Commission meeting Jan. 21.
The City Council is expected to discuss the plans again at a March 24 meeting at City Hall.