What Happens When We Die

Acost

Death and legacy are concerns, at times, of the Santa Clarita City Council. Tonight, there was little else on the agenda. Honorary naming, Duane Harte, gold star families, Wyatt Savaike, the proper place for a war memorial–all were considered. Even Allan Cameron’s announcement of a recent court victory(?) regarding chlorides focused on the end, in his case the invalidation of an EIR. It’s time for a rather morbid reflection.

 

R.J. vs. Bill

Councilmember TimBen Boydston’s invocation was a reading of George Washington’s “Earnest Prayer” and a request that God bless the City of Santa Clarita.

After Canyon High School’s drama crew missed their chance to be recognized at the last meeting, they were present this week–well, three of them. I felt that if the audience had to hear about their victory at the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California Competition twice in one month, more of them should have showed up. Maybe they don’t like the lighting at City Hall.

Also recognized was Detective Bill Velek of Santa Clarita’s juvenile intervention team (“The J Team”) for helping young drug users turn their lives around.

After the detective received his certificate and photo, one Michael Cruz strode purposefully toward the podium. As Chair of the Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Commission, Cruz was intent on educating his fellow Claritans about the goals that he and his fellow commissioners had established for 2016. Though his commission is all fun and recreation, Cruz’s crisp suit and slate-blue tie were all business. Unflaggingly, goal followed goal; ambition followed ambition; promise followed promise. Cruz spoke of a 2016 that, if realized, will increase everything from park use to open space acquisition to opportunities for “non-traditional sports.” When he finished, the audience sat silent, apparently too stunned to applaud.

Public participation followed. R.J. Kelly gave his support for the “Hometown Heroes” military banner program that would be discussed later in the meeting. He also stated his support for Bill Reynolds’ memorial for veterans, which has been mentioned at prior meetings. To be clear, he supported the memorial, but he definitely didn’t support the proposed location of the memorial monument in Newhall Veterans Historical Plaza. “I’m not happy to support the location…the reality of it is we wanted it to be veterans, we did not want it to be a memorial.” He added, “It should be at Eternal Valley.” Bill Reynolds also happened to be present this evening, and he countered Kelly by describing just how supportive people like Terri Crain and Don Fleming (FLEMwatch alert!) have been of the memorial project. Hopefully, the monument won’t have “Sponsored by Valencia Acura” chiseled into its granite.

A restaurant owner spoke about people illegally selling food on the street near his shop. He asked for sheriff’s deputies to shut the vendors down, but he said it was quite a process and that enforcement hasn’t happened. He worried that food might not be held at the correct temperature, especially in summer. Al Ferdman spoke about the need for more park facilities to serve a variety of residents. Indeed, Ferdman is now throwing his support behind calls for a BMX facility in Santa Clarita (the usual pro-BMX speaker was also present tonight). Ferdman said that the city has more than adequate cash available (~$50M in appropriate funds by his reckoning) that could be used for a BMX track, something that surveys and testimony show the public wants. Another frequent speaker, Steve Petzold, asked for an update on the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit that Santa Clarita was involved in some time ago.

One group of speakers was particularly impactful. You may remember the sad story of Wyatt Savaikie, a 14-year-old boy who was struck and killed by a car while skateboarding through a crosswalk last summer. Tonight, friends and family of Savaikie came up to call for changes to Santa Clarita’s roads and driving culture. Four of his teenage friends came up first, asking that something be done about the speed limit on Bouquet Canyon Road. Teresa Savaikie, Wyatt’s mother, also spoke. She was surrounded by a large number of friends and supporters as she tearfully asked that the City prioritize pedestrian safety. She said that when pedestrians are hit by cars traveling over 40 mph, 85% of them perish. The 74-year-old driver who hit her son wasn’t singled out–all Santa Clarita drivers were asked to use the roads more mindfully.

Gladys Trejo, speaking with an interpreter, asked for more legal assistance and guidance from the City for mobile home park residents. She said the situation they are facing in Granada Villa is “an emergency.” Elaine Ballace also requested assistance from City Hall. It’s clear that the lawsuit that the City of Santa Clarita is facing from mobile park owners has given the council some credibility in her eyes, but she expressed continuing frustration. In particular, Ballace dislikes the fact that owners never show up to be confronted directly–they’re always represented by attorneys instead.

City Manager Ken Striplin responded to most of the comments. He said that he felt the illegal food businesses could be addressed under current practices/policies; a new initiative wasn’t needed. In response to the mobile home park residents, he re-stated the history of the City Council’s efforts with ordinances and outreach. Striplin said that there wasn’t much more new that could be done. Striplin is never particularly sympathetic, but he was as sympathetic as he could be to Teresa Savaikie and her supporters. He said that law enforcement gives him weekly updates about traffic enforcement numbers, but he concluded that, “It does come down to behavior.” He assured her that he would remain committed to partnering with law enforcement to make streets safer for pedestrians. Finally, City Attorney Joe Montes addressed Steve Petzold’s question about the CVRA lawsuit. “Barring an appeal, that case is over,” he concluded. The three parts of the settlement were a shift in election date (fall, not spring), change to at-large voting, and, of course, $600,000 for the people who sued Santa Clarita over voting rights–God bless their goodly hearts. Since at-large voting was struck down, only the change in voting date seems to have stuck. No appeal or new litigation were mentioned.

Updates by the council were perfunctory with a couple of exceptions. Councilmembers Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean paid special tribute to the recently departed Frank Kleeman. His wife came forward and was very appreciative that he was being so well and fondly remembered. McLean mentioned that Old Town Newhall is a wonderful place to go, and Mayor Pro Tem Acosta agreed. Councilmember TimBen Boydston was able to arrange for an update on traffic violations and enforcement at an upcoming meeting to learn if the roads are becoming safer.

McLean

 

A Teachable Moment

Some items on the consent calendar attracted a few comments. Doug Fraser supported the final passage of an amendment that formalized the procedure for alternates on the Manufactured Home Rental Adjustment Panel. This should make for fairer voting in instances where representatives have to recuse themselves.

Cam Noltemeyer spoke on two items pertaining to local development. ‘This is just one of those teachable moments of the type of development that’s going on in this city,” she explained. The first item initiated the process for establishing a community facilities district for Vista Canyon. Noltemeyer spoke about such Mello-Roos districts and other shady developer tactics. She stayed at the podium to speak on the next item, which she prefaced with the statement, “I will continue this education for the community.” She was upset about this item, which had to do with supervision of alterations to the river banks in the Vista Canyon area, because of its costs and impact on the watershed.

Councilmember McLean pulled an item concerning a mulching contract. She asked where the mulch was coming from, and staff couldn’t provide much of an answer. A man said that some mulch would come from plant material in Santa Clarita, and some from material outside of Santa Clarita. She didn’t push the issue further, however. All items were approved with the recommended actions.

 

Monuments and Replacements

Mayor Kellar opened up the new business portion of the evening with a summary of the “Hometown Heroes Military Banner Program.” This program would involve hanging 3′ x 6′ heavy vinyl banners along major roads, each with a color photo and information about a currently-serving member of the military. It would cost the friends/family/sponsors of the service-member  $417.50, and the banner would be hung three times for the year (weeks around Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day). The banner could be hung the next year at a lower cost, since it would already be printed. The item proposed spending a little over $4,000 to cover the cost of 11 banners for Gold Star Families. It seems this is why Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta recused himself from this item (his son, Rudy, was killed while serving in Afghanistan). The item was well-supported. While there was some discussion of covering the cost of banners for currently-serving men and women, the plan was approved as it was written.

The next item of new business had to do with creation of an “Honor Court” to remember Claritans of consequence. Councilmember McLean has been pushing for something like this for quite a while, and she explained her logic. She said that they often receive requests to name things or places after certain people, and it’s hard to say “no” without dishonoring the departed. Her vision was to have some kind of audio storyboard for each person–visitors could hear about the life and contributions of the person being remembered at a kiosk or similar venue.

McLean’s idea was quite unpopular. “I fail to see where we’re fixing anything that’s wrong,” said Mayor Kellar, who felt that the council does a fine job of dispensing recognition and honor as warranted. “I don’t know that there’s really been a problem,” agreed Mayor Pro Tem Acosta. (He added that he hoped nothing would ever be named after him because he felt the practice was often inappropriate.) Apart from seeing the honor court as a solution in want of a problem, others criticized criteria for listing as too subjective. The item suggested something like 10 years of residence in Santa Clarita, exemplary character, and major contributions, but it was easy to imagine circumstances that would make these criteria too inclusive or too exclusive. Still, there was support for keeping the idea of something to honor the deceased (likely something digital) open to future discussion. This came after McLean said, dejectedly, “If you don’t like the idea, well, then, it dies.” Her fellow councilmembers told McLean to stick with it and they promised to think more about the right way to honor Santa Clarita’s notable-but-deceased.

The final bit of new business was appointment of Donald Cruikshank to fill the Parks Commission vacancy left by the death of the beloved Duane Harte. Harte had been Kellar’s appointment, so he was tasked with nominating the replacement. Kellar explained that Cruikshank was selected based on the interviews and opinions of a 5-person group that Kellar had assembled for that very purpose. Cruikshank and his family were delighted and remembered Harte fondly.

During the closing section of public participation, Cam Noltemeyer spoke first about the “rather shocking” behavior of the Laemmle Theater “flash mob” that had attended the last meeting to express support for the city’s plan to give millions in taxpayer funds to the theater chain. They were too raucous and riled up to have realized that funds were being used inappropriately, contended Noltemeyer.

Allan Cameron then offered his announcement of today’s court decision pertaining to the Affordable Clean Water Alliance’s legal action against the Santa Clarita Water District. He said the litigation has scarcely been mentioned or acknowledged by the City, but in a superior court ruling made today, the ACWA prevailed. Cameron’s explanation of this action was pretty abysmal–it was hard to follow what had happened because he was so intent on relishing the victory and pointing out the City’s hastiness and other faults. By the time he got to the punchline his time was practically up: “The EIR that is the foundation of all this machination and cost has been invalidated…the opportunities that this gives this community are wonderful and positive.” Weste said that sanitation district attorneys were reviewing the court decision but didn’t offer much clarification beyond that. The meeting then ended.

Full letter of Newhall Water board member alleging serious Brown Act violation

Lynne Plambeck, a longtime member of the Newhall County Water District Board of Directors has alleged that the board violated California’s open meeting laws (the Ralph M. Brown Act) by voting in closed session to pursue a merger with the Castaic Lake Water Agency, which it is suing over its purchase of the Valencia Water Company. She points out that the matter was never agendized and results of the secret vote were never reported in open session. The Signal has more this morning, and we’ve got a copy of her full complaint to the LA County District Attorney right here (PDF link, full text is below)

Other members of the board claim that the discussion and the vote was covered under exceptions that allow closed session discussions over pending litigation. I’ll have to do some more research, (and who knows, this case might wind up setting its own precedent) but the Attorney General has regularly warned that the exception “is not to be used as a subterfuge to reach nonlitigation oriented policy decisions.”

My immediate thought upon hearing the news of the planned merger was that it sounded like a major policy decision (the NCWD is effectively seeking to end itself) and the litigation exception seemed like a stretch, unrelated to the case itself. But we’ll be keeping an open mind and watching this closely.

The full text of Playback’s letter follows:

Lynne Plambeck
PO Box 220516
Newhall CA 91322

2-11-16

Board Members and Responsible Staff
Newhall County Water District
23780 Pine St.
Newhall CA. 91321

Via Hand Delivery to the Newhall County Water District

Dear Fellow Board Members:

As a more than twenty year incumbent on this Board who has taken an oath of office to follow the law and who has regularly full-filled the requirements of AB1234 by attending the required ethics training classes to ensure that I am knowledgeable concerning the laws governing elected members of Boards in the State of California including the Ralph M. Brown Act, I now wish to file a formal complaint under this statue on behalf of myself and my constituents in Newhall County Water District whom I believe have been wronged by violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act by our Board.

The Ralph M Brown Act states:

“In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly. The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

This chapter shall be known as the Ralph M. Brown Act.”

I firmly believe that this concept must hold true for our own water district and the people that have elected us not only because it is the law but also because it is a moral and ethical obligation to our constituents to act in an open and transparent manner. The residents of Newhall County Water District absolutely have the right to know what actions and discussions are being taken by their elected representatives.

Therefore, this letter is to call your attention to what I believe was a substantial violation of central provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act, Govt. Code Sections as follow below, which may jeopardize the finality of any action or decisions made by Newhall County Water District (NCWD).

Approximately a year ago our Board formed an “ad hoc committee” to commence “settlement negotiations” with Castaic Lake Water Agency (CLWA) over various legal disputes including an illegal rate increase to Newhall County Water District, a Brown Act violation claimed against us by CLWA and the illegal acquisition of Valencia Water Company in violation of state law including the State Constitution, CLWA’s own enabling act and AB134, a law previously negotiated with CLWA to settle actions they took a decade earlier. Since that time, the Second Appellate Court has ruled for Newhall County Water District on two of these disputes, which are therefore settled.

What constitutes a “legislative body” under the Brown Act? According to section Section 54952 of the Brown Act:

As used in this chapter, “legislative body” means:

(a) The governing body of a local agency or any other local body created by state or federal statute.

(b) A commission, committee, board, or other body of a local agency, whether permanent or temporary, decision making or advisory, created by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body.

However, advisory committees, composed solely of the members of the legislative body that are less than a quorum of the legislative body are not legislative bodies, except that standing committees of a legislative

body, irrespective of their composition, which have a continuing subject matter jurisdiction, or a meeting schedule fixed by charter, ordinance, resolution, or formal action of a legislative body are legislative bodies for purposes of this chapter.

This “ad hoc” committee was established by the Board and held meetings for approximately a year and was therefore in fact, a standing committee. Discussions by this “ad Hoc” committee went far beyond discussions of settlement of a lawsuit into consolidation of all of this Valley’s water agencies, including how this would be accomplished, structure, public relations to persuade the public, what legislation might be needed, etc. None of these discussions were ever agendized or reported to the public during that time, although a vague summary has since been made public by means of a “workshop” held on February 4th, 2016.

 Section 54952.6 of the Act describes an action as:

“As used in this chapter, “action taken” means a collective decision made by a majority of the members of a legislative body, a collective commitment or promise by a majority of the members of a legislative body to make a positive or a negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a legislative body when sitting as a body or entity, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order or ordinance.

 Using the statue’s description of an “action” our Board took an action in closed session at our Board meeting of January 14th as to whether or not the District should proceed with consolidation with the Castaic Lake. No report of the action taken was made after the end of the closed session.

54953 (c)(1) of the Brown Act states

No legislative body shall take action by secret ballot, whether preliminary or final.(2) The legislative body of a local agency shall publicly report any action taken and the vote or abstention on that action of each member present for the action.”

At the Board meeting of January 14th our Board took an action secretly in closed session as to whether or not the District should proceed with consolidation with the Castaic Lake Water Agency. No report of the action taken was made to the public after the end of the closed session.

Section 54954.2 describes when and what must be posted on public meeting notices as follows:

(a)(1) At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words.

(2) No action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda, except that members of a legislative body or its staff may briefly respond to statements made or questions posed by persons exercising their public testimony rights under Section 54954.3.”

At no time in the past year was the discussion of consolidation, a new governance structure, a public relations campaign or legislation or other related matters that are of vital interest and importance to our constituents ever posted on a Newhall County Water District agenda.

I make note to the Board that under Section 54963:

“(e) A local agency may not take any action authorized by subdivision (c) against a person, nor shall it be deemed a violation of this section, for doing any of the following:

(1) Making a confidential inquiry or complaint to a district attorney or grand jury concerning a perceived violation of law, including disclosing facts to a district attorney or grand jury that are necessary to establish the

illegality of an action taken by a legislative body of a local agency or the potential illegality of an action that has been the subject of deliberation at a closed session if that action were to be taken by a legislative body of a local agency.

(2) Expressing an opinion concerning the propriety or legality of actions taken by a legislative body of a local agency in closed session, including disclosure of the nature and extent of the illegal or potentially illegal action.

(3) Disclosing information acquired by being present in a closed session under this chapter that is not confidential.”

To cure and correct, Brown Act Govt. Code Section 54960.1, requires you to withdraw and disclose any commitments made. Govt. Code Section 54957.1 (b), (c) also requires copies of any contracts or settlements approved must be made available promptly. As provided by Govt. Code Section 54960.1, you have 30 days from receipt of this demand to either cure or correct the challenged action or to inform me of your decision not to do so.

Sincerely,

Lynne Plambeck
Board member, Newhall County Water District

CC: Public Integrity Division,

     Office of the District Attorney
     Los Angeles County

Private schools lead list of least-vaccinated SCV Kindergartens

Vaccine-Header_sclarita

The state’s annual report on Kindergarten vaccination rates is out, and because some people never learn, several SCV schools are reporting dangerously high rates of parents refusing to vaccinate their children.

Four SCV Kindergartens report exemptions in that danger zone (over 8%) where herd immunity for measles and whooping cough is threatened. Two schools, Trinity and SCVi, were also on this list last year, and SCVi has been on this list for three years in a row. Here are the schools:

School (District), Personal Beliefs Exemption Rate
Trinity Classical Academy (Private), 14%
Legacy Christian Academy (Private ), 11%
SCVi (Hart – Charter), 9%
North Park (Saugus), 9%

Overall, SCV Kindergartens are showing that 92% of kids are up to date with their vaccinations, but 3% of kids are not vaccinated under what’s known as a Personal Belief Exemption (PBE) which means their parents refuse to get the vaccinations required for Kindergarten. That’s up slightly from last year (2.7%) but better than two years ago (4.6%).

This is the last year that parents of Kindergartners will be able to claim a PBE. Under a state law passed last year, all children in preschool, Kindergarten, and 7th grade will need to show proof of vaccination. Only medical exemptions will be allowed.

The full dataset can be found here. Reports on 7th grade and childcare/preschools are expected in the coming weeks.

Herd Immunity
Apart from the obvious risk to their own children, the decline in vaccinations it threatens the “herd immunity.” The herd immunity is when nearly everyone in a group is vaccinated, and it prevents outbreaks from occurring. Without it, there is a much higher risk of infection for unvaccinated schoolchildren, younger children, the elderly and anyone with compromised immune systems. This video explains it really well.

Claritans Cheer Large Donation to Theater Chain


Bob

 

Tonight, three-fourths of the Santa Clarita City Council approved a very popular plan for Old Town Newhall that includes a parking structure, mixed retail/residential, and a Laemmle theater, the best that $18M in taxpayer funds can buy. It’s not the end of the redevelopment story, but it still took five hours to get there. The lengthy meeting was a product of other business (council raises, mobile homes), Boydston’s extensive comments about the theater proposal, and a very talkative public. Indeed, there were dozens of supporters for Laemmle, many of whom saw the theater chain as nothing less than the salvation of Newhall–nay, the salvation of Newhall, Santa Clarita’s economy, and the Arts themselves. A few opposing voices were largely ineffective. Bob Kellar would close the meeting with the promise that “We’re gonna have a Laemmle Theater in this town!” Time for recapitulation.

*Note: “theater” will be used instead of “theatre”–Laemmle uses both, but “theater” is used more often on its FAQ page. Unfortunately, consistent spelling was not a condition of tonight’s deal.

 

Dangerous Dairy

Mayor McLean’s invocation addressed a topic that made her “a little sad.” She spoke of the passing of Frank Kleeman, a man who served many non-profits in Santa Clarita. McLean had spoken with Frank’s wife, who revealed that Frank would have been shocked at the attention his passing received in The Signal and at City Hall. McLean believes that volunteers ought to know they are valued while they’re still alive, and she advised people in the crowd to make their appreciation known.

The Men of Harmony Chorus came to the front of the room and sang because, well, why the hell not. The performance was pleasing in its brevity.

No coherent threads could be pulled from public participation. State Senator Bob Huff introduced himself to the crowd because he’s going to be running for LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s seat once he’s termed out. Huff seemed rather self-involved, so he would be a natural successor. Elaine Ballace asked for someone to return her missing scarf (one of her favorites, she said). She also requested that those in power, particularly council members, show some support for mobile home residents by attending rent panel meetings. A local father and BMX enthusiast said he’s been taking steps to get a BMX track in Santa Clarita and asked for discussion of options to be agendized next meeting.

Al Ferdman was upset at what he perceived to be City efforts to block the County from meeting with residents to talk about park needs. The County has been engaging in outreach as research before a bond measure. In response, Rick Gould said that they’ve already had many meetings with residents and have passed those results along to LA County, and City Manager Ken Striplin said that they could provide the county with a meeting venue if the county would go to the trouble of organizing and publicizing the meeting itself. Striplin stated that opting out of the recent meetings didn’t mean Santa Clarita would be exempt from county park funds. Ferdman brought up the matter again in a later comment, stating that he’d call the county tomorrow morning to get the ball rolling on a meeting. At that point, an annoyed Mayor Kellar “reminded” Ferdman that elected officials and staff make such calls, not Al himself.

Two college students were the final public speakers. The first read a slew of statistics about environmental issues, most relating to industrial agriculture. He requested that the council require school assemblies to inform students about these issues. The second student took things several steps further. He said that just because something is a part of one’s culture, that doesn’t mean it’s right–he used the history of slavery in the U.S. as an example. But the cultural norm he was interested in changing was consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy. He said the practice was unhealthy and unethical, and he went into considerable detail about how most of the world is lactose-intolerant. He also called for better food education of Claritan youths. The council seemed more amused by the youth and pluck of these speakers than impressed by their proposals, but City Manager Striplin encouraged them to bring their suggestions to a school board meeting. Steve Petzold was the first to juxtapose their comments with the McRib comments of several meetings ago. He tweeted, “#sccouncil hungry for a mah crib,” after the plea for more vegan lifestyle choices.

Council updates followed. They were a mix of tedium, anticipation, and remembrance. In summary: go to the Cowboy Festival.

Dante Takes on TimBen

The consent calendar was relatively brief, but the second readings of two items attracted discussion. First, several speakers said that they supported the plan to appoint voting alternates for the mobile home rent panel. This would make up for lost votes in those instances where panel members must recuse themselves from voting because they own or rent at a particular park. But with some appeals in the near future, several on the council wanted the change to the ordinance to be put into effect immediately, not after the next election when it would be too late. Councilmember McLean said “We’re smart and we should be able to come up with something that will work!” By “we” she meant City Attorney Joe Montes, who was tasked with devising a solution on the spot. He said that the council could adopt the ordinance and make plans for accelerating the election of alternates. In the interim, hearings on cases where alternates were needed for owners or renters would be postponed. The council was happy to accept the plan, but when considering the fallout, Montes could offer nothing more than a promise to “play the cards where they fall,” which mixes a couple of gambling metaphors but still manages to communicate the uncertainties ahead.

Most significantly, the entire council is now behind mobile home park residents. With the lawsuit that the city is facing from owners, continual skirting of rent policies, and literally years of hearing about mobile home woes from renters at every meeting, the councilmembers are frustrated. Weste feels that the entire state has failed to find a solution, and even Mayor Kellar said, “It’s time this thing gets fixed.”

During discussion of an item finalizing raises for the 2017-8 council, things got even more tense. Acosta was the most fired up. From his variety of acting roles, which range from “Angry Middle Eastern Driver” to diabetic father to the quirky “Chef Hollandaise”, it’s clear that the mayor pro tem knows how to emote. But he’s usually quite reserved at council meetings, if he speaks at all. Not so tonight.

After Councilmember Boydston made his expected protest of a 10% raise, a decision he called “morally reprehensible,” Acosta called him out. “We couldn’t just leave it alone…Councilmember Boydston seconded this item to be put back on the agenda!” Acosta contended that Boydston wanted to use the discussion of pay raises as an opportunity to discuss cash-in-lieu benefit discrepancies, but when Boydston was told he couldn’t discuss them, he flipped on the matter. Next, Acosta chastised Boydston for always having to have the last word and he said the raise would be applied next year, not immediately. “Should you be so fortunate enough to get reelected, I’m challenging you to direct the city manager to dock your pay that amount and give it to the seniors,” Acosta told Boydston. He added that the raise would help to cover the expenses he covers for his elderly mother, whose car is in the shop today. Acosta closed by calling Boydston “disingenuous” and asked, “Did you only bring it up to cudgel us with it?…Sorry but I’m tired of it.” Acosta’s remarks were somewhat scattered, but the crowd applauded him. Unlike former Mayor McLean, Mayor Kellar doesn’t make much effort to restrict applause.

Dante

“Councilmember Boydston, let’s try to keep it kindly,” Mayor Kellar warned before letting Boydston respond to Acosta (Acosta received no such warning). Boydston said of Acosta’s claims, “Nothing could be further from the truth.” He said he seconded discussion of raises because he’s frustrated that a councilmember needs support of others councilmembers to get an item on the agenda. And in Boydston’s book, more discussion is always good. Acosta began defending the raise to the audience yet again, saying, “We make basically just over minimum wage.” He said the raise was 5-and-5 percent, not 10 percent, and he said he would be comfortable letting voters decide “Am I worth $183 more a month or not?”

When the vote on the raise went around, Boydston said yes. Some members of the audience reacted in disbelief, and after a few moments Boydston realized his error, the crowd guffawed, and Boydston corrected his vote to a “no”. Kellar was the other “no”, but the item passed with the support of McLean, Weste, and ,of course, Mayor Pro Tem Acosta. The rest of the consent calendar was approved with the recommended actions.

$3.4 Million Reasons for Laemmle to Come to Santa Clarita

At last, it was time for the big agenda item of the night: Laemmle. Jason Crawford kicked things off with a thorough presentation about the $21.6M construction project. There are multiple parts and parcels–mixed use business/residence, theater, parking. But the basics are that Serrano (developer) would purchase a chunk of property at fair market value. Then the City would pay for and give a chunk of property to Laemmle plus cover other costs/fees totaling $3.4M in subsidies to the theater chain. There were several conditions placed on Laemmle, including a requirement to operate 6 screens for at least 7 years (their plan is 7 screens), and no fewer than 4 screens thereafter for a total of 15 years. And finally, Santa Clarita would cover the multi-level parking structure, the really big ticket item. The request for proposals on the structure has yet to go out, but it’s estimated at $15.2M. The plan is more finely detailed than what I’ve written and there were nearly two full pages of specific recommended actions for the council and redevelopment successor agency on the agenda, but that’s the big picture.

Crawford spent quite a bit of time discussing the studies done and consultants consulted about economic benefits of the project. The presentation was full of stats and figures, but the critical one was an estimated ~$200,000 from increased sales tax revenue and increased property tax revenue. He also said that Santa Clarita wasn’t the exception when it came to subsidizing the theater–Glendale gave $5.1M to get its Laemmle and North Hollywood residents subsidized theirs with $3.3M. Laemmle appears accustomed to accepting millions in subsidies as a housewarming present from communities.

When the presentation ended, Greg Laemmle, who was in attendance, did not speak but rather sat through public comments. Mayor Kellar said that there were 40 speaker cards, and he recommended that people keep it brief lest everyone be “late for breakfast.” The crowd laughed, and the procession of speakers began. (Councilmember Weste, incidentally, was in the Century Room watching because she has property in the area and had to recuse herself–Kellar had gotten laughs when he said he wanted to join her.)

The vast majority of speakers and comment cards were in favor of the theater/retail plan. Many predicted a strong, positive financial impact on the community. The first speaker owns property in the area, and he explained how delighted he was that rents were going for $2 a square foot in anticipation of a theater. Other business owners in the area were supportive of bringing in a big new business to anchor downtown–these included the wife of a veterinarian who practices down the street and a woman who runs Organic Sweat Shack, an infrared sauna for sweating away calories. Terri Crain and Holly Schroeder offered the blessings of the Santa Clarita business community at large. Dick Jeffrey said, “No potential business should ever be denied simply because it represents a threat to a similar type of business in the same area. If there is not enough room for both, capitalism and that process that it entails will tell the tale and take care of the difference.” In light of the generous subsidies and exclusive negotiation privileges that had been afforded Serrano/Laemmle, Jeffrey’s contention that we were watching the free market work seemed poorly supported.

Another batch of comments focused on benefits to Santa Clarita’s arts scene. One woman complained that she has to drive over the pass to have her lunch and movie with the ladies. Another lamented her inability to watch Oscar-nominated films in local theaters. Bob Hernandez, president of ARTree, spoke slowly and with pregnant pauses as he offered his withering assessment of Claritan arts: “I believe in culture. We, frankly, in Santa Clarita, do not have any…” And Hernandez should know–he has given Santa Clarita a tacky mural on the bike trail and crafty project events where kids can glue decoration onto shoes, which clearly establishes him as our valley’s de facto cultural authority. A local filmmaker was supportive of the project, just hoping that Newhall could avoid “all these chains that come and ruin everything” (the exception, of course, being the Laemmle chain). A man who has sold art films and just bought a home in Newhall said, “This town needs art, it needs it so bad!” He mentioned that Mike Levine, a beloved local actor who passed away a couple years ago, had wanted a theater like Laemmle. The speaker said it was “insane” (an adjective presumably addressed at Boydston) to push back against the project. And a lot of people just plain liked the kinds of movies the Laemmle will likely show.

There were many other supporters ranging from bicycling enthusiasts (who hoped for bike parking in the garage) to couples looking for something to do to people who have put their time into making Newhall great (well, great-ish). Carol Rock got quite a lot of applause after she laid out the merits of the project and made a preemptive critique of Boydston’s opposition. She said that Boydston’s theater guild had received a grant to move from Sierra Highway to Newhall, so Boydston, too, was a beneficiary of the public’s largesse. And of course, Leon Worden, tireless champion of Newhall, history, and the intersection thereof, was in favor of the project.

Some, however, spoke in opposition. Steve Petzold and Gene Dorio wondered whether the movie industry could even be counted on to exist in 15 years–was this the right horse to bet on in the race for long-term financial stability? This sentiment seemed at odds with recent record-setting movie ticket sales despite rampant piracy and improved home theaters. If tonight’s crowd was any indication, there are people who really, really want to see movies in the theater. Deanna Hanashiro raised the threat of paid parking, and she said that with empty building elsewhere in town, a new theater amounted to a “frivolous” expenditure.  Cam Noltemeyer called the plan a gift that would benefit a private company. While accurate, her statement was poorly received.
When comments ended, Boydston asked for a bathroom break, explaining he’s been ill all week. Kellar agreed, but asked, “Can we get ‘er done in 5 minutes?” TimBen promised even faster.

Boydston Talks

Councilmember Boydston was the first to speak, and he went on for the better part of an hour. His comments began with a lengthy explanation of his ability to be impartial on the item, despite having a theater that could benefit/lose from the presence of a Laemmle (he wasn’t sure which was more likely–more traffic or competition.) Still, Boydston said, “There is nothing I would like better” than a Laemmle in town. He acknowledged that the City of Santa Clarita had subsidized the move of the Canyon Theater Guild in the past (they gave $1 for every $2 spend by the guild). All that said, Boydston presented another plan. It wasn’t well drawn out, looking more like a draft from Microsoft Paint than a slick sketch, but it was adequate as a visual aid. His plan envisioned only commercial buildings and street level parking–no theater or big parking structure. Boydston said the plan would save a lot of money, and the City could expect to recover its investment in 11 years versus 97 years. Boydston said the money saved could go to: senior center ($2M), adult day care center ($2M), transitional care unit ($2M), year-round homeless services ($2M), no-kill animal shelter ($2M), parks facilities ($3M) and Via Princess extension or other roads ($5.6M). Basically, he was asking the people to weigh whether they wanted a theater and big parking or a major contribution to old people, puppies, the homeless, and the ill.

The plan attracted no support.

Boydston next had a lengthy interview with Greg Laemmle. He asked if they could guarantee that they would show arthouse-type films. Laemmle said they usually show a mix of popular and more obscure films depending on audience demands. Next, Boydston asked if the theater could add a $1 surcharge or tax on every ticket, which could be used to pay costs associated with development. Laemmle said that would put them at a competitive disadvantage and that the City would have to impose it. Boydston still pushed the idea, which didn’t seem so outrageously unreasonable, but Laemmle said it was “Not something that I’m willing to do…I think that I’ve answered your question and the answer is no!” Some in the crowd cheered Laemmle. Apparently, they were supportive of his insistence on taking the full subsidy from Santa Clarita taxpayers.

Boydston’s remarks began to test the patience of Mayor Kellar and the crowd. He tried to get clarification on whether anticipated tax revenue was coming from shuffling people around Santa Clarita or from attracting new patrons from outside the area. As the clock moved toward 11, Kellar put a time limit on Boydston so that other councilmembers could speak. “It’s just getting out of hand here!” he said.

Councilmember McLean moved the recommended actions for the City, and Mayor Pro Tem Acosta gave her a second. Acosta then moved the recommended actions of the redevelopment successor agency, and McLean gave him a second. Then Acosta offered a few minutes of his own thoughts. He said that the parking structure would benefit everyone and that that’s what cities do–build parking. He said it would be cheaper now than later. Acosta also said that Laemmle was a small chain and gave charitably, so it was more deserving of public funds than, say, Regal.

Before the vote, Councilmember Boydston asked if they could separate the parts of the motions so that he could give his support to some limited aspects of the project while withholding support from others. City Attorney Joe Montes said it would take a bit of work, but a tired (or fed up, or both) council decided to force a vote of the motions as McLean and Acosta had already made them. Thus, Boydston voted no, and the others voted yes. The vote leaves much business to be settled, but the project is moving forward.

I’m not sure if Old Town Newhall looks like a hundred million bucks, but it’s more than halfway there in terms of tax expenditures ($50M was the figure that Leon Worden and others gave for City investment in Newhall to date, and this project adds another $20M or so). The theater development will be the biggest step yet toward Newhall’s gentrification.

The crowd cheered, and it was time for the last round of public participation. Only Cam Noltemeyer spoke, and more memorable than her remarks was her opening line at the microphone. Standing with steely contempt for the antics of those celebrating around her, she asked, “Could you calm down the rabble-rousers, please?” She complained about the “gift of public funds” and asked about redevelopment agency titles/capacities. The meeting ended a minute before 11.

 Cam

 

Appendix: Whole Foods is to SoDoSoPa as Laemmle is to Old Town Newhall

Below is a transcript from a recent episode of South Park (“The City Part of Town“) that explores gentrification of South Park’s rundown urban center. A number of cities though the script was specifically about them, and it certainly works well for Newhall. In other words, it shows that Santa Clarita’s pursuit of more cultural sophistication is making it a cultural cliche, right down to the twinkling white lights in the trees that say hey, I’ve gentrified. Just replace “SodoSoPa” with “Old Town Newhall” and “Whole Foods” with “Laemmle” in the script.

Mayor: I’m announcing a plan for SodoSoPa. A new urban development that will turn the most rundown and dilapidated part of our town into a quaint center of artisan shops and cafes.
Randy: Lots of cities are doing this. The area south of Downtown South Park has always been the ugly eyesore of this town. But now, SodoSoPa is going to bring in the fresh new vibrancy that Whole Foods can’t ignore.
Architect: We’ll keep the existing structures, but add brick walkways and some quaint white lights. A plaza in the middle will be a place where young couples can play with their toddlers. And it will all be small businesses like artisan cheese shops or noodle houses.
Randy: Oh, this is really exciting. I thought this area was just gonna stay shitty forever… [in phone conversation trying to woo Whole Foods to set up shop in town:] We have a SodoSoPa and this town is completely different! SodoSoPa! We have an arts and entertainment district! Cultural!

The arts/entertainment district, the plaza, the brick walkways with white lights, the charming eateries, and even the mixed residential loft spaces…Old Town Newhall has/will have it all. How innovative, how sophisticated, how unique.

Council Does Laemmle: The Bingo Game

The whole city is abuzz over whether tonight the city council will approve $3.5-ish million to lure Laemmle Theaters to Downtown Newhall. It’s a topic worthy of deep and contrasting discussions, and there will be time for that. But tonight, we want you to follow the action, in person or at home, and make up your own mind.

And what better way to stimulate engagement than a game of bingo?

As blocks are filled, tweet us @SCVtweets (#SCCouncil) and if BINGO hits, I expect to hear some cheering on my TV. Do we have a deal?

(click on the image for a bigger version)

Council Bingo