Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Happenings: Unger Demolished, Kellar Criticized, Cemex Hopes Revived

Sam Unger: unintelligent, disingenuous, out-of-touch, or patronizing?[1]  I’m not sure which proportion of each Mr. Unger is, but the Executive Officer of the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board did not come off at all well during tonight’s meeting.  He was invited by Mayor Kellar to deliver information about the chloride issue, but the presentation quickly turned into a tongue-lashing from all members of the council.  It took up the better part of the evening.  There was a bit of controversy about an oil pipeline and words exchanged about the Mayors Prayer Breakfast, but tonight’s meeting was mostly a chance for Claritans to come to a collective realization that they want to challenge unreasonable water quality mandates.  As Councilmember Frank Ferry would convincingly say at one point, “We are that crazy”—in other words, Santa Clarita is ready to fight nonsensical chloride standards, whatever the odds or whatever ridiculous means are necessary.

After Ferry’s invocation—he read from a speech by Cardinal O’Malley following the bombing in Boston—we learned that Mayor Kellar had invited Sam Unger to talk chlorides with Santa Clarita.  Unger, who umm-ed his way through some cheesy PowerPoint slides didn’t make a great impression.  He was trying to explain why chloride total maximum daily loads (TMDL) were set to 100 mg/L, explained the history of setting the TMDL, and so on.  It was almost embarrassing when he tried to explain the “science” that justified the limits set on chloride levels.  After explaining that the law required protection of the most chloride-sensitive beneficial uses—farming of avocadoes and strawberries, for the Santa Clara River—he held up binders of “science”.  What’s embarrassing is that these weren’t results of studies conducted with SCV wastewater on crops or even modeling or meta-analyses based on prior chloride/agriculture research.  They were print-outs of other studies, which a team of purported experts reviewed to come to chloride TMDL recommendations.  As Maria Gutzeit would very hilariously put it in her comments, “Calling this science is like calling a book report a great work of literature.”  He quite literally wanted us to think gee whiz, that’s a lot of paper, you must have done a lot of good science.

Unger was then thoroughly lambasted by every member of the Council (except for Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste, who is marching to her own peculiar drummer on the issue).  Marsha McLean kicked some serious ass.  “I am going to try to be as respectful to you as I possibly can, but some of the statements you made are difficult for me to handle,” she began.  McLean then pointed out that the “independent advisory panel” that reviewed “the science” was weighted in favor of Ventura’s agricultural community.  She noted that farmers had enjoyed bumper crops despite chloride levels, and she wondered why TMDLs would be switched from 100 to 117 mg/L only if an expensive treatment plant were built by Santa Clarita.  She also asked why there hadn’t been any field studies to go along with the literature review, to which Unger replied, “There would not be any further science that would be unraveled…”  Essentially, she was frustrated that there was no “science” to back up TMDL standards or to support the notion of chloride-based crop damage.

 Laurene Weste addressed Unger next, and she basically just had him talk about all the horrible penalties that could be imposed for violating chloride limits, unsuccessfully trying to make a point that compliance was a cheaper option (I think: I don’t know what point she’s making half the time).

Frank Ferry was more aggressive.  He talked about how state water is already very salty, and how we’re given water to drink that isn’t good enough (in terms of chloride levels) to water avocadoes with.  This is when we like Ferry to be brusque, and he didn’t disappoint.  “What agency’s responsible for common sense to come through?” he growled rhetorically.  He talked about how Ventura farming lobbyists were pulling strings but would be desperate for compromise if Santa Clarita stopped pumping water downstream for them to use.  He suggested diverting our water to a big lake instead, saying “We are that crazy.”  Ferry wouldn’t let Unger say science had prevailed over agricultural lobbying, demanding “Please do not insult this community…do not state it is not a political process with political appointees on a political board.”


TimBen Boydston also did well.  He read from the scientific literature review noting that they had claimed no definitive chloride limits could be set for strawberries and ornamental plants.  He pointed out that the only damage shown for avocadoes was leaf burn on one farm, and that yield of fruit hadn’t been affected.  He asked a long list of questions about legal appeal options and how the choride TMDL could be challenged. 

Finally, Mayor Kellar graciously gave Unger a chance for closing comments, which he squandered.  This let Kellar finish with an anti-invasive-government tirade—verbal ground he has clearly tread before—about having to comply with exhausting regulations and wasting time and money fighting to keep some level of self determination.

Public Participation

 Public Participation followed.  Many community members spoke.  Alan Ferdman said “I do not like being threatened” to Unger and noted that one of the threatened penalties would cost each household $73,000 a year in taxes.

 Chemical Engineer Maria Gutzeit, a chemical engineer, ridiculed the TMDL science.  Many others shared her sentiment.  It was only Lynne Plambeck who used the chloride debate as a chance to lament rapid growth and a lack of standards enforcement for new developments.

 On the topic of not-chloride, Susan Wachter wondered why an anti-gay individual was going to speak at the Mayors Prayer Breakfast.  In response, Mayor Kellar pointed out the event is not run by the City and that he wanted it to be about prayer, not personalities.  Kellar described himself as being in a “no-win situation” for the breakfast/speaker. A break followed.

 Comments, Consent

 At 8:27, the Council Members made their brief presentations to the City.  Cemex was on the mind of Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste, who spoke about SB 771 from Senator Boxer’s office with co-sponsorship from Senator Feinstein’s office.  Congressman McKeon has promised to support the bill “when” it makes it to the House

 The Consent Calendar passed without much fuss.  Councilmember Boydston asked if the City was paying a fair price for some open space near the planned Cemex mine, and he was assured they were.

Finally, there was discussion of an oil pipeline in Santa Clarita.  Primary concerns were about a major accident, which could be exacerbated if a more explosive substance that crude were flowing through the pipeline.  Thus, the Council decided to allow the pipeline but to require another meeting if the pipeline would switch to conveying a different petroleum product.  On the once-more-controversial topic of campaign posters, the new ordinance allows people to pick up confiscated signs after the election.  The meeting ended at 9:05

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Happenings: EDC Makes Case for Self

Santa Clarita has a Chamber of Commerce and an Economic Development Division, but what would we do without three more years of an Economic Development Corporation (EDC), too?  It supports at least one job--that of Jonas Peterson, the EDC CEO--and does some other stuff, too.  Really, they promise.  After tonight's meeting, the EDC will receive $200,000 in taxpayer support each year for the next three years.  Additionally, we learned why building a conference center doesn't make economic sense for Santa Clarita, Mayor Kellar was grumpy, and TimBen Boydston didn't back down on MayorDude, though Frank Ferry did--a little.

Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste read the Gettysburg Adddress for tonight's inovcation.  She admitted that she might have been a bit early for a Memorial Day gesture, but she liked the sentiment.  Next, a choir of old men called the Men of Harmony (debatable) gave so-so renditions of "The Star-spangled Banner" and "Oh Shenandoah".  There were recognitions for organizing a state-wide chess torunament ("It is a higher thinking reading critical skill: chess", said the eloquent Councilmember Ferry), for National Librarby Week, for the 50th Anniversary of the Santa Clarita Swap Meet at the Suaugs Speedway, and for Arbor Day as well.

Public participation began with Councilmember TimBen Boydston speaking on behalf of himself.  Since he's not allowed to talk about his benefits at the dais, he used a three-minute speaker block to challenge Councilmember Frank Ferry regarding benefits.  Recall that at the last meeting, Ferry said that Boydston was new on Council but wanted the same benefits that everyone else receives; right now, Boydston receives far less for waiving his healthcare.  Boydston pointed out that Ferry received the same benefits as everyone else when he was new on council.  He said a lot more, but the feed at, while delightfully commercial free, had audio issues the whole night, so I'm not sure what else was said specifically.

Ray Henry, representing the Sand Canyon Mobile Home Park, said he wants residents to get a fair hearing again.  Alan Ferdman spoke out against funding for Community Conservation Solutions, noting that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on the group for outreach efforts that Ferdman finds of questionable utility to the people of Santa Clarita in the midst of its water crises and perhaps even a counterproductive use of funds.  Cam Noltemeyer came forward to give Ferry a talking-to about his conduct.  She said his words to Boydston last week were "completely out of line" and brought up all the important catchphrases of City Council discontent: "gang of four", "Citizens for Integrity in Government", and so on.  She, too, cut out for audio, so I didn't hear all of it.

Comments from individual council members came next.  Ferry had nothing to say.  McLean, likewise, had nothing to say, but it took her much longer to say it.  (She addressed State issues we can't really do much to influence).  Weste said that the community gardens will be expanding with more plots.  Boydston didn't back down on Mayor Dude.  He said his comments last week were made to protect Santa Clarita from investing in a similar program in the future.  Ferry pointed out that three years of silence on the campaign meant it was a non-issue, but he didn't get nearly as impassioned and vocal as he did last week. 

EDC Promotes Its Many Vague Accomplishments

The most-discussed item on the Consent Calendar was an item to support businesses, or as Mayor Bob Kellar calls them, "bih-niss-es."  The Santa Clarita Economic Development Corporation is a group of local businessmen (mostly) that use local taxpayer dollars to leverage additional taxpayer dollars from LA County and then spend it on advertsising themselves and Santa Clarita to the business community.  They also woo businesses and help them perform simple tasks, like helping with "site selection".  Several speakers from the EDC made a case for their continued existence tonight.  Jonas Peterson, the Executive Director, said he wouldn't go into the specific during his comments (after all, who wants to hear those?) but promised "the best is yet to come."  Dante Acosta claimed 2,800 jobs had been created or saved and promised these results had been "verified."  (By whom?)  Others pointed out that for every $1 the City invested in the EDC, $3 in additional funds were raised.   

The one specific case that was offered was helping to attract St. John Precision Dynamics.  Apparently, the EDC helped with site selection, "provided community information...and permitting assistance", for which they claimed credit in helping to bring "200+ jobs" to Santa Clarita.

Councilmemnet Boydston, rather hilariously, said that you could tell just how much money they wanted City Hall to spend based on who was showing up: "there's quite a power lunch here this evening."  He snuck this little jab in amidst praise of business and mentioning that he is a smal business owner himself.  Boydston and McLean called for more specifics on what is actually accomplished by the EDC, and McLean asked for an escape clause in the contract to fund the group for the next three years.  With these measures, this item--and the rest of the consent calendar--passed with unanimous support. 

It's important to note that perpetual naysayer Cam Noltemeyer spoke on Item 5 (second reading of the Habitat for Heroes project) and had no criticisms, which was so remarkable that Boydston actually pointed it out and said how pleased it made him to have such a unviersally supported project.

A $65M Conference Center?

Santa Clarita paid for a detailed study/plan for a conference center, and there was a lengthy presentation tonight.  We learned that a 40,000 - 60,000 square-foor center (this size would support a ballroom that could accomodate 1,500 people) would need 5 - 12 acres of land, be best located in the town center, require expensive and expansive parking, and might generate $250,000 per year for the City in direct tax benefits.  The total cost of land, building, and so on would be about $40M - $65M.  There were options for how to cut costs, but it looked like a very expensive proposition.

Concilmember Boydston pointed out that if 50,000 attendees were attracted each year (a wildly optimistic number based on projections), each would need to spend $10,000 for the City to earn enough sales tax to cover construction costs and financing.  "I want everyone to understand how little sense this makes," he said.

Some speakers were offended that Boydston had thrown around the term "corporate welfare", and more than one person insisted that this would make money for Santa Clarita despite the numbers.  Ferry said of Boydston, "You want us all to drive a horse and buggy"--he was saying that Boydston is always against new projects that end up being worthwhile.  Mayor Kellar, who had let the old men sing for 10 minutes at the start of the meeting, was grumpy that Boydston was having a lengthy discussion on a potentially $65M conference center, so he asked him to keep his comments brief.  On the recommended action of pursuing a public-private partnership to build the center, everyone voted yes, except for Boydston.  The meeting ended without further public participation.

[1]Here's the agenda.  Read it, if you dare.