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Year in Review: City reaches milestones in ’10

Year in Review: Major roads project and lawsuit settlement help complete year

Posted: January 2, 2011 10:52 p.m.
Updated: January 3, 2011 4:55 a.m.

Fueled in part by federal grants and state bonds, and unfazed by the economy, Santa Clarita charged through 2010 at full speed, closing out the year with several milestones reached.

From a major roads project to a lawsuit settlement to the open space designation of a pristine canyon that was once slated for a landfill, the city crossed several items off its wish list in 2010.

“This was arguably our most successful year ever,” said Ken Pulskamp, manager of the 23-year-old city.
Statewide, many cities are faced with tough decisions on which services to cut and whom to lay off. At least one California city has declared bankruptcy during the current recession.

“We have been able to get projects done that most cities would be jealous of even in good years,” Pulskamp said.

Cross-valley connector
In April, the city celebrated the completion of the cross-valley connector, a $245-million public works project that connected Interstate 5 and Highway 14, cutting across the Santa Clarita Valley. The project took more than 10 years to complete.

The city and local land developer Newhall Land Development Inc. did the heavy lifting, putting $81 million and $88 million to the project, respectively.

Another $18 million came from the state, and $26 million from the federal government.

“It completely changed (traffic) circulation in the Santa Clarita Valley,” Pulskamp said.

Open space and parks
The city bought thousands of acres of open space in 2010. The crown jewel: Elsmere Canyon.

“We were fighting the world’s largest landfill. Now it will be in public ownership into perpetuity,” Pulskamp said.

In the 1980s, Santa Clarita Valley residents began protesting a proposal from BKK Corp. to turn Elsmere Canyon into the world’s largest landfill.

The canyon, just to the east of Highway 14 at Newhall Avenue, is among the more pristine in the Santa Clarita Valley.

After years of wrangling and protesting, some legislative sleight-of-hand on the congressional level quietly killed the dump proposal in 1996.

But it would be 14 years more before the city added the canyon to its Open Space Preservation District. The city, with the financial help of Los Angeles County and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, bought Elsmere to preserve it.

Mayor Marsha McLean was especially proud of the Elsmere Canyon accomplishment.

“I have worked on that for over 21 years,” she said.

The city also opened or broke ground on three new parks projects in 2010. Opened for the first time were Discovery Park and Central Park’s cross country track, a collaborative community effort.

And officials broke ground on the city’s first community garden, in keeping with Councilwoman Laurene Weste’s goal of building a healthier Santa Clarita as 2010’s mayor.

“Santa Clarita is the perfect place to focus on health in America,” Weste said. “It’s a unique location with a trails system that is constantly expanding, forests surrounding us.”

The city also settled two lawsuits over Whittaker-Bermite, the 1,000-acre contaminated property at the center of Santa Clarita.

Since the 1990s, state officials have been working with Whittaker Corp. to clean perchlorate, a toxic salt, out of the soil.

Remediation Financial Inc., or RFI, had purchased the property and planned to build a master-planned community there.

The city acquired two pieces of property there to build a Metrolink station and a portion of the cross-valley connector. RFI brought two eminent-domain lawsuits against the city for the actions.

The city and RFI settled in November.

The city will pay RFI $25 million, using a lease-revenue bond that will take decades to pay off.

As part of the settlement agreement, most of that money will pay off a pivotal bank note on the property.

The significance? If the city acts on an option in the agreement, it could effectively own the property.

The city has until November to act on the option.

New sheriff’s captain
The city also hired a new captain for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station in 2010.

Since taking office, Capt. Paul Becker has created a system for tracking crime tips and beefed up the juvenile drug intervention team after hearing a grieving mother’s plea for help over the loss of her young adult son to a drug overdose.

“It’s obvious how responsive this captain is,” Councilman Bob Kellar said.

Councilwoman Laurie Ender agreed.

“He’s a fresh set of eyes,” she said. “He’s just got a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to gangs and drugs.”

Library takeover
When the city voted in August to secede from the Los Angeles County Public Library system, it was met with vocal opposition from library patrons and employees.

Three lawsuits were filed against the city alleging violations of open meeting laws as well as privacy rights. The privacy rights lawsuit was dismissed Dec. 21.

Ender said bringing the libraries into the city’s fold was inevitable.

“This really is the next step in Santa Clarita growing up,” she said.

In addition, the city broke ground on the $13-million Old Town Newhall Library in March.

‘Great year’
Weste, who was mayor during 2010, said she was very pleased with the city’s progress.

“It was a great year,” she said. “I loved every minute of it.”

Councilman Frank Ferry, who has been hospitalized since Dec. 3 after complications arose from a surgery, was not available for comment for this story.


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