Tonight’s Santa Clarita City Council brought several long-standing, lukewarm issues back to a simmer. Much of the (north)west-side of Santa Clarita is moving toward annexation despite the concerns of at least one developer. The Santa Clarita Library system will continue to be operated by LSSI, a name once met with scorn but now with approving indifference. The next step to support mobile home residents was taken. Amidst all this existing business came plans to discuss Measure E, a $230M local bond measure to benefit College of the Canyons. But before we consider what’s to come, let’s revisit what was.
Mayor Bob Kellar provided the invocation. He remembered the murder of four police officers that took place in the Santa Clarita Valley 46 years ago. At the time, Kellar was a young LAPD officer, and he remembered how the shooting rattled officers and departments across the country. The event was on his mind because of recent efforts by Eternal Valley, KHTS, and others to keep the memory of the slain officers alive.
Council recognition went to two efforts aimed at making Santa Clarita clean and green. “Hands On Santa Clarita” was applauded for removing tens of tons of trash from the valley, and a proclamation was made for Arbor Day. At the Earth/Arbor Day Event, residents will be able to secure free trees and ladybugs, the latter of which their children can sprinkle on bushes, lawns, or driveways to wander, die, or invade Santa Clarita. Ah, tradition.
Public participation comments were almost exclusively focused on mobile home park issues. “I washed my clothes three times and the tire marks are still there,” said Elaine Ballace of a recent hearing concerning rents at Parklane Estates. She was alluding to the fact that residents got thrown under the bus by park owners and by city staff at the hearing. She felt both worked against residents’ interests. The number of people she named as being thrown under the bus would have made for a very sizable jolt indeed. Ballace also called the proceedings a “kangaroo court” and demanded corrective action be taken to defend renters’ interests. Al Ferdman followed Ballace and gave a little more detail on the apparent “kangaroo court.” Ferdman explained that residents had gathered signatures, but the board questioned the validity of the signatures. A lawyer representing mobile home park owners was allowed to unofficially interrogate residents about their signatures and claims. Ferdman claimed there was no authority allowing this to happen. He went so far as to claim that he witnessed “city staff intentionally derail the process.” Ferdman said he would provide a DVD of the hearing to City Manager Striplin to see what went on.
Two Spanish-speaking residents also spoke out against conditions facing renters at mobile home parks, especially Granada Villa. Another man spoke about his parents’ experience. They signed a 20-year contract and have seen rents shoot up 168% over the years.
Steve Petzold changed topics. He reminded the council that, were it not for the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, today would have been election day. It was an attempt to provoke discussion about district-based voting in Santa Clarita, but the provocation proved ineffective. He also spoke about Measure E, a quarter-billion dollar bond measure to improve classroom facilities and parking at College of the Canyons. Petzold said that with only half of COC students residing in the community college district, it was unfair for Claritans to subsidize the college.
Cam Noltemeyer, the last public speaker, said that she wanted to give Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta a lesson on redevelopment. She claimed that Acosta was confusing redevelopment for developer handouts with regard to Old Town Newhall and the recently approved subsidy to Laemmle Theaters.
City Manager Ken Striplin dismissed Noltemeyer’s remarks by explaining that Newhall was being redeveloped under the observation of applicable laws and with community support. He deigned not to address mobile home park concerns. Councilmember Laurene Weste did instead. She said that the situation is complex, especially with the lawsuit that the city is facing from mobile home park owners and the city’s limited ability to take action. She proposed bringing some particularly egregious cases to state legislators. Weste felt this might “personalize it” and get some state action to address questionable mobile home park practices. Councilmember TimBen Boydston also sympathized with renters and pushed for action, and the mayor and city manager affirmed that further steps would be taken.
Councilmember updates covered the Cowboy Festival, public transportation, and various local events. Mayor Kellar asked to put discussion of Measure E on a future agenda. Councilmember Marsha McLean was uncomfortable with the idea; she felt that it would be adequately decided by the voters. “What would you hope to get out of that?” she asked of the proposed discussion. Kellar said that he hoped the council would voice its support because College of the Canyons plays a big role in the community. He was able to get the item agendized with support from Boydston, who said he’ll always support additional discussion of any item, and from a somewhat reluctant Weste, who gave her support because Kellar so badly wanted the item discussed. Whether Kellar will return the favor and support discussion of one of Boydston’s pet issues remains to be seen.
The consent calendar received no discussion this evening. Items included recycling grants, improving trail access with a new ramp, and concrete rehabilitation. Perhaps no discussion was in order. All items passed with the recommended actions. This afforded plenty of time for three more involved items relating to Vista Canyon, annexation, and libraries.
Annex Me Not
First up was discussion of a plan to form a community facilities district for Vista Canyon. This is essentially a means of funding three parking structures and part of a metro station through special taxes/bonds. The City of Santa Clarita will ultimately take ownership of the parking structures and land beneath them. This last point was a concern of Boydston, who noted some ambiguity in the language (i.e., “may” instead of “would” take the land–the city has the right to, it seems). The plan was approved after one of those silly ballot counting exercises where the developer holds control of the vote.
Following Vista Canyon, the City Council was asked to consider moving forward with annexation of over 1,000 acres of the West Hills and West Creek areas. The next steps in that process were defined as prezoning and submitting an application to LAFCO. There was general support from residents (over two-thirds favored annexation, though most survey cards haven’t been returned) and City Manager Ken Striplin said, “Timing is of the essence.” The sole speaker on this plan was Alan Fenstermacher, an attorney representing Fountainhead Development. He explained that the developer was planning to build an assisted living senior housing facility, three drive-thru restaurants, and gas station in one of the areas proposed for annexation. He said that the developer has spent two years processing entitlements with the county, and they were worried about starting from scratch with the city. He suggested delaying annexation of the specific 8-acres where his client’s development would take place. They wanted to avoid being “annexed at the 5-yard line.”
A lot of back and forth followed between the attorney and councilmembers with input from City Manager Striplin and City Attorney Montes. It seemed that after annexation, Santa Clarita would have say over the project but could honor the agreements and approvals that had been worked out between county and developer up to that point. The letter from the attorney (sent earlier the same day) ruffled some feathers with allegations of inadequate noticing and other grounds for delaying annexation. Councilmember Boydston felt that Claritans were being threatened with a baseless lawsuit if they moved forward with annexation. Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta decided to be particularly forceful in dealing with Fenstermacher, saying, “No one likes a liar.” The developer and city staff had been in talks for months, and Acosta was offended at the attorney’s implication that the annexation issue had surprised the developer due to insufficient notice.
There was more than enough time for Fenstermacher to make his case for the developer, but he hadn’t swayed many minds. Ken Striplin felt that, “Attorneys in the firm are being overly conservative in anticipating concerns,” and Joe Montes noted that it would take another two weeks to formally approve the proposed steps toward annexation. That was time for quick processing of entitlements with the county or for concerns to be more concretely articulated. The council moved forward with the annexation process and without special accommodations for Fountainhead Development.
The final item on tonight’s agenda was approval of a five-year contract with LSSI, the company that runs the city’s libraries. Darren Hernandez said that major measures of library use have improved since Santa Clarita left the county library system. Holdings have expanded, attendance and use of facilities have increased, and there are a number of popular programs that serve more residents than ever. The agenda item recommended that LSSI continue to operate the libraries. The budget would steadily increase from $3.6M in FY 2016-17 to $3.9M in FY 2020-21.
For those new to Santa Clarita or with short memories, the transition from county-run to privately-run libraries was a hugely contentious event in recent Claritan history. Tonight, some familiar faces from that fight come forward to comment on the contract extension. Lori Rivas towed a cart of dozens of books to the podium for her remarks. She said that the volumes had been purchased but soon off-loaded by the Santa Clarita Library–her own little libraries couldn’t accommodate all the discarded material. Rivas said this suggested waste, and she reminded the council that LSSI profits from purchases and expansions. It would make more sense, she said, to explore a plan to have the city run the libraries, re-investing would-be profits back into the community. Rivas has such a plan and she has been promoting it, but she said the council has not really explored the option. Deanna Hanashiro also spoke. She felt that the Santa Clarita Library didn’t have the same value as the LA County Library, and she mentioned specific grievances from the takeover. This included disposal of VHS tapes. Al Ferdman contended that our library has some $8M in debt, and he too felt that the system could be managed better.
Councilmember TimBen Boydston was the most sympathetic to the concerns that had been voiced. He brought up Lori Rivas’ proposal, which he said he liked, but he didn’t find support from other councilmembers to formally discuss it at some future meeting. Boydston also pointed out that the council still constituted the Board of Library Trustees. He reminded several councilmembers that they had promised to serve in that capacity only temporarily. Now, it’s essentially trustee for life (political life, at least), which he did not agree with.
Councilmember Marsha McLean gave a spirited defense of Santa Clarita’s system. She said privatization was an excellent decision. Programs haven’t turned children away due to lack of resources, local tax dollars are serving the community directly, and new materials and facilities have been paid for. Hernandez also countered Ferdman’s point about the library debt, saying that LSSI operates for less than the amount of library tax revenue generated each year. He said that the initial debt was being steadily paid off. With that, the council (well, everyone but Boydston) approved a contract for about $20M that will keep LSSI in the libraries through 2020.