Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happenings: The Eve Most Hallow


(yes, it's from Lombardi's)

Happenings: Council Caps off October

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happenings: Mayor McLean Talks Fire

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

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

October 25, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Happenings: Fire Times Five (or more)

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

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

Limb amputation, courtesy of wind.

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

Friday, October 19, 2007

Only in SCV: What About the Smelt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Happenings: October Rains, October Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Happenings: Open Space Questions Linger

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

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

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

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

So What Does It All Mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Happenings: Scarecrow Winners In, Pumpkins Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lombardi Ranch has scaled up their autumn efforts this year. This included hosting the Saugus High School band[2], offering wagon rides, face-painting, popcorn vending... All of this is fine, but I hope Lombardi's stops short of becoming a full-fledged autumn carnival. After all, part of the charm of Lombardi Ranch lies in its ability to make use smile at the simple things…

...like this.
[1]You can call Lombardi Ranch at 661.296.8697. It's located in Saugus at 29527 Bouquet Canyon Road.
[2]They were quite good. Various other bands are banding throughout October; a schedule of weekend events is here.