Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Happenings: Bag Ladies, Bay, Books

Viewed in isolation, this evening's city council meeting would make you think that, environmentally, we're one of the most forward-looking communities in the nation[1].  One-third of the meeting was spent discussing the legal viability of a plastic bag ban; the "Bay Delta Conservation Plan" was agendized and supported; and council members rallied Claritans to support public transportation and celebrate the preservation of Elsmere Canyon.  If you pay more attention to personal politics than issues, things were a little bumpier.  Mayor Ferry, ever self unaware, lectured Cam Noltemeyer on the importance of paying attention, and Boydston's still working out how to do what he does without grating on nerves.  In any case, this wasn't one of the more pivotal meetings.

Tonight’s recognitions went out to an Eagle Scout candidate who raised money to install a “fitness zone” in Central Park.  Next to be honored were the dentists and dental staff that support the Foundation for Children’s Dental Health.  Mayor Ferry remembered that, while working as an educator in Santa Clarita, there was a girl with very bad teeth whose appearance got her into frequent fights.  With help from the foundation, things (i.e., her teeth and tendency to fight) got better.  Ferry called forward the dentists who donate their time to serve the toothy needs of Clarita’s youth, one of whom happened to be his fiancĂ©.  We learned that the foundation has served 70,000 children since 1993, and a spokesdentist said that they are mostly children of Clarita’s working poor.  

Mayor Ferry now has a policy of kissing those receiving awards and recognition from the City (at least when they're his fiancé).

During round one of public participation, two women pointed out the dangers facing drivers and pedestrians at the intersection of McBean and Decoro.  They asked that the City focus its attention on this area and implement changes like a lower speed limit, right-hand-only turning lane, and longer pedestrian crossing time.  Next, Sandra Cattell spoke about her plastic bag colletion in astonishing detail.  She gave a brief comment about the need for reusable bags, but her real passion shone as she pulled bag after bag out of a large reusable bag, noting the event at which the bag had been received.  For most of her speaking period, she credited several river rallies, some informational events, and local institutions for her impressive reusable bag collection.  It seemed her point was that it’s not difficult for an active community member to collect a lot of reusable bags—in Cattell’s words, a “plethora of bags!”—that can replace disposable bags.  Mayor Ferry was laughing as the exercise continued and continued, asking Cattell if she would be offended at being called a bag lady.  Lynne Plambeck spoke on the same topic next, but with more tell and less show.  She offered to loan a copy of Bag It, a 70-minute film on the problems with plastic bags, for the City’s use in educating the public.  At least one council member (Weste) seemed keen on the idea.

City Attorney Joe Montes dampened the enthusiasm.  He said there are several lawsuits regarding plastic bag ordinances in process.  The suit for LA is being appealed, and there are suits in San Francisco and Marin County.  He noted that a Manhattan Beach lawsuit had suggested that a city the size of Santa Clarita would need an EIR before implementing a bag ban (there may be environmental effects like increased demand for paper bags, he speculated).  In any case, the council seems to be supportive of the bag-banning sentiment.  Councilmember Marsha McLean said she has “no doubt” the City will implement an ordinance once legal concerns are cleared up, and Councilmember Boydston said he was “in McLean’s corner” on the issue of discussing ways to limit plastic bag use.  Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar said he wanted to be sure the public’s sentiments were heard, but did not seem entirely opposed to the idea.    

At 6:41, bag talk ended.  Council members offered updates, with most at least mentioning the Fourth of July Parade (Boydston called it “world famous.”)  McLean, per usual, had the most to say, asking residents to get informed on the ½-cent sales tax associated with Measure R coming up for review; to attend a celebration of the protection of Elsmere Canyon; and to get informed about the Orange Line’s proposed commuter rail project. 

The consent calendar passed with just a few hiccups.  Council decided to support the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which supports constructing a peripheral canal (or some similar new means of water-routing) that would, in theory, help with both environmental needs of the bay-delta region and secure water supplies for Santa Clarita.  Cam Noltemeyer and Lynne Plambeck said that the council should have a study session before supporting this plan, which is not without controversy.  City Manager Ken Pulskamp and a representative from the Castaic Lake Water Agency assured the council that they the plan was sound and important, and it ultimately received less discussion by council than the issues relating to plastic bags.  In response to a question, Pulskamp said a new conveyance plan would help Santa Clarita with chloride issues, although a new canal wouldn’t likely be built until the mid-2020s, rather past the window we have to address chloride issues.

Councilmember Boydston made a point to ask why some streets were being repaired and others weren’t in the street slurry program.  Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar noted that the question is answered almost every couple of years, and it was again this year.  Essentially, it’s a really complicated selection process, but it’s mostly dictated by a software program that assesses road quality and repair priorities.   

Finally, Cam Noltemeyer wondered why funds under the umbrella of construction were being used to beef up the Newhall Library’s opening day materials collection.  It was explained that all the accounting practices were standard and sound, and adding books, CDs, and DVDs (or as written on the agenda, “CD’s” and “DVD’s”) was a fundamental part of building the new library. 

Acting in his mayoral capacity, Ferry decided to offer some constructive criticism for Cam Noltemeyer while the council voted to support the consent calendar’s items.  He told civic-minded high school students in attendance that “all the negativity and attack that she made on the Council was not for the purpose of creating change.”  This was all because Noltemeyer usually leaves the chambers after making her comments.  Ferry, who is widely praised for his spotless attendance record and for the rapt attention he affords speakers, was challenged by Boydston who noted that “Sometimes they [speakers] can’t stay,” and suggesting that Noltemeyer had started some important discussions with her comments.  A discussion was bubbling between Ferry and Boydston, but Weste stepped in to end it by motioning approval of the consent calendar items (excepting the library one, where she had to abstain due to her proximity to the project). 

The meeting ended at 7:35.

[1]Here's the agenda.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happenings: Sign Jail, Boydston/McLean Tensions

Apologies for my absence: now to business[1].  Tonight’s meeting included Frank Ferry telling TimBen Boydston “You got screwed,” open space acquisitions in Agua Dulce, and updated committee assignments.  While TimBen Boydston continues to clash more or less spectacularly with most of his fellow members, it's the McLean/Boydston dynamic that remains least friendly.  Tonight didn't help.

Mayor Frank Ferry added some rhythm to the gavel banging that signals the start of the meeting.  It positively delighted City Manager Ken Pulskamp[2].  But the levity was short-lived, as Councilmember Marsha McLean decided to issue a patriotic challenge—a call to arms, if you will—during her invocation.  “I was shocked at the answer when I asked my granddaughter if she recited the pledge…she said her teacher apparently told her there was no time,” McLean explained.  She was worried that no time for the pledge of allegiance signaled we may be “in deep trouble as a country”, and asked anyone with children or grandchildren to inquire about their classroom pledging habits. 
Awards came next, and Councilmember Laurene Weste was recognized as LA County’s Volunteer of the Year.  A representative from Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s office highlighted Weste’s commitment to important political, environmental, social, and historical causes.  A tearful Weste gratefully accepted the honor and praised Antonovich for being supportive and always taking her calls.
Public Participation began with words from Steve Petzold.  He gave a shout-out to former Claritan and current pledge of allegiance supporter Roger Gitlin.  Then he got to his real passion and invited the council to attend a special event at the Valencia Library featuring a film about the dangers of light pollution.  Rather than dwelling on the profound notion that to see the light of stars we must pursue darkness, Petzold used the balance of his speaking term to enthuse about a book on sniping and its availability at local libraries[3].

Cam Noltemeyer spoke next and used her three-minutes to talk about all of the environmental issues that remain unresolved in Santa Clarita.  These range from noise and air pollution problems created by the proposed high-speed rail to the toxins from Whittaker-Bermite to OVOV’s air quality issues. 

The last public speaker was Karen Hudson, who expressed concern about cuts in the number of meals delivered by the SCV Senior Center.  During his response, City Manager Ken Pulskamp seemed to favor an approach of talking with the center, but City Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked if the council would be in favor of acting right away to send $5000 to help support meal programs.  “We have to be careful there,” said McLean, who noted that previous donations from the City of Santa Clarita had led to an equal amount of financial support being withdrawn by other parties, leading to no net gain for the seniors.  Councilmember Weste and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar also encouraged speaking with the center before taking action, leading Boydston to relent for the time being. 

The public had spoken, and now members of the City Council took to the mics for their own causes and updates.  Weste talked about the new trailhead over the Santa Clara River.  She paid tribute to the recently deceased Reverend Monsignor Renahan, leader and counsel to Claritan Catholics for decades.  Marsha McLean was impressed by how well her grandchildren and their classmates sang at a recent performance.  Boydston asked to agendize a timeline to switch library board positions from the council to members of the public.  He also asked for a delay in the discussion of benefits for councilmembers out of legal caution; Boydston has been inquiring about the disparity between his benefits and those enjoyed by his fellow council members.  Boydston said that he received a memo from Mayor Frank Ferry about concerns over “talking to lawyers”, and Boydston said it was no big deal to talk (he clarified that he hadn’t retained a lawyer), saying that Ferry himself has a law degree but Boydston still talks with him.  Kellar congratulated  Bill Reynolds and Stanley Cockerell for their Bronze Stars after service in the Vietnam War.  Kellar hopes to bring the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Moving Wall to Santa Clarita some time next year.  Comments concluded when Mayor Ferry spoke about meeting with local school kids about Santa Clarita’s 25th anniversary as a city.

The consent calendar’s biggest item was adoption of the 2012-13 budget of some $183M and associated plans for capital improvements and employee compensation.  Councilmember Boydston has requested line item breakdowns of the City’s various contracts and budget items and thanked staff for providing 18 pages worth of these details.  After perusing the line items, his few issues were quickly resolved.  Speaker Alan Ferdman was pleased to see that Canyon Country was getting some attention in the budget, but worried about employee benefits. 

Boydston was concerned about another item on the consent calendar pertaining to acceptance of large-scale projects.  Currently, the City Council accepts/approves these projects, but the item would allow the City Manager to act in this capacity instead.  That would shorten the time it takes for contractors to be paid (they have to wait for project acceptance), but Boydston worried that the public wouldn’t be able to speak out against project acceptance as effectively if there were problems.  Councilmember McLean challenged him to produce an example where the public discouraged project acceptance, and Boydston said a less-than-satisfactory road repair job in Canyon Country led to complaints.  That would have been a case where he would have delayed project approval by the council.  Regardless, McLean and Pulskamp said that they usually hear about problems with big projects, and the item passed with a vote from everyone save Boydston.

An open space acquisition piqued the interest of speaker Cam Noltemeyer.  She wondered about the purchase of open space in Agua Dulce using Claritan tax dollars since most of the area is located miles east of Santa Clarita’s easternmost boundary.  She also said that the map of areas to be purchased was vague as to whether 600 residential units would still be built or whether the land they were going to be built on was part of the acquisition.  Pulskamp would clarify that the City purchased the land that would have held these units and that it would, indeed, become open space.  Thus, with the exception of the item pertaining to purchasing policy updates (specifically the city manager’s ability to accept public works projects), the consent calendar passed with recommended actions.  

Discussion of political signs came next.  It stretched on for quite a while and revealed that there are still raw nerves following the most recent election, with words growing especially contentious between Councilmembers McLean and Boydston.  Not helping matters was a video that Boydston had put together to describe the history of political sign policy in Santa Clarita—essentially clips of people talking about signs at past meetings.  Mercifully, Mayor Ferry asked to stop the video and simply talk 6 minutes in (there is nothing worse than watching stale council footage nearly two hours into a live council meeting, and Ferry said the video was half-an-hour long).  There was a long debate over the efficacy of fines, the cost-benefit analysis of printing small signs and putting them in out of bounds areas, and the ability to control sign placement activates by volunteers.  McLean recalled an instance of pro-Boydston signs being bolted to live trees.  When Mayor Ferry said Boydston wouldn’t do that himself, McLean snapped back that they really had no idea which person it was doing the tree damage.  She was not pleased with Boydston and what she called his efforts to embarrass her and Laurene Weste on the video.    

In a moment that must have been gratifying for TimBen Boydston, Ferry said “You got screwed,” when it came to sign policiy in the past.  He admitted that Boydston had played by the rules and paid for little signs when bigger signs were not allowed in the policy, but sitting council members had printed bigger signs knowing they wouldn't face stiff consequences.

Ultimately, the council decided to get rid of fines to reclaim signs and instead implement a “sign jail” policy.  Any signs placed in the public right-of-way will be seized and held until after the election, and the city attorney will clarify an appeals process to be approved at a future meeting.  Everyone was in agreement.

The meeting ended with Ferry’s allotment of committee appointments to council members.  It was all fine and good until Alan Ferdman asked the council to more carefully consider Laurene Weste’s service with regard to sanitation distrcits.  He implied that she was too closely associated with parties pushing sanitation policies that will cost Claritans a lot of money.  Boydston decided to push Ferdman’s suspicions and questioned Weste, who clarified that she had indeed attended events and associated with many governmental and non-governmental groups interested in water policy.  She said it was important to build and maintain these contacts, and Ferry defended her actions. 

[1]Here's the agenda.
[2]At leas that’s whose giggle I thought I heard.
[3]The title, apparently, is unavailable at LA County libraries.