Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lawnmower Guy, Duck Ladies, and Trash Apologist

Tonight’s Santa Clarita City Council meeting was scattered. There were requests to rename parks and protect road-crossing ducks. An electric leaf-blower was used to delight the council. Boydston asked about Christmas tree disposal and how much water endangered species really need. As a result of tonight's discussions and actions, Santa Clarita won't be a much different place tomorrow, just a slightly less confused one.

The Lawnmower Show

The meeting began 20 minutes late, but none of the matters from closed session were discussed. Councilmember TimBen Boydston was charged with delivering the invocation, and he read excerpts from a lengthy prayer by John Quincy Adams. It was full of arcane language and rhymed.
Next, May was proclaimed “Bicycle Month". Mayor McLean spoke about the frenzy of bicycle-mania typical of Claritan Mays—there's the bike-to-work event, the Amgen Tour... She hoped Santa Clarita would remain bike friendly and foster "synergistic" sharing of the road by different types of commuters. Whoever wrote the bike spiel for McLean was clearly deluded about how our roads work. 

Some people overstay their welcome during presentations to the council. Tonight, that person was Michael Cacciotti, representative for the South Coast Air Quality Management District (among other titles). He gave a Powerpoint presentation on the dangers of various air pollutants, the sources of these pollutants, and actions to address air quality issues. He delved into such details as the particular dangers of different size classes of airborne particulates. After suggesting clean-air grants for which Santa Clarita could apply, his grand finale was a lengthy pitch for electronic lawn maintenance equipment. There was even a demonstration on an air-blower and electric lawnmower. The whole thing was a bit ridiculous, but Councilmember Dante Acosta was rather enamored of the show, standing up for a better view of the demo and asking for details on equipment exchange/rebate programs.
Pederson Park?
The first speaker tonight was Bill Reynolds, who fondly remembered the recently passed George Pederson and asked that Central Park be renamed to honor Santa Clarita's former mayor. Gene Dorio echoed the sentiment, and he read a sample text that could appear on a plaque in "Pederson Park." Robin Clough was the third to call for renaming the park after Pederson, calling him “a full-spectrum philanthropist.”
Per usual, there were speakers asking the City Council to remember mobile home park residents and their issues. Elaine Ballace challenged the idea that mobile home park owners must be allowed to significantly increase rents in order to realize a fair rate of return. Citing the sluggish increase in CPI, she asked, “What is the definition of fair return?” Doug Fraser would make a similar point during his remarks.

After an older man made some suggestions about recapturing treated water bound for the Santa Clara River, two women came forward to make an appeal for ducks. They said that the two ponds at the corners of McBean and Newhall Ranch are a death-trap for waterfowl. Many are "slaughtered" by motorists, and accidents are likely when ducks are crossing the road from one pond to the other. They had some solutions in mind that ranged from fencing to lowering the speed limit, and they even consulted experts from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  

Cam Noltemeyer expressed her dismay with the handling of the Shangri La chloride water fine that has been brought up (and addressed by City Manager Ken Striplin) many times in past months. Steve Petzold is still keeping his eye on billboard issues, and his recent review of documents revealed improper behavior by Allvision LLC, the company which stood to profit from a billboard deal. Petzold said they didn't fully disclose all their funding efforts on time and improperly meddled with referendum efforts. Petzold said, "I have no trust at all in Metro or Allvision," and he asked if Santa Clarita was currently involved in any negotiations about billboard reduction.
San Meetings: Where?
Petzold didn't have to wait long for an answer about whether City Hall was formulating a new billboard deal. City Manager Ken Striplin said, "The answer is no." Striplin then stated that the mobile home park ordinance is still being hammered out and will return for consideration at some future date. He was sympathetic to the duck ladies, and lamented the fact that they haven't been able to find a solid solution to this on-going problem. 
Committee reports followed. Councilmember Laurene Weste gave some updates on chloride issues. She spoke about technology that would allow Santa Clarita to generate just 5 to 10 truckloads worth of ultra-concentrated chloride waste each day. She said that the plan to treat chloride in wastewater has gone from about a half-billion dollars down to slightly over $100M. Her comments prompted remarks from Councilmember TimBen Boydston about the location of sanitation district meetings. He mentioned that Assemblyman Scott Wilk is trying to pass legislation to get all meeting which affect Santa Clarita to be held in town, an idea he firmly supported. Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar did not agree. He said that it's very costly to have the LA-based sanitation personnel come up to Santa Clarita. Kellar said that meetings which directly affect Claritans are and should be held here, while meetings of routine business make more sense in LA. Boydston still disagreed, wondering who makes the call about whether an issue is important to local ratepayers, but the matter was put to rest for the time being. Weste would also express her sympathy for the ducks.
During their remarks, the other councilmembers touched on a number of issues. Councilmember Dante Acosta offered Memorial Day reflections. Kellar played a presentation of himself talking about George Pederson’s journey from Madagascar to serving in WWII to working as a milkman to becoming an LA Sheriff's Captain to being Santa Clarita's mayor during the Northridge earthquake. While Pederson was honored, Kellar gave no indication of support for naming a park after him. Boydston expressed hopes that Santa Clarita could reclaim more of its wastewater, wondering how much of the water set aside for endangered species really ought to go to their habitats. Mayor McLean asked that residents remain involved on the issue of high-speed rail.

Assess This

We finally reached the consent calendar portion of the meeting at 7:45, and there were speakers for several items.
Item 6 was the annual, contractually allowed rate adjustment for waste service providers. Cam Noltemeyer used the item as an opportunity to ask the council about the proposal to expand Chiquita Canyon Landfill. She reminded them that "we fought Elsmere!" Item 7 was, as developer Jim Backer described it, a funding instrument for a parking structure that's part of the transit development at Vista Canyon. He was clearly in favor. And Items 8 and 9 brought Al Ferdman forward. They pertained to special assessments, and Ferdman asked where funding for some under-budgeted landscape maintenance districts was coming from and wondered about the need to increase the assessment for open space acquisition. He pointed out that there are millions in reserves and comparatively modest purchases planned for the year. 
City Manager Striplin said that the proposed $1.50 increase for the open space assessment was legal and would help cover rising bond debt payments and the increased cost of land acquisition. After his remarks, Councilmember Boydston had a long conversation with a representative from Waste Management about issues with their residential service. He said there were delays in receiving new bins/carts (Boydston said he had to call three times before he got his) and that Christmas tree pick-up had been a real issue. The rep apologized profusely. He said his company was sorry several times and promised responsive treatment was a priority.
The meeting ended shortly after 8.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Abomination that is Santa Clarita's Flag


I watched a compelling TED talk by Roman Mars, a call to action at once humorous and heartfelt. It's about city flags, why they matter, and designing a good one. You may be rolling your eyes, as I did at first, but give the guy a chance to prove why "100% of people care about flags":

Mars thinks all cities should have flags they can be proud of and incorporate into civic life. He puts forward five simple design rules credited to vexillologist Ted Kaye, author of Good Flag, Bag Flag: How to Design a Great Flag. They are: (1)Keep it simple, (2)Use meaningful symbolism, (3)Use 2-3 basic colors, (4)No lettering or seals, (5)Be distinctive or be related. Easy enough, right? By these criteria, good city flags include those of Chicago, Portland, Amsterdam, and Hong Kong.

Conversely, bad city flags include those of San Francisco, Pocatello, and Fort Providence.

Now, what about the flag of Santa Clarita? There's good news and bad news. The good news is that we care enough to have one. The bad news is that it's an abomination. It's not simple. It uses a seal and lettering. It has too many colors. Some of the symbols are too crudely rendered to even be interpreted. And what is meaningful about the red border and white field? The mistakes are too many and too profound to salvage the flag. We have to start from scratch.

Think of all the symbols we have to draw from. There's gold, which put Santa Clarita on the map, is the color of her hillsides, and resonates with California history. We are a community of junctions--black bars for canyons, blue for the Santa Clara River, or perhaps a dramatic gap to symbolize Beale's Cut. Claritans cherish their oaks, the leaves of which can be strikingly abstracted. Good design isn't easy, but at least there's plenty of inspiration.

Perhaps more importantly, though, we need a groundswell of support for a new flag. I think the easiest way to accomplish this is to (1)Obtain a copy of Santa Clarita's flag, and (2)Show it to people. The outrage will be immediate, visceral, and invigorating. I'm in the process of drafting a more formal plan of action, but right now, we just need to start opening residents' eyes to the horrors of the banner that is supposed to represent them and their fair city. To all those who heart Santa Clarita, let us find a flag worthy of her name.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Plan for Master's College, A Bridge for Connie Worden-Roberts

Tonight’s meeting of the Santa Clarita City Council was a short one. There were almost no speakers on any of the agenda items, and most of the business to be done was of the we-have-to-do-it sort.

Mayor McLean opened the meeting by asking, “What is a legacy?” She had legacies on her mind not just in anticipation of her own, but because of the passing of many notable Claritans this year.

Awards and recognitions came next. Student winners of a Sister Cities artist/author showcase were lauded for their work and got their photos taken with the whole council--they were clearly thrilled . The City received a giant $176,000 “rebate check” from Southern California Edison, equivalent to the amount saved through energy efficiency/conservation since 2010 as part of a community energy partnership. Right now, the City is at Edison’s gold tier level, but platinum level is within reach. For most, this was the most exciting revelation of the meeting.

Public Participation

Elaine Ballace opened things up with comments about mobile home parks. She cited a recent news article describing the profitability of owning mobile home parks. She said residents are getting “totally ripped off” while owners get rich. Ballace admonished the council to “take care of your residents!” and not to believe that park owners are barely scraping by.

Al Ferdman spoke next and brought up Santa Clarita’s Shangri La water deal for at least the second time in recent weeks. That community has unstable hillsides that are dewatered with pumps, and the water produced years ago was too high in chlorides. Santa Clarita reached an agreement to pay a fine, half of which would go to improving water infrastructure for the SCV. The money is still sitting around, slated to increase capacity at a plant that will most directly benefit the future Newhall Ranch community. Ferdman was upset at the mismatch between who pays and who benefits.

Finally, roller hockey enthusiasts and parents asked for the council to consider studying the feasibility of installing a roller hockey rink/facility in Santa Clarita. Currently, families have to drive to Burbank. Frank Dalessandro, the apparent guru of Burbank roller hockey, said it would be a great addition to the community.    

The City Council responded enthusiastically to the idea of SCV roller hockey. Councilmembers Weste and Boydston were on board with studying the feasibility, and Mayor McLean suggested a meeting with Dalessandro to get the ball rolling. Weste also addressed the mobile home park comments. She asked City Attorney Joe Montes to explain the concept of “fair rate of return” as it applies to mobile home park owners. (Recall that after the council voted to decrease the minimum annual increase on rents, they were threatened with litigation by these owners.) Montes said that a city can set rent increase policy, but modifying existing policies in such a way as to benefit renters at the expense of owners could lead to lawsuits. The court has usually sided with the owners in such cases. In other words, Weste was again sympathetic to renters, but cognizant of how little the council could realistically do to help them.
When Boydston asked for further explanation of the Shangri La water agreement, City Manager Ken Striplin offered additional detail. He said that it wasn’t a hasty settlement but the result of three years of negotiation. Boydston was somewhat satisfied with the answer, but he asked for Striplin to determine who will actually benefit from increased water treatment capacity and share his findings at a future meeting. Boydston doesn’t want to see developers enjoy benefits paid for by current residents.

Consent Calendar

The consent calendar was approved with the recommended actions on all items and without comment. That means the City will be purchasing a $200K patch truck unit to help with city roads, you can’t get a massage after 10 p.m. (second reading), trees will be trimmed through 2016, and investment policy will stay on track.

Public Hearings and New Business

Up next was consideration of a new low impact development ordinance relating to stormwater runoff. The City’s stormwater permit requires such an ordinance, which essentially guides development to incorporate strategies that enhance rainwater treatment and retention: lots of swales and permeable surfaces. Samples of how the Newhall Library, Chick-Fil-A, and others accomplished these goals were shown. Councilmember TimBen Boydston used the item as an opportunity to riff on burdensome mandates from the State. He said these measures can be expensive for construction that will drain large areas (e.g., big parking lots). He spoke for a while longer, eventually ending with the observation that people keep moving to SoCal even though there isn’t enough water and that we can’t pass a law against that. His venting over, the council passed the ordinance to a second reading unanimously.

Master’s College is looking to build new dorms as part of its modified master plan. Roads must grow in concert. Consequently, a couple of alternative plans are being considered. Staff proposed awarding a contract to Lilley Planning Group to weight the options. Planning Manager Jeff Hogan explained that the City awarded a contract to prepare an EIR. He continued: “The City Council also directed staff to hire an independent consultant to evaluate both roadway options as a result of the project’s location [next] to a City Councilmember’s property, Councilmember Weste. The City Council believes this report and recommendation will provide the community with additional assurance that the roadway options in the EIR would be independently reviewed.” Weste has recused herself from this item because of her proximity to the college, so I wasn’t clear on why an extra $20K was needed to be somehow even more independent in the analysis of the two road options. No one from Placerita Canyon was present to speak, and it’s just an independent analysis anyhow (no recommendation yet), so the contract was awarded.

The final item of the evening was a heartfelt remembrance of Connie Worden-Roberts, a major figure in Santa Clarita's recent history and our community’s “road warrior.” At Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar’s urging last meeting, the council considered naming the Golden Vallery Road bridge to honor her. He said, “She’s got her thumb on every inch of that eight-and-a-half mile road…I gotta tell you that the level that Connie Worden-Roberts served this community, I will tell you, I look at her as virtually a stand-alone citizen.” Every one supported the proposal. Leon Worden was in the audience to witness the awarding of this honor.

There were no additional public speakers and the meeting ended a bit before 9.