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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

PROFILE — Quality of Life Gaurdian

Name a development in Southern California and chances are good there’s an environmentalist group fighting it. The Santa Clarita Valley, which expects to absorb much of the growth in L.A. County over the coming years, is no different. Lynne Plambeck has spent the last decade fighting developments by Newhall Land & Farming Co., the predominant landholder in the area, and other North County developers. As one of the leading organizers in the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment (SCOPE), Plambeck has helped organize lawsuits and protests, and even won a seat on the local water board in her effort to galvanize the community against what she says is too much growth and too little water. The group has opposed nearly every development in the Santa Clarita area for the last decade, from housing developments to expansion of Magic Mountain. While SCOPE hasn’t always been successful (just last week a judge allowed Newhall Land to move forward with its planned Westfield Golf Course project), it has been able to postpone projects for years, costing developers time and money. One of SCOPE’s biggest fights ever is taking place over Newhall Ranch, a planned 21,500-home development on the border of Ventura County. SCOPE has sued Newhall Land, which Plambeck refers to as “Tammany Hall,” claiming there is not enough water available for the community’s future inhabitants. A judge’s ruling is expected soon. Whatever the decision, Plambeck says the fight won’t be over. Question: When did you move to Santa Clarita? Answer: I’ve lived in Santa Clarita about 23 years, and I moved out there because of clean air and open space. And I think if you ask anyone why they move out there, it’s the same thing. I lived in the San Fernando Valley before. Q: What was Santa Clarita like then? A: There was a lot less traffic, a lot more open space, the air was a lot cleaner. The community has almost doubled in size now. It’s going on 20 years, and that’s a lot of growth. It basically happened fairly quickly in the late ’80s. There was a slowdown for awhile and now it’s started up again. Q: How did you first get involved in SCOPE and fighting development? A: Everybody moves to Santa Clarita for clean air, good schools and open spaces. What happened is, my ex-husband and I bought a fixer-upper in an older area of Newhall, and (a developer) wanted to widen a road (in 1990) with old oak trees around it, to put in a new development. That was the gateway to that neighborhood, it was the quality of life, it was why everyone lived there. We did resolve the issue so the oak trees got to stay. Q: How did that escalate to other projects? A: As in any community organization, they’re always looking for volunteers. When I was working to stop them from cutting the oak trees, I went to various community groups to try to get this accomplished and one of them was SCOPE. I was there two weeks and when they asked me to be secretary, I said yes. And as anyone gets to be involved in the process, it just becomes more and more encompassing. Q: How many projects is SCOPE involved in now? A: Last year, we commented on maybe 30 projects, all in the Santa Clarita area, everything from the water appropriations to housing tracts to plans. Q: One of the most common arguments against what you’re doing is that L.A. is running out of housing, people are coming and they’ve got to live somewhere or the economy will suffer. Do you agree? A: There’s a couple things I say to that. First, the growth is to a greater extent in L.A. proper and it’s to a great extent among the Hispanic community and among groups that can’t afford to live in Santa Clarita. There’s not a lot of urban flight to that area. What we would like to see is growth channeled in a different way. What we’ve said is that our goal isn’t to stop growth, it’s to pull it away from our natural areas, and to encourage growth along transportation corridors so public transportation can be used. If we revitalize urban city centers, it would discourage middle-class blight. I think that’s one of the answers. Q: But Newhall Land is a business, and its business relies on selling land. A: That’s why we have zoning laws. They have a right to use their property economically and they are farming on their property. They don’t have a right to entitle it to whomever. That’s why we have zoning and county planners to approve (changes). Obviously, if you don’t have water to build houses, you shouldn’t be building houses. Q: Are there any developments in the Santa Clarita Valley you support? A: Well, we have been neutral on several developments. We don’t support development, because we really do think there’s a water problem out there. We really think at this point they need to resolve that issue (of where water will come from). But we’ve had several where we’ve worked with developers. We worked with Laing Homes on an entitlement that was approved many years ago. We approached the developer because it’s in a rural area and they had a lot of land moving and a lot of trees to cut down; however, they were good about working with us. We drew the line when they were going to put Pico Creek in concrete. They worked very hard to come up with a plan that would accommodate their needs to have the houses and have flood control and accommodate our concerns about having the creek renamed and the flood plain renamed. They came up with a high streambed and a low streambed, and the stream was preserved. It’s really very wonderful. We’ve also remained neutral on the Portabello project, which has drawn concern about toxins in the ground. But the plan for the project we thought was really good. It’s an infill project. We just can’t support it because of the possible toxins. Q: Do you find it’s hard to convince people in Santa Clarita of the importance of your cause, since many are new to the community? A: I think people are very upset about growth. People are just really angry about school crowding. Schools are going year-round and there are portables on campus. That’s why I think people are getting out and angry about growth. People are finally standing up. Oftentimes, by the time they realize there’s a problem, it’s too late. We see our job as trying to make people aware during the time they can still make a difference. Q: How much time do you spend a week on your activism work? A: Probably 35 hours a week, then I spend another 20 hours commenting on projects. Q: What do you do besides environmental work? A: I have a film recycling business (in Burbank). It’s a family business that’s third generation, and I’m probably the last. My interests are changing and the industry is changing, and I’m not going to get into digital, so I probably won’t be doing that much longer. Q: How far are you willing to take this fight? A: Santa Clarita’s my home, so I hope I won’t give up. I hope I won’t get tired. The community needs a safe and reliable source of water. Not only don’t we have that, but if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll kill the river. Those (my home and the river) are both things I love. If they were monetary goals, I’d probably give up. I think I knew when I started that I would have to work on this 20 years or so.

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