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Castaic high school may help spur growth

Housing plans in Castaic have languished for years, but a new school could turn things around

Posted: January 4, 2011 7:49 p.m.
Updated: January 5, 2011 4:30 a.m.

Construction of a Castaic high school on developer Larry Rasmussen’s Romero Canyon property will directly affect properties around the location, providing infrastructure to the area currently remote from public services. The Ion Communities location just north or Rasmussen’s was also considered for a school location, while some residents are lob...

 

Editor’s note: First in a series that examines possible effects of the Castaic high school site selection and reaction from local landowners.

The Interstate 5 traveler heading south from the Tejon Pass into the Santa Clarita Valley will see acres of rolling hills to the right.

There’s little or no visible indication that developments are planned for all that Castaic acreage.

Projects that won approval 10 or more years ago remain little more than plans on paper.

The long-awaited construction of a high school there could change that.

“Every school built by the Hart district has brought with it a great community around the school,” said Gail Pinsker, spokeswoman for the William S. Hart Union High School District. “Wherever a Hart school is built, the property value around it goes up.”

That’s because public schools bring with them the infrastructure of developed roads and public water supplies, which the remote properties on the hillsides of Castaic lack.

That, in turn, pumps up the value of the surrounding property, making development pencil.

In short, it makes money for whoever owns the land around it.

So it may come as little surprise that some Castaic landowners are still lobbying for a high school on their sites even after the school board chose developer Larry Rasmussen’s Romero Canyon property last July. The board  is currently moving ahead on plans to build there.

Some developers say their sites still would be a better choice.

Rasmussen promised graded, shovel-ready property to sweeten the deal for the district, which has come under criticism for failing to locate a school site despite more than 10 years of searching.

Criticism of Romero Canyon
While many Castaic residents applauded the district for selecting Rasmussen’s site, allowing themselves a little hope that the community at last would enjoy the benefits of its own high school, some residents have raised objections.

The location is too remote, they say. It poses a hazard in the event of a fire, and access is too limited to make timely school evacuation feasible.

“The concern is over one way in and one way out,” Pinsker acknowledged. “That is correct, but there is an emergency road, a fire road with an emergency gate.”

County planners are in the process, she said, of approving plans to develop that road.

Other critics say the hilly landscape would be too costly to grade and could pose landslide danger.

“I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Rasmussen said. “There’s nothing special or difficult about the grading.”

Rasmussen is the man who bought a hillside of Saugus dirt and turned it into the successful 6.6-million-square-foot Centre ointe Business Park in the center of the city.

He told The Signal recently that he considers himself very fortunate to have the chosen school site.

“It’s been 11 years, and I know they’ve looked at nine different sites. I am very thankful,” he said.

Rasmussen owns 197 hilly acres at the end of Romero Canyon Road between Canyon Hill Road and Valley Creek Road.

He’s in negotiations with the Hart district to sell 114 of those acres for their high school.

Eight years ago, the plan was to build 77 homes there on large lots at the site.

That was the 1992 dream of developer Tony Mathis of SVI Properties Inc., who won county approval for his plan.

But Mathis cashed in on his vision for another attractive Castaic subdivision and sold the property to Rasmussen.

“It all amounts to dollars in and dollars out,” Mathis said, referring to the cost of transforming the property into any sort of development project.

“All land comes at a huge cost,” he said. “Grading, for instance, is just one of those costs.”

Rasmussen’s neighbors to the north and south have had plans to build on the same hilly terrain for years.

Neighbor to the north
Castaic Area Town Council member Jeff Preach was one of those neighbors.

Ten years ago, he had a vision to build 95 homes on about 160 acres of land that sits directly north of the Rasmussen site, across Valley Creek Road.

“They picked it,” Preach said about the district choosing the Rasmussen site. “And if they want to build a school up there, I don’t understand it.”

In January 2000, Preach’s planned housing development had a name, stamp-approved and still listed by the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning: the Ion Communities.

The Ion property was once on the Castaic high school short list.

In August 2007, then-Hart district Superintendent Jamie Castellanos met with Ion Communities Manager Paul Onufer.

Onufer told The Signal back then that the school board was very interested in looking at the Ion site as home for Castaic’s high school.

The only obstacle for the Ion site, Castellanos said at the time, was access.

Preach later sold the land to Thomas Ahn, of Los Angeles. It came under consideration as a school site again before Rasmussen’s adjacent property was chosen.

“We did put in a submittal for consideration,” Ahn said. “But they didn’t seem to be interested. I think our site is good.”

Preach said he didn’t make any money on the Ion property sale. Now he sets his sights on smaller projects.

He’s transforming 8.3 acres on Sloan Canyon Road at Parker Road, east of the Rasmussen and Ahn sites. The county planning department approved his project in August 2009.

With the help of his project engineer, Dean Paradise, Preach is subdividing the property into lots that will host four single-family homes.

“I’m cutting it into two-acre lots for my two sons,” Preach said.

Paradise joined Preach on the Castaic Area Town Council after the November election and has become an outspoken critic of the school district’s choice for a high school.

Critics’ choice: Lombardi
Town councils are advisory bodies. Established by county supervisors ina unincorporated areas, they monitor local issues and advise their supervisors, who have districts encompassing millions of constituents.

Newly minted Castaic Area Town Council member Paradise says the council should have been more active in helping the Hart district select a school site.

“The town council never spent the time looking at other properties,” he said. “I begged them to get a realtor and start looking.”

He, along with a group calling itself Citizens for Castaic, are lobbying for another site for the school: a 6-acre parcel east of the Rasmussen site owned by Eugene Lombardi, who is known in the Santa Clarita Valley as the owner of the Lombardi Ranch pumpkin patch on Bouquet Canyon Road.

Lombardi wants his 60-acre property, located across Sloan Canyon Road from Rasmussen’s land, to be the home of the town’s high school. Paradise is one of his biggest supporters.

 “Gene’s site is adjacent to the Rasmussen site ... and I feel it meets the criteria,” Paradise said.

The group Citizens for Castaic has established a website championing the Lombardi location for the school.

Found at castaichs.com, the website touts Lombardi’s property as the best choice in terms of potential growth, development costs, grading expenses and “development options.”

Thursday’s Signal will look at yet another Castaic property that could be affected by the construction of Castaic high school.

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