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


Anonymous said...

Hmph... Eminent Domain is not a bad thing? Seems it's only "not bad" when it's in Newhall, as opposed to the proposed eminent domain for the Henry Mayo Hospital expansion.

Bottom line is that the City of Santa Clarita is taking private property to hand over to developers in order to build a strip mall. Oh, yeah, there's just a doggy daycare, piercing joint and a chiropractor there, so who cares, right?

No matter how much people wanted to get rid of that piercing shop, this is creating a dangerous precedent. The owner of that building and his son who runs the store are really nice people. Just because someone has tattoos he isn't by definition a scuzzball, just like someone who calls himself "dude" isn't necessary a nice guy.

I would be surprised if a library really is built there. There isn't any proof that a library is needed, nor that the "redevelopment" of Newhall will bring in the revenues the City of Santa Clarita is hoping for. In fact, the City's own studies show quite the opposite.

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