Friday, December 20, 2013

Only in SCV: Christmas Bird Count

Somewhere in Placerita Canyon there's a bird called a Phainopepla--there are probably several of them, actually. The males are glossy black, sport a shaggy crest like a cardinal, and look at you with blood-red eyes. While their appearance is unfamiliar and striking, their habits are warm and endearing: you usually find them hanging out near clumps of mistletoe. Indeed, mistletoe berries are a mainstay of their wintertime diet, so you should always be ready to kiss whomever it is you take Phainopepla watching with you. There are well over 100 other species of birds that, like Phainopeplas, call the SCV home for the winter. From Golden Eagles to Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Cassin's Kingbirds to Ruby-crowned Kinglets, we have so much to see this time of year.

This, then, is my annual exhortation to join in the Santa Clarita Christmas Bird Count. It's being held on Monday, December 23rd. The official reason you do the count is to continue the 114 year tradition of counting and identifying wintering birds. The National Audubon Society compiles count data from well over 1,000 count circles across the nation, giving us an idea of how the birds are doing--an annual report card, if you will, that helps prioritize conservation efforts and identify population trends through the decades. But the real reason you do it is because you're a birder and like this sort of thing or because you're curious. If the thought of nature entices rather than repulses, and if you can count without using your fingers and toes, and if you like doing things that are weird but not too weird, then you should really give it a go. Based on past years, here's the schedule you can expect:

400am: The crazies will look for owls and poorwills--birds of the night. (Does anyone have a good owl spot to recommend?)
645am: People will begin trickling into Western Bagel wearing earth-toned attire and clutching binoculars. They tend to flock together.
700am: Count compiler Dan Cooper, a slim and sarcastic father of two who doesn't even live in the SCV, will help two-dozen or so people (most of whom drove in from LA) figure out count assignments so that all the good birding spots in Santa Clarita get covered. There are already birders doing Castaic Lake by this point, but there will be cars heading to Placerita, Bouquet, Towsley, the Santa Clara River, and even urban hotspots like city parks, golf courses, and College of the Canyons.
715am: The flock disperses as small groups. In each group, there's at least one person who knows all the birds by sight and sound, but even total birding novices can help by keeping the list or tallying all the ravens that fly by. Santa Clarita residents are particularly helpful because they can navigate--even people from the nearby SFV are utterly ignorant of Claritan highways and byways. They probably think it's still call San Fernando Road. You forgive their ignorance.
830am: You start running into the dog walkers and joggers, most of whom just ignore you, some of whom look quizzically, and a few of whom insist on talking with you for 5 minutes about the California Condor they just saw fly over and how they see them all the time and how they certainly don't seem endangered (it was actually a Turkey Vulture, you politely point out).
1000am: You keep seeing the same kinds of birds over and over, your list hovering around 60 species. But then, wait, oh, that can't be, but yes, it has wing bars and an eye-ring and buffy flanks so it see a really rare bird and are reinvigorated. The sighting, if particularly good, is immediately forwarded to all other birders who will try to see the rarity for themselves after lunch.
1230pm: With a great sense of satisfaction, you head to Tacos y Burritos el Pato (the one restaurant in town named for a bird) for lunch. You smirk, recalling Lady Ducayne's favorable review of the restaurant, LD being that local food blogger who says nothing in Santa Clarita is good enough and wishes it were all more like LA but never tells you exactly what's wrong with it all. Am I right?, you ask. The other birders don't know what you're talking about, so you just order some tacos.
100pm: Cooper reads through his checklist of bird species likely for the count--there are 150 or so. Every group that observed the species says "yes" (Mayor Laurene Weste, if she joins, will say "aye") when the name is read. "Common Loon?" "Yes" say the people from Castaic. "Common Raven?" "Yes" says every group. "Loggerhead Shrike?" Silence--people shake their heads, knowing this bird of open spaces is having a hard time hanging on.
130pm: The count finishes with ballpark 130 species seen and a total of many, many thousands of individual birds. You are satisfied, and now debate whether you're going to do the LA count, too.

Are you still reading--really? If so, you ought to go. Meet at 7am sharp at Western Bagel on Valencia Boulevard. Bring binoculars if you have them, and prepare to get birdy.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Happenings: Budget Swells, Walker Eulogized, Newhallian Sign Wrath

NOTE: Are you outraged by the new "holiday tree"? You should be. Here's why (or just scroll down to the next post).

Santa Clarita, a little-known Los Angelean hamlet recently thrust into the spotlight when a moderately-successful actor perished on her streets, held its last city council meeting of 2013 tonight[1]. The meeting began 20 minutes late because of the silly theatrics surrounding the swapping of chairs and titles at the end of the year. As a result, tonight's was the first roll-call with the titles Mayor Weste, Mayor Pro Tem McLean, and Councilmembers Boydston, Ferry, and Kellar. The invocation was provided by Boydston, who read from A Christmas Carol as only he could.

Public participation began with talk about signs. Reena Newhall and Jana Einaudi spoke about the oppressive sign ordinances that nearly brought ruin to their fine shop, A Chorus Line. Some brute from the City's code enforcement division came through their doors and demanded that they remove a Halloween sign, which they did. But, as both Newhall and Einaudi would point out, the city's sign ordinances are complex and unevenly enforced. They found numerous sign violations along Valencia's Auto Row (balloons, sales signs, etc.) that the City seemed willing to overlook. "When you consider the car dealers, the sign codes are more like suggestions than mandates," zinged Reena Newhall. There were only a few other speakers. Alan Ferdman used his 3 minutes to talk about the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and Allan Cameron would also begin his comments by speaking about Pearl Harbor. Cameron, however, then segued into the chloride issue, suggesting that it's imperative we defend ourselves now that we've been "attacked" with regard to chlorides, just as America defended itself after Pearl Harbor. It's exactly the same thing, really.

The comments about sign ordinances prompted a flurry of discussion, especially from Councilmember Boydston, who has expressed his many frustrations with sign codes and enforcement in the past. I didn't quite hear all of it because I had to get a live response from another Newhall--Lindsey, that is--who was watching the City Council meeting from Thailand, where she's training to be a fighter (she blogs about it at Vice's Fightland). Lindsey said she thought both Jana and Reena's hair looked nice, and she said of her mother, "She's a great speaker...and BITING." In any case, City Manager Ken Striplin pointed out that the City's is a "reactive" enforcement policy--they only address sign problems when they get complaints. At the end of the discussion, it was clear that there needed to be a more even-handed enforcement and that the complexity of the rules made them particularly burdensome.

During councilmember comments, Mayor Laurene Weste shouldered the unusual task of eulogizing Paul Walker and Roger Rodas after their fatal car crash. It was short and sincere, and she closed by wishing everyone a very safe holiday season with their families.

The Consent Calendar passed with relatively little discussion. A Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Santa Clarita and Service Employees International Union was approved, smallish construction contracts were awarded, and so on. The old Newhall library will undergo $200,000+ in construction to make it ready to accommodate the Santa Clarita Business Incubator and the City's special districts office.

We got an update from the fire protection district of LA including a slight increase in developer fees, and the meeting ended with discussion of mid-fiscal year adjustments. There was a $30M revenue adjustment and a $12M expenditure adjustment--as in the City is getting more money and spending more money than had been anticipated 6 months ago. And in keeping with sound fiscal policy, Santa Clarita's credit rating was upgraded to AAA by S&P. There wasn't too much discussion about budget adjustments, though Boydston did make a point of asking to hear the value of City Manager Ken Striplin's raise (for meeting performance objectives), which was $11,330. The meeting ended around 7:30.

[1]Have I got an agenda for you...

Only in SCV: So Long, Community Christmas Tree

The concerted uglification efforts at the Newhall Memorial Hospital campus have been far more successful than many of us thought possible. But rather than resting on their laurels, the good people at Newhall Memorial have decided to do even more to assault the eyes of hospital visitors with their dedication of a new "holiday tree." The tree is remarkable in its shortness, lop-sidedness, and utter lack of magnificence. Best of all, it's dedicated with a plaque to the Gump family, a name that has long been synonymous with the portable bathroom industry in the SCV. Some are saying this is our community's new Christmas tree, but I contend that we simply don't have a Christmas tree any longer; this piney offering is too profoundly unsatisfactory to deserve the title.

While driving by the hospital shortly after Thanksgiving, I noticed many necks of drivers on McBean arching toward the spot where the once noble Christmas tree stood, gaily lit and sparkling through Clarita's long winter nights. The tree was still there, but there were no lights, no spectacle, no holiday cheer. Days later, I saw a press release published in SCVNews marking the dedication of the new tree. My initial relief soon gave way to bitter disappointment. (Click on the link to see the photo; you'll see why.)

The traditional Newhall Memorial Christmas tree was a Deodar Cedar--they're expensive and regal and classic. The new tree is a Mondale Pine--they're cheap and utilitarian and dull. By way of analogy, if a Deodar Cedar is the Cadillac of conifers, then  a Mondale Pine is the Kia. There's nothing overtly wrong with Mondale Pines if you need a tree for firewood or to plant as a windbreak in some desolate corner. These trees are from the inhospitable regions of Eurasia (they're more commonly know as "Afghan Pines"), so they excel at surviving in dry, hot conditions. And like many scrappy survivors, we applaud their tenacity more than their beauty. I could overlook the choice of tree if a heftier specimen had been purchased, but it's unspectacular in proportions. There was no lighting ceremony this year supposedly because of construction, but I think the new tree's inability to support any decent ornaments is a more likely explanation. It's a holiday tree in name only.

Since it's the holiday season, however, I'll end on a generous note. The tree is real and doesn't block any major pedestrian pathways. The same cannot be said for the garish monstrosity of a tree that was dumped squarely blocking a main path into the Newhall Library. Why is doing a Christmas tree so hard, Santa Clarita, why? If anyone had any sense, they would take a seed or cutting from one of the Big-cone Douglas Firs that grow in the canyons--our valley's only native conifer--and plant it in a spot where it can reach a dazzling height. I guess this year, though, we'll just have to get by without.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Happenings: Kellar's Non-Apology to "The Gadfly", Artpocalypse, VoteCam

If you have never seen a City Council meeting before but you have seen Breaking Bad, here's the deal: Mayor Kellar is Hank, Mayor Pro Tem Weste is Marie, Councilmember Marsha McLean is Skyler, Councilmember TimBen Boydston is Gale, and Councilmember Frank Ferry is Jesse. On staff, City Manager Ken Striplin is Gus, and City Attorney Joe Montes is Mike. Now you're up to speed.

Tonight's meeting was one of closure.[1] Though Frank Ferry was not in attendance, he was denounced by several speakers for lashing out at speaker Cam Noltemeyer last month, and it seems an odd apology by Mayor Kellar has put the matter to rest. As for the long-simmering issue of the discrepancy in health care compensation between Boydston and the other members of the city council, his claim for equal benefits was rejected. (This resolution could, however, signal the beginning of something much bigger.) And finally, our city's tendency to ask for public art proposals only to reject them has reached a nadir of ridiculousness; a study session has been planned so things can get in order and the nonsense can end...or grow yet more nonsensical.

Public Participation

There was basically one topic discussed by tonight's public speakers: Frank Ferry's outburst from the previous meeting (recall that Ferry went off on Cam Noltemeyer, using an array of waste-disposal terminology like "toxic", "waste", and "poison" to describe the outspoken city critic). Alan Ferdman said that it was a violation of norms, and he suggested that the other members of council should have done like Boydston and tried to stop Ferry from berating Noltemeyer. Cam herself was typically sardonic and critical; someone so sharp-tongued doesn't wear the mantle of victimhood for long. Lori Rivas called Ferry's behavior "boorish" and was the first to call Cam our official "gadfly", a term a later speaker would use in its most complementary, politically-indispensable sense. Larry McClements ran through some of Ferry's past notorious actions while serving as mayor or councilmember. He identified Ferry's utter lack of interest in governing Santa Clarita at this point, and he welcomed his exit--the sooner the better. Lynne Plambeck was quite upset about how Cam had been treated and stuck up for her friend and associate, noting Cam's attention to detail and dedication to the community.

It seems Berta Gonzales-Harper didn't get the memo that the official cause for outrage tonight was Frank Ferry's comments. She had nothing to say about what he said and did, choosing instead to shame TimBen Boydston for requesting the exact same compensation that his fellow council members receive. Her disdain for Boydston (or at least his request) was palpable as she discussed the vote from a closed-session the preceded tonight's meeting. At the session, the other councilmembers voted to deny Boydston's claim for the same cash-in-lieu rate for healthcare that they receive. Boydston was not able to respond as City Attorney Joe Montes told him, "You are not allowed to respond from the dais" on this particular topic.

Council Comments

During their time for individual comments, events ranging from the Veterans Day program to the holiday lights in Newhall to charity fundraisers to local ceremonies honoring noteworthy locals were discussed by the various councilmembers. McLean and Weste chose to keep their comments restricted to these usual topics, but Boydston and Kellar would actively engage the Ferry-Noltemeyer issue. 

TimBen Boydston spoke about the norms that govern meeting conduct and asked if "we [the whole Council] can write an apology" to Cam for failing to step-in. Mayor Bob Kellar chose to address the situation with one of his let-me-level-with-you,-people-of-Santa-Clarita talks. He spent most of this talk saying that sure, there's a norm against berating public speakers, but there's also a norm about not interrupting people who are speaking, and Boydston was trying to interrupt Ferry during his tirade. Indeed, I gathered that Kellar values not-interrupting more than interrupting-to-stop-a-tirade. At the end of this, though, Kellar told Cam he was sorry "for any discomfort she has experienced." It certainly sounded apology-ish, but it was oddly phrased, oddly preceded (Kellar said, "I think we're all human), and less than satisfying. Again, Kellar's fixation on interruption suggested he was more interested in examining Boydston's behavior than Ferry's.

Consent Calendar

A routine item that amounted to preparing for April's election drew some attention on the Consent Calendar. After comments from Steve Petzold, the conversation at the dais eventually turned to the topic of ballot security. TimBen Boydston suggested that cameras would make ballots more secure, but Marsha McLean was upset that his suggestion implied ballots had been less-than-secure in past elections. He said the "citizenry" still had concerns, and McLean asked "how many of the citizenry?" In any case, there were multiple assurances that Santa Clarita's elections, ballots, and democracy are secure as ever.

Art Interrupted

Pity the artist that answers a call from Santa Clarita. The Arts Commission went through a lengthy process to select artists/projects for three spots in the SCV: Newhall Ranch/Rye Canyon, the Magic Mountain exit, and the Valencia Library. There were requests for qualification and meetings and comments and voting and vetting that led to a proposal to install a piece at each location. The City Council could have approved the pieces but, well, McLean and Weste didn't find them quite suitable.

Councilmember McLean said the art wasn't good enough: "everything that we do is just a little bit more special." She was concerned that some of the pieces would not be original to the City. Weste largely echoed her comments, noting all the things that make Santa Clarita unique such as "film", "streams" and "animals"--because all of those are in short supply elsewhere. McLean said she felt like the Arts Commission needed more direction.

Boydston criticized McLean and Weste for implying that they had better taste than members on the Arts Commission. (This would seriously offend McLean, who accused Boydston of putting words in her mouth: "nobody is saying we're smarter or we're better," she said.) But it was clear that some industrial flowers, giant oak leaf sculptures, and a scrabble-inspired row of tiles asking people to "imagine" were not winning the female members of the city council over. Phrases like "arts master plan" and "more direction" and "more money" were being dropped, and it was decided that a study session was needed to form a unified plan for Santa Clarita's artistic future.

The meeting ended at 8:15.

[1]Here's the agenda.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Happenings: Ferry vs. Cam vs. Kellar vs. Boydston

People weren't getting along at tonight's City Council meeting.[1] There were confrontations ranging from mundane to explosive, and none of the personalities involved came off as wholly sympathetic. It wasn't that any issues on tonight's agenda were particularly contentious, but they served as convenient enough ignition sources for long-accumulating fuel. By the end of the meeting, we had an updated housing plan, bought more time for waste disposal issues, and saw Councilmember Frank Ferry leave the meeting early, shortly after calling Cam Noltemeyer "toxic waste."

The meeting began with a long procession of recognitions and proclamations. The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall Committee, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Prevention Month, Soroptimist International, Circle of Hope, and Family Promise all received their due. Former Mayor Laurie Ender made an appearance in the capacity of President of Family Promise, and she was warmly received by the City Council.

Public Participation

Alan Ferdman was the first member of the public to speak, and his words about the handling of the chloride issue were harsh and condemning. Recall that there was a big chloride meeting the night before the City Council meeting and that it looks like the (risky, liability-laden) Alternative 4 is the preferred option for the Sanitation Board, which is 2/3 City Council members (Mayor Kellar, Mayor Pro Tem Weste). Ferdman was upset that hundreds of pages of public comments were "summarily dismissed", said that "it's hard to assume that a backdoor deal has not been made", and he identified a "gross lack of leadership." Because Ferdman's voice rarely reflects much passion, it can be easy to miss just how damning his words are.

Two residents of a senior complex spoke next, asking for help in securing rent control or some other assistance with rising rent.

To close out the comments, Allan Cameron requested that the next Sanitation District meeting be broadcast (or at least recorded on video) and Cam Noltemeyer accused the City of working to the benefit of Newhall Land and other interests.

Council Comments

Before Mayor Kellar asked the other members of the City Council to speak, he said that the chloride issue was extremely complicated and yet again asked for the public to put its faith in him and Laurene Weste in their capacity on the sanitation board. He was offended at the accusation of backdoor deals, saying, "Guys, there's not that many bogeymen out there." (i.e., drop the conspiracy theories).

Councilmember TimBen Boydston spent most of his turn for comments speaking about the chloride options. Like many others, he believes any alternative is better than option 4. Because option 4 involves sending billions of gallons of water downstream, he argued that it will immediately and permanently create an obligation to maintain those flows in the name of maintaining endangered fish populations (steelhead or stickleback).  Boydston was long-winded, as usual, but Kellar was well out of bounds when he reprimanded Boydston for his comments, telling Boydston to be more brief next time. Because, you know, after half an hour of photo opps and back-patting, spending 5 minutes talking about a billion-dollar water issue is totally out of line and wasting the public's time. (During his turn for comments and updates, Mayor Kellar would speak about the much more important topic of holiday lights in Newhall.) This all helped build tension for the later, more spectacular challenge of personalities.

Consent Calendar

Tonight's was a very short consent calendar, but Item 2 drew some attention. It was basically two items in one. The first recommended action had to do with solid waste service franchise agreements in newly annexed parts of Santa Clarita. This was routine and passed--just a matter of shifting responsibilities after shifting city boundaries. The second part of the item was continued for further discussion and study. It would have allowed waste haulers to drop off trash at more landfill sites (right now, they're limited to Chiquita Landfill and two landfills in the Antelope Valley) that might be cheaper. However, Steve Cassulo of Chaquita wasn't so keen on the prospect of losing business as a result of this action. He cited relationships with Claritan businesses and had letters asking for careful consideration of the issue from business groups.

Kellar and Boydston again came into conflict on this issue, albeit indirectly. It was a matter of calling bluffs. If Kellar was so keen on saving taxpayers money, why not approve this measure and allow for more competition from various landfills for SCV's trash? Conversely, if Boydston was so keen on taking time to really dig into and understand issues, why pass the measure so quickly? It was Boydston who acquiesced (after a comment by Councilmember Marsha McLean), so waste disposal guidelines will be more thoroughly discussed in the future.

Somewhere in the thick of the discussion, Ferry took Boydston to task for what he perceived as unwarranted sympathy for the comments from Cam Noltemeyer. (Noltemeyer had spoken about this item earlier, asking about MRFs and sweetheart deals for Newhall Land and making her usual points about the City screwing over the taxpayer). Ferry argued that Cam Noltemeyer should not be seen as a hero for the cause of open, responsive government but rather as a community-destroying menace. He mentioned her service on the San Fernando City Council and said, "She was a total wreck down there...Cam Noltemeyer has no credibility in San Fernando and now she wants to poison our community...Cam Noltemeyer is a toxic waste...she's not a savior." All of this was said quite passionately and loudly--Ferry was really worked up. And in the midst of this storm, just imagine Boydston incessantly asking for a "point of order" in a calm, persistent tone. It was a mess, and you couldn't decided whether you wanted to side with Ferry the bully or Boydston the hall monitor. For while Ferry's outburst was obviously inappropriate, sometimes it's best to just stand out of the way; this was Mayor Kellar's philosophy as he (unsuccessfully) told Boydston to be quiet while Ferry spoke. In any case,  Boydston reminded Ferry that it's policy not to denigrate public speakers, and this reminder went over as well as you might expect.

Public Hearing

There was a brief recess before new business. When the meeting was about to resume, Ferry just opted to take his things and make a quiet exit. It didn't matter much as the general plan housing element update elicited little discussion and as more of a formality than anything else. Essentially, the City was complying with the requirement that its plans be updated from time to time to reflect new developments and data.

[1]Here's the agenda.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Happenings: Open Space Funds Reconciled, Acid Fracking Fears?

I had a special feeling (hope?) deep in my bones when I looked over the City Council meeting agenda  for tonight: this could be under an hour.[1]  But it was not to be. For while very little happened in the way of actual business, there was a lot to be said about chlorides, acid fracking, and open space purchases. Tonight was a reminder that Santa Clarita spends a lot of time thinking about environmental issues, especially the expensive ones.

Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste used her invocation to touch on the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall that was recently in Santa Clarita. She said, "It promoted healing and it promoted honoring those who serve; it did not go unnoticed by anyone."

Awards and recognitions followed. Councilmember Marsha McLean said it was her "great pleasure" to read a proclamation for Hispanic Heritage Month, after which Paul De La Cerda and Gloria Mercado-Fortine made a few comments and introduced some members of the Latino Chamber of Commerce. Next, Councilmember Frank Ferry recognized one of Santa Clarita's oldest churches, St. Stephen's Episcopal, in light of its 50th anniversary. He noted the church held the title of many "firsts" in the SCV, including operating the first homeless shelter. Finally, the City received $1,500 as a donation from Williams Homes Inc. to SCORE (Supporting Children's Opportunities in Recreational Events). A giant novelty check (to use J. Wilson's phrase) was the manner in which the donation was presented.

Public Participation: E-waste, Chloride, and Acid Fracking

Amy Daniels runs e-waste recycling events that help fundraise for Hart, and she discussed how valuable the events are to the community at large as well. They've collected half-a-million pounds of e-waste, which has helped the City to reach its waste diversion goals.  She said that Councilmember TimBen Boydston informed her that she could not display large banners along the street to advertise the events, but she said such banners were critical to success. Citing the benefit the recycling effort provides to the City, she asked that an exception be made for her banners.

Next, Ray Henry, made his usual comments about how mobile home residents are being treated unfairly and the City is doing little to help them out. "Why aren't the residents being treated equally as the park owners?" he asked. He stated that the City is not working for the benefit of residents but rather park owners.

Several speakers on chloride were peppered through public participation. Alan Ferdman worried about transparency and a lack of public awareness of all the relevant issues. Allan Cameron held up a report that he said "will win the chloride war hands-down...the truth shall set you free." From his discussion of litigation against water district boards, it sounds like this document will focus on legal solutions. Maria Gutzeit, Board President of Newhall County Water District, provided comments on the EIR for chloride treatment options. "It is the worst EIR I have read in over 20 years," she said, encouraging any option but Alternative 4. She cautioned that it would saddle Santa Clarita with downstream water obligations for perpetuity. The final speaker on the topic was Cam Noltemeyer, who noted late posting of Sanitation Board meeting minutes and too many meeting cancellations for her taste.

"Frank it's nice to see you I haven't seen you for a while" said the cheerfully snarky Sandra Cattell, who had a different set of concerns on her mind. She said that eight wells in and near Placerita Canyon are being "acid fracked", which involves dissolving rocks with strong acid to release oil. She threw out a laundry list of sensitive entities nearby, from schools to aquifers to earthquake fauts, and she asked that staff be directed to study any potential safety issues.

Responses weren't sympathetic for the e-waste recycler. City Manager Ken Striplin told her that the rules were the rules, and no exception to the sign ordinance would be made to allow for advertising of the events. Striplin said this was the first he had heard of fracking, and asked if the council wanted staff to research the state of fracking in the SCV; the City Council was in favor of looking further into the issue.

City Council Comments

"Option 4 is a's going to be the most expensive option," said TimBen Boydston of the various chloride treatment alternatives. He also stuck by his guns for the prohibition of e-waste banners, saying an exception for one group would lead to clamoring for exceptions from many other groups.

Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste was pleased about the extension of bike trails at Golden Valley and for the expansion of community gardens, and Councilmember Marsha McLean asked for Claritans to attend an upcoming meeting on high-speed rail to represent the interests of Santa Clarita. Mayor Kellar echoed Weste's comments about the impact of the traveling memorial wall on Santa Clarita, and noted that the people who transport the wall said this was the first city to read all 58,000 names from the wall.

Consent Calendar

After over an hour of introductory talks and presentations and remembrances, the consent calendar passed in under 30 seconds with the recommended actions. It was mostly all house-keeping-type items, including contracts for heating/AC maintenance and landscaping.

Open Space Oops

City Manager Ken Striplin introduced the final item on the agenda in a way that avoided any harsh assignment of blame. The City used Open Space Preservation District funds to buy two properties, one of which fell mostly outside of a three-mile zone around the City and one of which fell completely outside the zone. The trouble is, spending is restricted to acquiring properties within the zone. He noted that the Financial Accountability & Audit Panel has found this problem, though he referred to them as the "fap", which is not a particularly flattering word to say based on popular Internet usage. In any case, he said there was a fix--namely "fund reconciliation." It basically amounted to shuffling unrestricted funds to cover the purchase with out-of-boundary properties and using restricted funds to cover within-boundary purchases. So the same amount of City money was spent on open space, but restricted funds were no longer being used in a restriction-defying manner.

There were four public speakers on the item, all of whom were complimentary (even Cam!) of the panel for noticing the mistake. It was clear that the City won't be allowed to err and account its way out of the problem again, but it was essentially "forgiven" this time around by those who spoke.

Councilmember TimBen Boydston used the item as an opportunity to point out how valuable opposition is on a committee and wondered what would have been if the council had approved his other committee appointments. (Recall that Boydston appointed open space critic James Farley to the panel, but two of his other appointments to committees were not approved by the rest of the council, which was a bit of a slap in the face. Farley was one of the members who noticed the problem, suggesting the utility of having critical members serve.) He also put City Attorney Joe Montes on the spot, asking why the City was paying his firm to review contracts yet the firm did not point out how these purchases were not proper. Montes said there are many contracts and they don't usually review maps for open space acquisitions, but Boydston seemed less than satisfied with the answer.

Before the vote to approve fund reconciliation, Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste said that the properties which had been purchased were a benefit not just to Santa Clarita but to the whole country (indeed), and Mayor Bob Kellar said the acquired parcel surrounding the site where CEMEX plans to mine may be particularly crucial in winning the fight against mining. Thus, the fund reconciliation plan passed.

Before the meeting adjourned, Doug Fraser spoke to drive home the point about mobile home park owners being noticed about meetings in a more thorough manner than are residents. The meeting ended just after 7:30.

[1]Here's the agenda

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Happenings: Bah Humbug

Santa with 3 deer, fake poinsettias, and industrial scaffold structure supported by barrels. What a Merry Christmas it will be in Newhall.

Tonight, Councilmember Marsha McLean cemented her role as self-appointed Tsarina of Good Taste. In a rather acerbic spat with the company that will be installing holiday decorations in Newhall, she made it clear that their display wasn't up to her standards.  The debate about spending $100K (almost) on twinkling lights was, perhaps, a welcome distraction for the City Council, which was keenly feeling its powerlessness in a discussion of the chloride issue earlier this evening.  This was a meeting about just making do. 


Mayor Bob Kellar opened: “I’d like to begin by welcoming everybody.  Thank you for your attendance.” I’m sure his words were directed at the audience, but I couldn’t help but notice the slightest tilt of his head towards Councilmember Frank Ferry when he spoke.  (Indeed, Ferry showed up.) Councilmember TimBen Boydston read a short prayer for the invocation.  Next, two animals were recognized by the City.  First came a yellow duck representing the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center Rubber Ducky Regata fundraiser, and second came an Elk—Skip Henke, the SCV man who is the President of The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks in Califonia, which is, well, something.


During public participation, Alan Ferdman expressed concerns about open space acquisitions that fall three or more miles beyond City boundaries; the assessment funds are supposed to be for purchases in the City or within 3 miles of its boundaries.  TimBen Boydston would, soon after, ask City Manager Ken Striplin and City Attorney Joe Montes if parcels had been purchased that were indeed too far away.  Rather than simply answer “yes”, Striplin first threw out an “it depends”, then said he’d need more time to have a fully prepared response to the question.  Montes also said he’ll need to look into it further. Mayor Kellar tried to temper Boydston’s suggestion that an ordinance had been violated.  Boydston responded rather saucily, saying that he would officially say he was concerned about a “possible violation”, but that he personally believed there had been a “definite violation.”


Ray Henry also spoke during public participation, expressing continued dissatisfaction with what the City has (or rather hasn’t) done for mobile home park residents who have sees their rents increase.  When he responded to this comment, City Manager Ken Striplin’s weariness with this topic showed.  He noted that there have been extensive meetings and resources spent on discussing these matters and communicating with stakeholders, but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of resolution.


Cam Noltemeyer and Allan Cameron made dismayed and optimistic remarks, respectively, about Santa Clarita and its attempt to find a happy ending to the on-going chloride saga. This began an informal discussion among the City Council about supporting one of the compliance options laid out in the EIR, which City Attorney Joe Montes said could be problematic before the Sanitation Board (two of three members of which are on the CC) has its say. There was a lot of back-and-forth, at least in part because of council members misunderstanding each other, but to summarize: Boydston is upset that everyone’s acting as if Option 4 is what will happen, Kellar hopes people know that the board has really listened to the public, and McLean and Ferry said they have faith that Kellar/Weste will do what’s best for the community in their Sanitation District capacity.


The unanimous approval of the Consent Calendar by the City Council means the invasive weed, Arundo, will be battled in the Santa Clara River, and Workforce Investment Act funds will continue to fund the Santa Clarita Workforce Center. TimBen Boydston had a few questions about the success of the center, and Jason Crawford explained that it has helped put 98 people to work, which is dozens more than was expected under past grants.


The final item of the evening was deciding whether $80,000 in contingency funds should be spent on a holiday lighting display in Newhall.  Armine Charpayan presented the item.  Staff chose to develop a plan with Mobile Illumination, a company which has done lighting displays for Beverley Hills, the Grove, Santa Monica, the Queen Mary, and a host of other big-name clients. The plan called for illuminating 97 trees on Main Street; adorning a 23-foot tall (fake) holiday tree in red, white, and silver; and erecting two festive “skylines” with holiday well-wishings and Santa with deer.  Newhall Memorial decided to throw in $10,000, and the SCV Auto Dealers agreed to fork over $5,000, so the City would only need to allocate $65,000 for the display—at least by my math.


There was a hilarious dynamic between Marsha McLean, the Mobile Illumination guy, and City Manager Ken Striplin throughout the talk.  She began her comments by saying “I really tried to like it, I really did.”  But she did not.  She found the metal-pipe trusses for overhead displays and the barrels they would be supported by to be ugly.  She wondered why a tree budget in excess of $20,000 couldn’t be used to acquire a real tree. She fretted about the noise of trucks setting up lights all night for a week.  Whenever anyone tried to answer her, she came off as combative, particularly when she tried to make the company agree to wrap the skyline supports in something festive (the company said it would need to see if it could fund that).  It was actually a bit heated and intense, and City Manager Ken Striplin came off as almost apologetic, noting that “we’ve squeezed them a lot” on the budget and trying to cut McLean’s comments short by promising to work something out.  It almost came off as if the company is doing Santa Clarita a favor by working on such stingy budget.  My favorite part, however, was when McLean suggested local artists develop displays, because we all know how well it’s going for artists when it comes to the nearby roundabout.


The other members of Council were generally more excited. Mayor Kellar predicted families will say, “By golly, we’re going to go down to Newhall and see the beautiful lights!”  Of the decorations, Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste said, “I think they’re great!” 


When it came time to vote, everyone said yes except for McLean, who paused, sighed, and lamented “I’m afraid it has to be a ‘no’.” Immediately, Frank Ferry said “Bah humbug!”, which was pretty hilarious.


The meeting ended at 7:40

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Happenings: Art Must Go; Bags Can Stay

There were three controversial items facing the City Council tonight[1]: art for the Newhall roundabout, a plan for Rivendale Park in Towsley Canyon, and a potential plastic bag ban. Despite a little friction about whether a large amphitheater is appropriate for Towsley, there was general consensus this evening.  All agreed that artists can’t be trusted to design the right sculpture on their own and, more importantly, that a ten-cent tax for paper bags is more loathsome than the problems created by plastic bags.  When it comes to the environment, Santa Clarita remains, as always, decisively ambivalent.


While I was late to tonight’s City Council meeting, at least I made it.  That’s more than can be said of Frank Ferry.  If you’re an enterprising young reporter and reading this, do me a favor and figure out how many meeting’s he’s attended this year; has it even been half?


Artistic Intent


My tardiness meant I arrived in the midst of the discussion about art for the Newhall roundabout. Not everyone claimed to know the right thing to put in the roundabout—they just knew the two current proposals were wrong. After considerable discussion by the City Council, it was decided that more money, more explicit artistic direction, and more opinions are needed before proceeding. Mayor Bob Kellar wondered about the feasibility of an online poll, and conducted an informal hands-up poll among tonight’s attendants.  Councilmember TimBen Boydston talked about the poll on Santa Clarita Letters to the Editor (FB group) showing strong support for the planting of an oak tree.  He frequently referenced that and other SCV online communities and their discussions of the roundabout art, prompting Councilmember Marsha McLean to say, “On some of the blogs, you don’t have the most positive people and they kind of just make fun of this whole thing.”


Oh Marsha.


This was one of those rather informally resolved issues going back to commission. It sounds like Mayor Pro Tem Weste and Councilmember McLean have plans to promote fundraising for a sufficiently grand piece of art, more community input and work from staff will be sought, and despite these efforts, I daresay they will decide on a sculpture that still can’t make quite everybody happy.


Creatures of the Night


Rivendale Park is the oddly-shaped piece of land the City owns at the edge of Towsley Canyon.  After community meetings, staff prepared a proposal for something to do with the site: 300 parking spaces, large lawn, a somewhat vaguely defined “Native American Area” (some called it a village), restroom, and an amphitheater that might accommodate 1200 Claritans.  This is still very much a proposal.  As of yet, funding for the project is needed as is CEQA review and the like.


The most supportive public speakers represented tribal interests or the Shakespeare Festival, an annual event that would no doubt delight in the amphitheater. Gavin Dugan said he hopes the American Indian enclave of the park will “show some local and native pride.”  He said that he’s spoken to members of many tribes who have expressed interest in the idea of a cultural museum so conveniently near the freeway, and he wagered a big project could bring out “a checkbook of a size you would be blown away by,” noting the many billions of dollars earned annually by SoCal casinos.


Not everyone was thrilled.  Cam Noltemeyer, Wendy Langhans, Dave Morrow, and Lynne Plambeck all expressed concerns about lighting from the amphitheater and the traffic such a facility would draw.  Both the human disturbance and increased traffic could harm wildlife foraging or travelling through this critical connection between mountain ranges.


Councilmember McLean thought that the amphitheater could pose such a problem that it should be removed from the conceptual master plan. McLean would actually get into it a bit with Rick Gould, who claimed that everyone at the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy had given the project their blessing (McLean was skeptical of this, asking for written verification that the SMMC was OK with the amphitheater facility).


Boydston and Kellar were in agreement on the project concept, which they thought would lead to a valuable addition to the community. “This is a concept” stressed Mayor Kellar. Boydston made some rather poorly reasoned remarks about the impacts of the amphitheater on wildlife, suggesting, in essence, that since our City already impacts wildlife, a little more disturbance wouldn’t be so bad.


Ultimately, the concept was approved with what McLean called “a little asterisk” to require special scrutiny of the effects of the amphitheater on wildlife activity and movements when and if the project receives funding to be built.


Teaching the Way


A potential ban on plastic bags will not move forward—at least not for the forseeable future.  This was a topic that’s been on Councilmember McLean’s mind for years now, and she took a bit of time to explain her position.  She first complained about plastic bags drifting on roadways and getting caught up in one’s car. She mentioned the problems with trash, the wide availability of reusable bags, and said, “I think plastic bags are insidious […] people get used to a certain thing and they don’t like to change.”


The public was not unanimous in its opinion about the ban.  Sandra Cattell said that just as it made sense not to give people heroin even though they may want it, it didn’t make sense to allow people to have plastic bags even though they want them.  Brian Baker, contrarily said that he had moved out of Los Angeles to escape “nutty politics”, and yet here they were.  He was “flabbergasted” such an item could come before the Santa Clarita City Council.


The Council had a number of options to consider, but City Attorney Joe Montes said that it could be problematic to ban plastic bags without also imposing a tax on paper bags.  Because paper bags have been found to be more environmentally harmful than plastic ones during CEQA review in other jurisdictions, a ten-cent tax on paper bags is usually required to “mitigate” the harm by dissuading more people from buying paper bags.  A woman representing grocery interests supported this ten-cent fee, but Councilmember Boydston thought it was just a sneaky way to boost profits (the City made me charge you for the bag!).  Indeed, Boydston and Weste found that a ten-cent tax on paper bags was unacceptable, and it outweighed their concerns about plastic bag use.  Even before Mayor Kellar spoke (“Too much government!”), it was clear that no ban would be passing this evening.


Instead, the City will keep its course of educating people about the benefits of reusable bags.  There wasn’t even really a motion, just a resigned realization by McLean that her dream of a plastic bag-free SCV will not be realized.
[1]Here's the agenda. You're oh so very welcome.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Happenings: Everyone's an Art Critic

Let’s Talk

Tonight’s City Council meeting was a summer sleeper, but a few issues got people talking[1]:

*City Manager Striplin tries to downplay indications that the City has a preferred chloride treatment option (#4)

*Should the City Council ask Buck to have a town-hall meeting, as one resident requested?

*City Council members receive emails, comments saying neither of the two sculpture options for the Newhall roundabout is acceptable.  People want a cowboy.

In short, Claritans think there are some conversations that need to be had, and soon.


The meeting began about 15 minutes late because of a long closed session.  City Attorney Joe Montes revealed that in the session, everyone except for Councilmember TimBen Boydston approved appealing a recent SCOPE vs. Santa Clarita decision.


For his invocation, Mayor Bob Kellar read the entirety of President Ronald Reagan’s letter about the approach of Alzheimer’s: “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life.”  It was an interesting choice.


Next came presentations to Claritans admirable for some reason or another.  A high school student who wrote a prize-winning essay on building houses for the poor in Mexico was applauded.  The Wykoff family was thanked for their work in supporting the Fourth of July Parade, and Melissa Null was recognized for her work as president of the SCV Council PTA.  


Wide-ranging Public Participation: Buck, Art, Disney, Water


Most of the regulars for Public Participation addressed that which they typically address: Alan Ferdman said some stuff about chloride, Valerie Thomas said some stuff about Placerita Canyon, and Cam Noltemeyer said some stuff about Whittaker-Bermite pollution and development.  More interesting were comments about red light cameras.  A Mr. Lissner (sp.?) claimed that the number of citations issued has almost doubled in recent months, and he said changing the cut-off by just a few tenths of a second could eliminate half the tickets.  It was not a red but a green light that upset Lynne Plambeck—the green-lighting of Disney’s film ranch expansion, that is.  She didn’t like that Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch development will flout so many of the tenets laid out in One Valley One Vision.  This doesn’t bode well for future County developments meeting the environmental objectives of OVOV, she worried. 


Greg Aprahamian used his three minutes at the  microphone to call on the City Council to write a letter to Buck McKeon requesting that he hold a town-hall meeting.  Aprahamian has called or visited the congressman’s office many times, but he gets very little information or help.  He is particularly interested in trying to nail down McKeon’s position on immigration.  McKeon’s own local and D.C. immigration directors told Aprahamian they “didn’t know” McKeon’s position as recently as the week before last.  But with news that McKeon said everyone should be given some kind of legal status at an event last week (video at the VC Star[2]), he thinks a meeting is now especially important.


The comments of the night went to Duane Harte and Dante Acosta.  Neither like the art options for the soon-to-be-built Newhall roundabout—one is a stylized film reel showing a cowboy on horseback, and the other is an abstracted Tataviam shelter with LED lights.  Harte seems to be a man of simple and literal tastes when it comes to art: he wants a cowboy on horseback, end of story.  Acosta was a little more flexible, allowing for a Native American holding a spear on horseback (which begs the question, were the Tataviam particularly horse-inclined…or spear-inclined?).  It’s pretty atrocious that local artists and the Arts Commission didn’t realize they needed to consult these two before trying to capture the spirit of Santa Clarita in sculpture.


In response to comments, City Manager Ken Striplin said that red light cameras have been successful and he cheered the movie ranch approval for the jobs and money it will bring Claritans. Interestingly, he said that a recent quote (“somewhat misquoted,” he claimed) from Robert Newman did not indicate that the City of Santa Clarita is officially in favor of option 4 for chloride treatment.  This was in response to Cam Noltemeyer’s implication that expenditures and staff comments indicate the City knows what it wants to do with regard to chloride, even though they haven’t officially told residents.


Updates from the Council


Councilmember Boydston proposed yet another idea for what the Newhall sculpture really ought to be.  He suggested having a statue of William Hart looking toward his mansion with a statue or Fernando Lopez looking toward the Oak of the Gold Dream and a statue of a Tataviam Indian (possibly with a child) looking toward Castaic.  Even if it was just an idea, Boydston said more discussion and taking a commission-based approach (i.e., sculpt us this subject, artists) was the way to go.


Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste eulogized the recently dead of Santa Clarita.  She asked that records of her adjournments be posted online as a bit of history to be cherished.  Councilmember Frank Frank had nothing to say.  Councilmember Marsha McLean offered Boydston her condolences, as would many others (his mother recently passed away).  McLean is hoping to promote a resolution for the League of California Cities to make sure the State doesn’t make unfunded mandates, specifically when it comes to water issues.  And Mayor Kellar invited Claritans to visit the travelling Vietnam Memorial Wall, which will arrive in Santa Clarita next month.


Consent Calendar, Public Hearings


All items on the Consent Calendar passed with the recommended actions and with very little discussion.  The biggest-impact item was transfer of $5M for affordable housing in Newhall.  McLean asked the City Manager if he could interact with Habitat for Heroes to see if they would be interested and able to play a role in shaping such a project.  Most of the other items related to landscaping, so there wasn’t much else to be said. 


There were also three public hearings to annex parcels into maintenance districts.  Cam Noltemeyer complained this was a way to get homebuyers to pay for developer-associated or created costs.  Striplin said that was kind of the point (i.e., make those who benefit from services pay for them).  All were approved.  When Las Lomas was brought up for a maintenance district, McLean noted she found the wall built there unattractive and hoped it will be concealed by landscaping soon. 


The meeting ended after Ray Henry used the second Public Participation to ask for more stringent rules in who can serve on the board for manufactured housing in Santa Clarita. 


[1]Here’s the agenda
[2]This is the speech; skip to the 3-minute mark

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Only in SCV: Our Little Amazon's Rarest Gem

We have just entered the blooming period of one of the rarest species of plants on earth. It is called the Newhall Sunflower, though its scientific name is decidedly more captivating: Helianthus inexpectatus, “the unexpected sunflower.”[1] Fewer than ten individuals are known to exist the world over, and all are confined to a single, spring-fed seep near the Airport Mesa of Newhall Ranch.  The same seep produced another new species—the tiny Castaic Springsnail (Pyrgulopsis castaicensis)—just a few years ago.[2]  We might take for granted the existence of undescribed species haunting deep oceans or tangled rainforests, but who thinks of unknown life-forms lurking in Santa Clarita?  Is this seep our own tiny, verdant Amazon of sorts, brimming with the undiscovered?

Anuja Parikh and Nathan Gale have shared their photos of the Newhall Sunflower in the CalPhotos Database.  The sunflower is known from only one location, a seep in Newhall Ranch.

The Newhall Sunflower wasn’t the sort of plant that botanists immediately recognized as a new species, though they did immediately recognize it warranted special attention. In their 2010 paper describing H. inexpectatus, David Keil and Mark Elvin note that it was at first tentatively identified as the Los Angeles Sunflower, a subspecies long presumed extinct.  (You might remember an LA Times article from around 2002 proclaiming the rediscovery; it probably actually is extinct).  But multiple investigations of the sunflower’s genome—ranging from counting chromosomes to sequencing—revealed the sunflower was genetically distinct.  It appears to be most closely related to Nuttall's Sunflower, H. nuttallii, but it has unique morphological and genetic characteristics that warrant species status.

Keil and Elvin make some important points in their paper (emphases mine):
  • "The specific epithet [“inexpectatus”] refers to the unexpected discovery of this new species, its unexpected status as a tetraploid, and its unexpected apparent lack of a close relationship to H. californicus."
  • "Because of its remarkable geographical restriction, population size (fewer that ten individuals known), and threats, the Newhall sunflower appears to meet the criteria necessary for listing under both State and Federal Endangered Species Acts."
  • "It flowers from August to October. Helianthus inexpectatus grows in a shallow seep (approximately one acre in size) that appears to be fed by at least three springs at the base of a ridge. […] The seep is directly adjacent to lands slated for development as part of a master-planned community that would include an estimated 20,000+ homes and a bridge that is proposed to be installed within 100m of the seep."
This all puts the plant is in a curious place.  It’s not listed by the State/Feds as an endangered species yet—they didn’t even know the species existed until a couple of years ago—so it doesn’t have the formal legal status of something like, say, our “officially” endangered spineflower.  The California Native Plant Society is more nimble than governmental agencies, however, and has classified the Newhall Sunflower as “seriously endangered” and “critically imperiled.”  A plant can’t get any rarer than that, and this categorization affords it some protection.    

According to the literature, Newhall Sunflowers should be in bud this time of year and ready to bloom later this month.  Since the species' only known stronghold is on Newhall Ranch and off-limits to the public, there won’t be any rare plant safaris, so to speak, for those who would like to see it.  And that may well be for the best.  But if you’re the sort who likes to wander through the Santa Clara River, keep an eye out for a rather leggy sunflower growing in wet spots.  It’s most likely to be Nuttall’s Sunflower, and it's not always possible to distinguish one Helianthus from another.  (For some helpful hints, though, read Footnote 3.) I may be overly optimistic, but I like to think some more Newhall Sunflowers might be growing in another wet, willowy spot along the Santa Clara River.  And with the delay of the Newhall Ranch development, we might have more time to ensure it persists.
[1]The paper that informs this post can be viewed here: Keil, D.J., Elvin, M.A. 2010. Helianthus inexpectatus (Asteraceae), a tetraploid perennial new species from southern California. Aliso: A Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, 28:59.
[2]Do you like obscure, minute aquatic snails?  Then you'll  love reading this paper: Hershler, R., Liu, H.P. 2010. Two new, possibly threatened species of Pyrgulopsis (Gastropoda: Hydrobiidae) from southwestern California. Zootaxa, 2343:1-17.
[3]Experts on this sunflower warn that it may not be possible to identify it in the field.  Many of its characteristic measurements fall close to those of other species.  But in its treatment of the genus, The Jepson Manual/eFlora recommend looking at the phyllaries--the stiff, green, petal-like structures that lay beneath the flower disc--to tell one from another.  If the phyllaries are 3-5mm wide and bend downward at the tip, it' H. californicus.  If the phyllaries are 1-1.5mm wide and point upward, it's H. nuttallii.  But if the phyllaries fall somewhere in the middle at 2-3mm wide, it just might be H. inexpectatus.  So when you wander along the Santa Clara River, carry a millimeter ruler and remember this rule: broad, saggy phyllaries are californicus; narrow, erect phyllaries are nuttallii; and H. inexpectatus is intermediate in phyllary width and "posture".  Below, it's californicus left, nuttallii center, and inexpectatus right.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Happenings: Lawsuit to be Challenged, Las Lomas to be Open Space

I had a chance to catch up with Lindsey Newhall, yes that Newhall, at the Fourth of July Parade.  She said that if Santa Clarita is broken into voting districts, her family will reinstitute their monarchic reign over District Newhall. 
Tonight’s two-hour meeting was the last before the council members take their summer hiatus through the end of August[1].  (Councilmember Frank Ferry’s empty chair indicated that he hiatus-ed early).  There was much ado about roads, talk about placing a plastic bag ban on an upcoming agenda, the end(?) of the Community Conservation Solutions debate, purchase of a big parcel of land for open space, and a decision to fight the voting district lawsuit.  In short, it was the kind of meeting Joe Clarita couldn’t care less about.  Nearly 10 people watched the broadcast at 
Voting Lawsuit Will Be Challenged
As a result of tonight’s closed-session meeting, the lawsuit that claims Santa Clarita’s at-large voting system somehow deprives Latinos of political representation will be challenged.  There wasn’t much discussion, but when this stance was revealed, scattered applause was heard.  A handful of public speakers would also mention that the City was doing the right thing.
Without Ferry to deliver the invocation, Mayor Bob Kellar spoke first.  He reminded Claritans that the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall will be in town in late September.  Presentations to/from the City were delightfully brief.  Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste recognized Richard Cook, who has flown every rover mission to Mars.  For his role, he was named as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2013.  “I always wanted to meet and know a rocket scientist,” said Weste.  When Cook came up to receive a certificate, he described living in Santa Clarita as “a privilege.”  Damn straight, rocketman; damn straight.
Public Participation
I want more James Shepherd.  As the first speaker during tonight’s public participation section of the meeting, he voiced concerns about pretty much everything during his three minutes.  He wondered about the roundabout in Newhall and if there would be pedestrian bridges; asked the City Council to fix roads that are so full of potholes they’re like “some sort of corn field,”; complained that buses block traffic when they stop to exchange passengers; said the parking lot for Vons was atrocious; and demanded a solution to the bus stop for Golden Valley, which dumps school kids off in dust or mud, depending on the season.  Despite presenting similar concerns a couple of years ago, he said “Nothing’s happened.”  Shepherd closed with a simple directive for the City Council: “Fix all that stuff!”
Diane Trautman and Sandra Cattell both spoke about their desire to see plastic bags banned from stores in Santa Clarita.  This struck a chord with Councilmember Marsha McLean, who broached the subject in the past.  Now that some lawsuits have made their way through the courts, City Manager Ken Striplin explained, it seems that cities can regulate plastic bags by at least some means.  This led McLean to ask her fellow council members if they’d consider agendizing the topic of a plastic bag ban, and all agreed to it.  If I’m reading the Council correctly, McLean, Weste, and Boydston would vote in favor of the ban (there’s your majority), so it may just be a matter of time before all of the SCV’s stores will be plastic-free, not just the unincorporated ones.
Council Comments
Per usual, TimBen made a rather long production of his updates and comments.  He returned to the topic of Community Conservation Solutions, the group Santa Clarita hired for wastewater/chloride expertise.  Boydston found that the initial dealings with the organization had been mediated via a “verbal agreement”, which he found a less than ideal way to conduct business—especially since that verbal contract put Santa Clarita on the line to pay for services which Boydston felt may have been over-priced.  This group has been mentioned for being expensive, for having formerly had Laurene Weste on its board, and for not doing much to help the chloride situation—that’s why you’ve heard the name before.  Therefore, Councilmember Boydston was satisfied when he asked City Manager Ken Striplin, “Are we finished with this company for now?” and got a “Yes” in response.     
The Business of the Agenda
Much of the agenda dealt with traffic-related issues or had second-readings of items discussed at previous meetings.  The whole thing passed with the recommended actions for each item.  However, Boydston voted “no” on Item 4 (giving the council a 6% raise) and Item 7 (adoption of the Lyons Corridor Plan).  There was no discussion over the re-appointments of Councilmembers Boydston and Ferry to the Library Trustees Board. 
Alan Ferdman spoke out on a public hearing concerning adoption of the Congestion Management Program, arguing that the City has done little to improve congestions.  However, City Manager Stripling explained adoption was more of a “paper exercise” than anything else and was mostly about reporting development to meet the mandates to receive gas tax revenue.
On the topic of developing an “Enhanced Watershed Management Plan”, Cam Noltemeyer and Alan Ferdman noted that many of the players in the chloride battle were also part of this action.  Allan Cameron dealt more directly with the chloride war in his comments, and claimed someone was challenging him on his opinion of the topic—though it was all a little vague.
Las Lomas No More
Las Lomas was the project slated for the hills south of the SCV that never really had any legs to stand on.  With steep topography and major access issues, the development was not approved.  The Trust for Public Land has been arranging a deal to acquire the 302 acres in this region for $4.65M—they have grants that may cover as much as $3.3M, and the City is throwing in Open Space District funds to cover the balance and to make up for any delays in grant disbursement.  There are options to end the deal if the grants don’t come through.
This was popular with every on the Council and from the public except Cam Noltemeyer, who thought the land had been over-valued.  There was a lot of interesting language thrown around.  Mayor Bob Kellar called this action the “proverbial wooden stake” in the heart of the Las Lomas development, and Allan Cameron said the land acquisition was “succulent and satisfying,” and that he lacked “adequate superlatives” to express how pleased he was. 
The meeting ended shortly after 8.