Friday, January 28, 2011

Crime Declines in SCV: Orly?

Drawing a line between two points does not a trend make. But that’s the approach that the Sheriff’s Department and journalists tend to take when analyzing crime data in Santa Clarita. In a press release[1] published in The Signal's absurd SCV Raw Section (I guess “SCV Raw” sounds cooler than “Unedited Press Releases People Sent Us”) we are told that many crimes have undergone amazing reductions, including "a dramatic 75 percent decrease in homicides and a 50 percent decrease in arson." It's an undeniable fact: there were fewer reports of every Part I crime in 2010 except for forcible rape.

How cheering! How dramatic! But looking at year-to-year change isn't necessarily the most useful or interesting thing to do with the crime numbers. Take the touted homicide reduction. If we followed the news since 2000, we’d get whiplash from the to-ing and fro-ing of the homicide rate.

2000: Homicide rate TRIPLES! (from 1 to 3)
2001: TWO TIMES MORE Homicides! (from 3 to 6)
2002: Homicides CUT IN HALF! (from 6 to 3)
2003: 33% DECLINE in Homicides! (from 3 to 2)
2004: Homicide rate CLIMBS 50%! (from 2 to 3)...

You get the point. Rather, you get the pointlessness. Since 2000, there have been between one and six criminal homicide reports per year in the City of Santa Clarita, usually about three. If we look at a ten-year trend while controlling for population growth, there is a slight, statistically insignificant decline. Why not just note that the homicide rate is mercifully low, as usual?

The good news is that the Sheriff’s Department does a great job of making numbers related to crime available online, so you can get some perspective if you want to[2]. The far trickier task is deciding what interesting messages come out of the data. For example:

*What factors—population size? income? anti-gang initiatives? suburban vs. urban population?—predict crime rates in Santa Clarita?
*Did a new crime-fighting initiative work?
*Which crimes are highly variable—i.e., ones we would expect to swing widely from year to year?
*Are any crimes cyclical?
*Are there long-term trends in crime in Santa Clarita?

Each of these questions has a prescribed statistical approach (e.g., model selection for time-series, traditional frequentist tests…) I’m sure the Sheriff’s Department has staff or contracts to conduct these and far more sophisticated analyses. And since crime is very low in Santa Clarita relative to national averages, maybe the cursory details released every January are enough. But for those of you interested in the bigger picture, below are three visual aids. They took about 20 minutes to whip up so take from them what you will, but I think they reinforce one message: crime rates don't change as dramatically as the year-to-year comparisons might lead us to believe.

Summary Table of Crime, City of Santa Clarita
All values are taken from the reports published by the LA County Sheriff's Department[2]. These are total incidents reported.

click table to view larger image

Variability of Crime Rates, City of Santa Clarita
To control for population, here are per capita rates of crime. They are shown with standard deviation to provide an indication of how variable the numbers are[4]. If there was no directional change in crime, we’d expect to find annual crime rates within one standard deviation of the mean about 70% of the time[5]. The average rate of crime from 2000-2009 is shown as a blue bar (with standard deviation) next to the rate from 2010 alone, a black bar.

click graphs to view larger image

Annual Variation in Crimes, 2000-2010, City of Santa Clarita

This could be analyzed more rigorously—oh well, it's just a sketch. The graph shows the per capita crime rates with a best-fit line in hatched blue. None of the lines had a slope that was statistically different from zero (i.e., most crimes showed no significant, directional change) except for robbery and arson. Robbery had a significant positive slope, showing an increase in occurrence. Arson, meanwhile, had a significant negative slope so it declined in frequency as time progressed.

click graphs to view larger image

[1]SCV Raaaaaaaaaaw!
[2]Here is the preliminary 2010 report and here are the older reports
[3]I had to use the 2009 population estimate for the 2010 data; assuming the population grew in 2010, this would mean the per capita crime rates are slightly lower than presented.
[4] The most fundamental idea of statistics is that there is an average value and some random variation about that value. The annual ups and downs could indicate meaningful change, but we have to sort that out from variability or random fluctuations—background noise. I did standard deviation vs. standard error or confidence intervals because I think it's more meaningful here.
[5]Assuming normal distribution, and I know this isn't quite the technical definition of interpreting standard deviation. I’m going to stop with statistical asides now because if you don’t know them you don’t care and if you do know them you feel patronized and if you know a lot better than me you’re thinking how simplistic my approach has been. None of these are good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happenings: Ferry's Back, the City Courts a Developer

He was back lean and less-mean.

“Frank, welcome back,” said Mayor Marsha McLean to Councilmember Frank Ferry. He sat diminished in proportion but not in spirit, smiling warmly as McLean and others wished him well. It was a fine meeting during which to make his return—nothing too strenuous and no decisions to leave Claritans howling with indignation.

There was a lot of fluff at the beginning[1]. George Runner was recognized for serving as State Senator, during which time he helped secure funding for the Veterans Historical Plaza; helped author and negotiate legislation banning chloride-dumping automatic water softeners; and championed the preservation of Elsmere Canyon (to be fair, who didn’t?). Next, the Sheriff Department was recognized for helping recover a food delivery vehicle stolen from the SCV Senior Center (i.e., doing their job). This saved the center some $38,000 and allows them to continue their good work. Then Dave Hauser was recognized as Posse Member of the Year, a title awarded by the LA County Sheriff Department. Next, Councilmember Laurene Weste proclaimed the upcoming Charlie Chaplin Film Festival. It is the 75th anniversary of Modern Times, part of which was filmed in Santa Clarita, including the final scene along a relatively unchanged Sierra Highway. Finally, Captain Paul Becker came forward to announce that Santa Clarita’s crime rate had fallen in 2010. “It is a historical reduction,” he said. I have never understood the need to draw a line between two points and call it a trend; seeing fewer stolen vehicles in 2010 than 2009 is swell, but is it meaningful? That will be addressed later.

Frank Ferry was the first to offer comments during the period reserved for just that purpose. He recalled his invocation prior to Thanksgiving when he said people should cherish their family as life can change in an instant; he didn’t realize he was talking to himself. Ferry spent 35 days in the hospital (he mentioned, incidentally, that Alan Cameron made near daily calls and that he had heard from other “regulars” like Alan Ferdman and Annette Lucas). Even in his coma Ferry described himself as stubborn, attempting to pull out tubes and remove wires placed carefully by doctors. This forced his nurses to set up a 24-hour watch duty staffed by friends and family. Now recovered, Ferry will at last be leaving his parents’ care and heading home.

The other councilmember comments weren’t quite so interesting, although Mayor McLean mentioned that she’d like to do a team-building exercise with her fellow members of the City Council. Go team!

On the Consent Calendar, a few Claritans spoke about naming the cross-valley connector bridge “Fallen Warrior Memorial Bridge.” There was debate over whether it should recognize all those in the armed services or pay special tribute to those who have died while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The City Council chose the latter, Ender noting that it was as difficult and unusual as it was important to build a memorial for a war still in progress. The name will be changed to “Fallen Warriors Memorial Bridge” as well.

The next agenda item that drew comments was one declaring “Opposition to the elimination of redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones.” Governor Brown wants to cut these to help balance the budget, but they are beloved institutions in Santa Clarita. Leon Worden lamented that “Newhall has been in decline since the birth of Valencia," arguing that redevelopment monies offered a real chance for recovery. He and others said that while there were bad and wasteful redevelopment agencies out there, the one helping revitalize Newhall wasn’t one of them. Bill Kennedy made a similar argument about enterprise zones, saying “Santa Clarita is doing it right and it deserves to be preserved.” Cam Noltemeyer and Allan Cameron didn’t disagree with the statement of opposition outright, but they both wanted the City to offer alternatives of what could be cut to help balance the budget.

There were plans to move forward with a vote on a $19 special library tax, but the item was continued until May. The County collected about $28 per parcel as a library tax to support the SCV’s County-run libraries, and the City wants to be able to collect a $19 per parcel tax to support the libraries once LSSI starts operating them in July. There has been posturing over whether the City can really take the money (can you “reduce” a tax that you’re not allowed to collect in the first place?), and the continuance of this item clearly points to things not going so smoothly. However, the City has packaged the delay as a chance to be particularly assiduous with the details. While the library takeover passed in a single meeting, councilmembers must take more time and solicit more feedback when it comes to insignificant tax "reductions": “this recommended continuance will provide the City Council with additional time during which to discuss the issue of the special library tax with the Santa Clarita community.” Cute.

Needless to say, the item attracted many comments despite plans for the continuance. Carole Luteness spoke about the library on a few occasions throughout the evening and called the whole situation, variously, a “tragedy”, a “shotgun marriage” between LSSI and Santa Clarita, and a “foolhardy decision.” She also implored staff to stop purging emails regarding LSSI as she claimed they were doing. Alan Ferdman wanted to hear the rationale behind the City’s plan to collect a tax written to support County libraries. We’d all like to hear it, Alan. Deanna Hanashiro lambasted the City for spending $20,000 to collect opinions about the special library tax. By her count, the City had been freely given thousands of dollars worth of comments from public speakers, most of which were dismissed. Hanashiro added “No professional staff are planning on applying with LSSI,” so that it will truly be goodbye to all of the librarians that Claritans have come to know. Finally, David Gauny worried about the City’s seemingly baseless confidence in the takeover as a money-saving exercise. He also challenged McLean, saying that she had characterized those who protested the takeover as being union members, from out of town, or as simply misinformed. “The words you just spoke were not true. You weren’t there, so…” replied the Mayor.

In response to the public, City Manager Ken Pulskamp answered unansweringly. “Suffice it to say, we will have more books,” he offered, followed by “everything we do is open to the public,” and, “The hours will be increased.” He did not describe the rationale for tax collection, address the loss of staff, offer a basic outline of which sources will fund the library, justify the tax survey, or clear up the essentiality of the special tax. This little act of Pulskamp’s is most unbecoming of a man his age—it’s as if he sees comments as flies and lazily swats down a couple of slow ones, leaving the others to buzz annoyingly unanswered. The one meaningful thing he promised was that the vote on a special tax would not give developers votes to match their development potential, as happened with the vote on the Open Space District. He said they would get one vote if they lived in the City and that would be all.

Other proposals met less opposition. There is now a vehicle dealer sales overlay zone that will confine car sales to a few carefully chosen locations.

More importantly, the City Council approved Lewis and Shapell Operating Corporations as “prospective business partners” for developing the Whittaker-Bermite property. The City was given the option of acquiring ownership by purchasing the $13M lien on the property, and Lewis and Shapell are being, well, courted I guess? (Pulskamp used an awkward dating analogy to describe the situation after Valerie Thomas warned “Marry in haste, repent in leisure.”) There is only one year to act, so competitive bids weren’t solicited. Ferry made it sound like it had taken some doing to find a partner that had enough money, experience, etc… to jump in on such a large undertaking. Pulskamp said their first step is an open house at City Hall (5 o’clock on February 23rd) where Claritans can meet the prospective business partners.

Many members of the Citizens Advisory Group for Whittaker Bermite expressed guarded optimism. They were delighted that the City could be in control of the property. However, everything has moved so slowly with concern to the property in the past, so the speed with which the City was moving inspired concern. “You’ve got an awful lot on your plates,” warned Valerie Thomas, who believed that “This, too, is a done decision, and that concerns me tremendously.” She and others wanted more opportunity to evaluate the potential development partners. The other big concern was the cost and completeness of clean-up. “By law, Whitaker Bermite is still on the hook for this clean-up” assured Councilmember Bob Kellar, and the City Manager confirmed that the City would not be responsible for any clean-up costs of the polluted site.

The other members of the City Council were less guarded in their optimism than the public. It’s “the best news of 2011 so far,” cheered Laurie Ender.

Finally, Public Participation saw a few more comments on the issue of illegal immigration. There was some discussion of formalizing the City’s policy but Laurie Ender and Marsha McLean were very worried about the potential for such policies to lead to expensive lawsuits. It seems Kellar will come back with something to discuss at a future meeting. Former Mayor Carl Boyer hoped that Public Participation could be moved back to the start of the City Council meetings—where it belonged. Kellar and Ferry seemed receptive to the idea so long as there were safeguards to prevent a three-hour hijacking of the meeting via unending comments. Kellar said they could entertain only the first 10 speaker cards and hear the rest at the end of the meeting, while Ferry preferred Boyer’s idea of dividing a half-hour comment period by the number of speakers. But for now, public participation does—and did—signal the end of the meeting.

[1]The Agenda, for your reading pleasure.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Happenings: A Promise of Plenty of Water under OVOV

above: Cross "water shortage" off your list of concerns for Santa Clarita.
below: Lynne Plambeck look skeptical.

The One Valley One Vision presentations came to an end tonight with a discussion of air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and water availability under OVOV[1]. It was as dull as it sounds, but a rather optimistic sort of dull so that those zoning in and out were more likely to hear good than bad.

All members of the Planning Commission were present, and they moved efficiently through the few pieces of business preceding discussion of OVOV. In a sign of the times, a building that was slated to become a bank on Rye Canyon Road (Home Depot shopping center) will now become a tire service center. The would-be bank was abandoned midway through construction, but through an act of architectural cunning, the structure can be adapted to accommodate four automotive service bays. The plan was approved.

Senior Planner Jason Smisko then introduced the last set of technical presentations regarding One Valley One Vision. There will be continued discussion until spring, but it will be more question-and-answer based.

The three issues presented from the draft Environmental Impact Report were handled similarly: describe problems, describe how OVOV kinda does a better job of addressing those problems than the current general plan does, and suggest some mitigation measures that have to do with commuting less and building smarter.

Realistic Air Quality Expectations

There are going to be problems with particulates and ozone in Santa Clarita no matter what is done. In fact, essentially all air pollutants are going to increase with the exception of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, which will likely decline due to improvements in automotive technology. While mitigation strategies will be adopted locally, air quality is, in a real sense, out of Clarita's hands. Chair Tim Bukhart asked Alan Sako of Impact Sciences a theoretical question: "If we zipped everything ... would we still have a problem because of the circulation within the [larger] basin?" Sako said there would still be problems because "the region [SCV] is highly influenced by factors outside the region [SFV, LA]." He noted that Santa Clarita would be part of a broader effort to improve air quality within the entirety of the so-called south coast air basin.

The Climate Action Plan: Encourage Everyone to Do Better

The City's Dave Peterson addressed how OVOV would impact greenhouse gas emissions. He explained that a Climate Action Plan ("CAP") is a requirement for general plans and must show actions consistent with AB 32 and SB 375. The CAP is being prepared by Environ Corps. Peterson said this a complex undertaking and will require a greenhouse gas inventory followed by outreach and mitigation. Apparently, they look at everything from utilities to the kind of light bulbs that businesses use. (There is a bizarre obsession with light bulbs when it comes to talk of climate change; it would be labeled as Freudian if only CFLs resembled some piece of the human reproductive anatomy).

How will OVOV reduce the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere? Alan Sako repeated what has become the holy trinity of the SCV's smart planning: higher density, transit-oriented development, and mixed use. Peterson gave some strategies for encouraging more environmentally-friendly building practices and noted that the City is already engaging the public with its "green" website (32,000 hits from 63 countries since July 2009; when people from Kyrgyzstan or Lesotho want eco-advice, they too visit

Commissioner Dee Dee Jacobson noticed that a lot of the language being thrown around was along the lines of "encourage" or "promote"--she asked if it could be strengthened to "require" (e.g., require certain responsible building practices). That got a nice-idea-but-sorry-no from Smisko as it would overstep the Uniform Building Code. Commissioner Dennis Ostrom asked the simple, essential question of whether all of these actions would bring Santa Clarita in line with AB 32 and SB 375. That got an affirmative from Smisko, though Burkhart cautioned that nothing was certain until review by the Attorney General. City staff hope that prior meetings and advice from the office will ensure they submit a plan that will be found acceptable.

Water for Everyone*!
*Except those outside of the Castaic Lake Water Agency's service area

Santa Clarita needn't worry about having enough water, at least according to this evening's presentation. While State Water Project supplies are notoriously variable and unreliable, there is enough purchased water, recycled water (set to increase by a factor of ten), and ground water to see Claritans through, it seems. By 2050, there will be demand for 135,450 acre-feet per year (afy) and a supply of 138,507 afy. In drought conditions, demand is modeled to rise to 149,700 afy and supply to about 160,000 afy, depending on the duration of the drought. The obvious question--how can the water supply increase during drought years?--was answered by describing how water can be banked underground, as is done in Kern and other locations. This water will be purchased to meet the increased demand for irrigation water in dry years. So despite the fact that this is Southern California, a dry and densely-peopled place, water concerns were found to be unwarranted. Strange.

However, things weren't looking quite so rosy outside of the CLWA service area. The EIR found impacts to water supplies would be unavoidably significant and require a "Statement of Overriding Considerations." It was explained that outside of the valley, property sits above fractured rock in which groundwater is patchily distributed. Drilling wells is the only source of water in these areas (mostly the County's domain), so there is no insurance against a variable supply. As for reducing water use across the whole of Santa Clarita, there will be more homeowner education and the like, which sounds immensely promising.

Speakers Do What Their Name Implies

It wasn't a particularly topical comment period. Carole Luteness ("LUT-ness!" she said after Burkhart called her "LOOT-ness") said she wanted to see a "paradigm shift" from growth to development. A key feature of smart development would be more low-income housing to accommodate those with low-paying, service-industry jobs. Lynne Plambeck was upset that all of the comparisons were of the "plan vs. plan" type, i.e., comparing environmental impacts of the current general plan versus that proposed under OVOV. She said the law required comparisons of current environmental impacts vs. future ones, not future scenario A vs. future scenario B. Cam Noltemeyer hyperbolized a bit about air quality, predicting "air we can't breathe!" in the future. And Allan Cameron, who came in only because his TV stopped carrying the meeting, was worried that there were, in fact, two plans--City and County--when OVOV would imply one plan.

And Smisko Did Respond

Senior Planner Jason Smisko responded: he "couldn't agree more" with the low-income housing goals presented by Lutness, told Plambeck that the EIR did indeed compare the present versus future scenarios, and assured Cameron that the City and County plans are "exceedingly similar." (But if they're so similar, why not one plan?--right?)

Thereafter, members of the commission discussed a few more OVOV topics. Commissioner Kennedy asked Smisko to come back with some large-scale examples of cities where a transit-oriented plan has really worked so as to convince skeptics. Ostrom felt like he could do with more specifics as to why certain intersections and roads would experience unavoidable gridlock under the OVOV build-out scenario. And Lisa Eichman asked about bike lanes, some of which will be lost to widen roads. She observed that this wasn't so compatible with goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but Smisko said there will be a net increase in bike lanes.

Finally, during the open public comment period, Lynne, Cam, and Allan each spoke again. Noltemeyer asked how people can be expected to walk and bike when it's too rainy, too hot, or the air quality is too poor to allow it. Even if it's mild and dry and the air is fresh, she observed that some bike lanes are on hills too steep to navigate comfortably--those by COC, for instance. And she questioned the wisdom of using Granary Square as an example of a successful transit center. In short, she has considerable doubts about most aspects of the transportation and circulation systems in Santa Clarita.

The meeting ended a little after nine.

[1]Here is the agenda.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

IHSCV Book Club: A Brief History, A.C.

Welcome to the first meeting of the I Heart SCV Book Club. The club boasts a membership of one person, so I say “meeting” winkingly. This is the only institution devoted exclusively to the discussion and distillation of Claritan Literature, which comprises a rather meager library of books written about Santa Clarita, by her people, or on quintessentially Claritan topics[1].

The first book was set to be Mr. SCV’s Naked Came the Sasquatch, which I’ve read thrice and written a couple thousand words about. However, NCTS has been moved to February because it’s a novel, and those interested in Claritan Lit may want to read it before they read about it, discovery being one of reading’s chief pleasures. Scroll to the bottom for complete details.

For January, then, the selection is The City of Santa Clarita: Celebrating 20 Years of Success, edited by Gail Ortiz and Diana Sevanian. It’s the scrapbooky sort of volume often published in/about Santa Clarita: history-focused, full of pictures, spare of words, the sort of thing our populace can really sink its 5-minute attention span into. Without further ado…

The City of Santa Clarita: Celebrating 20 Years of Success
Gail Ortiz and Diana Sevanian, editors
Pioneer Publications, Cerritos, California

Hardcover, 119 pages

This book was distributed to attendants of the State of the City Luncheon in 2007. I didn’t attend, but Gail Ortiz gave me a copy, for which I shall be forever grateful. State of the City Luncheon, High Priestess of Propaganda Gail Ortiz, “20 Years of Success” in the title…this is a P.R. stunt!, thinks the reader. And of course, that's at least partially correct. There is a vignette entitled “Shop Santa Clarita to Build a Better Community” and adulatory lines like Ken Pulskamp’s “Time sure flies when you’re building a dream.” (Barf.) But this makes the book no less interesting.

Among the laundry list of parks built, events sponsored, and milestones reached are precious anecdotes and a rare opportunity to see how Claritans-of-consequence project a narrative onto our recent history. This is the only book covering the A.C. era (that’s After Cityhood), and it touches upon such defining events as the murder of David March, genesis of the Cowboy PoFest, battle for Elsmere, and Northridge Earthquake. Most of what's written comes in the form of invited letters or brief summaries of events, and coverage jumps around quite a bit. But with a little work on part of the reader, some themes emerge.

In the Beginning
Chalk it up to the American yen for self-governance. Claritans felt powerless over the future of their own valley, beholden to the whims of distant LA County officials. In their written reflections on the push for cityhood, familiar names—McKeon, Worden-Roberts, Darcy—describe an intense commitment to win more local control. They were tired of rapid development sans infrastructure and of being regarded as a sort of north county hinterland.

Connie Worden-Roberts reveals an initial preference for the formation of Santa Clarita County, inspired by Ruth and Scott Newhall. Independence came on a somewhat more modest scale. The newborn City of Santa Clarita spanned 43 square miles, missing land to the north (Castaic) and west (Stevenson Ranch area) considered integral parts of the community. But it was a victory most were happy to take. “The cold and blustery night of December 15, 1987, did not dampen the warmth and enthusiasm for cityhood as 2,000 citizens lustily cheered the winners at their first meeting in the gymnasium as College of the Canyons,” Jerry Reynolds recalls.

There was a newness and smallness to it all. George Carvalho, the first City Manager, worked out of a strip mall on Soledad Canyon Road at first. It was cramped, with access to the potty via the conference room. “You always hoped that your restroom needs didn’t coincide with a meeting,” he noted. Buck McKeon, now a bigwig in the US Congress, says that being the first mayor “was a challenge and it was an education and it was even a bit scary.”

Defined By What We Stop
Current City Manager Ken Pulskamp took a “greatest hits” approach to defining Santa Clarita. There are aquatic centers, good schools, a bajillion miles of bike trails, great public safety resources, wild open places, and other lovely things that make it a swell place to raise a kid. Compared with Leon Worden’s historical sketch, it seems the valley has gone soft. Santa Clarita holds onto frontier heritage, but replacing outlaws like Tiburcio Vasquez and train robber Buffalo Tom Vernon are the Western Walk of Stars and cowboy balladeers. It's still a place for enterprise, but fevered gold mining and oil drilling have been succeeded by redevelopment zones and public-private theater partnerships.

Apart from growing ever kinder and gentler, a letter from Marsha McLean suggests defining Santa Clarita by what we’ve stopped: “toxic dump and the world’s largest landfill…proposed off-road vehicle park…very large mining operation just outside our City limits…” McLean details her work to keep Towsley and Elsmere Canyons from becoming garbage dumps, an enormous effort launched from her little dining room table. The determined battle against CEMEX mining is also highlighted. This same resolve has been used to fight challenges thrust on Santa Clarita by nature, like the Northridge Earthquake. The City helped repair roads, distributed water, and removed tons of fallen bricks and blocks while, within the larger community, there was a new sense of closeness. (Serendipitously, the quake unleashed asbestos on the Hart High Auditorium, which led to the first Cowboy Poetry Festival being moved to Melody Ranch, an infinitely better venue.)

Santa Clarita, then, was born and defined by pushing back when it got pushed. There's an instinct of defensiveness that one still encounters among people ill-at-ease with anything “county.” The notion of us versus the big guys visibly invigorates leaders like McLean, always engaged in a campaign to keep Santa Clarita from being taken advantage of (e.g., State snagging local tax dollars) or overlooked (e.g., no stop in the SCV on the high-speed rail line). There is great pride in our self-sufficiency that's especially apparent in those who have been with Santa Clarita for the long haul.

All the Pretty Pictures
This book has great photos. Some are grave and poignant, others hilarious. The Claritan penchant for grand openings is apparent: there are 6 pictures of ground-breakings with ceremonial shovels and 9 of ribbons being cut with giant scissors. Laurene Weste is seen fully 26 times. Ballet Folklorico dancers whirl and children march in various parades. The departed Carmen Sarro, first and greatest City employee, appears with an earnest smile. They are photos to be revisited in years to come.

The editors' photo collection shows a knack for finding humor amongst the mundane.

Place in the Claritan Library
20 Years is published at a time when Santa Clarita's first leaders--"founding mothers and fathers", as the editors call them--are still engaged and active. Their words and perspective are enlightening, revealing the forces behind Santa Clarita's current trajectory and civic values. Coverage is great in scope if not in depth, but all things Claritan are here--even the Flemings (FLEMWATCH ALERT!), who purchased an ad at the back of the book. It should be placed on the shelf with other overviews of history (by Reynolds, Boston, Perkins...) as a survey of Santa Clarita's formative years.
Naked Came the Sasquatch
John Boston
TSR, Inc., Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Paperback, 345 pages

“No, sorry. I don’t eat people,” said Mitikitski, “not even for special occasions.”
To date, Naked Came the Sasquatch is John Boston’s only novel[2]. It’s essentially a love story preoccupied with reincarnation, loss, and big hairy monsters. Boston develops a constellation of wonderfully implausible characters living in the strangely familiar Basin Valley. They orbit Michael Fenberg, editor of the local paper, who investigates murders and maniacs around town only to become caught up in the stories he's pursuing. As promised on the jacket, it’s “a highly original whodunit that turns into a whatdunnit and finally evolves into a which-what-dunnit.” Throughout, Boston lithely moves from the grandiose to the profane, from the celestial to the chthonic, from dramatic irony to penis jokes. It’s an enjoyable read and you’ll see bits of Boston and Clarita throughout the book—large chunks, actually. Now go read it. “Say ‘kay.”

*Used copies are available through Amazon, where it has an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars after 28 reviews, many of which seem legitimate.

*The Boston Report has a link to buy the electronic version, but it's busted. Boston provides an email address; harass him to get his book sales in order, perhaps?
*It will be discussed February 26, 2011

[1]The rationale for the IHSCVBC is provided here.
[2]More novels are promised, like The Halcyon Times & Rural Avenger. Hooray.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happenings: Mayor McGiggles, Fake Tax Reduction, and the Letter

Tonight’s was another one-topic meeting[1]. Everyone had something to say about a letter that then-Mayor Laurene Weste composed on official letterhead and sent to congressmen, senators, and President Obama[2]. In it, she wrote “comprehensive immigration reform” was needed and that “a critical need exists to create a fair and equitable solution for the benefit of both the citizens of the United States and the illegal immigrants who have chosen to make our country their home.” She also wrote a lot about the high cost of illegal immigration in terms of healthcare, education, and public safety, but it was the comprehensive immigration reform language that was the main issue.

Before the letter discussion, the Consent Calendar passed with the recommended actions for all items. One woman commented on an item regarding Frank Ferry’s absences after grave complications resulting from an otherwise routine surgical procedure. While she was glad that his health has improved, she asked about the law which said his chair could be declared vacant and filled by someone else. City Attorney Joe Montes explained that the absence could simply be excused by the present members of the City Council instead—and it was.

There was also a bit of discussion over awarding a $150,000 contract to AAA Flag and Banner for hanging special event banners from paseo bridges and on light poles. Local company GMA Print Solutions asked why their bid was being declared non-responsive in preference of out-of-town AAA Flag and Banner. Alan Ferdman, meanwhile, was upset that the City even displayed banners on bridges since private parties are barred from doing so on their own: why the special exemption? Gail Ortiz addressed both concerns. She said that by law, GMA had to be deemed non-responsive and that their application could not even be reviewed. Apparently, the company did not provide references when requested, nor did they use the appropriate pricing format. She suggested that banner hanging be maintained as it is extremely popular (150 bridge banners and 1150 light pole banners in 2010) and advertises a variety of events of broad interest to Claritans.

Other agenda items that went undiscussed were an amendment to the “on-time” requirement for transit (reduced from 95% to a more standard 90.5%) and the second reading and adoption of a prezone for the Copperstone annexation area.

Next, Joe Montes was welcomed and sworn in as the new Santa Clarita City Attorney. City Manager Ken Pulskamp said that Montes has practiced law for 17 years and that he has served as city attorney for Alhambra, Moorpark, and Rosemead, other cities that, like Santa Clarita, are unheard of outside of Southern California. He swore to defend the constitutions of the United States and California and that the actions of the City of Santa Clarita would always be deemed just and right (called the Newton Addendum). He is only the second city attorney in Santa Clarita’s history, Carl Newton having served in that capacity for 23 years.

During Councilmember reports, Bob Kellar addressed the illegal immigration letter sent out by Weste. He was extremely disappointed about the substance of the letter, that it had been sent out without his review, and that his name appeared as part of the letterhead. “I am absolutely opposed to the content of this letter,” he said. Speaking more than he has in the past ten meetings combined, Kellar went on to read documents concerning the office of mayor. “The mayor is a member with no greater authority than the rest of the Council,” he read, suggesting that Weste had overstepped her authority in sending out the letter. He also read from the City's letter-writing guidelines, which allow individual members to send correspondence on letterhead so long as it bears only their name. In this regard, Kellar argued, his statements about illgeal immigration and his letter to Jan Brewer in support of immigration enforcement were perfectly allowable, as was—regrettably—Frank Ferry’s letter sent out to destroy Kevin Korenthal’s career when he was running for office. Neither of them had said/written "On behalf of the Santa Clarita, California City Council," which Weste did write. He ended by saying that he would send a letter to Congressman Buck McKeon that would clarify his position on the issue of illegal immigration.

Laurene Weste responded. “I think, Bob, you made a very interesting meeting” she said as she attempted to smooth ruffled feathers. Weste claimed that she was against amnesty, completely acknowledged the costs of illegal immigration ($1.6B in LA County alone, she said), and that the letter was written solely to convey “the need to have a dialogue for solutions at a federal level.” She stated for emphasis “I am not in any way supporting amnesty.” Weste simply refused to acknowledge Kellar’s contention that “ comprehensive immigration reform [means] some form of amnesty.” She contended that it only meant thorough improvement of our handling of illegal immigration.

During her turn to speak—remember, this was all during the period reserved for councilmember reports and updates—Mayor Pro-tem Laurie Ender thanked City maintenance crews for keeping roads driveable and drains cleared during the severe recent storms (and snow!). Mayor McLean capped things off by warning that $4M in redevelopment funds might be in danger because of Governor Brown’s proposed budget cuts and changes. She promised that the League of California Cities “will fight it tooth and nail” in an attempt for cities to keep money that is rightfully theirs. McLean worried that enterprise zones are also in danger. “I’m mad,” she admitted, asserting that eliminating enterprise zones and redevelopment funds was not the way to balance the budget.

Annoyingly, Mayor McLean adopted a smile as she asked that the next City Council meeting include an item for a special election concerning a “reduction” of the library tax. It was just like what Laurie Ender did to initiate the library takeover by LSSI last summer. Leaving the LA County Library System means Santa Clarita won’t be able to collect the special tax that helped fund local libraries (about $1.4M each year). The City wants to collect a new tax amounting to $19/parcel, but they’re pitching it as a “tax reduction” because it’s less than the current special tax levied by the County. In short, if Claritans vote no on the “tax reduction,” they’ll pay $0, whereas if they vote yes, they’ll pay $19. It’s a questionable way of presenting the matter, to say the least. When Alan Ferdman brought up this point, Mayor McLean giggled nervously in response. It was to be the first of many inappropriate giggles throughout the meeting (Laurie Ender would also smile/giggle inappropriately during one woman’s impassioned speech, though she later apologized).

One other library item followed. The City Council voted to join the Southern California Library Cooperative and participate in the Inland Library Network. Darren Hernandez explained that participation would give Santa Clarita libraries access to one-million titles—“comparable to the title count for the county library.” It appears that new items may not be readily available for inter-library loan, however, as he said “it is not uncommon” for libraries to block loans of new titles for a certain period of time.

Public participation came next, devoted entirely to the Weste letter (except for a comment by Tim Burkhart on local business).

There were over a dozen speakers who ranged from “nonplussed” (in one woman’s words—well, word) to outraged. Most everyone agreed that the letter needed to be rescinded, and many suggested that a formal review of the letter be agendized for a future meeting. Some said Weste should be censured or fired. Weste’s call for comprehensive immigration reform just didn’t reflect the views of Santa Clarita residents or City Councilmember Bob Kellar.

Two women spoke rather eloquently on the topic: Tana Lampton and Berta Gonzalez-Harper. Lampton, who served on the Agua Dulce Town Council, said even that much less “sophisticated” body made it clear that one ought never use letterhead when acting alone or voicing an unrepresentative opinion. She was alarmed that so basic a courtesy as reviewing a letter wasn’t provided to Kellar and other members. While Lampton addressed protocol, Gonzalez addressed content. She cheerfully noted that Weste’s call for a pathway to citizenship was redundant. “There is a pathway to citizenship!” she said, namely the legal immigration process by which her parents and many of her friends had come to America. She summarized the views held by most speakers as enthusiastic support for both legal immigration and the enforcement of immigration law, including securing the borders and punishing those who employ illegal immigrants. Enforcement of existing laws, not comprehensive reform, was in order.

Other comments included asking Laurene Weste what she found “amazing” about Brad Sherman (on whose letter she wrote “You are Amazing!”) and suggesting that the City needed to be educated by its citizens, not the reverse. David Gauny and Kevin Korenthal somewhat capped off the comments. Gauny said the letter was just the latest in a series of inappropriate, unjustifiable actions taken by members of the City Council in which they acted with complete disregard for the opinions of Claritans and fellow councilmembers. He wondered whether the new city attorney would advise McLean et al. to follow the law. McLean giggled wildly after Gauny stepped down, excusing herself as having to “digest all that.” She just couldn’t seem to help herself from laughing throughout the meeting, ostensibly because people were just so off-base in their negative opinions of her actions and of the City Council in general.

Kevin Korenthal had his turn, too. “You’re not a conservative leader” said Korenthal to Weste, apparently regretful of having defended her conservative credentials in the past. “The use of letterhead, the use of councilmember words need to be much more judicious than they have been.”

When comments ended, McLean asked who was ready to respond, suppressing one last giggle into something of a smiled huff. City Manager Ken Pulskamp responded only to a few vague non sequiturs thrown out by some of the evening’s less accomplished speakers. He clarified that Weste had not called for millions of free green cards nor for adoption of a socialist agenda. It was Pulskamp doing what he does best—being intentionally aloof and dismissive when confronting serious criticism of the way the City does business. However one feels about immigration, it’s clear that people should be allowed to view letters written about controversial topics before they are sent out—especially when their name is on the letter. Seriously, how hard is it to CC one extra email address? To this general concern, he said “It [a letter] doesn’t have to be representative of the entire City Council. It just has to be a majority.”[3] Following the letter of the law doesn’t mean following the spirit of the law, however. Weste said “I followed protocol exactly.” (She also addressed what she found “amazing” about Brad—it was merely his support for the CEMEX issue).

I won’t trivialize the personal/local effects this letter might have on various councilmembers. Bob Kellar, for example, is justified in feeling misrepresented. However, from a broad political standpoint, this whole excercise was indeed trivial. While everything got cleared up in Clarita, over in Washington, officials took as much notice of tonight’s discussion as they did of the original letter: none.

[1]Do not be deceived by the presence of multiple topics on the agenda, here.
Here’s the letter from SCV Patriots.
[3]Quotation from KHTS--I didn't catch the whole statement myself--with
their article here.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happenings: Snow

If we divide Santa Clarita’s history by events, the last significant snow fell sometime after cityhood but before Buck McKeon entered congress, a time when you had to remark about the weather via landline. It was early 1989, the same year Marsha McLean would begin gathering signatures opposing the Elsmere Canyon landfill and that Claritans would feel a bit of the Loma Prieta earthquake. I was in pre-school.

My mom woke us up before dawn, clutching her camera. I remember a sense of urgency that morning. She was in a great hurry to get us outside to make memories before the snow melted away, but was stalled by her need to add sixth and seventh layers of clothing to protect us from the squall. Luckily, the snow stuck around. Mom took pictures until she had used up the entire roll of film (a rather sensitive, cumbersome analog to contemporary memory cards). We built snowmen. We tried sledding down the driveway. We watched as our grandparents half-drove, half-slid their way down our street in their cream-colored Oldsmobile, a boat of a car.

Today, some 7,998 days later, it snowed again.

This is the same stretch of the south fork of the Santa Clara. The river was roaring on December 22nd, dry and sunny on January 1st, and covered with snow on January 2nd. The young Fremont's Cottonwood has managed to keep some of its yellow leaves through the worst of it.

These photos, full of the signs of spring, were taken in the same stretch of the river wash on New Year's Day: yesterday! They show typical shrubland with Yerba Santa, Scalebroom, and sagebrush; Blue Elderberry breaking bud; and the first blooms of Golden Currant in a thicket on the margins of the wash.

Roots of Sandbar Willow float eerily in the water, their soil scoured away by winter storms. Willows thrive in floodplains, rebounding rapidly after floods, drought, and frost.