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City looks ahead with property

City officials optimistic about latest greenbelt addition

Posted: June 2, 2009 10:15 p.m.
Updated: June 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Rick Gould, city director of parks, recreation and community services, looks over a map of 140 acres Santa Clarita is purchasing in Placerita Canyon at one of the two contaminated sites on the property on Tuesday. The price tag for the hilly property is approximately $2.5 million.

 
As a breeze rustled through the canyons at the east end of Santa Clarita on Tuesday afternoon, the city's parks director strolled across the two house-sized concrete pads that have been the focus of so much attention in the city's latest open-space purchase.

Of the 140 acres that make up the former Special Devices, Inc. property, roughly a combined 1.5 acres is contaminated, said Rick Gould, the city's director of parks, recreation and community services.

"You're talking about 1 percent of the site," he said during a tour of the property.

The city started negotiating with Placerita Land and Farming Co. in September 2007 and is in escrow on the site, with the final price tag topping out at around $2.5 million.

Gould expects the property to be completely in the city's hands later this summer, joining some 3,400 acres of open space already under the city's control.

The hilly, oak-dotted property is the newest addition to the greenbelt of open space slowly encircling Santa Clarita.

Driving east on Placerita Canyon Road, past the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, a passerby could blink and miss the chain-link gate at the site entrance.

Worn-out, barely-there asphalt lanes connect concrete pads where buildings once stood. On a clear day, one can stand on a high point and look across the valley to see Six Flags Magic Mountain's iconic tower.

Moorpark-based Special Devices Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection last December.

About 1.5 acres of the property contain low levels of chemical contamination by a substance called potassium perchlorate, the result of manufacturing, according to a report by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The company made explosives for the air bags used in automotive safety systems, and explosive release charges for the doors on the Mercury space capsules.

According to a Resources Conservation and Recovery Act study published last December, the contamination in the soil was enough to prohibit home-building, but not enough to stop the city from turning the site into open space.

The perchlorate concentration isn't high enough to pose health risk, but the existence of other volatile solvents in the soil makes home construction out of the question on the site, according to Ken Paine, project manager for the state Department of Toxic Substance Control.

Because of the open-space designation, the city cannot erect any structures on the contaminated portions, Gould said.

With no construction on the polluted sites, the contamination is expected to naturally dilute over time, according to the DTSC.

While the study lists several possible remedies, the DTSC is recommending no action coupled with a so-called land use covenant, which limits activities on certain parts of the property.

Simply walking on the site is not a health risk. However, if buildings were erected on the contaminated property, gases would build up rather than dissipate, Paines said.

Gould is optimistic for the property's future, envisioning everything from equestrian uses to camp sites.

City have officials have talked with the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority about the concept of the MRCA providing open-space management, but no action has been taken.

The purchase of the property drew some concern from local environmentalists. While supportive of the open-space designation, Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment has urged close monitoring of the site. It also has called for assurances that the city will not shoulder any liability for cleanup.

When it comes to property acquisition, city officials have said it pays to be aggressive.

"In 30 years, in 40 years, this (open space) won't be here if we don't do this now," Acquisitions Specialist Barbara Blankenship said.

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