Leon Worden

A Porta Potty primer for newbies

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, September 30, 1998

t hasn't been in the news much in the last three years, and there are probably a lot of newcomers who don't know why old-timers give a nervous wink or chuckle whenever you mention Porta Bella. Dan Hon is dead, so gone are the frequent and witty reminders in these editorial pages that Porta Potty, as he called it, is one big ol' stinky mess.

It reared its ugly head again this month when the city Planning Commission opened hearings on the proposed Magic-Princessa roadway. A lot of what applies to Porta Bella also applies to Magic-Princessa, because the road runs through the property.

To understand Porta Bella (the 996-acre black area in the middle of the city that burned a couple of weeks ago), Magic-Princessa, and other things city planners have in mind for the area — like a new, multi-million-dollar civic center — you have to understand that the conversation is taking place in two parallel universes. In one universe is the city, which in 1995 approved the plans for Porta Bella like it would with any other project. The plan calls for 2,911 new homes over 20 years, eventually plopping 10,000 new residents onto the most congested intersection in town. It's the biggest new construction project ever approved by the City Council.

It would include a shopping district of outdoor cafes, boutiques, theaters and some City Walk-type escalators to get shoppers up a hill. It would also accommodate the nearby construction of the city's proposed $20 million "Taj Mahal" (another Dan Hon-ism, although former councilman Carl Boyer coined the phrase), along with a $42 million taxpayer-funded cultural arts center and other government buildings on a $7 million piece of city-owned land.

Nobody is sure which way SCOPE was looking when the city agreed to let the developer pave over more ridgelines and fill in more ecologically significant stream beds than ever. Planners in 1992 said the project would have to conform with the city's ridgeline ordinance but later changed their minds, saying the developer submitted the plans a month before the ordinance took effect.

Now then, everything I just said depends on what goes on in the other universe, because Porta Bella isn't just "any other project."

The other universe is the domain of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, a division of the California Environmental Protection Agency. In 1992, DTSC executed a search warrant on the Porta Bella property because paperwork filed by the land owner, Whittaker Corp., didn't disclose all the areas of toxic pollution. For most of this century, from shortly after World War I to 1987, the Bermite Powder Co. manufactured explosives on the Porta Bella property. By 1994, DTSC had identified 77 new sites of toxic pollution including lead azide, red phosphorus, barium, zinc, copper, chrome and chlorinated solvents such as tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene — all toxic and/or carcinogens.

Now the agency is said to be dealing with pollution from perchlorates, a rocket fuel derivative which has contaminated Santa Clarita Water Co. and Newhall County Water District wells (they've been capped). There is no state-approved way to clean perchlorates. DTSC's investigation is ongoing. Cleanup was initially targeted for January 2001, but as stated in the Magic-Princessa environmental impact report, "more recent information indicates that this schedule may not be met."

DTSC has regulatory authority over Porta Bella and the Magic-Princessa extension. In 1996, the City Council voted not to allow any development to occur until DTSC OKs the entire site, rather than to allow phasing. It was the right decision, because the proliferation of perchlorates and other chemicals might make it a candidate for the EPA Superfund.

As with Porta Bella, the city is now pushing Magic-Princessa through the approval process even though the road might not be built for five or 10 or 20 years. In a backward sort of way, the road EIR says, "As long as DTSC deems the roadway project clear of contamination, this EIR will continue to be valid." Of course, DTSC hasn't deemed the roadway clear.

To its credit, the Planning Commission invited DTSC to comment on the Magic-Princessa EIR. DTSC project manager Tom Cota said Monday that he had received the report. We can expect to hear a lot more about Porta Bella when the next DTSC update comes out, which will be soon.

Hope this clears things up. If you're still confused, join the crowd.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.


Press Release: Whittaker Corp. and Northholme Partners to Take Active Role in Santa Clarita

(Feb. 29, 1996) - Whittaker Corporation (NYSE:WKR) and Northholme Partners said today that together they intend to become politically active in the Santa Clarita Valley with the goal of doing what they can to insure the long term quality of life in the region.

Whittaker/Northholme's comments came after the Santa Clarita City Council gave final approval to the joint venture to begin work on its Porta Bella development. Whittaker owns nearly 1,000 acres of undeveloped land in Santa Clarita.

"The majority of the residents of Santa Clarita came to the Valley seeking space and the environment and political support to build homes and raise their families away from the challenges of large cities like Los Angeles," said Thomas Brancati, Whittaker Corporation's president and chief executive officer. "It is our pledge in building Porta Bella to preserve that environment in every respect for the future generations of the region."

Brancati said that the Whittaker/Northholme team would not only provide support to those candidates seeking political office in the region who are also concerned with the long term quality of life in Santa Clarita, but would also work with them in tackling the various issues involved in creating that quality of life. Brancati said that the team would immediately invite the numerous candidates now running in the April 9th City Council Election to discuss key issues and their positions on those issues.

"We have an open mind on which candidates and which issues we will support," said Salvatore (Sam) Veltri of Northholme Partners. "Our intent is to support those candidates who will maintain an independent and objective view on the various issues that confront the residents of Santa Clarita now and in the years to come. We feel that it is only fair to the residents of Santa Clarita that its political process remains open and unbiased."

Veltri said that Whittaker/Northholme intends to not only support the candidates of its choice but also seek to make these candidates and issues better known to the general public.

Whittaker/Northholme is a development team composed of Whittaker Corporation, the Simi Valley-based aerospace and communications company, and Northholme Partners, real estate developers based in Marina Del Rey. Further information on Whittaker Corporation may be obtained by contacting the company's Internet Home Page at URL address http://www.whittaker.com.

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