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


Anonymous said...

Santa Clarita City Council: Why not establish rules for naming buildings and other city property -- standards not unlike those that you impose say if I want to dig under my oak tree or do some work at the house??

Why don't you name the new proposed Newhall Libary after Ed Redd? He did a lot to benefit at risk youth - many of whom no doubt may use that facility.

Or why not re-name the ENTIRE Newhall Community Center after him - not just a room in it?

Alan J. Ferdman said...

I think that it is both unfortunate and interesting that our City Council choose to celebrate the “completion” of the Cross Valley Connecter before it is complete. The progress that has been made to date should have been sufficient for a celebration. Why stretch the truth? Why now? Certainly Mayor Weste was upset. It must have surprised her that someone is willing to stand up and challenge what the city is saying. Council Members do not have to attempt to shot the messenger when they have facts and truth on their side.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Sorry, WRONG. The entire Redvelopment Committee "weighed in" early on, and was in total agreement with business owners and residents that the Craftsman design for the library was not wanted. There was nothing confusing about the message sent from these entities to city hall months ago, NO ONE wanted Craftsman. Why Ender would even weigh in here with a comment that makes no sense is a mystery, but proved she doesn't know when to just keep her mouth shut about issues she knows nothing about.

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