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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 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

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