Santa Clarita City Council members are considering an ordinance that would suspend--or even halt--major developments that gained preliminary approval from Los Angeles County before the city's incorporation this week.
The measure would allow the council to review the projects and either approve, modify or reject them, acting City Atty. Carl Newton said. It would be in effect for 45 days, but could be extended for as long as the City Council deemed necessary, he said.
Newton said he proposed the ordinance to give the new council power to control construction projects already approved by the county. The ordinance is similar to measures enacted by other cities--including Camarillo, Moorpark and Downey--when they were newly incorporated, Newton said.
Newton said he does not know how many projects the ordinance would affect. The county is compiling a list, he said.
The ordinance would invoke the city's option to take over the issuance of building permits, the final step in the lengthy process a developer must follow before beginning construction. Under the county system, which the city would inherit, plans for development are approved, grading permits issued, roads built and sewers installed before the building permit is issued.
The ordinance would affect projects whose plans have won county approval, but have not yet received building permits. It would not apply to developments for which building permits have already been issued by the county.
The proposed ordinance could be construed as a building moratorium, an action taken by most newly incorporated cities to control growth, Newton said.
But City Council members differed on that interpretation.
"It's not an out-and-out moratorium," said Councilwoman Jan Heidt, who favors the ordinance. "We're not proposing that."
But Councilmen Dennis Koontz and Carl Boyer III disagreed.
"I recall stating quite often, both as chairman of the city formation committee and as a candidate, that I did not favor a building moratorium," Boyer said.
Instead, he proposed a more careful review of building permits when they are issued by the city. Boyer also said that the city should "get busy and hire our own building and safety inspectors."
"I too made a commitment not to favor a building moratorium," Koontz said. "I have a problem with the ordinance as written. I read it as a moratorium."
Might Back Compromise
Both said they might support a compromise form of the ordinance.
Most developments approved by the county are "set in concrete" before the public has an opportunity to comment on them, Heidt said. The public should be allowed to comment on developments at the time an application is submitted, she said.
"It's a second shot for public input," Heidt said of the proposed ordinance. Issuance of a building permit is the last step in the county's development process. Santa Clarita has adopted county laws until it has time to develop its own set of codes.
The proposed ordinance would also give city officials a chance to use the county's court-ordered development monitoring system--a process designed to ensure there will be adequate roads, schools, parks, water, sewers and other services for the development, Heidt said.
Mayor Howard P. (Buck) McKeon and Councilwoman JoAnne Darcy have not said how they will vote on the proposed ordinance. Neither commented during a lengthy discussion on the matter Wednesday night. The council delayed a vote on the proposal until Jan. 14, when a public hearing is scheduled.
Several members in Wednesday's audience spoke against the ordinance.
"My concern is that this ordinance will have the effect of imposing a building moratorium," said Louis Garasi, a city formation committee officer and president of the Valencia Industrial Assn.
Gloria Casvin, vice president of planning for the Valencia Co., said the ordinance could have "a devastating effect" on some builders. She said many developers ready to obtain building permits have already spent thousands of dollars grading their sites, installing roads, building sewer systems and connecting water lines.
Another developer, Douglas Kitchen of Leisure & Technology, said the proposal "strains the limits of equity."
Resident Sally Chase Clark said she favors the ordinance because the City Council could approve projects with merit and stop those that would adversely affect the community.
City formation committee member Allan Cameron said he believes the concept is different from a moratorium. "It's a good idea to review these projects," he said.
Cameron is involved in the newly formed Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, a citizens' group. The organization will focus on development issues, he said.
The ordinance would exempt from City Council review industrial projects of 20,000 square feet or less, commercial projects that are 10,000 square feet or less and residential developments with less than four units. It would require the approval of at least four of the five City Council members to become effective immediately.