Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happenings: Trains Killing Kids, Insecure Ballots, and Sundry Other Concerns

There wasn’t much on tonight’s agenda[1], so a discussion of hypothetical fears filled the void. California's proposed high-speed rail plan was attacked on the grounds that trains traveling close to Sulphur Springs Elementary would endanger children. Many speakers wondered whether mail-in votes were being appropriately secured. And Cam Noltemeyer voiced concerns about the oil pipeline running near the YMCA. Mayor Pro Tem Frank Ferry, absent from tonight’s meeting, missed out.

Mayor Ender had the invocation tonight. “It’s time to line up the puck and take the shot,” she said, employing a hockey metaphor to encourage people to accomplish things they’ve been putting off.

Next, it was time for the flag salute. Without the usual scout troop to take the lead, Ender gamely recruited a few kids from the front row to help out.

Then, of course, it was time for awards and recognitions. Mayor Ender observed that the incidence of autism in Santa Clarita is high: 1 in 67 children are diagnosed. She applauded the efforts of the Santa Clarita Autism Asperger Network and made a proclamation for Autism Awareness Month. After their official photo, families from SCAAN were leaving the chambers and a little boy ran up to the dais to interrupt the mayor during her Arbor Day announcement, saying “Thank you, Mrs. Ender.” It was cute. Thereafter, recognition of Santa Clarita’s Tree City USA award and of a landscaping award for the Northbridge area reinforced Santa Clarita’s verdant image.

Individual updates from the members of the City Council were quick—Councilmember Marsha McLean met with the Governor’s Office regarding chlorides and now feels more optimistic about handling our water problems. She didn't offer up many details, however. Both she and Councilmember Laurene Weste spoke about hikesantaclarita.com, which, as its name subtly implies, directs visitors to local trails.

The Consent Calendar was modest in length and scope. Among the items were appointments to oversee the overseers of the end of the Santa Clarita Redevelopment Agency. Legislation dictates that a seven-member panel must be appointed to serve in an oversight capacity for the redevelopment successor agency. While most of the members are appointed by LA County, the mayor is directed to make two appointments. Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez and Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin were recommended by staff and ultimately selected. During comments, Cam Noltemeyer expressed continued concerns over debt and the need for transparency when it comes to City business in Newhall. Alan Ferdman wondered about conflicts of interest at having City employees overseeing an agency comprising the City Council. With all the operations and oversight in-house, he called the set-up “incestuous.”

Another agenda item sought to alleviate the burden of heavy truck traffic. Three sections of road in the Bridgeport area and four sections of road in the Friendly Valley area will no longer permit vehicles exceeding 14,000 pounds. This presumes the item will be passed during a second reading at the next meeting.

The City Council accepted guidelines for accepting art loans and donations to enhance the beauty of public spaces. From review of the art to deciding where it goes to installation to maintenance, the three-page proposal could be summed up in four words: “Staff will do it.”

Finally, Crimson California Pipeline, which purchased and operated a pipeline in 2005, entered into a franchise agreement with Santa Clarita for 20 years. “I see huge safety issues with this pipeline,” said Cam Noltemeyer, noting that it runs close to the YMCA. Her fears were dismissed by City Manager Ken Pulskamp, who said that the pipeline is well-built and that a very strong, pipe-damaging earthquake is “an unlikely possibility.” The pipe has been in place for years and runs underground.

The meeting would have been over, but there were 13 cards for public participation. Speakers opined on high-speed rail, election security, or both (there was also one guy upset about overly zealous code enforcement regarding weeds). The high-speed rail crowd included Alan Ferdman, Michael Hogan, and even Sulphur Springs Assistant Superintendent Vicky Myers. Their message was that high-speed rail will be a big drain on California’s resources and will provide no special benefits for Santa Claritans. Furthermore, the proposed rail line’s proximity to Sulphur Springs would potentially endanger children and prove annoying to residents because of all the noise. Speakers wanted the City Council to take a formal position on HSR before an April 19th meeting during which it is presumed the rail authority will start the EIR process for the section from Palmdale to Sylmar. Transportation maven Marsha McLean said, “The high-speed rail folks know me very well,” but neither she nor others seemed to mind taking a more formal stance. Ken Pulskamp’s idea to have the rail authority conduct a meeting in Santa Clarita was a popular one.

More speakers yet had something to say about election security. They said that the large number of absentee votes might not be as secure as they ought to be. Alan Ferdman, Valerie Thomas, and others felt that there should be two keys held by two different people required to access the room where the votes are stored. Carole Lutness of SCV Fair Elections made it clear that there were no allegations of corruption or wrong-doing. Rather, the idea that votes might not be totally secure was problematic in and of itself.

“The ballots are extraordinarily secure,” responded City Manager Pulskamp. He said the votes are in a locked cabinet inside a locked room, but was vague about how many people could access the room, the presence of non-lock based security, etc. Speakers had hoped there would be immediate security measures taken after their comments this evening. However, both Pulskamp and Mayor Ender told speakers that the City Council could not take action on items brought up during Public Participation. This was an objectively stupid response. The City Manager wouldn’t need to get council consent to add an extra lock or a camera outside the ballot-counting room.

Councilmember McLean was concerned that rumors about a lack of ballot security might spread “like wildfire” through social media. She suggested that staff be proactive in getting out the message that votes are indeed secure.

The next Santa Clarita City Council meeting isn’t for another month. Two Tuesdays from now, we should know who will be filling the contested council seats.

[1]Did somebody say agenda?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Happenings: Blessed Business, Damn RVs

This evening's meeting of the 12th City Council of Santa Clarita was unremarkable, but that’s never stopped me from remarking, has it[1]? As a result of tonight’s actions, legislation pertaining to redevelopment has been supported, buses will get on-board visual display monitors, and economic growth will be fostered—at least theoretically.

Councilmember McLean began the meeting by reusing one of her past invocations. “When you’re smiling, the whole world really does smile with you…happiness is contagious,” she said. McLean summarized a scientific study revealing that people with happy friends are more likely to be happy themselves. (What does it mean if hearing about happy people makes you scowl?)

Several community groups were recognized next. Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles were honored for reaching this, their hundredth year. During photos, Mayor Pro Tem Ferry stepped forward as an authority on proper Girl Scout cookie consumption: “You’re supposed to freeze the thin mint cookies.” The recently dissolved Newhall Redevelopment Committee was recognized next. Phil Ellis said that while the committee is gone, they’ll continue to meet informally. His announcement was met with applause. Councilmember Weste commented for the umpteenth time in as many weeks about the importance of the redevelopment process in California. She said that without it, places like Pasadena (“POS-uh-dee-nuh”) would have been "left behind". Weste was front and center for the final recognition as well, this time extended from the Domestic Violence Center to the councilmember. Weste has been a big supporter, and they thanked her.

The consent calendar’s items were approved. The council will support three bills that clarify the roles of redevelopment agencies and their successor agencies while allowing cities to retain affordable housing funds. Santa Clarita has nearly $9M in these funds. Another item unified areas throughout the Santa Clarita Valley at large to comprise the new SCV Enterprise Zone. It was mentioned that some 330 businesses have taken advantage of enterprise zone tax savings. Buses are set to get on-board visual displays for information and advertising. And that, in essence, was it.

As for new business, City Manager Ken Pulskamp presented an economic growth program. Measures ranged from subsidizing the annexation of movie ranches to making a master plan for a conference center to reducing filming fees to a “business incubator” program. To pay for these incentives and programs required $110,000 from the general fund and another $140,000 from other sources. The City Council, SCV Economic Development Corporation, and the Chamber of Commerce were all enthused, shocking many. The economic growth program was adopted with a modification to extend a development fee deferral program through 2014.
A Newhall woman and her husband spoke during public participation. She had a lot to say in her three minutes, all of it pertaining to the plague of RVs parked along streets in Newhall. She said that she wanted to follow the model of Simi Valley and to get RVs off the street.  The woman proposed allowing them to be parked for no more than 24 hours and creating a “volunteer neighborhood watch” to deal with the grave problem. “Newhall is turning into the low class RV capitol of California,” she warned. Her husband held a board with photos of RVs parked throughout Newhall neighborhoods. Mayor Laurie Ender asked staff to start discussions with the couple.

Also speaking was Bruce Boyer of Lone Star Security. He is currently in a case against the City regarding its prohibitions of some advertising on/with vehicles. Boyer said that not only was the City violating his right to free speech, but it was wasting taxpayer dollars in mounting a legal defense. The city attorney refused to comment on the matter as it involves pending litigation. The meeting ended shortly thereafter, at 7:22.
[1]And here's the unremarkable agenda to go with it.