‘As the Santa Clarita Valley looks toward the new year with hope and optimism after what, for many, was a most challenging 2020 — and for others, one of the most difficult years in recent history, perhaps ever — as a community, the difficulties also brought everyone together in a number of ways.
An unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent health crisis wrought havoc and created record-high unemployment — but it also showed what Santa Clarita was capable of doing when the community pulled together.
People and their businesses united and created partnerships that had never before been necessary, or even thought of, yet people made them work.
The city created ways to get as many people safely back to work as possible and, while an inevitable hit was taken as the state and county public health departments figured out preventative shutdowns and proper health protocols, the local employment numbers bounced back faster than many predicted because of the concerted efforts of many.
In The Signal and the SCV Business Journal, these stories were presented as great examples of what organizations like the SCV Chamber of Commerce or the SCV Economic Development Corp., for example, are capable of when people work together with a common goal. So with this look back on 2020, we salute those efforts and also look forward with hope and promise for what 2021 will bring.
The year began with the population blissfully unaware of the health crisis to come and the pandemic that would leave us all in quarantine, with no greater evidence of this than coverage starting with a large legislative focus on Assembly Bill 5.
The discussion of who’s an employee vs. an independent contractor is an issue that played a huge role in legislative agendas, which is saying something in a year that prompted a major shift to everyone’s agenda in March.
For 2020, the latest chapter in the discussion thus far was the passage of Proposition 22, which, as passed, classifies app-based drivers, such as those who work for Uber or DoorDash, as independent contractors, and calls for labor and wage practices specific to app-based drivers and companies. Voters passed this measure with 58.63% of the vote, with the second part essentially guaranteeing the discussion will be part of the legislative agenda for the business community in 2021, as well.
The second month of the year offered the last full month of normalcy for the world, as the Santa Clarita Valley was consumed with the promise and discussion of a luxury movie theater and a Costco location where there once sat a Sears.
The plans were very briefly contested by an attorney from out of the area who claimed to represent concerns about the project. The objections to the plans eventually went away on their own. And, due to the uncertainty around the marketplace that COVID-19 created, the plans ultimately were adjusted on their own, regardless.
Santa Clarita City Council members reviewed the modifications, which ultimately shrunk the project’s overall size from 101,000 square feet to 35,000 square feet, and changed its architecture.
The development will cut out the 34,000-square-foot gym, the 32,000-square-foot cinema and the Costco rooftop parking deck, as well as reduce the amount of retail space being added. New retail space and the expansion of the existing Canyon Santa Clarita music venue will take place, officials said.
February also saw the sale of the 232-unit Monterra Ridge Apartments in Canyon Country recorded. The 22-acre property, located at 28085 Whites Canyon Road, features 16 buildings, was sold by Los Angeles-based investment and asset manager Gelt Inc. for $62.5 million.
In March, change came fast and sudden to the Santa Clarita Valley, California and the world. As the city of Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County and the state of California began to shut things down as a caution due to the pandemic, the SCV, like the rest of the world, jumped on Zoom en masse.
A state of emergency was declared in the first week of March, a month that also began with the announcement that Cemex is appealing the federal court decision that put the international Mexican mining conglomerate on the hook for $25 million.
The mining company received a partial win in a decision levied in January by the Interior Bureau of Land Appeals in response to the mega-mine’s request that the appeals board overturn about $25 million in fees the company was previously assessed.
The court battle is over two disputed contracts that Cemex claims are valid, which would allow the company to mine in Soledad Canyon. The city has fought this effort for more than two decades, but the mining company continues to try and exhaust every legal avenue for compensation, due to the potential value in the contracts. A recent estimate on the average price of aggregate put the value at approximately $9.25 per ton, according to Statista.com, meaning the contract’s potential value could be in the half-billion-dollar range. The value of aggregate varies depending on the type of aggregate, as well as the supply and demand.
For the city of Santa Clarita, which has been fighting to halt the mega-mine, it’s currently a waiting game until a decision is reached. The battle is going to extend into 2021.
As April got underway, Santa Clarita officials began to work outside the box to create plans in place to support businesses during the pandemic, as city projections started to anticipate a revenue drop resulting from so many mandated closures.
These efforts would later result in unique outdoor permitting solutions and temporary authorizations to allow for businesses to re-allocate their space in an effort to create more social distancing. The city also followed the county and state in creating a ban on evictions.
Another amazing thing happened: The SCV community created countless ways to support each other, particularly in the business and educational communities. A group of Valencia High juniors created a platform called SupplyNeighbor for people to help each other. The Vondrasek brothers temporarily turned their Azeo Distillery into a facility for making hand sanitizer. Local business owner AJ Apone and his father Allan used their 3D printers to create hospital-grade masks from scratch. Many more donated food and supplies to help health care workers and first responders.
In May, The Signal began to cover the rollercoaster ride of a journey taken by the facility formerly known as Valencia Ice Station.
As the pandemic closed down thousands of businesses, places where people could gather publicly, such as movie theaters, and places where people work out, i.e. gyms, were especially hard hit. This made the Ice Station, which combined the two, particularly vulnerable, in addition to the fact that most sports were paused, as well.
The month began with reports of an urgent plea to the community, expressing that the rink would go the way of the buffalo if there was no intervention. City of Santa Clarita officials ultimately once again stepped in, creating a plan to purchase and revitalize the facility, with help from a $14 million bond.
The new facility is expected to add a number of amenities for Santa Clarita, giving the city a convention center-type space, with more conference rooms and venues at its disposal. The acquisition was ultimately approved in August, with plans and work on the renovation currently taking place.
By the end of May, hope was on the horizon for summer, as the state began a reopening for the first time, with county variances on the shut-down order being granted to businesses involved in feeding and grooming.
Bars and wineries were hit hard in June due to a public health order calling for their closures, while filming and television were slowly developing guidelines for a return by state officials, which made a huge difference for Santa Clarita.
Every year, being a part of Hollywood’s Thirty-Mile Zone helps Santa Clarita promote and attract the filming industry, which has long been a part of the SCV community, Estimates by city officials put the impact at in excess of $30 million annually.
In fact, the previous month, Santa Clarita’s unemployment rate surpassed 20%, a historic high that echoed the rest of Los Angeles County and the rest of the state for May. By August, the reopenings, coupled with the city’s efforts, helped bring that figure in Santa Clarita back down to 15% — still considerably higher than its historical average. By December, despite an ever-changing series of protocols to follow, Santa Clarita’s rate was down to 9% — still more than double the rate for the same time the previous year in Santa Clarita, when it was 3.8%.
The state and county public health departments continued to send mixed messages on recovery as the orders, and information available about COVID-19, continued to evolve. The state OK’ed the reopening of nail salons this month, but the county did not — so Santa Clarita’s remained closed.
Early in July, The Signal reported on how SCV restaurants were in “survival mode,” due to the public health orders banning dine-in service.
The city launched several efforts to encourage local shopping among residents, including its Eat Local program.
A local businessman also was personally thanked by President Donald Trump for giving the White House a statue commemorating the 75th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima.
Dennis Nobile, owner of Sun Air Parts, a vintage airplane engine parts supplier based out of Valencia, had the statue commissioned in 2013 and asked the artist to depict the famous photo “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” — the Pulitzer Prize-winning image that depicts six Marines raising the American flag following one of the bloodiest battles in World War II.
Nobile, in fact, had five statues commissioned, two that he would keep for himself, two that he would give away, and one that would be given to the White House.
The county also began to crack down on businesses operating in violation of its health orders, while the federal government continued to offer relief from the first CARES Act, a $660 billion relief effort that was also recently a hotbed discussion in Congress again this month.
State Sen. Scott Wilk began calls, taking the state’s employment office to task for its backlog of more than 1 million cases that had not yet been reviewed.
Proposition 15 was a hot-button issue in an election year, with county Supervisor Kathryn Barger the lone opposition to a county measure that looked at supporting the measure. Prop 15 was one of several proposed efforts to try and change Prop. 13, which specifically targeted commercial and industrial property. Ultimately, the voters sided with Barger, defeating the measure, 51.97%-48.03%.
Santa Clarita Valley also appeared to largely avoid some of the COVID-19-related impacts that were predicted for the real estate market with the uncertainty that the pandemic created. Both commercial and residential Realtors noted that as the SCV remains a very desirable place to live, a relatively low supply on the market kept housing demand and values high, with agents receiving multiple offers on a properties almost as soon as they list, and extremely motivated buyers.
In one week in August, for example, the largest warehouse to sell in two decades sold in Valencia for $28.4 million, a buyer secured $20 million in financing to purchase Bouquet Canyon Plaza and a piece of heavily trafficked retail at 18717 Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country sold for $1.5 million.
September continued to present challenges and opportunities for the Santa Clarita Valley, as it sought to stay healthy while the pandemic hit the half-year mark.
The SCV Business Journal shined a spotlight on UltraViolet Devices Inc., which is a global leader in UV-C, which uses disinfecting robots sent to hospitals across the nation and worldwide, including right here to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, to fight the spread of coronavirus and other infectious diseases.
The technology came from a study that found that UVDI’s robot was not only able to kill 99.99% of pathogens, and also reduce a hospital’s infection rate.
Breweries and wineries also gained the ability to reopen, albeit in a limited capacity, but still a facet that helped save a number of local businesses that were in danger of shutting down.
The state also unveiled its tiered system in October, which once again changed the system of guidance for businesses, but in a way that’s expected to last a little bit longer than previous temporary orders. The announcement put Los Angeles County in the most restrictive tier, where it remains as of the end of December.
At the end of October, thousands were still unable to open their respective businesses, but in spite of that, the area’s jobless rate continued to improve and construction, which was unabated by the health orders as part of the “essential” industries list, continued to thrive.
Renewed discussion surrounding the plans for a resort in Sand Canyon began to pick back up as the project’s driver, Steve Kim, sought an environmental review on his proposal for Sand Canyon Country Club. The plans would greatly expand the offerings and jobs for the sleepy bedroom community, however, many residents expressed concerns about the potential traffic and fire hazards the area could create. The project’s discussion is likely to carry well into next year as the environmental impact review is underway.
The county also announced the malls could open at 25% percent capacity, and the city approved a 375-unit housing development for Bouquet Canyon.
In less promising news for one of the SCV’s largest employers, Newsom announced that “There’s no hurry” on theme parks, as Six Flags Magic Mountain and its hundreds of workers await their return to the workforce. By the end of the month, it was revealed they’d be able to open when the county reaches the least restrictive tier with respect to its COVID-19 infection rate and hospitalizations, meaning theme parks were unlikely to open any time soon.
As November began, one of the newest locations in the fight against COVID-19, a state-of-the-art lab in Valencia, was up and running, with Gov. Gavin Newsom stopping by at the end of October to take a tour.
The city of Santa Clarita also received a proposal from the owner of Blackhall Studios, who submitted a proposal for a massive studio facility in the Santa Clarita Valley. Developers were looking for a “one-stop review” of the property considered the gateway to Placerita Canyon, a vacant 93-acre lot near Railroad Avenue in Newhall, which they’d like to turn into a major motion picture studio.
In other development news, California Department of Toxic Substances Control officials are developing draft agreements that break down what can and cannot be done in areas that will be restricted in the nearly 1,000 acres on the former Whittaker-Bermite site following the cleanup.
The governor also announced he was pulling the “emergency brake” on reopening, as the state began to see a second surge of COVID-19 diagnoses, which prompted the state to adjust its metric to include intensive care unit availability as a condition of reopening. Capacity needs to hit 15% available beds and, as of Dec. 24, the number of the Southern California region, which includes the SCV, was 0%. A new statewide stay-at-home order followed suit.
Early on in December, another of the SCV’s most significant employers, Princess Cruises, announced it was suspending operations while it awaited federal guidance on how cruise lines can operate safely. The cruise operations impacted include all cruises sailing through March 31, 2021, and all cruises longer than seven days sailing in and out of U.S. ports through Nov. 1, 2021.
A legal battle fought by restaurant owners made real progress, which ultimately was once again stymied by a rising COVI-19 infection rate and decreasing available health care resources. The court ruled L.A. County did not have adequate proof that outdoor dining impacted the infection rate, so the outdoor dining ban was illegal. The victory was short-lived though, as restaurants were still banned from outdoor dining due to the statewide health order, which superseded the county’s order.
The county also approved a tract plan for a housing development near Castaic High School, which would add 140 homes. Also in development and health care news, Henry Mayo announced a proposal looking to add a new tower, a testing and diagnostics facility and additional parking for the hospital.