Location, location, location. Those are the three most important factors in real estate, and — as evidenced late last month — in land use decision-making.
On a 10-5 vote, the Los Angeles City Council on March 19 directed the Planning Department to stop processing the application for Las Lomas, a project that proposed 5,500-housing units, 2 million square feet of office space, 225,000 square feet of retail space, a hotel and a school on 555 acres at the junction of Interstate 5 and the Antelope Valley Freeway.
A little more than a week later, the Delta Protection Commission voted 11-6 to reject a proposed mixed-use project on a 105-acre former sugar beet processing plant in the unincorporated Yolo County town of Clarksburg.
So, that's one vote against a very dense project in the most urbanized area of the state, and one vote against a modest redevelopment project in a rural riverfront town. The problem? Location. The Las Lomas site is extremely rugged and located next to two clogged freeways. The Clarksburg sugar mill lies in the Delta's protected primary zone.
Both projects have merit. The Las Lomas plan is extremely efficient, squeezing a mix of uses onto about 270 acres above a proposed MetroLink station. The sugar mill project would bring 123 homes and new industry to a site that has sat largely vacant for 15 years.
Las Lomas is proposed for what is now unincorporated territory between Santa Clarita and the Los Angeles. The developer, Palmer Investments, fought off Santa Clarita's attempt to annex the territory urged Los Angeles to take control (see CP&DR Local Watch, January 2004). However, in 2006, the county's Local Agency Formation Commission told Palmer to file a new application for annexation to the City of Los Angeles after the city completed an environmental impact report.
With funding from Palmer, city officials and consultants have been reviewing the plan and working on the EIR since 2002. For reasons that are unclear — at least to me — things came to a head last fall, even though the EIR remains incomplete. Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith released a "white paper" making clear he thought little of the project. Traffic that Las Lomas would generate on I-5 became a rallying point for project opponents, who already included the City of Santa Clarita and environmentalists.
Palmer thought little of Smith's white paper and enlisted the support of Councilman Richard Alarcon. But the concern about traffic was apparently too much for the council majority.
The next step is probably the courthouse, which is where most projects of this magnitude wind up anyway.
Clarksburg is not Los Angeles. Although it is located less than 10 miles from Sacramento and Elk Grove, Clarksburg feels a long ways away. The Sacramento riverfront town is surrounded by pear orchards and vineyards.
Last year, the Delta Protection Commission rejected the sugar mill redevelopment, which would be the first significant urban development within the Delta's "primary zone" since it was designated in 1992 (see CP&DR Local News, February 2007; Environment Watch, January 2007). Developer Carvalho-Stanich Properties reworked the project, primarily by reducing the number of housing units from 162 to 123, and returned to the Commission.
At its March 27 meeting, commissioners said they were satisfied with an increased buffer between the new homes and agricultural operations. But the project would increase population density within the primary zone, which the Delta Protection Act prohibits, the commission concluded.
What the decision means for the commercial redevelopment is unknown. The commission appears comfortable with that portion of the project because it involves no housing in the floodplain. But the developer has said it needs the housing component to fund the other projects, which are pretty nifty. There are already five wineries operating at the old sugar mill, and there are plans for restaurants, agricultural processing, artists space and a Delta visitors center.
In short, approval of new houses in the fragile Delta, right next to an iffy levee, just isn't going to happen right now. It's the wrong location.
— Paul Shigley