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?


Anonymous said...

The High Speed Rail line is further away from Sulphur Springs School than the existing line which carries both cargo and Metrolink cars. But it will pass closely to or even through Mr. Hogans house and property. Mr. Hogan is also on the Board of the Sulphur Springs School District so perhaps there is some connection there.

Perhaps Pulsekamp was not around after the Northridge earthquake. ARCO used to own the crude pipelines that serve the McBean tank farm. One of the two (Line 1) did have several breaks from the earthquake and has never been placed back in service. As I recall some oil leaked into the Santa Clara River. The folks in the McBean neighborhood were impacted by the cleanup and street closures. I know, I visited friends in the area the day of the quake. Tragically, Vin Scully's son was killed in a helicopter crash surveying that same broken line. Pulsekamp should not be so dismissive of such concerns and the City should have something in their emergency plan regarding dealing with breaks to this line.

Just My Thoughts said...

On January 12, 2012 I was in a meeting with the city clerk and was assured that she had the only key to the room that held the absentee votes for our City Council election, but that two people were always in the room if ballot room was open.
Much to my surprise as I watched last night’s City Council meeting, city manager Ken Pulscamp stated that if the city clerk is unavailable there was no problem getting to the ballots, they have access!
The city clerk is the one given the task to run city council elections by the State, so, Mr. Pulscamp and Mayor Ender , no need to agendize the item or a council decision to add 2 separate locks with separate keys on the room with the absentee votes. What could be simpler?
Any new security on the absentee ballots would be a procedure not a law so why did Ken Pulscamp and Mayor Ender suggest they look at making changes in the next election?
Then a councilperson surmised that the ballots were in a locked room, in a locked office, on the third floor, in a locked building.
Lastly, Councilperson Mc Lean said this message” could spread like wildfire”.
This message “should” spread like wildfire the public has a right to know, it is called transparency!!