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The waiting game continues for Castaic high

Posted: July 4, 2009 9:57 p.m.
Updated: July 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Here we go again.

Another potential Castaic high school site bit the dust recently as Hart district Superintendent Jaime Castellanos surrendered to the futility of trying to convince Newhall Land executives and Valencia Commerce Center property owners to change their minds.

The landowners aren't about to allow a bunch of dirty, rotten high school students - or the apparently similar ilk of tattoo artists and scantily clad waitresses - to tarnish their pristine business park. And they've got the upper hand.

They've got it in writing.

Surely Hunt Williams knew it. He must have known it in 2005, when he agreed to abide by those land-use restrictions in exchange for a road to his otherwise-isolated Sterling Gateway-to-nowhere property.

Why he offered a section of his land to the William S. Hart Union High School District for a school in 2008 is anyone's guess.

Did he think the Commerce Center neighbors would look the other way?

Well, they didn't. And another six months or more have been wasted in the search for a high school site in Castaic.

Castaic residents should be furious. Certainly they've waited long enough.

They've waited so long for a high school that kids who were in kindergarten when the discussions started have already gone off to college.

They've been waiting since 1992, when they were told the NorthLake development at Castaic Lake would give them a high school.
They waited, and then they waited some more.

A decade later they were told the Santa Clarita Facilities Foundation - a nonprofit development company that ostensibly helps the school district fund high schools - bought land at Sloan and Hasley Canyon roads and thought it would be a good place to build a school and some private homes.

Did the Facilities Foundation think Castaic residents wouldn't notice the site was a box canyon in a high-fire zone with bad access?

They noticed. And they waited some more.

They waited while Newhall Land proffered property opposite the lower Castaic Lake lagoon - and then suddenly sank into the murky financial deep.

They waited while the school board entertained notions of a campus a zillion miles from nowhere, high up Romero Canyon where the eagles soar.

They waited while school administrators spent money from a 2001 bond measure on costly construction overruns at other school sites - money that was supposed to build a Castaic high school - while an inept school board floundered around with its collective head in the sand.

They waited for the rest of the Santa Clarita Valley to suspend disbelief in 2008 and give the school district a second chance to build a Castaic high school with a $300 million bond measure - double the price tag from 2001.

Now the residents of Castaic are being told they'll have to wait and see if the school district can find yet another location - and in the meantime, district officials now say, they'll spend some of that $300 million in bond money elsewhere.

Sure. Every sentient being in this valley knows that under the letter of the law, not all of the bond money has to go to a Castaic high school. It can be spent to modernize Hart High and Sierra Vista and Placerita junior high schools, and to build performing arts centers at Canyon and Saugus high schools, too.

Goodness knows those things are sorely needed and long in coming.

But nothing on the Hart district's to-do list is as long in coming as a Castaic high school.

There is a difference between what's legal and what's right.

It's insulting to make the residents of Castaic wait a single minute longer while school officials rifle through the money that - under promises made to secure the passage of Measure SA - rightfully should build a high school in Castaic.

We remember that campaign promise. And we say: Don't do it.

We say don't modernize Hart or Sierra Vista or Placerita. Not until sufficient sums of money are contractually obligated to land and buildings in Castaic.

It's not that we don't believe the school board wants to build a high school in Castaic. We believe it does.

It's not that we don't think Castellanos can manage the district's finances. We think he can.

It's that the wounds are too fresh, and this is too important a project, to run even the remotest risk of anything going wrong.

The 2001 bond measure that was supposed to build a Castaic high school was going to build nine other new schools, too. It built zero new schools.

Instead, it modernized existing campuses, and just like the Defense Department's proverbial $500 screwdrivers, the modernization projects ran $42 million over budget and left nothing in the bank for Castaic.

So don't do it. Don't spend a penny until the contracts for a Castaic high school are signed, and a verifiably sufficient amount of the 2008 bond money is committed to that cause.

Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.

Don't expect anybody to approve a third bond measure to build the same high school in Castaic if the money somehow trickles away elsewhere.

And don't make the residents of Castaic wait one moment longer.

Make them wait until the school board election this fall, and it won't be pretty.


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