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.

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