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Community begins look at Castaic high school's impact

Public has opportunity to read a draft document of a Castaic high school’s environmental impact

Posted: July 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

The draft environmental impact report for a Castaic high school released last week is a product of nearly two years of research and $449,718.50 spent from Measure SA funds, Hart district officials say.

The proposal for a school and grounds is projected to educate up to 2,600 Castaic-area youth a year for the next 80 years.

“I’m doing backflips that this document is done,” said Castaic Area Town Council member Flo Lawrence, who cited a long-awaited high school as the reason he became involved in local politics.

“Now, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work on this,” Lawrence said.

It’s been more than 10 years since the search for a high school site in Castaic began. Voters have approved two bond measures — most recently the $300 million Measure SA passed in 2008 — that earmarked money for the school’s construction.

Students from the Castaic area have been shuttled to West Ranch or Valencia high school as the school proposal was delayed.

For the moment, William S. Hart Union High School District officials are not commenting on the 545-page draft environmental impact report.

It’s after the public’s comments have been incorporated into the report that it becomes a final EIR.

Traffic safety — the issue that’s lingered longest in site debates — remains a predominant concern of the citizens’ group that has scrutinized the 23,000-student high school district’s activity in the area for years.

Crosstown traffic

“I would say traffic is the overwhelming concern due to the safety and convenience issues,” said Richard Landy, president of Citizens for Castaic. His group was formed two years ago in response to concerns over sites being considered for the school.

While the 198-acre proposed site is viable, The Planning Center, which was contracted by the Hart district to prepare the draft EIR, doesn’t properly address commuter needs in the draft report, Landy said.

Tom Cole, chief operating officer for the Hart district, said numerous traffic studies went into the report.

But part of the next step in the process is a round of approvals from the state’s “clearing house,” a group of state agencies including Caltrans, which will have to sign off on the report’s findings.

District officials will also be soliciting feedback from the community during the now-underway 45-day comment period that ends Sept. 6.

All of these factors could change the final EIR before it’s presented to the board for ratification, Cole said.

The routes

Initial plans call for one primary access route to the campus until the school’s enrollment reaches more than 1,600. It’s noted in the EIR that a single access route is an area of controversy.

There are two alternate proposals for the initial route — both branching off Sloan Canyon Road, which is what Lake Hughes Road becomes west of Interstate 5.

The plan calls for construction and paving of what would be a Harp Canyon Road or a Canyon Hill Road — depending on which option is selected — that would connect the currently unpaved Sloan Canyon Road, meeting up with Valley Creek Road at the school’s access point.

The second scenario, which kicks in with the 1,601st student enrolled, would include construction of a paved route heading north from Hillcrest Parkway, a paved route that now runs parallel to Sloan Canyon a mile south of the site’s southern border.

Current projections have enrollment for a new Castaic high school at 1,316 in 2018, when its first class would be graduating, according to the document.

That means, according to EIR projections and the student requirement, it could be near the end of the decade before a southern route is required due to enrollment.

If new development in the area supports road construction, the school would be required to extend existing roadways to the site, according to the report.

“It would be Measure SA funds up front,” Cole said, explaining road-construction costs. “But there would most likely be reimbursement agreements between the county and nearby landowners. And I think the county would help us administer that, as well.”

Other effects

Besides traffic and education needs, Castaic residents want to preserve a rural lifestyle in their area, Lawrence said. He says the EIR does a good job keeping those concerns in mind.

However, significant changes need to be made to the habitat that is visited by mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, dogs and horses, according to the EIR.

There are 30 coast live oak trees that qualify for protection on the proposed school site that would need to be removed, according to the project’s current plan. Twenty-four of the drought-resistant trees were removed with permits in 2010.

The proposed roadway construction calls for removing another 140 oak trees on 3.98 acres that also qualify for protection under the county’s oak tree ordinance.

Several other sensitive or endangered species also frequent the area, including the western spadefoot toad and the California condor. However, the EIR concludes the school would have no significant impact on these animals.

So far, so good

With only a few days passed since the 545-page document was released last week, Cole said he’s not surprised there haven’t been any comments so far.

It will likely take residents, commercial and government interests some time to formalize a response to the plans. But he does expect to hear from them, and district officials will be listening, he says.

“Actually, it’s been pretty quiet, but I anticipate comments in the near future,” Cole said.

 It’s a very large document, and it will take people time to prepare comments and concerns,” Cole said. “Based on those comments, we may refine or change certain aspects of our EIR prior to going to the board.”

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