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.

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