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

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