Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Happenings: TimBen Talks, Chloride Defeat, TUP OK

Tonight's Santa Clarita City Council meeting was highly quotable:
  • "They went around the roundabout...and they loved it."--Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean on what *everyone* she talked with thought of the Newhall traffic circle.
  • "I am appalled, I am outraged, and I haven't begun to fight."--Mayor Laurene Weste on chlorides and Sacramento's opposition/indifference.
  • "This is not the hill I'm going to die on."--Councilmember Bob Kellar on not being quite as upset as McLean and Boydston about a cell tower installation.
  • "You would have to murder me..." Berta Gonzalez-Harper to Councilmember TimBen Boydston on what he'd have to do to get her support for a particular building proposal.

We'll get to the context for these quotations shortly, but suffice it to say that everyone was feeling talkative tonight; the meeting lasted nearly four hours[1]. By meeting's end, there was a delay for approval of cellular communication equipment installation, community services and arts grants were awarded, council appointments were updated to reflect Weste's new(ish) mayoral title, and a temporary building supply yard was allowed to keep doing what it's doing.

Invocation and Public Participation: Boyer Wants Districts

Councilmember Ferry was missing from roll call because, as Mayor Weste explained, was ill. He certainly seems to have bad luck when it comes to his health. Since he had been slated to deliver the invocation, Mayor Weste spoke instead, explaining the origins of Presidents Day. It was an invocation that felt like being read a Wikipedia entry aloud.

Next, Calvin Hedman and Holly Schroeder of the SCV Economic Development Corporation spoke about the EDC's personnel changes and dazzling successes over the past year. For the unfamiliar, the EDC basically does the same stuff that the Chamber of Commerce, City of Santa Clarita Economic Development Division, COC SBDC, Valley Industrial Association, and LA County institutions do (i.e., attract and support business), but its role is framed in the context of synergy instead of redundancy. Schroeder highlighted attracting businesses like Sunkist Growers, and she also touted successful business retention, which she called "the less glamorous sister" of business attraction. Without naming names, she promised we'd soon be hearing about many more businesses coming to Santa Clarita with notable "wins" in several "target clusters." She explained the industries comprising these target clusters, to which Mayor Weste replied, "That's a bunch of mouthfuls--you did that so beautifully." Most of the City Council was supportive of the EDC, even the usually skeptical Councilmember Boydston. Mayor Pro Tem McLean did, however, take a moment to let Schroeder know that it's OK to attract eclectic business to Old Town Newhall, not just arts-related ones. That should probably fix the situation down there.

During Public Participation, former mayor Carl Boyer made the most interesting comments. He said that Santa Clarita is now a mature city, and this means some changes are in order. While he once favored at-large elections, he now favors voting by districts or by numbered seats. Part of his motivation is that this would bring down the fundraising requirements for a successful campaign. He noted that his campaign budget for city council was $1,100, but that today, some $50,000 might be needed to win a seat on the City Council. He also advocated for having a four-year, full-time elected mayor.

Other public comments included an appeal to bring in a hydrogen fueling station, lamentation about our failed attempt to have the State fund its mandate to treat chlorides, and woes about mobile home park rents. Barbara Wilson asked for a letter to request an increase in the number of Metrolink trips available to/from Santa Clarita. Mayor Pro Tem McLean assured Wilson that she worked very diligently on all Metrolink transportation related matters and that it wasn't as simple as just writing a letter. She was in favor of more service, but she thought it would take a lot of effort. "After I'm re-elected," McLean said, she would continue to work toward that goal. As a related victory, she said that Metrolink will soon be working to connect Santa Clarita and the Burbank Airport.

Councilmember Comments

Councilmember TimBen Boydston gobbled up the better part of an hour for his comments and updates (Councilmember Kellar called it the longest committee report ever, which may or may not be entirely accurate). He first spoke about a business that wanted to bring high-end senior housing to the middle of Santa Clarita--right by the mall. Boydston said that city staff had told the people behind the project that they didn't think it would be the best idea for that site. Boydston wanted to agendize a discussion of whether senior housing was an appropriate use for the land. It was pointed out that staff's opinion didn't preclude the developer from submitting an application to build senior housing, which would then be approved/denied by the Planning Commission, not staff. Boydston said he wasn't seeing support to agendize the item so he'd let it go, but McLean called him out. She said she didn't want him to imply that she was in any way against senior housing. He promised he was implying no such thing. It's election season, so tension remained.

Boydston also described his experience of going to Sacramento to speak on the chloride issue. As you've likely heard, the City of Santa Clarita made a case that the state requirement to treat chlorides in our water constituted an unfunded mandate. The Commission on State Mandates did not agree, essentially telling the SCV to suck it up and pay for chloride treatment with local taxes. Boydston claimed he had made headway at subsequent meetings, but there was still much work to be done. Then it got personal. He said that City Manager Ken Striplin had told him he would need the City Council's approval for a refund of his travel costs to Sacramento (recall that Boydston is not on the Sanitation Board; Kellar and Weste are), and that his family would really take a financial hit if he didn't get the refund. When he asked if the refund could be placed on the agenda, his fellow council members consented. But it wasn't in a way that likely left Boydston feeling optimistic: Kellar all but told him that he wouldn't be getting the refund. Kellar argued that there are certain protocols and divisions of duties to keep government functional, implying that Boydston was inappropriately shouldering the chloride issue. He continued, "I can't begin to enumerate the meetings we've had on this chloride issue...this aggravates the living heck out of all of us."

After voicing his frustration about "the majority of idiots in Sacramento", Mayor Weste told Kellar "you're a good man...glad you're in the fray." She briefly added her thoughts on the decision, promising, "I am appalled, I am outraged, and I haven't begun to fight."

Consent Calendar

Non-controversial items approved on the Consent Calendar included $120,000 in grants for community service and the arts. New trucks for graffiti removal and the City's stormwater division were purchased, and insurance brokerage service contracts were approved.

More controversial were items relating to the installation of AT&T cellular communications facilities. One installation would take place in the electrical towers along the South Fork Trail, and the other was concealed within a new clock tower at Canyon Country Park. Cam Noltemeyer thought both installations benefitted AT&T far more than the City and its residents, and Mayor Pro Tem McLean wondered why there weren't more homeowners speaking out against the installation along the South Fork Trail, which she called ugly and noted would stand less than 200 feet away from some homes. (Note: there are already many of these ugly installations on the South Fork Trail already; ugly is a way of life here.) After much discussion, the item was continued. Councilmmember Kellar tried to point out that the Planning Commission had reviewed the plan extensively already, but he said he was alright with putting off approval to a subsequent meeting.

Public Hearing: Competition OK

A dreadfully long public hearing about a temporary building materials supply yard took the award as the most boring portion of the meeting. For three years, a company has been waiting for the permits to develop its property as an industrial park. During the wait, it has been using the land to sell building materials and supplies. It operates the supply yard under temporary use permits (TUPs). Another building supply yard is upset about the competition and asked the City Council to reject the Planning Commission's approval of another 18-month TUP--this is the fourth TUP, suggesting it's not all that temporary an operation at all.

The arguments went back and forth, but ultimately, the City Council didn't feel it was obligated to prevent operation of the temporary supply yard in order to reduce competition with other, established building supply businesses. Thus, the appeal of the approval for continued operation was denied (i.e., the temporary yard can be open for business another 18 months). The City Council pointed out that the owners know they won't get endless extensions for the supply yard, and that should be good incentive for them to develop the site as intended.

Council Appointments

A few City Council committee appointments changed, mostly to reflect the fact that Laurene Weste is now mayor and that she is obliged to serve on committees that require a mayoral presence. Councilmember Boydston sheepishly asked if they'd consider putting him on the Sanitation District Committee, but Mayor Weste said that Councilmember Kellar is doing such a great job that it wouldn't make sense to remove him as a member.

Finally, Berta Gonzalez-Harper came forward for the final bout of Public Participation. She went after Councilmember Boydston, which she loves to do, by saying it was silly of him to entertain the idea of high-end senior housing in the city center. She said this was the site of a dangerous fault line and told Boydston that "you would have to murder me to get me to support" such a project. She wouldn't risk exposing anyone to the threats associated with living on a fault. With that, the meeting ended about twenty minutes to ten.

[1]Here's the agenda