Our View | City Stands Up to County Steamroller

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By The Signal Editorial Board

One of the driving forces that led to the creation of the city of Santa Clarita in 1987 was local dissatisfaction with Los Angeles County government. There was a widespread perception among activists and voters that the county treated the Santa Clarita Valley as a disfavored stepchild, and that the elected leaders in downtown Los Angeles were out of touch with this community in the county’s northern reaches.

Thus, with voter approval, the city of Santa Clarita was incorporated in December 1987 with the promise of a more local government, better in tune with the needs and desires of the people who live here, and more responsive and accessible than the almost willfully distant county government.

In the ensuing 35 years, the city of Santa Clarita has largely delivered on that promise — and what’s been all the more impressive has been that, despite the local disdain for the county that prompted the city’s formation in the first place, the city and county have made many inroads to mend those fences, building a mostly cooperative relationship that even led to the two government entities meshing their general plans for this area into something called, “One Valley, One Vision.”

At times you could almost hear the city and county singing “Kumbaya” together.

At this particular moment, though, the singing has stopped.

Many times in the decades-long history of the relationship between this valley and the L.A. County government, there have been instances of the county treating the SCV with a level of disregard, whether they were trying to shove a massive trash dump down our throats or funneling tax dollars out of the SCV to be spent elsewhere in more favored parts of the county, in more metropolitan areas that have more sway in the county Hall of Administration than we do.

And this year, the county is at it again.

The state of California has decided to make counties responsible for housing violent youth offenders, who previously had been housed in the California Youth Authority system. As a result, the county and its Juvenile Justice Coordinating Council-Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant Subcommittee have been moving to house those violent youth offenders at Camp Scott, a currently shuttered former camp for non-violent youth in Saugus.

When the plan was first made known in the middle of 2021, it prompted a local outcry among residents and city officials alike. The county’s machinations toward placing violent youth in the SCV had proceeded without any local notice, and without any input sought from the city or the community.

It shows you how much they care what the city of Santa Clarita and the SCV at large think about it: They never asked. Never planned to.

In fact, city officials and the community didn’t learn of the county’s plan until The Signal broke the story last year. No one at the county had given them the courtesy of even telling them about it.

Once the objections were raised, the county Board of Supervisors — operating as a 4-1 majority, overruling objections from our representative on the board, Supervisor Kathryn Barger — has gone through the motions of evaluating other potential sites. 

But it was a foregone conclusion. 

Despite the fact that the county’s own scorecard system showed Camp Scott is ill-suited for this intended purpose — and may in fact place its inhabitants in danger in the event of flood or fire — the 4-1 county supervisors’ majority is ramming it down the SCV’s throat anyway.

To her credit, Barger made a proposed alternative motion to house the youth at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, where they are already housed when they are awaiting trial. The four-member board majority was having none of it.

The supervisors mistakenly regard those who oppose the plan as simply being a bunch of NIMBYs — Not in My Back Yard — which is ironic, because they don’t want it in their back yards, either. 

And, really, it’s much more than that. It’s all too easy to dismiss opponents of the plan as NIMBYs, but there are multiple valid reasons why it’s a bad idea to put 150 of the county’s most violent youth criminals in Camp Scott. Among them:

• The camp is in a high-fire-danger area with one main route in and out. In the event of a major wildfire, evacuation of the camp’s occupants as well as nearby residents will become a potentially deadly mess. 

• The camp is downstream from the Bouquet Reservoir. In the event the dam fails, Camp Scott would be expected to be under 26 feet of water within 50 minutes of the dam breaking. Is that enough time to safely evacuate the camp’s occupants and staff, plus the nearby residents? See “fire danger,” above. In overlooking these issues, the county is shirking its responsibility not only to consider public safety, but also to provide for the safety of the youth offenders who would reside at Camp Scott.

• The camp was not built with the security measures needed for a population of this nature. Bear in mind that the youth who would be housed there have been convicted of crimes including assault, rape and murder — and while those crimes were committed when they were under 18, some will be as old as 25 before they are released.

• The camp was built at a time when its location was more remote. Now, it’s a stone’s throw from existing residential communities. In the event of escapes and other issues that can arise with a violent incarcerated population, the safety of the nearby community must be considered. 

• The county did not undertake the proper environmental reviews to consider these and other issues before deciding to convert Camp Scott into a facility to house violent youth. 

That last point may be a key for the city of Santa Clarita, which this week decided to file a lawsuit challenging the county’s decision, citing the California Environmental Quality Act.

CEQA is a state law designed to ensure that government decisions properly take into account the environmental impacts of those decisions. It is most often invoked, for example, when groups object to the environmental impacts of a new residential or commercial development. 

In this case, the city is rightly pointing out that the county has not done its due diligence on Camp Scott.

“As we promised, (Tuesday) night, the Santa Clarita City Council approved a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit against the county of Los Angeles,” said Mayor Laurene Weste in a statement distributed on Wednesday. “We will not allow the county to ignore state law when it comes to the approval of Camp Scott as a permanent juvenile detention facility.” 

Weste added: “We intend to uphold the letter of the law and make sure that a proper CEQA review is completed. Camp Scott is located in a severe fire hazard area on a road with only one way in and one way out. It is not a safe or suitable location for this use.”  

The mayor and the council are right. We applaud the City Council for standing up and taking action on behalf of the community, and we thank Barger for being the lone voice of reason on a county Board of Supervisors that doesn’t seem at all concerned about the Santa Clarita Valley.

While the city-county relationship has proved harmonious at many times over the past 35 years, this is one instance that reminds us why we voted to form the city of Santa Clarita in the first place — because we can’t count on the most influential people in downtown Los Angeles to understand, or even care, about what happens here.

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