Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happenings: Meeting

I am sorry that I will be unable to elaborate on the short but eventful CC meeting that just concluded. The new Mayor who says "aye" and new MPT McLean shall be discussed later.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happenings: Movies, Mosaics, and McLeanisms

Tonight’s City Council meeting wasn’t just two-and-a-half hours long; it was a long two-and-a-half-hours. Even worse, it was an unnecessarily long two-and-a-half-hours, riddled as it was with minutiae about air-conditioning units, plastic bag recycling promotions, and islands in Special Standards Districts. There was a whole lot of nothing obscuring the few moderately important things that happened.

The evening got off to a bad start with individual reports from council members. Councilmember Laurie Ender talked about a serious food shortage facing all of the local food pantries. She recommended that when you go to the market to “get a couple extra of everything” and drop said extras off to benefit the needy. Councilmember Bob Kellar spoke about trees. He applauded the Festival of Trees and looked forward to the HMNMH Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Kellar next spoke about a recent tour of the site that is to become a major studio complex for Disney. While there, he learned of a possible, significant change to LA County Fire Department's policies. Ken Striplin elaborated. Apparently, any film set or structure that would be standing for more than 180 days would be considered “permanent” and require more inspections and code compliance than is typical for sets. Though temporary for all intents and purposes, the structures would need official inspections before they could be used, require high-capacity fire sprinklers, and be subject to standards that would make filming in Los Angeles much less convenient and far more expensive. Kellar called the plan a “job-killer” that would drive even more productions outside of California. With five movie ranches in Santa Clarita, the Council agreed to oppose this plan at an approaching December 10 meeting of stakeholders. It seems that LA Fire Department Chief Freeman will have the final say.

Councilmember Marsha McLean had a lot to say during her turn, as usual. After talking about reusable grocery bags for the umpteenth time in as many meetings, she moved onto her second favorite subject, the League of California Cities. The League will push for a ballot measure to protect City money from being used to balance the State budget. McLean went on to say that when she speaks with people from other cities at League meetings, “They are so jealous of our city!” with its balanced budget and thriving economy. Finally, she described some rather bizarre events that will be taking place in Old Town Newhall. There will be a dance at the Senior Center ("Ach! My hip replacement's acting up!") and “Cowboys and Carols” at the Hart Mansion in early December. The latter event takes place in Hart’s living room. Those who have taken the tour know the living room is big but not “that” big, so you may want to buy your $20 ticket early if cowboys and carols are your thing.

Once the Redevelopment Agency meeting was convened, it was time for some real business. There was a recommendation to dole out $199,200 to an architectural firm “for the purposes of providing conceptual architectural design and an economic feasibility analysis for the southeast quadrant of the Newhall Gateway area.” There were a number of things wrong with this proposed action. First, the land in question is privately held, but public redevelopment funds would pay for the study. Second, the City’s rationale for the study is little more than that it’s an important piece of land, so the land should be developed in line with its (i.e., Pulskamp et al.’s) vision. Third, the developer of the project already has an appointment over an appeal scheduled for December 8th. In light of the third problem, Mayor Ferry asked if it would make sense to wait until December 8th. This was the eventual course of action, but one not taken until Marsha McLean voiced concerns over the actions of the developer (he was apparently saying one thing at the meeting, another over the phone). Laurie Ender said that it would be a mistake to not spend $200,000 as the beauty of the Newhall Gateway Development may make-or-break Old Town Newhall’s long-term success.

On the Consent Calendar, nothing of much importance was approved. Particularly unimportant was approval of a conceptual proposed art project for the student group “Visions in Progress.” Mayor Ferry called twelve high school students from VIP to come forward and introduce themselves. They spoke about their plans to have a mosaic art installation created. From the agenda, it seems the goal of this mosaic will be “to help the individual be part of the community, and help the community allow the individual to be part of it; therefore, celebrating the dignity and worth of the individual.” We don’t yet know much this nonsense will cost taxpayers.

Two public hearings followed. The City Council was happy to make a Special Standards District for Happy Valley. Plans for such a distinction have been tossed around for at least a decade, and the SSD seemed popular with the vast majority of residents. Manny Santana was the only speaker to voice concerns, stating that he didn’t want his future development plans threatened. It was explained, however, that the Special Standards District wouldn’t do anything to prohibit development but rather require that the character of future developments be compatible with the character of the community.

The second public hearing began with a staff presentation that took the better part of

forever. The hearing concerned changing a piece of property on Oak Ridge Drive currently zoned “industrial” to “commercial neighborhood”. This would allow the developer to put in a commercial center complete with restaurant, shops, medical offices, and 203 parking spots. During the presentation, we learned everything from the width of proposed versus conventional landscape buffers to the architectural styles that would be used to how a mitigated negative declaration had been arrived at. Several speakers came forward to voice concerns about how the project would impact traffic near the railroad and whether it was in the best spot for a commercial development. The matter that had Councilmember McLean talking the most, however, was the number and noisiness of air-conditioning units that would be installed. The architect and McLean talked about AC unit models, decibels, and modes of muffling noise until Mayor Ferry finally put his foot down and put the plan to a vote. The recommended action was taken--that is, the zone change will be passed to a second reading.

During New Business, Laurie Ender was nominated to serve on the governing board of the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments. Both Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean were eager to serve as her alternate, and Ferry decided with the flip of a coin (yes, that's correct) that Weste would play back-up. Councilmember McLean was not too pleased, saying that the role of alternate would complement the many other offices she holds, but admitted that one can’t do everything.

The last item on the Agenda was consideration of increasing compensation for City Council members. Rarely has a group of people been so eager to reject a raise. Thus, the City Council serving in 2010 will be paid the same $1,571.67 per month that the present members of the City Council receive.

Finally, it was time for Public Participation, and Cam Noltemeyer expressed the cynicism we’ve come to love and expect from her. Most interesting, I thought, was her discussion of the political capacity that the new SCV Economic Development Corporation plans to have. She feared that this could lead to campaign contributions rewarding the very CC members that had voted to fund the corporation. TimBen Boydston, making his four-hundredth comment of the evening, closed the meeting by reading some rousing words from George Washington about Thanksgiving.

Speaking of which, Happy Thanksgiving.

[1]Here's the long agenda

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happenings: What's $200,000 Between Friends?

Tonight’s City Council meeting was all about one ungainly acronym: SCVEDC, the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation[1]. The SCVEDC inspired a kind of passionate devotion rarely seen in City Hall, and—based on the comments made tonight—it is probably the single most important institution that Santa Clarita has ever had the high privilege to call its own.

Of course, there were a few matters of lesser significance to deal with first.

The meeting got rolling with recognition of students who are part of Valencia High School’s “Circle of Friends.” This circle is meant to spread “compassion, inclusion, and acceptance” from typical students to their special education peers. More than 300 students have participated. It seems that 10% of the school really wanted to befriend special ed. kids, but it was only when the “Circle of Friends” program began that they found a way to actualize this ambition. What formerly went unrecognized—when that rare, wonderful student went out of his or her way to be friendly with special education students—has now been formalized into an activity well-suited for gracing college applications. But it’s rude to presume what motivates these volunteers, so let us instead accept the happy presumption that empathy has grown exponentially amongst the high school set.

Individual reports from the City Council ranged from mundane to very mundane. Councilmember Bob Kellar announced that the City of Santa Clarita is part of a “California Green Community” environmental competition of sorts. The Environmental Media Association is sponsoring this rather vague, feel-goodsy contest about which Kellar said “I’m looking forward to the day we win by-golly.” Councilmember Laurie Ender described what sounded like a ridiculous bus trip to promote the Think SCV (i.e., shop locally) campaign. Far more amusing were details about her approaching arm-wrestling match to benefit the SCV Youth Project[2]. Councilmember Marsha McLean commented on the I-5/14 interchange project, noting it won’t be completed until 2012. Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste congratulated City staff on running a successful, well-organized marathon and described a successful first meeting about where to locate the City’s much-needed Materials Recycling Facility.

After these comments, the whole consent calendar was passed with the recommended actions and without comment. The more significant items were to fund the April election, accept grants for “Click It or Ticket” and sobriety checkpoint programs, and to express official partnership with the 2010 Census.

Next, it was time for the City Council to nominate members for the new Arts Commission. Councilmember Bob Kellar’s role in supporting the formation of such a commission was lauded by Mayor Ferry and public speaker TimBen Boydston (though McLean made sure to mention that she had the original idea). The Kellarisms kept coming as he described his excitement. “I’m rah-rah boom-boom when it comes to this commission,” he began. “Holy mackerel, what a list of talent!” he exclaimed when describing all of the qualified applicants for just five spots on the commission, continuing “Sweet Lord! I wish we had twenty slots.” The nominations/appointments were, in order awarded:

*Kellar nominated John Dow, President and Marketing Director of the Santa Clarita Symphony
*Ender nominated Eric Schmidt, part of the Santa Clarita Master Chorale Founders Circle and successful freelance composer
*McLean nominated Dr. Michael Millar, music industry professional, lecturer, and former Director of Santa Clarita Symphony
*Weste nominated Paul Strickland, who has 30 years of experience in animation and credits Weste found too numerous to mention
*Ferry nominated Sandra Fisher, 2-yr president of the Santa Clarita Artists' Association and artist using multiple visual mediums

Of course, Ferry spoiled the nomination of Fisher by saying that he was having trouble deciding between two well-qualified candidates but ultimately went with Fisher because “I do think this commission could use a woman on there.” Unlike his fellow members of City Council, he didn’t really describe her resume or review her achievements, but rather pointed out that she had two X chromosomes that would balance an otherwise XY-dominated board.

The enthusiasm inspired by officially kicking off the Arts Commission only grew when the City moved onto the last and most important bit of new business, “Support for Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation (SCVEDC).”

It was immediately clear that this matter was important as City Manager Ken Pulskamp decided to talk things up himself, rather than leaving the presentation to a staff member. He described the wonderful things that a non-profit EDC could do and introduced the word “duplicative,” as in, the EDC won’t duplicate the functions of other business-promoting organizations but rather complement or integrate such efforts. (This idea was to be as popular as it is silly). He said the City was proposing giving the EDC $50,000 to start and another $50,000 with the stipulation of being matched by LA County funds.

A number of speakers—a veritable “who’s who?” of SCV business—came forward to express their hope that the City contribute financial support to the EDC.

The first few speakers were supportive in generic terms, but soon David Gauny introduced the idea that the City should give the EDC $200,000, not the maximum $100,000 proposed under “recommended action” on the Agenda. Speakers that followed Gauny echoed him, including Don Fleming (FLEMWATCH alert!) and the well-known, strangely intense Larry Rasmussen, who said anything less than $200,000 just wouldn’t work for the EDC. A couple of speakers said that the Economic Development Corporation would help Santa Clarita with the most important issue of the day, “Jobs, jobs, jobs!”

I can’t imagine that it was a surprise to the City Council that the EDC Board of Directors wanted $200,000, not $100,000. It’s inept at best, deceptive at worst that the City agendized the item as it did with funding coming in two chunks of $50,000, not the $200,000 that everyone seemed to really want. Either way it’s not “a lot” of money by City standards, but $200,000 might have garnered more opposition.

Laurie Ender did an excellent job of pointing out the faults of this dearly beloved plan. After noting that the agenda didn’t accurately reflect the amount of money that the EDC Board really wanted, she reminded the City Council that the money comes from taxpayers and that “It’s not my money to spend.” She argued that since more than $1.6 million dollars is being spent on internal economic development efforts by the City, it was difficult to accept that more money was needed to support a group that would also focus on economic development. She said “Duplication of efforts” would be a “huge concern for me.”

Bob Kellar came next and chose not to respond to Ender’s perfectly rational objections but rather to make an emotional appeal. He described his real estate business and working with people who cried and were losing their jobs. His emotion was very deep and real—probably too deep to discuss this item dispassionately. He essentially wanted carte blanche for the SCV Economic Development Corporation, suggesting that they receive $200,000 without restrictions. The EDC, he claimed, would do so, so much to help working Claritans through these harrowing times; it was almost as if he transferred miraculous powers to the EDC, praying “Lord Mercy, help our families survive.” Kellar thought that the EDC’s board (which includes Bill Kennedy, John Shaffery, Dianne Van Hook, Larry Rasmussen, Don Fleming, and—eventually—Ken Pulskamp) was beyond reproach and shouldn’t be hindered with things like specific points of accountability. This marks one of the rare instances where I just couldn’t get behind what Kellar was saying—at all.

McLean countered Kellar, saying that SCV’s conservative spending has kept the City safe and in the black. Thus, she wasn’t overly-eager to just hand over a lump of money. Further, she said that she had no problem asking for a “return on our investment” in the form of the deliverables and other stipulations Kellar found so distasteful.

Mayor Ferry resolved things by taking something of a middle (but more Kellar-esque) road. He proposed that the SCVEDC receive $75,000 from the City plus another $125,000 in matching funds, which were all but guaranteed to come from the County and local businesses. Both McLean and Ender relented, expressing support for the idea in principle but serious concerns that the EDC would be getting money to do something that the City and other groups already do. To me, it seemed this is exactly what happened. All five members voted to lend the SCVEDC the monetary support, to which Kellar responded “Can I give a big thank you to everybody? This is huge!”

Call me old-fashioned, but I find the unending love-fest between businesses and the City something between tiresome and troubling. But it’s a fact of life in Santa Clarita, one there is no getting around. So now a man who runs a car dealership in Santa Clarita will be partially in charge of how money from the City will support local businesses that in turn support the City. It's dizzying.

With this, the meeting ended; there were no public comments.

[1] Agenda
[2]Fun fact: she is left-handed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happenings: City Buys a Block

Mayor Frank Ferry was not present for tonight’s meeting, so Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste took the center seat at the dais. As is usually the case, the manner in which the city (mis)spends its residents' money was the primary topic for this evening’s speakers[1].

As most of Santa Clarita is unaware, there’s an election coming next week. Voters inhabiting the various unincorporated areas around the City proper (I call these people “others” or "hostiles", à la Lost) will have a chance to admit on a ballot that annexing into the City of Santa Clarita is their dearest ambition. Having these others annex into the City of Santa Clarita also appears to be the hope of Councilmember Laurie Ender. Indeed, during her invocation, Ender extolled the many virtues of self-governance. In light of a recent event honoring our City’s first leaders, she said of Santa Clarita “I couldn’t think of a better example of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Though she couldn’t (and didn’t) officially advocate for the annexation option, her message was clear: hooray for local governance.

After the flag salute, the dreaded Awards/Recognition/Presentations part of the agenda arrived. In the long-held tradition of giving minor causes minor recognition in hopes of eliciting major participation, Councilmember Marsha McLean announced support for Heal the Bay’s “Day without a Bag” coming in December. As an alternative to plastic bags, she suggested going to one of our local markets to purchase reusable grocery bags which are “really nice looking cute little bags, and they’re only 99 cents!” Next, Laurene Weste recognized City employees for their excellent work in marketing and communications. The City-County Communications & Marketing Association gave many awards to Santa Clarita for achievements like “Guide to Opening a Small Business in Santa Clarita” and the Extreme Neighborhood Makeover program. Apparently, Santa Clarita won more awards than any other city in the country. Gail Ortiz, Jason Crawford and their teeming minions came forward for a photo and applause.

Next came a series of perhaps over-reactionary announcements from City Manager Ken Pulskamp. He described a meeting that was held with the residents of the Bonelli Tract in Saugus; you may recall that these were the people who were very upset about aggressive code enforcement in their older community. Skampy said that the City would “terminate proactive enforcement for the Bonelli area," put a hold on demands set forth in recent citations, and continue to communicate with residents until some resolution was reached. I think the City could have just gotten a nicer code enforcement officer and given people more time to comply, but oh well.

In an apparent attempt to wash away any impression that the City was bullying homeowners to comply with code, he then showed a clip that aired recently on KCAL-9[2]. It was a complete puff piece about Santa Clarita’s Extreme Neighborhood Makeover program which tries to “work with those who want to get their homes cleaned up.” In an example that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so shockingly absurd, the news reporter visited Barbara Post, a Santa Clarita woman who was cited by the City for having a brown lawn. She asked the City for help fixing the problem and was referred to Pastor Gary Parker of Desert Springs Church. He and his flock helped repair Post’s sprinklers and replant her lawn. That’s right, the faithful assembled not to feed the hungry or comfort the sick but to improve curb appeal. This is what charity looks like in Santa Clarita: helping a woman increase her landscape’s aesthetic value.

Is it wise to exahust community social capital on lawns? Click on the picture to be taken to the video.

From individual councilmembers came announcements and updates of little of interest.

Then the redevelopment agency convened. Up for discussion was the purchase of a whole block on Lyons Avenue, the neighbor of the block that will host Old Town Newhall’s much-hyped library. The cost was a mere $6.2 million.

First to address the planned purchase was TimBen Boydston who found it “somewhat disturbing” that there were six million dollars available to acquire property but not enough money to complete that streetscaping in Old Town Newhall. Cam Noltemeyer came forward to continue with the criticism, focusing in particular on the fact that the City would be paying some half-a-million dollars more than the property’s appraised value. She noted that the present owners were in a considerable amount of debt on the property and asked, “Why don’t you pick it up in foreclosure?”, adding that the commercial real estate collapse is just now picking up steam. Finally, Mimi Hiller, the owner of Cookbooks Plus, came forward to express support for more streetscaping as a priority and drew attention to the troubles (and hopes) of the local businesses.
City Staff responded to the first concern raised by saying that the money to be spent on acquiring the property came from a different source than money that could be used for streetscaping. Councilmember Bob Kellar re-emphasized this point, noting neighborhood stabilization funding from the State of California and other sources was to be used to get the property. As for why the City was over-paying for it by half a mil, a satisfactory answer was not really given. The City defended its actions in the Agenda with the argument that “the note holders on the property are not motivated sellers” and with the following: “Given the block’s proximity to the future Newhall Public Library site and its location in relation to the overall revitalization of Old Town Newhall, staff is of the opinion that the acquisition of this block can provide the Agency with a variety of opportunities to potentially seek quality development of this area.” In short, the City will pay far more than what the property is worth because it really, really wants it. Indeed, we heard that the chance to buy and control the fate of a whole block was a rare and wonderful opportunity. Even Ken Pulskamp seemed very moderately excited, which is exceptional. The purchase was “yessed” through with Laurene Weste recusing herself from the vote.

As for the regular Consent Calendar, Item 11 was a point of contention. Its recommended action was for the City Council to approve a feasibility study on the need for banquet and conference facilities in Santa Clarita.

Several Claritans came forward to comment on this topic. A story of development favoritism quickly began to emerge. Several speakers pointed out that the need for more conference space (actually a proper convention center, which is quite different from a conference center, apparently) in Santa Clarita was a foregone conclusion. It was suggested that the proposed study was for the benefit of the planned Sheraton, which some had criticized a few weeks ago for not providing enough conference space to balance out the competition it would present to extant hotels. The area between the proposed Sheraton and the Hyatt would be the presumptive home of a new conference center, and it would be a boon to business for both hotels. This helped explain why the Sheraton’s developer, the Packard Companies, was going to pay half the cost of the feasibility study and why they had been party to formal, closed-door talks with the City about the idea of bringing a conference facility to Santa Clarita. Neither of the City Council challengers (Boydston and Gauny) were pleased with the idea. Cam Noltemeyer (whom I have missed) also thought the study amounted to a ridiculous favor to Packard at taxpayer expense.

When it came time for the City Council to respond, Laurie Ender and Marsha McLean tried to argue that the feasibility study was completely separate from the issue of the proposed Sheraton Hotel. They, along with City Manager Ken Pulskamp, said that the initial part of the study would just look at the need for conference space in Santa Clarita, later looking to suitable locations throughout all of Santa Clarita without any particular bias or favoritism for one location. Of course, the agenda item made the City’s intentions clear:

“…all stakeholders were in agreement that a feasibility study is the next step to obtain a third party expert analysis, examine the recommended size of the banquet/conference facility, and identify possible sites for the property.

Preliminary discussions have included the possibility of the banquet/conference facility residing on the property between the Hyatt Regency and the proposed Sheraton hotel. However, alternative locations may be considered in the Town Center/Civic Center area. Following this meeting, The Packard Companies (developers of the proposed Sheraton hotel) agreed to jointly commission the first phase of the study with the City of Santa Clarita.”

In short, Packard’s money was not being given altruistically, and the intent of the initial study (to use $10,000 in tax-payer dollars to help pave the way for a conference center that would benefit the proposed Sheraton) seemed implicit to many public speakers.

Laurie Ender wisely motioned to have staff rewrite the proposal, and her motion carried.

Next there was a very brief public hearing. The Child & Family Center will use money from the sale of bonds to help build a community mental health clinic. There was a brief round of applause for the CFC which, observed Kellar, does many fine things in Santa Clarita.

After the hearing, Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste prematurely said “And we are out at five to eight”, until she was reminded of Public Participation and let out a defeated sigh-groan noise. The Public Participation comments were as follows:

1. “Old ladies” are apparently happy with the City’s proactive approach to code enforcement.
2. A homeowner was charged $655 in penalties for his malfunctioning alarm, which was triggered four times in a 24-hour period when a motion sensor went out. He wanted the fees for law enforcement response waived.
3. Boydston came forward yet again. He did a bit of self-promotion by thanking the City for responding to the Bonelli residents, people who had sought out Boydston to help them get the City’s attention. McLean politely but sternly replied that the City was already helping address the concerns of those very residents and that the City was very responsive despite a certain speaker’s implications to the contrary.

And then it all ended.

[1]Here’s the agenda.
[2]The clip

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Happenings: Bonelli Brouhaha: Bullying Prompts City Apology

Tonight’s meeting was of the “Surprise City Hall, You Effed Up” variety[1]. That is, the City Council coasted easily through presentations and the Consent Calendar only to be ambushed by angry homeowners during Public Participation. While this meeting format is usually reserved for those upset by traffic changes, the speakers this evening were deeply distressed about code enforcement in their Bonelli Tract homes. Many mentioned encountering serious problems with Daniel Rivas, a City Community Preservation Officer, whose intimidating tactics and threats over code violations drove some to tears. But before we dissect the case against Rivas, it would be prudent to discuss the events preceding the Bonelli brouhaha.

Laurie Ender got the ball rolling by reading a proclamation to make October and November the months for Breast Cancer Awareness and Ending Domestic Violence, respectively. Local members of Soroptimist International have been championing these important issues for women[2], and several were recognized for their dedication and campaigns like “Color Me Pink and Purple.” All parties steered clear of mentioning the recent and unfortunate political side of the domestic violence issue, and the recognition portion of the evening ended as it always does--with smiling faces beneath the City’s seal and a camera's flash.

Next, the City Council received an update from Steve Cole, chair of the Santa Clarita Valley Water Committee (formerly the “Drought Committee”). Cole was glowingly optimistic about local water supplies, summing up the status of H2O in SCV with “It could be worse.” He said that good groundwater supplies, water banking, and an 11% reduction in water use since last year have allowed Claritans to forgo mandatory water rationing.

Councilmember Marsha McLean got the individual reports portion of the meeting off to a rousing start. She delivered “the best, most exciting news” first, namely: AB 110 was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger[3]. The bill allows Elesmere Canyon to be included in the Santa Monica Mountain Agency’s “Rim of the Valley Trail Corridor”, affording the canyon protection from development. This brings more relief to those who fought against the proposal to turn picturesque Elesmere Canyon into a landfill, a fight that began more than two decades ago. There goes what would have been a great spot for a MRF.

Other councilmember comments went by in an indistinct auditory blur, but Laurie Ender’s remarks were a treat. After mentioning improvements made in Old Town Newhall, Ender described dining with a friend there. Apparently, Ender’s friend was very surprised to learn that there was “a nice Mexican Restaurant” (El Trocadero) in Newhall. It’s hard to believe that there are people who wouldn’t expect great restaurants to complement the amazing art, wonderful shops, and vibrant culture that make Old Town Newhall the major destination that it is. Perhaps the new library will encourage such people to spend even more time getting to know Newhall.

When we moved onto the Consent Calendar, two items were devoted to open space acquisition and improvement. Those who read this blog doubtless read J-to-the-Wilson’s SCVTalk, where you may review information on a property-to-be-acquired as open space along with some interesting comments[4]. Essentially, it's a 10-acre parcel of nothing in the middle of Placerita/Quigley Canyon. It's neither a big piece of land nor a particularly pretty one nor very much in line with creating a greenbelt; it just connects some larger open space areas. The only comment made at tonight’s meeting on the subject came from Valerie Thomas on behalf of the Placerita Canyon Property Owners Association. She thanked the City for spending the better part of one million dollars ($615,000, to be precise) for the late Phil Rawlins' property[5]. She said it would have meant a lot to Rawlins and means a lot to those in Placerita Canyon that there is now more open space. Curiously, no one else in Santa Clarita came to say thank you.

The other items on the Consent Calendar passed with the recommended actions. These included a $105,000 pool chemicals contract and adoption of the stormwater pollution prevention fee adjustment.

Though not yet 7:00 p.m., the meeting appeared to be ready to end. But when Mayor Ferry gathered a thick stack of speaker cards for Public Participation and said he would be calling speakers forward three at a time, it was clear that the meeting was far from over.

The first speaker suggested thinking about Stevenson Ranch annexation as if it was a novel idea. (City Manager Ken Pulskamp would quietly respond that the speaker would have a chance to vote on that very matter in about three weeks). Speaker the second, Nadine Teter, said that the Canyon Country Advisory Committee would be extending invitations to all City Council candidates to address the CCAC, a great honor indeed. Next, Bill Kennedy announced plans for the SCV Economic Development Corporation. In an eye-roll-elicitng analogy, Kennedy explained that the corporation would be the wingman to pilot City of Santa Clarita. They would support each other in trying to grow business in Santa Clarita. An audible sigh of relief escaped the audience at this announcement. At long last, there will be a group looking out for business in the SCV. Given the importance of the SCV Economic Development Corporation, its development will be agendized and discussed soon.

The next thirteen speakers all had one thing on their mind, and it wasn’t an economic development corporation. They were homeowners from the Bonelli Tract, the neighborhood around Soledad and Santa Clarita Roads, who had been the victims of a code enforcement blitz. Beginning around the time of Extreme Neighborhood Makeovers, residents began receiving harshly worded letters that they were violating the City’s Unified Development Code concerning driveway width, fencing materials, lawn maintenance, and other landscaping matters of grave importance. It’s an old neighborhood, built long before the codes it presently violates were even written. The codes had never been enforced before, and many seemed inappropriate for the community.

But they were suddenly enforced with great zeal by a certain Daniel Rivas, City Community Preservation Officer. By all accounts, Rivas is a most unpleasant person to deal with, driving three speakers to tears as they delivered their statements about him and his department. Here are some lowlights:

1. A woman said Daniel Rivas took pictures of her driveway without even introducing himself and threatened to put a lien on her home if she and her husband didn’t comply with code.

2. Another woman said that a member of code enforcement (whom she would later identify as Rivas) told her “the front yard looked like crap” and threatened a lien and jail time if she didn’t pave the driveway. After paving the driveway, he told her there was now too much concrete and instructed her to reduce the amount, all of this at considerable personal expense.

3. A middle-aged man said Rivas “has no compassion whatsoever.” He said that he has“a lot to learn,” and complained about being targeted for having weeds in his lawn.

4. In the most troubling comment, a man came forward to describe how Rivas told him that he needed to fix up his yard. As he got into his story, he began to cry and a neighbor had to step in and finish reading his written comments for him. You see, the man’s mother and mother-in-law both died within weeks of one another, and when he asked Rivas for more time in light of these tragic losses, his plea “fell on deaf ears.”

In a word, YIKES. These are all allegations, obviously, but it seems reasonable to accept the consensus that emerges from many statements based on many separate interactions with Rivas. Whether Rivas is an asshole by nature or because his superior told him to take an extremely unyielding and insulting approach to code enforcement is unclear, but one hopes he will be relieved of these duties with due haste.

City Manager Ken Pulskamp did the best he could to address these concerns. Pulskamp sincerely apologized to the Bonelli Tract residents and said that the treatment they had received was not in keeping with the City of SC’s values and policies. He regretted that “our approach is perceived as heavy-handed” and hoped to better “balance community preservation and property rights.” He also said that the driveway codes weren’t/wouldn’t be enforced. He had to repeat this assurance to quiet a skeptical reaction from the audience.

Councilmember Bob Kellar also apologized on behalf of the City, which garnered applause. Laurene Weste said the City needed to be more sensitive and accommodating in its codes, especially for older neighborhoods. Laurene also said she was sorry. It was an unprecedented chorus of apologies, and Pulskamp directed that the City staff meet with the affected residents and take care of the issues raised after the meeting.

And so it ended.

[1]This distinction was not made in the agenda, which you may review here.!
[2]And men, too, since there are about 2,000 cases of male breast cancer diagnosed every year according to the American Cancer Society.
[3]Read more about Cameron Smyth's
bill here.
SCVTalk's page on this; read especially the comments
[5]He was a stuntman and director in Westerns, and has a star on the Western Walk of Fame

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Personal Ad: Pet Seeks Forever Home

Many people find it nicer to see animals alive and happy in homes than alone and frightened in animal shelters. As one such person, I have decided to post information on an up-coming pet fair put on by a wonderful local 501(c) 3 organization:

Annual Bow-Wows & Meows Pet Fair (<-- click for link)
Sunday, October 11th, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Enjoy a beautiful day at William S. Hart Park in Newhall. Meet over 70 vendors of pet-related supplies and services, plus take part in a raffle, eat yummy people food, play in the "kidz zone," watch fun demonstrations, meet an animal photographer and a pet psychic, take advantage of the low-cost vaccine clinic - and of course – cross “paws” with lots of dogs, cats, puppies and kittens from all six LA County Animal Shelters that are available for adoption and in search of their forever homes! Admission is free; 661-297-5961 for more info.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happenings: 49 Minutes in City Hall

I missed the first few minutes of tonight’s meeting in order to finish watching Sunday’s episode of Mad Men[1]. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sufficiently tardy to be spared the spectacle that is awards-and-recognitions[2]. Tonight, there was just one rather drawn-out acknowledgement extended to the judges serving the Community Court Diversion Program. As explained on the City’s website:

In 2006, the Santa Clarita Community Court Diversion Program was implemented as an alternative to the juvenile justice system for first-time, non-violent, juvenile offenders. Juvenile offenders who commit non-violent petty crimes are sentenced by a judge to perform community service, make restitution, attend diversion classes, and pay financial penalties. If the juvenile completes the program, their crime does not go on their record. The program was started to help first-time offenders learn from their mistakes, and to ensure that youth perform their community service and pay their restitution here in Santa Clarita where their crime was committed. [3]

The system handles cases that range from illegal U-turns to vandalism to speeding to possession of drugs or alcohol.

It seems to me that the Community Court Diversion Program was devised by well-intentioned but naïve persons who believe in the fairy tales of “good kids who make bad choices” and “teens in need of a second chance”, people who forget how easily most students can muster a seemingly sincere apology to avoid a mark on their record or harsher punishment outside of SCV.

I very much encourage you to visit the program’s web page[3]. Try the “Stats & Testimonials” section where there is an excerpt from a 13 year-old girl who was in possession of marijuana. She wrote “I have learned my lesson.” Then there’s the 16 year-old boy who wrote “I am going to make sure that I am the safest driver on the road from now on.” In the immortal acronym of their generation, LOL.

[NOTE: I was just talking about this program with my little sister. She reminded me that she served as one of the student “jurors” on such a case some years ago--prior to the current program, but essentially operating on the same idea. She contended that the student jury was very harsh, issuing the maximum penalties for a student who committed vandalism with a Sharpie, writing his name on a school bench. Apparently, he was “cute and popular” and the jury was, well, less so, explaining their enthusiasm for harsh sentencing. This gave me hope that we could count on the ruthlessness of peer-issued punishments to balance out the baseless optimism at the heart of the court diversion program. Alas, the judge had the final say and issued a more lenient punishment.]

Next, the City Council's five esteemed members gave their individual reports to the community. Councilmember Laurie Ender talked about the annual League of California Cities Conference that she attended with Councilmember Marsha McLean. One of the conference highlights was a presentation on the role of libraries in economic development. (Can I write LOL twice in one posting?) Ender thought this subject was “ironic” given that Santa Clarita is building its very own new library[4]. Once the library opens, Ender would do well to visit it, obtain a dictionary, and reevaluate her understanding of the word “irony.”[5]

Councilmember Kellar spoke about a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new ion exchange system. The Castaic Lake Water Agency will use it to treat perchlorate, our valley’s favorite persistent aqueous pollutant. This is a lovely development, but perhaps we should ease up on the ribbon cuttings. Overuse dulls the giant ceremonial scissors, and an exorbitant ribbon budget is hard to justify in these trying times.

Attention then shifted to Councilmember McLean who, as usual, had a lot of county- and state-level matters to discuss. She expressed concern about the progress and direction of the California’s high-speed train project: it’s not as far along as some have suggested and current plans may need to be revised to incorporate the most cutting-edge, environmentally-friendly technology. She was decidedly more pleased with the League of California City’s resolution to close loopholes that have allowed that State to take money from cities. These are the very loopholes that legislators used to take about $3M from Santa Clarita to close the California’s budget hole, and they'll be voted on by the People at a future election.

Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste made a few announcements about the upcoming Native American Powwow at Hart Park and open space dedication near Placerita Canyon Park.

Finally, Mayor Ferry decided to give his time to LA County Fire Department Assistant Chief (I think I got that title right) Johnny Jee. Ferry’s preface was a very entertaining riff on being stuck with an unfortunate name. He said that he was teased for having the last named “Ferry” and suggested that Sheriff Captain Anthony LaBerge “bulks up” because of his delicate surname. In contrast, Ferry found Johnny Jee’s name—pronounced like “Johnny G.”--downright awesome and perfect for someone in the fire department. This was actually all more interesting than Jee’s speech introducing himself and giving some updates.

During the actual business of the meeting, essentially everything on the consent calendar passed with the recommended action and without discussion. These included measures for additional geological testing and inspections at the Sports Complex, acceptance of a project of traffic circulation improvements, and some ratifications of City Manager Ken Pulskamp’s actions regarding American Recovery and Reinvestment Act cash that will go to big road improvement projects.

There was exactly one person who made one comment on one item, and I’ll give you one guess as to who that person was. You’re right! Mr. Alan Ferdman came forward to comment on Item 10, which declared results of the landscape maintenance district vote. The voters overwhelmingly approved assessment changes and some modifications of various landscape maintenance district zones. Ferdman said that the City hadn’t made basic, critical information about the changes available such that people couldn’t really know what they were voting on. Unfortunately, this is one of those items that hasn’t captured sustained public interest, the kind that only traffic issues seem to be able to garner. Thus, Ferdman was more or less alone in his crusade tonight. The City Council responded to his concerns rather curtly, asking someone from City staff to talk with Ferdman after the meeting. And suddenly, we moved to Public Participation.

There were three speakers. Guy #1 said he thought it would be a good idea to do away with compact parking spaces to accommodate the bigger cars beloved by Claritans. Guy #2 said he had been bothered by an over-zealous code enforcement agent who was trying to get him to bring his front yard into line with some code that had remained unenforced for twenty years. He mentioned that the code enforcement agent told him he would need to green up his lawn, and when he mentioned that local water agencies recommended conserving water, the agent responded by saying that his agency had nothing to do with water districts (essentially instructing the property owner to water his grass more, conservation-be-damned). Guy #2 had an ambiguous accent and was old, which gave him instant credibility: could his story about oppressive code enforcement and being told to water despite supply restrictions be true? Finally, Guy #3 came forward to represent the community of Belcaro. He thanked the City for trying to help his neighborhood resolve the issue of too-big, too-ugly transmission towers that were erected near their homes by Southern California Edison. Since SoCal Edison proved unresponsive, he said that 43 residents would be filing a lawsuit against the company for damages.

Despite my voluminous ramblings, tonight’s meeting was a quickie and ended at 6:49. All in all, I preferred my hour investment in Mad Men to that in this meeting.

[1] “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”…but he doesn’t walk out! The best episode of the third season of a damn fine show.
[2]Do you crave an agenda?
You’re in luck.
[3]Divert this
[4]J-to-the-Wilson has a rendering and links at SCVTalk
[5]"Irony is one of the most abused words in the English language," said my 11th grade English teacher. "Serendipitous", "fitting", "coincidental", or "timely" might have been better choices in this case.
[6]Here is Ferdman’s
neglected Item 10.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Happenings: A Sheraton Shame and City Bus Blues

FERRY: “Good evening everyone, how are you?”
IHSCV: “Annoyed that you’re late again and that you put so many public hearings on the agenda.”
FERRY: “…”

On this eighth night of the ninth month of the year 2009, the honorable Mayor Ferry invoked the Santa Clarita City Council Meeting[1] by telling the Japanese fable of “The House of a Thousand Mirrors.” In the story, a happy little dog trotted into the mirrored house wagging his tail. He looked around to see 1000 other little dogs wagging their tails back at him and decided that he would come back to the happy place often. A second little dog entered the same house, but he was ill-tempered. Upon seeing 1000 other little dogs growling back at his own growling face, he decided never to come back. The moral is one well worth remembering: keep dogs away from mirrors and Frank Ferry away from Japanese folklore.

After the flag salute and recognizing Brett Shields for saving some guy’s life (hooray!), City Manager Ken Pulskamp delivered a presentation to the City on the status of the “21-Point Business Plan for Progress”, SCV’s very own little stimulus plan. He claimed that the measures have been very successful, “having significant, positive effects on our local economy.” Tragically, this good news was tempered by the realization that Pulskamp would be going through updates on all 21 points of the plan, though he did so at a fairly brisk pace. Using unusually colorful language, K-Puls went on to say that business owners whom he and staff have interacted with have been “just elated” about the benefits of the various programs.

Updates from the five seated around the dais were given next. Councilmember Laurie Ender praised the recently held SCV Economic Summit as a “mini local think tank.” She also mentioned a memorial that would be held in Newhall for all those killed in the September 11th attacks. Councilmember Bob Kellar didn’t have much to say, so he applauded Pulskamp’s Plan for Progress and said “If you have a choice, shop local.” Councilmember McLean described how she went to a transportation meeting on the evening of her birthday (what a trooper!) and had gotten a big new idea for local public transportation. Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste mentioned the approaching Santa Clara River Rally at the Newhall Community Center. Finally, Mayor Ferry touted recent ribbon cuttings (Magic Mountain Parkway, Old Town Newhall streetscape) and reminded us of various local benefits in need of patronage.

A very short Consent Calendar was passed without comment by Council or public. It really only consisted of approving some public transportation contracts and the results of the vote on restructured stormwater pollution prevention fees (76% of respondents were OK with the change).

Finally, we moved into the much dreaded realm of the public hearing. There were four on the agenda tonight. The first two hearings concerned landscape maintenance districts and sewer connections, respectively, and as might have been predicted, they elicited little interest.

The third public hearing formally opened up annexation talks betwixt the City of Santa Clarita and Crystal Springs. The first speaker from Crystal Springs was a gentleman who gave the impression that he and his neighbors all welcomed annexation, but the lady that followed him was against it, worrying about increased taxes and decreased property rights if her community became part of the City. There was no decisive action taken tonight, and the City will meet with residents to discuss annexation options more exhaustively.

The most contentious public hearing was reserved for last. It concerned an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the proposed Sheraton Hotel. At seven stories, the hotel would tower about 80 feet on the parcel where the Greens currently resides. The appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval was filed by the “Positive Solutions Association” on several grounds. Perhaps most notably, the association found it unacceptable that the developer had been issued a Mitigated Negative Declaration that spares them the scrutiny and expense of a full Environmental Impact Report.

Of course, the reasons to despise the proposed Sheraton Hotel went well beyond the fact that an EIR hadn’t been drafted for the massive project. Renderings show the new hotel will be ferociously unattractive, an even uglier version of the sprawling beige boxes currently found in the heart of town. Residents of the Woodlands community will have open views--for which they paid a premium—marred by the Sheraton, and several homeowners from the area said they worried about their property values if the hotel is indeed built. With only one entry to the hotel, many of the twenty speakers against the project mentioned their worries about increased traffic congestion on already congested McBean Parkway.

An architectural elevation of the proposed Sheraton. Blech.

Then there was the matter of whether there was a need for more rooms in SCV. A woman who works at the nearby Hyatt came forward during public comments to say that she and her coworkers had taken a 20% cut in pay and hours because of low occupancy rates. Hyatt manager Chris Aldieri restated her concerns and said that more banquet space was needed to drive hotel demand in the area, not just more rooms. Unfortunately, the proposed Sheraton would provide only about half of the 13,000-15,000 square feet that Aldieri and others said would be desirable. Though those from the Hyatt were obviously biased towards self-preservation, their point about generally low hotel occupancy rates seemed sincere.

Mayor Ferry asked the much-needed “If there’s no business in the area then why are they going to build a 200-room hotel?” sort of question, but no answer was given. I hope someone will respond to this question the next time the issue is brought up.

Finally, there were some concerns about the Kew Fault and the safety of the site. The fault was discovered during the Northridge earthquake and runs through the Greens property. I don’t know all the technical jargon, but what was essentially the no-build zone around the fault was recently moved 50 feet after some kind of geological reassessment. Conveniently, this move makes the proposed Sheraton possible. Woodland homeowners had been reassured (some said guaranteed) that the fault would prevent any building that might obstruct their views, but things seem to have changed in the applicant's favor. The situation made many at least a little suspicious.

Before all of the comments I’ve summarized were made, Jeff Lambert, the former-boss-who-still-has-friends-in-City-Planning argued for the project on behalf of Brisam Valencia LLC. His higher-pitched, at-times faltering voice was followed by the smooth baritone of Allan Cameron, who spoke on behalf of the appellants. During remarks for the appellants, several concerns about adequate public notice and the availability of requested materials from the City led City Attorney Carl Newton to suggest that the matter be continued to another date. This would give interested parties enough time to gather and review information. The City Council and speakers were all in favor of this, so there wasn’t a lot of debate tonight. Still, the CC had a chance to give some brief comments before more heated discussions that will surely follow. At first blush, it was clear that McLean wanted the developers to really consider the need for more banquet facilities, and Weste asked that the developer give some thought to mitigations for those in the Woodlands homes and to consider increasing banquet space at the hotel or in the immediate area. Kellar said he had some concerns as well, but did not elaborate. At least to me, it seems that the concerns aren't of the magnitude that will lead Councilmembers to vote no on the project. Still, Lambert has drawn his line in the sand saying he simply can't downscale the number of rooms in the project. With limited flexibility to make concessions to the City Council, we'll see how this plays out. I just hope to minimize the amount of time that I have too look at/listen to/think about J. Lambert.

In the end, a motion was made to continue the hearing to an indefinite date and that motion was unanimously approved.

Finally, we moved onto Public Participation. Linda Ejedawe said that she was troubled by safety issues with our city’s new(ish) bus company, MV Transit. Bus drivers, she claimed, were treated poorly and made to work long hours so that they were driving with little sleep. A bus driver named Victor came forward to echo her remarks, saying that 20 bus drivers, many of them experienced, were fired when MV took over driving City buses. He said their motivation was cutting costs, as the company saves $5 an hour when they employ bus drivers with little experience instead of bus drivers with a decade or more of experience. He also found working conditions stressful and generally unpleasant. Both speakers went to speak with City staff after their comments.

Finally, Alan Ferdman spoke up for civilized bikers at Route 56, but didn’t find a sympathetic ear.

Closing fun fact: when it comes to the “Route” in "Route 56", City Manager Ken Pulskamp appears to says “ROWT” instead of “ROOT.”

[1]Here's the agenda for you, dear reader--check out the item on the Sheraton for more renderings and details and such

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New and Unimproved, Part I: Trader Joe's

When the old Trader Joe’s closed its doors on August 28, there was a chance that things could get better. Alas, they have not. When I visited the new store on Saturday, what I found—apart from mini cookies and pineapple salsa—was unrealized potential. There is more stuff and space, to be sure, but the sole manifestation of Trader Joe’s in Santa Clarita has undergone a slight but unwelcome change in character.

As I strolled the new, expansive aisles of concrete stained a hideous shade of terra cotta, I found myself longing for the familiar embrace of the Cinema Park store with its maze-like aisles barely wide enough for two carts, oppressively low ceilings, and harshly industrial lighting. The comforting sense of claustrophilia I once experienced at TJ’s has given way to an uncomfortable sensation of agoraphobia. The slightly longer and wider aisles of the new store are entirely too accommodating. It’s as if they no longer have enough delicious things to fill the space, so a store that once spoke of overwhelming abundance has given way to one where emptiness plays a much larger role. It’s like moving into a newer, larger house without buying very many new things. Worse, this open space makes more room for people, the least enjoyable component of the Trader Joe's shopping experience.

While the character of the store has changed, the basic layout is the same. Frozen victuals reside in the middle aisle, freshly harvested chunks of plants and animals are stacked on the right wall, and live and shorn flowers decorate the entrance. The wine section and selection are larger, doubtless to accommodate those who will be mourning the loss of the old store with a drink.

The clientele, like the store itself, is unimproved. Most of the shoppers were middle-aged mothers from Valencia. Their sun-damaged, freckled cleavage peeked out of summer dresses while they toted the two bratty kids who had suckled at said bosom. These mothers competed for free samples, the better hummus flavors, and pink-and-white-striped bags of Kettle Corn with fierce and unapologetic intent, seeing other shoppers as mere obstacles to the fulfillment of their instincts to gather. It's comforting that despite the changes, there are some things you can count on.

If the dress code and complete obliviousness to the people and world around them weren’t enough indication that these shoppers were from Valencia, suspicions were confirmed as nearly all of them handed in a coupon for a free reuseable bag at check-out. Obviously, these promotional mailers had not found their way to the barrios of Newhall nor the trailer parks of Canyon Country.

It was at check-out that my dissatisfaction with the new store crystallized. On one of the street signs that mark the various stations were written three poignant words: San Fernando Road. At first, I tried to convince myself that this anachronism was a harkening back to an older, better era of SCV. Of course, I realized it was really nothing more than ignorance of the valley TJ’s calls home. As the checker passed my pretzels and salad greens over a laser beeping in recognition of familiar bar codes, I resigned myself to staring at the uninspiring murals on the opposite wall and sighed.

When I left with my groceries, I entered a parking lot that is just one nightmare traded for another. Though there are now many more parking spots than there were at the old location, there’s also the behemoth Best Buy next door. This means that Christmas Eve will be a perfect storm of people running to Trader Joe’s for wine/cheese/appetizers while others run to Best Buy for over-priced electronica. I can’t say with absolute certainty how it’s all going to work out, but I’m fairly sure that at least one Claritan will be hit by a car in the parking lot. Odds are pretty good that it will be someone who deserves it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happenings: Decoro, Diane, and Dung Bins

NOTE: Sorry for posting an un-edited version earlier.

Waiting half-an-hour for a City Council meeting to start is rather like paying $5 to be punched in the face—why make an investment whose only return is pain? But wait the people of Santa Clarita did until, at last, just after 6:30, the City Council deigned to show up.

Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste offered the convocation[1]. “There is more to Labor Day than a long weekend,” she began, “It’s a working man’s holiday.” What Weste’s speech lacked in interest and relevance it made up for in brevity. She finished in a couple of minutes.

Next, Mayor Ferry called forward sixteen Boy Scouts to lead the flag salute, thereby explaining why the room was so inexplicably full (though a lot of people were also there to gripe about Decoro). If each scout lived an average of three miles (or ten minutes) away from City Hall, each scout arrived at 5:45 and left after pledge, and each scout brought one family member to watch them, then a total of 96 miles and 37 man-hours were spent to make possible the flag salute and a photo with the City Council. Rest assured, it was one of the finest “Ready, begin!”s I’ve ever witnessed.

Thereafter, a representative from SoCal Edison came forward to hand out two big checks. $30,000 went to the Boys & Girls Club for a “comprehensive academic enrichment program.” The Valley Industrial Association also received a tidy sum ($25K) to fund their work force readiness program.

After this substantial and meaningful presentation came one that fell squarely under the category of “Are you serious?” Certificates of Recognition were presented to a handful of local manufacturers and businesses for being in full compliance with the County Sanitation District’s industrial waste requirements. Indeed, awards were given out for following the sanitation rules for a whole year.

Finally, award-a-thon ended with a nod to Laurene Weste. She was recognized for winning the San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s Government Leadership Award. Laurie Ender congratulated Weste and noted with a grin that half of those recognized at the event were also from Santa Clarita, reassuring us of our valley’s superiority to the one down south.

With the award portion of the evening concluded, we went around the dais for news and updates. Laurie Ender was in back-to-school mode with her mentions of Teen Scene Unplugged and a suggestion that parents join the PTA. Bob Kellar asked us to be mindful of struggling local charities. Marsha McLean described how a portion of our local redevelopment money would be seized by the State. She said that were it not for the unified support of the League of California Cities, Santa Clarita and other cities might have had much more money taken away. She also added, cynically, that the State “could only borrow the money—they couldn’t steal it outright." During her turn, Laurene Weste sang the praises of free carts that Blue Barrel will be supplying specifically for the disposal of animal feces. She recommended them highly to those with livestock, suggesting “one-and-a-half carts per large critter” based on personal experience. This manure-collecting service isn’t being offered out of the goodness of Blue Barrel’s heart, though. It was one of several “services” the company agreed to offer in lieu of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines to the City for not maintaining a modern fleet. This fine point was not discussed, alas. Finally, Mayor Ferry ended with a reminder of many important ribbon-cutting events in the near future, like the new Old Town Newhall unveiling. He also made a joke about the bike lanes on Decoro that was not well-received.

Upon moving onto the Consent Calendar, it became clear that there weren’t too many contentious items. Homeowners from the Shadow Oaks community came forward to formally request that they be kept abreast of all meetings and developments concerning an EIR for an extension of Via Princessa. One woman made specific requests that the City be mindful of dust control, wildlife, and road debris clearance as the project progressed.

Then came a nasty little spat between Ferry and McLean over what seemed like nothing. It began when Diane Trautman, Vice-chair of the Planning Commission, came forward to make a comment on Item #8, which would temporarily defer development impact fees to stimulate the local economy. Trautman wanted more specifics from City Manager Ken Pulskamp about the plan. After her questions, Councilmember McLean followed up by asking the City Manager about why meetings on the fee deferment hadn’t been more transparent and inclusive of the public. Councilmember Ender and City Manager Pulskamp began to respond, noting that the deferment was just one part of a 21-point plan that had already been approved in May.

Before the discussion got very far, Mayor Ferry stepped in and made it clear that he was upset with the questions posed by Diane Trautman. He said it wasn’t behavior in keeping with the norms or expectations of someone serving on one of the City’s commissions. He went on to point his finger at McLean, calling Trautman “her [McLean’s] commissioner,” and implying that McLean was having Trautman do her bidding in bringing up the issue of the fee deferment. McLean sat aghast at the accusation. A snappy, indignant exchange between Ferry and McLean followed, each trying to get the last word. Again, this seemed like much ado about nothing, but perhaps Mayor Ferry was feeling especially defensive, trying to avoid City-vs.-City quarrels in front of the public.

There was a brief truce as several artists came forward to thank the City for its final approval of an Arts Commission (Item #9). Then they were back at it.

McLean said “When I have something to say or something to bring up I will do that. I want to say publicly, I did not approach Ms. Trautman to come speak […] for me.” Ferry then apologized if he had over-reacted, but restated that he wanted to firmly lay down the norms of behavior with commission members, whom he suggested can bring up issues at venues more appropriate than a City Council meeting. He ended on a friendly note, suggesting that his little fight with Marsha McLean was just like what happens among family members and was already behind them. “Don’t freak out out there,” he advised. Don't worry, we won't.

Then we moved on to Public Participation. A number of Claritans came forward to express their horror, disbelief, outrage, disgust, and sense of betrayal over the bike lanes that were painted along Decoro last week. The addition of the lane for those who travel on two wheels reduced the street from four car lanes to two, and that was simply not OK. Local homeowners claimed that the bike lane was unnecessary and/or dangerous: “In the 15 years that I’ve been here I’ve never seen a bike on Decoro…nobody rides up Decoro on a bike,” said one man. (How dare they call Jeff Wilson, Maria Gutzeit, and those two other people who bike “nobody”!) One woman said she shouldn’t be inconvenienced in getting to work to accommodate someone’s “hobby.” Another said of the restriping “I find it completely absurd,” and yet another said she had seen four near-collisions as a result of the new traffic pattern. I can’t recall anyone expressing their support for the bike lanes other than the party behind a single written comment.

Councilmember Laurie Ender called the whole thing a mistake and said that a friend had yelled at her in the market for the atrocities committed against Decoro drivers. She is highly exposed to the Moms-who-drive-all-day contingent, and I imagine it was not an easy week for her. Bob Kellar also called the new road paint a mistake. McLean and Weste were less sweeping in their condemnations, but they too acknowledged problems.

The Decoro issue had not been agendized, and Mayor Ferry wanted to keep it that way. He said that changing the road stripes back to four car lanes with either no bike lane or a narrower bike lane could be done without putting the item up for public discussion. Ender agreed, hoping that things would be fixed quickly, but McLean wanted a chance for the community to give more input. That matter was loosely resolved when Pulskamp suggested that he investigate further. He said he would proceed with the suggested corrections only if the clear majority were in agreement that they're needed. (They are.) Else, the matter will come up for more discussion before the CC.

There were a few more comments that weren’t terribly interesting and with that, the meeting ended. It shall reappear in a slightly altered form on September 8th. By that point, the City Council might be able to figure out its position on which matters should be handled in-house and which should be addressed with the public's participation.

[1]Here's the agenda