Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Happenings: Fees, Water and Terror

This evening’s meeting began with a delay[1]. In early May, Councilmember Laurie Ender suggested that the Golden Valley Bridge be renamed to honor Cameron Glover, a local Sheriff’s Deputy who died in a traffic collision. In the time since her suggestion was made, Ender mentioned that a number of people had expressed concern. They told her that the City Council should try to formalize its approach to naming City monuments, structures, events, etc. in honor of various Claritans. Thus, no bridge was renamed, and the topic will be revisited at a future City Council meeting. Duane Harte threw in the idea of a collective memorial to “Our Fallen heroes […] to which we add names as it becomes necessary; we could pray then pray that it does not become necessary.”

Awards and recognition aplenty were meted out by the City. Among them were three awards for excellence in communications and marketing, at which Gail Ortiz communicated her delight.

Moving onto the Consent Calendar, the City Council found its plans to approve everything halted by comments from Cam Noltemeyer. She made a last-minute effort to keep the City Council from adopting an ordinance that will remove term limits for those serving as City Commissioners or on City Boards. She said that three terms were enough, and fresh ideas and fresh blood were needed for commissions (as well as for City Council). During this comment—or perhaps Noltemeyer’s subsequent comment about tree trimming—Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean light-heartedly asked “What would we do without you, Cam?” Cam curtly reminded McLean that she could speak after her three-minute comment had come to an end.

There was also concern over Item 12 on the Consent Calendar, which proposed increasing the fees businesses pay for various licenses and permits. The City of Santa Clarita acts as a sort of middle-man between businesses and the County. It collects fees that are sent to the County, which takes care of the actual permits and licenses. But while the City has kept its fees that same since 1994, the County has raised its fees several times. Taxpayers subsidize local businesses by making up the difference. For example, Laurie Ender pointed out that an acupressure establishment pays $121 to renew its license with the City, the same it would have paid in 1994. However, the County fee is now $354, so Claritans make up the difference of $233. You can view all the discrepancies on the agenda item's page[2]. At the high end, the City doesn’t charge a fee to establish a body art establishment, but the County requires $2,254 for the establishment.

Ken Striplin, filling in for Ken Pulskamp, said that this ordinance would only impact certain businesses in Santa Clarita like restaurants, massage parlors, and carnivals. He noted that the City wouldn’t be profiting from the fee increases—it would just be recovering the money it currently pays out on behalf of local businesses.

Councilmember Frank Ferry made the damning observation that instead of subsidizing cheaper tattoos and massages since 1994, the City could have increased spending on law enforcement or recreation. Both he and Ender wanted to correct the fee pricing disparity, but the other members of the City Council would not agree. Bob Kellar was particularly adamant about not raising fees assessed to businesses, preferring those who live and work in Santa Clarita to give up more of their money instead. For the time being, then, businesses will pay 1994 prices for 2010 services. McLean suggested that staff work on language to raise business fees incrementally until the City is in line with the County, and that proposal will be discussed at a future meeting.

Finally, it was time to discuss chlorides, too many of which are being dumped into the water supply according to the Sanitation District. As discussed at the last meeting, Santa Claritans are being asked to fund a large new desalinization facility to correct this problem. It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and primary benefits will be realized by avocado and strawberry farmers in Ventura.

There were a number of public speakers, almost all of whom expressed frustration that the City can do only so much to protest without facing major retribution in the form of fines or retracted deals. TimBen Boydston made the most interesting and hopeful (delusional?) remarks. His argument was complex and full of legal references to Prop 13, but he basically suggested that “only special benefits are assessable.” That is, Claritan property owners can’t be forced to pay assessments for which they do not receive a special benefit. And since Claritans would pay to treat water that goes to farmers outside the SCV, there would be no special benefit realized. Boydston didn’t quite finish laying out the argument during his three-minutes, but Mayor Weste said “I hope you’re right.” Other speakers were angry that Claritans would have to pay for the digging of wells in Ventura; that saline removed from water would be dumped into oil wells; and that the new water treatment plant would pave the way for more development without making the developers pay their share. People, in short, were upset.

Thus, it took some courage for Lynne Plambeck to express her support for the idea of chloride reduction. She said that farmers are really being hurt by chlorides (debatable), and hoped that deciding how to fund water improvement measures wouldn’t prevent them from being implemented.

The City Council didn’t have a lot to say after spending hours on this issue two weeks ago. Mayor Weste gave a nice, sincere little speech that encouraged Claritans to do what they can, and she reminded residents that this would be a long battle.

The idea of a “two-pronged approach” was frequently mentioned and supported by both speakers and the City Council. It sounds decisive and proactive, but it's not. According to the agenda, “The first prong is to continue with the current work to develop environmental analysis and design specifications, with an intent to maximize cost efficiencies. The second prong includes developing a legislative and potential legal strategy dealing with overall water policies and laws at the state and federal level driving the limits mandating desalination.” In other words, the City is going to try its best to minimize costs however it can.

Finally, everyone but Bob Kellar voted for Councilmember Frank Ferry to become the alternate for the Sanitation District Board (McLean and Weste currently serve on the board). Bob Kellar wanted to stay on as alternate, but Ferry described his experience with this body and success in past negotiations, so he was selected to replace Kellar.

Apart from a few people who spoke about the problem of selling tobacco to minors in Santa Clarita, the Public Participation speakers focused on Councilmember Frank Ferry’s tirade about “developmental terrorism ”—the opposing of new developments before they’ve even made it to the Planning Commission. Many people flattered themselves by suggesting that Ferry had called them developmental terrorists. In fact, Ferry had reserved that label for a few politically active, not-explicitly-named parties: TimBen Boydston, David Gauny, and maybe SCOPE. He thought these were the masterminds behind opposing developments, and everyone else was just mindlessly following their orders.

Laura Stotler was the first to admonish Frank Ferry. This was appropriate, since Stotler’s remarks were the ones that triggered Ferry’s speech. She and many others would tell him that his choice of words was somewhere between inappropriate and outrageous. She also reassured him that she could make up her own mind on issues. Not everyone who came before the City Council was an easily manipulated pawn, as Ferry had implied. Finally, she identified and lamented Ferry’s “disdain for homeowners who come before you with local concerns.” Most comments that followed expressed more of the same idea. Boydston was predictably loud during his remarks, prompting Councilmember Laurie Ender to ask that the microphone be turned down. David Gauny, who was next to speak, brilliantly replied “Would you prefer it all the way off?” Delighted giggling from the audience followed.

With great aplomb, Gauny delivered a short speech in which he defended himself against the accusations of Ferry and McLean that he was lying, manipulating and frightening Claritans for political gains, and masterminding opposition to new developments. He closed by telling Ferry “You may be on the City Council but you are hardly a winner.”

Before the meeting ended, Marsha McLean read a prepared speech from the dais, reviewing her greatest hits in the realm of community activism. She said that she had only objected to remarks last week because Laura Stotler said that the City approved projects which it in fact had not. McLean wanted to set the record straight that she likes having citizens come forward.

Ferry responded by listing community activists and saying the degree to which he liked and/or respected them, and immensely useful exercise. For example, he respects Lynne Plambeck because she’s upfront. Ferry didn’t say anything about his choice of the word “terrorism.”

The meeting adjourned in memory of U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Jake William Suter, who died while serving in the War on Terror in Afghanistan.

[1]Agenda me
[2]Here are the discrepancies

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