Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Tesoro: Good faith and the treasure of the valley

Signal Editorial

Sunday, May 4, 2003

promise is a promise.
    Isn't it?
    Unfortunately, it appears as if that's not the case when it comes to the agreement between the developer of the new Tesoro del Valle community and the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.
    The developer, Montalvo Properties, terminated an agreement this week that was intended to allow the historical society to oversee a historical site on the development property: the home once owned by western film star Harry Carey.
    The deal had been 10 years in the making.
    The agreement between the developer and the historical society was one of the aspects of the development that made it more appealing to the community and, one must assume, to the county officials who approved the upscale residential project.
    The historic site, located in the Tesoro development near Copper Hill and San Francisquito Canyon roads, was Carey's home from 1916 to 1945. In 1953, the property was purchased by the Clougherty family, owners of the Farmer John line of meat products. In the 1990s the Cloughertys partnered with Montalvo Properties to develop the site.
    Montalvo signed a memorandum of understanding with the historical society in 1999. Under that agreement, the historical society would operate the historic site as a museum, with funding coming from the developer and future homeowners.
    There are complicated issues regarding the MOU, and the potential outcomes. For various reasons, it's easy to envision the property being turned over to different entities, with different funding mechanisms employed for reasons that include political expedience.
    But the core question is, what was the spirit of the deal between the builder and the historical society, and what is the developer's obligation — if not legally, then morally?
    "The historical society ought to be involved with a project such as this," said Tony Bell, a spokesman for county Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley. "And the supervisor knows they play an important role in the community."
    Bell is right. Hopefully, the developer will see the light and agree.
    The developer and the historical society disagree on whether the two sides have adequately identified funding sources for maintenance of the historical property, and each side accuses the other of being non-responsive.
    And here is where we make a disclosure and take a side: The Signal's city editor, Leon Worden, is also the president of the historical society. As a result, we have excluded him from the writing of this editorial, treating him as a news source rather than a staff member. We adopt this editorial position on its merits — and our city editor's position is right on the money.
    "We have met with the developer every time he has asked us to consider changing the terms of the deal we struck in writing in 1999," Worden said, speaking in his capacity as historical society president. "Although we've refused to put the historical society at risk, we have been open to negotiation and even agreed to consider an alternate funding mechanism. In fact, we're still waiting for (the developer) to answer our specific written questions about that funding mechanism. The ball's in his court."
    Added Worden: "We have invested 10 years of time and many of our attorney's billable hours in this process, the goal of which is to preserve the historic Harry Carey Ranch buildings and operate them as a museum where schoolchildren will be able to learn about the heritage of our valley, from native American lifeways to the beginnings of American cinema to the St. Francis Dam disaster to the family histories of the ranch owners and into modern times."
    It would be a valuable community resource indeed.
    Even if the developer was within its legal rights to terminate the agreement, there's something that doesn't feel right about a builder agreeing to one set of circumstances — apparently in order to clear the way for construction — then trying to change the rules after the model homes are open.
    A meeting is scheduled Tuesday in which it is hoped the developer, county officials and the historical society will come to an agreement that creates a win-win-win situation. Hopefully, that proves to be the case — but it's difficult not to be wary.
    Especially if we're asked to place much stock in the phrase, "good faith."

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