Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Will of McLean, Acosta's Long Game

The Santa Clarita City Council is a group of five people whose roles are essentially identical on paper. In practice: not so much. This point was made abundantly clear by Mayor Marsha McLean when it came time to allot committee appointments this evening. Her seniority by title (mayor) and years served (since 2002) led her to self-affirm certain privileges, like taking nearly twice as many committee seats as newish Councilmember Dante Acosta. It was a big powerplay for little practical gain apart from further underscoring the "us" (Acosta, Kellar, McLean, Weste) versus "them" (well, "him", Boydston) dynamic of the City Council.

Unanswered Prayer

Councilmember Dante Acosta opened the meeting with a prayer: "Help us work together for the good of all concerned. We are of diverse opinion here, and yet we wish to reach agreements satisfactory to all. Please bless our deliberations and bring us success this evening. Amen." Several members of the audience amen-ed in response. Many were parents of the Santa Clarita Christian School girls' volleyball team, which became CIF champion. Acosta's own daughter was team co-captain last year, so he was thrilled to announce their accomplishment and call them forward for certificates and photos with the council. The audience size was more than halved when the girls and their parents left immediately thereafter.

A presentation from the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Committee came next. Don Fleming provided some introductory fluff (public-private partnership, never been stronger, 38 board members, blah blah blah) and introduced Holly Schroeder, President and CEO of the SCVEDC, to describe the past year. She said business attraction was challenged by a lack of available space but looked forward to the construction of "sorely needed" new industrial space. The SCVEDC trademarked the tagline "Still golden." (I was surprised one of our many senior living communities didn't grab that inspiring slogan first.) Her speech was at times vague, like when she remarked, "We focused our efforts increasingly and strategically on our target business clusters." All in all, it's safe to conclude that the SCVEDC did some business-y stuff in 2014 and will do even more in 2015. The City Council--and most especially Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar--was pleased.

Tagwell Haunts Council

Elaine Ballace, who regularly speaks out against mobile home park rent increases, addressed the issue in a new way tonight. After staff advised her to speak to the councilmembers directly, she called all of them three times. Only Boydston and McLean replied, so she went pretty easy on them, despite disagreeing with Boydston's contention that Santa Monica faces issues with rent control. Her attacks on the others were crafted based on the biographies posted on the City website. Ballace called out Kellar for claiming he's "available" to residents when he wouldn't even take her call. She said Weste claims to look out for the dignity of seniors and other residents, but asked how they can have dignity if they can't afford to keep their homes. Acosta's biography alludes to his being an actor. She said he has no IMDB credits (a friend of hers looked it up, she explained) and asked how the people of SCV can believe in him when "you mean to tell me you couldn't find one producer in Hollywood to believe in you?" Ballace herself has several credits on IMDB, including "wedding guest" in Robinhood: Men in Tights and "background inmate" in Jailbait.

Steve Petzold spoke next, thanking the City for opening up East Walkjer Ranch for a disc golf tournament. He then asked why the Sheriff's Department didn't get the word out about the tragic disappearance and death of the little girl from Newhall to the community more immediately than they did--several hours lapsed between when they and the community at large found out.

"Is there a George Tagwell out there?" asked Mayor McLean. He had apparently left a comment card but elected not to speak, much to the delight of Santa Clarita Community Facebook users in the audience. They knew the name to be from  a suspicious account set up to support installation of digital billboards when Measure S was in contention. Thus, McLean's question of "is there a George Tagwell out there?" was more apt than she may have known.

Finally, Cam Noltemeyer spoke about an important supplementary EIR pertaining to deep-well chloride disposal in Santa Clarita. She said the supplement came out as a response to SCOPE pointing out that the original site for the wells fell under a conservation easement. The new site would be an undeveloped area of Tournament Players Club Golf Course. Noltemeyer was outraged that this site would endure months of 24-hour drilling of test wells and another half-year or more of continuous drilling for the actual wells.

City Manager Ken Striplin responded to a couple of speakers. He noted that the City Council has not yet had a chance to weigh in on the proposed mobile home park ordinance and revisions. He added that a minimum 3% rent increase each year is already on the books, so inclusion of this term in the proposed ordinance would not be a novel policy. He then addressed Petzold's critique of the Sheriff's Department, saying they were too busy investigating the disappearance of the infant to release the information immediately.

No on Trains and Mining, Yes on Post Offices

Councilmember Boydston and Mayor McLean both have eyes on "the train", hoping to keep high-speed rail from bulldozing through any sensitive part of the city. Councilmember Weste and Mayor Pro Tem Kellar, meanwhile, are still trying to work out a solution to CEMEX mining. Weste said Congressman Knight is making it a top issue. (So said McKeon, battle-weary Claritans thought.) Councilmember Acosta described a recent government conference he attended and reminded residents that even when not at City Hall, "We're out there workin', workin' hard for you." Mayor McLean closed councilmember updates by asking for Claritans to contact the US Postal Service and encourage them to keep an office in Newhall, ideally near the one they recently vacated for a site in Stevenson Ranch. My grandma strongly agrees with McLean, for what it's worth.

Olsen's Appeal

Per usual, the consent calendar was full of items relating to transportation and construction contracts. Cam Noltemeyer spoke on Item 7, which approved the final tract map for Five Knolls. She opposed the development, which she felt gives the public little benefit from the "destruction derby." Open space preservation along the Santa Clara River was essential, she said. Councilmember Boydston had to recuse himself from voting on Item 8, which recommended arts and community service grants to many groups, including his Canyon Theatre Guild.

Item 10 required preparation of a list of local appointments. This perfunctory task triggered one of the more contentious discussions of the evening. Julie Olsen asked that the appointment for the North County Transportation Coalition be tabled/reconsidered. Arthur Sohikian, who was hired to lobby for digital billboards along freeways, currently serves on this coalition. She argued that a better representative would be Moazzem Chowdhury or David Barlavi, both of whom are heavily involved in the community. This item wasn't technically the proper place to discuss such a change, but Councilmember TimBen Boydston was sympathetic to her request for reconsideration and asked City Attorney Montes if it could be discussed under committee appointments--Item 14 under "New Business." After some prodding, Montes agreed the appointment could be discussed.

And once the consent calendar was approved with the recommended actions, that's the very item the City Council tackled.

Acosta's Long Game

The mayoral rotation brings with it customary transitions in service on committees. The mayor and mayor pro tem usually serve on the key ones, and the many other appointments are shuffled around as needed. Mayor McLean began by reading the committees and the councilmembers set to serve on them. There was a brief discussion of Arthur Sohikian serving on North County Transportation Coalition, but it was clear that he had the full support of Kellar and Weste, so a change in appointment as brought up by Boydston wouldn't be discussed. Boydston would, however, vote "no" on confirming that particular appointment.

Mayor McLean was set to serve on the most committees at 9 or 10--depending on if Eco-Rapid Transit was counted since the City's not a supporting member any longer. Weste would have 9, Kellar 8, Boydston 6, and Acosta 4. Boydston pointed out that it would be fairer to have everyone serve on 7, with the mayor taking 8. The rest of the discussion was spent with him trying to get more committees for Acosta by asking others to give some up. In response, the mayor made a case that her seniority mattered and she had earned her committee appointments. I'd work this out in narrative form, but here are bits and pieces raw, presented in chronological order.

ACOSTA: "I have four committee assignments, and I'd like to, you know, participate in more. [...] I think, uh, Mayor, that puts you up to ten committees at this point."

MCLEAN (interrupting): "Not...I'm going to answer that after we discuss it because you keep throwing around that I have ten committees and I don't really." [...]

BOYDSTON: "When you've been around a long time, then you get to, you know, you get to play in the sandbox a lot more. You get to  make decisions a lot more. And I don't think that it's fair, and I don't think that it's right. [...] It goes to the mayorship as well. You all know I've been here for four years serving on the council with three of you in the past, but when my supposed "turn" [air quotes] came up, it was never even discussed. [...] This lop-sidedness where certain councilmembers seem to be more equal than other councilmembers is nonsense." [...]

MCLEAN: "Everybody likes to throw out that I have a large number. However, now as mayor, there's two that I have to be on as mayor and one does not meet, and um, I actually have six if you take a look at those. We all have different avenues of interest and such, and while it's nice to want to just divide them up, some of us have been serving and serving well, serving this council well, and not everyone can have everything they want. It has been the precedent in the past of the mayor being able to select the committees, and there's been some discussion and some changes are made. However, most of the times it's been respected...except for lately. And, taking committees away from people who really wish to remain on it, it just doesn't seem correct at this point in time. [ Acosta:] You took SCAG away from me and I would like you to not take the League away from me." [...]

BOYDSTON: "As I recollect traditionally, here in the City of Santa Clarita, when a council person is newly elected, they are given their choice of the people they would like to have on, um, the commissions, and as I recollect, you didn't feel that that was an important and necessary thing to allow me to have my first choice on the commissions. That's the first time that's ever happened in the history of Santa Clarita."

MCLEAN: "There may be an opportunity for him [Acosta] to move up."

I'll stop there. In addition to these remarks, Boydston also talked about serving on the sanitation district, but Kellar called him a "loose canon" whom he said couldn't be trusted to properly represent the City. Acosta got the public safety committee seat from Kellar, but things stayed largely the same otherwise apart from alternate spots: it was a clear victory for the status quo and seniority. Voting was a bit confused because there was a substitute motion made in the midst of trying to shut up Boydston, who went on for quite a while, but all was approved in the end.

Interestingly, Acosta had an ask-then-retreat strategy throughout. He stated that he wanted more appointments, and he even named the three big ones he was after. However, so much of what he said was couched in the language of acquiescence or apology--he's the new kid on the block; with all due respect; "that's fine"; etc. It was his way of showing that he wants to be an active councilmember, but he is always ready to defer to the seniority of the others. Basically, I read this as Acosta reaching out to say, "I'm one of you." Indeed, it seemed Boydston was pushing harder for Acosta appointments than Acosta himself. Not to be too speculative, but I daresay we'll accordingly see a Mayor Pro Tem Acosta before we see a Mayor Pro Tem Boydston.

The meeting ended shortly after Stacy Fortner came forward for the second round of public participation. She said she had intended to take a new approach with the council, being respectful, dispassionate, and reserved. However, she became emotional as she sincerely asked the councilmembers to stop their negativity, pettiness, and fighting. "It's hard to listen to you, Mr. Kellar," she said of the mayor pro tem in particular. Kellar himself got a bit worked up as he responded, saying that speaking his mind is a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't proposition. Adjournment came at 7:55.
[1]Enjoy the agenda. Really, do.


Anonymous said...

Elaine can reach Bob Kellar at 661-251-0783.

Lori R said...

Nice wrap up, IHeart.

After reading the agenda, I am guessing that George Tagwell was, indeed, present at the meeting.

Anonymous said...

"The Santa Clarita City Council is a group of five people whose roles are essentially identical on paper. In practice: not so much."

the most bullshit statement ever written about the santa clarita city council.