Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Only in SCV: Christmas, a time for counting Birds

It's time for me to make that perennial call to arms--or, rather, binoculars.  This Sunday, December 23rd, LA-area birders will meet at the Western Bagel by Valencia Blvd./Bouquet at 7am.  From there, they shall disperse to identify and count all the birds they can in the official Santa Clarita count circle.  The information they collect will be compiled by the National Audubon Society, made available online, and analyzed to look at local and nation-wide trends in bird populations. Birds are easy to observe, diverse, and respond rapidly to environmental changes, so they are a great indicator of what's going on in the environment at large.  And with over 130 counts in California and well over 1,000 counts nationwide drawing tens of thousands of volunteers, the Christmas Bird Count is an amazing example of "citizen science"--regular folks collecting data that is used to inform scientific research and policy. 

You'll note that I said LA-area birders will be meeting at Western Bagel, not Claritan birders.  That's because Santa Clarita is pitifully under-represented on its own bird count--at least the years I've gone.  It helps if you have binoculars and can identify birds, but there are plenty who join the count just to get out for a hike or to help more skilled bird-watchers find and navigate the hidden city parks of Claritadom, which may be harboring birds aplenty.  And when all the birds are counted, the counters assemble for lunch at Tacos y Burritos El Pato in Newhall--and you know how much your city council members want you to support small businesses in Newhall.  So if you've done your Christmas shopping, consider spending the morning of the 23rd doing something for the birds.  For more details, you can visit Audubon's website here:
and the page of the count organizer here:

Happy counting.  (Below, I've posted an example of some of the information that emerges from these counts.  Santa Clarita's quail numbers seem to be falling, while the familiar mockingbird holds steady, and exotic Eurasian Collared-Doves continue their invasion of California, growing quickly in numbers.  Dozens and dozens of other species of birds are showing their own unique trends.  What will this year reveal?)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Happenings: Good Ol' Kellar Leads Good Ol' Clarita

Despite the new mayor, new city manager, and new business at tonight’s council meeting, it’s still the same old Santa Clarita[1].  It wasn’t a long meeting.  Mayor Bob Kellar actually asked people to keep things brief since he had 150 people waiting for him at a restaurant (he prefaced this request with: “I know I’m being inappropriate…”).  It was an even shorter night for Councilmember Frank Ferry, who skedaddled at six, once he stepped down as mayor.  But Ferry didn’t miss much—just some budget tweaks, environmental issues, and mobile home discontentment.  Perhaps it's fitting that this last city council of 2012, this final meeting before the 25th Anniversary of Cityhood, can be summed up in five little words: what’s new is old again.

Exit Ferry, Stage Right

The change in council leadership began at 5pm, but I was a little late to the party.  I began watching in the midst of a long procession of people congratulating Ferry on his abbreviated stint as mayor.  Recall that if the April election had gone as usual, it would have been Mayor Laurie Ender everyone was wising well tonight.  Bob Kellar was voted to be the new mayor, and Laurene Weste was voted mayor pro tem.  Mayor Kellar promised that in 2013 he would, among other things, make it a “defining year” in the battle against Cemex mining, continue policies promoting economic development, and host some community meetings to reach out to Claritans in order to promote community involvement, unity and transparency. 

City Manager Ken Striplin, soon to be father of four, gave a short speech as well.  Now leading the crew at City Hall, he reflected on how they “truly are keepers of the good life.”  Striplin planned conservative fiscal management, more capital improvements, and the continuation of other generally Pulskampian policies.            

The Meeting Proper Begins

The change in leadership concluded with 20 minutes of restrained celebration.  At 6:18, the regularly scheduled city council meeting began with Councilmember Marsha McLean delivering the invocation.  She applauded Claritans’ giving, neighborly spirit, citing a recent story about one resident who helped replace the damaged roof on the home of a neighbor in need. 

There were no awards, presentations, or recognitions on the agenda (a very Merry Christmas, indeed!), so the meeting moved swiftly to round one of public participation.  Allan Cameron mentioned some big names from SCV history, paying tribute to the deceased members of the city formation committee as we approach Santa Clarita’s quadrancentennial (yes, that’s the right term—note the “n”).  A group of students from Safe Rides honored Mayor “Kelly” with a plaque.  Alan Ferdman spoke about inter-related water issues, providing an update on the chloride treatment challenges (late EIR, expenses keep rising, information not often readily available, etc.).  One gets the sense that Ferdman is justly frustrated people aren’t realizing what a big, expensive deal chloride treatment promises to be for Santa Claritans. 

Berta Gonzalez-Harper thanked and congratulated most everyone in Santa Clarita for jobs well done and jobs-to-be-well-done.  She gave a special shout-out to Councilmember Ferry, praising him for staying “cool, calm and collected throughout some very contentious meetings” during his term as mayor.

The final comment came from Ray Henry, who said that the City had acted in an “absolutely illegal” way when mobile home rents increased.  City Attorney Joe Montes, in a response to Henry, begged to differ.  He said that Santa Clarita’s mobile home rent control panel had the final word in this arena, and it had allowed the rent increases to go through in a legal manner.     

During updates from individual council members, McLean, Weste, and Boydston all discussed water issues.  McLean advised people to keep an eye out for a mailing that details a proposed tax increase.  Some $200M would be raised annually to treat stormwater runoff in the so-called “Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure,” proposed by the LA County Flood Control District.  McLean acknowledged that getting 50.1% of millions of mailer recipients to protest the measure, which she called double taxation (i.e., we already pay to treat stormwater), was all but impossible, but she made an appeal nonetheless.  There were also remarks about chloride and a longish discussion from Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste about how there has to be a “better way” than buying products with chemicals that enter the water supply, causing us to spend more money on treatment.
Master of Mosquitoes & Other Consent Items
On the consent calendar, Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked for discussion of an item concerning vector control.  He asked why a citizen doesn’t represent Santa Clarita for the Greater LA Vector Control District--currently, representation is provided by Robert Newman, Director of Public Works.  Boydston argued that Newman’s time would be better served on other City business, and he said this was an unrealized opportunity from some community member to get involved in government.  Boydston’s idea had problems.  First, the representative should have experience relevant to mosquito control and related issues.  The meetings are also held two hours away from Santa Clarita, and it would be likely that even if a citizen did serve as rep, he would need to consult with or attend with City staff.  McLean suggested that they could look for citizens qualified and interested in filling the role, but for now, everyone except Boydston voted to keep Newman as representative.  This, incidentally, was the item that prompted Mayor Kellar to ask Boydston (though not by name) to keep things brief as he had a celebration to get to.  While Kellar’s request was brusque, it was, perhaps, reasonable to wonder why Boydston spends his time and finite political capital taking stands on issues like vector control boards. 

On the matter of who’s allowed to sign City contracts, the Council decided to be slightly more conservative than staff proposed, limiting the signatories to the top-tier (city manager, assistant city manager, city attorney). 

The last contentious item was a revisitation of the decision last meeting to allow a property-owner to subdivide his land in Placerita Canyon.  Val Thomas said that a study on the hydrologic consequences of the division and land grading should be required, as increases in runoff could affect neighbors and the ability of emergency personnel to access certain properties during flood conditions.  City Manager Ken Striplin said that’s exactly what will be required—a drainage study to prove the construction will have no impact on other properties. 

Finally, the second reading and official adoption of historic preservation codes was continued to January, when Ferry would be present to vote. 

Mayor Kellar asked City Manager Striplin for a brief presentation on mid-fiscal-year budget adjustments.  Striplin joked that he would pare down his half-hour presentation for the anxious Kellar.  It seems that Santa Clarita is in good shape financially, but the City is still generating about 10.6% less revenue than it was at its peak some years ago.  A not insignificant surplus should still be realized this fiscal year.  Among the $2.5M in expenditure adjustments were over $100K to fight Cemex, $150K for dedicated patrolling of the Jake’s Way area, and $25K to prepare for hosting the Tour of California.  The adjustments were approved without discussion.

The second public participation segment featured Doug Fraser.  He was present, as usual, to register his grievances about mobile home rent increases and their legality.  He said that public record requests he’s been making for research have been taking longer than they should.

The meeting ended at 7:41, adjourned in memory of Rudy Cordova.  He was the last of his 17  siblings, part of a family that lived and worked land in Castaic.  They had to move their home for the Castaic Lake Reservoir, which swallowed up much of the cattle-ranching land the Cordovas had run since the 1800s. 
[1]The Agenda, which I know you require.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happenings: Pulskamp's Last Sit

For his last city council meeting, City Manager Ken Pulskamp could have done worse[1].  It was a tour de force of all the things he’ll miss(?) when he moves to his new post in Burbank.  Apart from a heartfelt sendoff and cake, this meeting had the vocal Placeritans, fierce ambivalence over property rights, Ferry inappropriateness, TimBen over-the-topness,  and rah-rah outlook he’s become so familiar with over the years.  There was real business, too—a parcel in Placerita and historic structures are out of limbo—but really, the story tonight was the end of the Pulskamp era.  

Big End, Big Names

After Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar’s invocation (military/angel-themed holiday tree goes for $7,250 at Festival of Trees benefitting B&G Club), there was a series of presentations.  First, out-going State Assemblyman Cameron Smyth was cheered for his terms in office.  Frank called the Smyths the Kennedys of Santa Clarita, and pointed out accomplishments like protection of Elsmere Canyon, advocating for film industry tax breaks, and supporting enterprise zones.  Councilmembers Marsha McLean and Laurene Weste heaped additional praise on Smyth, and Councilmember TimBen Boydston applauded his willingness to reach across the aisle in the legislature.  Smyth was presented with a key to the city, his second (“I have the key to the front door and the back door,” he joked).  His affection for Santa Clarita was clear in the speech that followed, which he concluded with recognition of City Manager Ken Pulskamp.  Smyth recalled hiring Pulskamp to be city manger, and he called it his best decision on the council where once he served.   

A Santa Clarita Sister City presentation came next.  There was discussion of the exchange between Santa Clarita and its sister cities of Tena, Ecuador and Sariaya, Phillipines.  Plans for the future include the 8th medical mission to Tena, starting a student ambassador program, and looking for a third sister City.  There was a Powwerpoint presentation that ended with the speaker moving to a slide of Ken Pulskamp’s supposed passport.  She acted surprised and wondered what it could be doing there before jumping into a series of Pulskamp's accomplishments with the sister city group framed in a travelogue.  Points for commitment to the acting were deserved.  Former Mayor Carl Boyer presented Pulskamp with a small globe for his leadership.

To cap things off, new City Manager Ken Striplin gave a short speech in continuation of what he declared “All Pulskamp, All Night, All Love.”  The speech was short, and I couldn’t discern whether Striplin was a bit choked up or simply tongue-tied during one lapse in oration.  He was sincere, regardless.  As a parting gift, he presented an oil painting of Beale’s Cut.  (A gap in some rocks may sound dull, but it was actually quite a nice piece).  Striplin embraced the symbolism, praising Pulskamp for having “created a pathway for Santa Clarita’s continuing success,” and said, “We’re going to miss you so very much.”

Comments from the council focused more on the man than his accomplishments.  Weste talked about his ability to stay calm no matter what, but recalled a particularly excited call from Pulskamp one day when, while hiking, he saw a bear (“Can the bear see you?” asked Weste; “Naw he’s meandering,” replied the undefended Pulskamp).  Kellar called it an honor to work with Pulskamp, but said, “It’s more of an honor to be a friend of his.”  Boydston and McLean remembered selecting Pulskamp for the city manager position—Boydston on a citizen committee, McLean on council.  The most personal words came from Mayor Ferry.  Ferry began, “You become extremely guarded, and your circle grows smaller,” reflecting on how his circle of friends has shrunk since taking positions of power (i.e., principal and mayor).  He counted Pulskamp as part of this circle, and remember seeing his “ugly mug” when he woke up from his coma (proof, Ferry joked, he was not in Heaven).  Pulskamp helped Ferry through his divorce, and he was there as a confidant.  Ferry promised more jokes, less “Kumbaya” at Pulskamp’s upcoming roast.

After some commissioners thanked Pulskamp for his work, the man-of-honor said a few words himself.   “It stops being a job and just starts being your life,” he said of his role as city manager, and he thanked the council and citizens of Santa Clarita for being so active and supportive of their community.  A break for cake was a fitting end to the saccharine—or, perhaps, bittersweet—farewell to the man who has helped shape Santa Clarita for essentially all of its years as a city.

Consent Calendar in Under One Minute

Once the cake break ended at 7:15, the five-item consent calendar passed with the recommended actions on all items, and there were no comments from council or public.  The only big item was $5.3M for the purchase of eleven buses that run on compressed natural gas. 

Announcements and updates from the council members were in the holiday spirit, encouraging support for the organizations that feed and house Santa Clarita’s hungry and homeless.  Mayor Ferry cheered Santa Clarita’s fortune in being selected as the finish and start of stages 3 and 4, respectively, of the Amgen Tour—that’s the one where people ride bicycles on streets, except somewhat faster than usual and with considerably more cheering.  Ferry said everyone is “thoroughly” invited.  He also asked for an investigation of unlicensed car washes.  These compete with the more expensive, legitimate washed that have the required licenses for water treatment, etc., He also asked for a study session on the role of city and county in providing senior services. 

Placeritans Pontificate

I’m beginning to doubt whether it’s really as nice to live in Placerita as everybody says.  The Hairell family has long wanted to divide its two-acres of Placeritan real estate into two parcels, but their request was denied by the Planning Commission.  The denial came despite staff recommendation of allowing the division, which is consistent with the city-wide general plan.  Curtis Hairell killed himself after the decision (he was already depressed and this setback may have been the “last straw”), and his father was present before the council in an appeal of the planning commission’s denial of the project.

Comments from the public were about evenly divided.  Glo Donnelly said the owners had the right to subdivide their property, and she called on her fellow licensed realtors to defend said right.  Most speakers in favor echoed the property rights argument, noting that there was nothing illegal about the division and that it was consistent with the master plan.  Speakers against the subdivision argued that cutting down two oak trees and building a new, big structure would ruin the character of the community.  Sandra Cattell was particularly tasteless in her remarks.  She talked about “mourning” the horse breeding and training facility once on the property, calling it “part of the demise of the rural equestrian community”—all this morbid language in front of a father still grieving the death of his son.  What a charmer.  The neighbors spoke about the late Curtis’s dream home conflicting with the realization of their dream home.  Threats of flooding, access issues, and odd lot boundaires were also offered as reasons to deny the appeal. 
Ultimately, the city council took the stance that they oughtn’t stand in the way of a private property owner doing a legal sub-division of his property.  Mitigation oaks are being planted (the city arborist actually discussed the health and prospects of the oaks to be cut down), and it seems that the neighbors will be consulted about including some kind of screening to prevent them from having to stare at the big new home that’s about to mar their view.


Finally, a Historic Preservation Ordinance

It’s getting late so I’ll be brief: the new historic preservation ordinance included a list of eleven historic structures in Santa Clarita (new structures can be added via an opt-in process).  Property-owners on the list can do routine maintenance as usual, but if they want to make major modifications to their structure, they must get a permit approved.  If the owner wishes to demolish a structure, they must appear before the city council first, and the council may offer to buy and move the structure, etc.  Unlike previous realizations of the historic preservation ordinance, this one had more incentives, including grants for improvements to listed structures.  Furthermore, there was a greater emphasis on the purchase and moving of historic structures as a means of saving them without infringing so directly on property rights.  Mayor Ferry noted that this left a possibility for destruction of a historic place if the city is unable to afford moving costs (usually $15-$30 per square foot), but it was generally agreed that this was an unlikely scenario. 

Comments were a mixed bag.  TimBen Boydston—who had to recuse himself on this item because the theater property would be listed—called the proposal “immoral taking.”  After her rousing speech in defense of private property rights, Glo Donnelly suggested they weren’t quite so untouchable when it came to preserving historic structures.  Alan Ferdman questioned whether Laurene Weste’s list of key structures could be included in the proposed ordinance.  He said the official minutes from the last meeting on historic preservation showed she did not clearly include the list in directions to staff for revising the ordinance.  Leon Worden made an unconvincing argument (the word "argument" used loosely) about how property values are unaffected by historic designation.  Manny Santana, owner of the old jailhouse, told the City, “You’ve done everything wrong,” when it came to construction of the library immediately next to his jailhouse, another listed structure. 

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar was opposed to the ordinance because those on the list had not “opted-in” to being on the list.  However, his fellow councilmembers disagreed, and with some slight modifications and addendums, the ordinance was approved. 

Public participation followed, and consisted of Berta Gonzalez-Harper thanking Ken Pulskamp for his dedication to the City of Santa Clarita.  Ferry wanted a slow clap as the meeting ended and Pulskamp walked out the door.  Instead, Laurene Weste adjourned the meeting in his honor.  The Pulskamp era ended.   
[1]The agenda.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happenings: The Countdown Begins

I've created a new blog that should last for just over a month.  IHeartSCHistory will cover each of Santa Clarita's years as a city.  You may recall something similar to this was planned at SCVTalk but I never got around to it.  Now, I have.  There's an introduction posted, a countdown clock to 4:30pm, December 15th, 2012, and by tomorrow, there will be a post covering highlights from 1987.  I'll continue CC recapping here, as usual.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Happenings: Ideological Weirdness, Pulskamp's Not-Quite-Last Meeting

The three eldest members of the Santa Clarita City Council were upset by one concept in particular this evening: free speech protection for video presentations[1].  While Frank Ferry was merely annoyed by the thought of video presentations, and Boydston is quite a fan of them, Weste challenged the City Attorney on whether the law did, indeed, require allowing council members to express themselves via PowerPoint and video if they wished.  The meeting was, as a whole, annoying.  It was long, gave me little confidence in how some grasp the idea of free speech, and despite lasting over three hours, it felt as if very little of importance was accomplished.  Who wouldn’t want to read more after that?

Blather, Blather, Everywhere

Mayor Frank Ferry delivered the invocation, suggesting that we spend Thanksgiving with our families.  He concluded with a prayer. 

After presentations for breast cancer and domestic violence awareness months, there were photos, brief speeches, and an interesting suggestion by Ferry.  “Husbands: there’s nothing more loving or cherishing you can do than make a breast cancer appointment”—for their wives, that is.  In future meetings, perhaps Ferry will clarify whether wives ought to reciprocate by scheduling prostate exams for their husbands. 

The Ferry Show continued with a speech in praise of State Senator Sharon Runner.  Runner, who will be leaving the senate shortly, was recognized for her public service, leadership, and values.  She did not choose to run for reelection after her double lung transplant surgery, after which she said she’s just starting to feel like herself again.  She looked well, spoke confidently and graciously, and was wished well by all.

Public Participation came next.  A woman from Canyon Country spoke about code enforcement and the meddling neighbors who report violations.  She has a 23-foot long truck—in Canyon Country, who doesn’t?—that she parks on a slab in her yard.  She mentioned her frustrations over inconsistent vehicle parking enforcement, questionable cause for a citation, and being singled out.  Cam Noltemeyer made her presence known (she mentioned being overseas in past weeks) as she spoke about her continued dismay over a horse-race wagering facility.  More interestingly, she asked why there was no list of 2012 lobbyists published online; recall that all paid lobbyists who speak before the City Council are required to register.  Lynne Plambeck decided to do something fun this evening, kindly giving the City original newspaper coverage of the birth of the City of Santa Clarita on December 15, 1987. 

Council member updates followed.  As usual, the various members mentioned sundry events and causes to support, all of them worthwhile and worthy but quickly forgotten as yet more events and more causes were mentioned, jockeying for position in event-saturated schedules.     


To What Do We Consent?
The consent calendar’s primary purpose, this evening, was providing Cam Noltemeyer with ample opportunity to make comments.

On an item moving Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin’s transition to City Manger from January 1, 2013 to December 1, 2012, Noltemeyer wondered about Striplin’s “executive benefits” and whether the City Council received comparable benefits.  (City Manager Ken Pulskamp responded that only the city manager, assistant city manager, and department heads receive executive benfits; council members do not).

There was some property shuffling in the wake of the end of Newhall redevelopment, about which Noltemeyer wondered whether property transfers and such were really fiscally neutral.

Item 7 awarded a construction contract for a park-and-ride near McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard.  The plants and animals living in the location will be displaced for a great paved expanse where commuters can park their cars.  Bike lockers, bus bays, and more of the painfully homespun public art that already litters the City are also planned.  Noltemeyer was upset about the unsavory elements this transit hub might attract, but Pulskamp noted there would be active patrolling of the center and no overnight parking. 

Finally, an item concerning landscape maintenance districts attracted Cam’s critical gaze.  She inquired about the 10% contingency that always seems to go along with bids and why the same company tends to win all the landscaping contracts.  TimBen Boydston requested a review of the landscape company’s performance in two years. 

The agenda was approved by all members of the council.  Before moving onto new and unfinished business, however, Mayor Ferry asked Pulskamp to double-check whether the lack of registered lobbyists was legitimate or if there had been some kind of oversight.  This was his shout-out to Cam Noltemeyer, he made known. 

A Million Reasons to Annex Copperhill

Copperhill will be joining the Claritan fold sooner rather than later.

Time is of the essence because, unless annexed by December 1, the City would not receive a $1.3M transfer of tax revenue after annexing Copperhill.  It would still be obligated to provide residents with services, but there would be no collection of tax revenue until 2014.  To prepare for annexation, there has been a long sequence of mapping, formal agreements, public hearings, and so on.  Tonight’s pre-annexation was the next step on the list.  If all goes according to plan—which it likely will, as no one expressed opposition—then Copperhill and its 10,000 or so residents may be joining the City before year’s end. 

Should, Shall, Will
or, Free Speech 101

After all of his talking, Mayor Ferry’s voice was growing hoarse, and he asked for a throat lozenge (excuse me, “lozenger”), which a member of the audience gladly supplied.

He had more talking to do as he fielded public and council member comments about the norms he and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar had recently revised.  The public spoke first, by which I mean Cam Noltemeyer and Diane Trautman.  Both responded to the fact that rules based on common courtesy had been re-phrased to suggest, rather than compel, compliance (i.e., most actions went from “will”s and “shall”s to “should”s and “may”s).  Noltemeyer though the language should be stronger, hoping it would “make this a city council that is transparent, that really does its business in public.”  Trautman felt the opposite.  She applauded the move from norms written as “directives” to norms written as “recommendations.”  She suggested that they add a norm pertaining to interaction with outside public agencies, but the council was not responsive.     

Both councilmembers Marsha McLean and TimBen Boydston had an exhausting list of tweaks to suggest, most of them changing the word preceding a recommended action.  Some were minorly substantive.  For example, McLean asked to revise a norm stating that all contact with the city attorney should be shared, and Boydston asked about changing the procedure for decision reconsiderations.  But in the end, as Ferry and Kellar would both suggest, the non-binding norms really rely on the willingness of council members to use common sense and to be polite and respectful in order to work. 

This point, and the Constitution, were forgotten during discussion of video presentations.  There was question about whether videos should be sent out ahead of time (they can be, but there can’t be responses, per the Brown Act) and, more importantly, whether they should be allowed at all.  Councilmember McLean made an argument that videos can be edited selectively to manipulate an audience or convey a false impression of events.  She did not consider words could do the same thing, so she suggested that speech (literally, talking) be protected and allowed, but videos not be.  She would call the possibility of videos presentations “dangerous” more than once.
Councilmember Laurene Weste shared McLean’s concerns.  She worried that there would be five videos per item, and was inclined to keep presentations strictly verbal.  Bob Kellar stepped up to support Weste, noting that was the way things had been done, and that things were working.  Boydston, Ferry and Montes would all gently hint at the changing nature of technology, but McLean, Weste, and Kellar thought there was a clear distinction between a spoken and video-based presentations, feeling that the latter was disruptive and suited for banning. 

City Attorney Joe Montes spoke up.  He explained that freedoms of expression afforded the council and others were to be interpreted broadly.  He recommended limiting the duration of video presentations rather than banning them outright, since the council clearly wanted some form of regulation.

Laurene Weste made repeated efforts to challenge Montes’ interpretation of the law.  She was perplexed that videos ought to be allowed while not everyone was given the same amount of time to speak, etc.  Montes assured Weste of his interpretation, but Weste asked, “How do you know that until you go study the law?”  It was asked cheerfully, but Weste was implying that Montes didn’t know what he was talking about.

After a very long discussion, it was decided that video presentations will be allowed at council meetings.  However, they must be under 5 minutes, and copies must be sent out prior to the meeting at which they’ll be shown.  Ferry explained that seeing it advance would be helpful.  “I don’t wanna blow up, so give me some emotional time,” he requested, to mentally process videos before they were shown.  

TimBenefits, Again

Alan Ferdman was right.  He’s the member of the public that was referenced in the agenda item covering reconsideration of a two-tier cash-in-lieu benefits program: “During the course of the October 23, 2012, City Council meeting, some members of the public expressed concern that the City Council in 2010 did not formally approve the cash in lieu two-tier benefit for unrepresented employees and Councilmembers at an open Council meeting as required by Government Code section 54957.6. A review of the resolution adopted by the Council on December 14, 2010, confirms that while other benefits were described in the resolution, the reduction in the cash in lieu benefit was not.”

This was a little embarrassing to be addressing so far after the fact, and it was clear that City Attorney Joe Montes wanted to get this item settled quickly.  Speaking before a council of four—TimBen Boydston had to recuse himself as the item affected his compensation—Montes said that a resolution to “clarify the intent” to have a two-tier cash-in-lieu system would set things straight.  If the council did not follow this action, then benefits for Boydston and all employees hired since 2011 (over 30 of them) would have to be changed in the same way. 

Boydston, speaking as an individual, raised many points which he felt compelled the city council to award equal benefits to all.  To my non-legally-trained ears, they sounded solid. He ended with what, read out of context, sounded like a legal threat, suggesting that the City would be at risk if he didn’t receive the same benefits as his fellow council members.  But he said it more passively than threateningly, so who knows if he'll follow through? 

Cam Noltemeyer and Diane Trautman spoke largely in support of Boydston.  Trautman was particularly perplexed by City Attorney Joe Montes's invocation and confusing interpretation of adherence to the Brown Act in this case.  Montes would offer counter-arguments to all of Boydston’s points that McLean asked be written down to allow her further analysis.  As mentioned, his responses on this topic were quite quick and concise, but all seemed to support the legality of the recommended action over Boydston's own legal arguments.  Again, without familiarity on the law surrounding benefits, Brown Act, and limitations, it wasn't particularly easy to follow to back-and-forth.    

In the end, there wasn't much left to be said about Boydston receiving hundreds less per month in health insurance cash-in-lieu.  Ferry wondered about whether they were being left open to a lawsuit, but Montes recommended that the City proceed with formalizing the two-tier benefit system.  Kellar, who has displayed little sympathy for Boydston’s complaints about receiving $800 less per month in cash-in-lieu than his fellow members, moved the recommended action. McLean gave a resigned yes, but everyone else seemed less troubled in their affirmation of Boydston’s lower benefit exchange and moved on.

A Bad Idea

Few ideas are unambiguously bad, but Boydston’s suggestion for distribution of the City Council agenda two weeks in advance seemed to have very, very little going for it.  He thought the public and council would benefit from more time to review items prior to meetings, but he was reminded that such an early release would increase response times, delay projects, cause a heavy workload on staff, potentially confuse the public, lengthen the time it takes to agendize items, and so on. 

Out of 10 other cities investigated, none released an agenda more than 6 days in advance of a meeting.  Santa Clarita does it 5 days in advance.  Boydston unseuccessfully tried to change it to 6 days, but Mayor Ferry asked “Why is more [time to review] better?”  With little additional discussion, all but Boydston voted to keep the same agenda distribution schedule. 

With that, the meeting ended.  There’s only one more meeting left where Ken Pulskamp will be the City Manager, so the late November meeting will likely be a big one.  Stand warned.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

25 Years: This is Not a Joke

Dear Readers:

I rarely request favors, so I hope you’ll consider indulging me in this one.  If you’re going to the City Council Meeting tonight and have a modicum of civic pride, please please please read this letter during Public Participation.  I am unable to read it myself this evening.  Without a wake-up call, I’m afraid the celebration of Santa Clarita’s 25th Anniversary of Cityhood is going to be really lame.
Print out a copy, practice your timing once or twice, and read it.  If we, the people who think and read and write about Santa Clarita don't enthuse about her big anniversary, who will?  

Council and Staff of the City of Santa Clarita: We have a question for you this evening, one famously posed by R&B group Jagged Edge: Where the party at?

Santa Clarita’s 25th Anniversary of Cityhood will be celebrated on Saturday, December 15, 2012.  It’s  just a month away but still, no invite.  We know you like to plan everything far in advance.  That’s why we’re concerned that, as of today, there isn’t the merest mention of Santa Clarita’s 25th Anniversary of Cityhood on the official calendar, much less mention of a 25th Anniversary party or gala. 

The SCV Historical Society is holding an open house and celebration in the afternoon, but we want—nay, we demand—a City-hosted event befitting this magnificent milestone.  Perhaps you thought that the State of the City Luncheon, with its “25 Years of Success” theme, counted as a celebration.  It didn’t.  Maybe you think that your 25th Anniversary web pages are sufficient observation of this milestone.  They aren’t.  We want an honest-to-goodness party for Santa Clarita's birthday.  We want food and drinks and a competent DJ.  Here are some other ideas which you may wish to think of including for the event.  Please, take notes.

Idea 1: Have a New-Year’s-style countdown to 4:30pm, the time at which we became a city.  At 4:30, shout “Happy Cityhood!”, etcetera. 

Idea 2: Before the countdown, have some entertaining speakers talk about the past 25 years: think John Boston, Tony & Reena Newhall, Leon Worden…people who will talk about more than parks and roads.

Idea 3: Put out donation boxes for local non-profits, and challenge every Claritan in attendance to donate $25 to one or more cherished causes.

You’ve hosted lots of successful events, Santa Clarita, and we know you can pull off something great for the 25th Anniversary of Cityhood.  Once this anniversary passes, we don’t have another big one until 2037, and by that point, a lot of the VIPs on the guest list are probably going to be dead.  So please, while the people who shaped Santa Clarita for the past 25 years are still alive, let’s do this thing right.  Let's show just how much we all heart SCV. 

IF IN AUDIENCE: Begin slow clap at end of speech, building to thunderous applause. 

IF MAYOR FERRY DEMANDS ORDER: Clap even louder, and yell variants of “We’ll stop clapping when you start planning!”, “Hearting SCV is not a crime, Frank!”, etc.

IF YOU PLANNED TO READ THIS BUT GET CALLED AFTER IT’S ALREADY BEEN READ: Simply state: “I, too, am here in support of a celebration befitting Santa Clarita’s 25th Anniversary of Cityhood.  Forgetting an annviersary is tacky, so don't." 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Only in SCV: A Real Quiz for the 25th

Santa Clarita's 25th Anniversary is now 50 days away.  To its credit, the City has devoted a section of its website to this most glorious of milestones.  There's a page offering 25 reasons to love your city, a page on Claritan history, and even a quiz to assess your local knowledge.  Unfortunately, the quiz is kind of lame...which is not to say you shouldn't take it, just that you should feel badly about yourself if you don't get a perfect score. 

In any case, the quiz was a nice idea.  It just should be bigger.  In the ideal Santa Clarita, there would be a splashy quiz bowl with an entry donation benefiting some local charity.  Teams would be formed from local news outlets, groups like the historical society, and involved citizens--essentially anyone who wanted to prove that they really know the valley.  And after a fun but brutal quiz, it would be known who really does.

Because this is not the ideal Santa Clarita, we have to compromise.  So here's a quiz of 25 questions for you SCV aficionados, with emphasis on a post-cityhood Santa Clarita.  It's by no means comprehensive, so  I may post some more sets of questions as the anniversary nears.  Good luck.

THIS OR THAT: Pick the right one.
1. Annual fees for a member of Robinson Ranch Golf Club: $4,500 or $14,500?
2. Castaic’s bigger lake: upper or lower?
3. The Northridge quake: magnitude 6.7 or 7.6?
4. Has a higher rating on Yelp: Saugus Cafe or Way Station Coffee Shop?
5. Where more people live: Canyon Country or Newhall?

QUOTABLES: Who said or wrote the following?
6. “You’re thinking ‘Ulyanovsk’ is something Marsha McLean hollers while in the throes of passion, only with more exclamation marks.” [Hint: famous local humorist]
7. “We’re confident that with the years of analysis, mitigation measures and scientific research that went into the approval of these permits that Newhall Ranch will prevail in court.” [Hint: PR legend]
8. “I’m a proud racist.” [Hint: elected official]
9. “Being part of the first City Council, and then becoming the first mayor, was quite an adventure…It was a bit of fun, it was a bit of an adventure, it was a challenge and it was an education and it was even a bit scary.” [Hint: he eventually made it big]
10. “I said they’d have to come and drag me out, and they did.” [Hint: he was being literal]

NAME GAME: Provide their names.
11. Valencia High School’s mascot.
12. Santa Clarita’s first female mayor.
13. The diminutive endangered plant that grows on Newhall Ranch.
14. Popular TV show on which Santa Clarita was nuked.
15. One of the current names of the road once known as San Fernando.

MENTAL MAP: Think place and space.
16. You’ve just had lunch at Salt Creek Grille and now you want frozen yogurt.  Which froyoteries are closest to you? 
17. What does the Iron Horse Trailhead Bridge span?
18. Along which street is City Hall?
19. What beautiful canyon was set to become a landfill in 1989?
20. Santa Clarita is the third largest city in LA County.  Name the two larger cities.

ANNUAL EVENTS: Arrange the following events in their traditional order over the course of a year.
*Cowboy Festival
*Santa Clarita Marathon
*Concerts in the Park
*State of the City Luncheon
*River Rally
21. Happens Earliest in the Year:
22. Happens Next:
23. Happens Next:
24. Happens Next:
25. Happens Latest in the Year:

Scroll down for answers.

(1)$4,500 (2)Upper (3)6.7 (4)Way Station (5)Canyon Country (6)John Boston (7)Marlee Lauffer (8)Bob Kellar (9)Buck McKeon (10)John Quigley (11)Vic the Viking (12)Jan Heidt (13)San Fernando Valley Spineflower (14)24 (15)Main St., Railroad Ave. (16)Tutti Frutti, Spoon Me,,Golden Spoon, Menchie's, Pinkberry, Planet Yogurt in that order I think...I am honestly losing track; it's hard to play the frozen yogurt game in Santa Clarita (17)Santa Clara River (18)Valencia Blvd. (19)Elsemere (20)Los Angeles, Long Beach (21-25)Festival, Concerts, Rally, Luncheon, Marathon

25: Congratulations!  You know the ins and outs of the City of Santa Clarita.
24 and lower: You do not heart SCV: get out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Happenings: The Public Disgracing of KHTS

TimBen Boydston left tonight’s meeting without an increase in benefits to put him at parity with other councilmembers, but at least he still has his good name[1].  The same cannot be said of KHTS, its owners, or Congressman Buck McKeon.  Reporter Mark Archuleta, recently fired from KHTS, took to the podium this evening to risk his reputation in order to destroy the reputation of his former employer, claiming that KHTS pandered to the desires and threats of Buck McKeon’s office.  He claimed it managed news coverage to favor the congressman as well as at least one city council member.  The bulk of the meeting was spent on mundane matters of landscape districts and employee benefits, but for three incandescent minutes, Archuleta did his best to take down an SCV institution and to preserve notions of journalistic integrity.  Pity so few people watch these meetings—sometimes they’re actually interesting.

But First…

The meeting opened with Councilmember Laurene Weste.  She offered a short, sincere invocation in anticipation of Veterans Day, expressing her gratitude to veterans and reminding Claritans of the ceremony to be held at the Veterans Historical Plaza.

The City of Santa Clarita was then presented with a prestigious Helen Putnam Award from the League of California Cities.  Specifically, the Neighborhood Services Team and Outreach Program won an award under the heading of “Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics and Community Involvement.”  Before cynical readers think up snide remarks about the accuracy of this lofty banner for Santa Clarita, note that the award recognized a specific program.  It addressed crime, social issues, and citizen involvement in some of East Newhall’s less idyllic corners, and had measurable success.

Reputations in Ruin

Mark Archuleta’s speech tonight was short but devastating.  He was (is?) one of the most accomplished reporters in Santa Clarita, and his political coverage was consistently acute and incisive.  He and Carol Rock—a gifted writer whose endurance, experience, and knowledge of local issues put her in a class of her own—were widely regarded as major assets to KHTS.  The firing of Archuleta and Rock led to much speculation with regard to timing; they were let mere weeks before the November election.  Those wanting more details got plenty tonight.

Archuleta opened by promising, “I’m here tonight to end my silence.”  You can read the full speech at NotesFromNewhall, but these are the main claims—again, claims; KHTS has not had an opportunity to respond—that emerged:

*He and Carol Rock were fired from KHTS for essentially political reasons.

*Buck McKeon made threats or complaints to the Goldmans, who own KHTS, over unflattering coverage on their website, written largely by Archuleta.  It was removed in response.  A McKeon endorsement and pulling Rock and Archuleta from McKeon coverage were additional favors extended to the congressman. 

*A City Council candidate complained about an interview with Archuleta, and Goldman would not let it be published without alterations, citing the political aim of preventing a voting bloc on the council.

*KHTS altered stories and coverage to influence elections; they bent to political pressure. 

The speech had many unpleasant ramifications.  First, the reputation of KHTS has been sullied.  News outlets are valued for being independent and expository, not for yielding to politicians and doing them favors.  How KHTS responds—and how The Signal covers this story—remains to be seen.  As for Archuletta, he probably won’t be getting a lot of local job offers, unless some new publication to serve an audience dissatisfied with The Signal and KHTS is in the works.  (Excuse my outrageous joking).  Congressman Buck McKeon has been painted as a media manipulator, and this isn’t the first time.  Then there’s the unnamed council member who used their sway to secure favorable coverage (based on timing, it would have to be either Bob Kellar or Laurie Ender).  And then there are implications for the new/remaining staff at KHTS.  Do they owe their job to being more receptive to the Goldmans’ purported aims? 

What a mess.   

The Others

Public comments following Archuleta were bound to pale in comparison.  Glo Donnelly twittered pleasantly about the State of the City Luncheon last week and highlighted Santa Clarita’s success in preserving open space.  Doug Fraser made a comment about mobile home rent increases, the most recent in a series of comments on this topic over the past weeks.  David Lutness offered political thoughts, arguing that people needed better salaries and that income disparity was a major problem in America.  Ray Kutylo advertised SCV Letters to the Editor, his Facebook group.  His remarks were particularly timely considering Archuleta’s words and the fact that this is “Free Speech Week.”  Carole Lutness was last to speak, and said, “I, too, am outraged at the firing of these two fine reporters,” referring of course to Archuleta and Rock.  She was particularly upset about Carol Rock (“who is an institution in this community!”).  Her comments then moved to The Signal, which she said recently stopped publishing the “Environmentally Speaking” column in its opinion section.  The column often challenges development and reminds readers of local environmental issues.  Lutness acknowledged her role in “plagiar-gate” at The Signal (i.e., she was caught plagiarizing and removed from her writing post a few years ago), but promised her criticisms were more than just sour grapes.    

City Manager Ken Pulskamp offered some comments in return.  Regarding mobile home rents, he promised to look further into the particulars brought up by Doug Fraser this evening.  As to the topic of KHTS and free speech he said, “We certainly support free speech. […]  There is no collusion among the City and other members of the media.  God knows we’ve taken our shots in all of those,” trailing off with a coarse chuckle.  Councilmember Weste made a point to support Carol Rock, saying the veteran reporter had her care and love. 

Updates, Consent

Individual councilmember updates were more of the usual.  Particular highlights were Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar’s promise that several notable SCV Olympians (even Allyson Felix) would be at the Rubber Ducky Regata, benefitting the Samuel Dixon Foundation.   Mayor Frank Ferry noted that public input was being solicited at an upcoming meeting regarding a master plan for a conference center in Santa Clarita. 

The consent calendar was addressed next.  Items that didn’t engender discussion included changes to dozens of speed limits in Santa Clarita (most were recommended to go up or down by 5 mph after traffic study); bikeway improvements and additions; and a janitorial contract.  An item concerning landscaping contracts drew Councilmember Boydston’s attention.  He spent a while discussing the nature of the contract, which included a large amount of money for unforeseen repairs and maintenance.  Boydston was told that the landscaping bid was actually quite reasonable, and all unforeseen costs were noted as line items, so they could be easily reviewed for any type of abuse.  After some inquiries by other members and assurances of the landscape company’s solid past performance, the contract was approved, with the stipulation that work would be reviewed in a couple of years to look at spending patterns. 

Master Plan Planning

An item to assess the feasibility of a master-plan-envisioned road extension connecting Lyons and Dockweiler in Newhall was controversial, as are most projects that affect the vociferous enclave that is Placerita Canyon (or almost-Placerita-Canyon).  Councilmember Weste recused herself from the debate on the grounds of “living way too close” to the proposed road connection, so she said she’d go have some dessert instead. 

Most speakers asked that this item be continued to a future meeting.  There was much concern about its inclusion of an at-grade crossing of the Metrolink line.  Other speakers, such as Nanette Meister, wondered at how much Councilmember Weste stood to gain from the project, which would likely increase her property value.  Other objections included insufficient notification of those who would be affected by the crossing and questions about cost-effectiveness. 

There was a fair amount of discussion, with Councilmember TimBen Boydston stating his sympathy for the concerns expressed by property owners in the area.  However, staff assured the council that this project would take at least a couple of years and was puaimed at producing preliminary documents to assess the feasibility of the project, not actually building the road.  Furthermore, the road was part of the master plan, and the bridge and thoroughfare funds for the study had to be spent on transportation by law.  Despite these seemingly compelling arguments to begin the study, TimBen Boydston did not vote to move forward as recommended, while his fellow council members did.  He chose to “vote ‘no’ with explanation,” stating that he was uncomfortable about proceeding when not all affected neighborhoods had been properly notified.  Councilmember McLean followed his vote with a “yes”, also with explanation.  She said a study didn’t impact neighborhoods, the actual road did: “this is giving them the information that they need.”  So the slow planning process will now get rolling. 


The final item before the council was consideration of benefits for council members.  While they all receive the same salary and the same healthcare benefits, if a council member chooses cash-in-lieu of health insurance, they receive quite different amounts.  Council members are treated like staff when it comes to payment and benefits, and in 2010, the council changed the structure of benefits for staff, such that those starting to work in 2011 wouldn’t receive as much cash-in-lieu of health insurance coverage.  By extension, TimBen Boydston, elected in 2012, also gets less cash for foregoing City health coverage.  His fellow members can receive $1,016.58 per month, but he can only receive $214.62.  That’s a difference of nearly $10,000 over the course of a year, all based on his later election date. 

Boydston recused himself from the discussion, though he could comment as a citizen during that portion of the item’s discussion (and he did).  The formerly cheerful Glo Donnelly was not pleased with Boydston’s fuss about the discrepancy in benefits, suggesting he find a new job if he was being driven by monetary gain.  Allan Cameron and Lynne Plambeck offered alternative legal interpretations to challenge City Attorney Joe Montes’ assertion that Boydston’s benefits could not be raised without also raising them for all employees hired since 2011.  Many thought it was only fair for Boydston to get the same amount of cash-in-lieu as other members. 

Boydston, however, offered the most intriguing solution.  Rather than raise the amount of cash he would receive, Boydston suggested that his fellow council members vote to reduce their own benefits to his level.  He said it would show they considered him an equal and would save taxpayers money, the whole point of the change in benefit structure to begin with. 

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar responded brusquely.  He lectured about the need to follow the exact letter of the law—at least on this issue.  Mayor Ferry responded next.  He spoke about having no intention of singling out Boydston when they voted on the new benefit policy two years ago.  He said of Boydston defeating former Councilmember Laurie Ender, “Didn’t see that one comin’!”  He then made some grand statements about declines in all kinds of compensation and benefits because of the sluggish economy, going so far as to imply that Boydston should be grateful he wasn’t receiving even less, as future council members may.  Ferry called his appeal for equal benefits “self-serving.”  Just like Kellar, he did not so much as entertain the idea of cutting his own cash benefits to Boydston’s level, however.

Councilmembers McLean and Weste were more understanding of Boydston’s dismay.   Surprisingly, McLean offered a very conciliatory statement.  Of the discrepancy in benefits, she said, “I totally understand where Councilmember Boydston is coming from […] it’s probably like a slap in the face.”  She and Weste both made dramatic, almost apologetic pauses before voting, as Ferry and Kellar did, to not change benefits for Boydston.   

There was a startling revelation/suggestion during Alan Cameron’s public comment following this item.  After talking about the other matters from this evening, he mentioned the LA Times’ investigation of Boy Scout abuse, noting there had been an incident, apparently, mapped to Saugus.  He asked for an investigation.  With that, the meeting ended.   

[1]Here's the agenda.