Plan for Art, Park for Harte, Cushions for Dorothy

Tonight’s Santa Clarita City Council meeting was short and, for the most part, efficient. The mobile home park saga escalated–an emergency ordinance to protect senior housing was extended and plans were made to write a letter (gasp!) to elected officials about difficulties faced by mobile home park renters. Santa Clarita’s rather underwhelming arts master plan was accepted and an inexplicable amount of praise lavished on the plan’s consultants. The meeting ended with the naming of a small park in honor of the late Duane Harte. Now, to recapping.

Opening Matters

[Note: The video feed of this meeting didn’t go live until some Boy Scouts were in the middle of leading the pledge, so I missed Weste’s invocation and any other noteworthy events from the first five minutes. My regrets.]

Public participation begain with Elaine Ballace. She asked if anyone has seen her scarf (it’s been missing for weeks), told us it was her birthday tomorrow (“Yeah Pisces!” she cheered), and said it’s time to get some bigger power players involved in the mobile home rent issue. Ballace said she has tried to get others involved but to no avail. “I just got the runaround. So I plead to you, maybe you have more pull with the State and getting something done. I realize my celebrity status means nothing to them,” she said, with a short but scornful laugh.

A man representing Santa Clarita’s tennis community asked for more tennis courts to be built.

Steve Petzold make the rookie mistake of handing in a written comment card instead of a speaker card, but Mayor Bob Kellar still allowed him to speak. At the microphone, Petzold explained that he had been reflecting on the Laemmle meeting and found himself “dissatisfied” with the discussion that had transpired. He thought discussion of the specific elements of the subsidy would have been more valuable than merely debating the pros and cons of a new theater. His quick accounting of property value changes and City losses in the area was not the clearest, but it seems this isn’t the last we will hear about the Laemmle subsidy. Petzold closed by requesting an open discussion/study of the California Voting Rights Act and district-based voting in Santa Clarita.

City Manager Ken Striplin mechanically addressed the speakers. He said that tennis courts will be considered for the final phase of Central Park and he restated the City’s long history of work on mobile home park policy. Petzold’s recommended review of district-based voting was not pursued further.

Councilmember updates primarily consisted of listing local event after local event–the celebrity waiter dinner was mentioned no fewer than three times. Councilmember Weste went a more substantive route when she announced that the supplemental EIR for chloride treatment will be discussed at the end of the month. She didn’t mention anything about the lawsuit that Allan Cameron was gloating about last month (the suit that supposedly changed the chloride issue at a fundamental level).

Slow Down, Dorothy

The consent calendar had only two non-routine items. The first offered the council’s support for a state assembly bill to benefit the developmentally disabled. The second proposed adding speed cushions and stop signs to Dorothy Way, which has attracted speeding drivers seeking a cut-through to Golden Valley Road. A couple of residents said that something needed to be done to slow dangerous traffic in their community, so they supported these measures. Councilmember Marsha McLean made a point of telling the audience that the community’s developers had been required to set aside funds for traffic calming, so the measures were being paid for by them, not taxpayers. This and the other items on the consent calendar were approved as written.

Write a Letter

The council voted to extend an emergency ordinance protecting senior housing for another ten months. The ordinance was passed because some mobile home parks were attempting to change from seniors-only housing to family housing, which is more lucrative. The problem is that seniors on fixed incomes might lose their homes because of associated surges in rent. A number of speakers asked the council to continue doing what it could to help renters. Specific complaints were made, but they often came from parks where the city can do little else to interfere/intervene. City Attorney Joe Montes and City Manager Ken Stripling both spent some time explaining the limits of the city’s ability to act–for example, long-term leases are exempt from some city codes.

Once again, Councilmember Laurene Weste was the staunchest advocate for renters. She said, “I just can’t buy into the fact that these people are being gouged this way, and I think it’s time that we send a letter articulating some of the grievances that we’re seeing. Nevermind the State Ombudsman, let’s just send a letter to all the elected officials in the State of California in the legislature.” Cheers came from the audience. “I recognize that, you know, that it’s a black hole, but when you look at this kind of abuse, they [renters] have two choices: they can pay it or they can lose the little investment they have in a mobile home. That’s all they have, they have nothing else.” Weste asked if anyone supported her suggestion, and Boydston agreed with her “whole-heartedly.” Mayor Kellar gave his support as well, which was enough to get the letter rolling and to get more applause from the small crowd.

Art, Planned

New business began with consideration of a representative for the Southern California Association of Goverments General Assembly. Councilmember Boydston nominated McLean to be representative and Acosta to serve as alternate, and the council unanimously agreed on both nominations without discussion. McLean gave a quite “thank you” after the vote; she’s always been partial to SCAG.

Tonight also marked the presentation of Santa Clarita’s arts master plan for adoption. The City may have an arts commission, but it took the work of consultants to tell Santa Clarita how to art better. Their master plan was presented, a series of platitudes and cliches given the appearance of meaning by being prefaced with titles or organized into lists. For example:

  • “Vision Statement”: The City of Santa Clarita will be recognized as a “city of the arts,” where the lives of residents, artists, and visitors are enriched through artistic and cultural experiences.
  • “Key Findings”
    • #2: The community is generally satisfied with the current arts and cultural offerings.
    • #4: Residents express strong interest in celebrating history and cultural heritage.
    • #7: Arts and culture are seen as an excellent way to promote diversity and inclusion.

Developing a “work plan” is the next stage of the project. Despite the less than compelling master plan, Mayor Kellar and Councilmember Weste went to some effort to recognize the consultants behind the work. Kellar asked Ingrid Hardy, community services superintendent, to “acknowledge the two gentlemen [consultants] here in the front row for their input.” Hardy had already done that at the start of her presentation, but apparently two introductions were warranted. “Excellent, excellent job gentlemen, we thank you very much, very, very much,” gushed Kellar. Weste said, “[The consultants] understood the real heart of Santa Clarita…we are special and unique and you found that!” Kellar closed by saying, “I would request that a letter be prepared for the entire City Council to sign acknowledging our consultants and what we consider to be a very professional job on behalf of our city.” The amount of attention and praise was rather extraordinary.

The only critical suggestion came from Councilmember TimBen Boydston, who otherwise spoke about the plan in glowing terms. He said that he wasn’t fully sold on the idea of the arts being organized thematically by community. According to the plan, Newhall gets “history and cultural heritage,” Valencia is to be the home of art that is “contemporary and abstract,” the art of Saugus should “celebrate youth and families and cultural diversity,” and Canyon Country art falls under a theme to “explore nature and surrounding open spaces and the environment.” Boydston gently criticized this plan (which he said reminded him of themed areas at Disneyland) for perhaps saddling a community with a theme they might not like as much as others. The idea is also just plain ridiculous, but that point was not addressed.

Note: This is my interpretation of what constitutes representative art for the various community themes, intended to highlight the silliness of it all. Not a figure from the master plan or presentation.

 

A Park for Harte

The late Duane Harte, remembered as a commissioner, volunteer, and truly community-minded individual, was honored by renaming River Village Park as “Duane R. Harte Park at River Village.” Mayor Kellar said that there was a lot of support for the plan, and he thought the park was a fitting tribute because it had been just a block away from Harte’s last home. The suggestion was supported.

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.

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.

Rent, Landfill, Gas, Sewage: The Ends are Near

SittingDucksTonight’s Santa Clarita City Council meeting was full of inflammatory statements. Elaine Ballace said “They are raping both of us!” in reference to recent business practices by mobile home park owners. “We’re sitting in a circle of death!” said a Val Verde resident of Santa Clarita’s proximity to landfills and a natural gas storage field. And Councilmember TimBen Boydston proclaimed, “There is a special place in Hell reserved for you,” that “you” referring to mobile home park owners who raised rents so as to effectively force seniors out. The heated rhetoric was certainly contagious–likely a result of discussing many issues that hit close to home (literally) tonight. Apart from fielding residents’ worries about Chiquita Canyon Landfill, Honor Rancho, and mobile home rents, the council also managed to officially raise its future salary (second and final reading), shuffle around committee appointments (no luck again, TimBen), and take further actions in the ongoing mobile home struggle.

Actually, That Wasn’t Jefferson

Mayor Kellar read many quotations from Thomas Jefferson to open the meeting. More correctly, they were quotations incorrectly attributed to Jefferson on certain websites and in some popular social media posts but for which there is no evidence of Jefferson’s authorship. These included, “The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government,” and, “The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has a full page devoted to clearing up these spurious attributions. Kellar closed with the observation that “He was a very, very intelligent man…many of his thoughts and writings…they apply every bit to today’s society.” Invocations are one of the portions of the meeting not scripted by city staff and, consequently, are prone to error.

Awards and recognitions followed. The Valencia High School Marching Band was applauded for winning a recent competition despite the fact, we learned, that the program really struggles with funding and must use some 20-year-old instruments. Deputy Curtis Foster was recognized as the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Department Deputy of the Year, and the crowd was quite vocal in its support of him. Finally, the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Committee came up to celebrate itself. Holly Schroeder gave an update on the SCVEDC’s year of accomplishments, which included attracting Logix Federal Credit Union’s corporate headquarters to Santa Clarita–they’re currently in Burbank. She said this would lead to an anticipated $1.7M boost in tax revenue each year. “If the economic development committee had not been involved in this project they would not have chosen the Santa Clarita Valley,” Schroeder asserted. Other accomplishments included taking credit for listening to businesses, taking credit for businesses staying in Santa Clarita, and taking credit for the tagline, “Still Golden,” which the SCVEDC was able to trademark because no hair color company or luxury retirement community was convinced that “Still Golden” was the right direction to take their marketing (my inference).

The End is Near

There was a decidedly apocalyptic tone to many of tonight’s public participation remarks. Elaine Ballace spoke about mobile home park owners who are trying a variety of tactics to get more money from renters. She called them selfish and successful only because “he who has the best lawyer wins,” not because justice has been on their side. “The landowners need to answer a little bit more clearly to the people, and to the city, because they are raping both of us!”  she pronounced.

A couple of Val Verde residents spoke about their experiences with Chiquita Canyon Landfill and the Castaic Area Town Council. Steve Lee described how residents found “receipts of deadly substances that the Chiquita Canyon Landfill accepted.” They asked the CATC to write a letter to Supervisor Antonovich about the allegedly dangerous landfill practices, but the request was tabled multiple times until it was decided that no letter would be written. “One of the reasons was that to do so would cost them the promise of money from the landfill,” said Lee. This inspired a recall effort, but there were many more obstacles to finding out exactly how many voter signatures were needed and to getting agencies to stand by their numbers (Lee said that the L.A. County Registrar, Congressman Knight’s office, and others were contacted in this effort). Lee closed by stating that three people in Val Verde had recently died of cancer and that action was needed. Susan Evans, also of Val Verde, spoke about the CATC recall and predicted the valley’s demise by some combination of the dumps, natural gas field, and oil pipeline: “We’re sitting in a circle of death, in my opinion…we’re sitting ducks waiting to blow up.”

Sandra Cattell and Cam Noltemeyer were also worried about Santa Clarita’s natural gas storage field, Honor Rancho, in the north part of the valley. The massive gas leak at Aliso Canyon was used to urge the City Council to be more active in assessing the safety of Claritans.

Lynne Plambeck implored the city to look into the proposed merger of the Castaic Lake Water Agency (CLWA) and Newhall County Water District (NCWD). She said that it would do nothing to benefit ratepayers: “Bigger is not better, a huge water monopoly in our valley will just increase our rates.” She said that the CLWA has “had its way” with Santa Clarita for long enough.

City Manager Ken Striplin tried to calm concerns over Honor Rancho, which he said had just one-third the storage capacity of Aliso Canyon and was being thoroughly monitored for leaks. Striplin said that scrutiny by various oversight agencies is strict and that staff have been in communication with the gas facility. There was still interest from the council in learning more about the facility and about the potential effects of Aliso on the SCV. At the urging of some residents who had contacted her, Councilmember Marsha McLean asked that the Air Quality Management District make a statement about whether the Aliso methane plume could be impacting air quality in Santa Clarita. Overall, most councilmembers agreed that Aliso Canyon and Honor Rancho were not the same beast. Mayor Pro Tem Acosta stated, “This is a much different facility…it is quite a bit newer.” And he should know, as he recalled “being chased off the [Aliso] property a number of times” in his wayward youth.

Mayor Kellar asked for the council’s interest in discussing the CLWA/NCWD merger, and interest was high. Councilmember McLean, in particular, wanted to ask “a lot of questions” because she is a NCWD ratepayer and would be affected.

The council was mute on the topic of Chiquita Canyon Landfill and the politics of the Val Verde recall. These are out-of-city issues, certainly, but it wouldn’t be untoward for Santa Clarita to look into Chiquita Canyon Landfill practices considering it’s a nearby neighbor with whom the city shares an air- and water-shed. As readers don’t likely need reminding, Chiquita has spent money on Santa Clarita politics, so it certainly seems to think that it’s already on the radar.

Separate Votes

The consent calendar had a number of items that were handled in separate votes due to conflicts of interest or disagreement among the council members. Let’s cover them in order, briefly.

On Item 3, the second reading of the plan to increase 2017-18 councilmember salaries by 10%, Councilmember TimBen Boydston and Mayor Kellar voted no while the others pushed it through with their yes votes. Boydston reiterated his statement from last week that a raise wasn’t warranted given that seniors hadn’t seen an increase in social security, inflation hadn’t shot up dramatically, and the workload of councilmembers remained about the same.

The Cross Valley Connector was proposed to be renamed “Santa Clarita Veterans Memorial Parkway” in Item 4. Councilmember McLean asked that the word “Memorial” be removed so that the road would honor Santa Clarita’s thousands of living veterans as well as the deceased, and everyone agreed.

Item 5 presented $155,755 worth of grants to Santa Clarita’s arts and community services groups. Groups recommended for funding ranged from the American Diabetes Association to the Gibbon Conservation Center to the Santa Clarita Philharmonic. The majority of groups that applied for funding were funded, and Councilmember McLean suggested that those which weren’t funded seek help form the city on preparing their applications for next year. Boydston and Weste had to sit out votes on the Canyon Theater Guild and SCV Historical Society because of their involvement, but both of their groups were also funded.

Finally, on Item 6, Al Ferdman expressed some dissatisfaction with the loan repayment arrangement between Santa Clarita’s redevelopment successor agency and the city. Ferdman pointed out that only a tiny amount of the loan was being paid back and actually brought up one of Kellar’s erroneous Jefferson quotes about the importance of paying off one’s debts. City Manager Ken Striplin disagreed with Ferdman’s assessment, however, stating that the State dictated interest terms and the repayment schedule. He added that it was good news that Santa Clarita would be getting paid back at all–the loans repayments could have remained unenforceable. The recommended loan modifications were approved.

That Special Place in Hell

If anyone had thought that the City Council’s major overhaul of mobile home park ordinances would have helped ease tensions between park owners and renters, they were proven wrong yet again at tonight’s meeting. In response to testimony from renters about senior parks changing to family parks (a change usually accompanied by a hefty hike in rents) and a problematic recusal policy for the Manufactured Home Rental Adjustment Panel, two actions were taken. First, the council approved an urgency ordinance that prevented any parks from changing from mostly/only seniors to all-age rentals. It went into effect immediately and will last 45 days. Second, the council passed to second reading a plan to appoint replacements on the mobile home review panel, which hears appeals. Currently, if someone on the panel owns or rents at a park under review, they must recuse themselves, which makes for a lopsided vote (the panel is composed of two owner reps, two renter reps, and one neutral arbiter, so losing an owner/renter could doom a vote from the start.) The new policy will be to allow the third-highest vote-getting representative from the effected side (owners/renters) to replace a recused panel member for a particular vote. Obviously, the replacement will have to come from a different park.

There were a number of speakers on this item before it passed, and the council’s sympathies seem to remain most strongly with renters. Some residents spoke about the nightmarish conditions that have followed new ownership at parks, their inability to keep up with rent increases, and less than respectful treatment from owners and managers. Councilmembers Laurene Weste and TimBen Boydston were among the most insistent on seeing that seniors would not be forced out of their homes by increases in rents. It was at this point in the meeting that Boydston informed park owners who forced out seniors via rapid rent increases that “there is a special place in Hell for you.” The statement ended with a steely glare from Boydston into the beyond and surprised but mostly supportive utterances from the audience.

BoydstonHell

No San for You

Committee appointments are an important opportunity for the mayor to exert his/her limited power through recommendations of who should serve on which committee. Before Mayor Kellar read his adjustments to committees, a few speakers had some recommendations of their own. Al Ferdman asked that lobbyists not serve on committees. This was in reference to Arthur Sohikian, the man who lobbied to erect massive digital billboards along Santa Clarita’s freeways, who has long represented Santa Clarita on the North County Transportation Coalition. Sohikian is the only non-councilmember to serve on a committee. Steve Petzold and a few others recommended that Councilmember TimBen Boydston serve on the sanitation district. Petzold said that Boydston is among the best-informed on sanitation-related issues, and he felt that perennial sanitation district member Laurene Weste wasn’t qualified to serve any longer based on her past performance. “I can’t see putting her back on the board after the complete disaster we saw in 2015 with deep-well injection,” said Petzold.

After public comments, Kellar read his list. Everyone was named as member or alternate to 10 or 11 committees , which is a more even distribution than we’ve seen in the past. However, Boydston was only named as an alternate to Kellar and Weste on the sanitation district. He asked whether Weste was a sanitation district ratepayer. “For my rentals,” she replied. He said being a ratepayer can be helpful in getting action, but he didn’t push it further. There was also some discussion about the cost-efficacy of having sanitation meetings in Whittier or in Santa Clarita, and Weste restated her expertise and efficacy regarding the chloride disposal issue. She felt proud that they had reduced chloride removal costs by a projected $400M. In the end, the list was approved. Councilmember McLean, who has jealously guarded her committees in the past, only gave a little mumble instead of a strong yes on the item. Though she didn’t address it in comments, perhaps she missed out on some wanted appointments.

During the closing round of public comments, Al Ferdman suggested that the council needed to be more technologically up to date with the ability to show written materials on-screen and to use teleconferences to save money on traveling to meetings. Stacy Fortner spoke about the council’s plan to discuss the recent CLWA proposal. “There is some backroom, shady business going on” said Fortner. She did not deign to go into too many specifics, but she felt there was ample cause to carefully examine the issue. The meeting ended at 9:18.

The Sloppy Raise, Council 101

WesteMoves

Tonight’s meeting was brief, but not brief enough to have spared several councilmembers from awkwardness. Councilmember Boydston generously praised the Canyon High School Theater Group’s recent success in competition, but none of its members showed up for their certificates. Councilmember McLean had to ask City Manager Ken Striplin for a definition of “contract city.” And Councilmember Weste and Mayor Kellar took quite a while to grasp the nature of the councilmember pay raise they were voting on. Even with all the bumbling, the council managed to approve a raise for next year in a 3-2 vote, reversing a decision they had made mere months ago. Things are off to an auspicious start for 2016.

Panel Me This

“Everybody’s not home for the State of the Union–that’s obvious,” observed Mayor Bob Kellar as he opened the meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta then delivered the invocation, a freeform prayer of sorts: “May our words and our deeds be pleasing.” Both Kellar and Acosta emphasized titles when referring to one another, helping December’s transitions to sink in.

While Canyon High’s drama students were dramatically absent for their recognition, Saugus High’s phenomenally successful cross country team members came to the meeting to be recognized as CIF champions. They’ve spent an unprecedented 10 years finishing in the top three.

Public participation followed. R.J. Kelly requested that the cross valley connector be named “Santa Clarita Veterans’ Highway” (or similar) in honor of the thousands of veterans living in the SCV. He pointed out that everyone on the council had served in the armed forces or had a family member serve. Kellar followed the remarks by asking whether fellow councilmembers would support agendizing the item, and they agreed.

A number of speakers addressed mobile home park rent and appeals when they came to the podium. The most compelling comments came from Dave Boizelle, a resident of Greenbrier Mobile Home Park. He explained that he is filing an appeal against his park’s rent increase. The appeal will go before a panel which consists of two representatives for park owners, two for renters, and one neutral arbiter. Unfortunately, one of the renters on the panel is also from Greenbrier, and she will have to recuse herself from voting on the appeal. Boizelle believed this doomed his appeal, as park owners wouldn’t vote against their self-interests. That would mean at best a 2-2 vote, and ties aren’t enough for an appeal to be ratified. To highlight his point that park owners wouldn’t be impartial, he read a statement from Dowdall Law Offices, which represents Santa Clarita’s mobile home park owners: “This form of panel is not impartial but evenly unbalanced…two partisans cancel each other out.” It seemed clear that a means of substituting owner/resident representation in cases of recusal was necessary.

However, City Manager Ken Striplin seemed to think that the system was working fine. After public participation concluded, Striplin said, “I understand the concerns that the speaker spoke of, but I can also tell you that, historically, that has just not played out…In the appeals that we’ve seen, we have not seen the decision of the panel come down to party lines, so to speak.” This conclusion seemed utterly at odds with the structure of the panel, the forced recusal of the Greenbrier resident, and the statement from the park owners’ attorney, but Striplin assured the council that despite recusals in the past, the panel had operated fairly and effectively.

Councilmembers McLean and Weste were not satisfied with Striplin’s assurances. They made a point of asking whether they could do something to address the potential for unbalanced decisions, and City Attorney Joe Montes explained that the ordinance would have to be amended. Weste wanted to “find a way for there to always be an alternate.” The council supported discussing potential amendments at a future meeting. Striplin added that there have been discussions about changing some senior home designations to family spaces, and the council also wanted to discuss that sooner rather than later.

Other remarks from Striplin and the council included support for L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. Al Ferdman had expressed some misgivings about the station moving west of Santa Clarita and about the lack of a station in the east valley, and the city manager assured him that current discussions were aimed at improving presence rather than decreasing it. Mayor Kellar echoed Striplin’s support, contending that Santa Clarita gets access to a lot of big department resources at a cost-effective rate through its contract. He seemed to be heading off any calls of “let’s start our own police department!” at the pass.

Avoiding Larry

The consent calendar came and went without much discussion and without speakers. Most of the items dealt with bookkeeping matters like approving tract maps and landscape contracts. One item gave up to $130,000 to Southern California Edison to develop plans for “undergrounding” utilities along Soledad Canyon Road, which will make for a more pleasing skyline. All items passed with the recommended actions.

One of the votes went 4-0 instead of 5-0, however, because Kellar recused himself. The item was a parcel map approval involving Spirit Properties, and Kellar explained that he wouldn’t vote because he had had “a business transaction in the past” with Spirit’s Larry Rasmussen. Of course, Kellar hasn’t always been so meticulous in avoiding votes that affect his pal. As Mike Devlin wrote in 2014, “Kellar voted ‘yes’ to pay Larry Rasmussen $1.1 million for the future billboard property.” That was quite a long time ago, of course, but the question of when to recuse oneself is always popping up in a valley as small and connected as Santa Clarita.

Sloppy Vote

After approving a 3% increase in fire district developer fees (this puts Santa Clarita in line with the rate for unincorporated LA County), it was time to discuss councilmember compensation. Didn’t that just happen a few months ago?, the attentive reader asks. Yes, it did. Tonight was a revisitation of last year’s vote 3-2 against giving the City Council a raise. Recall that the council always votes on raises that will take place after elections.

Discussion began with Cam Noltemeyer making several points about how the council was already adequately compensated, especially if benefits were considered. She then pointed out that councilmembers receive different benefits (in line with city staff benefits when elected), but she believed, “Every single councilman should get the same pay. The same pay. And let’s start being open with the public because you definitely are not.” Noltemeyer meant that Boydston should be compensated as well as Kellar, McLean, and Weste, but she even extended her statement to include Mayor Pro Tem Acosta, who is also getting lower benefits since he came on so recently. “And Acosta too, I guess, reluctantly,” she conceded.

Mayor Kellar asked if any of the councilmembers wished to discuss the matter. Councilmember McLean started with a question based on the use of the term “contract city” in earlier comments from this evening. She asked, “I was just wondering if you can explain what it means that we’re a contract city?” City Manager Ken Striplin then explained that it meant that Santa Clarita contracts with LA for services like fire. “So it’s providing for those types of services specifically and not giving contracts on individuals projects?” McLean queried. With that concept clarified, Kellar again sought action on the item.

Staff normally supplies a recommended action, but on the pay raises, all that was written was, “Provide direction to staff regarding Councilmember salary.” This led to confusion.

Weste: “I’d like to move the recommendation for the increase of the council compensation.”

Kellar: “I have a motion…is that the 5%?”

Weste: “If the council’s willing, yes.”

Kellar: “Do we have a second?”

Acosta: “I’ll second it.”

McLean, over Acosta: “Wh…OK, I was going to say if you don’t I will but you did, so…”

Boydston, over Kellar: “Discussion! Yes, there will be discussion…I thought this was settled three months ago!”

Boydston contended that Councilmember Weste’s motion had been improper, as she had moved the staff recommendation, which was only to provide direction–there were no specifics much less a recommended increase. Boydston’s speech soon veered into into grandstanding. He said that council pay had increased roughly twice as rapidly as the rate of inflation, and that seniors weren’t seeing any meaningful, comparable increase in social security benefits. He asked why the vote had to be brought up again–had their workload increased dramatically in the past few months?

Boydston has had a strained relationship with some staff and fellow councilmembers over compensation in the past. He once filed a claim against the City for about $10,000–the discrepancy in benefits between new and old councilmembers once a two-tier health care system had been adopted. Boydston contended that it wasn’t about more money but about paying everyone the same to do the same job. He was unsuccessful. At the time, he had suggested being OK with everyone taking the lesser benefits as well so long as everyone got the same deal. Boydston used the tactic of less is more again tonight, suggesting that the council actually vote to cut its compensation by 10% and give the funds to senior care.

Though Boydston spoke a lot, the rest of the council was silently clamoring to get to the vote without engaging in the merits of a raise. Weste and Kellar showed that they lacked a rudimentary understanding of the item, since Weste thought they could only do a 5% raise (not 5% per year) and Kellar thought it only applied to one year and that’s why Weste had said 5% (it applied to two). When asking for clarity from Dante Acosta, who had seconded the motion:

Acosta: “I believe it was 5% per year”

Kellar: “That was your interpretation, that it was 5% per year for a total of 10?”

Acosta: Nods, mumbles something

Weste’s recommendation and stated understanding had been 5% total, so how Acosta came to this interpretation is not clear. Perhaps his earlier prayer had granted him greater clarity than that afforded me or The Signal‘s Luke Money, who tweeted “Unclear on whether the #SCCouncil approved a 5% total pay increase or for 10% (5% for two years). Will check as soon as meeting ends.” In any case, the vote took place and  went 3-2, with those running for reelection this year voting against the raise (Boydston, Kellar), and those not running for reelection voting for it. And even though it’s for 10% total (Money got clarification from the city clerk), that is a tiny amount relative to the budget, and it marks the first time councilmembers will receive over $2000 a month.

Mayor Kellar on Toeing the Line, Acosta Ascendant

KellarHigh

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).

Cake followed.

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.

CC Recap: Self-denial and Curious Requests

Say what you will about the Santa Clarita City Council, but its members aren’t getting rich–they make in a year what the city manager makes in a month. And at this evening’s meeting, they nobly denied themselves a raise when given the opportunity. So who are we to deny them their bickering? Tonight, the disagreements centered on the future of Old Town Newhall, the right policy for solar power, and whether homeowners ever really need big trashcans. It’s recapping time.

Land of the freeEEEE!

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar’s invocation was a rousing call to the ballot box. He encouraged residents to make an informed vote this November, and he reminded them that men and women have died to protect our voting rights. Kellar may have been preaching to the choir–I don’t think too many non-voters watch council meetings–but it’s always good to be reminded.

“Now we get to go to a very lovely part of the meeting,” said Mayor McLean, ushering in a diverse (i.e, long) procession of presentations. Sergeant Danial Dantice was applauded for his outreach to Santa Clarita’s homeless population. The diminutive Dantice has helped connect homeless people with local resources and has been both compassionate and successful. Next, October was designated as a month for domestic violence prevention and breast cancer awareness. The Santa Clarita Domestic Violence Center, Circle of Hope, and Soroptimists came up to speak briefly, the latter group giving a $10,000 check to Circle of Hope.

The Master’s College Chorale was then invited up for a performance. They began with “Tap-tap,” Sidney Guillaume’s piece about Haitian public transportation. Yes, really. According to its composer’s website, the song “is inspired by the beautifully colored buses and taxis in Haiti…a metaphor encouraging people to ‘jump on the bus’ and not let opportunities pass them by.” The group then transitioned to singing the national anthem–of the United States, not Haiti. The singers surrounded the audience during their performance, and they really reached for the high note on “land of the freeEEEE.” The chorale was warmly applauded and praised for its interesting performance. This seemed like a natural finale for the City Hall presentations, but it was not. A representative of the LA Economic Development Corporation came forward to recognize Santa Clarita for being a finalist (i.e., not the winner) of LA’s most business friendly large city award. Santa Clarita’s many business-friendly programs and policies were praised.

Slow Your Road

A new issue emerged during tonight’s public participation. Or, more accurately, a new version of an age-old issue emerged. Residents of Dorothy Street recently became connected to Golden Valley courtesy of the Five Knolls project. This has turned a quiet residential street into a busy thoroughfare. As one man put it, the street is now “an unregulated speedway.” Residents explained that it’s hard for them to even back out of their driveways. One woman said that she can’t allow her grandchildren to play in the front yard any more, and she added that the dangerously high speeds of motorists force her to act as a human shield as she helps her disabled daughter to cross the street.

Elaine Ballace brought us the latest developments on mobile home rent increases. The unanticipated jumps in rents have residents scrambling for help and appeals, and she felt that the City has been helping park owners more than renters. “The City is in bed with the greedy landowners,” she contended. Ballace said it’s fine for Santa Clarita to get awards for being business friendly, but she wondered whether they were equally friendly to mobile home park residents.

With an oddly apologetic tone, Santa Clarita Soccer Center owner Scott Schauer said that he was gradually moving forward with the process of relocating his facility. It has operated legally for years, but new residents in the area have continued to complain about the noise. Rick Bianchi of The New Home Company (Villa Metro Developer) said he supported the decision to move. This was not too surprising because it means his company won’t have to build a giant, ugly, and expensive sound wall between the soccer field and homes. Anyone who’s been to Villa Metro knows that it’s surrounded by enough giant, ugly walls already. Bianchi revealed that, “We had to make adjustments to sales prices because of this business,” and he defended their disclosures of the soccer center’s presence to prospective buyers. So it seems that people who bought homes next to the center paid a lower price for the bother, and now they’ve almost succeeded in driving said bother out of the neighborhood.

Too Late to Un-Laemmle?

City Manager Ken Striplin responded only to the comments about Dorothy Street. He said that some money from the Five Knolls development had been set aside for “traffic calming” measures. Once traffic patterns have settled after the opening of other roads in the area, staff will conduct studies and present traffic management options to residents.

The councilmembers went around to offer comments next. Councilmember TimBen Boydston had an idea for a project opposite the library in Old Town Newhall. This is the Laemmle spot. It’s not officially called that because negotiations to build a Laemmle Theatre still aren’t finalized, but that’s what four-fifths of the council and over 90% of public speakers have said they want. Boydston had been excluded from these talks previously because of his own theater business. He was able to speak on the topic tonight, however, and he asked if any other councilmembers would agree to agendize a public discussion of the Laemmle proposal and/or of his alternative idea. No one would support him. Councilmember Dante Acosta employed two metaphors to explain his reasoning. He said that the City was dating Laemmle, and that they’re moving towards a commitment so it would be inappropriate to look for a new partner now. He also suggested that there was a giant cruise ship sailing towards a common future, and Boydston couldn’t expect to change course of the whole ship now that he was on board. Throughout the discussion, Boydston never actually mentioned what his alternative idea was, but since it shall never be, I guess we don’t really need to know.

The other councilmembers made less contentious comments. Veterans Day events, the State of the City Luncheon, flu shot clinics, and other harbingers of winter were discussed. Mayor McLean thanked staff for helping to arrange a conference in Santa Clarita with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other mayors. She said they were “impressed.” Naturally.

Trashed

The items on tonight’s consent calender were a humdrum mix of maintenance contracts, recreation projects, and bookkeeping measures. There were a couple of exceptions.

An item on waste management franchise agreements upset both Cam Noltemeyer and Mayor McLean, but for different reasons. Noltemeyer used the agreement as an excuse to discuss the City’s deafening silence about the proposed Chiquita Canyon Landfill expansion. She asked why they weren’t opposing the dump or at least talking about it. Noltemeyer felt that she was always dismissed for being a community activist, so she reminded the council that she was a trash ratepayer as well. Patti Sulpizio echoed Noltemeyer’s remarks in a more upbeat style. She said that Chiquita may be outside the city boundaries, but that was also the case for many other issues in which the City had nonetheless involved itself. Tthink Elsmere Canyon, Cemex’s mining site, and the proposed high-speed railway, she suggested. “Fight with us, fight for us!” Sulpizio encouraged.

Mayor McLean spoke on the same item. She first appeased Noltemeyer by saying, “I don’t yell at people…I think community activists are just swell.” She then asked City Manager Ken Striplin whether the City had taken a stance on the Chiquita Canyon Landfill EIR. He said that staff had sent a letter, but apparently the council didn’t read it because McLean requested to look it over.

Then McLean got back to the item itself, which wasn’t about Chiquita so much as it was about temporary bins and roll-off boxes. She was appalled that some very large temporary trash bins would be allowed in residential areas. “How could they possibly have that much solid waste?” McLean demanded to know of staff. Explanations were offered. Sometimes a lot gets thrown away in a big move, or after a death, or after a big party. This was not enough for McLean, who wanted specifics. “Items, items, items, what items?” she wondered. At one point, Ken Striplin actually detailed the sorts of trash one could expect in the wake of a party, such as disposable paper goods.

Mayor McLean remained unsatisfied. “I have a problem with this,” she said, contending that most waste is recyclable and that recyclables and garbage shouldn’t be mixed in one bin. She called the waste bin contract, which seemed relatively routine, “Completely new and different than what has been provided before.”  McLean tried to make a case that people could abuse large bins by using them to throw away electronic waste and other items forbidden from the normal trash-stream, but no one stepped up to support her. Most of the council and staff seemed satisfied with the idea that the waste haulers would appropriately sort the waste to find recyclables. “Alright so fine,” she said, sensing defeat. In a separate vote on this item alone, only McLean opposed the measure, wanting more time and details.

The rest of the consent calendar was approved with the recommended actions. One final item of note was a plan to start preserving all recordings of council meetings indefinitely. “They said we wouldn’t live forever, and there you go,” smiled TimBen Boydston.

Public Hearing

A public hearing to grant Valencia Water Company a franchise inspired a crisis of identity. The franchise agreement was written up as it would be for a private entity, but whether the VWC is private was up for debate. During comments, Lynne Plambeck explained that the Public Utilities Commission had ruled that upon being acquired by a public entity (in this case the Castaic Lake Water Agency),  the VWC’s private status was no longer valid. Plambeck and Cam Noltemeyer argued that the CLWA has tried to keep VWC private because it benefits from the status and lack of public scrutiny. Beverly Johnson, VWC Vice President and Controller, insisted that Plambeck and Noltemeyer were mistaken. “We are a private corporation,” Johnson said. It’s not quite as simple as anyone was claiming because there are still suits and appeals in the court system. Public/private status may not be determined to everyone’s satisfaction for a long time to come. In any case, tonight’s franchise agreement really just kept up business as usual. Water will be bought, provided, and charged for, with about 1% of the rate going to the City.

Before the vote, Councilmember TimBen Boydston and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar engaged in a pointless argument about whether more water conservation actions could be demanded of Valencia Water Company or CLWA in the franchise agreement. Boydston asked, for example, why more recycled water wasn’t used. Kellar wanted to keep the discussion brief and focused, but Boydston said leadership was the business of the council and that a comprehensive discussion was needed to lead the way. In the end, everyone but Boydston agreed to the franchise.

Debate over another tricky topic–how residential solar power is paid for–was deferred until next meeting. Mayor McLean made it known that she was frustrated with California’s demand for energy conservation while diminishing the financial benefits of home solar power. Boydston and Acosta began to offer some counter-arguments about the cost of the electric utility infrastructure. In any case, a meeting withe SoCal Edison will be held to go over technical details of the changes in store for solar. Ultimately, the City can do little to change decrees from Sacramento, so this will probably prove to be another futile discussion.

 

No Raise For Now

The City Council is allowed to adjust the compensation of future councils. Since people tend to stay in office for so long, it’s basically voting to give yourself a raise–just not technically. The opportunity comes around every two years, and the council could have given itself as much as a 5% raise for both 2015 and 2016, amounting to a 10% raise overall.

The only speaker was Cam Noltemeyer, who said no one (except maybe TimBen) deserved a raise. Boydston agreed that they should keep their compensation as is. When Boydston explained himself, it sounded to me like he was gearing up for some back-and-forth, but pushback never materialized. Mayor Pro Tem Kellar seconded his motion, and the majority of the council decided to forego raises for the next two years. McLean, who voted against the 0% raise, had pointed out that they’d only be getting about $200 more a month for being on call 24 hours a day, attending many meetings, and serving in many functions.

Councilmember Boydston tried to start a discussion about the disparity in benefits among councilmembers. The longer-seated ones are getting thousands more per year than newer members, like Boydston, for cash-in-lieu of healthcare benefits; this has to do with changes to benefits plans for city staff. However, City Attorney Joe Montes advised Boydston that it was not the right time.

Keating Complains Again

The meeting closed with public participation. Al Ferdman became unusually animated as he spoke out against the council for being unwilling to discuss alternatives to a Laemmle Theatre. By Ferdman’s math, it would take 350 years of tax benefits for the Laemmle to cancel out the $14M subsidy the City will likely provide.

Lynne Plambeck returned to the podium for some follow-up on water and waste issues. Plambeck asked the City to look into Chiquita Canyon’s use of green waste as an “alternative daily cover” for its landfill. She said that the practice is contributing to odor problems, and she was troubled that green waste was being counted as “recycled” when it was really ending up in a landfill.

Finally, Villa Metro’s most sensitive resident came forward to remind anyone who had forgotten that life in Villa Metro is loud. David Keating felt that progress on the soccer center noise issue amounted to too little to late. He sounded like he was auditioning for the part of plaintiff in a civil suit as he said that his wife had to be hospitalized because of the noise. “My wife has been hospitalized because of the trauma, noise, sleep deprivation, psychological effects… We moved out of our home for six weeks. The new home company didn’t disclose the soccer center to us.” He claimed that his tremendous amount of trust in The New Home Company and the City of Santa Clarita had been misplaced. In short, it seems that Keating is both extraordinarily sensitive to noise but was extraordinarily oblivious to the presence of a noisy sports facility by the home he bought. The meeting ended with Keating, as yet, unsatisfied.

CC Recap: Longer Princessa, Quieter Villa, Stricter Vaping

For my November insideSCV column, I wrote about how too many of Santa Clarita’s victories don’t really feel like winning. Think Cemex, where every apparent triumph hasn’t actually been one. Tonight was more of the same. Mobile home park renters recently secured lower annual rent increases, but now park owners are using pass-throughs to get their money in lieu of rent hikes. Villa Metro residents may succeed in driving out the noisy but legally-operating Santa Clarita Soccer Center, but only after demonstrating a hideous lack of self awareness. And vaping has been banned in most places, which would be satisfying had a vaping problem ever really existed. Tonight, many people seemed to get their way, but I’m not sure anybody actually won.

Performing Art

Councilmember Dante Acosta opened the meeting with prayer. (He says “awe-men” rather than “ae-men”.) The flag was saluted, the introductory spiel spieled, and the agenda approved. The sole award of recognition for tonight went to ballerina Anatalia Hordov, who was one of only three Americans to have been invited to the Genee International Ballet Competition this fall. She even made it to the finals, the only American to do so. Hordov posed for a photo with Mayor McLean, an accomplished dancer in her own right, and the rest of the council.

Arts Commission Chair Patti Rasmussen spoke about arts programs that involve local schools and students. These ranged from a Cowboy Festival-inspired lesson in harmonicas to various art competitions to an artist in residence (for a week) program. Rasmussen said that she and the rest of the commission “anxiously await the findings of our arts master plan.” That master plan is being completed by LA-based The Cultural Planning Group. Until then, Claritans remain all but powerless over their own art.

Rent Pass-throughs and Villa Metro “Plight”

After the update on the arts, Mayor McLean began working through a full roster of public participation. She said that if anyone needed translators (some would say she was really after interpreters), their services would be provided. Naturally, this announcement was made only in English, but things would awkwardly work themselves out in both English and Spanish over the course of the meeting.

Elaine Ballace spoke first, saying that the IRS and the City of Santa Clarita disagree without giving much in the way of background. It became apparent that she was talking about their apparent disagreement over what costs could be passed through to mobile home park renters. Ballace explained that park owners are now using pass-throughs to get residents to cover costs on everything from office furniture to computers, not just on capital improvements. She said that it was time to challenge these “greedy landowners.” Another mobile home park resident agreed that pass-throughs were being used to cover questionable expenses and routine maintenance instead of major improvements. He said that it’s retaliation for the recently adopted 0% floor on annual rent increases. Teresa Galvez, speaking with an interpreter, said that management is very difficult to work with at her mobile home park. Her manager doesn’t answer questions or respond to complaints, she claimed, and it made for a situation where renters were paying a lot to get very little.

David Keating used his time at the microphone to complain about continuing noise issues at Villa Metro. Keating, who purchased a home directly across from a soccer field, has been deeply distressed that people play soccer on said field. He said that he and others are “subject to a lot of noise,” calling the situation his “plight.” “We’re suffering over there, every single day,” he contended. The soccer center’s owner, Scott Schauer, spoke as well. After 20 years of legally running his business at the same spot, Schauer said he’s ready to support construction of a sound wall or to look for a new location. Keating was pleased that the center might move, and he asked for the city to help Schauer relocate. He explained that the city is “partially at fault for his [Schauer’s] disposition…being where he is.” In sum, Keating knowingly bought a home next to a soccer field, hasn’t liked the noise, and now feels entitled to request that city resources be used to move the field elsewhere. One hopes that the soccer center owner will make a tidy sum if he does sell his field due to pressure from Villa Metro residents. One also hopes the property will be bought by a company that manufactures car alarms or firecrackers.

Mr. Keating, who lamented having to listen to loud soccer games played near his home, may have a different definition of “suffering” than much of the world.

Other comments covered varied topics. Steve Petzold laid the groundwork for remarks he would make later in the evening about the vaping ban. He asked how items end up on the agenda, particularly ones that seem as trivial as the use of electronic cigarettes. “This is a non-issue in the City of Santa Clarita,” he said, correctly. Al Ferdman and Cam Noltemeyer rounded out public participation with their thoughts on water and chloride treatment. Ferdman brought up the issue of “redundant” reverse osmosis plants and the place of as-yet-unbuilt Newhall Ranch in Santa Clarita’s waterscape. Noltemeyer was pleased that sanitation district meetings were now being held in Santa Clarita, but she said there were many more issues that needed to be resolved.

On the Menu

City Manager Ken Striplin responded first to the concerns of mobile home park residents. His reply, delivered bit by bit in English, then Spanish, amounted to “be careful what you wish for.” He explained that in response to a floor of 0% on annual rent increases, changes in business practices were being made, and they seemed legal. Planning Manager Jeff Hogan explained the appeals process that residents could use to try to keep costs down. City Attorney Joe Montes said that the city’s mobile home park ordinance also states the criteria for capital improvements. Ultimately, though, everyone pointed to the mobile home panel, which has much of the control over appeals, over interpreting what counts as a capital improvement, and over mediating disagreements between residents and owners.

The councilmembers offered their usual remarks about upcoming events and about past, successful events. Councilmember Dante Acosta fretted before one of his announcements. He said he felt like he was back in school, when a teacher would chastise him for chewing gum by asking if he’d brought enough for the whole class. Tonight, that “gum” was an announcement of his friend’s “Welsh Cakes” business, and he regretted that he could only spotlight one of his favorite local businesses. Most would agree that a little plug at a City Council meeting won’t be the big break for any business (viewership can often be counted on one hand), so his worries were probably for naught. Mayor McLean also had food on her mind during the comment period. She said that she had picked out the lunch menu for this year’s State of the City Luncheon. McLean promised that it was not chicken, and she hoped people would like her choice. Her eyes sparkled mischievously and she flashed an enigmatic smile, but gave no additional hints.

Councilmember Dante Acosta couldn’t help but mention his recent commercial spot when he asked residents to support a charitable diabetes walk coming this fall.

Consent Calendar

Throughout the meeting leading up to consideration of the consent calendar, a woman had been interpreting on- and off-again for Spanish-speaking residents. She mostly just interpreted the dialogue pertaining to mobile home park rents. It had been a little cumbersome (interpretation has been handled far more smoothly in the past with headsets), and Steve Petzold made a point of this when he came to the podium to speak about Santa Clarita’s vaping ban ordinance. Petzold asked for an interpreter, and the mayor asked whether there was anyone in the audience who needed Petzold’s testimony to be translated from English to Spanish. Two individuals indicated that they would benefit from such a service. The interpreter moved between the front of the room and the audience as the council tried to decide whether it was better for her to speak at the microphone or to speak directly next to the Spanish-speaking attendants. Petzold would begin speaking, but he was stopped as he wasn’t pausing enough to allow for translation. The whole exercise took a few minutes and flustered Mayor McLean. Petzold mostly just smiled with quiet self-satisfaction. Or exasperation. Probably both. He can be hard to read.

When he finally began speaking uninterrupted, Steve Petzold lambasted the ordinance to ban the use of electronic smoking devices. E-cigarettes or vaporizers would be treated the same as conventional cigarettes despite presenting far fewer health risks. Petzold’s critique was wide-ranging and unforgiving (except it seemed OK to ban them on buses). Several others came forward to speak against the ordinance as well. Since vaping would be allowed in shops that sold the devices, which had been a non-negotiable for owners of vaping businesses, their remarks were really aimed at diminishing the stigma around the activity. A veteran said that seven other veterans he knows have successfully switched from cigarettes to vaping, and they’re the better for it. Some have dropped nicotine altogether. Speakers involved in the vaping industry or community said that vaping isn’t synonymous with illegal drug use, that international health authorities have said it’s a better alternative to smoking, and that it was factually wrong to say that vaping is the same as smoking.

The comments weren’t terribly productive. Tonight, the ordinance was before the council for a second reading/final passage, so not much was likely to change. Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked if anyone would support him in allowing vaping in Santa Clarita’s extensive open space network, but he found no takers. In other words, it will be illegal for a resident to use an electronic cigarette even if alone on a trail and miles from civilization. The ordinance–and all other items on the consent calendar–passed with recommended action. Those other items included installing a water monitoring well at the Valencia Library and some landscaping contracts.

Build Roads, Screw Toads

The last big item of the evening was a public hearing about plans to extend Via Princessa between Golden Valley Road and Sheldon Avenue. A final EIR and master case were up for approval. Cam Noltemeyer and Lynne Plambeck expressed their misgivings about the project. The environmental impact report concluded that, “Significant and unavoidable impacts would occur due to loss of vernal pool habitat and vernal pool-dependent species…Even with the implementation of mitigation, impacts would remain significant and unavoidable.” Sensitive local vernal pool-associated species include arroyo toads, several annual wildflowers, and aquatic invertebrates. Plambeck was dismayed that protecting habitat and wildlife only seems to be a priority for the council when it can be used as a tool to stop unpopular developments, such as the landfill at Elsmere Canyon.

The City Council was supportive of the road extension. Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar stated, “Folks, it is our responsibility to do what we can to take care of the human race.” He said that someone told him that the top three priorities for those seeking public office should be roads, roads, and roads. Kellar closed with a lament that there are people (SCOPE members, presumably) who “oppose everything!” Councilmember TimBen Boydston gave a more cynically supportive response, stating that people weren’t going to get out of their cars en masse and that a functional road infrastructure was critical. Councilmember Acosta agreed, stating that Soledad Canyon Road is gridlocked much of the time and that more big roads are needed, especially near Canyon Country. Acosta said he’d start a collection to fund the road if needed, and Kellar jokingly produced cash to make a donation. Mayor McLean was the last to express her support for the road despite its negative biological impacts. As she was explaining herself, Noltemeyer or Plambeck (or both, I didn’t see) made for the exit. She scolded her/them, saying smugly, “So if you’re leaving, then apparently, you don’t care.”

The project is far from a done deal. More work has to take place to mitigate habitat loss, some $38M in additional funds need to be secured, and the work itself will take years. But a big road that’s been in the works for a while cleared its most recent major hurdle with the support of the full council.

More Villa Noise

The second round of public participation saw more speakers on Villa Metro noise and mobile home park pass-throughs. One theme of the mobile home park comments was the perceived lack of communication between managers/owners and residents. No resolution is in sight.

One speaker complained not about soccer noise but rather about train noise at Villa Metro. Recall that Villa Metro was sold/built around the idea of “easy access to Southern California’s regional rail” (per the New Home Company’s websites). It seems that once the soccer field has been driven out, removing trains from the train-based community may be the next goal. Such is Villa Metro.

During his comments, Ray Henry mentioned that he didn’t like it when councilmembers highlighted businesses at meetings. Acosta had offered his own mini-commercial for Welsh Cakes tonight, but Bob Kellar is the usual promoter. Before the meeting ended, Kellar asked City Attorney Montes if local businesses and “restrunts” could indeed be mentioned, and Montes replied in the affirmative. The meeting ended before 9.