Friday, December 28, 2007

Happenings: Winter Gold and Counting Winter Birds

In Southern California, winter is more of a suggestion than an event. Yes, it has been windy and yes, it has dropped below freezing, but the plants and beasts around us manage to do just fine. In this post, I discuss some native trees that are just now showing their best seasonal color. Apparently, they're completely unaware that it's basically January and that all decent trees should be naked by now. Likewise, birds continue about their business despite the chill. To some birds, SCV is the "south" referred to in "flying south for the winter", and below you'll find a few pictures of and an opportunity to get to know your flighty neighbors.

Leaves of the Fremont’s Cottonwood (top) tremble in the slightest breeze. Their shimmering creates a pleasant, dry rustle. The leaves of Arroyo Willow (bottom) form perfect, golden tapers that align parallel to the wind.

Gold definitely dominates the foliage scene. While it is brightest in the cottonwoods (left), the hue works with red to give warmth to the foliage of Narrowleaf Willows, and gold veins help the russet leaves of sycamores glow(right).

White-crowned sparrows (above) winter in the SCV. On a walk through the Santa Clara River, they seemed to be everywhere. I watched one flock scratch through fallen willow leaves for insects and seed. Though sparrows may appear completely engrossed in their search for food, they always keep an eye out for trouble. This vigilance pays off. Shortly after I’d found them, several members of the flock gave high, thin whistles of alarm and the birds hurled themselves into a nearby tangle of willow. Seconds later, the culprit—a small falcon called an American Kestrel—passed just overhead, slicing the wind with its scimitar wings.

A male Merlin, another small falcon and dispatcher of sparrows, also had his eye on the flock from his perch in a nearby backyard. According to Brian Wheeler[1], the Merlin “kills prey by breaking the neck with its notched bill. All prey are decapitated […] legs and leg bones may be swallowed whole.” With neighbors like these, SCV’s sparrows are never left wanting for terrifying ways to die.

Where To Go For a Nature Fix Right Now:

*Christmas Bird Count (tomorrow, Saturday the 29th, 7am) through Castaic, Bouquet Canyon, Placerita, etc…
The Christmas Bird Count in SCV is one of thousands nationwide. Typically, Claritans get up very early and find tens of thousands of birds of around 130 species. The birds are identified and counted so that ornithologists can spot trends like range expansions or population declines. And not all the birds are crows and pigeons—Golden Eagles, Costa’s Hummingbirds, Horned Larks, and other cool creatures should also be seen. I’ve been on a “CBC” before, and they’re actually kind of fun in a completely bizarre sort of way. Even if you know little to nothing about birds, you can help keep a tally of the thousands of fowl that get identified and counted. I say that everybody should go on a Christmas Bird Count once—you’ll enjoy nature, have a wonderfully strange story to tell, and the bird people are generally quite agreeable.

To attend, meet at Western Bagel (in the K-Mart Shopping Center on the corner of San Fernando/Soledad) at 7am sharp on Saturday, December 29th. Bird counting will continue until 1pm, but you're free to leave whenever. Bring heavy jacket, water, snacks, binoculars. Leave sanity at home.

*South Fork Trail
This is an ideal place for a brisk walk and exactly where I went to glimpse the winter color in this post. Simply travel east on Magic Mountain Parkway past the Barnes & Noble Shopping center and turn right into the gravel lot that comes just before you cross a bridge over the river. If you can hear the crackle of power lines overhead, you’re in the right spot. Walk south on the path for the best color. The trail can also be biked, but if you or your spawn use scooters, those hand-cranked bikes, or other obnoxious forms of transportation, I will openly mock you should I also be present on the path. Light is the best in the hours just before sunset; the golds and yellows all around you really start to pop.

[1]This is the Brian Wheeler who authored Raptors of Western North America, Princeton University Press, 2003

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Only in SCV: Christmas Challenges, Light Displays

Certain Santa Claritans have been making it very challenging for me to be merry this Christmas. Don’t get me wrong—I still heart you all. But when I’m in a drive-thru line and forced to sit behind a Mercedes Benz crossover with a license plate holder reading “Two princesses, One stressed out queen” and two DVD screens playing Dora the freakin’ Explorer for the two little princesses while the driver (A.K.A. “stressed out queen”) is trying to talk on her cell phone and order at the same time, well, I have to try harder than normal to keep the spirit of the season in my heart.

In any case, we were in the drive-thru line to get sustenance for a tour of Christmas light displays, a family tradition that has changed little in two decades. As I ate some fries and the nightmarish Mercedes began to fade from my mind, I came to another unfortunate realization. Every year, it gets just a little bit harder to see lights as ever more valley homes fall behind the fortress-like walls of gated communities.

Here, for example, a gate prevents me from appreciating the festive show of lights in Bridgeport’s “The Island” community. Homeowners must appreciate these gates. God only knows how many unsavory characters are lurking around and trying to steal a glimpse of their pretend, 7-foot deep lake.

Other communities proved more conducive to light viewing. After admiring the efforts of hundreds of Claritans, I finally decided on my three favorite homes. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas Eve!

1st Place

2nd Place

3rd Place

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Happenings: 'Tis(dale) the Season for Nose Jobs...and Babies

WARNING: You are about to read about stars Jamie Lynn Spears and Ashley Tisdale. Both of their stories relate to SCV (Valencia in particular), but proceed with due caution.

Jamie Lynn Spears, Baby, and Valencia: It's All Connected

First, I need to report on Jamie Lynn Spears (Britney Spears’ younger sister and star of Zoey 101) who is 16 and pregnant. According to newspapers and blogs, she was apartment shopping with the baby-daddy (19-year-old Casey Aldridge) in Valencia this summer[1].

That’s not the only Valencia connection. Mike Fleeman of People reports that “Aldridge drove her [J.L. Spears] to the Valencia set, near Los Angeles, every day and stayed there while she worked, impressing Lynne and Jamie Lynn's father, Jamie.[2]"

This is the clearest proof yet that you can't make it very long in Valencia without a baby. They just happen here...even to Jamie Lynn Spears.

'Tis(dale) the Season for Nose Jobs

Folks, I’ve painted myself into a corner. By covering Ashley Tisdale in the past, I must (for consistency’s sake) report on the now famous former Claritan as she makes the news once again. The entertainment-savvy crowd will know that she recently had a nose job to correct a “severely deviated septum.” It wasn’t until last Friday, however, that she made her first big appearance at the Z100 Jingle Ball. This means I can now present to you the nose, before and after.

Before (left) and after (right), in case you couldn't tell. Says Tisdale “I like that it still looks like me” and “I really think natural is more beautiful.” [3]

This plastic surgery ordeal reminded me of an ad in G.G. Reynolds’ Santa Clarita: Valley of the Golden Dream [4]. I can't seem to find my copy right now, but I know for certain that there’s a plastic surgeon in there who, at the time of publication, was apparently the only Board Certified Plastic Surgeon in SCV. Times have changed—try googling “plastic surgeon Santa Clarita.” I guess we just have more deviated septums (and breasts, forehead wrinkles, and tummies) than we used to.

[1] The Valencia connection here
[2] The article is available
[3] Quotations from People
[4] Published in 1992 by World of Communications.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Only in SCV: Gifts That Deserve Giving

Rampant Christmas consumerism isn’t the sort of thing that keeps Claritans up at night. We’re not so worried about materialism getting the best of us during the holiday season. And I can sympathize. Why not reward those who make nice crap by buying it?

Still, it’s good to act charitably this time of year. Better yet, you can turn your charitable acts into gifts for others. Thus, I present three non-profits that present great gift-giving potential. With six full days of shopping left, consider these three ways to stuff the stockings in your life.

Charity: Santa Clarita Disaster Coalition
Give for your Neighbors in SCV

An email release from Gail Ortiz introduced me to the Santa Clarita Disaster Coalition. Mother Nature is always raging against somebody in this valley, whether with mudslides, floods, or fire, and the SCDC is there to help people recover. “The Coalition is comprised of a caring group of community leaders, including representatives from local government, businesses, faith-based organizations, schools, and nonprofits who seek to help those in need from our area rebuild their lives. The Coalition also works to address the need for increased awareness of local disaster preparedness and response plans.”

100% of donations to the SCDC help victims (that’s no overhead!), and in the wake of October’s fires they’ve prioritized helping families first. Basically, they’re doing disaster relief in the best way possible. A donation would be timely, appropriate, and rewarding to all parties involved. Donate on behalf of one of your friends or family members. Tell them they’ve helped make life a little warmer and a little better for neighbors in need.


Culture & Community: Martial Arts Museum
Give a Membership

I know that I’m usually being ironic when I talk about Newhall being the seat of the arts, but the Martial Arts Museum is the real deal. They’re working hard to be a vital part of the community by hosting screenings, demonstrations (everything from Kung Fu to sushi rolling), and other events. Though the martial arts might seem like a fringe interest, they’ve become an important part of American culture, and this is the first museum dedicated to them.

I went to the museum for the first time about a month ago. I particularly liked a section on Hawaiian martial arts. The construction of weapons from wood and shark teeth point to the challenges of life on an island with no steel. Wooden spears and clubs offered insight into Hawaii’s culture and natural history. The museum is full of such wonderful discoveries-in-the-waiting—classic Bruce Lee clips, samurai swords, historic garb…

The founder and president, Art Comacho, is an exceedingly nice guy who is building the museum’s collection with grants, determination, and connections. I won’t lie—the space doesn’t look “finished” in the way most of LA’s small museums do, but it’s growing and improving all the time. A membership is a great way to both support this growth and benefit from it. Members are entitled to visit the collection, attend cultural classes, and receive discounts.

Phone: 661.255.3322

Nature & Conservation: Placerita Canyon Natural Area & Nature Center
Give a Rattlesnake (really!—sort of)

The Placerita Canyon Nature Center of my childhood—the one with dark wood beams, charming stuffed specimens, and a musky, mildew aroma—is no more. The operation has been moved to a trailer parked just outside the nature center of yore. At first, I thought this was a way to make visitors from Canyon Country feel more comfortable (not all of them are used to entering buildings without wheels[2]), but Placerita is actually in the midst of a face-lift. Despite the challenges of construction, PNC remains a central part of Santa Clarita life. Its land preserves wildflowers and wild creatures, it's the epicenter of the Community Hiking Club, the staff teach thousands of school kids about nature every year, and the center hosts wonderful events like night hikes, animal presentations, and natural history classes.

One way you can help support these efforts is by adopting one of the nature center’s animals. This is a most efficient gift: it will help PNC pay an animal’s food and vet bills and it has the potential of knocking an entire family off of your shopping list. Indeed, giving an adoption certificate and photo of an adorable opossum (or of a semi-adorable rattlesnake) is perfect for a family with young kids or nature lovers. You can call them for more details.

Phone: 661.259.7721

[1]The press release available here.
[2]Oh get over it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happenings: Happy 20th!

December is full of important dates, but none of them are more important than today. It was twenty years ago today that a glowing beacon first shone in the gloom of north Los Angeles County. It was twenty years ago today that fate brought together the finest land, buildings, and people into one, cohesive unit. It was twenty years ago today that civilization entered its Golden Age because, twenty years ago today, the City of Santa Clarita was born.

We should feel immensely privileged to be a part of the greatest realization of American cityhood in history. Wait, what's this...this...feeling? I...I'm suddenly overtaken by an urge to take a metered tone in an ode to the City of Santa Claria...

Great Rome and Persia rose and fell;
Babylon’s wealth and power swelled
But its vast glory too would fade.
Santa Clarita, so fair she
Alone shall live through history
Demise shall she ever evade.

Clarita, rich in SUVs
Over-priced homes, stunted trees
Pampered children, indulg’ed pets
Coffee from Starbucks, moms in sweats
Yuppies, lawyers, plastic surgeons
Stores that with tacky crap do burgeon
Thugs in Newhall, Magic Mountain
Ugly mosaic water fountains
Paseo paths and bike trails long
Master plans that are never wrong
Third mortgages, golf courses green,
Saugus Cafe and emo-teens
Daily fundraisers for charity
CalArts, Master’s, and C.O.C.
Fire-scarred hillsides, earth-quaked land
CEMEX (they want to mine our sand)
The gnarled oak of the Golden Dream
Five-thousand eleven soccer teams

Santa Clarita, my sweet dear
Your twentieth birthday now draws near
Behind you, greatness manifest
Ahead of you, greatness greater yet
One birthday wish I offer thee:
Live on; for I Heart S.C.V.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Only in SCV: Intercepted Christmas Letters, Set 1

Though I might not hang out with Bob Kellar on the weekends or appear in the crème de la crème section of elite magazine, I like to think of myself as well-connected in SCV. You want proof? Well, I recently used my connections at the post office to obtain Christmas letters that certain influential Claritans were trying to send to Santa Claus. I know, mail tampering is a felony, but it’s the kind I’m willing to commit--is there any better way to get a glimpse of the inner-workings of the minds of some of our most fascinating citizens? (Don't worry, the letters were faxed to the North Pole so Santa will have copies of their gift lists).

Unfortunately, my post office connection blacked-out all the signatures in the name of privacy. Maybe y’all can help me figure out who wrote each of these letters to Santa. The connection has promised to get me some more next week, so keep your fingers crossed that more Claritans write Christmas letters.

[NOTE: you may have to click on the letters to make them of readable size.]

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Happenings: December Upon Us

I find that I just can't bring myself to go to today's tree lighting at Henry Mayo[1]. As readers of this blog well know, the community holiday tree is slated to meet its demise in several years given the approval of Henry Mayo/G&L Realty's expansion project. Lighting up the tree and having kids sing around it is akin to massaging cows and giving them sake-soaked grain before they're turned into Wagyu beef. It just seems...wrong. Today, the lovely conifer hears angelic voices carolling, but tomorrow (figuratively), it hears the buzz of the chainsaw. I will not willingly participate in any efforts to lull the tree into a false sense of security.

In any case, it's December and we all need something to get us into the holiday spirit, even if it's not a tree lighting. Thus, I offer this article from inside SCV magazine[2]. It's about Santa, snow, destruction, and loss--my favorites!--and how it may be time to say goodbye Santa Claus, hello Santa Clarita.

[1]If you want to go, the lighting is at 5pm this evening. Details here.
[2]SCV seen from the inside...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Happenings: Meaningless Gestures, Anyone?

Yesterday’s City Council Meeting can be summarized as “Meaningless gestures and the people who love them.” To wit:

Meaningless Gesture 1: The Lobbyist Registration Ordinance

At the urging of a few suspicious citizens, the City embarked on a journey some months ago. The destination is a splendid promise land where all lobbyists appearing before the council are registered and declared as such. Sadly—but accurately—Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar called the lobbyist registration ordinance “absolutely meaningless to the citizens of Santa Clarita.” Indeed, Councilmember Ferry could rattle off SCV’s lobbyists’ names by heart and Councilmember Weste made the point of knowing the identity of all lobbyists when she spoke a last week’s meeting. Mayor McLean said something close to “it’ll make them [Claritans] feel better”, which is exactly what this bill is about. The council will say officially, rather than informally, that it knows who lobbyists are, and that’s just the sort of meaningless gesture that makes my day.

TimBen Boydston said “I respectfully disagree completely” after Kellar made a point about Lobbyist Registration being totally meaningless. Kellar still gives the measure his support.

M.G.2: Annexation Amendments
Altering the annexation initiation threshold by 5% isn’t meaningless, but appearances by Castaic folks were. Everyone speaking feigned disinterest in the outcome. If they were all mashed into one person, he would have said “Oh I don’t really have a position about whether we want to be annexed or not; I just want things to be done properly. There are studies to finish! Let’s all cooperate and respect one another, shall we?.” A slightly amended version of the policy carried in the face of these exquisitely helpful platitudes.

M.G.3: Accountability Panel Extension
The Council (minus Boydston) agreed to extend the deadline for applications to the Open Space Financial Accountability and Audit Panel. Despite having five qualified candidates (five are needed, and a sixth has put his name back into the race after withdrawing) turn in their applications by the deadline, city Manager Ken Pulskamp thought it would be a swell idea to extend the deadline to December 28th. Councilmember Ferry called it like it was—a (meaningless) gesture, but one that’s nice to make in light of the fires that swept through town during the week of the deadline. Obviously, there will be another extenstion after the December 28th one in case people were too busy dealing with the holidays to turn in their application.

I’m all for meaningless gestures, but I also respect Boydston’s observation that people who want to participate in things like accountability panels “are few and far between.” There aren’t a lot of Claritans salivating over the chance to study, review, and debate complicated land acquisitions. Thankfully, Jim Farley (who opposed the measure from the beginning and will provide a much-need critical voice) is one of the people willing to serve. He and pal Sterling King noted that the deadline extension seemed like a convenient way for the City to get someone more in line with their thinking . We shall learn if this was actually the case only if the City manages to muster another application or two before December 28th; I’m not holding my breath.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Happenings: Surprise, Surprise--Decidedly Tolerable Movie Viewing

Circumstances beyond my control brought me and three others—who shall remain nameless—to an 11 a.m. showing of Disney’s Enchanted this Thanksgiving weekend. Seeing a movie isn’t typically noteworthy, but this was a rare occasion to behold what it’s like to be a kid these days in SCV.

I didn’t know how popular Enchanted would prove to be against such irresistible competitors as Bee Movie and that Magic Emporium monstrosity. Walking in, the theater looked virtually empty. Then I realized that most of the audience came only half-way up their backrests. This explained why the noise coming from the crowd, usually a dull hum, was a high-pitched trill. As my eyes adjusted to the theatrical gloom, I realized that an alarming number of these youths (at least two, which is two too many) were wearing princess costumes. The question, it seems, is no longer “Why the hell are you wearing a princess costume, you little freak?” but “Why the hell aren’t you wearing one?” When will our valley realize that deficient self-esteem is only half the problem that a surplus of the I'm-a-special-beautiful-princess-look-at-me brand of self-esteem is?

I credit a lack of crying and screaming to the fact that it was mostly dads taking their kids to the theater that day. Whilst Mom shopped or imbibed or did whatever else it is that decent society women do early on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, fathers were left to chaperone the kids. Wisely, their progeny were sedated with soda and candy (i.e., experiencing a sugar-induced coma as opposed to hyperactivity), and the screen provided plenty of visual treats as well. It’s amazing but true: kid movies can be quiet movies.

As for Enchanted itself, the film received a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes[1], an excellent score reflecting 85 positive reviews nation-wide. And despite initial apprehension, I have to say that I agree. This was the autumn of anti-war dreck (e.g., Lions for Lambs, In the Valley of Elah…) that failed miserably, and Enchanted was a delightful departure. The clever movie was funny, at times hilarious, and entertaining throughout. I cannot tell you how much good it did my heart to see Susan Sarandon beat down by a conservative princess on the big screen. I was slightly bothered by the fact that the leading man falls in love with a leading lady whose mental capacity was equivalent to that of the movie’s average nine-year-old viewer, but I guess you can’t have it all.

Despite generally enthusiastic praise for the film, Slant writer Nick Schager[2] poopoos it for reinforcing negative female stereotypes. He claims the movie says a girl’s place is being pretty and waiting for prince charming to arrive. I’m sorry, Schager, but not all little girls grow up wanting to write bitter, little-read movie reviews for a living. No, just like Enchanted's Giselle, some little girls grow up wanting to get married to wealthy divorce attorneys and to spend their days going shopping with their daughters. And in Santa Clarita, those dreams really do come true.

[1]Reviews here
[2]The full review is here

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Only in SCV: Tastes like SCV

Clarita-izing Thanksgiving
This Thanksgiving, I think it’s only appropriate to include an authentically Claritan food in the holiday feast. We may not have turkey, but a duck artfully snared from Bridgeport Lake would certainly be edible. Gathering and grinding acorns would be a fitting nod to the valley’s Tataviam roots. I, however, have taken a page out of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemna[1] and made bread risen with wild Santa Clarita yeast.

I mixed equal parts water and flour, carried it outside for a minute, then brought it in and let the floury paste grow for a week. Supposedly, the air is laden with wild yeast spores that grow and multiply when they land on a suitable habitat, like flour. After the mixture matures for several days, you have a starter (just like a sourdough starter)—an ecosystem of yeast and lactobacillus bacteria ready to flavor bread with fermentation by-products (hungry yet?) and help it rise[2].

SCV starter.

Now, there are plenty of bread snobs who will try and spoil your fun by telling you that the yeast you capture isn’t really “wild” but was probably already living on the surface of the flour. Don’t believe them. Whether the yeast were nabbed as air-born spores, were already floating around your kitchen, or were hitch-hiking with wheat in the market, they’re official, miniature Santa Claritans now.

But to the point at hand, I’ve kept a mini-ecosystem of SCV yeast alive since May. It lives in the fridge and gets fed flour and water once a week. If doing this sounds like a pain in the ass that’s because it is, but I endure for the sake of being able to say that I have an authentically Claritan microbial pet. I put these critters to work making bread rise today.

Santa Clarita: It Has a Flavor
So how does bread made out of SCV yeast taste? It’s not like conventional sourdough, though there is still a slightly sour twang. It is redolent of yeast, somewhere between beer and bread. There’s no question that it tastes like bread, just…gamier; like the difference between beef and venison.

The loaf.

When I re-tasted the bread today, I found the results a little disappointing at first. The bread didn’t taste like I thought SCV would. The wild flavor would make sense if I had gotten the yeast from Bouquet Canyon (our Ozarks), but from Valencia? Then, however, I tasted a familiar hollowness, a void left on my tongue where once there had been bread. I was tasting desperation and disillusionment, the hallmarks of Claritan life. I had captured the yeast of Santa Clarita after all.

While it’s too late for you begin your own starter in time for Thanksgiving dinner tonight, I urge you to try making a starter at some point. Remember, it’s just equal parts flour and water; SCV provides the yeast. Free yeast?! Now that’s something to be thankful for.

[1] As non-fiction goes it’s stellar.
[2] More than any decent person could ever want to know about Sourdough bread can be found here

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Happenings: Controversy Averted (Disappointingly) at City Council

Tonight’s City Council meeting was excessively civil. Reasonable points were made and acknowledged, and reasonable counter-points were offered and discussed. Even the potentially contentious issues of lobbyist registration and Las Lomas development elicited nothing more than appropriately impassioned testimonials. I have no patience for this sort of behavior.

Indeed, it was with some disappointment that I watched the Council skirt the first potential flare-up over Big League Dreams[1]. They are a private baseball stadium builder, and Councilman Frank Ferry is very enthusiastic about the prospect of them building a fantasy-inspired field in SCV, a plan currently being explored. If you’ll recall, Council member TimBen Boydston’s remarks on such a stadium being a waste of money prompted a verbal tongue-lashing from Ferry some weeks ago. Today, Canyon Countryan Steve Lucia expressed his opposition in public participation, calling it “repulsive” for the City to aid the private company with tens of millions of dollars for a stadium. Then, Boydston brought up a B.L.D. project in Gilbert, Arizona that exceeded the original budget by about 70%[2]. Ferry, however, stayed out of the fray and made no mention of the issue whatsoever.

Reason and cool tempers prevailed again when it came time to discuss renaming the road called, variously, Bouquet Canyon, San Fernando, Main Street, etc. Leon Worden, Claritan-of-Consequence and over-estimator of parade attendance, made an eloquent plea that Saugus names (Bouquet) stay in Saugus while Newhall names stay in Newhall. His sentiments were echoed as others suggested an extension of the name “Railroad Avenue” and still others called for additional study. Ultimately, the plan for street name change has been tabled. San Fernando road remains San Fernando road for at least a while longer.

Ball parks and street names might be poor fodder for controversy, I reasoned as the meeting passed the 90-minute mark, but lobbyist registration would surely provoke more passion. I was wrong. There was discussion of fines for failure to register as a lobbyist, whether attorneys would be exempt from registering, and availability of the registration online. Trust me; it was thrilling. Discussion will continue at the next meeting by which time some problematic language in the ordinance will be corrected. Regardless of when they'll ultimately register, Laurene Weste pointed out (while eyeing Hunt Braly) that "We know who the lobbyists are."

Cam Noltemeyer proved a godsend when it came to keeping the lobbying discussion interesting. During two of her four-hundred and eighty-six comments tonight, she mentioned a peculiar observation about City Council. It seems that, on occasion, they eat an evening meal in the company of one another. Alright, so dinner seems normal, especially during busy City Council meeting days, but she said that she’s seen lobbyists begin “swarming” just as these 5 o’clock suppers begin. Her suspicions that inappropriate business/discussion might be going on behind closed doors were quickly allayed by Ferry, however, who assured her that they had most recently used dinnertime to discuss Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Kellar’s ironing, not the business of Santa Clarita.

Next on the agenda was a resolution opposing Las Lomas (“The Hills” in Spanish—does that mean MTV will be filming a reality show there?). The development would bring 5,500 dwelling units and associated commercial space into 550 acres just outside SCV. Everyone from Congressman Buck McKeon to Supervisor Antonovich sent reps to read letters expressing firm opposition to the project. I don’t see why they’re all so against it. I mean, the only problems with the Las Lomas site are that it’s an important wildlife corridor, geologically unstable, fire-prone, ecologically sensitive, has land with slopes in excess of 50%, and would require millions of tons of grading. Oh, and the planned development would exceed density standards set forth by the general plan, has an unrealistic transit program, would aggravate traffic problems, has major infrastructure issues, and is utterly absurd in every way imaginable. Other than that, it’s just fine.

Poor, mild-mannered Matt Klink of Las Lomas Land Company was the only one in favor. After apologizing for poor penmanship on his comment card (really), he offered a letter from a higher-up in his company that showed Las Lomas was smart growth and forward-thinking development. Providing this letter amounted to throwing a single drop of water at the raging inferno of opposition against Las Lomas (at least on part of people outside of LA City and the LA Mayor's office). To paraphrase SCV Mayor Marsha McLean, you just don’t build houses on steep mountains next to freeways, and everbody knows it. In case you haven’t gotten the point yet, here are what three Claritans had to say about Las Lomas:
“Such a ridiculous project.” Diane Trautman
“This is irresponsible from A to Z.” Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Kellar
“This is a terrible project. It’s universally known.” Councilmember TimBen Boydston

With Las Lomas settled, all that remained was discussion of the Certificates of Participation associated with the Open Space Preservation District. Cam Noltemeyer brought up the issue of vote/assessment allocation that has been discussed at length by herself, Sterling King, and Jim Farley[3]. The City assured everyone that the vote was legal (the term “super-compliant” was actually used) and that the records had been made totally public because there was nothing to hide. I suspect that the explanation proved predictably unsatisfactory to the Claritans most involved in the Open Space issue. In any case, a call for transparency in government actions has remained the central theme in Council meetings ever since Boydston uttered the word “collusion” all those months ago. I doubt it's going to go away any time soon.

Random Notes:
The issue of Henry-Mayo-expansion returned briefly when Dr. Gene Dorio spoke in the public participation section. He reaffirmed his opposition to any expansion that didn't first make provisions for more operating rooms. Henry Mayo CEO Roger Seaver's attempts to spin Dorio's letter of opposition and similar letters from more than 70 other hospital staff members was called a "deception."

IHeartSCV was mentioned by TimBen Boydston, specifically a remark about the relationship between the length of City Council meetings and his presence at them, here. Gosh golly!

[1]Do you dream BIG?
[2]I don't believe this is the article cited by Boydston, but it deals with the Gilbert budget drama
[3]I present a summary here

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happenings: Veterans Day in the Plaza

Bricks in the Veterans Historical Plaza speak to the service and sacrifice of soldiers in Vietnam, Korea, World War II, and beyond.
If you've never had the chance to visit the Veterans Historical Plaza (it was dedicated in 2005), I would recommend stopping by on Monday. The site embodies some of the best things about Santa Clarita--our gratitude to and support of those who serve in the armed forces.

Happenings: A Heart is Broken

Glorious in victory...and defeat.

I know. It has been a week since last I’ve blogged. I wish I could say I was busy doing something like curing cancer or infiltrating a Colombian drug ring. But, alas, I wasn’t. I was trying to get over last Tuesday—Black Tuesday—when I had to say goodbye to my dream of seeing Rachel Neville, SCV mother and winner of multiple beauty pageants, serve on the Newhall County Water District Board. I am forced to conclude that all but the 1,052 Claritans who voted for her have something against beauty, poise, and congeniality.

As the results of Tuesday’s election attest, I am not always right about what my fellow Claritans will do. Indeed, elections come down to the stronger of two competing desires, and I can’t always pick which one of the two will win out. First, Claritans are motivated by the desire to keep things the same. Everything is working just fine right now, thank you very much, and we’d like to keep it that way. Maintaining the status quo can require effort, though, because people like Lynne Plambeck and TimBen Boydston have been known to disrupt the smooth flow of business-as-usual in the valley. (Lynne, for example, has sometimes questioned the rate and kind of growth taking place in this valley. Jesu forfend!) This is where the second, competing desire comes in: the desire to not expend too much effort keeping the status quo. In short, the vote reflects the winner in the battle between conservatism and apathy. Apathy won, with most Claritans not even bothering to vote. This ensured that Lynne’s decidedly non-apathetic fans could carry her to victory. Dan Mortenson won the other seat because the world is cruel and unfair to people with the initials R.N.

I won’t feign interest in the school board elections. Suffice it to say that candidates who value education and cherish the youth of America beat other candidates who value education and cherish the youth of America. I’m sorry; it’s just that my heart only had room for one race. And while my heart is now broken, I offer congratulations in a show of good will.

Congratulations, Dan. May no one or thing stop you from saying “yes” to water for every City project, not even Mother Nature or good sense.

Congratulations, Lynne. May you never be haunted by the Chamber of Commerce and your new colleague who tell you that, in ten years with the N.C. Water District, you’ve never done your job right once.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Only in SCV: Poll Results (for Posterity)

I want to state for the record that Blogger leaves much to be desired when it comes to the polling feature. The provided template is designed for polls with short questions, few answers, and concise phrasing. That just doesn’t work for wordy folks like me. Furthermore, the polls don’t integrate nicely into posts and when they’re taken down, they’re gone forever.

Thus, I below present October's poll results for the sake of preservation. When an electronic archaeologist stumbles upon this blog centuries from now, they will know that approximately 1 in 3 Claritans were sufficiently self-aware to rank "Santa Claritans themselves" as the most frightening thing in the valley.

Poll Dates: Oct29 - Nov2

Voters: 40

Question: Happy Halloween, y’all. In accord with this most chilling of holidays, let’s take a poll: What are the most frightening things in/about Santa Clarita? You can pick more than one answer.

Results (in descending popularity):
Santa Claritans themselves: 15 (37%)
F.F.F.s (Frank Ferry Fits): 15 (37%)
Our steady transformation into the San Fernando Valley: 14 (35%)
Our valley’s high flammability: 8 (20%)
Going into Newhall at night: 8 (20%)
Getting on the Flemings’ bad side: 7 (17%)
Noyaca, the lake monster of Bridgeport: 6 (15%)
Going into Canyon Country at night: 6 (15%)
Potential for a break-out from Pitchess Detention Center: 3 (7%)
Other (specify in comments): 0%

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Only in SCV: I Heart November

Do you know how to read? Not quite sure? Well there's an easy way to find out! Just pay a visit to insideSCV Magazine[1] where I may or may not have contributed to the publication's word-count with thoughts on November in Santa Clarita. If you understand what all those trickly little symbols on the page stand for, then you may rest assured in your ability to comprehend the written word.

[1]See SCV, from the inside

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happenings: The Eve Most Hallow


(yes, it's from Lombardi's)

Happenings: Council Caps off October

Keen observers will have noted two facts about tonight’s City Council meeting: (1)It was quick, and (2)Council member TimBen Boydston was absent. How the keen observer links these two pieces of information is left to his or her discretion.

Though brief, tonight’s meeting offered an important opportunity to reflect on what has been a most tumultuous October. Frank Ferry acknowledged the leadership of Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin through the freeway accident/closure and the fires. Laurene Weste and others expressed profound appreciation for emergency personnel.

In her turn, Mayor McLean focused on more pragmatic lessons from October’s trials and tribulations. “These past few weeks have reiterated that transportation is still our number one issue,” she began. McLean continued to say that she has recently been in contact with Senators Boxer and Feinstein. She plans to use the senatorial attention as an opportunity to communicate Santa Clarita’s needs, noting: “We’re on the map again.” "For the wrong reasons!" replied Frank Ferry. McLean pooh-poohed Ferry's nay-saying, though, and suggested that it was the City’s quick response to tragedy rather than tragedy itself that put all eyes on SCV…at least for a while.

The public hearing that followed this discussion proved disappointingly civil. The hearing was held in response to Salt Creek Grille’s appeal of the Town Center East expansion. (S.C.G. was upset about how their parking would be effected by the expansion, from what I got) Claritans-of-consequence, like Laurie Ender, had shown up pumped and ready to fight for the expansion's promises of upscale dining and shopping, but they were qucikly deflated. Indeed, it seems an agreement had been reached behind the scenes. Hunt Braly, representing Salt Creek Grille, said that the restaurant and Westfield had resolved all parking issues. No one else offered anything but support for the expansion—well, no one but Bruce McFarland. He marveled at the “flexibility" of Mr. Braly who is simultaneously representing a client that claims to have enough parking (i.e., Henry Mayo), and one that needs more (i.e., Salt Creek). We see it too, Bruce.

Anyhow, Claritans needn't fret over the Town Center expansion. More opportunities to eat and spend money, our two most cherished pasttimes, are on their way.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happenings: Mayor McLean Talks Fire

I think the City did a solid job handling both the fire and the I-5 accident/closure. Information is a critical resource under such circumstances, and they provided it. The City of Santa Clarita website devoted its entire front page to providing relevant details and information was updated frequently.

Mayor McLean's thoughts and thanks appear below. She reminds us "the Buckweed and Ranch fires took homes, out-buildings and scorched the land,but the most important thing is that no one lost their life!" The letter also includes some pretty amazing figures (e.g., a quarter-million hits on the City site in 24-hours) and the understatement of the year: "October has been a stressful time in the Santa Clarita Valley." Yes. Yes it has.

October 25, 2007

As our communities begin the task of getting our homes and our lives back to some semblance of normalcy, I know that for many of you, the road to recovery will be a long one. Some of our residents lost their homes or suffered some damage to their homes or property as a result of the Buckweed Fire and Ranch fires. We have a number of residents with roof damage from the high winds, who are working to make sure they have a secure roof over their heads as we enter the winter season. Still others are suffering from the trauma of being evacuated and the threat of losing their homes and property.

No doubt, October has been a stressful time in the Santa Clarita Valley. It was just two weeks ago that the tragic I-5 tunnel accidents occurred, temporarily closing the I-5 and claiming the lives of three people. While the I-5 opened fairly quickly, the northbound I-5 tunnel will remain closed until clean up and inspection can be completed. The first responders on this disaster did an amazing job. While this was absolutely a tragedy, it really could have been much worse, with more deaths and damage.

I want to commend the amazing work by the CHP, L.A. County Sheriffs, L.A. County Fire, Caltrans, LAPD and our City, all of whom worked together in the Emergency Operations Center after the I-5 tunnel disaster. Hours and hours of training, many drills and scenarios, and decades of experience all came together in the early morning hours of October 13. While law enforcement and the City provided the necessary road closures, detours and security, the fire department worked to put out the fire and clear the tunnel of debris. Once this was done, Caltrans assessed the damage and the freeway was opened. Caltrans has taken a lot of heat in recent months for other issues but you should know that they did an amazing job working on this incident. During the freeway closure, while the Fire Department was clearing out the tunnel, Caltrans took the opportunity to perform some much-needed maintenance work on the freeway, including painting stripes, clearing trash, weeds and debris and repairing potholes. Now that’s efficiency!

Then, just a week later, the strong winds and dry weather created the “perfect storm” for the many fires that still rage in Southern California. Here in our Valley, the Buckweed and Ranch fires took homes, out-buildings and scorched the land, but the most important thing is that no one lost their life! Homes can be rebuilt and the land will recover in time. The County is working right now to construct a new bridge at Vasquez and Bouquet that will open within the next two weeks. It is important that we stay focused on the fact that we will recover.

Right now, Local Assistance Centers are being set up to assist residents with the myriad of paperwork that will be required to work with FEMA. If you need this kind of assistance, please call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to register. The two Local Assistance Centers will be open 7 days a week at the City’s George A. Caravalho Sports Complex Activity Center-Canyon Rooms (A&B), 20880 Centre Pointe Parkway Santa Clarita, CA 91350-2974 and the Castaic Sports Complex, 31230 North Castaic Road, Castaic, CA 91384.

I cannot say enough about the men and women who responded to all aspects of this fire. From our local fire department and law enforcement personnel, namely L.A. County Fire and L.A. County Sheriffs’ and CHP, to the many fire fighters who came here from out of the area, our County staff, the Forest Service, Cal Fire, to our own City staff, our community was definitely in capable hands! In the City of Santa Clarita’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Acting City Manager and our Emergency Services Director Ken Striplin led our City’s efforts, including incident management, communications, supplies, logistics, planning, shelter, and a lot more.

An information telephone bank was established early-on to provide residents with real-time information about evacuations and road closures. The phone bank handled over 3,600 calls in a 12 hour period last Monday! This was critical in assisting the Sheriff’s department by allowing them to perform more critical work. Our City website and channel 20 provided real-time information about the fire and its impact to our residents. In the first 24-hour period, a total of 261,000 unique page views were logged on our City website; more than the number of visitors we normally see in a three month period!

In the aftermath of the fires, we’ve received a number of phone calls and emails from residents and people from out of the area who used our website to get information that they were otherwise unable to obtain. The 24 hour live broadcasts by our Hometown Station KHTS was an invaluable service to the community.

The City’s Central park had been transformed into a fire department base camp, providing the hundreds of fire fighters in the area with a comfortable place to rest in between shifts. Little things the general public will most likely never see such as providing computers and telephones to emergency responders, organizing volunteers in the community, serving as a liaison with the all emergency response agencies, including the Red Cross, and many, many other activities not only helped during the crisis, but will go a long way in our recovery efforts from these devastating fires. I know that I speak for our entire City Council when I say how very proud I am of our city staff, our first responders, volunteers, and our community for their caring and action during these difficult days.

Finally, to assist local people with their recovery efforts, the Santa Clarita Valley Disaster Coalition, a 501C3 organization set up after Hurricane Katrina, is accepting donations of money or gift cards. Your donations can be dropped off at the City’s building and safety office on the first floor of city hall; at KHTS-AM 1220, the Signal newspaper or at the Senior Center. You will be given a receipt for your donation. If you wish to mail a donation, please mail it to: KHTS-AM 1220, c/o the SCV Disaster Coalition, 27225 Camp Plenty Road #8, Santa Clarita, CA 91351.

Although the immediate disaster has passed, many of our friends and neighbors will spend time recovering, both physically and emotionally. Let us all remember to be kind to one another, to first seek how we can be of service to each other and to extend ourselves to those in need.
# # #

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Happenings: Fire Times Five (or more)

UPDATE: is the City's site for coverage of what has become a very dangerous fire in northern Santa Clarita. Details on school cancellations, evacuations, and firefighting efforts can be found there.

This has been a thoroughly Elemental October: it’s rained twice, the wind is blowing furiously, and now all of LA County is on fire--almost. Here are some pictures of nature’s handiwork near San Fernando Road.

Limb amputation, courtesy of wind.

This ominous stream of smoke is coming from the fire in Agua Dulce. The LA Times covers the half dozen or more fires burning in the Southland here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Only in SCV: What About the Smelt?

When you’re all grown up and sitting on the therapist’s couch, don’t you dare say I didn’t love you: I just spent an hour of my life listening to the Newhall County Water District Board debate on KHTS[1]. Given that the election grows ever nearer I thought I’d provide a helpful summary of what went on at this past Monday’s face-off. Sure, The Signal already provided cursory coverage of what’s been said[2], but did they consult smelt? I think not. And I'm still waiting for the paper's reporters to offer more pertinent candidate details, like their astrological signs (doesn't a Pisces, Scorpio, or Cancer make sense?).

Anyhow, I’ve assembled a chart highlighting the three candidates actively vying for the two vacancies on the Newhall County Water District Board. I say "actively vying", but that phrase might be a little over-generous for candidate Rachel Neville. While dismissed by some as a beauty queen, she’s ambitiously pursuing an advanced degree at UCLA and wants to go straight to the top of the SCV political scene[4]. Service on the district seems like a fair way to get her feet wet, but she’s not acting very much like someone who wants to win. Plambeck said Neville has never attended a Water District Board meeting, and Neville wasn’t at the KHTS/Signal debate. Obviously, there are plenty of circumstances that take priority over going to a debate. But maybe, just maybe, might there be some in Santa Clarita who want Rachel Neville to win (and displace Plambeck) more than she wants to win herself?

I would encourage you to learn more about each candidate before making a decision in November, but that’s not my style. After all, an educated vote and an uneducated vote count just the same, but the uneducated one is so much easier!

Click to make the charts bigger--sorry. Quotations and particulars were gleaned from the broadcast debate (link provided in footnote 1). Also, the education in R.N.'s box should read "Master's/PhD not specified on the Mrs. SCV website."

My prediction? People will give their first vote to either Lynne or Rachel but they'll all give their second vote to Dan. Severe water shortages in Atlanta and the Delta Smelt story favor a conservation-oriented candidate, but business, the bulk of mailers, and the desire to fight-the-fish favor someone who won't stand in the way of (any) new development. I suppose we shall see.

[1]Listen here
[2]The Signal's
story just in case you value things like respectful reporting. While you're there, do email them a request for details on astrological signs.
KHTS ran the piece in which Pat Ingram is quoted. Read it here.
Do you seek to know more about THE CHAMBER? I introduce them in this
blog, and their official site is here.
[4]Dug up by J.W. of
SCVTalk, her pageant page provides all manner of insight.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Happenings: October Rains, October Fire

Aftermath of the accident (all photos in this post courtesy of Sterling King).

“Flames shot out of both ends of the tunnel, rising as high as 100 feet into the air, according to firefighters at the scene[1]."

Despite last night's rain, there’s smoke rising in the Newhall Pass. Indeed, nearly twenty hours after a vast and deadly pile-up of big rigs, the fire deep within the truck route tunnel--the site of the mega-accident--continues to burn. (If you want the latest, KHTS is covering the story and providing frequent updates).

We’re waiting for a detailed account of what happened, but we know at least two people have died and tens (hundreds?) of thousands of motorists have been and will be effected as a result of the accident that’s closed the I-5. How long the freeway remains closed depends on the degree of structural damage sustained by the still smoldering tunnel running below it.

I talked to someone who was driving on McBean over the I-5 this morning, and she said that people were actually reversing off of the on-ramp before they got stuck in the vehicular mire below. Alternative routes using the Old Road and Highways 14 and 126 are packed. Within SCV, peripherals like San Fernando Road/Main Street/To-be-Renamed-Avenue were scarcely moving this afternoon. Even the surface streets by my house were running slow earlier today. Of course, being annoyed with traffic becomes something of a luxury when we consider what happened to two of those who died in the accident. Unfortunately, we still don’t know their names.

Cars carrying people that should be equipped with patience and extremely good bladder control.

I have an uncle who told me that SCV’s number one fear should be a fire along the 5. His reasoning is that there aren’t a whole lot of ways in and out of this community. The fragility of our transportation infrastructure may be getting a lot of attention today, but it's been a fact of life since Clarita came into being.

In August of 1962, my grandparents were living on Spruce Street in Newhall. My grandma recalls being able to see flames on the mountaintops and masses of smoke as two fires—one near Hasley Canyon, one near Placerita—coursed through dry brush with the help of Santa Ana winds. These simultaneous blazes effected Highways 14 and 126 as well as the I-5. Thus, Grandma (and my toddler of a Mom) had the car packed but no idea of where to drive[2].

Those fires, our two "big" quakes, and today’s fallout from the tunnel accident are poignant reminders of just how much stock our car culture places in a very tiny handful of roads. It’s a reminder that being trapped in Santa Clarita isn’t always just a feeling—sometimes it’s a reality.

[1]From AP reporter Noaki Schwartz’s article which, along with KHTS’s report, has informed my writing.
[2]Daryl Manzer recounts in detail what went on--and how it could have been much worse--here

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Happenings: Open Space Questions Linger

Jim Farley voices his concerns in the video above[1].

The continuing controversy over the Open Space Preservation District/Assessment has been largely eclipsed by the more palpable controversy over Henry Mayo. In case you have short-term memory issues, I'm referring to the recently approved plan to have homeowners pay $25/year towards preserving open space in and around the City of Santa Clarita. Proponents claimed it was a step towards controlling sprawl and saving wilderness. Opponents, in turn, called it an unnecessary burden on homeowners who would reap none of the benefits bought with their tax dollars.

Jim Farley led the opposition alongside Sterling King, and he [Jim] recently sent me a copy of a letter he's sending to the City regarding voting "irregularities." (Mr. Wilson of SCVTalk has posted this letter in its entirety here.) His concerns regard the fact that votes on the measure were supposed to be weighted based on how much of the assessment a property owner would pay. It seems that 7 developers/landowners were given votes weighted for $148,737 in assessments, but they'll pay only $9,413--just 6% of the figure used to determine their voting power. Jim Farley summarized the figures he gleaned from City voting records below.

Farley says that obtaining these data was no easy task: "The ballots were found by others in my group painstakingly thumbing through all of the ballots to find them. Then it required an additional effort to get the worksheets showing the voted vs actual assessment for the 7 developers."

So What Does It All Mean?

1. Most Claritans wanted the measure to pass, and it did.

2. Just seven major land-holders had a huge impact on the measure; they represented a quarter of the weighted votes.

3. One would expect that the voting assessment would correspond with the actual assessment, but this does not seem to be the case for "the Big 7." Collectively, they cast a vote weighted 15-times more than they'll actually pay. At some point, houses built on their land holdings will presumably make up the difference, but that could be a long way off.

4. Still, if more voters had returned their ballots, the power of the developers would have been diminished. Of course, it's easier to turn in one vote worth $31,000 than to gather 1,240 ballots from homeowners with votes worth only $25 each.

In the above chart, "Small Property Owners" include plain old homeowners and other landowners whose voting assessments were valued less than the 7 Large Property Owners. The mean voting assessment for small property owners was about $30. The mean voting assessment for the 7 large property owners was about $21,000.

Overall, Claritans are left to ponder whether the system by which Open Space votes were counted matters. SCV got what it wanted in the end, and that will be fine for some--no need to dissect a system that gave the desired result. Others, however, will be unable to dismiss the discrepancy between votes cast and dollars paid so easily. Indeed, the call for the City to become more transparent has been fueled by actions just like this voting peculiarity.

Most immediately, though, the Financial Accountability and Audit Panel for the Open Space District is being assembled. As Farley suggests, "If the council chooses one or more of us 'outsiders' it would go a long way in assuring the citizens that their money is being spent properly. It will also rebuild trust with the community on this issue."

[1]Filmed by Sterling King--who else? Taken at the September 12th City Council meeting.
[2]Throughout, I'm referring to numbers that Jim Farley has provided me. I have no reason to doubt his figures, but if you spot a mistake please let me know.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Happenings: Scarecrow Winners In, Pumpkins Out

Lombardi Ranch[1] is all dressed up and ready to work its corner of Bouquet Canyon Road. Some summer delicacies (incl. excellent tomatoes) remain, but the farm now wears the unmistakable mantle of autumn: pumpkins laid out in the hundreds, bales of hay stacked high, and a buffet of delectable farm animals penned up for the appreciating.

I thought that mastering the names of America’s domesticated fauna was a prerequisite for graduating pre-school. But just in case you were one of the kids who slipped through the cracks, the ranch provides signs labeling its menagerie. This spares parents the embarrassment of being unable to tell their children which is the chicken and which is the llama.

Even a bigger draw than the animals, however, is Scarecrow Alley. There, dozens of families and groups have staged scarecrows among the corn and sunflowers. It’s a chance for Claritans to put their creativity on display and possibly take home some of the $3,700 in cash prizes offered by the ranch. The results of September 30th’s judging are now in.

Taking first place for the 10 & Under category was the entry entitled “Howling at the Moon.” As you can see, it’s a post-modern meditation on the ultimate fate of humanity. Bravely, the artists have depicted people as they really are: sacks of burlap stuffed with straw, T.S. Eliot's proverbial Hollow Men. Two souls are shown ascending not to heaven but to a dark lunar abyss. Meanwhile, an earthbound figure sits slumped in hopeless apathy, flanked by two black dogs—clear allegories of death. The only traces of humanity that remain are blood-red hand prints hung like ornaments in a tree, feeble shadows of hollow lives. Life, mankind, and the world are voids; all is emptiness. I hope these 10 & Unders are in the gifted art program.

The effort taking first place for the 11 – 17 category was decidedly cheerier. Perhaps this had to do with the fact that it was commissioned by Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. Unfortunately, the picture came out blurry, but it was beach/surfing themed.

First place for the 18 & Older category was a punny take on “Deal or No Deal” entitled “Meal or No Meal” pictured below. Howie Mandel has never looked better.

The Grand Prize was an homage to family—how Claritan, no? Fully fifteen scarecrows were arranged as if ready for a multi-generational family portrait. It's clear that a lot of work went into this and it's all very well done with the black-and-white photos, mix of personalities, etc... Despite a heart-warming theme and comic touches, however, this entry also featured the two most unbelievably frightening scarecrows in the whole scarecrow circuit.

Grand-prize winner with terrifying detail below. (Olsen twins?)

Lombardi Ranch has scaled up their autumn efforts this year. This included hosting the Saugus High School band[2], offering wagon rides, face-painting, popcorn vending... All of this is fine, but I hope Lombardi's stops short of becoming a full-fledged autumn carnival. After all, part of the charm of Lombardi Ranch lies in its ability to make use smile at the simple things… this.
[1]You can call Lombardi Ranch at 661.296.8697. It's located in Saugus at 29527 Bouquet Canyon Road.
[2]They were quite good. Various other bands are banding throughout October; a schedule of weekend events is here.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Only in SCV: Welcoming October the Claritan Way

Fall awakens in us a ravenous hunger for dying foliage. Green leaves are nice, to be sure, but there is a part of the human psyche that demands its leaves crisp, crimson, and dead. This autumnal appetite is easily sated along the Santa Clara River where some of the native cottonwoods are just beginning to yellow. Taking in this appetizer to high fall's visual feast—and crunching some of it underfoot—is the first step to properly doing October in the SCV.

The next step in Clarita's well-delineated October protocol is purchasing pumpkins. You could get your large orange gourd from the cardboard boxes outside of supermarkets. It's not illegal. Of course, you'd better do it at 4 a.m. and be wearing large, dark sunglasses. Otherwise, you're going to lose what little street cred you had with the Claritans who do things the right way and go to Lombardi Ranch[1]. Yes, it's a long way and yes, you're going to have to wash the Acura you bought from the Flemings after driving on that dusty Saugus road, but no, there's no way around it.

Indeed, all decent Claritans descend on the ranch en masse for pumpkins, Indian corn, and other vegetal signifiers of the change in season. If these aren't sufficient impetus for the trip, there are animals at which to marvel and scarecrow contest entries to be beheld. They're actually being judged today.

Inevitably, Moms-with-kids go completely Anne Geddes[2] in the pumpkin patches. Tiny tots must appease their temporarily crazed parents by sitting on the largest pumpkins available until the camera batteries die of exhaustion. If you're one of these photo-happy parents, I hope you know that at least four-thousand other parents are going to put their child on the same pumpkin your child is sitting on and take more or less the same picture. But don't worry—yours really is the most adorable.

Claritans leave Lombardi's assured that rural charm is no more or less than a twenty-minute drive away—just the way we like it.

The next October obligation is a stop for costumes. In this regard, A Chorus Line Dancewear & Costumes[3] is the most authentically Claritan option--it's the only shop owned and opped by the Newhall clan. I've seen people leaving its doors carrying everything from basic face paint to a pirate get-up to a Xena, Warrior Princess, ensemble.

Despite these and a vast array of other offerings, what the store lacks is an appropriate selection of genuinely SCV costumes. People can easily find a George Bush mask, but where are masks depicting Laurene Weste or other local politicians? There is cowboy garb, but how much of it is W.S. Hart inspired? And what does a Claritan have to do for a decent Tataviam Indian costume? As always, it's only hot laydeez who have an easy time getting a costume this time of year--all they have to do is put the adjective "sexy" in front of any occupation and they have their outfit (e.g., the sexy nurse, the sexy French maid, the sexy librarian, and the always popular sexy dental hygienist).

Given "a gang-related stabbing spree in 1985, a riot that spilled from the park to businesses in 1993 and the shooting death of a teen in the parking lot in 1998"[4], you might think Magic Mountain was scary enough. This month, though, they throw in Fright Fest for good measure[5]. Attending F.F. becomes an additional October duty for teenagers, but it's one they're generally pleased to carry out. After all, the emo teen of today loves the morbid, unsettling quality of Halloween almost as much as their goth predecessors.

Having marvelled at leaves, obtained pumpkins, and selected the perfect costume, one's October duties are almost entirely fulfilled. Halloween is always mandatory, whether it involves trick-or-treating or a pray-a-thon sponsored in protest of the evil night by one's congregation. But that's all still 31 days away, and I have some October obligations to fulfill. So, if you'll excuse me...

[1]In case you didn't know, Lombardi Ranch is on Bouquet Canyon Road. Their website is here
[2]She's the woman who takes pictures of babies in pea pod, sunflower, and other produce-related costumes for those best-selling calendars.
[3]Reachable at 661.253.0300. They're on the corner of Cinema Drive and San Fernando/Bouquet Canyon Road.
[4]From a July 2, 2006 LA Times article by Amanda Covarrubias and Lynn Doan: Close Magic Mountain? Residents Aren't Thrilled.
[5]Don't worry, it's safe with all the beefed-up security and what not. Fright Fest takes place on Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout October as well as the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preceding/including Halloween.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Only in SCV: The Claritan Literature Grows

Through means that will not be discussed at present, I have procured a copy of The City of Santa Clarita: Celebrating 20 Years of Success[1]. (Wanted ads seem to work.) For now, I will simply say the book donor is a saintly being willing to help this SCV addict get his fix.

While I haven’t read much of the book just yet, I have been very pleasantly surprised with the effort. It’s part scrapbook, part memoir, part collage. The reader will find everything from a congratulatory letter from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to a classic Wicks cartoon commemorating the 1994 earthquake to reflections from the first City Council to a nice tribute to Deputy David March to pictures of no fewer than six ribbon cuttings—five of them conducted with that iconic pair of jumbo white scissors.

The book.

If you'd like to purchase the book, there is an "interest list" to which you can be added while the City awaits its next shipment. For inquiries or to reserve a copy (~$25) call 661-255-4939.

I’ll be giving a more comprehensive review later, but I want to close by noting how topical and timely the content seems. The last few pages of the book contain what are essentially advertisements for local companies like Powder Coating Plus, Newhall Land & Farm, and Valencia Acura. Henry Mayo is among these and writes:

“As the city of Santa Clarita celebrates its 20th anniversary, Henry Mayo is being proactive in thinking ahead to determine what needs to be done to make our hospital better able to meet the growing healthcare needs of our community. […] Our master plan calls for the creation of additional hospital beds, bringing back our heliport […] and providing convenient parking for our patients and their families. Once approved by the City of Santa Clarita, our master plan will also enable us to add and enhance our vital services.”
We'll have to wait until January to see if the "once approved" was premature or prophetic.

[1]118-page hardcover edited by Gail Ortiz and Diana Sevanian. Published by Pioneer Publications (Cerritos, CA), 2007.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Happenings: Did Somebody Say Commitment?

If you need to be brought up to speed on the Henry Mayo Master Plan issue, I suppose you could read this Signal article[1].

Despite hopes for the contrary, there wasn't a whole lot of "new" at tonight's hospital-centric City Council meeting--just alarming overuse of the word commit in all its various forms[2].

Sure, the new-ish Development Agreement was discussed. Paul Brotzman fearlessly led us through a summary of the document and pointed out potential benefits provided by its so-called "sequencing of improvements." For example, G&L Realty wouldn't be issued the building permit for Medical Office Building 3 until they began construction of the new Inpatient Building--the one demanded by the community at large. As many speakers would later note, however, G & L Realty could still get away with building only medical office buildings and parking structures under the Development Agreement per a "no obligation to develop" clause.

Overall, the Development Agreement inspired a lot of hypotheticals regarding what the city could withhold (e.g., the certificate to occupy a building, building permits) in order to compel construction of the Inpatient Building, sufficient parking, and other perceived necessities. By 11:30, Mayor McLean and Roger Seaver were talking very frankly about what would have to happen in order to assure the elusive "third vote" in favor of the Master Plan.

Still, the status quo prevailed. Tonight, as ever, HMNMH CEO Roger Seaver said that signing an agreement to build the new Inpatient Building--and not just medical office buildings--was an impossibility. And tonight, as ever, David Gauny[3] and other opponents said that just wasn't good enough. Gauny reported hearing "no", per usual, in response to his group's many well-defined and reasonable negotiating points.

That not much new was said at the City Council meeting didn't diminish its importance, however. It was an opportunity for both sides to present their cases in polished, practiced form. When the time came for public comments, Roger Seaver and Reena Newhall were the effective figureheads for those for and against expansion, respectively . Despite having only three minutes to speak and no PowerPoint to back her up, Reena was the clear winner in this match-up. I'll give you a break-down in a very long aside:

Roger - "We are committed" was said eight times in as many minutes. It worked remarkably well as ammunition for the opposition to aim squarely back at Seaver, as in "Where's the commitment to a new hospital, Mr. Seaver?"
Reena - "Appeasement du jour" was coined to describe laughable concessions made by the hospital in an attempt to appease the community. Reena takes this round.

Roger - Emphatic repetition was not limited to "we are committed." Roger also singled out each City Council member by name and rattled off the same set of rhetorical questions at them. Roughly, it was "[Council member], I'm asking for your commitment. I'm asking for your commitment to the full master plan. I'm asking for you to commit to the residents of Santa Clarita..."
Reena - Speaking in a bracingly sardonic style, Reena eviscerated the appeasement du jours. I was particularly fond of her ode to "the melodious sound of helicopters" and "therapeutic" gasoline fumes awaiting those in the planned healing garden.

Roger - Despite singling out each council member with the "I'm asking for your commitment" schpeel, I think most members were left wondering "Is he going to do that to all of us?" rather than feeling personally addressed.
Reena - How nice it is to have someone who is not afraid to call out City Council members by their first names. In particular, she got Laurene Weste's attention by mocking the proposed healing garden's open space dedication.

Roger - He drew yawns and sighs. It didn't help that HMNMH's own Dr. Gene Dorio came forward with 62 letters signed by hospital staff concerned with the immediate need for more operating rooms--not office space.
Reena - She drew guilty giggles and amused gasps with her pluck and sarcasm.]

One thing was made amply clear at tonight's City Council Meeting: it's time for a decision about the Henry Mayo Master Plan. As Council Member Laurene Weste said, "If we don't move ahead ... we're gonna be dog-gone in trouble as a community." The decision is still several months away, however; the Council won't likely discuss it again until January 8, and even that date's tentative. In the interim, the new E.I.R. will be circulated and there will doubtless be many meetings. Of course, neither of these actions will change the situation very much at all.

If I'm reading the prevailing tides correctly, Roger Seaver and G&L are going to get approval of their master plan early next year. There will be some kind of clause that sort of forces construction of the Inpatient Building--perhaps before the second Medical Office Building can be occupied--in order for G&L to get the rest of their desired M.O.B.s. The community around the hospital will suffer more than was anticipated as a too-big project is forced into a too-small space. City Council members may remember with some regret that they were under no obligation to do G&L favors--this when construction of the Inpatient building is delayed or complicated. At that point, of course, progress will have begun and will not be stopped.

Oh yeah, and we'll be spending $60,000 to fix the configuration and angle of parking in Newhall; Jeff Wilson of SCVTalk lobbied for dogs-sans-leash; and I'm tired and not writing very well so I'm off to bed with heart-felt apologies for a lack of clarity. Thank God the meeting only went until 12:35 a.m.

[1]"Hospital Plans Are Front and Center", by Jerry Berrios in the Sunday, September 23 edition.
[2]To be fair, Frank's restrained manner was new.
[3]Of SmartGrowthSCV