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Back to the Drawing Board for Ex-Urban Utopia

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History confirms that LA's development has always been dependent on water and land annexation. These ingredients fuel our city's present development as well as its past.Back in April, things looked promising for the proposed 555-acre, mixed-use development known as Las Lomas when a judge blocked the City of Santa Clarita’s attempt to annex unincorporated land in its effort to thwart the controversial development.

Now the fate of developer Dan Palmer’s dream project has taken a different course. Inter-jurisdictional machinations might just put a serious dent in Palmer’s claim to being “an optimist by nature.”

According to the Daily News, the tentative agreement brokered between the cities of Los Angeles and Santa Clarita (with input from the County) calls for splitting “the Newhall Pass area along the ridgeline.” The two cities have expressed their intent to enforce stringent zoning which would effectively block a development of this size and scale from occurring at the unincorporated location.

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Nearly six thousand homes -- along with commercial, retail, and ancillary structures and facilities -- were to be located near the interchange of the 5 and Antelope Valley freeways. This Newhall Pass site has other advantages. Las Lomas has been touted as an unconventional "urban" infill development, where infrastructure (i.e. water) is already available. Therefore, Palmer chose to apply to City of Los Angeles for the land use approval process instead of joining its neighbor -- recently incorporated Santa Clarita.

Santa Clarita made no bones about its opposition to the project, which the developer claims is “scaled to minimize offsite impacts.” (This assertion stands in stark contrast to the approximately 44,000 daily additional car trips, loss of open space, and other projected negative externalities.) Moreover, the contested land is steep and potentially unstable to support the proposed level of density.

Project opponents, including LA City Councilmen Greig Smith and Alex Padilla, were unconvinced by the details -- if not the vision and theory -- Palmer articulated to the Planning Report earlier this year:

As a community, we need to do what we already know are the right things. We need to invest in higher intensity and mixed-use developments. We need to develop projects with scaleable transit options. We need to make development forms more compact and less exploitative of green space. We need to locate the development where there’s an abundance or excess of infrastructure. We need to make schools fully integrated with the communities they serve. This is the ambition of Las Lomas -- to leap out of the dinner conversations and coffee klatches of the intelligentsia and into physical reality at a scale that can, in fact, be used as a model for the future...Las Lomas is attempting to borrow from the original utopian vision of the early Los Angeles as a garden city, promising an indoor/outdoor lifestyle with the Mediterranean plant palate and courtyard housing.”

While LAist thinks realizing these planning principles is absolutely crucial to the well-being of our rapidly expanding region, the impacts of this infill model are not easily mitigatable. And we don't have to start from scratch with romantic edenic notions of how life should be in Los Angeles, either.