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 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.
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?
Local realtor, blogger, comentator, and questioner; her blog is here.