"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Time Warner Cable, and hosted by Signal Senior Editor Leon Worden. The program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Paul D. Brotzman, the city of Santa Clarita's community development director.
Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: What do you do for the city of Santa Clarita?
Brotzman: I'm responsible for overseeing the Planning Division, the Economic Development Division and our Community Preservation Division, and also our affordable housing programs.
Signal: So if it's being built in Santa Clarita, you're the man.
Brotzman: If it's not a public facility and it's being built; if it's a public facility, then it's Robert Newman, who builds all our bridges and roads.
Signal: But you're one of the 51 most influential people in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Brotzman: Don't ask me how that happened.
Signal: Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital wants to expand. What are the city's concerns?
Brotzman: I think there are two basic concerns that we have with regard to the expansion plans, and then one basic overall concern with regard to the community. And let me start with the latter one first.
It is incredibly important that every community have good medical facilities, and Henry Mayo is a very important resource to this community. There has been a time when they've had some financial troubles, and they're out of that and doing well now, but over the long term, we recognize they're going to need to expand. We are going to need to have more facilities in this community as the community continues to grow, as new residential development takes place. So the need for us that's incredibly important to the community is to have a strong, healthy hospital, medical service delivery system, within the community.
On the flip side, the hospital is located in the heart of a residential area. Any expansion, any growth in facilities at that location, will have impacts both visual impacts and traffic impacts. Our challenge is to balance the community need for good medical service, good hospital service, with the need to protect the surrounding community and the surrounding neighborhood to make sure that we're not overburdening it with development that's too dense, or traffic that is too intense for the local streets.
Signal: The city has already sent the hospital back to the drawing board (prior to the Oct. 17 hearing, when the city sent it back again).
Brotzman: That's correct.
Signal: Are they coming back with plans that are more in line with what the city is looking for?
Brotzman: They've made some very significant adjustments to the plan. They've brought the buildings down (in height), they've enhanced the architecture of the buildings, scaled them back a little bit.
But it's still a fairly intense project. It still has a significant amount of expansion that's being proposed. Part of what we're doing, by the way, with the hospital, is actually a master plan. It's a plan that tries to look out many years into the future. It's a 15- to 25-year master plan for facilities, so everything that they're proposing today would not get built in the near term. It would get built out over the term of that master plan.
And frankly, circumstances could change. It may never get built out, because there may be a second hospital that comes into the valley, or the way medical services are delivered could change. But this is the hospital's best effort to plan for the future, and plan a fairly significant expansion.
What we've said to them is that we'll work with them on their master plan, but there are certain elements of the master plan that we're not prepared to say "yes" or "no" to, at this particular point. We feel that there will need to be future studies that will have to be done before the final phase, for example, of the master plan, could be built out.
Signal: In what areas?
Brotzman: Particularly in the area of traffic impacts.
Signal: Some of the neighbors are concerned about the height of the buildings, and you mentioned bringing them down. As a valley, we've been at six stories for a number of years at the Valencia Town Center. Between the mountain ranges we're fairly well filled in. Are we looking at "building up" the valley over the next 10 or 20 years?
Brotzman: I think in some areas we're looking at building up. I think there will be more buildings in the Town Center mall area that will go up six stories, maybe even seven or eight stories.
I know that Newhall Ranch is talking about going significantly higher than that, out along the (Interstate) 5 corridor. They've explored the feasibility of even 10 to 20 stories in those areas.
So I would say yes, at some point you will see some areas of the valley go higher; in other areas I would say no, it would not be appropriate to see higher levels of development.
Signal: It seems that the type of development that's being built is changing. Soledad Village, one of the Newhall Land projects in the middle of the city, is residential, but it has an internal boulevard with three-story buildings retail on the bottom and residential above. Are we going to see more of these village-type projects around town?
Brotzman: Compact development and villages, yes. And frankly, that's the type of development we would prefer to see, rather than a constant sprawl of subdivisions going farther and farther out.
I think it makes a lot more sense today to see more of a village type of development, where you have an integration of residential, commercial, employment opportunities, where you utilize existing transit structure systems that are in place.
We are looking along the Metrolink corridor at the possibility of three or potentially even more transit-oriented villages being developed, where you really cluster fairly close together the residential, the commercial, and the employment opportunities, providing the opportunity for people to live and work in close proximity, and hopefully to help people avoid the need to commute over the hill through that "Y" where the 5 and the 14 come together, and have to sit for many hours in traffic congestion along the Highway 5 and 14 corridors.
Signal: The city has put a lot of time and money into getting the cross-valley connector completed; will you be planning any other major roads in the foreseeable future?
Brotzman: Yes, actually. The city's General Plan calls for a number of different roads to be developed or linked, as the case may be.
For example, as the Whittaker-Bermite property is developed, it actually is the crossroads of a number of significant arterial roads that have been identified for a long time in the city's General Plan. We would link Via Princessa so that you would be able to travel across the community along Via Princessa. Magic Mountain would extend from where it currently ends at San Fernando Road up to Via Princessa, so that you would have another linkage.
Also, there is a proposed road called Santa Clarita Parkway that would extend from Soledad potentially over to Sierra Highway, paralleling to some extent Golden Valley Road.
Signal: So is the humongous bridge over Bouquet Canyon Road from the Saugus Cafe to Bermite still in the plans?
Brotzman: That's still on the drawing board, but whether that's built or not is hard to say. Bridges are hugely expensive; they're also fairly costly over the long term to maintain.
We're actually exploring an option of whether it's possible to realign the Metrolink rail corridor, to do a tunnel or a cut-and-cover realignment that would begin at the Santa Clarita Station and come under the Whittaker-Bermite and city properties, and tie back in south of Magic Mountain. If that proves to be feasible, then there's not a grade-separated crossing that's needed; Magic Mountain would simply extend directly into the Whittaker-Bermite properties.
Signal: Will we see a rail line to Ventura anytime soon? We've heard about the container cargo from Port Hueneme coming through town.
Brotzman: I would say that there's not support for freight coming through from Ventura. Obviously, I think there's an interest in that, and certainly the people in Ventura and at the port would have an interest in that as a freight corridor, but the city has some serious reservations about putting an additional freight line through residential neighborhoods.
On the other hand, we do have a very serious interest in exploring the potential of light rail capability that could link back down to Ventura. So we have an interest in rail, and we do plan we applied for some grant funding to study the feasibility of additional rail service within the valley. But the freight, that could be an area of concern.
Signal: How would that work? If Magic Mountain Parkway becomes a major arterial, and Bouquet Canyon Road is right there, and Valencia Boulevard is not far away, and trails run through there how would you physically get a train from Point A on the east side of Bouquet to Point B on the west?
Brotzman: That's not one of the questions that we've answered yet.
Signal: A bridge? A tunnel?
Brotzman: We don't know. And if it's a light rail obviously there is less of a problem with light rail mixing with traffic or crossing than there is with higher speed, heavy rail. So we don't have the final answer, and that's part of the studies that we would have to do to determine whether it's even feasible to do.
Signal: When is anything going to happen on the Whittaker-Bermite property?
Brotzman: There have been several very significant steps, or progressions, on the Whittaker-Bermite property. The two I think that are most significant one is that it has now evolved out of the federal bankruptcy courts. It's no longer tied up in the federal bankruptcy courts. Two of the prospective bidders, one of whom has significant experience in development, and the other of whom has significant experience in funding remediation programs instead of competing with each other, they have joined forces, and they were the successful bidder. That's Cherokee and SunCal.
So we're now looking at a potential teaming of Cherokee, with the remediation experience and the funding capability, and SunCal with the development experience, coming together to develop that property.
The second very significant issue is that the insurance settlements are in place. There is now a $200 million fund that is available and is currently being utilized. The cleanup is underway; there is a $200 million fund there to clean up the contamination. So those are major, major milestones, and progress is happening.
Signal: Is the city going to allow any kind of development to occur before the site is totally clean of contamination?
Brotzman: At this point, the requirements (in a development agreement) preclude that. Does it make sense to have some form of horizontal development? And when I say "horizontal development," I'm talking about grading or developing the land. It may. That's something we'll have to evaluate.
Does it make sense, for example, if you're cleaning up soil and you have soil that needs to be cleaned up, to move it once versus moving it twice? It may make sense to have the development plans prepared and move it once, as opposed to doing the cleanup and then coming back and moving it again a second time, to put it where it needs to be for development.
We're evaluating that, and obviously, our primary sensitivity is to hold everybody's feet to the fire to make sure that we've got the commitments that the site is fully cleaned up and when it is developed, it is developed in a way that addresses public safety, health and welfare of the residents and potential future residents who may live in that area. We have a high level of sensitivity to that issue.
Signal: Let's move down San Fernando Road to Old Town Newhall. The last 10 years, the city has made some progress in revitalizing the area. Now the plans have changed and San Fernando Road is to become a quaint little street, no longer an arterial. Tell us the concept.
Brotzman: That's correct, and actually, the plans call for re-aligning San Fernando Road so that it is no longer a through street, so that in fact it comes to a "T" intersection at Lyons, and the traffic is re-routed around the downtown so that the major flow of traffic is along Railroad Avenue.
We have underway right now the restriping plans and the realignment plans, and we anticipate that they will be completed within the month, and that we will be going out to bid to ... begin that restriping and realignment process.
We've been holding meetings with the property owners (and) downtown Newhall businesses to make sure that they are fully aware of what is being proposed, and the timeline that is being proposed for that development. I would anticipate that before the end of the year, you will see some signage going up, advising the businesses in the community that the work is about to begin. So yes, progress is underway.
Signal: Auto shops that were grandfathered in under the old plan, are no longer grandfathered in under the new plan. When are you going to start giving people eviction notices and taking their property and knocking it down and turning it into something else, like the library you want to build?
Brotzman: Right now we have issued requests for proposals, actually formal requests for proposals, to the development community, inviting them to submit to the city's redevelopment agency, proposals to develop the block located on the north side of Lyons. That would now actually be a much larger block, because the road would no longer cut through that piece of property.
We've also made a request for proposals to develop the first parking structure, which would be the northernmost parking structure, just two blocks up from that Lyons intersection.
So those (bid packages) are out, and we would hope that we receive some strong proposals from the development community to move forward with projects in that location.
Interestingly, we also have property owners, private property owners, who have moved to acquire parcels within that area who are looking to consolidate property so they can come in with development plans within the downtown area. So there are things that are happening. They are pretty much in the background at the moment, but they will start moving forward actively, in the public planning process, and they are very consistent with the plans that were developed as part of the downtown revitalization program.
Signal: The Santa Clarita Redevelopment Agency has the power of eminent domain on commercial property. Proposition 90 on the Nov. 7 ballot would effectively eliminate the city's ability to condemn property for the purpose of selling it to a private developer. Does that put a wrench into your plans?
Brotzman: It could put a serious wrench into the plans. I'm glad you brought up Proposition 90, because frankly, the eminent domain issue is the least troublesome issue in that proposition. It has some components that could do significant damage to cities' ability to plan and to help revitalize and develop communities throughout the state.
Signal: Like what?
Brotzman: Well, for example, any change in planning at any time that would affect any development within the community, the developer would instantly have the right to sue the city for any perceived damages or any perceived devaluation of their property.
So if you have a property that may be zoned for high-density residential and you look at it and you determine that in fact it would be a bad development it would have a negative impact on the community to allow the development to proceed at that high level of density, and that a lower density would make much more sense because of traffic considerations or any other number of considerations if the city were to restrict that level of development, the developer could instantly sue the city for damages. So it would effectively wipe out land use planning as an effective tool to really help guide the community.
Signal: Paul Brotzman wouldn't be doing our planning anymore because you wouldn't be able to.
Brotzman: Probably so.
Signal: You mentioned the realignment of Lyons. The plan is to push Lyons through and hook up with the extension of Dockweiler. It becomes the entrance to the North Newhall area, which people might know as the Cowboy Festival parking lot and its environs. You're going to eliminate 13th Street as an entry and do what?
Brotzman: Actually, what we're looking at doing there is very much an extension and a very complementary development plan to the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan.
We're looking at zoning and providing land use designation so that as that area develops, it will develop in what's called a traditional neighborhood design. That's kind of a grid-pattern development with single-family residential, buffering against single-family, moving to higher density and moving to commercial office or light industrial along the railroad right-of-way itself.
Signal: When do you anticipate that will start?
Brotzman: I would anticipate that it could actually take place over the next three to five years. A significant portion of that property is in private ownership. There is a 90-acre parcel that is owned by a private developer. That land currently is zoned for business park, but the reality is that it has not been the (proper) land-use designation for that location.
The new land use designation, we think, actually is much more compatible with adjacent residential neighborhoods. If the developer ultimately is comfortable with the plan and I know he would have liked more density and a greater intensity of development than the plan calls for but if he does choose to proceed with the plan as it is now being laid out, I would say you could see something happening clearly within the next three to five years.
Signal: For a number of years, people in Canyon Country have been driving to the mall in Valencia. You've talk about influencing the design of projects that will cut down on traffic trips. Are we ever going to see some big, cool place for people to shop in Canyon Country?
Brotzman: Well, I'm not sure that I would say "big," but I would say that we may well have some very cool places developed in Canyon Country. We are working on several projects that could help bring that about.
One of the things that we're looking at is some property that is being considered by private developers. It's in the unincorporated county area right now, but they have approached us and we are talking about developing in that area kind of a Town Center Drive East, if you will. It would not be of the magnitude of the Town Center mall, obviously; it would be more of a traditional neighborhood village.
It's located near the Colony apartments, along the extension of Lost Canyon (Road). Initially, the proposal was coming in for purely residential of higher-density character
Signal: Just what we need, more high-density housing in Canyon Country.
Brotzman: We encouraged the property owner, the proposed developer, to look at something different, to look much more at what's called, in the planning world, "traditional neighborhood design."
Signal: How much influence do you have on developers? When somebody comes in with a proposal, are you often successful in getting them to do something other than high-density residential?
Brotzman: We are. Interestingly, one of the things that we've tried to do and one of the directions that planning in the city of Santa Clarita has been evolving to is a direction that is much more of stepping in and trying to guide, trying to direct, rather than simply process. Rather than simply waiting for people to come to us and process.
Signal: Like the city did in its first 10 years or so.
Brotzman: We really have tried to say, "That's not the right way to do things." And in the development community, (when) they've acquired land or they may own land, they're interested in developing their land. But they're in it as a business, and if you can give them guidance and encourage them to take a direction where there is an economic return to them, but it's consistent with the planning that the city has, they're not looking for battles. They're not looking for fights. They really would much prefer to be able to move forward with a project that fits with the city's objectives, if in fact it can work and it makes economic sense.
That's what we look at. We look at trying to give them guidance and try to encourage them to take a direction that is building the city, rather than creating simply more residential neighborhoods without the supporting commercial and employment opportunities.
Part of our philosophy at the moment, for example, is to look toward creating two new jobs for every residential development unit that's developed in the valley. We've done some studies, and what we found is that each new house generates 1 1/2 employees. Well, if we can create two jobs for every house that's approved, we will begin to affect the jobs-housing balance within the Santa Clarita Valley and help keep people close to home.
Signal: Do you expect to be able to do that?
Brotzman: I expect to be able to do that.
Signal: What's on your horizon? What brings you to work every morning?
Brotzman: It's every one of these projects that we just discussed. It's the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan; it's helping make that happen. It's helping take action, take steps to make it easier for that to occur.
It's the Whittaker-Bermite property, it's getting that cleaned up, linking critical pieces of the city infrastructure that will ultimately help people to get across the valley or through the valley without traffic congestion.
It's the development in Canyon Country, and we have worked aggressively people have often said it's the stepchild of the city, but I can tell you that there are some projects that we've put a lot of time and energy into encouraging to proceed forward areas that we're effectively doing redevelopment without the redevelopment tools.
That's what kind of turns me on, if you will.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.