Sunday, December 21, 2008

SCVenger Hunt: CLUE 3

I can now present the last of the clues for the IHeartSCV Christmas SCVenger Hunt. If you think you have gathered all the items to which you were directed in this hunt, send an email to iheartscv AT gmail DOTcom and you will be given the prize pick-up location if the prize remains unclaimed.

For instructions and the first clues click here.
For the second clue click here.

Clue 3: You Can Lead a Horse to Water


The sculpture pictured above resides in front of a building in Valencia. A woman whose name is just one vowel away from the answer to the general clue has put in some very late nights in this building—usually no more than one or two a month.

Walk into the building of interest. As proof of your visit, take one of the flyers available to you in the lobby. (One along the lines of vector control would be nice and in keeping with the theme of this SCVenger Hunt, but any flyer will do.) Good luck.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

HELP WANTED: Tree-Sitter

On Tuesday night, G&L Realty was given permission to commit unspeakable acts upon the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial campus. Indeed, MayorDude Ferry, Councilmember Ender, and Mayor Pro-Tem Weste gave the nod to a development agreement that will turn our community hospital into a cash cow for G&L Realty with three massive medical office buildings, 5-story parking structures and helipads. Destroying the integrity of whole neighborhoods for private profit will be bad enough. But murdering trees to make way for office buildings and parking structures, even our much-beloved Community Holiday Tree, is one step too far. Something must be done.

David Gauny of SmartGrowthSCV has mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit to halt construction. While I’m sure he and his group will have an excellent case if/when they proceed, a victory is far from assured. G&L Realty has ample resources and a major financial incentive for over-building the campus. If it becomes a battle of resources, we can’t expect a fair match.

Thus, a contingency plan is required. I am pulling a page out of the SCOPE playbook. Do you remember John Quigley from the winter of 2002/2003? He’s the guy who sat in Old Glory, a massive oak tree that a developer wanted to bulldoze to make way for a road widening[1]. Well, if he was willing to take a stand then, I hope someone in Santa Clarita will be willing to take a stand now. Yes, it’s time to make a stand for the trees by having a sit in them...

HELP WANTED!: Now Seeking Applicants for Tree Sitter Position

Description. Do you like the outdoors? Are you interested in defending the helpless? Does the idea of living in a large tree excite you? If so, consider a career in tree sitting. Primary duty is sitting for long periods of time (months to years) on a 4' x 8' plywood board chained to the Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara) in front of HMNMH and known as the "Community Holiday Tree". This will stop said tree from being cut down for construction of a subterranean parking structure. Other tasks include giving interviews to local media and evading police and other authorities that attempt to forcibly remove sitter from tree. Positions sitting in other trees to be removed for road expansion, etc... will be considered if we find sufficient interest.

Qualifications. The ideal applicant should be strongly committed to preservation of our Community Holiday Tree/opposed to the HMNMH expansion as approved earlier this December. Leaving the tree is never permitted for the duration of the position, which may be several years. Affinity for piney scent a plus.

Compensation & Perks.
*Starting salary is $15/month with negotiable 10% raise after 3-month evaluation
*Sitter may accept all food, blankets, toilet paper, buckets with elaborate pulley systems, and other gifts for which he/she is able to grovel from members of the community
*Free Christmas decorations

For More Information. Please email IHeartSCV with “Tree Sitter” in subject line. Thank you for your interest.


Realistically, I'm not 100% certain that we will be able to fill this position despite its inherent glamor and importance. This would mean that, in several years, the Community Holiday Tree will have a date with a chainsaw and wood-chipper. Obviously, this would cause some community dissatisfaction, if not outcry. Apart from the very real death of our beloved tree, the felling would/will be a profoundly disturbing gesture: destroying a beautiful symbol of the community to build something that makes more money. This would be very bad P.R., so I suspect foul-play would occur first. Someone would poison the tree or introduce a disease and say "The tree is unhealthy and would have to be removed anyways." Alternatively, forces for HMNMH could stage the cutting down of the tree by some nameless vandal. Or it would be cut down in the dead of night with nary a witness in sight.

No matter what, then, we should be on the look-out for our community tree. How it gets treated is how we Claritans will be treated. As goes the tree, so goes SCV.

[1]Here's one exciting artcle from the LA Times to refresh your memory.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

ALERT: No City Council Meeting Summary Tonight

Dear Reader,

I will be unable to watch--much less write about--tonight's City Council meeting. This is unfortunate, as I am sure there will be even more ridiculousness than normal to report on. Mayor Pro-Tem Frank Ferry is becoming Mayor Ferry ("and there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth"). G&L Realty will be formally granted the right to plunder Santa Clarita and her peoples. And then there are items concerning the cross valley connector, red light traffic cameras, and Newhall redevelopment.

I urge you to watch for yourself as much of the very best (i.e., worst) stuff goes un- or under-reported. Look for a post on meeting outcomes come Thursday.

Sincerely,

IHSCV Blogger

Sunday, December 7, 2008

SCVenger Hunt: CLUE 2

This is the second of four clues in the IHeartSCV Christmas SCVenger Hunt. For background and the first clue, go here.


CLUE 2: I Hart SCV

If War and Peace is Peace or War and Paradise Lost is Hell Found and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is Noon Outside a Wasteland of Evil or Good, the title you seek is Your Death West or East. The man who wrote it lived in the best-known estate in Newhall and died in 1946.

Find the book bearing the title of interest. Item #2 in your collection should be a piece of paper on which you write the sentence that follows this quotation from page 315: “‘Well, if you’re not joking,’ I replied ‘it’s tough on you, lady, for you’re crazy.” While it may seem like you need to make a trip to the library to answer this question, you shouldn't need to leave your seat.

Monday, December 1, 2008

SCVenger Hunt: CLUE 1

Do you want to win free stuff that expresses your ambivalence towards Santa Clarita? If so, you're in luck!
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Participate in the first (and last) IHeartSCV Christmas SCVenger Hunt and you'll have a chance to win some wonderful presents just in time for the holidays. Here's how it works:

1. On December 1st, 8th, 13th, and 19th, I'll provide a new clue. Each clue will direct you to some part of Santa Clarita and describe an item that you need to collect as proof of successfully solving the clue. A "General Clue" is also provided on the 1st and will help you in your quest.

2. Solve all the clues and gather all the corresponding items.

3. On December 19th, I'll specify a popular store/locale in Santa Clarita where you can bring your collection of items. If you're the first one to arrive, you can trade your collection for the prize package, which includes an I Heart SCV Christmas ornament, I Heart SCV bumper sticker, cheesy Santa Clarita postcards, and, best of all, an I Heart SCV T-shirt, pictured below.






GENERAL CLUE (Solving this clue will help shed light on the weekly clues)
It's a four-letter word that is very Santa Claritan. It can answer the question "Where should I go?" But, if you try to get there, you'll keep going in circles.



CLUE 1: Walk Amongst the Stars

video

This song preceded a classic TV show, parts of which were filmed at the Golden Oak Ranch in Newhall. Not so very far away lies a small monument to she who played Nellie's nemesis on the program. Gather proof that you visited this oft overlooked tribute--a pencil rubbing or photo will do--and you're well on your way to winning.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happenings: You Can Ring My Be-e-ell

Tonight, it wasn’t eminent domain and property rights that inspired the most fervent speeches and heated debate; it was the old Saugus school bell. Before getting to that pithiest of topics, though, there is much more City Council meeting to discuss[1].

So It Begins
The meeting began some 14 minutes late because of a closed session that runnethed over. After the opening formalities, we listened to the November installment of the Public Safety Topic of the Month program. The topic du mois was safety for kids, something near and dear to many a Claritan heart. The greatest dangers to our valley’s youth, we learned, were posed by swimming pools and hot cars. These summertime killers claimed three lives this year. Other dangers mentioned were prescription drugs and strangers, as well as the combination of taking drugs from strangers while in a hot car that’s sinking to the bottom of a swimming pool.

Councilmember comments followed and ranged from boring to innocuous to syrupy. Councilmember Ender mentioned Clarita’s recognition as the most business-friendly city in all of Los Angeles County. Yes, so we’ve heard. Calling Santa Clarita “business-friendly” is kind of like calling a whore screaming for customers “gentleman-friendly”, i.e., rather quaintly understated[2]. Councilmember McLean used her time to read a proclamation making December 18th “Day Without a Bag.” It's an effort to draw attention to the wasteful use and disposal of millions of plastic bags by Santa Claritans every year. We were then treated to a riveting story of how McLean used to forget her reusable grocery bags in the trunk of her car but now usually remembers to bring them.

Eminent Domain and Dental Offices

The City Council (acting in their “Redevelopment Agency” capacity) approved use of eminent domain to take the building occupied by Just Passing Thru piercing parlor[3]. They need the property to build a big new commercial building with a side of library, the latter element thrown in to make eminent domain a defensible tactic.

This library project has long been hailed as the cornerstone of downtown Newhall’s revitalization—along with three small murals and brightly painted trashcans.

Tom Fitterer, father of the guy who runs Just Passing Thru, owns the space in question. He showed up to play David to the City’s Goliath. Unfortunately, he left the sling and stone at home. Indeed, his speeches were not very good, more rambling and tangential than compelling. After describing himself as something like the Donald Trump of dental office real estate, he talked about what a sweet deal his son has (no rent!), then how the space would probably be better suited to a dental office, and then about the state of business these days. He closed by saying that the City’s appraiser didn’t understand the value of the property and was offering to buy it for far too little, with a few passing shots at how the City Council really messed things up with the road realignment in old town Newhall.

After he spoke there was little discussion and both recommended actions concerning the Just Passing Thru property were approved. Thus, Just Passin Thru’s name has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Consent Calendar
During normal City business, normal things happened. Alan Ferdman pointed out that it seemed silly for Santa Clarita to award $380,000 in contracts to companies that monitor landscaping. These contractors don’t actually do landscaping but rather drive by and check that other companies have done landscaping. I suppose they’re like a task-force of Mrs. Kravitzes saying the rose bushes are overgrown, except getting hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so. Despite the protest, the City will be awarding the contracts for monitoring.

Then there was discussion of temporary speed cushions for Benz Road. All those who spoke on this issue were from the Benz Road neighborhood and subject to the cut-through traffic that the speed cushions were being proposed to curb. These speakers said speed cushions would only increase noise and not mitigate traffic, and they advised the City to save the money and forget about them. Naturally, the City Council decided to install the speed cushions instead (Ferry, McLean dissenting). There were a number of legitimate concerns raised in the ensuing discussion. Councilmember McLean, for example, noted that speed cushions can slow emergency response vehicles and potentially cause mechanical damage: “I cannot condone doing something that is going to hinder our public safety agencies and cause damage to their vehicles.” Speakers noted that the speed cushions would be temporary, and their community would be saddled with the cost of installing permanent cushions if they were found effective. In short, it wasn’t a widely popular decision and indicates that the City Council is willing to try just about anything to help resolve the Benz Road traffic problem. Weste and Ender expressed sincere hopes for learning a lot from the installation.

Ding-Dong
There’s a really old bell that was made and hung at Saugus Elementary School in the early 1900s. In 1978, custody of the bell was given to the Santa Clarita Historical Society, and about a decade ago, the bell was hung in a special tower near the Newhall metrolink station. Saugus school district, which is celebrating its centennial year, wants the bell back.

How nine speakers and an hour of the City Council meeting was spent on this conflict remains beyond my comprehension.

Of the nine speakers, fully one-third were elementary school students. Their parents wrote them some lovely speeches (actually, I think the two girls may have written at least part of their speeches) which they proceeded to read much to the delight of all at City Hall. They wanted nothing more than for the bell to return to Saugus, its rightful home. Mayor Kellar, the old softie, let the little parrots get applause without admonishing the audience for their clapping.


Several others came forward to support the City’s bold plan to write a letter requesting that the historical society give the bell back to Saugus. Two speakers offered Kellar gifts of Saugus lapel pins. (Why the Mayor did not recuse himself after openly receiving these gifts I do not know.) Then, members of the historical society spoke and said they had the right to decide the fate of the bell and that its present location was most appropriate and afforded many people an opportunity to marvel at it.

Much of the controversy arose from the question of whether the City Council had a right to meddle in the bell custody battle, why the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society hadn’t sat down with the Saugus Union School District to talk about the bell directly, and the price tag to move the bell—some $31,000. Councilmember Weste was hesitant to get the least bit involved: “I think it is a mistake to set this kind of precedent. […] It is definitely not within the City’s purview to do this.” Both she and Councilmember McLean said no to the letter while the other members of the City Council gave it the go-ahead.

Public Participation
The meeting closed with a handful of comments from the public, mostly on the topic of the G&L Realty/HMNMH expansion. David Gauny reiterated his hopes that the Council would delay approval until there was chance to work out a compromise between Smart Growth SCV and the developer. Noting, quite accurately, that the City had let many major flaws in the project slip by undiscussed, he said “All of these things will come out in litigation.” One hopes.

Many council watchers must have "reacted" when Mayor Kellar closed the meeting with a reminder of the imminent “installing” of Frank Ferry as Mayor of Santa Clarita. Indeed, the reign of Ferry cometh.

[1]Agenda
[2]I showed some real restraint by leaving out some adjectives before the word whore.
[3] Technically it was a “resolution of necessity” to acquire the property and negotiations between the City and owner may well continue. The words “eminent domain” only escaped Paul Brotzman’s lips once, and in a hushed, I-don’t-like-having-to-say-those-words sort of way.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happenings: Bend Over, Santa Clarita

NOTE: I'm just starting to edit this at 2:55am, so it will likely not be my best work. Still, I think getting most of the information across is the most important thing. [...time passes...] Now it's 3:37am and I need to be up in a couple hours. I wrote way too much, but I think there are nuggets of valuable information and decent writing littered across this wordscape. Good luck, brave reader. I won't have a chance to bring things up to my usually stellar standards until tomorrow afternoon.


QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
“Good projects do not keep us out here until one in the morning.”
--Mayor Bob Kellar


IN BRIEF: Decisive Action and the 5 Guys in a Room Deal
Just before 1am, it passed by a vote of 4-1, Mayor Kellar being the sole dissenting vote. “It” was (1)A resolution to approve the final EIR for the HMNMH project, (2)A resolution to approve the overriding considerations (i.e., list of justifications for why the developer could violate zoning and cause significant impacts to the community), and (3)A resolution to approve the Master Plan. There will be a second reading on Tuesday, December 9, when things will pass once and for all.

While the result was predictable, the path was not. The meeting included a hilariously awful video production presented by Roger Seaver, a lot of talk about breasts, and more than three hours of public comments by over 70 people. Most bizarrely of all, there was what Laurie Ender christened “The 5 guys in a room deal.” It was an agreement that involved Newhall, Gauny and Seaver and that was arranged by Rasmussen and Goldman--all prominent Claritan businessmen of one sort or another. The men met without attorneys and signed a quasi-legal document representing a major compromise between the developer and Smart Growth SCV the day before the meeting. Not that any of this is suspicious or anything, but do you remember what I said about incest amongst the power players? Then, there was quite literally a backroom project involving the developer, the developler’s attorneys, and the City Assistant Attorney—and it all happened during the public comment period with Council’s blessing! Details about all the intrigue and how none of it really ended up mattering follow.


AT LENGTH
Calm Before the Storm
Councilmember Laurie Ender was charged with this evening’s convocation. She spoke about the “Character Counts” program going on at local schools and the importance of good character for everyone in the community. (No further comment necessary). Next, all of the councilmembers agreed to hold their general comments and reports for next week which, as Mayor Kellar pointed out, was “a good call.”

With the opening formalities out of the way, Mayor Kellar was able to open the public hearing less than 6 minutes after 6pm.

Staff Presentation
Lisa Webber, City Planning Manager, gave a presentation to start. Her smart gray jacket and professional tone said she meant business. Webber went over errata to the final EIR, project sequencing, and other details. It was a good balance of review and newer information and less overtly pro-expansion than prior presentations, so I was pleased. Next, a consultant came forward to talk about parking and how there seemed to be enough of it in the Master Plan. He mercilessly assaulted us with unnecessary details about how many feet constitute 1 curbside parking space, etc.

Presentations By Seaver and Gauny
Those in favor of and against the hospital expansion each got to present their case. Roger Seaver gave a brief PowerPoint presentation full of slides bearing titles ripped from knock-off Hallmark cards such as “Improving…for you.” Then, out of nowhere, Seaver introduced one of the most spectacularly ridiculous videos I’ve ever seen. It started with some weird upbeat music—maybe toned-down German dance music a la 1992—and quick cuts between the words “VOICES for the EXPANSION” and community members speaking.

Whoever produced the video pulled out all the stops. They got the Flemings to speak on behalf of the expansion (FLEMWATCH ALERT!), Moe and Linda Hafizi to chime in for the Master Plan(incapable editors of elite magazine), and many hospital staff members to say they supported it. It was all one great big appeal to emotion (i.e., "help the sick people!"), that lowest of rhetorical strategies.

After the video, David Gauny got his chance to speak on behalf of SmartGrowth SCV in opposition to the Master Plan. He delivered a very, very compelling presentation. His core argument was that the “overriding considerations” were based on illusory promises, or non-binding elements of the contract that were used to justify harm inflicted by the project. For example, saying that the hospital “will allow for” Centers of Excellence was not legitimate justification for the project as it could not be assured. He very reasonably pointed out some major flaws in the plan.

Enter the 5 Guys in a Room Deal
Before taking the first break of the evening, Councilmember McLean brought up something that she and other council members had just received that day. It was a half page agreement that parties from Henry Mayo and Smart Growth SCV had signed on Tuesday the 18th (if I have the timeline correct). Roger Seaver wanted to avoid litigation, so he was willing to concede one floor in height from the planned Inpatient Building to allay concerns about blocking views. He also agreed to some ever-so-slightly stronger language on getting the Inpatient Building built promptly. In return, it was agreed that if any lawsuit was brought against the developer, the concessions were void and the project could be built as originally planned (5 stories instead of 4, original triggers for development). In short, it was a very, very weak deal that I’m frankly shocked was signed by representatives of Smart Growth SCV.

Once the City of Santa Clarita got to learn about this, there was a 15 minute break. Upon returning, Mayor Pro-Tem Ferry called David Gauny forward and tried to see if they could figure something out. He wanted to give the City Council the option of turning the informal agreement hammered out the day before into a compromise that could be tacked onto the development agreement. Ferry suggested that Gauny along with Assistant City Attorney Joe Montes and attorneys from HMNMH/G&L could try to work something out during the public comment period. Yes, Frank Ferry was that presumptuous and brazenly disrespectful to people who waited up to 5 hours for a chance to speak. He wanted a few lawyers to try and broker an agreement because, one can infer, nothing any speaker could say would change Ferry's mind. He said this addendum drafting would be something “worthwhile”, thereby implying that public comments were not.

Laurie Ender and Mayor Kellar were the voices of reason, saying that a few men didn’t represent the Council or the community at large and didn’t get to decide how things went down for everyone. However, it was clear that the lawyers were going to work on formalizing the 5-guys-in-a-room agreement. Gauny wanted time to consult with his own attorney, who wasn't present, to make sure that he didn't sign onto something prematurely. But Ferry kept pushing forward in a manner not unlike some oafish schoolyard bully. David Gauny told Ferry “You’re putting me in an impossible spot.” Ferry knew this and pushed forward anyways. And indeed, Assistant City Attorney Montes met with parties from the developer while the public delivered its testimony.

Public Comments—3 Hours and the Breast Brigade
Doctors: There was some troubling polarization here. Some doctors from HMNMH spoke out against the expansion, saying it would reward G&L Realty, a company that had price-gouged physicians off of the campus. Other doctors stepped forward, the majority of them speaking passionately to the need for more O.R.s and thus supporting the expansion. As Dr. Gene Dorio pointed out, though, many physicians weren’t well-versed in the fine details of the plan, and at least a few admitted to this. Dorio went onto say he personally heard a doctor being intimidated/punished for opposing the plan.

Expansion Plan Fans: A number of nurses and members of the hospital board also came forward to express their support for the Master Plan and Development Agreement. So too did Charles Gill and Larry Mankin, Chairman and President/CEO, respectively, of the Chamber of Commerce. It wasn’t too much of a shock that these two advocated expanding business in a community-be-damned sort of way.
Then, there was the Breast Brigade. No fewer than 20 people mentioned the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imagaing Center as an example of a Center of Excellence that needed both a hospital and medical office space, thereby proving the importance of medical office buildings. They were nice stories, some of them moving, but totally immaterial. Having an excellent breast imaging center in no way guaranteed centers of excellence elsewhere on campus or a new Inpatient Building.

Expansion Plan Foes: Of roughly 70 speakers, less than half were speaking out against the expansion, although there were far more written comments against than for. Reena Newhall, perennially creative and incisive, spent her time talking about what anonymous doctors that she telephoned thought of the plan and how Roger Seaver put pressure on them to support it. "Doctor 1" said he couldn’t speak out or he would “Risk retaliation, be ostracized.” Doctor 2 agreed, saying “I can’t afford to make waves.” Doctor 3’s opinion was “It’s all for profit bull****” and Doctor 4 noted how many fel trapped because “They’re on the hospital's payroll.” Sure, this is hearsay, but at least three respectable Claritans delivered the same message this evening (Dorio, Newhall, Kellar). Another expansion foe was Lynne Plambeck who said “It’s discouraging to say these things knowing they will not be heard or addressed”. After she and other speakers finished, it was time for Boydston.

TimBen Boydston, Patron Saint of the Study of Very Important Yet Terribly Boring Parking Ordinances, pulled off quite a coup. Since speakers are afforded only 3 minutes but his meticulous research on the parking problem demanded more time, he enlisted the aid of 7 other speakers. Together, they cobbled together a surpisingly coherent and thoroughly damning presentation on major parking shortfalls or “built-in parking deficits”. There was even a PowerPoint presentation that ran alongside the narrative.

Based on parking guidelines put out by experts, he calculated that there was a 953 space deficit if demand for parking was calculated based on number of hospital beds, and an 817 space deficit if demand was calculated based on number of employees. Going by City Code alone, there was still a deficit potentially in excess of 200 spaces.

The error in calculating parking needs, he explained, arose from many sources. For example, the parking study used for the Master Plan counted red curbs, handicapped, and staff only parking spaces as “available but unused” during a peak-use period. This suggested a much lower demand than there really was/is. Furthermore, counting unmarked spaces went against City Code, and the parking consultant did just that.


Staff Responds
Paul Brotzman came forward, and his voice was tired (I’m tired at this point too—it’s 11:25pm). He and other City staff members responded vaguely. Paul Wilkinson, parking consultant, responded to TimBen Boydston essentially by saying that it was alright to count unmarked spaces even though this is a direct violation of City Code.

The Assistant City Attorney had also met with the developer and the developer’s attorney during the public comment period. He returned with a one-page statement. The language said more or less exactly what the 5 guys in a room had tentatively agreed upon. If ANYONE initiated a lawsuit against the campus development, the campus could forget its 4-story inpatient building and build a 5-story one instead and ignore new demands on centers of excellence. Basically, the part that made the deal attractive (less obtrusive build-out) was rendered null and void because when literally anyone sued over the development, the agreement would become meaningless and the project could be built as originally planned. Ferry enthusiastically pushed forward, and so too did McLean, who showed a weirdly vengeful streak when David Gauny said he wanted more time before giving his approval for officially adding these conditions.

I ended up being a Laurie Ender fan for a moment when she said “The process has not been served in this.” She spoke with clarity, passion and conviction. It was really inapprorpiate to have all of this wheeling and dealing going on at the meeting.

Then things totally broke down.

Everyone sensed that Laurie Ender was right—this thing was flying by way too fast and without any public input. So the Council let Gauny and others come forward to speak. Frank Ferry had the audacity to call David Gauny “rude” for trying to express his dismay at how the agreement to not sue in return for a shorter Inpatient Tower was being railroaded through. Even worse was City Attorney Carl Newton who said with a straight face “There are copies of this [the legal language drafted that night] available for the public to view.” It was midnight, and he was suggesting that everything was quite seemly and that the public could review the proposed backroom agreement if that was their will. Needless to say, Cam Noltemeyer, Tony Newhall, David Gauny, and Bruce McFarland all strongly objected.

Council Deliberates
Eventually, though, the public hearing closed. Marsha McLean made a few stipulations to the agreement, something about recycling. With this and Laurie Ender’s outrage over the potential addendum to the development agreement drafted by the Assistant City Attorney, I was actually a bit hopeful. I thought we’d at least get a continuation till next week.

Then Laurene Weste started to talk, and the small bit of hope I had allowed to well up in my chest immediately vaporized. She read off a litany of reasons why she’d approve the project, largely ignoring the parking issue and other issues brought up over the course of the evening. Despite TimBen Boydston’s hundreds of hours of work researching the parking deficits, she said she “had to” trust the parking consultant who had clearly violated City Code and common sense to set the parking needs. Given Weste’s sentiments, I allowed myself to entertain the thought of Weste voting “aye” and Ender being a surprise no vote or vote for a continuation (It was late; I was allowed to foolish). Weste’s ultimate reason for supporting the plan, it seems, was fear. “What happens if there’s a homeland security breach? Where are you gonna go?” Thusly motivated, she was willing to vote for any chance she got at more hospital.

Next, Mayor Kellar spoke. He expressed that he supported “The Hospital”—not the whole campus, G&L and all, but just “The Hospital.” He was saying that he was going to be voting no, and went on to explain why. In particular, Kellar found the mixing of private and public development very troubling. The Mayor, like Dr. Gene Dorio and Reena Newhall, had also talked to some doctors who told him that many statements in favor of the hospital were coerced. He astutely pointed out that “Good projects do not keep us out here till 1 in the morning” and that this was, indeed, a bad project, one building too much on too little land or “putting 20 lbs in a 5lb bag.”

To close, Mayor Kellar opened up on how he felt about G&L Realty, the Beverley Hills developer that spent $30,000 on an election in Santa Clarita: “You come into our town and buy our electon?...I think it’s disgusting…Shame on you!”

By this point, we had Ferry Yes, Weste Aye, and Kellar No. McLean was looking like a “Yes” and Laurie was still being quiet. It was 40 minutes after midnight.

Then, quite suddenly, Marsha McLean motioned for alternative 2 from the EIR—an expansion project with just 2 MOBs and a 4-story Inpatient Building. There was no second. She then motioned alternative 3, where all 3 MOBs were built with a 4-story medical office building. There was no second again.

Laurie Ender moved the recommended action (3 medical office buildings, a 5-story Inpatient Tower). When it came time to discuss tacking on the language drafted that evening about the lower tower/no suing trade-off, Ender mentioned her continuing suspicions and lack of comfort with the process. Basically, the 5 guys in a room deal and what the Assistant City Attorney had drafted had all come to naught, didn't matter. Thus, unadorned, the Council voted on Ender’s motion. Everyone said yes, save Mayor Kellar.

In a subsequent motion to move for a second reading, everyone but Kellar and McLean said Yes. Thus, it all comes back December 9th.

Cam Closes

There was still public participation for this meeting, but only Cam Noltemeyer requested to speak. I’ll close with her quotation:

“What we’re seeing is big money taking over our community. We saw it here tonight. It isn’t a small community anymore. We didn’t move out here for what is happening here.” Agreed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happenings: A Kind Of Final Decision Quite Possibly Looms--Maybe

It’s time, y’all. There is a special City Council meeting at 6pm today, Wednesday, November 19. And there is only one item on the agenda: a public hearing about good ol’ Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and plans to expand the campus. Laurie Ender is set to open the meeting, likely with a brief remark about the fires that she may or may not try to link to the need for high quality medical and emergency facilities. Afterwards, there will be a lot of talking. How much? I’m not sure; please vote in the poll above to tell me.

After the jabbering has gone on for a while, the most likely course of action will be a motion to approve the recommended action, which is this:

"Receive staff and applicant presentations and public testimony and close the public hearing; adopt a resolution certifying the Final Environmental Impact Report prepared for the project and adopting a Statement of Overrriding Considerations and the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program; adopt a resolution approving Master Plan 04-022, subject to the Conditions of Approval; introduce and pass to second reading an ordinance entitled: "AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF SANTA CLARITA, CALIFORNIA, APPROVING DEVELOPMENT AGREEMENT 06-001 FOR MASTER CASE 04-325 (MASTER PLAN 04-022), FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE 15-YEAR MASTER PLAN OF THE HENRY MAYO NEWHALL MEMORIAL HOSPITAL MASTER PLAN PROJECT IN THE CITY OF SANTA CLARITA, CALIFORNIA."

By passing to a second reading, the development agreement isn't exactly a done deal but essentially is. It means nothing, yet also everything. Such is the paradox of City Council.

Regardless of what happens, here is a drinking game for those watching the meeting. If you play by the rules, an ambulance will be rushing you to Newhall Memorial for alcohol poisoning by 7pm. While thematically appropriate, such a trip is not advised. Consider sipping coffee instead—you’ll need it.

Drink Once:
*When you see Frank Ferry texting
*Every time Mayor Kellar tells the “Ladies and Gentlemen” of the audience to hold their applause
*Every time we have to hear about someone’s wonderful life-saving surgery at Henry Mayo (drink twice if they recovered from something really freakish, like auto-cannibalism or rabies or Ebola)
*Every time someone mentions the recent wildfires which, interestingly, is a ploy that can work equally well for both sides

Drink Twice:
*Every time Roger Seaver says “committed”
*Whenever someone speaking in favor of the expansion is condescending
*Every time you hear “NIMBY”
*Every time you hear “recuse”

Drink Thrice:
*Every time a member of the Newhall family comes up to talk
*Whenever the ladies on CC need a potty break
*If a public speaker starts their comment with a knock-knock joke
*Every time someone mentions the community holiday tree, CT
*If someone gets a chant of “G & L, go to hell!” going

Down All The Alcohol in the House When:
*The City Council sends G&L Realty back to the drawing board by rejecting the development agreement

Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section. I'll see y'all at the meeting.

non sequitur

I'm tired of writing the acronym HMNMH. You're probably tired of reading it. So before I do a last post on the subject, here are some YouTube videos completely unrelated to the campus expansion or Santa Clarita. I know, the first one's old, but I love it so.


Delightful.


Hooray for the rabbit.


Fail.

HMNMH Countdown: Reasons 2 and 1 To Say No

Reason 2: Friends Watching Out for Friends

Santa Clarita is growing into a bigger city by the day. However, the power players remain few, and they are all well-connected and interested in looking after each other. It’s all a bit incestuous, really.

Unsurprisingly, the Master Plan never had a chance of being fairly evaluated in this environment.

*City Staff. Do you remember the word “collusion” from way back in 2007? You know, the scandal around some advice that City staff planned to communicate to a former boss turned hospital lobbyist[1]? Perhaps you do. Well, that was one sign that a lot more “chatting” may go on behind the scenes than we ever normally hear about, which is troubling.

*The Signal. This paper has never given the expansion much in the way of fair, balanced coverage. Several of its stories have run like ads for the hospital and prompted me to ask “Who needs P.R. when you have The Signal?” more than a year ago[2]. An editorial[3] from this weekend was typical: “There are no guarantees in life, but thanks to critics of the hospital’s growth, there is a greater guarantee of a new hospital wing in the current version of the development agreement than there ever was before.” (Rejoice at will--we've got a chance!)

*City Council. We know that the Master Plan has two unfailing advocates on C.C.—Laurie Ender and Frank Ferry. So committed are they to the plan, in fact, that there was a movement to have them recuse themselves from the proceedings for being so unfairly biased.

Here I may break with the pack a little. I don’t think Laurie Ender's recusal would have been warranted. Sure, she got $30K worth of supportive election mailers from G&L Realty (albeit indirectly). But while she has expressed her support, she didn't cross certain lines. Mayor Pro-Tem Ferry, on the other hand, made it very clear that nothing would change his mind about approving the Master Plan. He should have recused himself, and could still save face by doing so.

In short, I don’t think the Master Plan has been weighed objectively. There are too many overlapping interests, and the City Council should recognize these are a driving force behind Master Plan support.

Reason 1: It’s Never Been About the Hospital

Despite appearances to the contrary, the Henry Mayo Master Plan has never had much to do with hospitals. HMNMH was in a financial crisis, so they sold land they had received as a gift to for-profit G&L Realty. G&L wants to make the most money it can from its land holdings. But rather than play by the rules and build medical offices that comply with zoning ordinances, they wanted more. They proposed a much bigger, denser project than was ever envisioned for this area of Valencia, one that would require special approval by the City Council. And for years, they have tried to use the proposition—not the promise—of a new Inpatient Building as leverage for getting what they want from the City of Santa Clarita.

Sure, there have been a few reductions, but the project remains much too large. 4 parking structures. 3 medical office buildings. 2 helipads. 1 inpatient building (maybe). 15 years or more of construction. It’s too much. To show that the Santa Clarita City Council expects applicants to respect the people of Santa Clarita, nothing less than a firm, unanimous NO to the Master Plan will do.

[1]Those kinder, simpler days of collusion
[2]Old post
[3]Editorial

Monday, November 17, 2008

HMNMH Countdown: Reasons 5, 4, and 3 To Say No

Reason 5: A Very Worried Tree

It’s been a while since last we’ve checked in with the Community Holiday Tree (he goes by CT for short). CT is the Deodar Cedar who stands proudly on a grassy knoll in front of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. In previous interviews, he has expressed some deep misgivings about the campus expansion. There is good reason for CT to be nervous: he and dozens of his leafy kin will be hacked down to widen McBean and build a subterranean parking structure.

The developers say they’ll put in a new community holiday tree, but we heart CT! Offering the people of Santa Clarita a CT replacement is like telling the kids “We’ve decided it’s in our best financial interest to snuff out Scruffy. But hey, we’ll buy you a new puppy tomorrow!” How about this instead: CT and the other trees stay, approval for the Master Plan goes.



Richard Gottlieb (the G of G&L Realty) would rather have a parking lot than a beautiful holiday tree. The man who would steal Christmas from the children of Santa Clarita…bah humbug!



Reason 4: The Common Claritan Counts

Here I’ll be brief. Many, many Santa Claritans have come before City Council to give testimony on the hospital. Throughout the meetings on the HMNMH Master Plan, passionate voices of opposition have always out-numbered voices in support. The speakers have come from many backgrounds, but whether we heard Dr. Gene Dorio, Reena Newhall, David Gauny, or Cam Noltemeyer, the sentiment was the same: our community deserves a top-notch hospital, not to be sold out to real estate interests. The City Council would do well to listen to the community, something the Master Plan applicants have elected not to do.

Reason 3: “Overriding Considerations” = Blindly Optimistic Speculation Run Amok

If you read the HMNMH item on the Wednesday’s City Council agenda[1], you’ll find this statement:

“As a result of the significant unavoidable impacts of the project, if the City of Santa Clarita approves the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Master Plan, the City shall be required to adopt findings in accordance with Section 15091 of the CEQA Guidelines and prepare a Statement of Overriding Considerations in accordance with Section 15093 of the CEQA Guidelines. The Council must find that each of the unavoidable, adverse environmental impacts of the project identified in the section above is outweighed by environmental sustainability, economic, social, technological, and other community benefits.”

Whoever writes these things then endeavors to provide ten such “overriding considerations” to justify the significant, unavoidable negative impacts of the plan. Most of these arguments are laughable. Take consideration the first:

“The proposed HMNMH Master Plan project will provide needed hospital facilities […] The proposed expansion would allow for additional acute care hospital beds, additional technologies and medical service capabilities and specialties such as Centers of Excellence”

This is utter crap (or, if I choose to be polite, it's speculation run amok)! It is reckless and irresponsible to make it seem as though centers of excellence are coming when there is no binding provision for them in the development agreement. We can't just say that positive things that may happen justify negative impacts we are certain will happen. And that’s not even the silliest argument (this coming from someone who talks to trees, I know). Considerations 8 and 9 say the architecture and landscaping associated with the campus expansion will fit in well with the community. How, one wonders, does camouflaging a huge new project with shrubs and paint “outweigh” the fact that the project is too big to begin with?

These overriding considerations should be the crux of the approval process, clear justification for erecting concrete towers, over-building the hospital campus, and changing the face of a whole neighborhood. Yet, they are empty and meaningless. The only considerations I find valid and reasonable are those that say campus expansion will make some new jobs and that the helipads will help in emergency responses. But these alone are woefully insufficient reason to approve the Master Plan. I suggest you read all ten "overriding considerations" for yourself[1], and I offer you the letter below as additional, excellent meditation on this and other expansion-related subjects[2].


[1]Read the agenda here
[2]I very much recommend that you read this excellent letter. It's written by Christopher Townsley.

HMNMH Countdown: Reasons 7 and 6 To Say No

Note: Regarding plans for writing about HMNMH, Reasons 5 and 4 are written and will be posted later this afternoon. Reasons 3, 2, and 1 will be posted tomorrow. Finally, on Wednesday morning, I will post a drinking game for those of you watching the City Council meeting at home and those of you who like to bring a flask into the actual meeting. Hey, no judgement here.

Reason 7 To Say No: The Hospital Expansion Gave Me E.D.!

“City staff do not support the use of eminent domain on any residential properties to complete roadway improvements at that intersection.”

So wrote City Manager Ken Pulskamp in a letter sent to residents concerned that eminent domain would be used to improve traffic on McBean[1]. For someone professing to be stiffly against E.D., Pulskamp’s reassurances seem more flaccid than firm. Never once does he write “Your home is safe” or even “We will not use eminent domain.” No, he gave three reasons for a homeowner to be confident that City planners will at least try something else first. Why couldn’t he rise to the occasion and promise no E.D.? The second letter I've posted[2], sent out by David Gauny of SmartGrowthSCV fame, speculates why.

Ultimately, there would be huge homeowner protests over taking homes or forcing sell-outs under eminent domain. So that leaves us with reason number 6...


Reason 6 To Say No: Traffic

Increased traffic created by the hospital expansion will be a “significant and unavoidable” impact of hospital construction according to the Environmental Impact Report. As Santa Claritans and Southern Californians, we all know the exquisite pain of gridlock, idiot drivers, never-ending commutes... in short, we’ve met the beast called “traffic” and we hate it.

As such, City of Santa Clarita planners and the developer have gone to great lengths to assure us that traffic impacts (again, “significant and unavoidable”) are going to be mitigated by clever design. Unfortunately, McBean can be widened only so much, even with land dedications to the City by HMNMH. And even if widened for the blocks on which the hospital campus resides, all that traffic will eventually have to be mushed back into a narrower road.

McBean is the most important road in Santa Clarita. Making another reason for people to stop on McBean—whether it’s detours for 15 years of campus construction or visiting the new medical office buildings--is going to make a lot of trips longer and more unpleasant. The marked increase in building density could also exacerbate traffic problems on the campus itself, and no one wants that. If we knew we were getting a new Inpatient Building, we'd probably suck it up and deal with this traffic. But since we're not being guaranteed a bigger hospital, it's not worth crippling flow along McBean for for-profit G & L Realty.

[1]Read the City letter here

Thursday, November 13, 2008

HMNMH Countdown: Reason 8 To Say No

Reason 8: ¿Dónde está la excelencia?

The majority of the Henry Mayo expansion consists of medical office buildings (MOBs) and parking for people who will visit or work in these buildings. While invariably fugly, medical office buildings can be convenient--even important. The Good Lord knows we need more places for injections of Botox, Restylane, Radiesse, collagen, Juvederm, et al. lest the fine ladies of Clarita go walking around town with saggy jowls, wrinkly foreheads and skinny lips.

Being a reasonable person, I will freely admit that as the valley grows, so too will our need for medical office space. However, our need for more MOBs isn’t terribly pressing, as I suggested in a prior post[1].

We could get some really useful, high-quality services at the planned MOBs if there was a meaningful, written commitment to developing Centers of Excellence. But there isn’t. Even still, it would be great to give Santa Clarita’s brightest-and-bestest doctors (the ones who are going to flock to Henry Mayo upon its expansion) the option of keeping an office on the HMNMH campus. But who knows if the developer is even going to get around to constructing the new Inpatient Building? Alas, surgeons need operating rooms in which to ply their trade, and operating rooms are in very, very short supply. I think that before some more are built, it would be premature to anticipate providing non-existent doctors with ample, conveniently located office space.

Reason number 8 to say “No!” to the Master Plan comes down to office buildings. They’re just too light on Centers of Excellence and much too heavy on the community and our quality of life.

[1]Here--it's funny, I promise

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

HMNMH Countdown: Reason 9 To Say No

Reason 9: Rhymes with Fugly

The Henry Mayo campus expansion is going to be ferociously ugly. Dozens of mature trees will need to be ripped out, and it will take decades before anything comparable grows back. Parking structures will assault our aesthetic sensibilities with their massive concrete facades. A skyline once lush and leafy will be replaced by one barren and boxy. The reason that street-level renderings aren’t shown on Henry Mayo’s website is because they would drive home the point of just how grotesquely over-built the campus stands to become.

But ugliness is just part of the problem. With its 5-story parking structures and industrial looking medical office buildings, the expansion will forever change the character of this highly visible bit of Valencia. Until now, the well-planted berm along McBean and the Summit-ish hillside at the rear of the campus have done much to camouflage the hospital. This will no longer be possible with buildings twice or more as tall as present structures. People don’t want to look at such a scene, so home values in the vicinity will decrease, contrary to Mayor Pro-Tem Ferry’s people-love-to-buy-next-to-hospitals assertion. And it's not just the visible environment that will change for the worse. Echoes and increased traffic will flood nearby homes with sound pollution, and there will almost certainly be more odors from exhaust and waste. A precedent will be set for other businesses that want to build high and dense along McBean. In short, the area will stop looking and feeling like a pleasant, quiet neighborhood.

Most everyone would be OK with forever blemishing our landscape with the expansion if only we were assured that we’d get a bigger, better inpatient building. But there are no assurances, no guarantees. The City Council shouldn’t take destroying the character of whole neighborhoods lightly. The fugly factor: it’s the ninth reason to say “No!” to the Master Plan.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

HMNMH Countdown: Reason 10 To Say No

Barring some compelling new information or developments, the issue of Henry Mayo campus expansion will be decided on November 19, 2008. The more cynical among us may say this issue was decided months or even years ago, and the vote on the 19th will be nothing more than a formality. I tend to agree, and I've made up some numbers to prove why.

Likelihood They'll Say "Yes" to the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Master Plan:
MAYOR KELLAR: 87%
MAYOR PRO-TEM FERRY: 100%
COUNCILMEMBER ENDER: 100%
COUNCILMEMBER MCLEAN: 94%
COUNCILMEMBER WESTE: 0%*
*Will say "Aye" instead of "Yes"


G&L Realty and Roger Seaver & Co. have performed some amusing tricks to try and win the councilmembers over. They reduced by a hundred-thousand square-feet here, threw in a healing garden there, but most of the changes have been superficial. The project remains far too ambitious and offers no guarantees of the new Inpatient Building we so desperately need. The proposed expansion will not enhance but diminish quality of life in Santa Clarita.

But, at the risk of stating the obvious, it's the City Council that has all the power. The C.C. has just as much right to say "No!" as "Yes!" to the Master Plan. It doesn't matter if there has been money spent to make new EIRs and draft new plans. If the project remains unacceptable--and it does--the City Council should show that they mean business and send G&L Realty back to the drawing board.

Over the days leading up to the big vote, I will be giving my top ten reasons to say no to the HMNMH Master Plan.

REASON TEN: Peters and Barstis (Arrogance and Condescension)

On September 23, the people of Santa Clarita had the distinct displeasure of listening to Craig Peters, Senior V.P. of Industrial Properties at CB Richard Ellis. (He also happens to serve on the hospital board). In his speech before City Council, Peters was arrogant and condescending. He presented the "argument" that if everyone in SCV knew as much as he did about commercial real estate, we'd understand why the Master Plan doesn't promise an actual hospital and why so many medical office buildings are going to be built. Our opposition to the expansion, he explained, grew out of ignorance.

On October 13, things got even uglier. In one of the most self-important and insulting letters ever published in TMS[1], Dr. John Barstis wrote "Community activists do not, in fact, have as much expertise as health care professionals and city planners. Thus the whole debate has been hijacked." The opinions of "community activists" were deemed inexpert and unwanted. Never mind logical arguments about conflicts of interest and the need for outside perspective. Barstis was none too keen on hearing what the unwashed masses had to say against the campus expansion he so desperately championed.

Why have Master Plan proponents been so condescending? Quite simply, they know the people of Santa Clarita aren't on their side. If we were in favor of the Master Plan, they would say things like "the people of SCV know what's best for their community, and we should listen to them!" But we aren't in favor. Thus, Peters and Barstis tried to convince the City Council that their opinions counted for more than ours. This is wrong, and it's the #10 reason to say "No!" to the Master Plan.

[1]Read it here, if you have the stomach.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happenings: SCV's Voice (Un)Heard

***SPOILER ALERT! If you don't want the surprise of who won the presidential race ruined for you, read no further!***

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Barack Obama Wins Presidency

As Obama delivered a thoroughly uninspiring acceptance speech during which he opted not to smile nor to explore new talking points nor to try out new phrasing, I wept[1]. The anecdotes about senile old ladies on whom speechwriters projected empty idealism. The tacky split-screens showing Obama and the Lincoln Monument, juxtaposition at its most inept. The phallic stage jutting lewdly into a mass of people for whom election research was reading monosyllabic campaign posters promising “change” and “hope.” It was all too much.

If Santa Clarita were a person, she would have voted for McCain (though a sizable percentage of her would have been conflicted about the decision[2]). To see Santa Clarita’s voice so willfully ignored was more than I could take. You spoke, Clarita, but the rest of America did not listen.

But all was not lost.

When it came to state ballot measures, Santa Clarita indeed led the way. Here are some highlights of our victories, assuming results/trends at 11:19pm on election night reflect what the final results will be:

Prop 1A: You want to build a big old fancy train that doesn’t make a stop in Santa Clarita? We think not! We righteously smote this measure, and the rest of California followed suit.

Prop 2: Claritans like to treat their pets well, buying them Christmas presents, taking them to dog parks, and letting them star in car dealership commercials. We have led the way in humane treatment of animals, and now the whole state has fallen in line by agreeing to let farm animals stretch their limbs before slaughter.

Prop 3: Before you improve/build hospitals for kids, we'd like to have a few years of meetings at City Hall. Fail.

Prop 8: Us Claritans are of the traditional sort. Weddings should be expensive, have plenty of booze, and be of the heterosexual persuasion. So too thinks most of the rest of California, and this proposition passed.

Prop 10: If we're going to subsidize any vehicles, they'll be the kind that get our kids to their soccer matches safely, not weird, dinky natural-gas-sippin' hippy-cars. In allegiance to auto row, we--and California at large--voted no.

Clearly, our voice does matter some of the time. We're always right, and the broader world sometimes has the wisdom to listen to us. Santa Clarita remains the best part of America, and we intend to continue leading the way no matter what.

[1]As my sister said “It sounded like an ‘Oh, shit, now I actually have to prove myself’ speech.” Being as objective as possible, I think McCain gave a better concession speech than Obama gave an acceptance speech. And no, I didn’t really weep—not on the outside, anyways.
[2]Here I'm guessing since that information isn't all tabulated as of yet. Still, I think it's safe to guess that SCV is conservative.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happenings: Things Going Just Fine, Actually

Tonight’s was a profoundly uneventful City Council meeting[1]. While the rest of Southern California burns, trillions of dollars course out of plummeting global markets, and the presidential race draws to a fierce finale, Claritans spent the evening chatting about school bells and art. If events at the meeting are any indication, things in Santa Clarita are going just fine. (Or, more likely, we’ll get to the unpleasant stuff at the next C.C.)

Mayor Kellar began the meeting by discussing how to handle tough decisions, several of which loom in the near future. He advocated the rocking chair test. Roughly, a decision is a good one if it would leave you at peace when sitting in your rocking chair at 90 years old and thinking back on things. Because of senility and our exhaustless ability to forgive ourselves, I can’t say I’m a firm advocate of the rocking-chair-in-your-90s-approach-to-decision-evaluation, but that's just me.

After the various presentations to deserving pillars of our community, councilmember comments were made. They were nothing to write home about: safe ways to spend Halloween, water softeners, the ridiculous new “parkmobile”[2], etc. It took the old Saugus school bell to get people riled up. You see, the Saugus School District wants the cherished chimer back for their centennial. BUT, the historical society is the current guardian of the ancient bell and had it put in a special tower for the whole community to enjoy. Fully a quarter-hour went to discussing whether it would be appropriate for the Council to express their support for a transfer of the bell. Even after all that time, the issue remains unsatisfactorily resolved. At stake are such serious matters as whether the bell should be mentioned in commemorative speeches and which City staff would be most suited to a bell relocation operation.

After the bell, it was on to the consent calendar. The only thing worth talking about was Item 10, which allocated $42K for the consulting services of Historic Resources Group. They’ll help with efforts to identify and preserve the historical places of Santa Clarita. Leon Worden was cautiously enthusiastic, hoping that the group will look beyond unreliable property records and evaluate historic merit on-the-ground. Pat Saletore was also supportive and added that “History is being made constantly.” In light of this truism, she wants efforts made to recognize the contemporary creation of historic places. In Santa Clarita, history stands little chance but to be preserved.

After the customary 7pm potty break, Rick Gould spoke about the status of the Arts Advisory Committee and its future. Specifically, he said that the committee could continue as is, or, like a caterpillar, go through a transformation and emerge as a beautiful, influential butterfly called the Santa Clartia Arts Commission. Such a commission would more strongly affirm Santa Clarita’s commitment to “the Arts.” Most everyone was for art and the commission, and a number of speakers came to the microphone to say just how fervently supportive they were. The common theme was that the arts have enormous potential for growth in Santa Clarita and a devoted commission would be a great way of getting things rolling.

City Attorney Carl Newton clarified that Santa Clarita’s art commission would necessarily function in a purely advisory role. Thus, the move from committee to commission wouldn't confer any new legislative powers.

Still, the City Council was largely supportive. Art is good for the soul as well as City coffers, it seemed. Councilmember McLean went so far as to state “I see absolutely no downside” and said she was ready to throw her support behind creating the new commission. Laurie Ender called the proposed action mostly a name change. She summed up things accurately when she said “We have something that’s not working as good as it should” and advocated finding ways to make any arts advisory group--regardless of its name--more effective. There was a bit of back and forth on an arts commission as money drain (staff time) or money generator (bigger programs, bigger grants) as well as to whether formation of a commission could be approved that night or warranted more study. Ultimately, McLean and Kellar acquiesced and agreed to let staff research implications of making an arts commission.

Then, at last, we came to public participation, the discordant notes in a chorus of “Things Keep Getting Better.” Alan Ferdman spoke on behalf of himself alone (unusual, no?), and TimBen Boydston also spoke. They were both worried about the people of SCV not being heard in Public Participation at CC meetings and as part of the One Valley One Vision process, respectively. Then, the poor, defeated Nadine Teter of Benz Road traffic victim fame came forward with DVDs for councilmembers to watch. Presumably, they'll show how much life sucks when you have to deal with thousands of cut-through car trips on a residential street. One really has to feel bad for her. She got traffic relief for all of a week and is now back to square one.

The City Manager talked in a kinda-not-really-being-too-direct-in-responding fashion, and the meeting was done.

[1]Agenda here
[2]I still don't quite get what the Parkmobile does, but I know I'm against it with every fiber of my being

Monday, October 13, 2008

Only in SCV: [BLANK] in the River

I know. The annual Santa Clara River Rally was three weeks ago. I haven’t yet had time to blog about it (or anything else, for that matter) for several reasons, none of which would be of any particular interest to you. Still, I think the river needs to be discussed. Thus, here are notes on the mighty Santa Clara presented somewhat late. As repayment for my tardiness, I offer you a theme: [BLANK] in the river.

But before getting to what [BLANK] is, let me set the scene: the River Rally comprised mostly high school students doing community service for class requirements or to put on college applications. There were also the obligatory scout troops and a fair sprinkling of local crazies. Once you arrived, you signed a waiver (something like “by signing this sheet, I agree not to sue the City and transfer ownership of my undying soul to Mr. Ken Pulskamp”). For your trouble, you got a bright green wrist band. Next, you were supposed to go to some inane “Biology Training” where they told you not to pick up snakes, eat the wildlife, or needlessly trample endangered species. I skipped that part. Finally, you were given gloves and a big trash bag and told to clean the river to your heart’s content.

No, your eyes do not deceive you. There were a lot (>1000) of Claritans at the clean-up, many of them young and with far better ways to spend their Saturday morning. What drove them to clean? Most likely, they recognized that volunteering gives a boost to college apps and improves their odds of one day escaping Santa Clarita.
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After picking up trash and dumping it at a designated spot, you were handsomely rewarded with swag. You got quite a lot of free stuff in the tent set up for local groups and businesses, among it compact fluorescent lights, a blue reusable grocery bag, vast quantities of pens and pencils, a thing that made noise and blew bubbles, earth-shaped stress balls, and bananas.

Now that you have the background on what you could have experienced if you actually showed up to the River Rally, it’s time for you and me to move onto the [BLANK] of [BLANK] in the River.

1. Shit in the River
And I do mean shit in its most literal form. There are people living in the Santa Clara River (see Item #2), and people, with rare exception, defecate. This led to an abundance of used toilet paper in parts of the river bed.

A friend and I got to the River Rally early, and we were part of the advance guard moving north through the wash. I started picking up pieces of white, linty paper when my friend yelled “That’s used toilet paper!” Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed the used part before picking it up.

Now the good news was that I was wearing gloves. The bad news is they were basically loosely-woven garden gloves, not exactly ideal for handling…y’know.

Other cleaners also went on to encounter the discarded toilet paper. Two high school girls showed remarkable ingenuity when confronted with this challenge. Like in a documentary about primitive man, they improvised tools from sticks, spearing the toilet paper with a sharp branch before putting it in the trash bag. I was duly impressed.

I don’t think the shit in the river problem warrants latex gloves for all cleaners next year, but maybe a shit brigade could see that the little kids don’t accidentally stumble across a pile of used toilet paper.

2. People in the River
At the risk of redundancy, POTRs—People/Persons Of The River—are a regular feature of the Santa Clara riverbed. Theirs is a seasonal lifestyle with winter floods and river clean-ups forcing them to temporarily live elsewhere.

One POTR residence, beneath a cottonwood tree, stood directly in the path of the clean-up. It was clear this was no beer drinking venue for teens; it was a home. There were big, multi-gallon water containers sitting in the shade. There was a relatively clean mattress, a table with chair, tarps to block afternoon sun, and even a little stuffed teddy bear. The number of discarded food wrappers and personal items suggested they’d been there for a while. I lingered in front of the tree sheltering these living quarters, curious to how people would react.

POTR residence.

One mom with a group of kids simply steered her helpers away from the tree, saying other people would take care of it. A high school student wandered through the site and wordlessly examined all of the possessions. Most people respected the fact that this was somebody’s stuff--probably all they had--and didn’t treat it like trash.

When I returned to see what had happened a bit later, however, I found the whole area cleared. The simplest explanation is that a group of cleaners after us had decided to demolish the little home under a tree. The whole thing makes me uncomfortable. Sure, the POTRs didn’t own the land and they were leaving a lot of trash, but it felt like one was violating some deep, unspoken law of personal property after even walking into the encampment. I suppose the eviction was inevitable, though. If it hadn’t been the cleaners, it would be the rains. That's life for POTRs.

3. Arundo in the River

I want to close with what I think is excellent news.

There’s a plant called Arundo donax—“Giant Reed” (the reed used in wood wind instruments). I hear most people call it bamboo, which is close enough. In any case, Arundo (uh-RUN-doe) is native to the Mediterranean. Some years ago, it was introduced to California and invaded rivers and washes mercilessly. Bits of the plant break off in floods and reroot elsewhere, helping it spread. It is well established in many parts of the Santa Clara.

The downsides of Arundo are many:
1. It’s very flammable.
2. It breaks easily in winter floods and can clog the infrastructure that helps channel flood waters away from homes.
3. It is inedible to most local insects. By supporting fewer insects, there is less food for local lizards, birds, and other insectivores.
4. Non-native Arundo can smother native willows and herbaceous riparian plants, leading to less biodiversity in our rivers.

It’s also creepily hard to kill. I cut a few canes of it to use as supports for my green bean vines. I cut the Arundo canes off at the base, which would have killed most plants, and I set them in direct, 95-degree sunlight for two days. I then plopped the canes in the ground for the beans to twine up. Within a matter of weeks, the Arundo canes had rooted and were producing new leaves. I was justifiably freaked out by the plant that wouldn’t die.

Clearly, to remove Arundo, you need a devoted team of specialists. At September's City Council meeting, the Council approved a measure to do just that and have Arundo in the Santa Clara removed. It will be good for the environment and, better yet, grants are paying for it. So way to go, SCV, for letting people do good, positive work for free. But motives and investment aside, the Santa Clara River will be the better for Arundo removal, just as it stands better for removal of all that trash.

Here I'd make a joke about trash and Santa Clarita, but where's the sport in that?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happenings: Benz Road Woes



After taking a trip to Lombardi Ranch for corn, I decided to stop by Benz Road and admire the diverter. The white-washed tagging on the K-rail spoke to its impending demise: "THIS DOESN'T WORK" and "NOT SAFE!" A woman driving by echoed these sentiments. She paused and we conversed thusly:

HER "Are you taking pictures to complain?"
ME "Yeah." [hopes that's the correct response]
HER "Good!" [speeds off]




Background for those in need: Benz Road was very heavily used as a cut-through to get from Copper Hill Drive to Bouquet Canyon Road, much to the displeasure of Benz Road homeowners. After years of begging for a solution, a diverter was installed to cut down on the traffic speeding through Benz. Outcry from neighboring drivers over the diverter very quickly precipitated this afternoon’s special City Council meeting.



Today's special meeting got off to a good start. Most mercifully, Mayor Kellar suggested that comments be kept under one minute. Even with this reduction in talk time, the sheer volume of speakers meant about an hour of comments.

As a group, the speakers reaffirmed that Santa Claritans are very healthy communicators, utterly unafraid to make venomous remarks about their neighbors for the record. Those who opposed the diverter did everything from shouting semi-coherently about how Benz Road residents “should not inconvenience us, they should move!” to talking about how their special needs kids now had to sit on the bus for unacceptably longer commutes. Speakers who liked the diverter compared the crowd against it to a kid screaming for a candy bar in the market. Quality of life trumped convenience, they claimed.

Both sides struggled to own the “safety” angle. Benz Road residents and supporters pointed out how having a diverter made Benz Road a much safer place for homeowners and their children. Fans of the cut-through countered with the argument that fire trucks wouldn’t be able to quickly reach families in need with the diverter in place. While I’m sure some of these people were sincere, there’s no doubt that others were using “slower emergency response time” as code for “I miss my shortcut.”

I quickly reached hyperbole overload, desensitized to real safety issues by the sensational claims people were making. It was the end of the world no matter what the Council decided.

At the end of public comments, a few distinct options emerged:


1. Leave the diverter for the 3-month study period. Let the data dictate what is done next.
2. Diverter out, speed bumps in.
3. Diverter out! Diverter out! Diverter out!
4. Close off Benz Road at its origin (Copper Hill) to alleviate problems.



So you're not in suspense any longer, they went with No. 2. Interpret that as you will.


The decision came after a fair bit of back and forth among councilmembers. Particularly vociferous was Mayor Pro-Tem Ferry, so much so that Councilmember Ender said—good naturedly, of course--“I want one of those marshmallow guns so I can shoot you for you to stop talking.” Ferry unveiled a grand plan for the City to stop a number of traffic regulating measures. He said that if roads are available, they ought to be used. Ferry feared that giving Benz Road speed bumps would lead to every citizen in Santa Clarita demanding them for their own streets. He even talked about how longer car trips around the diverter would contribute to global warming. After all, it is well known that our local contribution to climate change is the thing that keeps Ferry up at night.

Councilmember Laurene Weste demolished a number of Ferry’s arguments quite succinctly. By this point, it was clear that the diverter was toast, so she focused on Ferry’s remarks about speed bumps/humps/cushions, which were proposed as an alternative. She said Ferry couldn't have it both ways (basically he said that speed bumps would not work at all but everybody in SCV would want them and the City would have to pay). She said that trying the speed bumps could be a good way to establish once and for all whether they work, and Ender mentioned how the investment could be reused elsewhere if found ineffective for Benz. Councilmember McLean had a fair bit to say too, agreeing with Ferry on the speed bumps: “Speed bumps, speed cushions—everybody thinks that’s going to be the panacea but it’s not.” But nothing was more entertaining than when she struck back at audience members hissing at her: “I can hiss back at you [hisses, smiles wryly]” Sometimes, sometimes, I really like her pluck.

Eventually, Ferry made a three-pronged motion to remove the diverter, replace turn restrictions, and have staff work on comprehensive, city-wide policy against certain traffic regulating measures like speed bumps, special restrictions, and diverters. The vote failed, and Council then weighed in on several smaller motions. Here’s how all the votes went:




So basically, the diverter is gone, turn restrictions returned, and it ends up that Marsha McLean and Frank Ferry think a lot alike when it comes to traffic.

So is everything resolved? It's quite unlikely. We're in for hearing about how expensive the speed humps are, who will foot the bill, the results of their implementation, etc... Of course, then there's Nadine Teter who said that a reliable source had told her the City Council agreed to remove the diverter well before having the special meeting. Will she pursue this alleged violation of the Brown Act, as promised/threatened?

There are at least four things to be learned about Santa Claritans from this clash:
1. We don't want anyone's kids to get run over, but if it gets to that point, we volunteer to have their kids run over, not our own.
2. People will insist that there are solutions to problems that quite plainly don't have solutions--we just need more studies and creative thinking!
3. It's Southern California, and there's nothing like driving to get us fired up.
4. Those who complain the loudest win--at least sometimes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Happenings: Hospital Talk, STAT!

Before Talking Hospital...


Tonight’s City Council meeting rushed headlong towards discussion of the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital/G&L Realty expansion plan. There was a nice pause to recognize the team of Claritans who work at JPL and helped on the Mars Phoenix Project, but after that, things moved with great haste. Public participation was moved to the end of the meeting, and the Council breezed through an 8 item consent calendar in a matter of seconds. The public hearing that preceded the HMNMH discussion got a continuation, and we were suddenly onto the topic that brought the people to City Hall: the Master Plan for Henry Mayo.

Presentations Times Three
Staff brought things to a profound halt with their presentations. The PowerPoint slides and monotone spiels were necessary evils, though, getting everyone on the same page—theoretically.

1. The first presentation was a general review of the history of the expansion project and a summary of the revisions incorporated into the Master Plan now before council. We were reminded that the applicants would like to build more than 60 feet above present height limits, that they plan to unceremoniously plop enormous office buildings and parking structures into the heart of suburbia, etc…

The City took the interesting tack of putting “Inpatient Building” at the top of a list of what applicants G&L Realty/HMNMH are requesting to build. This new hospital building will be neither the largest nor the first-built component of the project, but it was plainly the part that expansion-advocates wanted to highlight. In the comedy portion of the program, we learned about the “major modifications” made to the old Master Plan after public input. These included making one of the parking structures subterranean, reducing overall square footage, enhanced landscaping, and pedestrian "amenities.”

2. The second presentation was about the revised EIR. It included a new emphasis on how the hospital’s construction will impact global warming. I couldn’t help but laughing, imagining how global climate models will change based on what happens in a tiny piece of a tiny city on a tiny bit of the earth’s surface. It was far less amusing to learn that there will be “significant and unavoidable” deterioration of air quality and increase in noise during construction of the campus. Impacts on traffic were kind of breezed over.

The most interesting part was learning about the alternatives explored in the EIR, including building of the Inpatient Building only, of a shorter Inpatient Building, of only some of the Medical Office Buildings, etc…

3. The final presentation dealt with the development agreement. That’s the means of compelling construction of the new Inpatient Building. The developer must submit plans for the hospital and have “steel in the air” on the new Inpatient Building before they can occupy and/or construct some of the medical office buildings. It’s kind of like bribing a kid to eat his vegetables (i.e., expand the hospital) by promising him a big piece of chocolate cake (i.e., lucrative medical office buildings) afterwards. The presentation disclosed that there is still a “no obligation to develop clause” that means the Inpatient Building could, quite legally, never be built. This was tempered by the promise that there will be no eminent domain and the assertion that the present development agreement is relatively stringent(ish).

Roger Seaver Speaks, Craig Peters Insults

The “applicant” was given 30 minutes to present its case. HMNMH CEO Roger Seaver started things off with the predictable “This is not just about medical buildings” speech. He flaunted benefits of the Master Plan: a neonatal ICU, increasing the number of operating rooms by 50%, and “enhanced architecture on all buildings to reflect ‘the look of Valencia.’” He emphasized the word “community.” I heard little hope in his voice, just fatigue from a very, very long process.

Craig Peters, Senior V.P. of Industrial Properties at CB Richard Ellis, and member of the hospital board was next to speak. Excuse me: Mr. Peters was the next one to allow us the distinct pleasure of hearing his voice and marveling at his 80s-style coiffure. Indeed, Craig Peters came off as pompous, condescending, and self-important. He urged the City Council to ignore the “handful of opponents” to the project, dismissing them as “NIMBYs” and “no-growthers.” Only commercial real estate experts can truly understand the complexities of the Master Plan, he explained to the unwashed masses in the audience. Anyone else really ought to just shut up and accept that G&L Realty has to move forward with expansion as laid out in the Master Plan. In short, he decided to insult the opposition rather than entice or persuade them. We shall see how well it works.

Public Comments
Emotional Story Sharers—Support and Opposition
Many of the comments from the public were highly emotional. A man in the midst of battle against lymphoma, parents whose children had been hurt in accidents, and a mother requiring two emergency C-sections all shared their stories. The story-sharers speaking in favor of the Master Plan said we couldn’t wait any longer—a let’s-take-what-we-can-get-approach. The story-sharers against the Master Plan wanted desperately to see more hospital before more medical office buildings. One speaker suggested that more MOBs could interfere with the ability of people to get in and out of the hospital, thereby hurting those most in need.

In Support
Several doctors came forward in support, as did residents expressing the sentiment “I went to Henry Mayo and it was great; give them what they want.”

In Opposition—[I’m growing weary; prepare for sloppy transitions]
There were several technical objections to the Master Plan. Speakers mentioned that “Master plans must conform to their underlying zone”—it’s on the books—and this project would violate zoning ordinances. Cam Noltemeyer asked why the hospital was reduced in square footage when it’s the one element of the project we most need. She wondered why G&L office buildings are allowed to sprawl forcing the Inpatient Tower to soar 100’ into the air.

Several poked fun at ads released by the hospital. Dr. Gene Dorio said that 4 of the 7 doctors quoted in a pro-expansion ad said the “ad distorts their opinions of the Master Plan.” Dorio said the helipad was very poorly sited and would require awkward trips in elevators and across a 1/3 mile stretch to deliver critical patients to the hospital.

Lindsey was the first of three Newhalls to speak out against the hospital (whose namesake happens to be her ancestor). Reena Newhall was predictably outspoken, ridiculing an ad put out that made factually impossible claims about how long a doctor worked at HMNMH. Tony Newhall began with a dramatic flourish that pushed Recuse-a-thon-’08 forward. He handed over papers to City Council that will impel SmartGrowthSCV efforts to have Frank Ferry and Laurie Ender recuse themselves for being unduly biased in favor of the hospital expansion. He closed by saying “This deal is about real estate” and that Santa Clarita needs “less office space, more operating rooms.”

TimBen Boydston revealed the fruits of his independent research into the parking situation at HMNMH. He requested half-an-hour to detail his findings at a special meeting in November. Tonight, he was ready to make the claim that “The project has a huge parking deficit” and that the study used to defend parking plans had “huge flaws”, not the least of which was provisioning zero parking spaces for ER patients.

Roger Rebuts, Except Not
Seaver had a chance to rebut, but he basically conveyed that he’d rather just send a written reply. At the urging of Councilmember Laurene Weste and the questioning of Mayor Pro-Tem Frank Ferry, he talked a little, but it’s safe to say his real rebuttal to accusations made during tonight’s meeting will come later and in writing.

Laurie Ender asked a quite important question quite frankly: “Is there enough parking in this plan?” Seaver replied “I can say with great confidence there is.” After the many accusations that preceded this reply, I think we still have those who remain less than convinced.

Council Comments
Councilmember Marsha McLean offered certain proof that she has been doing her reading about the Master Plan. She presented papers littered with sticky notes and asked a number of questions that had come up during her close reading. Many of these weren’t answered very satisfactorily by City staff, but they helped define areas to clarify in future meetings.

Ferry finally responded to the cries for recusal. He quite correctly asserted that people want their elected officials to hold and express opinions. He said that’s all he’s been doing while contending that “My mind’s always open.” Unfortunately, he talked about the expansion as something that is unequivocally going to happen—he’ll make it the best expansion possible, but some kind of expansion is a foregone conclusion. This is why people will still cry “Recuse!”--he should also be open to considering the option of flat-out rejecting the Master Plan.

Public Participation
Public Participation consisted of people who stayed till the bitter end to speak speaking about how they disliked having to stay till the bitter end to speak. The idea of moving PP to the end of the meeting was Ken Pulskamp’s, according to TimBen Boyston, and I must say that I kind of like it. As Mayor Kellar pointed out, it makes sure that people whose items are on the agenda get a fair chance to speak. It also means that you really have to care about what you have to say in order to stick around to say it, so getting whole neighborhoods to show up will prove harder to accomplish and thus even more impressive at upcoming meetings. After these comments, the meeting mercifully adjourned.

SYNTHESIS
Everyone wants a new, bigger, better hospital. The plans to expand the campus are very big plans indeed, but most of the space is going towards medical office buildings, not a hospital. Even after revisions and scaling back, buildings on the campus will grossly violate the building height and density standards for residential low zones. Before a decision is reached, there must be significant clarification reagarding: the traffic and parking issue, commitment to Centers of Excellence, and a convincing discussion of why we can't go ahead with one of the less-dense alternatives presented in the EIR.