Wednesday, August 26, 2015

War Memorials and Profane Footballers

With a sparse agenda after summer recess, the City Council relied on residents to supply most of the discussion this evening. Another war memorial, little libraries, and noisy soccer games were among the unagendized items considered. This didn’t make for a particularly action-packed meeting. Luckily, Al Ferdman’s incipient let’s-slow-down-on-Laemmle campaign and the first ever shout of “¡Putos!” from the podium made for an interesting night.

The Feel-Good Stuff

“I have something very, very…very, very special,” teased Mayor Marsha McLean as she opening the meeting. McLean called forward a Canyon High student named Sarah Kennedy and Kelsey, her friend from the “Yes I Can” program. Sarah has autism, and she’s been working to build autism awareness and to make friends far and wide. “I make friends by offering gumballs,” she explained, and she showed a video of the thousands of connections she’s made with students, politicians, and celebrities over gum. McLean applauded Sarah’s efforts and said, “Friendship is everything.”

Following the flag salute, the City Council recognized Kirstin Campbell and Andrei Mojica for earning “world champion” titles in taekwondo competitions at the ATA World Championships. McLean read from a prepared statement that said spectators “from over six continents” came to cheer on thousands of marital artists. The second recognition of the evening went to the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Department team that helped quickly locate a missing teen girl earlier this month. She was found hiding in the garage of a sex offender and all were grateful for the discovery before things got even worse.

A Word from the Public

Most of tonight’s public participation speakers addressed the topic of military memorials. Kevin Duxbury, a veteran, asked that the council consider moving the tribute on Fallen Warriors Memorial Bridge. It’s difficult to access, he said, and it might be more fittingly placed in Central Park. Several other speakers said they were in favor of building a new memorial to honor all of those Claritans who have died in military service. The idea was Bill Reynolds’, and he envisioned a substantial granite monument in the shape of a “V” (for valor) placed in the Veterans Historical Plaza. Reynolds and his supporters felt that the other military memorials in Santa Clarita weren’t as all-encompassing, accessible, or imposing as the proposed monument would be. The crowd was supportive and applauded a couple of times, but McLean stepped in to stop the disruption: “Ladies and gentlemen, um, if you don’t mind please, we, um, need to kind of move along and applause is kind of not the norm here so please, if you don’t mind.” Thereafter, clapping was stifled.

Drake Hougo, a senior at Saugus High School, came to the podium to describe his love of Santa Clarita, community service, and placing unpermitted miniature libraries in the public right-of-way. Indeed, Hougo has made the news lately because he put up some boxes for taking and leaving books in high-traffic spots in the city. Problematically, he did so without seeking the landowner’s (i.e., the City’s) permission. Thus, he was ordered to remove them for the time being.  He argued that it was hard to argue with the popularity of his libraries, and he claimed that they fit in with the city’s goals because, “Santa Clarita has a very heavy arts emphasis.” Hougo’s father supported his son’s intentions and shouldered the blame for not going through the required process.  

At the last meeting, you might recall the public’s unbridled enthusiasm for a Laemmle Theater to anchor Old Town Newhall. The council then agreed to enter negotiations with Laemmle and its partner, Seranno Development Group, to build a parking structure, six-screen theater, and mixed retail/residential spaces. Laemmle and Seranno were looking for some $13M in city “participation.” During his comments tonight, Alan Ferdman asked a lot of questions about the wisdom of the proposed project. He said that Laemmle has closed 6 theaters in the past decade. It could take over 80 years for taxpayers to see their investment return in the form of tax revenue, he warned. And Ferdman also worried about less-than-optimal parking and which funds would be used to subsidize the development. In short, Ferdman suggested that residents chill on the Laemmle brand. He pointed out that it’s a profit-driven movie chain just like the others. It may play up its arthouse leanings, but Laemmle theaters will readily play big mainstream releases if that’s what its clientele is looking for. The theater’s fanboys/girls were not present in sufficient numbers to counter Ferdman’s concerns.

City Manager Ken Striplin was the first to respond to public comments. He handled the issue of the little sidewalk libraries with sober enthusiasm. He liked the idea, but he pointed out that there are concerns about liability, litigation, and loss of access when people just build stuff in the public right-of-way. Striplin apologized for having to disappoint Ferdman on the Laemmle development—with negotations underway, there was too much uncertainty to answer all (or really any) of his questions. Finally, Striplin left it up to the council as to whether it wished to consider adding a monument to the Veterans Plaza.

The council was uniformly in favor of considering a monument for the plaza, so a formal discussion is likely soon. However, Councilmembers Laurene Weste and Dante Acosta expressed some concerns about the other idea floated during comments—to move the plaque at Fallen Warriors Memorial Bridge. Acosta contended that it was a decision best made after consulting Santa Clarita’s gold star families. Councilmembers also politely encouraged Drake Hougo to follow the rules when it came to building and installing his miniature libraries. General comments from the City Council followed. Several focused on recent passings, including the tragic death of teenager Wyatt Savaikie and the death of former City Attorney Carl Newton. The upcoming annual Santa Clara River Rally was mentioned. And Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar even got in a “little plug” for a local business: “You cannot believe the amount of inventory they have in Paul’s Paint and Hardware…let’s go visit those folks!” So it was very much business as usual, the only remarkable thing being Councilmember TimBen Boydston’s uncharacteristic terseness.

Quiet Consent

The consent calendar had a few items of note. There was a design contract for the Vista Canyon Regional Transit Center and another for removal of all turf from city street medians. Staff proposed no-stopping zones in a couple of heavily-trafficked spots. But it was only a lease for a temporary fire station that garnered any comment. Weste worried that fire personnel might be stuck in some temporary shack of sorts, and she wanted to make certain that accommodations were suitable for the men and women dedicated to protecting public safety. City Manager Striplin said the term “temporary” could be a little misleading—structures were still designed to hold up—but he would investigate further. All of the items were then approved unanimously with the recommended actions.

Noisy Neighbors

The second round of public participation focused on the trouble with living next to a busy soccer field. Residents of Villa Metro said they’ve been in their new homes for mere months, but the living situation is already unbearable. Living next to the Santa Clarita Soccer Center means non-stop noise from games stretching from morning to eleven o’clock at night. Lights and errant soccer balls and people trespassing into yards are also problematic, but the noise is what has put residents on edge.

Two couples and a single mother attempted to convey what their experience has been like. One woman grew very emotional as she described feeling like a prisoner in her own home. The cursing in Spanish has really upset her because she can understand curse words that non-Spanish-speakers might be able to more easily ignore. She has been told to play music, run the air conditioner, or shut up her house to dampen the noise, but she lives in California and wants to be able to open her windows. The owner of the soccer center apparently tried to console her by saying that games aren’t held on four days a year. The most dramatic statements came from Chermaine Fontennete. She jarred the council chambers as she banged on the podium and yelled, “Putos! Javier! Gooooooal!” to simulate what it’s like every weekend morning. “I am a heavy duty truck operator,” she explained—an exhausted one. Working for the City of Los Angeles, she is supposed to get ten hours of rest to safely operate her heavy truck for ten hours a day, but she said that this is impossible living next to the soccer field. “I could kill people, kill children, because I can’t sleep.”

One may be wondering why these people bought their homes in the first place. Most claimed that the true extent of the noise hadn’t been fully disclosed. Fontenette mocked the disclosure, which she said came very late in the process. “Oh, we have a little disclosure…there’s a small soccer field over there. Kids play.” She argued that it’s not just kids, it’s not small, and it’s operating at very late hours. McLean pointed out that “When you purchase a home you kind of look around and see what’s around.” It was a valid point, but she seemed almost apologetic for even bringing it up. Indeed, most of her comments were much more sympathetic to the homeowners, and she promised to try and find a solution for them.

Steve Petzold also spoke during public participation, touching on topics such as CVRA lawsuits and illegal immigrants and the justice system. His remarks were not addressed. Finally, seven comment cards were in favor of the little libraries were also received and acknowledged.

With the hope of a soccer noise crackdown, the meeting ended.