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Who moved Pitchess?

Two studies say jail is in Tesoro, not Castaic

Posted: July 25, 2009 9:16 p.m.
Updated: July 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Pitchess Detention Center houses more than 7,000 inmates on 2,620 acres in Castaic.

No, wait. Isn't Pitchess in Tesoro?

The jail's address is 29310 The Old Road, Castaic.

But according to two recently released reports, the Pitchess Detention Center is in Tesoro, an unincorporated planned community north and west of Saugus.

Don't tell that to residents of Tesoro, who are sure the county jail is in Castaic.

"That's ridiculous," said Sara Weiner, 29, of Tesoro. "It's in another city."

Not another city, but unincorporated Castaic, said Michael Gattuso, 43, of Tesoro.

"If I have to get into my car and get on the freeway to go anywhere, it's not in Tesoro," he said.

Two reports compiled by consultants to study governance options for Santa Clarita Valley's westside communities put Pitchess in Tesoro.

During two public meetings held so far to review the first report, residents hounded Richard Berkson of Economic and Planning Systems - which prepared a study on the possibility of cityhood for Castaic, West Ridge, Stevenson Ranch, Sunset Pointe, Val Verde and Tesoro - because the study put the jail in Tesoro.

Berkson kicked any responsibility for the boundaries to the Castaic Area and West Ranch town councils.

"The boundary lines were drawn by the town councils before we were involved," he said.

Specifically, the boundaries for the study area were drawn by former Castaic Area Town Council member Paul Fancett and West Ranch Town Council Vice President Dave Bossert, according to a draft of the second study, which examined annexing the areas to the city of Santa Clarita.

Bossert and Fancett provided the same boundary information to Berkson and to Beverly Burr, who prepared the city's draft annexation report, according to a footnote in Burr's study, which also puts Pitchess in Tesoro.

"When we did it we drew a line outside of the prison and said we're not going to consider it as part of the study because it is a county-run facility," Fancett said in an interview last week.

He said he can't remember how or why Pitchess actually wound up in Tesoro during the 2007 boundary-drawing process.

Bossert was on vacation last week and couldn't be reached for comment.

By putting Pitchess in Tesoro, rather than Castaic, the studies associate Pitchess' relatively high costs for law-enforcement and emergency services with Tesoro. Those high costs translate into bigger tax burdens.

And tax burdens matter when considering cityhood or annexation, said Berkson.

An area's tax burden is weighed against its ability to generate tax revenue during incorporation and annexation studies.

In the case of Tesoro, the area runs a tax deficit.

Castaic without Pitchess remains revenue neutral, Berkson said.

Whether it would remain so if Pitchess were included in Castaic was not considered in the studies.

"If a city is deemed economically unfeasible, it's unlikely LAFCO (the Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission) will allow the city to incorporate," he said.

Pitchess' exact location is clear to Robert Kelly of the Castaic Area Town Council. "Yes, it is in Castaic," he said.

But to Kelly, the jail's location is irrelevant.

"Whether a new city is incorporated on the westside or the city annexes the area, Pitches will remain under the authority of the county," he said.

Ron Mechsner, West Ranch Town Council president, said for the sake of the studies, Pitchess sits within the boundaries of Tesoro.
"That area (Tesoro) encompasses all the areas east of (Interstate 5) in the study," he said.

Outside of the scope of any governance option study, the jail's specific location shouldn't matter, he said. "The jail is in the unincorporated area of L.A. County."

Pitchess doesn't matter in the long-term plans for governance, Mechsner said. "The impact on Pitchess is minor regardless of whether we incorporate a new city or annex into Santa Clarita," he said.

In addition to the jail's location being irrelevant, Kelly said any arguments about the jail location may be moot.

"LAFCO will make the final decision on where the jail is located," he said.

But Mechsner said LAFCO doesn't get the final say on boundaries.

"It will be the towns' people who will determine the boundaries," he said. "LAFCO will listen to the people."

The executive director of LAFCO was on vacation last week and could not be reached for comment.

But Berkson said LAFCO would, indeed, listen to the people - if the issue of westside governance ever makes it to the agency charged with encouraging "the orderly development and reorganization of local governmental agencies," according to its mission statement.

"Tesoro residents often think of themselves as living in Saugus," he said. "LAFCO is opposed to breaking up what residents consider a community of joint interest."

Kelly said Tesoro was included in the studies because the residents asked to be part of them.

"The residents of Tesoro want an identity," he said.

Steve Teeman, president of the Castaic Area Town Council, said Tesoro was included because it falls into the Castaic Community Standards District.

However, the district has no influence in Tesoro, said Paul Novak, planning deputy for county Supervisor Michael Antonovich.

"The community's standards district was formed after the tract map for Tesoro was approved. That grandfathers Tesoro residents out of the standards district," he said.

To Tesoro resident Sara Weiner, no studies are necessary.

"I think of myself as living in Santa Clarita," she said. "I would want to be part of the city."

Fellow Tesoro resident Michael Gattuso wants to see all the information in the studies before making his decision.

"I don't know if I want to be part of the city," Gattuso said, although he admits to enjoying the city's Central Park area set aside for dogs.

"I can walk my dog Buster in Central Bark without paying for it. So what's the benefit of joining the city?"


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