The twice-monthly City Council meetings are the closest thing we have in this community to a public square. The City’s most powerful body meets before the public, and before the cameras to decide issues heavy and mundane, and anyone can show up to speak on those, or any issues they desire. If you aren’t a wealthy donor, it’s the best way to be heard by the council, and if you’re simply interested in our community, as we are, it’s the best opportunity to see where we are going.
The meetings are usually well-attended, and the issues brought up by the public will often set the agenda for future meetings. You can attend in person, or you can watch it live, either on Time Warner Cable (channel 20), AT&T Uverse (channel 99), or online right here.
Right here on Sclartia, you can look forward to I Heart SCV’s legendary recaps the next day. But if you want to watch it unfold, here’s a preview, or a pre-cap of tonight’s meeting. The agenda is here, and the more detailed agenda packet is here.
Behind closed doors
Before the open session, the council meets in a closed session. The City Council, like most elected bodies in California, is permitted to discuss just a few things in closed session: matters of personnel, current and anticipated litigation, and the price and payment terms of real estate deals. The two items on the closed session fall under the last exception.
Ultimately, real estate purchases are approved in open session, but the council is allowed to give direction to its negotiators in closed session so the other party doesn’t know how high or low the City is willing to go.
We don’t get a lot of detail about what’s being discussed in closed sessions, or why, but it’s an important thing to follow. For instance, if everyone had been paying attention to the closed sessions agendas, the city’s infamous digital billboard plan wouldn’t have been as much a surprise.
Here’s tonight’s closed session agenda. Two items to discuss with their property negotiator. The first item concerns the area where the city intends to build a permanent community center in Canyon Country. Last year, the council voted to purchase some vacant land near the intersection of Soledad Canyon and Sierra Highway. This item probably has to do with negotiated the purchase of some adjacent parcel to round out the project.
The second item concerns the planned movie theater/housing/retail/parking complex across from the Newhall library. The council already voted to pursue the plan offered by Laemmle Theatre and Serrano Development Group, but since the city will be giving up land and pitching in some of the costs, the details need to be hammered out. Once either of these negotiations reach their conclusion, the ultimate agreement will need to be ratified in open session.
Council meetings begin with some combination of a flag salute, an invocation, recognition of sports teams and/or community organizations that have done something special, plus informational reports for one reason or another. Today they’ll be recognizing Sheriff deputies and firefighters who rescued a 2-year old. That’ll also hear a presentation from the Sulphur Springs School District.
What follows is often my favorite part: public participation. Anyone can request to speak for three minutes about any issue that isn’t on the agenda. On meetings with thin agendas, like this one, this is often where the real news is made. And if you watch a few of these meetings, you’ll get quickly familiar with the regular cast of characters that seem to speak at every meeting. You’ll roll your eyes, cheer them on, yell at the screen, or laugh out loud. It’s a great mix of the sincere, the impassioned, and the absurd. And sometimes that’s all in one speech!
So it doesn’t get completely out of hand, the Council limits this to the first 10 speakers. Everyone else will get a chance to speak at the end of the meeting.
These are followed by reports for City staff and from each Councilmember. With the addition of TimBen Boydston, this segment has taken on a life of its own. Impromptu debates will often break out with the Council, with some inaudible audience heckles mixed in. But mostly, they’ll rattle off the appearances they’ve made in the community since the last meeting. If we’re lucky, we’ll be treated to a commercial from Bob Kellar, eager to share his tales of discovering a good steak dinner at a reasonable price somewhere on the east side. And more and more, it’s become something of an obituary section with lengthy remembrances of people who have passed away.
The substance of the meeting begins with a whimper, as the council takes on its consent calendar, which is a list of items that require a vote of the council, but aren’t considered especially controversial. The idea is that the entire consent calendar is voted on at once, sometimes without any discussion. Members of the public can speak on any and all of the consent items and members of the council can ask for a separate vote on any item.
As such, it’s usually a drab list of second readings of resolutions and minor ordinances, approval of check registers, and state-mandated compliance of this or that. And truthfully, I’m not that great at spotting an anomaly, but you never know. But of note, I see that the Council will be throwing another $80,000 towards holiday decorations in Newhall, which has been controversial in the past.
The first solo item reads like so:
City Council conduct a public hearing and approve the submission of the 2014-2015 Consolidated Annual Performance Evaluation Report to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
I don’t know what that means, but if that kind of thing interests you, then by all means, dig into that agenda packet.
Catching the vapors
Boy, they really buried the lead (or lede, or you’re that type) for the last agenda item. The council is set to give its final OK to an ordinance that will more or less treat vaping like smoking in public places in the City of Santa Clarita.
As it stands now, it’s perfectly legal to vape on a city bus, of to set up a vaping session in the middle of the mall. The city’s first swing at an ordinance went a little too far for the council’s tastes, and managed to mobilize something that came to be known as the “vaping community” because it didn’t exempt vaping-centric stores from the ordinance.
So a slightly revised ordinance is back on the table with a strongly-worded staff report that outlines the problems with continuing the status quo. It points to studies that show how second-hand vaping exposes people to various chemicals, and its strong appeal among minors. They point out that it’s a common delivery method for marijuana and that despite the protestations of the “community,” studies are showing it isn’t especially effective in getting people to quit smoking long-term.
And there you have it. Tune in or show up at 6pm this evening for all the fun.