Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Big Land Purchases, Bob Won't Debate Billboards
I don't think city council meetings leave much in the way of an impression on the scout troops that routinely lead the pledge. Tonight's cub scout troop wasn't too far from the usual: the leader instructed the kids that they were addressing Mayor Laurene "WEEST" ("I didn't know we had a girl mayor," one scout replied). Their time in city hall was spent saluting the flag, having their parents take pictures of them with a council they didn't know, and listening to some people get upset about billboards for three minutes at a time behind the microphone (they left shortly thereafter). City government must be bewildering with this as the only direct exposure the kids and their parents may ever get in their lives. And sadly, they missed the biggest events of the meeting--two purchases of land, one to hold as open space and the other to use for a Canyon Country community center. The purchases were popular. Indeed, it was a meeting of billboard discord and real estate harmony.
Mayor Weste began the meeting with an invocation on the topic of diversity. She said that "culture [is] a strong part of our lives," and she noted that many different groups would be in the spotlight this month, from Hispanics to Native Americans to Jews. But she was quick to point out, "We are all just human beings," and that we have much in common with one another. This was one of the more thought-provoking and informative invocations that I can recall.
Awards and recognitions went to some people for earning gold medals in an international (USA, Japan, Russia, Canada) karate tournament. They were actually called forward but, since some hadn't arrived yet, sent back to the audience, then invited back up again during public participation when the other couple of winners had finally arrived. Mayor Weste warned that if you enter the arena with any of these formidable folks, "You're in serious trouble." The Rubber Ducky Regatta event to benefit Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers was heralded next. As usual, someone in a large yellow duck costume came forward to accept the proclamation of Rubber Ducky Day. "You gotta love that duck," remarked Mayor Weste.
Apart from some words on mobile home park residents from Ray Henry, everyone during public participation spoke about billboards and Measure S, which would swap conventional billboards for new digital billboards along the 5 and the 14.
Speaking in favor of Measure S was Mark Hershey, who said new digital billboards would fund public safety personnel and equipment. Perhaps he doesn't know that others have already unofficially earmarked the anticipated proceeds to, variously, the senior center, buying out remaining billboards, city events and programs, more holiday light displays, and so on. B.J. Atkins didn't seem to know what B.J. Atkins wanted to say, and he rambled vaguely about Measure S, ultimately saying that people will like it. Finally, Glo Donnelly reminded us twice in the span of three minutes that she co-chaired city formation over a quarter of a century ago. She found time between these reminders to say that she supported the take-down of conventional billboards, and said the new digital billboards will only be seen by people on the freeways, whom she apparently doesn't mind forcing to look at them.
Speaking against Measure S were Steve Petzold, Patti Sulpizio, and Al Ferdman. Ferdman estimated $9M in start-up costs for the new digital billboards, and he asked when the city would actually see any share of net revenue flowing into the coffers. He also noted that he had invited Councilmember Bob Kellar, others local billboard advocates, and even individuals from Allvision to debate Measure S at a meeting of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, but he had been rebuffed by all. What's up with that?, he asked, just not in those words. Sulpizio delivered a powerful rebuke to the council on the topic: "We will vote 'no' on Measure S because you didn't listen to us...because you never asked if we want digital lights in our bedrooms at night...because we know Santa Clarita can get a better deal." Petzold called Bob Kellar's/the City of Santa Clarita's association with the website YesMeasureS reckless and irresponsible, and he said a billboard advertising La Vida Gentlemen's Club would stay up in Santa Clarita even with the billboard swap deal. This was in response to a father who had earlier remarked that he didn't think such billboard content was appropriate and that he worried his children would see it and start asking troublesome questions.
City Manager Ken Striplin responded to some of the speakers. As is the custom, he told Ray Henry that he and staff are working to update and unify ordinances that govern mobile home parks, and that, contrary to Henry's claims, the City is not working against mobile home park residents. Striplin also mentioned that the City "unfortunately" lacks control over billboard content, like the gentlemen's club ad, because of the First Ammendment. Whether free speech was generally problematic or problematic only in this instance was unclear.
The updates from council were dull and tedious with few exceptions. Councilmember Bob Kellar said he would make a presentation and field questions on the topic of Measure S, but he refused to enter into a debate. Why ever might that be? Later, Councilmember TimBen Boydston delivered one of the sassiest of backhanded compliments when he told Councilmember Danta Acosta, who spoke at a recent event, that he "wasn't sure" about Acosta's public speaking abilities, but was "proven wrong." That is, Boydston was pleasantly surprised that Acosta could handle himself behind a microphone.
The consent calendar included items to improve roads and an item to remove Arundo donax, a noxious invasive weed, from the Santa Clara River. But Item 6, which recommended a $75,000 contract for development of an Arts Master Plan, was the real point of contention. Councilmember Boydston wondered whether the plan proposal was too dismissive of ideas to build arts-supporting spaces like museums and performance centers. Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean was worried whether enough was being spent on the master plan. Indeed, the bid had come in at $94,000, but the budget was set at $75,000, which meant not everything in the initial proposal was guaranteed to make it to the final master plan. A considerable amount of time was spent debating this rather routine negotiation tactic. Arts Commissioners Shapiro and Millar came forward to say they thought it was important to give adequate funding for a complete plan. Mayor Weste said it didn't make sense to be "penny wise and pound foolish" by saving a little only to get an unsatisfactory master plan. These points were countered by the fact that the plan could be reviewed and revisited later, and additional funding could be put forward. In the end, the consent calendar items passed with the recommended actions.
Parks & Rec Director Rick Gould presented two big purchases to the council under new business. 114 acres adjoining the City's Rivendale Ranch property (Towsley Canyon) were proposed to be purchased with $1.8M in open space preservation district funds. This price is well below the $4.6M the owners listed the property for in 2008. Indeed, for a little over $15,000 an acre, the council voted to acquire the area. Gould helped sell the deal by calling it a "fabulous opportunity", and noting "I don't use the word fabulous very often.
Gould was enthusiastic about the next purchase as well--though he withheld the f-word. It was six-and-a-half acres near the intersection of Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road. The property has some issues, but it's been a parcel many have wanted to purchase and develop, so the City wasn't doing too badly getting it for $4.7M. The land will be used to develop a community center for Canyon Country. Al Ferdman and Glo Donnelly were both quite pleased about the purchase when they have comments on this item. And like the purchase of the land in Towsley Canyon, this purchase was unanimously approved.
The meeting ended with Dorothy White giving a comment in the second round of public participation. She said, "I feel like we've been carpet bombed" regarding all the new traffic clogging roads near the new Albert Einstein Academy location. She said she knew there was little that could be done, however: "As I was researching this as an angry resident, I realized how tied your hands are." City Manager Ken Striplin said the school has taken some measures to try and improve the situation, but apprently these have proven unsatisfactory to White. With that, the meeting ended.
Who's got an agenda? Why the City of SC, that's who. Agenda.