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Santa Clarita Debate on Growth Limit Gets Personal

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The leading backer of a Santa Clarita growth-control initiative is “an economic clone” of former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. whose proposals would hurt local businesses, the head of an opposition group charged Tuesday during a fiery debate on the issue.

In a counterattack, growth-control proponent John Drew said Scott Voltz needs “a lesson in elementary mathematics” for failing to acknowledge until pressured by a local activist that most of the opposition group’s money comes from developers.

The first debate over the initiative, which would limit new housing units to 475 per year, focused primarily on the impact that the measure would have on Santa Clarita’s economy, a topic of particular interest to the audience of about 60 business leaders at the Newhall Rotary Club luncheon.

But it rapidly turned into an exchange of snide remarks, prompting a member of the audience to plead with the debaters to “leave personalities out of it.”

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On one side of the issue is Drew, a 34-year-old political consultant, community college professor and president of Citizens Assn. for a Responsible Residential Initiative on Growth, or CARRING. The group will soon begin collecting signatures to place the initiative on the April ballot.

On the other side is Voltz, a 29-year-old real estate appraiser who represents Santa Clarita Residents for Responsible Growth, a citizens group that has been unsuccessfully urging the City Council to appoint a task force to study growth management.

Drew began the debate by saying that CARRING is “made up of business leaders like yourself,” who want to prevent the community from turning into a large city.

But Voltz said the city needs $1 billion to finance much-needed roads, schools and other public services, which he said could be financed only with future development fees. If voters pass a growth cap, development would be rerouted to the surrounding, unincorporated county areas, overwhelming local roads and schools, he said.

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Voltz addressed the issue of his group’s campaign contributions head-on, saying he had taken funds “only from responsible developers.”

The group has received $32,903 in contributions, including about $30,000 from the Newhall Land & Farming Co., developer Jeff Stevenson, American Beauty Homes and Paragon Homes.

Voltz opened the exchange by comparing Drew to Democrat Brown, an unpopular figure in the largely Republican area. “He is not only an economic clone of Jerry Brown, he’s a political one as well,” Voltz said.

Voltz said Drew was seeking work as a political consultant by “blanketing the U. S.” with a letter that mentions CARRING’s initiative campaign and describes Voltz as an inexperienced young man, unqualified to head the opposition group.

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Waving a copy of the letter, Voltz said Drew “is using our city and this initiative to further his political career, like a football jock bragging about his female conquests.”

Drew seemed surprised by the attack.

“I was preparing myself to deal with the Rotary Club, but I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition,” he said.

Drew later attacked Voltz’s claim that he had always been open about developers’ contributions to his group, saying Voltz first told a local newspaper that he had received only $2,000 in contributions but later admitted that it had been $10,000 at the time.

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“Scott, I’d like to give you a lesson in elementary mathematics,” Drew said. “There’s a big difference between $2,000 and $10,000.”

“Thank you for being condescending,” Voltz retorted.

After the acrimonious debate, Rotary Club President Mike Berger presented both men with letter openers as mementos and jokingly warned them “not to open these before you get to your cars.”

Santa Clarita Growth Provisions A Santa Clarita citizens group will soon begin collecting the 5,757 signatures necessary to place a growth-control initiative on the April ballot. The measure, proposed by the Citizens Assn. for a Responsible Residential Initiative on Growth, or CARRING, would expire in 2002. The initiative provides:

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* Residential caps--Permit the City Council to approve only 475 new housing units in the city each year, with certain exceptions. The cap on residential development is based on Los Angeles County’s average annual growth rate of 1.2% during the past decade. There would be no limit on commercial or industrial development.

* Annexation exemption--Exempt areas annexed by the city in the future from the 475-unit limit. The 43-square-mile city intends to eventually annex much of the surrounding valley.

* Project limits--Allow the City Council to approve large housing projects, which would be built in phases under development agreements between the city and builders. The council could increase the cap by 10%, or about 47 units, in a given year, but would have to subtract 10% from the following year.

* Water restrictions--Prevent the City Council from approving any housing units when water use is restricted.

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* Point system--Force developers of more than four housing units to compete for allotments. The city’s Planning Commission would evaluate proposed housing projects, on a point system, granting approvals to those that receive the highest marks.

* Low-income housing--Give the City Council the option of either reserving 25% of the annual cap for low-income dwellings, or of exempting inexpensive housing altogether.

* Time limit--Force developers to initiate construction of their projects within three years of receiving approval.

* Changes allowed--Allow the City Council to amend the measure, not including the growth cap, by a four-fifths vote.

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