Thursday, May 15, 2014

McLeaning House; or, the Night of the Great Disrespecting

The Santa Clarita City Council spent most of tonight dithering about the micromanagement of Old Town Newhall. But the dreary bulk of the meeting rendered the finale incandescent by comparison. It started when Dante Acosta expressed an interest in representing Santa Clarita on SCAG (Southern California Association of Governments). After Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean scolded Acosta for wanting too much too soon, clashed with Councilmember Bob Kellar about her irreplaceability on SCAG, and said any attempt to replace her on SCAG would show utter disrespect, they went ahead and replaced her. By the vote of her fellow councilmembers, Marsha lost this, one of her ten appointments, so that Dante could have three. She took the shake-up very personally and is unlikely to forget the affront any time soon. It's probably much too early to say for certain, but instead of 4-1 (everyone vs. Boydston), it's looking a bit like 2-2-1 (good ol' boys Kellar and Acosta, grand dames McLean and Weste, and black sheep Boydston).

Inspiration, Retirement, Blockers
Marsha McLean delivered tonight's invocation. "I found something that was very inspiring to me," she said, speaking about a women's building event to help Habitat for Humanity build homes for local veterans. After the flag salute, there was a nice tribute to Luz Medina, who is leaving after having taught Santa Clarita's Ballet Folklorico since 1994. Medina called her departure "bittersweet" but said a very capable former student will be taking over.

Public Participation followed. Cam Noltemeyer encouraged taxpayers to protest the proposed increases in sanitation taxes that will cover chloride treatment (Bob Kellar would respond, saying the City doesn't have much other choice). One local man asked the City Council to pass an ordinance to allow homeowners to install water-saving synthetic turf, even if their HOA forbirds it (City Attorney Joe Montes would respond, saying state law can trump HOA codes, but city ordinances cannot). Patti Sulpizio came up to speak about collecting 18,000 signatures for the electronic billboard referendum. But she did not choose to gloat, instead asking that councilmembers "put egos and alliances aside" to deal with the issue of petition blocking. She was quite passionate as she spoke about the blockers hired to disrupt efforts to collect signatures; it was a ploy, apparently, to ensure Allvision's advertising revenue by smothering efforts to challenge the billboards. She mentioned that an official from Metro said he was disgusted by the blocking tactics. Michael Oliveri would speak on this same topic, and his words for the City Council were less let's-come-together-on-this, more you-guys-messed-up-big-time. He said of their inaction to blocking, "When things got violent most of you [i.e., everyone but Boydston] sat home like the cowards you are." He even said that local resident and Allvision lobbyist Arthur Sohikian passed his group, saying angrily "How dare you screw up this deal!" Oliveri claimed Sohikian said he had been working on it for years, and asked if there had been improper behind-the-scenes discussions between Sohikian and certain councilmembers. As for these comments, literally no councilmember but TimBen Boydston would respond; City Manager Ken Striplin did, however, say there had been no improper collaboration involving Sohikian and that the proper blocking investigations were taking place. After these investigations, the City Council will have its only remaining chance to say that it's not so keen on doing business with a company that trucks in and pays petition blockers to block the apparent will of local residents.

After public comments, the members of council went around to share updates. Notably, Councilmember Acosta spoke about a recent charity golf event wherein his performance left much to be desired. He and Councilmember Kellar shared a good chuckle about how many golf balls he lost. Both men speak more readily when it comes to positive topics than, say, thorny issues like petition blocking.

Consent Calendar

The Consent Calendar passed without much discussion or comment. Lynne Plambeck did come forward to speak on Item 7, which was approval for submitting a grant application to enhance the wildlife corridor in the southern SCV. Plambeck thought it "schizophrenic" to seek such a grant for an area in which the City Council recently approved installation of a large electronic billboard (Elsmere Canyon) and OKed the cutting down of oaks (Gates-King). A more pragmatic critique was her observation that the grant application hadn't been made available for review.

This and the other items on the Consent Calendar--library trustees (re)appointed; commission and panel vacancies identified; road work; and submission of community development block grant 5-year plans--were approved unanimously.

Old Town Newhall

Under the heading of Public Hearings, there was an item to alter the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan. It seemed like a lot of window-dressing: some slight changes in zoning, often to correct previous mistakes or oversights; allowing for bed and breakfasts to be built in certain areas (lolz, right?); altering civic designations, which don't mean much to begin with. But this item consumed the City Council for quite some time. Some Newhall residents expressed considerable concerns that their neighbors' homes might be lost to more profitable ventures with zoning changes. The Assistance League was out in force, expressing support for changes to protect their resale operation and their ability to expand or move in Newhall.

Mayor Weste had to recuse herself from the discussion for living too near the area. This happens rather a lot, which allows Weste to avoid many contentious debates and, further, shows Santa Clarita remains acutely focused on a very small bit of Claritan real estate, addressing matters facing Old Town Newhall over and over again. This left Marsha McLean and TimBen Boydston to carry out most of the discussion. There was a lot of talk about the particulars of zoning, and whether conditional permitting could allow the City Coincil to essentially micromanage which types of business come into Newhall (they can't really, clarified City Attorney Montes). Frankly, it was boring, and it resulted in few changes to the original language. Ultimately, City Manager Ken Striplin ran through a list of what the City Council would be approving, and it consisted of updating and tightening up language (e.g., references to San Fernando Road updated), changes to zoning, OKing of B&Bing, more public parking designations, and sending a letter to concerned homeowners that they would continue to live in an area zoned residential. There was unanimous support.

McLeaning House
The City's committee appointment list for councilmembers was the last item up for discussion. Councilmember Dante Acosta pointed out that he was only a member of two of these committees--though he was an alternate on several more--and wanted to be more involved. Councilmember TimBen Boydston actually did the counting, and he found that of 37 positions, Marsha McLean held 10. If divided equitably, each would hold only 7 or 8. (Some of this is clearly a legacy of form Councilmember Frank Ferry's enthusiasm for avoiding committee work--McLean was all too happy to pick up the slack).

Acosta suggested some appointments he wished to take on including SCAG, the Southern California Alliance of Governments. McLean has been quite active in this appointment, and she would not give it up without a fight. Her tactics were many, varied, and, at times, ferocious. She offered him some of the crappier appointments she had, like education. She mentioned that freshman councilmembers could take some time to learn the ropes and respect the senior members before taking such prestigious appointments. Weste even helped her a bit, speaking for Acosta ("I think he feels fine") when Boydston suggested Acosta might not feel as though he were getting his fair share. But Boydston and Kellar, rarely on the same page, both pushed to let Acosta have a turn. Boydston savored a delicate reminder that things don't always go people's way when it comes to committees and commissions, hinting at McLean's rejection of his commission appointees in the past. What was far more surprising was Bob Kellar telling McLean she had too many big appointments and needed to share some. This conflicted with McLean's own self-affirming thesis that she needed to be on all of them because all of them were relevant to one another.

As it became evident that McLean was going to get booted from SCAG, she made a last-ditch play to say appointing Acosta in her place would make her feel "100% disrespected." She would say it again: "I am being disrespected!" Of course, McLean is too confrontational to make a very convincing victim. Ultimately, she lost so that Acosta might gain, and she can take some comfort in the fact that she still has more than twice as many appointments as he does. After the updating, Lynne Plambeck made a comment about suspicions of unlawful grading and filling of the floodplain by a landowner in the Elsmere Canyon area, and at this point, the feed cut out, but I am told little else happened.

[1]Here be the agenda.

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