Santa Clarita, like much of Southern California, is experiencing a crisis of homelessness. These are our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, our friends. We must take care of them and provide them the tools to pick themselves back up and return to their lives. Santa Clarita needs a housing-first solution, advocated and backed by non-profits and studies which have shown success across the nation. Working together to help our homeless will not only make us proud to live here, but also make the entire community safer and more economically sufficient.
So, what does this mean for Santa Clarita? What steps must we take to get there? We need a multipronged approach, because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to economic viability. The first and most obvious approach is getting a year-round shelter for the homeless in our valley. According to a recent count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), Santa Clarita is home to a homeless population of little over 250 people1 and that number is expected to grow in the coming years. We need to start investing back into our communities now. (1)
The primary homeless shelter we rely on, Bridge to Home, is underfunded. We need to invest a portion of our city budget to the cause of building a new 300 bed homeless shelter in Santa Clarita which at the time of completion should still provide the necessary number of beds to accommodate this growing population of residents. Currently, there are only 60 beds at Bridge to Home, and we need to make up that difference if we’re ever to overcome this as a community. (2)
Long term, these people need to have options, as anyone living here should have. We need to not only provide them a place to live and sleep but also a place to work to get them back on their feet. I’m talking about a new jobs initiative, where the city partners with our local staffing agencies to fill vacancies with qualified applicants from the homeless pool when employees naturally leave those jobs that need to be filled. This has been tried in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Nashville successfully and Los Angeles and San Bernardino are looking at similar solutions. It has provided hundreds of jobs that otherwise could be vacant, to a community that desperately needs a hand in getting back to the day to day routine of their lives. (3)
We have great opportunity not only to upend the homeless currently living in our valley, but we also have to make efforts to protect the vulnerable among us who are living on the edge of being homeless as well. Santa Clarita is not meeting its housing needs—this despite the constant construction projects taking place across the city. There is only so much land we can distribute to the sprawling nature of our construction obsession and the middle class is struggling to afford the costs of buying homes here, or even living in apartments here due to rising rents, mortgages and property values. What needs to happen is we need to get rid of the height restriction on building projects for businesses and residential areas which says no building can be constructed that is taller than City Hall without approval, which slows down project completion and leads more to this issue of sprawling out instead of building up. If we could approve buildings over 55 feet tall, we could invest in low income housing units, more local businesses and slow down the increasing costs of housing and rent in our city. Businesses agree, the Conditional Use Permit application is stifling potential growth and raising the height limits would incentivize businesses to invest here. (4)
The last thing I want to say here is this is not everything we can be doing, ultimately this is going to need to be a long term investment by the city to remedy this growing issue, and in the end it will save us millions of dollars by lowering the overall costs of our social safety nets which serves these communities most.
If this sounds familiar to you, let me know: you wake up, do your morning routine, get dressed, take a shower, grab coffee and head out to go to work. You work across town or out of the city, and as you come to a main street or a connection to the freeway, traffic grounds to a halt and you wait there, stuck, helpless to the flow of poorly timed lights and overfilled streets of vehicles all clamoring for the same thing: to get to work. Sound like anyone else?
This city is obsessed with building out, instead of building smart. Everywhere we look we see construction projects for housing, and 1 or 2 lane streets connecting that housing to the main roads, while thousands of commuters are being inundated with traffic signals and more cars on the road. Santa Clarita cannot continue pretending we are a small town anymore; we are the second largest city in LA County.
We need to take a closer look at our traffic signals across the city and establish a new standard for shuttling vehicles from one side of town to the other with fewer interruptions in travel. There are plenty of examples of signals in this town that drivers cannot keep up with while following the speed limit from signal to signal on the same road, which leads to drivers speeding up and possibly causing an accident or hazard for other drivers, or frustration day after day at being unable to reach their destination in a reasonable amount of time. Converting all of our main roads to smart signals and reducing the reliance on timed signals in main and non-main streets will greatly reduce the effort on behalf of residents to get out of their neighborhoods and to the places they want to go.
Secondly, we need to begin formalizing bus only lanes to make public transit a more viable option to all, thus reducing the number of vehicles on the streets while providing a cheap option to our community. So many of our main roads are in a constant state of stop-go-stop-go in between signals due to drivers getting stuck behind our public transportation vehicles and rapidly aiming to switch lanes in the stream of traffic, causing a slowdown in the adjacent lanes as much as the lane the public transit vehicle is in. We need to make sure these lanes are protected and serve the purpose of quickly shuttling large groups of people.
Next we need to actively incentivize our community for using public transportation frequently. We can do this by creating a program to reimburse citizens that utilize the bus to cross town or the train to get out of the city for example, instead of taking a single-occupant vehicle. Alternatively, we could carve out a local tax credit for households that have more than one person using those modes of transportation, or provide a credit to businesses based in Santa Clarita that would opt to provide their works with bus passes for their costs of travel within the city similar to the LA Metro Employer Annual Pass Program.1 Further, students that are eligible to drive which use public transportation can also apply for this credit or schools could partner with public transit to offer discounted rates. (2)
Many cities are struggling to regulate and deal with the influx of ride share drivers. I say we embrace this growing business and formally partner with companies like Uber and Lyft to incentivize a monthly ride pass that passengers can use to be shuttled by Uber and Lyft in a carpool system. (3) We need to take advantage of the fact that not everyone wants to drive, and there are people out there pursuing a career or money making venture that involves driving others. Reducing the number of overall vehicles on the road by incentivizing carpools for cheap rates will make the largest difference in travel time it takes to get from A to B.
None of these positions will matter if they are not adequately funded. It is time we created new lanes on the 5 and 14 which would be high occupancy toll lanes which can maintain free flowing travel at a cost which is then used to raise revenue for the other initiatives herein mentioned, and marginally supplement the costs with a local tax on vehicles for households that own more than 2 vehicles currently in use.
Business is the lifeblood of Santa Clarita. We cannot leave money on the table that our local businesses can use to expand or get started in this valley. Right now, there are millions of dollars our there for grants and credits that our businesses can use that would incentivize development in Santa Clarita by offsetting costs.
The Cal Competes Tax Credit is a fund that can help new businesses get started and create jobs in California, and I want them to do it here in this valley. (1) We need to make sure that businesses know about these credits and are sufficiently prepared to go through the application process, and in exchange they will bring jobs, development and investment to our community. The benefits of this program are that the benefit to the business is linked to the benefit provided to the community, awards are based on a variety of factors for what the business brings to the table, including how many jobs, what level of investment they are making, how much their average wages will be and more. (2) Receivers of this credit are not taxed on the amount of the credit provided. I want to allocate some funding for new staff which would partner with businesses to invest here and actively pursue new business development and help our current business entrepreneurs expand in our valley.
City expansion is driving up costs of development and rent for businesses across the city. We need to remove the height ordinance that requires buildings be constructed no more than 55 feet in height. The Conditional Use Permit process that businesses must use to build anything over 35 feet in height is arduously long and not guaranteed to be successful, thus limiting potential investors seeking to expand here. (3) This zoning change could lead to larger corporate buildings, more mixed-use zones of residential and business units, drive down costs of rent for residents and business locations and more.
Along those same lines, we need to make use of the Proposition 1C Infill Infrastructure Grant program so that businesses can expand upward, and our residential areas would no longer be handicapped in serving their communities adequately. This grant program allows us to develop our infrastructure and meet affordable housing needs simultaneously and can provide incentive to major industry leaders to bring their headquarters here. Governor Newsom has signed a state budget which allocated $500 million to Infill Infrastructure Grants that Santa Clarita as the second largest city in Los Angeles County should compete for to bring business and residential development to our city. (4)
One of the things that does not get talked about enough when we discuss ways of bringing economic development to our city is the need to improve the broadband capabilities of this market. Studies have shown that increasing broadband resources leads to a growth of economic prosperity, and yet there are parts of Santa Clarita that struggle to carry cellular signal or suffer excruciatingly slow internet speeds. (5) An investment in this sector can lead to growth in other sectors of employment including telecom, healthcare, energy and more. The city can improve tax incentives for investment into our broadband market which will in turn drive the demand for faster speeds and better coverage in the area for businesses and residents to utilize.
Additionally, by developing a new strategic metro plan which serves our business and residential needs we can better serve the goals of economic development by increasing the area of coverage that the metro offers. Creating a more robust metro system with more stops across the city would greatly help to improve the lives of our city workers, reduce congestion and increase the prospects of attracting new businesses to Santa Clarita. We need to make sure that our sprawling city has a nervous system of public transit that can reach the various communities of our town and carry goods and workers across it cheaply and more readily accept the importation of goods from outside the city to our waiting consumers and exporters.
At the end of the day, Santa Clarita needs to exercise every available option here alongside our current roster of economic levers to continue being a leader in economic and business sustainability. Nothing is out of reach, with moderate investments driven by revenues gained from implementation, we can sustainably put forward a new era of economic prosperity in our city for generations to come.