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Portions of property won’t get cleaned of perchlorate

A small percent of the 996-acre Whittaker-Bermite property will remain contaminated with chemicals

Posted: April 9, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 9, 2011 1:55 a.m.

A small percentage of contaminated Whittaker-Bermite land may never be cleaned up enough to meet standards that allow for schools, homes or hospitals to be built there, city and state officials said this week.

Between five and 10 of these profoundly contaminated acres fall within the area the city would like to see developed, said Paul Brotzman, the city’s community development director.

Brotzman said city planners will work around any area that cannot be cleaned for unrestricted use, at a meeting of Whittaker-Bermite Citizens Advisory Group on Wednesday night. Instead, that land could become a park, some other type of open space or a road, he said.

“The city and the Department of Toxic Substances Control share the same policy — that every effort will be made to clean up everything,” Brotzman said.

“But there are certain areas where that may not be possible,” he said. “We’re talking about between 1 (percent) and 2 percent of the entire property — about 10 to 20 acres in all probability.”

Santa Clarita is trying to buy the property out of bankruptcy by partnering with a developer.

Multiyear cleanup
Whittaker-Bermite was the site of a munitions plant operated from the 1930s through 1987. The soil is polluted with perchlorate and other contaminants. Located south and east of the Saugus Speedway, the 996 acres are sometimes called Santa Clarita’s “doughnut hole” because of their strategic central location within the city.

The city has no intention of seeing all of the 996 acres developed, Brotzman said.

The goal is to build on 580 acres, a little more than half the site. The unwanted parts are too hilly, offer poor drainage or pose other building problems, he said.

Of the 580 acres eyed for development, about five to 10 acres may never be cleaned to meet state standards that allow people to inhabit the property 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We can pave over those areas,” Brotzman told concerned citizens Wednesday. “We can build a road over them, designate them as open space.”

Last summer, the department opened its books on the cleanup of hazardous waste on the old Bermite property by making copies of its cleanup plan available to the public.

Jose Diaz, the department’s senior project manager for the site, told the group Wednesday he and his department are doing all they can to clean up the site.

According to the department’s recently released remedial action plan, 85 percent of Whittaker-Bermite was never contaminated.

“So we’re only going to work on 15 percent of the 996 acres,” Diaz explained Thursday. “We’re working on about 150 acres and, out of that, 15 acres may never be cleaned for unrestricted use.”

Some of that land does not fall within the 580 acres the city would like to see developed.

Park-development ratio
Steps normally taken to develop land almost always include a small percentage of land devoted to park space as stipulated in the 1975 Quimby Act, said Tom Reilly, the city’s park development administrator.

“We have a formula for park land driven by the number of residents brought in by a development,” Reilly said.

One single-family housing unit is calculated to add three residents. Under Quimby, development of about 330 single-family housing units — which translates into about 1,000 residents — typically means five acres of space earmarked to become park land, he said.

Should 3,000 new residents call Whittaker-Bermite home, at least 15 acres of park land would have to be set aside.

Plans to purchase
On Jan. 25, the Santa Clarita City Council approved a plan for the city to work with Beverly Hills-based builder Shapell Industries and the Lewis Operating Corp. over the next year to find a way to purchase the land so city planners could start “re-planning the site.”

Within a couple of weeks, Shapell pulled out of the deal, calling the plan to buy the property too expensive and complex.

“It’s just Lewis Operating Corp. that we’re working with on the partnership this year,” city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said. The city hopes to bring the deal to fruition.


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