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CITY INTENT ON PURCHASE OF PARKLAND SOMEFEAR EFFECT ON BUDGET.

Byline: Heather MacDonald Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - The desire to preserve park land in the center of Santa Clarita continues unabated, despite rising energy costs and a slowing economy that have pinched the city's $127 million budget.

In the coming weeks, the City Council will try to scrape together $6.5 million to buy a 38-acre parcel next to the Santa Clarita Sports Complex, despite concerns that there isn't enough money.

``It is not an absolutely perfect piece of land, but it would be an incredible benefit to the community,'' said Councilman Bob Kellar, who is working with Mayor Laurene Weste to purchase the hilly land.

City Manager George Caravalho and several other department heads have warned the council members that the purchase would place too heavy a burden on the city's cash-strapped budget - this year and in years to come.

``My crystal ball doesn't tell me what the economy will be next year,'' Caravalho said. ``We may have to tighten our belts if the economy continues to slow. It gets risky when we spend the reserves.''

Council members have credited the city's parks and recreation programs with keeping the crime rate low, improving the quality of life in Santa Clarita and setting it apart from other suburbs of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Santa Clarita is among the safest cities in the nation, according to FBI data released last week.

``All of the charm would be lost if that area was covered with asphalt,'' Weste said.

Earlier this year, Weste supported a plan to use 14 acres of the land for the city's new bus maintenance yard. The balance would have been donated to the city as parkland or open space.

That plan fell apart in the face of opposition from nearby residents, who feared that the bus yard would pollute their neighborhood and lower their property values.

Bob Allen, one of the four owners of the land, which is now slated to be developed into the Ruether Avenue Business Park, has offered it to the city for $6.5 million, as is, or for $8.5 million, with improvements.

``We'd prefer to sell it to the city,'' said Allen, a consultant for Larry Rasmussen, the owner of the nearby Santa Clarita Business Park. ``But we understand fiscal constraints. We'll give the city all of the latitude we can afford.''

Allen and his partners, all business associates of Rasmussen, a prominent local businessman, bought the land for $2.7 million two years ago and have spent $1 million preparing for its development, Allen said. The land, which could accommodate three buildings, has been appraised at $10.5 million, Allen said.

The city would have a hard time coming up with the money to buy the land, as well as the cash to maintain the fields and fund the programs at the park, city officials said.

``Next year's budget is projected to be flat,'' said Steve Stark, the director of administrative services. ``That limits flexibility. We need to be aware and concerned about maintenance costs.''

Those costs will depend on exactly what the City Council ends up doing with the 26 acres of usable land if the purchase is made, said Rick Gould, the director of parks and recreation services.

The proposed price far exceeds the average cost of park land or open space that the city has purchased since incorporation, a staff report found. Over the last 13 years, the city has paid an average of 55 cents a square foot for parkland. This land would cost $5.14 a square foot.

Rasmussen lent Allen, Bob Sawyer, Peter Tartaglino and Karen Harms the money to buy the land two years ago, anticipating that it would appreciate in value once Golden Valley Road is built and the Santa Clarita Business Park is finished.

``The idea was that they would pay me back, but keep the profit as a bonus after many years of hard work,'' Rasmussen said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 3, 2001
Words:659
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