Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happenings: SCV's Own Stimulus

Councilmember Marsha McLean began tonight’s City Council meeting by reciting a Dr. Seuss-esque poem from a Cowboy Poet[1]. The verse was about getting things done, and it was dedicated to Kenny P.[2] and others who accomplish oh so much in this City of ours.

Thereafter, we were encouraged to donate our organs as part of Donate Life month. I recently had to renew my license, and after hearing about all the wonderful ways that my innards could potentially save and improve lives, I regretted writing “No, they’re mine!” next to the donation check box on the renewal form. If you possess a more gracious soul than I and happen to have any spare livers, kidneys, hearts, corneas, and so forth, there will be an iced bin outside of City Hall where you may deposit them.

Next, the City Council members had a chance to go around and share their little reports with their fellow councilmembers and the tens of Santa Claritans watching the meeting. Laurie Ender was deeply distressed that her young son and his friend, when taken to the new skate park, couldn't quite skate with the rough-and-tumble older kids and heard the F-bomb being dropped with reckless abandon. She suggested thinking about a 12-and-under skate hour (enforced on the honor system...) during which time one would hear the F-word just as often, but uttered by higher-pitched voices. Then there was much rejoicing over the successful Earth Day event and Cowboy Festival by Weste and McLean and the other sort of obligatory, quickly forgotten updates and encouragements.

Then it was time to put the meat in meating as we moved onto the real business of running a city. Under the heading of Newhall Redevelopment, there was an uncommented-on item to increase funding for the next stage of the library project (architectural, engineering, and infrastructure services). About $1.7M will be used to design the library that promises to save Old Town Newhall from sinking into destitute obscurity.

The recommended actions on all Consent Calendar items were taken in a similarly comment-free fashion. Some highlights included passing an ordinance to restrict sex offenders to residing in places at least 2000 feet away from trails, parks, and paseos (does such a place exist in SCV?), approval of a sort of progress report on keeping Public Access Channel 20 alive, and the awarding of the much-hyped new street-sweeping contract, which probably deserves an entire post of its own.

After this excitement, there was a Public Hearing to decide whether a 4-lot subdivision in the Happy Valley community would be approved. The applicant, Mr. Norris Whitmore, was just not a likeable man, rather like the same-named Mr. Whitmore on Lost…except not so rich and powerful. Some neighbors came forward to voice opposition to subdividing a very large, quiet lot into 4 large-but-not-nearly-so-large-as-before lots. Whitmore countered by saying he had scaled back the subdivision from 5 lots to 4. Still, views would be marred and the community of the neighborhood irrevocably changed by the project; we were treading on very familiar ground. When Whitmore argued that the Happy Valley neighborhood had several two-story homes, like the kind he would build, the real estate inclined Councilmember Kellar pointed out that Whitmore was responsible for most of these homes, and that he was driving the decent people of Happy Valley to become more and more defensive against his unwelcome developments. Ultimately, though, Whitmore’s subdivision was approved. No one was surprised.

After this matter was decided, a Tolling Agreement involving the County Sheriff’s Dept. and contract cities in LA County (i.e., us) was briefly discussed. Part of the surcharge that the City pays to the County was used in a settlement between a Compton sheriff and three women whom he raped. Clearly, that’s not what we should be paying for, so this agreement will remedy the unjust spending of contract city funds.

Finally, it was time for Skampy to shine during his delivery of a 21 point plan to save the City of Santa Clarita from financial ruin. Began KPuls, “These are very unusual economic times.” (Wait, what? When did that happen!?) “The City is not immune…” He then drew a comparison between other cities, which are doing nothing but waiting for federal aid, and Santa Clarita, which will lead its own way out of the recession by implementing a 21-point plan. Unfortunately, we had to hear about all 21 of these points[3].

Each point was a mini action plan of sorts drawing on many different sources of funding and aiming to make the City business-friendly by a number of different means. Several of the suggested actions would subsidize permit fees to lower the costs of doing business in SCV. For example, #4 (“Film Incentive Program”) would make it cheaper to film within the valley with permit subsidies. This particular item struck a chord with a number of people who are dismayed to see the film industry leaving Southern California, its rightful home. There were also some clever streamlining ideas, like a “Development One-Stop” on the first floor of City Hall that would offer all pertinent development permits in one place. Of course, there were some more questionable ideas, too. Kampman proposed an additional 2% tax on hotels. This would produce about $400,000 a year that could be used to attract big events to SCV and enhance tourism. Still, raising taxes during times such as these isn't a necessarily intuitive course of action. Then there was the "Think Santa Clarita Valley/Shop Local” campaign which, while lavishly praised, I think is over-rated. I have never once been influenced by any of that Shop Local! advertising. Sorry—there’s just no getting around the fact that they have better paper towels at the Wal-Mart in Long Beach, and I’m not going to sacrifice my quality of life in the name of shopping locally.

Most comments supported Pulskamp’s plan, praising it for its boldness, creativity, and promise. The Don Fleming (FLEMWATCH ALERT!) came forward to give his blessing and offer a tortured string of awful car puns (e.g. being “steered in the right direction”). Alan Ferdman, however, wanted more general fund dollars to go towards the Community Center in Canyon Country, not a select few mega-money-makers in Valencia. Of course, a community center doesn’t generate cash the way an auto-dealer or shopping mall does, so it will have to wait. Having never been to a community center in my entire life, I feel quite OK about supporting the money-makers now and the community center later.

After everyone had weighed in and given their support, Ferry closed with a little spiel about fear, washing his own car, and hope. Then the Council voted, and the plan was unanimously approved.

During Public Participation, there were remarks made about homeless shelters, motorcycles, and non-profits being charged for space at Earth Day and other City events. As you might have guessed, all of these matters will be looked into more thoroughly.

[2]Note: I will be trying out a number of nicknames for City Manager Ken Pulskamp during this entry.
Read the 21 points here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happenings: In God We Trust

Even with no explicit mention of the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, tonight’s meeting contemplated the role of God in Santa Clarita. More precisely, the Council considered whether God’s name belongs on city seals and in dance studios, but I will address those topics as they chronologically arose in tonight’s summary of the CC meeting.

The meeting got off to a late start[1] as a closed session runnethed-over its allotted time. The City Council discussed the latest pony coming round the litigation carousel (a law-suit over landslides). Only after staring at the “City of Santa Clarita City Council Meeting Will Begin Momentarily” banner for 16 minutes did the meeting at last began.

Councilmember Ender convocated by discussing autism and Autism Awareness Month. She read one mother’s comparison of living with an autistic child to ending up in Holland when you planned to go to Italy. Ender then segued into recognition of the City’s development of Project Lifesaver. This collaborative effort gives wristbands that can be tracked by law enforcement to what Project Lifesaver International describes as “Alzheimer’s, Autism, and Special Needs Wanderers.” It’s quite literally Lo-Jack for people[2]. The program will surely give peace of mind to families of autistic children and others lacking self-sufficiency and prone to “wandering.” Finally, there was a resolution to recognize Autism Awareness Month, and many came forward to take pictures beneath the City Seal, as goes without saying.

The next recognition went to the California Mother of the Year who just happens to live in Santa Clarita. Myrna Condie was lauded for her extensive volunteering efforts and active role in foster care and mothering/grandmothering. One wonders how this award is given (are the children interviewed?) and its implications for familial dynamics (“you better listen to me—I’m the best damn mother you could’ve got!”). Bob Kellar gave a very nice speech in praise of Condie's many virtues, and she was called forward to be recognized and, you guessed it, take pictures.

Thereafter, Rick Gould (Director of Parks & Rec) gave an update on the City’s anti-gang task force and general gang-related progress. The Community Court Diversion program has successfully kept a number of little creeps from Santa Clarita from having to go through the San Fernando juvenile court system. These creeps then do community service and probation in SCV. Gould continued by noting that the City continues to do an excellent job of preventing graffiti and promptly eradicating it wherever it happens to arise. One such place—the new skate park—struck a chord with the Mayor. Explicitly summoning the persona of MayorDude, he said it was OK for kids to snitch on their peers who tag the skate park or anything else. After this announcement, the City’s graffiti tip line was flooded with calls coming from children who had been closely watching the City Council meeting, just waiting for permission to reveal the identities of skate park taggers. After this little summary, there were yet more pictures with the City Council beneath the City Seal.

With the presentations concluded, it was time for councilmembers to make their general comments. No one had anything particularly interesting to say—Arbor Day and Cowboy festival approaching, etc.—until it came time for Councilmember Kellar to talk. He observed that a number of cities (Victorville, for one) have added the words “In God We Trust” to their City Seal. Kellar thought this would be an excellent idea for Santa Clarita as well, helping bring SCV “back to basics”, and asked the Council for their opinions on agendizing his proposition. Everyone on council agreed it was worthy of discussion, and Kellar pre-emptively suggested that the matter could be decided by SCV voters during the next election rather than by the Council itself. So agendized “In God We Trust” shall be, giving God-haters throughout Santa Clarita something to chew on for a couple months.

When it came time for the Consent Calendar, most of the discussion was focused on Item 2, a second reading of an ordinance that would allow bicyclists in Santa Clarita to ride on sidewalks with certain restrictions. Maria Gutzeit called the ordinance “bike-washing”, essentially lip-service to the Bicyclafia that makes the City seem more interested and invested in bicyclists than it really is. She brought in a bike shoe that looked very difficult to walk in and asked how she should be expected to walk (vs. ride) through crosswalks (as the ordinance would require), and how impractical and potentially dangerous it could be to allow riding on sidewalks only in the direction of traffic (as the ordinance would require). I was hoping she would slam the bike shoe on the podium, gavel-like, but she elected not to do so. Her points were clear nonetheless.
While some, like Gutzeit, targeted specific parts of the ordinance, others were for scrapping it altogether. There were many offers to take the councilmembers riding to see what it’s really like bicycling the mean streets of Santa Clarita. One bearded man enthusiastically offered to let the female members of the council ride with him on his tandem bike (“Men folk, you’re on your own,” he said.)

Ferry gave an apt metaphor of digging through bicycle and vehicle codes as opening Pandora’s Box. Everyone is trying to limit liability, and reading the code reveals just how pervasive these liabilities are and how tricky they are to account for. Laurie Ender, for example, raised the specter of a bicyclist riding through the crosswalk and taking out kids and asked who would be held responsible. Rather than belabor the discussion, Mayor Ferry decided to leave things unresolved for the night. They tabled the item to some time before summer break, and encouraged bicyclist input during the interim.

Other stuff that got passed without much comment included an update to integrated waste management code (now goes to a second reading) and a directive to City staff to aggressively pursue County transportation grants and national Recovery Act funds.

During Public Participation, it was time for more God. A certain Ms. Johnston of a certain Santa Clarita dance studio has contracted with the City for many years to offer dance classes in the Seasons catalog. However, she received a letter that informed her that she would no longer be listed because her students dance to “Christian spiritual music” (along with many other types). Johnston appeared to be a perfectly lovely lady, and her removal from Seasons was troubling. If she choreographed some post-modern lyrical dance interpretation set to Native American religious chants that no one could understand, we know the music wouldn’t have been made an issue, despite being as explicitly religious as Christian music. Furthermore, where does one draw the line for religious music? Apparently, Johnston spoke with staff who asked why she couldn’t use music like Britney Spears, but even Ms. Spears has been known to invoke Buddhist/Hindu and Christian faiths (e.g., “I’m Miss bad media karma…I’m Mrs. ‘Oh my God that Britney’s shameless’” are lyrics from the highly unlistenable “Piece of Me”).

What almost certainly happened is that some annoying parent called in and bitched about the music, terrifying some hack into taking unnecessary action. I have spent some time trying to imagine who such a person might be. Did her daughter complain about the music being lame, and the mother decided to invoke the “separation of Church and State” argument to get more Lady Gaga and less Lifehouse? Is she a mother whose existence is so utterly care-free and empty that she has time to meddle in that which most of us would consider to be not worthy of our time? One can only speculate as to just what brand of ridiculous the parent who brought about this change in dance studio contracting is.

This is the woman trying to fill the minds of impressionable young children with dangerous messages about Jesus and loving thy neighbor and being a good person.

Typically, parents who didn’t like the music in a dance class would go to a different dance studio…Lord knows there are enough of them. But in Santa Clarita, that is not how things work. That which we do not like should change for us because it’s never a problem with our values and our worldview; it’s a problem with their values and their world view. The meeting closed with promises to delve into the issues brought up by the public both in regards to Calgrove and the dance studio.

[1]Agenda here
[2]Lifesaver International