Wednesday, February 24, 2016
What Happens When We Die
Death and legacy are concerns, at times, of the Santa Clarita City Council. Tonight, there was little else on the agenda. Honorary naming, Duane Harte, gold star families, Wyatt Savaike, the proper place for a war memorial--all were considered. Even Allan Cameron's announcement of a recent court victory(?) regarding chlorides focused on the end, in his case the invalidation of an EIR. It's time for a rather morbid reflection.
R.J. vs. Bill
Councilmember TimBen Boydston's invocation was a reading of George Washington's "Earnest Prayer" and a request that God bless the City of Santa Clarita.
After Canyon High School's drama crew missed their chance to be recognized at the last meeting, they were present this week--well, three of them. I felt that if the audience had to hear about their victory at the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California Competition twice in one month, more of them should have showed up. Maybe they don't like the lighting at City Hall.
Also recognized was Detective Bill Velek of Santa Clarita's juvenile intervention team ("The J Team") for helping young drug users turn their lives around.
After the detective received his certificate and photo, one Michael Cruz strode purposefully toward the podium. As Chair of the Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Commission, Cruz was intent on educating his fellow Claritans about the goals that he and his fellow commissioners had established for 2016. Though his commission is all fun and recreation, Cruz's crisp suit and slate-blue tie were all business. Unflaggingly, goal followed goal; ambition followed ambition; promise followed promise. Cruz spoke of a 2016 that, if realized, will increase everything from park use to open space acquisition to opportunities for "non-traditional sports." When he finished, the audience sat silent, apparently too stunned to applaud.
Public participation followed. R.J. Kelly gave his support for the "Hometown Heroes" military banner program that would be discussed later in the meeting. He also stated his support for Bill Reynolds' memorial for veterans, which has been mentioned at prior meetings. To be clear, he supported the memorial, but he definitely didn't support the proposed location of the memorial monument in Newhall Veterans Historical Plaza. "I'm not happy to support the location...the reality of it is we wanted it to be veterans, we did not want it to be a memorial." He added, "It should be at Eternal Valley." Bill Reynolds also happened to be present this evening, and he countered Kelly by describing just how supportive people like Terri Crain and Don Fleming (FLEMwatch alert!) have been of the memorial project. Hopefully, the monument won't have "Sponsored by Valencia Acura" chiseled into its granite.
A restaurant owner spoke about people illegally selling food on the street near his shop. He asked for sheriff's deputies to shut the vendors down, but he said it was quite a process and that enforcement hasn't happened. He worried that food might not be held at the correct temperature, especially in summer. Al Ferdman spoke about the need for more park facilities to serve a variety of residents. Indeed, Ferdman is now throwing his support behind calls for a BMX facility in Santa Clarita (the usual pro-BMX speaker was also present tonight). Ferdman said that the city has more than adequate cash available (~$50M in appropriate funds by his reckoning) that could be used for a BMX track, something that surveys and testimony show the public wants. Another frequent speaker, Steve Petzold, asked for an update on the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit that Santa Clarita was involved in some time ago.
One group of speakers was particularly impactful. You may remember the sad story of Wyatt Savaikie, a 14-year-old boy who was struck and killed by a car while skateboarding through a crosswalk last summer. Tonight, friends and family of Savaikie came up to call for changes to Santa Clarita's roads and driving culture. Four of his teenage friends came up first, asking that something be done about the speed limit on Bouquet Canyon Road. Teresa Savaikie, Wyatt's mother, also spoke. She was surrounded by a large number of friends and supporters as she tearfully asked that the City prioritize pedestrian safety. She said that when pedestrians are hit by cars traveling over 40 mph, 85% of them perish. The 74-year-old driver who hit her son wasn't singled out--all Santa Clarita drivers were asked to use the roads more mindfully.
Gladys Trejo, speaking with an interpreter, asked for more legal assistance and guidance from the City for mobile home park residents. She said the situation they are facing in Granada Villa is "an emergency." Elaine Ballace also requested assistance from City Hall. It's clear that the lawsuit that the City of Santa Clarita is facing from mobile park owners has given the council some credibility in her eyes, but she expressed continuing frustration. In particular, Ballace dislikes the fact that owners never show up to be confronted directly--they're always represented by attorneys instead.
City Manager Ken Striplin responded to most of the comments. He said that he felt the illegal food businesses could be addressed under current practices/policies; a new initiative wasn't needed. In response to the mobile home park residents, he re-stated the history of the City Council's efforts with ordinances and outreach. Striplin said that there wasn't much more new that could be done. Striplin is never particularly sympathetic, but he was as sympathetic as he could be to Teresa Savaikie and her supporters. He said that law enforcement gives him weekly updates about traffic enforcement numbers, but he concluded that, "It does come down to behavior." He assured her that he would remain committed to partnering with law enforcement to make streets safer for pedestrians. Finally, City Attorney Joe Montes addressed Steve Petzold's question about the CVRA lawsuit. "Barring an appeal, that case is over," he concluded. The three parts of the settlement were a shift in election date (fall, not spring), change to at-large voting, and, of course, $600,000 for the people who sued Santa Clarita over voting rights--God bless their goodly hearts. Since at-large voting was struck down, only the change in voting date seems to have stuck. No appeal or new litigation were mentioned.
Updates by the council were perfunctory with a couple of exceptions. Councilmembers Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean paid special tribute to the recently departed Frank Kleeman. His wife came forward and was very appreciative that he was being so well and fondly remembered. McLean mentioned that Old Town Newhall is a wonderful place to go, and Mayor Pro Tem Acosta agreed. Councilmember TimBen Boydston was able to arrange for an update on traffic violations and enforcement at an upcoming meeting to learn if the roads are becoming safer.
A Teachable Moment
Some items on the consent calendar attracted a few comments. Doug Fraser supported the final passage of an amendment that formalized the procedure for alternates on the Manufactured Home Rental Adjustment Panel. This should make for fairer voting in instances where representatives have to recuse themselves.
Cam Noltemeyer spoke on two items pertaining to local development. 'This is just one of those teachable moments of the type of development that's going on in this city," she explained. The first item initiated the process for establishing a community facilities district for Vista Canyon. Noltemeyer spoke about such Mello-Roos districts and other shady developer tactics. She stayed at the podium to speak on the next item, which she prefaced with the statement, "I will continue this education for the community." She was upset about this item, which had to do with supervision of alterations to the river banks in the Vista Canyon area, because of its costs and impact on the watershed.
Councilmember McLean pulled an item concerning a mulching contract. She asked where the mulch was coming from, and staff couldn't provide much of an answer. A man said that some mulch would come from plant material in Santa Clarita, and some from material outside of Santa Clarita. She didn't push the issue further, however. All items were approved with the recommended actions.
Monuments and Replacements
Mayor Kellar opened up the new business portion of the evening with a summary of the "Hometown Heroes Military Banner Program." This program would involve hanging 3' x 6' heavy vinyl banners along major roads, each with a color photo and information about a currently-serving member of the military. It would cost the friends/family/sponsors of the service-member $417.50, and the banner would be hung three times for the year (weeks around Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day). The banner could be hung the next year at a lower cost, since it would already be printed. The item proposed spending a little over $4,000 to cover the cost of 11 banners for Gold Star Families. It seems this is why Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta recused himself from this item (his son, Rudy, was killed while serving in Afghanistan). The item was well-supported. While there was some discussion of covering the cost of banners for currently-serving men and women, the plan was approved as it was written.
The next item of new business had to do with creation of an "Honor Court" to remember Claritans of consequence. Councilmember McLean has been pushing for something like this for quite a while, and she explained her logic. She said that they often receive requests to name things or places after certain people, and it's hard to say "no" without dishonoring the departed. Her vision was to have some kind of audio storyboard for each person--visitors could hear about the life and contributions of the person being remembered at a kiosk or similar venue.
McLean's idea was quite unpopular. "I fail to see where we're fixing anything that's wrong," said Mayor Kellar, who felt that the council does a fine job of dispensing recognition and honor as warranted. "I don't know that there's really been a problem," agreed Mayor Pro Tem Acosta. Apart from seeing the honor court as a solution in want of a problem, others criticized criteria for listing as too subjective. The item suggested something like 10 years of residence in Santa Clarita, exemplary character, and major contributions, but it was easy to imagine circumstances that would make these criteria too inclusive or too exclusive. Still, there was support for keeping the idea of something to honor the deceased (likely something digital) open to future discussion. This came after McLean said, dejectedly, "If you don't like the idea, well, then, it dies." Her fellow councilmembers told McLean to stick with it and they promised to think more about the right way to honor Santa Clarita's notable-but-deceased.
The final bit of new business was appointment of Donald Cruikshank to fill the Parks Commission vacancy left by the death of the beloved Duane Harte. Harte had been Kellar's appointment, so he was tasked with nominating the replacement. Kellar explained that Cruikshank was selected based on the interviews and opinions of a 5-person group that Kellar had assembled for that very purpose. Cruikshank and his family were delighted and remembered Harte fondly.
During the closing section of public participation, Cam Noltemeyer spoke first about the "rather shocking" behavior of the Laemmle Theater "flash mob" that had attended the last meeting to express support for the city's plan to give millions in taxpayer funds to the theater chain. They were too raucous and riled up to have realized that funds were being used inappropriately, contended Noltemeyer.
Allan Cameron then offered his announcement of today's court decision pertaining to the Affordable Clean Water Alliance's legal action against the Santa Clarita Water District. He said the litigation has scarcely been mentioned or acknowledged by the City, but in a superior court ruling made today, the ACWA prevailed. Cameron's explanation of this action was pretty abysmal--it was hard to follow what had happened because he was so intent on relishing the victory and pointing out the City's hastiness and other faults. By the time he got to the punchline his time was practically up: "The EIR that is the foundation of all this machination and cost has been invalidated...the opportunities that this gives this community are wonderful and positive." Weste said that sanitation district attorneys were reviewing the court decision but didn't offer much clarification beyond that. The meeting then ended.