Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Happenings: Adjusted

Tonight’s City Council meeting was one of adjustments—to codes, to fees, to fire zone boundaries, to development policy—and consequently, it was pretty boring[1].  Everything has changed, but usually not meaningfully so.  The main reason to endure the meeting was to keep an eye on candidates for the 2014 City Council election, but even this proved disappointing as everyone acted exactly as usual.  The only carrot I can dangle for you, dear reader, is absurdity: a councilmember’s request for good vibes, going to jail for cracks in your driveway, and a debate of the (il)legality of forts in oak trees await you.


Mayor Bob Kellar mistakenly thought that tonight would be a short meeting.  Hopefully, he observed, “We have a small gathering tonight; good…we might get out at a reasonable hour.”  (The meeting would last over two hours). 


The invocation was provided by Councilmember Marsha McLean.  She mentioned yesterday’s Memorial Day ceremony and said that reading about Bowe Bergdahl really touched her, making her reflect on her own son’s time overseas in the military.  Bergdahl is a US Army Sergeant who has been held prisoner in Afghanistan since 2009, and she made a sincere request to think about Bowe in hopes that “somehow” our “good vibes” would reach him.  Perhaps she was trying to avoid the word “pray” for some reason or another, but that’s essentially what she was hoping people would do.    


Next, Santa Clarita received a plaque and some cash from Southern California Edison.  Apparently, the City of SC has reached the “Silver Tier” for energy usage reduction.  By using 29% less energy in municipal buildings than was used in past years, some $154,900 in incentives have been paid to the City since 2010.  Tonight’s check was specifically awarded for fixing up street/parking lot lighting efficiency.


During Public Participation, Alan Ferdman spoke about several subjects but was most upset at comments from a recent meeting about the draft EIR for a chloride treatment plant/strategy.  He said that he proposed an option not in the EIR (it combined multiple strategies) that would save the City millions of dollars.  However, his idea was shot down when the representative described data and numbers in the draft EIR—which cost $5M—as overly optimistic or incorrect.  Ferdman was justifiably upset about this as was Councilmember TImBen Boydston, who spoke next.  He noted that the first sentence of the EIR described a problem that is a fiction (i.e., chloride damaging avocados and strawberries).  In short, five-million dollars seems to have been lavished on a document that its own authors and adherents admit is factually flawed.  After this grand lament, the other members of the council gave their own updates on local issues and debated whether they could draft a letter asking for more time to review the EIR.  City Attorney Joe Montes said no—drafting such a letter would have to be agendized—and this annoyed all. 


On the Consent Calendar, a second reading and adoption of changes to municipal code drew comments from Ferdman, Boydston, and others.  After the discussion at the last meeting, it was feared that painting a house the wrong color or having cracks in one’s driveways could be treated as a misdemeanor.  Boydston said that cracked cement should not be a criminal but rather an administrative issue.  The response was essentially one of “don’t worry about it; we’ll be reasonable”—which is pretty hard to formalize in the code.  He recalled asking a “former City Manager” (there’ve only been three—we know of whom you speak) to look through code enforcement documents to see if they were reasonable, and he was flatly denied the opportunity.  Mayor Kellar, whose ideological grounding is often baffling, said he could understand this encroachment on freedom—as Boydston painted it.  Kellar said that cracks in a driveway could lead to legal liability and decrease and that they need to be fixed to protect the safety of citizens.  Ultimately, everyone would vote for the code changes except Boydston.


Cam Noltemeyer spoke on an item to slightly increase solid waste disposal fees, but the wind was taken out of her sails when Councilmember Ferry pointed out that the fees might be slightly lower (or at least about the same) as they were 8 years ago.  Noltemeyer’s complaint about the annual levy of open space assessments had more grounding, but since the issue has largely slipped from the public’s mind, City Manager Ken Striplin merely responded by saying the assessment had been passed as was legally prescribed, which is, at best, an over-simplification.  These items and the rest of the Consent Calendar passed. 


Up next, there was a brief discussion of changes to fire zone boundaries and classifications, which can affect some costs associated with home ownership.  But since the new map didn’t leave much room for change or discussion since it came from CAL FIRE, it was adopted.  Boydston gently ribbed Mayor Kellar, saying that the new map classified Kellar’s ranch in a higher-risk area and, for that reason, Boydston joked he was in favor of it.  Kellar responded with a gracious chuckle, but the meeting had already stretched on too long for his taste.   


The final bit of business this evening was the first reading of an update to development code.  There were many changes, and TimBen Boydston mentioned that he had spent some 10 hours going through them with members of staff.  There was a little concern about changes to Santa Clarita’s famous oak tree ordinance.  Lynne Plambeck was concerned that two paragraphs justifying the importance of oaks in the city had been struck-through, but Councilmember McLean, who also a fan of these paragraphs, said they were actually just underlined to indicate they had been slightly moved around.  On the topic of oaks, Boydston asked whether someone could build a tree house in their backyard oak tree (the short answer is “no”), and this saddened him.  Mayor Kellar then provided an anecdote about a treehouse—complete with plumbing—built atop a local oak tree that had to eventually be modified so as not to hurt the oak.  After these discussions of oaks, forts, childhood, and treehouses, there wasn’t much left to discuss.  And with no public participation remaining, the meeting ended.
[1]Here is the agenda, for your reading pleasure.