Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happenings: Decoro, Diane, and Dung Bins

NOTE: Sorry for posting an un-edited version earlier.

Waiting half-an-hour for a City Council meeting to start is rather like paying $5 to be punched in the face—why make an investment whose only return is pain? But wait the people of Santa Clarita did until, at last, just after 6:30, the City Council deigned to show up.

Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste offered the convocation[1]. “There is more to Labor Day than a long weekend,” she began, “It’s a working man’s holiday.” What Weste’s speech lacked in interest and relevance it made up for in brevity. She finished in a couple of minutes.

Next, Mayor Ferry called forward sixteen Boy Scouts to lead the flag salute, thereby explaining why the room was so inexplicably full (though a lot of people were also there to gripe about Decoro). If each scout lived an average of three miles (or ten minutes) away from City Hall, each scout arrived at 5:45 and left after pledge, and each scout brought one family member to watch them, then a total of 96 miles and 37 man-hours were spent to make possible the flag salute and a photo with the City Council. Rest assured, it was one of the finest “Ready, begin!”s I’ve ever witnessed.

Thereafter, a representative from SoCal Edison came forward to hand out two big checks. $30,000 went to the Boys & Girls Club for a “comprehensive academic enrichment program.” The Valley Industrial Association also received a tidy sum ($25K) to fund their work force readiness program.

After this substantial and meaningful presentation came one that fell squarely under the category of “Are you serious?” Certificates of Recognition were presented to a handful of local manufacturers and businesses for being in full compliance with the County Sanitation District’s industrial waste requirements. Indeed, awards were given out for following the sanitation rules for a whole year.

Finally, award-a-thon ended with a nod to Laurene Weste. She was recognized for winning the San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s Government Leadership Award. Laurie Ender congratulated Weste and noted with a grin that half of those recognized at the event were also from Santa Clarita, reassuring us of our valley’s superiority to the one down south.

With the award portion of the evening concluded, we went around the dais for news and updates. Laurie Ender was in back-to-school mode with her mentions of Teen Scene Unplugged and a suggestion that parents join the PTA. Bob Kellar asked us to be mindful of struggling local charities. Marsha McLean described how a portion of our local redevelopment money would be seized by the State. She said that were it not for the unified support of the League of California Cities, Santa Clarita and other cities might have had much more money taken away. She also added, cynically, that the State “could only borrow the money—they couldn’t steal it outright." During her turn, Laurene Weste sang the praises of free carts that Blue Barrel will be supplying specifically for the disposal of animal feces. She recommended them highly to those with livestock, suggesting “one-and-a-half carts per large critter” based on personal experience. This manure-collecting service isn’t being offered out of the goodness of Blue Barrel’s heart, though. It was one of several “services” the company agreed to offer in lieu of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines to the City for not maintaining a modern fleet. This fine point was not discussed, alas. Finally, Mayor Ferry ended with a reminder of many important ribbon-cutting events in the near future, like the new Old Town Newhall unveiling. He also made a joke about the bike lanes on Decoro that was not well-received.

Upon moving onto the Consent Calendar, it became clear that there weren’t too many contentious items. Homeowners from the Shadow Oaks community came forward to formally request that they be kept abreast of all meetings and developments concerning an EIR for an extension of Via Princessa. One woman made specific requests that the City be mindful of dust control, wildlife, and road debris clearance as the project progressed.

Then came a nasty little spat between Ferry and McLean over what seemed like nothing. It began when Diane Trautman, Vice-chair of the Planning Commission, came forward to make a comment on Item #8, which would temporarily defer development impact fees to stimulate the local economy. Trautman wanted more specifics from City Manager Ken Pulskamp about the plan. After her questions, Councilmember McLean followed up by asking the City Manager about why meetings on the fee deferment hadn’t been more transparent and inclusive of the public. Councilmember Ender and City Manager Pulskamp began to respond, noting that the deferment was just one part of a 21-point plan that had already been approved in May.

Before the discussion got very far, Mayor Ferry stepped in and made it clear that he was upset with the questions posed by Diane Trautman. He said it wasn’t behavior in keeping with the norms or expectations of someone serving on one of the City’s commissions. He went on to point his finger at McLean, calling Trautman “her [McLean’s] commissioner,” and implying that McLean was having Trautman do her bidding in bringing up the issue of the fee deferment. McLean sat aghast at the accusation. A snappy, indignant exchange between Ferry and McLean followed, each trying to get the last word. Again, this seemed like much ado about nothing, but perhaps Mayor Ferry was feeling especially defensive, trying to avoid City-vs.-City quarrels in front of the public.

There was a brief truce as several artists came forward to thank the City for its final approval of an Arts Commission (Item #9). Then they were back at it.

McLean said “When I have something to say or something to bring up I will do that. I want to say publicly, I did not approach Ms. Trautman to come speak […] for me.” Ferry then apologized if he had over-reacted, but restated that he wanted to firmly lay down the norms of behavior with commission members, whom he suggested can bring up issues at venues more appropriate than a City Council meeting. He ended on a friendly note, suggesting that his little fight with Marsha McLean was just like what happens among family members and was already behind them. “Don’t freak out out there,” he advised. Don't worry, we won't.

Then we moved on to Public Participation. A number of Claritans came forward to express their horror, disbelief, outrage, disgust, and sense of betrayal over the bike lanes that were painted along Decoro last week. The addition of the lane for those who travel on two wheels reduced the street from four car lanes to two, and that was simply not OK. Local homeowners claimed that the bike lane was unnecessary and/or dangerous: “In the 15 years that I’ve been here I’ve never seen a bike on Decoro…nobody rides up Decoro on a bike,” said one man. (How dare they call Jeff Wilson, Maria Gutzeit, and those two other people who bike “nobody”!) One woman said she shouldn’t be inconvenienced in getting to work to accommodate someone’s “hobby.” Another said of the restriping “I find it completely absurd,” and yet another said she had seen four near-collisions as a result of the new traffic pattern. I can’t recall anyone expressing their support for the bike lanes other than the party behind a single written comment.

Councilmember Laurie Ender called the whole thing a mistake and said that a friend had yelled at her in the market for the atrocities committed against Decoro drivers. She is highly exposed to the Moms-who-drive-all-day contingent, and I imagine it was not an easy week for her. Bob Kellar also called the new road paint a mistake. McLean and Weste were less sweeping in their condemnations, but they too acknowledged problems.

The Decoro issue had not been agendized, and Mayor Ferry wanted to keep it that way. He said that changing the road stripes back to four car lanes with either no bike lane or a narrower bike lane could be done without putting the item up for public discussion. Ender agreed, hoping that things would be fixed quickly, but McLean wanted a chance for the community to give more input. That matter was loosely resolved when Pulskamp suggested that he investigate further. He said he would proceed with the suggested corrections only if the clear majority were in agreement that they're needed. (They are.) Else, the matter will come up for more discussion before the CC.

There were a few more comments that weren’t terribly interesting and with that, the meeting ended. It shall reappear in a slightly altered form on September 8th. By that point, the City Council might be able to figure out its position on which matters should be handled in-house and which should be addressed with the public's participation.

[1]Here's the agenda