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


Alan Ferdman said...

Just to be sure that there is no confusion related to the issue at hand. Mayor Ferry and Councilmember Weste currently sit as members of the Santa Clarita Sanitation District Board.

On June 24 the Sanitation Board Staff presented a chart showing cost increases from 2005 to present. It also showed a figure for the Consumer Price index (CPI) of 10% for that period. This was one of the charts used to justify their proposal for raising the yearly rate by 11% and the Sewer connection fee to $4,500 (later approved at $3,800).

When I checked my past property tax bills I found that Sanitation District fees have been increased every year since 2006. Totaling them up that accounts for an increase of 55% ($82/yr) while the CPI for that period grew only 13%. Having the data for connection fees for only 2 years I could see that they had grown 58% ($1470) during that time period.

In short that is the issue. At last night’s council meeting Councilmember Weste asked Ken Pulskamp to obtain justification of these fee increases from the Sanitation Board and make the data public. This is a question of government transparency particularly important during hard economic times. It is a legitimate question. The public should not have to go on blind faith.

Anonymous said...

But let’s not assume that just because a parade happens that it’s the best in Claritan history.

Why not? We do this with everything, including the awarding of medals and plaques and everything else to firefighters who get paid big bucks for doing their job. Do we take money away from them if there are no fires? Do most work on the side and make even more money - YES. Please stop making them heroes because they show up for work.