85.7 F
San Fernando
Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

View of the Valley

Elaine Freeman is more than happy to be on the sidelines as an observer as the City of Simi Valley updates its general land use plan. After all, she had her turn back in 1988 when a host of other issues faced the city about managing its growth and the look of the homes and businesses. “I think it’s better that the general population participates,” said Freeman, who has lived in Simi Valley before the city incorporated in the late 1960s. Freeman has spent a long career in land use planning in the private sector, first working for a civil engineer, later for Griffin Homes and now as an independent consultant. She also served as the director in Ventura County of the Building Industry Association. Outside of her consulting duties, Freeman chairs the Business Advocacy Committee and Legislative Committee of the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce; and serves on the California Special Districts Legislative Committee; and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District Board. Question: How did you get involved in land use planning? Answer: I was working for the county supervisor. Moorpark was not a city and so there was a lot of proposed development going on. I got really fascinated by the process and what was needed. That was why I went into the urban studies/land use program because for me it was really fascinating. After working for the county I went to work for a civil engineer, which was a wonderful learning experience in the nitty gritty of the process. Then I worked for Griffin Homes, and then I opened my own business. Q: How has the approach to land use planning changed in the city? A: A lot of things have happened on the local, as well as the state and federal, levels; the rules regarding environmental documents. On the local level the general plan was updated in 1988 and that set the policies. In the meantime the city prepared landscape guidelines; they created design guidelines. These are policies, they are not ordinances, yet at the same time it is necessary to follow them. In the mid-1980s, the citizens approved the Hillside Performance Standards and also the growth control limitations, which only allow a certain number of building permits per year. Commercial and industrial is exempt from that. All of this comes from where Simi was, which was so helter-skelter when it was under county rule and we had to overcome a bad reputation with other areas in the county. I think the city has been successful in doing that. Q: When you say helter-skelter does that mean people building anywhere? A: Anytime and anywhere. Q: So the city incorporated to get all that under control? A: Yes. Some of the more controversial items in the early days was getting everybody on sewer, creating a general plan, taking care of Los Angeles Avenue in the business area because it had all different kinds of signs. The sign ordinance came into affect, which was very controversial because signs are important to businesses. Those were the things that were dealt with in the early years. Q: During the 1988 general plan update were there new regulations that were put in? A: The jobs-housing balance and also the mix of single-family versus multi-family. They established the goal of 80 percent single family, 20 percent attached (multi-family). Q: Are there any issues you hope they address that have emerged since the last update? A: I think the biggest issue the city is going to deal with is redevelopment. The city is almost built out. We have the state saying we need to provide so much affordable housing; how to do that without causing a lot of disruption to people, that is a challenge. How many stories do you build; how tall; do you get into high rise or is all low rise; and where is it; are there areas that are going to change significantly? With the urban growth boundaries approved by the voters to meet all of the requirements the city would like to see is what is going on right now and it is a little on the difficult side; I mean, to get housing, retail, all the components. Q: So mixed-use projects will probably be seen more in Simi? A: Yes, I believe so. Especially in light of people not wanting to travel as much and wanting easy access. Q: Do you think those kinds of projects will work in the city? A: There is one on Tapo [Canyon] that is what I would call multi-use, where they are putting in commercial with high-density residential. We’ll see. If the market wasn’t the way it is that project probably would be further along in terms of sales and occupancy. Q: What about the more traditional mixed-use projects with the residential component above the retail? A: I would like to see that and I think the city would consider it. I think it would be in areas of older commercial that need to be revitalized, that need to be torn down and started over again. Q: What can the city do better in terms of land use planning? A: If the process can be streamlined, it wouldn’t be so costly to applicants. The city, in all due respect, wants to see a full plan when it gets to the planning commission or the city council so that the project is well finished. It is not a tentative map or tentative project. It is the project. Q: That way the city knows what it’s getting? A: Exactly. I can understand that from the city’s perspective. It’s a carry over from the when the city was first formed and things were more helter-skelter. They want to make sure everything is the way they want it. Q: What are the big issues you pay attention to on the legislative committees you serve on? A: Regulation that is coming down like AB32 against business. It is greenhouse legislation and making sure that businesses can comply without being too onerous that they shut down or leave. That is a big concern. For local government it is the state budget. A few years ago the voters passed Prop 1A, which prevented the state from taking away local tax money. They can take it away but they have to repay within three years with interest. We are watching it because they are at such a stalemate up there that anything can happen. The [Rancho Simi] park district alone lost $18.8 million to the state to balance their budget over the last eight years. We don’t want the state to take our money. Local government has to balance their budget, why can’t the state? Q: Describe your role in assisting the Reagan Library and the Air Force One Pavilion. A: I did all the permitting through the county for the addition of the Air Force One, which everyone was delighted with. We didn’t have anybody unhappy about that one. Q: Was that a lengthy process? A: It took about a year. And that was pretty fast. The process generally is 15 months. We had great cooperation with the county and the city. SNAPSHOT: Elaine L. Freeman Education: BS Urban Studies, UC Riverside Personal: Married to Jack, one son and two step-daughters, 7 grandchildren Career Turning Point: When I was hired as a chief deputy for the Ventura County Supervisor Most Admired: Eleanor Roosevelt

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Featured Articles

Related Articles