The Los Angeles City Council this week tossed a surprise development into Santa Clarita's long-sought drive to gain greater control over development.
The council decided unanimously on Tuesday to order L.A. city officials to prepare and submit an application to a state agency to claim unincorporated county territory for future expansion.
Boundaries of the proposed area could cross into territory being eyed for expansion of the city of Santa Clarita, according to a motion written by Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson.
Santa Clarita officials on Wednesday, however, denied any attempt to infringe on Los Angeles' area and said they expect within a week to redraw proposed boundaries to eliminate objections from Los Angeles.
"I think we can work on a line that is agreeable to both agencies," said Jeff Lambert, Santa Clarita director of planning and building. "It's doable."
At the center of the controversy is the third attempt in 11 years by Santa Clarita to establish a so-called "sphere of influence," a term given to unincorporated areas surrounding a city that is likely to be developed and annexed into an existing city.
Lambert said that Bernson's action apparently stems from the councilman's concern that Santa Clarita's proposal may cross into a tiny slice of land near Newhall Pass that includes a portion of the controversial Sunshine Canyon landfill.
The landfill lies partly within the city and partly in the county of Los Angeles. Los Angeles city officials have approved expansion of the landfill, vehemently fought by nearby residents.
Bernson, who was attending meetings this week of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, declined to further elaborate on his reasons for submitting the council motion. Bernson was among seven council members to oppose the landfill's expansion plans last December.
Santa Clarita's proposed sphere is expected to be brought early next year before the Local Agency Formation Commission, a state agency charged with developing and updating spheres of influence for each city and special district within the county.
Spheres are intended to provide for organized community services and prevent duplication of such services as police, fire, parks, roads and flood control.
Bernson, a LAFCO commissioner, questioned Santa Clarita officials on their intended southern boundary of the sphere during a tour earlier this month, Lambert said.
Nothing further was said, however, before the Los Angeles council action on Tuesday, Lambert said. "It is not something we were worried about," the planning official added.
"We in no way intend to take over any part of the San Fernando Valley," Lambert said, noting that Santa Clarita has slightly reduced the size of its proposed sphere as defined in proposals submitted in 1989 and 1991, specifically to eliminate areas that were challenged then.
Asked to explain the reason for his motion on Tuesday, Bernson said he was merely reacting to Santa Clarita's proposal before LAFCO.
"Right now, they have an application for a new sphere of influence.
"I'm just trying to protect [the city of Los Angeles'] interest."
Bernson's motion proposes that Los Angeles seek a similar sphere of influence designation for undeveloped and unincorporated areas of the San Fernando Valley south of the crest of the San Gabriel and Santa Susana mountains.
However, he said he is not aware of any current request to annex those areas to Los Angeles.
"I have problems with any type of development that might affect the city in the future," Bernson said.
"We are neighbors, but everything that happens up there [in Santa Clarita] affects the San Fernando Valley and the city of Los Angeles and the freeways. So we need at least to establish a sphere of influence" so that Los Angeles has a say in the future planning and development of adjoining territory, he said.
Los Angeles' chief legislative analyst is now developing a proposed sphere area, which may include unincorporated areas above Granada Hills, Sylmar and Porter Ranch.
Retiring Santa Clarita Mayor Jo Anne Darcy said the city has had good relations with Bernson's office, but had not heard before Tuesday about his motion for an adjoining sphere.
She said Santa Clarita is seeking the sphere of influence designation to gain greater say over massive development in the north county region.
"All of the major growth is coming from outside our city borders," Darcy said, which is "impacting our city."