Thursday, February 26, 2015

Deep Well Injection Visual

If you're like me, it's hard to visualize the relative depths and distances involved with deep well injection. These wells, of course, have Stevenson Ranch in an uproar: based on the current proposal, millions of gallons of brine will be injected beneath their community as part of efforts to remove chloride from wastewater. Visualizing might not be absolutely necessary, but it's interesting. So here are two simple figures constructed carefully to scale (sources/calculations below if you want to check my work).

The main takeaway? The new site is only 800 feet north of the former proposed site. If you're worried now, then you probably should have been worried before. Other takeaways? Our feelings about these matters are all a matter of scale.

Heights & Depths
*Six Flags Sky Tower height = 385 feet

*Hyatt Regency height = 73 feet

*Two-story house height = 25 feet

*Minimum deep water well injection depth = 9000 feet
"...injecting it some 9,000 to 13,000 feet under the ground."

*Six Flags to Hyatt Regency = 10,800 feet
Measured with Google Earth Pro

*Old deep well site to new deep well site at Tournament Players Club = 800 feet
"Consequently, the SCVSD proposes to develop an alternate site located approximately 800 feet north of the original location"

*Maximum daily disposal = 500,000 gallons of brine, which fills a 40.6' cube
From p. 392 of pdf
"...construct a deep well injection (DWI) facility to dispose of up to 0.5 million gallons per day (mgd) of brine..."
cuberoot(500,000gal * 1ft^3/7.48gal) = 40.6 feet, so a cube of 40.6 feet/side holds 500,000 gal brine

*Maximum yearly disposal = 182,500,000 gallons of brine, which fills a 290.0' cube
From p. 392 of pdf
"...construct a deep well injection (DWI) facility to dispose of up to 0.5 million gallons per day (mgd) of brine..."
cuberoot(500,000gal/day * 1ft^3/7.48gal * 365 days) = 290.0 feet, so a cube of 290.0 feet/side holds 182,500,000 gal brine

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mobile Home & Stanch Residents Ask Council for Help

Tonight, affluent Stevenson Ranch dwellers and struggling mobile home park residents found something to bring them together: frustration with the Santa Clarita City Council. The crowd from Stevenson Ranch was upset about a proposal to dig wells for chloride brine disposal in their community. The crowd from mobile home parks was upset about plans to have a 3% floor on annual rent increases. Both groups found a council that was very ready to listen to their concerns but less ready to satisfy them.

The Kid Can Cook

The meeting began, of course, with recognitions and presentations. Fox’s MasterChef Junior is a TV competition in which kids aged 8 to 13 cook restaurant-worthy dishes and then usually cry. SCV’s own Jimmy Warshawsky competed this season, and he made it to the top four before being eliminated. Mayor Marsha McLean applauded his strong showing, saying, “I thought that you totally deserved to move forward.”

Next, representatives from UCLA Health spoke about how they are markedly increasing their presence in Santa Clarita. Some 100,000 square feet will likely be in operation by 2015, covering everything from digestive health services to dermatology. Locations are presently on McBean Parkway or Tourney Road. A woman from their marketing branch spoke next. Her tone was somewhere between eager and aggressive—they really, really, really want to become part of the community. She promised UCLA Health will be seen everywhere in Santa Clarita. They’ve already started outreach including event sponsorship and using a “huge, giant, inflatable colon” to educate people about colon health.

The Disposal Proposal

All of the speakers in the first round of public participation addressed plans to dispose of brine in wells near (or even under) homes in the Stevenson Ranch area. Many of the Stevenson Ranchers (hereafter “Stanchers”) said they had just heard about the issue, so here’s a quick summary if you’re among them: Santa Clarita has been compelled to lower the chloride (salt) levels in its wastewater. The target chloride levels seem to have been set arbitrarily low and it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to reach the target, which has upset many people for many years. Nonetheless, plans have been drafted to remove salt by reverse osmosis, which generates concentrated brine in the process. The current proposal is to dispose of this brine in wells thousands of feet deep. The proposed site for the wells somewhat recently moved to an undeveloped portion of the Tournament Players Club. This has greatly upset and mobilized residents on the west side of the valley. They understandably don’t want to live with a brine disposal field thousands of feet beneath their feet. In short, the City has to find the least sucky option to get rid of excess salt in its water, and right now the plan is to dump it underground in Stevenson Ranch.

The first speaker was Gary Morgan, president of the Westridge Estates HOA. He wanted the City Council to take an official position on deep well brine disposal, so he requested that they “Please put us on your agenda so we can be heard.”  A couple of speakers tried to personalize the proposal. “It needs to be put somewhere where there aren’t families,” one woman said. Others brought up the possibility of earthquakes that might be triggered by deep well brine disposal. One man said that, when he first heard of the issue last week, it was so outrageous that “It sounded like a joke.” All of the comments had the same basic message: (1)Move the wells, and (2)Agendize the matter so the council can formally promise to support moving the wells.

Mayor Marsha McLean was the first to respond. She informed the crowd that they were speaking to the wrong people. “We don’t like what we’re being mandated to do…and we tried very hard to fight it. We ask you to help us to help you.” The mayor wanted the Stanchers to redirect their energies and efforts to contacting the water control boards and the governor’s office. That is, McLean wanted them to target the people behind the chloride mandate that’s the root of the problem. Mayor Pro Tem Kellar supported McLean’s comments and stated, “This has been put upon us by the State of California.” Each time McLean or Kellar said something about the matter being out of their hands, the audience grew more restless. By the time McLean said, “We’re not the ones who can help you…you need to understand how the process works,” people were actually yelling to challenge her words.

Councilmember TimBen Boydston successfully read the crowd and seized the moment. McLean and Weste are on the Sanitation District Board, so he challenged the idea that they were powerless to do anything about the deep wells slated for Stevenson Ranch. “They absolutely do have the ability to change where those wells go!” he proclaimed. Thunderous applause boomed from the audience in response. Boydston went on for a few more minutes to even more cheers. He was the only councilmember who explicitly acknowledged that chloride mandates from the State of California was an issue separate from the choice of how to dispose of chloride brine. In other words, the council-dominated sanitation board could choose a different means of chloride disposal or select a different location to satisfy the underlying requirement.

Boydston’s approach did not sit well with Mayor McLean. She said, “Some of the statements that have been made are simply not correct and are not true. I mean it’s great to speak and incite a room, but it’s also necessary to show some integrity and tell the truth.” But the Stanchers were already Boydston’s. Amidst growing discontented murmuring she tried to tell the crowd that they needed to hear the history of the issue. “We are on your side!” she exclaimed, but they simply wouldn’t have it.

At this point, Councilmember Laurene Weste lulled the frenzied crowd with a wearisome account of the chloride issue. She went all the way back to the 1970s and the Clean Water Act, recalled the effort to eliminate water softeners, and finally got back to the present day issue. It was unduly tedious.

The City Council offered a lot of comments on this non-agendized item, which isn’t the norm, and they agreed to put it on the agenda for what will likely be an even longer, more heated discussion next week.

A Hiccup of Consent

The Consent Calendar passed with the recommended actions and with few remarks. It included an item to widen Golden Valley Road Bridge at a cost of $6.4M. Alan Ferdman spoke in support, thanking the council. Two other items involved issues in Old Town Newhall. One demolished an old building on Lyons, and the other addressed the legacy of redevelopment funds

Mobile Home Ordinance Update Explained

To the surprise of many Stanchers, there was another big issue to discuss tonight. After years of meetings and dismayed public comments, Santa Clarita's mobile home park ordinance had been updated and was presented for a first reading this evening. The ordinance regulates the relationship between mobile home park owners and residents and it has been in place—and largely unchanged—since 1991.

Erin Lay presented the item in a crisp and efficient manner. She explained that there are 16 mobile home parks with about 2,000 spaces in Santa Clarita. Lay summarized the current ordinance as costly and difficult to interpret for residents and owners alike. The City of Santa Clarita has spent over $250,000 in the past three years to administer the ordinance. Registration fees, which are supposed to cover these administrative costs, cover only 8% of the amount. Appeals, consulting, and legal fees are particularly expensive, she explained.

The entire ordinance was inspected and revised, with some whole sections cut out. Key adjustments included expanding noticing requirements for rent increases and reducing the number of reasons which owners can use to justify non-standard rent increases. Staff also created an appeal petition form to help residents.

The real sticking point, however, was the annual standard adjustment. The revised ordinance proposed keeping a 3% floor and 6% ceiling on these rent increases. They’re in place to let owners collect more rent as maintenance costs grow over time. The ceiling is intended to protect residents from unreasonable increases but, as Lay would explain, the ordinance was “not intended to create affordable housing or rent control based on residents’ income.” This was the subject of nearly all comments from residents.

Two Languages, One Message

Doug Fraser, a familiar advocate for mobile home park residents, got the ball rolling. He spoke on behalf of an audience member whose anxiety precluded her from public speaking (though she seemed alright with yelling that she had an anxiety condition from way back in the audience). He explained that she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to afford increased rent. Fraser said he’d be speaking on behalf of more residents, but Mayor McLean nixed that plan, stating that people had to speak on their own behalf. An interpreter was present for Spanish-speaking residents, she explained. Fraser felt that not allowing someone to speak on another’s behalf violated the Brown Act, but City Attorney Joe Montes didn’t agree (though his language was a bit equivocal).  

Al Ferdman stated that he felt the mobile home ordinance issue had festered, and he said the council should have to hear final appeals and stand by their decisions. Next, several park owners (or their representatives) came forward to speak. Most felt that the new ordinance added clarity and that the 3-6% standard adjustment was fair. They claimed they had agreed to compromises.

Ray Henry, another familiar face on this topic, said that residents have had to rely on costly appeals because there were multiple interpretations of the same ordinance. He said they were forced to take matters into their own hands because the City wouldn’t step in. “If you cannot fix something properly, don’t break it more than it already is.” At this point, Mayor McLean asked people applauding for Henry not to applaud. Mayor McLean often uses time to tell people how time-consuming applause is rather than letting the applause play out; I don't know if she breaks even or not. From the back of the room, Elaine Ballace yelled, “The rich people can applaud!”. (McLean had told the Stanchers not to applaud, but she relented after a while, which is what Ballace was referring to. Some Stanchers were sitting to her left and nodded in approval of mobile home park residents’ right to applause.)

Felipe Rosas was one of several speakers to say of Latino residents, “We are a little bit afraid of speaking up.” Another speaker said she was speaking on behalf of many others who “were not brave enough to speak.” But ultimately, many residents did speak. With the help of an interpreter, Fausto Martinez said, “Unfortunately, the owner doesn’t contribute with any improvements. We don’t have a playground for the kids. So the owner is getting the money for his profit.” A lack of property improvements was a common complaint. Others spoke about how they worked hard but don’t necessarily receive raises while rent can increase annually. “Help us” was a refrain heard several times. One man pointed to the “In God We Trust” motto on the back wall behind the council. He said, “I’m asking God to touch your hearts.”

Beth Simon, who sits on the mobile home panel and lives in one of the parks, said “I am pleased to support the changes made.” The self-described “happy camper” felt that her park was great but understood other parks might not be managed as well. She was dismayed that so many who spoke tonight had not shown up to prior meetings. Cam Noltemeyer, who spoke immediately after, addressed Simon’s complaint with a snappy, “I assume they didn’t show up because they were probably trying to work.”

TimBen’s Curious Speech

When the time came for the council to respond, Councilmember Dante Acosta spoke first. Since the standard adjustment is intended to keep pace with the CPI-U, he proposed lowering it from 3% to 2.6%, the average increase. This was quickly seconded. He also cautioned against going any lower, noting that mobile home parks are on flat land which developers are often keen to buy up. That is, mobile home park owners have to get enough income to want to keep the parks rather than sell them for a housing tract.

Councilmember Laurene Weste suggested lowering the ceiling to 5%, and she asked City Attorney Joe Montes to clarify the legality of adjustments and how they’ve held up in court. Montes said that slight adjustments tend to fare well, but major adjustments may be overturned by the court in the interest of protecting the owners’ rights.

Everyone was more or less on the same page, but Councilmember TimBen Boydston felt that he needed to take a chunk of time to really address the concerns of Latino residents. He may have had good intentions, but his speech quickly turned into a bizarrely condescending attempt to assure mobile home park residents that their concerns had been heard.

The build-up to his speech was heightened by the fact that the professional interpreter had left at the last recess in the meeting since everyone had turned in their interpretation headsets. This led Mayor McLean to wonder if the meeting could continue, and another recess was called to look for an interpreter. During this recess, a man who volunteered his services from the audience was angry he wasn’t being used, and Councilmember Dante Acosta tried to talk him down. (In the process, Acosta explained that he’s very comfortable listening to Spanish but less comfortable speaking it.) Staff clamored to find an interpreter and then to get the headsets to work. It was a bit of a mess; City Manager Ken Striplin even got up out of his seat to try and sort out the headset situation.

The situation was resolved by getting management analyst Elena Galvez to act as an interpreter-who’s-not-an-interpreter-by-trade. She spoke into the microphone for the whole room to hear. Since she was caught a bit off guard by this new role, TimBen spoke very slowly. His gestures were pronounced and he dipped in and out of an unintentionally (I think) affected Spanish accent. For example, “increase” turned to “eencreese” and “owners” turned to “ohnairs.” I believe this was done because Galvez wasn’t a practiced interpreter so her delivery was slow and he was trying not to go too quickly, but it was a very awkward presentation in its own right. He began: “I have a heart for those who work so hard. My father came from the dustbowl back in the 1930s to California for that dream. He picked beans in the fields of Oxnard for two dollars a day. He did that so his children could have a better life, the same that you are doing for your children.”

Here are a couple recordings--you can decide if he assumed an accent or not.

After expressing this solidarity and understanding, he tried to justify his support for a 2.6% floor on rent increases. “So when we are considering this very important ordinance it’s important to know that we are looking at both sides.” And this is where it got a bit condescending: “For there to be more house built, for there to be more buildings built, we need people who will build them. So if we make the rents too low, then there is no profit or there is no money for the owners. Then there won’t be the new housing.  But this community is very expensive to live in so we have to find a balance.”

In the end, the 2.6/5% floor/ceiling were approved, and this item will be back for a second and final reading at the next City Council meeting. Mayor McLean closed the remarks with her own unfortunate attempt to connect with Latino residents, offering a soft, “Gracias.” Then she said “Oui…” and laughed that she had slipped into French.

Final Stanch Remarks

Elena Galvez was excused and received applause for interpreting on the spot and while feeling ill. A couple of speakers had stuck through the entire meeting to convey their own remarks on the deep well brine disposal slated for Stevenson Ranch. Al Ferdman thanked everyone who had come from the west side and channeled Boydston when he proclaimed, “They did not mandate deep well injection!” And, like Boydston, he received applause. Jerry Young called the deep well solution a non-permanent fix, explaining that they’d have to find a new spot every 50 years. He also cited USGS studies which had concluded that earthquakes could be triggered by deep well disposal. Allan Cameron told the council that they had not pursued all of their options to appeal fines levied for inaction on chlorides. Trevor Pooley asked for the council to lead, pleading, “We need leadership.” Comments concluded with Marilee Christofferson, a mother of five (a fact she reminded us of more than five times). She said, "Two different issues here were being lumped into one issue...we are just asking that this site be looked at and moved so that it's not under our homes any more." She was optimistic they could "fight this seemingly unfightable fight."
Boydston asked why the site had been moved in the first place, and Weste explained that LA County called the original spot a "sensitive ecological area," so it had to be moved. McLean then said, "I cannot tell you how many years I have been waiting for a huge, very effective, very intelligent community to help us fight this thing." Based on the vague pronouns, I know she wasn't trying to insult the SCV, but it still stung my Claritan ears ("Aren't we effective and intelligent like Stevenson Ranch, too?")  
The meeting ended with an adjournment by Mayor McLean over Elaine Ballace, who was yelling that she hadn’t had her chance to speak during public participation.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Polticial Grant-Giving (or not), Mobile Home Ordinance Anticipation

If you cannot abide the magnificence of nature and are indifferent to the devastating beauty of wildflowers, just keep scrolling down and you'll get to usual recap.
All of these photos are less than a week old, and all were taken at Towsley, Haskell, or Quigley Canyons.
I’m 41 days into a yearlong project to find 365 species of wild, native plants in the Santa Clarita Valley. That's one plant a day for 2015. They are profiled in real time so you, too, can get out to see our amazingly diverse and beautiful wildflowers.  There are photos, ID tips, and precise GPS coordinates provided for everything from Wright’s cudweed to mountain fringepod to strigose lotus. It's a big challenge that I hope will draw attention to our incredible local flora. Please check it out!

A Quiet Chapter in Claritan History

It took almost an hour and a half to get through an agenda of practically nothing at tonight's Santa Clarita City Council meeting[1]. Public speakers and a Boydston-McLean spat over the politicization of grant funding ate up much of the time. Suspense was successfully built for the mobile home park ordinance hearing scheduled for the next meeting, which should be somewhere between tense and cataclysmic. But in general, this was a night where not much was said, and not much happened.

Valentine's Day, Punning on Running

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar opened the meeting with some thoughts on Valentine's Day, primarily that it's best not to forget about it. Mayor McLean and much of the audience were positively tickled with Kellar's no-nonsense approach to love and romance; grumpy Bob showed his softer side.

Next, the City Council applauded the efforts of those who organize the TPC West Ranch Art and Wine Gala, which has raised over $700,000 to support the arts in the Santa Clarita Valley. Recognition and esteem were then heaped upon Saugus High School's cross country runners for team and individual achievements. McLean read from a statement rich in puns, such as "These girls aren't afraid to go the extra mile in pursuit of greatness." When the runners and their parents left, followed by the flag salute scouts and their parents, the boisterous crowd became a quiet void.

Ruthann Levison, Chair of the Parks, Recreation & Community Services Commission came to the podium next to outline goals for 2015. She expressed her delight at following the talented group of cross country runners, gamely remarking to the empty room that "they don't have to stay for my report." Lucky them: it was a dull list of very general goals about providing excellent facilities and services. As she summed it up, "Keep doing what you're doing."

Ballace Hates Monologues, Petz Questions SCVTV on Measure S

Public participation began with Elaine Ballace, whose mother is on a fixed income and lives in a mobile home park. Ballace has been frustrated by the prevalence of monologues and the lack of dialogues about the impending mobile home park ordinance. She asked why it makes sense to have a minimum 3% increase in rents each year, reasoning that if the City allowed for smaller increases, residents would spend their savings and generate more sales tax revenue. But mostly, she yelled, asking the audience, "Are you being represented? Are you being represented properly? No! There is no representation." She anticipated that rent increases would leave many homeless, and she told the council, "I think it's time you people had a conscience and left." [Note: In a conversation with Steve Petzold after the meeting, I heard Ballace say that she was working to bring TMZ to record the next meeting, when the City Council officially discusses mobile home park rents. Apparently, she was not able to bring a big enough celebrity to tonight's meeting to get their cameras.]

Allan Cameron and Diane Trautman both spoke about the review period for a supplemental EIR that was recently released. It covers the environmental impacts of the new preferred site for deep-well chloride disposal. They asked for a longer review period--Cameron pointed out the documents are over 600 pages and cannot be adequately reviewed in 45 days. Trautman pointed out that there would be months of continuous drilling for the wells, and she said the supplemental EIR doesn't address groundwater concerns. The Sanitation District which deals with chloride issues is comprised of councilmembers (McLean and Weste).

A spokesman from FPK Security & Investigations described how homeless people have been causing problems at the sites his company monitors. He said there's been a notable increase over the past year with problems ranging from theft to vandalism to intimidation to drug use.

Finally, Steve Petzold spoke on a few topics. He pointed out that Mayor Pro Tem Kellar had improperly worried that Councilmember TimBen Boydston would misrepresent the City of Santa Clarita in chloride discussions. Petzold pointed out that the City has never taken an official position, as City Attorney Joe Montes confirmed at the last meeting. He also spoke about the finances of the Yes on S committee. While they ran ads on SCVTV, their semi-annual report didn't show that any funds had gone to paying SCVTV. It's unclear how much they paid (or if they paid) to have these political ads run online. Petzold said he spoke to Leon Worden who mentioned that "there might be an open invoice available on his desk."

City Manager Ken Striplin responded. He said that the City Council cannot discuss the mobile home park rent ordinance because the Brown Act precludes discussion of non-agendized items. That discussion will come at the second meeting this month. He said the Brown Act would also prevent the council from discussing the new chloride supplemental EIR.

Politicizing Grants, or Not

Reports and updates from the councilmembers were typically dull. It seems most members had visited various local schools to be principals for a day, and all were impressed by the intelligence of local students and the excellence of school staff. Weste mentioned the soon-to-open River Village Park. Acosta said of the Cowboy Festival, confusingly, "We're moving locations this year. It's going to be a great change for this year, hopefully only this year."

Councilmember TimBen Boydston's comments were more involved. First, he asked the Sanitation Board members to consider extending the chloride well EIR review period the next time they meet. He then asked for some clarification on the SCVTV/Measure S issue from the City Attorney, and it seemed the best course of action would be for Petzold to contact the California Fair Political Practices Commission if he thought something improper had occurred.

Boydston then brought up a controversial topic. Every year, the City gives away tens of thousands of dollars in grants to various arts and community service groups. He was curious as to why some organizations had been highly rated (there's a point system) yet had not received funds while some lower-rated organizations did receive funds. In other words, scores and funds didn't match up. Rick Gould, Director of Parks & Rec, came forward to explain. He said that a number of individuals score grant proposals and these scores are averaged. However, the Community Services Grants subcommittee (Weste and McLean) meets and, as Gould put it, "The committee can make adjustments as necessary."

In short, the scores are non-binding. Staff helps read, recommend, and rate, but the recommendation scores can be entirely ignored. Boydston pointed out, for example, that Carousel Ranch, Santa Clarita YMCA, and Gentle Barn had been highly rated but received no funds, whereas some lower-rated organizations did. "So it's political," concluded Boydston. Mayor McLean and Mayor Weste, who were responsible for what Gould termed "adjustments", responded. Weste said, "People aren't just about numbers." She said some highly-ranked organizations have been funded many times, suggesting this is why some other groups were selected to receive funds. Mayor McLean was harsher in her response to Boydston: "You can try to make something out of nothing all the Laurene said, we did the best we could, but just don't be making something out of nothing." Kellar also chastised Boydston, lamenting, "To tell the public that this is a political decision is just not fair." Boydston was not impressed by their arguments. He maintained, "I don't believe for a moment it's nothing." Highly-ranked but unfunded groups, he contended, had a right to be upset.

In short, Boydston wanted the council to fund groups strictly according to their scores. Weste, McLean, and Kellar seemed to think discretionary wiggle-room was either necessary or appropriate. Acosta was silent on the matter.

Consenting, Quickly

The consent calendar passed without discussion, perhaps because it dealt with nothing more than concrete rehab and median refurbishment. Al Ferdman did praise the City for planning to make more water-wise landscaping choices in medians. He recommended that recycled water be used to make things even greener.

Mobile home resident advocate Doug Fraser made a comment explaining how councilmembers and staff could discuss the mobile home ordinance with residents while not violating the Brown Act. Thereafter, the meeting ended.

[1]Here's the agenda.