Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Open Space Aplenty, Big Budget Numbers

I would be remiss if I didn't begin tonight's recap with a note--more of a lament, really--about the state of Santa Clarita news. After recently downsizing its paper to five printings a week, The Signal is also looking to downsize its home, abandoning the long-held Creekside headquarters. The daily news briefs of SCVTalk are no more; Josh Premako's talent for new aggregation and digestion will be dearly missed. And tonight, KHTS new director Perry Smith sat in on his last council meeting after taking a new job. He has forsaken Santa Clarita and her goodly people for that other valley. With so much change, consumers of Claritan news are scared and confused. We can comfort ourselves by paraphrasing that line from Lost: "If anything goes wrong, Luke Money will be our constant."

Kellarian Efficiency

Tonight's meeting began with just three councilmembers--Boydston, Kellar, and Weste. Mayor Pro Tem Kellar led the meeting in the absence of Mayor McLean, explaining that she had been busy with high-speed rail matters all day and would be arriving later. Councilmember Acosta, he said, was on business in Washington, D.C. Councilmember Weste provided the invocation, a tribute to fathers delivered in the form of "Did you know?" questions. For example, did you know that babies can distinguish the voice of their fathers by four weeks of age? Well now you do.

Kellar kept things moving briskly, and soon it was time for public participation. Steve Petzold said the center median lane of Creekside Road has to be used for the loading/unloading of vehicles at the car dealerships as there is no other spot for it. It's unsafe and less than ideal. He suggested that the auto dealers acquire the property being sold by The Signal to use instead of the center median. Apparently, he reached out to Don Fleming (FLEMWATCH alert!), but received no response. Cam Noltemeyer encouraged the City to file a lawsuit to make more headway in fighting high-speed rail. She also said there should be a lawsuit on the chloride issue (she didn't explain which aspect--presumably to contest the stringent chloride levels required). In short, Noltemeyer wants a more litigious Santa Clarita. Finally, Doug Fraser brought everyone up to speed on developments pertaining to the mobile home park ordinance revision. He thought the City should do more to keep mobile home park residents apprised of developments, and he wanted to know the date when the matter would return to council.

With just a few updates the sparsely populated dais, it was time for the consent calendar at 6:30.

Your Space is Open
Much of this evening's agenda pertained to open space, including two items to acquire parcels for preservation. There was a 1/3-acre parcel along Sand Canyon Road that would help with trail connections and a 60-acre parcel that would bolster holdings in Quigley Canyon. Cam Noltemeyer was upset that the Quigley Canyon land was part of an oil operation. City Manager Ken Striplin objected to this characterization, and he had Rick Gould explain that there was no active oil equipment operating there, just remnants. There is, however, a lease for water wells and pipelines, operation of which requires under an acre of the property. Speaker Sandra Cattell of the open space audit panel said that she hoped lease revenue (~$40,000) would go back into the open space account. Gould said the lease money would indeed go to the City.

Other items pertaining to open space included improvements to Pacific Crest Park and submitting a grant application to restore a Canyon Country flood control channel to a more natural state. The entirety of the consent calendar passed with the recommended actions. Mayor McLean arrived toward the end and was able to vote. 

Budget Numbers

City Manager Ken Striplin presented the $187.2M budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. He began with the usual introductory spiel about how financially responsible Santa Clarita is. There are ample reserves that will be increased even further. The council guides staff with its fiscally astute and conservative decrees. Revenue has rebounded to pre-recession levels (there will be an anticipated $34M from sales tax alone). It was a lot of back-patting.

Striplin said parks & rec and public safety were the largest items on the budget, accounting for nearly half of it. Additional budget items included $40,000 for more ranger services for open space; $84,000 for "river encampment clean-ups" that will remove homeless people and their homes from the wash; $109,000 for the Tourism Marketing District; $138,000 for CEMEX advocacy; $50,000 for public television; and, of course, $80,000 for holiday lights in Newhall.

Al Ferdman was troubled about the budget's "indicated re-launch of the extreme neighborhood makeover...unfortunately that particular activity has not been successful." He complained that it never went to completion in any neighborhood and that there had been no follow-up. Conflicts over codes were many, and he said the Bonelli tract makeover effort was particularly disastrous. City Manager Ken Striplin felt like it would be an important program to help preserve older neighborhoods, and he acknowledged that the program wasn't a particular success in the past. Mayor McLean tried to paint a rosier picture, saying that, "The good far outweighed the bad." But Councilmember TimBen Boydston disagreed, calling the program a failure and hoping for a re-brand at the very least.

Boydston brought up a few other issues on the budget, but the one of most interest was likely fixing Newhall Avenue. Striplin tentatively promised re-paving by fall. The budget was unanimously approved thereafter.

Several public hearings on fee/assessment collections and adjustments followed. Mayor McLean was a bit dismayed at the plan to increase the open space district assessment from $30 to $31.50 per household. She said that as the population grows, Santa Clarita is already collecting more revenue each year. Boydston challenged her, saying $1.50 wasn't that much. City Manager Striplin also noted that the cost of monitoring, maintaining, and acquiring open space is always rising. McLean was swayed by their arguments, so she agreed to the hike.

Affordable Housing

Erin Lay made a characteristically concise presentation on an affordable housing project slated for Newhall. She explained that Santa Clarita is in serious need of affordable housing, and she described how a partnership between the City and other parties specializing in these projects could help make it a reality. Three contiguous lots in Newhall were of interest, two owned by the City (including the current park-and-ride) and one by a private party. Together, all three could be used to build a large residential complex and some retail space, but the middle lot owner wouldn't sell. Thus, the presentation was for a 30-unit project that could potentially grow some day.Depending on income of the residents, rent for a two-bedroom apartment could be as low as $384 per month, a fraction of rents in surrounding areas.

Most were supportive of the plan, but concerns over water availability stretched out the discussion. At Boydston's urging, CLWA's Dan Masnada spoke for quite a while about how there was enough water available for the project. He said that they're anticipating serving about 500,000 people in the Santa Clarita Valley eventually, and that right now water is provided for about 280,0000 Claritans. Masnada said the equivalent of 4 years' worth of imported water is banked in Kern County, so Santa Clarita is in good shape overall. Reductions in water use are being made to meet state mandates, not because Santa Clarita is running out. Less reassuringly, he said that if we're in the beginning stages of a mega-drought, then "all bets are off." The take-aways from this water discussion were that drought-tolerant landscaping would be used at the complex and that 30 units of housing wouldn't bring drought and ruin to the SCV at large.

There were also concerns over the park-and-ride that would be lost to the project. Lay stated that there are other spots for park-and-ride near Sierra Highway, and Striplin said that he thinks they'll be able to work out an agreement to use the large, unused lot that's currently pay-to-park for Whitney Canyon.

Everyone voted in support of the item except for Councilmember Boydston. He said he supported low-income housing, but he felt that existing residents of the neighborhood should have been noticed about the project. They had received notification when the project went before the planning commission, but not before council. With that, the meeting ended.    


Gail Morgan said...

Hey I Heart, what's the name of the city manager???

A Santa Claritan said...

I guess I had a case of deja vu and wrote Ken Pulskamp instead of Ken Striplin. They differ in glasses, hair, beard, bicep circumference, and, of course, tenure as city manager. Thanks.

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