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Happy 30th, Santa Clarita
Reflecting Back & Looking Forward
January, 2018 - Issue #160

It was the year we danced to George Michael and Bon Jovi. We watched "Full House" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and young girls were first introduced to Johnny Depp who starred in "21 Jump Street."

The nation was riveted for two days when the evening news detailed the drama in Midland, Texas, as rescue workers successfully pried Baby Jessica from a well she had fallen into on her aunt's property.

Jessica, it turns out, was a very popular girls name - along with Ashley, Jennifer and Amanda.

The year was 1987 and for a quiet suburb north of Los Angeles, commonly known as Newhall-Saugus, it was to be a turning point for its future.

On November 3, 1987, a ballot measure for cityhood was introduced to the community. According to Leon Worden, president and CEO of SCVTV-SCVNews, residents were tired of having no voice in the direction and growth of their town. His mother, Connie Worden-Roberts, was on the city formation committee and one of the first City Planning Commissioners.

More than 21,000 voters came to the polls on December 15. With all the votes tallied, 67 percent agreed to break from the County of Los Angeles. The city of Santa Clarita was born, making it the fifth-largest city in the county, behind Los Angeles and Long Beach.

A long list of to-do items now lay before the first city council - consisting of Buck McKeon, JoAnne Darcy, Jan Heidt, Carl Boyer and Dennis Koontz. A staff needed to be assembled, commissioners needed to be appointed, there were parks to fix and, of course, a place to call city hall.

Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth was still in high school on that historic day in December '87. Born and raised in Santa Clarita, he had great role models in his parents. His father Clyde was the superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District and would later become a councilmember and mayor of Santa Clarita. His mother, Sue, was an elementary school teacher.

In 1987, the population of Santa Clarita was just over 130,000. Several communities have been annexed into the city since then and the population has nearly doubled.

"When I talk to my classmates who moved away and only come back periodically, they can't believe it is the same city we all grew up with," Smyth said. "The city has done a great job of maintaining that small town feel that most of us who grew up here remember and cherish."

According to Smyth, 60 percent of Santa Clarita residents are 45 years and under. With an excellent public school system and plenty of parks and recreational activities, Smyth, a father of three young children, said it is a place both parents and their children can thrive.

Parks and open space are a huge passion for Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste. Appointed as one of the first Parks and Recreation Commissioners, Weste said the first step was to take ownership of the six county parks.

"They were all in need of a lot of upgrades to make them function for the population we had," Weste said, recalling the affectionately-named Robot Park in Saugus. "They were old and needed work."

Now 30 years later, the city boasts 34 parks, 85 miles of trails, 9,000 acres of open space, three Metrolink Stations, three libraries, two community centers, an aquatic center and skatepark.

Weste believes Central Park, located in the heart of Saugus off Bouquet Canyon Road, is the crown jewel of parks. With the collaboration between the city and Castaic Lake Water Agency, this multi-acre park is home to the popular summer Concerts in the Park series.

Residents flock to Central Park to take advantage of the lighted baseball diamonds, basketball courts and multi-purpose fields. The park also has a popular off-leash dog area called Central Bark, a fitness zone and a community garden.

As the first public information officer, Gail Morgan's job was to hold weekly press conferences and help answer the many questions residents had.

"Part of why I was hired was that the honeymoon of cityhood was over and people wanted to know where all the stuff they were promised was, like new roads, parks, less traffic, etcetera," she explained.

Those early days of the city were fun and exciting and every accomplishment was a great motivator to do more, Morgan said.

Morgan believes one of the best aspects of Santa Clarita has always been the people, many who were transplants from Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

"They gave up their convenient shopping and grid-designed roads to pioneer it out in Santa Clarita," Morgan said. "Santa Clarita is like no other community when it comes to helping one another, volunteering, giving and making a difference."

It is those volunteers, she said, who coach the kids in team sports and others who rolled up their sleeves on a regular basis to eradicate graffiti or give up a Saturday for the annual River Clean Up.

"Volunteers did and still do make Santa Clarita a great community," Morgan added.

But Smyth said there is still more work to be done. He said he would like to continue working on growing the city's economic base.

"Way too many residents are commuting and they would much rather have a job in town than spending all that time on the freeway," he said. "We want to attract more long-term economic jobs here in the community."

And while traffic continues to be an issue and more roads need to be built, Smyth said that in the meantime, residents need to slow down. Many of the fatalities that occur are due to excessive speed and alcohol, he said.

Weste is pleased to see the community enjoying the many bicycle and walking trails that weave throughout the town as well as the hiking opportunities in the open-space areas. Not one to rest, Weste is ready for the next piece of the equation for a healthy community: the arts.

"I think the time is now right for the beauty of arts to bloom in Santa Clarita," she said. "It's time to tap into the many talented people and organizations we already have here and embrace new and upcoming artists."

Downtown Newhall is fast becoming an Arts and Entertainment district, Weste explained. Once neglected, Main Street is seeing a resurgence with new restaurants, wine bars and pubs. Two live theaters are located downtown and more small businesses are popping up. Thursdays at Newhall draw hundreds of residents who enjoy a night of music, food, art and socializing with friends and neighbors. With the addition of the independent movie house, Laemmle Theatre, the opening of the historic Newhall Family Theatre at Newhall Elementary, and, coming soon, the Newhall Crossing project that will include 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, residential units and a four-story parking structure, Weste is excited for the future of arts.

"Art is the heart and soul of any community," she said. "It's just the beginning and we are looking forward to bringing more."

Mayor Smyth said it's easy to get involved. "You don't always have to be elected to give back. Kids of this generation have a desire to serve and there are a lot of ways to do that," he said. "It's a great gig. I think the founding members of our city would be very proud."

photo by Becca Rillo
photo by Becca Rillo
Don't Miss!
Friday | December 15
City of Santa Clarita Celebrates 30th Birthday with Documentary

From 2pm to 5pm at City Hall, reminisce about the good ol' days while noshing on cake and watching a special screening of the three-part documentary showcasing key events and people from 1987 to 2017. The doc series is produced by SCVTV and Leon Worden. Also: Special thanks to Becca Rillo for her birthday-cake photography skills! Celebrating this anniversary with our friends has been sweet!

Photography courtesy of Team USA, City of Santa Clarita, SCVHistory.com and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.
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