Parking Structure Parties, Firework Checkpoints

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

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.

CC Recap: Council Fights Sacramento, Invents Vaping Crisis

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Claritans complain all the time, but it’s not every day that a handful of public grievances get a new law on the books. Today was that day at City Council. In response to six written complaints, an ordinance restricting the use of electronic smoking devices (ESDs) was passed to its second reading. The plan to treat vaping like smoking was met with fierce debate by residents when initially presented a few months ago, but tonight’s discussion was brief and subdued by comparison. But vaping wasn’t the only cause for dissatisfaction tonight. New complaints about Sacramento legislators, continuing complaints about soccer noise, and eternal complaints about  incompetent local officials comprised the balance of the meeting. Let’s relive the memories.

High Holidays, Near Drowning, School Self-Promotion

With summer ending, Mayor Weste’s invocation looked ahead to “the holiday season.” She delivered an invocation that was equal parts well-wishing and Wikipedia entry: “This month, our Jewish friends celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and they commemorate the Day of Atonement, called Yom Kippur. […] For the Jews, these holidays are very important.”

Following the flag salute, many emergency responders were recognized for helping to save the life of a little girl. She passed out in a pool, was pulled out of the water by her father (who had to get over a ten-foot fence to reach her), and then received life-saving aid from Deputy Christine Shaffer, Deputy Jason Goedecke, and others. She’s made a full recovery.

Next came an enthusiastic presentation from Sulphur Springs administrators and educators. They explained that technology was being embraced by teachers and that students were learning, which I had perhaps mistakenly thought was the norm at schools.  The speeches culminated in a video of students tapping iPads in slow motion as an exultant piano melody played in the background.

The Public Speaks

Public participation consisted mostly of familiar faces. Elaine Ballace lamented Santa Clarita’s incompetence at embracing its local artists, actors, and entertainers. She mocked the Arts Commission, which she said seemed to do nothing, had no real power or money, and was too dependent on waiting for an arts master plan.

The SCOPE (Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment) contingent made its presence known, expressing more appreciation than is usual. Lynne Plambeck and a local high school student used their time to applaud the annual river rally and clean-up. Cam Noltemeyer was appreciative of what she called “the CEMEX decision”. Noltemeyer isn’t typically so effusive, but it soon became clear that she only brought up CEMEX as a counterpoint to Chiquita Landfill. That is, Congressman Knight got action against CEMEX mining by holding them to their contract. She hoped someone would hold Chiquita Canyon Landfill operators to their contract as well rather than extending it. (Note that staff and council members have yet to rejoice–or even to acknowledge–what had at first been hailed as an unqualified victory against CEMEX mining. Noltemeyer’s mention this evening did not change that.)

David Keating was tonight’s only speaker on the topic of Villa Metro/Santa Clarita Soccer Center. He said he was representing “at least 42 other residents” who don’t like the noise from the soccer field—the long-standing soccer field that they bought a house right next to. He played a recording, and it sounded exactly like you’d expect things to sound if you bought a home right next to a soccer field: the nighttime chirping of crickets punctuated by shouts from soccer players.  “We love the houses, we just don’t like the noise,” explained the man who—sorry if I’m belaboring this point—bought a home right next to a soccer field.

“No Violations”

Responses to public comments followed. City Manager Ken Striplin countered Elaine Ballace, saying of the Arts Commission members, “They’re really doing a great job.” His defense likely came because Ballace did have something of a point—the commission doesn’t do a whole lot. But that’s largely because the City Council has tied its members’ hands by second-guessing their recommendations and emphasizing reliance on a master plan rather than on good judgment.

Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked about whether noise had been monitored at the soccer center and if any violations had occurred. Striplin called Jeff Hogan forward, and he said that noise monitoring is done all the time by the City, the developer, and others. “Currently, there are no violations,” said Hogan. That is, the soccer center is operating exactly as it’s legally allowed to.

Other remarks from the City Council included announcements of upcoming events and praise for past events—the usual. Mayor McLean said that tiny bells will be available for use on trails. Affixed to mountain bikes or horses, they’ll let hikers prepare to safely step to the side or pass when they hear the tinkling of bells. It’s part of the “Make a Little Noise” campaign, a title that was no doubt salt in the wounds of the Villa Metroans.

Stay out of it, Sacramento!

Mayor McLean made comments on two items on the consent calendar, both pertaining to state bills. SB 254 would make it easier for state highways to be handed over to local agencies. McLean said that this could pose a problem because the roads wouldn’t have to be in good condition and the city or other agency couldn’t decline accepting and maintaining them. AB 806 would give cities less power to oppose/restrict the installation of certain antennas and other broadband infrastructure. McLean said that both bills would give Claritans less control over Clarita, so she opposed them.

McLean asked for Mike Murphy, Intergovernmental Relations Manager, to come forward and tell residents what else they could do to oppose the bills. He said that there could be more meetings or outreach, and McLean and the other councilmembers encouraged him to ramp up these efforts. I think McLean was hoping for more of a call to action of the citizens—contact the governor and politicians and so on—but no particularly inspiring rallying cry was made.

Lynne Plambeck and Cam Noltemeyer spoke in opposition to an item on the consent calendar that paved the way for a new franchise for Valencia Water Company. Noltemeyer said, “The public’s business should be done in public,” arguing that there have been too many backroom deals pertaining to water supply, development, and disposal. Plambeck, who sits on the Newhall County Water District Board, made the same assertion. She said that the Valencia Water Company (VWC) should act as a public company and that the Castaic Lake Water Agency (CLWA) shouldn’t own VWC anyways. The contentious (Plambeck calls it “illegal”) acquisition of VWC by CLWA is still very much on her mind, and she saw tonight’s item as a chance to hold CLWA accountable for gaming the system. “They can’t be public and private at the same time!” she declared, explaining that CLWA is a public agency but keeps VWC’s actions private. The public can’t attend its meetings, request its records, or elect its board, so much remains unscrutinized. City Attorney Joe Montes chose not to weigh in on the legality of the CLWA/VWC arrangement, simply stating that the City would have some rights to oversight of the VWC books since it’s entitled to a franchise fee.

The consent calendar then passed with the recommend actions on all items.

Vape Away

A few months ago, the City Council heard a lot of testimony about a plan to treat vaping with electronic smoking devices (ESDs) the same way it treats smoking. It seemed like an easy pass, but residents explained how they had used vaping to quit cigarettes, how vapor was less unhealthful than smoke, and how water vapor wasn’t a major public nuisance. This led to a revision of the ordinance and a revisitation tonight.

The ordinance only came back stronger in its opposition to ESDs. Associate Planner Jessica Frank gave a surprisingly inept talk—overkill of the highest order. “Staff has received a number of complaints from the public regarding ESDs,” she began. By “a number” she meant 6 written and 11 verbal comments. That’s 17 remarks in the several years that ESDs have been used in a city of over 200,000. Then she worked on building the case against ESDs. She read a list of chemicals that have been detected in the vapor, including some carcinogens and heavy metals, without bothering to mention how much or under what conditions. Then she moved into a discussion of ignition hazards, stating that there were concerns that ESDs could somehow lead to fires in our open spaces because they’re a heat source. Then she linked ESDs to marijuana use by youth. LA County Sheriff’s Captain Roosevelt Johnson came up to address this topic further, stating that he spoke to “one of our narcotics investigators, and he witnessed personally an eighteen-year-old child who had actually smoked THC and committed suicide because of a psychotic episode right after using that drug.” The message was equivocally unequivocal: ESDs might kill you with the drugs and carcinogens they deliver or with the fires they just might start in our open space.

There were far fewer comments from the public tonight than many had been anticipating. Steve Petzold argued, “Cats don’t equal dogs; tobacco is not vapor.” He felt that the staff presentation had been totally unbalanced, stating, “I can’t believe that she hasn’t been rebutted at all”. He said that he supported liberty, not more intrusion into actions that seem to be a less harmful alternative to smoking. He asked the council to really consider if they’d prefer their children to smoke cigarettes instead of using ESDs. Cam Noltemeyer, on the other hand, was in full support of the measure, saying that vaping “is nothing more than a drug problem” to be treated like other drug problems. The final speaker represented the interests of the Vaping Dept. (located in Santa Clarita). He said vaping isn’t synonymous with marijuana use and cited international and federal studies that countered some of the health concerns raised in the staff presentation.

Councilmembers Boydston and Acosta were the most sympathetic to the vaping community, acknowledging that ESDs can be a better alternative to smoking. Acosta gently poked fun at some of the more hyperbolic fears raised in the presentation, saying that it would be ridiculous for a hiker to call the authorities upon seeing a fellow hiker with an e-cigarette on the next ridge over. He expressed his bewilderment at how a handful of comments had brought about such a strong response from staff. “I have issues with a lot of this,” he said, but he felt OK supporting the ordinance if it might protect kids. Boydston got some clarification on enforcement, learning that if law enforcement sees people smoking where it’s not allowed, the smoker is usually just requested to stop, not cited. The other councilmembers were more uniformly supportive of the plan.

Ultimately, the ordinance passed to a second reading, which means that in a couple of weeks, ESD use will be treated about the same as smoking, though it will be allowed in vaping shops. The meeting ended without further comment.

CC Recap: The Meeting that Scarcely Was

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I am tempted to summarize tonight’s meeting thusly: nothing happened. But that’s not entirely accurate. There were interesting developments on the Villa Metro/soccer front with sympathy for Villa Metro residents fast evaporating. And some legitimate business took place—bridges will be widened, permits streamlined, and bonds transferred. So let’s get into recapping tonight’s lean, mean City Council-ing.

Hispanic Heritage Septober

Councilmember TimBen Boydston’s invocation was a short, somber prayer for Armenian Genocide victims, hundreds of thousands of whom were killed a century ago. After the pledge and some housekeeping, it was time for less grave matters.

“It was the Spaniards who named the Santa Clara River, which led to our name, the Santa Clarita Valley,” explained Mayor Marsha McLean as she prepared to proclaim Hispanic Heritage Month. Unusually, the “month” stretches from September 15th to October 15th. It’s a Hispanic Heritage Septober, if you will. A large number of residents came forward for the photo and proclamation. There was laughter as Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar lifted a little girl onto the dais for a better view—McLean admonished him to set her back down. Patsy Ayala, chair of the SCV Latino Business Alliance (among other titles), was proud of the month and said it recognized “American citizens whose ancestors came from Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.”

After applause and photos, a second proclamation was made, this one for Rubber Ducky Festival Day. Proceeds benefit the Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers. Unfortunately, the usual guy in a big yellow duck costume wasn’t present. The absence was keenly felt when Mayor McLean asked, “Do we have a rubber ducky?” When she discovered he wasn’t there, she lamented with an “Oh, darn.”

Villa Metro and the $160,000 Wall

Public participation began with Elaine Ballace asking that Santa Clarita more fully realize its role as Hollywood North. It was a somewhat confusing comment as she likened Santa Clarita to the LA subway–something that people know of but not particularly well. Ballace said that affordable housing for artists, a film festival, and an entertainment fair would be good places to start the SCV in realizing its cinematic destiny.

A couple of residents then spoke about parking challenges near the park-and-ride on Newhall Avenue (the one near the condos). They were worried that parking requirements weren’t being enforced, that there wouldn’t be enough parking with the low-income housing planned for the area, and that no one was taking accountability for managing the area.

While there were no Villa Metro residents present this evening, their complaints about soccer noise from earlier this month were addressed by both the soccer center and the developer. Scott Schauer of the Santa Clarita Soccer Center said that they’ve installed light shields and automatic light timers to make certain that lights are unobtrusive and go off when they’re supposed to. He claimed that the center has a strict policy against cussing and promised that repeat offenders would face consequences. Schauer asked that people remember the center’s long history in the valley and said that he thought some complaints made were unfair. Rick Bianchi of the New Home Company (Villa Metro builder) said that he spoke at a well-attended Villa Metro HOA meeting last week. Binachi was dismayed that his company’s offer to build a $160,000 sound wall to reduce noise by about 50% “was not very well received.” He restated that disclosures had been signed when residents were buying their homes. Thus, it seems that Villa Metro residents aren’t happy with the soccer field nor the offer to build an expensive sound wall that would lessen its impact.

In response to the speakers, City Manager Ken Striplin said that Ballace’s movie industry suggestions would be considered. He said that he knew the park-and-ride on Newhall Avenue was a “maintenance challenge”, but affirmed that it should be well-patrolled. Councilmember Boydston weighed the Villa Metro developments soberly, saying that “there are two sides to ever story.” If I had to pick a side for him, though, he seemed sympathetic to the soccer folks so long as they operated within the bounds of their permit.

Consent Granted

The consent calendar was brief and approved with just a little protest. Item 5 was the toughest pill to swallow. Councilmember Dante Acosta asked Striplin to expand on the ordinance, which expedited and streamlined residential solar cell permitting. Sounds good, right? The City Manager explained that legislators in Sacramento have now required cities to adopt such policies. He was a bit upset at the imposition, saying that Santa Clarita’s permitting process had been working just fine and that top-down control was counterproductive if anything. Al Ferdman was more intrigued by Item 7, which involved a lot of movement of library bond proceeds but ultimately seemed like a zero-sum game (it was, confirmed Striplin). Without any further discussion, the consent calendar was approved unanimously with the recommended actions taken on all items. Thus, solar panel permitting will change, Lost Canyon Road Bridge will be widened, and bond funding will be sorted out.

There was a public hearing on financing of Bouquet Canyon Senior Apartments under a Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) resolution. Part of the approval process included extending the amount of time that the apartments would be restricted to older, low-income persons. Councilmember Weste was pleased, but she asked that everyone think about ways to achieve even longer-term agreements to provide such housing. As it stands, most of these requirements expire after a few decades. Without further discussion, the TEFRA resolution was adopted. The meeting ended just a little after 7.