By Leon Worden/SCVNEWS.com
Talk about irony.
It wasn’t too many months ago that local landowner Eugene Lombardi tried to convince the William S. Hart Union High School District governing board to consider his property in Romero Canyon for a future Castaic high school.
Lombardi never quite formalized his offer, and besides, it came well after Hart board members and school administrators were deep into talks with developer Larry Rasmussen for his neighboring Romero Canyon property.
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In a strange – and strangely predictable – twist of fate, the Hart District could end up using part of the Lombardi property for the school.
First, some history.
Once upon a time, a picturesque piece of property high up Romero Canyon was owned by longtime land baron Chuck Albrecq.
Albrecq died, and both Rasmussen and Lombardi laid claim to the property – Rasmussen by virtue of a partnership with Albrecq; Lombardi because of money he claimed Albrecq owed him.
Rasmussen and Lombardi went to court. In 2008 they settled. In a Solomonic decision, the judge decided that each man would receive half. The land was divided into four parcels. Each man was awarded two parcels.
Lombardi got first pick. Thus, Lombardi got what was considered to be the best of the four parcels.
But Lombardi failed to unload his share of the land quickly enough. Ultimately he owed $1.366 million to an Irvine lender and lost his two parcels to foreclosure Oct. 12.
Meantime, Rasmussen was busy. He spent those same three years trying to persuade the school district to purchase his two parcels rather than go with a controversial location in Sloan Canyon that was roundly opposed by residents who threatened to sue if the school went there.
Finally in May, the school board agreed to buy Rasmussen’s 113 acres for $1.7 million.
Turn up the clock to last month’s foreclosure sale.
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, a multinational law firm headquartered in Los Angeles, bought Lombardi’s 87 acres in the foreclosure auction for $800,000.
Now, according to a Wednesday night statement from the Hart District, Rasmussen “is considering purchasing the property to offer the (school) district the opportunity to enhance the project by utilizing the combined sites.”
At its Wednesday meeting, the Hart school board “authorized district staff to fully analyze a proposed ‘hybrid site’ as an alternative site for Castaic area high school,” the statement said.
It said Rasmussen notified the school district Oct. 19, one week after the foreclosure sale, that Lombardi’s property was available for purchase.
(Asked by SCVTV one week prior to the foreclosure sale whether he intended to purchase Lombardi’s property, Rasmussen declined to answer.)
Wednesday’s statement said the “hybrid site” would include part of Rasmussen’s Romero Canyon property and part of Lombardi’s – presumably the choicest parcels that each man picked under the 2008 court settlement.
The school district’s consideration of the new hybrid site does not necessarily mean the new configuration is the board’s preferred option. Technically, the “preferred site” for planning and environmental documentation purposes remains the property Rasmussen offered all along.
From a practical standpoint, however, the planets are aligning.
“This combined site is potentially a great opportunity for the district to deliver an exceptional school campus to the families in Castaic, at reduced construction costs,” school district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said in a statement.