Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Water Headaches, City Survey, McClements vs. McLean

NOTE: Word on the street has it that a trivia team playing at Tilted Kilt last night had "No on Measure S" as their team name. The name was announced every round with scores, followed by a tagline that changed each round, such as "No backroom deals for Santa Clarita" or "No digital billboard blight." They won.

Chlorides. Billboards. Vista Canyon. Lobbyists. Mobile homes. Rail. Perchlorate. Campaign signage. Cemex. Drought. This was a city council meeting[1] that exhausted attendants with a thousand issues...each its own complex narrative struggling to stay at the forefront of a fickle Clarita's collective mind. Though no single issue took center stage, all got at least a little attention tonight. It's a reminder that in Santa Clarita, much remains open-ended, unresolved, and ultimately out of the control of the City Council. Indeed, apart from agreeing to some tennis court design contracts and deciding to leave the floundering Eco-Rapid Transit Joint Powers Authority, tonight was far more talk than action. We were also reminded that if you want to get an in-meeting response to your comment to the City Council, you should be named Hunt Braly or Jim Backer.

Front Matter: "Reading is so good for us."

Councilmember Dante Acosta delivered the invocation; it seemed like more talking than he's done in the past several meetings combined. Acosta lamented the fact(?) that more people vote in American Idol than in official elections. He said that he sincerely hopes everyone votes on November 4th. After that, twenty or so scouts led the pledge of allegiance and were given thunderous applause once completed. Impressively, almost all of them sat through the meeting until at least 8 tonight. The woman sitting next to me was a scout mom, and she alternated between taking notes for Bible study and shaking her head in disappointment as residents expressed their dismay with various council actions.

I felt a profound darkness closing in on me as I looked on the agenda and saw the queue: two recognitions and three presentations. At ten minutes or more apiece, I knew I wouldn't be getting out before 8 (I was right). The first recognition was issued in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Technically that happened last month, but giving the award in October just extended the good times a little longer. Mayor Weste said that 12% of Santa Clarita businesses are Latino-owned, and added that the Latino population makes many important cultural contributions to the community. Photos followed. The next recognition went to Santa Clarita Friends of Library volunteers. Mayor Weste spoke about the many important library services supported by the Friends group and its fundraising. "Reading is so good for us," mused Weste. Photos followed.

Presentations: Heart Attack, Water Conservation, We Want Cheesecake

This brought us to the presentations portion of the meeting. A video from LACo Fire Department was aimed at informing the public about the potentially life-saving PulsePoint app. In the event of a sudden cardiac arrest, quickly administering CPR can improve chances of survival, and Pulsepoint alerts people trained in first aid to help nearby victims, providing aid before emergency personnel arrive. The video was very heavy-handed, especially its soaring musical score: old couple in store, man has heart attack, wife just around and emotes, guy at store next door runs over to save the day after notification from PulsePoint. Unlike me, Bible-study lady liked the video, gasping as the old man in the video crumpled to the ground from his heart attack and expressing her own concerns that something similar could happen to a family member.

The next presentation was brought to us by Castaic Lake Water Agency General Manager Dan Masnada. Masnada can bore a crowd like few others, and tonight was no excepection as he spent more than ten minutes explaining that we're in a drought and ought to conserve water. He tried to sneak in a jab at environmental groups that have sued the CLWA, saying they would have prevented us from having water, but his vilification fell on mostly uninterested ears. Masnada said that conservation is happening, and Santa Clarita's water use for 2014 has been about 3% less than use in 2013. He noted that groundwater supplies would increase, explaining that much of this had to do with aggressively pumping water from some wells to control the spread of perchlorate in groundwater. Once treated, water formerly contaminated with perchlorate "will be available for consumptive use," he explained. Yum.  Finally, Masnada noted that securing additional water supplies to make up for shortfalls cost CLWA $1.7M this year, but they elected not to pass this on to the retailers in the form of a surcharge. I looked over and saw Cam Noltemeyer shaking her head, suggesting at least one attendant didn't believe CLWA's claim of always looking out for the customers.

Before Masnada stepped away from the podium, Councilemember TimBen Boydston had a couple of questions. He said that the number one question he gets from residents is whether CLWA can assure  new housing developments of an adequate water supply if we're already working so hard to conserve what we have. Surprisingly, Masnada agreed that if drought conditions were the norm, new developments wouldn't make sense based on the water supply. However, he said there will be wetter years ahead, and growth is planned based on the average water supply, not supply in severe droughts. Boydston then asked if some of Santa Clarita's water from the planned reverse osmosis facility could be pumped back into our basin. Masnada said that was being looked at, but requirements for recycled water dilution and residence times would diminish how much could be reclaimed. In the midst of this dull but rather useful discussion, Bob Kellar took to the microphone to tell Masnada and Boydston that they had the rest of the meeting to get to. Kellar, who has complained about residents voting based on incomplete information in the past, is a difficult man to please in terms of how much conversation about a topic is acceptable.

The final presentation was a fun one--the public opinion poll of Santa Clarita residents that comes out every other year. City Manager Ken Striplin explained that for the first time, cell phones were called in addition to landlines, giving a more representative picture of what Santa Clarita thinks and wants. 400 were interviewed, and the margin of error on the poll was +/-5%. Some 80% of residents trust the City of Santa Clarita. (Cam Noltemeyer darkly chuckled at this number). Striplin spent most of his presentation giving breakdowns on what people liked best about Santa Clarita, such as when he presented a slide entitled "Reasons for Residents' Satisfaction with City Services." There was no sister slide explicating reasons for residents' dissatisfaction. He revealed that the most coveted businesses for town are Cheesecake Factory, Nordstrom, and Porto's. (I credit Porto's being on the list to the rumor-mongering efforts of news-breaking blogger Mike Devlin. He gave us hope for delicious pastries and then took it away.) In response to the survey, which found very little wrong with Santa Clarita, Mayor Weste said, "I feel like we shoud just say 'Bravo!' or something." City Manager Striplin's job seems secure.

Public Participation: Larry Has Video

We were well into the 7 o'clock hour at this point and the real business of the meeting still hadn't started. Public participation included comments from a representative of Parklane Mobile Estates in Santa Clarita. Mobile home rents and ordinances are being examined city-wide effort, and he expressed his feeling that "the vast majority [of residents] are happy," and didn't want to foster more tension between management and residents. Cam Noltemeyer scolded the City for passing on expensive water projects to ratepayers. Al Ferdman said that City Attorney Joe Montes had not written an impartial analysis of Measure S, the billboard swap deal, because he didn't mention that 22 billboards will come down regardless of whether Measure S passes or not due to another agreement. This makes it a poorer deal than the impartial analysis seems to suggest. Hunt Braly asked for the City to defer some fees on the homes being built for veterans in the community. Steve Petzold spoke passionately against Measure S. He also questioned whether Montes had penned an impartial analysis of the deal, and he was dismayed to report that out-of-state interests have been big funders of "Yes on S" efforts. Patti Sulpizio asked whether it was legal for SCVTV, which is heavily subsidized by the City of Santa Clarita, to run ads for "Yes on S" during broadcasts of city meetings.
Al Ferdman says 22 are coming down anyways, even if measure s doesn't pass

Finally, Larry McClements came forward and spoke about a run-in he had with Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean during the last elections. She told him he couldn't campaign while on public property--he had a sign and was at the Newhall librbary--and McClements asked for clarification as to whether he and Marsha--who had a sign on her own car in the same lot--were acting properly or ought to be thrown in the slammer. His extensive detailing of the confrontation was thoroughly enjoyable.

Responses & Updates: "So far beyond reality..."
After a hearty round of public participation, the only comment that really got a response was the one from Hunt Braly about fee deferments for veteran housing. It will be agendized for discussion.

Councilmember Boydston pushed for City Attorney Montes to say more about some of the legal questions which had been brought up, especially campaigning on city property. Boydston said his own vehicle had a sign and joked that he might have to run out and move it to a different lot. Montes said he would discuss the issue more fully after some additional research, but said that signs would be really problematic if displayed with one-hundred feet of a polling place on election day.

Mayor Pro Tem McLean couldn't leave the comments from Larry McClements entirely alone, so she said that the claims he made were "so far beyond reality" they didn't deserve to be dignified with a response. From the audience, McClements shouted back, "I've got video." And so he does.

Updates from the council followed. McLean thanked the Valley Industrial Association for a work program with high school students, and she held back tears as she spoke about a gravely ill Henry Schultz, longtime advocate for Santa Clarita and its open spaces. Acosta thanked the City for recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month, and he encouraged everyone to visit our city's many trails, which he toured extensively in recent weeks. Kellar read some emails from residents thanking City staff for performing City services. Weste mentioned the recently declared San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, noting that it is near the planned Cemex mining site and Santa Clarita's open space district. She also touched on recent meetings about chloride treatment, and contended that moving forward with a $100M+ treatment plan was much better than the initially feared $500M+ plan. She also asked that staff agendize discussion of LA County's recent allocation of $3M for the SCV Senior Center; the council will talk about what they can contribute to continue supporting the center's mission. Updates from the council ended with a plea from Kellar, who wants people to donate to the Boys & Girls Club.

Consent Calendar

At 8:08, we finally arrived at the consent calendar. There were two comments on Item 7, which simply lays out a list of local appointments. Al Ferdman and Patti Sulpizio were dismayed to see that Arthur Sohikian,who is a lobbyist for Allvision, represents Santa Clarita on the North County Transportation Coalition. They argued there is a conflict of interest since Sohikian is being paid to push for digital billboards along freeways. City Attorney Montes said he didn't see a problem so long as Sohikian recused himself from commenting or voting on issues where he had a vested interest. Councilmember Kellar made a point that the City doesn't pay Sohikian to serve.

Other items approved on the consent calendar included extending a parking enforcement contract with Data Ticket. It's a $300K contract, and revenue from citations is expected to exceed costs. The item included a survey saying that the assholes residents who call Data Ticket to come and leave citations on others' cars are satisfied with the service. There was no survey of how satisfied the cited parties are. There was also a contract awarded for designing a tennis facility at Central Park.

 New Business: Controversial Letter, Bye Eco-Rapid

At the urging of the council, the City composed a letter inquiring about whether the Via Princessa Metro station could continue to operate even after the Vista Canyon Metro station is operational. Developer Jim Backer thought it made more sense to go ahead with the plan (he accused the Council of going back on its stated plans and preferences) to have a station for Vista Canyon and turn Via Princessa into a park. He didn't want Vista Canyon's planned station to be in jeopardy. Councilmember Kellar said, "we looked like a bunch of goofballs to Metro" for going back and forth on station plans, and he said he stood with Backer. Boydston tried to calm worries by stating that the letter wants both stations. "We don't want to upset the Vista Canyon project at all" promised Acosta to Backer. At Acosta's suggestion, the letter will go back for revisions to state even more forcefully that Santa Clarita wants to support the station for Vista Canyon.

The final bit of new business was a decision to leave Eco-Rapid Transit, a joint powers authority that was originally the Orangeline Development Authority. Mayor Pro Tem McLean, who has worked with this group for years, said it has moved away from a planned magnetically levitated (maglev) train system. Other cities have jumped ship. Worst of all, she said, they rejected going forward with issuing a request for interest even after the Japanese and Korean governments expressed considerable interest in partnering on a maglev train. She summarized her recommendation to leave on the grounds that "our interests are no longer being met" and that she's "really saddened" by the reduction of scope, lack of vision, and poor feasibility of Eco-Rapid's projects. The Eco-Rapid Director made a comment, but he could not keep Santa Clarita involved and excited. The City will even try to get its past dues (about $30,000 a year) reimbursed. McLean hoped things will get back on track (get it?) because an innovative rail project for SoCal is "such a worthwhile endeavor." With that, the meeting ended.

[1]Here's the agenda.


Alan Ferdman said...

Kellar continues to make a lot of non-relevant comments. No one asked about if Sohikian was getting paid for being on a city committee, the issue is a conflict of interest between what he is paid to do as a lobbyist and what is in the best interest of Santa Clarita residents. Bob Kellar’s attempt at misdirection feel short as always.

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