Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happenings: Movies, Mosaics, and McLeanisms

Tonight’s City Council meeting wasn’t just two-and-a-half hours long; it was a long two-and-a-half-hours. Even worse, it was an unnecessarily long two-and-a-half-hours, riddled as it was with minutiae about air-conditioning units, plastic bag recycling promotions, and islands in Special Standards Districts. There was a whole lot of nothing obscuring the few moderately important things that happened.

The evening got off to a bad start with individual reports from council members. Councilmember Laurie Ender talked about a serious food shortage facing all of the local food pantries. She recommended that when you go to the market to “get a couple extra of everything” and drop said extras off to benefit the needy. Councilmember Bob Kellar spoke about trees. He applauded the Festival of Trees and looked forward to the HMNMH Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Kellar next spoke about a recent tour of the site that is to become a major studio complex for Disney. While there, he learned of a possible, significant change to LA County Fire Department's policies. Ken Striplin elaborated. Apparently, any film set or structure that would be standing for more than 180 days would be considered “permanent” and require more inspections and code compliance than is typical for sets. Though temporary for all intents and purposes, the structures would need official inspections before they could be used, require high-capacity fire sprinklers, and be subject to standards that would make filming in Los Angeles much less convenient and far more expensive. Kellar called the plan a “job-killer” that would drive even more productions outside of California. With five movie ranches in Santa Clarita, the Council agreed to oppose this plan at an approaching December 10 meeting of stakeholders. It seems that LA Fire Department Chief Freeman will have the final say.

Councilmember Marsha McLean had a lot to say during her turn, as usual. After talking about reusable grocery bags for the umpteenth time in as many meetings, she moved onto her second favorite subject, the League of California Cities. The League will push for a ballot measure to protect City money from being used to balance the State budget. McLean went on to say that when she speaks with people from other cities at League meetings, “They are so jealous of our city!” with its balanced budget and thriving economy. Finally, she described some rather bizarre events that will be taking place in Old Town Newhall. There will be a dance at the Senior Center ("Ach! My hip replacement's acting up!") and “Cowboys and Carols” at the Hart Mansion in early December. The latter event takes place in Hart’s living room. Those who have taken the tour know the living room is big but not “that” big, so you may want to buy your $20 ticket early if cowboys and carols are your thing.

Once the Redevelopment Agency meeting was convened, it was time for some real business. There was a recommendation to dole out $199,200 to an architectural firm “for the purposes of providing conceptual architectural design and an economic feasibility analysis for the southeast quadrant of the Newhall Gateway area.” There were a number of things wrong with this proposed action. First, the land in question is privately held, but public redevelopment funds would pay for the study. Second, the City’s rationale for the study is little more than that it’s an important piece of land, so the land should be developed in line with its (i.e., Pulskamp et al.’s) vision. Third, the developer of the project already has an appointment over an appeal scheduled for December 8th. In light of the third problem, Mayor Ferry asked if it would make sense to wait until December 8th. This was the eventual course of action, but one not taken until Marsha McLean voiced concerns over the actions of the developer (he was apparently saying one thing at the meeting, another over the phone). Laurie Ender said that it would be a mistake to not spend $200,000 as the beauty of the Newhall Gateway Development may make-or-break Old Town Newhall’s long-term success.

On the Consent Calendar, nothing of much importance was approved. Particularly unimportant was approval of a conceptual proposed art project for the student group “Visions in Progress.” Mayor Ferry called twelve high school students from VIP to come forward and introduce themselves. They spoke about their plans to have a mosaic art installation created. From the agenda, it seems the goal of this mosaic will be “to help the individual be part of the community, and help the community allow the individual to be part of it; therefore, celebrating the dignity and worth of the individual.” We don’t yet know much this nonsense will cost taxpayers.

Two public hearings followed. The City Council was happy to make a Special Standards District for Happy Valley. Plans for such a distinction have been tossed around for at least a decade, and the SSD seemed popular with the vast majority of residents. Manny Santana was the only speaker to voice concerns, stating that he didn’t want his future development plans threatened. It was explained, however, that the Special Standards District wouldn’t do anything to prohibit development but rather require that the character of future developments be compatible with the character of the community.

The second public hearing began with a staff presentation that took the better part of

forever. The hearing concerned changing a piece of property on Oak Ridge Drive currently zoned “industrial” to “commercial neighborhood”. This would allow the developer to put in a commercial center complete with restaurant, shops, medical offices, and 203 parking spots. During the presentation, we learned everything from the width of proposed versus conventional landscape buffers to the architectural styles that would be used to how a mitigated negative declaration had been arrived at. Several speakers came forward to voice concerns about how the project would impact traffic near the railroad and whether it was in the best spot for a commercial development. The matter that had Councilmember McLean talking the most, however, was the number and noisiness of air-conditioning units that would be installed. The architect and McLean talked about AC unit models, decibels, and modes of muffling noise until Mayor Ferry finally put his foot down and put the plan to a vote. The recommended action was taken--that is, the zone change will be passed to a second reading.

During New Business, Laurie Ender was nominated to serve on the governing board of the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments. Both Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean were eager to serve as her alternate, and Ferry decided with the flip of a coin (yes, that's correct) that Weste would play back-up. Councilmember McLean was not too pleased, saying that the role of alternate would complement the many other offices she holds, but admitted that one can’t do everything.

The last item on the Agenda was consideration of increasing compensation for City Council members. Rarely has a group of people been so eager to reject a raise. Thus, the City Council serving in 2010 will be paid the same $1,571.67 per month that the present members of the City Council receive.

Finally, it was time for Public Participation, and Cam Noltemeyer expressed the cynicism we’ve come to love and expect from her. Most interesting, I thought, was her discussion of the political capacity that the new SCV Economic Development Corporation plans to have. She feared that this could lead to campaign contributions rewarding the very CC members that had voted to fund the corporation. TimBen Boydston, making his four-hundredth comment of the evening, closed the meeting by reading some rousing words from George Washington about Thanksgiving.

Speaking of which, Happy Thanksgiving.

[1]Here's the long agenda

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