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| Thursday, Dec 15, 2011

Parcels 1 and 4 are Rasmussen's original parcels. Parcels 2 and 3 were Lombardi's.

The Hart School Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to open escrow on 84 additional acres of land in Romero Canyon for a future high school in Castaic.

The property is adjacent to 113 acres the school board already agreed to purchase for $1.7 million – subject to reappraisal – from a company controlled by developer Larry Rasmussen.

Rasmussen’s Romero Canyon LLC is in the process of acquiring the additional land from a law firm.

The property was previously owned by Eugene Lombardi, who won it in 2008 after a protracted court fight with Rasmussen that cost Lombardi more than $1 million in legal fees. He couldn’t pay the lawyers, and they foreclosed in October.

The Hart School District would pay Rasmussen $1.26 million for the former Lombardi property, pending a reappraisal.

The whole transaction is subject to environmental review and approval.

The Hart District can’t simply purchase the additional land directly from the lawyers because they want to close escrow before the end of the calendar year, and the Hart District can’t close escrow until the environmental process is complete and certificates of approval are in hand, according to Tom Cole, the Hart District’s chief operating officer.

Instead, the school district plans to purchase all of the property from Rasmussen and is asking him to hold onto it throughout the review process. The purchase agreement says:

“Buyer (the Hart District) desires that seller (Rasmussen’s company) hold the property (the original 113 acres) and the additional property (the 84 acres) for buyer’s potential acquisition of the project, in the event buyer selects either the property or the additional property or a combination thereof as the site location for the project, after completing the analysis of the project under (the California Environmental Quality Act) and in the event the board ultimately approves the project.”

The agreement requires the school district to pay a refundable deposit of $422,420 for the additional property.

“In the event certain conditions are not met and close of escrow does not occur, the escrow deposit will be returned to the district,” a staff report states.

The only thing the school district can’t do under the agreement is pull the plug for no reason. It would stand to lose the money it has deposited for both pieces of property if it doesn’t follow through with the environmental reviews.

“The district cannot waive … the completion of all proceedings under CEQA and the ultimate approval by the California Department of Education and the Department of Toxic Substances Control,” the staff report states.

The environmental review process will assess the suitability of the original 113 acres for the school, as well as a “hybrid” site that would include some or all of the 84 acres, and other alternative locations.

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