At tonight’s Santa Clarita City Council meeting, Councilmember TimBen Boydston was passed over yet again for the position of mayor pro tempore. The title instead went to Dante Acosta, who has served less than half as long as Boydston. The title of mayor went to Bob Kellar; it’s now his fourth time. Fittingly, there was quite a production before Boydston’s mayoral aspirations exited stage right. Well over 20 people spoke or submitted cards in favor of Boydston for the position of mayor pro tem while scarcely anyone even mentioned Kellar or Acosta. Yet the council was not swayed by supportive public testimony and chose to keep Boydston from claiming the title. Tonight probably didn’t mark the “death of democracy” as one rather dramatic speaker put it, but it was a clear indication that the council sees being mayor as a privilege to be earned rather than a duty to be equitably shared. Let’s get to recapping.
Marsha, the Ubiquitous
The special reorganization meeting began at 5 o’clock. Outgoing Mayor Marsha McLean welcomed everyone with a performance by the Valencia High School choir. The students were dressed up in full Christmas caroling attire and sang “Here We Come A-caroling” followed by “Throw the Yule Log on, Uncle John.” The latter was a first for me, and hopefully a last. Once the choir had finished, they made straight for the door, but Mayor McLean was quite insistent on getting a photo first.
McLean warned the audience that her final comments as mayor would be lengthy because, “This is the last time that I’m going to be a mayor…for this year, anyways.” McLean spoke about her proudest accomplishments, which included organizing a coalition of northern LA County communities to fight against potential negative impacts of high-speed rail. She was also excited to have convinced the U.S. Postal Service to bring an office back to Newhall. During her term, Santa Clarita hosted one of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s quarterly mayor meetings as well. Trains, mail, and getting noticed by LA: the year that was.
Next, McLean read a much longer list of accomplishments to which she was less singly/directly connected. This included concerts in the park, plans for the new senior center, adding the city’s 32nd park, fighting the drought via landscaping changes, and offering mental health services and outreach. To conclude, McLean went off-script and thanked her husband for putting up with her many, time-consuming duties as mayor. She said she was looking forward to relaxing her demanding schedule for a while, at least. McLean was tickled to receive a charm bracelet as a memento. I couldn’t see all the charms, but she mentioned that there was a little Eiffel Tower.
A procession of officials or their representatives came forward next. They all offered their appreciation for the work of Mayor McLean over the past year. First up was Scott Wilk. He said that he had prepared a “fabulous” speech about McLean’s accomplishments, but she had already gone over most of them. McLean interrupted, “You can say whatever nice things you wish.” The audience laughed. His main compliment was that Marsha McLean was “ubiquitous”, showing up to represent Santa Clarita at many, many events. He mentioned her fight against being railroaded by high-speed rail. He seemed to think the advocacy was nice, but nice turned to patronizing when he made it clear that he thought he was doing the real work: “You can do whatever you want but we are gonna kill it.” The rest of Wilk’s remarks mostly involved Wilk himself, as usual.
Though Wilk had set a low bar for speeches, few of the other speakers surpassed it. A young rep for Congressman Steve Knight basically just said “thanks” a lot. The Chamber of Commerce’s Terri Crain said that her personal connection to McLean stemmed from the fact that McLean was mayor when she arrived in town, so Crain just always assumes that McLean is is still mayor. Crain laughed generously at her own little joke. Other speeches, letters, and the like came from the Castaic Lake Water Agency, College of the Canyons, Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation, the office of Supervisor Mike Antonovich, and various other persons/institutions.
Nominations, Pleas, Decisions
McLean’s last duty was handing the gavel to the city clerk, who then asked for nominations for mayor. Boydston tried to nominate Bob Kellar first, but Councilmember Laurene Weste was quite insistent on having the honor. Kevin Tonoian was opening nominations and Weste spoke over him, saying, “Move Bob Kellar!” while Boydston more calmly began, “I would like to move…” An uncharacteristically aggressive Weste cut off Boydston, saying, “I already did it.” Boydston countered, “I have the floor, m’am,” and Weste came back with, “I moved first.” Mayor McLean snuck in, “And I seconded!” Kellar took the title. He posed for a picture and everyone clapped, but the fourth time around just isn’t quite as magical as the first time, or the second time, or the third.
Mayor Kellar made some remarks about what’s in store for the city in 2016, and he then opened the special meeting to public participation–there were 18 speaker cards. While several speakers were congratulatory to Kellar as they came forward, no one came forward expressly for the purpose of congratulations. All were there to advocate for Councilmember TimBen Boydston to be the next mayor pro tem. (Former mayor Carl Boyer didn’t go as far as a recommendation, but he did advocate reinstating a formal rotation of who got to be mayor.) The speeches kicked off with TimBen’s wife, Ingrid Boydston. She was brief but poignant, asking that the council take three pieces of advice when making its decision. The first was from the Bible (treat people the way you want to be treated), the second from kindergarten (play fair), and the third from politics (respect the voter). It was a solid opening, and a steady stream of pro-Boydston speakers followed. Most argued that Boydston was competent and that the mayoral position was supposed to rotate fairly. He had been voted in, so he deserved a chance to serve as mayor.
Steve Petzold, the main man behind tonight’s show of support, gave the most passionate speech. Recalling last year, when Petzold and Patti Sulpizio had advocated for Boydston to be mayor pro tem, only to be ignored by the council, he said, “I considered that to be an insult.” Petzold agreed with The Signal editorial board, which he said had a “blinding flash of the obvious” recently when it wrote: “To bypass TimBen suggests the council has an inner circle wielding power, a situation not justified in the city’s constitution.”
Former Santa Clarita Mayor Carl Boyer spoke about his support for a formal rotation. “I was offered by Mr. McKeon to be the first mayor and I gave that up because I believed that the principle of rotation was a basic keystone of good government, so we rotated according to the number of votes that each of us got.” He said he even supported Jill Klajic as mayor even though he thought she wouldn’t be good at it. He sincerely believed in the merits of a strict mayoral rotation where everyone gets a chance “so the people can be heard.”
“I don’t know if there’s ever been so much attention to selection of mayor pro tem” said Patti Sulpizo, the second-to-last speaker. She said the news coverage, social media discussions, and show of support tonight were essentially unprecedented. And she was correct.
After public comments came to an end, Bob Kellar said he would entertain a motion for mayor. There was a long, anxiously silent pause of fully ten seconds before Councilmember Weste spoke up and said, “Dante Acosta.” Mayor McLean let out a far from emphatic “I’ll second.” Before a vote, Boydston asked for discussion. Since everyone had predicted that it would be Acosta instead of Boydston for mayor pro tem, Boydston didn’t seem surprised and spoke calmly. He simply asked that the councilmembers explain their decision because so many speakers had presciently requested that they do so. He said “Give reason for the vote…that was a request that I wanted to make of each councilperson…we have thick skins or we would not be here.” Enthusiastic applause followed; people wanted to know the reason Boydston had been overlooked. Perhaps more accurately, people wanted the other councilmembers to go on record saying their reasons.
Only Mayor Kellar replied. He was passionate and unapologetic about his decision, which was clearly a vote against Boydston rather than a vote for Acosta, who wasn’t even mentioned. (Acosta sat by quietly throughout the vast majority of the special meeting–one of the reasons he got the title of mayor pro tem.) Kellar’s words weren’t particularly coherent, as he often began a statement only to end it mid-thought, as if there were certain things he wanted to say but stopped short of saying. For example, he began, “There’s a lot of elected people in this room…” but didn’t succinctly finish the thought. The implication, of course, was obvious–there were political pressures and considerations even though the mayoral title is supposed to be mostly ceremonial. Kellar said that decisions should be made based on “information and experience and listening,” and that they all needed to be “working together in a responsible matter.” Kellar added that Boydston kept bringing up issues where he’d lost the vote, advising Boydston, “When you’re on the minority side you simply leave it alone.” Kellar felt Boydston acted as if he were “above it all…we write a separate book for this one!” Boydston, in short, did not toe the line.
Everyone but Boydston voted for Acosta to be mayor pro tem (Boydston did say he thought Acosta would do a fine job).
Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Council Meeting
Councilmember Laurene Weste delivered the invocation to open the city council meeting that followed the special reorganization meeting. Weste, who had not uttered one word of explanation for her decisions over the previous hour, was apparently been saving her speaking voice for less controversial subjects. She fondly remember the departed Duane Harte and asked that people think about America’s veterans.
During public participation, a number of residents of Sierra Park (a senior mobile home park) came up to speak about the change in ownership/management they’ve been dealing with. One woman who lives at the park worked for the new company following the takeover. However, she resigned after just a few days because she felt the company wasn’t acting in accordance with the law and that residents were suffering as a result. Several elderly residents came forward and said that they had lost rent control through deceptive contracts or business practices and that no maintenance of the grounds had taken place. One speaker predicted “a new class of homeless seniors.”
Other speakers included Lynne Plambeck, who asked that a restoration of Bouquet Canyon creek be named to honor the Savaikie Family. Sandra Cattell pointed out the need for more charging stations for electric cars. She suggested that car dealerships which sell electric vehicles could each pay for a station, as has happened in other cities. Al Ferdman brought up his most recent criticism of the plan to subsidize a Laemmle Theatre in Old Town Newhall. Ferdman said that recently released figures reveal that half of the theater’s screens would only have 45 seats, which hardly seemed to justify a $14M subsidy/incentive to build.
City Manager Ken Striplin was first to reply. He said that the mobile home park complaints were news to him but promised quick outreach. Striplin wasn’t entirely clear about the extent of the city’s jurisdiction over the park (it seemed limited), but he said they could at least investigate tree maintenance and a few other issues that had been brought up. He had the council’s support on this. Councilmember Weste said that the city needed to contact the California Mobilehome Ombudsman: “It’s time.” Kellar asked for Striplin to clarify the $14M pricetag for Laemmle. Striplin said that $10M of the $14M would go to building a parking structure, which Kellar felt defeated Ferdman’s argument that the city was lavishly subsidizing the company. (Ferdman would later respond that the parking lot was being built immediately next to the theater and was sized to accommodate the seating needs of the theater, so it still counted as a subsidy.)
The items on the consent calendar were fairly routine. The legislative platform for the new year was approved (i.e., political items where the city will take a stand only to be ignored by Sacramento) and dial-a-ride vehicles were purchased. Cam Noltemeyer spoke about item 9, which was the second reading of an update to development codes. There was language about marijuana sales, and she asked whether medical marijuana shops could do business in Santa Clarita. City Attorney Joe Montes said the answer was no.
The final bit of business was considering FY 2015-16 mid-year budget adjustments. General fund revenue was increased $3.4M in light of higher than expected tax revenue and other income. Expenditures included $120,000 to continue CEMEX opposition efforts (so much for victory, eh?) and some changes to staffing, such as three graffiti worker positions and a film permit specialist position. The changes were accepted by the council.
During the second round of public participation, several Boydston supporters had a chance to provide their immediate feedback on the council’s snubbing on Boydston. Cam Noltemeyer said that tonight, we had seen “the most desperate” (the struggling senior mobile home park residents) and “the most arrogant” (4/5 of the council). Patti Suplizio asked about all the people who Bob Kellar had said shared his concerns about Boydston. “Where are they?” she asked, “Was there an unscheduled secret meeting that I missed? How do we get your ear?” Sulpizio viewed public comments as all but worthless, since minds have usually already been made up. Andrew Taban offered his “condolences” to the city over “the death of democracy tonight.” He felt “surprised and hurt and disappointed.”
Steve Petzold, however, took Boydston to task for suggesting that there were some unscrupulous real estate agents taking advantage of seniors (Boydston had suggested this during remarks about senior mobile home housing). Petzold said the realtors he knows are very careful and forthcoming with disclosures and notifications. Boydston clarified his remarks in response.
One final exchange illustrated why things are the way they are for the council. Some CSUN graduate students spoke about Santa Clarita’s homeless population, which they have come to know through their work and through Single Mothers Outreach. In response to this and the senior housing concerns, Boydston suggested forming a city committee on homelessness. Boydston asked if anyone else shared his concerns and would support agendizing his idea. Kellar was upset by what he thought was an implication that the city hasn’t done enough to address homelessness. He thought Boydston was overly influenced by public sentiments, often having knee-jerk reactions. He held up the stack of comment cards and said that if Boydston had his way, decisions would be made simply by counting them up, leading to a “train wreck.” Dante Acosta tried make peace. He said that Boydston’s phrasing had implied that anyone against forming a new committee wasn’t interested in helping the homeless, when they really were. Acosta argued that discussion with staff was a better first step than forming a new committee. In short, Boydston wanted to make noise and start a campaign, Kellar was OK with the status quo, and Acosta wanted to play nice. Thus their respective titles. The meeting ended, and that’s it for recaps until 2016.