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 santaclaritalibrary.com 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.


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