Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Happenings: Budget, Ball Game, Trashed

Tonight, we saw the juxtaposition of small town and growing city[1]. The Council rearranged the agenda so Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin could run off to coach his son’s baseball game while, moments later, approving an operating budget of $160M—more than the GDP of the Republic of Kiribati. Nearly all matters before the City Council this evening involved big expenditures and the raising of fees that help support such spending: $8M to acquire library properties and materials (well, all materials except the historically unique ones, which the County may well retain), $3M to buy new property for the open space initiative, $2.2M for a roundabout in Newhall as part of the 2011-12 operating budget, and $50K for artwork to adorn said roundabout.

After Councilmember Bob Kellar delivered an invocation encouraging the meaningful observance of Memorial Day, the agenda switcheroo occurred. Ferry was able to get Striplin’s big presentation on purchasing libraries facilities and materials moved before everything else on the agenda so that he could make his kid’s playoff baseball game. I thought it was nice he wanted to support his son, but why didn't they just formally arrange the agenda in a way that allowed him to leave without making such a to-do? About $5.5M was required to obtain the libraries themselves and another $2M for most of the materials.

Cam Noltemeyer and Lynne Plambeck were none too pleased to have such an important matter moved from the end of the meeting to the beginning. They said that people who had planned to speak on the item would miss their chance, having not anticipated the need to arrive so early. (In all fairness, this maneuver just saved speakers the trouble of voicing their concerns to a Council that is largely disinterested in them.) Plambeck called the impromptu revision of the agenda “a slap in the face, once again,” and was concerned about the rising costs of the library takeover, predicting “it’s going to be fifty-million dollars by the time you get done with it!” On the Council, discussion mostly revolved around historically significant and locally meaningful volumes, contributions by Claritans like Randy Wicks and A.B. Perkins. When Councilmember Laurene Weste asked Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez about what would happen to these cherished pieces of Claritan culture, he said that—as far as he knew—the significant volumes/collections were not part of the materials the City was buying. The County had the right to retain them, he explained, and might house them at the new Stevenson Ranch Library now in planning. Once the item passed, Striplin ran off to his game. Ferry, who can’t abide a City Council meeting without texting his way through it, would later reveal that Striplin had texted him the winning score of eleven to one.

Awards and recognitions came next for the Lions Club (Thanksgiving dinner for seniors for 32 years), Deputy Shoemaker (Every 15 Minutes Program), and the Castaic Lake Water Agency (congratulating the City on saving 600 acre-feet of water per year by using weather-based irrigation.

Councilmember reports and updates came next. Ferry, who apparently hadn’t been given a Henry Mayo press release to read this month, praised community gardens and safe grad nights. Mayor Pro-tem Laurie Ender recounted the Relay for Life event this weekend. Participants raised about half of a million dollars for cancer research. Mayor McLean announced a service that will save bees swarming in your yard or attic, collecting them and moving them to a new location. She also announced a few open houses on climate change that will be sponsored by the City.

The Consent Calendar was approved without remark. And indeed, it was unremarkable with a provision to replace traffic lights with LEDs, a vote of support for a bill protecting desert lands in California, and a contract for cleaning bus stops.

A number of public hearings followed. The Council reviewed the 2011-12 Annual Operating Budget. Some $160M in revenue will support City services and operations, with the biggest chunks going to public safety and parks and recreation. There is a far more detailed breakdown in the agenda[2]. Alan Ferdman was unhappy that the public was given only three days to review it and three minutes to speak about such a large budget. Still, it was accepted.

The next public hearings increased fees collected by the City, levied special district assessments, and were profoundly boring. There was a ritualistic back and forth twixt the Mayor and Clerk, a chanting of prescribed phrases followed by rote responses that sanctify the collection of more money this year than last.

Not helping matters, an impossibly long discussion of trash was next on the agenda. After negotiations over terms of franchise extensions, Burrtec and Waste Management were afforded a 2.64% rate increase and a number of “extraordinary rate increases” ranging from 1.5-2.5% that can be looked forward to in the coming years. The City Council highlighted the perks of the agreement, however, such as Santa Clarita’s enviable position as the lowest-paying service area in North Los Angeles County and a 20% discount for those who will trade in their 96-gallon bins for 35-gallon bins. Literally every detail of the agreement was discussed by Robert Newman. In the end, the rate increase and other franchise extension conditions were approved.

Councilmember Kellar’s long-awaited discussion of a Public Safety Committee finally took place. Kellar dominated this discussion, but Ender chimed in to make sure that the committee would take a very broad view of public safety, consulting with the Fire Deparment and even public works (safe bridges, anyone?) in addition to the Sheriff’s Department. Others agreed, and the Committee was formed with Mayor McLean and Bob Kellar as its first members.

The matter of councilmember compensation was next. Having not raised their salaries in years, the City Council (except Bob Kellar and Laurie Ender) voted to increase the salaries enjoyed by the next sitting City Council. That is, they gave themselves a raise that was a bit confusing—Ferry said 5% raise applied twice, which isn’t the same as a 10% raise, which others seemed to equate it with. So who knows? Shockingly, Cam Noltemeyer was against this action. She said that the generous benefits given to the CC were at odds with their cost-cutting values. She said “drop ‘em” of their health and other benefits. But they did not.

Finally, a 526 acres in Haskell Canyon will be purchased for $3.1M. It’s close to existing communities and will help curtail northward expansion, it was explained, and all City Councilmembers were happy to make the purchase.

Public Participation included only Cam Noltemeyer, who wanted to know who was benefitting from the open space acquisition (i.e., off-loading undesirable land for a good price).


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Happenings: A Little Support

Tonight’s City Council meeting was Ferryless[1]. Mayor Marsha McLean began the meeting by assuring concerned Claritans that he was fine—i.e., not suffering ill health—in reference to his absence following severe surgical complications this past winter. Because of his absence, it was decided that discussion of the new Public Safety Committee would be delayed until the next meeting. This left an agenda comprising symbolic votes of support and rather more concrete increases in levied assessments. And then there was concrete support ($200,000) for the Economic Development Corporation that takes mostly symbolic actions, so it was a rather symmetrical evening, in the end.

During the Awards and Recognitions phase of the evening (that’s the come-get-yer-photo-taken-with-the-mayor! Section), the College of the Canyons Ice Hockey Team was recognized first. They won the Division 3 National Championship, apparently the only team of more than 400 to go undefeated. Next, Sandy Fischer received an award for her work on and initiating the Arts Commission, a post she had to leave unexpectedly soon due to medical reasons. Fischer took her acceptance speech as an opportunity to express not only gratitude, but also specific recommendations for providing continued funding to the commission. It was a bit long, and McLean seemed a bit less than enthused that this was the direction she took. Finally, Gail Ortiz, officially Communications Manager, unofficially High Priestess of Propaganda, was recognized for receiving the CAPIO Lifetime Achievement Award. (That’s California Association of Public Information Officials). Mayor McLean noted her focus on civic engagement and building relationships for the past 21 years in Santa Clarita. Ironically, Ortiz chose to remain uncommunicative following the award, taking a photo and walking quietly back to her usual post, sans speech. The City Council expressed their admiration of Gail. Mayor McLean said she admired her for being able to “take what we each wish to say and make sure we say it correctly!” Something tells me that statement wasn’t passed by Gail.

Next were councilmember updates and reports. Mayor Pro-tem Laurie Ender talked about Santa Clarita’s upcoming cupcake wars, today’s rather depressing version of panem et circenses. People will wander the streets with other people who, shockingly, also enjoy individually-sized portions of dessert items. More interestingly, Ender gave an update on redistricting and decided that another letter was needed to strongly encourage the preservation of Santa Clarita in one voting district. It’s become more apparent that no other cities want to join Santa Clarita, so it’s hard to decide where district lines should be drawn in this area of Southern California. Ender warbled a rather horrific metaphor: “Cut the baby here, cut the baby there.” Councilmember Bob Kellar congratulated man and woman of the year Harry Bell (Elks, Rotary). He made a reminder about the Memorial Day program at Eternal Valley.

On the Agenda, the City voted to support and oppose various pieces of State and Federal legislation. Support went to Senator Barbara Boxer’s bill to resolve Santa Clarita’s twelve-year old battle with CEMEX over mining in eastern Santa Clarita. Congressman Buck McKeon has failed every year he introduced a bill to similar effect, but Michael Murphy laid out a plan for this bill (hearing in July, after which it is incorporated into an omnibus natural resources bill) that gave an illusory sense that it might just work this time around. Or it could just become another of Boxer’s long string of accomplishing nothing on the Senate. The City Council chose to oppose a State bill that would let citizens vote before their libraries changed from public to private operation. This came at least partly response to the debate over library management that has played out so gracelessly in Santa Clarita. The usual public library supporters said it was only fair that the people express their views on such an important matter, throwing around the phrase “right to vote” rather a lot, while Berta Gonzalez-Harper said that the bill would protect unions, not the public. There was also support lent to extending the California Film and Television Tax Credit Program, which obviously benefits Santa Clarita. In all cases, no one beyond Santa Clarita will take notice of Santa Clarita’s positions on these matters.

In terms of taking money in, the City Council approved an increase in the Open Space Assessment of $1.50, bringing the total to $29 per parcel. Various other assessments were also levied and adjusted.

And in terms of spending money, the City Council could not resist throwing another $200,000 at the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation. This group performs services that are, at best, redundant—Santa Clarita has no shortage of support for local business. Bill Kennedy could offer very few examples of what the SCVEDC has actually done apart from expanding the enterprise zone, an action that may well prove meaningless given Governor Brown’s push to eliminate these zones. Otherwise, the SCVEDC has held meetings, the odd conference, and made a website. It’s an immensely worthwhile cause for public support.

Finally, in terms of concrete actions (literally), there were some road adjustment plans. The ever unwelcome lobbyist Hunt Braly said that one of his clients would be adversely affected by a traffic change in Newhall that would affect the Burger King business there. He said he wanted the City Council to continue the item, as his client was vacationing in Alaska and hadn’t been reached. Yes, I’m totally serious. Braly said that he had spoken with staff on the issue earlier. Refreshingly, Braly got no special treatment, as City Manager Ken Pulskamp had said that the City had extended three letters and two phone calls to the client since June 2010 regarding changes that might affect his business.

Finally, there was a bit of streamlining in terms of Santa Clarita’s committees, some of which are out-dated or unnecessary.

The meeting ended at 7:55 with just one comment under public participation, TimBen Boydston’s praise for Newhall having turned a corner and being on the road to full realization.

[1]Agenda here