Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Happenings: Goodbyes, Changes, First World Problems

It was a meeting of goodbyes: goodbye to redevelopment, goodbye to former committee assignments, goodbye to a quiet neighborhood… But a goodbye to the recently deceased Clyde Smyth, a major figure in Santa Clarita education, government, and society, was the most profound one of the night.

The meeting began just a bit after six. Councilmember Laurene Weste delivered the invocation. She spent over ten minutes talking about shelter animals, noting that many more may be euthanized if Governor Brown is able to implement budget-cutting measures that shorten how long an animal is held before being killed. She then offered tips—spay and neuter pets, have your contact information on their collars, adopt from shelters—that weren’t exactly news to anyone, but certainly well-intentioned.

Individual reports and updates from the council members weren’t particularly revelatory—Councilmember Kellar spoke about Dionne Warwick’s recent performance, for example. Mayor Laurie Ender, however, took a few moments to talk about her memories of Clyde Smyth. She highlighted his role as superintendent, his championing of Newhall redevelopment, his efforts to build Central Park, and his desire to unify and optimize a transportation plan for the valley. She spoke of his commitment to transparency, one he codified with the statement, “We must do the public’s business in public.”

The council moved onto the consent calendar, which they approved in its entirety. This means that a 285-space park-and-ride lot will be designed for a plot near the corner of McBean and Valencia Blvd.; businesses in Newhall will be able to have bigger signs and some additional outdoor displays; and $215,000 will go to the Performing Arts Center over the next three years for community use of the facility. Cam Noltemeyer felt that the City of Santa Clarita was paying an “outrageous price” for the petroleum-contaminated property that is to become the park-and-ride. She said that her request for documents revealed that appraisal of the property had occurred after it was already in escrow.

Up next, Mayor Ender attempted to condense and more equitably distribute committee appointments among the council members. Before this evening, McLean served on or was an alternate for 20 committees, and Mayor Pro Tem Frank Ferry a mere 7. After she was done rearranging things and bargaining with her fellow council members, positions were spread a bit more evenly, though Ferry still managed to have the fewest. Ender grouped some committees together (e.g., aging and transitional care unit and senior housing committees), showing an eye for concision, and she dissolved some that would no longer be necessary, like the committee for the Santa Clarita Courthouse (now a foregone conclusion thanks to the County of LA). “Staff time means money,” Ender said, explaining that fewer committee meetings would free up staff.

A few of the changes didn’t go over so well. Speaker Duane Harte asked to have Bob Kellar put back on the CEMEX committee, citing his many lobbying trips to Washington and his familiarity with the issues. Laurene Weste would give her spot to Kellar, but she insisted on keeping the North Newhall Specific Plan Committee. Both Weste and McLean were emphatic about the need for this committee and its role in ensuring adherence to certain standards set forth for Newhall. Kellar would say he thought this role wasn’t appropriate for the City Council, suggesting that property rights were infringed upon when council members could all but dictate architectural designs to Newhall property owners. McLean was quite upset at Kellar’s suggestions, and she affirmed her staunch support of property rights.

Back down, Bob, said McLean’s eyes.

McLean had other objections. There was a tense little moment when she said she cared very much about the issue of senior housing, and wanted to be on the committee for it. Mayor Ender said, somewhat snarkily, that McLean caring about senior housing meant there were “five of us who do.” It was not easy to pry appointments from McLean’s grasp, and Ender’s resolve was rather admirable.

There were two items dealing with the dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency of the City of Santa Clarita. The City will be the successor agency, dealing with remaining debts, administrative duties, and the like. The agency has over $90M in total outstanding debt or obligation, but Redevelopment Manager Armine Chaparyan said the payments will have “no impact to the general fund” since funds have already been earmarked. She added that all property acquired by the Redevelopment Agency was now held by the City, simplifying matters somewhat. Still, no one was happy to see the redevelopment agency coming to an end--at least no one at the dais.

Public participation came next. Alan Ferdman encouraged Claritans to provide feedback as the sanitation district begin the EIR process for a new treatment plant. If you have no idea what he's talking about, he has posted a video online[2]. The Lutnesses spoke about rampant foreclosures in Santa Clarita (yes, still) and the rising problem of homelessness among senior and families. Most speakers, though, were upset about tennis lessons happening in their neighbor’s yard. First world problems, anyone?

I shouldn’t make light. Happy Valley residents bought homes in a quiet neighborhood expecting that their neighbor wouldn’t install what they’ve christened a “sports complex.” It includes tennis courts, lighting, athletic fields, unsightly fencing, and cash-only lessons—at least according to an ad in the yellow pages.

“I’m beyond frustrated” said McLean, clearly sympathizing with the community at large. City Attorney Montes couldn’t say much, since complaints from the sports complex operator and neighbors may lead to legal action. However, it was apparent that he knew it was a major concern for local residents and that resolution was a priority.

Before adjourning the meeting, Marsha McLean recalled raising a family alongside the Smyths, watching their children grow up and go to school together. She said of Clyde, quite simply, “He was wonderful.” The meeting ended a little after 8.


[2]The 500 Million Dollar Invisible Gorilla in the Room, as Ferdman mildly puts it

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Happenings: Redev. Extension, Newhall Regulations "Relax"

“OK, here goes.” So began the first Santa Clarita City Council meeting of 2012[1]. The recently enthroned Mayor Laurie Ender said, “I know you’ll give me a break,” a tad anxious as she worked to find her bearings. In anticipation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, she quoted King: “The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.” Ender hoped Claritans would endeavor to find brotherhood with their neighbors despite their differences.

There was a slight divergence from the usual order or things as the council decided to add an agenda item for the evening. City Attorney Joe Montes said that the last-minute addition was OK, even though it couldn’t be publicly noticed. He explained that the item came up after the agenda was made and was considered urgent. Specifically, California Senate Bill 659 (or similar legislation) would allow redevelopment agencies to operate an extra two months after their planned dissolution this February. The bill may be introduced as early as the 11th and decided before the next council meeting, so the council members voted to add an agenda item offering support for the bill.

Awards and recognition came next. Cross country runners from Saugus (girls team) and Golden Valley (boys team) were cheered as CIF State Champions. Mayor Pro Tem Frank Ferry described the unprecedented six-in-a-row championship of the Saugus team, ordering coach Rene Paragas, his wife (“Get up here, wife!” Ferry bellowed into the microphone), and the assistant coach, Kathryn Nelson, forward to receive credit as well. Mayor Ender said that she was delighted to see the young Golden Valley High School win such a prestigious title.

Comments and committee reports took an unfortunately long time. Councilmember Marsha McLean deserves the credit. She wanted to send an opinion about a draft MOU involving SCAG, the California High Speed Rail Authority, and others. The MOU covers improvements to rail lines and rail-based transportation systems, some of which operate nearby. McLean’s intended message was quickly lost in a lengthy discussion of whether it would be permissible to convey said message without it being approved as an agenda item (but essentially, she wanted to speed up the improvement process with a deadline set before the next regional transportation plan was released, not the proposed 2020 date). Joe Montes said he thought that if a letter was going to be sent on behalf on the whole council—none of the members of which had seen a copy—it should be on the agenda. He vacillated, though, wondering in what capacity McLean was hoping to offer the opinion and what impact such an opinion would have and so on. McLean felt like Montes was wrong and making the letter too much of a “big deal.” Ultimately, it was decided that Joe Montes and Mike Murphy, intergovernmental relations officer, would look it over and allow the whole council to sign or recommend that McLean send the letter on her own.

Councilmember Laurene Weste skipped her turn to offer comments. Ferry spoke about a visit with Jo Anne Darcy, where he learned that the former council member valued the personal relationships she had built more highly than all the plaques and honors she had received while in power. Finally, Ender shared numbers from 2011’s record-breaking year of filming—some 901 film days occurred in Santa Clarita, having a $19M impact on local businesses.

The emergency agenda item concerning redevelopment was considered next. As you likely know, a court decision means that redevelopment agencies will be eliminated in February, at which point successor agencies will take control to continue paying off debts and fully dismantling the operations.

City Manager Ken Pulskamp explained that a bill will attempt to delay the dissociation of agencies until April 15th of this year in order to give the agencies more time to wrap things up. The whole of the council voted to send a letter in support of such legislation.

Considerable lamentation preceded the vote. Pulskamp said the courts had taken away “absolutely the most important tool in economic recovery and job creation.” Murphy said, “They in essence picked the worst of both worlds,” referring to the court’s decision not to allow redevelopment agencies to operate, even under a “pay to play” plan where they would send some revenue back to the state. Weste, too, was in mourning, noting that the agencies were dearly needed to prevent blight. Mayor Ender soured the mood a bit when she carefully mentioned the abuses of redevelopment agency funds that had taken place, but was quick to note that reform, not elimination of the agencies altogether, was preferable.

The rest of the agenda was approved without much discussion. The Santa Clarita WorkSource Center will be now be operated by COC. Federal lobbying services for transportation-related issues and the Whittaker-Bermite “issue” will be obtained for $77,000. The City will work on agreements with LA County to purchase tax-defaulted property that would be held as open space in the Placerita Canyon area. Cam Noltemeyer said that she hoped the site wasn’t contaminated, as some other open space acquisitions have been.

Some trivial (and perhaps one majorish) changes to regulations for Newhall businesses received a lengthy presentation and consideration as a public hearing. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a business owner in Newhall, but these didn’t seem like particularly controversial proposals. Under proposed changes, A-frame signs could be placed on the sidewalk during special events. 25% of a window’s area could be used for advertising, up from 15%. 36-inch lettering could be used on buildings, up from 18-inches, and during special events, some merchandise could be displayed outdoors. Talk about putting the “new” in Newhall! Of course, permits and or review would still be required to take several of these actions. The biggest change, perhaps, was allowing for legal non-conforming use to stand for 60 days, down from 180. This is the provision that allows businesses that don’t conform with the plan for Newhall (e.g., auto repair) to continue to operate. If one such business leaves a space, another business of the same type can lease its space—so long as they do so within 60 days. Thereafter, property-owners could only lease to businesses that conform with the Newhall specific plan. McLean wanted to reduce the allowance to only 30 days despite the fact that Pulskamp and Kellar said that it’s very difficult to lease a property in just one month. She didn’t win support for the 30-day plan, but the rest was approved.

During public participation, Cam Noltemeyer said that she suspected there had been Brown Act violations leading up to Ferry’s acquisition of the mayor pro tem title. She wondered how council members and staff could have known about his plan in advance, and tired of the “petty nonsense” and “arrogance” coming from Ferry et al. Lynne Plambeck, though she differs politically from Kellar, was also dismayed to see Ferry take the title that was supposed to pass to Kellar. Plambeck also mentioned that she’d like to see plastic bags banned in Santa Clarita. McLean responded that she had asked staff to look into such a measure some months ago, but she was waiting on the outcome of a lawsuit in Los Angeles to see if proceeding with a bag ban would be legal. McLean said, “I take cloth bags with me wherever I go.” Weste shared McLean’s enthusiasm for reusable bags, saying, “They’re colorful, they’re tough, they’re really useful.”

The meeting adjourned in the memory of Jeri Bronstrup, owner of the quintessentially Claritan Way Station.

[1]For your convenience and delight, here is the agenda.