Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happenings: McLean, Ascendant

Councilmember Frank Ferry remains hospitalized. City Attorney Carl Newton retires after 23 years of service, in the midst of many legal challenges. Doubts about One Valley One Vision are growing. Mayor Weste's final days have been so full of chaos and confusion--where are Claritans to turn for guidance in these troubled times? Cue "O Fortuna." (view the video below at full volume for best effect)

Indeed, on this eve of Santa Clarita's 23rd birthday, I start writing "Mayor Marsha McLean." Again. Concurrently, Laurie Ender enters the protective cocoon that is Mayor Pro-temhood, a cocoon from which she shall emerge Mayor Ender. The kids grow up so fast, don't they?

As mayor, McLean has promised to prioritize "inter-generational" projects and to continue her work on public transportation development. She noted that 2011 will be a particularly pivotal juncture in Santa Clarita's journey; it's the year of One Valley One Vision will be adopted. Ender congratulated Weste for her leadership and McLean on her new title. "Well-behaved women rarely make history," she said, saying that Weste and McLean owed their success to being "the best feather-rufflers I know." I suppose that was a compliment. The estrogen was surging as she concluded her remarks by suggesting that sometimes "the best man for the job is a woman."

The other major transition tonight was Carl Newton's departure from his post as City Attorney, a title he has held since 1987. City Manager Ken Pulskamp thanked Newton for consistently providing "wise counsel" and for being a "kind and humble man of integrity." It might be said the kindness was Carl's weakness as well as his strength; he had a tendency to indulge the City Councils he served with assurances that whatever they did or planned to do was legal and right. Still, he's seen Santa Clarita through since the start and through some most profound changes. Newton was modest and gracious when accepting a key to the City, calling Santa Clarita "a class community" with "the most intelligent and sophisticated people I've ever encountered" while performing his legal duties.

Allan-voice-of-God-Cameron came forward to praise Newton for his service. Drawing a baseball analogy, he said that Newton and his firm were batting 900+ when it came to defending the City in court and had saved them untold billions.

During individual reports, Councilmember Laurene Weste gave an update on Frank Ferry. His family said that he is still in the ICU but is stable. His vitals are staying within range, and he no longer requires a ventilator. Ferry may begin physical therapy soon. Mayor McLean asked staff to investigate whether they could offer passport services that will no longer be offered at the library in preparation for the takeover. This prompted Councilmember Bob Kellar to ask whether the City could get its act together and offer marriage licenses, too. Shop local, marry local.

Eventually, the City Council examined the Consent Calendar[1]. Item 1 summarized mid-fiscal-year adjustments to the budget in terms of projected revenue and expenditures[2]. Some $23M in revenue adjustments were credited to sales tax from new store openings at The Patios and grants, among other things. Expenditures were likewise adjusted upwards for various items both big (acquiring parking rights at the Santa Clarita Metrolink Station for $4.3M) and small ($5K for a Tremble GPS Receiver to conduct a citywide sign survey). Most of the other agenda items concerned street improvements.

All items were passed with the recommended action, though Councilmember Bob Kellar was not pleased about Item 10. It awarded a $160,000 contract to Environ Corps. They'll prepare Santa Clarita's very own Climate Action Plan (CAP) in keeping with AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act. Kellar explained why he was peeved. Santa Clarita has relatively little impact (i.e., none) on the global carbon balance, prompting him to ask "What are you smokin' that you think what we do will make a difference?" McLean was sympathetic, saying "I think that's a really good point. I like that." However, the State of California mandates a CAP as part of new or revised general plans, so the whole City Council gave the item their approval.

Public hearings followed, and it was quickly decided that Copperstone will be pre-zoned in preparation for annexation. This decision came after the to-do made over annexing all of Tesoro del Valle, West Creek, and Copperstone at once.

Finally, the City Council approved a contract for construction of the library in Newhall. Tebo Construction Inc. submitted the winning bid. Pulskamp said that the recession led to lower bids on a more ambitious construction project, such that Santa Clarita would be getting more for its money than previously thought. The $10.5M contract makes allowances for a $2.4M contingency. There will also be significant additional expenditures on materials testing and labor compliance services. Still, Pulskamp insisted that the library is being built for a bargain.

During Public Participation, the SCOPE gals were nowhere to be found. Alan Cameron filled the void by asking that a web page and plaque acknowledge those who have served Santa Clarita on the various commissions. The meeting ended at 7:16.

[1]Here is the agenda.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happenings: Library Committee of 37

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a Claritan’s thoughts naturally wander towards family, thanks, and City Council meetings. These were all on the mind of Councilmember Frank Ferry. He invoked (invocated?) tonight’s gathering by describing how excited he was to have his son return from college for Thanksgiving. In the spirit of the season, he suggested that “Tomorrow through next Sunday, call ten people who made your life better.” How nice! Of course, this kinder, gentler Ferry would give way to the belligerent one we’re used to later on in the meeting. But for at least a few minutes, all was sweetness and light.

Los Angeles Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman was warmly thanked as he prepares to retire from his post. “This man has given his life to the service,” said Mayor Laurene Weste, who presented Freeman with a key to the city and a personal gift of 9/11 fire pins.

Updates from councilmembers followed. Councilmember Laurie Ender proposed looking into the creation of a local sports hall of fame (“Hometown Hall of Fame”) to recognize Santa Clarita’s sundry Olympians, all-stars, and record holders. Everyone seemed tickled with the prospect, which will be discussed at a future meeting. Councilmember Bob Kellar talked about a new church to which he had been invited. Mayor Pro-tem Marsha McLean described meetings with LA County regarding libraries. She also thanked the people in the supermarket “who stop to say ‘hi’ and who stop to say ‘thank you.’” Mayor Weste looked forward to opening the community gardens in early December, not generally regarded as the ideal time to establish vegetables.
With the exception of one item, the Consent Calendar passed with the recommended actions and without discussion. Many of the items related to Old Town Newhall. Duane Harte, Leon Worden, and Carol Rock will be part of the Newhall Redevelopment Committee for four more years; more property in Newhall will be acquired by the City; and outdoor dining is officially allowed in parts of Old Town. Every councilmember but Bob Kellar also gave the go-ahead on very specific types of outdoor merchandise displays, an ordinance made for the all but exclusive benefit of Caston’s.
Under the heading of Unfinished Business, the City Council appointed a Citizens Public Library Advisory Committee. Darren Hernandez, the inept Deputy City Manager stumbling clumsily through the library takeover process, attempted a presentation. Out of 72 applicants, many of whom were prodded into applying by the City, 37 were selected to serve. City Manager Ken Pulskamp apparently doesn’t expect them to get much done, saying “I can’t imagine 37 people will agree on anything!”
Hernandez highlighted the “diversity” of the committee nominees. They number among their ranks five former library professionals, a retired doctor, a daycare director, three persons involved in homeschooling, a couple of self-described PTA moms, two attorneys, a high school student, and a landscape architect. Whoop-de-frickin-do. Among the group of three dozen people, not everyone has the same job! Many members have used or even worked in a library! Some of these people have kids who like books and need educating! Some, like Berta Gonzalez-Harper and Phil Ellis have already given their enthusiastic support to the takeover! In their six to nine meetings over the coming months, I’m sure that this group of Santa Clarita’s best and brightest will get a heck of a lot done—and they’ll probably have a heck of a good time doing it! My exclamation point key has stopped working because of overuse, so it’s time to move on.

Not everyone shared my/CC’s enthusiasm for the committee. Speakers pointed out the obvious—no one who had been a vocal critic of the takeover had been appointed to serve (though a couple of milder critics, arguably, were). Cam Noltemeyer called it an “After the fact type of committee,” and Lynne Plambeck called it a “‘Yes’ committee.” Wryly, Carole Lutness floated the question “You didn’t choose me…I wonder why?” Many also pointed out that the County has disputed Santa Clarita’s plan to collect the special library tax that the County formerly collected. This was part of how the City planned to fund the local libraries.
The City Council responded. “Having 72 [applications] to go through was a treat!” said Ender, explaining that applicants were chosen for having “a strong desire to see our libraries be successful.” She explained that the committee excluded outspoken critics because they were looking more for an attitude of “let’s make them [libraries] awesome!” than for a debate. Marsha McLean contested the idea of the yes-committee, saying “We put people on that we thought would give a good opposing view.”

Ferry was unusually vocal about the topic. He said that this was all an effort to move the libraries “from good to great”, a phrase he repeated many times. While Ferry was excited about the advisory committee, he predicted that a committee of this size would suffer drop-outs after the first couple of meetings. Thus, he suggested allowing any applicant who attended the meetings to replace appointed members absent more than two or three times. This could open the door for people like Lynne Plambeck or Alan Ferdman to serve. Ferry was quickly scolded by Ken Pulskamp. “I hate to disagree with you,” whined the City Manager, as he explained that Ferry’s idea was unacceptable for various, unconvincing reasons.
In the end, the 37 nominees were accepted and the library ad hoc committee (Ender and McLean) will take care of substitutes and replacements if need be.
Another citizen-stocked committee was discussed next as recommendations about sites for the MRF (Materials Recycling Facility) were presented to the City Council. Burrtec Waste Industries, Inc. will have to purchase one of the sites selected by the committee: the Hondo oil refinery site, Gates King Industrial Park, or a site in the Saugus Industrial Center. The Hondo site seems to be the most preferred, receiving the highest score. The almost-as-highly scored/ranked Gates King site gave several residents pause. A member who had served on the MRF site selection committee said he wasn’t aware that 600 trees might have to be felled to accommodate the facility. With legal and environmental issues for that site, it seemed unofficially off the table. The City Council approved the recommended action of directing Burrtec to purchase one of the top three sites.
Finally, the City Council approved a new lease agreement for the County of Los Angeles for the Jo Anne Darcy Library. $622,000 in City funds will be given to the County for completion of the library renovation. The renovation had been halted shortly after the vote to withdraw from the County of Los Angeles Library System—officials said that county funds oughtn’t be used to fix a library they were being kicked out of. Ferry threw a little tantrum about all the horrible things that the County of Los Angeles has done to Santa Clarita, stealing its library money to use elsewhere, etc… His mood was provoked when Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin suggested that LA took taxes from non-incorporated residents who used SCV libraries, but they didn’t return an equal amount of library services at SCV libraries. He bellowed and bounced in his seat and said that it was inexcusable for anyone to think that they were better off with county-run libraries. The City paid to build the libraries, he said, and the County just took money.
Laurie Ender expressed the same sentiment somewhat more calmly: “It’s time to move forward!” In an example of what Tim Myers has brilliantly christened “Ender Math,” Laurie said that 95% of people who use libraries don’t care who runs them. They haven’t come to give an opinion about the library takeover and probably don’t even know it’s happening, so they’re cool with whatever. She said there is a little boy named Derek who just wants his Canyon Country library to be open again so he can check out some books. Can’t we help Derek out?
During Public Participation, the same elderly man from last week (the one who lives at the mobile home park) spoke before the City Council. He had a meeting with the rent control panel and staff helped him through the process, but he still insisted that the City doesn’t care about poor people. Next, Richard Green complained about the high price of participating in the City’s adult softball league. Bob Kellar asked that discussion of these softball fees be agendized, citing the necessity that middle-aged men be allowed to play softball in a league setting for a price below what it costs to maintain the fields and run the lights. Mayor Weste agreed, saying “these are proud men” who would suffer in silence if the City Council didn’t step in. I hope they act soon, or people may just have to play softball informally and for free—perish the thought!

Finally, David Gauny remarked on the libraries and other matters, saying, “We are completely going ass backwards on this stuff guys.” It was build a library first, figure out how to operate it, fund it, etc… second. The meeting adjourned with wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving. At the risk of sentimentality, Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Happenings: OVOV's Traffic Fairy Tale & The "Unredeemable"

Imagine a Santa Clarita where the population has doubled, but traffic congestion is about the same as it is today. You don't have to imagine! That's the Santa Clarita that One Valley One Vision will deliver, an SCV where a little street widening, some more bridges, and a new-found tendency to limit car trips and shop close to home means the roadways keep moving smoothly. This promise was part of the Planning Commission's OVOV discussion that occurred from late November 16th into the wee hours of November 17th. Before this most important matter could be discussed, some lesser matters were considered[1]. Briefly:


Bubbles is a bar and restaurant that will be opening in the Vista Valencia Shopping Center. Despite its effervescent name, the establishment will serve a full menu in addition to beer and wine. Associate Planner Patrick LeClair offered far more details about these plans than anyone would consider decent, including a map on which someone had used green dots to indicate every residence from which planners had received one of the 140+ letters regarding Bubbles. Really, there's a person at City Hall who does that--gets comments, locates the address of origin, plots it on a map, and makes that map available for the Planning Commission. They glanced at this map for about three seconds. Anyhow, many local residents were against giving the applicant a permit to serve alcohol because (1)The live entertainment that would accompany the serving of alcohol would be noisy and bother neighbors, (2)There are enough places serving booze in the area already, and (3)Nearby schools mean the under-aged could be run over by drunk drivers. One man said, only half-jokingly, that this would be a step towards having strip clubs and medical marijuana dispensaries in the shopping center.

Despite these protestations, the Planning Commission gave the applicant the OK to serve beer and wine at the restaurant named in honor of the carbon dioxide found in these beverages.


Pity the Verizon guy who stood before the Planning Commission (he actually looked like the Verizon guy (when did those commercials stop?) aged by perhaps two decades). On behalf of his company, he was trying to get a conditional use permit for a wireless telecommunications facility--a cell tower with associated infrastructure. Unfortunately, this tower would go up in association with the ominous black Southern California Edison towers that mar the views of Belcaro residents. Though the tower would be somewhat obscured by the other, bigger towers, it was clear that Belcaro's retired population had had quite enough. Try as he might, the Verizon guy couldn't keep people from conflating his proposed project with the vastly unpopular SoCal Edison project. Commissioner Dee Dee Jacobson said that her heart went out to Belcaro residents: "You are a retirement community that's been hoodwinked by Edison." No one on the Planning Commission could stomach giving the community another eyesore, so staff was directed to continue working with Verizon and Belcaro's residents to look for a better place to locate the tower or a better way to obscure it.


The Seventh Day Adventist Church on Valley Street would like to host a school on their premises. A school operated in the past (1960-1983) as did a temporary religious school until very recently. They proposed accommodating just over 200 students in grades K-8 and pre-school. The pastor, who was pretty snappy for a man of God, said that neighbors were mostly concerned about the noise that would come from having a school in what is essentially their backyard. He said that people who objected to hearing the sounds of children were "unredeemable." (A sign reading, "For thou shalt love the sounds of children, else thou is for the Pit," is rumored to hang in his office.)

Many members of the church voiced their support for the school during the comment period. A smaller number of neighbors came forward to explain their problems with a school. Many were retired or worked from home, and they said that they didn't want to have their peace disturbed. For while the sounds and laughter of children sounds lovely in the abstract, in practice, it means hearing little boys tell fart jokes and little girls gossip about how fat Madison looks and children shrieking and giggling and yelling as children are wont to do. Apart from noise, neighbors objected to having cars dented and windows broken by wayward soccer balls.

Commissioners Ostrom and Jacobson saw this as a "good neighbor problem." Chair Tim Burkhart was disappointed at the "animosity" that existed between the church and its neighbors, an animosity that went both ways. Since noise was the main issue and there was no real solution, the Planning Commission ultimately decided to approve the school on the condition that it submit a yearly plan. This plan will cover things like the timing of recess, lunch, and other regular outdoor activities. It will be discussed with planners and neighbors to see if everyone can agree on whether staggering outdoor time or having it all at once will lead to the least amount of disturbance for the neighborhood.

A ten-minute break followed.

OVOV Continued

At 10:49, Senior Planner Jason Smisko opened the second official discussion of the draft One Valley One Vision general plan. He began by responding to questions raised in October. Smisko had what might be described as a selective memory, addressing three softball questions (e.g., Was there a typo about library square-footage? and How often are general plans made/revised?) in place of the major questions brought up at the prior meeting. Among these bigger, more important questions were: What use are general plans when so many exemptions and exceptions are granted, and can these be capped?; What happens when the SCV runs out of water or landfill space, both of which may occur before build-out?; and Can we be certain that the County of Los Angeles will honor its agreement to maintain open space and low-density developments in exchange for Santa Clarita accepting most of the high-density development? Responses to these topics were vague at best, such as pointing out that technological advances may re-shape the waste disposal question in the future.

Next, Smisko explained the "Significant and Unavoidable Impacts" associated with OVOV. He made the ridiculous point that there would be significant unavoidable impacts regardless of whether the valley saw complete OVOV buildout or whether all development stopped today--as if all significant impacts are of the same sort and magnitude (they're not). Again, these significant unavoidable impacts include loss of agricultural land, noise problems, loss of wildlife habitat, running out of landfill space, contributing to global warming, and air quality issues.

The draft land use element was discussed next. Smisko said that overarching goals included creating a "valley of villages", concentrating denser developments in existing urban areas, and preserving open space around the periphery of the valley. He pointed out that 50% of the planning area was designated as open space. However, the rest of the planning area would see a potential build-out of 155,000 residential units with perhaps 462,000 individuals, about double the 80,500 residential units that exist today.

Senior Traffic Engineer Ian Pari discussed the circulation element of OVOV. He said that it was about more than just cars and had involved looking at how best to develop a multi-modal transportation system. The plan emphasized walkability, a network of bikeways, increased transit availability and use, and reducing the vehicle miles of travel per person. He then described a sophisticated model that projected vehicle traffic under the OVOV scenario. It allowed for a before-and-after comparison of "Level of Service" at major intersections and roadways, which can range from A (free flow of traffic) to F (total gridlock). The model showed that even though there may be twice as many people at full OVOV build-out, they will be driving fewer miles per day, staying closer to home, and using alternative transportation. Thus, the level of service at major intersections and roads stays about the same. Five arterial roads are projected to have an "F" grade because of gridlock at peak hours, but that's the same number of arterial roads that have a Level of Service grade of "F" today.

[Comments: This was, of course, a fairy tale. Roads are going to be widened and there will be five new bridges over the Santa Clara River, but to keep the present level of traffic with twice as many people mostly relies on a change in how often and how far Claritans drive. Expecting this change seems absurd. People drive across town because they prefer Trader Joe's to Whole Foods or because they like the Target in Canyon Country better than the one in Valencia. We all know (or are) people who go miles out of their way to save five-cents on gas or because the coffee is slightly better at a different cafe. The model can assume people will visit the closest shopping centers and behave rationally, but it's just a model built of frail human assumptions. To quote the statistician George Box, "All models are wrong, but some are useful," and this model's main utility is allowing the City to promise traffic won't get worse with twice as many people using the roads.]

With the conclusion of the staff presentation on the land use and circulation elements, it was time for the public to comment.

Former commissioner Diane Trautman said that she had submitted eight pages of comments for the Planning Commission to review. Her main concern was that the circulation element was "a house of cards" that would come crashing down if any of the proposed bridges or road widenings weren't built. Since some of these will be very difficult and expensive, she hoped a more realistic assessment of future traffic scenarios might be made. Lynne Plambeck questioned whether having public comments at midnight on a work night was an effective means of community outreach. (She’s so deadpan that one can miss the hilarity of her rhetorical understatement.) Plambeck brought up the same concerns she had last time about adhering to the general plan instead of granting so many exemptions, whether the County will honor low-density development, etc. Her questions again went unanswered.

Cam Noltemeyer echoed Plambeck more forcefully, saying that putting discussion of OVOV after three other lengthy planning items revealed "arrogance and contempt" for the general public.

Most of the commissioners had relatively limited comments about the elements. Commissioner Ostrom was the exception. His main concern was that property-owners ought to be notified if major changes are coming to their property or the areas surrounding their property. He then lamented the tendency to react rather than plan and voiced concerns about the County of Los Angeles using metaphors based on large animals--"the elephant in the closet" or rather "the dinosaur in the closet [...] feeding on us." "Is the reluctant dragon going to be cooperative?" he asked, thoughtfully.

In response to the fact that the public had to wait until midnight to discuss OVOV, the commission agreed to allow more comments about land use and circulation on December 7th. Commissioner Jacobson made a motion for a 60-day extension during which the public could spend more time reading and assessing the draft OVOV and EIR--it carried.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Signal Knows Best

Permission to Speak

When it comes to speaking out against the takeover of Santa Clarita’s libraries, The Signal’s editorial board members are ambivalent[1]. They actively encourage critics to participate in the Santa Clarita Citizens Public Library Advisory Committee (SCCPLAC, pronounced “scuh-PLAK!”). But outside of that committee, they’d prefer everyone just shut up.

That’s because your opposition is unfounded, the result of being manipulated by “misinformation and scare tactics". The board writes, “Criticism grew from a calculated effort by labor union leaders […] inciting library patrons with dishonest doomsday messages. Patrons were understandably frightened.” Eek!

You didn't back the County of Los Angeles Library System because it has ably served Santa Clarita for decades. No, you were scared into your position by thuggish librarians intent on spreading literacy with a side of lies. Meanwhile, it was Mayor Pro-tem Marsha McLean who offered a refreshing message of hope: "Cracks are forming!"[2]. You heard about severe restrictions on inter-library loans, the potential for new fees, and the loss of one-of-a-kind resources, but this was propaganda spread by questionable sources, like the County Librarian. You just lacked the basic reasoning skills necessary to critically evaluate these misleading messages. Thank goodness Leon and the gang at Creekside are on the case.

This widespread ignorance also explains why the dozens of comments given at the City Council meeting on the library takeover didn’t matter. According to The Signal editorial board, “They [the City Council] didn’t need three hours of testimony. Were their minds made up before the meeting? Yes…” You may think you know what you want, but it's best to let the City Council and The Signal (their opinions typically indistinguishable) decide what's best for you.

Curiously, while the editorial board knows what’s on your mind right now (fear, confusion, misinformation) and what was on the minds of councilmembers, they don't know how you want to customize Santa Clarita's new library experience. Perhaps that’s why The Signal deems it acceptable for people to participate in the Santa Clarita Citizens Public Library Advisory Committee.

On the Vital Importance of the SCCPLAC

The editorial explains, “The committee is tasked with assessing the specific needs of the community and transforming those needs into a strategic plan.” We are a singular community, after all, and there must be a lot of guidance to ensure that our diverse, unique needs are met. Where else in America does there exist a city populated by seniors, working professionals, college students, and families with young children? How can we meet the community’s unusual demands for both the classics and popular, contemporary materials? Is there any place else quite like Santa Clarita, where the people want their libraries modern, convenient, and comfortable?

Clearly, the SCCPLAC will need to put in long hours to make certain that Claritans’ exacting requirements are met. With headquarters located in exotic, far-off Los Angeles and mere dozens of staff members living in Santa Clarita, the county system was hopelessly out of touch with what was happening in the SCV.

The timing for convening the SCCPLAC couldn’t be better, either. Had it been formed in, say, July, when there was some debate on whether Santa Clarita should let the County of Los Angeles or LSSI run its libraries, there would have been problems. The committee probably would have wanted to debate the issue for more than one evening and might have considered the opinions of the thousands of Claritans who expressed opposition to the takeover (opinions based in confusion and fear, of course). How much better it is to form the committee once the big decision has been made. Now they can focus on important matters, like whether to dedicate a nook to rotating displays about our rich local history and how to best recruit the volunteer labor on which LSSI relies to maintain its profit margin.

While the guidance of the SCCPLAC will prove invaluable, its most important task will be to provide a veneer of legitimacy for the library takeover. No longer will it be a takeover that four elected officials rammed through against overwhelming public opposition and with inexplicable haste. It will be a transition under the advisement of the dedicated and creative members of the Santa Clarita Citizens Public Library Advisory Committee, a transition to a library system specially designed for the unique and wonderful people of Santa Clarita. Yippee.

[1]Here is the editorial, heavy on clich├ęs, long dashes (14 of ‘em!), and condescension.
[2]Thanks to The Signal commenter "August" for this hilarious insight.

Just Wondering: A Correction to the CC Meeting Summary

When summarizing the most recent City Council meeting, I described how some pint-sized baseball players were recognized, applauded, and photographed. After this to-do, Councilmember Frank Ferry loudly proclaimed that parents should grab their kids and head home because the remainder of the meeting would be boring. Discouraging involvement in local politics is one of Ferry's most cherished causes.

I heard Mayor Pro-tem Marsha McLean mutter something into Frank's ear afterwards (it was picked up by the microphone), and I mistakenly assumed she was chastising him. This is what was actually said (recording from the 12:14 mark in the meeting playing behind a photo of Marsha speaking in Frank's ear[1]):

McLean: “I wanna second that, that motion that you’re gonna make because…”
Ferry: “I-on’t-even-try-understand it, but I’ll…” [my best guess: "I don’t even try to understand it, but I'll..."]
McLean: “Well, I understand it!”[2]

It's not that big of a deal. It just appears that McLean knows how Ferry will vote before an item has been opened, discussed, and commented upon by the public and that Ferry doesn't understand the motion he is going to make, nor does he really care. It's old news. I just wanted to correct my earlier statement and to ask if anyone understands what Ferry says, his words being a bit under-enunciated.

[1]Here is the clip at SCVTV
[2]"It" apparently refers to the motion Ferry made regarding annexation in the Tesoro area; watch at the 37:25 mark for more. Luckily, he had some notes to refer to when making his motion.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happenings: Vets, Aerospace, and Trash

Tonight’s City Council meeting scarcely warrants summation—not a whole lot happened[1]. More correctly, millions of dollars were transferred, businesses were included or excluded from working in the City, and the annexation process hobbles onward. It just seems like nothing happened because rather little was said about any of it.

Mayor Weste delivered the invocation, paying tribute to the sacrifice of veterans. She invited everyone to take part in the ceremony to be held at the Veterans Historical Plaza at 11am this Thursday (Veterans Day). Later in the meeting, she would suggest that City staff investigate the feasibility of installing an electronic kiosk that can direct visitors to the location of particular bricks at the Veterans Historical Plaza. Weste said that some families purchased bricks as a memorial but were unable to locate them when they strolled the plaza. This plan will be researched and then discussed by the Parks Commission and City Council.

The Hart Mustang Red Team won the Mustang Pony World Series held in Texas a couple of months ago, and the team’s tiny baseball players (and regular-sized coaches) were recognized by the City Council. After the requisite photo, Ferry bellowed that parents should leave now “’Cause it gets boring from here on out. Ask the reporters!” (As if it hadn’t been boring from here on in.) It sounded like Mayor Pro-tem McLean, increasingly chummy with Councilmember Ferry, was asking him if he had to go about saying it that way, a few words of their private conversation getting picked up by a microphone[2]. But Ferry has never been one to shy away from saying that only he and his friends are allowed to be involved in local politics.

Next, recognition was given to the heroic faculty and staff of Hart High School who responded when a 16-year-old girl was repeatedly stabbed with an 8-inch kitchen knife during a fight. The honorees included teacher James Harlow, the man who physically held-off the attacker. Mayor Weste beamed as she recounted how tragedy was averted by some quick, decisive actions, and noted “We’re still that small-town American community.” And as such a community, we pay tribute to those who break up the small-town knife fights at our small-town high schools. The victim of the stabbing, incidentally, is recovering and getting better.

During councilmember comments, Ferry commended Henry Mayo for what must be the sixth or seventh week in a row. Reading from a written statement, he applauded the hospital for doing something well or innovating or at least not screwing up—I didn’t bother listening too closely. Marsha McLean thanked everyone for a delicious blueberry pancake breakfast after the 2.6-mile “Mayor’s Walk” on the day of the Santa Clarita Marathon. She was appreciative of Paul Brotzman, “who was in charge of the sausage.” McLean also mentioned that the first segment of California’s high speed rail will be installed in the sparsely peopled San Joaquin Valley, not from LA to Anaheim, as hoped. For her turn, Councilmember Ender asked students in Mr. Hayes’s government class to stand up—they were sitting through the meeting for extra credit—and applauded them. If they continue to attend meetings after finishing school, they should be prepared for a somewhat cooler reception. “I’m totally lecturing you…I should have been a high school teacher” said Ender as she explained how local shopping was important for generating tax revenue for the City. She encouraged people to shop locally and to give charitably locally as well. Finally, Mayor Weste delivered a few updates and it was on to other business.

The Consent Calendar passed with the recommended actions for all items and without comment from either the public or the City Council. This meant that Santa Clarita accepted a $100,000 grant for sobriety checkpoints; building codes were updated to meet California’s new requirements; a small parcel in Placerita Canyon was accepted; and the City paid for an automatic passenger counter system for transit.

Next, over $20M in Recovery Zone Facility Bonds were awarded to Aerospace Dynamics International. The tax-free bonds will allow ADI to expand and create 200 new jobs. This matter was first discussed in June.

The annexation of the West Creek, Tesoro del Valle, and Copperstone area is moving slowly. Ferry motioned that the City re-initiate the halted annexation process for developed areas that want to be annexed. (More correctly, meetings are supposed to be taking place which seems like progress, but annexation is effectively halted for at least the short-term). His fellow councilmembers agreed.

The last bit of business was extending the term of “bin and roll-off box services” franchises currently doing business in Santa Clarita. It’s a five-year extension for the trash guys. Salazar Disposal commented that small businesses were excluded from obtaining a franchise as some of them couldn’t meet the requirements in the past and the franchise extension kept them from doing business in Santa Clarita for another five years. McLean asked Travis Lange if Salazar Disposal could apply for membership, which he seemed to suggest was possible only if they issued a new call. City Attorney Carl Newton stepped in and confused the situation, and it then seemed like Salazar Disposal could apply whenever it wanted. The City Council voted to approve the recommended action (extending the term of the six current franchises), whatever that
means for Salazar Disposal.

During Public Participation, an elderly man named Marshall Pastor came forward to complain about mobile home rent. It amounts to $8,000 per year which, when combined with his other expenses, means he’s “practically going broke.” “I find that most politicians go deaf” he said, telling the City Council “Don’t fail me.” Despite his abrasive and demanding tone, the City Council was sympathetic and he was directed to receive help from the Mobile Home Rent Control Panel. Also, look out for “The Scene” magazine to come out. It will serve as yet another venue for publicizing the same handful of events that every other Santa Clarita website, magazine, and blog are already publicizing.

The meeting ended at 7:19.

[1]Here’s the agenda.
[2]I will verify this and correct it once the video is posted—I don’t want to just project what I hope was said on the few stray words.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happenings: How Much is Newhall Gateway Worth?

This evening was Mayor Laurene Weste’s birthday[1]. When Councilmember Frank Ferry began singing in recognition of the occasion, she demurred, having hoped no one would notice. Weste admitted to sending her husband away earlier in the evening. Apparently, he had come with a homemade card, but she told him to go back home where, she expected, he was probably throwing socks at the TV.

Much time was devoted to general councilmember comments (did you know Councilmember Marsha McLean uses the train? She does!) and to public acknowledgments of the Downed Officer Ride and a Rose Parade float commemorating 9/11.

By 6:54, the business of governing the city called Santa Clarita began.

The first item discussed was what to (re)name Golden Valley Bridge. Everyone agreed that the name should honor those who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it was tricky finding consensus for any particular name. “Soldiers Bridge”, the name proposed on the agenda, was deemed non-inclusive. Councilmember Marsha McLean mentioned speaking to her son, a retired major from the US Marine Corps, who made it clear that Marines were Marines, not soldiers[2]. Councilmember Laurie Ender came to a similar conclusion after speaking with her father, also a veteran.

A number of Claritan veterans came forward to express their support for the concept in general and offered alternative names for the bridge: Gold Star, Fallen Warriors, Patriots, Warriors Freedom, and Gold Star Military among them. It seemed more discussion of the name was needed. The City Council approved the dedication of $50,000 to working on a memorial monument for the bridge and directed staff to consult local Gold Star Families in deciding on what it will ultimately be named.

Item 5, the second reading and adoption of an ordinance to prezone parts of the Tesoro del Valle area, was continued to a subsequent meeting.

Public hearings included a revisiting of the Newhall Gateway project (the “Sierra Crossing” half of the area immediately next to Sierra Highway). In 2008, SFSX Partners submitted plans for the development of the property located by Newhall Avenue, Sierra Highway, and the 14. The Planning Commission ultimately approved the project, but this displeased city staff. They wanted to see an integrated project in which both properties that comprise the Newhall Gateway area—one owned by SFSX, the other property immediately behind it owned by USC—were developed in concert. To meet their ends, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent hiring the Poliquin Kellogg Design Group to create a conceptual design for how the area could be most fully developed. The City Council hoped that SFSX would buy USC’s parcel (USC claims it has no interest in the property other than selling it), pay for the conceptual design and economic analysis, and make a grand entrance into Newhall.

That didn’t happen.

The two property owners couldn’t decide on a price, and Paul Brotzman said that neither the originally proposed project nor the one proposed by Poliquin Kellogg were viable in the present economy. Thus, it was recommended that the City Council overturn the approval granted by the Planning Commission and essentially force the process to start over.

Hunt Braly (blech), representing the applicant, waddled up to the microphone and asked that the matter to be continued instead. He said that USC was being uncooperative, asking far too much for their weirdly shaped and situated piece of property abutting the one his clients wished to develop.

Like Braly, Councilmember Bob Kellar didn’t like the idea of completely overturning approval of the SFSX development plans. He said that “it is a very challenged piece of property for a variety of reasons,” and believed that the City Council had infringed on the owners’ property rights by making so many extraordinary and expensive demands. “We kill jobs,” he said, speculating that a faster approval would lead to construction work and more space for businesses—this despite the fact that much of Santa Clarita’s office space has been vacant for the past couple of years. Frank Ferry sympathized, asking whether the City could force USC to sell by invoking eminent domain or if they could at least get an appraisal for the property. USC wanted more than what SFSX believed was a fair price, and Ferry said that only an appraisal would set things straight: “Then we can call BS on somebody in the room.”

Marsha McLean liked the plan for an appraisal, but she completely disagreed with the idea that they were infringing on the property owners’ development rights by dragging out approval for their plans. She remembered being “amazed and aghast” at the project when it was presented before the Planning Commission, which went on to approve it. “The developer is not interested or willing to do anything but what he proposed, which is a bad project,” she began, concluding “We’re not infringing upon his rights in any way, shape or form…don’t play that game with me!”

Brotzman did all he could to get the City Council to overturn the Planning Commission’s approval of the project, but the council ultimately decided to continue the matter to January 2011. City Manager Ken Pulskamp said an estimated $4,000-$8,000 of redevelopment agency funds will be spent to get an appraisal by that date.

Up next was approval for altering a ridgeline and removing oak trees so that Grace Baptist Church could add three new parking decks. They had worked with the community and no one voiced opposition to the project—the parking decks would be relatively unobtrusive and the oaks being removed were relatively small ones that the church had planted itself some years ago. Just before approving the project, Laurie Ender smiled and said “What a nice thing to see a church that needs more parking.”

There was similarly speedy approval for outdoor dining in downtown Newhall. Everyone was delighted at the idea of dining al fresco amongst the trees and passersby and flies. Ender made a point to acknowledge that “It’s not Bourbon Street, it’s Main Street!” as they briefly discussed alcohol-serving regulations.

During Public Participation, Deanna Hanashiro approached the dais yet again to discuss the library takeover. It has become an almost religious act of devotion, her fortnightly pilgrimage to speak before a mostly indifferent higher power. Hanashiro was still concerned about how the City would fund library operations and whether teens could legally volunteer for the for-profit LSSI. City Manager Ken Pulskamp replied that “LSSI says they regularly have volunteers at other libraries.” I believe this is what Bruce McFarland might call Pulskampery, something that looks like a response but doesn’t address the real, underlying issue (i.e., whether it’s legal for teens to volunteer for LSSI, not whether it happens). The only other speaker during PP complained about the City using an ordinance relating to highway access to demand that he remove the basketball hoop he placed in the street near his Bridgeport home. Ferry said that it wasn’t the City that was anti-basketball—they were probably just responding to a complaint made by one of his neighbors.

With that, the meeting adjourned.

[1]Though her birthday wasn't on the agenda, everything else was. Here it is.
[2]I know, it looks weird to capitalize "Marines" and not "soldiers", but that's how it seems to be done. See the NYTimes discussion.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Qs: $75/Year for The Signal online? 30,000 readers every day?

I realize this is "old news", but it's old news I haven't seen discussed anywhere, so forgive me if you have.

The Signal will soon be replacing its online free edition with an online not-free edition. At least that was the plan on September 21st, the date publisher Ian Lamont spoke at the Valley Industrial Association's monthly luncheon. He was introducing The Signal's editorial board and addressed the matter of paying to read the paper online[1].

It began with a question from Andy Pattantyus: "In the last two or three years, uh, The Signal has moved aggressively into the electronic world. Uh, how has that changed the nature and complexion of the editorial, um, reporting and opinion page?”

Ian Lamont replied:

Um, hopefully i-it it here’s the, here’s the deal. We have 30,000 readers of the printed Signal every day. Um, We have, um, thousands more of the e-Edition, we have a digital edition of The Signal that is exactly like The Signal that on the computer you can read flipping pages just like you had the printed version. We get about three-quarters of a million doll-uh-page views, a month, on the uh, website,about 125,000 uniques. So The Signal’s audience has never been bigger. Um, and one of the things and I uh I happen to be talkin’ with somebody, The Signal very soon—right now, you pay to subscribe to the print and to the e-Edition; you don’t pay to subscribe to the website. So you get virtually most of our news content for free. That’s gotta change. We can’t have half of our audience paying for a hundred percent of our audience. So pretty soon that website’s gonna go behind a pay wall. It’ll still only be about 20 cents a day, it’s not gonna break anybody’s wallet, but I’m sure we’re gonna have people screeeam-ing about the fact you’re taking away my free content. Well, that’s what’s coming.

So, um, uh, that’s one change and in terms of changing our opinion, hopefully whether we have an audience of 10 or an audience of 10,000, it doesn’t change how we go about doing our business.”

Eloquence, thy voice is Lamont's.

I won't get into the publisher's questionable numbers (but for one example, Verified Audit Circulation shows about 11,000 readers on a given weekday--more on weekends--while Lamont claims to have "30,000 readers of the printed Signal every day."[3]) The real issue is the "pay wall." Lamont addressed the subject all but unprompted, which suggests it's at the forefront of his mind. It will be the same price as the current e-Edition, that nicer-looking, more complete way to read TMS online.

There's no question that the local news junkies will pay to read the paper online. But what about the rest of Clarita, the residents who only care about a few issues or whose interests in Claritan politics are desultory? When these Claritans have to weigh whether to pay six bucks a month and whether to go through the hassle of signing-up and logging-in, will they decide that The Signal, that bastion of mediocrity, is worth it?

[1] Here's that board.
[2] You can watch the clip by clicking on the screen-capture below, which will take you to the SCVTV website. Start watching at the half-hour mark (30 minutes, 18 seconds, to be precise).


[3]Verified Audit Circulation numbers

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happenings: Elsmere Saved, Tesoro to Annex, the "Turd" Word

In keeping with the long-standing tradition, tonight’s City Council meeting began late because of a closed session[1]. City Attorney Carl Newton explained that the City Council had discussed the lawsuit recently filed by Save Our Library, the group that hopes to prevent the City from contracting with LSSI, LLC. Attorney Don Ricketts argues that giving a private company access to library records would violate privacy rights[2]. Claritans, who stood all but unanimously against a rush to privatize library operations, will now see their tax dollars spent trying to defend the very action they would prefer to see attacked.

Mayor Pro-tem Marsha McLean delivered the invocation. She asked that people help out Santa Clarita’s homeless shelter, which is trying to add another 15 beds as winter approaches. McLean also spoke of the need to support the SCV Food Pantry. This can be done by buying a ticket (and bringing canned food) to a concert put on by the band Humboldt Squad[3]. Several other bands—all of which consist of high school students—will also perform. If listening to aspiring musicians loudly aspiring isn’t your thing, you could also just make a donation.

Cub Scout pack 577 led the flag salute—a detail included for reasons soon to become apparent. Mayor Laurene Weste then called Brad Berens forward to receive a key to the city. “We don’t do this often” noted Weste, as she handed Berens what some might describe as a giant novelty key[4]. Between tears, she explained how Berens had done an immense amount of work all in service of Santa Clarita’s senior community and said, “We will miss you just so much I can’t tell you!” McLean could barely hold back tears herself.

In the middle of Brad Berens’ recognition, just as a photo was about to be taken, City Attorney Carl Newton interrupted everything to point out that the flag-saluting scouts had not yet had their picture taken. Looking a bit perplexed by Newton’s horrible timing, Mayor Weste pointed out that the appropriate time for the scouts' photo would be after they were through fussing over champion-to-seniors Brad Berens. When he had a chance to speak, Berens fussed over the City Council as well. Of Ender, he recalled “looking into her heart” and remarked that “We are so damn lucky to have you here.” To the Mayor Pro-tem, he said “Marsha, your heart is as big as this valley.” Finally, he recalled how he had spent a day helping out seniors with former boss Laurene Weste. He went into the house and spoke with the elderly resident while Weste crawled under the home to pull out feral cats with her bare hands. Both still remember the scratches Laurene suffered in her feline battles.

A proclamation in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness month followed. Mayor Weste remarked that “In this century, it [domestic violence] needs to stop.” Others seemed to agree. Members of the Board of Directors of the Domestic Violence Center stood wearing purple ribbons while Mary Ree, President, praised the City for making the proclamation, gave some domestic violence statistics, and described what the center does[5].

With yet another recognition—this time highlighting a group that unites a community with art, the NOMAD LAB Youth Art Program—it wasn’t until 6:42 that the City Council got onto its real business.

Deanna Hanshiro, who has become the face of opposition to Santa Clarita’s library takeover, spoke on Item 2. This item recommended the rejection of bids for construction of the Old Town Newhall Library—all 26 of them. Apparently, the low bids didn’t include some of the requisite documents, and the next lowest bids were considerably higher. The City Council voted to take the recommended action.

Hanashiro, however, did not have questions about this particular action so much as about the takeover in general. She asked City Manager Ken Pulskamp: why had Calabasas ended their contract with LSSI?; why did the City write in 1999 that it wouldn’t get the special property tax for libraries, but it now believes that it will get that tax?; would library staff be employees of LSSI or the City?; and can teens volunteer at the library since it benefits a privately-held, for-profit company?

Shockingly, Pulskamp actually answered some of the questions. He said that Calabasas had had city employees assume LSSI’s role in operating libraries because it had been their plan all along, “not because they had any negative feelings towards LSSI.” Extensive review by City Attorney Carl Newton led him to believe that the City could indeed collect the tax for library services. Library staff would be LSSI employees and not City ones—thus the cost savings. Finally, Pulskamp admitted that “we do not know definitively” whether it will be legal for students to volunteer at the library when it is run by LSSI.

The rest of the Consent Calendar passed with the recommended actions.

Next, there was a Public Hearing about the annexation of Tesoro del Valle and West Creek. People were uneasy and inconsistent in their pronunciation of “Valle”—even people who lived there. It was, variously, “val-EE”, “VAL-aey”, or “val”, but only rarely “VIE-yae”. Regardless, it was clear that residents of the northerly neighborhoods want to annex and that the Tesoro HOA’s Board of Directors and developer Montalvo (roughly synonymous) don’t in order to maximize the developer’s potential gain. Of course, they said their opposition arose from a desire to be annexed as one community, not in the piecemeal fashion the City was proposing wherein developed parts of the community were annexed while others were not (presumably as a favor to the developer, noted McLean). Many residents said they were tired of waiting and of being misrepresented by the HOA, and the City Council ultimately sided with them. There will now be a second reading of an ordinance pre-zoning nearly 3,000 acres of West Creek/Tesoro del Valle, and an application for annexation will be filed with LAFCO.

Under the heading of New Business, the City approved creation of a Citizens Public Library Committee. After their utter failure to build any actual community support for the library takeover, the City Council is looking to give the impression of community support and involvement by creating a committee. It goes without saying that the committee will be diverse and inclusive in its membership, that it will comprise well-respected community members, and that its mere existence will be used as evidence that LSSI-run libraries are better and more responsive to the unique needs of Santa Clarita’s readers. “Credibility is a huge issue for this community,” said Councilmember Frank Ferry. One hopes that there will be no applicants to serve on this committee, or perhaps only applicants who demand a return to the County of Los Angeles and discuss nothing else at their meetings.

Finally, Laurene and Marsha were all giggles and smiles as they got to the item acquiring 842 acres of Elsmere Canyon. As a little joke, McLean moved the recommended action before it had even been discussed. (Since she has worked to preserve the area for a couple of decades, she was entitled to take ownership of the item’s passage). Rick Gould showed some photos of the site including a California Condor like the one he said flew over his head on a visit with Ken Pulskamp. (Laurie Ender joked that condors are attracted to shiny objects and advised the bald Pulskamp to wear a hat next time he goes hiking).

With obvious pride, McLean formally moved the recommended action—but wait! There was a public speaker. As Cam Noltemeyer walked forward, Ferry said “C’mon, you can’t be opposed to this one!” But she was. She spoke about the questionable legality of the Open Space District that is funding the acquisition, questioned the appraisal of the property (City Manager Pulskamp said that it was being acquired for half of what was a $12M appraised value). It was something of a buzzkill. This was one of those times when one should bite one’s tongue. While Noltemeyer had some valid points, Elsmere has huge symbolic importance, especially for those who have lived in Santa Clarita long enough to remember when Elsmere Canyon almost became one of the world’s biggest landfills. Obviously, the City Council gave its unanimous support to getting the property.

The meeting closed with Public Participation. Recently, Councilmember Frank Ferry sent a letter to Associated Builders and Contractors, a group represented by Castaic Lake Water Agency candidate Kevin Korenthal[6]. In the letter—printed on the City’s letterhead—Frank made ludicrous claims about the supposedly incendiary rhetoric that Korenthal used when talking about opponent Ed Colley and the City Council. It was all bluster.

David Gauny and Kevin Korenthal both spoke about the letter. Gauny called what Frank Ferry did “despicable on multiple fronts.” He was particularly upset that Frank was trying to get a man fired from his job just because he was running to serve on the water board against Ferry’s wishes. Gauny identified a pattern. Anytime someone opposes Frank politically, he tries to destroy them professionally and personally. After Gauny ran for City Counil, Ferry released a “45-page dossier of information” on Gauny aimed to destroy him. TimBen Boydston was also attacked by Ferry for his run for City Council, and Kevin Korenthal was just the most recent victim of this “political sport” with a letter apparently aimed at getting him fired. The quotable Gauny closed his remarks by saying “My grandmother told me a long time ago: you can’t polish a turd.” This, of course, was a continuation of Gauny’s brownout motif[7].

When Kevin Korenthal spoke out against Frank Ferry, he came off as very much the bigger man. There was no anger in his voice. He simply observed that he had tried his best to keep Associated Builders and Contractors out of the race but that Ferry and Colley had forced them in. Korenthal correctly identified the tactics used against him as another example of Ferry’s not-so-subtle attempts to keep people from being politically active. He requested that, in the future, Ferry contact people directly when he has questions about their words or conduct instead of trying to get them fired.

The meeting ended at 8:38.

[1]Here’s the agenda.
[2]More on the library lawsuit
[3] Details.
[4]A la J-to-the-Wilson of
SCVTalk, who has identified the City's love of giant novelty scissors, checks, spades, etc. for various events and ceremonies. This key is probably more accurately "very large" than "giant," however. I
Domestic Violence Center of Santa Clarita
[6]From The Signal
[7]From his
opinion piece in The Signal

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Happenings: Behold, OVOV's Time is Now

Paul Brotzman has been wary of the myths and misinformation being spread about OVOV.

Tonight’s Planning Commission meeting was the first for Lisa Eichman, appointed by Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean. McLean chose Eichman over reappointing Diane Trautman, arguably the hardest-working, most capable commissioner we had. It was a petty political grudge that led McLean to make the switch[1]. It was swell timing, too, as the Planning Commission is just now beginning work on the complex, all-important General Plan.
In any case, the first major task for the Planning Commission was to determine who would serve as chair and vice-chair[2]. Bill Kennedy immediately nominated Tim Burkhart to lead the PC. All supported the nomination without further discussion. When it came time for Burkhart to vote in favor of his own chair-hood, he paused and quipped, “That’s a trick question!” but eventually gave himself a “yes” vote. Ingratiating chuckles followed.
Dee Dee Jacobson was elevated from commissioner to vice-chair with the same efficiency and unanimity, but without the chuckles.
By 7:04, it was time for Senior Planner Jason Smisko to formally introduce the draft General Plan for One Valley One Vision. (The comma that once halved “One Valley One Vision” is gone; the Orwellian connotation remains). Smisko expressed a mix of anticipation and anxiousness over OVOV, its corpus comprising draft general plan elements and land use maps complemented by a draft EIR[3]. He emphasized that this was just the beginning of meetings focused on OVOV. Staff recommended that the Planning Commission continue the public hearing to November 16th, again to December 7th, and finally to January 18th. At each of these subsequent meetings, specific portions of the plan will be discussed in more detail and the City will respond to public feedback.
Planning Manager Lisa Webber spoke next. Her face was wan and her voice quivered a little, but she was otherwise composed as ever. She spoke about how the planning process started long ago, hearkening back to the “Flapjack Forum Kick Off” held on January 28, 2001. If people can't unite over pancakes, what can they unite over? Since then, she noted that LA County has adopted more progressive planning philosophies; greenhouse gas emissions have gone from a peripheral to central consideration for planners; and trends towards walkability, mixed-use communities, and sustainable developments have firmly taken root. In short, Santa Clarita’s General Plan has evolved a lot over the past decade.
Jason Smisko took to the microphone again and tried to give an over-arching idea of what OVOV is. In his words, it is a collection of over 800 “goals, policies, and objectives.” The land use map is the other major component. Four themes unify the plan:
1. Valley of Villages. Santa Clarita will be developed in a way that preserves the character of its neighborhoods. “We want these communities to maintain their distinctive community character,” said Smisko. I presume their are limits to the acceptable degree of distinctiveness.

2. Valley Center. There will be an effort to bring more “regional shopping, dining, and entertainment opportunities” that also generate more tax revenue and create local jobs.

3. Jobs-Housing Balance. Smisko said that about 50% of the workforce leaves Santa Clarita every day (is that all?), a trend the City hopes to counter by creating 1.5 jobs per residence. Number of good-jobs-per-residence will be somewhat less.

4. Preservation of Open Space/Valley Greenbelt. Claritans value open space, so there will be an effort to expand the greenbelt around Santa Clarita and to protect sensitive habitats like riparian areas.

OVOV tries to balance the four themes, some of which go hand-in-hand (2 & 3) and others of which work in direct opposition (4 vs. everything else). Determining the pattern of land use that best supported the themes involved visits to literally every property in the planning area.
Compared to the existing general plan, the new one emphasizes mixed use developments, increases commercial densities, and features a climate action plan. Indeed, there was a certain amount of paranoia over AB-32 and SB-375, the acts that compel the City of Santa Clarita to aggressively address greenhouse gas emissions towards meeting California’s climate change goals. Assistant Planner Dave Peterson said that he and his colleagues have been meeting with the State Attorney General’s office to ensure that the City’s plan for dealing with greenhouse gases is acceptable. The most recent of these meetings took place last month, and things seem to be looking OK.
Jason Smisko next moved, with some trepidation, to the topic of population growth. He showed a slide with some staggering numbers. For example, within the planning area, there are 80,500 existing units. OVOV anticipates 155,000 total potential units (40,500 units are “entitled unbuilt units," meaning they could be coming very soon). That’s double the number of homes currently found in the Santa Clarita Valley. It was stressed that the 155,000 figure represented capacity only--what might happen if demand is high, etc. The next alarming number was the projected population. Smisko placed the value as somewhere between 459,000 and 483,000 Claritans. [Insert gasp of horror here.]

Watch Clarita grow.

Mitch Glaser, Principal Planner for the County of Los Angeles, spoke next. He said “we’re a little bit behind the City” in terms of revisions and circulating documents. Glaser predicted that the Board of Supervisors might be considering the plan for county lands “sometime in the middle of next year.” There was, of course, much reciprocal back-patting between planners from the City of Santa Clarita and those from the County of Los Angeles.

Glaser was followed by Susan Tebo of Impact Sciences, Inc., Project Director for the EIR. She remarked, “If the OVOV plan were [sic] implemented, there would be significant and unavoidable impacts associated with implementation of this plan.” (Few minded the redundancy as her presentation style was clear and methodical—though perhaps a bit slow.) Among the significant, unavoidable impacts is diminished air quality with regard to certain, but not all, pollutants. 200 acres of prime farmland would be lost to other uses. Landfill space is filling up fast, and there would be problems as landfill capacity is reached around 2021. Greenhouse gas emissions would increase even with mitigating actions. Some special status plants and animals and the habitats on which they depend would be lost. Water services outside of the Castaic Lake Water Agency’s service area would face significant impacts.

Here's how the air you breathe is expected to change under OVOV.

Paul Brotzman, Director of Community Development, was the final staff member to speak. He began his remarks by bracing for criticism. “I would anticipate that we would have quite a few people who would have concerns,” he said. Brotzman tried to allay concerns over population growth in particular. He said that it would be about 50 years before 46,000 more residents are added to the City of Santa Clarita’s population—just 1,000 or so per year. However, he observed that vastly more population growth would take place outside of City boundaries. Potentially 170,000 may join the 80,000 now dwelling in unincorporated areas. He also observed that density was being increased in the City of Santa Clarita to allow for lower density land uses around the periphery of the planning area.
With the introductory presentation of OVOV concluded, Commissioner Bill Kennedy asked why there was no cap on maximum population or the maximum extent of development. He wanted to know which operational constraint would limit growth first, whether greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste disposal, or water. Lisa Webber said that she would provide more specifics at the next meeting, but assured Kennedy that they had taken a conservative approach in estimating limits to growth.
Commissioner Dennis Ostrom rambled nonsensically about his many years of service on the Planning Commission; the right- and left-handed sides of his brain being in conflict with one another; questions regarding the ability to amend the General Plan; and some ambivalence towards public “inputs.” He seemed a bit befuddled throughout the meeting, a quality I would find charming were he my grandfather, but one that's less endearing given his seat on the Planning Commission.
Vice-chair Dee Dee Jacobson requested that Susan Tebo “dummy it up for us” when it came to the draft Environmental Impact Report. Jacobson was seemingly overwhelmed by the list of environmental thresholds being exceeded and impacts that were unavoidable.
It was time for public comments next. Sandra Cattell, representing the Sierra Club, voiced opposition to allowing development in floodplains. As a Placerita Canyon resident, she said that she was also upset that the General Plan would permit denser development in parts of Placerita. Valerie Thomas shared Cattell’s concerns about Placerita and the Casden property in particular. She said that the people of Santa Clarita needed more time to review the thousands of pages of OVOV documents and that it was silly to let the EIR review period end on December 22, when everyone is busy with the holidays.
Diane Trautman, saying more in her three-minute comment period than her replacement would say the whole night, echoed calls for more time to review the plans. She also wanted to know how proportionally greater reliance on public transit, bike lanes, etc. in future communities would be paid for.
Lynne Plambeck found little to like about the City’s vision. She lamented urban sprawl in “the hinterlands” (i.e., Newhall Ranch). She pointed out that the City was accommodating high-density projects and trusting the County to keep the periphery of Santa Clarita green and open, something that couldn’t be assured without direct control. Plambeck was also troubled by the City’s use of Impact Sciences to prepare the EIR, a choice she found “extremely concerning.” They prepare EIRs for Newhall Ranch, too, so how could they be truly critical of and fairly evaluate their own previous work? Cam Noltemeyer continued the OVOV attack by ridiculing the City’s tendency to use General Plan amendments to do what it wanted, essentially ignoring the current General Plan. She feared the same thing would continue to happen in the future. Finally, a lawyer from the Natural Resources Defense Council said that he was optimistic about the City's commitment to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but that his group was not yet prepared to issue comprehensive statements about the General Plan.
In response to these comments, Jacobson asked what NRDC stands for (Natural Resources Defense Council), Ostrom ventured “I see maybe water as a big issue”, and Chair Burkhart recommended a “see how it goes” approach before affording the public more time to review OVOV documents. After some updates from Lisa Webber, the meeting ended at 9:20.

Previously, I haven’t really bothered watching Planning Commission meetings. Since OVOV is rather important to Santa Clarita’s future, though, I think these meetings may be worthwhile. And there’s certainly plenty that requires additional examination (the antics of Dennis Ostrom; the fast-talking ways of Dee Dee Jacobson; the incomprehensible hair of Jason Smisko, etc.). Thus, I’ll make an effort to watch the next few OVOV-centric meetings.

[1]I find her quotations in this article from The Signal to be petty.
[2]Here's the agenda.
[3]I’m going to drop the “draft” hereafter, but assume all documents are still drafts unless otherwise stated.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happenings: The Council Learns to Stay Quiet

Frank Ferry’s strategy of day-dreaming (and texting) his way through City Council meetings has caught on[1]. Perhaps chastened by their negative reception of late, the councilmembers were, for the most part, mum. Maybe it was just the oppressive heat. Regardless, only Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean—never afraid to snipe and snap—had much to say this evening. Despite many lingering questions about the library takeover, silence prevailed.


Councilmember Bob Kellar began the meeting with a call for Claritans to be politically engaged. He and a friend had spent the morning commiserating over state and national politics, he told the audience. They found much about which to be unhappy. But all is not lost. He explained: “November second. [long, dramatic pause] We owe it as Americans to exercise our right to vote.” Kellar then recommended the Official Voter Information Guide and the Internet as sources of information and dismissed television and the radio as media propagating “muck.”


Each councilmember spoke briefly during the period reserved for committee reports and general comments. Councilmember Laurie Ender applauded local convenience stores for reaffirming their commitment to keeping cigarettes out of the hands of minors. Frank Ferry, his shirt unbuttoned as if he was at a weekend barbecue, spoke out against the proposition to legalize marijuana. “It’s so different from the marijuana of the 60s” he remarked, wistfully. Kellar echoed the sentiment. He said that in his law enforcement experience, 95% of serious drug-users got started with weed. Dealing with alcohol-related problems, he assured the audience, was more than enough to keep our deputies occupied.


Frank seems to have gotten a memo about casual Tuesdays; McLean pairs scoop-neck shirt with light jacket.

Emulating Frank, Marsha McLean sported a plunging neckline affording unwelcome views of her mottled bosom. She began her comments with the “really really really good news” that Elsmere Canyon will be preserved forever as open space. This is a far cry from the landfill it was once slated to become. McLean then asked City Manager Ken Pulskamp about complaints she’s heard regarding the Canyon Country Library. Construction, it seems, has come to a complete stop! (She gave a trademark eyebrow flash for dramatic effect). Pulskamp confirmed the rumor, stating that he didn’t know when (or even if—gasp!) construction would resume. McLean shook her head in rehearsed indignation and wondered aloud whether the County of Los Angeles had halted work on the library because they were “mad” that Santa Clarita decided to leave the county system. Though she was going on nothing more than a hunch, McLean said “It’s just not right, and it’s not fair.” (She would later reprimand library critics for spreading rumors, apparently unaware of her hypocrisy). The whole exchange between Pulskamp and McLean came off as a poorly-delivered bit of theatrics to make the County look petty and underscore the need for Claritan control over library operations.

Mayor Weste stepped in, bringing the show to the end. She opened discussion of items on the Consent Calendar. The Lutnesses were dismayed by an item to accept business-friendly principles proposed by the Southern California Association of Governments. The principles were: 1) Economic Development as a Priority, 2) Business Partnership, 3) Business Responsive Processes, and 4) Attractiveness to Business Investment. The principles were so general and vague as to mean nothing. However, the Lutnesses objected on the grounds that the City of Santa Clarita should prioritize service to its people over catering to business interests. But they really just wanted to complain about how the City Council handed control of public libraries over to for-profit LSSI. Carole Lutness made a gesture to show how the City was funneling money to the private corporation. It looked a lot like how one pantomimes s-e-x in grade school (a single finger thrust repeatedly into a fist; I blushed). She also brought up The New York Times’ story on the library takeover and said that the overwhelming majority of commenting readers disapproved of corporate control over public libraries[2]. Despite the rambling objections of the liberal couple, the City Council lent their support to the business-friendly principles.
The Lutnesses and Cam Noltemeyer also spoke about awarding a parking enforcement contract to Data Ticket, Inc. Carole feared the City was on a trajectory to privatize everything—transportation, libraries, parking enforcement… Noltemeyer drew attention to “some very interesting numbers.” With Data Ticket on the case, the City projects generating some $425,000 in parking enforcement revenue. She said “that sounds like a quota to me.” But Pulskamp said the program would be revenue neutral: $300,000 goes to the vendor, $125,000 to state coffers. He also said that enforcement would be (mostly) complaint-driven.
During Public Hearings, the City Council voted to prezone the Soledad Commons area as community commercial and submit an application to annex the area. Lynne Plambeck, representing SCOPE, was curious about why the council was making this (pre-)zoning change in the midst of the One Valley One Vision general plan review process, and she voiced concerns over the project’s proximity to the river. She’ll get a chance to bring up these concerns again at the ordinance’s second reading in October, and will again be ignored. (The City Council's silence extends to any questions they just don't feel like answering.)
The last public hearing was held to extend the urgency ordinance that prevents any new car dealerships from opening up shop in Santa Clarita. City staff reports a need to identify appropriate areas for these business in order to protect the public. Marsha McLean went through the motions of questioning the absolutely ridiculous ordinance. She pointed out that staff had vastly exaggerated the “proliferation” of new car dealerships (there was a grand total of two, she was told, which does not a proliferation make). McLean also questioned the wisdom of putting the “kibosh on legitimate businesses.” Joe Montes, sitting as City Attorney, defended the action with a ridiculous hypothetical. He said that without specifying areas appropriate for auto sales, someone might theoretically put a car dealership in an office park, and the test drives and oil changes and such would get in the way of the other businesses. (With arguments like that, one wonders at his professional success). His argument was good enough for Mayor Weste, who agreed with a chuckle that we certainly don’t want car sales taking place in the middle of office parks! Of course, the urgency ordiance is really just the City’s way to look out for the guys on Creekside while offering the kind of control that no doubt appeals to staff with anal-retentive tendencies.
Public Participation followed. Cam Noltemeyer kicked things off by handing out a public records request to find out where the City/Redevelopment Agency are getting $25M for the new library. She found it troubling that the City was already planning to reallocate library funds in anticipation of the LSSI takeover. Noltemeyer wanted the numbers in writing because “You can’t really rely on what is said up here.”
Then, the live feed from SCVTV went berserk and cut from the meeting to some woman dressed in a flag-like blouse and singing about the US of A. Thus, I missed Lynne Plambeck’s comment, but returned in time to catch Valerie Thomas speaking about the library. She had dug into the public record to determine the timeline of dealings between the City and LSSI. There was serious cause for suspicion. LSSI had already prepared a full bid (down to the number of trashcans they would purchase, she said) in advance of the City making a formal request; planning and research meetings that were supposed to have happened didn’t; other meetings or dealings with LSSI may have happened without public notice. All in all, things were fishy. As many have surmised, LSSI and the City may have been getting cozy long before Claritans had any indication of what was in store for their libraries.
Finally, Deanna Hanashiro, an ardent library supporter, questioned whether it would be legal for students to volunteer at LSSI-run libraries to the benefit of the private company[3]. She also questioned Frank’s anti-union sentiments in the NY Times piece that had been referenced earlier in the meeting—had he not been a member of the CTA when teaching?

When comments concluded, Marsha McLean asked Darren Hernandez about whether students could indeed volunteer at the libraries when LSSI is running the show. She said that some students had already emailed her and expressed the desire to volunteer once LSSI is in charge (f’reals, Marsha?). The typically clueless Darren Hernandez said this was the first he had heard of problems with volunteering and promised to investigate. McLean was a bit perturbed by the continuing negative reaction to the privatization of library operations, and instructed the audience to give their friends and neighbors only balanced opinions of what was in store for our libraries. The meeting ended at 7:47.
[1]Here’s the agenda
[2]The popular The NY Times article
[3]Coastal Sage, SCVTalk commenter extraordinaire, weighed in on this the other day: “NYT Comment 185 by Oofa in Seattle. I do learn something new every day: ‘It’s illegal in California to volunteer for a for-profit company without fair pay. A simple complaint to NLRB will shut that down (as well as require back pay for the volunteers) and if they had to pay their volunteers even minimum wage let’s see how profitable libraries become. Additional liability for volunteers injuries should drive their insurance up as well. Can’t believe the union lawyers haven’t pushed this one.’ I wonder if that law applies to Friends of the Library type groups. Create a non-profit owned by the City, and then have people volunteer for the non-profit, and just happen to work on City property. Silly Legislators and unions. There’s always a way to structure a deal to get around any problem.”