After several delays and more than a few obstacles the Whittaker-Bermite cleanup effort is well under way.
Completion of the cleanup is expected by late 2018. Once the cleanup is complete there is a harder question to answer: What should be done with the site?
The site is currently owned by a bankrupt company called Santa Clarita LLC. Several developers have shown interest in acquiring the land, but there is no current plan to develop the site once perchlorate and other pollutants are removed from it.
The central location south of the Metrolink station on Soledad Canyon Road near the junction with Bouquet Canyon Road makes it prime real estate in a city that is rapidly running out of room to develop.
And developing the location is not without its problems. There are concerns about adequate supplies of unpolluted water, as well as strain on infrastructure needed to support any development in that area.
Given this, the city might be better off to maintain this site as open space.
To be clear, the site can only be developed after the state Department of Toxic Substances Control certifies the job as finished. Even after that occurs, there are still some areas of the site that are polluted beyond the ability of CDM Smith, the company tasked with the cleanup, to decontaminate. Those areas will be deed-restricted and deemed unsuitable for residences.
Assuming the cleanup goes as planned and the certified areas of the site are developed, the strain on existing transportation resources will be hard to mitigate.
Increases in traffic on surface streets in the Santa Clarita Valley have skyrocketed residents’ complaints in recent years. New development in the area will only exacerbate this problem.
Transportation expansion is the one exception that should be made when it comes to developing this site. Building out Via Princessa, Newhall Ranch Road and Magic Mountain Parkway are desperately needed improvements to connect the various parts of Santa Clarita.
Responding to a 2003 survey taken by the Department of Toxic Substances Control, one respondent wrote: “This valley desperately needs an alternative route between the 5 and 14 (freeways), and it is frustrating to know that we are so close, yet so far away from a solution.”
Some also have concerns that local water supplies will not be sufficient to support further development. The Saugus aquifer, one of two aquifers that serve the Santa Clarita Valley, has been contaminated with perchlorate and other chemicals.
This has caused five of the wells that draw water from it to be shut down until water filtration systems can be added.
The continued strain on the water supply in the aquifer due to the ongoing drought has forced the shutdown of additional wells and caused the contaminated plume to be pulled west. This will create additional cleanup costs that will most likely get passed on to residents.
“There is not enough water for all this new development, so we will continue to be required to make substantial cutbacks to accommodate the new development,” Newhall Water District Board Direct Lynne Plambeck said.
“When we have another huge drought like the last six years, it will be even more difficult to have enough water.”
Despite recent rains, California is still in a drought. This calls into question whether or not our local water supply can adequately serve the needs of additional developments.
Given the ongoing concerns about the strain on local resources and additional traffic congestion, developing the area has the potential to become more trouble than it’s worth.
The city has a golden opportunity to provide citizens with an area of open space that can be used for recreation in the heart of the city while still connecting the existing road network.
This addresses local concerns about resources and traffic while offering Santa Clarita residents a wonderful amenity.