Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Happenings: Another Council Meeting Endured

It is a tradition as old as Clarita herself: honoring silver-haired, do-gooding society ladies during City Council meetings[1] with a plaque and photo ‘neath our less-than-attractive city seal. This is precisely what happened tonight with Eileen Blanchard. However, she was honored not for general community service but for serving as president of Santa Clarita Republican Women Federated. Despite my right-leaning tendencies, it bothered me a little that our supposedly non-partisan City Council honored Mrs. Blanchard for work on behalf of the GOP in SCV. She seemed to me a perfectly lovely lady, and accepted the recognition very sincerely and graciously, and I’m sure she’s done some wonderful things. Still, I know I would be annoyed if they honored a woman who had been the president of Santa Clarita Democratic Women Federated (were such an unlikely creature to actually exist). Thus, in the name of consistency, I have now spent some hundred-and-fifty words being critical about a well-meaning gesture that I should probably just have left alone.

Once the opening ceremonies concluded, City Council members had the opportunity to make general comments and reports. Mayor Ferry elected to describe his “Hit the Trails” bike ride over the weekend along a path that finished in Bridgeport. “I haven’t ridden a bike in over a decade” he said, “It hurts! … not fun!”. The crowd giggled with delight at this most recent instance of the Mayor’s almost charming self-deprecating humor. Ferry then promoted the Mayor Dude program that will begin in earnest this Friday. For those unfamiliar, the Mayor Dude program is an impossibly bad idea where Ferry chats, twitters, and emails students in Santa Clarita about, well, being the Mayor…or something.

Next, it was time to put the meat in meeting with four public hearings of the Santa Clarita Redevelopment Agency. Two of the four explicitly involved eminent domain for construction of the new library in old town Newhall. Councilmember Marsha McLean went to some pains to justify this language. She began: “The words eminent domain… they sound awful, sometimes”, and then asked City Attorney Carl Newton to explain why E.D. could be a good thing. Newton explained that eminent domain is “the power of a public agency to acquire property for the public good”, and that property owners are “guaranteed to receive fair market value, that is, just compensation” along with a number of other benefits in exchange for losing their place of business. The benign seizing of formerly private property is nothing to worry your pretty little heads about was the message. And apparently it was well-taken, as all four public hearings ended with taking the recommended action and without comment. Thus, Santa Clarita is moving closer to construction of its Newhall library II (A.K.A. tax-generating consumer magnet).

When we moved to the Consent Calendar, everyone was in a fuss over a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Santa Clarita and the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at COC. The MOU included provisions that allowed community groups to perform on about 1/3 of the weekends at the center, which community groups obviously liked. It also had profound symbolic importance, concretely (i.e., financially) signifying the City’s support of the arts—excuse me, the Arts.

However, the nature and extent of this monetary support were the primary cause for planned dissolution of the MOU. TimBen Boydston was among the many disappointed at the planned action. He argued “I think a long-term relationship should be a long-term relationship,” (i.e., between the City and COC PAC). Other speakers saw the City Council’s proposed dissolution as a means of backing out of an important obligation or a means for COC to make more money at the community’s expense.

Diane Van Hook, COC Chancellor, was generally supportive of the action, saying it could help her school book the theater for the 30% of dates when it was available to community groups but sat unused. Van Hook said that the MOU wasn’t working in its present form, but clarified that “That doesn’t mean we don’t want an MOU”—they’d just like a better one. Joan MacGregor of the Board of Trustees then came forward and urged the Council to not dissolve the Memo of Understanding (which, again, Van Hook had basically said was OK to dissolve). Even more confusingly, she said she was speaking on behalf of the entire board. As Laurie Ender put it, “Yeah, I’m lost.” City Manager was more flustered than lost, his placid exterior stirred by MacGregor’s opposition to what had been a done deal in his mind. He said “I’m fairly dumbfounded [oxymoron alert!], to tell you the truth.” He had nothing more to say than that he wanted a continuation so that both the City and COC could discuss the issue further, and that’s exactly what the City Council decided to grant all parties involved.

Mayor Ferry then called a rather long 15 minute break, which meant he either (1)had to to go #2, or (2)had to talk to some people. I assume it’s the latter.

15 minutes later…

Micah Chase, who Ferry thought should have been in Las Vegas or at TGIF for his 21st Birthday instead spent it working the cameras and tech angles for the meeting. Everyone sang him a moderately enthusiastic Happy Birthday, which was nice.

The discussion of Canvas Street/Linda Vista was less so. Ugh. For the forty-fifth time, we had to talk about too many cars on too little street. The usual procession followed a brief staff presentation. It was led by Nadine Teter, who asked for an emergency gate. Many residents came forward and talked about how the City was trying to address their traffic issues with a “limited tool kit,”, one that couldn’t tackle the actual problems of too much noise and too many cars. People were upset that a study performed by the City didn’t appropriately sample the neighborhood’s daily traffic patterns (only 6 hours were covered). All 17 written comments were in opposition to the action recommended by City Staff as well, and the sentiments seemed to lean towards trying a road vacation (removal of public right-of-way).

Mayor Ferry strongly cautioned homeowners that they would be liable if sued over a death on a privatized road and that they would incur maintenance costs, but many were still determined. Things ended unresolved, and the City will continue to try to address this ultimately unsolvable problem at some future date.

One of the final orders of business was council appointments to various little committees. The Council shuffled around the members serving on various committee and gave Laurie Ender some more appointments which she was apparently pleased to be taking. I would have written down who was going where if it mattered terribly, but it did not, does not, and will not.

Finally, there was an opportunity for Public Participation. Only Alan Ferdman came forward, and he praised the City for fixing sidewalks and doing other stuff that cities ostensibly receive tax dollars to do. With that, the meeting ended, and I rejoiced.

[1]The Agenda is here

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Happenings: Art! I Commission Thee

Carl Newton, our ever-vigilant City Attorney, began tonight’s City Council meeting[1] by revealing the outcome of a closed session. With the faintest glimmer of defiance in his eyes, he announced that the Council authorized a defense in three approaching litigations. The most notable of these is a lawsuit from Community Advocates for Healthcare SCV and SCOPE challenging approval of the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hopsital EIR. This reminder of the impending HMNMH action made some smile, others scowl.

Presentations Aplenty
Per usual, there was a slew of presentations and the requisite photos of honorees with council members. Mayor Ferry gushed over the girls of Saugus Cross Country for being CIF Champions for the third time. He said it was only the coach’s plea for a more “modest” celebration that kept him from throwing a parade in the team’s honor. Troublingly, he was being serious.

City Clerk Sharon Dawson then got a chance to leave her swivel-chair and receive some much-deserved recognition. A representative from the City Clerks Association of California explained that Dawson was joining “an elite group of city clerks” this evening with the designation of Master Municipal Clerk. Apparently, just 5% of California’s city clerks attain this level of mastery of their clerking craft. When Dawson’s eyes grew misty, Ferry assured the audience that “Those are very genuine tears,” as many of us were quite suspicious of her sincerity.

Finally, City Environmental Services staff members were praised for Arundo removal, Arundo being that noxious weed fast invading the Santa Clara River.

Master’s College Has a Dream and a Plan
The Master’s College wants to grow, and they want to grow masterfully. Naturally, then, they appeared this evening to seek approval of a 10 year master plan and expansion project that will include a 42-unit single family development, modest open space dedication, and extension of Dockweiler, all in quaint little Placerita Canyon.

Downsides of the expansion included considerable grading, a negative impact on neighboring communities due to increased traffic and construction activity, and destruction of oaks. To be precise, 114 oaks would have to be removed, though apparently none of these would be the sacred “heritage oaks.” About 300 oak trees would be graciously allowed to remain, and additional trees would be planted as part of the new landscaping.

TimBen Boydston expressed the sentiments of many when he commented that this project was “The kind of development we can look up to and look forward to, where most of the issues are addressed for most of the citizens.” (He offered this as an instructive contrast to a recent, unnamed Master Plan that wasn’t so peachy. I wonder what Master Plan that would be…) Members of the Placerita Canyon Property Owners Association were also present to grant their blessing.

When it came time for the councilmembers to weigh in, Kellar offered high praise, and Ender was delighted about job creation and a proposed trail connection. McLean, however, ended the love-fest when she said “there are some concerns I have, though, and some questions.” (gasp!) She wanted to know the timeline between grading and planting. There were questions about permeable pavement and slopes and noisy water tanks and median width and Dockweiler. Laurene Weste, too, voiced some concerns over the style of oak tree planting, roadway buffering, chapel use, and gave a rather tangential description of how glorious performances at the Master’s College are and how more people should get to know it. Mayor Ferry kept a big list of these little requests, and most were added as qualifications to the approval of the Master Plan.

Ultimately, the plan was approved and passed to a second reading, so expect the Master’s College to grow.

Art Please!
Lastly, there was a discussion of the arts. (For the uninitiated, art in Santa Clarita consists of mediocre cover bands singing in the park, pseudo-murals in Newhall, and inexplicably large, painted bears that dot the local landscape.)

City staff had prepared a study on the feasibility and implications of creating an Arts Commission. The result of their work was a 25-page report and a recommendation that the City Council decided on one of four courses of action: (1)Work to form a community-wide non-profit, (2)Keep the existing Arts Advisory Committee structure, (3)Form a hybrid Arts Advisory Committee/Commision with a community-wide non-profit, or (4)Establish a City Arts Commission.

Most everyone was in favor of making a new Arts Commission. Musicians, actors, ballet aficionados, animators, et al. came forward and were heard. They postured, pleaded, demanded and dreamed. It was an unending procession, a thousand variations on the same theme: give us an Arts Commission, and we shall give Santa Clarita Art! The unending ended at 9:43, and Bob Kellar made a forcefully supportive statement in favor of, you guessed it, forming Arts Commission.

Laurie Ender and Laurene Weste leveled some very serious concerns against Kellar’s optimism. There were fears of prohibitive operational costs including stipends for commission members and competition for the time of City staff. McLean followed and tried to play compromiser, suggesting that certain members of council were getting hung up on the word “commission.” She read the role the commission would play and said “There’s nothing scary about that.” The 501(c)(3) structure--which would prove a necessity for obtaining grant funding--could come later, she said, while giving a second to Kellar’s motion for making a commission. Mayor Ferry preferred the idea of an Arts, Park, and Recreation Commission. He argued that a formal body meant to support the arts needn’t be so myopically focused on the arts alone. After all, City Council members must weigh in on issues with which they’re largely unfamiliar, or as Ferry phrased it, “We’re not experts on none of the things that are brought to us.” No one else seemed to like his idea for this sort of joint commission.

The back-and-forth continued for some time, and the councilmembers took sides. McLean and Kellar kept saying that their fellow councilmembers were making things too complicated. Weste insisted that McLean and Kellar weren’t recognizing the inherent complexity of funding and establishing the commission. Ender, on whom we can always rely for snappy summations, expressed her concerns thusly: “I don’t want to give them a car without any gas” (i.e., form an Arts Commission in name only, but without the funding or staff resources to accomplish anything (which is kind of what happened anyway)).

Ultimately, Kellar’s motion carried with the votes of McLean, Ender, and Kellar (obviously). Applause and one man’s disturbing, animal-like yell came from the arts-friendly audience upon approval.

Despite about a month since the last City Council meeting, no citizens elected to address the Council during public participation. And that’s something we can all be happy about.

[1]Here is the agenda

Sunday, January 4, 2009

SCVenger Hunt: ANSWERS

I'm sorry to be so tardy in my posting of the answers to the IHeartSCV Christmas SCVenger Hunt. I am sure that many of you endured sleepless nights while waiting to learn the solution to each tantalizing clue. So, without further ado...

General Clue:
It's a four-letter word that is very Santa Claritan. It can answer the question "Where should I go?" But, if you try to get there, you'll keep going in circles.


Clue 1:
The first clue, “Walk Amongst the Stars”, sent you to the Western Walk of Stars, specifically that of Melissa Gilbert of Little House on the Prairie. The music provided as a hint was from the show's opening credits. Once you reached Gilbert's star--or rectangle--a 5th-grade style pencil rubbing or photo served as proof of your visit and Item 1 in your collection.

Clue 2:
The second clue, “I Hart SCV”, directed you to William S. Hart’s autobiography My Life East and West (its title is the exact opposite of the clue: "Your Death West or East"). After determining the target book, a visit to the library, the Hart gift shop, or the online Google Book site allowed you to collect the following line on page 315: “And then I forgot all about it.” This quotation is from a part of the book where a woman accuses Hart of fathering her illegitimate child.

Clue 3:
The final clue, “You Can Lead a Horse to Water”, directed you to City Hall via a picture of its semi-iconic fountain. Here, Laurene Weste often puts in late nights at work, but no more than once or twice a month. Item 3 was a flyer taken from anywhere in City Hall (e.g., lobby). I suggested vector control pamphlets for including West Nile Virus, but any City produced flyers were acceptable.

The "I Heart SCV" T-shirt has been claimed, but fear not! One enterprising young Claritaphile recently manufactured her own wearable homage to the

Claritawear. Whether you're being sincere, ironic, or ambivalent, it's the right way to clothe yourself.