The Santa Clarita City Council can be accused of many things, but their support of veterans and military families has never been in doubt. That’s what made tonight’s council meeting rather uncomfortable. Bill Reynolds’ proposed memorial wall was up for discussion–the one he’s pushed to have built in Newhall Veterans Historical Plaza. After much contentious discussion about where/how it’s appropriate to honor the military dead, the council agreed to put off agreeing to some date uncertain. Far less contentious was a $51M plan for a new Sheriff’s Station. But that’s the way it is in Santa Clarita–the amount of discussion can never be predicted by pricetag alone.
The Coyote Wall
For her invocation, Councilmember Laurene Weste contemplated Memorial Day from both national and local perspectives.
Two individuals were called forward to be recognized by the council. First, a recent West Point graduate was applauded for his long list of academic, military, and personal accomplishments. He said that, after graduating two days ago, many of his peers went to Cancun or other party destinations. But he said, “There’s no place that I’d rather be than here [Santa Clarita].” Damn straight. Next, we heard about a detective who solved a case involving the theft of some plants–not drug plants but landscaping plants. He, too, was recognized by the council.
Public participation consisted of just three speakers. Steve Petzold encouraged Claritans to vote against Measure E, the quarter-billion dollar bond measure that would bring new buildings and more parking to College of the Canyons. He said that the current campus and parking facilities are adequate, and he mentioned the massive amount of debt COC is already saddled with. Petz suggested that flashing the debt on the school’s electronic billboards would be an effective wake-up call–the amount taxpayers are on the hook for. Elaine Ballace spoke out about the mobile home review panel and the lack of help for renters. She said responses from city staff are often unhelpful or dismissive. She singled out Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta, asking him why he was running for State Assembly. Ballace claimed Acosta is “un-representing” plenty of people already.
The one other public speaker tonight described coyote attacks on pets along the bike trail through Bridgeport. He described the existing fence as “completely open and vulnerable to coyote attacks,” so he proposed a “proper fence” along the trail or relocation of the coyotes. His was the only comment to which City Manager Ken Striplin responded. Striplin said that he was sorry to hear about family pets being “accosted” by the predators, but he added that coyotes can get over even a six-foot fence and are to be an expected part of life (and death) in the SCV. He added that staff would look at whether fences in the area were inadequate.
In the past several recaps, I know I’ve just breezed past councilmember updates because I find them the most exhausting and tedious portions of the meeting. Tonight was a typical reflection of what you’re missing. Councilmember Laurene Weste: Hearing on St. Francis Dam Memorial Monument. Free movie series at Hart Park. Councilmember Marsha McLean: Description of a half-dozen transportation meetings and issues. Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta: Duane Harte park dedication. Community gardens. Santa Clarita’s swimming facilities for summer. Councilmember TimBen Boydston: Resolution to coordinate homeless initiatives with LA County (doesn’t get support to agendize discussion of this). Mayor Bob Kellar: Military banner program. Deceased SCV resident John Nuzzi. As always, it was a mix of remembering the dead and promoting activities for the living.
The 15-Year Clause
The consent calendar had been scrutinized by Al Ferdman and Cam Noltemeyer prior to the meeting, and both had questions about a couple of the items each. Ferdman expressed concerns about how a new roof for the special districts administration facility was being funded. He said that the costs must be divided among those who will benefit. He brought up more Proposition 218 concerns on another district-related item. Ferdman asked about whether some districts in the red were being funded by those in the black, which would be improper.
During her two turns at the microphone, Cam Noltemeyer expressed disappointment in various aspects of Claritan government. Item 6 adjusted rates of solid waste service providers (multifamily residential rates up 3.88%), which led Noltemeyer to the topic of Chiquita Landfill and becoming (or remaining) the valley of the dumps. “I want to see some leadership!” she said, hoping that landfill expansions could be fought off the way a dump in Elsmere Canyon was. Noltemeyer then spoke about an item awarding a design contract for the Vista Canyon Metrolink Station. “Who’s paying for it?” she asked, noting that over $4M will be required for design and preparation costs alone. She was concerned about how much the actual station, additional track, and amenities would end up costing.
City Manager Ken Striplin said the speakers’ concerns were, as always, misplaced. He explained that costs for the new roof would be fairly allocated. He added that, “Proposition 218 is being fully complied with,” such that loans to various districts are carefully accounted for and will be repaid. Striplin then mentioned that Elsmere Canyon had become protected as open space instead of being turned into a dump in response to Noltemeyer. Cam’s comments can be wide-ranging and difficult to follow, but his response was more just a way of evading discussion of Chiquita, the dump-that-shall-not-be-spoken-of by City Council.
Once items on the consent calendar had been approved with the recommended actions, City Manager Striplin expressed his excitement to present plans for a new Sheriff’s Station. He explained that the current station had been built when the population of the SCV was about 50,000 people, 1/6th of what it is today. It was out-of-date and inadequate and not centrally located. The item he presented was a memorandum of understanding between the City of Santa Clarita and Los Angeles County concerning a new 44,000 sq. ft. station to be built on Golden Valley Road. The cash will come from a variety of city funds and other sources, including $15M from the county. However, if Santa Clarita chooses to end its contract with the Sheriff’s Department within fifteen years of construction of the new facility, it will have to pay that money back to the county. Santa Clarita will own the land and the station, and it will be used by the Sheriff’s Department rent-free.
Al Ferdman came up to comment. He said that he would prefer two stations (the new one and the existing one) rather than just going with one big new one. He offered an interesting theory that crime would shift from the east to the west with the relocation of the Sheriff’s Department.
The council was generally supportive of the plan for the new station. Everyone agreed that a bigger, newer station was needed, and the location proposed seemed to be about as geographically central as could be hoped for. Councilmember McLean asked about the provision of paying the county back if the city ended its contract with the LA County Sheriff’s Department. Could the penalty be pro-rated?, she wondered. The short answer was no, or at least not without slowing down a process that’s taken too long already. The MOU was approved.
Old Town Newhall was discussed next. You may recall that an urgency ordinance was recently enacted that placed a moratorium on any new businesses in the area except those which supported the goal of an arts and entertainment district. This most urgent of ordinances got extended for another 10 months without comment or discussion. Councilmember Boydston had to recuse himself from the item do to his business in the area. So worry not; there will be no new businesses in Newhall unless they’re adorable boutiques, fashionable galleries, wine bars, or the like.
The most contentious item of the evening was the proposal for a memorial wall by the Santa Clarita Valley Veterans Memorial Committee. This project has been discussed for a while and was moving forward largely because of the efforts of a very determined Bill Reynolds. The wall would be located in Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall or some other site that the council deemed fit
Public comments came after a brief introduction of the proposal. Many speakers were very concerned about the semantics of it all. Was it a wall, memorial, memorial wall, or monument? Was the plaza for veterans expressly or could it serve a memorial function, too? What did the “historical” in historical plaza actually mean? The most ardent supporter was Bill Reynolds, who read a long list of fellow project supporters and explained that various individuals and businesses had already stepped forward to cover the costs of installing the wall. It belonged in the plaza, he said. Julie Olsen also made a memorable speech in which she described some of the stories of those who had died in war and who would be remembered on the wall.
Dick Jeffrey was the most outspoken opponent. As a veteran himself, he said that he knew something about the wishes of the fallen. “I know one thing for sure, from the bottom of my heart,” he began, continuing that the fallen would want to “give the money to the living.” It wasn’t primarily monetary concerns that gave Jeffrey pause, though; he said the plaza has a “non-memorial character” and mentioned that there is already a wall for the fallen at Eternal Valley Cemetery. He speculated that the wall was really just “a way to glorify one man’s [Reynolds’] inflated ego.” Other speakers against putting a wall in the plaza included R.J. Kelly, who said that Eternal Valley is for the fallen, not the Veterans Historical Plaza.
Councilmember TimBen Boydston expressed his surprise that some people were opposed, saying, “I think we will not be spoiling the beauty of the plaza.” But the beauty of the plaza was exactly what made Weste, McLean, and Acosta concerned. The plaza is just so symmetrical in its present form. Putting a wall in the middle would preserve symmetry but interrupt the unbroken view, and putting it off to one side would upset the balance. Councilmember Weste took a lot of time to express her concerns and comments (“I have a lot of ’em!” she warned), and she made it clear that everyone supported veterans, regardless of their thoughts on the appropriateness of a wall for the plaza. Weste felt that the plaza had been almost perfectly designed and ought not be altered. “You don’t deconstruct,” she said, adding that it would be inappropriate to, “Geez, go plop something down.” Even the material proposed for the wall made her worry. “There’s no [other] black granite in that plaza!” she observed. Councilmember McLean was worried that a wall in some shady corner could give cover to certain unsavory activities. Mayor Pro Tem Acosta wondered whether the Rotary Club gardens might not be a better spot.
Mayor Kellar made a motion in support of a wall on the periphery of the plaza. He said he wanted to move forward and “not keep talking about it.” He added that the speakers in favor (the vast majority had been) represented “a compelling gathering of people.” Kellar has heard from even larger crowds of residents on other items, but this was the first time he said that his actions were being motivated by such a crowd. Councilmember McLean warned against acting simply out of visceral support for a monument: “You need to be practical and not emotional.” Mayor Pro Tem Acosta, whose son was killed while serving in Afghanistan, expressed serious distress over having to potentially vote “no” on a wall that would honor his son simply because the location wasn’t right. It was evident that Kellar’s motion would fail 3-2. Weste then made a very long motion of her own. It asked for staff to take a hard second look at the monument/wall and afforded a lot of oversight/discretionary control to the council. Placement, material, and other aspects of the memorial design could all be negotiated, but it would end up somewhere in the plaza (a point Boydston was insistent on getting added to the motion).
The meeting ended after Doug Fraser made a comment about the confusing and troubling legal status of spouses as owners of mobile homes. Recent hearings have hinged on whether a spouse counts as an owner if his/her name isn’t on the documents. City Attorney Joe Montes refused to second-guess how the panel had interpreted ownership. It seemed like a pretty simple question of community property, but Montes didn’t want to get into it. With that, the meeting ended.
Tonight’s Santa Clarita City Council meeting lacked controversy, tension, and suspense. Most items were financial in nature–investment policy, bonds, fees, service contracts–and decisions were more formalities than turning-points. It was the kind of meeting you forget, even as it’s happening. But I persevered so as to recap, if solely for the sake of a few quotable moments.
“That’s a plus.”
Councilmember TimBen Boydston read some excerpts from President Barack Obama’s National Day of Prayer speech. Mayor Kellar then welcomed a Boy Scout Troop–“all the way from Canyon Country!”–to lead the pledge. It took an inordinate amount of time because the young scout at the helm added grave and dramatic pauses whenever possible.
“Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.”
Public participation was short and bitter. Elaine Ballace, who spoke shortly after the pledge, began, “Liberty and justice for all…unless you live in a mobile home park.” She complained about how the new(ish) mobile home ordinance has been put into practice and asked for more support from the council, naming some city staff members she’s found less than supportive (e.g., Erin Lay) of residents struggling to get by as rents continue to rise. Ballace ended with a rather foreboding proclamation: “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord!”
City Manager Ken Striplin responded once public participation had concluded. His remarks were polite acknowledgements of speakers or refutations of some of the more outraged contentions. Updates from the council were protracted and routine, for the most part. Mayor Kellar spent some time encouraging residents to purchase banners for members/veterans of the armed forces. The banner program includes the display of large, personalized banners along the road for major, patriotic holidays. The families then get to keep the banner. While the costs of the banners are being partially covered by donations from local businesses, families must cover the rest. Kellar explained that this made sense–another city had covered all the costs in its banner program and eventually ran out of funds. This seemingly innocuous comment would become important later.
The consent calendar passed with the recommend actions on all items.
“Let’s pay for the whole deal.”
A few more items followed the consent calendar. First, the annual stormwater pollution prevention fee was set at $24.04 per year for an average 7,000 square-foot parcel. Councilmembers Marsha McLean and TimBen Boydston expressed some displeasure over county/state plans to increase the fee. This hasn’t happened yet, but it was clearly on their minds. In a rare, almost affectionate moment, Mayor Kellar remembered an amusing remark Boydston made when testifying about stormwater fees before the LA County Board of Supervisors. Kellar chuckled as he recalled Boydston saying, “God gave us rain and government’s trying to figure out how to tax us for it.”
The final items had to do with refunding Golden Valley Road and open space bonds, which saved the city some cash, There was no discussion or comment and the proposals were approved as written.
The meeting would have ended then and there, but Al Ferdman decided to submit a card for the closing round of public participation. He said he hadn’t planned on it until he heard a particular remark. “Then something happens that raises the hair on the back of my neck,” he said, building suspense. He explained that honoring veterans with banners was great, but not covering the entire cost was “shameful.” (Recall that Kellar had made a case for asking families to cover some of the costs.) Ferdman pointed out that the city spends almost $100,000 on holiday lights for Newhall and will be giving about $4M to Laemmle Theaters. Why, Ferdman queried, couldn’t it spare about $20,000 for veterans? “Kick in that twenty grand and let’s pay for the whole deal,” he emphatically suggested. The meeting then ended.
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.
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.
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.