Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happenings: Cash for LSSI, Vista Canyon Approved

Most of this evening's speakers were against $1,348,000 in funding with which LSSI will acquire new materials, furniture, and marketing services leading up to their July takeover of local libraries. In addition to the 26 speakers[1], Lynne Plambeck offered over ten-thousand signatures opposing the library takeover. Berta Gonzalez-Harper was the only person present in support this evening, but Darren Hernandez assured us that focus groups were enthusiastic, and Laurie Ender said that "almost to a person" she has been told "I believe that you're doing the right thing" with regard to the libraries. Bob Kellar had the best line of the evening when he said of these purported, excited supporters: "They weren't excited enough to be here."

Tonight’s City Council Meeting was long—six hours, six minutes with two potty breaks[2]. It was dominated by discussion of the library takeover and the Vista Canyon development. The residents of Santa Clarita opposed the library because they were misinformed (acc. to D. Hernandez and F. Ferry), but they generally supported Vista Canyon, ostensibly because they were well informed. That’s how it works.

Mayor Marsha McLean delivered the invocation. She touched on the tragic death of Army Medic Rudy Acosta. He grew up in Santa Clarita before he was shot on March 19 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. McLean’s voice was raw with emotion as she asked us to observe a moment of silence.

Awards and recognitions were but one—Jim McCarthy, Councilmember Laurene Weste’s husband, won the LA County Star Award for his work as a “protector of our natural resources, advocate for trails and open space.” Weste said he was selected out of 88,000 employees. In addition to doing good environmental work, McCarthy sports some truly remarkable facial hair.

The councilmembers didn’t have much to say during their reports—they knew there was a big agenda ahead of them. Mayor McLean did mention the annual bus trip to Sacramento where she and others spoke with State legislators about issues near and dear to Santa Clarita, particularly redevelopment agencies.

With the exception of Item 11, the Consent Calendar was approved with little discussion. Alan Ferdman did mention concerns over sanitation district fees, wondering about impending increases and service to newly annexed areas. TimBen Boydston applauded a measure to regulate (i.e., ban) the mobile billboard advertising that has popped up around town.

Item 11 brought out Santa Clarita’s library devotees. The item appropriated funds for more books, furniture, and other goodies to make an impressive show once LSSI assumes operation of the libraries. What’s $1.4M for some positive PR? While virtually all speakers opposed the item, their opposition took one of two distinct forms. Some just expressed generic opposition to LSSI for all the well-known reasons--it was poorly vetted, there have been unforeseen costs, it will employ likely fewer highly-skilled librarians, etc. These folks asked that the City Council stay the contract with LSSI. After the first speaker suggested this, there was some applause. McLean overreacted ever so slightly: “If you break out into applause I will clear the room!” she threatened, “I am not going to accept any disrespect.” Speakers emphasized that opposition to LSSI had both “depth and breadth,” in the words of Lynne Plambeck. She said opposition included conservatives and tea partiers along with union liberals and SCOPE types. “That should REALLY worry you,” she said of the broad opposition. David Gauny stressed that it was ridiculous for the City to maintain its position that it was firmly in control and the public was suffering from misunderstandings and unfounded doubts: “I don’t think you [City Council] realize how many people are embarrassed for you.”

The more topical speakers addressed the particulars of the item on tonight's agenda. They noted that LSSI receives 5% of the money used to acquire new stuff and services, so it would be in their interest to overstate the need for new materials. Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez revealed that the need for new books was decided after a “qualitative analysis” of the collection. The quantitative analysis was reserved for the County, which confirmed that there were 287,000 items on the shelves of Claritan libraries.

The dauntless Berta Gonzalez-Harper comprised the pro-LSSI contingent. She highlighted the benefits of local control and asserted that “LSSI works for us, not the other way around.” She supported the item because a recent visit to the Canyon Country Library confirmed “those shelves are very, very sparsely filled.” All those who matter—City Staff and Council—agreed with Gonzalez, so she had all the company she needed.

Responses from Darren Hernandez and most of the City Council were predictably dismissive. Hernandez was unimpressed by the 10,004 signatures collected to support the LA County Library System over LSSI. “Obviously the items in the petition are either incorrect or misleading,” he said. The four items he contested can be viewed here, and briefly state that there have been (1) cost overruns; (2) a lack of transparency and rushed approval process; (3) loss of access to the LA County system; and (4) a lack of a Board of Trustees, which may have been necessary for the service contract. A judge threw out the lawsuit concerning the last item (i.e., the City was OK to proceed without a board), so that’s a fair thing to dismiss. But all the other points are true. The City never anticipated it would pay to complete the Canyon Country Library renovation. The project was rushed from beginning to end, and emails and meeting records reveal that the City had, essentially, a working relationship with LSSI before they were contracted. Hernandez insisted that the project hasn’t costing more than anticipated and that it has been a transparent process throughout. It's incomprehensible, but Darren will admit nothing has gone wrong. Were he a better actor, you might think he actually believed it.

Councilmember Bob Kellar offered some validation for those who had spoken in protest. He said that the City had no idea that they wouldn’t collect the special tax (the City Attorney is waiting to offer his next opinion on that matter until May 10th!), have to pay for Canyon Country renovations, or lose access to LA County’s collection—a situation that may or may not be rectified. He called BS on Hernandez’s promise that people are excited about the takeover: “They weren’t excited enough to be here.” Kellar would be the only dissenting vote on the plan.

Ferry made an unsuccessful bid to make it seem like everyone agreed about the libraries. “We are furious, as you are, when it comes to library services.” Who “you” refers to is uncertain, since no one has complained about inadequate library hours, service quality, or collections apart from City Staff pushing the takeover. Perhaps he was talking to them. Then Ferry lectured the audience on how annoying it has been for him to have to deal with even more ferocious public opposition on other projects like the hospital parking structures, Performing Arts Center, etc. that have been viewed as essential since construction. People just don’t seem to know what’s good for them. As a final treat, he offered condescending remarks to the opposition, such as “You were given bad information” and “There’s always fear of change.” Indeed, opponents are still being caricatured as poorly informed sticks in the mud.

There was a recess before discussion of the Vista Canyon project. The City Council was asked to consider approving the development. The same item also made provisions for annexing the newly developed area and other local areas, like Jakes Way and Fair Oaks Ranch. Jeff Hogan described Vista Canyon as a “transit-oriented neighborhood” on 185 acres. High-density housing and businesses are located in close proximity with the developer promising an “up to” 4:1 jobs:housing ratio. A proposed Metrolink station and bus transfer station would facilitate use of public transportation. The project proposes massive amounts of grading, importing some 500,000 cubic yards of soil in order to build up the floodplain (it’s located on the edge of the Santa Clara River).

Speakers generally approved of the plan, including a number of business men is suits who gave adulatory remarks about the project they’ll soon be selling. People were thrilled that Canyon Country was getting something big, master-planned, and new. 28 speakers expressed support with only 7 expressing some level of opposition. Shockingly, even Carole Lutness conceded “Vista Canyon in many ways is a very good project.” Noltemeyer and Plambeck noted that many of the planned amenities might not come to be, but it was clear the project would be approved (and it was).

Approval came with a number of conditions. They’re too numerous to list fully, but Councilmember Weste made several provisions to maximize the amount of open space, ensure a functional wildlife corridor, preserve the unique Mitchell Hill and Mitchell Family cemetery, and try to facilitate relocation of the Metrolink Station from Via Princessa to Vista Canyon. Laurie Ender did worry that the lighting Weste preferred—down-lit, so as to not disturb animals. “Crazyy séance stuff” will move from the cemetery to the park if it’s poorly lit, worried Ender. Sand Canyon and Lost Canyon Roads would also be linked with a turnabout, the City Council decided, after receiving a presentation on their superior safety and about how to drive through one.

These and other conditions were included as part of the approval. Jakes Way and other neighborhoods will be annexed alongside Vista Canyon, though Mayor McLean worried about the costs of patrolling Jakes Way with its potentially higher crime rate.

After approving an item about parking at Valencia Town Center, Mayor McLean suggested that the remaining two items on the agenda be continued to the next meeting. They concernced reevaluation of a landscaping contract and creating a public safety sub-committee.

With these items moved off the calendar, only Public Participation remained. Todd Hoover asked the City to reevaluate OVOV because the Attorney General had problems with the County’s plan, particularly air quality. Alan Ferdman touched on sanitation fees again, asking why they will serve newly annexed residents when the district loses money with every new user. The meeting ended shortly after midnight.

[1]David Gauny is the missing speaker of the 26; I missed a screenshot while jotting down his speech. I suppose you could also add Marsha, Frank, Laurie, and Laurene to the "In Support" column and Bob to the "Opposed" column.
[2]Neither potty break appears on the Agenda.


Don Ricketts said...

It is clear that absent a court order no number of petitions, rallies, etc., will deter the Council from the privatization of the libraries. It will now incur millions of dollars in indebtedness to buy libraries which we (as County citizens) already own. It will operate the libraries with roughly half the budget the county spent (some of which will be profit for LSSI) and argue that this will improve services. I have this bridge for sale . . .

The court’s decision on Monday dismissing the lawsuits that SOL and Ed Shain brought was on procedural, technical grounds and did clarify how the suits could be amended and proceed. The court, however, refused to allow amendment.

The court’s rulings can be appealed. However, it is likely that, given the reasons for the dismissal, a successful appeal would be difficult and would, in any event, not resolve the cases until well after July 1.

Although the way to a successful action has now been clarified, the dismissals would make it difficult for either SOL or Mr. Shain to file a new action. Such an action would have the best chance of success if brought by other persons or organizations. Given the unwillingness of anyone (but Ed Shain) to step up the first time around it seems unlikely that anyone will take up the baton now.

Hello, LSSI.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this great summary. I also like the picture. It says it all.

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