Saturday, August 30, 2008

Happenings: McCain-Palin or Obama-Biden?, Part I

Someone once said that if everyone in Santa Clarita stood outside naked, we’d be seen from space as a saggy, overweight pale spot that sunburned quickly. Despite appearing homogeneous, though, we’re actually a very diverse citizenry. Santa Clarita has both men AND women. There are white AND Hispanic people. We even have young AND old people in SCV. Admit it: Santa Clarita is a bastion of diversity.

“Behold,” spoke the demographer, “It is Clarita, land of diversity!”[1]

With all of these differences, how could we possibly agree on anything? This brings us to a most timely and critical question: Now that we know the complete Democrat and Republican presidential tickets, for whom shall the various and sundry peoples of Clarita vote? Which pair best represents Santa Clarita as a whole, Obama-Biden or McCain-Palin?

Luckily, us Claritans do have some common values, and we can pick the ticket that best supports these. First, we like to make far more money than the rest of the United States, and our homes are worth three-times more than the national average. Even our City government is financially savvy and supports local programs while staying out of the red.

So we make 50% more income but spend 300% more on homes than most Americans. Yeah, that seems about right.

Our ability to stay solvent during tough financial times, however, means we have very little in common with either Republicans or Democrats. Happily, there are other things that unite us. Let's look at them and decide whether McCain and Palin or Obama and Biden agree with our core values on the issues that matter. In this first of three installments, we look at: kids, charity dinners, religion, and public transportation. Coverage of cigar smoking; beauty pageants; golf; Noyaca, lake monster of Bridgeport; lawn-care; plastic surgery; and frozen yogurt shops will come in later weeks.


Clarita Says: Yes please! Kids are fun to dress in designer clothes, and we can send them on High School Musical 14 auditions or just brag to our friends about how impossibly gifted they are. We even celebrated a "Day for Kids"[2]!

Obama-Biden: 2 Obama kids + 4 Biden kids = 6 total progeny

McCain-Palin: 7 McCain kids + 5 Palin kids[3] = 12 total progeny

Verdict: It's 6 vs. 12, which means McCain and Palin love children precisely twice as much as Obama and Biden. Palin has raised a family that values kids so much, in fact, that her 17-year old daughter is having one of her own. Awww, I hope it's named something better than Track or Trig. This round goes to the Republicans.
D: 0 R: 1


Clarita Says: 19thC Kansas had barn raisings. Victorian England had formal balls[4]. Santa Clarita has charity dinner-gala-events. They are the social occasions that allow our power players to mingle and keep our community a cohesive whole. We expect a presidential candidate to have enough social graces to get by at such an event should we ever bother to invite him to one.

Obama-Biden: The Obamas gave $60K to charity in 2006. It is unclear how much was donated over meals featuring Berkshire pork chops with pomegranate reduction and anise-scented quinoa, but not bad.

McCain-Palin: McCain has his own foundation and it gives away far more money, but a lot of the funds go to his kids' schools and the like. A Google image search also yielded photographic evidence that he and the Mrs. attended at least one charity dinner.

The Verdict: This one's close, so I think we should compare the potential Veeps. With regard to Sarah Palin, remember that the Claritan female likes to get dressed up sometimes and eat fancy, catered cuisine. A charity dinner in Palin's Alaska, however, would more likely involve flannel and a menu of you-shoot-it-we'll-grill-it. Biden, on the other hand, is the poor man of the Senate. He's the sort who would show up to charity dinners, make the minimum suggested donation, and bring zipper-bags to take the leftovers. Thus, I award no points this round.
D: 0 R: 1


Clarita Says: We recognize and endorse three brands of religion: Mormonism, Catholicisim, and various flavors of Protestantism, especially the derivative "non-denominational Christianty."
Obama-Biden: Obama spent years marinating in sermons given by a racist, hate-spewing reverend--but they were, technically, Christian sermons. Biden is a Catholic, but he's also pro-choice/conflicted in a Democratically nuanced sort of way, which isn't very (i.e., at all) Catholic.
McCain-Palin: McCain is now a Southern Baptist, one of the Christian denominations that's a bit too enthusiastic and lively for our tastes. Palin is a non- or "post"-denominational Christian with some Catholic and Pentecostal background.
Verdict: This is another tough category, as all the candidates are somewhat religious. It's unclear which ones practice the kind of "we go to church on Christmas and Easter but spend more time buying the kids' outfits than actually praying" brand of faith so popular in SCV.
However, I must award the points to Obama-Biden as McCain passed up a more qualified Mormon (Mitt Romney) to put Palin on his ticket. Our valley has a large population of Latter-Day Saints, and had McCain picked Romney, he could have taken this category.
D: 1 R: 1
Clarita Says: We think public transportation is an excellent way to keep the poor from sharing our roads and to get bicyclists off the street. We're definitely partial to buses along with one ridiculous trolley to spice things up. Ultimately, though, we'll be driving our own cars, thank you very much.
Obama-Biden: There was a push to have people take public transit to reach Invesco Field for Obama's acceptance speech. Worse yet, Senator Joe Biden still takes Amtrak. Even worserer yet, Obama bragged about this Amtrak-riding behavior in his speech!
McCain-Palin: McCain is campaigning on making oil cheaper for the driving-man, which we're definitely OK with. Palin, however, boasted about saying no to money that would build the much-hyped "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska. Had Santa Clarita been in the same position, we would have taken the money and we'd build and drive on the bridge anyways. It's the act of driving, not the destination, that matters to us.
Verdict: The point goes to McCain-Palin for being more closely aligned with our valley's strong transportational values.
D: 1 R: 2

That's it for tonight, but more analysis on who Clarita ought to vote for is in store.

[1]I know these graphs were completely unecessary, but I'm a sucker for demographic stats and am using them to finish a post called "The Average Claritan." It's really fun (no, f'reals) to read through the U.S. Census Bureau site on our population from which I drew all the numbers. You can visit it here.
[3]I'm not going to get into all the crap about Palin faking the last pregnancy.
[4]Don't worry: I laughed too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Happenings: 5 Gangs, 1 Traffic Diverter, and 4 Councilmembers

Laurie Ender drew inspiration from Gandhi during the invocation of the August 26 City Council meeting[1]. She began by lamenting the Claritans who won’t be able to attend $150-per-plate charity fundraising dinners/galas because of the tough economy[2]. A decline in donations going to worthy non-profits would be unacceptable, to be sure. But Gandhi has the solution! Ender explained that we just need to take his quotation “Be the change that you want to see in the world” a little more literally. Then, she pulled out piggy banks for all the councilmembers and instructed them to “be the change: save your change.” The pun was meant to get people to gather enough coins to make a nice donation to a deserving local charity. Oh my.

Next we had the Public Safety Topics of the Month presentation where the topic was...gangs!, those groups of violent youths one can avoid by living in Valencia. I found it to be an interesting talk, by far the best in the series. Deputy Dan Finn skipped the woe-are-we preamble and got straight into numbers and facts about the state of gangs in the SCV:

*Newhall 13. 160 members, 100 active. This is our oldest gang (alert the historical society to mobilize for preservation!). Finn explained that it contains some second and even third generation gang members.
*Vale Verde Park 13. 40 members, 15 active. This gang, apparently, experienced a major decline after dozens of members moved.
*Canones 13. I missed the numbers for this group.
*Malditos Mexicanos Surenos 13. 25 members, 15 active. MMS is a Fresno gang that translocated to our peace-loving valley some 6 years ago.
*Brown Familia 13. 65 members, 45 active.

(Perhaps having 200 active gang members explains why we’re not the #1 Safest City.)

Finn closed by discussing programs used to teach families the signs that their child might be involved with a gang and how to prevent said child from joining a gang. Mayor Bob Kellar asked about whether injunctions—a legal tool aimed at preventing gangs from congregating in particular areas, like a park or alley way—could be used as they’ve been used against LA gangs. Finn replied the SCV gangs aren’t really tied to one specific spot, so injunctions were unfortunately not feasible. The councilmembers then took a controversial anti-gang, pro-law enforcement position.

Up next we endured Public Participation. Jim Farley discussed a California Supreme Court ruling in Santa Clara that called the validity of open space assessment districts into question. (Recall that an open space assessment of $25/yr passed earlier this year with the intent of preserving natural areas in and around the valley.) Said Farley, “Our open space district is an illegal tax…it’s been confirmed by the California Supreme Court.” City Manager Ken Pulskamp said the two assessments were based on very different engineer’s reports and that he would clarify the issue with Farley. I’m sure he’ll keep us Claritans posted.

The next block-o-comments concerned Southern California Edison utility towers installed near Decoro and the Belcaro community[3]. As the old saying goes, there’s nothing like a 22-story utility tower to bring out the hyperbole. Indeed, you’d think the electricity-conveying towers were the end of the world. One person presented a picture of the structures, drawing horrified gasps from all who viewed the lattice of steel. Laurie Ender mentioned that her son thought they were ugly/alienesque, and Laurene Weste called them “hideous” and “heart-breaking.” My favorite part, though, was listening to Hunt Braly[4], the mouth that says what you pay it to, try to sound outraged about their construction. The guy who lobbies for G&L Realty (among others) actually spoke out against SoCal Edison for being secretive and showing no regard for the community[5]. And he did so without an iota of irony.

The bulk of public comments, though, concerned “One Valley, One Vision.” TimBen Boydston said there hasn’t been enough public participation, and he claimed there are major problems with density. Annette Lucas, representing Calgrove Corridor Coalition[6], brought forward apparent contradictions in the number of acres of parkland per resident, an important part of OVOV and the General Plan. One City document claimed 5 acres/1000 people, and a newer document claimed that both the City and County held to a 3 acres/1000 people standard. It’s still not clear what’s going on with this park matter, but Lucas claimed that sneaking in provisions for “bigger buildings, fewer parks” epitomized the lack of transparency that characterizes OVOV. One speaker summarized her feeling thus: “I am terrified…the residents of Santa Clarita do not approve or condone the direction the City is going in!”

Needless to say, Mayor Kellar and Councilmember McLean got defensive after the tongue-lashing by upset Claritans. (Mayor Pro-Tem Ferry would have gotten angry too, but he wasn’t there). The Mayor reminded Claritans that they need to give the City a chance to help them out as they’ve done in the past with the MRF, Las Lomas, and CEMEX. Councilmember McLean was a bit more on edge. She was thoroughly annoyed with some unnamed persons who speak “untruths” in order to “stir the pot.” She twice appropriated the phrase “matters not in evidence” that you may recall from a recent article by Tim Myers. She closed by declaring that there’s a new paradigm in development, and it calls for more dense building, so get used to it! And in a final verbal flourish, she advised “Don’t let a few negative people ruin your life.” Sure we can guess to whom she's referring, but maybe next time she'll name names.

On the consent calendar, only provisions to protect historical buildings elicited much response. Most speakers were in favor of a phased approach to historic preservation that could affect at least 62 properties. Only Molly Hodson spoke against the plan, noting that her property would likely be designated as historic even though it was really "just old". Stricter standards for what constitutes a historic site will be included in more comprehensive plans to be developed.

The evening closed with a discussion of Benz Road, where cut-through traffic makes life a nightmare for 26 residents. People came up to say that cut-through traffic puts their children in danger and sends their quality of life down the toilet. The solution was to make the traffic cut through on another street, thereby putting other children in danger and sending other people's quality of life down the toilet. It was heart-warming.

Definitive action was taken, though. After 20 speakers largely ripped apart a proposal to try out temporary speed humps, the Council decided to give a traffic diverter (the option favored by Benz road residents) the old college try. It was late in the meeting, so City Clerk Sharon Dawson and Laurene Weste took some time to make sure the wording of the final, approved motion was recorded accurately. Roughly, the plan is to [here I’m half-quoting, half-paraphrasing] “Try the diverter for 3 months, taking out turn restrictions, and evaluate it after 3 months. Staff will then have latitude to use speed humps wherever necessary after the 3 months report is given.” McLean would have preferred to see no speed humps unless absolutely necessary, but she was out-voted. There was some applause, so some people were happy. Others were not. I'm sure we'll hear more from both sides.

Tonight's meeting was a good warm-up for the September 9th meeting when Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and G & L Realty will again take center stage. Get those comment cards ready, kids!

[1]Here is the agenda, brought to you by the City of SC
[2]I think the phrase "tough economy" and variants thereof were uttered at least 453 times this evening.
[3]The Signal gives some background
[4]Hunt Braly hired! Details from KHTS
[5] Eighteen years of my life were spent staring at the 4 towers I could see from our yard, 1 of which was only 100 yards away. I got over it. Color me cold and unsympathetic, but I say deal with it, Decoro.

[6]Calgrove Corridor Coalition

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Happenings: Olympics Look Golden for SCV

I have sincerely enjoyed the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Watching Michael Phelps win eight gold medals and set seven world records was, well, awesome. It’s interesting to watch sports (or “sports”) that would never be on TV were it not for the Olympics--things like trampoline, badminton, table tennis. And it has been a real delight to watch China pretend that its nine-year-old gymnast, He Kexin, is actually old enough to compete[1].

Of course, there’s a very special place in my heart for all the Olympic athletes from Santa Clarita. Their intense training, hard work, and natural-born talent certainly helped them get to Beijing, but don’t underestimate how much us Claritans helped. We formed the womb from which these athletes so gloriously sprang, so it is our victory as much as theirs. Right?

Determining just how many athletes we have to root for, though, has been something of a quixotic quest. Even official websites like aren’t always up to date on where America’s 600ish Olympians dwell. Then there’s the question of whether being born in SCV, being raised here, or living here currently makes an athlete part of the Claritan fold. Despite these difficulties, it is safe for us to call the following athletes home-town favorites. Most all of them will be going for gold around mid-week, so if you haven't been following the Olympics, now is definitely the time to start.

CRYSTL BUSTOS, Softball Superstar

This formidable softball slugger hails from Canyon Country. (I'm sure we'll get more athletes from C.C. once the fencing world gets beyond epees and sabres and makes shanks an acceptable weapon). In a recent New York Times interview[2] she is quoted as saying “I get drug-tested more than others, three times last month. Because I’m big.” Apparently, she's also incredibly nice and awfully good at her game.

So is the rest of the US softball team. To date, they’ve played seven games and won 11-0, 3-0, 7-0, 8-1, 7-0, 8-0, and 9-0. The one run they gave up was to Canada.

Outlook: The US will play Japan (who they defeated 7-0 last week) on the 20th, win handily, advance to the gold medal game on the 21st and strike gold. Crystl Bustos will return to Canyon Country, the neighborhood of her past and her present, with her third gold medal. Way to go, Bustos!

ALLYSON FELIX, 200-meter Phenom

Bob Dixon wrote an interesting, informative piece on SCV’s track and field hopefuls in August’s insideSCV[3]; I refer you there. You can now ignore the stuff about Lauren Fleshman, though. She had a chance of running in the 5000m race if one of the three faster American runners dropped out, but none of them did. Poor Lauren.

Still, we have track star Allyson Felix to cheer on. Dixon predicts that “Felix will have to settle for three golds [in the 200m, 4 x 100m, and 4 x 400m] and the cover of a box of Wheaties. Anything less would be an upset.” Yeah, she’s that good.

And she's utterly heartable. According to an article in The Observer[4], she lives in Valencia ("a neat, prosperous suburb in Los Angeles") and commutes to UCLA to train[5]. An Access Hollywood interview is among the dozens of YouTube videos featuring Felix[6]. Watch it to find out such vital information as her favorite Sex in the City character (Carrie), her Hollywood crush (Will Smith), and the one thing she can’t go to Beijing without (her phone). Oops, I guess I just gave it all away.

Outlook: Felix is off to the right start. She finished first in the first round of qualifying for the 200m final and should go for (and win) gold on the 21st.

MIKE DAY, Badass BMX Rider

The NBC article[7] on Day takes places at Egg Plantation where the reporter marvels at the array of omelet options. Yeah, that's how we roll in SCV. Egg Plantation may want to do something wonderfully corny like rename the #74 (his favorite[8]) "the Mike Day Special" if he comes home with a medal. Day has been training for the Olympics on a specially built track in Chula Vista and arrived in Beijing with his fellow American BMXers just a few days ago.

Outlook: A sweep for the American men is certainly possible. We'll find out soon as Day bikes on the 20th/21st.

There has been a lot written about our local athletes--most of it by papers other than our own. You'll learn much more about them by clicking on the links below. Think of it as preparation for when you run into these medalists post-Olympics. Finally, I'll be posting updates as events take place. Keep your fingers crossed and your eyes on NBC!

[1]Have you seen this bullshit? She and other teammates have missing baby teeth! That doesn’t happen when you’re sixteen years old! But China blatantly forged their birth records and no one has the balls to call them on it. These kids belong in playpens, not on balance beams.
[2]Bustos in NYTimes
[3]Go insideSCV =-o!
[4]That British article on Felix
[5]Good girl! She was formerly of the USC persuasion, but I’m feeling generous, so I forgive her that transgression.
[6]Access interview
[7]Day interview
[8]If you're curious, the omelet contains avocado, bacon, tomato, green onions, and jack cheese. [Dear Lord am I hungry...] He gets it from Egg Plantation with egg whites and no tomato.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Happenings: HMNMH Opinioning

The Signal presented a pair of opinion pieces on Sunday, one by David Gauny[1] and the other by Tim Myers[2]. The two articles elicited three reactions: righteous support (Gauny), half-hearted dismay (Gauny), and vertigo mixed with annoyance (Myers).

Righteous Support
Gauny’s article cleanly summarizes the antics of HMNMH, G&L Realty, and the SCV City Council to date. He touches on all the troubling elements of the planned expansion. There’s the problem of high-density building in an area zoned residential low; the problem of no written commitment to expand the hospital; and the problem of G&L Realty buying a pro-building vote on Council. The facts are given accurately and succinctly. For those wanting to get refreshed on the hospital issue before City Council discussion resumes, it will prove useful reading.

Half-hearted Dismay
Near the end of his piece, though, Gauny writes “Here is what we [SmartGrowthSCV] propose”, after which four “demands” are made. The four-part proposal is far too generous, asking only for a slightly shorter inpatient building, more parking, more commitment to centers of excellence, and approval of two of the three planned medical office buildings.

I know that even these modest demands might be more than G&L/Roger Seaver are willing to agree to. Still, I'd prefer to see the community demand a far less dense building program unless Seaver & Co. can firmly commit to building us a bigger, better hospital. It only stands to reason that if we're going to be burdened with over-building, heavier traffic, and years of construction, we ought to be compensated with a genuinely excellent hospital, not just office buildings for dentists and chiropractors.

Vertigo Mixed with Annoyance
Then we come to the Myers piece. I thought it was supposed to function as a counterpoint to the previous perspective but it didn't quite do that. Instead, the piece moves from the subject of law school to Henry Mayo to mortgages to David Gauny and back again[3]. It does this maneuvering with all the grace of an obese, one-legged ballerina dancing on a slippery floor.

As best as I can tell, the goal of the clunky pile of words was to attack David Gauny. However, Myers was equipped with frightfully little ammunition, just that Gauny had worked in the now-maligned mortgage industry[4]. Does that even count as ammunition? In any case, Myers' contribution to the current debate is the assertion that Gauny has played "the game" just like G&L has, and that's just the way things are.

We recognize the Henry Mayo master plan is not the biggest issue in Santa Clarita. It deals with a few buildings in a community that has a few thousand other buildings to worry about. Problems posed by the master plan may be dwarfed by water shortages, rapid population increases, the decision over new bus stop color schemes, and other challenges looming in the near future.

Still, the Henry Mayo issue is going to be discussed in SCV for the foreseeable future, and I think it deserves to be. For while it's not our biggest issue in and of itself, the master plan represents things most Claritans care about. Are we a city that will do anything for developers? How does our City Council broker compromise in complicated matters? Most fundamentally, how are we going to grow, and what prices are we willing to pay for this growth?

[1]Read it here
[2]Read it here
[3]Myers normally writes much better, and I too can write as crappily as he did. Still, there's no getting around the fact that it's bad, a fact made all the worse by Myers' condascending, I'm-the-bigger-person "forgiveness" of Gauny at the end of the article.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Happenings: Sasquatch: Real, Naked, or Both?

I heart Georgia, and I heart it all the more since two of its finest backwoodsmen, Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton, provided us with the first definitive proof of the existence of Bigfoot (cf. Sasquatch, Yeti). There will be a press conference at some point today where they plan to unveil physical and genetic evidence that the creature pictured below is, indeed, Bigfoot[1].

O hai bigfoot! Wear r ur footz n e waiz?

Adding a new species of mega-primate to the North American fauna is fine and good and all, but the real reason this story is so important is that it reminds YOU that YOU should be reading John Boston’s Naked Came the Sasquatch. Recall that it’s the first selection for the I Heart SCV Book Club, which currently boasts one member[2].

For those wishing to read the book, which has an almost suspiciously stellar set of 27 reviews on Amazon[3], refer to this earlier post. Happy reading!

[1]CNN is actually following the story--f'reals, y'all!
[2]While the book club projects 0% growth in membership through 2009, it also anticipates 100% member retention.
[3]Several reviewers call it the best book they've ever read...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Happenings: The Vote that G&L Bought

KHTS[1] and The Signal[2] revealed that G&L Realty—the group that stands to profit from the Henry Mayo expansion--essentially gave Laurie Ender a $29.5K campaign contribution. To be more precise, G&L gave $30K to the “Citizens for Integrity in Government Committee” which then spent the money on mailers to get Ender elected.

I’m thinking “Citizens for Integrity in Government” might want to change their name to something more accurate, say “Political Action Committee For Real Estate Companies that Want to Buy Seats on City Council." It's too bad that name isn't as inspirational as the original. One would think that a group claiming to represent “Citizens for Integrity” would have a website to discuss its work or solicit donations from integrity-loving Claritans, but apparently not. In any case, we've known about C.F.I.I.G. for a while--it's the fact that they were passing on money from G&L that's news.

As is clear from the photo above, I don't do Photoshop.

It is obvious how all of this will play out for Ender. She’ll say something to the effect that, as a mother and someone concerned about the health and welfare of Santa Claritans, she has always been in favor of expanding the Henry Mayo campus. Her commitment to this position attracted funders with the same goal: more medical office buildings. It's just logical, right?

Still, no one is going to take any arguments that Laurie Ender makes during deliberation seriously. As G&L’s go-to-gal, she will be verbally skewered. Speeches will be prefaced with “We know that a successful real estate company took a $30,000 bet on how you would vote, Councilmember Ender, and they’re not in the business of losing.”

Approval of the Henry Mayo Master Plan is and has been a foregone conclusion. I do wonder, though, if Ferry-Ender Enterprises is going to bother with the charade of discussing the Master Plan or just move to get things approved right away. Maybe Ender will make some tough demands for show, like gardenias in the healing garden and more lunch options at the Inpatient Building that "may" be built. Or maybe she’ll just sit in the quiet embarrassment. Sure, all candidates get money from groups hoping for favorable votes in return, but this is a particularly unpalatable example.

I’m sorry I can’t summon up some satiric or humorous way to discuss this; I’m just annoyed. $30K—a paltry sum for G&L, to be sure—can buy the mailers that get a few hundred extra votes needed to get a pro-expansion candidate the needed seat. But if you've got the money and stomach for it, what's not to heart?

[1]KHTS story
[2]The Signal story