We Santa Claritans love our open space.
For over a decade our City Council has worked to acquire open space around our valley. Our community strongly supported this program by participating in the Open Space Plan development and even approving a parcel tax to support acquisition.
Both the city and the county have also sought to preserve open space in our valley through required mitigation on new development or allowing clustered housing that then requires a permanent dedication of the remaining open space.
This is how part of the valley oak savannah in the Westridge project was saved.
Other projects throughout the valley have similar mitigation and set-asides that have preserved natural areas. It is one of the reasons that 300 acres in the Hunter’s Green golf course (now Sand Canyon Country Club), approval was dedicated to open space during the approval process in the late 1990s.
So to members of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, it is beyond baffling that the city is even considering a huge hotel complex in rural Sand Canyon that would convert 300 acres of previously promised open space to commercial zoning.
Of course, the city should have expected the uproar of opposition that followed, not just from the Sand Canyon residents, but also from all of us throughout the valley who care about our open space. After all the work we have done to protect open space, we expect the city to require developers, at a minimum, to abide by our zoning laws and conditions of approval.
Among the entitlements this developer is expecting is a zone change of open space to commercial so he can build his hotel on land that was zoned for and promised to be open space. This is the very same 300 acres of open space that the original owner promised would be permanently dedicated when he received his original approval in 1996 for clustered housing.
We know this because SCOPE members were around then and participated in that hearing. The condition of approval for the golf course states:
“No. 83, the developer shall record golf course/open space easements on all golf course/open space lots, restricting their use to those activities, before recordation of the first residential lot.”
Resolution 96-120, passed by the City Council, also included the following requirements for this project related to significant biological resource impacts and aesthetic impacts:
• Biological Resources: “The creation of 300 acres of recreational open space and establishment of this permanent habitat would offset the biological loss due to site development.”
• Aesthetics: “Design elements of the project with the preservation of approximately 300 acres of the site as recreation/open space would offset this impact.”
And lastly, included within the resolution is the following language:
“The City Council finds that the unavoidable environmental impacts of the project are acceptable when based upon the following factors and public benefits. The factors and public benefits are as follows: [Sections a and b not included for purposes of brevity.] c. The project would preserve approximately 300 acres of land into perpetuity as recreational/open space.”
In a recent ad, Steve Kim, the developer of this project, states that he was an investor in the Robinson Ranch Golf Club (previously known as Hunter’s Green, now Sand Canyon Country Club) for many years before buying it.
How could an investor and businessman not be aware of the conditions under which the property received its approval and by which he must abide?
The answer may be clarified by his statement at the Jan. 19 Planning Commission meeting where, after hearing objections from the public that he could not build over the open space, Kim replied, “What is perpetuity? It’s my property!”
Like many very wealthy people, he seems to feel that he does not have to abide by any rules, including those pertaining to zoning, conditions of approval or permitting. This apparently includes not worrying about getting grading permits, which he seems to have failed to do, subsequently receiving notices of violation from the city for it, among other issues.
In his closing remarks at the January meeting, Kim said, “The people opposing are so selfish.”
It seems to me that such name calling might not get him the support he claims to be seeking. But the bigger question might be, “Who is really being selfish?”
Is it the members of the community who demand that zoning laws be followed and promises kept, or is it a wealthy L.A. developer who is attempting to skirt the rules and pave over dedicated open space?
President, Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment