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Council to vote on Whittaker partners

City: Santa Clarita will choose whether to enter business relationship to purchase property

Posted: January 24, 2011 10:34 p.m.
Updated: January 25, 2011 4:55 a.m.

A proposed business partnership with real estate developers could allow Santa Clarita to get its hands on the long-coveted, polluted Whittaker-Bermite property in the center of town.

Santa Clarita leaders are scheduled to vote tonight on a joint venture with Lewis Operating Corp. and Shapell Industries Inc., both prominent developers in California.

The two separate entities have joined forces to work with Santa Clarita on development of the Whittaker-Bermite property, a contaminated former industrial site that lies just south of Soledad Canyon Road and grazes Golden Valley Road.

The move could finally help give Santa Clarita the purchasing power needed to buy the 1,000-acre property as the city works to meet the yearlong deadline to pay for the site’s purchase.

The city secured an option to purchase the site through an eminent-domain lawsuit settlement.

“Ultimately, the goal is to put the city in a position of ownership for the very first time of this property,” said city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz. “Lewis and Shapell will help get us there.”

City management decided to forgo the bidding process typically used to invite developers to submit development proposals.

Instead, the city reached out to a list of about a dozen developers that have enough resources and have expressed commitment to see the Whittaker-Bermite project through, Ortiz said.

Santa Clarita Community Development Director Paul Brotzman said Lewis and Shapell won out on the prospective development deal over real estate heavyweights such as The Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros.

Lewis and Shapell’s past experience managing environmental cleanups, as well as their evident interest and willingness to cover a host of costs for the Whittaker-Bermite project despite its many issues, were key in city staff’s recommendation, Ortiz said.

Both Lewis and Shapell have already done business in Santa Clarita, managing housing developments in Stevenson Ranch and on Plum Canyon Road, respectively.

Lewis Operating Corp. Executive Vice President Randall Lewis said the company hopes a future business relationship with the city comes to fruition.

“Santa Clarita ranks very high on quality-of-life issues. It’s a great city, and this particular piece is well-located,” he said, though he acknowledged that the Whittaker-Bermite site comes with considerable baggage.

For years, the city has bided its time as the site undergoes a massive cleanup of its soil and groundwater, which is contaminated with the toxic chemicals perchlorate and depleted uranium.

Once the site’s current owner, Remediation Financial Inc., also known as RFI, filed for bankruptcy, Santa Clarita saw its window of opportunity to one day purchase the property — after it pays off the bulk of RFI’s unpaid $33 million loan.


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