City OK’s taking over Vista Canyon bridge plans

Visitors and dignitaries gather for the ribbon cutting ceremony of the Vista Canyon project, five-story, 613 parking space parking lot in Canyon Country on Tuesday morning, October 27, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Santa Clarita City Council members unanimously approved a staff recommendation to assume the design of a bridge for Vista Canyon, a mixed-use transit-friendly development on the east side of town. 

During the discussion Tuesday before the City Council, City Manager Ken Striplin, who’s been with the city since 1996, acknowledged he couldn’t recall a precedent for such a move, but he said it was necessary to protect the city’s interests in the project. 

The staff’s recommendation called on the City Council to approve the city loaning itself up to $1.1 million from its general fund so it could assume the completion of the design of a bridge that will connect the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Lost Canyon Road to the Vista Canyon development, including the recently completed Vista Canyon Multi-Modal Transit Center.  

“The loan will be repaid with future Bridge & Thoroughfare fees generated by the Vista Canyon development project,” according to the city’s agenda. 

The bridge was initially in the project’s conditions of approval, but the city is stepping in due to hardships the developer is facing.  

However, if the city doesn’t step in, statements from the city and the developer, JSB Development, indicate both sides had questions over whether the funding would be there to complete the project by July 2026.  

“To start out with, this is a very unique situation,” Striplin told the dais. “In my time here, I don’t think we’ve been before the council, asking the council to relieve the developer of an obligation within the conditions such as this.” 

While the city supports the developer’s efforts to seek funding sources for the project, which have included a contract the city entered into recently to take over a water-reclamation plant that can produce up to 315 acre-feet of recycled water annually, Striplin said there was a bigger concern for Santa Clarita. 

“The city has to look out for the city, and so as we looked at what is left in terms of the city’s obligations,” he said, a number of priorities have to be balanced. 

One of the bigger ones — more than $20 million comes off the table if the project doesn’t meet a 2026 deadline for the bridge’s construction. 

“On Oct. 25, 2018, the city of Santa Clarita was allocated $20 million in Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Measure R funds for construction of the Vista Canyon Road Bridge,” according to the meeting agenda. That funding goes away June 30, 2026, if the project is not completed.  

In a recent interview, JSB President Jim Backer acknowledged the challenges he’s had in financing the project — which has completed more than 700 of its 1,100 residential units and built 60,000 of 950,000 square feet of planned commercial development.  

A number of reports have referred to the project’s plan as state of the art because it combines a transit-friendly design with a net-zero water footprint, thanks to the water-recycling plant. 

But market uncertainty is part of why financiers are hesitant, which is creating a very difficult situation for the project. 

“In the office market and retail market right now,” Backer said in a previous interview before the meeting, “even the things that everyone thinks we should be doing are having a tough time in the financial world because of the higher rates and the inflation.” 

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