Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Council Tackles State Legislation, Mobile Home Tensions Persist

Tonight, the Santa Clarita City Council met to discuss an agenda bristling with provocative phrases: “military base closures”, “marijuana dispensaries”, “date rape drugs”. But with little of substance to do about these issues, it was actually a short meeting. The council took some stances on state legislation, the boogeyman of high-speed rail was summoned, hundreds of thousands of dollars were thrown at the SCV Economic Development Corporation, and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar scolded a couple of residents for keeping him from dinner. It was all over well before 8:00.

Mobile Home Park Rent: Strained Discussion Continues
Unforuntately, I missed the invocation (to have been delivered by Councilmember Acosta, a rare chance to probe the quietest councilmember’s mind). Fortunately, I missed the awards and recognitions portion of the meeting as well (I know they’re all good and deserving groups, but…). Thus, we pick up in the middle of public participation.

Ray Henry used his phone to play an excerpt of a clip from a recent legislative subcommittee meeting where Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar and Councilmember TimBen Boydston serve as delegates. In the full clip, Doug Fraser asks for public participation at the end of the meeting. Boydston suggests that they’ve just accomplished that by having gone around the room and taken comments and questions, but Fraser contends that the agenda specifies additional public participation. He gets three minutes, which he spends speaking about mobile home park rent ordinance increases and preferential treatment of park owners compared to park residents. He closes his comments by saying that more people are ready to speak. City Manager Ken Striplin jumps in and says, “I think there’s a matter of interpretation…” He states that the City has answered Fraser’s requests many times and that there has been ample opportunity for the public to comment on mobile home park matters. Bob Kellar adds, “We did permit Mr. Fraser to make comment after we adjourned…we stand adjourned.” As Kellar gets up to leave while the rest of the room remains seated, Fraser tries to stop him, saying, “There’s people that would like to talk!” However, Kellar exits the room. He doesn't have a confrontation, he just states that the meeting is adjourned and he leaves.
Once Ray Henry finished playing this recording, he played one from a different situation in which Kellar could be heard saying, “Don’t ask out leaders, tell our leaders. And if they don’t listen, let’s get them out of office by means of the voting booth.” To add insult to injury, Henry closed his comments by telling Kellar he didn’t expect an apology: “You do have an issue where you do not apologize.”

In response tonight, City Manager Ken Striplin said that there have been many meetings about mobile home park rent increases, and he said that "in excess of 300 to 350 [public record] requests” from residents/advocates have been fulfilled by the city clerk.
Kellar's response was more pointed. He claimed that he put in the time his seat demands: “Over the years, I have probably spent 30 to sometimes 40 hours a week on my responsibilities as a city councilmember.” That said, he contended that there are limits on what can be expected of him. The meeting in question had been called to discuss legislative issues, not mobile home park ordinances, so he felt that it was inappropriate for mobile home park residents to try and steer the meeting to address their concerns. "I’m gonna tell you straight-up:  my wife had dinner on the table and we had a couple coming over. And if you think that I’m gonna set there till midnight because somebody decides to come in and hijack my life, think again. That was not the purpose of our meeting and I found that--you talking about rude, that is rude, and I think people should have more consideration for the council, for staff, and the whole process. My opinion.”

Public Participation on Other Matters

Steve Petzold wanted to know if body cameras would be provided for local law enforcement in light of all the use-of-force events in the news. He thought they were an important consideration. Petzold also attended an LA Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting, and he was disappointed by “how that operation operates.” It was a long meeting, and some members left before issues had been fully discussed. He said Ventura was very strongly represented there, and its agricultural interests have stated that Santa Clarita should be fined.

Cam Noltemeyer used her three minutes of public participation to discuss chloride wells. She said that deep well injection is not a good solution to the chloride problem, and she asked if there’s a conflict of interest between the sanitation district “serving the public and serving Newhall Ranch.” Per usual, her point wasn’t quite fully articulated, but Boydston discussed a perhaps related issue. A while ago, the City received some funds back from a water fine it paid. These were taxpayer dollars, and they had to be used on water issues. Boydston asked for clarity about what the money would in fact be used for. He was told the funds would go to increase treatment capacity at “the plant that Newhall Land was conditioned to construct….west of Interstate 5.” Boydston asked if funds from existing Santa Clarita residents were being used to benefit not themselves but Newhall Ranch. The response from Kevin Tonoian was wanting in specifics, but he said increased capacity would be a “regional benefit.”

Roundup of Additional Comments

A few other items worth noting arose during staff and council’s comments. City Manager Ken Striplin said they’re actively tackling water restriction issues. He said the grassy medians are a primary target because there are four miles of them, but the logistics of replacing all that turf and trying not to let co-planted trees die complicates things. Bob Kellar asked to agendize a discussion about naming the bridge at Golden Valley and the 14 “Connie Worden-Roberts Bridge.” He said the late community activist was known as Santa Clarita's “road warrior”, so it would be a fitting tribute.

Mayor McLean said, “One really important thing: On April 27th, at 7pm, at Canyon High School, we’re asking every single resident who can possibly make it to come out to that emergency meeting regarding high-speed rail coming through our community. We need to stick up for ourselves.” McLean hoped for numbers not seen since the fight against Elsmere Canyon—she said at least 1,500 people need to show up.

Consent Calendar

Items on the consent calendar included support for a state bill (AB 266) that would regulate marijuana dispensaries and preserve local authority to regulate or ban dispensaries. Cam Noltemeyer spoke in support of the concept, but expressed some misgivings about the language of the bill. Her worries were, perhaps, allayed when Ken Striplin and TimBen Boydston said everyone was on the same page about trying to keep marijuana out of Santa Clarita (well, dispensaries at least). Bob Kellar added that Colorado has found that legalizing marijuana wasn't as lucrative as hoped, stating, “Maybe it wasn’t the cash cow they thought it was going to be.”
All other items were approved with the recommended actions and without discussion. It was a mix of even more state legislative issues that could end up impacting Santa Clarita. Included was sending a letter of support for the LA Air Force Base, which could be part of closure/realignment efforts. A letter in opposition to a bill requiring district-based elections in cities of over 100,000 people would also be sent. Additionally, the City supported a measure to make possession of date rape drugs a more serious offense.
The council also voted in favor of giving $200,000 per year for the next three years to the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation. CEO Holly Schroeder, Diane van Hook, and others (Flemwatch Alert!) were present at tonight's meeting, but it seems their mere presence was enough to secure the funds. With them, the SCVEDC will continue to try and attract more jobs and businesses to Santa Clarita, or at least take credit when businesses do relocate here.
There was only one speaker for the second round of public participation. It was Doug Fraser, and he said that the Brown Act clearly indicates when legislators have to allow public participation. He held up the agenda from the legislative subcommittee meeting that had been brought up earlier, pointed to the line where it said “public participation”, and promised to keep speaking on behalf of mobile home park residents. City Manger Ken Striplin contested his claim, saying that as a non-regular meeting of the council that public participation on other items wasn’t required. Councilmember Weste said she was sympathetic to mobile home residents. However, it was clear that she was worried about a document which they had received from mobile home park owners which threatened litigation over “regulatory taking” if the City Council did too much to adjust rent increase rates. “It’s not easy, and we’re already being threatened,” she said. With that, the meeting ended.

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