Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Happenings: Tapped Out By State Budget Plan

I did a bit of a double take at the ATM yesterday. After putting my now antiquated Washington Mutual Card into the Chase machine, the screen displayed a message that California Registered Warrants (IOUs) were no longer being accepted. I found this disconcerting. It’s not that I had a registered warrant that I wanted to deposit. I’ve just always thought that a state with a trillion-and-a-half dollar economy ought to have enough cash on hand to pay its obligations. Of course, what we have instead is a massive budget deficit.

Earlier today, though, we heard encouraging news that California legislators and Governor Schwarzenegger had a budget break-through that could resolve the deficit without raising taxes or cutting important social services (insert disbelief here). The Signal[1] has been updating an article on this agreement as more details begin to emerge. Unfortunately, it seems that part of balancing the budget will involve raiding the coffers of Santa Clarita and other cities and counties throughout California. According to the Sacramento Bee[2], $4.7 Billion will be grabbed from cities, counties, and special districts.

The League of California Cities is appalled by this. The organization is one that Councilmember McLean has served with great enthusiasm over the past several years, and I'm sure that she will be making her dismay known over the coming days. So too (probably) will City Manager Ken Pulskamp, who is—brace yourself--"President Elect of the League of California Cities City Managers Department." The first paragraph of the League's press release from this morning is pasted below:

California’s legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have agreed on a proposal to “balance” the state budget with illegal raids of local government gas tax, public transit and redevelopment funds, according to recent court decisions and a legal analysis obtained by the League of California Cities, as well as a “loan” of local government property taxes that is unlikely to be repaid. By relying on illegal mechanisms and fund shifts, this budget resembles a Ponzi scheme that the League of California Cities condemns in the strongest possible terms. [3]

Assuming the budget deal is approved by the State, the seizure of local funds will present a significant challenge to the delivery of the City of SC’s services and projects. More importantly, though, this budget deal levels a tragic blow against the perceived power of Marsha McLean’s tap dancing. Several months ago, she posted a YouTube video in which she danced in a periwinkle pant suit and white tap shoes while warning state legislators to “stop tap dancing around the issues and act responsibly; you must not balance the state budget on the backs of cities and counties.”[4] Perhaps naively, I thought her spot was working, imagining her as a tap-dancing angel of fiscal resposibility on the shoulders of those in tense negotiations. I had a great deal of confidence in McLean's shuffles, ball-changes and brushes, but her message and dancing prowess appear to have gone unheeded in Sacramento. Perhaps if K-Puls and the CC had made more compelling clips themselves[4], the City's message would have been more persuasive.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about the implications this new budget balancing plan has for our City (i.e., inconvenience or disaster) if it gets passed. A vote could come as early as Thursday. At least our City Leaders knew this was coming. For now, I congratulate McLean on a battle well tapped but, it appears, lost.

[1]Here's the story over at TMS
[4]Here are links to all of the videos:
Tap-dancing, sassy Councilmember McLean
City Manager Pulskamp talks over drone of traffic
MayorDude with Council, attending

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happenings: Ferry Ferdman Face-off and Mr. Holt's Molding

I look forward to few things in a City Council meeting[1] as much as Laurie Ender’s convocations. From her Valentine’s Day “What I Love about SCV” musical montage to handing out piggy banks while quoting Gandhi, Councilmember Ender’s openings are always a treat. Today’s, though, was kind of boring. She worried aloud about the approaching fire season and all of the wildfires soon to be devouring our hillsides and homes. This lament was, of course, followed with praise for the brave men and women who fight the flames. After recommending that we brush up on fire safety, Ender capped things off with a poem written to honor firefighters entitled “It’s My Job”. It was the sort of awkward but well-intentioned ode that one expects to read in an email with a picture of an eagle carrying a flag in one talon (perhaps a firefighter’s helmet in the other) and a row of animated GIF angels fluttering beneath.

Next, it was time for the awards and recognition portion of the evening. More than a dozen certificates and trophies were handed out for the recent Santa Clarita Fourth of July Parade. I found this hard to justify. 2009’s parade was about as lackluster as they come, and Weste’s claim that it was “The most exciting and the best that we have ever had” makes me wonder whether we were at the same event. Despite Mayor Ferry’s earnest attempts to drum up the audience, applause for award recipients was brief and perfunctory, rather like the parade. Don’t get me wrong; I love the thing and go every year. But let’s not assume that just because a parade happens that it’s the best in Claritan history.

When it came time for councilmember reports, we heard the following: Laurie Ender advocated the SCV "staycation"; in the surprise to end all surprises, Bob Kellar talked about golf (specifically a golf benefit for the senior center); Marsha McLean spoke about budget and transportation woes; and Laurene Weste eulogized community stalwart, volunteer, and all-around nice guy Sheldon Allen in whose memory the meeting would adjourn. During his turn, Mayor Ferry encouraged us to call 911 when we see intoxicated driving or the potential for it. This was, of course, mentioned in light of the recent drunk-driving incident which, as Ferry put it, deeply saddened the community.

Before moving onto City business, Ferry went against his usual M.O. and responded to a letter in The Signal. In this letter, Alan Ferdman complained about an 11% increase in Sanitation District Fees, which amounts to about $20 a year. This was the first volley in a spat betwixt Ferry and Ferdman which, alas, would prove more annoying than amusing.

After the members of the Santa Clarita City Council made their presentations, the joint Redevelopment Meeting convened. Some non-controversial actions were approved. Among them were the approval of new street light installation and paying $160,000 as a settlement to Carquest Auto Parts, whose property the City bought as part of their Newhall revitalization.

As for the CC Agenda itself, only Item 17, the formal ordinance to establish an Arts Commission, was discussed. This item represented the culmination of many months (years, even) of trying to boost support for local arts by establishing the commission. Dr. Michael Millar, trombonist and music lecturer, looked at the Council and said “Thank you for this going through…I hope” which, of course, it did. Approved without any comment at all were several other noteworthy items. Among them: allowing the City Manager to award contracts for some road projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act during the CC summer hiatus; adopting of the amended bikes-on-sidewalks ordinance; and creating a Joint Powers Authority to keep channel 20 alive that will use $190K in City funds.

During a public hearing on a water/sewer connection in Golden Valley, Alan Ferdman requested to speak. He talked about the unrelated sanitation fee increases that Ferry had responded to earlier in the evening. He was clearly a little aggravated, calling Ferry “Frank”. Eventually, though, he did make a point related to the matter at hand, inquiring as to why water/sewage connection fees had increased by more than 50% over a matter of years when the CPI justified no increase of that magnitude. Ferry didn’t respond to him this time, but Laurene Weste did try to graciously address his concerns. Ken Pulskamp, speaking for the first time in the meeting, said no homeowners would be impacted by the fee (well, not directly) and that it was better to do it during on-going construction than after construction was finished.

Finally, we arrived at Public Participation (before 7pm!), and heard the sad story of Mr. Holt and his dog. Kenneth Holt lives in an area where illegal fireworks are a "growing problem." While they certainly annoy him and his wife, they really bother his dog. It goes "out of control" every time a firecracker crackles, suffering from considerable "emotional anxiety." In one recent incident, the dog ripped down Holt's window shades and tore off the door molding when it heard fireworks in the early evening hours. Apparently, he calls the Sheriff’s Department repeatedly every year, but the problem has not been remedied. He closed by hoping the problem would be fixed and vaguely suggesting that the City pay to fix his house damage.

Then Alan Ferdman came forward again, choosing this time to address Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste instead of Mayor Ferry directly. The issue was the same--sanitation fee increases. Ferry, however, was the one who responded. He pointed out loudly and forcefully that “everybody in the community needs to flush that toilet” and claimed that Ferdman's accusations were insulting.

With that, the meeting adjourned. Due to the summer hiatus, we won’t see the City Council in the same place again until August 25th. Until then, we must simply wait and endure.

[1]Here's the agenda