Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happenings: CC Shafts Old Town Newhall, Jim Farley

Two issues dominated the City Council meeting tonight: the demise of Newhall Hardware and the Open Space Financial Accountability and Audit Panel. I’ll deal with the Open Space business—and drama—first.

Of Last Minute Swaps and Glaring Omissions

Was Cam Noltemeyer responsible for a last minute Ferry flip-flop on Open Space appointees? I’ll get around to answering that question in a bit, but first, a little background is in order.

As their last task for the evening, each member of the City Council was charged with appointing a member of the Open Space Financial Accountability and Audit Panel. The panel has limited powers concerning the recently approved initiative to funnel taxpayer dollars into acquiring open space in and around Santa Clarita. They can’t prioritize open space actions or help in the acquisition process. They just make sure that taxpayer money is spent according to the conditions laid out for the Open Space Preservation District.

Since most of the details surrounding the Open Space Preservation District and Accountability Panel are either (a)convoluted, (b)boring, or (c)both, the issue has received little attention from the community at large. Luckily, people like Cam Noltemeyer, Jim Farley, and Sterling King have kept an eye on things. They uncovered some questionable practices (click here for more) and provided some much needed criticism of the measure. This scrutiny meant that despite the Audit Panel’s limited power, its composition had huge symbolic importance and was a chance for the City to get things rights. Predictably, they did not.

Indeed, I was almost certain that Jim Farley was going to be appointed to serve on the five-person panel. He knows all about the Preservation District’s inner workings. Though he has been critical of how the tax assessment to fund land acquisition was passed, he is clearly committed to doing what is in Santa Clarita’s best interests. Furthermore, his appointment would have pacified a lot of critics. Appointing Farley would reassure them that approval of land purchases wasn’t being granted without an outsider's careful appraisal and consideration. Logically, then, no Councilmember chose to appoint him. Instead, Spence Leafdale, Wendy Langhans, Calvin Hedman, Henry Schultz, and Alan Ferdman were appointed, respectively, by Kellar, Ferry, Weste, McLean, and Boydston. All of these people were qualified, but none have been tied to the issue as closely as Farley or followed it with his dedication.

For City Council watchdogs, Farley’s snub was a major insult, but a symbolic slap to the face may just have been prevented by Cam Noltemeyer. Indeed, she spoke about applicant Robert Lee minutes before the appointments were made. Lee, it seems, has some suspicious ties to uber-developer Larry Rasmussen and was linked to past lobbying efforts for high-density development. Additionally, we were reminded that Robert Lee had turned in an incomplete application, missing one of the three letters of recommendation. These revelations got Councilmember Frank Ferry to show his hand a little early. Ferry asked the City Attorney about whether late/incomplete applicants (only Robert Lee and Michael Hildebrand fell into this category) were disqualified from serving (they weren’t), and he asked for a five-minute recess to process some “new information”--presumably from Cam's speech about Lee. Using my considerable powers of deduction, I think this points quite clearly to Councilmember Ferry having planned to nominate Robert Lee. If this was indeed his original plan, Noltemeyer’s comments must have gotten him to change his mind. For, when it came time to appoint, he selected Wendy Langhans, a retired, quietly passionate naturalist with a good deal of business experience to boot.

In sum, then, Open Space critics were insulted by the Council’s failure to nominate Jim Farley, but they weren’t slapped in the face since applicant Robert Lee wasn’t Farley’s replacement.

Newhall Hardware and Building Discontent

Everyone loves Nehwall Hardware. They don’t love it enough to shop there very much, but they’re in love with the idea that a locally-owned, semi-historic business can still make it in today’s cruel world of cost-cutting and low consumer loyalty. There were two speakers during the public participation section who touched on the topic of its imminent closure. Both wanted to see the City do everything it could to stop Newhall Hardware from shutting its doors. Everyone on Council chimed in with their heart-felt agreement. Many, like Councilmember McLean, seemed deeply troubled by the thought that Newhall Hardware is probably going away forever. Despite being unified in their sympathy, there was nothing the City itself could really do to help the business stay afloat. Indeed, the City is free to re-stripe roads, use eminent domain, and choke off customer traffic by a business, but they’re not allowed to help it. I know, I’m probably not being fair. As Boydston and McLean noted, there usually isn’t a parking problem when you try to get into Newhall Hardware. Still, it’s not as though City actions have had any really positive effect on Newhall Hardware and other local businesses.

One Newhall businessman who spoke with calm but damning conviction was Art Tresierras (of the market of the same name). He said “I am deeply concerned” with regard to changes in traffic flow and other challenges for business owners in Newhall. He talked about parking issues and a frustrating problem with advertising. You see, with the new traffic patterns, the backs of businesses are now the de facto storefronts, but the City won’t allow advertising on that side. Business owners have actually been cited for putting signs out for traffic on their shops’ rear edifices. Tresierras closed by saying that the City does "not have the right to attempt to destroy the businesses in the area.” Blessed candor!

Regardless of what factor or factors are to blame for business closures and struggles, one truth is becoming clear: revitalizing Old Town Newhall is the project where everyone wants to have their cake and eat it, too. Only the yucky businesses should leave. Only nice, boutique-ish, tax revenue-generating businesses should come in. And, of course, street, traffic, and aesthetic changes should bring about results consistent with these goals of out with the yucky, in with the nice. The City is really micro-managing this “revitalization”, and I think they’re going to find the use of eminent domain more and more irresistible as things continue to go in ways the planning committee hadn’t, well, planned. This is why we should all listen to Linda Slocum[1] more—she follows Newhall redevelopment more closely than anyone and has been giving warnings to Claritans for months and months. To understand what is going on, you have to realize that some people genuinely believe Old Town Newhall will be transformed from dump to destination. As Councilmember Marsha McLean put it “We’re making Newhall the perfect place for them [businesses] to be.” I suspect that Newhall Hardware, Tresierras Market, Antique Flower Garden, automotive shops, and others beg to differ.

Other Notes
Well that’s the bulk of the meeting digested, then, but we also had another street renaming (welcome Railroad Avenue); a visitor from Australia; a safety lesson from Sergeant Cohen; and City grants to non-profits totaling $100,000--which is nothing to scoff at.

(left)There’s an Aussie in my audience! She (sorry, I forgot to take her name) came from a far-off land to learn about what a great place Santa Clarita is and to sing its praises for the Council—this makes her a “pilgrim.” Yes, I'm being quite serious. (right) Worden waxes historic on renaming yet more streetage. Said one man, “Railroad Avenue just sounds bad.” No, it sounds an awful lot like Monopoly, and who doesn't like board games?

[1]Local realtor, blogger, comentator, and questioner; her blog is here.


Anonymous said...

Did you really think Farley was going to be put on the Audit Panel?

Linda Slocum said...

Tresierras closed by saying that the City does "not have the right to attempt to destroy the businesses in the area."

Interesting to note is that "revitalization" and "redevelopment" as applied to the current businesses in Old Town Newhall appear to have been redefined to mean "remove and replace". Do the existing businesses really need to be removed, or can the Old Town Newhall area be "revitalized" by just cleaning up the area with paint, facades and the like?

The Retail Opportunities Analysis commissioned by the City of Santa Clarita is very clear in stating that automotive and service-related businesses (insurance, chiropractor, psychologist, etc) won't be welcome in the redeveloped area, largely because they don't provide enough sales tax revenue. The ONLY existing business tagged in the report as being "appropriate" for the area is Billy's. All other businesses appear to be "not appropriate" according to the study, and thus they will likely be forced out of the area one way or another.

The Retail Opportunities Analysis in itself is not really that off base in its findings, although the results have been both presented and interpreted to swing heavily towards the current redevelopment plans. Read more here.

A Santa Claritan said...

RE: Comment 1, Yeah, I thought he would have been a classic Boydston nominee.

RE: Comment 2, I definitely agree that redevelopment is just a euphemism for selective business removal. I'm glad they're giving a grand total of one shop, Billy's, their approval.

Jim Farley said...

Santa Clarita is correct in that Boydston was my best chance for nomination. I did meet and discuss it with him. The way the selection process was designed however made it irrelevant if he chose me. The other candidates had the right to veto any other selection. At least three of the remaining four would have rejected me. The city council and manager did everything they could to manipulate this process to assure I could not serve.

As it turns out it may actually be best that I am not on the panel as it has so little clout anyway. I am now free to pursue this issue and others without feeling restricted by my position. The council did not put me on the panel, but that will not make me go away. They lied to us about the money only being able to be used to buy open space. I do not have to be on a panel to know if they adhere to there promise.

Thank you I Heart for your comments! The Signal covered my non selection with one sentence. The SCV doesn't exist as far as the Daily News is concerned. Your site and SCVTALK are now the best places to learn about what is happening in our city. And I don't even have to walk out to my driveway in my pajamas to get it. You are awesome!

Jim Farley said...

Clarification on my last posting - the other council members had the right to veto - not the other candidates as I mistakenly typed.

Anonymous said...

Open Space - This is just another "Facilities Group" who will buy property that their friends can't get rid of. You're gonna need a pretty big pitbull to act as watchdog for this group. Tell me there was NO space on the East side of town for another college other than the side of a moountain that they purchased for a ridiculous price? I heard that the first property purchased as open space is a "formerly" contaminated parcel for the "bargain" price of $2.5M!!! When is this goup gonna buy Porta Bella???