Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Problem of Symmetry, New Sheriff's Station

The Santa Clarita City Council can be accused of many things, but their support of veterans and military families has never been in doubt. That's what made tonight's council meeting rather uncomfortable. Bill Reynolds' proposed memorial wall was up for discussion--the one he's pushed to have built in Newhall Veterans Historical Plaza. After much contentious discussion about where/how it's appropriate to honor the military dead, the council agreed to put off agreeing to some date uncertain. Far less contentious was a $51M plan for a new Sheriff's Station. But that's the way it is in Santa Clarita--the amount of discussion can never be predicted by pricetag alone.

The Coyote Wall

For her invocation, Councilmember Laurene Weste contemplated Memorial Day from both national and local perspectives.

Two individuals were called forward to be recognized by the council. First, a recent West Point graduate was applauded for his long list of academic, military, and personal accomplishments. He said that, after graduating two days ago, many of his peers went to Cancun or other party destinations. But he said, “There’s no place that I’d rather be than here [Santa Clarita].” Damn straight. Next, we heard about a detective who solved a case involving the theft of some plants--not drug plants but landscaping plants. He, too, was recognized by the council.

Public participation consisted of just three speakers. Steve Petzold encouraged Claritans to vote against Measure E, the quarter-billion dollar bond measure that would bring new buildings and more parking to College of the Canyons. He said that the current campus and parking facilities are adequate, and he mentioned the massive amount of debt COC is already saddled with. Petz suggested that flashing the debt on the school's electronic billboards would be an effective wake-up call--the amount taxpayers are on the hook for. Elaine Ballace spoke out about the mobile home review panel and the lack of help for renters. She said responses from city staff are often unhelpful or dismissive. She singled out Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta, asking him why he was running for State Assembly. Ballace claimed Acosta is "un-representing" plenty of people already.

The one other public speaker tonight described coyote attacks on pets along the bike trail through Bridgeport. He described the existing fence as "completely open and vulnerable to coyote attacks," so he proposed a "proper fence" along the trail or relocation of the coyotes. His was the only comment to which City Manager Ken Striplin responded. Striplin said that he was sorry to hear about family pets being "accosted" by the predators, but he added that coyotes can get over even a six-foot fence and are to be an expected part of life (and death) in the SCV. He added that staff would look at whether fences in the area were inadequate.

In the past several recaps, I know I've just breezed past councilmember updates because I find them the most exhausting and tedious portions of the meeting. Tonight was a typical reflection of what you're missing.  Councilmember Laurene Weste: Hearing on St. Francis Dam Memorial Monument. Free movie series at Hart Park. Councilmember Marsha McLean: Description of a half-dozen transportation meetings and issues. Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta: Duane Harte park dedication. Community gardens. Santa Clarita's swimming facilities for summer. Councilmember TimBen Boydston: Resolution to coordinate homeless initiatives with LA County (doesn't get support to agendize discussion of this). Mayor Bob Kellar: Military banner program. Deceased SCV resident John Nuzzi. As always, it was a mix of remembering the dead and promoting activities for the living.

The 15-Year Clause

The consent calendar had been scrutinized by Al Ferdman and Cam Noltemeyer prior to the meeting, and both had questions about a couple of the items each. Ferdman expressed concerns about how a new roof for the special districts administration facility was being funded. He said that the costs must be divided among those who will benefit. He brought up more Proposition 218 concerns on another district-related item. Ferdman asked about whether some districts in the red were being funded by those in the black, which would be improper.

During her two turns at the microphone, Cam Noltemeyer expressed disappointment in various aspects of Claritan government. Item 6 adjusted rates of solid waste service providers (multifamily residential rates up 3.88%), which led Noltemeyer to the topic of Chiquita Landfill and becoming (or remaining) the valley of the dumps. "I want to see some leadership!" she said, hoping that landfill expansions could be fought off the way a dump in Elsmere Canyon was. Noltemeyer then spoke about an item awarding a design contract for the Vista Canyon Metrolink Station. "Who's paying for it?" she asked, noting that over $4M will be required for design and preparation costs alone. She was concerned about how much the actual station, additional track, and amenities would end up costing.

City Manager Ken Striplin said the speakers' concerns were, as always, misplaced. He explained that costs for the new roof would be fairly allocated. He added that, "Proposition 218 is being fully complied with," such that loans to various districts are carefully accounted for and will be repaid. Striplin then mentioned that Elsmere Canyon had become protected as open space instead of being turned into a dump in response to Noltemeyer. Cam's comments can be wide-ranging and difficult to follow, but his response was more just a way of evading discussion of Chiquita, the dump-that-shall-not-be-spoken-of by City Council. 

Once items on the consent calendar had been approved with the recommended actions, City Manager Striplin expressed his excitement to present plans for a new Sheriff's Station. He explained that the current station had been built when the population of the SCV was about 50,000 people, 1/6th of what it is today. It was out-of-date and inadequate and not centrally located. The item he presented was a memorandum of understanding between the City of Santa Clarita and Los Angeles County concerning a new 44,000 sq. ft. station to be built on Golden Valley Road. The cash will come from a variety of city funds and other sources, including $15M from the county. However, if Santa Clarita chooses to end its contract with the Sheriff's Department within fifteen years of construction of the new facility, it will have to pay that money back to the county. Santa Clarita will own the land and the station, and it will be used by the Sheriff's Department rent-free. 

Al Ferdman came up to comment. He said that he would prefer two stations (the new one and the existing one) rather than just going with one big new one. He offered an interesting theory that crime would shift from the east to the west with the relocation of the Sheriff's Department. 

The council was generally supportive of the plan for the new station. Everyone agreed that a bigger, newer station was needed, and the location proposed seemed to be about as geographically central as could be hoped for. Councilmember McLean asked about the provision of paying the county back if the city ended its contract with the LA County Sheriff's Department. Could the penalty be pro-rated?, she wondered. The short answer was no, or at least not without slowing down a process that's taken too long already. The MOU was approved. 

Old Town Newhall was discussed next. You may recall that an urgency ordinance was recently enacted that placed a moratorium on any new businesses in the area except those which supported the goal of an arts and entertainment district. This most urgent of ordinances got extended for another 10 months without comment or discussion. Councilmember Boydston had to recuse himself from the item do to his business in the area. So worry not; there will be no new businesses in Newhall unless they're adorable boutiques, fashionable galleries, wine bars, or the like.

Black Granite

The most contentious item of the evening was the proposal for a memorial wall by the Santa Clarita Valley Veterans Memorial Committee. This project has been discussed for a while and was moving forward largely because of the efforts of a very determined Bill Reynolds. The wall would be located in Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall or some other site that the council deemed fit

Public comments came after a brief introduction of the proposal. Many speakers were very concerned about the semantics of it all. Was it a wall, memorial, memorial wall, or monument? Was the plaza for veterans expressly or could it serve a memorial function, too? What did the "historical" in historical plaza actually mean? The most ardent supporter was Bill Reynolds, who read a long list of fellow project supporters and explained that various individuals and businesses had already stepped forward to cover the costs of installing the wall. It belonged in the plaza, he said. Julie Olsen also made a memorable speech in which she described some of the stories of those who had died in war and who would be remembered on the wall.    

Dick Jeffrey was the most outspoken opponent. As a veteran himself, he said that he knew something about the wishes of the fallen. "I know one thing for sure, from the bottom of my heart," he began, continuing that the fallen would want to "give the money to the living." It wasn't primarily monetary concerns that gave Jeffrey pause, though; he said the plaza has a "non-memorial character" and mentioned that there is already a wall for the fallen at Eternal Valley Cemetery. He speculated that the wall was really just "a way to glorify one man's [Reynolds'] inflated ego." Other speakers against putting a wall in the plaza included R.J. Kelly, who said that Eternal Valley is for the fallen, not the Veterans Historical Plaza.

Councilmember TimBen Boydston expressed his surprise that some people were opposed, saying, "I think we will not be spoiling the beauty of the plaza." But the beauty of the plaza was exactly what made Weste, McLean, and Acosta concerned. The plaza is just so symmetrical in its present form. Putting a wall in the middle would preserve symmetry but interrupt the unbroken view, and putting it off to one side would upset the balance. Councilmember Weste took a lot of time to express her concerns and comments ("I have a lot of 'em!" she warned), and she made it clear that everyone supported veterans, regardless of their thoughts on the appropriateness of a wall for the plaza. Weste felt that the plaza had been almost perfectly designed and ought not be altered. "You don't deconstruct," she said, adding that it would be inappropriate to, "Geez, go plop something down." Even the material proposed for the wall made her worry. "There's no [other] black granite in that plaza!" she observed. Councilmember McLean was worried that a wall in some shady corner could give cover to certain unsavory activities. Mayor Pro Tem Acosta wondered whether the Rotary Club gardens might not be a better spot.

Mayor Kellar made a motion in support of a wall on the periphery of the plaza. He said he wanted to move forward and "not keep talking about it." He added that the speakers in favor (the vast majority had been) represented "a compelling gathering of people." Kellar has heard from even larger crowds of residents on other items, but this was the first time he said that his actions were being motivated by such a crowd. Councilmember McLean warned against acting simply out of visceral support for a monument: "You need to be practical and not emotional." Mayor Pro Tem Acosta, whose son was killed while serving in Afghanistan, expressed serious distress over having to potentially vote "no" on a wall that would honor his son simply because the location wasn't right. It was evident that Kellar's motion would fail 3-2. Weste then made a very long motion of her own. It asked for staff to take a hard second look at the monument/wall and afforded a lot of oversight/discretionary control to the council. Placement, material, and other aspects of the memorial design could all be negotiated, but it would end up somewhere in the plaza (a point Boydston was insistent on getting added to the motion).
  
The meeting ended after Doug Fraser made a comment about the confusing and troubling legal status of spouses as owners of mobile homes. Recent hearings have hinged on whether a spouse counts as an owner if his/her name isn't on the documents. City Attorney Joe Montes refused to second-guess how the panel had interpreted ownership. It seemed like a pretty simple question of community property, but Montes didn't want to get into it. With that, the meeting ended.

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