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Castaic keeps waiting

Giving up on one site, the Hart district is eyeing other possible high school locations

Posted: June 28, 2009 10:15 p.m.
Updated: June 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
It's back to the drawing board again as the William S. Hart Union High School District has decided not to pursue the Sterling-Gateway location as a future site for a Castaic high school.

"Realistically, I don't really think we have much choice but to move on," Superintendent Jaime Castellanos said in a phone interview last week. "I don't think we're going to get the Valencia Commerce Center on board. They're asking us to not put the school there."

The issues stem from land-use restrictions, which prevent a public or private high school from being built on the Sterling-Gateway property. The land borders the Valencia Commerce Center.

Castellanos does not think the restriction will be waived by officials with The Newhall Land and Farming Company given the opposition from business owners and property owners in the Valencia Commerce Center.

Businesses are concerned that a high school built in the industrial area would create too much traffic and student safety hazards.
Business owners were pleased with the district's decision.

Jerry Gonzalez, president of Maria Elena's Authentic Latino Inc., located on Avenue Sherman, said he applauded the district for doing the right thing.

"It just didn't make sense to put a high school within such close proximity," he said.

Others were critical of the Hart district for taking Sterling-Gateway off the list of potential high school sites.

Tony Bouza, who represents Hunt Williams, the owner of the Sterling-Gateway location, was surprised that the Hart district is not considering the location anymore.

Any concerns or issues with the location of the high school could have been resolved, he said.

"This really is the right location for a school and there is no reason for it not to be there," he said.

Castaic has been waiting for a high school for some nine years.

Besides the advantages to the community of Castaic, the high school is needed to relieve overcrowding at West Ranch and Valencia high schools, to which Castaic residents drive their students daily.

"It's unbelievably disappointing," said Renee Sabol, chair of the land-use committee for the Castaic Area Town Council, which has long fought for a high school in Castaic.

She said more should have been done to meet the needs of the business owners in the Valencia Commerce Center, rather than giving up on the Sterling-Gateway site.

"I don't think that anyone formed any sort of committee to listen to any of their concerns and mitigate them," she said.

Hart district officials have met with Newhall Land and Farming, which issued the land-use restrictions, and the association of business owners in the Valencia Commerce Center to mitigate the concerns, Castellanos said.

For Sabol, it's the Castaic community that's ultimately hurt.

"This community has been jerked around on this subject for too many years," she said.

Sabol favored the Sterling-Gateway site because it had adequate access to roads and utilities and wasn't in the middle of a residential area.

"All of us went into this with the best of intentions," she said. "All of us really did think that we had found the right site and that this is the right place to go."

Whatever the next site will be, the Hart district would like to get the support of the Castaic Area Town Council, Castellanos said.

The council, an elected advisory body representing Castaic and Val Verde, previously endorsed the Sterling-Gateway site.

The district is again looking at properties that were previously discussed for a high school site, including the Hasley Sloan site, which is owned by the Santa Clarita Valley Facilities Foundation.

The foundation is a non-profit organization that assists the Hart district with purchasing and developing school sites.

Other sites include Romero Canyon, school board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine said during a Democratic Alliance for Action meeting Thursday.

"I am confident that we will come to some agreement," she said.

The Hart district also plans to open discussions with Hunt Williams about land near a residential community just south of Del Valle Road, Castellanos said.

When asked about the possibility of initiating eminent domain for the Sterling-Gateway site, Mercado-Fortine said, "That would be difficult. We'd be faced with lawsuits."

While everybody seems to want a high school for Castaic, "Nobody wants a high school in their backyard," Mercado-Fortine said. "That's the bottom line."

By considering another site, the Hart district is able to keep to its timeline to have a high school for the Castaic community by 2013, Castellanos said.

"I don't want to keep putting our hopes on the commerce property," Castellanos said. "The longer we wait, the longer it makes the high school wait."

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