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Castaic high hits snags

Posted: June 2, 2009 10:12 p.m.
Updated: June 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.
A high school being planned for construction near the Valencia Commerce Center has hit some unexpected bumps. One of them is a covenant saying a school cannot be built on the property where the school was expected to be sited.

And that's not all. Property and business owners in the Valencia Commerce Center are concerned that the Hart district's proposed site for a Castaic high school near the Sterling-Gateway industrial complex would diminish property values, increase traffic and create student safety problems.

Local voters passed Measure SA, a $300 million bond, in November, which will go toward the construction of a high school in Castaic.

An obstacle to that is a covenant, issued to Sterling-Gateway LLP by Newhall Land and Farming Co. when the property was sold, specifying that a public or private school cannot be built on the land, William S. Hart Union High School District Superintendent Jaime Castellanos said.

The covenant is common among business parks as a way to ensure safety, property values and traffic, said Newhall Land spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer.

"We've sold a lot of property out there under these conditions," Lauffer said.

The decision can be overturned by the Association of Valencia Commerce Center, a group of property owners representing the interests of the commerce center.

"We are very supportive of a high school for the Castaic area," Lauffer said.

"We've suggested the school district and property owner work with the business owners in the area to determine if that use could be acceptable."

Adding to the confusion: Property owner Sterling-Gateway says the covenant does not apply.

"Sterling-Gateway owns approximately 116 acres of land adjacent to the Valencia Commerce Center," said a statement issued by Tony Bouza, attorney for Sterling-Gateway.

"The Sterling-Gateway Center land is not, and has never been, part of the Valencia Commerce Center, and is not, and has never been, subject to the (covenant) that apply to the Valencia Commerce Center. The (Association of Valencia Commerce Center) has no legal rights whatsoever with respect to the Sterling-Gateway property or its development. The (association) is simply a concerned neighbor."

Covenant or no, many business and property owners aren't supportive of a high school being built in a commerce center.

Cary Llewelyn, president of Image Factor, Inc., is worried that a high school would interrupt his business.

"It would dramatically change our production of work," he said. "It probably would force us to move. That's the same feeling with everybody in the area."

If built, the high school would be next door to Llewelyn's graphic-design business on Avenue Penn.

Another concern involves a negative impact on property values, Llewelyn said.

On top of that, a high school would impact traffic and present safety concerns as the industrial center brings high truck traffic to the area, he added.

"It just doesn't seem like they should mix - a high school in industrial," he said.

"It just seems like there are so many other places it could be."

Jerry Gonzalez, president of Maria Elena's Authentic Latino located on Avenue Sherman, echoed the concerns.

"There's probably what could potentially be some hazards for the kids there," Gonzalez said.

When asked about what the Hart district could do to meet the concerns of the commerce center, Llewelyn said, "move to another location."

Hart district officials are open to working with the business and property owners.

"We think we can mitigate a lot of these concerns," said board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine. "We want to be good neighbors and be flexible wherever we can be."

The Hart district selected the site at the end of Witherspoon Parkway off of Commerce Center Parkway in October out of a possible six sites. The selection, which garnered the support of Castaic Area Town Council, was selected because of its easy access and nearby utilities. The school would be accessed through the Valencia Commerce Center rather than a residential area.

Castellanos and Mercado-Fortine see opportunities for the businesses to form partnerships with the school as a way to offer internships and apprenticeships.

The district is willing to stagger the start time of the high school to meet the needs of employees and business owners who work nearby the proposed site of the high school, Castellanos said.

"We can do a lot of those things. We're more than willing to address their concerns," Mercado-Fortine said.

To address any traffic concerns, the Hart district hired a company to conduct a traffic study of the commerce center to analyze and understand the implications of high school traffic on the center, he said.

The study, expected this week, will also analyze the amount of noise and pollution a high school in the Commerce Center would generate.

The study is also determining the impact of the high school mixed into a fully developed Valencia Commerce Center that would include 20,000 employees.

Sterling-Gateway is conducting another traffic study to show that the traffic generated by a high school would be far less than the built-out commerce center, Bouza said.

When determining a location for a future school, district officials have to make findings regarding issues like health concerns and determine whether the surroundings would constitute a health risk, said Fred Yeager, assistant division director for the Department of Education's school planning division.

"The district's going to have to ensure that there are not hazardous-air emitters," he said.

High schools have been built in commerce areas, Yeager said, citing examples in San Pedro and Northern California.

The Hart district anticipates spending the next couple of months trying to meet the concerns of business owners. Doing so will keep the district on its time line to have the high school open by 2013, Mercado-Fortine said.

If the district is unable to keep to its time line, the delay will impact the other Hart district high schools and their enrollments, she said.

The district has backup plans in place should the Sterling-Gateway site fall through.

"There will be a Castaic high school," Mercado-Fortine said. "This is a bump in the road, maybe a little higher than expected, by we are not going to give up." The Hart district remains dedicated to building a high school for Castaic.

"The commitment is still there," Castellanos said.

Still, building a high school comes with obstacles.

"No matter where we put a high school, someone will be inconvenienced," Castellanos said.


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