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City may seek to expedite Hart Park transfer 

A door to William S. Hart's mansion shows signs of wear on March 29, 2024. Perry Smith/The Signal
A door to William S. Hart's mansion shows signs of wear on March 29, 2024. Perry Smith/The Signal

Concerned about “a lack of personnel” at William S. Hart Park in Newhall, Councilwoman Laurene Weste formally asked if there was a way the city could speed up the county property’s transfer to Santa Clarita. 

Both sides have agreed to such a move and have openly expressed support, with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approving the start of negotiations in July 2022, and Santa Clarita agreeing to 10 steps to take over the park last June. 

The 160-acre property includes the park, William S. Hart’s mansion, the previous senior center site adjacent to the park, a small zoo with alpacas and bison and about 150 acres of open space, as well as several historically significant sites that are being worked on by local volunteers.  

“The reduction is dramatic. There have been break-ins at the park and there’s a lot of artifacts and things that are really important there,” Weste said Tuesday during the Santa Clarita City Council meeting. “But there just isn’t enough coverage.”  

Weste said that, since the city is planning to acquire the park anyway, she was asking the city manager and city attorney to create a temporary memorandum of understanding that would let the city take it over a little sooner. 

Even once terms are agreed to, escrow could take another year on such a large and complex property, which has three entities involved in its management: the L.A. County Parks Bureau, which manages the grounds; the Natural History Museum, which manages the mansion; and the Friends of Hart Park, who fundraise to maintain the grounds “fence to fence.”   

Weste previously said the current staff at the park do a tremendous job. “There just isn’t enough bodies,” she said. 

About two weeks ago, a theft of property outside the mansion renewed the concerns, prompting Weste to tour the grounds. Outdated signs and chipped, cracked paint on the doors and broken floorboards inside a historic tea room that belonged to Hart’s sister drew her ire. 

It also prompted additional talks with county officials.  

“We’ve had good conversations with the Natural History Museum, and they are very involved in looking at what can be done, but there’s just a lack of people,” Weste said. 

Councilwoman Marsha McLean responded by questioning why the city shouldn’t just instruct the county to take better care of the park until it’s handed over. 

“I’m just wondering why we don’t tell the county that it’s still under their purview, and they need to take responsibility for keeping it safe until we formally take it over,” she said. “I’m kind of tired of the county just shoving things away and off on us without taking responsibility.” 

Weste responded by saying Santa Clarita became a city because it could do a better job locally and that she didn’t want to “go to war” or fight with the county, she wanted to see what the city could do to make the situation better as soon as possible for the “jewel” that is Hart Park. 

Mayor Pro Tem Jason Gibbs said he didn’t see a problem with having that discussion, although he understood the concern. 

“It is one park in a sea of parks they have,” Gibbs said. “Maybe if they understand our attention to it, they can assist us in the preparation of that takeover, in a way that doesn’t ‘harm the city,’ if you will.” 

Councilman Bill Miranda said the city has been working with L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office to work on the transfer, and he’d love to see what the city can do to “energize those efforts.” 

City Manager Ken Striplin said the L.A. County 5th District and Parks Bureau staff met with him the week before the council meeting in response to some of the concerns mentioned by Weste about the deferred maintenance. 

In response to the theft, county officials told Striplin they had taken steps to improve security and had issued a “corrective action plan” for the facilities and committed additional resources, he told the council. 

Striplin also said county officials cited personnel challenges that Weste had alluded to in her comments.  

A representative for the Natural History Museum declined to comment on the situation.  

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Barger reiterated her commitment to the park, which she called a “gem,” and said added security efforts were put in place. 

“I am committed to ensuring Hart Park and the Hart Mansion receive the attention and care they deserve. My office met with the city of Santa Clarita last week to share the latest efforts to protect and preserve these valuable assets,” she wrote. “The Department of Parks and Recreation and the Natural History Museum have updated the locks and codes on the facility to enhance its security. We are also working in partnership with the Friends of Hart Park to get security cameras installed for extra protection. I’m dedicated to working with our city and county partners to do right by this beloved local gem.” 

Weste also said there’s going to be a lot city staff has to learn about the facility, and the MOU she’s referring to could also serve to bring everyone up to speed with what needs to be done.  

“It’s nobody’s fault. It just is what it is and I’m not throwing rocks in anyone’s direction,” Weste said, mentioning plenty of facilities and venues have experienced challenges since COVID-19, as the park’s mansion has been shut down since March 2020. “I just want to see us all work together, and if we could come to some kind of agreement, we can start learning and sharing, and if they’re willing to step up to play, too, we certainly all will be better off in the long run.”  

In agreeing to put the discussion on an upcoming agenda, Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth quoted former President Ronald Reagan in saying the city should “trust, but verify” the county is going to do what it says with respect to taking care of the future city park. 

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