Community at a crossroads

A parent and her child cross the street after school gets out at Sulphur Springs Community Elementary School in Canyon Country, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. Chris Torres/The Signal

Sulphur Springs Community School parents demand more action to mitigate traffic safety hazards 

By Jose Herrera 

Signal Staff Writer 

Student drop-off and pickup can be a hectic experience as parents ensure their children get to and from school. However, parents of Sulphur Springs Community School describe a frustrating situation as they say an uptick in traffic has also increased safety and traffic hazards. 

According to Jessica Coleman, Parent Teacher Association president of Sulphur Springs Community School, street traffic along Lost Canyon Road and Sand Canyon Road has grown primarily due to an enrollment increase and the ongoing development of the Vista Canyon project west of the campus.  

“Frustration is really high for parents,” Coleman said. “A lot of parents have heard promises made for years to improve the traffic situation.” 

Parents line up and wait to pick up their children as Sulphur Springs Community School rings for dismal. According to Jessica Coleman, PTA president, drivers make unsafe maneuvers due to the lack of traffic signals and safety measures. Photo courtesy of Jessica Coleman

The Vista Canyon project is 1 million square feet of mixed-use development, which will include a Metrolink station, an 11-acre park, 10 miles of trails, a community garden and a water reclamation facility, according to the Vista Canyon website. 

Coleman said traffic congestion on Lost Canyon Road, while an issue in the morning during student drop-off, is exacerbated during student pickup in the afternoon, which has resulted in drivers making unsafe maneuvers with inadequate safety measures in place. 

According to Coleman, construction vehicles for the Vista Canyon development use Lost Canyon Road, and so are the new residents who moved into the completed structures.  

“Some of them are parents with children at the school, and they’re just as frustrated as the rest of us,” Coleman said. “We do not have a system that works for us, and the road cannot handle the number of people that are trying to get in and out.” 

“You’ve got people making illegal U-turns in multiple locations, and people cutting other drivers waiting in line. People are making really strange turns because through traffic is in the middle, and so if anybody wants to make a turn, they’re basically making a turn through traffic to be able to get where they need to go.” 

Parents walk next to a construction site with their kids after picking them up from school at Sulphur Springs Community Elementary School in Canyon Country, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. Chris Torres/The Signal

According to Coleman, the Valencia-based developer, JSB Development, had included in its master plans to provide road improvements to Lost Canyon Road and a paved parking lot across the elementary school on a dirt lot they own. However, it’s been three years since plans were approved by the city of Santa Clarita, and yet no construction has occurred, she added. 

Coleman said parents communicated with Sulphur Springs Union School District, the city of Santa Clarita and JSB Development asking about a potential timeline for these road improvements and for help in mitigating traffic hazards. 

“We’ve requested crossing guards, but also traffic officers to direct traffic,” Coleman said.  

In addition, school staff implemented a valet system and put out paper maps and sent out videos describing how traffic should move, she added. 

“People who don’t watch or read it won’t understand it, unless somebody physically walks you through how it’s supposed to work,” Coleman said. “It’s not tenable. That’s not a long-term solution.” 

JSB Development also repainted the street to provide clearer lineation, but parents still say all these efforts are not enough.  

Jim Backer, chief executive officer for JSB Development, said they’ve been working on the Vista Canyon project for 17 years with the community 100% of the time.  

“One of the improvements that we’re committed to making is the improvement of Lost Canyon Road, in front of the school, leading up to our projects near La Veda,” Backer said. “People are concerned about, from what I understand, they think there’s been a delay, or a lack of commitment to build this project. That is not true.” 

“We have an approved plan with the city. There have been some recent changes to the plan or revisits to the plan to make sure that everyone’s comfortable,” Backer added. “We have some underground work for storm drain and water at the very west end that needs to be addressed before we commence the plan.” 

The construction site down the street from Sulphur Springs Community Elementary School in Canyon Country, Calif., on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. Chris Torres/The Signal

Backer said he wants the community to understand that the last two and half years of COVID-19 made it more difficult to get approvals and designs done. 

“Every elementary school in this community has a challenge at drop-off and pickup, and it requires the cooperation of the parents in the community,” Backer said. “People do forget that this is a public street, in front of their school. We all have to work together to provide access, both to the school, for the students, and also for the surrounding neighborhoods.” 

The developer is working closely with city officials to identify road improvements, design a plan and approve of those plans.  

“We’re doing the best we can to be part of a solution,” Backer said. 

According to Backer, JSB Development tried to get the road improvement done this summer. However, design delays and other issues prevented that from happening.  

“So now, the question becomes, how can we do it without impacting people even worse?” Backer said. “We think we can be sensitive to get people in and out of there, and that’s what we’re working on with the city right now.” 

“We’re trying to let school kind of get started and people get used to a routine, and then see if we can work our way in there. We’re doing the best we can. We don’t want people upset, but we have to do it right when we have the full authority and approval to do it.” 

City officials said original road improvements were designed in coordination with the developer and the Sulphur Spring district. During the 2021-22 school year, city traffic staff conducted numerous site observations and developed interim solutions to address the traffic congestion in front of the school. 

The city also helped in modifying Sulphur Springs Community School’s valet program, assisted through the first few days of school with parking enforcement and Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies, restriping the road, adding centerline striping and striped shoulders, restricting parking on the north side of the street and the dirt parking lot across Lost Canyon Road from the school was closed to address unsafe pedestrian crossings. 

“Prior to the start of this school year, city staff recommended additional modifications to the valet program to further improve traffic circulation and enhance safety,” city officials wrote in an email.  

“The city is working with the developer on several additional improvements. Sand Canyon Road has already been restriped to extend the southbound right turn lane and we are coordinating with the developer on the future installation of temporary speed bumps.” 

Parents line up their cars as they wait for children to get out of school at Sulphur Springs Community School. Photo courtesy of Jessica Coleman

According to the city, when the development was approved, street improvements took into account the expected number of students at the school. However, city officials said enrollment numbers will see a “significant increase anticipated over the next few years,” so a new traffic study is necessary and will lead to design changes to the proposed street improvements. 

According to Superintendent Katherine Kawaguchi, the school district has been working as partners with the city of Santa Clarita for a couple of years now examining traffic patterns and finding ways to find solutions.  

“Yes, due to the development, which we’re very happy the development is there, we have had an increase in traffic,” Kawaguchi said. “The city has been diligent about keeping us updated on what they’re going to be doing.” 

The district hoped for street improvements to be completed this summer, but that didn’t happen, Kawaguchi added.  

“We are hoping that once the improvements are made in front of the school, that it will help alleviate some of this, but really, we’re waiting on the city at this point,” Kawaguchi said. 

The district has implemented a valet system and modified the system, which has improved traffic flow, she added.  

According to Joshua Randall, assistant superintendent of business services for the school district, he has met with the city officials a couple of times to discuss traffic patterns on Lost Canyon Road. He also noted that enrollment at the school has not significantly changed, but rather the change “has been to the road.” 

Data from the California Department of Education notes enrollment at Sulphur Springs Community School has decreased, starting in the 2017-18 school year, from 645 students to 555 students as reported in 2021-22.  

The Vista Canyon development is expected to bring in more families to the neighborhood — and more children to the Sulphur Springs district, including Sulphur Springs Community School. 

“We’ve definitely shared with the city our concerns regarding the road,” Randall said. “As well as working with the city and talking about, as they continue to develop the road, how that will affect the road, the school, so that we can make sure that, if need be, [we are] making adjustments on [our] side of things.” 

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