Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happenings: 49 Minutes in City Hall

I missed the first few minutes of tonight’s meeting in order to finish watching Sunday’s episode of Mad Men[1]. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sufficiently tardy to be spared the spectacle that is awards-and-recognitions[2]. Tonight, there was just one rather drawn-out acknowledgement extended to the judges serving the Community Court Diversion Program. As explained on the City’s website:

In 2006, the Santa Clarita Community Court Diversion Program was implemented as an alternative to the juvenile justice system for first-time, non-violent, juvenile offenders. Juvenile offenders who commit non-violent petty crimes are sentenced by a judge to perform community service, make restitution, attend diversion classes, and pay financial penalties. If the juvenile completes the program, their crime does not go on their record. The program was started to help first-time offenders learn from their mistakes, and to ensure that youth perform their community service and pay their restitution here in Santa Clarita where their crime was committed. [3]

The system handles cases that range from illegal U-turns to vandalism to speeding to possession of drugs or alcohol.

It seems to me that the Community Court Diversion Program was devised by well-intentioned but naïve persons who believe in the fairy tales of “good kids who make bad choices” and “teens in need of a second chance”, people who forget how easily most students can muster a seemingly sincere apology to avoid a mark on their record or harsher punishment outside of SCV.

I very much encourage you to visit the program’s web page[3]. Try the “Stats & Testimonials” section where there is an excerpt from a 13 year-old girl who was in possession of marijuana. She wrote “I have learned my lesson.” Then there’s the 16 year-old boy who wrote “I am going to make sure that I am the safest driver on the road from now on.” In the immortal acronym of their generation, LOL.

[NOTE: I was just talking about this program with my little sister. She reminded me that she served as one of the student “jurors” on such a case some years ago--prior to the current program, but essentially operating on the same idea. She contended that the student jury was very harsh, issuing the maximum penalties for a student who committed vandalism with a Sharpie, writing his name on a school bench. Apparently, he was “cute and popular” and the jury was, well, less so, explaining their enthusiasm for harsh sentencing. This gave me hope that we could count on the ruthlessness of peer-issued punishments to balance out the baseless optimism at the heart of the court diversion program. Alas, the judge had the final say and issued a more lenient punishment.]

Next, the City Council's five esteemed members gave their individual reports to the community. Councilmember Laurie Ender talked about the annual League of California Cities Conference that she attended with Councilmember Marsha McLean. One of the conference highlights was a presentation on the role of libraries in economic development. (Can I write LOL twice in one posting?) Ender thought this subject was “ironic” given that Santa Clarita is building its very own new library[4]. Once the library opens, Ender would do well to visit it, obtain a dictionary, and reevaluate her understanding of the word “irony.”[5]

Councilmember Kellar spoke about a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new ion exchange system. The Castaic Lake Water Agency will use it to treat perchlorate, our valley’s favorite persistent aqueous pollutant. This is a lovely development, but perhaps we should ease up on the ribbon cuttings. Overuse dulls the giant ceremonial scissors, and an exorbitant ribbon budget is hard to justify in these trying times.

Attention then shifted to Councilmember McLean who, as usual, had a lot of county- and state-level matters to discuss. She expressed concern about the progress and direction of the California’s high-speed train project: it’s not as far along as some have suggested and current plans may need to be revised to incorporate the most cutting-edge, environmentally-friendly technology. She was decidedly more pleased with the League of California City’s resolution to close loopholes that have allowed that State to take money from cities. These are the very loopholes that legislators used to take about $3M from Santa Clarita to close the California’s budget hole, and they'll be voted on by the People at a future election.

Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste made a few announcements about the upcoming Native American Powwow at Hart Park and open space dedication near Placerita Canyon Park.

Finally, Mayor Ferry decided to give his time to LA County Fire Department Assistant Chief (I think I got that title right) Johnny Jee. Ferry’s preface was a very entertaining riff on being stuck with an unfortunate name. He said that he was teased for having the last named “Ferry” and suggested that Sheriff Captain Anthony LaBerge “bulks up” because of his delicate surname. In contrast, Ferry found Johnny Jee’s name—pronounced like “Johnny G.”--downright awesome and perfect for someone in the fire department. This was actually all more interesting than Jee’s speech introducing himself and giving some updates.

During the actual business of the meeting, essentially everything on the consent calendar passed with the recommended action and without discussion. These included measures for additional geological testing and inspections at the Sports Complex, acceptance of a project of traffic circulation improvements, and some ratifications of City Manager Ken Pulskamp’s actions regarding American Recovery and Reinvestment Act cash that will go to big road improvement projects.

There was exactly one person who made one comment on one item, and I’ll give you one guess as to who that person was. You’re right! Mr. Alan Ferdman came forward to comment on Item 10, which declared results of the landscape maintenance district vote. The voters overwhelmingly approved assessment changes and some modifications of various landscape maintenance district zones. Ferdman said that the City hadn’t made basic, critical information about the changes available such that people couldn’t really know what they were voting on. Unfortunately, this is one of those items that hasn’t captured sustained public interest, the kind that only traffic issues seem to be able to garner. Thus, Ferdman was more or less alone in his crusade tonight. The City Council responded to his concerns rather curtly, asking someone from City staff to talk with Ferdman after the meeting. And suddenly, we moved to Public Participation.

There were three speakers. Guy #1 said he thought it would be a good idea to do away with compact parking spaces to accommodate the bigger cars beloved by Claritans. Guy #2 said he had been bothered by an over-zealous code enforcement agent who was trying to get him to bring his front yard into line with some code that had remained unenforced for twenty years. He mentioned that the code enforcement agent told him he would need to green up his lawn, and when he mentioned that local water agencies recommended conserving water, the agent responded by saying that his agency had nothing to do with water districts (essentially instructing the property owner to water his grass more, conservation-be-damned). Guy #2 had an ambiguous accent and was old, which gave him instant credibility: could his story about oppressive code enforcement and being told to water despite supply restrictions be true? Finally, Guy #3 came forward to represent the community of Belcaro. He thanked the City for trying to help his neighborhood resolve the issue of too-big, too-ugly transmission towers that were erected near their homes by Southern California Edison. Since SoCal Edison proved unresponsive, he said that 43 residents would be filing a lawsuit against the company for damages.

Despite my voluminous ramblings, tonight’s meeting was a quickie and ended at 6:49. All in all, I preferred my hour investment in Mad Men to that in this meeting.

[1] “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”…but he doesn’t walk out! The best episode of the third season of a damn fine show.
[2]Do you crave an agenda?
You’re in luck.
[3]Divert this
[4]J-to-the-Wilson has a rendering and links at SCVTalk
[5]"Irony is one of the most abused words in the English language," said my 11th grade English teacher. "Serendipitous", "fitting", "coincidental", or "timely" might have been better choices in this case.
[6]Here is Ferdman’s
neglected Item 10.


Anonymous said...

there's no place i'd rather be the day after a city council meeting than at your blogsite. only you can make a meeting like last night's interesting and entertaining.

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