Sunday, April 27, 2008

Happenings: McKeon Promises a "Win-Win"

NOTE: As far as I'm concerned, the only thing good to have come from the phrase "win-win"--used to title Rep. McKeon's press release for the CEMEX Bill--is a pretty decent episode of The Office where Michael tries to mediate the elusive win-win-win.

I will refrain from saying "quick! somebody order the thank you signs" since you're probably tired of those jokes by now (even though I'm not). Indeed, our United States House of Representatives rep, Buck McKeon, has delivered on his promise. He drafted and introduced a bill that would allow the feds to cancel contracts for CEMEX's planned aggregate mining in Soledad Canyon. If you were kicked in the head by a pony as a young child, I remind you that SCV is unanimously against CEMEX mining in this valley, and we are throwing everything we have at trying to keep them from doing so.

There is an excerpt from the bill presented below. Should you want to read the entire thing, I recommend you visit GovTrack, an excellent place to keep tabs on how the bill progresses. After visiting that site, there are a number of other places to visit on the net. Though introduced just days ago, SCV and government sites have devoted plenty of webspace to the bill and its surrounding story [1,2,3,4].

I hope you’ll excuse me for not whoop-di-frickin’-dooin’ about H.R. 5887. The numbers of the bill title add up to 28, which adds up to 10, which adds up to 1, which is simply no good. Apart from the numbers working against us, this bill us probably slated to do what Bill H.R. 5471 did several years ago: nothing, i.e., never leave committee. Still, I think it's a good way to approach the problem and should be supported by Claritans. It sees that the contract allowing for mining is cancelled, and in return, CEMEX is able to relocate to near Victorville for its mining efforts. Now it's time to hope that the story of this bill does not end here.

[1]McKeon press release, with dreaded "Win-win" title
[2]Santa Clarita press release--surprisingly, there isn't one up on the Press Releases page as of 10:46pm Sunday night; I'll post it here when/if available. Do click on the P.R. link, though, to check for an update. Perhaps the City is playing it cool this time around?
[3]The Signal story by Katherine Geyer, April 26
[4]Story by Jon Dell and Carol Rock at KHTS, April 26

EXCERPT (full bill available here):
HR 5887 IH

2d Session
H. R. 5887

To provide to the Secretary of Interior a mechanism to cancel contracts for the sale of materials CA-20139 and CA-22901, and for other purposes.

April 24, 2008

Mr. MCKEON introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, and in addition to the Committee on Ways and Means, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned


To provide to the Secretary of Interior a mechanism to cancel contracts for the sale of materials CA-20139 and CA-22901, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
This Act may be cited as the `Soledad Canyon Mine Act'.
(a) Findings- The Congress finds the following:
(1) Transit Mix Concrete Corporation holds two valid Federal contracts, numbered CA-20139 and CA-22901, issued under the Materials Act of 1947, for the extraction of approximately 56,000,000 tons of sand and gravel from the Federal mineral estate in lands located in Soledad Canyon adjacent to the city of Santa Clarita, California.
(2) It is in the best interest of the citizens of California and the Federal Government to cancel the Contracts and prohibit future mining in the Soledad Canyon area of California.
(3) TMC should receive as just compensation for such cancellation the fair market value of the Contracts and all costs, fees, and covered liabilities incurred by TMC in good faith in its efforts to develop the Contracts.
(4) A site-specific solution that is fair to TMC and that seeks to protect the environment and minimize impacts on local transportation systems is in the best interest of the Nation.
(5) Considerable sums of money have been expended by TMC and the city of Santa Clarita on legal and other services in trying to ensure their interests are protected with respect to Contracts CA-20139 and CA-22901.
(b) Purposes- The purposes of this Act are the following:
(1) To provide to the Bureau of Land Management the authority to cancel contracts CA-20139 and CA-22901 and prohibit future mining in the Soledad Canyon.
(2) To provide a means for TMC to recover as just compensation for the cancellation of the Contracts the fair market value of, and TMC's expenditures and covered liabilities pursuing the development of, the Contracts.
(3) To provide the Bureau of Land Management tools to verify expenses incurred by TMC and provide relief.
(4) To provide timelines for the verification of costs incurred by TMC and the determination of just compensation, and to provide a dispute resolution process.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Only in SCV: I Demand a PoFest

Behold! Tokens of Pofests past.

I have an inordinate number of shirts that say “Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.” More inordinately yet, most of these have the word “Volunteer” emblazoned across the back. Not so many years ago, I wore these shirts to my favorite event in all of SantaClaritadom. Indeed, I was something of a perennial food runner/information table talker/quasi-volunteer. Sure, some of this volunteering was done for honorable reasons (i.e., to give the appearance that I was fervently devoted to serving my community on college applications), but ultimately I just wanted to hang out at PoFest[1].

When I type “Cowboy Festival[2]”—as the event is now disgracefully called—it takes a considerable amount of self-control to not stick the word “Poetry” in the middle. For most of my formative years, the celebration of cowboy art, music, culture, and poetry was always referred to as the Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival, or Cowboy PoFest. To this day, I still call it PoFest despite the fact that organizers saw fit to remove the offending “poetry” from the event’s official name. Why should we be afraid to proclaim the fact that not only does Santa Clarita have cowboys, it has ones that recite verse?

In defiance of name changes, however, the festival has remained largely unchanged through the years. Early every spring, Santa Claritans descend on Melody Ranch to soak up cowboy culture. To some, this means a weekend of grown-up dress-up: chaps are added to jeans, spurs are added to boots, and swaggers are added to steps. All cowboy clich├ęs are adopted with giddy enthusiasm[3]. To others, the event is a chance to listen to western musicians or poets perform their work[4]. To most, though, the Cowboy Festival revolves around gustatory exploration.

None of the food offered at the event is at all unusual—with the possible exception of buffalo—but its origins are sufficiently romanticized that we eat like steers in a feedlot (I know; my bovine humor needs work). We’re not eating beef slathered in barbecue sauce, biscuits drowned in milk-and-sausage gravy or syrupy peaches nestled beneath a roof of crumbly cobbler. No, we are on a culinary journey through time to see how cowboys ate when the West was still untamed. This is how they would have grubbed off a chuck wagon, we tell ourselves, plastic spork in hand, paper napkins at the ready, and cell phone in pocket.

When Santa Claritans have had their fill of eating and passive cultural absorption, it’s a good time to wander along the dusty main street and shop or people-watch. People get caught up in the charade, often embarrassingly so. But in the world of PoFest, authentic artisans are happy to mingle with cowboy poseurs and wannabes.

Like all events embraced by Santa Claritans, we have taken elements from another culture and made them palatable to our modern tastes and sensibilities. Fittingly, this fantasy plays out in an Old West town that’s really just a convincing fantasy in itself—a movie and TV set. But let not a little artifice deter you from heading out for the festival’s 15th year; it’s as authentically Santa Claritan as anything comes. This City has rancheros in its past, the Western Walk of Stars, and a lot of cowboy sympathizers. And most Claritan of all, it's getting just a little bit worse for wear each year--more expensive, more overdone, and less like it used to be. Still, I heart it so.

[1]Full disclosure: I didn’t coin PoFest, it is a verbal masterpiece created by L.S.N.
[2]For more details, here is the
official site. [3] I will just say that one year, a prominent car salesperson was saying "howdy" in an affected tone and getting fake oh-you're-so-charming giggles from nearby Claritans; I nearly vomited. [4]Yes, there really is a market for that sort of thing. I went to a show that you had to pay for only once in all my times at PoFest, and once was enough.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happenings: Boydston Out, Ender In

On this twenty-second day of April, there were not one but two meetings to endure—enjoy?—at Santa Clarita’s City Hall. The first represented a changing of the guard and the second represented Laurie Ender’s public debut and first chance to prove herself as a Councilmember. I suppose I shall discuss both.

I served on City Council and all I got was this Lousy Plaque…

Tonight, it was time for TimBen Boydston to end his 18-month stint on the City Council. A protracted farewell comprised the bulk of a special pre-meeting meeting.

City Manager Ken Pulskamp was the first to thank Boydston for being so willing to take on all the demands associated with serving on the City Council. Councilmember Marsha McLean called her time with Boydston “fun”, and was also deeply appreciative. I was uncertain how Mayor Pro-tem Frank Ferry was going to address TimBen. He decided to sum things up in a light-hearted way, saying “I know you and I had some fun moments both publicly and privately” in reference to their verbal scuffles[1]. Councilmember Weste seemed exhausted as she described all the sacrifices one must make to serve on the Council and thanked TimBen for being willing to make these. Mayor Bob Kellar too was, you guessed it, appreciative.

Then it was TimBen’s chance to hold the talking stick. He expressed his own gratitude towards people who had helped him while on the Council. If it had been the Oscars, the orchestra would have played him off stage after the first twenty, but SCV is more willing to indulge its departing public servants. I’ll spare you the vast list, but he said thanks to folks like Paul Brotzman, people in the City Attorney’s office, administrative professionals on the third floor of City Hall, Gail Ortiz—“High Priestess of Propaganda”, and his fellow members of Council. He gave a shout-out to those representing “different” voices in the dialogue that is Santa Clarita: Jeff Wilson (SCVTalk), Linda Slocum (SantaClaritaRealEstateBlog), and even lilolIHeartSCV (I suppose linking here would be redundant).

Boydston then moved on to a discussion of the future. He was optimistic about his replacement, Laurie Ender, believing that she will not just bend to the will of certain councilmembers. He hoped out loud that she will “surprise them much as I did”. TimBen Boydston’s closing tokens were copies of a guide to ethics passed out to all Councilmembers. “May God Bless the City of Santa Clarita” he finished, earning enthusiastic applause.

But that wasn’t the end! Nay, state senator and assemblymen reps were sent to thank him and offer scrolls, letters, plaques, and other arcane forms of written appreciation. The public addressed Boydston, too. David Gauny of SmartGrowthSCV went through some of Boydston’s greatest hits—hospital hard-headedness and increasing arts funding, among others—all while managing to take a swipe at Field of Dreams and indirectly snub Laurie Ender. Bruce McFarland declared TimBen an “honorary democrat” for having acted so ethically and selflessly, thereby eliciting some hearty laughs. Said Cam Noltemeyer, who was grateful for TimBen's push for lobbyist registration: “What a breath of fresh air you were […] We expect you to be coming back up here in two years.” It's not as though Boydston was such a radical or discordant force on the Council, but he was willing to ask uncomfortable questions and really gave thought to the issues he was deciding. He was also persistent, asking lots of questions and giving excellent follow-up on issues (like his 19th public reminder that Field of Dreams is a misnomer). Tony Newhall summed up most of the sentiments expressed by Claritans quite well: “Thank you for being your own man.”

Thereafter, City Clerk Sharon Dawson swore in Laurie Ender next to the City Seal. She received some pretty thunderous applause and looked very pleased. When given her first chance to speak, Ender gave a speech that was a mix of sincere gratitude, the word “honored”, and track and field analogies. Mayor Bob Kellar then took the oath yet again to more thunderous applause.

New Meeting, New Group of Outraged Citizens

For the trend-conscious, outraged Santa Claritan, getting upset about MRFs was so last month. April is all about opposing the Avenue at Santa Clarita[2], a project that developer Monteverde Companies is proposing for what was once the Smiser mule farm. The initial plans include a massive hotel, seven restaurants, and very high-density commercial space packed into a parcel that the reasonable would call far too small. More details on it and helpful graphics can be found on the new site being run by WeThePeopleSCV.

More than twenty Claritans showed up to speak out against this project tonight, and twice as many submitted written comments in opposition[4]. David Gauny suggested that proposing a ludicrous over-development for the site was all part of Jeff Lambert’s[3] plan: “The game goes like this […] the project comes back and it’s reduced 25% […and] the public appears unreasonable because the developer’s done all of these reductions”. Boydston elaborated on Monteverde/Lambert’s transparent, audacious ploy.

After Public Participation on the Avenue at Santa Clarita ended, Old Town Newhall was discussed. Streetscaping and new parking structures are going to be phased in, which five local business owners/commenters thought would be murder on businesses already struggling to survive in the area. They advocated fixing things up all at once to avoid becomin an area forever under construction. Tearing down whole portions of blocks and rebuilding brand new buildings were activities casually mentioned in this discussion, too; it’s going to be interesting (i.e., terrifying) to see how everything turns out.

The last little issue of contention was whether attorney-client privilege would be waived in a matter concerning Bob Kellar--among others--, forms, and finances. This issue arose near election time, and releasing the confidential memo was the City’s way of showing there was nothing to hide. Still, Mayor Pro-Tem Ferry was very upset at the idea of acquiescing to the demands of Kellar/Council critics, calling the relationship between attorney and client one of sanctity. Ultimately, he was out-voted.

The question of the night, though, was how did brand new Councilmember Laurie Ender do? Well, she was lavished with indignation by Cam Noltemeyer, asked a couple of questions, and mentioned near and dear community events when she had her chance to address the public. Overall, I think she’ll fit in just fine.

[1]Or his verbal bullying, depending on your perspective. I thought it was interesting that he added the “and privately.” What goes on behind those closed council doors?
[2]Their site can be found here. Monteverde Companies, incidentally, is based in Santa Clarita.
[3]The man with an uncomfortable blend of private and public planning/consulting experience. His website.

[4]This represented a decidedly pre-emptive strike; they have yet to even contract with a company to produce the EIR.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Only in SCV: Before They're Gone...

If you’ve ever been at Lombardi Ranch early in the morning (don’t we all get a.m. hankerings for fresh corn now and then?), you may have heard melodic, haunting whoops and howls coming from the distance. It’s a sound--or a song--that you’d usually have to travel to Borneo to hear.

Gibbons, a group of lanky, acrobatic apes hailing from Southeast Asia, are responsible for the chorus. And the Gibbon Conservation Center[1] is responsible for the gibbons.

Gibbon vocalizations. Only listen with your volume turned pretty far down. If it's not playing properly in Blogger, click for the YouTube link.

On April 12, the GCC will be celebrating its 32nd Year. The public is invited to attend a fundraising breakfast and tour from 9:00 – 11:30am[2]. The event takes place at the center's Saugus facility that houses some critically endangered gibbons. All ten of the Javan Gibbons held in the United States reside at the center—in the wild, this species' total population stands at just 2,000 individuals. Attending the fundraising breakfast or making a donation, then, can do much for the conservation of the world’s gibbons. Apart from housing and breeding these animals, the center has a prolific record of peer-reviewed, scientific research[3]. Center founder Allen Mootnick, for example, has co-authored many papers on gibbon genetics, behavior, and social development.

There’s a twist, though.

As a non-profit, the Gibbon Conservation Center has always relied on grants and donations. However, recent fundraising efforts cite a need to relocate outside of Santa Clarita. From the website [emphasis is my own]:


The Gibbon Conservation Center needs to begin collecting funds now to purchase property in order to relocate. Encroaching local development will soon become a very real threat to the health and well-being of our gibbons. Stress from the sight and noise of construction, and microorganisms in the dust stirred up in earth moving, pose unacceptable and lethal dangers.

Such a move will be, by far, the greatest and most difficult undertaking GCC has ever faced. While maintaining the facility in its present location, we must find the additional funds to purchase property, obtain permits, build enclosures, offices and living space for the director and staff, then move the entire contents of the current facility. Most importantly, the safety and health of the gibbons during the move must be carefully planned for and assured. This move will take at least a year and a half, but we must begin immediately.

Our most urgent need is for at least 20 usable acres (or the funds to buy) in Los Angeles, Ventura, San Luis Obispo or Monterey County, or other mild climate more suitable for the gibbons.

The stretch of Bouquet Canyon where the center resides is about as rural as Santa Clarita gets. Housing is very low density and much open space remains. So, if even this area is feeling affected by construction and development, then we have reason #4,556 to seriously consider just how fast we’re growing as a City. The GCC is a wholly unique part of our community. I, like most Claritans, have tended to overlook this center--not necessarily a bad thing for disturbance-sensitive gibbons--but I'd hate to see it leave Santa Clarita.

From the website, Alan Mootnick's photo of a Pileated Gibbon with young. It's not just their voices that are haunting but their faces and expressions.

The Gibbon Conservation Center is trying to understand endangered apes before they’re gone from the wild, but it’s probably only a matter of time before this unique center is gone from Santa Clarita. Our tendency to sprawl into open spaces on the map is behind both losses.

[1]Their website. Or, you can call them at 661.296.2737
[2]More information can be found
here. Cost is $30 for adults, $15 for teens, $10 for kids and includes breakfast, tour, and silent auction.
[3]Some are in very prestiogous journals, like Genetics. List of
publications here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Happenings: The Votes Are In

Somewhere, an engraving service has just received an order for a name plate reading “LAURIE ENDER, Councilmember”. It will be a brown-black, aluminum-framed rectangle with white, unserifed type. Along with Bob Kellar (will he be getting a fresh name plate?), Ender can now look forward to four years of service on the Santa Clarita City Council. This means, of course, four years of spending long nights in front of whiny, gushy, or angry Claritans; four years of marking every other Tuesday with a black “X” of doom; four years of taking photos with the all-Valley girls’ competitive walking team that just finished 19th at a national conference; and four years of making decisions that will determine the future of Santa Clarita.

Bob Kellar, the Mayor who speaks with a muffled growl, will bring us more of the same Kellar-ness. Most Santa Claritans will be fine with this. Bruce McFarland is included among these ranks; he now has ample fodder for more one-member-only-organizations-of-outrage[1].

As for Laurie Ender…to be fair, let me begin by saying that I’ve never met her in person. My initial “introduction” was via her blog, which she started writing in May 2007—nearly a year ago. Most of her blogging was dedicated to traffic, school issues, feel-good stories about high school athletics, and plans to improve City life. She weighed in on important local stories like the Jack McClellan threat and October wildfires.

We also got to learn a bit more about Laurie, the person. In the past, she had worked on “Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood”—the shows that feature Angelina baby rumors, obsese former childhood stars' weight-loss stories, movie premiers, rehab center gossip, and the like. For the past many years, though, she was firmly ensconced in the role of SCV supermom and involved with her kids, volunteering, and school issues. This meant at least a couple teeth-achingly saccharine Mom posts, but that’s fine. As the child-bearing capital of the Western Hemisphere, kids matter a lot in Santa Clarita, and candidates need to appeal to parents with a dedication to safety, schools, sports, etc…

While this high level of involvement in the community was just swell, the ultimately ineffective anti-Ender backlash came when Laurie Ender started trying to set herself apart from other candidates. She actually gave an opinion on HMNMH rather than taking the safer wait-for-the-EIR position, and Ender-associated or Ender-supported mailers generated a controversy to which we’ve all grown bored, bitter, or both.

Ties to Frank Ferry were definitely part of the problem. For those who feel that Ender is going to ape every move made by Ferry on the City Council, I’ve prepared a helpful guide below that shows clear difference between these two public servants. Issues where they diverge are marked with an asterisk.

*Sex Chromosomes
Ferry: XY
Ender: XX
Big League Dreams, the $30M+ potential project that would replicate a famous baseball stadium in SCV.
Ferry: Loves it
Ender: In August 30th blog wrote, "A couple years ago I took a tour of the BLD facility in Chino Hills with some of the Parks & Rec staff and commissioners. All I kept thinking was--WOW do we need one of these in Santa Clarita!emphasis is Laurie’s own.
*Hair Length
Ferry: Short
Ender: Long
Stance on Henry Mayo Expansion
Ferry: Let it grow! More medical office buildings…and a new hospital would be great too, if possible.
Ender: Let it grow! More medical office buildings…and a new hospital would be great too, if possible.
*Number of Es in Last Name
Ferry: 1
Ender: 2
Members of Fan Club
Ferry: Buck McKeon, Roger Seaver, himself
Ender: Buck McKeon, Roger Seaver, PTA moms

See? They’re very different people when it comes to the issues that matter. We’ll see how this new City Council gets along soon.

[1]Will there be a recall effort if the 700 forms are satisfactorily resolved?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Only in SCV: Sample Ballot, Real Message

I try to be open about all aspects of my life. Therefore, I present for your perusal my sample ballot, filled out as I intend to vote.

The really tricky part is following the instruction “Vote for no more than TWO.” That’s like being asked to pick which two of your five children you love most (the youngest ones, obviously). I, for one, won’t have it. No; I shall be voting for seven members of City Council.

In addition to the five declared candidates, I’ve also selected Mrs. Taylor and Gail Ortiz. Mrs. Taylor, my pre-school teacher, excelled at moderating tantrums, teaching us to speak with indoor voices, and encouraging us to listen to others. She would do well to sit next to a certain, seated member. I gave my seventh vote to Gail Ortiz because it’s high time we hear what she really thinks about the issues. Furthermore, she and Marsha McLean will be able to support each other in votes to increase the number of and fanfare surrounding ribbon-cutting ceremonies in the SCV.

Even if my ballot is thrown out, I think it will serve as a symbolically significant document. Acknowledging all the candidates with a vote is my way of saying let the hate stop and the healing begin. Indeed, we've had enough hit mailers and negativity, so why not make a gesture that says "I think all of you are special and valuable in your own way"? I hope you’ll consider joining me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Only in SCV: In Print...

It's April. This means, among other things, that you can read a page of words by yours truly in insideSCV magazine. That page of words, incidentally, is here, and it concerns appreciating the under-appreciated in Santa Clarita[1].

[1]I know, there's a lot more over-appreciating of that-which-need-not-be-appreciated in this valley (e.g., "Day for Kids"), but oh well.

Happenings: First of April, First Day at New Job

I know the (vast) majority of those who endure reading my blog are also readers of J-to-the-Wilson’s SCVTalk. Today, I defer to his Daily Brief. It has captured all that is worth capturing in Santa Clarita on this April 1st.

In any case, I’m too busy cleaning house at The Signal to write my own April Fools’ stories. My first order of business will be to increase use of the word “Claritan” by 400%. John Boston, when re-hired, may instead use “Sclaritan”. Ack—Lila Littlejohn is outside my window begging again.

My second order of business is removing the ridiculous poll on the webpage, shown/linked below. Humor works best when it’s…funny, and Delta Smelt are only funny in connection with waterboard politics[1]. I think we can all appreciate the coot shout-out, however.

Poll seen today on The Signal website. Fortunately, it is hidden near the bottom of the page.

My third order of business will have to wait; Lila just snuck back in to the office.