Castaic's fate rests on bill

Community Optimistic about lake future

SANTA CLARITA -- Community and government leaders expressed optimism about Castaic Lake's future Wednesday, despite months of concern over the recreation area's potential closure.

The fate of the lake and its surrounding community rest on a state Senate Bill, SB 1043, that will allocate $900,000 to the lake's operation. The bill was scheduled to be considered late Wednesday night by the Assembly.

If passed, the money would enable the county to continue operation of the lake through May.

"We are doing everything we can to keep this lake open, come hell or high water," said Tony Bell, a spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who organized the community task force.

The Castaic Lake Recreation Area, which is owned by the state and operated by the county, was scheduled to close over the summer due to a $4 million county budget shortfall.

However, continued efforts to keep the recreation area open -- including funding from Antonovich's discretionary fund and a last-minute allocation from the Board of Supervisors last week -- have delayed the closure until Oct. 1.

Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors endorsed daily use fee hikes at the lake that will increase revenue, and officials with the department of parks and recreation said operational adjustments could create even more money.

And if SB 1043 passes, the lake will remain open for the rest of the fiscal year.

"Our efforts are bearing fruit," Bell said.

With the short-term solution looking all but shored up, a community task force that met Wednesday turned its focus toward a sustainable plan for the lake when the state's money runs out.

"Today I learned that it looks like everybody is willing to work together to keep this lake open," said Tracy Jara, president of the Castaic Chamber of Commerce, who had previously been critical of the government's handling of the lake.

Castaic community leaders, county and state officials discussed creating public-private partnerships and other fund-raising options that could put an end to the Castaic crisis.

"Everybody wants to keep the lake open," said Debi Schultze, a representative for Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Granada Hills. "We are on the path to recovery."

The general sentiment at Wednesday's meeting was that the lake, which attracts more than 1 million boaters, fishermen and swimmers every year, does not need to be a drain on county funds.

"We can absolutely make the lake run in the positive," said Clay Friedman, president of Friends of Castaic Lake.