Calif. Town Made for People --
By Skip Press
More and more working professionals, particularly those with growing families, want a community where the air is clean, the schools are good, and the neighbors are friendly -- yet with all the sophistication of a major metropolis only a short distance away.
One community in Southern California, Valencia, sketched-out in 1965 by master planner Victor Gruen, prides itself on being a prototype of such an ideal place to live.
Greatly contributing to the community's hometown atmosphere are Valencia's unique "paseos." In a tradition begun in Spanish-speaking countries (with some influence from the Austrian trails of Victor Gruen's youth), the paseos are 14 miles of tree-lined streets, walkways and trails.
The paseos also make their community safer, say residents. Valencia lies 30 miles north of Los Angeles on Highway 5 within the town of Santa Clarita, ranked fourth safest city in America by the FBI in 1996 for municipalities with populations above 100,000, up one notch from the year before.
On paseos, residents leisurely walk, bike or jog to stores, shops, churches, theaters and schools -- all almost completely out of sight of street traffic. Neighbors chat and meet new friends, early risers jog for health, lovers stroll hand in hand, and parents at home need not worry about their children's safety.
There are other paseo systems in Southern California -- in Irvine and Mission Viejo -- but those systems cross busy thoroughfares. In Valencia, paseos are completely separate from automobile traffic, running through the middle of residential neighborhoods and crossing busy streets via covered bridge or tunnel.
Some paseos are free-form in construction, running up and down hills, widening or narrowing as they intersect or break off from each other, while others are unpaved and lead into nature preserves.
When the Newhall Land and Farming Company began planning the community of Valencia in 1965, it wanted to include virtually every aspect of life in the town's construction. Along with the requisite schools, shopping areas, golf courses and a hospital, various types of housing went into the mix.
"We put retirement homes next to family housing," Newhall spokesperson Marlee Lauffer says. "That worked out well. Senior citizens in condos and townhouses, who are home most of the time, can report anything unusual. But the best thing is the paseos. Everybody loves those."
There was some thought that having paseos between homes might encourage burglary, but the fears never materialized. One reason might be the extensive use of cul-de-sacs in the street plan. For crooks unfamiliar with the layout of Valencia, chances are good they would get lost trying to escape a maze of streets patrolled regularly by Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs. And in the summer, the deputies patrol the paseos on bicycles, so even juvenile delinquency is discouraged.
Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Clarita Valley, Valencia is profiled in the 1996 book "50 Fabulous Places to Raise Your Family" (Career Press). Its success has spurred the Newhall Land and Farming Company to plan a new community -- also with paseos -- a few miles up Highway 5 from Valencia.
Not everything has worked out as originally envisioned, however. City planners initially encouraged residents to use golf carts to travel the paseos. After all, there are two golf courses in town, the popular Vista Valencia public course and a country club that will host its first PGA event in 1998. The Newhall people soon discovered that -- of all things in Southern California -- Valencians preferred to walk.
These days, the only wheels on Valencia paseos are the self-propelled variety, except for an occasional youngster on a motorized skateboard. And the activity doesn't stop when the sun goes down. Except for the paseos running through nature preserves, all the walkways are well lit.
"That's another reason they're great for kids," Lauffer says, "even after dark. They're always away from traffic."
Still, social life in this valley is something less than utopian. For one thing, there was a major marijuana bust by county sheriffs in January. Peace and calm has also been disrupted by a bitter labor dispute involving social workers who recently picketed the city's children's services department in nearby Newhall.
For Valencia residents ambling along the paseos, though, the troubles of the world get left behind. Strolling along the comfortable walkways, past the manicured bushes and flowering shrubs lining the paths, saying hello to a neighbor, or even crossing a busy street on a screen-covered bridge, it's easy to remain a step removed.
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