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

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