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Bill Kennedy: A study in futility

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: May 27, 2010 5:54 p.m.
Updated: May 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
Eleven years. That is how long it has been since the William S. Hart Union High School District identified the need for a high school to serve Castaic, but construction has yet to begin.

The need for a high school to serve Castaic was recognized as early as 1999. A serious search for a site was initiated in 2001, and by late 2002, a list of nine potential candidates was narrowed to three finalists. The Hasley/Sloan location, subsequently named the favored site, was then purchased by the Santa Clarita Valley Facilities Foundation, with the expectation the school would be built in short order.

After that fairly rapid start to filling an identified need, we find ourselves eight years later with no high school for Castaic.

What went wrong?

First, the school district succumbed to the county's suggestion to change the site to the area planned for the Northlake development. That failed when the developer was unable to get the required approvals.

The Hart district reopened the search in 2007, leading to a decision in 2008 to focus on the area known as Sterling Gateway. That option unraveled last year when the controlling Valencia Commerce Association would not support removal of a provision that restricted use of the property for a school.

Back to the drawing board. After conducting studies of three potential sites last November, the Hart district board reviewed two for final consideration: the Hasley/Sloan site that was identified as the first choice seven years prior, and a site in Romero Canyon that made the district's short list in 2007.

Both sites are endorsed by the Castaic Area Town Council, a benefit that was not previously accorded candidate sites.

Although both the latest finalists had been under deliberation for a number of years and the objects of extensive reports - geological studies, civil engineering analysis, traffic analysis, cost summaries and preliminary environmental assessments - the Hart district board found the evidence incomplete and directed staff to do additional research on both candidates.

The requested additional studies have been assigned to private contractors, and the Hart district board has reserved $500,000 to cover the costs, currently estimated at $400,000. Though some might accuse the board of "analysis paralysis" - the continual pursuit of more nearly perfect information that prevents one from making a timely decision - it is important to note it has also adopted the goal of accommodating the initial contingent of students in the new school by the fall of 2013.

Given that goal, the current study may be superfluous. On the surface, an examination of the data appears to indicate only the Romero Canyon site could possibly meet the 2013 goal. The reason is because the Hasley/Sloan site has limitations that could require considerable mitigation measures.

For example, the single-access road into the site crosses Hasley Creek and would require one or two bridges, which have not yet been addressed for permitting. Also, two access routes are required, and the residents along Sloan Canyon Road, the proposed secondary routing, have sent notice from their attorney that they will oppose the project, portending lengthy eminent-domain proceedings should this site be selected.
There are also flood-plain issues affecting the site. Such obstacles could take a prolonged period to address.
The issues identified for study on the Romero Canyon site - review of the grading plan, slope and site stabilization, and potential landslide issues, for example - appear more straightforward and easier to resolve because they involve engineering reviews and remedies, not negotiations with people's emotions.
We have been marking time on this issue for many years. For many reasons - perhaps fear of a repeat of previous rebukes, temerity rooted in lack of experience or expertise in development, lack of formal pubic support or bowing to political pressure - various boards over the years have been unable to connect an ending to a beginning on this issue.
For the sake of the community, it is time to stop studying and stand up to taking the test. The most recently requested study reports are due in June, after which the Hart district board will need some time to deliberate. Let's hope by July the board is up to making a decision, the right one - right here, right now.
Bill Kennedy lives in Valencia and is a principal in Wingspan Business Consulting, chairman of the SCV Economic Development Corp, and a planning commissioner. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of these organizations or of The Signal. He can be reached at wkennedy@wingspanbusiness.com.

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