Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Plan for Art, Park for Harte, Cushions for Dorothy

Tonight's Santa Clarita City Council meeting was short and, for the most part, efficient. The mobile home park saga escalated--an emergency ordinance to protect senior housing was extended and plans were made to write a letter (gasp!) to elected officials about difficulties faced by mobile home park renters. Santa Clarita's rather underwhelming arts master plan was accepted and an inexplicable amount of praise lavished on the plan's consultants. The meeting ended with the naming of a small park in honor of the late Duane Harte. Now, to recapping.

Opening Matters

[Note: The video feed of this meeting didn't go live until some Boy Scouts were in the middle of leading the pledge, so I missed Weste's invocation and any other noteworthy events from the first five minutes. My regrets.]

Public participation begain with Elaine Ballace. She asked if anyone has seen her scarf (it's been missing for weeks), told us it was her birthday tomorrow ("Yeah Pisces!" she cheered), and said it's time to get some bigger power players involved in the mobile home rent issue. Ballace said she has tried to get others involved but to no avail. "I just got the runaround. So I plead to you, maybe you have more pull with the State and getting something done. I realize my celebrity status means nothing to them," she said, with a short but scornful laugh.

A man representing Santa Clarita's tennis community asked for more tennis courts to be built.

Steve Petzold make the rookie mistake of handing in a written comment card instead of a speaker card, but Mayor Bob Kellar still allowed him to speak. At the microphone, Petzold explained that he had been reflecting on the Laemmle meeting and found himself "dissatisfied" with the discussion that had transpired. He thought discussion of the specific elements of the subsidy would have been more valuable than merely debating the pros and cons of a new theater. His quick accounting of property value changes and City losses in the area was not the clearest, but it seems this isn't the last we will hear about the Laemmle subsidy. Petzold closed by requesting an open discussion/study of the California Voting Rights Act and district-based voting in Santa Clarita.

City Manager Ken Striplin mechanically addressed the speakers. He said that tennis courts will be considered for the final phase of Central Park and he restated the City's long history of work on mobile home park policy. Petzold's recommended review of district-based voting was not pursued further.

Councilmember updates primarily consisted of listing local event after local event--the celebrity waiter dinner was mentioned no fewer than three times. Councilmember Weste went a more substantive route when she announced that the supplemental EIR for chloride treatment will be discussed at the end of the month. She didn't mention anything about the lawsuit that Allan Cameron was gloating about last month (the suit that supposedly changed the chloride issue at a fundamental level).

Slow Down, Dorothy

The consent calendar had only two non-routine items. The first offered the council's support for a state assembly bill to benefit the developmentally disabled. The second proposed adding speed cushions and stop signs to Dorothy Way, which has attracted speeding drivers seeking a cut-through to Golden Valley Road. A couple of residents said that something needed to be done to slow dangerous traffic in their community, so they supported these measures. Councilmember Marsha McLean made a point of telling the audience that the community's developers had been required to set aside funds for traffic calming, so the measures were being paid for by them, not taxpayers. This and the other items on the consent calendar were approved as written.

Write a Letter

The council voted to extend an emergency ordinance protecting senior housing for another ten months. The ordinance was passed because some mobile home parks were attempting to change from seniors-only housing to family housing, which is more lucrative. The problem is that seniors on fixed incomes might lose their homes because of associated surges in rent. A number of speakers asked the council to continue doing what it could to help renters. Specific complaints were made, but they often came from parks where the city can do little else to interfere/intervene. City Attorney Joe Montes and City Manager Ken Stripling both spent some time explaining the limits of the city's ability to act--for example, long-term leases are exempt from some city codes.  

Once again, Councilmember Laurene Weste was the staunchest advocate for renters. She said, "I just can't buy into the fact that these people are being gouged this way, and I think it's time that we send a letter articulating some of the grievances that we're seeing. Nevermind the State Ombudsman, let's just send a letter to all the elected officials in the State of California in the legislature." Cheers came from the audience. "I recognize that, you know, that it's a black hole, but when you look at this kind of abuse, they [renters] have two choices: they can pay it or they can lose the little investment they have in a mobile home. That's all they have, they have nothing else." Weste asked if anyone supported her suggestion, and Boydston agreed with her "whole-heartedly." Mayor Kellar gave his support as well, which was enough to get the letter rolling and to get more applause from the small crowd.

Art, Planned

New business began with consideration of a representative for the Southern California Association of Goverments General Assembly. Councilmember Boydston nominated McLean to be representative and Acosta to serve as alternate, and the council unanimously agreed on both nominations without discussion. McLean gave a quite "thank you" after the vote; she's always been partial to SCAG.

Tonight also marked the presentation of Santa Clarita's arts master plan for adoption. The City may have an arts commission, but it took the work of consultants to tell Santa Clarita how to art better. Their master plan was presented, a series of platitudes and cliches given the appearance of meaning by being prefaced with titles or organized into lists. For example:

"Vision Statement"
The City of Santa Clarita will be recognized as a “city of the arts,” where the lives of residents, artists, and visitors are enriched through artistic and cultural experiences.

"Key Findings"
#2: The community is generally satisfied with the current arts and cultural offerings.
#4: Residents express strong interest in celebrating history and cultural heritage.
#7: Arts and culture are seen as an excellent way to promote diversity and inclusion.

Developing a "work plan" is the next stage of the project. Despite the less than compelling master plan, Mayor Kellar and Councilmember Weste went to some effort to recognize the consultants behind the work. Kellar asked Ingrid Hardy, community services superintendent, to "acknowledge the two gentlemen [consultants] here in the front row for their input." Hardy had already done that at the start of her presentation, but apparently two introductions were warranted. "Excellent, excellent job gentlemen, we thank you very much, very, very much," gushed Kellar. Weste said, "[The consultants] understood the real heart of Santa Clarita...we are special and unique and you found that!" Kellar closed by saying, "I would request that a letter be prepared for the entire City Council to sign acknowledging our consultants and what we consider to be a very professional job on behalf of our city." The amount of attention and praise was rather extraordinary.

The only critical suggestion came from Councilmember TimBen Boydston, who otherwise spoke about the plan in glowing terms. He said that he wasn't fully sold on the idea of the arts being organized thematically by community. According to the plan, Newhall gets "history and cultural heritage," Valencia is to be the home of art that is "contemporary and abstract," the art of Saugus should "celebrate youth and families and cultural diversity," and Canyon Country art falls under a theme to "explore nature and surrounding open spaces and the environment." Boydston gently criticized this plan (which he said reminded him of themed areas at Disneyland) for perhaps saddling a community with a theme they might not like as much as others. The idea is also just profoundly stupid, but that point was not addressed.

Note: This is my interpretation of what constitutes representative art for the various community themes, intended to highlight the silliness of it all. Not a figure from the master plan or presentation.

A Park for Harte

The late Duane Harte, remembered as a commissioner, volunteer, and truly community-minded individual, was honored by renaming River Village Park as "Duane R. Harte Park at River Village." Mayor Kellar said that there was a lot of support for the plan, and he thought the park was a fitting tribute because it had been just a block away from Harte's last home. The suggestion was supported.