Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Measure S (for Silence); Commissioners Appointed

The upcoming Labor Day weekend may mark the end of summer for most of America, but in Santa Clarita, summer's demise arrived tonight, on the wings of the first council meeting since going on hiatus in July (a working-hiatus, Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean would later contend)[1]. The meeting was just under two hours, less than 10% of which was devoted to matters such as the consent calendar, public hearings, and unfinished business. Indeed, most of tonight's meeting was spent listening to the council members speak about pit bulls, drought, and charity dancing events. The usual. For those in the audience, it felt like a bewilderingly long, one-sided catch-up conversation with a casual acquaintance not seen for a while.

The invocation was provided by Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean. She said she was inspired by the "Dancing With Our Stars" charity fundraiser wherein she witnessed, "the true spirit of love and giving from the dancers." She was one of them. Over $100,000 was raised for various Santa Clarita charities, she said, so the event was quite a success.

Tonight's awards and recognitions were actually half interesting. The interesting half was a certificate presented to Casey Fenwick, a local man who helped rescue a swimmer from a great white shark attack at Manhattan Beach this past July. Mayor Weste also noted he had been a bone marrow donor for his father some years ago--what a guy! (Mayor Weste also revealed that she used to be a surfer when she was lauding Fenwick for being brave enough to swim towards dangers rather than away from it). The uninteresting half of awards and recognitions, incidentally, was some girl scouts who spoke to elementary school children about water safety.

Public Participation

Do you remember the news from earlier this month about Natalie Lilley? She's the woman who was horseback riding with her daughter in the Santa Clara River wash of Canyon Country when the two were suddenly chased by a pair of vicious pit bulls. Well, they came to speak before the council tonight. The story was recounted in vivid detail, from their initial confrontation with the dogs to the long chase to the eventual pursuit of one horse by the pits "like lions after a zebra." Lilley said there are so many people living in the wash--many of them with dogs and other pets--and that her run-in should bring attention to this serious issue.

Several speakers tonight spoke about the proposed Chiquita Canyon Landfill expansion; all were opposed. While it lies beyond the boundaries of the City of Santa Clarita, speakers pointed out that increased traffic, potential effects on water quality, and so on meant the expansion was of interest to all Claritans.

Another several speakers addressed Measure S, the billboard referendum vote. Sulpizio, Ferdman, Petzold--you know these names by now--spoke about the many and sundry forms of shadiness surrounding the deal, from $120,000 in expenditures by AllVision's PAC for "voter education" to Councilmember Bob Kellar's less than up-front portrayal of the deal in the ballot language.

Near the end of public participation, one man came forward to talk about an addiction detox/recovery facility which recently began operating out of a home in Happy Valley. He said there was a lot of traffic and individuals coming in and out ("like a hotel"), making it wholly incompatible with the quiet residential neighborhood. Finally, Lynne Plambeck spoke about her opposition to Chiquita Canyon Landfill expansion, drawing parallels to fighting the Elsmere Canyon landfill, and about her concerns over oaks trees being cut down and not replaced in Happy Valley.

City Response, Council Updates

City Manager Ken Striplin responded to public participation speakers first. He said the search for the pit bulls was on-going, and he agreed that the situation of homeless people living in the wash was "out of control." He said there will actually be a special effort during the upcoming Santa Clara River Rally to deal with this issue. As for the residential addiction facility, City Attorney Joe Montes explained that the City has limited options. If it's operating with a state license and has fewer than 6 patients, then it is exempt from any local ordinances (i.e., it should be treated like any other single-family home, even though it's an active facility).

Montes would also clarify the billboard issue. He noted that the council members have to be very careful about being unbiased on the billboard website and when speaking at council meetings. Since the billboard item isn't on the agenda and since it's difficult to speak about it in an unbiased way, it's better to avoid the topic altogether, he advised. Councilmembers Kellar and Boydston, two of the most fervent advocates for/against, took the advice to heart, saying that they had a lot to say but would do so outside of official meetings.

On the topic of oak trees, Striplin said that the City is beaten up on a daily basis by people who don't want to see trees cut down as well as by those who want to see some trees done away with. He assured Plambeck that there is "a great deal of diligence" before oaks are cut down, however.

Responses to public comments blurred with the updates from from the various members of council. The landfill and billboards weren't really addressed, but all members were upset about the pit bull incident and hoped there was something they could do about the detox facility in Happy Valley. Bob Kellar remembered the recently deceased Jim Gibson, a lieutenant with the LAPD. Councilmember Marsha McLean told the community to attend an event about drugs and drug use prevention themed "Pills Kill". As SCVTalk's @SCVTweets amusingly pointed out in light of the Happy Valley facility, "Kids, get off drugs. But not in my backyard." Mayor Weste took some time to speak about Connie Worden-Roberts, an irreplaceable, long-time member of so many parts of the Santa Clarita community. She was choked up as she spoke about her passing and the legacy she left behind; once the meeting concluded, footage aired of Worden-Roberts receiving a key to the city last year.

And suddenly, it was 7:45--nearly two hours into the meeting. Mayor Weste said they'd all been long-winded this evening, so they at last moved onto the real business.

Consent Calendar

All items passed with the recommended actions and without discussion. There were several items relating to the development or submission of grants, including one to acquire over 300 acres to preserve as wildlife habitat. Another item involved a lease of city land to the largest film studio in the valley (it will be used for parking), and another devoted almost $130,000 to holiday decorations for Newhall this year. In short, Santa Clarita may well become a better-funded, easier-to-park-in, and more festive place in the months ahead because of tonight's calendar.

A public hearing on Santa Clarita's congestion management program has no public speakers and attracted no comments fro the dais either.


While commission nominations have been the source of conflict in the past--notably when TimBen Boydston's nominations were snubbed in a petty bid for control by certain council members a couple of years ago--tonight's were made and approved without any problems. Though new, Councilmember Dante Acosta tended to stick with past picks when available, and McLean and Weste didn't make any surprise nominations either. (Re-)appointed Planning Commissioners are Tim Burkhart, Lisa Eichman, and Dennis Ostrom; Parks Commissioners are Kevin Korenthal, Dianna Boone, and Ruthann Levison; Arts Commissioners are Susan Shapiro, Michael Millar, and Patti Rasmussen; and Open Space Financial Accountability and Audit Panel members are Wendy Langhans, Sandra Cattell, and Susan Orloff.

Once the spots were filled, there was a bit more public participation to be had. Darryl Manzer, an outspoken critic of the plan to expand Chiquita Canyon Landfill, said it will have a major impact on residents of Val Verde. "They're having it shoved down their throated because the Castaic Town Council likes the money," he said. Perhaps the city council will engage this issue more fully another night, but tonight, they did not.

[1]Here's an agenda, just for you