Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Happenings: History Deferred, God Trusted

Is Nothing Sacred?

At tonight’s meeting of the Santa Clarita City Council, we witnessed history, God, and scavenging for recyclables all come under attack.  These are turbulent times for us Claritans, so we best get straight to recapping[1].

I am laboring under a slight handicap, however, because SCVTV now broadcasts meetings with obnoxious commercials popping up at the most inopportune moments.  Thus, for the introductory portion of tonight’s meeting, I can tell you that Councilmember Marsha McLean delivered the invocation, but I cannot say about what in particular.  Following her words and the pledge, there was a proclamation for Hispanic Heritage Month about which Paul de la Cerda spoke at some length.  He recognized several leaders in the Hispanic community, then posed for a photo beneath the City seal. 

PP: Rent’s Too High and the Anti-Petz

Public participation followed, including two comments about the difficulties facing those who live in mobile homes.  With rent prices on the rise, many are finding it hard to get by and looking to City Hall for help.  The City is supportive of those whose rents are being raised by more than the legal amount, but it seems any hikes—even below the legally allowed limits—may be the problem.  Another speaker wondered why the City was enforcing a scavenging ordinance that prevents people from taking recyclables from bins.  Mayor Ferry would explain that it’s enforced to protect public health and because waste haulers count on some revenue from recyclables in bins, which scavengers may divert.

The most contentious comments, however, came from a certain Mario Alvarez.  He gave a peculiar opening to his speech, asking the council to listen to him using their most "civilized" and "educated" of sensibilities.  Then he got to the punchline—he was a speaker representing those who are “free of all gods and all religions.”  He continued: “We are the most discriminated group against."  He explained their goal of freedom from (not of) religion, and restated “We get offended more so than any so-called ‘people of faith’ when we see phrases like that one up there,” pointing at the proclamation of “In God We Trust.”  Alvarez said, “We would like very much for that to be removed from the City Council,” and also asked for removal of all traces of God-trusting from the new library.

Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Kellar addressed his comments.  He said that hundreds of major American cities, especially Washington, D.C., bear the phrase “In God We Trust” on their important structures.  Councilmember TimBen Boydston would try to clarify the difference between freedom of/from religion, but Alvarez tried to engage Boydston from his seat, prompting Mayor Ferry to threaten Alvarez with being removed if he couldn’t be silent.  For convenience' sake, I may hereafter refer to Mario Alvarez as the anti-Petz.  Petz, of course, is the nickname of realtor Steve Petzold, who worked dilligently to get “In God We Trust” displayed in City Hall—without quotation marks.      

Marsha Frets People Crushing

During reports and updates from the council members, we learned that Councilmember McLean earned a perfect score in the “Dancing With Our Stars” charity event.  Some $200,000 was raised by the dancers for twelve Claritan non-profits.  Other comments concerned the very busy Saturday we have approaching, with the library grand opening, street fair, jazz and blues festival, box city homeless fundraising event, pet shelter fundraising event, youth grove evening of remembrance, and more[2].

With their thoughts on the most epic Saturday ahead, the council members had relatively little to say about the consent calendar, which would pass with the recommended actions on all items.  Councilmember McLean did offer a few suggestions, however.  On item 3, she wanted a letter opposing military spending cuts that would adversely affect Santa Clarita to be written more succinctly.  On item 8, which concerned community grants, she expressed interest in being more dilligent about rotating grant review responsibilities.  But her gravest concerns regarded item 6, which would entail adding many ominously named BigBelly Recycling Units to the SCV.  These units collect and compact recyclables, and they’re “smart” units, allowing workers to remotely determine whether a unit needs to be emptied.  McLean was worried about people climbing into or being thrown into these devices and being, well, compacted.  City Manager Ken Pulskamp assured her the openings were too small for that, so the good people of Santa Clarita are unlikely to be squashed in a BigBelly. 

Other items on the consent calendar were plans to spend $32,500 to preserve a few acres in Wildwood Canyon, the purchasing of six buses for $3.8M from Yolo County (and why not? only live once), and establishing a loading zone in front of Egg Plantation for the loading/unloading of human cargo, specifically.  The calendar was reviewed and approved by 6:50.

History Takes Time

Discussion of an ordinance to protect Santa Clarita’s historic monuments lasted well over an hour.  The discussion dragged on because the ordinance on this evening’s agenda was a very weak one.  It made the process of historic designation contingent on the property owner’s consent—a 100% opt-in process.  Property owners would get certain tax benefits and other perks for listing their historic structure as such, but they would lose the ability to make many structural modifications without approval.  Unlike previous ordinance versions, a property owner would have to be on-board before his property could be listed.  This was good or awful, depending on one’s perspective.

Thinking it was a good idea were Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar, TimBen Boydston, Alan Ferdman, and others.  Boydston had to recuse himself on this item and speak strictly as a private citizen since a historic (no, not “an historic”) building is where he makes his living.  During his speech, he spoke with Jeffersonian rhetoric, arguing that we should not ignore private property rights in our quest to protect historic structures. 

Many of Santa Clarita’s residents didn’t fully agree with Boydston’s support for the ordinance, however.  Thoughtgul comments from Carol Rock, Leon Worden, Alan Pollack, Berta Gonzalez-Harper and others suggested that this ordinance was toothless, doing nothing to force and little to entice property owners to list their structures as historic  If the goal was saving the most historic of local buildings, this version of the ordinance was not the way to do it.

Despite disagreement in the property rights/historic preservation debate, there was consensus that some buildings need protection and that there should be stronger incentives for property owners to make up for limitations associated with historic listing. 

When public comments ended around 7:40, it quickly became clear that the ordinance was not going to pass this evening.  McLean almost immediately revealed that she’d be voting no, saying “We can do much better.”  She didn’t like the opt-in approach, and she thought a commission for historic preservation might be a good idea.  Councilmember  Weste also signaled that she would be voting no, saying she wouldn’t be the person to vote for an ordinance that would do so little to prevent the demolition of historic structures.  Mayor Pro Tem Kellar liked the fact that the ordinance respected property rights and thought that a $5000 check for every person who opts in might work well as an incentive for participation.  Mayor Ferry also wondered why there weren’t more concrete incentives for owners of historic properties, and he brought up an idea from last year about simply buying the structures that are most central to the City’s heritage.

At one point during the diuscussion, Kellar asked “When are we gonna put this thing to rest?”, noting that six years of discussion had failed to produce a solution.  Councilmember Weste tried to offer an idea, prioritizing 11 structures (including Newhall Ice Company, Melody Ranch main gate, Old Newhall Jail, American Legion Hall, among others) to preserve, noting that each might need special treatment.  The ice company is still a viable business, for instance, but all would be watched and funds made available if the structure needed to be purchased and moved, etc.

City Manager Pulskamp tried to distill the many, potentially conflicting directions he had been given by the council members.  The ordinance—the public hearing for which was continued to a later meeting—will be discussed again with more incentives, opinions from the LA Conservancy, ballpark values on Weste’s eleven most valuable historic monuments, and language for a preservation process a la Weste.  McLean added that something about plaques would also be useful.  History, in short, remains to be written.

The other special items—statewide community development bonds for Einstein Academy and a new EIR for the Master's College development (200 new dorms units first, extension of Dockweiler second)—were yessed through pretty quickly, and the meeting ended at 8:44.
[1]Here's the agenda.
[2]Here's that busy Saturday.



Stephen Petzold said...

I was ready to drive down to city hall and defend In God We Trust in chambers when I received an alert that IGWT was under attack.

Bob should have quietly pulled a coin out of his pocket and read the three elements found on each, In God We Trust-Liberty-E Pluribus Unum. These comprise the three elements of Dennis Prager's American Trinity. In God We Trust is chiseled into the marble over the speakers position in the House of Representatives. Hundreds of cities have decided to display the phrase prominently in recent years.

IMHO it is time for the city to display In God We Trust prominently in each of the libraries. Those who attended the council meeting years ago remember that Mayor Ferry made the sugeestion as to display the phrase in each city building of prominence. This was grand compromise between Ferry and Bob Kellar who had originally suggested adding it as an element of the city logo.

As for the word "cross" being used in the phrase at the Newhall library is still lacks attribution.

Anonymous said...

Yolo. I see what you did there.