13,000 Signatures Needed : Cityhood Drive Launched for Santa Clarita Valley

Times Staff Writer

A committee that has proposed combining five Santa Clarita Valley communities into one expansive city officially launched a petition drive Thursday to collect the 13,000 signatures needed to bring the measure to a public vote.

Cityhood backers distributed instructions on how to circulate petitions and gave pep talks to about 100 people gathered at Comella's restaurant in Valencia, vowing to get the needed signatures quickly enough to qualify for the November ballot.

"Government is best that's closest to the people," said Connie Worden, spokeswoman for the City Feasibility Committee, which is leading the cityhood campaign.

"I don't think we get shortchanged by our supervisor, but we don't count for much," she said. "We only amount to 5% of his district, so our voices are not often heard."

No Tax Increase Seen

Worden and Louis Garasi, co-chairman of the committee, said creation of a city government would not mean higher taxes. Rather, it would mean that "management of that money will be handled locally, not by a large, impersonal county government that is between 70 and 100 miles away round trip," Worden said.

Worden also told the group that the committee will seek to have Santa Clarita Valley residents elect five City Council members in at-large voting the same day as the cityhood referendum.

Nominations for the posts will not be made, she said, until the county Local Agency Formation Commission certifies the petitions and rules that a new city would be feasible, a requirement for getting the measure on the ballot.

Little Local Control

Garasi said that, under county control, residents of Castaic, Newhall, Canyon Country, Saugus and Valencia have little say about the future of the area in which they live. Those communities would form the city of Santa Clarita under the proposal.

Cityhood proponents say there has been no planning by the county for basic services, such as building schools and roads or increasing police and fire protection, to accommodate population increases. Proposals awaiting county approval call for construction of many of the 52,000 residential units in the five communities by the year 2000, Garasi said.

Cityhood backers also have argued that incorporation could thwart Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley's proposal to build a prison on city-owned land in Saugus.

Elected officials who represent the area are unanimous in their opposition to Bradley's prison proposal. But reaction by those officials to the cityhood plan has been mixed.

A spokeswoman for county Supervisor Mike Antonovich on Thursday denied residents' contention that the county is doing no long-range planning for the Santa Clarita Valley.

JoAnne Darcy, Antonovich's field deputy in the area, said the county has at least $26 million in road improvements on the drawing board. County representatives also have met with school officials about acquiring state funding to build more schools, she said.

Darcy said there will be fewer than 52,000 residential units built within the next 10 to 15 years because about 35% of the proposed units will not make it through the county's permit process.

Antonovich has taken no stand on the cityhood issue. But Darcy said cityhood backers, if successful, would be adding "another layer of government."

Wright Backs Plan

Assemblywoman Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) has endorsed the cityhood effort. At a November meeting of the plan's supporters, Wright said that, although those elected to office for the new city would make mistakes, they would have control over land use in the 92-square-mile area.

State Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) told residents at the November meeting that, if he were voting on the measure as a private citizen, he would support cityhood because he would "opt for being able to elect a City Council to go up to when I get angry."

But as a state legislator, Davis said, he will remain neutral on the issue. George St. Johns, Davis' chief of staff, said Davis does not believe state officials should become involved in local issues that fall within the jurisdiction of other elected officials.

Under Local Agency Formation Commission regulations, cityhood backers have six months to obtain the signatures of 25% of the Santa Clarita Valley's registered voters to qualify the issue for the ballot. Proponents have said they hope to have the necessary number of signatures on petitions within two or three months so that the measure can be on the November ballot.

Earlier Attempts Failed

The current petition drive marks the sixth time Santa Clarita Valley residents have attempted to change their local government.

Three attempts at cityhood, launched before the area's population boomed, failed in their early stages and never got to a ballot vote. And in 1976 and 1978, Los Angeles County voters turned down ballot measures that would have allowed the Santa Clarita Valley to create a new county.

The Santa Clarita Valley communities of Val Verde and Agua Dulce are not within the boundaries of the proposed new city. Worden said members of the cityhood committee met with leaders from both communities before their proposal was completed.

Val Verde residents told the committee they are satisfied with the services they receive from the county, Worden said. It also would be prohibitively expensive for the new city to provide the same fire protection to the rural Val Verde area that the county currently offers, Worden said.

Agua Dulce was excluded, she said, because it is far from other communities that would be in the city.

Also not included in the boundaries is Peter Pitchess Honor Rancho outside Castaic. County officials had asked that the county prison be excluded, Worden said.

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