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.


Anonymous said...

$50k for a discussion of what name should be on a bridge? The city is far from pro-jobs, they make them up all the time!

Anonymous said...

Ay - sorry, should be city is far from anti-jobs