Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happenings: Pulskamp's Last Sit

For his last city council meeting, City Manager Ken Pulskamp could have done worse[1].  It was a tour de force of all the things he’ll miss(?) when he moves to his new post in Burbank.  Apart from a heartfelt sendoff and cake, this meeting had the vocal Placeritans, fierce ambivalence over property rights, Ferry inappropriateness, TimBen over-the-topness,  and rah-rah outlook he’s become so familiar with over the years.  There was real business, too—a parcel in Placerita and historic structures are out of limbo—but really, the story tonight was the end of the Pulskamp era.  

Big End, Big Names

After Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar’s invocation (military/angel-themed holiday tree goes for $7,250 at Festival of Trees benefitting B&G Club), there was a series of presentations.  First, out-going State Assemblyman Cameron Smyth was cheered for his terms in office.  Frank called the Smyths the Kennedys of Santa Clarita, and pointed out accomplishments like protection of Elsmere Canyon, advocating for film industry tax breaks, and supporting enterprise zones.  Councilmembers Marsha McLean and Laurene Weste heaped additional praise on Smyth, and Councilmember TimBen Boydston applauded his willingness to reach across the aisle in the legislature.  Smyth was presented with a key to the city, his second (“I have the key to the front door and the back door,” he joked).  His affection for Santa Clarita was clear in the speech that followed, which he concluded with recognition of City Manager Ken Pulskamp.  Smyth recalled hiring Pulskamp to be city manger, and he called it his best decision on the council where once he served.   

A Santa Clarita Sister City presentation came next.  There was discussion of the exchange between Santa Clarita and its sister cities of Tena, Ecuador and Sariaya, Phillipines.  Plans for the future include the 8th medical mission to Tena, starting a student ambassador program, and looking for a third sister City.  There was a Powwerpoint presentation that ended with the speaker moving to a slide of Ken Pulskamp’s supposed passport.  She acted surprised and wondered what it could be doing there before jumping into a series of Pulskamp's accomplishments with the sister city group framed in a travelogue.  Points for commitment to the acting were deserved.  Former Mayor Carl Boyer presented Pulskamp with a small globe for his leadership.

To cap things off, new City Manager Ken Striplin gave a short speech in continuation of what he declared “All Pulskamp, All Night, All Love.”  The speech was short, and I couldn’t discern whether Striplin was a bit choked up or simply tongue-tied during one lapse in oration.  He was sincere, regardless.  As a parting gift, he presented an oil painting of Beale’s Cut.  (A gap in some rocks may sound dull, but it was actually quite a nice piece).  Striplin embraced the symbolism, praising Pulskamp for having “created a pathway for Santa Clarita’s continuing success,” and said, “We’re going to miss you so very much.”

Comments from the council focused more on the man than his accomplishments.  Weste talked about his ability to stay calm no matter what, but recalled a particularly excited call from Pulskamp one day when, while hiking, he saw a bear (“Can the bear see you?” asked Weste; “Naw he’s meandering,” replied the undefended Pulskamp).  Kellar called it an honor to work with Pulskamp, but said, “It’s more of an honor to be a friend of his.”  Boydston and McLean remembered selecting Pulskamp for the city manager position—Boydston on a citizen committee, McLean on council.  The most personal words came from Mayor Ferry.  Ferry began, “You become extremely guarded, and your circle grows smaller,” reflecting on how his circle of friends has shrunk since taking positions of power (i.e., principal and mayor).  He counted Pulskamp as part of this circle, and remember seeing his “ugly mug” when he woke up from his coma (proof, Ferry joked, he was not in Heaven).  Pulskamp helped Ferry through his divorce, and he was there as a confidant.  Ferry promised more jokes, less “Kumbaya” at Pulskamp’s upcoming roast.

After some commissioners thanked Pulskamp for his work, the man-of-honor said a few words himself.   “It stops being a job and just starts being your life,” he said of his role as city manager, and he thanked the council and citizens of Santa Clarita for being so active and supportive of their community.  A break for cake was a fitting end to the saccharine—or, perhaps, bittersweet—farewell to the man who has helped shape Santa Clarita for essentially all of its years as a city.

Consent Calendar in Under One Minute

Once the cake break ended at 7:15, the five-item consent calendar passed with the recommended actions on all items, and there were no comments from council or public.  The only big item was $5.3M for the purchase of eleven buses that run on compressed natural gas. 

Announcements and updates from the council members were in the holiday spirit, encouraging support for the organizations that feed and house Santa Clarita’s hungry and homeless.  Mayor Ferry cheered Santa Clarita’s fortune in being selected as the finish and start of stages 3 and 4, respectively, of the Amgen Tour—that’s the one where people ride bicycles on streets, except somewhat faster than usual and with considerably more cheering.  Ferry said everyone is “thoroughly” invited.  He also asked for an investigation of unlicensed car washes.  These compete with the more expensive, legitimate washed that have the required licenses for water treatment, etc., He also asked for a study session on the role of city and county in providing senior services. 

Placeritans Pontificate

I’m beginning to doubt whether it’s really as nice to live in Placerita as everybody says.  The Hairell family has long wanted to divide its two-acres of Placeritan real estate into two parcels, but their request was denied by the Planning Commission.  The denial came despite staff recommendation of allowing the division, which is consistent with the city-wide general plan.  Curtis Hairell killed himself after the decision (he was already depressed and this setback may have been the “last straw”), and his father was present before the council in an appeal of the planning commission’s denial of the project.

Comments from the public were about evenly divided.  Glo Donnelly said the owners had the right to subdivide their property, and she called on her fellow licensed realtors to defend said right.  Most speakers in favor echoed the property rights argument, noting that there was nothing illegal about the division and that it was consistent with the master plan.  Speakers against the subdivision argued that cutting down two oak trees and building a new, big structure would ruin the character of the community.  Sandra Cattell was particularly tasteless in her remarks.  She talked about “mourning” the horse breeding and training facility once on the property, calling it “part of the demise of the rural equestrian community”—all this morbid language in front of a father still grieving the death of his son.  What a charmer.  The neighbors spoke about the late Curtis’s dream home conflicting with the realization of their dream home.  Threats of flooding, access issues, and odd lot boundaires were also offered as reasons to deny the appeal. 
Ultimately, the city council took the stance that they oughtn’t stand in the way of a private property owner doing a legal sub-division of his property.  Mitigation oaks are being planted (the city arborist actually discussed the health and prospects of the oaks to be cut down), and it seems that the neighbors will be consulted about including some kind of screening to prevent them from having to stare at the big new home that’s about to mar their view.


Finally, a Historic Preservation Ordinance

It’s getting late so I’ll be brief: the new historic preservation ordinance included a list of eleven historic structures in Santa Clarita (new structures can be added via an opt-in process).  Property-owners on the list can do routine maintenance as usual, but if they want to make major modifications to their structure, they must get a permit approved.  If the owner wishes to demolish a structure, they must appear before the city council first, and the council may offer to buy and move the structure, etc.  Unlike previous realizations of the historic preservation ordinance, this one had more incentives, including grants for improvements to listed structures.  Furthermore, there was a greater emphasis on the purchase and moving of historic structures as a means of saving them without infringing so directly on property rights.  Mayor Ferry noted that this left a possibility for destruction of a historic place if the city is unable to afford moving costs (usually $15-$30 per square foot), but it was generally agreed that this was an unlikely scenario. 

Comments were a mixed bag.  TimBen Boydston—who had to recuse himself on this item because the theater property would be listed—called the proposal “immoral taking.”  After her rousing speech in defense of private property rights, Glo Donnelly suggested they weren’t quite so untouchable when it came to preserving historic structures.  Alan Ferdman questioned whether Laurene Weste’s list of key structures could be included in the proposed ordinance.  He said the official minutes from the last meeting on historic preservation showed she did not clearly include the list in directions to staff for revising the ordinance.  Leon Worden made an unconvincing argument (the word "argument" used loosely) about how property values are unaffected by historic designation.  Manny Santana, owner of the old jailhouse, told the City, “You’ve done everything wrong,” when it came to construction of the library immediately next to his jailhouse, another listed structure. 

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar was opposed to the ordinance because those on the list had not “opted-in” to being on the list.  However, his fellow councilmembers disagreed, and with some slight modifications and addendums, the ordinance was approved. 

Public participation followed, and consisted of Berta Gonzalez-Harper thanking Ken Pulskamp for his dedication to the City of Santa Clarita.  Ferry wanted a slow clap as the meeting ended and Pulskamp walked out the door.  Instead, Laurene Weste adjourned the meeting in his honor.  The Pulskamp era ended.   
[1]The agenda.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happenings: The Countdown Begins

I've created a new blog that should last for just over a month.  IHeartSCHistory will cover each of Santa Clarita's years as a city.  You may recall something similar to this was planned at SCVTalk but I never got around to it.  Now, I have.  There's an introduction posted, a countdown clock to 4:30pm, December 15th, 2012, and by tomorrow, there will be a post covering highlights from 1987.  I'll continue CC recapping here, as usual.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Happenings: Ideological Weirdness, Pulskamp's Not-Quite-Last Meeting

The three eldest members of the Santa Clarita City Council were upset by one concept in particular this evening: free speech protection for video presentations[1].  While Frank Ferry was merely annoyed by the thought of video presentations, and Boydston is quite a fan of them, Weste challenged the City Attorney on whether the law did, indeed, require allowing council members to express themselves via PowerPoint and video if they wished.  The meeting was, as a whole, annoying.  It was long, gave me little confidence in how some grasp the idea of free speech, and despite lasting over three hours, it felt as if very little of importance was accomplished.  Who wouldn’t want to read more after that?

Blather, Blather, Everywhere

Mayor Frank Ferry delivered the invocation, suggesting that we spend Thanksgiving with our families.  He concluded with a prayer. 

After presentations for breast cancer and domestic violence awareness months, there were photos, brief speeches, and an interesting suggestion by Ferry.  “Husbands: there’s nothing more loving or cherishing you can do than make a breast cancer appointment”—for their wives, that is.  In future meetings, perhaps Ferry will clarify whether wives ought to reciprocate by scheduling prostate exams for their husbands. 

The Ferry Show continued with a speech in praise of State Senator Sharon Runner.  Runner, who will be leaving the senate shortly, was recognized for her public service, leadership, and values.  She did not choose to run for reelection after her double lung transplant surgery, after which she said she’s just starting to feel like herself again.  She looked well, spoke confidently and graciously, and was wished well by all.

Public Participation came next.  A woman from Canyon Country spoke about code enforcement and the meddling neighbors who report violations.  She has a 23-foot long truck—in Canyon Country, who doesn’t?—that she parks on a slab in her yard.  She mentioned her frustrations over inconsistent vehicle parking enforcement, questionable cause for a citation, and being singled out.  Cam Noltemeyer made her presence known (she mentioned being overseas in past weeks) as she spoke about her continued dismay over a horse-race wagering facility.  More interestingly, she asked why there was no list of 2012 lobbyists published online; recall that all paid lobbyists who speak before the City Council are required to register.  Lynne Plambeck decided to do something fun this evening, kindly giving the City original newspaper coverage of the birth of the City of Santa Clarita on December 15, 1987. 

Council member updates followed.  As usual, the various members mentioned sundry events and causes to support, all of them worthwhile and worthy but quickly forgotten as yet more events and more causes were mentioned, jockeying for position in event-saturated schedules.     


To What Do We Consent?
The consent calendar’s primary purpose, this evening, was providing Cam Noltemeyer with ample opportunity to make comments.

On an item moving Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin’s transition to City Manger from January 1, 2013 to December 1, 2012, Noltemeyer wondered about Striplin’s “executive benefits” and whether the City Council received comparable benefits.  (City Manager Ken Pulskamp responded that only the city manager, assistant city manager, and department heads receive executive benfits; council members do not).

There was some property shuffling in the wake of the end of Newhall redevelopment, about which Noltemeyer wondered whether property transfers and such were really fiscally neutral.

Item 7 awarded a construction contract for a park-and-ride near McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard.  The plants and animals living in the location will be displaced for a great paved expanse where commuters can park their cars.  Bike lockers, bus bays, and more of the painfully homespun public art that already litters the City are also planned.  Noltemeyer was upset about the unsavory elements this transit hub might attract, but Pulskamp noted there would be active patrolling of the center and no overnight parking. 

Finally, an item concerning landscape maintenance districts attracted Cam’s critical gaze.  She inquired about the 10% contingency that always seems to go along with bids and why the same company tends to win all the landscaping contracts.  TimBen Boydston requested a review of the landscape company’s performance in two years. 

The agenda was approved by all members of the council.  Before moving onto new and unfinished business, however, Mayor Ferry asked Pulskamp to double-check whether the lack of registered lobbyists was legitimate or if there had been some kind of oversight.  This was his shout-out to Cam Noltemeyer, he made known. 

A Million Reasons to Annex Copperhill

Copperhill will be joining the Claritan fold sooner rather than later.

Time is of the essence because, unless annexed by December 1, the City would not receive a $1.3M transfer of tax revenue after annexing Copperhill.  It would still be obligated to provide residents with services, but there would be no collection of tax revenue until 2014.  To prepare for annexation, there has been a long sequence of mapping, formal agreements, public hearings, and so on.  Tonight’s pre-annexation was the next step on the list.  If all goes according to plan—which it likely will, as no one expressed opposition—then Copperhill and its 10,000 or so residents may be joining the City before year’s end. 

Should, Shall, Will
or, Free Speech 101

After all of his talking, Mayor Ferry’s voice was growing hoarse, and he asked for a throat lozenge (excuse me, “lozenger”), which a member of the audience gladly supplied.

He had more talking to do as he fielded public and council member comments about the norms he and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar had recently revised.  The public spoke first, by which I mean Cam Noltemeyer and Diane Trautman.  Both responded to the fact that rules based on common courtesy had been re-phrased to suggest, rather than compel, compliance (i.e., most actions went from “will”s and “shall”s to “should”s and “may”s).  Noltemeyer though the language should be stronger, hoping it would “make this a city council that is transparent, that really does its business in public.”  Trautman felt the opposite.  She applauded the move from norms written as “directives” to norms written as “recommendations.”  She suggested that they add a norm pertaining to interaction with outside public agencies, but the council was not responsive.     

Both councilmembers Marsha McLean and TimBen Boydston had an exhausting list of tweaks to suggest, most of them changing the word preceding a recommended action.  Some were minorly substantive.  For example, McLean asked to revise a norm stating that all contact with the city attorney should be shared, and Boydston asked about changing the procedure for decision reconsiderations.  But in the end, as Ferry and Kellar would both suggest, the non-binding norms really rely on the willingness of council members to use common sense and to be polite and respectful in order to work. 

This point, and the Constitution, were forgotten during discussion of video presentations.  There was question about whether videos should be sent out ahead of time (they can be, but there can’t be responses, per the Brown Act) and, more importantly, whether they should be allowed at all.  Councilmember McLean made an argument that videos can be edited selectively to manipulate an audience or convey a false impression of events.  She did not consider words could do the same thing, so she suggested that speech (literally, talking) be protected and allowed, but videos not be.  She would call the possibility of videos presentations “dangerous” more than once.
Councilmember Laurene Weste shared McLean’s concerns.  She worried that there would be five videos per item, and was inclined to keep presentations strictly verbal.  Bob Kellar stepped up to support Weste, noting that was the way things had been done, and that things were working.  Boydston, Ferry and Montes would all gently hint at the changing nature of technology, but McLean, Weste, and Kellar thought there was a clear distinction between a spoken and video-based presentations, feeling that the latter was disruptive and suited for banning. 

City Attorney Joe Montes spoke up.  He explained that freedoms of expression afforded the council and others were to be interpreted broadly.  He recommended limiting the duration of video presentations rather than banning them outright, since the council clearly wanted some form of regulation.

Laurene Weste made repeated efforts to challenge Montes’ interpretation of the law.  She was perplexed that videos ought to be allowed while not everyone was given the same amount of time to speak, etc.  Montes assured Weste of his interpretation, but Weste asked, “How do you know that until you go study the law?”  It was asked cheerfully, but Weste was implying that Montes didn’t know what he was talking about.

After a very long discussion, it was decided that video presentations will be allowed at council meetings.  However, they must be under 5 minutes, and copies must be sent out prior to the meeting at which they’ll be shown.  Ferry explained that seeing it advance would be helpful.  “I don’t wanna blow up, so give me some emotional time,” he requested, to mentally process videos before they were shown.  

TimBenefits, Again

Alan Ferdman was right.  He’s the member of the public that was referenced in the agenda item covering reconsideration of a two-tier cash-in-lieu benefits program: “During the course of the October 23, 2012, City Council meeting, some members of the public expressed concern that the City Council in 2010 did not formally approve the cash in lieu two-tier benefit for unrepresented employees and Councilmembers at an open Council meeting as required by Government Code section 54957.6. A review of the resolution adopted by the Council on December 14, 2010, confirms that while other benefits were described in the resolution, the reduction in the cash in lieu benefit was not.”

This was a little embarrassing to be addressing so far after the fact, and it was clear that City Attorney Joe Montes wanted to get this item settled quickly.  Speaking before a council of four—TimBen Boydston had to recuse himself as the item affected his compensation—Montes said that a resolution to “clarify the intent” to have a two-tier cash-in-lieu system would set things straight.  If the council did not follow this action, then benefits for Boydston and all employees hired since 2011 (over 30 of them) would have to be changed in the same way. 

Boydston, speaking as an individual, raised many points which he felt compelled the city council to award equal benefits to all.  To my non-legally-trained ears, they sounded solid. He ended with what, read out of context, sounded like a legal threat, suggesting that the City would be at risk if he didn’t receive the same benefits as his fellow council members.  But he said it more passively than threateningly, so who knows if he'll follow through? 

Cam Noltemeyer and Diane Trautman spoke largely in support of Boydston.  Trautman was particularly perplexed by City Attorney Joe Montes's invocation and confusing interpretation of adherence to the Brown Act in this case.  Montes would offer counter-arguments to all of Boydston’s points that McLean asked be written down to allow her further analysis.  As mentioned, his responses on this topic were quite quick and concise, but all seemed to support the legality of the recommended action over Boydston's own legal arguments.  Again, without familiarity on the law surrounding benefits, Brown Act, and limitations, it wasn't particularly easy to follow to back-and-forth.    

In the end, there wasn't much left to be said about Boydston receiving hundreds less per month in health insurance cash-in-lieu.  Ferry wondered about whether they were being left open to a lawsuit, but Montes recommended that the City proceed with formalizing the two-tier benefit system.  Kellar, who has displayed little sympathy for Boydston’s complaints about receiving $800 less per month in cash-in-lieu than his fellow members, moved the recommended action. McLean gave a resigned yes, but everyone else seemed less troubled in their affirmation of Boydston’s lower benefit exchange and moved on.

A Bad Idea

Few ideas are unambiguously bad, but Boydston’s suggestion for distribution of the City Council agenda two weeks in advance seemed to have very, very little going for it.  He thought the public and council would benefit from more time to review items prior to meetings, but he was reminded that such an early release would increase response times, delay projects, cause a heavy workload on staff, potentially confuse the public, lengthen the time it takes to agendize items, and so on. 

Out of 10 other cities investigated, none released an agenda more than 6 days in advance of a meeting.  Santa Clarita does it 5 days in advance.  Boydston unseuccessfully tried to change it to 6 days, but Mayor Ferry asked “Why is more [time to review] better?”  With little additional discussion, all but Boydston voted to keep the same agenda distribution schedule. 

With that, the meeting ended.  There’s only one more meeting left where Ken Pulskamp will be the City Manager, so the late November meeting will likely be a big one.  Stand warned.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

25 Years: This is Not a Joke

Dear Readers:

I rarely request favors, so I hope you’ll consider indulging me in this one.  If you’re going to the City Council Meeting tonight and have a modicum of civic pride, please please please read this letter during Public Participation.  I am unable to read it myself this evening.  Without a wake-up call, I’m afraid the celebration of Santa Clarita’s 25th Anniversary of Cityhood is going to be really lame.
Print out a copy, practice your timing once or twice, and read it.  If we, the people who think and read and write about Santa Clarita don't enthuse about her big anniversary, who will?  

Council and Staff of the City of Santa Clarita: We have a question for you this evening, one famously posed by R&B group Jagged Edge: Where the party at?

Santa Clarita’s 25th Anniversary of Cityhood will be celebrated on Saturday, December 15, 2012.  It’s  just a month away but still, no invite.  We know you like to plan everything far in advance.  That’s why we’re concerned that, as of today, there isn’t the merest mention of Santa Clarita’s 25th Anniversary of Cityhood on the official calendar, much less mention of a 25th Anniversary party or gala. 

The SCV Historical Society is holding an open house and celebration in the afternoon, but we want—nay, we demand—a City-hosted event befitting this magnificent milestone.  Perhaps you thought that the State of the City Luncheon, with its “25 Years of Success” theme, counted as a celebration.  It didn’t.  Maybe you think that your 25th Anniversary web pages are sufficient observation of this milestone.  They aren’t.  We want an honest-to-goodness party for Santa Clarita's birthday.  We want food and drinks and a competent DJ.  Here are some other ideas which you may wish to think of including for the event.  Please, take notes.

Idea 1: Have a New-Year’s-style countdown to 4:30pm, the time at which we became a city.  At 4:30, shout “Happy Cityhood!”, etcetera. 

Idea 2: Before the countdown, have some entertaining speakers talk about the past 25 years: think John Boston, Tony & Reena Newhall, Leon Worden…people who will talk about more than parks and roads.

Idea 3: Put out donation boxes for local non-profits, and challenge every Claritan in attendance to donate $25 to one or more cherished causes.

You’ve hosted lots of successful events, Santa Clarita, and we know you can pull off something great for the 25th Anniversary of Cityhood.  Once this anniversary passes, we don’t have another big one until 2037, and by that point, a lot of the VIPs on the guest list are probably going to be dead.  So please, while the people who shaped Santa Clarita for the past 25 years are still alive, let’s do this thing right.  Let's show just how much we all heart SCV. 

IF IN AUDIENCE: Begin slow clap at end of speech, building to thunderous applause. 

IF MAYOR FERRY DEMANDS ORDER: Clap even louder, and yell variants of “We’ll stop clapping when you start planning!”, “Hearting SCV is not a crime, Frank!”, etc.

IF YOU PLANNED TO READ THIS BUT GET CALLED AFTER IT’S ALREADY BEEN READ: Simply state: “I, too, am here in support of a celebration befitting Santa Clarita’s 25th Anniversary of Cityhood.  Forgetting an annviersary is tacky, so don't."