City to discuss taking over Hart Park 

Three generations dressed in Northern traditional regalia, From left, Mario Sanchez, his six-year-old grandson Mark Jr. and Mark Sanchez dance during the intertriblal dance at the 26th annual Hart of the West Pow Wow and Craft Fair held at William S.Hart Park in Newhall on Saturday, October 05, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal
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The Santa Clarita City Council is expected to discuss taking ownership of William S. Hart Park at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. 

Santa Clarita Councilwoman Laurene Weste said Monday the 160-acre park represents a historic opportunity, as well as a chance to bring the last L.A. County-created park in city limits under city control. 

The catch: The city would be on the hook for about $5.8 million in capital projects, maintenance and other expenditures for the first couple of years. 

For Weste, the price is the cost of an opportunity for sharing with residents the legacy of one of the area’s most important historical figures, whose name is ubiquitous around town, from the community’s ball fields to its school district. It would also add acres of open space, a small zoo and even a herd of bison to Santa Clarita’s natural preserves. 

“It’s a legacy from William S. Hart … it was his estate, he gave it to the people so that they could appreciate his amazing life’s work, his collections of Native American art and paintings and he was truly a remarkable feature in creating silent film, which is what triggered all of this,” Weste said Monday in discussing her support for the idea. “He was a huge figure in Newhall and its very early days.” 

If you’re not a film buff or a fan of Western culture, there’s also a lot of relatively undisturbed nature on the site, she added. 

“A lot of it is just completely natural, beautiful open space with trails,” Weste said. “Our Scouts love to camp there. Our public loves to walk and hike there.” 

L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, saw the move as a win-win for the city and the county in a statement emailed Monday. 

“I support the city of Santa Clarita taking on ownership of Hart Park. Local leaders have clearly indicated they are committed to preserving its historic legacy and will continue to make the museum, trails and grounds accessible to the public,” she wrote via email. “Transferring Hart Park could also benefit surrounding communities by freeing up funding and Department of Parks and Recreation staff formerly dedicated to the park’s operation and maintenance. Those team members could be deployed elsewhere in North County to either add or enhance recreation services. I envision a lot of ‘wins’ for the community and region at large once the transfer takes place.”   

In terms of why now is the right time, Weste said that local efforts have really picked up as L.A. County has been forced to reduce its staffing levels there due to the pandemic, which have yet to be restored. Meanwhile a pair of hyperlocal efforts have sought to remind residents about the area’s rich history, using the park. 

“The county doesn’t have the kinds of staffing there that the city would have that would allow the park to be fully enjoyed,” Weste said, adding the SCV Historical Society is currently working its way through opening two historical attractions on the site. The Pardee House, which was built in 1892, is about 90% complete, and the original Newhall ranch house, which was at one time run by the eponymous family home that much of the SCV is named after where Magic Mountain stands today. 

Leon Worden, vice president of Friends of Hart Park and the SCV Historical Society, which currently have agreements with the county that let both organizations operate at the park, said he’d look forward to working with the city if the council decided to take over the park.  

“We have no preconceived notions of what a new operating agreement with the city would look like,” Worden said, adding the group wanted to do what’s best for the city, its residents, the park, and Hart’s legacy. 

“It’s one park and we all need to work together,” he said. 

He also said Hart Mansion, which has been closed since March 2020, is the North County region’s only world-class museum and needs to be reopened. He was hopeful a city takeover of the property would expedite that, too. 

“(Hart Park) is one of our key historical assets in this town,” he said.  

While the city’s report identifies new costs the city would incur in taking over the park, there are also additional revenue streams for the property that have yet to be realized, according to officials. 

While the bulk of the estate was willed to the public and compelled to be made free — Hart famously said that people spent their nickels and dimes on his films so his will was a way for him to give back for the public’s enjoyment — not all of the park’s land is part of that deal. 

In fact, about 24 acres of the park, including the part that houses Heritage Junction, an 1888 train station that’s being restored to its original state, as well as the aforementioned historical houses, could be used to raise money to support the facility. 

The startup costs, which are estimated to be $3.45 million in year one and $2.3 million the following year, are offset by expected revenue of approximately $331,000 the first year and $380,000 the second. 

However, the city also didn’t forecast the potential profits for new revenue sources staff have identified, such as the potential for new events, filming activity and “use of the non-will parcel,” as noted in the city’s report. 

Going forward, the city expects to spend about $1.1 million per year just on maintenance, which officials believe is a “good, conservative base that the project team believed could be used for future years with minimal adjustments in (Consumer Price Index) or growth through the annual budget process related to demand for programs or events at the site,” according to Jerrid McKenna, director of neighborhood services for the city of Santa Clarita. 

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