Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happenings: Not Enough Garbage, Too Many Ballots

At tonight's City Council meeting, the members took a very hands-on approach to reducing competition for local businesses, contemplated landscape districts, and were warned about becoming party to a UN conspiracy to wrest sovereignty and freedom from the United States, one city at a time.

Best in the World

Of course, none of this could happen before the City Council took time for awards and recognitions. The Hart Pony Mustang Baseball Team defeated teams from Texas, Illinois, the Philippines, Mexico, and ultimately Puerto Rico to become Pony Mustang World Series champs. One of their coaches said that when he told other teams that they were from Santa Clarita, "They say, 'Wow, that's a great place.'" (Apparently the whole world hearts SCV). Next, Andrew Skinner and the Triumph Foundation were recognized for their service to people with spinal cord injuries.

Box Town

Councilmember updates followed the feel-good portion of the evening. Councilmember Bob Kellar had already mentioned the many wonderful programs held in recognition of 9/11 during his invocation (he specifically lauded Route 66, the Elks Lodge, a very impressive turnout at the Performing Arts Center, and a service at Northpark Community Church.) He suggested residents continue in the patriotic spirit by attending an upcoming Constitution Day Summit. Councilmember Laurene Weste reminded the audience about the website heroinkills.org; she said, with grave emphasis, "The high is a lie." Mayor Pro-tem Laurie Ender talked about an event where you can sleep in a cardboard refrigerator box city for a night to raise money for Family Promise[2], which helps homeless families in Santa Clarita. I have many fond memories of time spent in refrigerator boxes so, rather perversely, I look forward to this event with a mix of nostalgia and charity. If you want to send me donations to help reach the $100 fundraising goal for entry into Box City...nevermind, that would complicate our blogger-reader relationship; just send money to Family Promise directly. And Mayor Marsha McLean said, among other things, that children will have a chance to "read to a dog" at local libraries, a means of getting over the fear of reading aloud and public speaking. Sigh.

A Grand Conspiracy

The City considered joining the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC) as a step toward meeting its greenhouse gas reduction goals as mandated by AB 32. On the LARC Membership Charter is language regarding a United Nations goal of sustainability, and LARC counts among its members ICLEI--Local Governments for Sustainability (the retained but now defunct acronym stood for International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives). The reasons the City Council plans to join are simple: it may make meeting EIR demands for greenhouse gas reduction easier (this is relevant to big projects like One Valley One Vision), and the commitment to greenhouse gas reduction implied by membership would provide "leverage for grant funding," in the words of Mayor McLean. Basically, they pay to join an organization that makes them look green and thus more deserving of green grant money.

Though membership wouldn't place any requirements for action on the City, a few public speakers thought joining LARC was tantamount to treason. Ed Ventresca called it "seditious, if not treasonous behavior" to surrender power to the ICLEI/UN operatives planning to assume some measure of world control under the guise of greenhouse gas reduction. (I may be misstating the particulars as his tirade was a bit non-linear). The typically reasonable Alan Ferdman expressed similar concerns. While membership in LARC may be ineffective or unimportant or lame, it's hardly the end of the world it was made out to be, but Councilmember Kellar was sufficiently disturbed by public testimony that he had discussion of this item continued to the next meeting.

In another atypical moment for Ferdman, he would applaud the City. He was pleased that there were measures to make Santa Clarita safer for pedestrians and drivers. These included tonight's acceptance of intersection safety enhancements.

Not Enough Trash?--Ditch Free Market Ideals

In Santa Clarita, a temporary-bin and roll-off franchise began in 2006. Ten enterprises joined the franchise, eager to cart off and recycle trash. Membership declined to six enterprises in 2010, when franchise agreements were extended for another five years. But what about other waste-hauling companies that want to get in on the game? These include people like Tom Ybarra who spoke at tonight's meeting. He raises his family in Canyon Country, and he said that he and his wife want to work where they live, serving the waste disposal needs of the entertainment industry in Santa Clarita. No such luck.

City staff placed a request for proposals (RFP) in The Signal last month, and three enterprises sought to join the franchise. But the RFP will be terminated, and proposals for new franchise agreements not reviewed. You see, the six companies with existing franchise agreements were able to pressure the City into letting them enjoy their collective monopoly on temporary-bins and roll-offs for another several years. Speakers for nearly all of these franchise holders came forward to say there wasn't enough business, and they didn't want to face more competition. Of course, they phrased it by saying the City needs to support local business (hell, even the Chamber of Commerce showed up) and noted that they had diverted a lot of trash from landfills but, ultimately, they just didn't want anyone else competing with them.

It was surprising that Kellar and Ferry didn't offer a word of protest, instead lending this measure their full support. So companies that were around in 2006 got lucky--others will have to wait until at least 2015 when the City *might* let more haulers apply to work in Santa Clarita. Don't count me as surprised if the six current holders of franchise agreements donate to reelection campaigns.

Landscape Maintenance Districts--Part I

Reading this section is not for the faint of heart.

The City's plan for landscape maintenance assessments is, in a word, a mess. Even The Signal got it wrong in their story on the subject, conflating "districts" with "zones"[3]. And boy oh boy are those not synonymous. In any case, we should have a little background.

There are Landscape Districts 1 and T1, comprised of many different zones. Property owners in each zone vote on assessments that are scaled to and serve the landscaping needs of their zone. Votes are weighted by parcel size/property-type. But here's the weird part: since all the zones are in one district, if a majority of voters vote in favor of a body of rate adjustments, the various rate adjustments are made on all zones within the district. And here's the shady part: the vast majority of voting weight resides in the hands of residents in zones that will see a small reduction in their landscape maintenance assessment. Relatively little voting weight was held by Newhall residents, who will be paying new assessments. Assuming people vote for a measure that lowers their taxes and against a measure that raises their taxes, the assessment adjustments will pass for all, carried by the yes votes of people who stand to save a little money over their current assessment. We will find out how the votes went down once they are counted (it will take a couple days), and if there is a majority in favor of adjustments, the City Council will vote to accept them (or not). So, in a sense, tonight's discussions were either too late (to affect voters) or premature (complaining about a voting outcome not yet made official).

Councilmember Bob Kellar was understandably baffled by the situation. He asked why there couldn't be many districts instead of many zones, so that each local, geographic region could vote on their own landscaping maintenance assessments alone, and not on a sweeping, valley-wide plan. Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez and Assistant City manager Ken Striplin (City Manager Ken Pulskamp wasn't present this evening) tried to say that they kept one big district to streamline things for City staff, essentially. This was hardly a satisfying answer. Jim Farley was among the speakers opposed[4]. Though he stands to save $13.46 with assessment adjustments, he didn't think it was fair that his vote would be forcing a new assessment on Newhall residents. Of course, most voters didn't know about the convoluted and confusing voting structure, so the many will take their tiny assessment reduction while the few (i.e., Newhall Residents) start paying a lot more. Hernandez and Striplin peddled some bullshit about how they didn't know how the votes would turn out, which is insulting and disingenuous in about equal measures.

To make this even more of a cluster-you-know-what[5], City Attorney Joe Montes said that, "in an abundance of caution," Weste, McLean, and Ender ought not participate in this discussion or, ultimately, in approving the Engineer's Report to implement the adjustments (likely to be up for a vote at the end of September). They live in or near areas undergoing the district adjustment, so they might have a conflict of interest. Montes was emphatic about stressing that it was a "potential" conflict of interest only. But that left only Ferry and Kellar, and two votes aren't enough for accepting the changes. Therefore, envelopes were given to the female councilmembers, and Weste drew the one that will let her participate in and vote on this matter, so long as she states her potential conflicts up front and goes through some other basic protocols.

In short, all of this is being played out to Weste, Kellar, and Ferry alone, and Kellar's pretty frustrated by the whole thing (the other two are mum). Look for Part II come September 27th.

"The most obscene thing I have ever seen..."

During Public Participation, we heard another ICLEI guy speak, but the most relevant comments concerned chloride and its removal from water sent down the Santa Clara River. Cam Noltemeyer was outraged about plans to spend $21M on a facilities plan and EIR for a treatment center to reduce chlorides[6]. Councilmember Weste explained what had prompted the action. They had received a Notice of Violation for high chloride levels. Weste said the City couldn't stand to face a fine, which could be as high as $10 per gallon per day that water exceeds the acceptable chloride limits. And with 20-million gallons of water sent downstream per day, that would be a potential fine of $200M a day[7]. "The fining is the most obscene thing I have ever seen...the most egregious abuse of power...I resent it," declared Weste. Without saying it directly, it seemed like this design plan and EIR are being funded to buy some time to work out the chloride issues without paying more dearly in fines or outright embracing a plant costing hundreds of millions of dollars to build, let alone operate. Of course, if the plant is eventually required, the plans and EIR will come in handy.

The meeting ended at 8:13.

[1]Here is the agenda.
[2]Come to Box City.
[3]Here is The Signal's take, but if you read the agenda, it clearly says Newhall is a new zone, not district as the paper suggests.
[4]A relevant site.
[5]I don't know why I'm being so crude with the language tonight; apologies.
[6]Published at West Ranch Beacon.
[7]Surely that can't be right...can it? She certainly said it.