Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Happenings: Mayo and Ferry and Plans, Oh My!

What follows are observations from the live-televised City Council meeting that began on August 28 and stretched nearly an hour into August 29. It was, of course, the Henry Mayo Master Plan[1] that was responsible for the long meeting and for such memorable quotations as “This is my turn! I get to have my turn!” (see paragraph 6). For some background on the current HMNMH issue, read this and the first section of this.

Last night’s City Council meeting began with an utterly bizarre anecdote by Tim Ben Boydston. It involved Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi death camps, and lending a Jewish holy book for payments of food. The story suggested that one should focus on the many people in this world that do good over the few people that do evil—I think.

Some two hours later, the Council finally opened the floodgates and let a torrent of public comments on the hospital master plan flow. Those in favor of the plan went first. Roger Seaver shocked the crowd by suggesting that his hospital’s expansion project was a good idea, and he was backed up by a couple of residents who anticipated a need for more expansive hospital services. It seems that offering free meals to any hospital employee willing to speak at the council meeting—an allegation of the hospital made by at least two speakers against the plan—had proved unsuccessful.

Fittingly, it was David Gauny, chairperson for Smart Growth SCV[2] who began the comments in opposition of the hospital’s revised master plan. He came off as articulate, informed and—dare I say it?—righteous in his three-minute oration. He stated very clearly that he and those in his group needed to be assured that the project would expand the hospital and not just build medical office buildings. He added that this was the portion of the project Seaver had been reluctant to fully commit to. Furthermore, he noted that key elements of the plan, like a development agreement, were unacceptably missing.

Before he had returned to his seat, Mayor McLean let out an exasperated moan-sigh and challenged Gauny directly, asking him for exactly what he wanted (how many buildings, etc…). Gauny again cited flaws in the plan at the most fundamental level that prevented him from being able to make such specific requests. Ferry got his turn to be exasperated next, but he would save his largest outburst for later.

The remainder of the twenty-five opposing comments focused on the sentiment that it would be unfair for residents to lose trees and endure more than a decade of construction all so G&L Realty[3] could profit. Carole Lutness summed it up best: “What I want is a hospital, not a way for G&L to make a lot of money.” Former Mayor Carl Boyer put things a bit more directly when he called the proposal “rotten on a number of counts.” Of course, even he was outdone by a soft-spoken, accented Ms./Mrs. Pinkerton (I missed her first name) who called those associated with the plan “a diabolical lot.”

When the City Council finally got to weigh in (after 11pm), Frank Ferry’s comments stood out just a smidgen. At first, he seemed to be making a startling amount of good sense, noting how medical office buildings now provide services once exclusive to hospitals. He said that allowing non-hospital medical buildings would be a positive thing for the valley (unfortunately ignoring the fact that this could be done within existing zoning laws). Summoning up passion impressive for the late hour he said “When I get a stroke […] I want to be fixed freakin’ now so I’m not six-feet under.” By this point he was standing up, shouting about being selfish when it came to medical care, and gesticulating with gusto. McLean interjected “Excuse me, excuse me, hey!” to no avail. Ferry could not be stopped and was now accusing David Gauny of keeping “secrets” about what he and Smart Growth SCV wanted from the Council. After an intense minute or two, Mayor McLean began again “Excuse me, Frank” but was answered by Ferry with “This is my turn! I get to have my turn!” Comments/questions by Weste and McLean were decidedly tamer.

The whole issue wrapped up by not being wrapped up. The Council weighed in on the prospect of G&L charging to park on the campus (most were against), the need to recirculate/deal with the EIR (Environmental Impact Report), getting hospital drawings to be more satisfactory, and other issues that my sleep-deprived mind can’t quite summon at the moment.

To close, I have some news for the Community Holiday Tree. Tree?

Hi there. I wanted to let you know that you were a full outline point in Lisa Hardy’s presentation last night! Unfortunately, it seems that you are still going to have to die. It will be pretty late into the project and they’re going to plant your replacement first, but ultimately your demise is just about certain. According to Hardy, the replacement Holiday Tree will be “up and running” (I didn’t know trees could run!) by the time you meet a chainsaw.
[1]The hospital and its master plan
[3]G&L...which also happens to be my nickname (that's Good & Looking)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Only in SCV: Who Needs P.R. When You Have The Signal?

I read a large portion of The Signal today, a mistake I do not intend to make again. This most uncharacteristic behavior was motivated by the paper’s 51 Most Influential People in 2007. I'll discuss the special supplement after touching upon coverage of HMNMH.

Today’s Opinion Section: The Rapidity is Quickening!
“With the rapidity of medical and technological change quickening on a daily basis, we erred on the side of boldness,” writes Roger Seaver, Henry Mayo CEO, of his original master plan[1]. His piece was part of Sunday Opinion’s in-depth treatment of the hospital expansion issue under the banner “Time for a Bigger Hospital?” Based on their “Question & Answers” section, I’m not sure why the editors included a question mark.

Indeed, questions were not ones like “Why are so many people opposed to this project?”, “What are the alternatives?”, or even “How will the 15-year construction project impact local residents?” Instead, the paper asked “What are the benefits of a master plan?” and “What would be the first improvement to occur from the master plan?” David Gauny of SmartGrowthSCV countered[2]. Unfortunately, he couldn’t pull out dazzling quotations like Seaver’s gem from Thomas Jefferson: “A good neighbor is a desirable thing.”

Which way do I go to get to a decent hospital?

Much Love for 51 Claritans-of-Consequence

Jay C. Harn’s introductory note sets the tone for Santa Clarita’s 51 Most Influential People in 2007 List: “I would like to personally congratulate all those who have been named to this list, and a special welcome to the 25 of you who are new to this exclusive list this year.” Indeed, Harn’s publication does not just pick and describe the 51 Most Influential Claritans[3]. It congratulates, celebrates, and lauds them.

By the law of averages, one would imagine that at least one of the Influential 51 might be exercising a negative influence. With the exceptions of mentioning controversy surrounding Roger Seaver and TimBen Boydston, however, I didn’t find a single person on the list who wasn’t having a positive impact on the valley called Clarita.

Of #5, for example, the writers gush “With an unprecedented passion for her job, College of the Canyons superintendent-president Dianne Van Hook has led the college by example for the last 19 years. Her efforts have turned a small community college, one of many in the state, into a hothouse of innovative ideas.” A “hothouse of innovative ideas”, you say? Must…suppress…urge…to laugh…

Don & Cheri Fleming (FLEMWATCH ALERT!) made the list, of course, sharing the number 16 spot. They were in the company of a number of other Claritans active in charity, but the developers and planners dominated the list. They included Larry Rasmussen, local leveler of hills, who was called the most influential Claritan for his Centre Pointe business park and other developments. Local politicians, educators, and men (44 of them compared to just 15 women) also showed well.

Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to the best picture in the whole supplement. It was, without a doubt, that of Paul Brotzman (#22). The photo brings his uncanny resemblance of Peter Brady—Christopher Knight—to dizzying new heights.

[1] In today's Siggie, link here
[2] David Gauny's opposing commentary here
[3] I’ve seen 13 of the Influential 51 in person and spoken with a grand total of four of them.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Happenings: McFarland's Most Ethical News Conference

NOTE(8/25/07): It seems that when I refer to "Mayor McLean's email" (paragraph 6) that I should really say "the email sent by an unidentified party using Mayor McLean's email address." The packet of emails I received at the news conference did not contain page 8 of a PDF now posted on SCVTalk. On that page, Ken Pulskamp said the email in question was sent out before the Mayor had "an opportunity to review and/or approve the message." In short, one oughtn't assume that an email from Mayor McLean was sent by her even if it came from her email addy. Finally, to correct Bruce McFarland on SCVTalk, those associated with IHeartSCV are not "emissaries" of SCVTalk, much to that site's relief, I'm sure.

With classes not yet in session and work in the afternoon, I stand in the enviable position of being able to attend “news conferences” like the one held by Bruce McFarland & Co. at 11am this morning. (The always charming Gail Ortiz, City Communications Division Manager, may or may not have met/identified two individuals associated with IHeartSCV at said conference; we'll leave that for her to decide.)

McFarland, a decidedly liberal Claritan, never met a problem he couldn’t solve with an acronym. In 2005, for example, he formed “Santa Clarita For Separation of Church and State” (SCSCS[1]) in response to then-Mayor Cameron Smyth’s prayer breakfast. I’m not sure how many members it included at the height of its power, but I imagine I could have counted them using approximately one-fifth of the fingers on my right hand.

Today, however, he came to City Hall with more than a half-dozen supporters to promote his newest effort, The website includes a form[2] that will allow any Claritan with Internet access and time to kill to report “questionable activities” they observe. Remarks Jeff at SCVTalk: “McFarland says the tattle form is ‘absolutely needed to restore confidence in our local government’ and he will apparently accept anonymous complaints, fake names, second-hand accounts, and hearsay from people who fill out the form. Yeah, this couldn't possibly be abused."[3] McFarland addressed this issue today, suggesting that City employees might feel more comfortable blowing whistles and reporting wrong-doings if they can do so without fear of being named and known. Again, "Yeah, this couldn't possibly be abused."

The news conference, held in the lobby of City Hall, began with the formal introduction of the SCV Ethics Alliance. According to McFarland, the group wants to work towards making City actions more transparent and people in power more accountable, saying that "We have no mechanism to find out what really happens."

The focus of the conference then shifted--shockingly--to the Henry Mayo expansion issue, and we were given four pages of email correspondence between Mayor McLean and Bill Reynolds on the topic. Reynolds voiced serious concern about the City's actions regarding the hospital in a July 11th email, writing "City planning personnel have done an extremely poor job as evidenced time and time again ... [the plans] are in obvious violation of the City of Santa Clarita's own 'Bill of Rights'." McLean--or one of her assistants--sent back a lengthy email responding to these concerns.

Things almost got interesting when McFarland suggested that the email from McLean might contain "factual inaccuracies." He was careful to qualify his accusations by saying "I'm just asking questions," but much of what he said was downright factual. For example, the July 24th response email from Mayor McLean states "One of the two problem intersections [for the hospital] will be corrected by another project currently before the City Planning Commission." From this quotation alone, it seems that Mayor McLean is counting her eggs before they hatch. She assumes the City Planning Commission will approve a project that removes an objection to hospital construction while the project is still being considered by the Commission.

Unfortunately for McFarland, none of the problems he's discovered are of the big, flashy variety. They involve things like saying "mixed use corridor" to defend the project instead of using legitimate zoning terms and the finer details of assessing noise impact. Thus, while his complaints are legitimate, they aren't the sort of things to get most people fired up. In fact, even our attention spans proved sorely lacking and we left for Pei Wei before the news conference was completely over. The real media was there, so if we missed anything I'm sure you'll hear about it.

The Henry Mayo issue is going to be the meat of the next Council Meeting (August 28th) according to the agenda that was released yesterday. I have no doubts that we're going to hear a lot from the new Alliance that has charged itself with making SCV more ethical.

[1]The group’s website can be found here and an interview regarding this group and its goals can be found at
[2]Seen something questionable? First, tell me. Then, tell McFarland on this form
[3] From the August 21st News Brief, here

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Restaurant Review: All of Them

Above are summaries of two L.A. County Department of Public Health[1] inspections of restaurants in Santa Clarita. Both inspections occurred less than four months ago and were recently posted on the Health Dept. website for public perusal. The similarities, as you can see, end there. One restaurant scored 100% (A grade) and has no listed violations. The other received an 80% (B grade) for violations like “Disease Transmission” and “Risk for Contamination”. One of these restaurants is BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery in the Valencia Town Center, and the other is the Burrito Factory in Newhall. I’ll tell you which is which at the end of this article.

Summaries of inspections just like the ones above are available for every restaurant, market, and food vendor in the Clarita on the LA County Department of Public Health Facility Rating List[2]. Every establishment that sells food—from the Pavilions Sushi Bar (100%) to the Way Station (93%) to Blockbuster Video (98%)—has been evaluated by the Health Inspectors. Indeed, there are numbers and reasons behind those colored letters you see in eatery windows.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, going beyond simple As and Bs can help restaurants. For example, a café might get docked for a number of little, forgivable violations like improper lighting or a greasy fume hood, and reading the inspection online can convey this information. The cleanest restaurants are helped too; businesses that get very high scores show potential customers that every detail is being attended to. And in a city where most restaurants receive As, the paranoid demand to know which are 100s and which are 90s.

Obviously the system has some limitations. Restaurants have off-days. Inspectors—only human—are not always the most impartial judges. Even this potential for variance, though, is allowed for and acknowledged. The date of the most recent inspection is given alongside dates/grades of past inspections (if applicable) so diners can see if the current score is a fluke or the norm.

While I somehow managed to escape working in the restaurant industry, I’ve had plenty of friends share their horror stories with me. Food has been lifted off the floor, rinsed, nuked, and then put onto a plate. Despite doors and traps, mice sometimes find their way into a kitchen. I’ve personally witnessed a case where the same person handling money proceeded to handle food. Still, a search of 91355 and surrounding zip codes yielded no grades below 80%; you’d have to travel to Sylmar before seeing a restaurant with a C in its window.

If you heart SCV as much as I do, though, you should suspect something diseased and sinister beneath this apparently healthful façade. And, indeed, your suspicions would be well supported. A search of “Recent Closures”[3] on the Health Department website showed that vermin- and rodent-related violations have caused temporary closures of A & B Chinese Express, Dr. Donuts, Moon Wok, and Yama Sushi within the past three-month period[4]. Thankfully, all of these restaurants responded and have shown that even the most distasteful violations can be overcome. A & B Chinese Express, for one, scored a 91% six days after reopening.

Below are details for a few restaurants in Santa Clarita. Grades are current as of August 24, 2007, and I recommend that you go here to re-examine scores as they can be updated as often as every five or six months.

Restaurants Opening This Year:
Garden Spot – A (95%) on 6/26/2007
Rosie’s BBQ & Grillery – A (93%) on 4/23/2007
Rio Rio Churrascaria – A (90%) on 4/16/2007

Nicer Spots:
Hyatt Vines Restaurant – A (94%) on 2/15/2007
Le Chene – A (93%) on 3/01/2007
Mojito – A (90%) on 5/15/2007
Salt Creek Grille – A (90%) on 11/21/2006

Highest-scoring Super-Market:
Ralph’s Grocery Store in Castaic got a 100% this May
Barely Bs--Restaurants Scoring 80:
Asian Garden Buffet, as of 8/24/2006
BJ's Restaurant & Brewery, as of 6/26/2007
Kaori's Kitchen, as of 6/05/2007
Little Quiapo Asian Restaurant, as of 6/26/2007


As the astute will have noticed, it was BJ’s that received the 80%, and the Burrito Factory that had a flawless inspection. During three inspections in 2006, however, BJ's scored in the low 90s. Thus, the precipitous drop appears to be more deviation than norm. Still, I wonder whether the change from Blue A to Green B has given anyone pause as they enter that ever-popular SCV eatery.

[1]The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
[2]Begin your foray into the world of inspections here
[3]Recent closures are listed on the Food Facility Closure List
[4]To be precise, A & B Chinese Express closed from July 5-7 for “vermin harborage”; Dr. Donuts from June 6-8 for “prevention of entrance and harborage of rodents; rodent infestation”; Moon Wok from June 27–July 2 for “prevention of entrance and harborage of rodents; rodent infestation”; and Yama Sushi from June 27-29 for “prevention of entrance and harborage of rodents’ rodent infestation.” Quoted from here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Happenings: Henry Mayo "Revises" Expansion Plan

Your days are numbered, Community Holiday Tree. Pending approval of the newly revised Master Plan for Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (HMNMH[1]), Parking Structure 4 will soon occupy the land to which your roots cling. More than 130 of your brethren shall also be required to not-exist-anymore to make way for three new Medical Office Buildings, four new parking structures, and a new Inpatient Building on the Henry Mayo campus[2].

Cross the annual tree lighting off the community calendar if the expansion of Henry Mayo is approved; faux picket fences offer little protection against Master Plans.

While few Claritans would willingly go to Henry Mayo Hospital with Holy Cross and UCLA less than an hour away, most agree that bringing more medical offices and hospital space to SCV is a good thing. After all, the community is growing. We need places to treat those who O.D. on meth in Canyon Country or get shanked in Newhall, and Henry Mayo will do just fine in a pinch.

What people don’t agree upon is how appropriate such a massive building project is at the present hospital site. There are residential neighborhoods immediately abutting HMNMH that might not be thrilled with multi-level parking structures and noisy medical copters replacing the quiet bank of trees they presently enjoy. Furthermore, McBean Parkway would become even more congested with traffic than it is at present with the doubling of hospital/office square footage proposed under the revised Master Plan[3]. At what stage in that plan the hospital makes itself more attractive to local residents I’m not entirely sure.

The revised Master Plan—shown below—hasn’t made (m)any local residents’ concerns go away. It’s essentially just focused on improving parking and ease of entry/exit at the hospital. Whether enough has changed to allay the fears of the City Council remains to be seen.

Try not to be distracted by the green vs. gray tree paradigm. The things that have really changed between the old (left) and revised (right) Master Plans are the location of structures in the lower right-hand corner and the alignment of McBean Parkway. These are available here on the City Website.

The expansion plan has, predictably, been the cause of a considerable amount of turmoil in the City. All the big names are coming out and calling out. The Newhalls, for example, have actually joined protests in front of Henry Mayo. This June, members of City Planning were publicly accused of colluding with the hospital[4]. All the while, Lynne Plambeck is in overdrive writing letters to set the City straight[5].

No one, however, has stood out more than Council Member Frank Ferry. In July, he memorably bellowed “You don’t attack city staff who has [sic] given their life for this community! You kill me, dude.” This was in response to fellow Council Member Tim Ben Boydston’s suggestion of inappropriate cooperation between hospital officials and the City[6]. But the quotable Ferry doesn’t stop there. Showcasing typical brilliance, he said of homes near the hospital "I would bet the home values of the nearby homes would increase, not decrease”[7] . The always possible escape of Pitchess Detention Center inmates from the hospital, however, might slow Frank’s anticipated rise in property value. (In 2004, one area man was rewarded for his proximity to Henry Mayo by being beaten with a steel barbecue brush wielded by an escaped maximum-security inmate wearing only flip flops and a hospital gown[8].) It’s hard to say if Ferry’s ignorance is willful or natural, but regardless, it seems that he might just be a little bit pro-expansion.

If one stays well away from the distracting minutiae of the hospital project, it’s really not that complicated of a problem. Determining an ideal solution, however, is impossibly complicated. It requires striking a balance between the hospital’s profit motives, the need to serve the community, and impacts on residents, traffic flow, and the environment. This, of course, means that the expansion plan will win out in the end.

The community will need a lot of healing after the dust has settled on Henry Mayo’s Master Plan. Luckily, the new HMNMH comes equipped with a healing garden—I imagine it’s being installed to prove that Henry Mayo is not entirely anti-vegetation. I’ll leave you to admire an artist’s rendering of the garden. Note that it includes two people very much in need of healing having both, by the looks of things, suffered third degree burns and lost their feet.

Also from the Planning Section of the City Hall website. Go there.

[1]That’s a palindromic acronym! Interestingly, the acronym for the phrase “a palindromic acronym” (APA) is a palindromic acronym itself! I’ll stop now.
[2]The Master Plan is summarized in this
[3]See No. 2
[4]From a June 14, 2007 Signal article by Kristopher Daams,
"Hospital Plan Stalls in Council"
[5]Plambeck's clear, reasonable arguments against the expansion can be read in this PDF, for starters. Look at the other Background Documents provided by the City if interested in the hospital issue.
[6]Jeff at SCVTalk provides the quotation and coverage here; also note that he obtained copies of the emails at the heart of the issue. Even though this happened a while ago, it's not at all a forgotten issue.
[7] From a June 13, 2007 Signal article by Kristopher Daams, Residents Flood City Hall for Henry Mayo Hearing
[8] Details here

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Happenings: A Business is Blessed

Julie Mair, flanked by husband and progeny, looks for approval from shopgirl before delivering the coup de grâce to the ribbon. I've shamelessly borrowed this and other photos of the event from accomplished photographer Jeff Lowe (Julie's brother) whose excellent work can be viewed here and here.

Those who bemoan a lack of ceremony in these secular times of ours have clearly not attended a store opening in SCV. They are, for all intents and purposes, modern-day baptisms, one of the sacraments of commerce. Thursday past I had the good fortune of going to the grand opening of Julie Mair’s Rooms to Roam[1]. While Julie is atypical of SCV (being genuinely nice and friendly[2]) the ceremony spoke volumes about business-as-usual in the Clarita.

First, one noted that there were two kinds of people at the event. The first were family and friends of Julie and local business owners. The second kind were the de facto clergy, people I shall call GBs (“Gold Badges”; I’ll explain soon enough). Clad not in robes and rosaries but in suits and slacks, an aura of importance surrounded them. This was due in no small part to their highly conspicuous gold badges, tokens of their undying loyalty to the Chamber of Commerce (reverentially, “the Chamber”[3]).

The gold badge gives its wearer the ability to determine anyone's net worth instantly.

I managed to talk to one real life GB. She mentioned how wonderful the store looked. I agreed and noted how nice it was that the cool streak in weather had held out for the opening. Alas, she chose to go get food (catered by StoneFire Grill) rather than continue the conversation. My chance to network was over before it had begun. It’s not that I really needed to network, but I wanted to try it at least once.

The event itself was befitting of a home store. The shop was perfectly put together and even the desserts[3] matched the chocolate brown and light blue color scheme[4]. The service provided by the store, incidentally, is essential to valley homeowners. Indeed, it offers an assortment of all the things needed to furnish the 4,000 square-foot estate we now call “a single family home”. From candle holders to ceramics to exceptionally large clocks, it's all there.

Offerings to the consumer include sources of light both medieval (candle-based) and modern (electrical); plates in colors that show both daring and taste; and martini glasses one woman referred to as "themed but not themey."

Anyhow, after a half-hour of mingling a call went out for those tightly associated with the business to enter the store. Priestess of Profit Traci Pontecorvo noted that the “party part” was going to pause for a moment so that the “ceremony part”[5] might begin. Reminded of the task at hand, people filed out from the latticed arena of tables and chairs set up for lounging/grazing and headed for the store.

What happened next is, appropriately, shrouded in mystery (i.e., I was not in the store for the central ceremony). I saw the GBs enter, along with Julie’s family and friends, and a large pair of scissors[6]. Cheers were heard from inside the store as (presumably) certificates of recognition and membership plaques—physical symbols of the blessing bestowed by the Chamber—were offered and accepted. A ribbon red as the debt feared by Chamber members was cut by Julie with the hallowed, over-sized instrument of severance. To be more precise, the ribbon was symbollically cut; the scissors were non-functional.

To thank her guests for gobbling up all the food she’d had catered[5], Julie then raffled away several gift baskets. Naturally, Little Miss Canyon Country pulled the names of winners. It seems Little Miss Corner of McBean and Old Orchard had a prior engagement. With that, the festivities continued and the store gleamed under the attention of a doting Chamber. As a sign that “all was well”, Tony and Rena Newhall (yes, as in that Newhall) stopped by to offer congratulations to their own store’s neighbor.

Rooms to Roam, anointed with a plaque and blessed by the Chamber, now stands ready to do its sacred duty: earn money for the City (and, perhaps, the storeowner too).

[1] The store is located at 23300 Cinema Drive and can be reached at 661-259-7890.
[2]Even if you don’t know her, how can you not like someone who puts out a frozen Margarita machine and gourmet dessert bites for her store's grand opening? This is a decidedly better way to go than handing out grand opening balloons.
[3]Dare ye enter The Chamber?
[4] The desserts were created by Babe's Dessert Bar and I can thoroughly endorse all of them. I found the Baby Bostons, Denise Kane’s artful homage to the Boston Cream Pie, a fully realized attempt to make perfection edible.
[5] Her words, and she’s actually the Membership Director.
[6] I was considering going with a circumcision motif—scissors, cutting and all, but thought better of it (though, apparently, not better enough of it to forego a mention).

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Happenings: 4.5 Quake Responsibility of Blogger

I’m sorry, everyone. The ~4.5 magnitude earthquake felt just before 1am last night was my fault. I was about to retire for the evening but had crept into the kitchen to eat some leftover chicken instead. Minutes after this dietary transgression, just as I was drifting to sleep, I was punished from Above. Obviously, I felt pretty embarrassed.

The news stories are a bit vague, but to me it felt like the shaking lasted for a little over ten seconds. It rattled free-standing crap but didn't knock anything over. At this point, every piece of furniture in California is bolted to a wall in ten different places, so this tremor definitely fell into the category of moderate refresher quake. I went to Wikipedia[1] and discovered that an earthquake in the 4s[2] is classified as "light" and dissipates energy equivalent to that in a small atomic bomb, perhaps the sort the blew up fictional-Valencia in 24.

Unfortunately, the site had no table for psychological impacts. I wonder whether little ones like this are more frightening to those who've been through a big one before--the people who know how they can escalate--or to earthquake newbies feeling the planet beneath them move for the first time.

[1] Link here
[2]If someone reading this works at the Signal please note how that plural was formed. In an otherwise enjoyable John Boston piece today, there are two acronyms that read "F.B.T's" and "NFT's". Neither is possessive, so the apostrophes aren't needed, and I believe that it would be best to be consistent in the assignment of periods to the constituent letters of the acronym. If you need a reminder, just recall that it's written "DUIs" in the LA Times, not "D.U.I's".

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Happenings: M-80s Perform and the Claritans Danced

Concert from afar (left), and one-half of the M-80s (right)

In the last installment of Westfield’s “Hot Summer Nights Concert Series[1]” (do four concerts a series make?), Claritans delighted in the musical meanderings of 80s cover band the M-80s[2]. I was among the delighted Claritans, my five-and-a-half year stint in the Me Decade apparently enough to ensure eternal devotion to its music.

As mentioned, Westfield was site of and sponsor to the event, and its P.R. machine was out in force. Brand saturation was complete, the name Westfield as omnipresent as the name Kim Jung Il must be in Korea. We got mini-fans to keep ourselves cool (manufactured in Westfield red and emblazoned with the logo), there were glowing Westfield pendants, those clad in Westfield-branded shirts abounded, Westfield was on all the signs, and free drinks were passed out under the banner of Westfield. “They loved Big Westfield”, to adapt the line.

This isn’t to say that other companies weren’t getting in on the action. Many local shops and eateries donated goods that were given away in a raffle benefiting Single Mothers Outreach of Santa Clarita[3]. In all, forty prizes were given away with sponsor information provided for every single prize, right down to the two free scoops of ice cream.

Here, a check representing money from raffle ticket sales is presented to Single Mothers Outreach of SC

Truly, though, the highlight of the concert (apart from the music) was someone we called “Dancing Boy.” Rocking a bob of platinum blonde hair, a black-and-white striped hoodie, skinny jeans, and a glittering choker, it was clear he wanted to be noticed. And what dividends he paid for out attention: he dance-walked the entire perimeter of the stage and seating area drawing smiles, screams, and at least a few heads shakes of quiet consternation. My friend was too awed by the spectacle to focus the camera, so even our best shot can hardly do “Dancing Boy” justice.

Dancing Boy dances!

While D.B. was the most conspicuous dancer, he was certainly not the only one. The dance floor was packed in front of the stage for the duration of the concert. 80s music is highly danceable, after all. Despite an absence of booze, even middle-aged white men were dancing. Most just moved their shoulders back and fourth almost, but never quite, in time with the music. You could see the relief on their faces when dances with instructions arose (e.g., "wave your hands in the air" and other moves that suggest participation while requiring minimal rhythmic ability).

I had a thoroughly tolerable time at the concert, but I forgot to bring along the must have accessory: a kid. From personal experience, I can tell you that anyone who moves to SCV will be married with two children in less than a month after their arrival. I guarantee it. And, indeed, these children were evident, toted along to the show by the dozen. The band was generally great with them, even allowing several on stage to dance with the special sort of energetic fury only one-digit-year-olds can muster. Then the band got around to singing “Like a Virgin.” Obviously, “Mommy, what’s a virgin?” and “What do they mean ‘touched for the very first time?’”s followed. Dancing Boy, incidentally, seemed to love the homage to Madonna.

M-80s perform "Like a Virgin", always a big hit with the 4-feet-and-under crowd

There was a certain amount of corny showmanship, but the M-80s gave an excellent show overall . They picked the kind of songs that got people to look at one other in knowing, gleeful anticipation after the first few notes, and the lead singer’s voice was suited to all of them. The musicians were equally capable. If 80s music is “your thing”, you can watch them perform at The VU Ultra Bar[4] in Newhall every Thursday at ten. But Claritans beware: “Ultra” is a relative term in Newhall.

While this concert series has ended, the other few are continuing for at least a week longer (Tuesday night Jazz & Blues, Saturday Night Concerts in Central Park, Valencia Marketplace Summer Sunset Concerts). A subtly different group of Claritans attend each one, depending on such factors as marital status and tolerance of sobriety. Choose the one that best suits your needs.

[1]Did somebody say Westfield?
[2]Their myspace page here
[3]I couldn’t find a website for the group, but its founder was interviewed in 2006
[4]It’s pronounced “voo”, as in the last syllable of Rendezvous, the space’s former identity. Their myspace

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Restaurant Review: Rosie's BBQ & Grillery

Despite the setting—Valencia Town Center at 7pm on a Friday night—Rosie’s BBQ and Grillery[1] was only about 2/3 full. The tween crowd was focused on the BJ's/Theater region, and the 40-somethings were pretending to appreciate outdoor jazz down the road. My friend and I, then, were happy to be seated immediately and begin our appraisal of the relatively new restaurant.

Layout and Décor: Upon entering, you’ll notice the large bar to your left with plenty of small tables. In the main dining area booths are abundant, and the designer has spaced them to give just the right amount of privacy. That is, I could easily zone out the party next to me amongst the background noise, but it wouldn’t be impossibly hard to eavesdrop on them were they talking about something more interesting than being blessed—sorry, “so blessed”--in seemingly all aspects of their lives.

The tables outdoors, though few, are couched in a very nice space with a fireplace, potted plants, and view of passersby.

When it comes to creating ambience, Rosie is not a subtle gal. She likes her wood stained dark and varnished. Booths are adorned with western motifs writ large in iron, walls with saddles and lanterns where we’d expect to find sconces and flowers in more demure eateries.

Potables: Drink prices are pretty standard. For example, it's $8 for a Pomegranate Martini, one of many -tini variations offered, and $10 for a top-shelf Cadillac Margarita. The wine list isn’t extensive with a handful each of Cabs and Chards, but I didn't see anyone going thirsty.

Soft drinks are served in frosty Ball Jars—I always read it “Bell”, looking for a miniature Esther Greenwood inside—as one of many reminders that Rosie’s is indeed Rattler’s-based.

Edibles: The menu aims to please many. While most items are grill-centric and of animal origin, there are plenty of salads and even smaller portions for what Rosie’s calls “Seasoned Wranglers”. It would be nice, though, if the restaurant offered a few non-fried starters. Out of eight options, only the Spinach Artichoke Dip isn’t prepared via immersion in boiling oil[2].

We tried eight items with the following reactions:

-*Rosie’s Famous Shreddies: crispy, sweet, none-too-greasy onions
-Dinner Rolls: our basket had rolls that were coarse and dry, something like what Russian peasants once ate
-BBQ Sauce: one-dimensional (that dimension being sweet)
-*Tri-tip: excellent; wonderfully tender, cooked exactly as ordered (medium), good crust
-BBQ Chicken Breast: tough, a characteristic cooks tried to conceal beneath an ample coat of house BBQ sauce
-Vegetables: broccoli and cauliflower waterlogged, carrots mealy; all cooked using a minimalist approach of steam only; oh what a little salt or a quick run through a sauté pan could have done
-Mashed Potatoes: comforting in their bland familiarity

Overall, Rosie’s seems to have the meat and potatoes down and would do well to give a little more attention to some of its menu’s supporting players. We give it a 3 out of 5.

[1]Their website can be found here. Note that you can also have food delivered or catered. In the name of accuracy, the "and" should be an ampersand, but that character is verboten by Blogger.
[2] The so-called "Grillman's Platter" has fried onions, fried potatoes, and fried chicken. To be fair, I agree that "Grillman's" does sound more appealing than "Deep Fryerman's".

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Happenings: Buck Backs a Bill

Congressman Buck McKeon[1], representin' for all his 25th District peeps, has recently taken bold legislative action.

No, I'm not talking about his plea to give the town of Bishop $50,000 for a mule museum ("They are an integral part of the development of this country."[2]) but about something even more sweeping and necessary. House Resolution 3245 will change the name of NASA's nearby “Dryden Flight Research Center” to the “Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center”[3]. (Take a moment to regain your composure.) But don’t feel too bad for Dryden: if the legislation passes, the “Western Aeronautical Test Range” will become the “Hugh L. Dryden Aeronautical Test Range”. Of course, one doesn't introduce something of this magnitude by oneself: House Representatives Calvert, McCarthy, and Schiff were there to help.

In a time where many are totally preoccupied with Iraq and illegal immigration, I'm glad that issues like this one aren't going unnoticed. As Rep. McKeon observed, "Neil Armstrong and Dr. Hugh Dryden embody the innovative spirit that continues to move NASA forward, inspiring the next generation of aerospace pioneers and advancing our legacy as the global leader in space exploration.[4]" Clearly, a vote for HR 3245 will be a vote to inspire those NASA scientists now yearning desperately for a boost in morale, a vote that might bring us back to the moon.

[1]Meet Buck
[2]The press release I'm quoting is available here
[3]My writing is informed by Jim Skeen's "NASA center may get Armstrong name" in the August 1st edition of the LA Daily News. He managed to limit himself to only 656 words on the story.
[4]That press release is here