Smyth Shaping Pot, Arts, Homeless Agendas

At tonight’s meeting of the Santa Clarita City Council, Mayor Cameron Smyth distinguished himself from his fellow councilmembers in small but suggestive ways. Smyth suggested that it’s time to “evolve” on the issue of marijuana, though like his fellow members, he was still in favor of an emergency ordinance limiting its presence in Santa Clarita. Making Old Town Newhall an arts district is the pet project of several councilmembers, but Smyth made it clear that he didn’t want to micromanage things when he pointed out how odd it was for the City to lease and manage a theater for the arts–he still voted for the action, though. In the past, the council wouldn’t even give former Councilmember TimBen Boydston the support to agendize/discuss homelessness. But tonight, Smyth suggested and earned support for an ad hoc homelessness committee from the very people who stymied Boydston. In short, Smyth is using the mantle of mayorhood much more proactively than his predecessors. He votes with the majority while nudging the trajectory of futures votes and policies. Let’s recap.

 

No Fuss, No Frills Oath of Office

 

Councilmember McLean giggled as she began tonight’s invocation, noting that she was going to make two totally unrelated remarks. The first consisted of reading the dictionary definition of “perception”. “How does perception become the reality?” she asked with all the profundity she could muster. McLean didn’t mention the specific words or actions that she felt had been unfairly perceived (it probably had something to do with filling the vacant council seat by the appointment of establishment-friendly Bill Miranda rather than by allowing citizens to votes). In any case, her second remark was more patronizing than political. She praised volunteers, quoting someone who said, “Volunteers are not paid not because they are worthless but because they are priceless.”

With extremely little fanfare (not even so much as an introduction–just an invitation for Miranda’s family members to join him), Mayor Cameron Smyth announced that it was time for Bill Miranda to take the Oath of Office. He did, there was applause, and new Councilmember Miranda made very succinct remarks, promising, “I will do my best to serve the City of Santa Clarita.” That was it.

The lack of fuss over Miranda was underscored by the excess of fuss over titles recently bestowed upon this fair city. Santa Clarita earned the designation of “Runner Friendly Community”, and there were speeches, a 5-minute video, and effusive statements and applause. But that was nothing in comparison to the unbridled celebration of Santa Clarita being named LA County’s “Most Business Friendly City.” Almost every councilmember had something to say about Santa Clarita’s amazingly business-friendly environment. The Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation’s Holly Schroeder said that they had added some 2,000 jobs over the past year. She gushed about Scorpion, an Internet marketing and technology services company, which is staying in Santa Clarita as it continues to grow. In short, a lot of running trails and an IT company got more fanfare than Miranda. Perhaps the council was trying to minimize any appearances of affection for the newest councilmember in light of inevitable comments about the appointment process to come during public participation.

 

More Miranda

Elaine Ballace was the first speaker during the public participation segment of the meeting. “You are business friendly…but it seems to be at the cost of people,” she observed. Ballace criticized the appointment of Bill Miranda instead of holding a special election to fill the vacant seat, saying, “It seemed that it was already pre-chosen…there should have been an election…you have the money.” Both Ballace and Cam Noltemeyer would also ask that the council discuss the expansion of Chiquita Canyon Landfill. It won’t.

The next speaker was a woman who described how unpleasant it is to deal with code enforcement–it’s a sentiment heard a few times a year in one form or another. Her particular case involved a very tall wall that apparently didn’t meet local construction standards, but which she said had survived the Northridge Earthquake and which contractors had told her was structurally sound. Since it would cost her $50,000 to $100,000 to replace it, she asked for special consideration from the city–McLean made sure someone would work with her.

A self-identified 20-something noted that there are no night trains on weekends to/from LA (well, unless you want to call it a night at 8 pm). You could see Councilmember McLean perk up excitedly at the mention of a train–and by a young person, no less!–because rail-based transportation is one of her favorite subjects. She even told him not to leave after making his comment because she would address it later.

Finally, Steve Petzold made some remarks that related to the appointment of Bill Miranda. He said that the City should have a contingency fund to pay for special elections–that way, it wouldn’t be able to make the excuse that “it’s too expensive!” to justify an appointment over an election. Petzold also warned the City about the possibility of another voting rights lawsuit. On the Talk of Santa Clarita podcast, Stephen Daniels recently interviewed Kevin Shenkman, who has filed such suits in the past, and Shenkman’s continued “interest” in the valley had Petzold very concerned about the prospect of losing more money in legal fees, legal battles, and settlements.

Staff and councilmembers spoke next–words were brief and wide-ranging. Councilmember Bob Kellar asked for an agenda item relating to a proclamation against hatred or bigotry–it was a bit vague, but the request came in response to a push by a few residents in prior weeks for Santa Clarita to make some kind of anti-hate proclamation. Kellar noted that this has always been Santa Clarita’s stance, but he was happy to indulge the request. Councilmember Marsha McLean invited the young transportation enthusiast to attend a Metro meeting and make his voice heard. City Manager Ken Striplin described “several hundred tons of sand and boulders” that came down Iron Canyon in the recent heavy rains. The flows were strong enough to breach two retention structures, but damage will be addressed. “You did a marvelous job with your rain dance,” Mayor Pro Tem Weste said to the people of Santa Clarita in light of all the storms.

 

CONSENT CALENDAR

There were many items on the consent calendar but only a few attracted comments. Item 6 recommended that the City agree to a $166,000 lease of the currently vacant Repertory East Playhouse in Old Town Newhall. The space would function as a center for the arts community to make use of. Patti Rasmussen came up to speak on this item, but most of her remarks had to do with her own pet project of the Newhall Auditorium, which is a larger, nearby facility undergoing restoration. Item 7 recommended $180,000 in community arts and services grants, and TimBen Boydston spoke in support of this support for the arts–Boydston and the Canyon Theatre Guild that he directs have received these grants in the past.  Al Ferdman spoke on an item relating to financial practices and auditing. He identified some budgetary deficiencies or potential problems that he asked to be addressed in light of the past embezzlement scandal. Other consent calendar items that weren’t commented on included increasing the amount of funds for a job training center and a contract to replace the roof at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex.

On the matter of the theater, Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste said that she was concerned that the theater space was too small to be a center for the arts, but she said it would suffice for the time being. She didn’t want it to be turned into retail space and was happy that the City was supporting the arts community. Mayor Cameron Smyth had a markedly different view, saying, “This is a new tangent.” He didn’t think that leasing and running theaters was a core duty of local government, so he wasn’t particularly supportive of the idea of leasing and essentially micro-managing the arts scene in Newhall. He still voted with the other councilmembers, but only because the theater lease is relatively modest and short-term. City Manager Ken Striplin reassured Al Ferdman that the City actively monitors its financial practices and has outside audits.

The consent calendar was approved with all of the recommended actions by all councilmembers.

 

Committee Me This

Mayor Smyth made some adjustments to committee appointments for the various councilmembers. Most committees stayed the same or made customary swaps (e.g., mayor always serves on certain committees). In the past, Councilmember Marsha McLean has been the most vocal about committees because she relishes service on some of them and can never seem to have enough. Smyth wisely gave her a bunch, and she seemed satisfied. There was an objection from Al Ferdman about lobbyist and electronic billboard enthusiast Arthur Sohikian serving on the North County Transportation Coalition, but Ken Striplin pointed out that one seat has to be filled by a non-councilmember, and Marsha McLean said that Sohikian works for the city’s interests. “I don’t want to use the word ‘lobby’,” she said, but that’s what he seems to do to get Santa Clarita’s fair share.

Mayor Smyth said that he thought an ad hoc committee on homelessness was needed, and McLean and Miranda were happy to support this idea and offer to help. When former Councilmember TimBen Boydston tried to open up a discussion on this very topic in the past, he could get no support from his fellow councilmembers.

 

Emergencies: Pot and Seniors

Two emergency ordinances were discussed at the end of the meeting. The first prohibited marijuana in Santa Clarita insomuch as it’s possible after the passing of Prop 64. Councilmember Bill Miranda said that while he may not agree with the full proposition, he acknowledged that the people of California have spoken and wondered if an emergency ordinance was merely a “delaying tactic” putting off the inevitable arrival of the legal recreational marijuana industry. Mayor Smyth took it a step further, stating that he has met with people who make a living in industries in some way related to marijuana, and stating that delivery businesses and manufacturing businesses might be more welcome than, say, recreational retail shops. He was very careful about his phrasing and said that he supported the emergency ordinance for now, but he did ask whether it was indeed time to “begin to evolve our thinking” on pot. City Attorney Joe Montes wondered about how state and federal marijuana policies would mesh, but he told the council that they could alter marijuana policies even with the emergency ordinance in place. Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste tried to “clarify” (i.e., constrain) Smyth’s words by suggesting that he was drawing a line between a medically necessary pharmaceutical and a recreational drug. For now, the emergency ordinance goes on. Ultimately, though, it seems as if Miranda and Smyth are not as steadfastly and reflexively anti-marijuana as the others.

A second emergency ordinance extended a prohibition on converting senior mobile home parks to family mobile home parks. The former are defined as parks in which at least 80% of residents are 55 or older, and they are more affordable. Park owners usually try to convert park types because they can ask higher rents at family parks. A few speakers thanked the city for extending protection of seniors, and most of the council was outspoken in support of keeping senior home parks from converting. Councilmember Miranda voted “Absolutely!” instead of a mere “yes” to extend the ordinance. Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste was also deeply supportive, saying seniors have no where else to go.

Before the meeting ended, TimBen Boydston came up to make a strongly worded comment about what Weste had said about theaters and the city’s role in the arts. He said he was disturbed that she wanted to exert so much control, but Councilmember McLean suggested part of the disagreement might be confusion over what Weste wanted for the Rep versus the Auditorium. One can be confident that Boydston will let us know what he thinks as matters continue to develop. The meeting ended just after 8:30.

New Commish Appointments, Mayoral Tweets

It’s a new year, a new mayor, and a new recap, at least inasmuch as anything “new” can ever really happen in Santa Clarita.  The main on-the-record highlight was Mayor Cameron Smyth and Councilmember Bob Kellar appointing various Claritans to various commissions. The main off-the-record highlight was unusually playful banter between a councilmember and a public speaker. With just four members of the City Council, all of whom get along and aren’t looking to stir the pot, the meeting lasted only one hour. Let’s recap.

Artistic Achievement 

Mayor Smyth’s invocation was a somber one. He asked for a moment of silence in observation of a local 14-year-old’s recent suicide. Smyth said the tragedy hit particularly close to home because his own son is 13 years old, and he expressed his sincere sympathy for the affected family.

Awards and presentations followed the flag salute. Both of tonight’s honors fell under the category of the arts–some students were recognized for drawing pictures about the dangers of distracted driving, and city staff were recognized for excellence in web design. Instead of the usual round-robin of reading copy about local, upcoming events, Mayor Smyth read through the whole list of announcements, which included the Cowboy Festival and a count of homeless people. Eulogizing duties were shared among the councilmembers, and individual reports from councilmembers were pushed back a bit later into the meeting than has been the norm.

Public Participation

All the regulars showed up tonight. Al Ferdman spoke about the water supply. There’s a need for groundwater sustainability planning now (dictated by the State), but Ferdman wondered about whether existing urban use/planning documents could be updated instead of starting from scratch. He also sought clarification on the respective roles of the relevant parties, especially the City, County, and the CLWA. Cam Noltemeyer switched the topic to trash, asking Cameron Smyth to agendize discussion of Chiquita Canyon Landfill. She pointed out that the City of Santa Clarita frequently gets involved in issues outside of city boundaries, but it has long avoided wading into the Chiquita mess on the grounds that it’s outside the city. Elaine Ballace spoke on a few topics, one of which was asking where the pay-for-grocery-bag fees went. She reported that at least one store clerk had told her the money went to the City, though she was informed that this was an erroneous statement by Councilmember Marsha McLean.

Steve Petzold brought up the big issue of who is going to take Assemblyman Dante Acosta’s former seat. He said that many speakers at the previous meeting, most of the participants in an online poll by The Signal, and he himself felt that a special election would be superior to an appointment by the councilmembers. To help bolster his point, he mentioned the possible threat of another lawsuit by Kevin Shenkman because the City still hasn’t gone to district-based voting and because an appointment might not be viewed as the most equitable means of filling a vacancy.

Stacy Fortner began her comments tonight with a special request of Mayor Cameron Smyth. I’ve transcribed it to the best of my abilities below:

FORTNER: “First of all, it’s Julie Olsen’s birthday today, so, Happy Birthday, Julie! [turns to face companion in audience, applauds; continues, coyly] And Cam, I was hoping…maybe…you could sing ‘Happy Birthday’…to Julie?”

SMYTH: “You know I’m more of a rapper…”

FORTNER: “Yeah, oh? Even better! I’ll even cede my three minutes…” [gestures with arm as if transferring her speaking time to the mayor]

SMYTH: “As an artist, you know, you understand, as an artist, you can’t just turn it on like that. I have to have some inspiration, so tonight, I’m a little bit, just not feeling right tonight.”

FORNTER: [nodding understandingly] “Maybe a little later.”

SMYTH: “Yeah I need a little more notice so I…”

FORNTER: “We’d like to see you get jiggy wit it.” [reference to 1998 composition by Will Smith]

SMYTH: [defensively] “I can…”

KELLAR: [interrupting] “There’s a ‘Sweet Lord!’ if I ever heard one.”

Clearly, such playfulness would not have been abided under the formerly Kellerian Council. Fortner then got to her more material remarks, explaining that she was also curious as to why the council wasn’t more seriously considering the option of a special election to fill Acosta’s seat.

City Manager Ken Striplin responded to most of the speakers with his usual brisk efficiency.

 

 

A Bridge Broad Enough for Bikes

The consent calendar was very short. One item awarded a contract for the widening of the Newhall Ranch Road bridge, which currently narrows Newhall Ranch Road from eight lanes down to six,  impeding the flow of traffic.  For approximately $11.4M (plus contingencies and supporting funds), the bridge is going to be widened. Nina Moskol, chair of the Santa Clarita Valley Bicycle Coalition, came up to speak in support of the measure because it will include accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians.

There were a few other items on the consent calendar, including adding one additional motor deputy and forming a new landscape maintenance district zone. All items were approved with the recommended actions.

Commissioners Appointed

James Farley came up to speak before Bob Kellar and Cameron Smyth made their picks for city commissions. Farley dedicated a lot of time to researching the open space district assessment when it passed many years ago, and he reminded the council that he has always worked to protect the interests of taxpayers and to make sure that land acquisition guidelines are followed. During his time on the Open Space Financial Accountability and Audit Panel, he reminded Kellar and Smyth, he found a recommended purchase that fell outside the allowable area for land acquisitions–that is, he corrected staff on having not followed the assessment spending regulations properly. He was also the only person to show up to lobby for a (re-)appointment tonight.

He didn’t get it.  Instead, Councilmember Kellar and Cameron Smyth made the following appointments:

ARTS: John Down (Kellar), Vanessa Wilk (Smyth)

PARKS: Donald Cruikshank (Kellar), Kieran Wong (Smyth)

PLANNING: Chuck Heffernan (Kellar), Renee Berlin (Smyth)

OPEN SPACE: Frederick Andre Hollings (Kellar), Henry Rodriguez (Smyth)

Interestingly, Smyth said of the open space accountability panel that, “Adding he [Henry Rodriguez] and Andre [Hollings] to that board is going to be a real dynamic board where you’re going to see a lot of great activity.” Since the board’s essential activity is seeing whether all provisions are being appropriately followed, I’m not sure how dynamic it’s going to become. In any case, everyone approved the nominations.

Before the meeting ended, Lynne Plambeck asked people to come to a hearing on Newhall Ranch development (she called it outdated “dinosaur planning”) at Rio Pico Junior High School this Thursday evening. The Signal is having a forum for city council candidates the same night, which she found unfortunate over-scheduling of one evening as both events will impact the City’s future.

The meeting then ended. Since little of substance happened, the real takeaway tonight was a character study of Cameron Smyth. He’s been gone for quite a while, but he reminded people that he likes to make his presence known and that he is willing to directly engage the public far more fully than anyone since, say, Frank Ferry. One means of doing this is Twitter; he reads tweets during the meeting–well, at least during tonight’s rather slow meeting. I know this because I and others live-tweet the meetings (use #SCCouncil to follow along), and Smyth liked and/or re-tweeted some of the tweets while it was still going on. This opens up a new avenue of very direct, very real-time access to the mayor that I could see being used to influence future, contentious votes. We’ll see.

New Year’s Eve Countdown…of Birds

A century ago, Christmas wasn’t all that different from today—carols, feasting, family. But there was one custom that’s all but disappeared. The side-hunt, as it was known, involved a walk through the countryside to shoot every bird in sight; he who shot the most, won. Things slowly began to change in 1900. At the urging of Frank Chapman, an ornithologist with the American Museum of Natural History, people went out and identified and counted birds instead of shooting them. That first year, there were 27 counters. For this, the 117th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC), there will be around 70,000 counters, approximately 20 of whom will tally birds in Santa Clarita.

 

Though the Santa Clarita Christmas Bird Count is young compared to most CBC circles—this is only its 14th year—the numbers already tell the story of our changing valley. California Quail have declined markedly. From 2003-2005, the average count was 272 quail per year. From 2013-2015, it was a mere 46. Meanwhile, numbers of the copper-colored Allen’s Hummingbird are fast catching up to the more familiar, green and pink Anna’s Hummingbird. From 2003-2005, the average count was 5 Allen’s Hummingbirds per year. From 2013-2015, the average shot up to to 44. Why is Santa Clarita becoming bad for quail but good for hummingbirds? We can’t say for certain, but a likely contributor is development. Exotic, blossom-filled landscapes and medians planted in flowering Eucalyptus provide nectar to Allen’s Hummingbirds all winter long, but the wildflower seeds that quail relish aren’t as abundant as once they were. When Santa Clarita’s data is combined with data from more than 2,000 other count circles, some of which have been faithfully done for well over 100 years, you come to realize that the CBC is effectively taking the pulse of America’s bird populations. How are they doing? That’s the big question.

 

It’s a lot of fun, too. Bird people are wonderfully quirky. Most you’ll meet can instantly identify any of hundreds of species of birds almost immediately by sight or even by hearing a single chirp. It gets a little competitive trying to track down rare birds and count them all—everyone comes back to the count compilation lunch with their tallies and stories. I’ve done the count every year, and I’ve never regretted spending a morning chasing Claritan birds. Think about giving it a try this year. Even if you don’t know a Rock Wren from a Canyon Wren, you can get teamed up with some experienced birders and learn a lot. It’s the morning of New Year’s Eve (this Saturday). For more information, visit the unofficially official California CBC website and you’ll get count compiler Brian Bielfeldt’s email (http://www.natureali.org/cbcs.htm), plus learn about other CBCs. Hope to see you at the count!

Candidate Dante Acosta Accused of Sexual Harassment

acosta_mic

According to sources familiar with the matter, shortly before the June 2016 primary, Rep. Steve Knight and other Republican officials were made aware of credible allegations of sexual harassment involving a GOP campaign staffer, implicating Dante Acosta, the City of Santa Clarita Councilmember and candidate for California’s 38th Assembly District, who was an employee of Knight’s office at the time.

The alleged harassment took place over 14-month period and included unwanted advances by Acosta, including inappropriate comments and texts, as well as direct propositioning.

In mid-June, just a couple of weeks after a contentious 4-way primary election, Acosta abruptly announced his resignation from his day job with Rep. Steve Knight—ostensibly to spend more time with his campaign.

This surprised campaign watchers at the time, since it came after a frenetic run-up to the June primary, and at the beginning of a months-long lull before the general election season. Why resign in June and not March? Or August? These allegations may shed light on those questions.

For now, we’ll follow up with more information as this story develops.

Acosta did not respond to requests to comment for this story.

 

Embezzler, Butchery, Wall

Vivaldi. It’s always Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons that plays while waiting for the broadcast of the Santa Clarita City Council meetings to begin. Who really needs such a forceful reminder of time’s passing–or is it times passing? All those frantic violins. Don’t worry, we’re getting to the recap. But my council-watching mind, atrophied by six blissfully meetingless weeks, is loath to start. Yet start we must. For tonight, the embezzlement scandal was covered, the war memorial wall was accepted, and business as usual returned to the SCV.

 

Oak Butchers

“We ran a little longer in closed session than we anticipated,” apologized Mayor Bob Kellar as the meeting kicked off 18 minutes late. Councilmember TimBen Boydston, who had tonight’s invocation, chose to open the meeting by reading a prayer for Labor Day and asking that God bless the City of Santa Clarita.

Awards and recognitions followed and had a decidedly international flair. Two student artists were lauded for their entries in the Sister Cities International program (Santa Clarita’s sister cities are Tena, Ecuador and Sariaya, Philippines). Then, a delegation of students and others that went to Nicaragua for a school and literacy program was thanked for their outreach.

Five speakers came to the podium for public participation. First up was Al Ferdman. He had reviewed the recent report on the embezzlement case that rocked City Hall earlier this year (about a half-million dollars was taken by a former employee, split among some 58 different checks over a long time period). Based on the report, he characterized the City’s financial operations as rife with “lax practices” that had allowed for embezzlement to take place unnoticed for far too long. “You should be directly involved in oversight!” he chided the City Council. Reena Newhall, a small-business owner and matriarch of Santa Clarita’s royal family, spoke about problems anticipated to result from $15/hr minimum wage. Lynne Plambeck complained about the fact that the City of Santa Clarita has begun to landscape street trees in Happy Valley. She described it as being charged $50 a year for unwanted oak tree trimming that was so excessive that it violated the City’s own oak tree ordinance; her beloved oaks now stand “butchered.” Cam Noltemeyer described a strange meeting relating to Santa Clarita’s development and open space dealings, and Doug Fraser expressed some concerns about the makeup of Santa Clarita’s mobile home park rent adjustment panel membership. Fraser is concerned about who the fifth member will be. Finally, a mobile home park resident asked about a leasing contract she has that she feels hasn’t been used fairly.

City Manager Ken Striplin said that the employee who had embezzled funds is facing eight felony charges and could be imprisoned for up to 14 years. “We take this very seriously,” he promised, and he stated that they have already “tightened up things” based on the full investigation and an audit. Striplin told Plambeck that staff would double-check on the apparently excessive vigor with which arborists seem to have been trimming heritage oak trees. He closed his responses by telling Fraser that they weren’t far enough along on the mobile home park panel process to meaningfully discuss the fifth member position.

Councilmember updates were long and wide-ranging–fires, social events, potholes. There were a lot of deaths to be remembered, perhaps most notably the sad passing of 21st District Senator Sharon Runner.

TimBen Boydston had the most to say during his turn. He wanted to talk more about the embezzlement. He said that he took the theft of a half-million dollars very seriously. He felt personally ashamed and apologetic because they checks had been on the register for him and the other members of the council to see. He apologized. It was all beginning to be a bit much, and then it became even more. He said that he had questions for the group that has produced an audit of a couple hundred pages covering the embezzlement and the City’s financial practices. But Boydston said that City Attorney Joe Montes had stopped him from questioning the auditors, and this deeply troubled Boydston. He felt that he couldn’t fulfill his duties to the public. Montes explained that an audit had been commissioned and delivered, and that the whole council would have to agree to request responses to a new line of questions or at least be able to hear the answers to Boydston’s questions. Thus, Boydston asked for support for this line of action from the other members. No one gave him that support. Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta felt that there had been enough independent review, and he said that the City’s insurance company would be investigating as well and had a vested interest in finding any weaknesses that could be corrected to minimize its liabilities. Councilmember Marsha McLean said that she knew the embezzlement was a major source of embarrassment for City Manager Ken Striplin and knew that it was being addressed. Mayor Kellar said that most staff members were quite trsutworthy and that this one incident shouldn’t be all-consuming: “Folks, let’s get this behind us.”

This led Boydston to pursue his questions at tonight’s meeting instead. Kellar again tried to dissuade him, suggesting that it might be more “appropriate” to put the questions in writing instead. “No, Sir, it would not be more appropriate!” bristled Boydston. “That is the people’s money that was taken!” As he proceeded with his questions, he was interrupted by McLean, who asked, “Why are you asking questions that were answered in the report?” Boyston responded, rather loftily, “People ask me these questions!” Even for fans of Boydston’s role as council gadfly, his tone was uncomfortably self-righteous. Luckily, the questions were relatively few–mostly along the lines of whether the insurer would certainly cover the losses and how that might affect things long-term.

shame_rev

 

The consent calendar was up for discussion next, but no discussion occurred. The only substantive items were a contract for environmental review of the to-be-built Canyon Country Community Center and traffic control measures for Paragon Drive. All items were approved with the recommended actions.

 

A Quiet Victory

Bill Reynolds has been the man behind a push for a war memorial in Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall. There are other war memorials in the city, but he felt this was an important location. His plan has changed over the course of a year, both in form and location, but the plan before the council tonight was for a granite wall with names of Santa Clarita’s war dead on the front and a mural on the back. It would be placed in a tree-filled vertex of the triangular site.

Comment were entirely supportive of the plan. “The monument is very modest both in size and cost,” said Bill Reynolds, who said that it would be funded by business and community donations. Al Ferdman said, “Implement it as fast as you possibly can.” Another speaker said that waiting a year had been long enough. Opposition in the past has come from the fact that the plaza was carefully designed. Certain council members (notably McLean and Weste) wanted to make sure the memorial would be well-designed and well-integrated, not upsetting the profound symmetry of the spot.

No such objections were raised tonight; it was unclear whether the whole council had been swayed or merely relented. Councilmember Boydston moved that the memorial be built as it was presented on page 40 of the agenda packet. I’m not normally one to put too much importance in who makes and seconds motions, but I thought it would have been Acosta (whose son’s name will appear on the memorial) to do it. Acosta did give the second, however, He said his only reservation was wanting to be certain that there would be room to add any more names that might sadly need to join the approximately 50 names that will already be appearing on the memorial. Acosta said, “I’m glad that it took a year,” because that meant time and effort had gone into getting the memorial right. With approval, the meeting ended.

Love Boat, Dark Fibers

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

 

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

 

“A Gift from God”

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

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

Loveboat

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

 

“A Memorial Granite Thing”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“It’s Already Ugly”

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

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

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

The consent calendar was approved with the recommended actions.

“A Real Coup for Canyon Country”

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

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

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

 

Annex-Fever and Library Contentment

Tonight’s Santa Clarita City Council brought several long-standing, lukewarm issues back to a simmer. Much of the (north)west-side of Santa Clarita is moving toward annexation despite the concerns of at least one developer. The Santa Clarita Library system will continue to be operated by LSSI, a name once met with scorn but now with approving indifference. The next step to support mobile home residents was taken. Amidst all this existing business came plans to discuss Measure E, a $230M local bond measure to benefit College of the Canyons. But before we consider what’s to come, let’s revisit what was.

Kangaroo Court

Mayor Bob Kellar provided the invocation. He remembered the murder of four police officers that took place in the Santa Clarita Valley 46 years ago. At the time, Kellar was a young LAPD officer, and he remembered how the shooting rattled officers and departments across the country. The event was on his mind because of recent efforts by Eternal Valley, KHTS, and others to keep the memory of the slain officers alive.

Council recognition went to two efforts aimed at making Santa Clarita clean and green. “Hands On Santa Clarita” was applauded for removing tens of tons of trash from the valley, and a proclamation was made for Arbor Day. At the Earth/Arbor Day Event, residents will be able to secure free trees and ladybugs, the latter of which their children can sprinkle on bushes, lawns, or driveways to wander, die, or invade Santa Clarita. Ah, tradition.

Public participation comments were almost exclusively focused on mobile home park issues. “I washed my clothes three times and the tire marks are still there,” said Elaine Ballace of a recent hearing concerning rents at Parklane Estates. She was alluding to the fact that residents got thrown under the bus by park owners and by city staff at the hearing. She felt both worked against residents’ interests. The number of people she named as being thrown under the bus would have made for a very sizable jolt indeed. Ballace also called the proceedings a “kangaroo court” and demanded corrective action be taken to defend renters’ interests. Al Ferdman followed Ballace and gave a little more detail on the apparent “kangaroo court.” Ferdman explained that residents had gathered signatures, but the board questioned the validity of the signatures. A lawyer representing mobile home park owners was allowed to unofficially interrogate residents about their signatures and claims. Ferdman claimed there was no authority allowing this to happen. He went so far as to claim that he witnessed “city staff intentionally derail the process.” Ferdman said he would provide a DVD of the hearing to City Manager Striplin to see what went on.

Two Spanish-speaking residents also spoke out against conditions facing renters at mobile home parks, especially Granada Villa. Another man spoke about his parents’ experience. They signed a 20-year contract and have seen rents shoot up 168% over the years.

Steve Petzold changed topics. He reminded the council that, were it not for the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, today would have been election day. It was an attempt to provoke discussion about district-based voting in Santa Clarita, but the provocation proved ineffective. He also spoke about Measure E, a quarter-billion dollar bond measure to improve classroom facilities and parking at College of the Canyons. Petzold said that with only half of COC students residing in the community college district, it was unfair for Claritans to subsidize the college.

Cam Noltemeyer, the last public speaker, said that she wanted to give Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta a lesson on redevelopment. She claimed that Acosta was confusing redevelopment for developer handouts with regard to Old Town Newhall and the recently approved subsidy to Laemmle Theaters.

“Personalize It”

City Manager Ken Striplin dismissed Noltemeyer’s remarks by explaining that Newhall was being redeveloped under the observation of applicable laws and with community support. He deigned not to address mobile home park concerns. Councilmember Laurene Weste did instead. She said that the situation is complex, especially with the lawsuit that the city is facing from mobile home park owners and the city’s limited ability to take action. She proposed bringing some particularly egregious cases to state legislators. Weste felt this might “personalize it” and get some state action to address questionable mobile home park practices. Councilmember TimBen Boydston also sympathized with renters and pushed for action, and the mayor and city manager affirmed that further steps would be taken.

Councilmember updates covered the Cowboy Festival, public transportation, and various local events. Mayor Kellar asked to put discussion of Measure E on a future agenda. Councilmember Marsha McLean was uncomfortable with the idea; she felt that it would be adequately decided by the voters. “What would you hope to get out of that?” she asked of the proposed discussion. Kellar said that he hoped the council would voice its support because College of the Canyons plays a big role in the community. He was able to get the item agendized with support from Boydston, who said he’ll always support additional discussion of any item, and from a somewhat reluctant Weste, who gave her support because Kellar so badly wanted the item discussed. Whether Kellar will return the favor and support discussion of one of Boydston’s pet issues remains to be seen.

The consent calendar received no discussion this evening. Items included recycling grants, improving trail access with a new ramp, and concrete rehabilitation. Perhaps no discussion was in order. All items passed with the recommended actions. This afforded plenty of time for three more involved items relating to Vista Canyon, annexation, and libraries.

Annex Me Not

First up was discussion of a plan to form a community facilities district for Vista Canyon. This is essentially a means of funding three parking structures and part of a metro station through special taxes/bonds. The City of Santa Clarita will ultimately take ownership of the parking structures and land beneath them. This last point was a concern of Boydston, who noted some ambiguity in the language (i.e., “may” instead of “would” take the land–the city has the right to, it seems). The plan was approved after one of those silly ballot counting exercises where the developer holds control of the vote.

Following Vista Canyon, the City Council was asked to consider moving forward with annexation of over 1,000 acres of the West Hills and West Creek areas. The next steps in that process were defined as prezoning and submitting an application to LAFCO. There was general support from residents (over two-thirds favored annexation, though most survey cards haven’t been returned) and City Manager Ken Striplin said, “Timing is of the essence.” The sole speaker on this plan was Alan Fenstermacher, an attorney representing Fountainhead Development. He explained that the developer was planning to build an assisted living senior housing facility, three drive-thru restaurants, and gas station in one of the areas proposed for annexation. He said that the developer has spent two years processing entitlements with the county, and they were worried about starting from scratch with the city. He suggested delaying annexation of the specific 8-acres where his client’s development would take place. They wanted to avoid being “annexed at the 5-yard line.”

A lot of back and forth followed between the attorney and councilmembers with input from City Manager Striplin and City Attorney Montes. It seemed that after annexation, Santa Clarita would have say over the project but could honor the agreements and approvals that had been worked out between county and developer up to that point. The letter from the attorney (sent earlier the same day) ruffled some feathers with allegations of inadequate noticing and other grounds for delaying annexation. Councilmember Boydston felt that Claritans were being threatened with a baseless lawsuit if they moved forward with annexation. Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta decided to be particularly forceful in dealing with Fenstermacher, saying, “No one likes a liar.” The developer and city staff had been in talks for months, and Acosta was offended at the attorney’s implication that the annexation issue had surprised the developer due to insufficient notice.

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There was more than enough time for Fenstermacher to make his case for the developer, but he hadn’t swayed many minds. Ken Striplin felt that, “Attorneys in the firm are being overly conservative in anticipating concerns,” and Joe Montes noted that it would take another two weeks to formally approve the proposed steps toward annexation. That was time for quick processing of entitlements with the county or for concerns to be more concretely articulated. The council moved forward with the annexation process and without special accommodations for Fountainhead Development.

The final item on tonight’s agenda was approval of a five-year contract with LSSI, the company that runs the city’s libraries. Darren Hernandez said that major measures of library use have improved since Santa Clarita left the county library system. Holdings have expanded, attendance and use of facilities have increased, and there are a number of popular programs that serve more residents than ever. The agenda item recommended that LSSI continue to operate the libraries. The budget would steadily increase from $3.6M in FY 2016-17 to $3.9M in FY 2020-21.

For those new to Santa Clarita or with short memories, the transition from county-run to privately-run libraries was a hugely contentious event in recent Claritan history. Tonight, some familiar faces from that fight come forward to comment on the contract extension. Lori Rivas towed a cart of dozens of books to the podium for her remarks. She said that the volumes had been purchased but soon off-loaded by the Santa Clarita Library–her own little libraries couldn’t accommodate all the discarded material. Rivas said this suggested waste, and she reminded the council that LSSI profits from purchases and expansions. It would make more sense, she said, to explore a plan to have the city run the libraries, re-investing would-be profits back into the community. Rivas has such a plan and she has been promoting it, but she said the council has not really explored the option. Deanna Hanashiro also spoke. She felt that the Santa Clarita Library didn’t have the same value as the LA County Library, and she mentioned specific grievances from the takeover. This included disposal of VHS tapes. Al Ferdman contended that our library has some $8M in debt, and he too felt that the system could be managed better.

Councilmember TimBen Boydston was the most sympathetic to the concerns that had been voiced. He brought up Lori Rivas’ proposal, which he said he liked, but he didn’t find support from other councilmembers to formally discuss it at some future meeting. Boydston also pointed out that the council still constituted the Board of Library Trustees. He reminded several councilmembers that they had promised to serve in that capacity only temporarily. Now, it’s essentially trustee for life (political life, at least), which he did not agree with.

Councilmember Marsha McLean gave a spirited defense of Santa Clarita’s system. She said privatization was an excellent decision. Programs haven’t turned children away due to lack of resources, local tax dollars are serving the community directly, and new materials and facilities have been paid for. Hernandez also countered Ferdman’s point about the library debt, saying that LSSI operates for less than the amount of library tax revenue generated each year. He said that the initial debt was being steadily paid off. With that, the council (well, everyone but Boydston) approved a contract for about $20M that will keep LSSI in the libraries through 2020.

 

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Malibu candidate pulls papers for the 38th

I’m really sorry to do this. It feels like (and might actually be) my eighth post in a row on the reshuffling of the 38th Assembly district race. But it keeps getting weirder.

This morning, the registrar’s website was to show that another candidate, Chris Garcia, entered the race, listing an address in Saugus.

But there’s one little thing…

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As of last night, his Facebook profile listed his current city as Malibu, and the domain registration for the website provided to the county was registered by Garcia last year with a Malibu address.

Apart from that, his resume seems impressive and he has some history with Tony Strickland who may or may not have something to do with this. Time will tell.

 

Dante Acosta files with SoS in newly-crowded 38th race

38th-field

Last Thursday brought us the news that Sharon Runner (R-Palmdale) wasn’t seeking re-election in Senate District 21. On Friday, Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) of Assembly District 38 decided to run for SD21 instead of AD38, leaving Christy Smith of the Newhall School District board (D-Santa Clarita) as the only candidate in the 38th.

Yesterday brought the news that retired cop Tyler Izen (R-Granada Hills) joined the race, and earlier today we learned that Jarrod DeGonia (R-Simi Valley) of Mike Antonovich’s office was running as well.

And it just got a little more interesting. According to the Secretary of State, first-term city council member Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) has filed a Statement of Intention to run in the 38th.

For his part, Acosta says he’s “taking a serious look at this under a very compressed timetable,” and will make a final decision in the morning after talking with his family. Nominations must be filed by 5pm tomorrow.

Acosta was elected to the council in 2014, coming in 3rd place the top-3 election with 12% of the vote (appearing on 31% of ballots). He currently works as a District Representative for Steve Knight. He previously ran against Buck McKeon in the 2012 congressional primary and briefly considered running in the special election for SD21 last year.

If the field holds (there’s still a few hours for others to file, and each of these three new candidates still need to file their nomination papers), this puts a Republican challenger in each area of the district — Simi Valley, SFV, and SCV. Christy Smith is the only Democrat in the race for the seat, which should be competitive in November with a smallish GOP advantage and higher-than-normal expected turnout among Democrats.

Antonovich deputy DeGonia joins Assembly fray

jar

With tomorrow’s filing deadline for the suddenly-vacant 38th Assembly seat fast approaching, multiple sources report that Jarrod DeGonia (R), a resident of Simi Valley and a San Fernando field deputy for outgoing LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, will be a candidate for the seat.

DeGonia joins Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita) and Tyler Izen (R-Granada Hills) for the race to replace Scott Wilk, who is running in the 21st Senate district.

DeGonia’s entrance doesn’t necessarily rule out any other last-minute candidates, so stay tuned. The deadline for completed nomination papers is tomorrow at 5pm.