Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happenings: Smart Meter Scares, Open Space, and a Plaque

The two biggest points of contention at tonight’s City Council Meeting were not agendized: (1)A local advisory committee felt ignored and disrespected, and (2)The mayor expressed serious concern over the impending installation of smart meters by Southern California Edison.[1]

The meeting began, as usual, with an invocation. “Thursday’s Thanksgiving,” revealed Councilmember Bob Kellar, who then gave a brief overview of the religious, familial, and political implications of the observance.

After the flag salute, the City Council applauded seven awards from the International Festival and Events Association. They included recognition for excellent events for children, stellar event websites, and even a bronze for the “Best Pin or Button” category (Cowboy Festival, in case you were wondering. I still have mine—it‘s a fine pin).

When each member of the City Council had a chance to share updates, Councilmember Ferry passed. Mayor Pro-Tem Laurie Ender spoke about Thanksgiving dinner at the community center; over 600 people came. She also highlighted Santa Clarita Public Library’s support of book clubs, and she expressed her delight that a number of students from Valencia High School were attending the City Council meeting for class. Councilmember Bob Kellar lauded the annual Festival of Trees, benefiting the Boys & Girls Club. Councilmember Laurene Weste reflected on the death of Alan Mootnick, the man who ran the Gibbon Conservation Center in Saugus.

Mayor Marsha McLean focused her comments on the installation of smart meters throughout Santa Clarita. Southern California Edison is adding the electricity-monitoring devices in the valley beginning this month. They're "smart" because they can transmit electricity usage information remotely. McLean expressed some anxiety over what installation means for people on life support equipment, since power is briefly disrupted to install the device. She also mentioned concerns about the safety and security of transmitting information about energy use. McLean encouraged residents to visit the SCE website or call their hotline if they wished to be put on a delay list out of concern over power disruption, radio wave emissions, etc. Her main issue was a lack of earlier notification of installation, and Councilmember Weste was sympathetic to her concerns[2].

The Consent Calendar wasn’t very substantial. Two items improved traffic signals and safety on Carnegie/Barcotta as well as Seco Canyon Frontage Road.

Another item recommended purchasing about 18-acres in Placerita Canyon to set aside as open space. Including fees and improvements, the price tag was $90,000. Cam Noltemeyer said of the property “It’s probably worthless in this market,” citing personal concerns over contamination from oil and the Whittaker-Bermite site. Jim Farley, who maintains that the assessment funding open space acquisition is improper/illegal, said that he thought the acquisition would be of limited benefit to the community. Rather than contributing to a green belt around the city, he said the property merely provided a site for Placerita Canyon horse owners to go trail-riding.

Finally, per the requirements of the Maddy Act, the last item presented a list of local appointments to various commissions, committees, and boards. Staff recommended it be made available in local libraries for review. Cam Noltemeyer saw the list as a reminder that term limits might be useful (some appointments have been in place since the 90s).

A motion to take the recommended actions for the six Consent Calendar items was seconded and passed with a unanimous vote.

During Public Participation, Anna Frutos Sanchez, representing SoCal Edison, was eager to set the record straight about smart meters. She said that she was there to share information and correct the rumors (it was reminiscent of how the CC addresses purportedly misinformed citizens). “Given the technological changes it is understandable that some people may have questions,” she said. However, she asserted that the smart meters raised no privacy concerns, had been tested for safety, and were no cause for alarm. Mayor McLean thanked Sanchez for her message, but closed the topic by re-stating the number to delay installation of a smart meter at one’s home. It was clear that McLean had not been convinced.

Pam Hogan, of Veterans Memorial Committee, Inc., spoke about a subject that clearly upset her. A pedestal/plaque was recently added to the Veterans Historical Plaza. It honors State Senator Pete Knight, an accomplished Air Force vet who helped secure funding for the plaza before his death in 2004. The trouble was, Hogan and other members of the Veterans Memorial Committee didn’t want the plaque. As summarized in an agenda item from August of this year, “SCV Veterans Memorial, Inc. considered the proposal, and prefers that the recognition for Senator Knight be consistent with the recognition for Assemblyman Runner, as both gentlemen were pivotal in securing funding for the purchase of the property that became the Plaza.[3] In other words, they wanted Knight’s name on the donor wall, not on a special plaque. Hogan and her husband, a Vietnam vet,felt that the City Council had seriously disrespected them by ignoring their opinion on the plaque. I’m not clear on why the recognition was so contested and the cause for so much offense (comment if you know), but you can read the old agenda item for more information[3].

Before the meeting adjourned, Laurie Ender turned to Frank Ferry and reminded him that he came very close to death due to surgical complications this time last year (she used different words, obviously). “Of the many things I’m thankful for, a year later, you’re still here,” she told Frank.

Happy Thanksgiving.

[1]Here's a very small agenda

[2]Common questions about smart meters, answered

[3]Here's the item

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happenings: Cam Takes a Stand, Pulskampery Ensues

They got their voting stickers: did you?

Our City Council, august and meticulous as it is, sometimes appears to just rubber-stamp staff recommendations. Despite the fact that millions of budget dollars, tens of thousands of people, and hundreds of acres of land were affected by this evening’s Consent Calendar[1,2], no one on the City Council had anything to say except Mayor Marsha McLean, who made a brief remark about permeable pavement. The lack of discussion was of concern to beloved/maligned local activist Cam Noltemeyer—a concern she made apparent with her unique brand of civic theatrics.

Rather little happened before the Consent Calendar portion of the meeting. The invocation was Councilmember Frank Ferry’s. He read a nice prayer in honor of Veterans Day. The sole presentation came from Southern California Edison/Edison International. It was a proclamation detailing SoCal Edison's greatness and its appreciation that Santa Clarita does business with such a great company. Handshakes and pictures followed.

Mayor McLean asked if there were any items that public speakers wanted pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion. The City Clerk rattled off a list that may have been longer than McLean had expected. The Mayor’s visage and voice sank ever so slightly as she accepted the stack of speaker cards with a drawled “OoooK.”

Public comments on various items followed. By public comments, I mean comments by Cam Noltemeyer. She decided to take a stand against hasty agenda approval this evening by forcing attention on several items for at least her three minutes of allotted speaking time. Lynne Plambeck would assist in this endeavor.

First up was a $60,000/year recurring advertising campaign on behalf of local auto-dealers, part of the “shop local” program. In case you didn't know, local purchases generate local tax revenue that is spent--you guessed it--locally. Here, it was Noltemeyer versus Fleming. (I issued a FlemWatch Alert on Friday; I hope you took heed.) Noltemeyer pointed out that $50,000 was given to Hart Baseball at the last meeting, but it was contingent on delivering concrete results (i.e., specific numbers of hotel rooms had to be booked for baseball tournaments). She wanted to know why the auto dealers weren’t being compelled to deliver similarly concrete results.[3]

In support of the advertising plan was Don Fleming of Valencia Acura, as if you didn’t know. He said a lot of words about partnering and community and trying to do a billion dollars in sales on auto row.

It was satisfying to hear City Manager Ken Pulskamp directly respond to a public question on this matter. Cam had asked “Where are the goals that they’re required to meet?” When it was his turn to respond, Pulskamp replied “There’s a very clear goal: explain to the public the benefits of shopping locally.” OK, so the actual content of the reply wasn’t particularly satisfying, but you take what you can get. He went on to claim that for the $60K investment, the City makes back “$3,822,000 and some change.” Obviously, this is baloney. The total amount of tax revenue from auto dealers is about $3.8M for the year. Unless everyone who bought a car in Santa Clarita did so because of the annual $60K shop local advertising campaign, that’s a grossly inflated figure for return-on-investment.

More items on the Consent Calendar slowly ticked by, marked by Noltemeyer's approach and retreat from the microphone. In many instances, it was the principle of an item—rather than the specific item itself—that was cause for concern. Regarding a plan to reimburse a developer for road construction, Noltemeyer expressed her dismay that taxpayer dollars are used to help build roads and bridges that will make the Mission Village development feasible. “Lennar should have paid for it”, she said. (The item in question was unrelated—a road construction reimbursement going to Williams Homes for work on Sierra Highway.)

When it came to the question of whether to purchase land for a park-and-ride, Lynne Plambeck was pleased with the idea of promoting the use of public transportation, but she wasn’t keen on the location. The proposed site comprises 6.4 acres of oak savannah by McBean and Valencia Boulevard for a price of $1.2M. Plambeck suggested a multi-story structure could be installed closer to the mall in order to keep a remnant of valley oak savannah from being paved over. She also wondered about the status of CEQA planning and compliance for the project, since it will be destroying a small but significant chunk of wilderness. The next speaker was a man who works at Boeing. He was wholly supportive of the park-and-ride. He described the difficulties of finding a parking lot that can accommodate the vehicles from his daily 14-person vanpool. He pointed out that the proposed site was rather ideal in that it would be safe and convenient, located near both transit facilities and the freeway.

City Manager Ken Pulskamp’s response proved unsatisfying from an ecological perspective. First, he deigned not to respond to a direct question about CEQA. Regarding the chopping down of three stately Valley Oaks, he said that it was three oaks cut and 87 oak saplings planted for “a net gain of 84 oaks.” .” Technically, he’s right. But then, so too would be someone who claimed that chucking a trio of Picassos for 87 Thomas Kinkades would be a net gain of 84 paintings.[4]

Public Participation followed the City Council’s unanimous, discussion-less approval of the Consent Calendar. It served as a forum for an elderly man to convey the need for a local police department. More focused comments came from Doris and Kent Carlson. They complained about filming companies getting carte blanche with their filming permits. Kent Carlson related an incident where he was bothered by extremely bright filming lights at night. He said that he spoke to a deputy from the Sheriff’s Department (paid $802 for the night by the film company, Carlson claimed) who was dismissive and told him to move along when he asked to see the filming company’s permit and asked questions about permit enforcement. Pulskamp asserted that filming is an important and valued industry in Santa Clarita, but that they work to be mindful of homeowner needs as well.

The meeting ended at 7:20.

[1]Here's the agenda.
2]No, those numbers are not employed rhetorically. Millions of dollars: land purchases, road projects, and so on add up to millions of dollars for tonight's various items. Tens of thousands of people: land purchases and tax-dollar expenditures affect all residents directly or indirectly. Hundreds of acres of land: zoning and annexation for 540 acres in Sand Canyon for pre-zoning/annexation.
[3]Furthermore, the Hart money came only from a special tax on hotels. When Cam went to return to her seat, the Mayor said she should stay up front since she had turned in a number of speaker cards and would be at the microphone again soon.
Noltemeyer kept walking, which caused Mayor McLean to say “Well we’ll start your time from when you walk up.” When Noltemeyer returned, she would snap back by saying “Don’t yell at people when they come here.”
Pulskamp’s style of answering questions will be immediately familiar to anyone who has watched the Republican debates or interviews with legislators or White House briefings—he responds like a politician. Questions are met with over-simplified statements and generalizations, and he simply doesn’t answer the ones he doesn’t like.