Sunday, September 30, 2007

Only in SCV: Welcoming October the Claritan Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Only in SCV: The Claritan Literature Grows

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

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

The book.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Happenings: Did Somebody Say Commitment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Happenings: Ashley Tisdale Releases New Music Video

Clarita, Behold What Thou Hath Wrought

Santa Clarita is a big name in no-name entertainment. Our valley is often seen but rarely named as a backdrop for countless films and series. We supply animators and special effects mavens to studios throughout the Southland, but it’s their product, not them, that gets recognized.

Enter Ashely Tisdale. Her background is thoroughly Claritan (she was twice a Valencia (Valley) Viking) yet now she’s a major recording and TV star. Alarmingly, she was the first female artist to debut with two songs on Billboard’s Hot 100[1].

While no longer living in SCV, we still cling to the fact that she emerged successfully from our Valley. I would bet good money that somewhere there’s a stage mom who tucks in her daughter every night by saying “Ashley made it out here, so can you!” (Unfortunately, her daughter wants to be a crane operator).

I really regret doing this, but for that stage mom, I present Tisdale’s newest music video, released around noon today according to my entertainment sources. Warning: best viewed with the sound turned down as far as possible, unless you’re a fan of what some might call acoustic torture or if you're a pre-teen girl who thinks Ashley is like the best thing ever.

[1]According to Wikipedia

WANTED: Book and Auditor

While not yet back in SCV, I have returned from my trip just in time to pine for the State of the City Luncheon. The chance to sit in a room full of so many movers and shakers won’t happen for at least another week[1]!

To add insult to injury, I recently learned that The 20 Year Story (the book being handed out at the event) is going to be a roughly 200-page tome full of color pictures, history, and wonder. I thought the 10-page .pdf appearing online was the actual book, kept brief out of respect for the reading tolerance of most Claritans[2]. In fact, it was just a teaser for the event.

To state the obvious, The 20 Year Story will be a mandatory component of any respectable SCV home library. Personally, I would place it between my copies of The Santa Clarita Food Pantry Cookbook and William Surrey Hart’s My Life East and West. As stated, however, I will not be at the event to receive said book. Thus, I present my first Wanted Ad.

WANTED: Copy of The 20 Year Story, pref. signed by Mayor McLean and City Council members. Unfortunately, no first-born to offer in exchange, but can give book provider feature as Claritan-of-Consequence or $4 T-shirt with “I Heart SCV” written in waterproof marker. Email me if interested.

While I’m at it, I think I’ll throw this one in. It regards the Open Space Preservation District and a 5-member panel being assembled to “review and approve the annual work program to ensure land acquisition priorities are being adhered to.[3]” In short, the City is looking for people to rubber-stamp their land acquisitions so that any claims of shady dealings can be met with "But a panel of 5 respectable, impartial, private citizens said we were doing OK!" Still, I'll implore.

WANTED: Someone to seek position on Financial Accountability and Audit Panel for the City of Santa Clarita’s Open Space Preservation District[4]. Must be 18+, SCV resident, and literate. Ideal candidate will not be a developer, married to a developer, having an affair with a developer or being blackmailed by a developer. (There goes half the valley…) Ability to critically question City recommendations also important--if only as a symbolic gesture. Would write Letter of Recommendation to those approved of by IHeartSCV, but that would ensure their defeat.

[1]I suppose I’m referring to what will be another well-attended City Council meeting next Tuesday; I could also be alluding to the imminent Loose Goose Wine Festival, though certain SCV religious groups will be notably absent.
[2]You can read it here. Whoever scanned it in did so with Cubistic flair: pages 2 and 3 preceded 0 and 1.
[3]Open Space Panel press release
[4]Open Space Panel application

Monday, September 10, 2007

Happenings: Watch out, POTRs!

This is one of the drier reaches of the Santa Clara. Water can flow for as little as a few weeks each year.

I’ve always known that people live in the river. At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m referring to the Santa Clara River; it’s the only one us Santa Claritans have to refer to. Along parts of its range, the Santa Clara runs only after winter storms. The rest of the year it’s a still, sandy wash. These predominately dry stretches are the favored haunts of POTRs[1] (a POTR is a “Person Of The River”; POTRs the plural form), those enigmatic individuals who spend part of their lives walking, eating, sleeping, (defecating), etc… along the riverbed.

While I’ve always known about POTRs[2], I’ve never actually seen one. There have been traces, though. Tucked into a stand of willows I found a plastic chaise lounge that served as a cot for a blue nylon sleeping bag. On another occasion there were two pairs of recently laundered socks hung out to dry on some twigs. More commonly, I’ll see food wrappers and discarded bottles. But still, I’ve never seen an actual person. Given the frequency with which Newhall gang members, dirt bikes, and dog walkers invade the riverbed, I imagine those living there must move around a lot.

For POTRs, a dry year is a good year. By this standard, 2007 had been very good indeed. The lack of rain has meant no flooded homes, no scouring away of personal effects, and no need to seek shelter elsewhere. Unfortunately, SCOPE[3] and other organizations are sponsoring the annual river clean-up this Saturday[4] that once again threatens the POTR way of life.



Exhibits A (the bench); B (trash from assumed teens); and C (trash from assumed full-time POTR).

Any student of POTRs would know that pictured above is a bench, but river cleaners often mistake such constructions for garbage. Judging by the litter that surrounds it, I’d wager the bench belongs to opportunistic teenage POTRs. A lot of cheap branded beer cans and cigarettes suggests this is a place to imbibe illegally. This assertion, however, must be reconciled with the presence of a few store-brand cans of corn and water bottles—items more suggestive of full-time POTRs who need nourishment apart from beer. Perhaps a full-timer uses the teenagers’ hang-out to dine when it’s not occupied. Regardless, this entire enclave is doomed once river cleaners are unleashed.

Taking away someone’s shelter of tires and driftwood is a serious matter (I've even seen tents being disposed of in years past), especially to the someone to whom they belong. To be fair, however, river clean-ups come but once a year and are not always complete disasters to river folk. Their timing actually minimizes damage to POTRS. Sure, they lose their chairs, but within as little as a couple months rains cause the river to run again and force them to higher ground anyways. And just as the flooding of the Nile nourished Egyptian crops with silt, the flooding of the Santa Clara nourishes POTRs with car tires, 2” x 4”s, and other essentials.

In conclusion, the clean-up reminds POTRs that life in a seasonal river is a balancing act. But if they’re able to fight flood, find food, and hide from environmentalists, they might just make it.

[1]Pronounced “Potter”, just like the boy who lived. It's important to note that they're not homeless; the river is their home.
[2]This based on frequent trips to the Santa Clara from a young age; it’s one of the places I heart most in SCV—and with minimal irony.
[3]Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment, a Lynne Plambeck production

[4]More information here

Happenings: September's Super Saturday

Unfortunately, I will be away for the next ten days. This means that I will be missing some of the finest offerings of the September Claritan Calendar (the 15th in particular is something of a Super Saturday--Wayne Newton is coming![1]). I’ve summarized these happenings below should you enjoy rivers, buses, or luncheons. If you go to any of the events, feel free to share pertinent observations in the comments section.

Friday, September 14 – Sunday, September 15
OLPH Church BBQ/Fiesta[2]: Us Catholics have amassed quite the ethnically diverse following, so you can expect strong showings in American-carnival-ized Filipino, Mexican, and Italian food. Live music, carnival rides, and salvation will also be available.
Cost: Free to “get in”; food, rides, etc… quite reasonably priced

Saturday, September 15, 8:00am – 11:00am
13th Annual River Clean-up/Expo[3]: Help pick up waste that accumulates along the Santa Clara. If you attend, please tell the young and foolish that rocks and fallen leaves—even the ugly ones—do not constitute trash and should not be thrown away. I’ve seen it happen. There are also booths there to inform and enlighten—environmentally speaking.
Cost: Your feet

Saturday, September 15, 12:15pm
Santa Clara River Tour[4]: Learn about the geography and character of the Santa Clara River, and discover how developers build homes in floodplains for fun and profit. I went a year or two ago and got a charming packet-o-stuff including words to a river song! In all seriousness, though, it’s a nice trip and you’ll learn a lot about a lot. It’s sponsored by the Sierra Club and SCOPE.
Cost: $10 for the bus tour; lunch included

I inflicted this Sharpie tatoo on my friend's hand during the 2006 river tour.

Saturday, September 15
Day for Kids: If you want to celebrate your kids rather than have them save the environment on Saturday, click here to learn more.

Wednesday, September 19, 11:30am
State of the City Luncheon[5]: I am deeply regretful of the fact that I didn’t arrange my life in a way that would allow me to attend this event. It promises to be truly spectacular. There will be food, Claritans-of-Consequence, and speeches! If possible, bring along a pen and piece of paper so you can tally every time you hear the words “hope(ful)”, “success(ful)”, “progress”, and “community.”
Cost: $30 for the luncheon; ability to withstand the self-important helps

[2]SCVLife has it covered
[3]River Rally
[4]Call 661-259-6899 for more information
[5]State of the City

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Happenings: Something Sinister Blooms

Despair and discontent are not the only things that bloom during the Santa Claritan summer. So too does Western Jimsonweed (Datura wrightii). Its large white flowers open at dusk, going through most of the procession below in a single night.

The plants pictured, incidentally, are growing in a vacant field beneath some Southern California Edison power lines (I'm sure I got a year's worth of radiation exposure while taking these photos). Amazingly, they manage to thrive in full sun without a speck of rainfall from the time they emerge to the time they senesce.
I should mention that it’s best to appreciate the flowers of Jimsonweed visually rather than gastronomically: they’re living reservoirs of toxic plant compounds (e.g., atropine, scopolamine, dihydroxytropane...). Ingesting Datura can cause everything from intense, terrifying hallucinations to temporary blindness to death.
Despite these dangers, many SoCal Indian tribes utilized the plant in medicinal and spiritual applications. Some of these are discussed by James Adams and Cecilia Garcia, authors of the very interesting Spirit, Mind and Body in Chumash Healing[1]. Of course, indigenous Californians aren't the only ones to use Datura--"Momoy" to the Chumash. Adams and Garcia explain:
Momoy is currently abused in the American Southwest and results in many deaths and hospitalizations every year. Unfortunately, the Internet, popular fictional accounts and word of mouth have spread rumors that eating the seeds is safer than using the rest of the plant, since the seeds are supposed to contain less atropine and scopolamine. This appears to be completely false. Eating 20 or more seeds has resulted in many deaths (8). There are three common types of deaths that occur from eating momoy (9). The first occurs when the person panics as the auditory and visual hallucinations start. The person may drive a car into a fatal accident or have some other fatal accident, usually due to loss of vision. The second type of death occurs when a person on momoy has had a nonfatal accident and goes to the emergency room. The doctors in the emergency room may anesthetize the person. This is usually fatal since anesthesia causes respiratory depression that is additive with the respiratory depression caused by momoy. The third type of death occurs in people who have very slow and erratic absorption of scopolamine. Perhaps one quarter or so of people are in this category. These people take more momoy when the first dose has no effect. Death occurs from D. wrightii ingestion with blood levels of as much as 47 ng ml–1 of atropine and 21 ng ml–1 of scopolamine. Urine levels at death can be as high as 200 ng ml–1 of atropine and 95 ng ml–1 of scopolamine (3). Death from respiratory depression may occur as late as 13 h after the initial ingestion of momoy.
As is the case in most states, Jimsonweed/Datura/Momoy ingestion is not forbidden in California[2]. People have only their common sense to keep them from doing something stupid with the plant (God help SCV).
[1]Published in Oxford University Press' Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2005). If you're like me and don't happen to have that journal just lying around the house, you can read their full piece online at Volume 2, issue 4, pp. 459 - 463.
[2]This National Drug Intelligence Center .pdf brochure tells the tale of Jimsonweed (note: the one they talk about is in the same genus as our local jimsonweed and very similar to it; it's just not the same species). The information is a little out of date because Oklahoma has also legislated against the plant.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Only in SCV: Free Stuff For Being Young

Kids have it pretty hard these days, especially in Santa Clarita. They have to be well-versed in High School Musical[1], get the grades it takes to get into C.O.C., and survive ingestion of lead-based paints on their Dora the Explorer toys[2].

Spending a day in the shoes of a Claritan kid would surely make those whiny orphans from Sub-Saharan African realize how lucky they are. All they have to worry about is growing enough millet to eat next year and getting their HIV meds![3].

Anyhow, I’m happy to know that I’m not alone when it comes to thinking it’s high time that this community showed its appreciation of youth. According to an August 30th City press release “Every year, Americans celebrate Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…even Groundhog’s Day. The City of Santa Clarita thinks it time to honor children by celebrating a ‘Day for Kids.’[4]" To be precise, Santa Clarita will be officially participating in the nationwide Boys & Girls Club's Day for Kids held on the third Saturday of September[5].

Click on the trademarked star to learn more about the DFK. According to the Boys and Girls Club-sponsored site, "By celebrating BGC Day for Kids, we remind the children in our lives just how important they are." Obviously, the bulk of participants will be the negligent parents who were just waiting for a national organization to tell them to start caring about their kids.

While the event is purportedly about getting parents to be more involved in the lives of their children, it’s also a great chance to win free stuff. Several community businesses have come forward with donations to show that they’re pro-kid. Wal-Mart, for one, has given a computer that will be raffled off to a child in Newhall Memorial Park, the epicenter for the event. Blockbuster has even donated an X-Box.

Because the Day for Kids is but two years old, I’m not sure if it’s traditional to buy one’s children additional gifts in honor of the occasion. I imagine it should be.

[1]Whether it’s because they like it or because they want to be able to mock it depends on age. And yes, I was blessed to attend Valencia High School with HSM co-star Ashley Tisdale. She’s changed a lot in five years. For starters, her skin and hair are no longer gray.

(Then & Now)
[2]Let's explore high concentrations of lead in kids' toys!
[3]Talk of hungry African kids vs. American kids always recalls this classic the Onion article
[4] Press release
here. Does seeing the phrase written as “Mother’s Day” bother you too? If so, reading some guy's thoughts on apostrophe placement in the phrase might help
[5]Learn more about this heart-warming idea here