Wednesday, July 13, 2016

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 Marsh 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." 

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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Love Boat, Dark Fibers

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.

"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".

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

New Budget, Hospital Corridors, BMX

Tonight's Santa Clarita City Council meeting was a reminder that 2016 is fast losing ground to 2017. Preparations for the November 8th election got underway (Item 9). The budget for the new fiscal year was presented, with its usual mix of expenditures both prudent and peculiar. Even the councilmembers were sounding a little bit grumpy (and not just the usual one), perhaps in restless anticipation of the summer recess they'll be enjoying soon. What got accomplished? Some slight changes to the hospital build-out were approved, the budget got a general blessing, and BMX track proponents seemed to make a bit of headway in their push for a facility. Let's recap.

A Defeated Petz Speaks

Mayor Bob Kellar told the audience that Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta was waylaid and would be arriving late, so he gave the invocation in his place.  Kellar spoke of the attack in Orlando. He said such events are "occurring too often...[we are] in the middle of a strange form of war." After expressing his support for the victims, he invited the audience to observe a moment of silence. Then, he called Steve Petzold forward to give the pledge--it's usually some Boy Scouts.

Petzold was then also the first to speak during public participation. He reflected on Measure E, which recently passed and means a quarter-billion dollars from taxpayers for College of the Canyons. Petzold had staunchly opposed the plan. "I knew that the odds were long against me," he said, and he laid much of the blame on local news outlets. "The media coverage was terrible!" (He did note some exceptions.) He wondered why The Signal hadn't interviewed him and why Leon Worden hadn't presented all the viewpoints on the matter on SCVTV. As Petzold left, he told Kellar (I believe), "Here's a picture of you with a shotgun," while handing the photo to the city clerk. This was presumably a reference to the politically-motivated restraining order that COC's Dianne Van Hook sought against Steve Petzold prior to the Measure E vote. Petzold had made an anti-E video in which he held a pellet gun (brandished against tax increases, not Van Hook) which she apparently found threatening.

Elaine Ballace, another target of one of Van Hook's sensational restraining orders, also mentioned her notoriety rather obliquely. "Maybe you've seen my name in the news lately?" she said. (Ballace's was for remarks that seemed to advocate violence in opposition to Measure E, but Ballace's violence is strictly limited to her often venomous words.) Ballace reiterated her belief that city staff need to change their relationship with mobile home park residents and park owners. She said that the system works against the poor who need help the most but get it the least.

Christian Gadbois, Santa Clarita's most ardent let's-build-a-BMX-track activist, came to the microphone next. He said that he has gotten together most of what's needed for a BMX track and wants a place to store the stuff--or, better yet, a temporary site to build a track. Another parent spoke in support following Gadbois.

The last public speaker was Cam Noltemeyer. She was upset about the city giving perks to developers and she vowed to dig deeper into where Dante Acosta's campaign money has been coming from.

City Manager Ken Striplin responded briefly. He told Noltemeyer that the collection of development impact fees was merely delayed for some developers; they would still be collected eventually. In a change of course, Striplin also said that he would be meeting regarding the BMX track. Up to this point, he's said that it's a possibility in the future but wasn't making efforts to build one before recreational amenities that are already on the schedule.

Parks Active, Parks Passive

The consent calendar was the usual collection of items relating to contracts, maintenance, and bookkeeping. A few items did attract special attention. Gadbois came back to the microphone for Item 5, which proposed spending $70,000 to acquire 14 acres of open space. He re-stated his interest in building a BMX track, and he asked how open spaces were identified for purchase and how land use (passive use or active park) was determined. Obviously, he wants a parcel for a bike track.

Al Ferdman mentioned similar concerns on Item 8, which covered the annual open space assessment and increase--$1/year is allowed. He said that the city has realized cost savings when it comes to the assessment and he felt that an increase was thus unwarranted. He added that up to 10% of purchases can be active use park space, but to date, there is "exactly no acreage for active parkland" from the assessment. Why aren't people getting things like BMX tracks and active use facilities with their money, he wondered. 

In response to the speakers, Parks Director Rick Gould said the property proposed for purchase at tonight's meeting served the needs of wildlife better than the needs of BMX enthusiasts.  He explained that it was very steep but ideally suited to linking parts of the Angeles National Forest. Darren Hernandez, wearing an interesting tie, spoke next. In answer to a question from Councilmember TimBen Boydston, he said that 10% of open space assessment funds could go to active use and facility development uses per state law. However, he said that the intent of the assessment has always been "purchase and preservation of undeveloped land." Boydston seemed satisfied that active uses could be funded with the assessment (spirit of the assessment or not) and is clearly receptive to the BMX interests. The last word on open space went to City Manager Ken Striplin. He called the open space district "hugely successful," and he defended increases in the assessment to cover ascending debt, increasing maintenance costs, and to give them some cash on hand for unexpected property purchase opportunities.

The consent calendar was approved.

You may have noticed that no awards, recognition, or councilmember updates have been mentioned. Indeed, Mayor Bob Kellar put updates after the consent calendar this evening. It's unclear why this happened, but in any case, updates from the council were relatively brief. Councilmember Marsha McLean mentioned some advice that she gave students at Albert Einstein Academy when speaking before their graduating class. She said that they should never be afraid to ask questions, and she tied this to a more grown-up lesson of asking questions about coverage in the media. She said that she has been incorrectly quoted/portrayed/represented on social media, so she felt it was important to not believe everything one reads but rather dig deeper. McLean often paints herself as a victim of social media coverage, but specific grievances have not been forthcoming.

For his update, Councilmember Boydston asked about the city employee who had been caught embezzling (he made the news a couple weeks ago). City Manager Striplin said that an investigatory report would be coming out in about two weeks with more details.  

Hospitality

Patrick Leclair gave a devastatingly drawn-out presentation on a proposal to slightly change the build-out of the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital (HMNH, no longer the palindromic HMNMH as "memorial" is gone). He could have presented the whole thing in about a minute, but it took him that long just to lay out the schedule of his presentation. It seemed like a presentation made in anticipation of community opposition, a suspicion strengthened by the fact that Newhall Hospital's Roger Seaver (CEO) had brought a crowd of supporters and prepared his own tedious remarks about the changes. The proposal was to change the hospital land from being designated as "public/institutional" to "specific plan" and to let the inpatient building be about 30,000 feet bigger than had been originally suggested. The location of the helicopter landing pad would also be shifted a bit north.

Seaver claimed that the changes were made to make sure that the hospital would be in line with new requirements (bigger corridors were required, for example), and there were also some changes to the cafeteria and delivery rooms.  He asked supporters to raise their hands in support, be he had graciously requested they not all come to the microphone to voice their support. The only speaker was Cam Noltemeyer. She lives in The Summit and was very concerned about the change in plans. She mentioned a lawsuit was a possibility. Her grievances included the change in land use designation, which she felt could threaten development agreements made to the community. She also noted that the helipad would be closer to homes, and she wondered why an EIR hadn't been required. "This is about campaign contributions!" she concluded.

As for the council, most of the concerns came from Councilmember Boydston. He wondered why an increase of tens of thousands of square feet in hospital space hadn't also included an increase in parking. Leclair explained that parking already exceeded the requirement. Boydston was not satisfied, and eventually Roger Seaver came up to explain that most of the additional space wouldn't actually bring more people--it would be bigger corridors, multiple rooms into which the same patient might be alternately moved, and so on. Boydston asked if Seaver could guarantee that parking would be adequate, and while Seaver said he could reassure Boydston, he added, "I think my guarantee would be worthless." That is, he'd be meeting requirements but couldn't state it would work out perfectly. as for the changes in designation from institutional to special plan, City Attorney Joe Montes explained that the hospital's land use exceeded institutional guidelines, so they'd have to change the guidelines for the whole city or just make HMNH a special case. The latter option seemed more prudent. With these explanations offered, the hospital plan was approved.  


The Budget

The second big item of the night was presentation of the 2016-17 budget for Santa Clarita. Insomuch as he is capable of enthusiasm, presenting this item gets Ken Striplin pretty darn excited. He even allows such celebratory excesses as bold fonts and attention-grabbing captions, like in the slide below:



The budget is $219.6M. In terms of expenditures, it's about 47% operations, 23% capital projects, 23% personnel. In terms of revenue, sales tax and property tax together account for two-thirds. After going through the big picture stuff came the much more fun discussion of specific expenditures: $84,000 for river encampment clean-ups (homeless removal), $41,000 increase in the base budget for day camps, $50,000 for the tourism district (have your conference in beautiful Santa Clarita!), $78,000 to upgrade communter WiFi services, $135,000 for Cemex lobbying (nope, it's not over), almost $300,000 for public access television operations and technology, $2.5M for Saugus library design, $200,000 for the Safe Routes to Schools program, and, of course, $15.2M for a parking structure in Old Town Newhall because, well, just because.

There was some discussion. Boydston asked about money for public art (including art for the roundabout, a very sore subject from the past) and spoke scornfully of "stalling techniques" that had been used to effectively veto art that some councilmembers found less than desirable. Boydston also asked about payments for a company that ostensibly helps filter spam out of emails. "Can we fire that company and use a different company?" he asked. Boydston said 47 of 60 emails he had were spam.

The last hearing was on adjustments to fees (technically there was one more, but it was on streetlight maintenance districts so it doesn't really count). The city tries to cover its administrative/staff/material costs from the fees collected for various services. The hearing was on whether these adjustments were acceptable. Al Ferdman came up to speak. He first pointed out that there were different fees for different sorts of groups, such as for-profit vs. non-profit and resident vs. non-resident. He asked how that squared with the fees not being to generate revenue but merely cover costs. His second point was that some fees seemed unreasonable. For example, there's a special events fee of $25/day for each outlet used.

Boydston asked for a response to Ferdman's questions. City Manager Striplin said that while they could only recover costs, there were no laws saying that the city couldn't subsidize some groups (e.g., non-profits) with payments from others (e.g., non-Claritans). Rick Gould explained that the outlet cost came from the fact that there is a labor cost associated with, for example, going to a street light to open the outlet and then return to close it after the event. This seemed to satisfy everyone, and the meeting ended shortly after.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Problem of Symmetry, New Sheriff's Station

The Santa Clarita City Council can be accused of many things, but their support of veterans and military families has never been in doubt. That's what made tonight's council meeting rather uncomfortable. Bill Reynolds' proposed memorial wall was up for discussion--the one he's pushed to have built in Newhall Veterans Historical Plaza. After much contentious discussion about where/how it's appropriate to honor the military dead, the council agreed to put off agreeing to some date uncertain. Far less contentious was a $51M plan for a new Sheriff's Station. But that's the way it is in Santa Clarita--the amount of discussion can never be predicted by pricetag alone.

The Coyote Wall

For her invocation, Councilmember Laurene Weste contemplated Memorial Day from both national and local perspectives.

Two individuals were called forward to be recognized by the council. First, a recent West Point graduate was applauded for his long list of academic, military, and personal accomplishments. He said that, after graduating two days ago, many of his peers went to Cancun or other party destinations. But he said, “There’s no place that I’d rather be than here [Santa Clarita].” Damn straight. Next, we heard about a detective who solved a case involving the theft of some plants--not drug plants but landscaping plants. He, too, was recognized by the council.

Public participation consisted of just three speakers. Steve Petzold encouraged Claritans to vote against Measure E, the quarter-billion dollar bond measure that would bring new buildings and more parking to College of the Canyons. He said that the current campus and parking facilities are adequate, and he mentioned the massive amount of debt COC is already saddled with. Petz suggested that flashing the debt on the school's electronic billboards would be an effective wake-up call--the amount taxpayers are on the hook for. Elaine Ballace spoke out about the mobile home review panel and the lack of help for renters. She said responses from city staff are often unhelpful or dismissive. She singled out Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta, asking him why he was running for State Assembly. Ballace claimed Acosta is "un-representing" plenty of people already.

The one other public speaker tonight described coyote attacks on pets along the bike trail through Bridgeport. He described the existing fence as "completely open and vulnerable to coyote attacks," so he proposed a "proper fence" along the trail or relocation of the coyotes. His was the only comment to which City Manager Ken Striplin responded. Striplin said that he was sorry to hear about family pets being "accosted" by the predators, but he added that coyotes can get over even a six-foot fence and are to be an expected part of life (and death) in the SCV. He added that staff would look at whether fences in the area were inadequate.

In the past several recaps, I know I've just breezed past councilmember updates because I find them the most exhausting and tedious portions of the meeting. Tonight was a typical reflection of what you're missing.  Councilmember Laurene Weste: Hearing on St. Francis Dam Memorial Monument. Free movie series at Hart Park. Councilmember Marsha McLean: Description of a half-dozen transportation meetings and issues. Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta: Duane Harte park dedication. Community gardens. Santa Clarita's swimming facilities for summer. Councilmember TimBen Boydston: Resolution to coordinate homeless initiatives with LA County (doesn't get support to agendize discussion of this). Mayor Bob Kellar: Military banner program. Deceased SCV resident John Nuzzi. As always, it was a mix of remembering the dead and promoting activities for the living.

The 15-Year Clause

The consent calendar had been scrutinized by Al Ferdman and Cam Noltemeyer prior to the meeting, and both had questions about a couple of the items each. Ferdman expressed concerns about how a new roof for the special districts administration facility was being funded. He said that the costs must be divided among those who will benefit. He brought up more Proposition 218 concerns on another district-related item. Ferdman asked about whether some districts in the red were being funded by those in the black, which would be improper.

During her two turns at the microphone, Cam Noltemeyer expressed disappointment in various aspects of Claritan government. Item 6 adjusted rates of solid waste service providers (multifamily residential rates up 3.88%), which led Noltemeyer to the topic of Chiquita Landfill and becoming (or remaining) the valley of the dumps. "I want to see some leadership!" she said, hoping that landfill expansions could be fought off the way a dump in Elsmere Canyon was. Noltemeyer then spoke about an item awarding a design contract for the Vista Canyon Metrolink Station. "Who's paying for it?" she asked, noting that over $4M will be required for design and preparation costs alone. She was concerned about how much the actual station, additional track, and amenities would end up costing.

City Manager Ken Striplin said the speakers' concerns were, as always, misplaced. He explained that costs for the new roof would be fairly allocated. He added that, "Proposition 218 is being fully complied with," such that loans to various districts are carefully accounted for and will be repaid. Striplin then mentioned that Elsmere Canyon had become protected as open space instead of being turned into a dump in response to Noltemeyer. Cam's comments can be wide-ranging and difficult to follow, but his response was more just a way of evading discussion of Chiquita, the dump-that-shall-not-be-spoken-of by City Council. 

Once items on the consent calendar had been approved with the recommended actions, City Manager Striplin expressed his excitement to present plans for a new Sheriff's Station. He explained that the current station had been built when the population of the SCV was about 50,000 people, 1/6th of what it is today. It was out-of-date and inadequate and not centrally located. The item he presented was a memorandum of understanding between the City of Santa Clarita and Los Angeles County concerning a new 44,000 sq. ft. station to be built on Golden Valley Road. The cash will come from a variety of city funds and other sources, including $15M from the county. However, if Santa Clarita chooses to end its contract with the Sheriff's Department within fifteen years of construction of the new facility, it will have to pay that money back to the county. Santa Clarita will own the land and the station, and it will be used by the Sheriff's Department rent-free. 

Al Ferdman came up to comment. He said that he would prefer two stations (the new one and the existing one) rather than just going with one big new one. He offered an interesting theory that crime would shift from the east to the west with the relocation of the Sheriff's Department. 

The council was generally supportive of the plan for the new station. Everyone agreed that a bigger, newer station was needed, and the location proposed seemed to be about as geographically central as could be hoped for. Councilmember McLean asked about the provision of paying the county back if the city ended its contract with the LA County Sheriff's Department. Could the penalty be pro-rated?, she wondered. The short answer was no, or at least not without slowing down a process that's taken too long already. The MOU was approved. 

Old Town Newhall was discussed next. You may recall that an urgency ordinance was recently enacted that placed a moratorium on any new businesses in the area except those which supported the goal of an arts and entertainment district. This most urgent of ordinances got extended for another 10 months without comment or discussion. Councilmember Boydston had to recuse himself from the item do to his business in the area. So worry not; there will be no new businesses in Newhall unless they're adorable boutiques, fashionable galleries, wine bars, or the like.

Black Granite

The most contentious item of the evening was the proposal for a memorial wall by the Santa Clarita Valley Veterans Memorial Committee. This project has been discussed for a while and was moving forward largely because of the efforts of a very determined Bill Reynolds. The wall would be located in Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall or some other site that the council deemed fit

Public comments came after a brief introduction of the proposal. Many speakers were very concerned about the semantics of it all. Was it a wall, memorial, memorial wall, or monument? Was the plaza for veterans expressly or could it serve a memorial function, too? What did the "historical" in historical plaza actually mean? The most ardent supporter was Bill Reynolds, who read a long list of fellow project supporters and explained that various individuals and businesses had already stepped forward to cover the costs of installing the wall. It belonged in the plaza, he said. Julie Olsen also made a memorable speech in which she described some of the stories of those who had died in war and who would be remembered on the wall.    

Dick Jeffrey was the most outspoken opponent. As a veteran himself, he said that he knew something about the wishes of the fallen. "I know one thing for sure, from the bottom of my heart," he began, continuing that the fallen would want to "give the money to the living." It wasn't primarily monetary concerns that gave Jeffrey pause, though; he said the plaza has a "non-memorial character" and mentioned that there is already a wall for the fallen at Eternal Valley Cemetery. He speculated that the wall was really just "a way to glorify one man's [Reynolds'] inflated ego." Other speakers against putting a wall in the plaza included R.J. Kelly, who said that Eternal Valley is for the fallen, not the Veterans Historical Plaza.

Councilmember TimBen Boydston expressed his surprise that some people were opposed, saying, "I think we will not be spoiling the beauty of the plaza." But the beauty of the plaza was exactly what made Weste, McLean, and Acosta concerned. The plaza is just so symmetrical in its present form. Putting a wall in the middle would preserve symmetry but interrupt the unbroken view, and putting it off to one side would upset the balance. Councilmember Weste took a lot of time to express her concerns and comments ("I have a lot of 'em!" she warned), and she made it clear that everyone supported veterans, regardless of their thoughts on the appropriateness of a wall for the plaza. Weste felt that the plaza had been almost perfectly designed and ought not be altered. "You don't deconstruct," she said, adding that it would be inappropriate to, "Geez, go plop something down." Even the material proposed for the wall made her worry. "There's no [other] black granite in that plaza!" she observed. Councilmember McLean was worried that a wall in some shady corner could give cover to certain unsavory activities. Mayor Pro Tem Acosta wondered whether the Rotary Club gardens might not be a better spot.

Mayor Kellar made a motion in support of a wall on the periphery of the plaza. He said he wanted to move forward and "not keep talking about it." He added that the speakers in favor (the vast majority had been) represented "a compelling gathering of people." Kellar has heard from even larger crowds of residents on other items, but this was the first time he said that his actions were being motivated by such a crowd. Councilmember McLean warned against acting simply out of visceral support for a monument: "You need to be practical and not emotional." Mayor Pro Tem Acosta, whose son was killed while serving in Afghanistan, expressed serious distress over having to potentially vote "no" on a wall that would honor his son simply because the location wasn't right. It was evident that Kellar's motion would fail 3-2. Weste then made a very long motion of her own. It asked for staff to take a hard second look at the monument/wall and afforded a lot of oversight/discretionary control to the council. Placement, material, and other aspects of the memorial design could all be negotiated, but it would end up somewhere in the plaza (a point Boydston was insistent on getting added to the motion).
  
The meeting ended after Doug Fraser made a comment about the confusing and troubling legal status of spouses as owners of mobile homes. Recent hearings have hinged on whether a spouse counts as an owner if his/her name isn't on the documents. City Attorney Joe Montes refused to second-guess how the panel had interpreted ownership. It seemed like a pretty simple question of community property, but Montes didn't want to get into it. With that, the meeting ended.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Routine Council, Some Public Venom

Tonight's Santa Clarita City Council meeting lacked controversy, tension, and suspense. Most items were financial in nature--investment policy, bonds, fees, service contracts--and decisions were more formalities than turning-points. It was the kind of meeting you forget, even as it's happening. But I persevered to recap, if solely for the sake of a few quotable moments.

"That's a plus."

Councilmember TimBen Boydston read some excerpts from President Barack Obama's National Day of Prayer speech. Mayor Kellar then welcomed a Boy Scout Troop--"all the way from Canyon Country!"--to lead the pledge. It took an inordinate amount of time because the young scout at the helm added grave and dramatic pauses whenever possible.

Next, May was proclaimed "Bicycle Month." Fittingly there will be group rides and events and the Amgen Tour to celebrate bicycles and the people who ride them. Mayor Kellar said he's delighted to see what must be "thousands" of bicyclists riding about Santa Clarita each weekend. Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta was in charge of the next presentation. He described the awards Santa Clarita's communications team received from the California Association of Public Information Officials. Gail Morgan arranged her mostly female team for a celebratory photo with the council, and Councilmember Weste observed, "They're not only good at their job, they're gorgeous, so, that's a plus." I suspect the remark would have played somewhat less favorably had it been delivered by a male councilmember. 

"Vengeance is mine saith the Lord."

Public participation was short and bitter. Elaine Ballace, who spoke shortly after the pledge, said, "Liberty and justice for all...unless you live in a mobile home park." She complained about how the new(ish) mobile home ordinance has been put into practice and asked for more support from the council, naming some city staff members she's found less than supportive (e.g., Erin Lay) of residents struggling to get by as rents continue to rise. Ballace ended with a rather foreboding proclamation: "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord!"  

Next, an elderly Claritan man from Belcaro gave his thoughts on a memorial for SCV veterans. He thought that a proposed outdoor monument wasn't the best idea (it gets cold/rainy and hot/unpleasant outside, he fairly pointed out) and suggested a museum as his preferred alternative. He explained that it could educate young people about veterans and American history, which he said is not really being taught in the schools. Cam Noltemeyer spoke next. She enumerated her many and familiar grievances against redevelopment in Newhall. Using the library as an anchor and lavishing subsidies on private entities were among the choices that Noltemeyer found "disturbing." 

The final speaker was Steve Petzold. He drew parallels between Measure M (the College of the Canyons one from 2006), Measure S (the billboard one from 2014) and Measure E (the College of the Canyons one going on now). For all these measures, Petz was interested in who was funding support efforts. He has researched it (this required a trip to Norwalk) and found support from the philanthropic arm of COC and several other parties, including "Westfield Valencia Mall [for] $12,500." Petzold's opposition, he re-stated, was based on having the people of Santa Clarita pay for the college despite accounting for only about half the attendance. "This is a scam folks," he cautioned.

City Manager Ken Striplin's responded once public participation had concluded. His remarks were polite acknowledgements of speakers or refutations of some of the more outraged contentions. Updates from the council were protracted and routine, for the most part. Mayor Kellar spent some time encouraging residents to purchase banners for members and veterans of the armed forces. The banner program includes the display of large, personalized banners along the road for major, patriotic holidays. The families then get to keep the banner. While the costs of the banners are being partially covered by donations from local businesses, families must cover the rest. Kellar explained that this made sense--another city had covered costs in a similar program and eventually ran out of funds. This seemingly innocuous comment would become important later.   

"I know it's kind of confusing."

The consent calendar brought more questions than answers. Councilmember Boydston asked if there were any derivatives in Santa Clarita's investments (Item 5 was a review of investment policy). There aren't, apparently. Al Ferdman spoke on Item 8, which had to do with initial administration of the recently formed Santa Clarita Parking Authority. "What is it going to do?" Ferdman asked. Item 9 added to the confusion, because it replaced the Redevelopment Successor Agency with the Parking Authority in the Santa Clarita's joint powers agreement. "I know it's kind of confusing," said City Manager Striplin. He explained that one agency was just being swapped for another and that despite the name, it didn't have to do with the parking structure proposed for the next stage of Newhall redevelopment. "The two just kind of coincided," he said of the authority and structure.

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

"Let's pay for the whole deal."

A few more items followed the consent calendar. First, the annual stormwater pollution prevention fee was determined at $24.04 per year for an average 7,000 square-foot parcel. Councilmembers Marsha McLean and TimBen Boydston expressed some displeasure over county/state plans to increase the fee. This hasn't happened yet, but it was clearly on their minds. In a rare, almost affectionate moment, Mayor Kellar remembered an amusing remark Boydston made when testifying about stormwater fees before the LA County Board of Supervisors. Kellar recalled, chuckling, "God gave us rain and government's trying to figure out how to tax us for it."

The final items had to do with refunding Golden Valley Road and open space bonds, which saved the city some cash, There was no discussion or comment.

The meeting would have ended then and there, but Al Ferdman decided to submit a card for the closing round of public participation. He said he hadn't planned on it until he heard a particular remark. "Then something happens that raises the hair on the back of my neck," he said, building suspense. He explained that honoring veterans with banners was great, but not covering the costs was "shameful." (Recall that Kellar had made a case for asking families to cover some of the costs.) Ferdman pointed out that the city spends almost $100,000 on holiday lights for Newhall and will be giving about $4M to Laemmle Theaters. Why, Ferdman queried, couldn't it spare about $20,000 for veterans? "Kick in that twenty grand and let's pay for the whole deal," he emphatically suggested. The meeting then ended.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

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 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 or 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 and 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, especially at 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 topic. He reminded the council that, were it not for the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, today would have been election day. This was an attempt to provoke discussion about district-based voting, 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.

"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 act on these matters. She proposed bringing some particularly egregious cases to state legislators. Weste felt this might "personalize it" and get some state action on 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. McLean was uncomfortable with the idea. She said that she felt it would be 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 wanted the item discussed so badly. 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 favor 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 area 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. 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 implication that the annexation issue had surprised the developer due to insufficient notice.

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. 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, returning would-be profits back to the community. Rivas has such a plan and she has been promoting it, but she says 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 and resources of 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 comprised 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).

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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Plan for Art, Park for Harte, Cushions for Dorothy

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

Opening Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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


Slow Down, Dorothy

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


Write a Letter

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

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




Art, Planned

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

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

"Vision Statement"
The City of Santa Clarita will be recognized as a “city of the arts,” where the lives of residents, artists, and visitors are enriched through artistic and cultural experiences.

"Key Findings"
#2: The community is generally satisfied with the current arts and cultural offerings.
#4: Residents express strong interest in celebrating history and cultural heritage.
#7: Arts and culture are seen as an excellent way to promote diversity and inclusion.

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

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

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


A Park for Harte

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