Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Worried Neighbors

Tonight’s City Council revealed a community anxious about its neighbors[1]. Residents of Castaic spoke out about the Chiquita Canyon Landfill Expansion planned for next door (figuratively). Residents of Happy Valley spoke out about the apparently thriving rehab facility operating next door (literally). With little of substance on the agenda, these concerns took center stage.

Councilmember TimBen Boydston delivered the invocation, recalling the events of 9/11 in his part-dramatic, part-prayerful, part-statesmanly style. He ended with a flourish of a call to the pledge, asking that we salute the flag of the greatest nation on earth.

As the city council reviewed the agenda prior to the meeting to identify items requiring further discussion, Boydston asked about the “car-free planning” related to Item 4, an update of the Santa Clarita Non-motorized Transportation Plan. He said that cars are important to Claritans because the area is “very rural, very spread out” and has “lots of hills” and high temperatures. He contrasted Santa Clarita with San Francisco, which he said would have an easier time of going car-free because of the high density and abundant public transportation. As Andrew Ye would clarify, cars are still welcome in Santa Clarita, but the City is trying to make other options available.

After this diversion, Mayor Weste could scarcely contain her excitement as she announced the City’s fourth time winning an award for excellence in procurement. Some people in Santa Clarita are just really good at buying stuff-whodathunk? Her excitement only grew as she invited Jackie McNally forward to be recognized for chairing the celebrity waiter auction which benefits the SCV Senior Center. The event raised over $90K for seniors. “All of us are going to be old one day,” said McNally as she took the mic. I don’t know if those words sunk in with our spry, youthful council, but here’s hoping.

Public Participation

Stephen Daniels got tonight’s public participation portion of the meeting off to a lively start. He went after Councilmember Bob Kellar for his stand on digital billboards and the people who oppose them. Daniels reminded the audience that Kellar had suggested that people who signed the petition against the digital billboard deal didn’t understand what they were supporting. Daniels turned Kellar’s argument on its head, suggesting that the people who voted for Bob Kellar (fewer than the number who signed the petition against billboards, incidentally) might not have understood who they were really voting into office. Per usual, Daniels’ words were aggressive and incisive, but the delivery was lackluster, diminishing the overall effect.

A few others spoke out on billboards—Al Ferdman, Steve Petzold—but most people had shown up to speak about a disruption in their Happy Valley neighborhood. As we heard at the last meeting, a sober-living facility (or rehab center or addiction treatment center or whatever it’s currently calling itself; the names and labels change frequently) has sprung up in a home in the quiet neighborhood. So long as there are fewer than six people receiving treatment, the City is essentially powerless to stop the business from operating in the residential area. One couple said the operation meant their dreams of a quiet retirement had gone up in smoke. Jeff Hacker, notorious local attorney, said the City needed to help fight the facility and said they were misrepresenting the true nature of their business, offering services which they are unlicensed to offer. One man actually went after Bob Kellar (it really wasn’t Bob’s night), the real estate agent who brokered the sale of the home from Duane Harte to the current owner, who is using it to help rehabilitate addicts. He asked how much Bob had profited from the transaction.

Reports and Responses

City Manager Ken Striplin was the first to respond to concerned Happy Valley residents. He said, “we have been doing as much as we can,” and reminded the council and audience that their hands were tied to some extent by rather accommodating laws. Nevertheless, he said they were performing inspections, checking out code violations, and monitoring activity at the house. It’s still waiting for a state license, but if the license comes through, there will be even less the City can do. Councilmember Bob Kellar confirmed that he had represented Duan Harte in the sale of his home, but he insisted there was absolutely no way he could have known what was coming. (None at all?) He continued, expressing that he, too, “would be just as livid” as Happy Valley residents are about the business in their residential neighborhood. Mayor Weste called it a “horrific assault on a neighborhood,” and Booydston said “it’s really about the money.” In short, everyone sympathized with the increase in neighborhood traffic and goings-on brought by the sober-living facility, but they agreed little could be done to oppose it.

After these responses, Happy Valley residents left, clearing out about two-thirds of the audience.

The councilmembers offered updates next. There was talk of water conservation and charity events and high-speed rail, but it was Mayor Weste’s tribute to a recently deceased young Claritan student that really stood out. Her voice wavering under emotional weight, Weste spoke about Jenny Stift, the beloved high school athlete who died when a car hit her while running. Weste said she had lived a lot in her seventeen years, but her death remained an unequivocal tragedy.

Consent Calendar

Nina Moskol, chair of the SCV Bicycle Coalition, was the first speaker to address the council during review of the consent calendar. She spoke on Item 4, which approved Santa Clarita’s transportation plan—at least the part not strictly focused on motor vehicles. She said bicyclists need to be accommodated and protected, and she gave some practical ways to achieve this goal, such as use of “sharrows” on intersection corners.

Next came several speakers in support of Item 5, a request for an extension on the review of the Chiquita Landfill expansion EIR. The landfill is in Castaic, but as the nearest neighbor and loyal customer, Santa Clarita has some influence in this realm—certainly more than Castaic residents seem to have themselves. One woman asked where we’d send our trash after Chiquita was filled to capacity from accepting waste from all over LA. At least two speakers complained of major health issues resulting from poor air quality near the landfill. The Santa Clarita City Council was sympathetic to their points, but they didn’t belabor the issue, letting the words of the residents stand on their own.

The consent calendar’s recommended actions were approved in their entirety by a unanimous vote. That meant the non-motorized transportation plan was accepted, a request for more time to review the Chiquita Landfill expansion will be sent, and the City would get a new mower for the Parks Division, among a few other items. As mentioned previously, it wasn’t a particularly substantial consent calendar.

There was no addition official business, but two more public speakers came forward. Larry Murray spoke on behalf of his daughter. He said she was the victim of apparently very serious domestic violence. Choking back tears, Murray said that the SCV Sheriff’s Department detectives had “not taken that seriously”, and had an “almost cavalier attitude.” He said repeated calls to Captain Johnson (who was sitting nearby) had gone unanswered. The council assured Murray some people would speak with him after the meeting. Finally, Evan Decker, a young Claritan history fanatic, called for support in saving the structures of historic Mentryville. He said that the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has done little to restore the mansion and other structures of the town. Decker has a gofundme page for the cause which has currently raised $425 of it’s $500,000 goal.

With that, the meeting ended.

[1]Here's the agenda--read it at your leisure

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