Sylmar To City: No More Sprawl

sylmar google earth_1.jpg
A Bird’s Eye View of Sylmar

Nearly 50 residents of the Sylmar community, located in the San Fernando Valleyattemded a community planning meeting sponsored by the LA Department of City Planning to deliver a message: Sylmar wants a change. Tired of the poor planning that has encouraged a seemingly random development pattern and has ignored the transportation impacts of development on the residents; the community is using the creation of a new community plan to call for better roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, horse paths and transit service.  With some access to mountains and rivers, Sylmar has an active equestrian community.

The meeting was supposed to focus on planning for the environment, but much of the audience’s comments had to do with transportation and land use. While many people complained about bottlenecks on the surface streets that provide access to highways; the majority of the transportation complaints were about roads that encourage people to drive quickly, imperiling those that aren’t driving.

For example, many areas along surface streets lack sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk on the road and many bike paths were started but like so many bike projects in Los Angeles, they don’t form a complete network and often end without warning in the middle of nowhere. Horse riders’ complaints mirrored those of the cyclists; the road network is built for cars and doesn’t provide a safe network for equestrians.

Residents also complained about the lack of transit options. One speaker noted, "we get transit when budgets are full, and get them cut when they aren’t." The San Fernando Valley Service Sector will be meeting tonight to vote on Metro cuts that will affect Sylmar.

Bad transportation planning wasn’t the only thing on people’s minds. Speakers also complained about sprawling development patterns that have left the community without a downtown, without cultural centers and without places for people to gather and "enjoy the night…as a community."

The Planning Department’s project manager, Anita Cerra, blamed the lack of specificity in Sylmar’s last plan, written in 1997, for some of the problems Sylmar sees today. Echoing comments by Planning Department General Manager Gail Goldberg, who recently called the existing community plans "horrible," Cerra said the problem with the Sylmar’s current plan is that it isn’t nearly specific enough to block bad projects.  Cerra promised the new plan will be strong enough to better protect the community and help the community grow in a more sustainable way.

But a good plan isn’t a guarantee of a better community. While City Planning seemed receptive to the community input, planners conceded that even with a good community plan, they can’t guarantee that the plan will become a reality without proper funding and the political will to make change. If last night is any indication, the community is ready for change. Armed with a better community plan, they should be able to make it happen.

The draft plan should be available for review soon, and the draft environmental review should be completed later this year.

Image: Affordable Housing Institute

  • It’s great that even former edge-suburbs like Sylmar are discovering that they don’t necessarily like Sprawl. But does this mean that they favor denser, more urban development in their city? Or do they just want growth to happen somewhere else?

  • It sounds like those “planners” need to “Do Real Planning”.

    The City of L.A.’s planning department has NOBODY who specializes in transportation planning!

    Is it a surprise, then, that their planning efforts continue to fall flat? The largest public land holding in L.A. is controlled by the interests of a professional class of traffic engineers.

    The planning department needs some staff that understand how roadway design and meaurement can profoundly affect an area for the better (or worse).

    The planning documents they pump out (and the Measurement and Evaluation section of the Tranposrtation Element of the General Plan) need to pay attention to the measures of economic life and livability. Right now, the community plans call for more car throughput, parking, and speed at the expense of just about everything else.

    I hope that the Valley’s council reps can get it together to strip the stranglehold the LADOT has on roadway planning.

  • Note: Picture with article above is really Lakeview Terrace, or perhaps East Sylmar.

    The (lack of) Planning Department will continue to be the concubine of developers as long as they ignore the new community plans as they have the old ones. Sylmar has a major LACK of retail and commercial, and one reason is that the “Protected Commercial Zone” specified in the details of the current Sylmar Community Plan has been ignored in favor of the Department’s standard procedure of granting “friendly downgrades” in zoning. In other words, anyone is allowed to build residential in a commercial zone. So our last 40 acres of commercial zone along Foothill Blvd and the 210 freeway are now home to 92 condos with 200+ more approved and on the way.
    In another instance, a corner residential joke of a project was easily approved when the developer applied for a corner retail project, and built 17 detached condos instead. The residential project would never have been allowed without major mods if it had been applied for in a residential zone. It seems the major campaign-contributors are the developers, so it’s reeeeally hard to get the City Council and the Mayor’s Planning Commission to consider the community or anything resembling “planning”.

    But we keep on fighting, and we ARE making progress. Will it be enough to prevent LA from becoming 400 square miles of Manhattan-style (nominally) transit-oriented density-bonused gridlock?

    That remains to be seen, and it doesn’t look good.

    I’ll have more hope when I see the meeting in good faith, of City Council Planning and Land-Use Committee, the MTA, DWP, the city, county & state Recreation & Parks, County Board of Sups, LA Rivers Org, the Transit Coalition, the bike-path folks and the Rim-of-the-Valley Horse Trails team.

    Now THAT could be the beginning of real planning.

  • Wooster

    Speaking of Sylmar, Richmond American is selling a map for 75 lots on two sites off Gladstone for roughly $50,000/per entitled raw lot. They paid $250,000 each. I think $50k is too much. Ouch!

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