Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Five Knolls for the Old; Laemmle Courted

There was something for everyone at tonight’s City Council meeting, and indeed, everyone was there. After the council chambers filled beyond capacity, people moved to the Century Room, which itself surpassed capacity. While people addressed topics ranging from nursing labor disputes to sidewalk maintenance, two agenda items were the main draws. First, many showed up in support of a senior center/YMCA/age-restricted housing modification of the Five Knolls development. Second, a devoted group of Laemmle lovers stuck-out the meeting to express their fervent desire for one of the distinctive movie theaters to come to Newhall. Fittingly for this last meeting before summer hiatus, there was a few meeting’s worth of action.

Public Participation, Attention Divided

Bob Kellar’s invocation consisted of playing a YouTube clip of a song called, “My Name is America.” The language was quite patriotic...but just a little scattered and clich├ęd. Some of the lyrics and their accompanying images are pasted below.

Several community recognitions followed. 99-year-old Doreetha Daniels received very enthusiastic cheers as Mayor McLean praised her for being the oldest graduate in College of the Canyon's history. The Veterans Memorial Committee was called forward next, and recognition of Hollywood Curling (that sport combining ice, stone, and broom) for holding its bonspiel in the SCV completed this portion of the evening.
Next up was public participation. Three people spoke as or on behalf of nurses at Newhall Memorial. Nurses are still involved in contentious negotiations with the hospital's management and are working without a contract--the situation's been like this for months. They said the sticking point is management's insistence that they agree to give up their right to class-action suits. Purportedly unfair/illegal labor policies (e.g., demanding nurses finish duties after clocking out) were also mentioned by some.
Another few speakers were concerned about plans to convert a park-and-ride in Newhall to low-income housing; this matter was weighed at the previous council meeting. Bobbie Constantine expressed concerns that included increases in crime, parking issues, changing neighborhood character, and loss of open space (some of these were a stretch). "Homeowners in our community have already put their homes up for sale!" she claimed.
Other speakers during public participation included Al Ferdman, who asked whether it was legal to remove the open public participation portion of some committee meetings, and Steve Petzold, who said that the recent fire by Remsen Street demonstrated its unsuitability as a site to host a giant digital billboard. He was also concerned about how Santa Clarita would handle a situation similar to the one in San Francisco where a woman was fatally shot by an illegal immigrant/five-time deportee.
Responses from City Manager Ken Striplin were efficient. He informed Ferdman that government code differentiates between regular and special meetings--the latter don't need open, general public comment. As for the affordable housing project, he said, "That project has been approved, and is approved, is done." So that settles that. He did, however, say that staff could discuss concerns with neighbors, especially with regard to parking.
Mobile Homes Settled
Most items on the consent calendar weren't commented on--the majority had to do with Metrolink, roads, and other transportation issues. Several speakers did want to be heard on Item 13, which was the second reading and adoption of the revised mobile home park ordinance. Recall that the big change made last time was an alteration to the annual allowable increase in rents. Rather than an automatic 2.6% or 3% every year, the floor on increases was lowered to 0--they'll mirror changes in the CPI.
Elaine Ballace, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the council, thanked them for changing their minds on rent increases. She was still dismayed that Kellar was against the 0% floor, but her tone was far less stringent than usual. A mobile home park owner came up to express his concerns that he wouldn't be able to afford raises for his employees with the new policy. Jim Soliz was able to pry himself away from his lucrative hobby of suing public entities in voting rights lawsuits to comment on this item. He said that he didn't think the city was obligated to make a policy to guarantee park owners a fair rate of return (his point would be addressed later--the city is legally required to allow a fair return if it's going to step in and regulate rents). Other familiar faces from what has been a very long battle came forward as well.
The entirety of the consent calendar was passed with the recommended actions except for the mobile home park ordinance, on which Bob Kellar voted "no" while his fellow council members voted "yes."
Knolls on a Roll
The room was full of people with red, heart-shaped stickers that said "Heart of Santa Clarita." These were supporters of modifications to plans for the Five Knolls development, another project that's been around forever. (More accurately, the sticker crowd was mostly comprised of supporters of plans for a new senior center to be built at Five Knolls.) Synergy's Rick Doremus came forward to explain the proposed revision to the tract map for the area. He explained that a larger YMCA,  senior center, large parking area, and 154 age-restricted homes would be built under the new plan.
Doremus didn't really get into the history of the project--that was done by Councilmember TimBen Boydston. Originally, there had been two parcels, one slated for a junior high school and another for the YMCA. It was all a part of the requirement that the developer provide a "public benefit." When it was clear that the new school wasn't going to be built, the developer was left with a lot of valuable land. The proposal was to remove the requirement for public benefit on this land and to create three parcels--one for the senior center, one for the YMCA, and one for a whole bunch of homes.
Boydston echoed the concerns of Cam Noltemeyer, the only speaker in opposition. He was concerned about residents losing a major public benefit like a new school. He also asked whether there was enough water, considered traffic impacts, and worried there might not be enough parking. Other council members expressed concerns as well. Mayor McLean very seriously stated that her vote was contingent on making the new senior center look less like an ugly "warehouse." Again, McLean is a stickler for aesthetics, and the crowd laughed as Doremus essentially groveled, saying he'd do whatever it would take to make it look nice. It was embarrassing for all parties involved. Councilmember Weste's concerns were more practical--she wanted to know if particular sorts of hinges would be used in bathrooms and asked about all manner of accessibility issues for the age-restricted housing. Finally, Councilmember Acosta wondered whether they really needed to have homes with two-stories, two or three bedrooms, and two-thousand square-feet for seniors. Doremus assured him there was a market.
Bob Kellar was the most unquestioningly supportive, and the crowd was his. While Boydston got booed for saying that there wouldn't be enough parking and that might affect his vote, Kellar was loudly applauded for his support of the project. Most of the speakers during public participation had spoken to the urgent need for a bigger new senior center, so there was really only one way to go on the project. The council approved the changes unanimously.
Laemmle Love
After a recess, there was a presentation on a proposal to enter into exclusive negotiations with Laemmle Theatres and Serrano Development Group over an exciting (to most) new development planned for right across the street from the Newhall Library. Basically, the City will put up a bunch of money or incentives to get some attractive new developments. Jason Crawford explained that the City had been looking for a project to anchor Old Town Newhall, and a theater was seen as all but essential. After talking to interested parties and seeking proposals, they selected a plan from Laemmle and Serrano. There would be a big parking structure, a six-screen theater, and additional retail/housing mixed-use space.

Greg Lammle was the first speaker, and he had clearly gone to the trouble of sitting through the council meeting and googling Santa Clarita in order to charm the crowd (it worked). He said that when not at the new senior center, seniors could enjoy special movie nights. Other residents could enjoy a show and then do some shopping or eat at the Newhall Refinery. He closed by saying that his company was genuinely interested in being a part of Santa Clarita, and he expected that they could draw 150,000-200,000 people per year based on similar projects elsewhere.

There were many supportive public speakers that followed--no one spoke in opposition. Many were seniors (quite a lot of overlap between the Five Knolls and Laemmle crowd, actually) and spoke in glowing terms about the theater and about how they hated having to drive out of the valley to visit others. While Weste and Boydston had had to recuse themselves from discussion of the project, Weste was allowed to speak in a personal capacity, and she gave a tremendously energetic speech in support of the project. "We all just want dinner and a movie!" she exclaimed. The crowd erupted. It was remarkable how much people supported the plan (20 speakers!), and not even Dante Acosta could diminish their spirit when he pointed out that we were still in the negotiation phase, and a theater wouldn't be built anytime soon. He described the relationship between City and Laemmle as dating. (And in dating terms, Santa Clarita was damn thirsty--my assessment, not Acosta's.) In any case, plans to enter negotiations passed unanimously.

The room was all but vacant after this matter was resolved, but a few stuck around to hear Rick Gould describe plans for Old Orchard Park. There wasn't much discussion, but the master plan was called beautiful and staff was praised for working to develop the plan with the community. Mayor McLean worried that fake turf would be used for a rolling hill instead of real Bermuda grass, but this will be discussed more fully later. The meeting ended well after 10. And now, the council is on hiatus until late August.