Monday, February 28, 2011

IHSCV Book Club: Love and Monsters in John Boston's Naked Came the Sasquatch

Welcome to the second meeting of the I Heart SCV Book Club. I’d offer you a seat, but it seems you’ve already found one.

Naked Came the Sasquatch: I liked it. As promised, John Boston’s novel is a love story shaped by reincarnation, the author’s life, and monsters—in that order. But let’s take these in reverse to save the most interesting discussion for last. The whole book is up for discussion, so if you don’t want to learn the ending, go no further.

Monsters and Maniacs: Recap

A number of curious events befall the small, Sierra town of Basin Valley at once. Mike Fenberg, editor of The Basin Valley Bugle, loses a reporter when an Indian shoots him at his desk—“Red didn’t particularly care for reporters.” His replacement is one Elaine Mitikitski, a lovely young divorcee (three times over), with whom Mike shares an immediate, inexplicable chemistry. He has been faithfully mourning his dead wife and child, but Elaine awakens fresh hope in Fenberg. Enter M. J. Behan, a self-made millionaire and falsely pious evangelical type. He has relocated his family to Basin Valley for the fresh mountain air and small town values. Though he professes wanting relax, Behan seems hell-bent on driving The Bugle out of business by publishing his own paper. Mike and he share an almost immediate, inexplicable distrust that runs deeper than their competing publications. Mitikitski and Behan aren’t the only newcomers in town. Several residents report seeing a large monster (“maniac”) prowling around at night. And, finally, there is a series of vicious murders in which the victims have been torn apart, partially eaten, and sloppily buried. No one knows who to blame. That’s the basic premise.

The slaughter of Behan’s daughter by the as-yet-unknown murderer is a flashpoint. John Tuberski, Mike Fenberg’s brother, becomes the prime suspect. Though generally peaceable, the eccentric Tuberski is capable of whupping whole motorcycle gangs and bending steel with his bare hands—at least when he’s not tending houseplants or offering spiritual advice to Native Americans. Since he fled the murder scene and has the size and strength to kill, he’s a wanted man. Yet the murders continue, and it becomes apparent that it is something, not someone, behind them.

One night, Mike is with Elaine. Their relationship has blossomed and she is trying to tell him that she is pregnant, but she leaves when he’s too dense to catch her hints. Moments later, the fugitive Tuberski returns after months spent hiding in the woods. He arrives with an enormous Sasquatch in tow. Tuberski insists that the monster it is far too gentle to have been responsible for the grisly murders around town. When law enforcement arrives, Fenberg, Tuberski and the Bigfoot make for an escape but only the beast eludes law enforcement, kidnapping Elaine Mitikitski on the retreat to its forest home.

After a brief stint in jail, Fenberg and Tuberski hurry to search for Elaine and the Sasquatch that grabbed her. They scour the woods around the mountainous lair of the creature. Meanwhile, Behan is also feverishly searching for Elaine. Why is he so desperate to find her, we wonder? It’s because Behan is a werewolf whose destiny is to sire Elaine’s child and turn her into one of his own kind, naturally—well, supernaturally. Indeed, it’s Behan in his werewolf form that has been terrorizing Basin Valley and devouring defenseless residents, not Tuberski or the Sasquatch. And it turns out that Mike and Elaine are reincarnated persons, both of whom were killed by Behan in a former life. He’s got a lot of blood on his paws.

There is a mad dash for Elaine ending in a cataclysmic confrontation between Fenberg and Behan on a mountain peak. The fateful night ends well, for the most part, Mike saving Elaine and the Bigfoot being cleared of wrong-doing. And more important than defeating a human-devouring werewolf, Mike comes to terms with moving forward in his own life.

The Author: Boston Manifest

Despite a werewolf and Sasquatch, the story may seem a little formulaic: gather a gang of oddballs and slowly reveal the ties that bind them, the grand plan by which they’re united. But the story is considerably better than that. Though “out there,” the characters are satisfyingly developed and they aren’t all wacky for wackiness’ sake. Boston seems to have used his own life as inspiration. A home called Scared O’Bears Ranch, a love affair with journalism, a legal name change, and a string of unsuccessful marriages are divided amongst the main characters so that each is a bit Bostonian[1]. He devotes at least one chapter to fleshing each of them out with colorful, often sympathetic prose. This care and Boston’s clever tweaks on traditional plot elements make for a compelling, cliché-defying read.

The central role of the small-town newspaper also relies heavily, we presume, on Boston’s writing career and his long, tumultuous history with The Signal. His depiction hearkens back to the good ol’ days of journalism when reporters actually investigated stories and put out snappy, stylish copy. Also recognizable to Claritan readers are a mobile home park that floods every year, the Alliklik tribe[2], and character types like Norman the Mormon (who’s not exactly a model saint). Santa Clarita's small town days are behind her, but this may offer a bit of a glimpse back.

Boston’s jokes are another familiar presence for readers who know his columns. The thing he does so, so well is infusing humor even under the darkest and most bizarre of circumstances. Take Mike, the widower whose primary fault is an inability to let go. He is devoted to stoically mourning his deceased wife and son. They died in a car accident five years prior, and he keeps a photo of them as a cherished reminder. Elaine Mitikitski realizes she’s vying for Mike’s attention with a dead woman (as yet unreincarnated, so far as we know) and takes her own version of the photo—blonde wig, baby doll in her arms and all. It sounds horrifying, but it comes off as almost sweet and affectionate in the book. In another scene, Elaine is about to be raped by a werewolf in the middle of the forest but manages a steady stream of one liners. “I don’t eat people…not even for special occasions” she replies to Behan’s offer of dining on Bubba, the Sheriff.

Some of the humor falls flat. For example, Boston twice jokes about money not growing on the abundant trees of Basin Valley. Roy Rivenburg interpreted such inadvertent repetitions as a sign of “exhaustion and lack of editing” from the prolific Boston[3]. There is so much fresh, original, and hilarious, though, that a very few rough patches (and perhaps some pacing issues near the end) seems a small price to pay.

Despite appearances, I don’t like putting too much emphasis on authorial considerations. Still, there’s one last germane question: intent. Boston is quick to poke fun at the genres he borrows from. He often defies the reader’s expectations, as with his string of unconventional love scenes or his decision to realize Bigfoot not as a rugged, fearsome creature but a rather tame being suffering unrequited inter-species love and carrying a few extra pounds. Furthermore, Boston is a satirist who entitled his novel after Naked Came the Stranger, a book written as a stunt/critique in the 1970s. So there’s that most basic question of whether it’s all a put-on, the whole book being some kind of critical caricature. Personally, I think Boston’s ultimate goal is creation, not critique. There is vulnerability in writing so much that is sentimental and blushingly autobiographical, and you sense that he has a deep affection for his characters, one the reader will likely share.

Reincarnation: Variations on a Theme

The crux of this story is reincarnation, a fact that is readily apparent. Within the first chapter, there is a legend of the Mandrango (Indian version of the werewolf) arising again and again. Norton Fenberg realizes a rebirth of sorts when he changes his name to John Tuberski, and there is an overt mention of his belief in reincarnation. Indeed, the concept appears everywhere, as in a touching scene where the littlest Fenberg brother holds his breath until he passes out and worries he has died and returned as a different boy. Though an unconventional topic, Boston’s treatment of reincarnation is one of the places where he uses conventional narrative devices. Elaine’s past and future appear in dreams, and there is unexplained uneasiness around certain people that makes sense, suddenly, when these characters are revealed as reincarnated enemies.

The novel’s mythology is explained in Tuberski’s philosophical musings. “…People could come back as soft little babies. It gave them a chance to be loved and held. It allowed them time to rest up from the previous life’s heartbreak before they went at it all over again. It was a comforting private thought to Fenberg.” It’s the cherished second chance.

Eventually, we discover that things ended poorly the last go-round. Behan reminds Elaine, “It was up here, a century ago. […] Your husband Michael left you. Alone. Of course, that wasn’t his name then. It was all so perfect, except you were carrying his child, and I had to kill you for your infidelity and wait. Wait another hundred years.” This begs the question of why outcomes should differ when the players and intentions are the same. In the confrontation found in this book, it’s Michael and Elaine who prevail, not Behan. The change in outcome certainly doesn’t seem to stem from having learned anything in past lifetimes. Rather discouragingly, the same mistakes are repeated. Rather, Fenberg succeeds where once he failed because he has new allies—Tuberski and Sasquatch—and because of a little cosmic chaos in the form of Red Dog Rasmussen’s deus ex machina-tions. Like Tuberski’s business ventures and Elaine’s marriages, all the characters fail and fail again until that critical piece finally clicks into place.

Since this is a Claritan book club, it’s appropriate to close the discussion of reincarnation with an image that evokes how Clarita Valley—I mean Basin Valley—goes through the same motions again and again:
The Bugle ran a balanced menu of stories about sports, society highlights, traffic accidents, murders, births and weddings, maniacs (when they were available), fires, politics, and an interchangeable tired old photo of the captains of local industry shaking hands and grinning inanely while hunched over some new ground-breaking ceremony celebrating the cementing of some portion of Basin Valley which had not previously been cemented, […] blurbs on who looked nice at the prom, updates on recent heart attacks, baby and puppy pictures, and the annual feature on how the senior citizen mobile home park had once again been demolished by flash flood (the park was built in the wash.)”

How reassuring.

The Santa Clarita Valley bears more than a passing resemblance to Basin Valley. (A ground-breaking from 1998 and one of the more recent floods through Polynesian Mobile Home Park; see above quotation.)

Place in the Claritan Library & Final Words

Boston should have his own shelf where Naked Came the Sasquatch sits next to binders of clippings from favorite columns, with enough room to house the sequel that may or may not be coming. He kind of reached a bit in setting it up (lecherous vampire hag who leads a Dark Brotherhood focused on collecting the souls of Mitikitski and Tuberski) but I really hope he writes it. As one of the exceedingly few pieces of quality fiction to come from a local author—Mr. SCV himself—the book has a foundational role and warrants detailed explication by students pursuing advanced degrees in Contemporary Claritan Literature.

I have more questions and comments about Hav-a-tampa cigars, long-term relationships with werewolves, Red Dog Rasmussen, the Pynchonesque and vaguely Russian names, the Magonogonovitch brothers, whether children really can run newspapers, prophetic dreams, Roulette Rozinitti’s breasts (“so big, giant herds of bison could thunder across one taking a week to pass”), the younger Fenberg brothers, “Arthur Mantooth, the legendary Indian trombone murderer”, the practical side of reincarnation, and the first bedroom scene involving Mike and Elaine, but we simply can’t get to everything. Suffice it to say I found this to be a very worthwhile book.

Book Club Selection for March

Up next is John Boessenecker’s Bandido: The Life and Times of Tiburcio Vasquez. Yes, that’s the Vasquez of Vasquez Rocks, the Vasquez who was a womanizing, lawless fugitive that called Santa Clarita home for a short spell. The IHSCV Book Club will discuss the man, the history, and how Santa Clarita influenced him (or vice versa). Read it by March 26.

[1]I've never met him, so all biographical details are drawn from what he reveals in his columns (i.e., a lot). For those curious about his original name, it was Walter Cieplik Jr.
[2]Called the Alliklik by Kroeber and the Tataviam by Harrington, these are the people who inhabited Santa Clarita prior to the Mission Period. Travis Hudson has
much to say about what to call them and their language.
[3]Here's a long, interesting article on Boston that came out shortly following the release of NCTS. It's from the LA Times.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Signal's Classless Stunt--UPDATED

UPDATE: The Signal will now consider awarding money to non-subscribers, too. Way to go.

It should read "Signal to lend someone else's money for our own gain"

Ian Lamont could make a cynic out of anybody.

The Signal announced that it will give away $500(!) every week(!!) to local, deserving individuals and organizations (!!!).

Lamont introduced the exciting plan today[1].

"Five hundred cash. $500 moolah, dough, spondulicks, greenbacks, bread, bucks, smackers. Whatever word you like to use, that is the amount (on average) The Signal will be giving away every week for the next 52 weeks.

"Why? We are in a recession. While the SCV economy has been better than most markets, there are still plenty of folks who are struggling, who are being challenged, who are stressed out and beat down.

"So why not give away on average $500 every week, provide some good news, and put some smiles on the faces of people who could use them?"

How munificent our hometown paper is! They’re looking out for the struggling, the challenged, the “stressed out and beat down” by giving away $500 a week for a whole year.

Two catches. First, it’s not their money they’re giving out. By the fourth paragraph, Lamont gets around to mentioning this fact. He describes a generous couple who wrote a check for $25,000. They wish to remain anonymous and asked that The Signal take charge of finding worthy recipients and distributing the money. Lamont, who likes using “most” as an adverb, described the donation as “most generous,” the arrangement as “most unusual,” and the couple as “most interesting and wonderful.”

Apparently, they were inspired by a Midwestern paper where the luckless could write for advice and small donations from a local philanthropist, Harold. Lamont provides a for-instance:

“To the single mother who needed a few hundred dollars more for the
deposit on an apartment in a better part of town where her kids would be safer,
Harold would wish her well — and write a check to make her dream come true.”

This story could come true in Santa Clarita, too, but only if that single mother was a Signal subscriber. That’s the second catch. Nominators and recipients must both be subscribers to The Signal, having paid their subscription for the past 90 days or being prepaid for the next 90 days. Yup, that mom who wants to move her kids to a better part of town would have to be getting The Signal every day or she’d still be stuck.

If The Signal was fronting the money (they said they’ll contribute some--no amount given), I would have no problem with this stipulation. It would be a clever marketing ploy that’s doing a lot of incidental good. But it’s not their money. It was that wonderful couple’s money, and it seems unlikely they would want to see their gift restricted to deserving Signal subscribers rather than deserving Claritans in general.

It becomes altogether too much when Lamont waxes idealistic:

“My hope is the fund, in helping SCV individuals or organizations in need, will prompt others to action, either by doing a good deed for someone in need or sending a check to the fund so more people can be helped. Doing so provides an endless loop of goodwill, generosity and smiles that will honor the couple who got it all going.”

As long as you’re a subscriber paid-up for 90 days.

It's easy to be generous on somebody else's dime, especially when you get a lot of the credit and it benefits your company financially. The Signal hasn’t started this program yet, so let us hope they will show some class, decency, and humility by being generous to the whole community with that couple’s money, not using it to so forcibly leverage more subscriptions.

[1]Read all about the plan here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happenings: City as Patron, Senior Center, "Defensive Measures"

Councilmember Frank Ferry started tonight’s City Council meeting by championing the SCV Senior Center; the night ended with two seniors alleging persistent abuse at the hands of a Senior Center worker[1]. Lying between these bookends was a meeting that included Redevelopment Agency scrambling, acquisition of more open space, and grant disbursement to local non-profits.

Of course, none of this could happen before the obligatory awards and recognitions. “This is a really good one!” beamed Mayor Marsha McLean, a smile apparent in her voice. She described how City Manager Ken Pulskamp was recently honored with the Wes McClure Award from the League of California Cities. McLean described Pulskamp’s many achievements, such as seeing Santa Clarita through 11 federally-declared disasters. “Thank you for everything you do…this is truly well deserved,” she said. After the spiel, Pulskamp strode about five yards northwest of where he usually sits to pose for a picture (that’s going on the wall!) and say a few words. “It’s really not about me,” he protested with a gracious smile. Pulskamp may have detractors, but all the people running the show seem to be fans.

Next, Duane Harte came to the podium to tell the City Council about the goals of the Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Commission that he chairs. They included vague but affirmative plans to get more people active and outdoors. There were a few interesting specifics: look for opportunities for a community center on the east side of the City (tempered with a “perhaps”), work on the master plan for the Pioneer Oil Refinery historical site, and investigate using 10% of the City's open space as "active parkland." Hmmm-ing about the last bit? Recall that the Open Space Preservation District allowed for 10% of acquired land to be used for “improved active parkland.[2]” This year, we may find out what the City has in mind when it comes to the provision.

Councilmember reports followed and were of the usual sort—events for worthwhile causes were advertised and remarkable local groups were commended. Mayor McLean asked that everyone visit for a survey about the library changes soon to be thrust upon residents. Questions include “Are county-run libraries awful or really awful?” and “Will LSSI make our libraries better, much better, or much, much better?”

The opening formalities concluded at 6:35, and it was onto the Consent Calendar. Some $2.85M in Redevelopment Agency funds will be transferred toward the development of low- and moderate-income housing. Cam Noltemeyer spoke on the item. She arrived a little late, showing her softer side in a terse summary of her tardiness: “I had a grandson playing baseball. They won.” She immediately returned to the matter at hand and asked why there wasn’t more discussion of such a significant action. “No discussion? No telling the community what you’re doing?” she demanded, stating that this was an obvious ploy to avoid loss of redevelopment funds that Governor Brown wants to use for other purposes. Pulskamp offered no apologies. He called the plans “defensive measures so we can keep our money.” Of course, “keeping our money” entails diverting funds from education and other services that people still collect, but it’s more convenient to frame it as an us vs. them.

Also on the agenda was an item to expand parking at the Newhall Metrolink Station. Some projects less mundane than parking lots were also funded. Mayor Pro-tem Laurie Ender worked with Councilmember Laurene Weste to divide $80,000 in grants for community service. “This is desperation time for a lot of our non-profits,” she said. Funded projects include outreach for the Domestic Violence Center, stall mats for therapy horses, a community garden at the COC campus in Canyon Country, and a skip loader for maintenance of the Gibbon Conservation Center. Most of the other funding went to groups looking to improve or update their websites, which led Ender to propose the worthwhile idea of a “non-profit technological assistance group” that would pair local students with organizations requiring help with their Internet presence.

Another batch of grants--$40,000—went to support the arts including local ballet, theater, and a summer music camp. TimBen Boydston thanked the City for their support.

There was less enthusiasm for artistic expression in the form of campaign signs. The second reading and adoption of an ordinance to regulate temporary, non-commercial signs occurred, though not before Alan Ferdman weighed in. He asked the question he posed two weeks ago regarding the discrepancies in the legal opinions of former City Attorney Carl Newton and current City Attorney Joe Montes. Newton said that signs oughtn’t be regulated as doing so would infringe upon free speech, whereas Montes opined that regulation wasn’t a problem. “What changed? What is the new opinion?” wondered Ferdman. Montes explained that campaign signs weren’t being singled out but simply regulated as any other non-commercial sign. That was the extent of his opinion, one I found rather unsatisfying. Then again, I’m no legal scholar; if I was, I might have found his opinion immensely unsatisfying.

Councilmember Bob Kellar asked if large signs—e.g., billboards—could be rented for campaigns or whether that would violate the ordinance. Montes was taken aback for a small moment but decided that, in the case mentioned by Kellar, political signs would be regulated like any other commercial sign. So political signs will be regulated as non-commercial signs except when they are commercial signs. Indeed.

In sum, the Consent Calendar passed with the recommended actions.

Under New Business, the City received results of an independent audit that found all was well within Santa Clarita's financial statements.

The City Council also voted to preserve 90 acres of land in Wildwood Canyon, near Elsmere Canyon, the Santa Clarita Woodlands, and smaller open space parcels. It was apparently appraised at $1.8M, but the City is getting it for a total cost of around $500,000. Grand, meaningful purchases in the western reaches of the valley are still lacking.

Finally, it was time for Public Participation. A handful of members of the Democratic Club of SCV (or maybe that handful comprises all their members—I don’t really know) spoke about various matters. Maybe it was a field trip. Their desires included more time to review OVOV, investigating the Whitaker-Bermite clean-up, and publicly adopting a pro-peace statement.

The City has been stopping outdoor sign twirlers, which prompted comments by those who work in outdoor advertising. A college kid said that it had been a great way to earn money he needed in his present financial difficulties. The woman who owned the company—I didn’t catch her name—said in the same vein that “We just want a chance to bring jobs here.” She said her “human directionals” (the people who hold arrows pointing to new homes, etc.) should be allowed since Little Caesar’s and We Buy Gold are still out twirling signs. Pulskamp would have none of it, citing concerns over “safety”, that most-fetishized and abused of ideals.

Luis Lovato and Carmelita McClaine claim to have been abused, assaulted, demeaned, etc. at the SCV Senior Center. He hinted at taking his grievances to infamous Attorney-Harpy Gloria Allred if the matter couldn't be resolved in-house. (I think he thinks they'd think he was serious.) She, on the other hand, is looking to have a volunteer arrested.

The most interesting comments of the night came from two individuals who claim to have been abused and/or assaulted at the SCV Senior Center[3]. Luis Lovato came forward as a victim of individuals who wouldn’t let him just get a meal and take a seat, which is all he wanted to do. He admitted no wrongdoing whatsoever, giving no reason as to why people would behave so rudely towards him. This made his story difficult to swallow. Carmelita McClaine said that a woman at the center was pushing her around both physically and verbally. “I’m not taking it anymore, I want you to know that,” she said, continuing, “It is a mess. Believe me, it is.” She encouraged undercover investigations to reveal what really goes on at the Senior Center. I have no reason to believe nor disbelieve her, but at least relative to Lovato, she was more sympathetic.

The meeting ended just after 8:00.

[1]For those who'd like to verify what I'm writing, here is the agenda--or an elaborately constructed hoax of an agenda designed as the means to devious ends. Who can tell?
[2]Here's the open space stuff
[3]The Signal introduces Luis and Carmelita.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Happenings: Smaller Signs, Empty Awards, NAFF Called Out

Tonight, the image broadcast from SCVTV seemed larger and sharper than usual[1]. It was more than sufficient inspiration for taking unflattering screenshots of the council, but I can’t come up with even one flimsy excuse for posting them. Sigh.

After Laurene Weste recited Gene Autry’s "Cowboy Code" for the invocation, it was time for some awards. “Our city staff is often recognized for the hard work they do,” explained Mayor Marsha McLean.

Take the “Achievement of Excellence in Procurement” award. It came with a handsome mini-obelisk trophy, widely regarded as the monument most befitting the procuring professional. And how exactly does a procurer obtain such recognition and such a mini-obelisk? A visit to the National Purchasing Institute’s website suggests it isn’t too difficult. Santa Clarita was one of over 150 cities, states, and counties to win the exact same distinction—excellence in procurement[2]. There was a questionnaire that asked cities to “self-score” their use of best practices followed by a $400 application fee followed by review from two members of an evaluation committee followed by congratulations awarded to the dozens and dozens of winners. The City’s department is no doubt great, but is such an award…meaningful?

Comments from the City Council followed. Councilmember Frank Ferry offered a reminder of the upcoming open house with Lewis and Shapell Operating Corporations. These are the fellas the City would like to partner with for development of the Whitaker-Bermite property. Councilmember Bob Kellar restricted his comments to football: “What a great Super Bowl Sunday!” Councilmember Laurene Weste, meanwhile, remarked on a very successful Charlie Chaplin Festival.

Mayor McLean had the most to say, as usual, and her comments included some advice about dishwashing. She said that many concerned residents have told her about a white film that has started to appear on their dishes. McLean reassured Claritans that there hasn’t been a change in the water supply; it’s a change in dishwashing detergent formulations that is at fault. Phosphate-free detergent is here to stay in California—it’s good for the environment but bad for a crystal-clear finish. McLean advised people to use vinegar to help fight film on their plates and glasses. She said that for households like hers, where doing dishes is a common chore, gallon-size jugs make an economical choice. With luck, these household tips may become a regular feature at CC meetings.

McLean also gave updates about high-speed rail and the special election for the State Senate, 17th District. This is the one where Darren Parker is scheduled to lose to Sharon Runner amidst protestations of irrationally optimistic dems.

On the Consent Calendar were a number of familiar items. The massage ordinance was officially adopted after its second reading. Santa Clarita’s prostitutes will not have to obtain certification from the California Massage Therapy Council before servicing men in seedy establishments. (The same certification will also be required for legitimate masseuses.) There are more restrictions on where auto dealers can set up shop, and there will be a change in the retirement system for newly hired employees.

It was Item 6, however, that drew the most concerned comment. “Randy the Pond Guy” (last name Runyon, I think) was worried about the City’s plan to install LEDs in more traffic signals. He held up a little LED flashlight and said that the brilliant light may not only blind people temporarily but also permanently. (This made his shining of an LED flashlight at the City Council seem a little reckless.) “I think it’s blinding our community” he announced, encouraging further research before LEDs are unleashed on Claritan retinas. “LEDs are brighter…and that brightness can blind you.”

Randy distrusts LED lighting.

In response, Mayor McLean asked City Manager Ken Pulskamp about the availability of studies on the safety of LED traffic lights, which are used throughout the country. “Do you think there’s information out there?” she queried. Pulskamp was “not sure” but promised that staff would investigate.

Ultimately, all items on the Consent Calendar were approved with the recommended action.

There was a public hearing about temporary non-commercial signs. Campaign signs are a notable member of this category, and they’ll be appearing once City Council campaigning begins in earnest all too soon. City Attorney Joe Montes detailed limitations to the size and placement of signs: maximum 32 square-feet sign size with mandatory removal within ten days of the event being advertised. Signs cannot be placed in the public right-of-way, as usual. To encourage compliance, he said that staff will remove any improperly sized or placed signs and charge $50 to get all of the signs back. If the owner of the signs sets them out illegally again, there is a $100 fine to get back each sign. A third violation means paying $200 to get back each sign.

The City Council liked the plan. Alan Ferdman did not. He recalled that former City Attorney Carl Newton had advised that campaign signs are free speech and ought not be regulated. Ferdman asked, saucily, “Do campaign signs no longer represent free speech?” This was a troubling point. Just as we Catholics accept the Pope's infallibility, so too has the City Council accepted the infallibility of Newton’s opinions. Were they willfully ignoring Newton tonight, or did their actions imply that Newton can make mistakes? Yikes.
TimBen Boydston was also distressed by the limitations placed on signage. He described how Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean had displayed very large signs during a campaign when staff told him he could not display signs of the same size. He worried that signs were being regulated as a means of squashing opponents and called it an “anti-democratic ordinance.”

Frank Ferry brought up some worthwhile points about the sign fines. “Who’s gonna collect your signs at $100 a pop?” he asked, “You’re not reclaiming anything for $100.” Ferry explained that the fines were too high relative to the cost of printing new signs, so he expects no one will actually pay to get seized signs back. Marsha McLean talked about accidentally displaying a sign that strayed a couple of inches into the public right-of-way. She asked for a little bit of leniency before signs are seized, essentially suggesting addition of a leeway-for-one-sign-that’s-maybe-a-little-bit-within-the-public-right-of-way clause. Seriously. “They’ll get the message” promised Kellar, who trusted staff to use their good judgment.

Finally, the City Council voted to hold some “high interest topic” study sessions in the Council Chambers so that they can be televised and recorded. This is cheaper than installing cameras in the Century Room, which Pulskamp said would run $180,000. The LED man came back up during the comment period and argued that one can produce decent video with less than $180,000 in equipment.

There was some discussion about how taping all study sessions might help prevent the spread of misleading information. Frank Ferry brought up NotaFerryFan (he makes YouTube videos that show the City Council in a skeptical, less than favorable light) and called him a “unanimous” (he meant “anonymous”) video editor whose critical work kept Ferry on his best behavior. McLean felt that having videos of all meetings would allow the truth to prevail, but Mayor Pro-tem Laurie Ender said “Mr. Reynolds doesn’t need the truth to do his videos.” This made NotaFerryFan not so “unanimous” anymore (though his identity was revealed on SCVTalk long ago[3]). Ender, who is generally portrayed as a puppet of Ferry by NAFF, doesn’t seem to be a fan of the videos.

In the end it was decided that the important meetings will take place before cameras in the Council Chambers, thought what constitutes an important/high interest session remains to be seen.

During Public Participation, a man from Newhall complained that he cannot add on a bathroom to his Newhall home because codes demand the whole home be raised and redone or kept entirely the same. Weste explained this is to comply with FEMA, and seemed sympathetic to the man. The meeting ended around 7:30.

[2]Many excellent procurers out there
[3]If you read this you obviously read SCVTalk and probably know about NickelDime’s whole “outing” of NotaFerryFan.