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).


No comments: