On a 3-1 vote Tuesday night, with Mayor Laurene Weste recusing herself to avoid any conflict of interest, the Santa Clarita City Council voted to approve the certification of the final Environmental Impact Report of the proposed Dockweiler Drive extension to 13th and Arch Streets.
The move paves the way for a project that many Placerita and Dockweiler residents oppose, of which more than a dozen of whom made their voices heard, citing safety concerns, a destruction of the area’s character and disruption of quality of life as just some of the reasons.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Keiji Seta spoke in support of the project, voicing concerns over Placerita Canyon’s one way in, one way out community.
Seta compared the similarities between Placerita and Sand Canyon.
“Sand Canyon – one way in and one way out,” Seta said. “We had the Sand Fire in 2016. This area was impacted. One way in, one way out was very crucial and proposed challenges for first responders and residents in the area.”
Dawn Zirbel, a Placerita Canyon resident, raised concerns of traffic safety, as well as the disruption of the canyon’s way of life.
“Cronyism exists in Washington, D.C.,” Zirbel said. “It exists in Sacramento. It does not need to exist in our city council. This does not serve the purpose of our community and your constituents. Please reconsider and do not approve this.”
Students and representatives from The Master’s University expressed their support of the Dockweiler extension, a project that would provide an additional and safer access route for the approximately 1,100 students and 350 of its staff.
Bryan Kortcamp, an official at TMU’s Department of Campus Safety, said he supports the proposed plans because it addresses the safety issues that can impact the TMU community.
“I have a passion for safety, not just because of my job, but because I care about people,” Kortcamp said. “And I wanna do everything to support that and anything that would increase the safety of those within the scope of my influence.”
Bill Bolde, former Saugus High School Principal and now TMU’s Executive Director of Community Relations and Career Services, also expressed his support of the Dockweiler extension, pointing to the area’s susceptibility to fires and flood.
“We have an obligation, a responsibility – morally, ethically and legally – to provide for the students that we house, an environment that is gonna be safe for each and every one of them,” Bolde said. “We have 1,100 students and 350 staff members and I will always be an advocate for those kids.”
Bolde said he is also aware of the eastern exit to the canyon, however, he pointed out TMU students don’t have access to “that magical card.”
Council member Cameron Smyth – the lone, dissenting vote, questioned the need for the road at this time.
“I genuinely don’t believe we need the road today,” Smyth said. “Will we need that in the future?’ That’s what I’m wrestling with.”
However, according to the agenda report, after approval of the road alignment and certification of the EIR, the road will take approximately five to six years to be fully constructed and open for public travel. The process includes a California Public Utilities Commission approval, as well as design and construction activities. Because of this, the timeline for grant funding designated for the project and totaling more than $11 million, must be met and funds cannot be reassigned to any other road project within the city of Santa Clarita.
Council members Bill Miranda and Bob Kellar both agreed the 13th Street crossing is a danger that needs to be fixed and public safety is of the utmost concern.
“In my opinion, this road is necessary,” Miranda said. “And I’m gonna stick by that.”
Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean approved the proposed plan but acknowledged it’s far from over.
“I don’t want to throw away $11 million when this community tells me that roads and traffic are extremely important,” McLean said. “This is not committing to a design plan right now. It’s not going to impact you guys. But I want that 13th street at-grade fixed. It’s dangerous.”
The Santa Clarita City Council is now expected to submit an application to the California Public Utilities Commission for improvements to the 13th Street at-grade crossing.