As early as 1920 there were attempts to incorporate some of the communities of the Santa Clara River Valley. Four years later a chamber of commerce was formed in Newhall, with one of its goals being city formation.
The "home rule" movement gained strength with the effort to create Canyon County in the 1970s, but its repeated defeat took its toll on the volunteers who had worked so hard for the cause. Things were quiet on the political front for most of the next decade as the valley's community leaders met, watched and waited for the right time to strike again.
That time came in 1985. A robust economy had led to unprecedented growth in residential construction, and while some development was master-planned, housing tracts and strip malls in other parts of the valley were being approved by the county with little regard for their impact on roads, schools or existing residents.
Louis Garasi, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, chaired the city formation committee, with Connie Worden, a veteran of the Canyon County effort, as vice chair. With strong support from the Santa Clarita Valley and Canyon Country chambers of commerce, the committee held lively, well-attended public meetings that revealed a growing interest in home rule and mounting dissatisfaction with inadequate roads. Many also expressed the desire to preserve the valley's precious heritage, historic sites and oak trees, and to have a say in the planning and development of the area.
A petition campaign and the filing of the official cityhood application with the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) got the ball rolling. The city formation committee requested a ninety square-mile area for the proposed City of Santa Clarita and watched in anguish as LAFCO pared it down to just over thirty-nine square miles, carving out most of the areas where development was pending. Nonetheless, even with the smaller configuration, a preliminary feasibility study revealed that the new city would see an initial budget surplus of three million dollars per year — local tax dollars that would otherwise go to other parts of the county. The two-and-a-half-year odyssey had begun.
Joining the city formation committee soon after it was organized were Jo Anne Darcy, Carl Boyer, Jan Heidt and Jill Klajic. Each accepted assignments and showed residents the value in becoming a city.
Two years and a thousand volunteer hours later, Carl Boyer was elected to chair the city formation committee. When Boyer decided to become a City Council candidate he was replaced as chairman by Art Donnelly, a local insurance agent, while Connie Worden continued as vice chair.
Petition gathering began with the expectation of going house-to-house for registered voters' signatures only, but it was soon clear that shopping center "blitzes" were most effective. Six months of shopping center conversations resulted in a sufficient number of signatures to guarantee a full cityhood study by LAFCO and an opportunity to vote on the issue.
The city boundaries approved by LAFCO included most of the populated areas of Newhall, Saugus, Canyon Country and Valencia. Left out were Castaic, Agua Dulce, everything west of Interstate 5, and most of the land south of State Route 14 except for Sand Canyon, whose inclusion was championed by three cityhood leaders who lived there — Lou Garasi, Jan Heidt and Howard P. "Buck" McKeon.
Even though the approved boundaries were smaller than the city formation committee had desired, they still made Santa Clarita the largest city ever to incorporate. Many cities surpass Santa Clarita in size, but none started out with a population well in excess of one hundred thousand on the day it was formed.
On Tuesday, November 3, 1987, 67.15 percent of the voters approved cityhood (Proposition U). In a record turnout, they also decided to elect their council members at-large.
Five candidates from a field of twenty-six were elected to the first City Council. In order of the number of votes received, they were: Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, Jan Heidt, Jo Anne Darcy, Carl Boyer and Dennis Koontz. McKeon, with 7,219 votes, became the first mayor; Heidt, with 6,091, became mayor pro tempore.
The cold and blustery night of December 15, 1987 did not dampen the warmth and enthusiasm for cityhood as two thousand citizens lustily cheered the winners at their first meeting in the gymnasium at College of the Canyons. Almost immediately, the City Council stopped the cutting of heritage oak trees.
Cityhood played to standing-room-only crowds at the Arroyo Seco Junior High School multi-purpose room and the Hart High School auditorium, where the earliest council meetings were held. The city conducted its business from a tiny storefront office on Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country, with Carmen Sarro as the first permanent employee reporting to interim city manager Fred Bien. Within a year the city moved to its present quarters at 23920 Valencia Boulevard and welcomed George Caravalho as its first full-time city manager.
Chapter adapted from material originally developed by Jerry Reynolds and the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce.
1. For a brief time, the city initially used the cityhood campaign office in the Saugus Schoolhouse Emporium (the shopping center that had been the old Saugus elementary school).
Carmen Sarro is remembered as the city's first employee, but who was first to be hired? Fred Bien, the interim city manager who set up the city, started work
the day after the cityhood vote. Jill Klajic, who'd been paid staff to the cityhood campaign, continued to get paid to perform clerical functions until
a couple of weeks after the city's incorporation on Dec. 15, 1987. It can be fairly said that Sarro was the first newly hired employee after election day, and that she
was the city's first "permanent" employee.
3. Pronounced Bee-Enn.
©1998 SANTA CLARITA VALLEY HISTORICAL SOCIETY RIGHTS RESERVED.