County looks at design standards for unincorporated communities 

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger speaks during the Fentanyl Town Hall Meeting held at the Canyon Country Community Center in Canyon Country on Thursday, 011223. Dan Watson/The Signal
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L.A. County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an ordinance creating design standards for residential and mixed-use construction projects in unincorporated communities. 

The design standards, according to members of the county’s Department of Regional Planning, are meant to provide “an objective menu of options for developers’ use that support compatibility with the various architectural styles” that already exist in L.A. County, per a news release from 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley. 

She said it was in response to the erosion of local control regarding development projects, in the release issued Tuesday following the hearing. 

Several state laws that have taken away a local government’s ability to enforce any type of regulation on a project, particularly those that could alleviate the statewide housing crisis, have also drawn the ire of the Santa Clarita City Council, which has discussed the same challenges from the dais. 

“I appreciate the work that has gone into crafting this ordinance,” Barger’s statement said. “The state is continually eroding local government’s control and nowhere is that more evident than in the construction of ‘by-right’ housing projects. These projects will move forward whether or not they have local community support due to changes in state laws and cannot be opposed by the county. These new design standards will at least provide some guidance up front so that construction projects don’t completely go rogue.” 

When asked whether a developer could still challenge the county’s measures, Anish Saraiya, planning deputy for Barger, said such an argument could seem “specious,” as the standards are really intended as a baseline versus trying to enforce a particular type of aesthetic. He acknowledged the county’s limited purview for those elements.  

“We’re simply trying, within the powers that we have, to encourage good design — more than addressing size, scale or compatibility,” Saraiya said, noting some of the elements in the discussion came from talking to local entities in the unincorporated areas, such as the Agua Dulce Town Council, and others came from a desire to help those who didn’t have direct advisory council representation. 

“What we’re focusing in on are things we can do to encourage folks to stylistically integrate into a community,” Saraiya added.  

“The standards are organized into seven categories, including building facade details, vehicle parking facilities, landscaping and fencing, among others,” according to the release from Barger’s office.  

She also authored a motion specifically exempting the unincorporated communities in Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys from the ordinance’s prohibition on the use of chain-link fencing, which officials said was in response to feedback from her constituents in rural communities. 

“A number of communities in north (L.A.) county have expressed concerns about that prohibition,” Barger stated in her release. “I’m well aware that chain-link fences are a cost-effective manner to secure the vast parcels of land that exist there and to enclose animals. Rural communities’ needs are unique and it’s my job to make sure their concerns are addressed wherever possible.” 

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