Santa Clarita Picks Planning Board, Assigns Projects

Times Staff Writer

The Santa Clarita City Council has appointed its first Planning Commission and turned over to it several of the city's most pressing issues, including the drafting of an ordinance that may affect the construction of a controversial Newhall power plant.

Each council member named one commissioner to the panel Thursday.

Mayor Howard P. (Buck) McKeon, citing her "sound judgment," appointed Rita Garasi. Garasi led a citizens' group that successfully campaigned for a tax measure requiring developers to pay steep fees on new housing to finance school construction.

Louis E. Brathwaite, a federal property administrator, was appointed by Councilman Carl Boyer. Brathwaite has been a board member of the William S. Hart Union High School District and was active in the cityhood formation committee. He also ran unsuccessfully for City Council in November.

Connie Worden, a longtime Santa Clarita activist and vice chairman and spokeswoman for the formation committee, was named by Councilman Dennis Koontz. In a statement to the council, Worden pledged to respond "equitably to a diversity of competing interests" in Santa Clarita so that a "superior planning system can be created."

Tree Preservationist

Citing leadership in her appointee's drive to preserve the valley's oaks, Councilwoman Jo Anne Darcy selected Jeannette Sharar. Sharar, president of her own real estate agency, had served on the Los Angeles County Planning Advisory Committee for the Santa Clarita Valley.

Councilwoman Janice Heidt said she sought to nominate a commissioner who "would not polarize the community, but have the leadership to get the commission off the ground." She appointed Patrick Modugno, vice president of the Conrad Hilton Foundation. Modugno, a former San Fernando city councilman, has lived in the Santa Clarita Valley three years.

The appointments will take effect March 10. The City Council intends to hire a planning director in early April.

Even before appointing the board members, the council had begun making up a work list for them. The council voted to extend three emergency moratoriums to give the commission time to draft ordinances.

A building moratorium on areas zoned for heavy agricultural use was extended for 10 months. Land in Placerita Canyon, where Tenneco Oil Co. plans to build a controversial power plant, is among the few parcels that fall into this category.

Obstacle to Tenneco

The moratorium stands to be another obstacle to Tenneco's bid to build its electrical and steam-producing plant on an old oil field. The Placerita Canyon Homeowners Assn. has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the project, claiming that it will create environmental and health hazards. A Superior Court hearing on whether an environmental impact report is required is scheduled Tuesday.

Tenneco has obtained a grading permit from the county and has begun preliminary work. But it has not received a building permit. Acting City Atty. Carl Newton told the council that Tenneco could still be subject to the moratorium because no building permit has been issued.

To fight its inclusion in the moratorium, Tenneco would have to prove that it has a "vested right" to build on the land, Newton said. The company would have to show financial hardship if not allowed to continue because a substantial amount of work already has been done.

A second moratorium prohibiting the removal or cutting of oaks unless they pose a danger to overhead power lines was extended for 10 months to give commissioners time to draw a preservation ordinance. A six-month extension also was approved for a moratorium on billboards.

Compiling List of Projects

In another matter, council members approved a motion by Heidt to set up a two-person council subcommittee to come up with a list of pending construction projects in the city that have not yet been issued building permits. Heidt and Darcy will analyze parking provisions, road improvements and park construction fees before making recommendations on development regulations for the city.

Although the council rejected a building moratorium earlier this month, Heidt said: "We should be looking at these projects anyway to see what we let go through."

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