Leon Worden

Behind-the-scenes Central Park rumblings

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, September 9, 1998

he city's Central Park in Saugus has been the subject of a lot of behind-the-scenes talk lately. Although it looks like the first phase will go ahead as planned, future phases of the park may be in jeopardy. Not from lack of funding, not from any doings of the Castaic Lake Water Agency, but from some strange goings-on at City Hall.

Before I get into this, understand that some city officials haven't exactly been forthcoming on this issue. I know I don't have all the facts — and nobody else seems to have all the facts, either. For a long time there have been rumors that top city officials might actually have different plans for what is supposed to be the park. The rumors have reached a fever pitch and can no longer be ignored.

Just under two years ago, the city of Santa Clarita and the CLWA penned an agreement whereby the city would lease the 130-acre parcel below the Rio Vista water treatment facility for $100 a year for 15 years. The CLWA site was coveted because of its central location and its large, flat configuration. The area would become a huge park with soccer fields, tennis courts, baseball diamonds and eventually an Olympic-sized pool and amphitheater, among other things.

The agreement came at a time when relations between the water agency and the city — never very good — were particularly strained. The two parties were nearing the end of a protracted battle over the city's redevelopment plans, and a war of words was being waged in the press. Perhaps CLWA agreed to hand $10 million worth of land over to the city for a park at virtually no cost because it made good PR; it really doesn't matter. While negotiations were under way, the city told another paper that the CLWA was balking. It wasn't true.

Meanwhile, soccer moms were rallying support for 1996's Proposition A, with promises that $2 million from the county bond measure would go to develop the park. The measure passed and the money has been secured, and the city has already spent what one high-ranking city source described Monday as "an enormous amount of money" on phase-one park plans.

Now turn the page to 1998.

The future Santa Clarita Parkway is intended to be a second way for Bouquet Canyon residents to get south. The road is supposed to somehow cross Soledad Canyon, perhaps by way of a bridge into Porta Bella, then join the future Magic-Princessa connection and continue to Sierra Highway.

Maps of the park plan show the road passing by or through the western edge of the Central Park, leaving enough room for the soccer fields and other park amenities. The speculation is that city staffers have planned all along to condemn the CLWA property and run the road through the middle of it.

That rumor was reinforced this week when the recommendations of the consultant to the previously unheard-of "Center City Specific Plan Committee" came to light. The consultant's plans show two possible alignments of Santa Clarita Parkway, including one that would run through Phase One of the Central Park. (Sources say Phase One will go ahead regardless).

The Center City Specific Plan Committee is an ad-hoc body funded jointly by the city, CLWA and The Newhall Land and Farming Co. to develop a comprehensive plan for the area that includes Newhall Land's riverbed property to the east of the current terminus of Newhall Ranch Road and neighboring areas, including the Central Park site. Committee members are Rick Putnam and Tony Nisich of the city of Santa Clarita, Robert Sagehorn and Lynn Takaichi of CLWA, Barbara Wampole of the Friends of the Santa Clara River, Paula Berriz of the Santa Clarita Youth Sports Association, and Randy Wheeler and Greg Madeiras of the Valencia Co. (Newhall Land).

Tuesday afternoon (too late for this column), city and CLWA officials were scheduled to tour the area to explore possibilities for development of roads, parks and housing. Sources at the city and CLWA say privately that the new plans might allow Newhall Land to build homes on a portion of the current Central Park site in exchange for allowing the city to build a park on Newhall Land's sandy, wind-swept and flood-prone river property. This doesn't appear to be what CLWA wants, and some committee members are said to feel they've been misled.

CLWA is expected to reaffirm its commitment to the Central Park as currently proposed. That would place the burden on the City Council to condemn the CLWA property for a road and pay current market value for it (instead of getting it virtually free for a park), if that's what the city really wants to do.

For the record, the City Council has approved the current Central Park plans. But something is wrong. Tell me it's just me. Please.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.

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