I’m not a journalist by training, but I still remember a few things from my high school English class. A good news story tells the reader “who, what, when, where and why.” But what if the “why” behind the story is complicated? Will the average person (taxpayer) understand the “why” behind the recent stories about the greenbelt in the Santa Clarita valley? How do we evaluate the recent purchase by the City of Santa Clarita of 140 acres  near Placerita Canyon State Park, especially since 1.5 acres is contaminated with industrial waste? Is this a boon or a boondoggle? How can the average reader make an informed decision?
Part of the problem with a complex story is that the information is provided in bits and pieces and riddled with jargon. Earlier this week I attended a meeting as a member of the City of Santa Clarita’s Open Space Preservation District’s Financial Accountability and Audit Panel. (OSPD FAAP  for short). We spent time reviewing the Annual Work Program , in order to “ensure land acquisition priorities are adhered to.” (Now there’s a batch of acronyms and jargon for you.) In that meeting, it became clear to me that I need a rule-of-thumb to describe how our City evaluates and purchases open space, so that ordinary people can understand why a purchase is being made.
Yesterday, I pondered this over my morning coffee and came up with quick and dirty rule-of-thumb for evaluating these purchases: If the Shoe Fits.
Why do we go shopping for shoes? Is it for frivolous reasons, like retail therapy? Or do we have a good reason, like replacing an old, worn out pair? Open space provides the public with tangible biological, economic , and recreational benefits, as well as other intangible benefits. But how do you choose which properties to buy? How do you choose which pair of shoes to buy?
Does the shoe fit comfortably? In other words,
Where is the property located? Purchases for the Open Space Preservation District must be within a perimeter extending no more than 3 miles outside the city.
Are we maintaining a balance between 90% open space and 10% improved parkland? This is another requirement.
Is it part of an existing wildlife corridor ? Our local greenbelt is a major hub in a state-wide connection of wildlife corridors.
Is a next to an existing piece of open space?
Does it contain rare, threatened or endangered species ?
Does it contain a rare habitat or is it a “Significant Ecological Area ”?
Is it stylish, trendy or otherwise cool? In other words,
Is it likely to be developed at some point in the future?
Is it versatile? Can I wear it more than one place or with more that one outfit? In other words,
Are other government agencies or conservation organizations likely to chip in to pay for it, because it provides regional benefits.
And last - is it on sale? In other words,
Is there a willing seller?
Is it offered at a fair price?
Let’s test this model and see how well it works. Let’s take another look at that purchase of 140 acres and see If the Shoe Fits:
Fit Comfortably. Yes. It is within the 3 mile perimeter, it’s near Placerita Canyon Park and it contains the headwaters of Placerita Creek.
Stylish, Trendy and Cool. Yes. It is located near Sand Canyon. Only 1.5 acres out of those 140 acres are contaminated with low levels of potassium perchlorate. That’s not high enough to be a health risk but it does make that small portion unsuitable for development. But the other 138.5 acres are suitable.
Versatile. Yes. The Open Space District purchased this in partnership with LA County and the developer.
On Sale. Yes. The developer was willing to sell and the price came in at about $18,000 an acre. As a rough estimate, the last time I checked a real estate website, homes with acreage in Sand Canyon were priced from $2 to $5 million.
Now, I realize this not an official model, merely a tongue-in-cheek (or better still, foot-in-mouth) guideline. It’s a quick rule-of-thumb model with limitations. But I think it can help an ordinary reader come to an informed decision when reading a news story about a purchase of open space.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, June 13 and 27th, and every Wednesday, 8:00 AM. Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon .
Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie and a heart-thumping workout. For more information contact Steve Ioerger  at 661-291-1565.
Saturday, June 20, 8:00-10:00 AM. Morning Bird Hike in Towsley Canyon. Towsley Canyon is a year-round home for birds. They like our Mediterranean climate, the local bounty and the California sunshine. Bring your binoculars and meet at the entrance. For map and directions go here .
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.