YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


The Next Vacation Paradise

October 27, 1994|SCOTT HARRIS

If you listen to the true believers, Santa Clarita is like heaven, only not so exclusive. Sinners sneak in, but aren't welcome. The sun shines, the grass glistens, the graffiti is quickly erased. Santa Clarita boasts good schools and a nifty shopping mall. The FBI says this town is one of the safest in the whole U.S.A.--and yet it's right here in Los Angeles County.

Even so, Santa Clarita is still something of a secret. Santa Monica is known for rent control, Santa Ana is a hot wind and a city, and Santa Catalina Island, as the song says, is 26 miles across the sea. But Santa Clarita?

"You know where Magic Mountain is?"

That's what the locals always say. Viper and Colossus, the amusement park's famous roller coasters, may sound more familiar than Santa Clarita. But all of that may soon be changing, because the civic boosters here entertain a new dream: Santa Clarita as "a tourist destination."


Some casinos might help. As far as beaches go, there's Castaic Lake. When some Santa Claritans staged a family film festival early this year, they winked and sold sweat shirts comparing their event to Cannes. But the boosters are serious about tourism, and there are some Santa Claritans who shudder at the thought.

Rod and Hans, for example. When I told my friends about the tourism bureau, their reaction was a mix of alarm and disbelief. Like many people who moved to this place up Interstate 5, Rod and Hans thought they'd distance themselves from the troubles and indignities of Los Angeles, and that includes tourists. They like the fact that people still wonder where Santa Clarita is.

"There are a lot of people who would like to slam the barn door shut and say, 'We're here! That's it!' " says Gail Foy, a spokeswoman for the city. She knows all about residents like Rod and Hans, and says they should be pleased about the tourism bureau. "We like tourists. They come, they spend their money, and then they get the hell out."

This is, I'm told, the sophisticated perspective. You can't freeze time, and you can't turn back the clock.

Today, Santa Clarita is a suburban "edge city." The valley already has 170,000 residents, 120,000 of whom live within Santa Clarita's sprawling 45-square-mile city limits. A planning study figures the valley will have 270,000 residents by the year 2010. That's only 16 years away.

Everybody, of course, is for "controlled growth," but few agree about what that means. A slow-growth initiative failed here in 1992. But in any case, City Hall's power is limited. Newhall Land and Farming Co. is the 800-pound gorilla of civic affairs here. A few years ago, when Santa Clarita vainly tried to come up with a city slogan, one wise guy had this suggestion: "What's Good for Newhall Land Is Good for Santa Clarita."

It built Magic Mountain. It built the master-planned community of Valencia, one of the towns that forms Santa Clarita. And just outside city limits, west of Interstate 5, plans are moving forward on "Westridge"--1,800 homes and a golf course. And to the west of Magic Mountain, the company envisions "Newhall Ranch"--a planned community of 24,000 homes on 12,000 acres.

Magic Mountain, with plans to add a major water park, a la Raging Waters, remains Santa Clarita's biggest attraction. The tourist bureau will hype such events as its family film conclave and its Cowboy Poetry, Music and Film Festival. In Bakersfield and Fresno, brochures have been displayed touting such Santa Clarita attractions as the Saugus Speedway, horse trails and Castaic Lake. The grand strategy envisions the construction of more hotels that would provide jobs and bolster the tax base. Can a convention center be far behind?

"Well, we're looking at sort of a mini-convention center right now," acknowledges Viki Rudolph, the chamber of commerce manager. "There are some studies I'm not able to tell you about, but they're happening."


First an amusement park. Then a convention center. Who knows? If Newhall Land agrees to build a stadium, maybe Santa Clarita could land the Rams.

Santa Claritans can only hope that Newhall Land is a wise gorilla. The residents I've met still complain that there's no Nordstrom at Valencia Town Center, the shopping mall, but on the whole they say it really is a great place to raise a family. They want to keep it that way. The aggressive anti-graffiti crusade and La Mesa Junior High's school uniforms are part of a social strategy to keep the evil influences of the big, bad city at bay. But meanwhile, Santa Clarita is getting pretty big in its own right.

If there ever comes a time to wonder when Santa Clarita started to go to hell, everyone will offer a theory. An acquaintance of mine used to work in the Valencia library. When the new mall opened, she says, the teen-agers disappeared.

Los Angeles Times Articles