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 BOOK
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.
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THE NEXT BOOK
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.

5 comments:

John said...

Read, with interest, that the 1-person book club will be discussing my "Naked Came the Sasquatch" novel next month. Yippee coyote. I've always felt that the SCV sorely lacks significant tonnage of schizophrenics and in this case, I hope all the personalities of the aforementioned book club are kind and supportive. Yes. The Boston Bookstore on thebostonreport.net is still waiting to get launched. (Call John Green.) I've just finished the literary fiction, "Adam Henry" and it will be available soon. And in a couple of weeks, "Honey. I Never Slept With Sarah Palin." will be available. Thanks for the interest. Do you guys argue about what you'll eat at these discussions?

A Santa Claritan said...

John Boston appears bearing promises of new books—wowzas! I speak on behalf of the entire IHSCV Book Club when I say that we eagerly await them.

Regarding your other concerns:

*Personally, I’ve always felt like there are just enough schizophrenics in Santa Clarita, but perhaps that’s because I know a disproportionate number of them.

*Arguments over book club snacks are few. The book is allowed to dictate the selection. EX: Leftovers from the 20th State of the City Luncheon, 2007, were served when discussing Gail Ortiz’s book. I froze them especially for the occasion. When it comes time to discuss NCTS, hot dogs and squirrel will be offered as all members share the same low opinion of the other option, Mandrango Cuisine.

(Thanks for your comments/update!)

Lindsey Newhall said...

Hey writer of this blog, I will come visit you at the end of Feb or the beginning of March and we will discuss this book by John Boston. I believe my father still has a copy that I can read.

For the future, I'd like to recommend, "A California Legend," by Ruth Newhall, and "Bandido: The Life and Times of Tiburcio Vasquez," by John Boessenecker. Interested?

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