Natural Wonders

Saving the Santa Clarita Valley’s Natural Wonders 

The city of Santa Clarita continues the work to completely encircle the city with a green belt of open space. At present, more than 13,000 acres of open space and trails exist for public use. Land continues to be purchased thanks to funds provided by the City of Santa Clarita Open Space Preservation District approved by voters in 2007.  

After a similar effort to fund an open space district failed in 2006 City Councilwoman Laurene Weste, a longtime advocate of open space, chaired a new effort to get the initiative passed.  

“As far as I know this has never been done before in the United States,” said Weste. “I created this Open Space District so we could buy all this land legally. I am very proud of our community, they stepped up to the plate.” 

With funds in hand from Open Space District, Weste described the process of obtaining additional land for open space as “quilting.” 

“It’s like a giant quilt,” she said. “We keep filling in pieces. We have a lot of land in open space, but we will always be adding more.” 

A Tale of Two Dumps 

Public perception is that the fight to keep dumps out of Elsmere and Towsley Canyons in the 1980s and ‘90s resulted in the Open Space movement in the Santa Clarita Valley, however Weste said the two aren’t connected.  

“The result of defeating the dumps is open space, but even if the dumps had been built open space land would still have been acquired,” she said.  

Efforts to make Towsley Canyon a dump date back to 1983.  

Managed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state parkland acquisition agency, efforts to save Towsley involved park champions including Weste, Santa Clarita City Councilman Carl Boyer, biologist Don Mullally and State Senator Ed Davis. 

Now at 6,000 acres, the Santa Clarita Woodlands Park was created in 1989 when Davis sponsored legislation enabling the Conservancy to purchase a 145-acre parcel at the mouth of Towsley Canyon. 

Weste said the state legislature passing Davis’s Woodlands Park initiative put the nail in the coffin of the county’s plan for a dump in Towsley Canyon.  

Dump the Dump 

Another fight to preserve the natural beauty of the Santa Clarita Valley began in 1987 when BKK Corp. first proposed buying Elsmere Canyon from the U.S. Forest Service.  

BKK’s plans for Elsmere Canyon would have seen 1,100 garbage trucks depositing 16,500 tons of trash 24-hours a day for the next 50 years. It would have been the single largest managed trash dump in the world. 

City Councilwoman Marsha McLean, Dinah Sargeant and Doris Schiller formed the SCV Santa Clarita Valley Canyons Preservation Committee to fight the dump.  

McLean said she was told that the dump was a “done deal.” 

“But I’ve worked in government and I knew that wasn’t true,” she said.  

One of the first tasks the committee tackled was proving that a new dump wasn’t needed in Los Angeles County.  

“I called every dump in the county and found they had additional permitted space that wasn’t being used,” McLean said.  

However, the dump project lingered for years, with all the dramatic twists and turns of a Netflix docudrama.  

In 1995 a special meeting of the L.A. County Planning Commission was held in the Valencia High School multi-purpose room. A venue that seated 350 people attracted nearly 3,000 to protest the proposed dump.  

Ken Kazarian, president of the Elsmere Corp., a division of BKK, said Santa Clarita officials were “whipping up a froth of fear without cause. 

“The city has spent millions trying to turn it into a political process,” he said. “No amount of political posturing and emotion is going to break this project.” 

Kazarian had to eat his words when Howard “Buck” McKeon and Sen. Barbara Boxer joined forces and in 1996 got federal legislation passed that no landfill can be built in the Angeles National Forest. 

That legislation effectively killed the Elsmere dump. 

County supervisors voted unanimously to remove Elsmere Canyon from the county’s list of potential landfill sites. 

On May 5, 2004, Browning-Ferris Industries, which had purchased the property from BKK Corp., withdrew its application for a conditional use permit for the proposed Elsmere Solid Waste Management Facility. 

In 2007, 400 acres of Elsmere Canyon was donated to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority followed by a formal dedication of the Elsmere Canyon Open Space area.  

In October 2010, the city of Santa Clarita purchased the remaining 842 acres in Elsmere Canyon for preservation as permanent open space. 

The Future of Open Space 

Recently, the city has acquired additional open space property as part of dedications in relation to development projects, including Tesoro and Skyline, which will add 2,000 acres to Santa Clarita’s open space inventory, said Amber Rodriguez, city of Santa Clarita Administrative Analyst for Neighborhood Services.  

Weste said the city also plans to continue to add parcels of open space to the east, near the Cemex project.  

Celebrate Santa Clarita Open Space 

Santa Clarita’s first open space acquisition was in 1995, for Rivendale Park and Open Space. The dedication of Bee Canyon Open Space in October 2022 is the most recent and a 30-year effort resulted in the June 2017 dedication of Newhall Pass Open Space.   

“We have great wildlife corridors and wonderful places to enjoy nature not far from the urban center and they are all interconnected with our trail system throughout the SCV, no community in the United States has that,” Weste said. “During the pandemic it was one our greatest blessings. The best thing for us is nature. It’s free. Just go.” 

Open Space areas can be located by visiting https://hikesantaclarita.com. 


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