Parking Structure Parties, Firework Checkpoints

Tonight’s was the last Santa Clarita City Council meeting before the summer recess, and it was a quick one. A $13M parking structure plan was approved for Old Town Newhall with very little debate. Discussion of the war memorial wall for Veterans Historical Plaza was deferred until after the recess. Interestingly, what ended up consuming a substantial portion of the meeting was discussion of how many loud and illegal fireworks went off in Santa Clarita over Independence Day. When Claritan historians look back on this meeting years from now, it shall be remembered as the one when Marsha McLean suggested setting up firework enforcement checkpoints. Let’s do this one last recap, and then we’ll all be excused from these efforts for over a month.
Rooftop Parties
 
Councilmember Marsha McLean said that, in light of recent events, she struggled to find the right words for tonight’s invocation. She ended up paraphrasing the eulogy that President Obama delivered this morning, encouraging people to be open to truly listening to one another and understanding differences.
Following the pledge, Mayor Bob Kellar said that it was necessary to move Item 14 (Old Town Newhall/Laemmle parking structure) from the end of the meeting agenda to the very beginning. He didn’t provide the reason at first, but immediately after the vote, Mayor pro tem Acosta left and Kellar explained that Acosta’s mother had passed away just hours earlier. The schedule had been rearranged to let Acosta minimize his time away from his grieving family.
The 376-space parking structure project recommended by staff was about $12.5M (with a $1.3M contingency). There was an option of making the top level include an event space, which slightly affected the final price. The recommendation was quickly accepted by the council, but Councilmember McLean wanted a provision to regulate access to the top deck event area, especially late at night. She worried that people could “get up there and do whatever, after-hours.” There were a few other concerns raised as well, such as falling off the roof. In response, City Manager Ken Striplin said that the top level wouldn’t be a fully-enclosed structure so much as an event-ready venue; it had been difficult to picture what was meant by “event space on the top deck” prior to this clarification. He made assurances that all relevant laws would be enforced. As for the risk of roof-to-ground movements, he said, “People will jump off if they jump off.” Striplin’s matter-of-fact-ness can be utterly refreshing.
The parking structure project was approved by everyone except Councilmember Laurene Weste, who recused herself due to the proximity of her property holdings to the project.
Fireworks
 
There were only four speakers during public participation. Al Ferdman asked for more information on the former city employee who embezzled funds. “The public has a right to understand what transpired,” he said, adding that he was interested in learning whether new preventative measures had been put into place.
A man who lives in Valencia came up to complain about particularly loud illegal fireworks that went off in the streets this year. “This directly effects the quality of life,” he said, hoping that offenders would be “fined to the maximum.”
Elaine Ballace’s speech tonight was a little bit over the top, even by her own extraordinarily high standards. She said that life in Santa Clarita has been hard on her. “I came here under duress,” she said, explaining that her move was prompted by the need to care for her elderly mother. “I begged her to leave,” she continued. Her condemnations of the City of Santa Clarita were sweeping and damning: “Everybody lies here…is there no truth?” Then Ballace got around to the Dianne Van Hook restraining order–recall that the College of the Canyons Chancellor sought a restraining order against Ballace when Ballace made “threatening” remarks on a YouTube video about Measure E. Ballace asked of Van Hook, “She’s an educator yet she wants to take away First and Second Amendment rights?” The most interesting claim was that Van Hook was actively engaging in friendly communication with Ballace while in court over the restraining order. Ballace said, “She came up to me during court and said, ‘And you know there’s a water bowl in the bathroom for your dog.’ Is this a woman who’s threatened?” Both Dianne Van Hook and Elaine Ballace have pushed the restraining order affair to absurdly dramatic heights.
The final speaker was Doug Fraser, who asked for more details about revisions planned for the already-recently-revised mobile home park ordinance.
City Manager Ken Striplin responded to the speakers in order. With regard to the embezzlement case, he said, “We have been very transparent from the beginning.” Striplin predicted that the criminal investigation would be wrapping up this week and that results of a forensic audit would be available next week.
Striplin’s response on illegal fireworks was lengthier because the City Council was eager to chime in. He described proactive outreach activities that the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Department had undertaken in the week leading up to the Fourth of July. Areas with known firework offenders were visited and informed about firework regulations. On the actual night, there were about 300 phone calls complaining about fireworks, 0 arrests, 4 citations issued (about $1000 each), and 200 pounds of fireworks confiscated. This did not satisfy everyone. Councilmember Laurene Weste said that a broader, regional-scale solution was needed because it’s much too easy for people to leave the city or county to obtain fireworks. It’s then just a short drive back to the fire-prone SCV. Councilmember McLean thought the fireworks situation was out of hand. She had an idea.
 
“Someone made a suggestion, and I’m wondering if it’s a far-fetched one or not, about having checkpoints from a certain area where we know they go to buy the fireworks and catch them before they come into the city. And then I know we have checkpoints for driving under the influence; maybe we could have checkpoints around the Fourth of July for whether these things are in people’s cars. And I know that I’m going to get banged for this, for, ‘It’s my right to do this!’ and everything, but it’s everybody else’s right as well.”
marsha-Fireworks-700
Her suggestion was not eagerly seized upon by the other members of council.
As for mobile home park ordinance revisions, Striplin said that there’s going to be a 6-8 month process during which staff will try to address some of the unforeseen consequences that have arisen from the most recent ordinance.
Hotel Bills
 
The consent calendar wasn’t particularly controversial. Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked about an item to cover Amgen Tour hotel room costs. He wondered if it was worth the $53,343.28 for rooms at the Hyatt. Jason Crawford said that, based on an economic analysis from a prior year, Santa Clarita could see benefits worth $1.9M from hosting a start and finish of the bicycle race. This was an estimate that included marketing and branding benefits.
Two items increased Santa Clarita’s open space. One site proposed for purchase was 241 acres formerly slated for the Las Lomas development in the Newhall pass area. The other was 78 acres in Tapia Canyon, Castaic. Open space financial accountability panel member Wendy Langhans said that she was “over the moon” about the Las Lomas acquisition, which will provide important habitat for wildlife and contribute to regional connectivity. She mentioned an apparent error about land designations for the Tapia Canyon area, however, and Rick Gould said that there had been a labeling mistake and it would be fixed. The error didn’t affect the purchase.
Al Ferdman spoke on a landscaping item, asking whether lucrative contracts were worth it when the companies under contract couldn’t even be bothered to remove dead plant material left from when drought restrictions were implemented.
Ultimately, the consent calendar passed with the recommended actions on all items.
There were plans to have yet another discussion about the war memorial wall planned for Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall. However, Councilmember TimBen Boydston suggested that it would be appropriate to continue this item to another date given the absence of Mayor pro tem Dante Acosta. Tragically, Acosta’s son’s name is one set to go on the memorial wall, so all the councilmembers agreed that it would be best to pick up this item again at the end of summer. The meeting ended and the next one is set for August 23rd. See you then.

Love Boat, Dark Fibers

NOTE: We had some technical difficulties posting the recap from earlier this month; if you’d like to catch up, you can read it at http://iheartscv.blogspot.com/2016/06/new-budget-hospital-corridors-bmx.html

 

Tonight’s meeting of the Santa Clarita City Council made many happy by many means. An 85-year-old actor got a chance to shine before a receptive audience. A local veteran learned that his war memorial project will be discussed for the umpteenth time. A community desirous of truly high-speed internet saw a small but promising glimmer of possibility. And a little neighborhood called Canyon Country moved a step closer to getting a community center of its own. There were woes and concerns and nagging questions, too, but we’ll get to those in the recap.

 

“A Gift from God”

Mayor Kellar delivered an invocation in which he read a bunch of quotations. They ranged from “you cannot help the poor by destroying the rich” to “you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.” His punchline was the revelation that these quotes came from President Abraham Lincoln. But they did not. The quotations are often misattributed to Lincoln, but they were actually written by William Boetcker (“The Ten Cannots”). This is the second time that Kellar has misattributed quotations to a major historical figure–six months ago there was some confusion about Thomas Jefferson. Blame the Internet.

Awards and presentations this evening were unusual. The first item was a proclamation that dedicated a whole day to love at sea. You see, Gavin MacLeod played the captain on The Love Boat and he has worked in the decades since as an ambassador for Princess Cruises, which is headquartered in town. Some PR mastermind clearly saw an opportunity, and Santa Clarita proclaimed “Princess Cruises Ambassador Gavin MacLeod Day.” Bit of a mouthful, don’t you think? In any case, the 85-year-old MacLeod spoke energetically, rapidly, and enthusiastically about a whole variety of topics once he was handed the microphone. He described what he likes about Santa Clarita–the free parking, the wide streets, the school system, that his family lives here, and even his favorite restaurant (Wolf Creek where his daughter is a pastry chef). He encouraged people to take a cruise: “Take one and you’ll be infected and you’ll want to go back!…The shows are great! The people are great!… Princess Cruises is a gift from God!” It was an experience, and the audience and council were generally delighted.

Loveboat

“Nobody told me I would be following Gavin McLeod!” said City Librarian Kelly Behle, the next person up for awards and recognitions. She highlighted the five-year anniversary of the Santa Clarita Library system, she promised cake to celebrate, and she described how libraries are used by tens of thousands of Claritans each and every month.

 

“A Memorial Granite Thing”

Public participation included just five speakers but lasted quite a while. Brian Baker spoke in support of Bill Reynolds’ proposal for “a memorial granite thing” in the Veterans Historical Plaza. He wants progress rather than stagnation. Bill Reynolds spoke next. He said he was present with “a few friendly reminders” about the history of the memorial project he has been working on. He felt that he had jumped through all the hoops but kept meeting with resistance from the city. Reynolds ran out of time before he could fully conclude his remarks, but this wasn’t the last we’d hear of the monument plan this evening.

Two speakers touched on the subject of dysfunctional public meetings. Al Ferdman condemned the mobile home park rate adjustment panel and Cam Noltemeyer wondered why meetings about Santa Clarita’s chloride issue continue to happen out of town. She also asked why Santa Clarita’s representatives don’t do more to look out for the SCV when they have the votes to do so.

The final speaker was Steve Petzold. After complimenting Darren Hernandez on his handling of a recent meeting (Hernandez, in the same video frame, was almost completely non-reactive), he called out Leon Worden and the enterprise that is SCVTV. Petzold was particularly troubled by the fact that ads and interviews for College of the Canyons/Measure E had appeared online at SCVTV while the bond measure was being debated in the community. Before it got any more public funding, Petzold felt that SCVTV needed to be open to public scrutiny as to whether it was meeting its obligation to provide fair coverage of local issues to the public.

City Manager Ken Striplin tried to respond in brief. Regarding the memorial, he said that staff were working on plans and that they had an architect on board. Recall that the last time this was discussed, the council decided that it ought to have a third party thoroughly consider all the options for the best placement and design of a war memorial in Veterans Historical Plaza. This decision was reached after a very lengthy and often contentious discussion. In his wisdom, however, Mayor Kellar called Bill Reynolds forward this evening to present a slightly modified version of the memorial wall. Reynolds explained that the new dimensions were a mere five-and-a-half feet tall by seven feet across. It’s not routine for the mayor to invite people up to present on unagendized items, but everyone on the council decided to jump into the issue once again. Councilmember McLean pointed out that this smaller memorial really wasn’t that much smaller–reduced by just six inches. And McLean re-emphasized her desire to take some time in considering the memorial. “We keep getting lambasted!,” she said, for not acting more quickly. She made one of her concerns about the wall more explicit tonight. In the past she’s said a large wall could shield unsavory activities, and she elaborated that this could include using the plaza as a bathroom (something similar has already happened in the area).

Councilmember TimBen Boydston and Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta wanted to know how much was being budgeted for an architect/consultant. Parks Director Rick Gould said it was about $18,000 but that the contract might not yet have been signed. Boydston found that figure “crazy.” He felt that the wall proposed by Reynolds already had a lot of community support and that the $18,000 would be better spent on more pressing needs. Acosta added, “I like what I see here,” though he would later backpedal and state, “We need to get this right.” Discussion was beginning to consume a lot of time when City Attorney Joe Montes spoke up and advised the council to agendize the item. He said that their last direction to staff had been to develop the various possibilities (staff was doing that), but it seemed like the council now wanted to discuss whether it would make more sense to just take the plan submitted by Reynolds as-is. So look forward to yet more contentious discussion about a war memorial at a future meeting.

City Manager Ken Striplin continued with his responses to public remarks. “I agree that it doesn’t work,” he said of the mobile home panel. This is what Elaine Ballace and other mobile home park residents have been saying for months. Striplin said that they will look into what can be changed to make for fairer, more functional hearings once the current batch gets worked through. Updates about events and various goings-on from the councilmembers followed.

 

“It’s Already Ugly”

The consent calendar had a couple of items that attracted the attention of Cam Noltemeyer. She spoke on the 2016-17 budget (some $220M), wondering about costs associated with water monitoring and a loan for road construction that included no timetable for repayment. Noltemeyer then spoke on an item that would implement the zoning and construction changes proposed by Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital at the last meeting. She said that the zoning change, which essentially allowed the campus to be built more densely (with council approval), was a bad idea. “It’s already ugly and too dense as it is,” she complained, and she predicted that the hospital and developers would push to build even more densely than they had originally agreed to.

Carl Kanowsky spoke on behalf of the Valley Industrial Association about an item that proposed leasing some of the city’s unused (“dark”) communications fibers to a third party, Wilcon. He said that the city spent a lot of money laying these lines for its use, and he wondered whether they could think bigger (e.g., sell/offer service on their own, look for a better deal, etc.). However, it was clear that Kanowsky felt that making high-speed internet access available was absolutely essential so he was generally supportive of the item. even if the deal wasn’t perfect. He identified the “dearth of high-speed internet connectivity” as a “black hole” in terms of competitive advantages against other communities.

Councilmember Boydston asked about the dark fiber proposal. A member of the city staff came up and gave some helpful particulars. He said that only about half of the fibers that were laid are currently used for traffic and other communications, and that’s in the busiest situations–it’s often much less. Wilcon would lease just 2-8% of the fibers. Boydston wondered about the length of the contract (potentially 25 years if all renewal options are exercised), but it was explained that contracts are usually long-term in duration and that the city could get out relatively easily after 10.5 years. Mayor Pro Tem Acosta was familiar with the issue, and he added that there are other potential providers of ultra-high-speed internet, so while this would help businesses looking for fast connections, the city infrastructure would be just one part of the solution.

The consent calendar was approved with the recommended actions.

“A Real Coup for Canyon Country”

There were a couple of public hearings on assessments for open space and special districts, but these came and went with very little fanfare.

Far more interesting was the conceptual plan for the Canyon Country Community Center to be built at the corner of Soledad Canyon and Sierra Highway. Rick Gould explained that one of the main challenges facing the city is the oddly shaped and arranged parcels that have been aggregated for the project. The plan proposes a 20,000 square-foot community center, a dual-use parking-lot/”mercado” (e.g., for farmers’ markets), and an outdoor event area. Gould explained that it was more of a “vision” than a binding, specific plan, and that things would be altered and negotiated. The only speaker was Al Ferdman, who gave it his blessing as a “really robust plan.” And as he often reminds us, he is chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, so he’s got the street cred.

Councilmember Laurene Weste found the plan “lovely.” She felt good that Canyon Country would be getting some additional amenities, but she was worried about whether there would be safe access to the center. She hoped for a “paseo” style bridge that connected to Santa Clarita’s trail system. Weste felt this would be good for safety, vaguely alluding to her concerns about the area: “If you’re gonna have as many children there as I can imagine you will with the kind of neighborhoods that are there…” Acosta called the plan “a real coup for Canyon Country”. Boydston thought it was a “great idea,” and Kellar simply said, “Phenomenal”.