Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Happenings: Trust God, Not SCV

Tonight’s two-hour City Council meeting determined that the power of eminent domain is scary, unless you’re the one holding it; sex offenders shouldn’t live here (officially); and it’s OK to trust in God[1].

After the introductory song-and-dance, the meeting got rolling with councilmembers making their reports. Marsha McLean decided to talk about Prop 1A. She gave one of her patented “I’m-not-gonna-tell-you-how-to-vote-buuuuuuut-you-may-want-to-consider…” talks on how to vote on the proposition come election day (i.e., NO!). Santa Clarita oughtn’t be propping up the rest of California with higher taxes and the State will be in poor shape regardless of whether 1A passes or not, she argued. When it came time for Mayor Ferry to finish up his remarks, he made sure to point out that it was a certain City Manager’s birthday![2] After a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday to You!”, Councilmember Ender asked, wryly: “There is no place you’d rather be on your birthday, is there?” Pulskamp replied “No place.”

Next, the Redevelopment Agency convened. The matter of a planned traffic circle ruffled a few feathers. A local Claritan and a couple of councilmembers wanted to make sure that pedestrian safety was being considered. Kellar noted that we’re “really not that accustomed to them [traffic circles] in Western states,” but assured the City that he had seen them in action and that the traffic circle would be fine for automobile and pedestrian alike. This must be what it's like when a small town in the Dakotas gets its first traffic light.

Far more serious was the City Council/Redevelopment Agency Public Hearing on the matter of eminent domain. The City wants 12 more years of the power to used E.D. to get Newhall renewed and revitalized. After a lengthy presentation that tried to express how eminent domain was an important tool but one that would not really be used (very Eastern philosophical, no?), many speakers came forward to express their opposition. A handful of these people were Spanish-speakers who had to deliver their testimony with the aid of a translator. Among the English-speaking crowd were renters in the area, Newhall business owners, and property owners. All were untrusting of the City’s request for twelve more years of E.D. authority and made anxious by the implications for their personal interests and personal properties.

Their sentiments were perfectly reasonable. After all, one should be suspicious when any person or polity says “We want to be able to force you to give us your property when we deem fit—we’ll pay you for it, but we get it when we want it. And by the way, we want to have this power for another twelve years. Just trust us...” It’s a request that would only fly in Newhall, which isn’t bright, shiny, and expensive enough for the planning department’s taste.

I found myself growing deeply annoyed with Pulskamp as he delivered his response to the concerned residents. He started by giving a quiet little “Maybe I can make some comments…” At this point, the Spanish-speaking people went into the Century Room to have a real-time translation of the ensuing commentary. Quoting quite choppily, Pulskamp said: “If the redevelopment agency wants to build a community center, if you want to build a road, if you want to build a library, it is for the public good […] Those are things that are needed for the community. […] When that is necessary, we go out and negotiate with each and every property owner. […] Every single time we were able to work something out with the property owner without having to use that tool [eminent domain]. If there is a recalcitrant or reluctant property owner […] the community cannot be denied that benefit because of the one property owner.” To call a library like the one being shoved in Downtown Newhall “necessary” when there is another library blocks away is a gross perversion of the word. And I just loved how he said that the City was always able to reach a deal with the property owner. Somehow, I think having an “If you tell us no we’ll force you out” card in your back pocket might help get people to fold.

There was concern over whether people would be forced out of their homes, as two residential properties were specified as fair game for eminent domain seizing. Because these are rental properties, though, they don't seem to really count. Apparently, if you rent a property, build a rapport with your landlord, and create memories and relationships there, it’s still not really your home. It soon became apparent that Pulskamp thought it would be OK to allow E.D. for these properties because they don’t fit in with his vision of what Santa Clarita should be: “It just doesn’t seem like there oughtta be a house there,” he remarked of a house in an commercialized/industrialized corner of the City. Someone needs to put a sock in the City Manager's underwear drawer and let him know it’s OK. Or perhaps we could skip the analogy and say it's alright to let some corners of Santa Clarita remain less productive than they potentially could be; not every place in this miserable valley needs to look like Valencia.

Props go to Mayor Ferry for trying to make the City staff be less duplicitous about the issue (e.g., “We’re not going to use eminent domain it…except we want to have the option to” and “It’s not going to affect residential properties…except that's exactly what it will do in two particular instances.”) The whole thing was annoying and Pulskamp and McLean strayed several times into the realm of condescension, especially towards the public speakers. They seemed to think that the only reason someone could be against the proposed extension of eminent domain powers was because they didn't understand. In any case, no action was taken tonight; it was just a Public Hearing to be revisited on the 26th of May. I've grown shrill and started to ramble, haven't I? Sorry.

The Council sped quickly through the consent calendar, which included a second reading that formalized an ordinance to keeps sex offenders from living almost anywhere in SCV.

The last big item was Councilmember Bob Kellar’s pet proposal to add “In God We Trust” to the City Logo. “I sincerely in my heart feel we need to get back to some of the basics that make this nation great,” he said while introducing his plan. He continued by quoting pithy statements made by politicians in other California cities that adopted similar measures. He closed by proposing that the people of Santa Clarita vote on the idea on the April 13, 2010 ballot.

The reaction was universally positive. Joe Messina said it was important to remember God and that we were serving “Something bigger, higher, and better than yourself.” (Bigger, higher, and better than SCV? Surely you jest!) Apart from a number of public speakers, there were also 15 cards written in support. Unfortunately, just as the City Council got into a discussion of whether “In God We Trust” would appear just on the big City Hall logo, on City letterhead, at other public buildings, etc. and whether the Council could just approve it that night rather than going to a ballot vote, my Internets died. My connection to the electronic world was revived only in time to hear Laurene Weste giving her “aye” to some pro-In-God-We-Trust motion. For specifics, go to The Signal or KHTS[3], the latter of which will probably have a better written story.

Personally, I’m all for the In God We Trust addition. Unless you’re a godless heathen (redundant? not quite), it's a nice gesture, and one I'm certain the people of Santa Clarita will endorse. After all, those four words are just the ticket for soothing the many souls troubled by over-consumption, infidelity, self-absoprtion, and the other vices that are the hallmark of Claritan life. To close with a more generous tone, perhaps those words will inspire us to do better.

[2]That makes him a Taurus, like yours truly. Taureans are boring homebodies who value comfort and stability, which may explain why we both heart SCV. :-/



mike devlin said...

Great recap and a compelling rant.

To be anal, when it involves people speaking, it's an interpreter, as opposed to a translator.

As it turns out, the Signal's article was much better than KHTS's. For one, they got it right. It was also a much better read.

A Santa Claritan said...

Quite right, Mike--pardon the interpreter mix-up and inaccurate prediction of who would carry a better story. The Signal proves it's useful to be at the actual meeting if you want to know everything that happens, as live internet feeds sometimes fail, thereby causing bloggers to fail.

TurboFool said...

Godless heathens, eh? How thoughtful of you to treat your neighbors with such respect. Apparently the same respect Mayor Dude treated us with by deciding that the city we share would recognize one god, and the religions that follow him, over all other beliefs. You may personally feel it's perfectly fine to disenfranchise all those who don't share your beliefs, but I believe our forefathers might disagree a bit.

Us godless heathens pay the same taxes you do, vote in the same elections, shop at the same stores, follow the same laws, and contribute just as much to society. We were given the collective finger last night by the Santa Clarita city council, and it's sad to see how many like yourself have such disdain for your fellow citizens.

Grow up, treat your neighbors with respect, and recognize that your beliefs are NOT more important than mine, or those of my Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, atheist, deist, polytheist, etc. neighbors. Four words will NOT do what the bibles, churches, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship and reflection have failed to do so far. Believers will not read those words on the seal and be any more inspired to improve their lives than they already have been, and the rest of us will look at them as a daily reminder that people such as yourself, and those we elected to manage our city, believe we're sub-class citizens. Doesn't seem worth it to me.

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