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.


Sterling King said...

Thanks for your coverage I Heart. I always enjoy your recap.

Sterling King

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