Sunday, March 28, 2010

Happenings: Wildflowers by the Millions, Part I

The law is unacceptably vague as to whether it is legal to trespass on private property in order to better appreciate masses of Spider Lupines in full bloom. Consequently, I was at a loss for what to do when we came across the extraordinary lupine fields at the northern end of the Grapevine.

We were driving towards Kern County in pursuit of wildflowers. The Theodore Payne Foundation Wildflower Hotline[1] suggested that the hills near Gorman were full of California Coreopsis, a flower conspicuous as brilliant splotches of gold and yellow on steep hillsides.

However, the real show was to be found further north on part of the Tejon Ranch property. As we descended towards the hopeless wasteland called the Central Valley, a broad swath of blue commanded the eye and drew us onward.

Once down the Grapevine, we immediately took the Grapevine Road exit and headed to the 76 Station adjacent to the Ramada Limited Hotel (occupancy zero—just a guess). Many other travelers had likewise decided to stop and marvel at the sea of violet-blue wildflowers. Along the field’s margins, most of the color was provided by Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum subsp. capitatum). These common perennials grow from corms and bear bluish flowers on long, thin stems.

After a few hundred yards, however, the scattered Blue Dicks were overtaken by a vast, gently undulating sea of lupines in foamy blue and white. They were almost exclusively Spider Lupines (Lupinus benthamii). I hate to even try and put a number on how many flowers were blooming when we visited on Sunday the 27th, but I’ll be conservative and say millions. The lupines stretched on both sides of the freeway from the end of the Grapevine all the way north to the IKEA warehouse.

As one can tell from the photos, many people decided to take a self-guided tour of Tejon Ranch private property. They squeezed through a white vinyl fence near the gas station (some had to squeeze more than others) in order to gain access to the field. It was possible to enjoy the lupines somewhat more legally from the side of the road or behind the fence, but people were simply drawn to walk among the wildflowers.

Experiencing the enormity of this natural show was something of the sublime. It's a one-hour drive from Santa Clarita, sure, but who knows how many chances there will be to see a spectacle like this one?

Spider Lupines are so called because their very narrow leaflets resemble spider legs or spider webs. Twenty or so flowers are held in a raceme (flower stalk). As each flower matures, the white splotch on its banner (upper petal) turns progressively darker until it is a deep purple. The four flowers at the bottom of this arrangement were found on the same stem and show the progression of color with age. Plant writers seem to think it's important to remind readers that lupines are highly poisonous; I'll do you the courtesy of assuming that you don't try to eat everything you see and will leave the lupines out of your mouth.

[1]Yes, it exists. It’s quite useful, too. Visit or call (818)768-3533 to hear a very enthusiastic gentleman tell you about flowers all throughout Southern California.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Happenings: Happy Endings and Ugly Facades

Despite the fact that tonight’s was the last City Council meeting before elections, Councilmember Frank Ferry was unable to attend. Mayor Weste mentioned that he might arrive later on in the meeting, but it was not to be. It seems voters will have to decide whether to reward Ferry with a vote on April 13 without knowing his current feelings about library facades or skanky massage parlors, the primary topics of tonight’s meeting.

The urge to mash avocados into guacamole meant I came into the meeting just after 6pm to hear Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean reading a list of bizarre local ordinances (e.g., In Carmel, New York, a man can’t go outside wearing pants and a jacket that don’t match). I thought she was reading a chain email (circa 2003), but she closed with a mention of the recently deceased Ed Redd. I was confused.

The awards bestowed this evening were many. One was given for having a lot of trees, another for having a lot of web-based resources for residents, and another for having a lot of restraint and using it to keep a balanced budget. Tempering the City’s glee over the intensely coveted “
California Society of Municipal Finance Officers Budget Award” was what Mayor Weste called a “bittersweet” development. She was referring to the promotion of Commander Anthony La Berge, who will no longer serve Santa Clarita directly. La Berge thanked the City for being so supportive of law enforcement, and Mayor Weste sent him on his way (figuratively) with some kind words, a photo ‘neath the City Seal, and a warm but awkward side-hug.

During Councilmember reports and comments, Bob Kellar praised Backwoods Inn, the dimly lit steakhouse on Sierra Highway with ancient décor, menu, and staff. He promised that it has “Reasonable prices and the best food you can find anywhere.” Marsha McLean eulogized Ed Redd, the recently deceased Parks and Recreation Commissioner, counselor, and family man. In light of his “boundless compassion” and dedicated work serving local youth and families, McLean suggested that the City Council name the Community Center’s teen room in Ed’s honor. Finally, Mayor Laurene Weste welcomed Mitsubishi to the Valencia Auto Center and noted that it is the largest such center in all of Southern California. She then turned from vehicles to vegetables, reminding Claritans to focus on “fruits, vegetables, and whole grains” in order to maintain optimal health. The crowd gasped audibly at such a bold recommendation.

Items on the Consent Calendar were quite dull. Local hotels sent written comments in support of a 2% “Transient Occupancy Tax” that would be used to fund a Tourism Marketing District. We will hear more about it at later meetings. The City also put forward over half-a-million dollars to complete designs for the widening of the Golden Valley Road Bridge from two lanes to six. Speakers TimBen Boydston and Alan Ferdman welcomed this plan, but suggested there would be potentially severe traffic congestion in the interim before widening. Ferdman saw the currently narrow bridge as the most recent example of how the City prefers the west side to the east side of town. This got Mayor Pro-Tem McLean a little mad. She said
‘Sometimes speakers come up to the dais and have these “revelations” [about City negligence or wrong-doing]…when all the time we are working on that subject…if you need some information, you want to learn something, call.”

The entirety of the Consent Calendar passed without much modification (McLean just inserted some language about noise levels for a cell tower to quiet the fears of residents). Further, public hearings on the annexation of Crystal Springs were continued to a future date to allow residents the time to read
and respond to new materials and notices.

During Public Participation, David Gauny spoke first. He was upset about how massage parlors (read: “massage” parlors) aren’t being controlled effectively by the City. He found it ridiculous that a city as large as Santa Clarita has LA handle its business licensing, which makes it vulnerable to having unsavory businesses approved. Refuting the idea that the City was doing enough, Gauny cited research that many massage establishments advertise online where it seems that illicit services are hardly hidden; the going rate for a happy ending seems to be about $40, observed Gauny. Bruce McFarland carried on the massage parlor theme, saying that The Signal had repeatedly rejected his (non-neutered) opinion piece on the topic in favor of taking letters from more pro-City interests. Gauny’s fellow City Council Candidate, TimBen Boydston, joked that “there’s not that much tension here in Santa Clarita” to warrant all the parlors.

The other topic that captivated speakers tonight was the ugly new Newhall Library. The plan calls for a large gray box with a chunky silhouette and lots of rock. Kevin Kornethal called the plan a “ski chalet” and thought the exterior should be redesigned to better reflect Newhall's endemic architecture before it is built. Many agreed with him, including the chair of the Old Town Newhall Alliance who said that Newhall didn’t have many massage parlors, but was nonetheless looking for a "happy ending" to the library design controversy.

City Manager Ken Pulskamp responded as always by defending the City. Santa Clarita has aggressively pursed law enforcement at massage parlors, he said. He did make a good point about the indecent massage accusations that have been lately circulating, however, saying that there was no evidencee that human trafficking and other very serious crimes were occurring. As for the library façade, Pulskamp essentially shrugged and called evaluation of it “subjective.” Weste, McLean, Kellar, and Ender were more sympathetic to the public speakers, and all called for an investigation of whether the library design could be improved without too much delay for project completion. Ender got it precisely right when she said that perhaps too many (not too few) people weighed in on the project's design so that any singular vision for an architecturally striking building was obscured. Pulskamp’s defense of the project as architecturally appropriate for Newhall seemed flawed after Laurene Weste pointed out many non-traditional elements like expansive plate glass windows, flagstone, and metal doors. The City will now be assessing the feasibility of making a grander, more Newhall-esque library exterior, though everyone agrees that the interior is swell.

There was also an annoying development regarding political signs. Alan Ferdman described how the City had gone back and forth about its sign size ordinances and whether they were legal/would be enforced. It wasn't until March 15, however, that City Attorney Carl Newton sent City Council candidates a letter clarifying the matter of sign size requirements (or lack thereof). By that time, of course, absentee ballots were out so it was too late for a timely response.

The meeting adjourned in the memory or Ed Redd.

[1]Here is the agenda

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Happenings: Illegal Immigration, Massage Parlors, and a New Captain

I began watching the meeting a little late, in the midst of newly-promoted Commander Anthony La Berge’s review of crime in Santa Clarita[1]. He highlighted the reduction in gang-related violence over the past year. Sergeant AJ Rotella was recognized for his work with the City of Santa Clarita Business Alliance Program, which Councilmember Frank Ferry credited for Santa Clarita’s relatively low rates of cigarette and alcohol sales to minors compared with other cities. And finally, we were introduced to Commander La Berge’s replacement, Captain Paul Becker. Becker will serve as the new Chief of Police for the Santa Clarita Valley, and he was excited about his new post, noting that he had “big shoes to fill.” And indeed, Becker was slight next to La Berge, so it's unlikely that they could exchange footwear and enjoy a satisfactory fit.

Next, it was time for the City Councilmembers to give their reports. Mayor Weste began by describing how wonderful it is to have CBS filming in our City. The one downside is that film crews will continue to use Soledad Canyon Road through Friday. If you live in Canyon Country and have to deal with the traffic on Soledad, you may not share Weste’s warm regard for the entertainment industry. Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean described her efforts to build support for a ballot measure that will prevent the State from “stealing, confiscating, [or] taking” City money. She handed out some petitions and asked for them back, noting that about 700,000 of the required 1.1 million signatures had been collected thanks to efforts by the League of California Cities.

The whole chamber grew somber and quiet as the City Council turned to reflect on the recent death of a soldier from Stevenson Ranch, Ian Gelig. He was killed by a roadside bomb while on a routine patrol in Afghanistan. A service for Gelig will take place at 1pm on Saturday and will include a procession along Seco Canyon Road; details will be forthcoming from KHTS and The Signal for those who are able to turn out and pay their respects.

At 7:08, we moved onto the Consent Calendar, which consisted of just 5 items. The City Council took the recommended actions on all of them. In so doing, they accepted a grant from the Red Cross for a community emergency preparedness handbook and authorized the planning of road improvements on Golden Valley Road. Strangely, Mayor Weste affirmed the recommended actions with a “yes” instead of the usual “aye.” (By the end of the evening, she would return to her trademark "ayes.")

Next it was time for a controversial bit of “New Business.” Mayor Weste introduced seven pieces of federal immigration (and immigration-ish) legislation that the City Council could vote to support. They included a resolution to support English as the official language of the United States, a resolution to add 350 miles of fencing to the border, one to de-fund ACORN, and a resolution to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition unless all legal citizens from out-of-state were also given access to the same in-state tuition rate. More controversial was H.R. 1868, the Birthright Citizenship Act that would “exclude granting naturalized citizenship to those persons born in the United States of parents who are residing in the country illegally.“[3]

Mayor Weste stated that her intention in presenting these legislative actions to the City Council was to start a "dialogue", a word she would utter 246 times in half-an-hour.

Public speakers got to weigh in first. Juan Jose Gutierrez said that he had come to Santa Clarita—where he does not reside—because he “couldn’t not notice the issue you’re dealing with tonight.” He said he was in favor of birth-right citizenship, and said nothing could be more un-American or inhumane than withholding citizenship from children born to illegal immigrant parents. Gutierrez was followed by a number of other speakers who were equally upset at the content of H.R. 1868, including Alan Ferdman, who gave an unusually impassioned speech about how the resolution would destroy rights granted by/implied in the 14th Amendment.

On the other side of the issue was David Gauny, who got off to a good start by saying “Mayor McLean” instead of “Mayor Weste.” He then made a suggestion, half-jokingly, that he was leading the City Council before he had even been elected. That is, he had said earlier that his first action on the City Council would be to support federal immigration legislation, and the sitting CC had decided to do just that a few weeks after he made the suggestion. He said that his next plan to address illegal immigration would be to get the League of California Cities to unite and pressure state and federal governments to act decisively against illegal immigration. Roger Gitlin followed Gauny, and he quoted “an SCV blogger”—by which he meant the SCV blogger, Jeff Wilson—who wrote about sympathizing with some of the anger that Minutemen express over the consequences of illegal immigration[2].

Other notable speakers included a two-month resident of Santa Clarita who called the birth-right provision a “poison pill” amongst somewhat more reasonable proposals. There was also a speaker from Honduras who told us in not-so-great English about how he waited for 10 years to come to the United States legally. He felt very strongly that we should support legal immigration, suggesting that in Central America, immigration enforcement is stricter than it is in the US.

Councilmember Bob Kellar tried to get the City Council to support these resolutions with a quick motion that was seconded by Frank Ferry. Laurie Ender, however, said that she wanted to vote on supporting H.R. 994 and 1868 separately. These measures would do away with automatic citizenship for children born to parents who are in the United State illegally. Ender said, barely holding back tears, that she was very uncomfortable with challenging the traditional interpretation of the 14th Amendment as it pertains to citizenship, and she said that local children need support regardless of their citizenship status.

Weste spoke after Ender. She admitted “I don’t think any of these bills are going to pass”—at least without modification—and argued that all of the items should be supported in the name of promoting debate and dialogue at the federal level.

Without much more discussion, the City Council voted unanimously in support of 5 of the H.R.s, but Laurie Ender chose not to support H.R. 994 and H.R. 1868 for the reasons expressed during her comments. With this nod of approval, it is expected that the House of Representatives will make sweeping immigration reforms beginning tomorrow.

At last it was time for Public Participation. Alan Ferdman reminded Claritans that the Canyon Country Advisory Committee would be holding its final installment of the City Council Candidate question/answer sessions. It seems that Johnny Pride, the unlikely CC candidate who was recently accused of raping teenage girls, is scheduled to appear. Who knows what will happen in light of recent “developments”? Next, TimBen Boydston came forward to remind the City that it had done a miserable job of interpreting crime numbers from the previous year. He added “Another thing that is disturbing is the explosion of the number of massage parlors.” According to Boydston, these parlors might be offering more than massages. The penultimate speaker was an older gentleman who said that the City ought to forgo a celebratory party for the opening of the cross-valley connector and instead give the money to the Food Pantry. Finally, the last speaker asked whether McLean and Weste were displaying campaign signs that were too large according to City rules. City Attorney Carl Newton gave a vague and unsatisfying answer about how limiting the size of posters could be seen as limiting free speech, so the code would not be enforced.

The meeting adjourned in the memory of Ian Gelig.

[1]Here's the agenda

[2]Gitlin quoted J-to-the-Wilson's fourth from last paragraph here: "I did share one thing with the Minuteman. I am angry. I am very angry that Deputy David March was murdered. I am angry there are illegal immigrants driving without licenses or insurance. I’m angry that the taxpayers foot the bill for an undocumented immigrant’s kidney dialysis at my mom’s unit while an elderly American gentleman struggles getting his insurance company to pay for his. I’m angry that Adrian Avilla, an illegal immigrant, raped several women in Canyon Country a few years ago. I’m also angry that American companies get fat off the backs of these people and no one stops them."

[3]Read all of the H.R.s here