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].

Six-To-Start:
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.

NOTES
[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 http://santaclaritaopenspace.com/
[2] Go to his profile page to get started: http://www.youtube.com/user/vintageyellow71
[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 http://www.santa-clarita.com/cityhall/cd/ed/community_profile/demographics.asp


1 comment:

Elise C. said...

Isn't it too late? The vote ends tomorrow!

I voted YES. :) I can spare $25. Even if it's for "anorexic ridgelines." Whatever those are.