Santa Monica-based company announces development deal for Whittaker-Bermite site 

Empty dump trucks pull into a soil treatment area to pick up clean dirt as viewed on tour of the clean-up efforts of the Whittaker/Bermite site in Valencia in Oct. 2016. Dan Watson/The Signal
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A Santa Monica-based company, New Urban West Inc., has reached a development deal with a company claiming ownership over the former Whittaker-Bermite site — a nearly 1,000 acre tract of land that required a decades-long cleanup of contaminated soil.  

“This is a tremendous opportunity to work with the local community and the city of Santa Clarita to design a dynamic project that will transform the center of the city and better connect communities within the city,” wrote Adam Browning, president of New Urban West, in a press release.  “We have an opportunity to be bold, think big and create an exceptional mixed-use community that will be a point of pride.” 

The facility, located in the center of the city of Santa Clarita, served as the production, storage and testing site of dynamite, fireworks and oil field explosives from 1934 to 1987, leaving behind chemicals and waste by-products in the soil and groundwater after operations fully ceased.  

In July of last year, the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency announced a court had awarded the agency nearly $66 million for cleanup of still-contaminated local groundwater — a project the city estimated would take 20 years.  

Since 2007, when the previous multi-million-dollar settlement was agreed to, more wells became impacted by perchlorate and groundwater contaminants. As a result, the impacted wells needed to be removed from service until they could be treated.   

After 19 years of removing all that was left behind from production, a soil cleanup of the site was declared completed by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, which supervised the cleanup performed by Amec Foster Wheeler in 2019.  

In February 2021, the state released its hold for the land. Santa Clarita LLC, owned by Remedial Financial Inc., had a deal with Prologis Inc., a real estate firm based in San Francisco, to pay all creditors, but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2021.  

According to Adam Browning, president of New Urban West, a deal was struck with Blue Ox Holdings LLC, which acquired the land once its original owners went bankrupt.  

“Blue Ox Holdings had been the lender to the property since 2016 and now holds fee title, which it obtained after the foreclosure and bankruptcy,” wrote Browning in a statement to The Signal. “The property has no outstanding debt or liabilities.” 

Land restrictions, or covenants, were put in place by the state in accordance with the original development plan, known as the Porta Bella specific plan, which the Santa Clarita City Council approved in 1995. Browning said the land is now ready to be developed. 

Land use covenants are a method the state Department of Toxic Substances Control uses to protect the public from unsafe exposures to leftover contamination that has been deemed safe to leave at a property “as long as defined restrictions are adhered to,” according to its website.   

“The state of California has determined the property can safely be developed after an approximately $175 million, decades-long cleanup effort,” wrote Browning.  

However, from the city’s perspective, things have changed. 

“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 Councilman Cameron Smyth, regarding the council’s interest in the land, during an interview with The Signal in 2021. 

The city said it could not comment on any pending litigation. However, Carrie Lujan, spokeswoman for the city, and Community Development Director Jason Crawford, did say any new developments of the land would need to go through the city first.  

 “They would need to propose a project, it would need to go through environmental review. There would need to be a lot of technical analysis done, there would be public meetings, before a decision was made on a project,” said Crawford. “So it would still need to go through full, due process before a decision was made or something was approved, modified or denied.” 

Lujan and Crawford said nothing has been submitted to the city, at the time of this publication.  

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