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.