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Monday, Feb 26, 2024

Traffic Woes Take Center Stage at City Meeting

Los Angeles city council members and mayors of several surrounding cities met at the Hilton Universal Hotel last week to discuss solutions to some of the region’s biggest problems including traffic, business taxes and city bureaucracy. VICA Chairman Martin M. Cooper opened the meeting by showing four plaque halves meant for the Valley’s council members who supported the reform of the city’s business tax system last year. Each was given the first half of their plaque upon the signing of the reform bill, and each has been promised the missing piece once the city has eliminated the business tax burden. As is relatively common in political discussions throughout the city, however, talk about traffic tended to dominate the discussion after that. “Traffic is the biggest problem, not only in the city but in the region, and in the entire state,” said Barry Groveman, mayor of Calabasas. “I think we’re at a point where we’re going to be crippled.” While federal representatives fight to get more money for freeway improvement and widening projects, Groveman said Calabasas has had some success dealing with traffic without federal funds. “We have been very, very innovative in Calabasas developing what we call the Calabasas Vehicle Management Plan. It’s practical, it’s designed to manage vehicles without taking the one-sided approach by thinking you can do everything with infrastructure.” Groveman said the city is working to eliminate jams at schools by improving the pickup system for parents and trying to make sure that traffic accidents get cleared much more quickly. “Just like paramedics arrive in seven or eight minutes, we need to move these cars quickly,” he said. Cameron Smyth, mayor of Santa Clarita, addressed the massive amounts of growth occurring within his city limits and in the surrounding, unincorporated county land. “We recently had a report from county staff that over the next 30 years there’s an expected 50,000 to 60,000 new homes planned in the unincorporated areas of the Santa Clarita Valley,” Smyth said. “Certainly that’s something that has to be addressed by both the county and the city working together.” Smyth added that bringing more employers into the Santa Clarita Valley was the best way to keep people off the freeways connecting the region to Los Angeles, and that a recent study suggested that 80 percent of commuters in the Santa Clarita Valley would be willing to take a 10 percent pay cut if it meant working in the same town in which they live. The city has recently approved the construction of two new business parks that could provide up to 20,000 new jobs, Smyth said. Santa Clarita has also been vigilant in striking deals with homebuilders like Lennar Inc, and other commercial developers as well as state and local governments to get those parties to pay for new road construction as they drive new vehicle traffic. Councilwoman Wendy Greuel reiterated her idea to ban roadway construction during rush hour as a way to lessen congestion throughout the city, and suggested that the city needs to evaluate whether on-ramp signals are causing more backups on city streets than they are preventing on freeways. Councilman Tom Labonge said the city needs to consider tunnel construction between the Valley and the southern part of the city, as tunnel systems have been used effectively throughout parts of Asia. Members of the audience also asked for an update on the city’s search for a Planning Director. Former VICA Chairman Fred Gaines said that local businesses have had difficulty on both the planning and permit processing sides of the department. “I’d like see us invest, and Greig (Smith) and I both serve on the budget committee, in more staff within the planning department that I think will literally pay for themselves if we’re able to involve those staff members at an earlier point in time,” said Greuel. “We’re not saying not to have public involvement, but oftentimes we get a decision by the Planning Commission and it takes three to four months to actually get the decision out. Everybody knows what the decision is, but it’s not been published and that costs time and money on both sides.” Council President Alex Padilla credited Councilman Ed Reyes with holding a series of public meetings throughout the city asking what residents want to see in a new Planning Director, ensuring that whoever takes the job will understand the city’s expectations of him. Councilman Greig Smith agreed that the department’s slow pace is continually frustrating for local businesses. Smith said that his constituents have said that they can get permits to start construction in neighboring states in under a month, while in Los Angeles it takes a year and a half. “We’re talking about disincentives for business besides business tax,” Smith said. “One of the biggest problems I’ve had over the years in bringing business to L.A. is (people saying) ‘I can’t get through your planning department in less than a year and a half. That costs me a lot of money, I’m not going to do it.”

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