Wednesday, November 26, 2014

3% Rent Increases, 56% Billboard Rejection, 100% Senior Center Support

Tonight's City Council meeting stretched for a solid two hours, but so much went unsaid[1]. The hugely contentious billboard deal on the ballot mere weeks ago was already a non-issue. Apart from Councilmember TimBen Boydston, the Council acted like Measure S never even happened. Cam Noltemeyer made another plea for someone to say something, anything, about the Chiquita Canyon Landfill expansion, but her demands were met with silence. Frustrating the most people was a lack of meaningful discussion about mobile home ordinance updates. The room was full of families upset at the proposed 3% minimum annual rent increase, but a discussion is on hold until draft language is formally presented in January. The Council always has a lot to say, just not necessarily on the topics people want to hear about.

A Poem, A Message

Mayor Pro Tem Marsa McLean read a poem called "The Thanksgiving Ghost" for tonight's invocation. It is an elaboration of the humorous premise that a ghost ate the missing Thanksgiving leftovers, not people.  Here is the unattributed poem:

The last piece of apple pie is gone;/ How did it disappear?/ The bowl of delicious stuffing/ Has also vanished, I fear./ It happens each Thanksgiving,/ When leftover goodies flee,/ And each of us knows the responsible one/ Couldn't be you or me./ The only way it could happen/ Is readily diagnosed;/ It must be the crafty, incredibly sneaky,/ Still hungry Thanksgiving ghost."

The light-hearted rhymes did little to mask McLean's true, much more sinister message. Her not-so-subtle point made, the meeting continued.

Metro Love

There were just a couple of awards and recognitions tonight. The City recognized some deputies who had shown extraordinary bravery in a housefire, pulling a woman to safety.

Next, the City recognized LA Metro for doing, ostensibly, what LA Metro receives money to do--transportation stuff. Mayor Weste noted that Metro helped with the Newhall Roundabout, a project which has inexplicably won the 2014 Project of the Year from the Southern California Chapter of the American Public Works Association. It was a real love-fest between the City and Metro, perhaps an apology that the Council didn't manage to pass the billboard deal that would have given Metro a new revenue stream.

Undo the Rezones, 3% Floor Unacceptable

Public participation this evening could be cleanly split into two categories, billboards and mobile home parks.

Steve Petzold addressed the defeat of Measure S, which would have added digital billboards along Santa Clarita freeways in exchange for removing some billboards in town. He joked, "I'm gonna take out all the things I was going to say about Metro" in light of the presentation that had just been made. He promised, "I don't hold any ill will," and asked the City Council to reverse the zoning amendments that had been made to accommodate planned digital billboards. Many others echoed his entreaty, noting that fully 21,488 Claritans had voted against digital billboards. By most standards, that's a bunch.

The first speaker on the topic of mobile home park ordinance changes was Concepcion Hernandez. She stood up from the audience and asked that Doug Fraser speak on her behalf, so he did. Her proxy said that the City was proposing that rents at mobile home parks would increase every year with a 3% floor and a 6% ceiling. The 3% floor seemed unfair because cost of living doesn't always increase by that much each year, yet park owners would know they were guaranteed at least a 3% increase in revenue from rents each year. Another Parklane Estates mobile home park resident asked people in the audience to raise their hand if they were there to protest the proposed ordinance, and dozens of hands shot straight up. The room was packed, and opposition was abundant.

One exception to comments on billboards and mobile home parks was a statement by Roger Herring. He described how various stakeholders and the City had been working on a project to address environmental problems in the Bouquet Canyon watershed, outside of the city proper. He was dismayed that the City had backed out on a funding plan because of concerns about new labor regulations and requirements. It wasn't a very clear comment unless you were familiar with the issue, which nobody but the City's Environmental Services Division seemed to be.

Responses and Non-Responses

City Manager Ken Striplin responded to the concerns of mobile home residents by saying that a draft ordinance would be presented next year, likely in January. The ordinance has been undergoing revision in a public process, but he hinted that it was unlikely the 3% floor on annual rent increases would be revised down to 0%, as many hoped. He said they have been trying to balance the needs of residents and park owners, and he noted that the loss of redevelopment and low-income housing funds complicate this realm of problems. In short, expect big, complicated meetings about mobile home matters in 2015.

City Attorney Joe Montes spoke about the Bouquet Canyon watershed project. It was his understanding that the City, which would pass-through funds from a granting agency to tackle the project--had offered to work on a smaller amount so that new regulations could be avoided. More discussion will ensue.

In light of a strong public vote against digital billboards and comments asking that rezoning be addressed, Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked if the billboard ordinance of interest could be added to the agenda for the next meeting. He needed two members of the City Council to support him, but no one said a word. Indeed, a community that voted against digital billboards will continue to have areas spot-zoned to accommodate them for the foreseeable future.

Death Abounds

It's been a while since the last City Council meeting, so there was a lot of eulogizing to be done. Notable Claritans like Henry Schultz and Robert Newhall Chesebrough III recently passed away and were remembered. Perhaps most notable was Gladys Laney, who lived her whole life within just a few blocks of Santa Clarita, witnessing the transformation of dusty proto-Santa Clarita to the city we know today. Mayor Weste recalled visiting her at work when she turned 100.

Santa Clarita's Legislative Platform and Einstein Academy

The consent calendar was mostly a dull mix of traffic and construction matters. Item 2 was of interest because it formalized Santa Clarita's positions on legislative issues for 2015. These included points like support for creating St. Francis Dam National Memorial, opposition to unfunded state mandates, and so on. Federal and State topics were addressed ("Yet a giant landfill in Castaic is somehow too far out-of-bounds and far-removed to talk about?" some might hypothetically wonder). McLean asked that one item, which largely opposed high-speed rail, be amended to include support for other consumer rail projects.

There was a somewhat related discussion of lobbyists, which the City was proposing to continue employing for matters related to Cemex and the like. Boydston wondered at their efficacy, and Kellar assured him they were important and effective in furthering Santa Clarita's agenda on a variety of fronts.

Item 8 formally denied the request of Albert Einstein Academy (AEA) to build and operate an elementary school at an office building in an industrial park. Alan Ferdman thought it was unfair that the school was being denied for not meeting standards that weren't actually in the code, so he supported the project. Mayor Pro Tem McLean, too, was supportive, asking for this item to undergo a separate vote so she could express her support. Ultimately, though, the consent calendar exclusive of Item 8 was approved with the recommended actions, and Item 8 received 3 yes votes (Acosta, Boydston, Kellar), 1 no vote (McLean) and 1 abstention (Weste).

Just before the vote, Mayor Weste spoke to explain why she had abstained last time on the AEA vote. She claimed she "never abstains," but was sympathetic to AEA because there hadn't been an appropriate solution or alternative to the project identified. She couldn't vote to satisfy all parties, so she had chosen not to vote at all. It was an odd mix of reasoning--part protest, part frustration, part symbolic--but it didn't exactly scream "leadership" as one might hope for from their mayor. She instructed staff to determine where schools can reasonably go if they disrupt neighborhoods, aren't compatible with industrial/business parks, and can't buy out whole shopping centers. It's a fair question, but probably answered better by policy than a technical solution to be uncovered by staff.

Senior Center Funded

Santa Clarita has a large population of senior citizens, and after LA County agreed to pony up over $3M to find, acquire, and build a new SCV Senior Center, the City voted to match it with $3M of its own. Councilmember Kellar explained more funds would be needed, but this was an adequate start. The approval was very popular with everyone in the audience and on the Council. Councilmember Boydston observed that it had made unlikely allies of Berta Gonzalez-Harper and Alan Ferdman, for instance. Mayor Weste said she was "very proud to see this day."

Closing Remarks

Those for whom there hadn't been time during the first bout of public participation were given a chance to speak at the end of the meeting. Cam Noltemeyer said the Council's refusal to discuss Measure S related zoning changes "shows your contempt for the community." She continued by demanding that Mayor Weste make a statement about the Chiquita Canyon Landfill expansion, but was left unsatisfied.

Patti Sulpizio also expressed her deep disappointment at the lack of discussion about the remains of the billboard ordinance in the wak of Measure S's defeat. She then made a play at embarrassing the City Council by passing out copies of their norms--highlighted, no less--and asking that they abide by their own rules of conduct. She was particularly upset that no one had spoken up when Rick Green was very rude to Cam Noltemeyer in a highly personal comment from the previous meeting. Sulpizio then read a letter from David Barlavi, a leader of the campaign against Measure S. It was rather witty, asking that the City stop attracting "vulture-like" enterprises (Allvision, the red light camera operators, Cemex, etc.) to the valley.

There were many speaker cards that went unclaimed as most of the mobile home park residents had left by this point in the meeting. One woman remained to say "this is abominable" in response to a 3% floor on annual rent increases. Her mother, she explained, is on a fixed Social Security income increasing only 1% per year, so she wouldn't be able to keep up. The meeting ended with this and other matters unresolved.

[1]Here's the agenda, especially for you.


Anonymous said...

No one understands contempt better than Cam.

A Santa Claritan said...

Can't argue with that, but it doesn't mean she's wrong. The contemptuous can still point out contemptible actions.