Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Happenings: Gateway, $1000, LaRouche

Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean began this evening’s meeting with three quotations[1]. (She erroneously called them “quotes”.)

from the Dalai Lama: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

from Henry Ford: “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.”

from Elbert Hubbard: “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

Clearly, McLean chose these quotations to rebuke her (supposed) naysayers, the ones who find fault in everything she does without offering any solutions of their own. McLean couldn’t quite contain a grin at her own cleverness.

After the invocation, Mayor Weste applauded some young horseback riders who did an exceptional job with their ponies at a competition in Los Angeles. She then moved onto individual reports and had to deliver less cheerful news[2]. The Regional Water Board is now on Santa Clarita's case about bacteria levels in the Santa Clara River. Bacteria could be very expensive to treat and make high chloride levels seem like the least of our problems. Weste then showed what real water pollution looks like with an impromptu slideshow of the birds covered in oil from the Gulf. She reminded the audience that all of the City’s emphasis on alternative energy and environmentally-responsible programs helped decrease our demand for fossil fuels so we can contribute less to the demand for oil. (Recall that Santa Clarita isn’t immune to oil spills in our own backyard; we’re rather prone to them. There was a spill of 190,000 gallons of crude into the Santa Clara River after the 1994 earthquake, and another of 74,000 gallons of crude in 1991[3]. Both happened near the I-5, and both were settled for about $37 per gallon spilled, which seems far too cheap).

The next disaster discussed was the plan for the Newhall Gateway. This is the narrow plot of land between Sierra Highway, the 14, and Newhall Avenue that the owners have hoped to develop for a number of years. However, the City wants the “gateway” to Newhall to make a grand statement, and the owners have previously presented plans deemed insufficiently grand. Tonight, we saw how their plans improved after the City threw $200,000 at the planning/design consultant called the Poliquin Kellogg Design Group.

Before the improved plans were drafted, there were a number of “stakeholder meetings” that included precisely two stakeholders: SFSX Partners, the group that wants to develop their property at the front of the gateway area, and USC, the so-so university that is looking to sell its property at the back of the gateway area. After these meetings and an economic feasibility analysis, Brian Poliquin presented plans for a unified development on both the SFSX and USC parcels including a hotel, office space, some retail, and a five-level parking structure. The verbose Poliquin seemed quite pleased that he had preserved the riparian strip that runs through the center of the gateway area[4].

Unfortunately, Marsha thought all of the architecture was ugly. She essentially said it’s very nice for someplace else in Santa Clarita, just not the gateway area. That’s not what Claritans want to hear after dropping $200K on plans. (Though the agenda notes “it is the Agency’s intent to recover costs of this conceptual plan preparation if and when a master developer submits a formal application for this plan.” Yes, “if and when…”). Brian Poliquin did not seem opposed to the idea of spending more money on improving the architecture, and Lisa Hardy assured McLean that there was still plenty of room for change and the plans were more concept than anything else.

With her reservations mostly allayed, McLean and the other members of the CC/Redevelopment Agency directed City Staff to work on implementing the plans with the property owners. Councilmember Laurie Ender pointed out that the economic feasibility analysis suggested that the City could make $1M in annual tax revenue from the property if developed as proposed, so she thought it had been a worthwhile exercise. In other Redevelopment Agency developments, the City acquired yet another piece of property and the annual operating budget and capital improvement programs were adopted.

After the Redevelopment Agency portion of the meeting ended, the Consent Calendar passed readily. The City approved some conservation easements as mitigation for streambed alterations; awarded a $4M+ contract for a solar-power-producing shade structure at the Transit Maintenance Facility (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money); and acquired property on Newhall Avenue. The sole point of contention was Item 17. Currently, Santa Clarita subsidizes some local businesses by charging them less for permits/licenses than it costs the City to obtain those licenses from the County. Item 17 introduced an ordinance to bring City pricing in line with County pricing over the course of three years (immediately if the difference was less than $100). Everyone but Councilmember Bob Kellar passed it to a second reading.

Next there were a number of Public Hearings. Federally-issued Recovery Zone Facility Bonds, which are tax exempt, were issued to Aerospace Dynamics International. The $20M in bonds are expected to create 200 high-paying jobs. There was the annual levy for the Open Space District. Here, Kellar said that while he is an absolute supporter of preserving open space, he couldn’t agree to an increase in the assessment. His fellow councilmembers yessed it through, though. Finally, there was a public hearing for a Claritan who wants to build a 7,000-square foot single-story home on an undeveloped parcel in Circle J Ranch. It will be 23’ tall—so it’s effectively two-stories high—and will be on a significant ridgeline, so it could ruin views. To show that the ruination would be minor, rather questionable “photo simulations” were presented and the City Council gave their go ahead on his project.

At last it was time for New Business. Councilmember Frank Ferry presented an item that would increase campaign contribution limits from $360 to $1000 and make it impossible for anyone to donate anonymously (currently, your donation isn’t listed if you give less than $100). Ironically, Ferry evoked the idea of “independent expenditures” as the rationale for his proposal (e.g., Citizens for Integrity in Government, the Political Action Committee that has made tens of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures on behalf of candidates like Ferry). He said they could be countered more effectively if Claritans could donate more money themselves. Ferry went on to explain why he set the maximum contribution at $1000—it’s the same amount allowed for those running to serve on other local boards like the Castaic Lake Water Agency or Newhall School District.

Most speakers felt that the real reason Ferry proposed the increase is because he knows that it's just incumbents who are in a position to receive $1000 contributions. Just a few of these would go a long way, and many of those doing business with the City of Santa Clarita are only too happy to make the maximum contribution to “friendly” councilmembers each election cycle. As speaker Valerie Thomas wryly observed, “This proposal makes The Signal’s April Fool’s edition, ‘Council for Life’, seem prescient.” The other eleven public speakers also disliked Ferry’s proposal. Carole Lutness said “you gotta dance with the ones that brung you,” arguing that bigger contributions will translate into more time spent dancing with business interests instead of the public. Demanded Lutness, “You must have integrity and you must dance with me!” TimBen Boydston didn’t mind an increase in contribution limits quite as much as he minded doing away with anonymity. Many people donate $99 so that their potential customers, currently elected councilmembers, etc. don’t punish them for their political views.

The best part of the discussion came when Frank Ferry addressed his own illegal campaign contribution (he spent over $10,000 to send out a mailer promoting Bob Kellar and Laurie Ender). Kellar didn’t quite remember this, so Ferry reminded him of the mailer and through smiles and chuckles told Kellar, who obviously won, “you can thank me.” Kellar was not at all amused at how gleefully Ferry remembered his illegal contribution. In the end, all the City Councilmembers save Kellar voted to increase the maximum contribution to $1000, but they didn’t approve reporting the names of those who donate less than $100. When City Attorney Carl Newton was asked whether the City could pass ordinances to limit spending by Political Action Committees, Newton said the City was powerless.

During Public Participation, the only speakers were disciples on Lyndon LaRouche, the failed political figure with views that range from reasonable to bizarre to offensive. LaRouche manages to win cult-like devotion from twenty-somethings that appear otherwise normal. The first LaRouche-head, a guy named “Dash”(?), argued that the City should pass a resolution in support of the reinstating the historic Glass-Steagall Act. Dash suggested that it could control the looming threat of hyper-inflation “which would put a little glitch in the enterprise zone.” Other LaRouchies followed and encouraged separating commercial from investment banking, one warning that we’re “playing with the future of future generations.” An articulate young man named Ian Brinkley closed, observing that the Glass-Steagall Act was passed in “Ninteen-thirty-something…I forget right now” and encouraging it to be revived. Weste thanked the speakers for their time and said she would give the resolution consideration. With that, the meeting ended.

[1]Here is the agenda.
[2]On the bright side, this was the first meeting I can remember that didn’t adjourn in the memory of some wonderful community member’s untimely death.
[4]Though it will certainly be made devoid of life once shaded by the very tall buildings and filled with people who frighten sensitive animals away.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"disciples on Lyndon LaRouche"