Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Happenings: Library Tax Avoided, Vista Canyon Embraced

This evening’s meeting began with Councilmember Laurene, who was clad head-to-toe in Weste-ern garb[1]. She can hardly wait for the Cowboy Festival (to be fair, neither can I) and read Johnny Cash’s prayerful “Oh, Bury Me Not” for the invocation: “I've never lived where churches grow/ I loved Creation better as it stood/ That day You finished it so long ago/ And looked upon Your work and called it good.”

Next, Mayor McLean moved onto the Consent Calendar. This first visitation of the Consent Calendar is just to determine which items need discussion, but she had Dave Lutness come up to speak on Item 10 for the heck of it (he wants checks to be published online for review; they will be). Perplexingly, the other CC speakers were reserved until later on in the meeting.

During Awards and Recognitions, the SCV Veterans Memorial Committee was applauded for their work honoring America’s heroes. They will hold a Memorial Day ceremony next month. Next, Grace Baptist Church members were recognized for assisting in neighborhood beautification and in Extreme Neighbor Makeover efforts. While Jesus focused more on the glory of basic charity--“For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Matthew 25:35)--Santa Claritans embrace the glory of more suburban charity: “For my lawn was unmowed and you sheared it down; my siding was weathered and you painted it beige; my yard was unkempt and you made it tidy.” I don’t mean to be the ludicrous sort of person who criticizes good acts for not being good enough--it’s just a shame that simple courtesies once extended by neighbors now require a concerted church-city effort.

Finally, Mayor Pro-tem Laurie Ender spoke about Autism Awareness Month. She drew attention to Santa Clarita’s Special Needs Registry, maintained by the City in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Department. Autistic persons can wear trackable bracelets so that law enforcement can reconnect them with their families should they go missing.

Councilmember Frank Ferry read from his obligatory HMNMH press release, highlighting the grand opening of the helipad. It rests atop the giant, oppressive parking structure painted in vile pastels. Ender sought support for the Relay for Life. Councilmember Bob Kellar promoted Memorial Day observation and reflection. Laurene Weste solicited help for Castaic Animal Shelter’s “Big Sunday” in May wherein they will try to get a lot of projects and improvements completed with community help. Then she floated ideas about regulating non-conforming uses (e.g., auto) in downtown Newhall using amortization ordinances—she really, really wants it to be an unbesmirched arts district and wants it now. Weste also suggested that staff “look into wind energy”. It was the vaguest of requests, but she drew comparisons to home solar units after Bob Kellar tried to get her to be a little more specific. So I *think* she wants staff to see if it’s feasible to encourage business or homeowners to implement small-scale wind energy projects? Perhaps she wants Santa Clarita to enter the electricity industry? Anyhow, Kellar used the topic as an opportunity to say that California needs “balance” between environmental regulations and promoting economic interests lest it become even harder to do “bih-ness” in the State. Finally, Mayor McLean spoke about chlorides. She said that she was able to request a meeting on the topic when Governor Brown visited last week, and she is already in communication with one of his staff members. She also gushed about a bi-coastal duet as part of CalArts’ Wild Beast Concert Series. A pianist in New York played music with the pianist in California, linked by some advanced Yamaha piano technology.

After these reports, the City Council returned to the Consent Calendar, which would be approved unaltered. There were some second readings to approve the pre-zones for the Norland Road/Robinson Ranch Area as well as Elsmere Canyon. Assemblyman Cameron Smyth’s bill to make for objective, state-wide chloride water standards was supported (despite the fact that it’s going nowhere because agricultural interests requested a couple of years of whining rights before the bill that might force them to be reasonable is discussed). And finally, there was some community support for a new MOU between the City and COC, allowing community access to the Performing Arts Center for another year for $70,000. Speakers requested that the City consider 5-year MOUs or contracts in the future.

Next, the City Council considered closing the public hearing for the development and annexation of the Vista Canyon area. Per the requests of Laurene Weste some weeks ago, the developer had agreed to many conditions of development, including widening the river corridor in some areas, decreasing the number of residential units, adding trails, eliminating parking next to the wildlife corridor, restoring the Mitchell Hill cemetery, etc. The usual chorus of project boosters spoke next, no one saying anything of use or interest. Anyone who has heard of the project by now also knows that Canyon Country feels neglected and that many of her residents want the new housing and jobs that are promised by this project. Following this was the chorus of naysayers, who repeated the usual stuff about needing to import half-a-million cubic yards of soil to build in the floodplain and the inadequacies of the EIR. One new statistic was brought up by TimBen Boydston, who said that this supposedly transit-oriented project only foresees 16% of its population using transit for commuting. The Council--minus Bob Kellar, who had to recuse himself due to business dealings--approved the recommended action for the item.

Next were a number of library-related issues. To summarize, Deputy City Manager announced that Santa Clarita has been successful in its bid to join the Southern California Library Collective (one "formality" awaits, he said). This will add access to another 29M items for Claritans. He also found that "levying and collecting the special library tax is not necessary." That is, the library tax that the City couldn't collect without putting a new tax measure on the ballot wasn't needed--Hernandez essentially boasted about not needing a tax that the City wasn't entitled to collect anyhow. He gave some budget projections over the coming years, and said that there will be operational "surpluses" (conventional wisdom dictates that you place any Hernandez promise in quotation marks) over the coming years so that the library fund can repay money it borrowed from the general fund in about a decade. Said Berta Gonzalez-Harper in light of the need for no special library tax: "Despite the critics, somebody is doing something right." Deanna Hanashiro, stalwart COLA Library defender, still lamented the LSSI transition. She said that contrary to City spin, none of the 13, full-time professional librarians who currently work in City of Santa Clarita libraries will remain come July 1. She did say she was glad that the City wouldn't be collecting the tax that it wasn't allowed to collect in the first place.

There was minimal discussion from City Council on any of the library issues, but Laurie Ender did thank Gonzalez-Harper and other members of the citizen library committee for enduring angry emails and comments from misinformed citizens who liked the libraries the way they were. Ender gave one of her trademark, critics-be-damned smiles and said "Another good piece of good news along the way."

Next, nearly $400,000 was approved for implementing an RFID system that will allow for quick inventory and check-out of library books at Santa Clarita libraries. The system allows a whole stack of books to be scanned at once, so long as they're within the general proximity of the RFID reader. This will be important for Santa Clarita to conduct efficient exchanges with the Inland Library Network. Valerie Thomas and others who have criticized the library takeover process wondered about this additional expense. Mayor McLean actually asked Darren Hernandez whether it had been a planned expense, and Hernandez took the typical path of obfuscating instead of illuminating: "This was not unanticipated." A little vague.

The final library item was appointing the City Council as the Library Board of Trustees. Speakers and even Councilmember Kellar wondered if there were others who were better qualified on library matters and whether independent voices might not be welcome. However, the City Council will take control for at least the first couple of years, it seems, though they will revisit the structure and openness of the Board to outside members a year from the date of the library takeover.

After a 5-minute break, there was a discussion of redistricting. As we know, Santa Clarita is not large enough to warrant its own representatives, so the City must band together with other, similar areas in order to ensure appropriate representation. Ferry and Ender, who comprise the Council Legislative Committee, had some recommendations. Their essential goal was keeping the Santa Clarita Valley undivided, but there was debate over whether it would be best to try and join communities in Western Ventura County (like Fillmore), the Antelope Valley, or the North San Fernando Valley. Each of these areas has its own interests as well, and the AV, for example, wishes to stay separate from most of Santa Clarita. Ender and Ferry's recommendation was to join with communities like Granada Hills, Northridge, and Chatsworth as well as other communities at the northern end of Los Angeles County. There wasn't meaningful resolution and a number of options seem acceptable so long as Santa Clarita was preserved intact and wasn't lumped with areas of LA that might have different or competing interests. Scott Wilk, who is probably more involved with these efforts than anyone else locally, advocated crossing county lines (against State wishes) to join similar communities in Ventura. In the end, it seems that advocating a holistic approach to redistricting the Santa Clarita area will be advocated.

During Public Participation, noted community volunteer Tom Haner came forward to say that "I got crippled by one of our Deputy Sheriffs." Though his account wasn't perfectly coherent, it seems he accused a deputy of pushing him around leaving lasting injuries (the event happened a couple of years ago), which he hesitated to bring up. Mayor McLean requested that someone speak with him. Last, Steven Petzold requested that the "In God We Trust" posted next to the City Seal have its quotation marks removed. He though they implied a certain irony, a "degree of disbelief or sarcasm." While I agree that they're unnecessary, I'm even more delighted that this was the first punctuation-driven comment I've seen at City Council. Hooray.

[1]Agenda, here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happenings: Public Safety, Public Nuisance

NOTE: Blogger isn't preserving my formatting into distinct paragraphs. I fear you'll have to wade through this one big block of text. I was a little late getting to tonight’s City Council meeting[1], but it seems they had a late start anyhow. I tuned in just in time to see an elementary school class getting its picture taken with the City Council; it seems the CC had been the focus of a letter-writing lesson. The class was there to see government in action, witnessing more government inaction instead, as is the norm for the start of these meetings. . After Mrs. Vasquez’s second-graders had their photo taken, new LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby was recognized and welcomed to the community. He said that Santa Clarita was the first of 58 cities served to invite him out—that’s just how Claritans roll. Chief Osby used the word “strategic” rather frequently, as in strategic plans to deal with budget cuts and Santa Clarita’s strategic place in the county. A number of firefighters joined him for the obligatory photo with the City Seal (the round, not flippery, sort). The second-grade kids and their parents took the shuffling about as a chance to flee the chamber. “Bam! They saw an opportunity and they bailed!” guffawed Councilmember Ferry, lustily, wondering whether the firemen would be savvy enough to do the same (they did). The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life was recognized next. A passionate speaker said that since its first year of participation, Santa Claritans have raised $4.3M for the cause. During councilmember reports, Ferry continued with his unofficial job in hospital PR. He read the news that Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital had been ranked 21st out of 138 hospitals in the Los Angeles region by US News & World Report[2]. Providence Holy Cross, the preferred choice of many Claritans, was 18th on the list. So, at least by USNWR standards, the hospitals are closely ranked. Mayor Pro-tem Laurie Ender talked about all of Santa Clarita’s trees in recognition of the City’s 21st consecutive “Tree City USA” award and the approach of the Earth Arbor Day celebration. This Saturday at Central Park, there will be 1000 free tress and 1000 free bags of mulch distributed. Councilmember Bob Kellar spoke about the funeral services for US Army Spc. Rudy Acosta, saying he had never been prouder of Santa Clarita than when he saw the massive show of support. Councilmember Laurene Weste gave an update on the community gardens. She said they have been very successful and that people are adding “amazing personal flair” with everything from stained glass to hummingbird feeders. She then read some basic facts on the Civil War (e.g., it changed America forever, has been known by many different names) that she thought were important to have on the record in light of the Battle of Fort Sumter being fought on April 12th, 1861--150 years ago today. Finally, Mayor McLean said that there will be a new Metrolink schedule implemented in May providing more trains for those commuting from the Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys to LA. She mentioned a drive-thru car wash at the Hyatt on April 17th to benefit Bryan Stow, the paramedic who was severely beaten after a Dodger Stadium baseball game. McLean also said that she was applying for a new library card in preparation for the library takeover by LSSI. “The application is extremely simple and very easy,” she said, redundantly. You can get your application at, where there are ungrammatical advertisements for the revamped libraries (they omit hyphens and have unorthodox capitalization). The Consent Calendar was approved without discussion. The only major item was the second reading and adoption of the ordinance to regulate mobile billboards. Two public hearings on annexations followed, the first for prezoning the area of Norland Road/Robinson Ranch, and the second for approving the annexation of Elsmere Canyon. McLean called the latter achievement “fantastically wonderful,” a sentiment with which we can all agree. If you’ll recall, there was an agenda item some weeks ago that pertained to landscaping some on-ramps and off-ramps—a $260,000 contract. An out-of-town company, Valley Crest Design, submitted a higher bid than a local company, Santa Clarita Landscape Development, but they were selected by staff on the basis of more experience. This led Bob Kellar and Laurie Ender to vote no on contracting with the out-of-towners while McLean and Weste voted in favor. Since Ferry was gone, City Attorney Joe Montes opined that the two votes were all that was needed to break the tie and award the contract to Valley Crest Design. The issue was revisited this evening. Curtis Nay, Assistant City Engineer, came forward with new information about how Valley Crest had scored a 92 on questions relating to qualifications, experience, and expertise whereas the local Santa Clarita Landscape Development, Inc. scored in the 60s. He added that, though located in Santa Ana, Valley Crest would likely use local sub-consultants and thus benefit local workers. It was the kind of information that could have averted the whole kerfuffle in the first place. Kellar thanked Nay for the update, and said he was now in agreement with staff’s choice of Valley Crest. There was one public speaker, Alan Ferdman. He recalled his reaction to the 2-2 vote on the initial measure, “I was astonished; a tie represents a majority—how can this be?” Based on official FAQs for city governments, Ferdman concluded that Montes was “misinformed” in his opinion on the number of votes needed for the ordinance. Montes countered that there wasn’t a specific code section for this type of ordinance, and the City would do well to clarify its policy on ties over such ordinances. Ferdman was rather dramatic when talking about the implications of the purportedly mistaken legal opinion, and this inspired a defensive response from the City Council. Bob Kellar said Ferdman had made an “unnecessary attack,” and McLean said “Some of those remarks from Mr. Ferdman were unwarranted…as usual,” with her usual eye-roll. In new business, the City Council discussed formation of a Public Safety Sub-Committee composed of two coulcilmembers who would meet regulalrly with Captain Paul Becker. It was Bob Kellar’s idea from back in January, and he thought monthly meetings would be a swell idae. I thought the plan would be enthusiastically embraced. However, the other members of the City Council seemed to be advocating a more reasonable position than Kellar. Unusual, I know. They reminded him that Becker had a lot of people to report to already: he spoke with Pulskamp almost daily, by Pulskamp’s account; there were County officials to answer to; and he already offered regular updates before the whole City Council. “I’m not sure there’s a need for it,” summarized McLean, who seemed to prefer updates delivered to the public and whole City Council. Kellar insisted that the sub-committee and monthly meetings were warranted, arguing that if the City has a vector control sub-committee, it should certainly have on devoted to public safety. (Apparently, there are about two-dozen sub-committees, and Ferry thought it was time to clean house and get defunct committees “off the books.”) Ultimately, staff will return with information on the parameters of such a sub-committee and what purposes or needs it would fill. During Public Participation, a speaker compared the City’s LSSI dealings with how the Democrats rammed healthcare reform through the US Congress against public opinion, an analogy that none of the City Council Republicans likely found very flattering. Scott Wilk asked the City Council to emphasize the need to be involved with California’s redistricting efforts. “Our population’s only large enough for about one-half of an assembly seat” said Wilk, and on Saturday, April 30th, there will be hearings in San Fernando that will shape our future representation. It’s a date cunningly set to coincide with the Cowboy Festival, when SCV power players will be preoccupied with Baxter Back and buffalo tri-tip. Valerie Thomas spoked next, and said that she wished the City would answer more questions about the LSSI library takeover. “Councilmembers, you are our elected representatives. Please represent us.” She said that they presently don’t, and “treat the public at best as nuisances.” Finally, David Gauny read aloud from City Council norms and procedures in response to McLean’s dig at Alan Ferdman. He found some gems, such as “Council will make the public feel welcome,” and “Council should not make snappy, sarcastic remarks.” Ken Pulskamp responded to the library by spouting the usual bullshit about extensive public outreach and involvement in the library takeover process. To be fair, there was extensive public participation—the City just didn’t act in a way that made it seem like they had been listening. Regarding Valerie Thomas’s perception of being thought of as a nuisance, Pulskamp said “I take offense at that.” He said he can’t always respond immediately to the hundred or so emails he receives every day, but does his best to address every question in a timely manner. Mayor McLean agreed that her words to Ferdman hadn’t been the best, but said “When we are constantly attacked, and things are taken out of context, […] we get a little frustrated.” She closed with a little mock martyrdom, saying “I should have sat here and listened to you berate us.” The meeting ended shortly before 8:00. [1]Here is the agenda. [2]US News rankings