Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Happenings: Hasley Hills, Suffrage, Contingency

It was a quiet evening[1].

Mayor Marsha McLean began the City Council meeting by speaking about wounded servicemen and an organization—Tempered Steel—that tries to bring the wounded and their stories to the broader public. She addressed a mostly empty chamber and Mayor Pro-Tem Laurie Ender’s empty chair (she was with her son for a national volleyball competition).

Councilmember updates were of the generic sort. Councilmember Laurene Weste reminded the women in the audience to consider turning out for the Fourth of July Parade celebrating the Centennial of Women’s Right to Vote in California. After a proclamation in observance of the centennial, McLean roared meekly, “Yay women everywhere!” “And thank you all the gentlemen who voted for us!” added Weste, who I think has undergone a gradual mental transformation wherein she now sees herself as a suffragette.

The City received a couple of presentations next. First, Darren Hernandez introduced the six librarians that will be managing the libraries for LSSI starting in July. Trotting them out was an absurd, indulgent exercise for Hernandez, who is apparently trying to make up for his earlier incompetence by demonstrating that he can manage floor tile situations (see last meeting and the $300K contingency expenditure this meeting) and basic introductions.

Next, there was a presentation on air quality. It seems fine particulates are the new ozone, and they are being targeted through a variety of programs wherein individuals, government agencies, or businesses can trade in the old for the new. It’s old lawnmowers for quiet electric ones, gas guzzling vehicles out for natural gas powered cars or electric vehicles, and so on. These programs are being actively used or evaluated by the City.

At 6:53, the Consent Calendar was discussed. The City adopted a small grant to support golf’s equivalent of T-ball—a sports program that will teach the young how to golf, an ability that remains annoyingly mandatory for those with a Y-chromosome. There was a second reading of an ordinance to adjust animal keeping/breeding fees. $297,000 from the Contingency Account was dedicated to repairs at the Canyon Country Library, and McLean will serve on the Santa Clarita Library Board of Trustees (a technical reappointment that one man protested, saying that McLean “voted to destroy the library book by book by book,” and that “we do not want you anywhere near the libraries,”—a little dramatic, I know). And the next City Council will officially receive a 10% raise (Kellar dissenting on this item).

Roger Ludwig of Hasley Hills expressed his hope that the City wouldn’t withdraw their annexation application from LAFCO. Ferry made this suggestion at the last meeting, noting that tens of thousands of residents will be added to the City through existing annexations, and that it wasn’t necessary to push through more contentious annexations, like Hasley Hills. Bob Kellar sympathized with those who had worked hard to initiate the annexation process, calling it “downright painful” to have to put a stop to their efforts because of certain, obnoxious power players fighting the annexation (not his exact words). The City Council approved of the withdrawal excepting Mayor McLean, who abstained from voting.

A 2% assessment on hotels to fund the Tourism Marketing District passed easily, and nine parcels were added to the City’s streetlight maintenance district.

There was no Public Participation this evening; a silent end to an uneventful meeting.

[1]Here is the agenda.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Happenings: OVOV Accepted; 10 Cats per House; District Woes

One Valley One Vision had its night. The recent revelation that a well was closed due to ammonium perchlorate contamination did little to dampen the enthusiasm of City planners and councilmembers for the immense planning project, now at the end of its ten-year realization. Councilmember Weste was “in the other room” for the OVOV discussion and other portions of the meeting; decisions in the Placerita Canyon area affect her financially, so she abstained from participation. Alan Cameron’s bizarre exchange about the City creating a policy that would kill thousands of dogs fulfilled the evening’s crazy quota. And per requirements for typical 2011 CC meetings, there was continued micro-management of the libraries. Attention was lavished on a mom who wants books for her twins (now!!!), and Darren Hernandez delivered a dissertation on library carpet tiles.

Mayor Pro-tem Laurie Ender offered an invocation relating to volunteerism. She likes it. Ender said that 23,000 hours of volunteering at an estimated value of $21 per hour meant that City events have benefited from about $500K worth of volunteer assistance. I remember jumping through these volunteering hoops when applying for college. It was heartening that Ender did not overtly promote volunteering for LSSI as I thought she surely would. Instead, she cited a study that said two hours per week of volunteering leads to tangible health benefits, and she encouraged more of it.

There was the flag salute, after which Mayor McLean said “Happy Flag Day, everyone. Yay.”

City Attorney Joe Montes intervened at this point, clarifying an item on the agenda that related to pet ownership laws. Staff had mistakenly reduced the number of cats and dogs that a household was permitted to keep, but he clarified that even with the proposed changes in fees and licenseing requirement, people can still have up to four dogs and ten cats. The cat ladies purred with delight.

In one of the stranger installations of awards and recognitions, Santa Clarita’s Sergeant Hargraves was recognized “for adoption of abandoned horse,” in the words of the agenda. He encouraged animal adoption in general. Then, The Signal and her makers were recognized for receiving awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association in a variety of categories. Apparently, there were 170 papers competing for various awards and The Signal performed very well, making me fear for the quality of papers elsewhere in California. It was all smiles and friendly quips and laughs as TMS’s staff came up for a photo with the City Council. The City and The Signal: they’re besties.

Michael Millar came forward to give an unfortunately thorough progress report on the Arts Commission. I hardly think these twice-yearly updates are necessary, so I napped. He spoke so long that when I woke up, I found him still talking about art displays and projects and grants and involvement in the Arts & Economic Prosperity study and who knows what else?—the arts are being supported, we get it.

During updates, Councilmember Frank Ferry spoke about annexations. He said that the City has been busily bringing many neighborhoods into the fold and suggested slowing down when it came to the west side of town. Ferry requested that a future agenda include an item to withdraw from the annexation process in certain areas so that staff could work more closely with “west side neighbors.” Ender described a lobbying trip to Sacramento where she expressed support for enterprise zones. She said that she wasn’t optimistic that the zones would be able to offer the same benefits they currently afford businesses. Ender also reacted to the freshly proposed political districts mapped out for Santa Clarita. She was quite quotable, saying the committee members “weren’t even close to what they said they were going to do,” and that the congressional district includes “the craziest line you’ve ever seen […] somebody got crazy with the crayon.” This was in reference to the inclusion of a small piece of Newhall with a much larger chunk of the San Fernando Valley. “They didn’t realize there’s a complete mountain range separating our valley from the San Fernando Valley,” remarked Mayor McLean, “Our city needs to remain whole.” Weste is looking forward to have women lead the Fourth of July Parade that, this year, celebrates women’s suffrage. Weste put on a period plum hat and invited Claritan women to get their own suffragette costumes and help lead the parade. Comments concluded with McLean, who showed off new library card designs. She picked an “open space” themed card that doubles as a bookmark.

To waste some time, Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez came forward to speak about closure of the Canyon Country Library. He offered explicit details on a moisture problem in the community room, describing carpet floor tiles and how their corners can curl up; detailing the process of collecting and analyzing core samples to help identify the extent of the moisture in the room; and speculating about potential sources of floor dampness. It was profoundly useful.

On the Consent Calendar, most items passed as recommended, including the final acceptance of the 2011-12 operating budget and a resolution of intent to establish a Tourism Marketing District. Hotels will pay a 2% assessment on guests that will generate an estimated $400K annually for marketing and promotion of Santa Clarita as a tourist destination. Not all items passed unanimously, however. Ender and Kellar both voted “no” when it came to the second reading of a proposed pay raise for the next City Council. The other members disagreed, and pushed the 10% raise through.

On the item regarding pet ownership licensing fees and penalties, Alan Ferdman, Berta Gonzalez-Harper, Diane Trautman, and Allan Cameron were all pleased that they could still keep four dogs. Each had planned to protest the printed reduction is allowable dog numbers from four to three, but had been mollified by the statement that it was just an error, and four dogs were still allowed. Only Allan Cameron insisted on taking the better part of his comment period to express his relief. Apparently, he had sent out a “dog killing” email to a number of people, suggesting that reducing the number of pets allotted per household was tantamount to killing dogs, as more would have to be euthanized at animal shelters. Ender found the email particularly “upsetting.” She asked that he send out a correction email, but he said he would only do so if Ender sent special notifications of animal-keeping ordinance updates to various facilities with a vested interest. He called it a counter-offer and grinned as he delivered it.

People get worked up about animals, but the real discontent was reserved for the discussion of One Valley One Vision. (Though there was perhaps not as much as may have been expected.)

I won’t provide an extensive detail of the plan and EIR, as I gave these details during my updates on Planning Commission meetings this year and last (search “planning OVOV” if you want to read these). Jason Smisko went through a presentation of the now very familiar OVOV plan. He said the family of pertinent documents comprised the Final EIR, General Plan, Land Use Maps, and Entitlement and CEQA Resolutions. “This has been 10 years in the making,” he began. Smisko noted that the plan laid out 840 goals, and that half of the page count (8,000) was devoted to environmental concerns. Preemptive, defensive statements punctuated his summary (e.g., “It’s not an entitlement,” and an emphasis that they weren’t mandating this development). Concepts like walkability and a valley of villages were touted. In short, it’s a plan for a more densely populated Santa Clarita Valley (up to 483,000 people) with everything (jobs, shops, recreation, transit) closer and more accessible. Theoretically.

Paul Brotzman came up to address the “water issue.” He correctly anticipated that speakers would be emphasizing their concerns about overall water availability, which the plan assumed would be adequate, in light of perchlorate contamination. That is, the Valencia Water Company announced that it closed a well in 2010 because ammonium perchlorate was found[2]. Brotzman argued that “There is definitely adequate water,” because “that perchlorate issue will not affect the water supply issue we’re looking at.” He called it an issue of treatment, not availability, and noted that pumping the contaminated water would help prevent the plume from spreading. How reassuring.

Public comments came next. Mitch Glaser of LA County’s Department of Regional Planning spoke first. He said that the Santa Clarita and LA plans were virtually identical in the various major aspects. Terri Crain gave the plan the blessing of the Chamber of Commerce. With these endorsements, what else was needed? But protests followed. Carole Lutness asked why the City hadn’t said anything about the perchlorate-related well closure last year. She assumed they had known about it and that withholding the information “smacks of possible collusion with Newhall Land Lennar”, which, she claimed, “would stand to gain if this information was kept from the public.” Later, City Manager Ken Pulskamp said he was informed by the Valencia Water Company General Manager, Keith Abercrombie, on the same day of the recent press release. (That’s pretty shady.) Lutness worried that the spread of the plume of contaminated groundwater might cause supplies to dwindle, and spoke about her own thyroid removal and concerns for the health and safety of her granddaughter. Diane Trautman addressed a major complaint that most of the comparisons presented in OVOV were between projections under the existing and new general plan, not comparing on-the-ground conditions with future projections. Most everyone—whether environmentalists or homeowners in Placerita Canyon or those who just hate sitting in traffic said that they wanted more time to review the documents.

The City responded, via Paul Brotzman.

Public Point : Brotzman’s Counterpoint

*No comparison to existing conditions: Originally a “correct” complaint, but he said they added some comparisons after the Attorney General directed them to
*Traffic woes: The new general plan improves traffic conditions, but again, relative to the old plan—Brotzman was promising improvements to traffic conditions that had not yet been realized in actuality, which isn’t terribly useful
*F-rated road intersections: Argued that it would be prohibitive to widen roads to avoid rush hour gridlock, so gridlock at some major intersections is a simple eventuality
*Population growth too fast: Brotzman only addressed growth within the City, ignoring the central notion that Santa Clarita be treated as a whole. He said there might be a climb from 180K to 225K in 50 years at current growth rates, but again, that’s within City boundaries and uses average growth since the late 80s to project future growth. It was a rather annoying answer.
*People not pleased with how he responds to their questions: “We think we’ve done a good job bringing this into balance,” and people are always going to complain.
*Removal of bike lanes for wider roads or development: Said they “placed an emphasis on expanding bicycle use and we have incorporated the non-motorized vehicle plan,” but didn’t argue that some bike lanes will be lost as others are gained.
*Alan Ferdman’s point that increasing population while reducing greenhouse gas emissions seemed like goals at odds with one another: not addressed

Dan Masnada came forward to speak more about perchlorate concerns. He led off by talking about perchlorate present at 5-12 parts per billion in the contaminated well, and how a part per billion is a very small quantity. Smiling, he showed that if the distance to the moon was broken into billionths, one ppb would be about a foot. This was a condescending and utterly stupid way to start the discussion. We detect things at parts per billion because they concern us at parts per billion (botulinum toxin is lethal if ingested at one part per trillion parts body mass). Talking about how small a unit of measurement just isn’t useful. Masnada affirmed that there were the resources to treat effected water and suggested speakers were over-stating concerns about how serious a problem it was.

Finally, a suit from Impact Sciences said they answered responses to their EIR at the same level of specificity or generality in which they were asked. This was to address concerns that responses weren’t to the questions actually asked by residents.

The City Council liked OVOV. Speakers were critiqued for having not been more involved from the beginning (though many were), misunderstanding some issues (deliberately or otherwise), and not trusting the experts. Mayor McLean called the General Plan a “living document,” by which she likely meant that they will ignore it as they wish, like they do with the existing plan and frequent exemptions or exceptions to it. So it passed with Laurene Weste sitting out the vote. I’m not sure why she had to sit out when the document, by its very nature, affects all of the councilmembers, but she does have the most at stake.

Next up was a discussion of the Compass Blueprint Concept Plan for the area of Newhall along Railroad Avenue, including areas in West Newhall and near the Masters College. Placerita homeowners were not pleased at the plan, which proposed far more development than they thought their community could sustain and new traffic patterns they thought might lead to problems. “We’re gonna disrupt your little corner of heaven,” Sandra Cattell said (her pronouns referring to what the City was essentially saying to residents). She said she would prefer a school/park combination and expressed fears about traffic and creeping medium-high density mixed-use developments. Others noted that Weste stood to gain financially from the acceptance of the concept plan (she sat this vote out, too).

“We’ve tried to create a concept where we’re discouraging traffic from penetrating further into the Placerita Canyon area,” countered Paul Brotzman. Mayor McLean actually hounded him a little bit about whether he had made sufficient efforts to reach out to homeowners. But ultimately, since the plan was designed to guide rather than mandate, it was yessed through.

Next, Ferry gushed over Susan Shapiro, saying she was the best of many outstanding candidates for a seat on the Arts Committee. She got it.

During Public Participation, Scott Wilk explained that he didn’t like the Gorman to Malibu proposed State Senate District for Santa Clarita, and he said that his group will be presenting an alternative map. Wilk said that Claritans need to make more noise and try to keep Santa Clarita whole and within compact political districts. Susan Huffman, the mother of 7-year-old twins, spoke next. She said “The timing couldn’t be worse” with regard to the closure of public libraries for the LSSI takeover. The mother was at a loss for what to do without access to books for her daughers’ summer reading. Cam Noltemeyer was more exasperated than usual, saying “Your arrogance is infuriating” to the City Council, having not effected change to the outcome of OVOV.

Huffman got immediate attention. In an unusually interactive exchange, there were two back-and-forth with McLean, Ender, and the bookless mother about how they could get her kids something to read before the libraries re-open in July. There were suggestions for Parkmobile conversions or elementary school libraries opening, but Pulskamp said the practical solution was just to go to county-run libraries in Agua Dulce or Castaic. This didn't sit well with the mother or the Mayor.

The City Council was looking for more responses to public comments, but Frank Ferry walked out of the meeting at 10:54, saying “C’mon Mayor, adjourn us” as he strutted to the door. Official adjournment came a minute later.

[1] Agenda
[2] Here's an article from TMS