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Friday, Jun 9, 2023

Developer Pushes Plans Despite Opposition

If Dan Palmer has his way, 558 acres of land at the intersection of the Golden State (5) Freeway and Antelope Valley (14) Freeway will be covered by what he calls the region’s first “smart growth” community. Palmer, a partner in Santa Monica-based Palmer investments, has been developing residential communities in Los Angeles County, many of them in the Santa Clarita Valley, for years. His latest, called Las Lomas, would be a community of at least 5,800 homes. Most Valley residents, however, cringe at the thought of dealing with the thousands of cars such a development would add to local highways, and Palmer, who is hoping to persuade the City of Los Angeles to annex the unincorporated land the project is planned for, is fighting an uphill battle with nearby city councilmembers and other residents who flatly oppose the project. Mitchell Englander, chief of staff for Councilman Greig Smith, whose district Las Lomas would lie adjacent to, said the Las Lomas development plan is a mess. “This is not a smart growth plan, there are a lot of problems with the project,” Englander said. “There is no way to mitigate traffic, the plan does not even come close to scratching the surface in providing enough money for the mitigation. This is bigger than Ahmanson Ranch, we call it Ahmanson Ranch of the north.” Englander said that Smith opposes the project entirely, and Councilman Alex Padilla has come out opposed to the project as well. Palmer said that he’s not worried about getting Smith’s or Padilla’s support. “I don’t have to (get their support),” he said. “The facts are on our side. As people of goodwill dedicate themselves to learn the true facts and weigh what is at stake, we are confident a wonderful community will result.” Palmer founded Palmer Investments in 1994, and has been a developer working in the Los Angeles area since 1983. He said he’s driven to keep pushing Las Lomas despite political opposition because he believes the development is the best option for Los Angeles. “People yearn for affordable, desirable places to live, safe communities, high quality public education, options to commuting, exciting jobs, fast growing businesses and world class recreational amenities,” Palmer said. “I don’t’ think government wants to position themselves as preventing people from having access to these things that they want,” Palmer said. Smith and Padilla are most concerned about traffic, Palmer said. When appearing at a meeting of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley’s Livable Communities council earlier this month, Palmer said his company is prepared to spend as much as $30 million to complete traffic improvements near the proposed site of Las Lomas. Those improvements, Palmer said, would consist of several mile of new freeway lanes, more than 30 new through or turn lanes, two bridge widenings and three new ramps connecting with the I-5. Bart Reed, executive director of the non-profit group The Transit Coalition, said at the Livable Communities meeting that Caltrans cost estimates for the type of mitigations Palmer described would be at least $300 million dollars. Palmer said that the company’s estimates are likely lower than Caltrans’ because it would be employing private sector employees, but he said that Palmer Investments would shoulder the full cost of the mitigations no matter what the price tag turned out to be. ‘Urban village’ Las Lomas would be an “urban village” that would attract enough business to employ most of the development’s residents. Palmer envisions a self sustaining community built to protect the surrounding environment and to make it possible for people to live in Los Angeles without spending hundreds of hours every year commuting to work. The development, according to Palmer Investments, could help stimulate the creation of over 22,000 jobs over several years. “We searched for ways to reduce dependence on automobiles for travel. We seek to place uses in closer proximity to one another so that while the current generation may not seek to take best advantage of that proximity, it’s available for the future,” Palmer said. “As the rational individuals of the future evaluate where to live and work, we have options within our society that reduce the need to get into a car and congest the freeways.” Palmer Investments is working with the Department of Transportation in order to build consensus on a traffic plan, and Palmer said he’s hoping the city will complete an environmental impact report in the next few months. Palmer isn’t the first developer to promise to attract jobs, but Englander said most large developments have done little but add to Los Angeles’ urban sprawl. “There hasn’t been enough business development to sustain jobs in the (Santa Clarita Valley) and keep people there,” Englander said. “The city of Santa Clarita is also against it, nobody wants it it’s not well planned.” Englander said that Palmer promised to drop the plan entirely if Councilmembers Greig Smith and Alex Padilla both opposed the project, but that he later broke that promise. Other developments Cameron Smyth, the mayor of Santa Clarita, said that Palmer has completed several developments in the North County. “Quite frankly, the projects they have done in the area are not well received,” Smyth said. Smyth said that residents have complained about the developments’ high density, aesthetic appearance and lack of amenities. None of the developments, Smyth said, lie within the city limits all of them are in unincorporated land governed by the county. Connie Worden-Roberts, formerly a planning commissioner in Santa Clarita who currently serves as chair of the transportation committee for the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce, agreed that Palmer’s developments have not been received well, and that residents who move into his developments have a difficult time finding anyone to address their problems. Palmer said that, as far as he’s concerned, his developments in the Santa Clarita Valley are a success. “We have always received approvals for our projects in time,” Palmer said. “The marketplace has heartily embraced our projects. Tens of thousands of people have. . .chosen to lead their lives in places that we created. That should speak for itself.” So far, Englander said, he’s seen no significant support behind the Las Lomas development and thinks it has very little chance of ever seeing the light of day. “The only people who have come out so far have been against the project,” he said. “But they don’t see the writing on the wall, I don’t’ see any political support for him at all. I’ve seen some business organizations that would benefit by Mr. Palmer joining the organization (support the plan).” In August of last year, Economic Alliance President Bruce Ackerman wrote a letter to Palmer saying that town centers and “urban villages” are the best development options for Los Angeles. Ackerman wrote that while the Alliance does not support specific developments, the Las Lomas plan is consistent with its general plan for improving the area’s economy and quality of life.

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