Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

A Brief History of the Push for Self-Government in Santa Clarita.

By Connie Worden-Roberts.

Connie Worden-Roberts, co-chair of the Canyon County Formation Committee (1976) and the subsequent City of Santa Clarita Formation Committee, summarized the recent history of the drive for self-government for Stacy Miller, then with the city's Economic Development Division, who was compiling information for the city's application to enter the All-America City contest in Philadelphia in 1999. A first-time applicant, the city was one of 30 finalists.

* * *

A) Canyon County.

In 1976-77, as co-chairman of the Canyon County effort with local attorney Daniel Hon, and helped by a group of dedicated volunteers, we 1) circulated petitions (collecting 25 percent of the registered voters in a 250-square-mile area); 2) made innumerable speeches; 3) wrote and circulated hundreds of press releases; 4) appeared on television and radio programs throughout [Los Angeles] County; 5) garnered support from the Chamber of Commerce and most of the organized clubs in the affected area.

(Signatures were obtained by house-to-house solicitation of valid registered voters.)

After verification of the adequacy of the petition signatures, a commission was appointed by the governor to study the possibility of secession of Canyon County from Los Angeles County. Headed by Professor Donald Hagman from UCLA, the commission spent a year analyzing the formation and, while recognizing Canyon County could become a wealthy, if small, governmental entity, recommended against county formation.

The recommendation did not affect the thrust of law, which was to allow the vote to occur. While the balance of the county voted by 4 to 1 against letting Canyon County be formed, in two successive votes, the local citizenry opted for self-government by approximately 60 percent.

Arguments for forming a county were basically the same as city formation — to bring government closer to the residents and to have a bigger voice in decisions that affect every-day life. There was a general level of dissatisfaction with the remote county government whose county employees rarely even knew where the Santa Clarita Valley was located.

The most positive thing that came out of the Canyon County movement was that for the first time, the disparate little communities of Newhall, Saugus, Valencia and Canyon Country all voted together for local government.

In effect, this set the stage for city formation to come later. Among the local leaders who were involved in this effort were Jo Anne Darcy, Jan Heidt, Carl Boyer and Clyde Smyth.

There are many stories, some funny, to flesh out the Canyon County portion of local history. My files were given to the Historical Society for safekeeping.

Following the Canyon County effort for local government, a couple of small groups formed to explore City Formation. It was not until 1985 when Louis Garasi and I co-chaired the effort that the successful "big push" occurred.

B) City of Santa Clarita.

The successful drive for Cityhood began in 1985 with a strong endorsement by the Chamber of Commerce and subsequent involvement by many clubs and organizations. By this time, the area had grown substantially, and with the new residents came a strong desire for self-determination.

The inadequacy of infrastructure was an important component in selling "city formation." The need for roads, more parks and recreation facilities were explained as items more easily obtained with a locally elected council. Not having to drive 50 to 75 miles to Los Angeles was another feature of city formation.

A City Formation Committee was formed and included many members of the Chamber, many members from clubs and some members who were new to the area and to volunteerism. Among them were Jill Klajic and Allan Cameron. Weekly meetings were held, and many of the same procedures developed for county formation were now used in trying to form a city. A solid relationship was established with the Local Agency Formation Commission (which had no direct involvement in the county effort, as that is a state-driven function), and Ruth Benell and Miehe Takahashi received numerous visits by the City Formation Committee.

Once again, petitions were circulated and more than 25 percent of the signatures of registered voters were obtained. This time, house-to-house drives were augmented by signature gathering in shopping centers and supermarkets. Extensive public relations efforts were employed, hundreds of speeches given, and written reports appeared in local and regional papers as well as periodicals.

Louis Garasi found his time commitment at his business would preclude his continuance as co-chair. Consequently, he was replaced by Carl Boyer, and then when Carl filed for a seat on the City Council, Art Donnelly chaired the committee. Getting the message out to the public in a consistent manner and influencing decision makers was deemed important. I continued to speak and write for the Formation Committee and volunteered in this capacity.

The City of Santa Clarita became reality in November of 1987, and the first organizational meeting was held on a bitterly cold night at College of the Canyons in December. The weather did not preclude attendance by well over 2,000 members of the public whose enthusiasm and delight in achieving self-government warmed the cavernous gymnasium.

Both the Canyon County and City Formation efforts demonstrated the ability of a broad spectrum of individuals and groups working cooperatively to effect change. While many factors can be considered as instrumental in achieving a governmental restructure, certainly the most important is the willing cooperation of hundreds of volunteers.

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