Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Happenings: City Council sans Conflict

Tonight's City Council meeting was a delightful departure from those in past months. There were no hordes of angry speakers, minimal citizen outrage, and the whole thing wrapped up by about ten minutes after seven. The most entertaining part of the evening was hearing a girl named "Mary Jane" talk about the problem of drug use, causing my irony-meter to beep uncontrollably.

The evening began, though, with Councilmember Laurene Weste giving a rather nice spiel about Memorial Day. Several members of Council touched on yesterday's observation and events in the City that honored those who died in service.

Then it was time to hear about a program called STAR that teaches 6th graders about drugs, violence, crime and all the other things that make life worth living. Some of the top students were invited to talk about "What the STAR Program means to me." What the speeches lacked in eloquence and clarity they made up for in wisdom. One girl, for example, said guns were bad because “In a public place, one simple act from a gun can create chaos.” We also learned that one can also say no to drugs with the handy excuse "I have to go make my bed" or by "pretend[ing] like you didn't hear them."

After Mary Jane and the others concluded, we had a very brief public participation section followed immediately by City and Newhall Redevelopment business. Nary a speaker showed up to say anything about the resolution to spend about $1.2M to acquire a property on Spruce Street. The space will be used for retail/offices with a side of library. The resolution was adopted, meaning that the City will buy out and serve as temporary landlord to current business owners on the property, all of whom will have to relocate.

Other notable business this evening was an appeal for public support of Representative Buck McKeon's CEMEX bill--I'll be posting more about this later. Mike Murphy discussed a trip to D.C. to work on getting the bill passed and the CEMEX issue resolved once and for all (theoretically).

Before the meeting closed, though, Mayor Bob Kellar suggested a "Team Building Day" for the City Council members. I will pay good money for a photo of Ferry and Weste climbing a rope course together or McLean walking through a forest blind-folded, guided only by the spoken directions of Laurie Ender. I know, that's probably not the kind of team-building activities they're talking about, but allow a blogger his fantasy.

Only in SCV: Is Ken Pulskamp the new Frank Ferry?

In Santa Clarita, there are usually many people to credit for making bad decisions, but
Claritans-who-comment demand at least one individual on whom to heap blame. When it comes to targets for this citizen ire, Frank Ferry has been at the top of the list for some time (deservedly so, some might say...if one were the type of person to say such things). Recently, though, it seems as if Ken Pulskamp is taking more of the hits himself; it's not just Cam Noltemeyer calling out the mild-mannered City Manager anymore[1].

The video below, the most recent effort by NotaFerryFan (N.F.F., who is nothing if not subtle), prominently features comments made by and about Pulskamp. We learn that N.F.F. is not pleased with the new "Ethics Policy", but everything ultimately comes back to how the City Manager is handling a slew of growth and development related issues. In case you're new here, growth and development are always the topic in Santa Clarita and will be for decades to come. With sites like SCVTalk, televising and web-streaming of City Council meetings, and grander, higher profile building projects, Pulskamp's commitment to growth is making him much more of a target[2].

Per usual, it runs a little long and doesn't give Laurie Ender or Frank Ferry much of a break (i.e., is kind of mean), but it includes some of the most important speeches and blurbs from the past City Council Meeting. Note Marsha McLean's puzzled-ness over protection for whistle blowers.

[1]I'm going to keep a tally tonight to see just who/what angers Claritans. By the numbers: it may be the only way.
[2]"Commitment to growth!?" ye say? Well, so The Signal said in its 51 Most Influential feature. Look at the fifth paragraph, where N.F.F. found this gem: "One of his [Pulskamps's] stated goals when selected to fill the position in 2002 was helping to turn Santa Clarita from a suburban bedroom community to a legitimate urban center of its own."

Click to make it bigger.

Monday, May 26, 2008

OMG It's Nature: Spotted Owls and Dachshund-eating Coyotes

Today, let's visit two of Santa Clarita's top predators: Spotted Owls and coyotes. One eats Dusky-footed Woodrats; the other eats, well...

The Spotted Owl Fan Club

Northern Spotted Owls are high-maintenance drama queens. The endangered fowl demand old growth forests, the kind with trees too big to see all at once, the kind that swirl with ethereal coastal mists and attract people who hike barefoot and weep at the sight of particularly beautiful fungi. These forests aren’t exactly everywhere—essentially just the Pacific Northwest and pricey bits of coastal real estate, like Marin County. They also take a very, very long time to grow. Worse, these are the sort of forests that loggers love to log and stake their livelihoods on. Unsurprisingly, the persnickety habitat demands of the Northern Spotted Owl have made them a controversial bird (especially back in the 90s), dear friend to treehuggers and much-despised foe of loggers and developers.

Down here in Santa Clarita, our Spotted Owls are made of tougher stuff. Indeed, our owls—California Spotted Owls, to be precise; one of three sub-species[1]--have weathered fire after fire, 115-degree summers, and the insipid banter of SCV hikers for years. The Signal has been reporting on them every once in a while since at least 2006[2]. And not only are the owls getting by, they’re making babies! This year’s baby left its nest earlier in the month. It won’t be adept at flight for at least a couple of weeks to come, so its parents are forced to remain in the spot where their spawn perches. The cute, fuzzy baby and predictably-placed parents proved to be all that was needed for the formation of an (unofficial) Spotted Owl fan club.

Birders and bird watchers from all over LA and Orange Counties are driving to Placerita Canyon Park to catch a glimpse of the Spotted Owls. There may be fewer California Spotted Owls in the world than there are students at Valencia High School[3], so an all but guaranteed chance to see them is a real boon for the feather-inclined. On nearly any morning, hike the Waterfall Trail of PNC to its terminus and you’ll find yourself three Spotted Owls and perhaps as many birders. The rarity and high visibility is the real draw as Spotted Owls don’t have much in the way of personality. But there’s still a definite Spotted Owl aura that is—pardon my diction—neat to experience.

Few things should motivate the typical Santa Claritan to leave their air-conditioned abode, and Spotted Owls are not likely one of them. But if you’re an unusual Santa Claritan, visiting this family is an opportunity you’re privileged to have in your own backyard and one you may wish to act on.

Photos not by me but by a friend who is a big old fan of Spotted Owls. And yes, these are the very birds in SCV. Don't let the thoughtful expression of the parent (above) fool you; Spotted Owls aren't exactly the brightest crayons in the box.

The Coyote Not-Fan Club

Katie-Mae is the name of Kathi Beadle's beloved dachshund. Her dog was recently eaten by coyotes that apparently jumped a wall into the backyard. Beadle's letter to The Signal was featured on the 25th, and can be read here.

A few excerpts:

"No bark, no howl, no warning, only the treacherous scowl of the coyote staring back at me from over the block wall as I searched for my pet in futility."

"Stories of small dogs and cats snatched by the heinous creatures seem to be more prevalent this year than in the past."

Now, I feel really bad for Ms./Mrs. Beadle. I lost my dog last year (to cancer, not coyotes), and it sucks. There is no way around this.

Beadle's letter is a very useful reminder for dog-owners to be on alert, but are we really still villainizing coyotes (e.g., "heinous creatures")? We live in Santa Clarita and cherish our undeveloped wildands. But it's a lively, vibrant wilderness, one that still rustles with foxes, coyotes, cougars (not just the kind desperately trawling at Elephant Bar), and even the occasional black bear. Putting dogs outside is a risk, but I'd rather live in a valley where that risk is present than one devoid of any animals with a killer instinct.

[1]The other is the Mexican Spotted Owl, which lives in both Mexico and parts of the US--plus there are two additional sub-species found only in Mexico. It's confusing, isn't it? But all of these sub-species can potentially interbreed and are still very much "Spotted Owls." They just look a bit different from one another and are geographically separated.
[2]I can't prove this as the Signal's archive isn't searching for me right now; suffice it to say they've been talked about for a while, usually when they're refound after Placerita's most recent fire.
[3]Again, this is complicated. But based on Cornell's Birds of North America account on the species (by R.J. Gutierrez et al.):
"A minimum of 3,050 individuals detected between 1970 and 1992 (GutiĆ©rrez 1994a). One thousand eight pairs and 436 single birds known to occur in the Sierra Nevada; 598 individuals known from 15 other populations (range 6–270 individuals/population; Beck and Gould 1992, LaHaye et al. 1994)."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Only in SCV: Graduation Nears

You can now read my piece in the June edition of inside SCV entitled Graduation Time: Bright Futures, Urban Warfare, and Personal Responsibility.

If you haven't yet received your copy of inside SCV magazine in the mail, head over to the magazine's website.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Happenings: On Trusting Ken Pulskamp

NOTE: Sorry I've been bad about posting this month. It is the breeding season for the animals I'm studying and I've been busy trying to keep tabs and grab data. Expect more regular posts soon, though, and know that I am resenting my study species for tearing me away from that which is truly important: hearting SCV.

Did you hear it—that bellow of rage and distress just a shade more desperate than the noise a mammoth would have made after wandering into a tar pit to be devoured by cave lions? Well that was me. To be more precise, that was me after Mayor Bob Kellar announced that there were going to be SEVENTEEN speakers on the Smiser Ranch property development[1]. Of course it’s a horrible idea to build densely on the Smiser property, I yelled at the commenters on the screen, But you don’t need to remind me every week! I begrudgingly concede that such displays of opposition can be important. Indeed, we know that Jeff Lambert talks to folks at City Hall when we’re not around to listen, so hearing from the public on a week-to-week basis may legitimately reinforce the magnitude of opposition in the minds of City leaders. Lambert, incidentally, was appropriately villainized during comments and would do well to stay clear on Southern SCV.

Before comments about the Avenue project, though, public participation had focused on the closure of the Transitional Care Unit at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. The planned closure would leave the citizens of Santa Clarita without a TCU for at least 18-months, which Mayor Kellar described as an “optimistic” estimate of how long the wait would be.

Everyone in the City and on City Council was upset by this issue and wants to see something done about it. For an in-house opinion, HMNMH's own Dr. Gene Dorio showed up to say that most admissions to Henry Mayo are old people (although I believe he phrased it “senior patients”) who derive a lot of benefit from having a TCU available to them. Public speakers agreed, oft regaling us with tales of ailing mothers using the facility or how they may be in need of it in the near future.

All of these comments could only do so much. “As a council, we have no power over the hospital to tell them what to do…I get very frustrated…that we can’t do anything about it” said Councilmember Marsha McLean. She suggested contacting state agencies to see if there was some way to step in and intervene. McLean also proposed investigating whether a partial, as opposed to full, closure of the TCU was feasible. Councilmember Laurene Weste suggested partnerships with in-city groups like the Senior Center to drive the relatives of TCU patients to visit their loved ones in facilities out of town. Laurie Ender agreed that transportation-based solutions might be the best option assuming there was no way around a closure.

It was Mayor Bob Kellar who took action—at least on paper. He proposed a letter be drafted that said something to the effect of “The closing of the TCU…is an inappropriate course of action.” The agreement to write and send such a letter garnered applause from the masses and settled the issue for the time being.

Next, we heard some bickering over landslides and soil stability and house foundations and heritage oaks that was far too tedious to coalesce into anything meaningful in my mind. If you’re worried about the particulars, well, that’s too bad.

Adoption of the City Code of Ethics and Conduct proved slightly more bearable an agenda item. There were a number of speakers on this issue, one that has been floating around since last year. Claritans agreed that the Code of Ethics[2] was a good start (or an “OK but impotent start” if they were feeling less generous) but that a more aggressive code would be needed. Several called for an Ethics Commission, but the City Attorney noted that such a group would not have the power to enforce or control ethical conduct.

Instead, everyone pointed to an existing hierarchy of what-to-do-when-ethics-are-violated that essentially leads to City Manager Ken Pulskamp. Got a grievance and want to take it to the top? See Ken. Need to report a breach of ethics but afraid of confronting your direct superior? See Ken. All of this led Annette Lucas, among others, to say “I just think we need somebody to check Ken Pulskamp.” [Yikes.]

Everyone on Council was more or less OK with the code, though some tweaking (e.g., a list of who to contact) was needed[3]. The fine-tunings shall come, I think, but until then, it’s a matter of how much you believe Bob Kellar’s closing speech. In it, he expressed how frustrated he is that people harass a City that employs so many quality individuals. “This council and this city lives by a high ethical standard,” he said. If so, I guess there’s really nothing to worry about.

[1]This is the proposal to build about two-million square feet of retail, residential, etc… on a parcel that is clearly much too small to accommodate a project of that scale. Read more about it in my posting here, which also has helpful links.
NOTE: Also check out the site put up by the Calgrove Corridor Coalition. This group arose in response to the proposed Avenues Project, and they have a nice side-by-side of potential City seals.
[2]Read the
Code of Ethics and Conduct
[3]Mayor Pro Tem Frank Ferry was a little upset by the issue of ethics even being raised, as was Mayor Kellar.