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 time...like 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.

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