SANTA CLARITA — Joining officials of Santa Paula, Moorpark and Ventura County, the Santa Clarita City Council has voted to appeal the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission's approval of the controversial Newhall Ranch project.
The decision Tuesday night reinforced the council's previously stated opposition to the plan, which would bring 70,000 new residents to a 12,000--acre site in the hills west of the city against the Ventura County line. Developers hope to break ground by 2000 on what would be the county's largest residential project, but they still must get approval from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors before the plan can proceed.
The county Planning Commission on Dec. 18 approved the zoning changes needed to build Newhall Ranch.
That drew sharp criticism from Ventura County officials, who complained the commission had not listened to their complaints on the issue. The Newhall Ranch debate has strained relations between Ventura County, which has generally restrained development, and Los Angeles County, long known as more permissive toward developers.
Santa Clarita Mayor Jan Heidt said the appeal is a small step in a process spanning several years, but stressed the need for cooperation with neighboring governments.
"We all know we're not going to defeat this project, but we can bring it to workable levels," she said. "This chance to join [other governments] will never come this way again."
City planners told the council that the deadline for filing an appeal with the county Planning Commission is Jan. 29.
About a dozen residents spoke in support of the appeal, citing concerns over traffic congestion, air pollution, school overcrowding and what they say would be adverse effects on the rolling, oak-dotted hills between the Golden State Freeway and the Ventura County line.
"This project means massive loss of open space to urban sprawl," said Barbara Wampole, vice chairman of Friends of the Santa Clara River.
Newhall Land & Farming Co. officials have pledged to leave nearly 6,000 acres of the project largely undeveloped.
In other action Tuesday, the council declined to vote on an unusual voter-incentive program. Under the program, registered voters would receive coupons they could combine with a ballot stub to exchange for food or drinks at local restaurants.
In supporting the plan, City Manager George Caravalho cited recently declining voter turnouts.
"We can whine about apathy all we want, but this situation calls for creativity," he said.
Council members feared the program would amount to paying people to vote.
"I have a problem with paying people to do something that should be a right and a privilege," City Councilman Clyde Smyth said.
Agreed Councilwoman Jo Anne Darcy: "We shouldn't have to bribe people with a bag of French fries and a Coke."
The next city election, which features a race for three council seats, is set for April 14.
After hearing the critical comments from the council, Caravalho and other backers of the proposal withdrew it before it came to a vote.