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City hiring freeze continues, greenbelt purchase on hold

Posted: January 15, 2009 10:11 p.m.
Updated: January 16, 2009 4:30 a.m.

The economy is in shambles and California is in a state of emergency, facing a $42 billion deficit.

But Santa Clarita officials are singing the praises of a frugal City Council.

"It takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline to live below your means, but we do that so we're prepared for times like these," city treasurer Darren Hernandez said Thursday.

Hernandez and Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin lauded a fiscally conservative approach to budgeting the city has taken.

The times are not without effects, though.

Last fall, the city enacted a hiring freeze for full-time positions, leaving 15 jobs at City Hall open, City Spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said.

The freeze could potentially last for 18 months, Striplin said.

City officials felt the effects of the budget most acutely when they learned Tuesday the $750,000 in state grant funds for expanding the greenbelt were placed on hold indefinitely.

City officials have been eyeing four parcels of land totaling 263 acres near the intersection of Highway 14 and Agua Dulce Canyon Road for the site.

The money was directed to the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy for the purchase of the property, which is presently held by the Riverside Land Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust.

Though the state funds are on hold, Gould said city officials are already "digging in" to research other possibilities for acquiring the land.

Gould said the city started looking into the four parcels last fall and added they are contiguous to existing city-owned property. That includes a former mining site in Soledad Canyon that has been the subject of a years-long struggle to keep Cemex Inc. from setting up a new mining operation.

There is no development on the parcels, and Gould said while there has not been much discussion regarding use, if acquired by the city the land "has lots of potential for recreational use (and wildlife corridor protection)."

Three of the parcels are on the east side of Highway 14, and one parcel is located about a half-mile west of the freeway.

None of the city's capital improvement projects have been impacted so far, Ortiz said, adding that the completion of the city's new skate park, streetscaping in downtown Newhall and design of a new Newhall library are all on track.

Additionally, the ongoing Interstate 5-Magic Mountain Parkway interchange project has not been affected, Ortiz said.

The city is the lead agency on the project - though no city funds are being spent on it - which involves Caltrans, Los Angeles County, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Newhall Land and Farming Co. Funding for the project is in place and has not been a victim of state-budget woes, Ortiz said.


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