Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Happenings: Ferry vs. Cam vs. Kellar vs. Boydston

People weren't getting along at tonight's City Council meeting.[1] There were confrontations ranging from mundane to explosive, and none of the personalities involved came off as wholly sympathetic. It wasn't that any issues on tonight's agenda were particularly contentious, but they served as convenient enough ignition sources for long-accumulating fuel. By the end of the meeting, we had an updated housing plan, bought more time for waste disposal issues, and saw Councilmember Frank Ferry leave the meeting early, shortly after calling Cam Noltemeyer "toxic waste."

The meeting began with a long procession of recognitions and proclamations. The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall Committee, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Domestic Violence Prevention Month, Soroptimist International, Circle of Hope, and Family Promise all received their due. Former Mayor Laurie Ender made an appearance in the capacity of President of Family Promise, and she was warmly received by the City Council.

Public Participation

Alan Ferdman was the first member of the public to speak, and his words about the handling of the chloride issue were harsh and condemning. Recall that there was a big chloride meeting the night before the City Council meeting and that it looks like the (risky, liability-laden) Alternative 4 is the preferred option for the Sanitation Board, which is 2/3 City Council members (Mayor Kellar, Mayor Pro Tem Weste). Ferdman was upset that hundreds of pages of public comments were "summarily dismissed", said that "it's hard to assume that a backdoor deal has not been made", and he identified a "gross lack of leadership." Because Ferdman's voice rarely reflects much passion, it can be easy to miss just how damning his words are.

Two residents of a senior complex spoke next, asking for help in securing rent control or some other assistance with rising rent.

To close out the comments, Allan Cameron requested that the next Sanitation District meeting be broadcast (or at least recorded on video) and Cam Noltemeyer accused the City of working to the benefit of Newhall Land and other interests.

Council Comments

Before Mayor Kellar asked the other members of the City Council to speak, he said that the chloride issue was extremely complicated and yet again asked for the public to put its faith in him and Laurene Weste in their capacity on the sanitation board. He was offended at the accusation of backdoor deals, saying, "Guys, there's not that many bogeymen out there." (i.e., drop the conspiracy theories).

Councilmember TimBen Boydston spent most of his turn for comments speaking about the chloride options. Like many others, he believes any alternative is better than option 4. Because option 4 involves sending billions of gallons of water downstream, he argued that it will immediately and permanently create an obligation to maintain those flows in the name of maintaining endangered fish populations (steelhead or stickleback).  Boydston was long-winded, as usual, but Kellar was well out of bounds when he reprimanded Boydston for his comments, telling Boydston to be more brief next time. Because, you know, after half an hour of photo opps and back-patting, spending 5 minutes talking about a billion-dollar water issue is totally out of line and wasting the public's time. (During his turn for comments and updates, Mayor Kellar would speak about the much more important topic of holiday lights in Newhall.) This all helped build tension for the later, more spectacular challenge of personalities.

Consent Calendar

Tonight's was a very short consent calendar, but Item 2 drew some attention. It was basically two items in one. The first recommended action had to do with solid waste service franchise agreements in newly annexed parts of Santa Clarita. This was routine and passed--just a matter of shifting responsibilities after shifting city boundaries. The second part of the item was continued for further discussion and study. It would have allowed waste haulers to drop off trash at more landfill sites (right now, they're limited to Chiquita Landfill and two landfills in the Antelope Valley) that might be cheaper. However, Steve Cassulo of Chaquita wasn't so keen on the prospect of losing business as a result of this action. He cited relationships with Claritan businesses and had letters asking for careful consideration of the issue from business groups.

Kellar and Boydston again came into conflict on this issue, albeit indirectly. It was a matter of calling bluffs. If Kellar was so keen on saving taxpayers money, why not approve this measure and allow for more competition from various landfills for SCV's trash? Conversely, if Boydston was so keen on taking time to really dig into and understand issues, why pass the measure so quickly? It was Boydston who acquiesced (after a comment by Councilmember Marsha McLean), so waste disposal guidelines will be more thoroughly discussed in the future.

Somewhere in the thick of the discussion, Ferry took Boydston to task for what he perceived as unwarranted sympathy for the comments from Cam Noltemeyer. (Noltemeyer had spoken about this item earlier, asking about MRFs and sweetheart deals for Newhall Land and making her usual points about the City screwing over the taxpayer). Ferry argued that Cam Noltemeyer should not be seen as a hero for the cause of open, responsive government but rather as a community-destroying menace. He mentioned her service on the San Fernando City Council and said, "She was a total wreck down there...Cam Noltemeyer has no credibility in San Fernando and now she wants to poison our community...Cam Noltemeyer is a toxic waste...she's not a savior." All of this was said quite passionately and loudly--Ferry was really worked up. And in the midst of this storm, just imagine Boydston incessantly asking for a "point of order" in a calm, persistent tone. It was a mess, and you couldn't decided whether you wanted to side with Ferry the bully or Boydston the hall monitor. For while Ferry's outburst was obviously inappropriate, sometimes it's best to just stand out of the way; this was Mayor Kellar's philosophy as he (unsuccessfully) told Boydston to be quiet while Ferry spoke. In any case,  Boydston reminded Ferry that it's policy not to denigrate public speakers, and this reminder went over as well as you might expect.

Public Hearing

There was a brief recess before new business. When the meeting was about to resume, Ferry just opted to take his things and make a quiet exit. It didn't matter much as the general plan housing element update elicited little discussion and as more of a formality than anything else. Essentially, the City was complying with the requirement that its plans be updated from time to time to reflect new developments and data.

[1]Here's the agenda.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Happenings: Open Space Funds Reconciled, Acid Fracking Fears?

I had a special feeling (hope?) deep in my bones when I looked over the City Council meeting agenda  for tonight: this could be under an hour.[1]  But it was not to be. For while very little happened in the way of actual business, there was a lot to be said about chlorides, acid fracking, and open space purchases. Tonight was a reminder that Santa Clarita spends a lot of time thinking about environmental issues, especially the expensive ones.

Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste used her invocation to touch on the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall that was recently in Santa Clarita. She said, "It promoted healing and it promoted honoring those who serve; it did not go unnoticed by anyone."

Awards and recognitions followed. Councilmember Marsha McLean said it was her "great pleasure" to read a proclamation for Hispanic Heritage Month, after which Paul De La Cerda and Gloria Mercado-Fortine made a few comments and introduced some members of the Latino Chamber of Commerce. Next, Councilmember Frank Ferry recognized one of Santa Clarita's oldest churches, St. Stephen's Episcopal, in light of its 50th anniversary. He noted the church held the title of many "firsts" in the SCV, including operating the first homeless shelter. Finally, the City received $1,500 as a donation from Williams Homes Inc. to SCORE (Supporting Children's Opportunities in Recreational Events). A giant novelty check (to use J. Wilson's phrase) was the manner in which the donation was presented.

Public Participation: E-waste, Chloride, and Acid Fracking

Amy Daniels runs e-waste recycling events that help fundraise for Hart, and she discussed how valuable the events are to the community at large as well. They've collected half-a-million pounds of e-waste, which has helped the City to reach its waste diversion goals.  She said that Councilmember TimBen Boydston informed her that she could not display large banners along the street to advertise the events, but she said such banners were critical to success. Citing the benefit the recycling effort provides to the City, she asked that an exception be made for her banners.

Next, Ray Henry, made his usual comments about how mobile home residents are being treated unfairly and the City is doing little to help them out. "Why aren't the residents being treated equally as the park owners?" he asked. He stated that the City is not working for the benefit of residents but rather park owners.

Several speakers on chloride were peppered through public participation. Alan Ferdman worried about transparency and a lack of public awareness of all the relevant issues. Allan Cameron held up a report that he said "will win the chloride war hands-down...the truth shall set you free." From his discussion of litigation against water district boards, it sounds like this document will focus on legal solutions. Maria Gutzeit, Board President of Newhall County Water District, provided comments on the EIR for chloride treatment options. "It is the worst EIR I have read in over 20 years," she said, encouraging any option but Alternative 4. She cautioned that it would saddle Santa Clarita with downstream water obligations for perpetuity. The final speaker on the topic was Cam Noltemeyer, who noted late posting of Sanitation Board meeting minutes and too many meeting cancellations for her taste.

"Frank it's nice to see you I haven't seen you for a while" said the cheerfully snarky Sandra Cattell, who had a different set of concerns on her mind. She said that eight wells in and near Placerita Canyon are being "acid fracked", which involves dissolving rocks with strong acid to release oil. She threw out a laundry list of sensitive entities nearby, from schools to aquifers to earthquake fauts, and she asked that staff be directed to study any potential safety issues.

Responses weren't sympathetic for the e-waste recycler. City Manager Ken Striplin told her that the rules were the rules, and no exception to the sign ordinance would be made to allow for advertising of the events. Striplin said this was the first he had heard of fracking, and asked if the council wanted staff to research the state of fracking in the SCV; the City Council was in favor of looking further into the issue.

City Council Comments

"Option 4 is a disaster...it's going to be the most expensive option," said TimBen Boydston of the various chloride treatment alternatives. He also stuck by his guns for the prohibition of e-waste banners, saying an exception for one group would lead to clamoring for exceptions from many other groups.

Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste was pleased about the extension of bike trails at Golden Valley and for the expansion of community gardens, and Councilmember Marsha McLean asked for Claritans to attend an upcoming meeting on high-speed rail to represent the interests of Santa Clarita. Mayor Kellar echoed Weste's comments about the impact of the traveling memorial wall on Santa Clarita, and noted that the people who transport the wall said this was the first city to read all 58,000 names from the wall.

Consent Calendar

After over an hour of introductory talks and presentations and remembrances, the consent calendar passed in under 30 seconds with the recommended actions. It was mostly all house-keeping-type items, including contracts for heating/AC maintenance and landscaping.

Open Space Oops

City Manager Ken Striplin introduced the final item on the agenda in a way that avoided any harsh assignment of blame. The City used Open Space Preservation District funds to buy two properties, one of which fell mostly outside of a three-mile zone around the City and one of which fell completely outside the zone. The trouble is, spending is restricted to acquiring properties within the zone. He noted that the Financial Accountability & Audit Panel has found this problem, though he referred to them as the "fap", which is not a particularly flattering word to say based on popular Internet usage. In any case, he said there was a fix--namely "fund reconciliation." It basically amounted to shuffling unrestricted funds to cover the purchase with out-of-boundary properties and using restricted funds to cover within-boundary purchases. So the same amount of City money was spent on open space, but restricted funds were no longer being used in a restriction-defying manner.

There were four public speakers on the item, all of whom were complimentary (even Cam!) of the panel for noticing the mistake. It was clear that the City won't be allowed to err and account its way out of the problem again, but it was essentially "forgiven" this time around by those who spoke.

Councilmember TimBen Boydston used the item as an opportunity to point out how valuable opposition is on a committee and wondered what would have been if the council had approved his other committee appointments. (Recall that Boydston appointed open space critic James Farley to the panel, but two of his other appointments to committees were not approved by the rest of the council, which was a bit of a slap in the face. Farley was one of the members who noticed the problem, suggesting the utility of having critical members serve.) He also put City Attorney Joe Montes on the spot, asking why the City was paying his firm to review contracts yet the firm did not point out how these purchases were not proper. Montes said there are many contracts and they don't usually review maps for open space acquisitions, but Boydston seemed less than satisfied with the answer.

Before the vote to approve fund reconciliation, Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste said that the properties which had been purchased were a benefit not just to Santa Clarita but to the whole country (indeed), and Mayor Bob Kellar said the acquired parcel surrounding the site where CEMEX plans to mine may be particularly crucial in winning the fight against mining. Thus, the fund reconciliation plan passed.

Before the meeting adjourned, Doug Fraser spoke to drive home the point about mobile home park owners being noticed about meetings in a more thorough manner than are residents. The meeting ended just after 7:30.

[1]Here's the agenda