City Council upholds denial of Sand Canyon Resort project

Santa Clarita City Hall, as pictured on February, 26, 2020, is located on the 23900 block of Valencia Blvd. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Santa Clarita City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to uphold the decision of the Santa Clarita Planning Commission, which denied the Sand Canyon Resort plan last month with a 5-0 vote. 

The denial was made with prejudice, meaning Steve Kim, the proposed project’s developer and owner of the Sand Canyon Country Club, cannot submit an application for a similar project for a year, according to City Attorney Joseph Montes. 

City Council members cited concerns about traffic, fire evacuation routes, past promises and the project’s compatibility in the equestrian neighborhood of Sand Canyon. 

“Traffic studies can tell you things, but it’s different when you live somewhere and you experience something on a regular basis,” said Councilman Cameron Smyth, who was the first member of the council to voice denial of the project. 

Smyth told a packed a council chambers that he’s driven on Sand Canyon Road many times over the course of his life. 

“It’s just hard for me to see how we can put something of that size without any changes to the road,” he said of the project, which would include a three-story, 250-room hotel, an inn, villas, conference rooms, restaurants and other amenities across approximately 50 acres. 

Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste said she did not want to break the promise of the 1996 City Council to maintain 300 acres of open space in perpetuity as part of its approval of the existing golf course. 

“To me that word’s really simple: forever,” she said of the meaning of “perpetuity,” which appeared in the compromise struck between the city and the golf course developer more than two decades ago. 

“The city has to keep its word, because the only thing government has is trust,” said Weste, receiving cheers and applause from dozens of Sand Canyon residents who spoke against the project’s approval. “If government doesn’t have trust, they have nothing.” 

Councilman Jason Gibbs agreed that the size of the resort made the resort infeasible at the proposed location north of Robinson Ranch Road and east of Sand Canyon Road. 

“I think there are projects that can be contiguous to the existing Sand Canyon Country Club, that still protect the (Sand Canyon) Special Standards District (and) that still creates trails and environment,” said Gibbs, thanking Kim for his support of the local nonprofits. 

Councilwoman Marsha McLean said she could not vote for a project that did not have a second route out of the fire-prone area. 

“If there were a second real road in and out, I think we would have a whole new ballgame here,” said McLean. “If that were to happen, maybe we could talk about mitigation.” 

Kim proposed Tuesday using Oak Springs Canyon Road, a privately owned road, as a fire evacuation route, in addition to the existing route via Sand Canyon Road. 

Mayor Bill Miranda was the project’s only proponent on the dais, though he ultimately voted against the project. 

“I’m going to be the guy that nobody’s going to like,” Miranda opened, noting that his neighborhood has seen many changes in the 38 years that he’s lived there.  

“I honor the fact that you live in a special district, but you know what, you’re not being realistic,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting, which concluded at midnight. “The way I see it, that’s a project within your community that over the long haul, you’re going to be proud of.” 

Residents upset with Miranda’s opinion interrupted his comments by shouting out “perpetuity” and telling the mayor to try driving out of Sand Canyon the next time there’s a wildfire. 

Nearly 50 community members addressed a variety of topics related to the proposed Sand Canyon Resort plan. Here are some of the remarks made during the hourslong discussion. 

The economic impact 

“This hotel would bring no benefits to the community. Not one of us believes this hotel will generate $57 million per year to Santa Clarita economy,” said Alex Guerrero, Sand Canyon resident and chairman of the Stop Sand Canyon Resort Task Force. “Although some very nice people may try to argue that it would be a nice addition. The same people will not be the guests, and there will never be enough guests to make this viable.” 

“We believe that the project will provide significant economic development and much-needed development in our community,” said Tracey Carpentier, president of the board of Bridge to Home. “These job opportunities, especially some entry-level jobs, will help our clients who are experiencing homelessness and who are residents of our community.” 

“I have a right to say that I want things on my side of town,” said Canyon Country resident Peggy Stranton. “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Kim, not because I’m employed by him. I just think that there’s something of value to what he’s proposing for our area. We need places to work. We need places to play. We need places to stay.” 

The character of Sand Canyon 

“Whatever might be built on this site will dramatically change the character of Sand Canyon. It will be a negative blow to our community. Please keep Sand Canyon rural and equestrian,” said Diane Wilson, a Sand Canyon resident. 

“Progress is coming into this town. We’re the third-largest city in Los Angeles County,” said Dennis Sugasawara, of Santa Clarita, asking the council to support the project.  

“If the council goes back on their word and rezoned open space in perpetuity, no open space would be safe, and no one would ever be able to trust the City Council again,” said Michael Hogan, a Sand Canyon resident.  

Evacuating during a fire 

“That one lane of cars, horse trailers, motorhomes (were) so backed up it took my family an hour and a half to reach the intersection of Lost Canyon and Sand Canyon, the exit to the canyon only a little over a mile from our home. We had people who were walking their horses out of the canyon because of traffic,” said David Hauser, a Sand Canyon resident. 

“For 30 years, I’ve been battling with developers. And yes, it’s attractive to them. They’ll make a lot of money, but they’ll destroy our way of life as only change will destroy Sand Canyon,” said retired fire captain and Sand Canyon resident John Higbee. “Oak Springs Canyon is not a viable second route for emergency evacuation.” 

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