The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved the final map for 38.4 acres of open space on the future site of 247 single-family homes between Highway 14 and Sierra Highway in Agua Dulce.
The map for Tract 50385-02, the open space, is a subdivision of the larger Tract 50385 — a more-than 740-acre swath of land, the development of which has been in the works since 1992, going through several map renditions and developer changes over the years.
The entire plan for the tract will include the homes, four open space lots, four debris basin lots and one reclamation plant lot.
The project’s current developer is RTG Investments — led by its CEO Ruben Grigoryan — which lists its corporate headquarters as being in Sylmar on its website but called itself a Wyoming-based business in a public letter. It lists most of its development projects as having been, or being planned to be, done in Russian and Armenia, according to its website.
Grigoryan, and RTG Investments, were cause for concern with some members of the Agua Dulce Town Council — who raised questions about the project’s funding sources and its potential Moscow connections in a series of presentations to the public from February 2022 to September 2023.
These concerns were brought up to Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley. Barger’s office responded in letters sent in 2022.
The Town Council was concerned that RTG investments had a connection to Rustog Invest — a major investment firm in Moscow. In a letter from July 2022, Barger’s office said they found no connection between the entities, but also said it did not have the ability to definitely find a connection.
“The county does not have the ability, records or resources to investigate relations between developers and non-United States entities,” read the response from Barger’s office. “Even if the county were able to confirm (which the county was not able to do) from the records available to it that RTG is related to Russian entities or persons, such a connection alone would not be a legally recognized basis for denying RTG its vested development rights.”
The Town Council was also concerned that money sent by a Russian investment firm would violate financial sanctions put on Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.
Barger’s response went on to say that Grigoryan and RTG Investment were not on a list of “banned persons” and that the county consulted the Specially Designated Nationals List from the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to confirm this.
Another concern presented by the council was that bonds required by the county for the project appear to have originated in Switzerland through Credit Suisse. Barger’s office confirmed this but said that the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a system used for the processing of interbank transactions and facilitating international payments, did not list Credit Suisse as a prohibited bank.
“Restrictions on the use of SWIFT by Russian banks are intended to disconnect those banks from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally,” read the response from Barger’s office. “The ban is self-executing and imposes no obligations on any persons to investigate or determine whether a party to a transaction banks at a banned Russian bank.”
Anish Saraiya, planning deputy for Barger, confirmed that her office used the resources of county, state and federal agencies to investigate the concerns presented by the Agua Dulce Town Council.
“We had our county counsel look through appropriate state and federal databases. So, all of the usual places where we would track to ensure that those doing business with the county are not precluded from,” said Saraiya. “And they said the databases they had access to, they found no evidence that any of the people involved with this company were on any such list.”
Chris Yewdall, a member of the Agua Dulce Town Council, said the council became suspicious of RTG after a presentation from the company about the project. Yewdall said things he found in his own research led him to ask further questions, and said Barger’s office’s response was “perplexing.”
“I mean, not much of a response you can give to something like that,” said Yewdall. “I came from an international business background and every year we were audited by one of the top three audit firms and our CFO, if they had been putting information in front of an auditor like that, they would have had a lot of explaining to do … So I did find the answer a little perplexing. I think everybody else in the community did, too.”
Saraiya said the project is split up into phases, with an initial phase of development of approximately 80 homes that was passed years ago and the second phase that will build 246 single-family homes. Saraiya said the timeline of when the second phase will submit a final map for approval is up to the developer and depends on how long environmental checks and other factors take.
“It’s hard to tell when they’ll be ready to start building those homes and record that next final map for the residential components,” said Saraiya. “Because that’s really sort of market-driven and developer-driven.”
RTG Investment does not list a phone number on its website and has not responded to an email sent to an email address listed on the site seeking comment, at the time of this publication.