Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Happenings: Meaningless Gestures, Anyone?

Yesterday’s City Council Meeting can be summarized as “Meaningless gestures and the people who love them.” To wit:

Meaningless Gesture 1: The Lobbyist Registration Ordinance

At the urging of a few suspicious citizens, the City embarked on a journey some months ago. The destination is a splendid promise land where all lobbyists appearing before the council are registered and declared as such. Sadly—but accurately—Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar called the lobbyist registration ordinance “absolutely meaningless to the citizens of Santa Clarita.” Indeed, Councilmember Ferry could rattle off SCV’s lobbyists’ names by heart and Councilmember Weste made the point of knowing the identity of all lobbyists when she spoke a last week’s meeting. Mayor McLean said something close to “it’ll make them [Claritans] feel better”, which is exactly what this bill is about. The council will say officially, rather than informally, that it knows who lobbyists are, and that’s just the sort of meaningless gesture that makes my day.

TimBen Boydston said “I respectfully disagree completely” after Kellar made a point about Lobbyist Registration being totally meaningless. Kellar still gives the measure his support.

M.G.2: Annexation Amendments
Altering the annexation initiation threshold by 5% isn’t meaningless, but appearances by Castaic folks were. Everyone speaking feigned disinterest in the outcome. If they were all mashed into one person, he would have said “Oh I don’t really have a position about whether we want to be annexed or not; I just want things to be done properly. There are studies to finish! Let’s all cooperate and respect one another, shall we?.” A slightly amended version of the policy carried in the face of these exquisitely helpful platitudes.

M.G.3: Accountability Panel Extension
The Council (minus Boydston) agreed to extend the deadline for applications to the Open Space Financial Accountability and Audit Panel. Despite having five qualified candidates (five are needed, and a sixth has put his name back into the race after withdrawing) turn in their applications by the deadline, city Manager Ken Pulskamp thought it would be a swell idea to extend the deadline to December 28th. Councilmember Ferry called it like it was—a (meaningless) gesture, but one that’s nice to make in light of the fires that swept through town during the week of the deadline. Obviously, there will be another extenstion after the December 28th one in case people were too busy dealing with the holidays to turn in their application.

I’m all for meaningless gestures, but I also respect Boydston’s observation that people who want to participate in things like accountability panels “are few and far between.” There aren’t a lot of Claritans salivating over the chance to study, review, and debate complicated land acquisitions. Thankfully, Jim Farley (who opposed the measure from the beginning and will provide a much-need critical voice) is one of the people willing to serve. He and pal Sterling King noted that the deadline extension seemed like a convenient way for the City to get someone more in line with their thinking . We shall learn if this was actually the case only if the City manages to muster another application or two before December 28th; I’m not holding my breath.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Happenings: Surprise, Surprise--Decidedly Tolerable Movie Viewing

Circumstances beyond my control brought me and three others—who shall remain nameless—to an 11 a.m. showing of Disney’s Enchanted this Thanksgiving weekend. Seeing a movie isn’t typically noteworthy, but this was a rare occasion to behold what it’s like to be a kid these days in SCV.

I didn’t know how popular Enchanted would prove to be against such irresistible competitors as Bee Movie and that Magic Emporium monstrosity. Walking in, the theater looked virtually empty. Then I realized that most of the audience came only half-way up their backrests. This explained why the noise coming from the crowd, usually a dull hum, was a high-pitched trill. As my eyes adjusted to the theatrical gloom, I realized that an alarming number of these youths (at least two, which is two too many) were wearing princess costumes. The question, it seems, is no longer “Why the hell are you wearing a princess costume, you little freak?” but “Why the hell aren’t you wearing one?” When will our valley realize that deficient self-esteem is only half the problem that a surplus of the I'm-a-special-beautiful-princess-look-at-me brand of self-esteem is?

I credit a lack of crying and screaming to the fact that it was mostly dads taking their kids to the theater that day. Whilst Mom shopped or imbibed or did whatever else it is that decent society women do early on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, fathers were left to chaperone the kids. Wisely, their progeny were sedated with soda and candy (i.e., experiencing a sugar-induced coma as opposed to hyperactivity), and the screen provided plenty of visual treats as well. It’s amazing but true: kid movies can be quiet movies.

As for Enchanted itself, the film received a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes[1], an excellent score reflecting 85 positive reviews nation-wide. And despite initial apprehension, I have to say that I agree. This was the autumn of anti-war dreck (e.g., Lions for Lambs, In the Valley of Elah…) that failed miserably, and Enchanted was a delightful departure. The clever movie was funny, at times hilarious, and entertaining throughout. I cannot tell you how much good it did my heart to see Susan Sarandon beat down by a conservative princess on the big screen. I was slightly bothered by the fact that the leading man falls in love with a leading lady whose mental capacity was equivalent to that of the movie’s average nine-year-old viewer, but I guess you can’t have it all.

Despite generally enthusiastic praise for the film, Slant writer Nick Schager[2] poopoos it for reinforcing negative female stereotypes. He claims the movie says a girl’s place is being pretty and waiting for prince charming to arrive. I’m sorry, Schager, but not all little girls grow up wanting to write bitter, little-read movie reviews for a living. No, just like Enchanted's Giselle, some little girls grow up wanting to get married to wealthy divorce attorneys and to spend their days going shopping with their daughters. And in Santa Clarita, those dreams really do come true.

[1]Reviews here
[2]The full review is here

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Only in SCV: Tastes like SCV

Clarita-izing Thanksgiving
This Thanksgiving, I think it’s only appropriate to include an authentically Claritan food in the holiday feast. We may not have turkey, but a duck artfully snared from Bridgeport Lake would certainly be edible. Gathering and grinding acorns would be a fitting nod to the valley’s Tataviam roots. I, however, have taken a page out of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemna[1] and made bread risen with wild Santa Clarita yeast.

I mixed equal parts water and flour, carried it outside for a minute, then brought it in and let the floury paste grow for a week. Supposedly, the air is laden with wild yeast spores that grow and multiply when they land on a suitable habitat, like flour. After the mixture matures for several days, you have a starter (just like a sourdough starter)—an ecosystem of yeast and lactobacillus bacteria ready to flavor bread with fermentation by-products (hungry yet?) and help it rise[2].

SCV starter.

Now, there are plenty of bread snobs who will try and spoil your fun by telling you that the yeast you capture isn’t really “wild” but was probably already living on the surface of the flour. Don’t believe them. Whether the yeast were nabbed as air-born spores, were already floating around your kitchen, or were hitch-hiking with wheat in the market, they’re official, miniature Santa Claritans now.

But to the point at hand, I’ve kept a mini-ecosystem of SCV yeast alive since May. It lives in the fridge and gets fed flour and water once a week. If doing this sounds like a pain in the ass that’s because it is, but I endure for the sake of being able to say that I have an authentically Claritan microbial pet. I put these critters to work making bread rise today.

Santa Clarita: It Has a Flavor
So how does bread made out of SCV yeast taste? It’s not like conventional sourdough, though there is still a slightly sour twang. It is redolent of yeast, somewhere between beer and bread. There’s no question that it tastes like bread, just…gamier; like the difference between beef and venison.

The loaf.

When I re-tasted the bread today, I found the results a little disappointing at first. The bread didn’t taste like I thought SCV would. The wild flavor would make sense if I had gotten the yeast from Bouquet Canyon (our Ozarks), but from Valencia? Then, however, I tasted a familiar hollowness, a void left on my tongue where once there had been bread. I was tasting desperation and disillusionment, the hallmarks of Claritan life. I had captured the yeast of Santa Clarita after all.

While it’s too late for you begin your own starter in time for Thanksgiving dinner tonight, I urge you to try making a starter at some point. Remember, it’s just equal parts flour and water; SCV provides the yeast. Free yeast?! Now that’s something to be thankful for.

[1] As non-fiction goes it’s stellar.
[2] More than any decent person could ever want to know about Sourdough bread can be found here

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Happenings: Controversy Averted (Disappointingly) at City Council

Tonight’s City Council meeting was excessively civil. Reasonable points were made and acknowledged, and reasonable counter-points were offered and discussed. Even the potentially contentious issues of lobbyist registration and Las Lomas development elicited nothing more than appropriately impassioned testimonials. I have no patience for this sort of behavior.

Indeed, it was with some disappointment that I watched the Council skirt the first potential flare-up over Big League Dreams[1]. They are a private baseball stadium builder, and Councilman Frank Ferry is very enthusiastic about the prospect of them building a fantasy-inspired field in SCV, a plan currently being explored. If you’ll recall, Council member TimBen Boydston’s remarks on such a stadium being a waste of money prompted a verbal tongue-lashing from Ferry some weeks ago. Today, Canyon Countryan Steve Lucia expressed his opposition in public participation, calling it “repulsive” for the City to aid the private company with tens of millions of dollars for a stadium. Then, Boydston brought up a B.L.D. project in Gilbert, Arizona that exceeded the original budget by about 70%[2]. Ferry, however, stayed out of the fray and made no mention of the issue whatsoever.

Reason and cool tempers prevailed again when it came time to discuss renaming the road called, variously, Bouquet Canyon, San Fernando, Main Street, etc. Leon Worden, Claritan-of-Consequence and over-estimator of parade attendance, made an eloquent plea that Saugus names (Bouquet) stay in Saugus while Newhall names stay in Newhall. His sentiments were echoed as others suggested an extension of the name “Railroad Avenue” and still others called for additional study. Ultimately, the plan for street name change has been tabled. San Fernando road remains San Fernando road for at least a while longer.

Ball parks and street names might be poor fodder for controversy, I reasoned as the meeting passed the 90-minute mark, but lobbyist registration would surely provoke more passion. I was wrong. There was discussion of fines for failure to register as a lobbyist, whether attorneys would be exempt from registering, and availability of the registration online. Trust me; it was thrilling. Discussion will continue at the next meeting by which time some problematic language in the ordinance will be corrected. Regardless of when they'll ultimately register, Laurene Weste pointed out (while eyeing Hunt Braly) that "We know who the lobbyists are."

Cam Noltemeyer proved a godsend when it came to keeping the lobbying discussion interesting. During two of her four-hundred and eighty-six comments tonight, she mentioned a peculiar observation about City Council. It seems that, on occasion, they eat an evening meal in the company of one another. Alright, so dinner seems normal, especially during busy City Council meeting days, but she said that she’s seen lobbyists begin “swarming” just as these 5 o’clock suppers begin. Her suspicions that inappropriate business/discussion might be going on behind closed doors were quickly allayed by Ferry, however, who assured her that they had most recently used dinnertime to discuss Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Kellar’s ironing, not the business of Santa Clarita.

Next on the agenda was a resolution opposing Las Lomas (“The Hills” in Spanish—does that mean MTV will be filming a reality show there?). The development would bring 5,500 dwelling units and associated commercial space into 550 acres just outside SCV. Everyone from Congressman Buck McKeon to Supervisor Antonovich sent reps to read letters expressing firm opposition to the project. I don’t see why they’re all so against it. I mean, the only problems with the Las Lomas site are that it’s an important wildlife corridor, geologically unstable, fire-prone, ecologically sensitive, has land with slopes in excess of 50%, and would require millions of tons of grading. Oh, and the planned development would exceed density standards set forth by the general plan, has an unrealistic transit program, would aggravate traffic problems, has major infrastructure issues, and is utterly absurd in every way imaginable. Other than that, it’s just fine.

Poor, mild-mannered Matt Klink of Las Lomas Land Company was the only one in favor. After apologizing for poor penmanship on his comment card (really), he offered a letter from a higher-up in his company that showed Las Lomas was smart growth and forward-thinking development. Providing this letter amounted to throwing a single drop of water at the raging inferno of opposition against Las Lomas (at least on part of people outside of LA City and the LA Mayor's office). To paraphrase SCV Mayor Marsha McLean, you just don’t build houses on steep mountains next to freeways, and everbody knows it. In case you haven’t gotten the point yet, here are what three Claritans had to say about Las Lomas:
“Such a ridiculous project.” Diane Trautman
“This is irresponsible from A to Z.” Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Kellar
“This is a terrible project. It’s universally known.” Councilmember TimBen Boydston

With Las Lomas settled, all that remained was discussion of the Certificates of Participation associated with the Open Space Preservation District. Cam Noltemeyer brought up the issue of vote/assessment allocation that has been discussed at length by herself, Sterling King, and Jim Farley[3]. The City assured everyone that the vote was legal (the term “super-compliant” was actually used) and that the records had been made totally public because there was nothing to hide. I suspect that the explanation proved predictably unsatisfactory to the Claritans most involved in the Open Space issue. In any case, a call for transparency in government actions has remained the central theme in Council meetings ever since Boydston uttered the word “collusion” all those months ago. I doubt it's going to go away any time soon.

Random Notes:
The issue of Henry-Mayo-expansion returned briefly when Dr. Gene Dorio spoke in the public participation section. He reaffirmed his opposition to any expansion that didn't first make provisions for more operating rooms. Henry Mayo CEO Roger Seaver's attempts to spin Dorio's letter of opposition and similar letters from more than 70 other hospital staff members was called a "deception."

IHeartSCV was mentioned by TimBen Boydston, specifically a remark about the relationship between the length of City Council meetings and his presence at them, here. Gosh golly!

[1]Do you dream BIG?
[2]I don't believe this is the article cited by Boydston, but it deals with the Gilbert budget drama
[3]I present a summary here

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happenings: Veterans Day in the Plaza

Bricks in the Veterans Historical Plaza speak to the service and sacrifice of soldiers in Vietnam, Korea, World War II, and beyond.
If you've never had the chance to visit the Veterans Historical Plaza (it was dedicated in 2005), I would recommend stopping by on Monday. The site embodies some of the best things about Santa Clarita--our gratitude to and support of those who serve in the armed forces.

Happenings: A Heart is Broken

Glorious in victory...and defeat.

I know. It has been a week since last I’ve blogged. I wish I could say I was busy doing something like curing cancer or infiltrating a Colombian drug ring. But, alas, I wasn’t. I was trying to get over last Tuesday—Black Tuesday—when I had to say goodbye to my dream of seeing Rachel Neville, SCV mother and winner of multiple beauty pageants, serve on the Newhall County Water District Board. I am forced to conclude that all but the 1,052 Claritans who voted for her have something against beauty, poise, and congeniality.

As the results of Tuesday’s election attest, I am not always right about what my fellow Claritans will do. Indeed, elections come down to the stronger of two competing desires, and I can’t always pick which one of the two will win out. First, Claritans are motivated by the desire to keep things the same. Everything is working just fine right now, thank you very much, and we’d like to keep it that way. Maintaining the status quo can require effort, though, because people like Lynne Plambeck and TimBen Boydston have been known to disrupt the smooth flow of business-as-usual in the valley. (Lynne, for example, has sometimes questioned the rate and kind of growth taking place in this valley. Jesu forfend!) This is where the second, competing desire comes in: the desire to not expend too much effort keeping the status quo. In short, the vote reflects the winner in the battle between conservatism and apathy. Apathy won, with most Claritans not even bothering to vote. This ensured that Lynne’s decidedly non-apathetic fans could carry her to victory. Dan Mortenson won the other seat because the world is cruel and unfair to people with the initials R.N.

I won’t feign interest in the school board elections. Suffice it to say that candidates who value education and cherish the youth of America beat other candidates who value education and cherish the youth of America. I’m sorry; it’s just that my heart only had room for one race. And while my heart is now broken, I offer congratulations in a show of good will.

Congratulations, Dan. May no one or thing stop you from saying “yes” to water for every City project, not even Mother Nature or good sense.

Congratulations, Lynne. May you never be haunted by the Chamber of Commerce and your new colleague who tell you that, in ten years with the N.C. Water District, you’ve never done your job right once.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Only in SCV: Poll Results (for Posterity)

I want to state for the record that Blogger leaves much to be desired when it comes to the polling feature. The provided template is designed for polls with short questions, few answers, and concise phrasing. That just doesn’t work for wordy folks like me. Furthermore, the polls don’t integrate nicely into posts and when they’re taken down, they’re gone forever.

Thus, I below present October's poll results for the sake of preservation. When an electronic archaeologist stumbles upon this blog centuries from now, they will know that approximately 1 in 3 Claritans were sufficiently self-aware to rank "Santa Claritans themselves" as the most frightening thing in the valley.

Poll Dates: Oct29 - Nov2

Voters: 40

Question: Happy Halloween, y’all. In accord with this most chilling of holidays, let’s take a poll: What are the most frightening things in/about Santa Clarita? You can pick more than one answer.

Results (in descending popularity):
Santa Claritans themselves: 15 (37%)
F.F.F.s (Frank Ferry Fits): 15 (37%)
Our steady transformation into the San Fernando Valley: 14 (35%)
Our valley’s high flammability: 8 (20%)
Going into Newhall at night: 8 (20%)
Getting on the Flemings’ bad side: 7 (17%)
Noyaca, the lake monster of Bridgeport: 6 (15%)
Going into Canyon Country at night: 6 (15%)
Potential for a break-out from Pitchess Detention Center: 3 (7%)
Other (specify in comments): 0%

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Only in SCV: I Heart November

Do you know how to read? Not quite sure? Well there's an easy way to find out! Just pay a visit to insideSCV Magazine[1] where I may or may not have contributed to the publication's word-count with thoughts on November in Santa Clarita. If you understand what all those trickly little symbols on the page stand for, then you may rest assured in your ability to comprehend the written word.

[1]See SCV, from the inside