Tonight’s was another one-topic meeting. 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. 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.” 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.
Do not be deceived by the presence of multiple topics on the agenda, here.
Here’s the letter from SCV Patriots.
Quotation from KHTS--I didn't catch the whole statement myself--with their article here.