Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Only in SCV: Christmas, a time for counting Birds

It's time for me to make that perennial call to arms--or, rather, binoculars.  This Sunday, December 23rd, LA-area birders will meet at the Western Bagel by Valencia Blvd./Bouquet at 7am.  From there, they shall disperse to identify and count all the birds they can in the official Santa Clarita count circle.  The information they collect will be compiled by the National Audubon Society, made available online, and analyzed to look at local and nation-wide trends in bird populations. Birds are easy to observe, diverse, and respond rapidly to environmental changes, so they are a great indicator of what's going on in the environment at large.  And with over 130 counts in California and well over 1,000 counts nationwide drawing tens of thousands of volunteers, the Christmas Bird Count is an amazing example of "citizen science"--regular folks collecting data that is used to inform scientific research and policy. 

You'll note that I said LA-area birders will be meeting at Western Bagel, not Claritan birders.  That's because Santa Clarita is pitifully under-represented on its own bird count--at least the years I've gone.  It helps if you have binoculars and can identify birds, but there are plenty who join the count just to get out for a hike or to help more skilled bird-watchers find and navigate the hidden city parks of Claritadom, which may be harboring birds aplenty.  And when all the birds are counted, the counters assemble for lunch at Tacos y Burritos El Pato in Newhall--and you know how much your city council members want you to support small businesses in Newhall.  So if you've done your Christmas shopping, consider spending the morning of the 23rd doing something for the birds.  For more details, you can visit Audubon's website here:
and the page of the count organizer here:

Happy counting.  (Below, I've posted an example of some of the information that emerges from these counts.  Santa Clarita's quail numbers seem to be falling, while the familiar mockingbird holds steady, and exotic Eurasian Collared-Doves continue their invasion of California, growing quickly in numbers.  Dozens and dozens of other species of birds are showing their own unique trends.  What will this year reveal?)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Happenings: Good Ol' Kellar Leads Good Ol' Clarita

Despite the new mayor, new city manager, and new business at tonight’s council meeting, it’s still the same old Santa Clarita[1].  It wasn’t a long meeting.  Mayor Bob Kellar actually asked people to keep things brief since he had 150 people waiting for him at a restaurant (he prefaced this request with: “I know I’m being inappropriate…”).  It was an even shorter night for Councilmember Frank Ferry, who skedaddled at six, once he stepped down as mayor.  But Ferry didn’t miss much—just some budget tweaks, environmental issues, and mobile home discontentment.  Perhaps it's fitting that this last city council of 2012, this final meeting before the 25th Anniversary of Cityhood, can be summed up in five little words: what’s new is old again.

Exit Ferry, Stage Right

The change in council leadership began at 5pm, but I was a little late to the party.  I began watching in the midst of a long procession of people congratulating Ferry on his abbreviated stint as mayor.  Recall that if the April election had gone as usual, it would have been Mayor Laurie Ender everyone was wising well tonight.  Bob Kellar was voted to be the new mayor, and Laurene Weste was voted mayor pro tem.  Mayor Kellar promised that in 2013 he would, among other things, make it a “defining year” in the battle against Cemex mining, continue policies promoting economic development, and host some community meetings to reach out to Claritans in order to promote community involvement, unity and transparency. 

City Manager Ken Striplin, soon to be father of four, gave a short speech as well.  Now leading the crew at City Hall, he reflected on how they “truly are keepers of the good life.”  Striplin planned conservative fiscal management, more capital improvements, and the continuation of other generally Pulskampian policies.            

The Meeting Proper Begins

The change in leadership concluded with 20 minutes of restrained celebration.  At 6:18, the regularly scheduled city council meeting began with Councilmember Marsha McLean delivering the invocation.  She applauded Claritans’ giving, neighborly spirit, citing a recent story about one resident who helped replace the damaged roof on the home of a neighbor in need. 

There were no awards, presentations, or recognitions on the agenda (a very Merry Christmas, indeed!), so the meeting moved swiftly to round one of public participation.  Allan Cameron mentioned some big names from SCV history, paying tribute to the deceased members of the city formation committee as we approach Santa Clarita’s quadrancentennial (yes, that’s the right term—note the “n”).  A group of students from Safe Rides honored Mayor “Kelly” with a plaque.  Alan Ferdman spoke about inter-related water issues, providing an update on the chloride treatment challenges (late EIR, expenses keep rising, information not often readily available, etc.).  One gets the sense that Ferdman is justly frustrated people aren’t realizing what a big, expensive deal chloride treatment promises to be for Santa Claritans. 

Berta Gonzalez-Harper thanked and congratulated most everyone in Santa Clarita for jobs well done and jobs-to-be-well-done.  She gave a special shout-out to Councilmember Ferry, praising him for staying “cool, calm and collected throughout some very contentious meetings” during his term as mayor.

The final comment came from Ray Henry, who said that the City had acted in an “absolutely illegal” way when mobile home rents increased.  City Attorney Joe Montes, in a response to Henry, begged to differ.  He said that Santa Clarita’s mobile home rent control panel had the final word in this arena, and it had allowed the rent increases to go through in a legal manner.     

During updates from individual council members, McLean, Weste, and Boydston all discussed water issues.  McLean advised people to keep an eye out for a mailing that details a proposed tax increase.  Some $200M would be raised annually to treat stormwater runoff in the so-called “Clean Water, Clean Beaches Measure,” proposed by the LA County Flood Control District.  McLean acknowledged that getting 50.1% of millions of mailer recipients to protest the measure, which she called double taxation (i.e., we already pay to treat stormwater), was all but impossible, but she made an appeal nonetheless.  There were also remarks about chloride and a longish discussion from Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste about how there has to be a “better way” than buying products with chemicals that enter the water supply, causing us to spend more money on treatment.
Master of Mosquitoes & Other Consent Items
On the consent calendar, Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked for discussion of an item concerning vector control.  He asked why a citizen doesn’t represent Santa Clarita for the Greater LA Vector Control District--currently, representation is provided by Robert Newman, Director of Public Works.  Boydston argued that Newman’s time would be better served on other City business, and he said this was an unrealized opportunity from some community member to get involved in government.  Boydston’s idea had problems.  First, the representative should have experience relevant to mosquito control and related issues.  The meetings are also held two hours away from Santa Clarita, and it would be likely that even if a citizen did serve as rep, he would need to consult with or attend with City staff.  McLean suggested that they could look for citizens qualified and interested in filling the role, but for now, everyone except Boydston voted to keep Newman as representative.  This, incidentally, was the item that prompted Mayor Kellar to ask Boydston (though not by name) to keep things brief as he had a celebration to get to.  While Kellar’s request was brusque, it was, perhaps, reasonable to wonder why Boydston spends his time and finite political capital taking stands on issues like vector control boards. 

On the matter of who’s allowed to sign City contracts, the Council decided to be slightly more conservative than staff proposed, limiting the signatories to the top-tier (city manager, assistant city manager, city attorney). 

The last contentious item was a revisitation of the decision last meeting to allow a property-owner to subdivide his land in Placerita Canyon.  Val Thomas said that a study on the hydrologic consequences of the division and land grading should be required, as increases in runoff could affect neighbors and the ability of emergency personnel to access certain properties during flood conditions.  City Manager Ken Striplin said that’s exactly what will be required—a drainage study to prove the construction will have no impact on other properties. 

Finally, the second reading and official adoption of historic preservation codes was continued to January, when Ferry would be present to vote. 

Mayor Kellar asked City Manager Striplin for a brief presentation on mid-fiscal-year budget adjustments.  Striplin joked that he would pare down his half-hour presentation for the anxious Kellar.  It seems that Santa Clarita is in good shape financially, but the City is still generating about 10.6% less revenue than it was at its peak some years ago.  A not insignificant surplus should still be realized this fiscal year.  Among the $2.5M in expenditure adjustments were over $100K to fight Cemex, $150K for dedicated patrolling of the Jake’s Way area, and $25K to prepare for hosting the Tour of California.  The adjustments were approved without discussion.

The second public participation segment featured Doug Fraser.  He was present, as usual, to register his grievances about mobile home rent increases and their legality.  He said that public record requests he’s been making for research have been taking longer than they should.

The meeting ended at 7:41, adjourned in memory of Rudy Cordova.  He was the last of his 17  siblings, part of a family that lived and worked land in Castaic.  They had to move their home for the Castaic Lake Reservoir, which swallowed up much of the cattle-ranching land the Cordovas had run since the 1800s. 
[1]The Agenda, which I know you require.