By Perry Smith
Signal Managing Editor
A bankruptcy filing from the owner of the Santa Clarita Valley’s well-known Whittaker-Bermite property — a nearly 1,000-acre piece of undeveloped land in the middle of the SCV recently cleared from a years-long cleanup effort approved by the Department of Toxic Substances Control — indicates the property has a tentative sale price and a buyer.
The Signal reported in March that the property’s owner, Santa Clarita LLC, which is wholly owned by Remediation Financial Inc., was working with Prologis, an international real estate company, to sell and entitle the property.
Filings in court earlier this year indicate that Santa Clarita LLC is planning to sell the land to Prologis for more than a quarter-billion dollars, citing a “letter of intent from Prologis dated Feb. 8, 2021, to purchase the debtor’s property for the total gross purchase price of $286,000,000, payable in cash, upon closing.”
Representatives for Santa Clarita LLC and Prologis did not respond to a request for comment on the property, which has an address listed as 22116 Soledad Canyon Road, as of this story’s publication. Blue Ox is the company that owns Santa Clarita LLC’s loan on the property. The financial holding company recently successfully sued Santa Clarita LLC in dispute of SCLLC’s claims that there was no amount owed to Blue Ox in SCLLC’s bankruptcy. An independent fiduciary trustee was recently appointed to the bankruptcy filing as a result, according to Greg Garman of Garman Turner Gordon LLP, which is one of the firms representing Blue Ox.
Any sale would need to be approved after the hearing that was initially slated to start Wednesday, but is now expected to be delayed to mid-October, per court filings.
“The (plan of reorganization) is supported by the (purchase-sale agreement), which has been amended to require that all due diligence be completed no later than Dec. 13, 2021, and that the transaction close no later than Jan. 10, 2022,” according to a Sept. 2 filing, which also notes the likelihood that the bankruptcy court will continue the case.
History of development
The story of Whittaker-Bermite’s potential development goes back more than 25 years, and the history associated with the property’s usage goes back decades further.
In 1995, Santa Clarita City Council members approved a development plan, dubbed the Porta Bella specific plan, that consisted of 1,200 single-family residential units and 1,600 multi-family homes, 96 acres for commercial and business use, as well as 400 acres of open space. The agreement was to also build millions of dollars of public infrastructure and have the site remediated before development, according to the city’s Whittaker-Bermite website. In 2019, the cleanup of the site was declared completed after two decades, although complete water cleanup efforts continue.
Santa Clarita LLC bought the site from Whittaker Corp. in 1999 and, in 2019, Arizona-based Remediation Financial Inc. bought Santa Clarita LLC, according to RFI CEO David Lunn. On Feb. 9, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control released its hold on the property for $1.4 million as soil and groundwater cleanup had taken place, according to Jose Diaz, senior project manager for the state DTSC.
The Whittaker-Bermite site is located in the center of the city, surrounded on each direction by Soledad Canyon Road, Golden Valley Road, Railroad Avenue and Circle J Ranch. Starting in the 1930s, the area served as the production site of dynamite, fireworks and oil field explosives. Years of manufacturing left behind chemicals and waste byproducts in the soil and groundwater even after operations fully ceased in 1987.
Officially, Santa Clarita is holding off on commenting on the pending litigation. Santa Clarita City Council members have not had a detailed discussion regarding the Porta Bella plan in years, according to Councilman Cameron Smyth.
However, it’s safe to say city leadership has an interest in how the bankruptcy and sale ultimately play out in the courts.
“It’s the last large parcel of undeveloped land within the city that the council will have a say over, so we want to make sure it’s done right and it’s up to our city standards,” said Smyth, regarding the council’s interest in the land.
Speaking for himself, he’d like to see it developed with a unified plan in mind.
“I think we probably all agree that if there can be a kind of holistic plan for that property, that would be best, as opposed to a piecemeal approach for development,” Smyth said. “At least that’s my preferred option.”
Garman said Blue Ox is “quite optimistic and hopeful that Prologis will close,” noting the real estate company also has a due-diligence window that closes in December and the aforementioned expected completion date of the sale in January.