Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Happenings: The Easy Agenda

It Begins


Tonight’s meeting began at 6:14 because of a late-running closed session on the topic of billboards[1]. The threat of large, electronic billboards in particular loomed large at tonight’s meeting, though they won’t be formally discussed until next week.
Bob Kellar delivered the invocation, which consisted of reading Help The Children’s mission statement and discussing how wonderful Santa Clarita’s non-profits are. After the flag salute and approval of the agenda, he asked, “How did we get off with such an easy agenda tonight?” Scattered laughter. “You don’t have to answer that.” More laughter. Ferry replied, “Elections in a month!” Uproarious laughter. Ferry’s four words will be taken as more than just a throwaway one-liner by some, I'm sure. They hinted at what the conspiracy-minded have long thought: staff keeps messy items off the agenda so that incumbents don’t have to take controversial action as they face reelection. And he said it’s an election that's month off, not two, which is basically true: mail-in votes usually decide the election well before election day.

After the initial levity that began tonight's meeting came despair in the form of awards and recognitions. A tiny (4 acres, $100K) restoration project along Bouquet Canyon Creek inexplicably won an award from the American Public Works Association. And Superintendant Rob Challinor was recognized for doing his high-paying job of superintending. There’s so much for our community to rejoice about, and it’s so very nice to be reminded of it.


Public Participation


There were many speakers during Public Participation, none of whom seemed to have much success. Alan Ferdman’s statements about billboards were premature, as would be Berta Gonzalez-Harper’s later in the evening. Two men speaking on the topic of unfair rent hikes didn’t get the promise of direct, decisive action they were hoping for. Jim Farley spoke about the nonsensical and expensive red-light cameras, contracts for which must be renewed soon. He thinks they should be done away with, citing changes to the timing of yellow lights as a more worthwhile means of managing intersections. While many members of the Council were sympathetic to his plea and asked for discussion of the cameras to be agendized (Councilmember Kellar called the $500 red-light fines “ungodly”), City Manager Ken Striplin called the red-light cameras “hugely successful” at reducing broadside accidents. The most enjoyable part was hearing Mayor Pro Tem McLean speak about how camera enforcement moved around to different intersections. She said most people figured out which lights would get them and acted accordingly, driving with abandon if the cameras weren't on. Councilmember TimBen Boydston was completely unaware of the camera enforcement rotation, and Mayor Weste joked that they had made a mistake telling him.


The other comment from public participation that generated a lot of council feedback—productive or not—was from former mayor Carl Boyer. He said “It is time for the Council to show leadership in county reform.” Boyer pointed out that the City of Santa Clarita has more people than 20 or so entire California counties. He suggested splitting up LA County, but he wasn’t tied to that or any other solution in particular, simply saying “I just want to see a system that works.” Mayor Pro Tem McLean suggested a poll to see if this was of interest to the people of Santa Clarita, but Councilmember Kellar and Mayor Pro Tem Weste said they already had entirely too much on their plates to add pursuit of countyhood or extensive county reform. Councilmember Ferry cautioned McLean about governing too much by public poll, expressing misgivings about using Internet votes to shape policy. Ultimately, this isn’t going to go anywhere very quickly, it seems. Boyer has come to the past three meetings to suggest county reform, having an elected mayor, voting by district, and many other big ideas that he wants the City Council to address. However, the hard part—implementing these ideas—will require more than his three-minute speeches.


Before moving onto the consent calendar, City Manager Ken Striplin announced that the City would compensate Councilmember Boydston for his trip to Sacramento to lobby for chloride solutions. (Recall that Boydston asked for compensation to be discussed last meeting, as Boydston wasn’t automatically reimbursed since he is not on the Sanitation Board). Boydston was about to speak up when Mayor Weste interrupted, “You got the check kid!”


Consent Calendar


The Consent Calendar was short and sweet, with items to award electrical and contracting services, an item revising purchasing policy (Alan Ferdman spoke about this, calling it “41 pages of procedures with escape clauses throughout”—but the Council didn’t seem to find it troubling), and an item about median landscaping. Everything passed with the recommended actions, and the meeting ended at 7:29.
Though the City Council elections are very close indeed, the only candidates to speak tonight were McLean and Weste from the dais, and Gonzalez-Harper and Ferdman from the public podium. It will be interesting to see if people remember they have a race to run at some point before April.

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