Tonight's Santa Clarita City Council meeting was full of inflammatory statements. Elaine Ballace said "They are raping both of us!" in reference to recent business practices by mobile home park owners. "We're sitting in a circle of death!" said a Val Verde resident of Santa Clarita's proximity to landfills and a natural gas storage field. And Councilmember TimBen Boydston proclaimed, "There is a special place in Hell reserved for you," that "you" referring to mobile home park owners who raised rents so as to effectively force seniors out. The heated rhetoric was certainly contagious--likely a result of discussing many issues that hit close to home (literally) tonight. Apart from fielding residents' worries about Chiquita Canyon Landfill, Honor Rancho, and mobile home rents, the council also managed to officially raise its future salary (second and final reading), shuffle around committee appointments (no luck again, TimBen), and take further actions in the ongoing mobile home struggle.
Actually, That Wasn't Jefferson
Kellar read many quotations from Thomas Jefferson to open the meeting.
More correctly, they were quotations incorrectly attributed to Jefferson
on certain websites and in some popular social media posts but for
which there is no evidence of Jefferson's authorship. These included,
"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and
bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in
government," and, "The democracy will cease to exist when you take away
from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has a full page devoted to clearing up
these spurious attributions.
Kellar closed with the observation that "He was a very, very
intelligent man...many of his thoughts and writings...they apply every
bit to today's society." Invocations are one of the portions of the
meeting not scripted by city staff and, consequently, are prone to
Awards and recognitions followed. The Valencia High School
Marching Band was applauded for winning a recent competition despite the
fact, we learned, that the program really struggles with funding and
must use some 20-year-old instruments. Deputy Curtis Foster was
recognized as the Santa Clarita Sheriff's Department Deputy of the Year,
and the crowd was quite vocal in its support of him. Finally, the Santa
Clarita Valley Economic Development Committee came up to celebrate
itself. Holly Schroeder gave an update on the SCVEDC's year of
accomplishments, which included attracting Logix Federal Credit Union's
corporate headquarters to Santa Clarita--they're currently in Burbank.
She said this would lead to an anticipated $1.7M boost in tax revenue
each year. "If the economic development committee had not been involved
in this project they would not have chosen the Santa Clarita Valley,"
Schroeder asserted. Other accomplishments included taking credit for
listening to businesses, taking credit for businesses staying in Santa
Clarita, and taking credit for the tagline, "Still Golden," which the
SCVEDC was able to trademark because no hair color company or luxury
retirement community was convinced that "Still Golden" was the right
direction to take their marketing (my inference).
The End is Near
was a decidedly apocalyptic tone to many of tonight's public
participation remarks. Elaine Ballace spoke about mobile home park
owners who are trying a variety of tactics to get more money from
renters. She called them selfish and successful only because "he who has
the best lawyer wins," not because justice has been on their side. "The
landowners need to answer a little bit more clearly to the people, and
to the city, because they are raping both of us!" she pronounced.
couple of Val Verde residents spoke about their experiences with
Chiquita Canyon Landfill and the Castaic Area Town Council. Steve Lee
described how residents found "receipts of deadly substances that the
Chiquita Canyon Landfill accepted." They asked the CATC to write a
letter to Supervisor Antonovich about the allegedly dangerous landfill
practices, but the request was tabled multiple times until it was
decided that no letter would be written. "One of the reasons was that to
do so would cost them the promise of money from the landfill," said
Lee. This inspired a recall effort, but there were many more obstacles
to finding out exactly how many voter signatures were needed and to
getting agencies to stand by their numbers (Lee said that the L.A.
County Registrar, Congressman Knight's office, and others were contacted
in this effort). Lee closed by stating that three people in Val Verde
had recently died of cancer and that action was needed. Susan Evans,
also of Val Verde, spoke about the CATC recall and predicted the
valley's demise by some combination of the dumps, natural gas field, and
oil pipeline: "We're sitting in a circle of death, in my
opinion...we're sitting ducks waiting to blow up."
and Cam Noltemeyer were also worried about Santa Clarita's natural gas
storage field, Honor Rancho, in the north part of the valley. The
massive gas leak at Aliso Canyon was used to urge the City Council to be
more active in assessing the safety of Claritans.
implored the city to look into the proposed merger of the Castaic Lake
Water Agency (CLWA) and Newhall County Water District (NCWD). She said
that it would do nothing to benefit ratepayers: "Bigger is not better, a
huge water monopoly in our valley will just increase our rates." She
said that the CLWA has "had its way" with Santa Clarita for long enough.
Manager Ken Striplin tried to calm concerns over Honor Rancho, which he
said had just one-third the storage capacity of Aliso Canyon and was
being thoroughly monitored for leaks. Striplin said that scrutiny by
various oversight agencies is strict and that staff have been in
communication with the gas facility. There was still interest from the
council in learning more about the facility and about the potential
effects of Aliso on the SCV. At the urging of some residents who had
contacted her, Councilmember Marsha McLean asked that the Air Quality
Management District make a statement about whether the Aliso methane
plume could be impacting air quality in Santa Clarita.
councilmembers agreed that Aliso Canyon and Honor Rancho were not the
same beast. Mayor Pro Tem Acosta stated, "This is a much different
facility...it is quite a bit newer." And he should know, as he recalled
"being chased off the [Aliso] property a number of times" in his wayward
Mayor Kellar asked for the council's interest in
discussing the CLWA/NCWD merger, and interest was high. Councilmember
McLean, in particular, wanted to ask "a lot of questions" because she is
a NCWD ratepayer and would be affected.
The council was mute on
the topic of Chiquita Canyon Landfill and the politics of the Val Verde
recall. These are out-of-city issues, certainly, but it wouldn't be
untoward for Santa Clarita to look into Chiquita Canyon Landfill
practices considering it's a nearby neighbor with whom the city shares
an air- and water-shed. As readers don't likely need reminding, Chiquita
has spent money on Santa Clarita politics, so it certainly seems to
think that it's already on the radar.
consent calendar had a number of items that were handled in separate
votes due to conflicts of interest or disagreement among the council
members. Let's cover them in order, briefly.
On Item 3, the second
reading of the plan to increase 2017-18 councilmember salaries by 10%,
Councilmember TimBen Boydston and Mayor Kellar voted no while the others
pushed it through with their yes votes. Boydston reiterated his
statement from last week that a raise wasn't warranted given that
seniors hadn't seen an increase in social security, inflation hadn't
shot up dramatically, and the workload of councilmembers remained about
The Cross Valley Connector was proposed to be renamed
"Santa Clarita Veterans Memorial Parkway" in Item 4. Councilmember
McLean asked that the word "Memorial" be removed so that the road would
honor Santa Clarita's thousands of living veterans as well as the
deceased, and everyone agreed.
Item 5 presented $155,755 worth of
grants to Santa Clarita's arts and community services groups. Groups
recommended for funding ranged from the American Diabetes Association to
the Gibbon Conservation Center to the Santa Clarita Philharmonic. The
majority of groups that applied for funding were funded, and
Councilmember McLean suggested that those which weren't funded seek help
form the city on preparing their applications for next year. Boydston
and Weste had to sit out votes on the Canyon Theater Guild and SCV
Historical Society because of their involvement, but both of their
groups were also funded.
Finally, on Item 6, Al Ferdman expressed
some dissatisfaction with the loan repayment arrangement between Santa
Clarita's redevelopment successor agency and the city. Ferdman pointed
out that only a tiny amount of the loan was being paid back and actually
brought up one of Kellar's erroneous Jefferson quotes about the
importance of paying off one's debts. City Manager Ken Striplin
disagreed with Ferdman's assessment, however, stating that the State
dictated interest terms and the repayment schedule. He added that it was
good news that Santa Clarita would be getting paid back at all--the
loans repayments could have remained unenforceable. The recommended loan
modifications were approved.
That Special Place in Hell
anyone had thought that the City Council's major overhaul of mobile
home park ordinances would have helped ease tensions between park owners
and renters, they were proven wrong yet again at tonight's meeting. In
response to testimony from renters about senior parks changing to family
parks (a change usually accompanied by a hefty hike in rents) and a
problematic recusal policy for the Manufactured Home Rental Adjustment
Panel, two actions were taken. First, the council approved an urgency
ordinance that prevented any parks from changing from mostly/only
seniors to all-age rentals. It went into effect immediately and will
last 45 days. Second, the council passed to second reading a plan to
appoint replacements on the mobile home review panel, which hears
appeals. Currently, if someone on the panel owns or rents at a park
under review, they must recuse themselves, which makes for a lopsided
vote (the panel is composed of two owner reps, two renter reps, and one
neutral arbiter, so losing an owner/renter could doom a vote from the
start.) The new policy will be to allow the third-highest vote-getting
representative from the effected side (owners/renters) to replace a
recused panel member for a particular vote. Obviously, the replacement
will have to come from a different park.
There were a number of
speakers on this item before it passed, and the council's sympathies
seem to remain most strongly with renters. Some residents spoke about
the nightmarish conditions that have followed new ownership at parks,
their inability to keep up with rent increases, and less than respectful
treatment from owners and managers. Councilmembers Laurene Weste and
TimBen Boydston were among the most insistent on seeing that seniors
would not be forced out of their homes by increases in rents. It was at
this point in the meeting that Boydston informed park owners who forced
out seniors via rapid rent increases that "there is a special place in
Hell for you." The statement ended with a steely glare from Boydston
into the beyond and surprised but mostly supportive utterances from the
No San for You
appointments are an important opportunity for the mayor to exert
his/her limited power through recommendations of who should serve on
which committee. Before Mayor Kellar read his adjustments to committees,
a few speakers had some recommendations of their own. Al Ferdman asked
that lobbyists not serve on committees. This was in reference to Arthur
Sohikian, the man who lobbied to erect massive digital billboards along
Santa Clarita's freeways, who has long represented Santa Clarita on the
North County Transportation Coalition. Sohikian is the only
non-councilmember to serve on a committee. Steve Petzold and a few
others recommended that Councilmember TimBen Boydston serve on the
sanitation district. Petzold said that Boydston is among the
best-informed on sanitation-related issues, and he felt that perennial
sanitation district member Laurene Weste wasn't qualified to serve any
longer based on her past performance. "I can't see putting her back on
the board after the complete disaster we saw in 2015 with deep-well
injection," said Petzold.
After public comments, Kellar read his
list. Everyone for 10 or 11 committees (either as a member or an
alternate), which is a more even distribution than we've seen in the
past. However, Boydston was only named as an alternate to Kellar and
Weste on the sanitation district. He asked whether Weste was a
sanitation district ratepayer. "For my rentals," she replied. He said
being a ratepayer can be helpful in getting action, but he didn't push
it further. There was also some discussion about the cost-efficacy of
having sanitation meetings in Whittier or in Santa Clarita, and Weste
restated her expertise and efficacy regarding the chloride disposal
issue. She felt proud that they had reduced chloride removal costs by a
projected $400M. In the end, the list was approved. Councilmember
McLean, who has jealously guarded her committees in the past, only gave a
little mumble instead of a strong yes on the item. Though she didn't
address it in comments, perhaps she missed out on some wanted
During the closing round of public comments, Al
Ferdman suggested that the council needed to be more technologically up
to date with the ability to show written materials on-screen and to use
teleconferences to save money on traveling to meetings. Stacy Fortner
spoke about the council's plan to discuss the recent CLWA proposal.
"There is some backroom, shady business going on" said Fortner. She did
not deign to go into too many specifics, but she felt there was ample
cause to carefully examine the issue. The meeting ended at 9:18.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Tonight's meeting was brief, but not brief enough to have spared several councilmembers from awkwardness. Councilmember Boydston generously praised the Canyon High School Theater Group's recent success in competition, but none of its members showed up for their certificates. Councilmember McLean had to ask City Manager Ken Striplin for a definition of "contract city." And Councilmember Weste and Mayor Kellar took quite a while to grasp the nature of the councilmember pay raise they were voting on. Even with all the bumbling, the council managed to approve a raise for next year in a 3-2 vote, reversing a decision they had made mere months ago. Things are off to an auspicious start for 2016.
Panel Me This
"Everybody's not home for the State of the Union--that's obvious," observed Mayor Bob Kellar as he opened the meeting. Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta then delivered the invocation, a freeform prayer of sorts: "May our words and our deeds be pleasing." Both Kellar and Acosta emphasized titles when referring to one another, helping December's transitions to sink in.
While Canyon High's drama students were dramatically absent for their recognition, Saugus High's phenomenally successful cross country team members came to the meeting to be recognized as CIF champions. They've spent an unprecedented 10 years finishing in the top three.
Public participation followed. R.J. Kelly requested that the cross valley connector be named "Santa Clarita Veterans' Highway" (or similar) in honor of the thousands of veterans living in the SCV. He pointed out that everyone on the council had served in the armed forces or had a family member serve. Kellar followed the remarks by asking whether fellow councilmembers would support agendizing the item, and they agreed.
A number of speakers addressed mobile home park rent and appeals when they came to the podium. The most compelling comments came from Dave Boizelle, a resident of Greenbrier Mobile Home Park. He explained that he is filing an appeal against his park's rent increase. The appeal will go before a panel which consists of two representatives for park owners, two for renters, and one neutral arbiter. Unfortunately, one of the renters on the panel is also from Greenbrier, and she will have to recuse herself from voting on the appeal. Boizelle believed this doomed his appeal, as park owners wouldn't vote against their self-interests. That would mean at best a 2-2 vote, and ties aren't enough for an appeal to be ratified. To highlight his point that park owners wouldn't be impartial, he read a statement from Dowdall Law Offices, which represents Santa Clarita's mobile home park owners: "This form of panel is not impartial but evenly unbalanced...two partisans cancel each other out." It seemed clear that a means of substituting owner/resident representation in cases of recusal was necessary.
However, City Manager Ken Striplin seemed to think that the system was working fine. After public participation concluded, Striplin said, "I understand the concerns that the speaker spoke of, but I can also tell you that, historically, that has just not played out...In the appeals that we've seen, we have not seen the decision of the panel come down to party lines, so to speak." This conclusion seemed utterly at odds with the structure of the panel, the forced recusal of the Greenbrier resident, and the statement from the park owners' attorney, but Striplin assured the council that despite recusals in the past, the panel had operated fairly and effectively.
Councilmembers McLean and Weste were not satisfied with Striplin's assurances. They made a point of asking whether they could do something to address the potential for unbalanced decisions, and City Attorney Joe Montes explained that the ordinance would have to be amended. Weste wanted to "find a way for there to always be an alternate." The council supported discussing potential amendments at a future meeting. Striplin added that there have been discussions about changing some senior home designations to family spaces, and the council also wanted to discuss that sooner rather than later.
Other remarks from Striplin and the council included support for L.A. County Sheriff's Department. Al Ferdman had expressed some misgivings about the station moving west of Santa Clarita and about the lack of a station in the east valley, and the city manager assured him that current discussions were aimed at improving presence rather than decreasing it. Mayor Kellar echoed Striplin's support, contending that Santa Clarita gets access to a lot of big department resources at a cost-effective rate through its contract. He seemed to be heading off any calls of "let's start our own police department!" at the pass.
The consent calendar came and went without much discussion and without speakers. Most of the items dealt with bookkeeping matters like approving tract maps and landscape contracts. One item gave up to $130,000 to Southern California Edison to develop plans for "undergrounding" utilities along Soledad Canyon Road, which will make for a more pleasing skyline. All items passed with the recommended actions.
One of the votes went 4-0 instead of 5-0, however, because Kellar recused himself. The item was a parcel map approval involving Spirit Properties, and Kellar explained that he wouldn't vote because he had had "a business transaction in the past" with Spirit's Larry Rasmussen. Of course, Kellar hasn't always been so meticulous in avoiding votes that affect his pal. As Mike Devlin wrote in 2014, "Kellar voted 'yes' to pay Larry Rasmussen $1.1 million for the future billboard property." That was quite a long time ago, of course, but the question of when to recuse oneself is always popping up in a valley as small and connected as Santa Clarita.
After approving a 3% increase in fire district developer fees (this puts Santa Clarita in line with the rate for unincorporated LA County), it was time to discuss councilmember compensation. Didn't that just happen a few months ago?, the attentive reader asks. Yes, it did. Tonight was a revisitation of last year's vote 3-2 against giving the City Council a raise. Recall that the council always votes on raises that will take place after elections.
Discussion began with Cam Noltemeyer making several points about how the council was already adequately compensated, especially if benefits were considered. She then pointed out that councilmembers receive different benefits (in line with city staff benefits when elected), but she believed, "Every single councilman should get the same pay. The same pay. And let's start being open with the public because you definitely are not." Noltemeyer meant that Boydston should be compensated as well as Kellar, McLean, and Weste, but she even extended her statement to include Mayor Pro Tem Acosta, who is also getting lower benefits since he came on so recently. "And Acosta too, I guess, reluctantly," she conceded.
Mayor Kellar asked if any of the councilmembers wished to discuss the matter. Councilmember McLean started with a question based on the use of the term "contract city" in earlier comments from this evening. She asked, "I was just wondering if you can explain what it means that we're a contract city?" City Manager Ken Striplin then explained that it meant that Santa Clarita contracts with LA for services like fire. "So it's providing for those types of services specifically and not giving contracts on individuals projects?" McLean queried. With that concept clarified, Kellar again sought action on the item.
Staff normally supplies a recommended action, but on the pay raises, all that was written was, "Provide direction to staff regarding Councilmember salary." This led to confusion.
Weste: "I'd like to move the recommendation for the increase of the council compensation."
Kellar: "I have a motion...is that the 5%?"
Weste: "If the council's willing, yes."
Kellar: "Do we have a second?"
Acosta: "I'll second it."
McLean, over Acosta: "Wh...OK, I was going to say if you don't I will but you did, so..."
Boydston, over Kellar: "Discussion! Yes, there will be discussion...I thought this was settled three months ago!"
Boydston contended that Councilmember Weste's motion had been improper, as she had moved the staff recommendation, which was only to provide direction--there were no specifics much less a recommended increase. Boydston's speech soon veered into into grandstanding. He said that council pay had increased roughly twice as rapidly as the rate of inflation, and that seniors weren't seeing any meaningful, comparable increase in social security benefits. He asked why the vote had to be brought up again--had their workload increased dramatically in the past few months?
Boydston has had a strained relationship with some staff and fellow councilmembers over compensation in the past. He once filed a claim against the City for about $10,000--the discrepancy in benefits between new and old councilmembers once a two-tier health care system had been adopted. Boydston contended that it wasn't about more money but about paying everyone the same to do the same job. He was unsuccessful. At the time, he had suggested being OK with everyone taking the lesser benefits as well so long as everyone got the same deal. Boydston used the tactic of less is more again tonight, suggesting that the council actually vote to cut its compensation by 10% and give the funds to senior care.
Though Boydston spoke a lot, the rest of the council was silently clamoring to get to the vote without engaging in the merits of a raise. Weste and Kellar showed that they lacked a rudimentary understanding of the item, since Weste thought they could only do a 5% raise (not 5% per year) and Kellar thought it only applied to one year and that's why Weste had said 5% (it applied to two). When asking for clarity from Dante Acosta, who had seconded the motion:
Acosta: "I believe it was 5% per year"
Kellar: "That was your interpretation, that it was 5% per year for a total of 10?"
Acosta: Nods, mumbles something
Weste's recommendation and stated understanding had been 5% total, so how Acosta came to this interpretation is not clear. Perhaps his earlier prayer had granted him greater clarity than that afforded me or The Signal's Luke Money, who tweeted "Unclear on whether the #SCCouncil approved a 5% total pay increase or for 10% (5% for two years). Will check as soon as meeting ends." In any case, the vote took place and went 3-2, with those running for reelection this year voting against the raise (Boydston, Kellar), and those not running for reelection voting for it. And even though it's for 10% total (Money got clarification from the city clerk), that is a tiny amount relative to the budget, and it marks the first time councilmembers will receive over $2000 a month.