Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Happenings: Economic Development Over-Hyped, Committee Changes

All of Mayor Kellar's City Council meetings have begun the same way: Boydston, Kellar, McLean, and Weste take their seats, and Ferry's chair waits: empty, alone, uncertain what's to come[1].  While Councilmember Ferry would arrive later in the evening, his fellow four council members were quite capable of navigating this less than crucuial chapter of Santa Clarita history on their own.  Apart from securing janitorial supplies, allocating money to build more athletic fields, and changing a few committee appointments, rather little happened.

Awards and presentations this evening were few in number but skillfully drawn out.   Some 900 volunteers were cheered for making Santa Claria'ta marathon a successful event.  The City hosted over 5,000 runners, including some who made a last-minute trip after New York's was cancelled. Mayor Kellar read a letter from a trio of Nebraskan runners who fell in love with SCV during their run. 

Representatives from the Santa Clarita Economic Development Corporation came forward to speak next.  It was a riot.  Don Fleming deadpanned promises to share stories of the EDC's "remarkable" acheivements and promised his colleagues would share "very specific, impressive results."  Then we heard about all these stellar accomplishments: they got the media to run stories about local businesses (wow!); they helped some businesses grow and hire new people (so specific!); they sponsored some events and produced some publications (powerful!); and they called 500 businesses to pitch the perks of relocating to Santa Clarita (oh yes they did!).  We weren't told exactly how many set up shop here after the calls, but I'm sure it was pretty much all of them.  Kellar went to such lengths praising the EDC's efforts that it almost seemed like he wasn't in on the joke...almost.

Hunt Braly spoke first during public participation.  He asked that the homeless shelter stay at its present location on Drayton Street location rather than move to Castaic, at least for the next three years.  Alan Ferdman offered sincere appreciation for the opening of the Canyon Country Community Center.  Ellen Blankenship asked for a new community room in the Saugus area, as demands on the current room prevent residents from having as many of the pre-school age programs that those living elsewhere in the City enjoy.  Bill Reynolds said that he looked into whether any Claritans had died during the Vietnam War, then read the name of the fourteen who had perished.  Reynolds asked that their names appear on a plaque at the Veterans Memorial Plaza.  Carl Boyer began his plea to consider splitting up LA County with a quotation from Martin Luther KKing, Jr.: "Faith is taking the first step, even when you can't see the whole staircase."  He said LA County has a larger population thatn most states and many nations and needs to be split up.  Boyer wants to move forward with changing LA County in a public process with Santa Clarita's support.  Ray Henry of the Sand Canyon Mobile Home Park came forward to speak on behalf of residents.  He conveyed thanks that the City was looking fully into the legality of recent rent increases. 

City Manager Ken Striplin responded to comments, noting that relocating the homeless shelter was a somewhat complicated process.  Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste emphasized that a permanent solution to the need to provide homeless shelter must be sought. 

Next, each of the councilmembers took to the microphone for updates and announcements.  Councilmember TimBen Boydston was heartened by the turnout to oppose LA County's proposed stormwater tax, which he and others have said amounts to double taxation.  The Board of Supes extended the protest period an additional 60 days.  Boydston thought Boyer's ideas about the future of LA County deserved consideration, and Mayor Kellar suggested a study session as a first step.  Councilmember Frank Ferry read a press release for an art-in-public-places exhibit soon to open.  Councilmember Marsha McLean attended a meeting about a new HOT lane prosposal that would let driver pay to drive in special lanes on the 5; participation in the program would require a transponder and monthly fee, and more details will be out soon.  Finally, Mayor Kellar talked about new legal protection for anyone who calls in emergency overdoses; they can't be prosecuted even if they've used drugs themselves.

The consent calendar passed with the recommended actions on all items and without any additional discussion.  If you're keeping track, this means that Royal Paper Corporation won a coveted janitorial supplies contract, $200K will secure more sports fields at Central Par, and City Hall will get a seismic retrofit.

With the consent calendar out of the way, there was a special presentation on an external audit of Santa Clarita.  The council and  audience sat riveted as an accounting firm partner gave the most intimate details of the audit.  After what seemed like an eternity--a thrilling eternity, but an eternity nonetheless--we got the verdict: there were no material misstatements made by the City over the past fiscal year.  While the audit was dull, it was heartening to have such an earnest accountant speak and not overdo it on praising Santa Clarita.  If I have to hear about how we're in the black while other cities are going banrupt, I'll just scream.  TimBen Boydston asked how thorough the check was and posed a couple of other questions about sufficient pension funds and other details.  His questions didn't lead to any shocking revelations. 

The last item tonight (an item concerning traffic stops was continued to a future meeting) involved changes to committee appointments.  Mayor Kellar suggested a few changes, nearly all of them proposed so that he, as mayor, would sit on some of the more crucial committees.  The cnages were as follows:

*League of California Cities Alternate: Weste replaced by Kellar
*School Trustee Association: McLean and Boydston serve, Ferry moves to alternate
*Budget Committee: Kellar and Weste serve, Boydston is alternate
*Community Services Grant: Kellar and Weste serve, McLean is alternate
*Downtown Newhall Specific Plan: Kellar and Weste serve, McLean is alternate
*Sanitation District: Kellar replaces Ferry

Councilmember Marsha McLean was not pleased to lose her spot with Downtown Newhall Specific Plan.  She explained that she has a special relationship with some businesses in Newhall which have grown "used to me."  Kellar listened, but was unswayed.  Everyone assented to the changes. 

There was no additional public participation, so the meeting ended at 7:40. 

[1]Here's your agenda.  Or the City's, rather.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Happenings: Water's Expensive

Councilmember TimBen Boydston read a prayer from Dwight D. Eishenhower to begin this first meeting of the new year[1].  I feared we might very well need the prayer to endure what promised to be a long meeting--at least judging by the size of the audience.  But after endless awards, recognitions, and announcements, rather little happened. The process of selecting a mayor remains unchanged, our water wars continue, and we're getting $160,000 worth of mulch.  Happy 2013.          

One chair sat empty at the beginning of tonight's meeting--do I really have to say whose?  Mayor Kellar explained that Councilmember Frank Ferry would be arriving a little late (we later learned he had been at his son's soccer game).  In his absence, Boydston recognized the Saugus High girls' cross-country team for their 7th consecutive CIF championship.  There's a word for their acheivement: unprecedented.  The Saugus boys did well, too, placing second in the state.

John Dow of the Arts Commission spoke before the council next.  While the commission had planned on establishing an arts foundation in 2012, they decided the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to start and staff such a foundation made it an imprudent option for the time being.  He said a foundation will be established eventually, however; Councilmember Marsha McLean suggested they work on getting the structure in place now even if there aren't the funds to operate it.  Dow also described a study on how non-profit arts impact the local economy.  He said that Santa Clarita sees an annual $11.4M in art-related expenditures, and that the arts support 300 full-time equivalent jobs in the city. 

The final presentation before council was of a person, namely Assistant City Manager Frank Oviedo.  He's only been in town for two days, but he said he was happy to be back in Santa Clarita (Oviedo worked at Santa Clarita's City Hall some years ago before he was city manager of Wildomar).  

Public Participation

There was a half-hour of public participation spanning topics from drugs to politics to rent. 

A spokesperson from Assemblymember Steve Fox's office conveyed well-wishings from Fox, whose district includes the northeastern bit of Santa Clarita in addition to the lesser cities of Palmdale, Lancaster, and Rosamond.

Krissy McAfee, who gave one of the most impactful three-minute speeches ever heard by the city council two years ago, returned to speak tonight.  Recall that in 2010, she described the death of her son, Trae, from a heroin overdose, and in so doing she was largely responsible for getting the community to focus on the growing heroin problem.  She spoke about an up-coming "Good Samaritan Walk" in recognition of a new law that protects people who call to report a friend who has overdosed, even if the reporter has been using drugs as well.  She said that there were 15 deaths from ODs in 2012, and hoped the law would help prevent future deaths.  Another mother who lost her child to an opiate overdose also spoke of the need to tackle our community drug problem. 

Alan Ferdman spoke about just how costly it would be to treat chlorides in water we send down the Santa Clara River.  Even the current "smaller" option would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.

A self-identified older woman asked the City to consider a law regulating smoking in and around apartments. 

Cam Noltemeyer was deeply dismayed about CLWA's acquisition of Valencia Water Company and its polluted wells.  She distrusts their leadership, accusing them of not complying with the health department.  "Now we have probably the worst people in charge of all of these contaminated wells," said Noltemeyer, who was at a loss for why the City was being so hands-off when it came to water providers.

Former Mayor Carl Boyer asked officials and residents to speak in favor of county governance reform, i.e., the problems of the behemoth LA County, which is more populous than 40 states. 

We heard more about concerns over rent increases in a Sand Canyon mobile home community, particularly whether they were in fact legal. 

Finally, a young Claritan named Isabella Clark delivered news of the success of her program to get kids to walk to school.  She said hundreds of students in the Newhall School District have participated in the program "for their and the planet's health." 

City Manager Striplin acknowledged all of the issues raised, but none of the concerns attracted much more than a promise for further investigation by staff.

The Council Comments

It was 7:06 when individual reports from council members began.  Councilmember McLean made an appeal for information about the disappearance of Sarah Alarid, the 19-year-old young woman who has been missing since New Year's Eve.  Councilmember Ferry asked that the City contact someone about re-striping the area around the 5 and 14 freeways, which is so marred with paint, lines, and marks that it's almost causing accidents.  Councilmember Boydston asked to have the City Attorney look at the mobile home rent increases brought up during public participation.  He said that the mobile community residents might not have the resources to hire their own lawyer.  Boydston also brought up the topic of chlorides, which led to an utterly uneccesary rehashing of statements already said many times.  It's a frustrating situation, this chloride treatment business, but little progress was made as the same points were repeated again tonight (e.g., we got rid of water softeners, no science to back chloride limits up, very expensive, etc...). 

Consent Calendar

The Consent Calendar passed easily.  The new historical ordinance has been officially adopted, the City awarded a contract for purchase and delivery of 300 cubic yards of mulch, and there was landscape maintenance district re-shuffling.  That was it. 

Mayor Me

It can be difficult watching City Council meetings online, especially when there are five minutes of dead-silence as TimBen Boydston explains why he'd like to work out some kind of mayoral rotation.  My lip-reading skills proved inadequate.  I'm sure details will be published when KHTS or TMS run their council stories, but for now, all you really need to know is that Boydston's proposal to shake up how a mayor is selected was rejected in a 1-4 vote.

Ferry pointed out that the unofficial rotation had been altered to avoid Klajic as mayor because she refused to join the rest of council, often dissenting in votes.  This seemed to be a warning to Boydston to fall into line. 

More Water Woes

If it's not chlorides, it's broadscale stormwater pollution.  The "Clean Water, Clean Beaches" proposal to tax homeowners for stormwater treatment is widely unpopular in Santa Clarita.  Tonight, it was called double-taxation (we already pay to treat stormwater), a money-grab, and all sorts of other unflattering names.  It would mean an extra $54 in taxes for most property owners.

There's a week left to send in a protest to the measure.  If a majority of property-owners do not protest, the LA County Board of Supervisors may put a vote on the tax on the ballot.  The City Council decided to file a protest for all City-owned properties, and there was talk of letters and educating the community and pointing out a jurisdiction overlap (i.e., City/County both charging to treat stormwater?) as well. 

Relatively little has changed as a result of tonigtht's meeting, but that may well be the case for some time to come.  Many of the problems before Mayor Kellar et al. are big ones, and they're unlikely to be resolved in a single council meeting--or even at the council level.  The meeting ended at 8:53.

[1]Here's the agenda.