Sunday, July 29, 2007

Only in SCV: Two Treats in the Mail

Join me as I catch up on the literary treasures I missed when away from the SCV. It's time for vacation mail (at least the SCV-related stuff).

Holy Crap, We’re Spending $2M on Bus Stops!
or, The State of the City Newsletter

Did you know our city has a color scheme? According to Alisha Celestine, writer of “The New Look of Transit”, we do! It’s a “refreshing color scheme of rich greens and blues.” Cool! Literally! I can’t stop using exclamation points!

Refreshed? I am!

Application of this color scheme in new signs will be a fundamental component of a two-million dollar project to improve bus stops. The Bus Stop Improvement Program (BSIP) will apparently spiffy-up 51 existing shelters and put 40 new shelters into existence. That comes out to about $22,000 per shelter, for which we get “solar security lightning [sic], steel strap benches with backs and intermediate armrests, and trash receptacles with covered lids […and] a public art component at 25-percent of the bus stop locations.” The solar security “lightning” will doubtless eat up most of the budget.

The remainder of the newsletter consists of the City patting itself on the back. The words “vision”, “success” and “future” figure prominently throughout.

“…stories of Santa Clarita people who have accomplished success”
or, the August/September 2007 élite magazine

Pity Linda and Moe Hafizi: their computer must have a broken comma key! The publishers of the modestly titled élite magazine—an SCV bi-monthly that “takes it up a notch and invites you to come along”—certainly appeared to be victims of a busted keyboard in the newest issue.

Indeed, what but a broken button could explain the sentence “As will, our ‘Looking Back’ feature on Glen Blackshaw, married more than 50 years, the start to their union may have been a bit unconventional since neither could understand a word of what the other was saying”? Yes, that’s really a sentence from this issue’s letter from the publishers. Unsurprisingly, the fairer half of the publishing duo responsible for that gem is also editor-in-chief[1]. While the magazine’s rough edges aren’t easily overlooked, they are easily forgiven. After all, élite gives a glimpse into the lives of the privileged class that us common folk are rarely afforded. In this issue, for instance, I’ve learned how the president of the Bank of Santa Clarita stays fit and got a private tour of the home of the Hovsepians, an elite Claritan family! I was even introduced to General Hospital actor Rick Hearst, a man who has “overcome insurmountable odds in the competitive world of entertainment.[2]

But as fun as it is to read, the best part of élite magazine is the game I get to play in every issue. It’s called “Count the Flemings” because photos of Cheri, Don, Scooter, and Spark Plug are, to use one of the French phrases so beloved by the mag[3], de rigeur. To be fair, this is due in large part to the fact that they do a lot of charity work and go to many charity events--many heavily photographed charity events. Likewise, there is never a shortage of pictures of the Hafizi clan. The April/May issue included six photos for a total of ten Hafizis.

One Fleming (Don), two Flemings (Cheri), three Flemings ("Speed Bump"), ah ah ah...

Finally, every issue includes locals modeling clothes bought at the hottest, hippest SCV boutiques (e.g., Macy’s in this issue) and an amazing recipe. This month I enjoyed learning how to make Chef Olivier Quinn’s Heirloom Tomato Salad with Burrata Cheese. The secret is buying tomatoes and cheese and then putting them on the same serving platter. Très gourmet!

If you don’t receive élite, there’s a reason: only elite addresses get élite magazines. According to the website[4], it’s mailed to a “targeted” set of residences, “numerous upscale locations”, and “select local hotels.” How it arrived in the ghetto of Valencia I do not know, but I appreciate the mistake.

[1]That’s Linda, to be specific. Ati and Alex Hafizi are responsible for graphic design, and they do a remarkably good job.
[2]Based on the article, these "insurmountable odds" were the death of his grandfather and the separation of his parents. By these criteria, I too have overcome "insurmountable odds"!
[3]No, not even a title like élite is sufficiently pretentious for this magazine. They gush over houses in the “La Maison” section, and photos of important, event-attending Claritans are published under the banner “Crème de la Crème.”

[4]If I've sold you on the magazine (or, rather, if it has sold itself to you), click here. Try to ignore the clutching of jowls.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Great Moments in SCVistory: The Almost-Kind-of Bomb at Valencia High School

It would be a lie to say that not a lot is happening in SCV. At this very moment, Don and Cheri Fleming are doubtless planning a new ad promoting their Acura Dealership—I mean Acura Friendship (true Claritans will now have the jingle “Ah-aah, it’s a friend-ship” going through their heads). Somewhere, a family is calling a pool company to get one of their own after enduring a taxing afternoon at one of those community swimming centers. And, of course, valley seniors are gearing up for bingo at Hometown Buffet next Monday morning (8:45-10:15am, if you’re interested).

Still, I think the hustle and bustle typical of the C of SC has slowed sufficiently to allow me to publish the first of a new category of entries: Great Moments in SCVistory. I realize that history in Santa Clarita is a hotly contested bit of real estate, and I would stand little chance against our local Historical Society in talking authoritatively about this place’s past. Thus, I will be covering only those events from our very recent history that I’ve witnessed first-hand. Since my memory—like all memories, a changeful, slippery beast—will be the primary informant, I can’t say all the details will be perfect, but the basics are reliable.

Today’s bit of SCVistory dates back to April 5, 2000. I was a sophomore at Valencia High School, and I was about to witness a morning of fear, confusion, and triumph: it was the day VHS was almost-kind-of bombed.

... ... ...

P.E. begins almost as usual. The only deviation from my normal routine is throwing away a spent stick of deodorant in a trashcan; the vision of and my proximity to this trashcan will bear unexpected significance very soon. After changing into my uniform, my friend and I walk over to the cement pad that functions as our classroom. Pre-assigned yellow numbers painted on said pavement are obediently obscured by our asses, and we wait for instruction to begin.

Our teacher comes to lead us through stretches and then, well, drifts away. We begin talking in her absence but she soon returns and orders us to walk away from the gym and onto the field. We do, perplexed by why we've been ordered to sit and wait on a lawn. At some point, alarms begin ringing. We know their ringing isn’t an accident because it continues for a very long time. Amidst the auditory chaos of mechanical trills and tones, classes begin streaming onto the field as orderly units, and we hear the sirens of emergency vehicles. Though we're still in the dark about what's going on, things seem ominous when we’re told to march as far away from the school as possible.

Earlier that same morning, three boys reported observing a student throw away a suspicious device in a locker room trashcan. By suspicious, they meant consisting of six pressurized canisters of CO2 gas connected to electrical wires and a black box[1].

After receiving this report, Les Luxmore, Assistant Principal, goes to investigate for himself. Motivated by thoughts I am hard-pressed to imagine, he actually picks up the device that most people would call a bomb, and begins to walk to his office--carrying it.

Now, Valencia is a sprawling sort of high school campus, and the walk from the locker room to the administrative offices is a good hundred yards. Though classes are in session, there are always people walking around, and one can only wonder whether Mr. Luxmore waved to familiar faces as he passed by, or whether anyone wondered just why he was carrying several CO2 canisters wired together with a timing device.

Regardless, the device remains intact all the way to his office and, naturally, he sets it on the floor. Unfortunately, we can’t know when authorities were called, but I imagine they would have instructed him to leave the device in place, unless that's the sort of thing that just goes unsaid[2].

My older sister, who happened to be going to VHS while I was, recalls vividly learning about what was going on.

A blonde kid in a gray shirt, a member of the Associated Student Body, opens the door to her class. Leaning on the doorjamb with alarming casualty, he says “There’s a bomb. You need to get up to the field.” The door shuts, people assuming they've just been told a rather tasteless joke, but alarms sound and a full evacuation is ordered.

At this point, all classes have converged on the field and word of what's really going on has traveled to most every student on campus. For the first time in many of our lives, we see the bomb squad arrives with a remotely operated robot in tow to safely deal with the bomb/bomb-like device. Apparently, they were unaware that Mr. Luxmore would have been more than happy to carry the device himself.

There seems to be some confusion about just where the bomb is. Efforts initially focus on the boy’s locker room that I had been in just an hour or so earlier, but then proceed, for some inexplicable reason, further into campus.

Scores of classes continue to watch all of this unfold from the fields flanking the school proper. Some teachers try in vain to continue their lessons when there are obviously more important things to talk about, namely explosive devices with the potential to kill us. Most students, from what I remember, didn't ever think there was actually a bomb. Though newspaper articles mention crying, desperate students, none were sitting near me.

A little more than an hour after the initial discovery, the tone of the people I’m talking to has grown increasingly annoyed. No longer does the bomb that probably doesn't even exist demand attention. Any fear we might have felt is rapidly evaporating, and our thoughts are instead turning to freedom, which means finding a friend with a car.

The evacuation has messed up at least a couple of classes, parents and students are freaked out (though not as many as you'd think), and we confirm with one another that almost being blown up does little to facilitate the learning process. Anyway, it's almost time for lunch. Shouldn't we get to go home?

Eventually, of course, we are released, but first the school witnesses a glory like none we have ever seen before.

In 2000, there is still a largely vacant hill behind the athletic fields at Valencia. It’s brushy, dry, and steep.

A handful of boys manage to loose the bonds of their classes and decide to make a bid for freedom. They scamper over the fence feebly forbidding them from leaving campus. That obstacle cleared, they begin their ascent up the hill. I cannot be sure whether the metaphorical nature of their ascent was apparent to them while climbing.

The activity does not go unnoticed. Teachers shout to the boys, telling them to get back on the field that is, counterintuitively, closer to the bomb. But blessed with common sense beyond their years, they continue to climb the hill, knowing full well that if ever there was a time to make a bid for freedom, this was it. Cheers from their peers begin to swell, reaching a crescendo as they claim the summit, pumping their fists and basking in the admiration of thousands of their fellow Valencia Vikings.

Then the police grab them. Apparently, some teacher or administrator had found enough time during a bomb scare to alert officers that three kids were leaving campus. It's not like the officer had anything more important than truancy to worry about; there wasn't a bomb or anything! Needless to say, the blow to our collective psyche was a crushing one.

... ... ...

Because the bomb was determined to be more of a sophisticated imitation than actual threat to life and property, the story wasn’t widely picked up. Those who did report on it tended to bury the lead (e.g., headlines read “Bomb Found at School, Two Teens Arrested” vs. “Assistant Principal Carries Bomb From Gym to Office”). Mr. Luxmore’s actions were called, quite generously, “very brave but foolish[3].”

Of course, at least he was nobly intentioned and acted in a way to try and protect students. The same cannot be said of the two boys responsible for the device. Their identities were never released because both were minors. Rumors circulated, but Valencia was a big school and kids who make bombs—fake or otherwise—aren’t genally prominent social fixtures, so I don’t recall ever finding out who did it for sure. As for what drove them to try and blow up the school, or at least make people think they could blow up the school, I'm afraid I can offer little insight.

That day, Valencia was a kind of microcosm. Columbine was still fresh on everyone’s minds, and it would be just a year before terrorists attacked the world trade centers. We learned, and have since re-learned, that the actions of individuals can have consequences on thousands.

On a more practical level, we learned that the horrifyingly loaded phrase "McGillicutty's here" was school code for this sort of violent school emergency.

[1] I wasn't around to observe this part, so I'm relying on the reports of Daily News writers Bhvana Mistry and Orith Goldberg. Their stories, which I'll consult indirectly throughout this tale of woe and wonder, can be found here and here.
[2] In Mr. Luxmore's defense, I imagine he could have known it was a hoax or reasoned that bombs don't explode just because you touch them. Still...
[3] By Lt. Carl Deeley in the Mistry/Goldberg article. I would have said "reckless and incomprehensible", but to each their own.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Happenings: HP in SCV

I am not home in Valencia at the moment but spending my second day in a rainy suburb of Atlanta. And, alas, it is for six days more that Georgia shall hold me captive. Humidity, flocks of mosquitoes, and neighbors named "Maryl" are fine, but I have a masochistic longing for the abuses only SCV can impart.

I take solace, however, in the fact that the final installment of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series will be released this Saturday. I held out on reading the books until two years ago, a delay that can be explained by a girl in one of my English seminars. While I can recall the name of the course--"Contemporary Experimental Fiction"--her name eludes me. Given the course title, though, it was unsurprising to discover that she was more than a little pretentious, calling the books "literary popcorn for the masses that I'd have to be force-fed", give or take a word. Both this stigma and the massive reading load associated with English classes are long gone, however, and I am now only slightly ashamed to admit that I'll be getting the final H.P. novel at 12:01am (or as close to that time as possible) this Saturday morning. Happily, I'm still running on Pacific Standard Time, so I'll be able to get in several hours of reading once I get the goods.

As I have pointed out before, enthusiasm is a rare thing to behold within SCV, but it will be palpable[1] when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows becomes available immediately on Saturday the 21st. Luckily, there will be no shortage of opportunities to hand over your cash at a number of stores selling the book for very reasonable prices (sometimes even at a loss). Given that it's "children's literature"[2], several book purveyors are offering activities that will appeal to younger Claritans in the hours leading up to the release. I have posted information on three of the better-known release events that will be going on Friday night/Saturday morning below. I offer one warning: last year, my younger sister went to wait for the sixth book to be released at Barnes & Noble. She endured the screams of tired children and the tempers of impatient parents for two hours only to have someone drive by the store and yell "So-and-so kills so-and-so" (i.e., the climax of the story) as she left, her unread book in hand. Thus, it may be advisable to bring ear plugs, blindfolds, and other forms of sensory impairment just to be safe from shouts of the a**holes of which SCV has no shortage.

Some Midnight Magic

A Grand Hallows Ball

I'm sorry, but I can't endorse this one. Look, you'll pay at most a couple dollars more to get the book from a bookstore, and the atmosphere of a bookstore is well worth the price. And you know your kids (or you) are going to buy crap that you don't need if you choose this spot. But, to be fair:
Call the monstrous installation off Soledad at 661.259.0863 for details.

Happy reading!

[1] No one hates to use that kind-of-gross word more than me (but if you think you do, feel free to say so) but I think it's fitting here
[2] This categorization only bothers and is believed by those unfamiliar with the books. Rowling's style has many "adult" charms: abundant wordplay, really well done bits of understatement, wry allusions... Ultimately, the books are well-written and a lot of fun to read (e.g., with sentences like "Let us not deprive Molly any longer of the chance to deplore how thin you are"; words like "horcrux" and "hippogriff"; names like "Fenrir Greyback" ), and isn't that enough?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Happenings: SCV Says "Oh, Alright!" to Open Space

While I’m happy that the Open Space Preservation District was approved by voters, how it got passed leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Jim Farley and Sterling King were perfectly justified in their criticism of the measure and of the City Council for its chronic misuse and misallocation of taxpayer money. The City made no attempt to provide a balanced representation, instead going with their beloved “Just trust us, won’t you?” tack. Then there were ads suggesting a querulous link between buying parcels of chaparral and reducing crime rates. I think that even the most ardent open space advocate has to be a little sympathetic towards their opposition’s frustrations.

Yes, I realize I’m complaining a lot for someone who is gladder-than-not that this thing passed. So I’m now going to be at least a little productive and give my take on what I think should happen with the money.

Some Let’s-Not-Screw-This-Thing-Up Suggestions:

1. DON’T buy land that’s unlikely to be developed.
We know that developers have a hard time building homes in narrow canyons, on ridgelines, and anywhere else the geography is particularly challenging. Thus, if we want to maximize the amount of open space in our community, then buy land that’s potentially of interest to developers. We know some areas are already “safe” from their advances, so don't protect them redundantly[1].

2. DO buy land that will help preserve endangered ecosystems.
California has lost two kinds of ecosystems in spades: grasslands and riparian woodlands. Less than 10% of the area once occupied by native grassland is still in existence, and less than 20% of the area once occupied by riparian woodland remains[2]. A number of plants and animals, many of which are listed as endangered or that are candidates for listing, require these habitats to survive. For example, the endangered Arroyo Toad and Least Bell’s Vireo need riparian wetlands, and the precipitously declining Loggerhead Shrike demands grassland. So maybe we should try and save what little we have left by buying up some floodplains and grasslands with the assessment money.

A form of Wooly Star (Eriastrum densifolium ssp. elongatum) growing in a wash of our river, the Santa Clara. It's just one of hundreds of species that requires a specialized habitat to prosper.

3. DO make the progress (in the event progress occurs) of the District apparent.
Much P.R. is about making people feel good about doing almost nothing at all. SCV excels at this pursuit. We are the city that rewards itself with a ceremony for changing parking from parallel to slanty--seriously[3].
But for the Open Space Preservation District, I want to have my cake and eat it, too[4]. So give us legitimate measures of progress. We need maps put out annually showing specific areas purchased and giving details about the land that will become permanent open space. Make it clear who’s getting the assessment money and if there are clear conflicts of interest.

4. DON’T let this measure convince you everything’s OK.
On one hand, we should realize that even our collective millions can’t buy a whole lot of land in Southern California. So just because we’ve saved some open space doesn’t mean we’re preserving a significant portion of Southern California’s remaining wilderness by any means.
On the other hand--a more cynical one, assuming hands can be cynical--Sterling King says “Common sense would tell you that if you have 2 city council members who push a measure like this who received the lion share of there campaign donations from developers, something’s weird. Developers don't donate to candidates like that to get kicked in the teeth by a measure that would try to stop their business ie. local development”. He’s right. While I’m not sure campaign donors exercise quite as much control in SCV as they do in Washington, real estate always matters in California. Those who traffic in property and development largely run the valley, if not the county, if not the state[5]. And it’s going to be impossible for the District not to do some of these developers favors when they buy open space. (To wit, home value increases considerably when you can assure the homeowner that their view of the hills will remain forever unbesmirched by families inconsiderate enough to move to SCV after them. Their pristine view and the developer's inflated profit will both be provided courtesy of Claritan tax-payers.)

Well, it would seem that the drama surrounding this issue can now be put to rest. But, to further wear-out that well-worn phrase, it's only just beginning. I can't wait to learn just who each City Council member will nominate for the Accountability and Audit Panel. I hope someone has the balls—or ovaries—to pick Lynne Plambeck[6].

[1] Of course, “safe” is a relative term. Let’s not forget about the gusto with which turning Elsmere Canyon into a landfill was pursued (thankfully, not to fruition).
[2] I’m referring to a chart based on the work of Dr. R.F. Noss in M.K. Anderson’s Tending the Wild, University of California Press, 2005; page 7.
[3] Proof
[4] That comma should be there. I promise.

[5] There are actually at least three blogs dealing with SCV real estate, the best of which is Linda Slocum’s at Smart and informed, her opinions and predictions are worth noting. While I’m plugging SCV blogs, also be ever-aware of SCVTalk where blogger Jeff Wilson turns out a product infinitely preferable to that offered by the other news sources in SCV. A more in-depth discussion of the electronic topography of the city is in the works.
[6] Affiliated with, among other groups, Sterling King and Jim Farley would also be ballsy/ovariesy choices, albeit for different, but no less admirable, reasons.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Happenings: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Showcases $750,000 in Newhall "Improvements"


“With more parking and a walker-friendly shopping, restaurants, and arts district, Old Town Newhall will soon be a destination location for locals and visitors.[1]” It’s quotations like this that show Marsha McLean to be one of the most astute mayors ever to govern our fair city.

Indeed, most Santa Claritans, if taken to Downtown Newhall, would presume they were at a rather typical strip-mall in the San Fernando Valley, one where liquor, Laundromats, and labor are all just a five-minute walk away. The road running through the area even used to be called San Fernando Road[2]. But McLean and others know that soon, with some changes to traffic and redevelopment initiatives, Downtown Newhall will be that "destination location for locals and visitors" she promises. All we need to do is believe in the plan that, according to The Signal "envisions downtown Newhall as mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented and arts-friendly.[3]"

Store-fronts in San Fernando Valley? No, silly, these are in Downtown Newhall, a place renowned for its "historic points of interest, a community center, Metrolink station and a thriving arts scene.[4]"


The City decided to mark the momentous re-routing of traffic, re-striping of streets, and alleged re-vitalizing of Newhall with a morning event. The red, white, and blue balloon pillar marking the site (no doubt leftovers from the Fourth of July Parade) drew unfortunate attention to a sign that revealed three-quarters of a million dollars had been spent on a project to "provide angled parking, calm traffic flow, and shift commuter traffic" (no wonder they had to re-use the decorations). Uniquely, the first step in revitalizing Newhall appears to rely on diminishing the number of cars driving by shops and making parking harder for those that do come.

While the ceremony felt small-town, the budget was anything but.

Barring the P.R. faux pas that was the sign, McLean and other speakers made it seem like much had been accomplished. It was with great pomp and ceremony that she spoke the word “complete” in reference to the re-striping of streets, garnering polite golf applause.

Mayor McLean, left, unintentionally points to Billy's mural, proof that Old Town Newhall is the Seat of the Arts in SCV. Phil Ellis, right, admires a crowd numbering in the tens.

Phil Ellis, Chairman of the Newhall Redevelopment Committee[5], followed Mayor McLean. Holding his composure as a noisy trash truck drove behind him, he tickled the imagination of the audience with promises of what was next for Old Town Newhall. While the prospect of three new murals drew quiet approval, those in attendance could scarcely be contained when they learned that painted trashcans were also on the way. Indeed, it is a trifecta of painting projects--three murals, parking spaces, and trashcans--that promises to make Newhall the hottest ticket in town.

Back-in parking, which requires you to reverse a considerable distance into a spot without quite knowing how to signal your intention to the car that's probably tailing you, will work particularly well when all the new visitors to Old Town Newhall arrive.

While we were welcome to listen in on these speeches, my friend and I couldn't help but notice that we were considerably under-dressed. For, while the event took place beneath a tent in a dirt lot (the dust from which did much to enhance the flavor of the catered melon wedges), there was no shortage of suit-clad officials ready to show their support for slanty parking. A woman repeatedly asked us to sit in the seats under the tent, no doubt to give the impression that the event had garnered more community support than was evident to the three cameras covering the event. We only barely succeeded in resisting her firm requests. The officials, meanwhile, were happy to take a seat and marvel at such curiosities as trash trucks and day laborers, sights with which many of them were unfamiliar. The whole thing ended with McLean--wielding scissors half her height--proclaiming the glorious birth of "Main Street" via ribbon cutting[6].

Today's event has reassured me that revitalization in Newhall is well on its way. After all, the reason wealthy shoppers in nearby Valencia and Stevenson Ranch haven’t been stopping by Newhall all boils down to parking configurations and street names. But now that they can enjoy back-in parking on newly re-named “Main Street”, they’re sure to flock to the area en masse. And best of all, they'll only need to honk on a street corner to get day laborers ready and willing to help them hang their art and other treasures. Once again, our city finds a pseudo-problem and throws money at it to stunning effect.

[1]From a city press release for today's "Ribbon Cutting Ceremony", found here
[2]Now, the decidedly blander "Main Street"
[3] Reina Slutske, "Redevelopment in Newhall a '50-50 Gamble'". From the July 5, 2007 edition of The Signal. The title puts it rather generously.
[4]From the Old Town Newhall website,
[5] Enjoy their plans and promises at
[6] An entertaining picture can be seen at

Monday, July 9, 2007

Claritans of Consequence: An Interview with Sterling King

I'll leave my thoughts on the City of Santa Clarita Open Space Preservation District[1], affectionately the "Preservation District", for some other time. After all, part of hearting SCV is learning to embrace the fact that we live in a city at once unapologetically pro-growth and pro open-space, a city with homeowners that earn six-figure incomes yet vote "no" on a measure the instant they see it will cost them two dollars a month.

Regardless of which side you're rooting for, I think we can all agree that one of the most interesting figures in the entire debate has been Sterling King of Newhall. While his is not the only voice raised against the Preservation District, it's the one we hear most loudly. This is due in no small part to his production of YouTube spots[2] that he's aimed at city residents he feels have been largely mis- or under-informed about the issue. The spots range from interviews with lifelong residents to a mini-exposé on biased ballot design. Together, they've elicited thousands of "views". As for his motivation, it isn't about the money—he calls the $25 assessment "not a big deal at all"—but about the principle.

Sterling King preaches from his electronic pulpit. Video here.

Regardless of the result of the vote (the deadline for the mail-in/drop-off ballots is tomorrow), Sterling King has become a Claritan of Consequence for doing something most unusual: getting and staying fired-up about a local issue, and being the de facto leader against a movement with the potential to affect SCV—for better or worse—for the rest of our lifetimes.

Mr. King agreed to answer some of my questions aimed at finding out where he's coming from and where he'll be directing his attention next[3].

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I'm a 19 year resident of our great valley. I work for our family Chem-Dry franchise business and working on starting a new business out here in SCV.
2. What part of SCV do you call home?
I have lived in Newhall since 1989 and love it over here.
3. How long have you lived in SCV?
(see above)
4. Describe Santa Clarita in three words:
Beautiful, challenging, The Cove of southern California
5. Describe Santa Claritans in three words:
Busy, Good-hearted, smart
6. Do you heart SCV?
I very much love where I live but it's more then that. It's one of the most beautifully positioned cities in southern California We have three major mountain ranges that flank our city with a small mountain range in the middle. We are very lucky in that respect.

Highlights from the Interview:
~On the fate of the Assessment
"I think it will lose if you really want to know what I think. It doesn't look good but you never know."
~On the city's role
"…the burden of proof is on the city to prove that a new tax would really result in the incredible claims they are making would or could come true. The city hasn't done that."
"The city is asking us to be the bankers and they have no concrete plans. Would you loan on that?"

~On questionable behavior on part of the city
"You see, the city can not promote an assessment by law, only educate. That's it. However 2 council members have given over $1000 each to this citizens committee and are on the SOS committee . It is said that they have spent $250,000 on this and wont say who put up that sort of money."
~On his plans after the vote:
"If it passes then the people spoke. I will respect that and we will all have to make sure we get a good plan in place and make it work. It has to work to our advantage. If it fails who knows. Run for city council!"

The Interview Proper[4]:
It takes a lot to get most Santa Claritans worked up, yet there have been multiple demonstrations against the Open Space Preservation District, the YouTube campaign, and even efforts to canvas neighborhoods with fliers. What about the Open Space campaign has inspired this sort of reaction?
That's a big question. Your right that it's hard to get people worked up out here, however people still know what is going on. I don't understand why most have a hard time participating in these sort of things. I do know that we are a family community and most parents are doing all they can to get their families raised and business handled so most are hyper focused on that. This has inspired opposition because the burden of proof is on the city to prove that a new tax would really result in the incredible claims they are making would or could come true. The city hasn't done that. They're asking for our money! That's a serious thing for people, no matter how big or Small the amount, who work hard to pay there bills. The city can find it there budget we believe. Many also believe they shouldn't have to pay for this period when we're taxed for so many other things that never materialize into a real return on that investment. It's trust. This is also nothing more then an approach to open space by the way. To sell it they have pushed this eminent, now or never, it's the last chance and that is a hype people need to watch out for. There are many other ways out there to preserve open space that have been working all over the state and country.

Your YouTube Videos give a number of reasons to vote no on their Assessment Ballots. Which, in your opinion, is the single biggest reason to vote "no" on creating an Open Space Preservation District?

This issue is a tapestry of miss information, deception, and what ifs. It's hard to point to one thing. If I would place it on one thing it would be the deceptive marketing and lack of a plan. What do I mean by that? 2% of the least desirable or unbuildable land ie. anorexic ridge lines, riverbeds and developers throw away land, will not miraculously turn into a big green belt. There can never be a green belt that we own. 90% of our surrounding mountains are national Forrest, donated land to conservancy's or Santa Clara river watershed protected areas. We have tons of open space here. With developer donations and purchasing we have 3500 acres of open space and the city wants 800 acres more. Again, that's not a belt of land! We have No offers to sell any land, No plans to buy build-able areas, and most if not all the money can be used on other things (parks) besides Open Space. This will have zero effect on traffic, crime, air or development. So the city wants to tax every property owner $1285 over 30 years for what? We believe this is something we can achieve out of a multiplying city tax income? We know this plan is sloppy with to many things that don't add up to buying true Preserved Open Space. I hope that gives some light on why I have issues with this assessment.

What do you think of our City Council and its role in the Open Space Initiative?

The council has a few issues to answer to over this. One council member is the real backer of this issue and she has brought others into it with her but it wasn't without other council members skepticism. You see, the city can not promote an assessment by law, only educate. That's it. However 2 council members have given over $1000 each to this citizens committee and are on the SOS committee . It is said that they have spent $250,000 on this and wont say who put up that sort of money. Or if some of it was city money. That's a lot and I don't know gives that sort of financial support to only have 15,680 votes.(so far) Much less then last time. I think if we had a record of funding sources and donations we would see where this really coming from. To many secrets here for my comfort. We know they relied on the Trust for Public Land and Conservation Campaign for the turn key, franchised campaign plan. All they do is specialize in raising taxes for buying land and the city thought there approach might work out here. We'll see.

Is the $25 annual assessment on homeowners that big of a deal? It amounts to just 0.03% of our city's median household income[5].

No, it's not a big deal at all. It could mean something to senior fixed income folks but over all it wouldn't be felt. Because it's not that big a deal isn't reason enough to give a city, state, or country our hard earned money unless they have a clear concise plan that has a clear blue print for actual success. If you were a banker and I came in to see you and said I want to build a house in the boarder of Newhall, I need $400,000. You would ask me for an address, lot size, house blueprints, land appraised values, and many other things. If I said, "well I don't really have any of that yet... but it will raise the house values on the street when I build it. Can I get the money? You would kindly escort me right out the door. The city is asking us to be the bankers and they have no concrete plans. Would you loan on that? Under those conditions you wouldn't and we shouldn't either we believe.

We know you disagree adamantly with establishing an Open Space Preservation District, but in general, do you think our city needs to do more to limit development or protect the environment?

We don't disagree with open space preservation.Myself, Jim Farley and the rest of our group are not against open space. We are big supporters of Open Space. I need you know that. We don't believe that this tax is necessary and feel it's even unfair for our home owners to be saddled with. Some home owners out here have 12-14 assessments on there tax bill. Protecting the environment is very important but it's not truly protected when a city purchases it in perpetuity. If land can be preserved it needs to be done in a land conservancy program that truly preserves land. It's cheaper and brings people and the environment closer together. In this case it's the cities job and people are left out of the process defeating the purpose of land preservation.Cities eventually develop or sell there owned land over time for profit. About limiting development. We can do more to lobby the county to set requirements on builders to buy or donate land preserves for each development. Ultimately for those who own land, they have the right to use there land. Most of this building out here has been planned for 2 or more decades. This didn't pop up yesterday.

Tomorrow, July 10th, is the deadline for Assessment Ballots on the OSPD. What do you expect the results to be?

It's hard to say. I think Scott Wilkes who is running the proponent side of this has worked hard to get there Message out we have too. We have spent about $300 and got a lot more mileage out of that then there Blockbuster budget I think. When I went to city hall to deliver a couple ballots they said they had a lot less votes then they had last time at 40 days in. I think it will lose if you really want to know what I think. It doesn't look good but you never know.

What's the next step for Sterling King with regards to the Preservation District?

If it passes then the people spoke. I will respect that and we will all have to make sure we get a good plan in place and make it work. It has to work to our advantage. If it fails who knows. Run for city council!

Is there anything else you'd like to say?

We don't want to make the council out as a bad group of people. We know they work hard and we respect that. We aren't here to bash or anything. We feel that this issue needs to be done another way.

[1] You’re not much of a Santa Claritan if you haven’t heard about this, but to summarize: If formation of an Open Space Preservation District is approved, homeowners will pay $25 every year which the District shall use to obtain land in the city and within a 3 mile-wide zone directly outside the city. Land acquisitions will be set aside as open space. The assessment on homeowners can be increased by no more than one dollar every year after the District is formed, and the District will “sunset” after 30 years. The city’s official site, which presents the other side of the issue, can be found at
[2] Go to his profile page to get started:
[3] Interview conducted via email, my questions and his responses are shown unedited.
[4] There’s actually more to this interview, if you can believe it. If you’d like a full transcript (three additional questions) just email me.
[5] The city gives an estimated median household income of $76,127 for 2004. To view this and other enlightening statistics, visit

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Happenings: The SCV Fourth of July Parade

It was with hope and desperation that a young parade watcher asked his mother “Was that the last float?” He wasn’t the only one running low on enthusiasm: lasting two hours in 90-degree heat, the Santa Clarita Fourth of July Parade tested the resolve of all but the most patriotic Claritans. This is unfortunate, as the parade is over seven-decades old and the closest thing to a tradition this valley can claim. Like childbirth, it is not a pleasant experience—agony tempered by brief glimmers of joy—but it’s certainly an important one.

Per usual, most of Santa Clarita didn’t even show up. While neither of our local papers put a firm number on the crowd, I'd say it couldn't have been more than a few thousand strong. On my block there were scarcely 70. However, Leon Worden[1] informed me that there were "25,000" in attendance. This figure would suggest that one out of every six residents showed up[2], so I'll give Mr. Worden the benefit of the doubt and assume he mistakenly typed an extra zero.

What the crowd lacked in numbers it did not make up for in enthusiasm.

Sure, it’s hot, and there’s almost no shade, and the floats are basically just trucks carrying waving city officials. But this is beside the point. It’s our duty to go, dammit. Indeed, those of you who found “better things to do” on the Fourth should learn a lesson from the mother of the little boy I mentioned, the one whining about the parade. She marched him, his brothers, and a newborn baby to this spectacle of spectacles, planted them on the curb, made one of her kids hold a beach umbrella over them the entire time, and told them to shut up unless they were going to say “God Bless America.” If that’s not what Independence Day is about, I don’t know what is.

Still, I recognize that we all show our love of country (and valley) in different ways. So, to the hundred-thousand-plus residents of Valencia, Newhall, Canyon Country, and Saugus who didn’t see fit to show up, I’ll brief you on what you missed.

Obligatory were four items on every “float” (usually a flat-bed truck or trailer): (1)American flags, (2)Waving children shrilly shrieking “HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY”, (3)Balloons, and (4)Hay bales. Items 1-3 are fine, appropriate even, but why the hay bales?

Recipe for success: this float exemplifies effective use of the four mandatory elements.

Unfortunately, this uniformity made it difficult to recall what the floats of any particular groups looked like even seconds after they passed. Thus, to the few standouts of the parade go the IHeartSCV Awards for best floats.

Trash Band, with their mammoth-tricycle-caveman-jungle float receives top honors. Their production in no way related to the theme of the parade (“20 Years of Cityhood”) and had even less to do with commemorating American Independence. But, to borrow a phrase from Old School, it was glorious.

Taking honorable mention was the float for the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. It does my heart a lot of good to see our community’s elders braving the midday sun, calling attention to how old they are, and still managing to smile more than most of the parade spectators.

I don't even know where to begin here. There's the giraffe neck, the risque bathing suit, the troubling lack of joints on the arms and legs...


Alarmingly large groups of children thronged the streets. Some were Boy Scouts, others played soccer together, while still others liked to perform back-flips on asphalt. If you’re having a hard time imagining these multitudes of children united under the banner of extracurricular activity, picture one annoyingly precocious kid marinating in high self-esteem. Now multiply that kid by 100, and you begin to get an idea of what comprised a good quarter of the parade.

In jarring contrast to the child swarms were the child idols. These were little girls and boys who had won one of the myriad pageants held in SCV (e.g., Runner-up at the Miss corner of McBean and Old Orchard Parkway Competition[3]). The prerequisites here were a massive chiffon gown that could be draped over the back of a convertible and the ability to smile while enduring the early stages of heat-stroke.

A must at all parades, over-priced cars carried over-important people. Generally, there was a relationship between how important the person was perceived to be and the niceness of the car in which they were chauffeured. We saw the Mayor, State Assemblyman Smyth (hair greased as generously as always) and, of course, Grand Marshall Buck McKeon.

Mayor Marsha McLean was seen bedecked in flags, while Congressman Buck McKeon chose a backyard barbecue ensemble: T-shirt, shorts, and cowboy hat.

Finally, we had businesses and groups showing their patriotism by getting free publicity. No one understood the publicity game better than “”. They invested in a massive blow-up American Eagle and in three Macy’s Parade-style floating stars, complete with human anchors. They had dozens of people marching, many in a human line bearing letters that spelled out Being hopelessly naïve, I thought these were just some very spirited residents of the well-funded Northpark community. In fact, they were very spirited members of the well-funded NorthPark Community Church. A Catholic myself, I have to admit that our modest St. Vincent de Paul Society Van—the same one used to carry charitable donations to the poor—was hopelessly humble relative to the display put on by the Northparkers. Well-played, NorthPark Community Church, well-played.

Despite the marketing, however, there were some genuinely nice moments when people clapped for veterans of war, including one who served in WWII. Flags were given out by several groups, and they had been mounted on the street lamps all down Lyons Avenue. People were generally quite neighborly to those around them as well, though we sat by a family whose matriarch informed her granddaughter “It’s OK to boo that one” when the PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) car passed by[4]. As a certain S. Miller once said, "Santa Clarita is nothing if not open-minded."

Finally, not to be outdone by what we like to call “The Other Parade”[5] in Southern California, a panel was assembled to award official prizes, which you can view at Santa Clarita 4th of July Parade official website[6]. The Filipino-American Association of SCV won the coveted Sweepstakes Prize. It appears that Friends of Hart Park, taking second, weren’t friendly enough for the judge’s taste.

Awed as your eyes now are by the spectacle, the majesty, and the glory that are the Santa Clarita Fourth of July Parade, I trust you’ll be going next year, and I look forward to seeing you there.

[1] Leon Worden, a power-player in the online world of SCV, manages websites for such groups as SCVTV, the SCV Historical Society, and, of course, the parade. You can visit him at
[2] Yes, I actually did the math. Our valley's population stands at 151,088 according to Santa Clarita Population and Demographic Resources. To be fair, perhaps there's a contingent of out-of-town parade devotees that numbers in the tens of thousands and I just didn't see any of them.
[3] Despite popular rumor, not an actual competition.
[4] Interestingly, while two floats played “YMCA”, this was not one of them.
[5] It involves roses.