About Alan Ferdman
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The first time I took a trip on Sierra Highway was in 1956. I was a junior high school student living in Studio City. My best buddy lived down the street, and his dad was in process of homesteading a parcel of land near Victorville. He was a contractor and very capable of putting in the improvements required to take possession of the land. On Friday nights, for almost a year, his dad’s pickup would be loaded with supplies. Then, father, son and I would leave early Saturday morning for a ride to Apple Valley. The Highway 14 freeway had not been built yet, and the best way to get where we were going was north on Balboa Blvd to San Fernando Road and then Sierra Highway. We would typically stop for breakfast at the Halfway House before proceeding on the final leg of our weekend journey out onto Highway 138. Little did I know then, less than 10 years later, Sierra Highway would become the pathway to my own family’s home.
By 1965, my wife Pam and I had been married for two years, and our eldest son Ernie was an infant. I have always had a love affair with motorcycles, which led me to join the 4 Aces MC, an American Motorcycle Association District 37 Competition Club. Motorcycle racing was the focus of the group and something was happening every weekend. We typically competed in TT Scrambles in the summer and Desert Races in the cooler months. For those who are unfamiliar with the terms, TT races, or Tourist Trophy races, were done on a smooth dirt track, with more left-hand turns than right, including at least one jump. Corner banking was optional. When all this got going in the ‘30s and ‘40s, it was customary for competitors to ride to and from the race; Hence the name “Tourist Trophy.” But by the time I got started, we were all trucking our competition bikes to races. Desert Racing was a whole different story. Hare and Hounds were typically around 100 miles of off-road terrain, with riders never passing over the same ground more than once. Hare Scrambles were also the same distance, but over a course which was completed multiple times. Lastly, European Scrambles was a much shorter racecourse, completed as many times as you could in one hour.
About half a dozen members of the 4 Aces lived on Dewdrop Street in what is now Canyon Country. And, as my wife and I found ourselves in the area often, we decided to move here. It was a wonderful rural setting close to a grammar school, and a junior high school was staked out only three blocks away. In those days, the 405 ended at Rinaldi and did not pick up again until Sand Canyon. Sierra Highway was one lane in each direction and provided the link between the two freeway sections. We both traveled Sierra Highway going to work and back every day. Never could we have imagined that the future would put us back into a big city, but that is another story. Today, Highway 14 is directly connected to the 405, and Sierra Highway has been widened to two lanes in each direction. Since Santa Clarita has become a city and Sierra Highway is within its jurisdiction, Caltrans has wanted the city to take ownership of the road. Santa Clarita has declined the offer, indicating their desire for Caltrans to upgrade the road to Santa Clarita standards before the city would take possession. So, with the two jurisdictions at an impasse, the majority of Sierra Highway today looks very much like it did in 1965, with exception of it being widened.
Yet, there have been some missed opportunities for improvement. You may recall, on April 19, 2019, KHTS reported, “The Santa Clarita City Council is expected to … discuss the proposed Newhall Gateway development.” The article went on to say, “The City Council is also expected to receive a conceptual plan for the Newhall Gateway project, a commercial development proposed near Newhall Avenue and Sierra Highway … In 2008, a similar project, Sierra Crossings, was proposed at the same Newhall intersection, but it was later withdrawn in 2010.”
While what was reported is interesting, a lot of pertinent details were left out. As it turns out, the applicants and owners of the property at the southeast corner of Newhall Ave and Sierra highway did not just propose a project, they spent almost $250,000 putting plans for the project through the city’s planning process. According to the April 23, 2019 Staff Report, “The project consisted of approximately 99,000 square feet of commercial space in five buildings including a drive-through restaurant, and a hotel.” The resulting plan was approved by staff and the Planning Commission, as it complied with all of Santa Clarita’s codes and requirements. Normally that would have been enough to put the project on a path for development, except in this case, a city councilmember decided to call the project up for a special City Council Review, “citing design aesthetics and environmental aspects.” I wondered then; how could the project meet all the city’s codes and requirements and have these kinds of issues remaining? Would the city staff be proposing code changes to prevent another project from meeting the same fate? Plus, if you as a citizen want to protest a project and have a special City Council Review, you get to front a hefty fee, but if you are a city council member, you can do it at a whim.
I remember sitting in the audience, listening to Council members Mclean and Weste redesigning the project from the dais. None of the changes were required because the project failed to meet current Santa Clarita codes. Instead, the changes were included because of their personal preferences. In addition, they wanted the developers to include property within the project the developers did not own. Also, there were questions about the economic viability of what was being demanded. Councilmember Ferry suggested the city fund a $200,000 study, which would be repaid by the developer at some point in the future. KHTS reported about it also, stating, “The City Council directed staff to enter into an agreement with Poliquin Kellogg Design Group (PKDG) to conduct a conceptual design and economic analysis for the entire southeast quadrant at the Newhall and Sierra intersection.”
Now, almost 10 years later, the city council again discussed the project on April 23, 2019. But redevelopment agencies have been dissolved, which the April 24 Staff Report indicates “eliminated the city’s ability to assemble parcels and … it’s options to participate in future projects as a funding partner or lead applicant”. Plus, “the City adopted a new General Plan and Zoning Ordinance which increased the site’s development potential,” meaning a larger development could be proposed today, as opposed to the 2010 plan. I would like to cap this narrative with an indication of what the city council decided to do, but minutes of the April 23, 2019 meeting have not been put on the city website yet, as the minutes will not be approved until the May 14 city council meeting.
But one thing stands out. Santa Clarita has been a city for over 30 years, and Sierra Highway, “the Gateway to Newhall and Canyon Country,” is far from what it could and should be. When I look at what the county did on the Old Road, as it borders our city, it is past time for Sierra Highway to get a similar treatment.
I am convinced that most of you – at one time or another – have called a customer service hotline, only to have a conversation which made you think it might have done just as much good to have shared your concern with a wall. Plus, it wouldn’t matter if it is a stone wall, a block wall, a wood wall or drywall, because no matter how much you share your story, concern and frustration, you will never hear anything in return.
The most humorous time I experienced with a customer service call was after assuming responsibility for paying my 98-year-young mother’s bills. I called one company wanting to settle an account and just needed to know the outstanding balance. I could answer all the security questions, but was told they could not talk to me, which made me wonder; how many times do they reject talking to someone who just wants to send them money?
Fortunately, it is somewhat better when asking questions at City Hall. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution gives “people the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Yet, many times, our residents address the city council simply to ask a question or obtain further clarification. If you choose to attend a city council meeting, you will find copies of the meeting agenda with a special cover sheet attached. Quoting from the section “Your City Government,” it reads, “The regular meeting of your City Council is a vital part of the democratic process … The Council appreciates your interest and urges participation in government affairs.” On the back of the cover sheet, under “Public Participation,” it further states, “When addressing the Council, please state your name and city … before you begin your comments. The Council will take no action other than referring the issue to staff.”
While it is important the council knows who is speaking to them, make no mistake; they reserve the right not to answer questions you ask, or even acknowledge they heard what was put before them. As an example, a few city council meetings ago, I addressed the council on the Sanitation District’s decision to stop work on the Recycled Water EIR. Since the SCV Sanitation District Board is comprised of a majority of Santa Clarita City Council members, I asked that they agendize the issue to discuss sending a recommendation on recycled water to the Sanitation District. Councilmember Weste replied that the Sanitation District was waiting for California Fish and Game to get back to them and describe how much of the 20 million gallons a day could be diverted to supply recycled water.
After the meeting, I did some more research, made a few phone calls and obtained a copy of Fish and Game’s letter to Sanitation District staff. As it turns out, the letter indicated what Fish and Game expected to see addressed in the Sanitation District EIR and did not indicate that they themselves were doing any further analysis. At a subsequent meeting, I was made aware that SCV Water already had a contract with the Sanitation District to supply 1,600 acre-feet of water per year to be used for landscaping irrigation. I wondered why the contractually available maximum could not be increased with new Sanitation District customers coming on line. Therefore, I went back to the podium at the last city council meeting and asked if they could agendize a discussion relating to a recommendation on increasing the size of SCV Water’s contract as new Sanitation District customers connect to the system. The silence was deafening, as no answer came forth from the dais.
I know Santa Clarita residents are sharp and must have been aware that I was asking the city council members to basically have a discussion and come up with a recommendation for the two Sanitation District’s assigned city council members to follow. That could make them uncomfortable, but we are talking about a decision which should be in the best interest of the city as a whole. So, last week I shared the recycled water story in more detail in my column, and guess what? Up pops a “Clarification from the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.” I don’t mind if the city, the Sanitation District, or anyone else comments on what I write. I don’t expect everyone will agree with every one of my columns, and good dialog is important if we are to come up with solutions which work for us all. But, at the same time, putting in a “Clarification” without the author attaching their name is unethical and cowardly.
To start, the “Clarification” author did catch a mistake in my column. When I included it would “cost $100 million a year to operate,” I should not have fat-fingered in “a year.” What I intended to portray was the amount required to operate over the first 20 years of the project. Why 20 years? Because when the project was first proposed, it was the timeframe the Sanitation District staff projected necessary to pay off the construction loan and the duration shown in the overall financial analysis. When I saw the author’s statement indicating, “the chloride compliance project (operating cost) is estimated at $5.9 million per year,” it would have been productive if I could have called the author and asked where that estimate came from. Why? Because $5.9 million per year over 20 years equals $118 million, which is 18 percent higher than the estimate I used. Plus, $118 million does not include inflation, so the actuals will cost taxpayers even more. Hopefully, the “Clarification” author will “come out from behind the curtain” this week and explain why the cost of operation is escalating and provide a budget projection over 20 years which includes the additional amount caused by inflation.
Looking at the 2019-2020 SCV Sanitation District Budget straight from the SCV Sanitation District’s website, it shows our residents will be paying $36.4 million in service charges on this year’s property tax bills, and $10.6 million in other Taxes and Grants, which simply comes out of their other taxed pocket. All while the SCV Sanitation District reserves will increase from $118.4 million to $141.9 million this coming year, indicating their revenues are exceeding their Operational and Capital needs. A clarification in this area would be helpful also.
Meaningful, polite and open dialog is important. I firmly believe we will never learn anything by only having conversations with people who share our same views. The Gazette and I are asking for your opinion. “We encourage our readers to write, email and share their thoughts, concerns and criticisms.” Plus, I will take it one step further. Feel free to contact me anytime. My cell number is 661-713-9344. Now I will admit, with all the spam phone calls we are getting as of late, I do not directly answer calls from numbers I do not recognize, so text me or leave a voice mail with your name and number and I will call you back. You will not be talking to a wall, and when we share what we know, we will all profit from the experience.
Did you read last Wednesday’s Signal Newspaper, which included a column titled, “We’re creating community at Earth Arbor Day Festival,” along with a picture of Mayor Pro-Tem Cameron Smyth? I thought it a little odd. It did not say it was written by Cameron Smyth, as I have often wondered if the council members actually write the columns themselves. But putting all else aside, the writing revealed, “The (Arbor Day) festival will kick off with the city celebrating its 29th consecutive year of being awarded the “Tree City USA” designation.”
I could not agree more; the City of Santa Clarita’s efforts in planting thousands of trees all around our community greatly improved our municipality’s look and quality of life. So, if you had been thinking of providing a young tree a place to spread its roots, I hope you had the foresight to pick up one of the free 1-gallon trees at last Saturday’s Earth Arbor Day event. If you missed the event and still long for a tree to hug, young trees are available at our local nurseries at a very reasonable cost. Over 40 years ago, I myself planted a tree in the front yard which was no larger in circumference than a broom handle. Now a very large Fruitless Mulberry, in the summer heat, you can feel the temperature drop when you walk out under it and take a seat in my front atrium.
The second thing which caught my attention was, “The festival also offers residents the tools and resources needed to recycle, compost, and conserve water.” I favor the prospect of recycling. Maybe it is because I am from a generation who fixed things when they were broken, saved leftovers for the next project, and did not believe in discarding usable items. Composting, on the other hand, is another question, because it doesn’t seem like something which will work out too well for those living in apartments, townhouses and condominiums. Yet, when I hear about providing instructions to our residents about water recycling, the hair on the back of my neck begins to rise. Surely, the majority of our population does not believe in wasting water, and we are all aware of the problems which have been created in getting water down from the north, but if our city continues to grow at the current pace, it is highly unlikely individual residents conservation will provide long-term sustainability. In fact, if you look at our water agencies current five-year plan, the only way they can assure an adequate supply over the next five years is for current users to use less. Plus, if the situation was not frustrating enough, every time the community uses less, the water companies want to charge more in order to maintain their infrastructure, because they have no other way to deal with it.
Ok, I’ll admit, I was out of town last Saturday and did not attend Earth Arbor Day. So, maybe you could help me. Did the experts talk about water conservation from the standpoint of using washing machine and shower grey water for residential landscape irrigation? Was information provided in support of rebates to retrofit older homes, where residents need to run their water for a period of time before it becomes warm enough to bathe? Were examples on how to capture and use rainwater provided? Probably not, because creative solutions which take effort do not fit their narrative.
Yet, a very large resource enabling water conservation exists in Santa Clarita today. Several years ago, back when the Regional Water Quality Board decided the chloride level of water coming out of our two wastewater treatment plants was too high, with a stoke of a pen, they decided to require us to lower the level to 100 mg/ltr or less. Think about it. The Chloride standard for water you drink is allowed to be over twice that number. This started the debacle about adding another level of treatment to our wastewater treatment plants, at the cost of over $130 million to build, and $100 million a year to operate. Who will pay the bill? You are. The plan was to ramp up the SCV Sanitation District property tax assessment from 2014 to 2019 in order to reach the level necessary to build and sustain this new proposal. But in order to sell this project to the public, the sales staff was out in full force. They asserted, while our community is rightfully unhappy with the project, lowering the chloride level would make the water also useful for landscape irrigation, and with our treatment plants producing 20 million gallons a day, it was estimated 7 million gallons a day could become immediately available. Be aware, two members of the Santa Clarita City Council also have majority control of the SCV Sanitation District. Their votes alone can raise your property taxes and put the project plan into action. Therefore, the project was easily approved. Planning the additions to the treatment plants was initiated, along with an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to determine how much of our wastewater treatment plant output needed to be put in the river to maintain endangered species habitats, and how much could be diverted for recycling. Then, along came the lawsuits. The Signal reported, “Judge James C. Chalfant agreed with ACWA (Affordable Clean Water Alliance) lawyers and called for more studies on the effects of recycled water on an endangered species of native fish.” The Sanitation District lawyers indicated, “they would respond specifically to those concerns.” Judge Chalfant, “wanted district officials to explain in greater detail how they will protect the unarmored threespine stickleback – an endangered species of native fish.”
In order to get the project moving forward, the SCV Sanitation District broke the project off into “two separate tracks,” one for the treatment plant improvements, and the other track for the recycled water project. Then, much to the public’s surprise, on February 26, 2019, the SCV Sanitation District reversed course and declared they had “formally ceased its own efforts to reduce discharges to the river in favor of recycling water.” They claimed to take this action to protect the Santa Clarita ratepayers and help “clear the way for regional evaluation of all water resources, which will lead to better solutions.”
Really? The SCV Sanitation District is the only major source of recycled water in the Santa Clarita Valley. Knowing the EIR work stoppage had to have the approval of Santa Clarita Mayor McLean and Councilmember Weste, who represent a majority of the SCV Sanitation District Board, I approached the podium at a city council meeting and asked the Council to agendize a discussion on the Sanitation District’s decision. I suggested the city council provide a recommendation to the SCV Sanitation District, which is in the best interest of the city’s residents. Both Mayor McLean and Councilmember Weste indicated their support and understanding of the need to make recycled water available. Councilmember Weste went on to indicate that the SCV Sanitation District was waiting for California Fish and Game to tell them how much of the 20 million gallons a day could be recycled.
Following up and making a few phone calls, I was able to obtain a copy of a letter from California Fish and Game to the SCV Sanitation District. The correspondence outlined studies and methodology they deemed appropriate, to determine the effect of reducing the amount of water into the river would have on endangered species. Then a few days later, I attended a meeting were Steve Cole presented elements of SCV Water’s “Next Drop” water recycling strategy. As it turns out, SCV Water currently has a contract with the SCV Sanitation District for up to 1600-acre-feet per year of recycled water. Today, SCV Water only uses 400-acre-feet per year, leaving the remaining 1200-acre-feet available to satisfy the current new pipelines being put in the ground to bring recycled water to Central Park.
Getting recycled water to where it is needed is expensive, and I applaud SCV Water for implementing sections over time. But what happens when SCV Water needs to increase use over the 1600-acre-foot contractual limit? Why not increase the amount of recycled water available whenever a new user is added to the SCV Sanitation District service roll? In other words, add capacity as it becomes available. Santa Clarita has a number of large projects under construction or in the works. Therefore, without fighting the “endangered species windmill,” why not capture the increase in flow, rather than just add it to the current outflow and aggravate the problem?
Therefore, it was back to the city council podium, asking them to agendize the issue to discuss a recommendation on how to use the additional user flow. They could have water to fill all those purple pipes the city is putting in the ground. But the silence was deafening, as no words on the subject came forth from any member of the council.
No other organization or agency will be able to implement a long-term water recycling strategy, unless the SCV Sanitation District agrees to provide the raw materials, which in this case is the output of their wastewater treatment plants. It is time for the SCV Sanitation District to start getting creative and take action, which is in the best interest of our valley’s residents. The next time an elected official tries to convince you to take out your lawn to save water, tell them you will consider it as soon as they do their job, and recycled water is flowing through all those purple pipes taxpayer dollars bought and buried in the ground. Because at that point, we will be able to cheerfully recognize that the SCV Sanitation District, SCV Water, the new Groundwater Sustainability Agency, and the City of Santa Clarita have finally found a way to work collaboratively.
Clarification/Response from the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County
The Sanitation District wishes to clarify a couple of statements in the article written by Alan Ferdman titled, “Singing the Praise of Earth, Wind and Water.”
First, the cost to operate and maintain the chloride compliance project is estimated at $5.9 million per year, not $100 million per year as stated in the article.
Second, the recycled water component in the original chloride compliance EIR (and all subsequent environmental documents) was independent of the chloride compliance project. The recycled water component was about making more recycled water available for community reuse and not about improving the quality of river water or recycled water. Today, the treated water from the plants is suitable for a wide range of uses including landscape irrigation.
Due to the adverse court ruling mentioned in the article, the recycled water project was separated from the chloride compliance project in 2018. This separation enabled the chloride compliance project to move forward and minimize the risk of fines to ratepayers.
On Tuesday, April 16, KHTS reported, “Safe Home, a home security company, used data from the FBI … of cities with at least 50,000 residents, to compile a list of the safest cities across the nation. Santa Clarita was named No. 9 in California and 49 in the United States.” The very next day, The Signal included a front-page story titled, “City ranked ninth safest in state.” Then, later that week, in the “Signal’s most talked about section,” residents’ comments ranged from memories of when “Santa Clarita was in top 10 safest in the country,” to impressions that it’s “because crime stats are suppressed by LASD.” One resident felt the city would rank even worse if “you excluded Valencia.”
Well, stories relating to the safety of our city have been written from time to time. In this case, I decided to visit www.safehome.org and see for myself who they are. As it turns out, KHTS was correct when they named Safe Home as a home security company. Safe Home describes the company as “a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com,” which does not sound much like an independent research firm.
Next, I brought up www.fbi.gov to see if the same admonitions about their data were still being included. Sure enough, the FBI themselves tells us, “Since crime is a sociological phenomenon influenced by a variety of factors, the FBI discourages ranking locations or making comparisons as a way of measuring law enforcement effectiveness. Some of this data may not be comparable to previous years because of differing levels of participation over time.” In addition, “It’s important to consider the various factors that lead to crime activity and crime reporting in a community before interpreting the data. Without these considerations, the available data can be deceiving. Factors to consider include population size and density.” Therefore, it may not provide a clear picture if we rank our city of 217,000 residents against cities greater than 50,000.
Lastly, rankings depend on how the evaluation team weighs the data. For example, FBI Violent Crime data reflects a “hierarchy rule, which requires that only the most serious offense in a case be counted. The descending order of violent crimes is homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, followed by the property crimes of burglary, larceny theft, and motor vehicle theft.” When I looked at how another company called “Safewise” weighs and views the data, Santa Clarita does not even make the top 50 list. If you were to evaluate the data, how many robberies would you equate to a single homicide? I believe George Buck was right on when he said, “Statistics don’t lie. It’s the people who make up the statistics that lie.” So, instead of becoming one of those people, I’ll just relay my impressions about safety in our fair city.
Since I have lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for over half a century, I have seen changes which have altered my behavior relative to staying alert and not becoming a victim. When I first moved here, Santa Clarita was truly a small town. When my wife and I would go down the street to visit our neighbor, there seemed no reason to close our garage or lock our doors. Neighbors looked out for each other, most local law enforcement was made up of Reserve Officers, and when you saw a patrol car, you most often knew the person driving. Even as the community grew over the next several decades and locking things up became the norm, you could always count on those who lived around you.
For example, in 1990, a 31-year-old recently released jail inmate named Rene who was cold, hungry and living on the street, decided to take refuge in my house. He very carefully pried the window frame out of my back door, entered my house, ate lunch, and left with my leather motorcycle jacket, some change and a handgun. Two of my neighbors, Mr. Sam Rowe and Mr. Mike Quigley, saw him leave my back yard, recognized my jacket, and the chase was on. Rene darted down a street and over a fence, landing him on Soledad Canyon, just as two plain-clothed deputies were driving past. When they recognized he had a gun, the officers started around the block. My two neighbors followed Rene to the Shell Station, which was at Soledad and Whites Canyon, and witnessed Rene jump over a pony wall, which obscured where he was living, so they called 911. Just then, the two deputies pulled into the station were directed to where Rene was hiding, and took him into custody shortly after. When Mike called me at work and told me what had happened, I was sure I would come home to find the house ransacked. But that was not the case, and when I picked up my valuables from the Sheriff’s Station, I was told of Rene’s past and his desire to end it all if he could not return to jail, where he would at least have a full stomach and be out of the elements. It was my first experience with crime and homelessness in the Santa Clarita Valley. The story appeared as front-page news in The Signal on May 9, 1990. I have saved a copy of that paper all this time, and when I see Mike Quigley this coming week, I intend to thank him again.
Did that experience make me feel less safe? For me, it emphasized the importance of “neighbors helping neighbors,” and I feel fortunate as families have moved in and out of my immediate area, and we continue to live near residents who want to maintain good neighborhood relationships, so we are still looking out for each other. Have I taken additional precautions? You bet, but not always just to keep myself safe. About 10 years later, we put in and alarm system. The primary reason was to protect our Maltese named “Puff” and Cat named “CoCo,” in case of a house fire occurring when we were at work.
Now, if I were to use the FBI data, I would concentrate on the parts which show an increase in violent crimes, and consider the need to visit a city council meeting to ask that additional resources be provided to our Sheriff’s Department. I remember going to a Santa Clarita Public Safety Subcommittee meeting years ago and encountering Sheriff Captain Becker, who at the time was serving our community. He provided his report and stated his intent to put another patrol car by Jake’s Way, to which one of the council members stated, “That’s not in the city.” (Jake’s Way had not been annexed into the city at that time). When Captain Becker responded, “That is not important; Crime does not stop at the border,” I knew I was going to like this man. Since then, we have gone through several Santa Clarita Sheriff Captains who have been promoted or retired. Today, Captain Robert Lewis serves in the capacity of managing Sheriff’s Services in the Santa Clarita Valley, and in my estimation, he is an exceptional leader. When interacting with Captain Lewis, it is easy to recognize that he loves his job, not for the power he wields, but because of the community service he provides. Known for his endless energy and ability to resonate with his deputies and the public, Captain Lewis provides us the kind of services which are dedicated to keeping the community safe.
But remember, law enforcement cannot do it all. You must do your part by staying alert, becoming aware of what is going on around you, keeping your eyes open, and alerting the Sheriff’s Office when you see something that looks suspicious. Because when the “brown stuff” hits the fan, statistics will not matter. And if it is something beyond your control, hopefully you will have the assistance of a neighbor. And should you need to dial 911, one of Santa Clarita’s Sheriff Deputies will be ready to answer your call for help.
I’m sure I have shared my story of being in an active shooter situation already, yet I will tell it one more time to help anyone reading this article understand my perspective.
It was in the mid-‘80s and I was a department manager. About 30 members of my staff and I occupied an area on the second floor, to the rear of the building. At the time, the area was filled with cubicles, with my office at one end. It was a morning like any other, when one of my staff members came running into the area and loudly announced, “There is someone in the front lobby shooting at other employees.” Well, that woke everyone up, and they started to congregate in the center of the room. I came out of my office, and as I had not heard any shots, I asked, “Does anyone know where the shooter is?” When the answer came back as a negative, the group got more agitated and nervous. As I was the leader, they looked to me for a decision as what to do. I believed then, as I believe now, that their safety was my responsibility.
Our company had provided management training on this type of situation by advising us to “hide if you can, or flee if you can, or fight if you must.” Since our immediate area did not have any rooms large enough for us to hide, and the second-floor conference rooms were in the front of the building, which was in the direction of the lobby, I chose not to go there. Instead, I decided to leave the building. I had thought about this before, and knew the back stairway was right next to the exit from our area, down the stairs and a left turn would take us out of the building, and then a right turn put us about 30 feet from our facility’s gate, a guard shack, and the parking lot entrance.
The group was becoming more visibly unsettled and I tried to calm everyone down with a little humor by looking at my watch and saying, “It’s 10:30, time for an early lunch. Follow me down the stairs off the facility, and do not return until 1 p.m.” One of my group supervisors was present, and I asked him to take up the rear to make sure everyone followed me. I told him I would wait for him at the bottom of the stairs and take him to lunch. It all went as planned, and in short order all 30 staff members were outside the facility.
Even though the situation seemed dire and threatening, what we did not know was that it was over long before we left the facility. As it turns out, a man entered the lobby asking to see an employee named Joe, who was dating his ex-wife. When Joe came walking down into the lobby, the man took out a handgun and started shooting. Fortunately, he only hit Joe in the small part of his ear, which Gunsmoke’s Festus called the “small hangey-down part.” When Joe realized what was happening and started to flee, the man sat down, put his gun on the table, and waited for the police to arrive. But another scary part was when one of the shooter’s stray bullets passed through a wall, and barely missed a secretary putting a memo through a copy machine, proving drywalled walls offer little protection. As I was driving out of the parking lot, Joe was being wheeled out to an ambulance and police cars were all around the front of the building.
But the story does not end yet. Two weeks later, I was pulled into the security office. The head of security wanted to know what possessed me to lead my staff off the facility. His concern was, “What if you had led the group right into the shooters path?” My response to him was, “What do you think would have happened if I would have held my employees in the center of our office area out in the open, and the shooter would have run into us? I made the best decision I could, using the information I had at the time. If you want a different outcome, maybe security should find a better way of letting employees know more about the situation as it occurs.” At which point, the room went silent and so ended the conversation.
When I read about College of the Canyons (COC) going into lockdown because of an individual who could not distinguish between a few branches and a rifle, I felt compelled to share what I learned from my experience. First, COC represents a far greater challenge. My workplace had almost every building on the perimeter of the facility, making evacuation a relatively simple task. COC, on the other hand, has a more complex mapping of buildings, some of which are bordered by other buildings, making effective evacuation planning contingent on where the danger is occurring. Being able to remotely lock doors is a great idea, providing you have enough information to know which doors to lock, and which to leave open. Otherwise, the worst thing which could happen, as Katie Wynkoop reported, “People didn’t know what to do. They literally just started running through the hall of the Student Center. There was no direction. It was kind of chaotic.”
Yet, Trustee Edel Alonso hit the nail on the head when she asked, “If there are cameras, are they actually working and recording or not? If they are recording, then who’s taking a look at those videos?” My experience taught me that a person will make decisions based on what they know, and if management desires better decisions, they need to provide more real-time information. COC, or any large campus of buildings, needs to have a comprehensive matrix of audio/visual cameras providing the ability to monitor every building entrance and hallway, in addition to the grounds surrounding their facility. While recording is of value, real-time monitoring must be accomplished in a 24/7 security command center, so that the next time a problem is reported, the security team can see and hear what is transpiring and take immediate action. In addition, the knowledge gained by camera review will be very useful in directing security and law enforcement personnel to the trouble spot. Then, using text messages to alert the entire campus, in addition to concerned loved ones as to what is transpiring, we can put those affected in a defensive posture and calm those who are out of harm’s way. COC can make all the plans it feels necessary, but when a tragedy strikes, knowing which part of which plan to implement will depend on how much the decision makers know about the situation. So, the more information they have the better.
Realize also we are dealing with human nature. If you lock down the campus too many times for things which turn out to be non-issues, soon lock-downs will not be taken seriously. In addition, I thought Deputy Chancellors comment interesting when he shared, “Some folks had concerns about an armed presence …. and the anxiety that could lead to … Other folks felt they wanted an armed presence to be responding to any threat.” I would ask, why isn’t the student’s safety the primary concern? COC management needs to be the adults in the room and provide for safety first.
In these two cases, we were fortunate. Both my situation at work long ago and the latest COC lockdown, resulted in no one seriously injured or killed. But, the lesson we should all think about is that all mass shootings which have taken place in recent times occurred within just a few minutes. The faster an appropriately trained and armed security guard or law enforcement officer can get to the scene, the less opportunity there is for the shooter to continue the rampage.
Hopefully that will never happen at College of the Canyons. I know several of the trustees and have faith they will take the lead toward putting an effective surveillance and notification system in place. I would rather we spend the money to enhance student safety and never use it than save a few dollars and wish we had done it.
I am a great fan of Aesop’s Fables. One of my favorites is “The Milkmaid and Her Pail.” One version goes something like this:
“A Milkmaid had been out to milk the cows and was returning from the field, with a shiny milk pail balanced nicely on her head. As she walked along, her mind was filled with wondrous plans for the days to come.
“‘This good rich milk,’ she mused, ‘will give me plenty of cream to churn. The butter I make I will take to market, and with the money I get for it, I will buy a lot of eggs for hatching. How nice it will be when all have hatched, and the yard is full of fine young chicks. Then, when May Day comes, I will sell them. With the money I receive, I’ll buy a lovely new dress to wear to the fair. All the young men will look at me, and when they come near and try to kiss me, I shall very quickly send them about their business!’
“As she thought of how she would settle with these young men, she tossed her head scornfully, and down fell the pail of milk to the ground, and as all the milk flowed out of the pail, with it went her plans for butter, eggs, chicks, and a new dress, along with all the milkmaid’s pride.”
I hope you enjoy this fable as much as I do. Most of the time, the moral of this story is stated as, “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” While it is certainly the case, I believe Aesop might have had an additional, much deeper moral in mind. Because while there are many different versions of this fable, they all seem to conclude the milkmaid’s display of head movement was to show distain for those who would have taken advantage of her. In fact, she appeared to be celebrating her future conquest over them, long before it would happen. So, a little deeper meaning might be, “Don’t celebrate your victory over others until you are actually successful and win.” Or, as Yogi Berra would put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
I see nothing wrong with Aesop’s Milkmaid formulating what in today’s world would be considered a business plan. She thought of her raw materials, how to initiate a manufacturing process, and implement a marketing plan. A good business strategy is paramount to starting a successful business venture. It allows the business owner to anticipate problems and formulate “work-arounds” in advance. Unfortunately, Aesop’s Milkmaid sabotaged herself by being pompous and cavalier.
As I sit and think about the truth contained in this fable, I can’t help drawing an analogy to the city’s 20-year Cemex battle. It seems like we were always celebrating, but we never obtained victory. For example, do you remember the celebration in 2006, when 13 “Thank You Buck for HR5471” banners flew over Santa Clarita’s major arterials, plus one on Valencia Boulevard in front of City Hall? Ms. Ortiz, then the City of Santa Clarita Communications Manager, let the air out of the party when she was quoted as stating, “The banners were intended to broadcast that neither the mine project nor the bill’s outcome are final, and are part of a campaign to thank McKeon, pique interest in the issue and garner support for the bill. About 150,000 sets of postcards voicing support for the measure …. will be sent to all Santa Clarita Valley households and to some in the Antelope Valley. The $5,000 cost for the banners and thousands spent on the postcards comes from the city’s general fund.”
Sometime later, on December 11, 2014, SCVTV published a City of Santa Clarita Press Release telling us, “Santa Clarita received an early Christmas present today from Congress, when Rep. Howard ‘Buck’ McKeon’s HR 5742 unanimously passed on the floor of the House of Representatives as a stand-alone bill.” Then, Councilmember Weste commented, “This is a tremendous victory for our community, protecting us from large-scale mining and is as important to the protection of the Santa Clara River.” Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Kellar stated, “In my 15 years on the City Council, this is by far the best day. Enough cannot be said for the huge effort put forth by so many to bring us to this point.”
Sadly, the bill did not stop the mine or end the story.
Even later, on August 21, 2015, it was reported that the Bureau of Land Management cancelled the CEMEX mining contracts, “based on Cemex’s own inaction.” BLM California State Director Jim Kenna wrote in a statement the next Friday, “The BLM can no longer support the continued and prolonged delays and lack of progress in fulfilling the terms of the contract.” Unfortunately, Santa Clarita’s euphoria was short lived, and on September 30, 2015, ARI reported, “Cemex has appealed last month’s Bureau of Land Management decision to cancel its mining contracts in Soledad Canyon.” Cemex accused the BLM of an “improper decision” and “arbitrary actions,” noting the company has devoted “considerable time” and money working with stakeholders over the past several years for a resolution to the dispute between the mining firm and the community opposed to the mine. City Councilwoman Laurene Weste acknowledged what was happening by saying, “Filing an appeal would be the normal standard response I would expect from a company.”
Just recently, the latest celebration took place during a city press conference, as reported by KHTS, on March 21, 2019. The Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled one of Cemex’s contracts remained valid. Based on their decision, CEMEX retains mining rights through July 2020. Mike Murphy, the Intergovernmental Relations Manager for the City of Santa Clarita said, “The ruling technically leaves Cemex with one of two contracts still valid, but without much time remaining … The practical implications of this ruling are that Cemex is left with a 16-month valid contract for a mine, but they don’t have any of the permits in place.” Mr. Murphy went on to clarify the situation when he stated, “There is no practical way that Cemex can obtain the permits it needs to begin mining … They would have to get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and that takes a minimum of between 18 and 24 months … They would also need permits from the (California) State Water Resources people.” Mr. Murphy emphasized, “I am 100 percent confident that this (ruling) is going to stick.”
“This is a landmark decision, and a landmark day,” Councilmember Weste said. “I’m just glad I lived long enough to see this come to fruition.” Councilmember Kellar “then went on to explain the decision reached by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA), terminates the contracts that Cemex has in Soledad Canyon in July of 2020 … This means that mining will never take place in our community.”
Let’s all keep our fingers crossed Councilmember Kellar and Mr. Mike Murphy are correct. Santa Clarita residents would not benefit from having a large-scale mining operation on our doorstep. But Cemex may have some inside track on permits, or they could take the IBLA’s decision back to court. So, I agree with Councilmember Kellar who went further and said, “We must continue to be vigilant in our efforts over the next 16 months.”
Aesop’s lesson is relevant to this situation, and if he was here, he would advise Mr. Kellar to walk very carefully, as none of us wants to hear Santa Clarita spilled the milk, because as Yogi Berra put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Then, when it is over and our community has won, I will celebrate.
Just by coincidence, last week I was sitting in the KHTS hot seat being interviewed about my views on “supporting our residents in need by volunteering labor and resources to worthy causes around the Santa Clarita Valley.” Specifically, I was asked, “How did I get started contributing in such a manner?” I answered by citing my own very different situations, which led me to become involved.
The first time was about personal involvement. In the mid-1970s, my eldest son was very passionate about playing “Little League Baseball.” After getting to know many of the other parents, we decided to form first a Women’s Fast Pitch Softball Team, and then – not to be outdone – a Men’s Slow Pitch Softball Team. In those days, each of the active parks had a county-funded staff member who oversaw all the activities at their park, which included managing the lights. As you might expect, we got to know each of them very well and were extremely saddened when the young man who staffed North Oaks Park was killed in a motorcycle accident. As it turns out, the county was running short of funding and had placed a hiring freeze on park staff positions. To avoid the community losing use of North Oaks Park after dark, I volunteered to turn the field lights on and off five days a week, and did so for the next four years, until timers were installed. While I did provide a benefit to the community, I look at it now as being a little too self-serving.
Fortunately, my first experience taught me a valuable lesson, and later situations were far more altruistic. For example, while I was working at JPL, a gentleman named Carl made me aware of his involvement supporting Shriners Hospitals for Children. He explained how Shriners Hospital is committed to providing children with world-class care in the areas of Orthopedics, Burn Care, Spinal Cord Injury, Cleft Lip, and Cleft Palate. Plus, they perform those services regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Well, he had my attention. I could see the enormity of value their services provide and the positive impact it creates for each patient they serve. I could not help but ask him; how could I join in and become a Shriner? Well, Carl and some other local members helped me through the process. No, I do not drive one of those little go-carts, but I did join the Motor Patrol and ride my Harley in parades. In addition, every year we visit a Shriner facility around Christmas time and bring toys for our patients. Two years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Alec and his family. You would recognize him in a minute. He is the wheelchair-bound youngster who has appeared in the Shriner TV ad for quite some time. Alec has the support of a wonderful family, and is as charming in person as he is on the screen.
I am sure you can understand why my interest was heightened when I heard about the “16th Annual Elks Riders Rally Across America for Brain Injured Children.” This event resulted from an idea brought forth by New Jersey resident Ray Cola. To start, Ray was looking to get groups of Elk Riders to promote a rally on the second Tuesday in April, with proceeds going to a local family or charity for the purpose of helping brain injured children. While Ray put his first event together for a small number of participants, the rally has grown to be a national event, with members of the Elk Riders participating in virtually every state of the union by sponsoring a rally of their own on the same day of the year. For example, to name just a few, events will be held by Elk Riders in Florida, Bessemer, Medford-Malden, New Jersey, South Amboy, Cranford, Bayonne, Hillsborough, Brick, Pompton Lakes, and Old Bridge. In Florida this year, Lodge 1511 has chosen to help Brenden, who was born with Autism, Bipolar Disorder, intermittent Explosive Disorder, Tourette’s syndrome and a learning disability. His mother, Lynn, and Brenden “have been repeatedly denied necessary assistance and feel as though they’re in and endless battle with insurance. Brenden needs to be cared for in a full-time institution with professional medication regulation, therapy, psychiatric treatment and ABA therapy.”
Here at home for the second consecutive year, Santa Clarita’s Elks Riders Lodge 2379 will be sponsoring a rally and donating the proceeds to a special child in need. On their event flyer, the riders provide an opportunity for you to meet Marissa, a child who “was born to drug addicted parents and adopted by a wonderful woman named Sarah. Marissa experienced a traumatic birth with extensive brain damage and kidney failure as immediate concerns, followed by chronic pulmonary disease, seizures and the inability to eat as a ‘normal’ baby. Marissa spent the majority of her first two years in the hospital requiring many surgeries. Seven months ago, Marissa was hospitalized for a non-emergent issue, but by the time she was discharged three weeks later, she had deteriorated to the point she was put on hospice care and sent home to die. She was semi-comatose for three weeks, and while those who love her sat vigil and waited, she thankfully continued to fight on. One night, without warning, she woke up and went right back to her normal routine as if the last few months had never happened. Today, at six years of age, she is also suffering with renal failure with her estimated kidney function at 4 percent. Some days are better than others, some days are very difficult to get through, but then there are those days when she smiles and laughs, reminding all of us how precious life is. Unfortunately for her adoptive mother Sarah, this is extremely financially demanding, time-consuming, and emotionally draining.”
So, if you believe this is a worthy cause and desire to be a part of the solution, you are invited to join the Elks Riders on April 13 for a day of fun while we raise funds to help care for Marissa. Everyone is welcome to participate in the Poker Run, no matter if you ride in a car, trike or bike. Be ready for a scenic trip around our valley with wildflowers blooming. Sign in at the Elks Lodge, located at #2379, 17766 Sierra Highway Canyon, Country California 91351, starting at 9 a.m., with drivers at $25 and passengers at $15. Arrive early, and if you are one of the first 100 people to arrive, you will be provided a free breakfast burrito. The first participants will be leaving the parking lot at 10 a.m., with the event ending at Route 66, where you will enjoy live music by L.A. Kraze, possibly bid on silent auctions, and buy 50/50 raffle tickets.
It is important to remember that while this will be a day of fun for all, you will be assisting Marissa, a child affected by brain injury, who desperately needs our help.
You can pre-register or donate, by going to: BIC-Ride.com. A special thanks to the Rock Inn, Bravery Brewing, Bergies, Route 66, KHTS and The Gazette for their help making this event a success.
It was 1928 and the economy was booming when Herbert Hoover ran for president by promising, “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” But, in just the next year, the Stock Market crashed, leading the United States into the “Great Depression.”
As the population experienced an unprecedented unemployment rate of 25 percent, bank loans were unavailable, bread lines formed, and despair hit an all-time high. That level of uncertainty opened the door for Franklin D. Roosevelt to run for president, when on July 2, 1932, he accepted his party’s nomination and promised a “New Deal.” After his election, between 1933 and 1939, President Roosevelt’s administration quickly acted to provide his constituents with economic relief, in addition to reforms in industry, agriculture, finance, waterpower, labor and housing. These programs were accomplished by vastly increasing the scope of the federal government’s responsibilities and activities.
While the “New Deal” did not fix it all, along came World War II, which created infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities at a level never before experienced, making the United States the dominant manufacturing center of the world. Yet after the dust settled, we came to understand that anything the government tells us we will be getting for free is just another way of saying, “We will pay for it later.”
Today, almost 90 years later, the economy is booming again, and the Stock Market is hitting “all-time” record highs. All the while, homelessness, drug addiction and health care costs are going through the roof, which certainly seems counterintuitive. But as our elected leaders have not come up with workable solutions for what still ails us, they appear to be suffering from a “depression.” They seem to be thinking, solving a crisis worked in 1928, why shouldn’t it work today? So, they came up with an emergency; the “World is Coming to An End in 12 Years,” if we do not go along with their “Green New Deal.” Now, if I was still young, naive and had never heard of all the times so-called experts, historians, and religious scholars predicted the end of the world, I might get more excited. Google it for yourself, and you will be amazed how many times humanity’s annihilation has been predicted.
So, where are all the scientists predicting our demise in 12 years? It was just several weeks ago when I attended a water board meeting and watched a presentation on the effects of Climate Change using United Nations data. Their model showed the consequences of doing nothing through the end of this century, which is a lot further in the future than 12 years.
Today, there is a very passionate segment of the world’s population genuinely concerned with the consequences of not taking decisive action to reverse the effects of Global Warming. But even the U.N.’s information is not good enough for those whose belief in the “Green New Deal” demands the world immediately eliminate the use of all fossil fuels by converting to 100 percent renewable energy and figuring out how to keep cows from passing gas. Plus, it all must happen within the next 12 years. I even heard one marginally intelligent politician attempt to compare implementing the “Green New Deal” with President Kennedy’s vision of “landing a man on the moon and safely returning him to earth by the end of the decade.” He thinks that if we could go to the moon and we put enough money toward implementing the “Green New Deal,” it will happen.
Why are those expectations unreasonable today? It is easily understood, if you are a technologist. When President Kennedy announced his vision in 1961, the United States already possessed the basic rocket and computational capability (computers) to implement his stated goal. Not that it was easy, or did not require a lot of innovation, but we knew it was possible. But 50 years prior, if President Taft would have come up with an identical proposal in 1910, it would not have happened, no matter how much money he threw at it, because the basic capabilities simply did not exist at that time.
Today, if we were to go “full bore” toward eliminating the use of all fossil fuels, we would run into some insurmountable roadblocks. While it might prove possible to implement ocean-going ships using a combination of sail and solar power, the same cannot be said about the Airline Industry. Eliminating air travel plus air freight would impact every major business in the world. Plus, there are many unknowns, such as how soon could we come up with a method of storing power at night, or when the wind is not blowing? Today, there are companies experimenting with the construction of large lithium-ion battery packs to take homes completely off the grid. But lithium-ion batteries are expensive and represent a substantial fire danger, plus, is there enough lithium to satisfy such a large need?
That brings me to the last challenge of this issue, which is to be very careful not to create even greater ecological problems when implementing solutions for climate change. Remember when we heard about the advantage of replacing Incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL), and the federal government prohibited continued manufacturing and sale of incandescent light bulbs? CFLs use substantially less power, requiring less power to be generated. But the instant their use was suggested, I knew they contained mercury, causing breakage and disposal to become an even bigger problem. Today, CFLs are being replaced by LEDs. A 100-watt equivalent LED produces a brighter amount of light than a CFL, while using approximately a fifth of the power of a 100-Watt incandescent bulb. There is an enormous amount of power to be saved when every home, business, and street light has been converted to LEDs, but someday we will have to dispose of them in an ecologically friendly way.
Since time began, humans have come up with innovative methods and technologies to do more with less, while at the same time improve our way of life. No matter if the problem is global warming, climate change, or how to support an ever-increasing world population; I am confident humanity will find a way to make better use of the earth’s finite natural resources. I also believe those innovations will come forth from the scientists, engineers, and technologists who will implement solutions to satisfy our future needs. Politicians and elected leaders can do their part to enable the necessary research by providing the funding and encouragement required.
Today, per the US Energy Information Administration, the United States consumes 17.6 percent of the world’s energy, of which only 1.6 percent is supplied by Solar and 6.6 percent by wind, making it easy to conclude that the United States cannot solve the problem alone. In addition, we are already starting to see pushback against solar and wind technologies due to the increasing amount of land being consumed by their footprint. In all likelihood, the next generation will look back on 2019 the same way we look back on Y2K, remarking about how silly it was to think the world would end in 2031, and praise how technologies they now find commonplace solved the conundrum we were so nervous about.
They might even choose to quote a past president, whose motto was “It CAN be done,” because of their renewed faith in the future.
When you were a young child, did your parents read Aesop’s Fables to you? One of my favorites is “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” In this story, a hard-working Ant toils diligently to gather and save food for the winter. The Grasshopper, instead of doing the same, basks in the summer sun and enjoys the coolness of autumn without a care in the world. But, when winter came, the Grasshopper “found nothing but snow to eat. He got weaker and weaker until one day he couldn’t move at all. Several ants came by as he was lying in the snow. ‘One of their nests must be close by’ he thought. ‘The ants will give me food.’ But he was too weak to move and the ants didn’t know he was there.” Of course, the moral of this story is, “It is best to prepare for winter because winter always comes, and some winters may be worse than others. There is a time for work and a time for play, and you should save for a rainy day.”
The City of Santa Clarita has their own version of Aesop’s “Ant and the Grasshopper” fable when they remind us, “Decisions made in good times are more important than the decisions made during bad times,” and we should “live below our means.” There is no doubt about it. The principle should not only apply to money, but to other resources we use, as well. For the past several drought years, the one resource in short supply was water. Happily, on March 14, 2019, NBC News reported, “California is officially free of drought after more than seven years, drought monitors said Thursday. The Golden State has experienced some form of drought for 376 consecutive weeks, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, tweeted. It’s the first time the state has been free of drought since Dec. 20, 2011.” So, the question becomes, what good decisions will we make now? How will we save for the next drought period?
From my perspective, the only way to ease the burden during the next drought period is to use resources we already have available, but have not yet taken advantage of. The first of those resources is recycled water, created by our two Wastewater Treatment plants. The Valencia and Saugus plants produce approximately 20 million gallons a day and dump it straight into the river. What a shock when we learned on February 25, 2019 that “the Board of Directors (Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean) for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District of Los Angeles County (SCV Sanitation District) approved a resolution to discontinue environmental studies related to using more recycled water and discharging less water to the Santa Clara River.” Even while a few paragraphs later stated, “The Sanitation District serves the wastewater management of the Santa Clarita Valley.”
Sanitation District management puts the blame on litigation initiated by the “Affordable Clean Water Alliance” as the primary motivator for taking this action, and to protect SCV ratepayers. When the chloride reduction program was first being sold to Santa Clarita’s residents, the only benefit was our ability to use recycled water. As explained in the EIR paragraph titled, “Support for Municipal Reuse of Recycled Water,” “The third project objective (is) to accommodate recycled water reuse opportunities. WRP discharges would not be lower than the minimum flow of 13 (million gallons a day) mgd,” meaning 7 million gallons of water a day would be immediately available, with the number increasing as additional clients are connected. Canceling the recycled water project objective shows we were deceived into supporting this project.
In Clarifications from the City of Santa Clarita pertaining to my column last week, Ms. Lujan stated, “the Sanitation District does not implement recycled water projects.” It would have been more accurate if she would have written, “the Sanitation District does not implement recycled water projects alone.” The way it works is the Sanitation District provides the raw materials of recycled water and then sells it to SCV Water, who sells it to the end user, which could be the City of Santa Clarita or a private entity. Looking at the SCV Sanitation District Chloride Compliance Facilities Plan and Environmental Impact Report published in October of 2013, the third Project Objective is stated as “Provide a wastewater treatment and effluent management program that accommodates recycled water reuse opportunities in the Santa Clarita Valley while protecting beneficial uses of the Santa Clara River.” This was necessary as a result of the Regional Quality Water Board (a group of appointed bureaucrats) fining the City of Santa Clarita $800,000 for pumping water out of the ground in the Shangri-La development and immediately discarding it in the river, because they claim that the water needs to be treated before doing so. To comply with their mandate, water currently being pumped from under Shangri-La, is put in the sewer system, treated in our Wastewater Treatment Plants and then discarded in the river. It is no easier if recycled water is used for irrigation, as permits obtained from this same group are also required.
For years we listened to CLWA management tell us recycled water was too expensive, primarily due to the initial cost of laying the pipes to get recycled water to where it is needed. Yet, more recently, I was highly encouraged by SCV Water management’s plan to implement some first steps in providing this necessary infrastructure. In addition, the city continues to plant “Purple Pipe,” designating it’s use for recycled water when providing landscaping improvements to the roadway medians. The plan is to connect to a source of recycled water when available. Realistically, Purple Pipes in the ground waiting for a source of recycled water provides no value.
SCV Water is not giving up and is exploring what they term “a Next Drop recycling strategy.” Ms. Lujan goes on to point out where some of those drops will come from by stating, “When completed, the new (Vista Canyon Ranch) Water Factory will produce up to 371,000 gallons a day.” Sound like big numbers? Not really. When compared to 20 million Gallons a Day, it represents less than 2 percent of what the Valencia and Saugus plants are currently producing, and less than 1 percent of the Valley’s total water consumption. Plus, the key operative is “When Completed,” translating to “When Available,” which is a term the Grasshopper would have favored.
To sum it up, the two SCV Sanitation District Water Treatment Plants are our valley’s only currently available source of recycled water. While the SCV Water Company is willing to start putting pipes in the ground to transport it to where it is needed, the Sanitation District, led by members of the Santa Clarita City Council, has decided to discontinue efforts to make this water available. While their decision might be in the best interest of the Sanitation District, it is not in the best interest of our valley’s residents.
Will Santa Clarita end up being an ant or a grasshopper? Will we decide to start using recycled water even when times are good, or will we just do nothing in good times and suffer when water availability is scarce? We need to ask those questions at the next city council meeting and find out what the answers might be.
Can you count the number of western movies you have watched where the plot centered on water rights? Typically, where the rights were owned by an honest, hard-working farming family, which were being threatened by an evil cattle baron? Some attribute the quote about whiskey and water to Mark Twain, but no matter if he was the originator or not, those words remind us how important water is to the southwestern part of our country.
For Santa Clarita, it seems there is always either too little or too much water. Take a trip back to the late 1960s, when enough rain fell from the sky for our river (at that time called “the wash”) to be filled all the way to the top and from side to side. The bridge across Soledad Canyon at Camp Plenty was washed away, and the bridge on Sierra Highway just south of Soledad sunk a couple of feet. Another time was brought to light in “This Week in History 1983” in Wednesday’s Signal, when a rainstorm took out a section of Soledad Canyon Road. And, for the last few days, we have read about the problems that water from heaven may create, specifically for the homeowners in American Beauty and the Trestles. Sometimes, too much water is as much a problem as it is a blessing.
Over the years, as weather patterns changed and local rainfall became sparser, we were still in good shape because the State Water Project made up for what nature was not providing. The aqueduct was bringing all the water we needed from the northern part of California. Then, in May of 1996, the hammer fell when the pumping of fresh water south through the Delta was reduced and limited, due to environmentalists noting an increased number of Delta Smelt being trapped in the pumps. As a result of reduced water supply, farmland in the central part of California was greatly impacted. One only had to drive up the I-5 to see many signs reminding us “Crops grow where water flows.”
By now, over 20 years later, you would expect our state government would have found a solution to this problem. While there has been talk of building a “Peripheral Canal” or “Supply Tunnels” under the delta, nothing has happened. The California State Water Project has not added a new reservoir since the 1970s. Aquifers in the central part of our state have been over-pumped to the point where ground levels have reported to be sinking. All the while, thousands of gallons of water north of the delta are being discarded in the ocean because there is no place to store it or move it south to where it is needed. Locally, we have not done much better. During our last drought period, the only solution offered was for residents to “conserve and use less water.” At the same time, our water companies and city officials continued to approve additional development.
All this went on while we have additional water resources which are only marginally being taken advantage of. A few years ago, when the SCV Sanitation District was trying to sell our community on the need to desalinate our wastewater, we were informed the Santa Clarita Valley uses 20 million gallons a day inside our homes and 40 million gallons of water per day for landscaping. Water from inside our homes flows to one of the two Sanitation District Water Reclamation Plants, and treated water is currently discharged into the river, with a small percentage siphoned off to irrigate a Golf Course in Valencia. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that if we were to use our total Water Reclamation Plants output for irrigation, it would reduce our valley’s water consumption by 30 percent. Unfortunately, a portion of the Waste Water Treatment Plant output is required by state regulators to be discharged in the river, in order to maintain protected species habitats. Determining the amount which can be recycled was a most important aspect for the SCV Sanitation District Environmental Impact Report to ascertain. No matter if the amount available is 7, 10, or 13 million gallons a day, it would be a significant impact.
Yet, on February 27, 2019, The Signal reported that the Sanitation District “would not be pursuing recycled-water plans and, specifically, would not be preparing the environmental studies needed to make them happen.” Grace Robinson Hyde, the chief engineer and general manager of the SCV Sanitation District stated litigation which had “delayed compliance with the state-mandated chloride limit by two years and cost ratepayers an additional $5 million … To be very clear, all of the legal and resulting costs incurred to date, as well as those potentially incurred in (the) future, have been and will be borne by the ratepayers.”
Someone needs to remind Ms. Hyde that the Sanitation District creates no funds of their own. Every cost is born by the ratepayers, including the cost of not using recycled water. The District probably could have avoided the legal challenge to the Water Recycling EIR if the Sanitation District had not attempted to use outdated portions of the previous EIR instead of conducting a new study.
Plus, on February 18, 2019, the Orange County Register published an article that included a listing of LA County’s Wealthiest Special Districts. The SCV Sanitation District made the list, as it was reported to have $111.4 million in cash and investments, take in $43.6 million per year and spend $31.4 million per year. These are some of the reasons I find the SCV Sanitation District Board’s decision to discontinue the Water Recycling EIR unbelievable. The only part of the current SCV Sanitation District’s Chloride Reduction project (costing our ratepayers over $90 million) which would benefit those who will be paying the bill, is the ability to use recycled water for irrigation. How could this happen, when the majority of that board also sits on the Santa Clarita City Council? That is the question of the day.
For the last several years, the public has been told about the City of Santa Clarita’s Plan to install “purple pipe,” designating recycled water for all median landscaping. But purple pipe is of no value if it is not connected to recycled water. Since the predominant potential source of recycled water in the Santa Clarita Valley is the output of our Waste Water Treatment Plants, and that water cannot be used, where is the city planning to acquire recycled water to fill all those purple pipes? In addition, SCV Water announced plans to implement the first series of pipelines to transport recycled water to areas like parks and schools. Looks like those pipes will remain empty as well.
In a smart move, two major SCV developments currently in process, (Vista Canyon Ranch and Newhall Ranch) are forming their own Sanitation Districts and planning to use the output of their Treatment Plants for irrigation within their developments.
There is one last bit of sunshine in this discussion, which is storm water. State and local governments spend a great deal of time and your money to keep pollution out of storm water, but very little is done to capture it for our use. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Conservation and Local Resources Committee provided a presentation on the subject of “Storm water Capture and Flows to the Ocean” on January 9, 2018. In it they estimated 7 percent of rainfall, or 457,000 acre-feet per year, goes uncaptured and flows to the ocean within their service area alone. Now water types love to use acre-feet as a measurement. Since 99 percent of the population has no clue what an acre-foot is, it makes the discussion sound so technical. So, let me translate for you. 1 acre-foot = 325,853 gallons, which makes 457,000 acre-feet equal to 147.9 billion gallons. Big numbers. Santa Clarita uses 60 million gallons a day, which is 21.9 billion gallons per year. These numbers show that every year’s worth of storm water which goes uncaptured is enough to provide Santa Clarita with water for 6.8 years.
Therefore, the next time you hear politicians tell you to take shorter showers because there is not enough water, remind them the problem was caused by these same elected officials not being proactive in using recycled water, stormwater capture and local storage. While it is true, all these solutions have a cost to implement and cannot happen immediately, if we stand back and continue to do nothing, water shortages will only get worse.
It seems all this turmoil was foretold by Mark Twain, as he sat in an old western saloon drinking whiskey and thinking about the next fight over water.
If you think your property tax bill is too high now, there was a time in California when property tax increases were out of control.
A story highlighting this issue was written by Joel Fox in 2015 for the California Political Review, which stated, “Let me take you back to 1966 to Newhall, California right here in Los Angeles County, to an item that appeared in the local Newhall Signal newspaper. It came with a picture of an elderly couple standing before their house. It would not be unkind to call it a shack. The house was assessed for taxes at the property’s highest and best use, a standard used by assessors at the time. Since an apartment building had been built close by, this elderly couple’s home was assessed as if an apartment building was built there. The couple’s tax bill, in 1966 dollars, was $1800 a year. Their total income was $1900 a year.” But, “the situation got worse. What happened was property values were increasing dramatically in the 1970s—kind of like now. Property taxes are a function of the tax rate and the value of the property. If the tax rates were not adjusted but the property value increased, taxes zoomed up.”
The problem gave birth to Proposition 13, which was approved on June 6, 1978 by California voters. “It capped the property tax rate, allowed a limited increase for inflation, reassessments on sale of property, and required a supermajority vote in the legislature for state taxes and a vote of the people on local tax increases.” In addition, Proposition 13 went on to limit “ad valorem tax” to 1 percent of the property’s assessed value, returned property tax assessments to their 1976 value, and limited assessed value inflation to a maximum of 2 percent per year.
While Proposition 13 gave homeowners welcomed tax relief, it also created big challenges for local municipalities to gain new revenues to fund services they provide. The answer came on November 5, 1996 when voters approved Proposition 218, “The Right to Vote on Taxes Act.” This bill included “additional requirements for special benefit assessments on real property as well as numerous requirements for property-related fees and charges, such as utility fees imposed by local governments which are no longer allowed to exceed the cost of providing the utility service.”
I am a great proponent of Proposition 218 Special Benefit Districts, as it is a way to finance local services and improvements which the community needs. Why am I so supportive? Because Proposition 218 districts are required to use revenue generated, within the specified district boundaries, for the purposes established when the district is created by a vote of the affected property owners who will be paying the bill. In addition, fees established may not exceed the cost of the service or improvement. Such a structure and restrictions were enacted to prevent funds from being raided for other purposes. Plus, it puts local municipalities in a position of having to sell services similar to a private venture.
But, with any legislation aimed to fix a problem, there comes a dark side. Unfortunately, Proposition 218 allows “Protest Elections” where 50 percent of the eligible property weighted votes, + 1 opposing vote must be cast, in order to prevent an assessment from being levied. Next, ballots are weighted and counted by a property’s assessed value and use. Developers are allowed to vote with the weight of entitled, but not yet build developments, even though they will not be charged until each section of their development is completed. There is also the issue of developers using “Special Benefit Districts” as a substitute for “Mello-Roos Districts,” which have become unpopular and detrimental to selling property. In this case, a Developer will approach a municipality to form a “Special Benefit District” within the boundaries of their development. Since they own the entire property, they will be the only voter, which assures passage.
Currently, we are also reading about municipalities pushing the envelope of what may be included in, and paid for, by “Special Benefit Districts.” So, this is what makes Special Benefit Assessment Districts so important to the well-being of our residents. Very often, additions are small and incremental, not rising to the level to garner public outrage. But, in each case, they result in small additions to your property tax bills and cumulatively they make a substantial difference. California in general, and Santa Clarita more specifically, have become expensive places to live. Younger family breadwinners in increasing numbers have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, while seniors, living on meager pensions or social security are being priced out of their homes. While Special Benefit Districts may not be the major cause of heartache or homelessness in our valley, they do contribute to escalating housing costs and are a process which should be transparent and clearly represented, in order to provide the residents an opportunity to challenge fees and services they do not feel are needed.
Those are the specific reasons I have been following the “Landscape and Streetlight Special Benefit District” issue closely and have been asking so many questions. Last week, city staff provided the answers to my query initiated 10 weeks ago, and published them in the Gazette across from my column. (Staff response is also available on the Gazette website). Although I may not agree with all the information provided, I appreciate having finally received a response. Since they have been provided in writing, there is a reduced possibility of misinterpretation, or confusion, over the city’s position. For now, I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to determine if the answers are timely and acceptable.
But let’s not forget this issue, because around May each year, all Special Benefit Assessment District “Maximum Assessment” amounts and “Actual Assessment” fees, which is what will appear on your Property Tax Bill, will be brought before the city council for approval.
At that time, there will be an opportunity for another careful look.
Being a senior, every now and then I sit back and think about all the good times I have been afforded over my lifetime. I have truly been blessed, being married to my wife Pam for almost 56 years, and having two great sons and five beautiful grandchildren. Both my wife and I have been employed by companies which truly cared about their employees and helped both of us advance in our chosen careers. Now, being comfortable in retirement, I have reached the conclusion that the best age to be is the age you currently are. Every age has advantages and challenges, considering how we and the world change over time. If I were to discuss today’s challenges, which I feel are less than pleasant, I would talk about becoming aware of all my family and friends who pass on and are no longer with us.
Just last week, I received an email telling of Mr. Herb Abrams leaving this world while on a trip to Florida. Herb was approximately 20 years my senior, and we met shortly after the beginning of my employment at Litton Guidance. He was the Vice-President of Product Assurance and I worked for him, off and on, for almost 40 years. He was intelligent, fair, and caring. He was a person I was proud and happy to work for, and I learned a great deal just by my interaction with him.
I vividly remember that whenever a meeting was not going the way he felt was appropriate, he would pause for a moment, remove his glasses, bow his head, and rake his hands through his hair. Then after a moment of silence, he would sit up straight and provide his assessment of the issue. During one of the first times I was present to witness his signature method of showing concern, he rose to remind us, “a person’s perception is their reality.” When I gave him a questioning look, he went on to tell me, “You cannot change a person’s perception with words alone. You must lay out indisputable facts and exhibit a behavior which will allow an individual to discover the truth themselves.” His advice and coaching that day left an indelible impression on my career and life-long attitude in dealing with others. Unfortunately, the last time I saw Herb, he did not recognize me, as his mind was no longer sharp. I tried a little levity by saying, “Herb, it’s me, your favorite employee.” To which he asked, “I was a good boss, wasn’t I?” I responded, “Yes Herb, you were the greatest.”
It was some 20 work years later when Herb’s words helped me gain far better insight into how even unintended behaviors might cause a lasting perceived conflict. By this time, I was a Department Manager and was sitting in for my director who was out of town, when the phone rang. It was Herb’s secretary, who told me Herb was out of town, at a customer’s facility, and wanted to know if I could attend a meeting for him. She went on to tell me the time and place, and that all senior staff members had been invited to attend. But when I asked about the subject, the answer came back, “I do not know.” Well, no problem, I replied, I’ll handle it.
I thought about the meeting and decided to arrive a few minutes early. Hopefully, there would be someone there who could clue me in on the subject matter. All was going according to plan when I arrived at the appointed conference room and started in the door. As I looked in, I could see three people had already arrived. As a long-term employee, I knew each of them, what they did, and the departments where they worked. As none of them were in management, I was concerned the meeting may have been moved. I’ll admit, not knowing the subject, I was embarrassed to ask questions. I thought about pulling my head out of the doorway and going down the hall to ask Herb’s secretary if I was in the right place, when I heard, “Hi Al, glad you could join us.” I sat down next to those already there, engaged in small talk and waited for the room to fill.
I found out was I had been invited to attend a “Cultural Diversity Seminar.” The three employees, who were already there, were the guests of honor. They were going to present their impressions of what it was like to be black and work at our company. The first young lady got up in front of the room and stated, “If I am alone, I will never go to a meeting early.” After a moment of silence for the audience to take in her statement, she went on to say, “If I arrive at a meeting early and I am the only person in the room, other attendees would stick their head in the door, and when they see only me in attendance, would leave and not return until later.” She was convinced that the reason they left was “because she was black,” and nothing anyone subsequently said convinced her otherwise. I remember feeling great admiration for this young lady, who displayed enough inner strength to share her feelings with our senior management team. It was a gamble, as she had no idea how her comments would be taken, or what might happen after the meeting concluded. It was one of those times where nothing risked equals nothing gained.
I personally was taken aback, as I almost did that very same thing. But not because she was black. First, a lack of knowing the subject matter made me hesitant to ask questions. As a Department Manager who spent many parts of a day running from meeting to meeting, it was not unusual to get to the next gathering, observe the meeting was not ready to start, and leave to get some coffee, make a quick phone call, or take a trip to the rest room. I now realized that my behavior might be interpreted by some individuals as a personal affront. If she felt that way because of her race, what about individuals of other heritages? Could some feel disrespected just because of their job function or position within the company hierarchy?
I quickly inwardly vowed to never do that again, but I also did not think that would be enough. In my department, I held weekly staff meetings with all my employees. It was an opportune time to share what I learned and ask everyone to be sensitive to the feelings of others. All I asked was for my guys to say something if they needed to leave for a short time and accomplish anything prior to the start of a meeting. The purpose was simply to ensure any individual remaining did not get the impression they were leaving because of them. I also put the subject in my reminder file to be discussed periodically.
Today, it seems a lot of people are spending a great deal of effort looking for examples of discrimination. I fully realize racial and religious prejudice has not been eliminated and still exists within a part of our population. But wouldn’t it be better for us all if we spent more time and effort looking inward for ways to show our friends and neighbors that we are all on the same team? To that end, I ask you to remember Herb’s words when he said, “a person’s perception is their reality. You cannot change a person’s perception with words alone. You must lay out indisputable facts and exhibit a behavior which will allow an individual to discover the truth themselves.” His advice is as relevant today, as it was when I first heard it, so many years ago.
Responding to Carrie Lujan, City Communications Manager
In last week’s Gazette, Ms. Lujan indicated the purchase of streetlights with conversion to LEDs represented a $30 million savings during the first 30 years. Where did that estimate come from? The published Staff Reports indicated the savings were $22 million and the cost of bond repayment was $26.5 million, both projected over 30 years. Unless she is using “gamblers math,” there are no savings.
She further emphasized residents would be able to ask questions, and extensive community outreach would be accomplished before any further changes to the Streetlight Districts would be presented. How about a commitment from the city to answer the questions that residents ask? For example, I responded to her invitation and called in questions on December 21, then put my questions in writing on January 17, and since reminded her twice. Yet, no answers have been received to date.
Carrie Lujan, Communications Manager, City of Santa Clarita responds:
- The $30 million in estimated operational savings is the current estimate resulting from favorable bond interest rates at the time of bond issuance. The $22 million in savings identified to City Council in May 2017 were net of expenses and based on bond market conditions at that time. When bonds were issued a year later (May 2018), bond interest rates were more favorable, yielding additional forecasted savings.
- Mr. Ferdman had several questions and misunderstandings in regards to this issue. Deputy City Manager Darren Hernández was directed by the City Manager to answer Mr. Ferdman’s questions at the February 12, 2019, City Council meeting. Mr. Hernández spoke with Mr. Ferdman and pointed out the inaccuracies in his statement. Mr. Ferdman had additional questions he wanted answered, but refused to speak further with Mr. Hernández, who is the expert on the issue. To ensure we were extending every professional courtesy, Mr. Hernández even offered to sit down with Mr. Ferdman to review the documents to clear up his confusion. This kind offer was rejected on multiple occasions.
Since Mr. Ferdman is insistent on having a response in writing, please see his questions and answers below:
Please explain the assertion, “Some LMD zones, finance local park maintenance with funds from their LMD assessment and their property tax. This two-tiered funding created an inequity”. How are they paying with both their property tax and assessment?
Property owners within these local LMD zones previously supported the maintenance of City parks through their annual LMD assessments and general property tax contributions.
For example, upon creation of the Northbridge LMD by Los Angeles County, one intent of the zone was to fund maintenance of Northbridge Park. In addition to funding maintenance of their neighborhood park through assessment revenues, parcel owners residing within the Northbridge community also contribute general property taxes used to fund maintenance for parks throughout Santa Clarita.
What is the inequity?
All 13 parks are accessible to all residents of the City. Property owners Citywide fund park maintenance through a portion of their general (1%) property tax. In addition, property owners in certain areas also funded park maintenance through a special assessment for landscape maintenance in conjunction with funding park maintenance through a portion of their general (1%) property tax.
Is the maintenance of these parks specifically disclosed in their LMD Assessment Special Benefit analysis and Engineers Report?
Name the 13 parks referenced by the ballot information and provide their location.
Circle J Park
Copper Hill Park
David March Park
Duane Harte Park
Fair Oaks Park
Golden Valley Park
Valencia Glenn Park
Valencia Meadows Park
West Creek Park
Are these parks all open for public use?
If Staff believes this situation is unfair, why hasn’t staff proposed an appropriate reduction in assessment fees to the council, as it could be accomplished without a property owner vote?
It cannot be accomplished without a property owner vote. The permanent modification of a special assessment rate authorized by the Landscape and Lighting Act of 1972 must be approved through a protest ballot process among all affected property owners.
Previously, when you explained the $4.5 Million transferred out of the Lighting district Assessment figures, documented in the Engineers report, you spoke of the amount necessary to fund the Tanko contract, but failed to mention what happened to the remaining $58,990 which you did not account for?
The amount represents the Streetlight Assessment Fund’s annual required personnel contribution towards retirement health benefits ($4,506) and pension liability payments ($54,484).
Also, why was $464,352 transferred-out of the Ad Valorem Account and then moved to the assessment accounts?
The City Council approved a transfer of $4,444,513 from the Ad Valorem Fund to the Streetlight Assessment Fund as part of the 2018-19 Annual Budget. This transfer was necessary to correct budget appropriation of bond proceeds supporting the City’s streetlight acquisition project.
When will the Engineers report be corrected to show revenue and costs associated with Lighting District 1 and 2 individually?
The engineers report is correct and does not require correction. The City of Santa Clarita has one (1) lighting district funded by a special assessment. Streetlight maintenance services are funded through a blend of assessment revenue and property taxes. The engineers report is related to the levy of special assessments. There are two assessment rates for streetlights: $12.38 (referred to as Zone A for identification purposes) and $81.71 (referred to as Zone B for identification purposes). Property tax revenue is transferred into the streetlight assessment fund to cover the gap between assessment revenue and the cost of streetlight maintenance.
The cost of the Revenue Bonds to purchase and upgrade the streetlights to LEDs has been included in one, or both, of the lighting Benefit District (District 1 and 2). Why does staff feel is appropriate to add payment of the Revenue Bond debt to the District(s) without a property owner vote of acceptance?
The pledge of special revenue, including the existing street lighting revenue, to repay the financing issued to purchase the streetlight system does not require voter approval.
City staff never intended to give property owners a landscape assessment reduction.
Under the rate modification process that was terminated, seven (7) of the twenty one (21) proposed reductions would have reduced the maximum assessment rate below the actual rate assessed for Fiscal Year 18-19. In addition, the rates for five (5) other landscape zones proposed for a reduction of the maximum rate were assessed $0.00 for FY 18-19, two (2) because the costs were shifted to another funding source and three (3) because of surplus reserves are being drawn down. Two (2) zones were slated for increase, one (1) because of the request of a developer to increase the level of maintenance and one (1) because of a cost shift related to a reduction in an overlapping zone.
A scope addition was mysteriously added in the current engineers report without approval by a vote of the ratepayers. This language should be deleted and the purchase of the streetlights should be paid by the General Fund.
The engineers report as prepared by the independent “registered professional engineer certified by the State of California” was drafted by the professional engineer, and was approved by the City Council following a duly noticed public hearing, in full compliance with Proposition 218 and State Law. Proposition 218 does not require a vote of property owners in order to make the modification to the annual engineers report that you referenced. Also, Proposition 218 does not require a vote of property owners in order to issue financing that is repaid by special assessments.
As quite a few Gazette readers are already aware, I’ve spent the better part of two months researching and writing about the recently doomed Landscaping and Lighting District ballot process. In addition, I have been speaking about it at city council meetings because I am of the opinion the council members should answer questions themselves, rather than just having the city manager, or a staff member, do their talking for them. But, I will admit, when I get involved in issues such as this and report back to you, I tend to get a little too detailed. It is just the engineer in me coming out.And so, for a wrap-up, I decided to hit the high points, using plain English. Yet, if you want to see where I got my information, I added footnotes.
So, let’s get started. Prior to Santa Clarita City formation, Streetlight Services were provided by a “Special Benefit District” administered by the county. At that time, all streetlights were funded by Ad Valorem property tax. (A part of the 1 percent of your property’s assessed value). Beginning in 1979, a second district was formed to cover new streetlights added, which was funded by assessments. As of July 1998, all streetlights within the city boundaries were under the jurisdiction of the City of Santa Clarita, which was now responsible to levy assessments required in support of streetlight operations. Streetlight District 1 is funded by assessments, and the original District 2 is funded by property tax, with the amount set by the County Auditor and State Board of Equalization. 
Fast forward to 2007, the city added a section in the Engineer’s Report indicating the proposed assessment rate for District 2 parcels would be $12.38, which is the maximum rate previously approved prior to 1997 by the county, and the city increased the District 1 assessment rate to $52.56. 
Hold on, because in May of 2017, this story really begins when our city council approved the purchase of SCE Streetlights for $9.5 million and conversion of all Santa Clarita Streetlights to LEDs for $5.6 million. All the while, staff did not indicate how they intended we would pay the bill.  But, there was a behind-the-scenes plan in place. In June 2017, staff decided to consolidate all the Landscaping and Lighting Districts in a single Engineers Report. What was called “Special Benefit Districts” became known as “Zones” of a single district, but the concept of charging fees for services within an area of special benefit, or zone, did not change. Not only did the terminology become fuzzy, but a paragraph was mysteriously added, indicating approval of using 30-year revenue bonds for the “acquisition” of the streetlights. Interesting, staff didn’t make their plan known at the time. Of course, those additions allowed the streetlight zones to take on additional activities and debt. As a property owner, I do not remember voting on the change as required by Proposition 218. 
Then, in January 2018, the city council approved a $4.4 million contract with Tanko Lighting to convert all of Santa Clarita’s streetlights to LEDs. They paid for it by borrowing from the streetlight property tax fund provided by the county and committed to repay the amount when permanent financing became available.  In February, the other shoe dropped when the council approved the borrowing of up to $17 million, using revenue bonds, to pay for the streetlight purchase and retrofit cost. But, the real reason for the purchase became clear in the staff report which stated, “The City may lease up to approximately 4,500 poles …. to telecom companies for internet and phone usage. Leasing poles will generate income for the city.” 
Next, in November 2018, our city council approved staff initiating an “Assessment Ballot Process” to modify Landscape Maintenance District and Streetlight Maintenance district assessment amounts. Why? Because staff claimed it is improper for the property owners in Zone 2 (now called Zone A) which includes a portion financed by property tax, since they are not paying the same assessment as Zone B, which has no property tax funding associated. Next, staff indicated a desire to correct a disparity for 13 LMDs, which are paying for parks in their assessments, when the other 22 city-owned parks are financed by the general fund. The vote count and public hearing was planned for January 22, 2018. 
The general public became aware of the election process in late November, when the city mailed out a letter informing affected property owners they would receive a ballot. But the letter never mentioned different versions would be going to certain property owners, dependent on if they were in an LMD, as well as the streetlight zones. Yet, we all got the same deceptive voting instructions indicating that a “Yes” will indicate you support maintaining streetlight services in your neighborhood, and marking the ballot “No” indicates you are opposed. Then came the ballots themselves, with different versions, as well. Some indicated that there would be a proposed decrease in the property owners LMD assessment fee to offset the increase in the Lighting District fee. The information sheets showed that changes to every zone would be the result of a combined vote. Individual property owners’ votes would be weighted by their property’s assessment amount. Decisions made by property owners voting in one zone would directly affect other zones.
Pushback by the residents started almost immediately. Some were confused by the result of a yes or no vote. They asked, does this mean if we vote “No,” our streetlights will go out? Some were put off by the proposed 500 percent increase in the Zone 2 assessment fee. Some wanted to know the justification for the decision being made by a combined vote, rather than an independent vote of their zone. But some started to notice the LMD proposed reduced rate was more than they were currently paying. 
Well, all the pushback caused the city council to cancel the ballot process on January 8. They blamed the confusion on the public not being sufficiently informed. The letter cancelling the ballot stated, “Over the next year, the city will undertake outreach … to determine how to proceed.”
In my estimation, the way forward, would be for the council to start getting more actively involved, and ensure each item which comes before the public is presented in a clear, transparent and honest way. When the public reads a staff report or listens to a staff explanation, there should be no question that what was presented was factual and in plain English. It would be refreshing to hear a Councilmember explain exactly what happened in this case, and what corrective action has been implemented to prevent a similar problem from recurring in the future.
While we have been told this issue is coming back at a future date, I do not believe it. Why? Because, someone at city hall got exactly what they wanted. They inappropriately added authorizations to the Landscaping and Lighting District Engineer’s report to justify a $15-million loan in order to put the city in the business of leasing streetlight poles to Cell Sites and Transmitters – in your neighborhood.
This is not the way to run a railroad. It looks like we might need some new blood blowing the horn.
 City of Santa Clarita Streetlight District No. 1, Engineers Report 2006/7, Page 2-1, Paragraph 2.1, Introduction of SMD No. 1.  Final Engineer’s Report For City of Santa Clarita Streetlight Maintenance District No. 1, Fiscal Year 2007-08, Page 12, Assessment Rates.  City Council meeting May 23, 2017 Agenda Item 15, Staff Report  City Council Meeting June 13, 2017, agenda Item 15, Staff Report. City of Santa Clarita Engineer’s Report, Santa Clarita Landscaping and Lighting District Fiscal year 2017/2018, Page 10, third bullet.  City Council Meeting January 23, 2018, Agenda Item 11, Consent Calendar, Staff Report.  City Council Meeting February 27, 2018, Agenda Item 6.  City Council Meeting November 13, 2018, Consent Item, Agenda Item 8.  Always Advocating Alan, Scams, Shams and Property Tax, 012719.
City of Santa Clarita Responds
by Carrie Lujan, City Communications Manager
Thank you for the opportunity to offer clarifying information. City staff has made numerous good faith attempts to explain this matter to Mr. Ferdman; unfortunately we do not appear to be on the same page.
The City of Santa Clarita is one of no fewer than 22 cities in Southern California that over the past five years has made the decision to purchase their streetlight system from Southern California Edison. The benefit of acquiring our streetlights and converting them to LED technology will generate approximately $30 million in operational savings to the community during the first 30 years of ownership.
The Municipal Revenue Bonds, which funded the purchase of the streetlights, were authorized at the February 27, 2018, City Council meeting, a noticed Public Hearing. The action taken met all public disclosure requirements outlined by California Senate Bill 450, was reviewed by two different law firms and rated by Standards and Poor’s Corporation.
The City purchased the streetlights from Southern California Edison to reduce the current and long-term cost of providing streetlight services for the community.
Per State and Federal law, cities are required to provide access to telecommunications providers in the public rights of way.
Prior to leasing space on any City-owned streetlight pole, the City Council will develop a formal policy for how telecommunication companies can use our poles. This policy will appear on a future City Council agenda, at which time residents will have an opportunity to ask questions or raise issues before the Council takes any action.
Before any future, potential modifications are made to the streetlight maintenance district, the City will conduct extensive community outreach. In addition to engaging residents, staff will work closely with members of the City Council to develop an approach that balances community feedback and the need to create equity among the assessment amount for streetlight services paid by property owners throughout Santa Clarita.
While I am in the third year of writing for the Gazette, I have continued an effort to include columns which only speak to local issues. I have purposely taken that approach, because I have found the public reaction to governmental issues has become so emotional, it is difficult to have an intelligent and worthwhile conversation. Yet, there are some situations I find so important, their impact to our future and everyday life so dramatic, I choose not to be silent. But, in order to provide a realistic narrative, this is the one and only time I will use the words, Republican, Democrat, Trump, and Pelosi, in this column.
So, let’s get started. If you have been following my columns, you are already aware that I was born in Brooklyn, almost a year after Pearl Harbor. My father, like many other patriotic Americans, joined the Army, served in France as a medic, returned home, and passed away shortly after. He, along with many of my other relatives, belonged to the generation who shaped today’s world. They put their lives on the line, fighting to end some of the greatest atrocities the world has ever known. The Holocaust not only put an end to the lives of six million Jews, but also killed large numbers of the mentally challenged, physically disabled, and some who simply shared beliefs counter to the Nazi culture. If that were not horrific enough, medical experiments were performed using the concentration camp population as experimental subjects. Plus, this degree of torture was not performed by the German military alone. Many Chinese captives were subjected to debilitating, life-ending experiments during WW II by the Japanese, in an attempt to obtain chemical and biological weapons.
As a member of the Jewish faith, I fully realize that I am alive today to write this narrative because I was fortunate to have been born in the United States. I am a third generation American because my great grandfather decided to immigrate to our shores, and my parent’s generation had the strength, foresight and fortitude to do their part in ending the chaos around the globe. Today, ninety percent of the United States population was born after 1946 and almost 70-percent after 1965, so it is understandable and unfortunate that the lessons of the 1940s are growing dim.
I hold no ill-will for today’s population of Germany or Japan, as I believe a person should not be held accountable for the sins of their parents. Yet, the situation begs some very important questions. How could the German population have allowed, and participated in, such horrific events? Why did they remain silent? Why didn’t they rise up and put an end to the carnage themselves? I have heard some say that only about 10 percent of the population were members of the Nazi Party, and the remainder of the population did not know what was happening. Well, I do not believe it for a minute. There were way too many civilians and soldiers involved, along with way too many victims, for the word not to have gotten out.
Which brings me to the most frightening question of all: Could similar atrocities happen here, and would the American population put a stop to it? I ask the question, because our American culture does not have a perfect record either. For example, in 1932, a study was initiated to record the progression of syphilis by using a study group of 600 black men. With 399 men having initially contracted the disease, their condition was not treated, nor were they told of their ailment. Instead, their condition was watched, and the disease progression studied. In 1972, when this story was reported in the press, the outrage and lawsuits began, yet it was too late to help those involved, with the last participant dying in 2004.
While I have great admiration for those who enter the medical profession with the goal of helping people, relieving pain, and improving an individual’s quality of life, I also understand there are a small number who have less lofty ideals. I find it unconscionable that medical professionals in Germany or Japan would have performed experiments on captives, as well as those in America who would had been a part of using a minority group as study subjects.
Today, I draw a parallel to those medical professionals who perform “Elective Late Term (Third Trimester) Abortions,” and I cannot remain silent. Doctors have been recorded as describing these procedures, where full term, or almost full term, babies are pulled apart in the womb, or having their skulls crushed with the contents sucked out or being given lethal injections. Now, in New York, these procedures have been legalized, including allowing the child to die, even when born alive during process. Where is the outrage from our population and the medical profession? Are we being silent just like the population of Germany?
Personally, I believe everyone has the right of choice. Unfortunately, individuals on the fringe of both sides of the abortion issue have very conflicting views. Those on one end of the spectrum seem to think you have made a choice when you elect to have sex, while those on the other extreme believe choice ends when the baby is born and the mother elects to keep it. So, whenever there is a call to outlaw “Elective Late Term Abortions,” a cry is heard about the horror of overturning Roe v. Wade. One major celebrity even tweeted, “Buy stock in coat hangers! Here we go, 60 years, back to the back alleys,” spoken by a person who obtained their knowledge from headlines and knows little about the “Roe v. Wade” decision.
To be factual, in 1973, Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court when by a 7 to 2 vote, the justices “struck down an 1857 Texas statute which made abortion illegal except where the life of the mother was in danger.” The court went further to include, “this right (to abortion) must be balanced against the states interests in regulating abortions: protecting a woman’s health and protecting the potentiality of human life … by tying state regulation of abortion to the third trimester of pregnancy.” In 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court rejected the previously used trimester framework, and agreed fetal viability “may occur at 23 or 24 weeks, or sometimes earlier, in light of medical advances.”
Therefore, with Supreme Court decisions which do not legitimize the “Elective Abortion of a Viable Fetus,” it is curious some elected officials are looking to abort life right up to, and after birth. Why are they not being held accountable? Perhaps we should have federal legislation to outlaw “Elective Abortions of a Viable Fetus” as currently defined by the Supreme Court. Because, as we have heard from Medical Professionals, a viable fetus feels pain, and, with the proper medical attention, has a good opportunity to survive outside the mother’s womb. These restrictions would not prevent a woman’s ability to use birth control, choose to abort a pregnancy in early stages, nor prevent doctors from doing what is necessary to protect the life of the mother or child. What it would do, is protect those most vulnerable from being tortured in the name of choice.
Lastly, I wonder where our country will go from here. What choice will the electorate make? Have we become so insensitive to the plight of those who cannot protect themselves, we will sit idly by and not heed their cry? Worst of all, are we on a path to legally euthanize those who are no longer considered productive? While you may think such a thing could never happen here, it was not long ago that I thought the same about the prospect of doctors killing newborn American babies.
It is sad to imagine, another columnist in the future asking how the American population allow, and participate in, such horrific events. Why did they remain silent? Why didn’t they rise up and put an end to the carnage themselves? Will they conclude, with today’s news cycle and electronic methods of communication, that the population had to know what was happening and did nothing to stop it?
What we do today will decide where our Republic will be in the future. Because, we are all “pro-choice,” and someday our children, and their children, will look at the choices we made, and I hope we will have made them as proud of us, as I am of The Greatest Generation who fought evil in World War II!
Well, there I was on a rainy Sunday afternoon, thinking about what to write about this week, when I came across the Gazette’s Letters to the Editor. To start, I would like to thank Patrick Comey for his comments. He is absolutely correct. The street I referenced in my column about a “Drive Around the City” being renamed Railroad Avenue was formally San Fernando Road, not lower Bouquet Canyon. Yet, while Patrick’s perception is that “my dislike of the decision makers was showing,” I feel what was showing is less related to a dislike for the decision makers, and more about my distain for some of the decisions they make – which brings me to the subject of this week’s column.
During the week, I read in both The Signal and the Gazette about the Saugus Union School District initiating a “Dual Language Immersion” instructional program, starting in kindergarten. Now this is a decision I can whole heartedly support. While learning a second language will help the students communicate more effectively with individuals from other parts of the globe, you may be surprised to find that improved personal communication is not the primary reason I support this new program.
So, let me start with a little background. In the last few years, we have been bombarded with so-called experts telling us technology, more specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics, is going to put an end to the working class and hi-paying labor-intensive jobs. But factually, this is nothing new, as technology has been changing the way we work and live ever since the caveman invented the wheel. Jobs which are in high demand today may be replaced by automation or a technological change in the future. What is different today is how quickly technology is advancing compared to 100 years ago, making it difficult to envision where we may be 20 years from now.
I am a senior, and my 46-year work career is in the past. Yet, I spent my entire career in the Hi-Tech world of Aerospace alongside “state of the art” electronic systems. To show part of the contrast with today’s workplace, when I first got my start in 1961, our facility had rooms filled with drafting tables and a very large machine shop with all manual equipment. Plus, every department had several secretaries to answer phones, type and file memos, and a department artist to make presentation charts on large white paper tablets. I’m sure you realize most of those jobs no longer exist, as they have been replaced by technological advances.
Our products and how they were supported changed drastically, as well. The company where I worked designed and built “Inertial Navigation” systems. These are devices, primarily used on aircraft, to determine the aircraft’s current location. The functionality is similar to today’s GPS, but our equipment did not rely on any outside information or emit any radiation. Conceptually, it was very simple. If you know the location of where you are starting from, and if you measure your distance traveled and flight direction, you can compute where you are throughout the flight. Simple in concept, but implementing the device was far from an easy task.
When I was first introduced to Inertial Navigation Systems, implementation was mostly mechanical. The early systems used Spinning Wheel Gyros, and Mechanical (torque to balance) Accelerometers, all mounted on a four-gimbal platform. Computations were accomplished by analog electronics and mechanical Synchros, Servos, Encoders, and Gear Trains. The aircraft’s current location was shown on a mechanical display, similar to a 1980 automotive odometer, in latitude and longitude. Critical components were delicate and assembled by watch makers.
As it turns out, I was fortunate. When digital computers and software started being incorporated in our test equipment designs, I was assigned the task of interfacing with the design engineering team, and a whole new world opened up right in front of my eyes. It wasn’t long before I had completed several computer language courses and was cranking out application software on my own. In those days, I used punch cards to input my work to an IBM Mainframe and received the results on punched paper tape. Talk about ancient technology.
Inertial Systems technologically advanced, as well. Spinning Wheel Gyros were replaced by “Ring Laser Gyros,” mechanical accelerometers replaced by solid state devices; gimbals were eliminated with movement mathematically modeled, and computations being accomplished using software and digital processors. Today, you can buy an inertial measurement unit on a chip.
When I ended my career, almost everything I touched did not exist when I started. My job did not disappear; it evolved and changed over time. It became my responsibility to keep up with the technological advances in order to stay relevant and in demand. As a result, I became proficient in many different computer languages, operating systems, and hardware platforms. There were times I used Assembly and Machine Languages, which vary dependent on the processor being employed; High Order Languages including Basic, Pascal, Ada, C, C ++; And lastly, Scripting and Application Specific Languages. It became evident that the design of a problem’s solution, very often, was dependent on the implementation language chosen. Being fluent and having the ability to think in several computer languages aids a developer to come up with a solution which best meets the customer’s needs. Because language structure, in many cases, molds the implementation.
I hope by now, you see a parallel, of using computer languages, to the study of spoken languages. As constructs differ between spoken languages, being fluent in more than one provides a person with more flexibility in their thought and evaluation process. Having our children learn to speak more than one language will not only help them communicate with others, it will give them the ability to think using more than one logical path. Those mental abilities are precisely what is needed to obtain and grow with jobs of the future.
As the Gazette reported, a RAND study showed, “DLI students outperformed their non-immersion students on state accountability tests,” which seems to affirm my perception that students will benefit in multiple ways, should they become fluent in more than one spoken language.
All of which is why I support, implementing the Dual Language Immersion program. It is a good decision, it will be a good program, and it will help provide today’s students with a bright future in our ever-changing world and work environment.
Trust is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as the “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” We all want to believe that we can trust our civic leaders to be factual and act in our best interest. But, when our trust is violated, it takes a long time to gain our confidence again.
Currently, our city is experiencing such a conundrum relating to the Lighting and Landscaping ballot initiative. This issue was responsible for generating massive backlash against the prospect of raising Lighting District fees five-fold for a large segment of our residents. Fortunately, the Santa Clarita City Council realized the extent of the problem and reacted by cancelling the ballot initiative.
Yet, the assessment increase was not the entire issue. Within last the November 13, 2018 City Council Meeting (Agenda Item 8) staff report was the statement, “The maintenance of 13 (Santa Clarita) parks were funded through a Landscape Maintenance District (LMD) assessment and the remaining 22 parks were funded through the General fund. … This two-tiered funding … created an inequity… To correct this disparity, park related maintenance costs were shifted from local LMD zones to the Area Wide Zone that covers nearly the entire city.”
The city later published a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) webpage to clarify their position, which stated, “This is a combined Landscaping and Lighting District. In many cases we are able to provide an offsetting reduction in the assessment for landscape maintenance to offset the change in the assessment for streetlights.”
But, are those statements true? In order to answer the question accurately, I first have to share the definitions of the terms I will be using. The reason is that the city uses the same term in several different (and in some cases, inaccurate) ways. Therefore, if I am not precise in my language, a city spokesperson will simply use the term in a different fashion and lead the discussion in another direction.
For example, on the city website you can find a page titled “Special Districts.” But the city does not establish or administer Special Districts. “Special Districts” are defined as encompassing “autonomous local governments with governing boards” such as the Sanitation District. The city has instead established “Benefit Assessment Districts,” which may place a “charge upon real property … for a special benefit conferred upon real property,” such as LMDs. Information about our local LMDs is described in the Santa Clarita Landscaping and Lighting Engineers Report. In generating the document, the city has chosen to use terminology from the “Landscaping and Lighting Act of 1972,” which allows the grouping of LMDs, calling them a single district with zones. But, the city labeling the totality of their LMDs as one district does not change the fact that they are individual “Benefit Assessment Districts” which must be managed separately.
In addition, the prospect of an LMD and the General Fund (or ad-valorem tax revenue) paying a portion of a governmental service cost is very common. Engineers Reports are required to determine the percentage of “Special Benefit” to be paid by the Benefit Assessment District, as well as the percentage of “General Benefit” provided to the population at large, which is to be paid by the appropriate governmental agency. To understand the “inequity” described in the November 13 staff report, I posed the question to the city’s communication manager five weeks ago, and have not yet received an answer.
So, I took it upon myself to raise the issue at the last city council meeting. I wanted to know that if staff had indicated some LMDs were being charged more than their share, shouldn’t the council agendize the issue and enact an appropriate reduction? Mr. Striplin, the City Manager, answered my query by indicating the city’s LMDs are in compliance with Proposition 218, once a year LMD assessment changes are presented to the City Council for ratification, and Mr. Hernandez would meet with me to share the way the LMDs are structured.
Now, here come those pesky terms again. When discussing how much your property will be charged, listed on your ballot was the “Current Maximum Assessment Rate,” which can be charged per Equivalent Benefit Unit (EBU), and the “Current Assessment Rate,” which is the maximum your property can be charged based on the property’s Land Use Designation. But the “Applied Rate” that indicates what your property will actually be charged is not listed. To find it, you need to check the Landscaping and Lighting Engineer’s Report. If you do, you should find the “Applied Rate” equal to, or less than, the “Current Maximum Assessment Rate” per EBU. Confusing? It appears to have been designed to be that way.
What Mr. Hernandez shared with me was that only the “Maximum Assessment Rates” were being lowered as a part of the ballot process. He also indicated that many of the current LMDs “Applied Assessments” are less than the maximum rate. When I responded by asking if any residents would have received an actual reduction as a result of the now cancelled ballot process, he replied: “I do not know.”
Well, those answers sent me back to peel another layer off of this onion. Using the Property Owner Assessment Ballot sent to residents of zone T4 in Valencia Meadows, I observed the following:
The T4 “Current Maximum Assessment Rate” is stated as $229.19, and the Current Assessment Rate” for this parcel is also shown as $229.19, because this ballot is for a Single-Family Dwelling, equal to 1 EBU. The proposed new “Maximum Assessment Rate” of $157.70, is stated to represent a decrease of $71.49. Sound like they would be paying less? Well, guess again. The T4 “Applied Rate” on this year’s property tax bill was set on June 26, 2018, in Agenda Item 15. The Current “Applied Rate” for Zone T4 is $144.00. Doing the math, Zone T4 would not actually get a $74.49 reduction to offset any other cost. They were not getting any payment reduction at all. If the council sets their new “Applied Rate” to the ballot proposed “Maximum Rate” this year, they will be getting a $13.70 increase. In fact, of the 13 zones, referenced as having a disparity in the November 13 Staff Report, only three are paying the Maximum Assessment Rate.
So, why were the LMDs listed on the Ballot if no real property tax bill reductions were going to take place? Was it done to ensure more yes votes and influence the election outcome? I do not know how you feel about this situation, but from my perspective, trust in City Hall just took a steep nose dive.
What concerns me even more, is after bringing up this issue at the last city council meeting, our five city council members allowed the City Manager to answer my questions using misdirection, and then sat with a “deer in headlights look” without saying a word. I have to wonder, did the council know about the way this issue was being misrepresented and did nothing about it, or were they blindsided? Plus, even with the ballot being cancelled, there are still open issues with the Lighting Benefit Assessment District.
Yet, through it all, I am still an optimist. Here’s to hoping that the city council, along with senior staff, recognize the importance of maintaining the public trust, understand the necessity to take swift corrective action, make known the mitigations implemented, and most importantly, apologize to the public.
With the gift of water from heaven over (for now), I am wondering how each of you enjoyed a drought-free January. My sprinklers have been off for almost a month, which cut my last water bill in half. All the while, my landscaping is looking better and better.
Since old man sunshine decided to show his shiny face yesterday (Saturday), my wife and I decided to take a drive around Santa Clarita. As we drove down some of Santa Clarita’s main boulevards, we could not help but notice how fresh and clean the air smelled, and how beautiful all the trees were looking. We remarked how we remember the city planting the then scrawny young saplings, and how time has helped them grow into mature, luscious trees.
As we drove down what used to be old Bouquet Canyon Road, my sense of humor kicked in. I chuckled about how our decision makers renamed the street “Railroad Avenue,” and then started planting climbing vines along the side of the road to screen out our view of the trains. Sometimes you just have to wonder, what are they thinking?
Then it was eastbound on Soledad Canyon Road back to Canyon Country, when those unattractive, waywardly placed solar panels above Canyon View Estates came into view.
If you recall, solar panels started to appear on the hillside in June of 2017. Unfortunately, the permitting process for projects within Manufactured Home Parks fall under the jurisdiction of the State of California’s Housing and Community Development (HCD) department. KHTS published an article alerting the public. While HCD indicated they “consider local city and county ordinances that would be applicable … There was no basis for us to say no, deny the permit.”
Plus, there is no appeal process. In addition, the City of Santa Clarita informed the public, “A City inspector was on site recently to verify the project did have the necessary permits filed with HCD”.
But it was not that cut and dry. It turns out, the HCD planning process provides for “Local Approval,” which never happened, and the appropriate section on the Canyon View Estates permit application form was not filled in. In addition, city staff did not even know the boundaries of the Canyon View Estates Mobile Home Park, so how could they have determined all required permits had been obtained?
Plain and simple, HCD and city staff dropped the ball. Then, after community outrage and a year of investigation, KHTS reported on July 16, 2018, the solar panels did not comply with the conditional use permit for the Manufactured Home Park. The permit was originally issued by the county and required 50 percent of the property be maintained as open space. As a remedy, the city sent a “Notice of Violation” citing the property owners for installing solar panels both inside and outside the park boundaries, without having obtained the required permits.
When the Notice of Violation did not produce any results, The Signal (on September 12, 2018) reported on the city filing a lawsuit with the Los Angeles Superior Court, asking for a “preliminary and Permanent injunction” and to “abate a public nuisance.”
In addition to not obtaining required permits, “City officials said other complaints in the lawsuit include the owner’s failure to submit a hillside development plan or a geotechnical report which determines whether the land can support the structure. Operating a power-generation business on the park property, which is not zoned for such activity, is also a violation of the city’s municipal code.”
To add insult to injury, On January 11, The Signal reported “Power first went out for almost half of the 445 residents in Canyon View Estates at shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday (Jan. 9).”
On Thursday, two electric company employees joined the property’s maintenance personnel at a bank of transformers to affect repairs, but only succeeded in causing additional equipment damage. “The transformers (equipment), according to residents, are part of a hybrid system integrating energy transferred from the hillside solar field.” Finally, to temporarily mitigate the power outage, The Signal reported on January 14 that generators would be brought in, but “only to part of the neighborhood on Thursday and then the other part on Friday.”
As a city, we are now over one and a half years into this issue, with no final resolution in sight. To make matters even worse, the Canyon View Estates Management Company even installed additional panels, after the issue of their placement was questioned. Does this indicate the owner has a special in with the city, or is this just pure arrogance?
Then comes the question of public safety. Even though HCD spokesperson Alicia Murillo was quoted as saying, “The inspection revealed the installation was in accordance with the approved plans and there were no violations,” I question why those plans were not immediately available to service personnel, and wonder if the design provided for modern troubleshooting provisions.
Next comes Julia Roether, the Edison Senior Project Manager, who did not know what kind of electrical distribution and billing system Edison has with Canyon View Estates. Are you kidding me? What kind of records does Edison keep?
Finally, there was a property owner, who believes the benefits far outweigh the aesthetics. He is quoted in the Gazette as saying, “the complex will have power during a rolling blackout.” But according to Steve Hochman, an energy broker with Solarhawk, unless Canyon View has a battery backup, (which it does not) the power couldn’t be stored. And in the event of a rolling blackout, the loop between the battery and the homes must not be linked to the power grid, or it will shut down.
Organizations who provide the public with critical resources, like power, need to do better when interfacing with the public. They must start requiring communication specialists to not just shoot from the hip, but take enough time to understand what they are talking about. That is, if they intend to maintain our trust.
All these issues are a part of the problem, and as community members, the burden is on us to ensure problems raised do not slip through the cracks. The city taking a year and a half on an issue of public safety, as well as a property owner leaving residents without power for a week, is far from acceptable. Remember, you can accomplish a great deal by making your voice heard.
Governmental agencies, public utilities and even private endeavors work at the pleasure of their customers. When confidence is lost, customers leave elected officials at the ballot box, and they put private companies out of business by spending their money elsewhere. So, even when we have voted for officials who claim to take care of business, it is up to us to hold them accountable.
Hopefully, it will not be long before I get to take another sunny day drive around the city, and at the end, view a beautifully landscaped hillside having returned to Canyon Country.
Always Advocating Alan
Those of us who have been watching Santa Clarita City Council meetings for a very long time have witnessed meeting rules, ethics, norms, and procedures discussed from time to time. Normally the subject comes up when a council member is displeased with a council decision, blaming the outcome on how the decision was made. In this case, it revolves around the ill-mannered 2019 mayor selection.
This episode was kicked off during the last city council meeting of 2018. Most often, the individual serving as mayor pro tem becomes the next year’s mayor. But this year, it looked as if Councilmember Kellar had a different plan. Now, I am not accusing anyone of violating the Brown Act; yet, at the same time, it did look as if a deal had been struck. Councilmember Kellar made his desire evident by putting forth a motion nominating Cameron Smyth to be mayor, with Laurene Weste seconding the motion.
It seemed that if Cameron would vote for himself, the decision would be history. What they did not count on, however, was Councilmember McLean defending her position in the rotation by nominating herself, and Councilmember Miranda seconding her motion.
Then the fun began. You would think, Councilmembers who have served for multiple terms, would know how the meeting was supposed to be run. But that was not the case, as the city attorney and city manager were peppered with questions as to the order the motions should be voted on. If you have wondered who truly runs the city, this should have given you a clue. It came down to the fact that the city has not adopted any formal “Parliamentary Rules of Order.” Still, it was finally decided the second motion, making Councilmember McLean the Mayor, would be voted on first. On the roll call, Smyth and Kellar voted NO and McLean and Miranda voted YES. That left the decision in the hands of a very uncomfortable Mayor Weste, who after stalling a bit, voted YES.
Well, the outcome left a disgruntled Councilmember Smyth. He felt disrespected and questioned why Weste would second his nomination and then vote for McLean. He requested the Council agendize a discussion to accept a more formalized set of meeting rules. To that end, at the January 8 city council meeting, Agenda Item 13 (a seemingly appropriate number) initiated another chaotic discussion. Staff recommended, “The City Council … consider adopting broader rules of order, as contained within Robert’s Rules of Order or Rosenberg’s Rules of Order” or “consider amending the existing Council Norms and Procedures by adopting rules specific to nominations.”
I made my preference known during public comment, I spoke of the unnecessary complexity using the 704-page “Roberts Rules of Order,” and suggested the more concise 7-page “Rosenberg’s Rules of Order” would be more appropriate for our city meetings. I also noted that Rosenberg’s does not support a “Consent Calendar,” but instead suggests each agenda item be announced, explained, and discussed prior to a vote. While I believe the public would wholeheartedly support such a change, I am not holding my breath. Also, Rosenberg’s rules would have multiple motions voted on in order of the last in getting first vote. Using this approach makes the most sense. It prevents a Councilmember from locking the discussion by jumping in with a first motion, severely limiting the ability of other council members to raise alternate solutions. I also thought it odd when Councilmember Kellar, who favors voting on motions in the order they have been raised, attempted to “Call the Question” during the discussion. He must not realize doing such is making a motion to end discussion, and if his preference was established as the city council meeting norm, voting on such a motion would not be possible.
Then came the discussion relating to the yearly selection of Mayor and Mayor Pro-tem, with Mayor McLean favoring a regular rotation. Unfortunately, all Councilmembers did not concur. While the City Council continues to claim Mayor and Mayor Pro-tem are purely ceremonial positions with no more power than any other council members, it is simply not true. Both positions receive more publicity and have been regularly used as a step-up during council election periods. As recently as the last election, weren’t both positions filled by council members running for re-election? You bet they were.
From my point of view, if council members are elected at-large, they are equals. While Councilmember Kellar indicated that not using an ordered rotation would never prevent a council member with opposing views to serve as the Mayor, he must have forgotten about Boydston serving six years on the council without being selected to the post, and the fact Councilmember Smyth was made the mayor just two years ago.
The council continued on, with little progress, until staff reminded them that this agenda item gave the council an opportunity to provide staff with direction on how to proceed. “The City Council’s direction will be incorporated into a future item for Council consideration.”
So, Councilmember Miranda submitted a motion to adopt Rosenberg’s Rules as written. The motion failed with Kellar, Smyth and Weste voting NO. Next was consideration of Kellar’s motion to adopt Rosenberg’s Rules, modified to “vote on motions in the order raised. The motion passed with Kellar, Smyth, and Weste Voting YES. Notice a pattern developing?
Lastly, there was a council consensus for staff to generate options related to an “Agreed Upon Mayor, and Mayor Pro-tem, Rotation.” Those options were requested to include latitude provided by retaining the yearly mayoral decision to be made by motion and council vote. Staff agreed to return to the council with suggestions at the next meeting or the meeting thereafter.
The city seems to have strayed from the way it all started. Allen Cameron reminded us on Facebook, “Thirty-One years ago, the first City Council … adopted a “mayor selection” process … That process was a simple formula … each Council member was appointed “Mayor” for a year, in the order of the number of votes each received in the election.”
It appears most likely the council will decide to adopt Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, with exceptions being made to allow for a Consent Calendar, while changing the order of voting from “Last Motion Raised” voted first, to “First Motion Raised” voted first. Should that transpire, they will have accomplished nothing. Rules with escape clauses, guidance and modifications to allow “business as usual” will never be followed or accepted long term. They are just put in place to make it sound as if something has been accomplished, when in reality, it allows those at the top to continue doing what they have always done.
Sadly, we will just have to wait for “the other shoe to drop” at a subsequent council meeting.
With 2019 underway, my third yearly cycle of writing weekly columns for the Gazette begins anew. While it does make me feel fortunate to have the ability to share my opinions with you, I value even more providing a public service by including details of issues facing our community.
An example has been the dissemination of information related to the Lighting and Landscaping ballot issue. Over the past three weeks, my columns spoke to the issue, first in general terms, then making the public aware of city council’s actions starting in May of 2017; the second detailed when the street light purchase was first approved, and finally a narrative of how the two streetlight districts were founded and funded, all in order to understand why the assessments are different in Streetlight District 1 and District 2. Many Santa Clarita residents have written letters, sent emails and called city hall objecting to the streetlight assessment increase, as well as the ballot process currently used.
With Mayor Marsha McLean and City Manager Ken Striplin realizing how strong the opposition is, swift action has been taken. Staff included an Agenda Item on the January 8 City Council Meeting Consent Calendar, with a recommendation for the council to cancel the current Landscaping and Streetlight District ballot and public hearing. Even though I am writing this on Sunday afternoon, I am confident the vote will be unanimous to cancel the election.
I wholeheartedly support cancellation of this current assessment ballot initiative. In this Sunday’s Signal, Mayor Pro-Tem Cameron Smyth is quoted as saying, “We need to do a better job of communicating this … If we have to spend additional dollars to send a follow-up mailer … Something that is easy for a non-technical person to understand so they know exactly what they’re voting on, I think that is money well spent.”
While I also agree with Cameron’s comments, I believe the city needs to take a hard look at how Santa Clarita’s Assessment Districts are being managed and make changes as needed.
Within the 2018/19 Landscaping and Lighting District Engineers Report, you will find technical details and financial information relating to two Streetlight Zones (Districts) and Sixty-plus Landscaping Zones (Districts). Throughout the past several years, staff has looked to combine this data in one common Engineers Report, making their effort less cumbersome and eliminating duplication of boilerplate information.
But, having the information in one document DOES NOT MAKE THEM A SINGLE PROPOSITION 218 ASSESSMENT DISTRICT. Each zone (district) has unique special benefits, which only apply to the properties within their zone. To maintain the spirit and letter of Proposition 218, financial management and voting for changes to each Zone (District), must be handled separately.
To show why, consider the fact that it may have sounded like (District 2) Levy A at $12.38 per EDU was not paying their fair share. But District 2 was originally established by the county and is funded by a combination of Ad-Valorem property tax and the Levy A assessment. Currently, the total Levy A revenue will raise $3.3 million per year. Levy B, on the other hand, at $81.71 per EDU, will raise $2.6 million per year. Without changing the assessments, the combined Streetlight Districts will raise $5.9 million this coming year and will pay Operation and Maintenance costs of $4.8 million.
There is plenty of money being raised, and if we have the desire to balance out the assessments, questions relative to what the District 2 Ad-Valorem contribution of $2.8 million can be used for must be clearly understood. Acting hastily and losing the $2.8 million Ad Valorem contribution would simply be a tax increase, with the deficit made up by District 2 (Levy A) residents. As government finances are never simple, we need to consider these changes very carefully and stay informed.
Hopefully the city will provide a “follow-up mailer … something that is easy for a non-technical person to understand so they know exactly what they’re voting on” in the future.
The New Year also kicks off another round of Canyon Country Advisory Committee Meetings, where community members are invited to attend and hear information on local issues. This month presentations will include, the latest news on “Bridge to Home” and efforts to open a Year-Round Homeless Shelter presented by Mike Foley, Reported Contamination Found in Val Verde Drinking Water presented by Gavin Tate, New IRS Tax Return Rules presented by Rick Drew, and Landscaping and Streetlight Issue Details presented by Alan Ferdman.
The Canyon Country Advisory Committee meets on January 16, from 7 to 9 p.m., in the Mint Canyon Moose Banquet Room, 18000 Sierra Highway in Canyon Country. Admission is open to all residents and there is no admission fee. I hope you will choose to join us there.
This is the third installment of my City of Santa Clarita Lighting and Landscaping issue trilogy. Part 1 spoke to the Lighting Assessment District proposed changes and ballot, in general terms, and raised a lot of questions. As a result of that column, Ms. Lujan, the City of Santa Clarita’s Communication Manager responded, with what she titled “Clarifications,” and invited me to give her a call.
I took her up on her offer, but unfortunately, it was the end of the week, and we did not have sufficient time to address our mutual concerns. So, even though I took exception to some of the information she presented, I decided to wait a week before responding. Instead, I wrote a Part 2, which followed the issue over the last year. I studied and used information from past council meetings, Engineers Reports, and postings on the city website. The narrative I provided shows the lighting issue has been piecemealed in front of the city council for over a year. Our council members knew -or should have known – all about it.
Now, a week has passed, with “not one additional word” coming from the city. So, I believe it is appropriate to respond with my “Clarifications to their Clarifications.” Since several of the city’s comments address the same part of the issue, I decided to group them, using quotes from their response.
To start, the city’s comments stated, “The $2.8 Million is a subsidy. Ongoing assessment revenues are not adequate to support all streetlight operational and reserve funding requirements. This creates an annual funding gap of $2.8 million, which the city covers with general property tax revenues.”
While the statement is partially true, I used information from the 2006 Lighting District Engineers Report to understand how we ended up in this situation. What the “Plans and Specifications section” revealed was, prior to the incorporation of the City of Santa Clarita, street-lighting services were provided by a special benefit district administered by the County of Los Angeles named CLMD 1867, which is funded by ad valorem property tax revenue, with a rate set by Proposition 13. On July 24, 1979, County Lighting District LLA-1 was formed. LLA-1 boundaries were wholly within the City of Santa Clarita’s borders and included the boundaries of CLMD 1867 within it, as 1867 relative to the city boundaries was a smaller district.
As of July 1, 1998, all Street Light Districts within the city have been under the jurisdiction of the City “Streetlight Maintenance District No.1 (previously LLA-1) and No.2 (previously CLMD 1867) respectively. It is (and became) the city’s responsibility to prepare and levy the annual assessments necessary to maintain the streetlights within the District.”
“The ad valorem portion is handled thru the County Auditor and the State Board of Equalization and is not acted upon by the City Council.” In addition, any new development would also be required to annex into District No 1, which is not supported by ad valorem tax revenue.
The above information provides an understanding as to why the city’s two Streetlight Levy(s) are different. It has nothing to do with someone not paying their fair share. In one case, District No 1, the Levy pays their entire street lighting cost, while in District No 2, the levy makes up the difference, between the amount ad valorem revenue provides, and the remaining cost. Why? Because it was planned that way and has been managed that way from the start. In both cases, the revenue is obtained as a part of your property tax bill, with the ad valorem amount determined and provided by the County, not the City. As stated in the February 23, 2018 agenda item 11, “ad valorem revenues …. the city has ALWAYS included in its streetlighting budgets.”
As it turns out, the 2018/19 Engineers report shows the entire cost of Street Light Operations and Maintenance at $4.9 million, supported by current revenue of $5.9 million. Even if you add in the bond debt to purchase the street lights and the conversion to LEDs of $268,409 per year, there are enough funds to support the district without any further increase to either assessment levy. The city’s assessment increase justification narrative is flawed. There is no emergency.
In reference to my question about money being transferred out of Fund 359, the city responded by stating, “The $4,444,513 transferred out of the Streetlight Assessment Fund is necessary to correct budget appropriation from the Ad Valorem Fund to the Streetlight Assessment Fund.”
Interesting, but misleading. The amount “transferred out” was $4,503,503, not $4,444,513. While the $4,444,513 expenditure was authorized by the Council on Jan 23, 2018 to pay for the Tanko Lighting Contract, for conversion of Streetlights to LEDs, what happened to the remaining $58,990 which you did not account for? Also, why was $464,352 transferred out of the Ad Valorem Account and then moved into the Assessment Account? This appears to be a shell game, where the public must find the “pea.” Since the information does not provide insight into the extent of the costs or a balance associated directly with either assessment levy, but displays a composite of both, it raises more questions as to the necessity to raise Levy A (Dist. 2) or maintain the level of Levy B (Dist. 1).
The city insists, “Street lighting and landscape services are both components of the City’s Landscaping and Lighting District.” Mr. Tonoian was quoted in the Gazette on December 13, 2018, as stating, “these votes cannot currently be separated … because again, street lighting and landscape maintenance are part of the same district.”
In this case, the city is using semantics to confuse the issue. Lighting and Landscape assessment levy(s) were not even described in a single district Engineers Report until 2017, after the current city plan was conceived. Prior to that, they were in two separate documents. Even then, each assessment levy is unique, and was initiated by showing a “special benefit” to a set of properties. Votes are to be weighted within the boundaries of each assessment levy. It makes no sense from a legal perspective, or otherwise, to claim a property owner who falls within one assessment levy should be able to have their vote counted to influence a different assessment levy. It makes no legal or moral sense; it’s just nonsense. The idea of combining the vote of several separate assessment levy(s), with some getting a decrease and some being charged more, is simply a way to influence the election’s outcome.
The city further asserted, “Anticipated Operational savings will pay down these bonds and allow the city to pass along future savings by reducing the streetlight assessment in equally among all property owners.”
That is just pure spin. With the total cost of bond principal and interest repayment of $26 million, and a projected savings of $22 million over 30 years, there will be no savings to pass on. Then, long before the 30-year payment plan will reach a climax, and you can bet there will be another bond to install new more highly technical cost-saving equipment.
The city talks to LMD Assessment reductions by saying, “The Property owners within some local LMD zones, previously financed local park maintenance with funds from their LMD assessment and their property tax. This two-tiered funding created an inequity.”
I’m sure they mean property owners CURRENTLY finance park maintenance within their LMD, because this initiative has not yet been accepted. The city should provide names and locations of the 13 parks where funding for maintenance is being removed from LMD assessment roles. Then, explain how these residents were funding the parks with both assessment and general ad valorem property tax funds. Are these parks available for use by the general public? Are any of the parks inside a gated community? Because any parks not fully available to the public should not be financed with taxpayer dollars. Then tell us where the proposed maintenance funding is going to come from. Will it be a special fund, or the general fund? Until we know all the answers, we should have no problem rejecting the proposal.
The city went on to say, “No pending development projects have been included in this ballot process.”
But in the Gazette article on December 13, 2018, Ms. Lujan is quoted as saying, “Developers whose projects are not yet developed but are within the affected areas appear to get as many votes as units they’ll build.” So, Ms. Lujan, what does “no pending development projects” really mean? Please say it in plain English. Will developers get to vote based on what they are entitled to build, or what they have built?
In addition, the November 13, 2018, Agenda item 8 Staff Report tells of staff negotiating the assessment rate for Vista Canyon Ranch (LMD Zone 32), where the developer desires to include additional landscape area in their LMD. Since this project has not yet been built, how many votes is this developer getting?
Lastly, the city indicated, “Items placed on the Consent Calendar can be discussed at Council Meetings. A member of the public can speak on a consent item to get clarifications, ask questions or raise issues.”
It is a good thing we can! If it was not for James Farley, Steve Petzold, and myself rising to the podium to challenge this issue, the street light assessment election would have taken place without a word of comment, clarification or adjustment. Items raised during Public Participation, or from the consent calendar, and spoken to by the public rarely get a staff presentation, and just as rarely get their questions answered.
I recommend a NO VOTE on this issue. As taxpayers, we deserve to be told the complete story, have our questions answered, and be treated with both honesty and integrity.
On December 31, KHTS and the Signal reported, “Santa Clarita Officials To Consider Terminating Landscape, Lighting District Fee Assessment Increase,” at the January 8 City Council Meeting. While this is very encouraging news, we are not at the finish line yet. It is important for us to show up at this city council meeting to share our objections and concerns and “seal the deal” by having our city council terminate the current assessment election process.
I look forward to seeing you at 6 p.m. on January 8 at City Hall. In the meantime, rest easy and have a very happy and safe New Year.
I am hoping each of you experienced a very merry Christmas. This year, our local motorcycle community was challenged with overcoming the grief and sadness of having two prominent riding members, Anthony “Tony” Princotta, and on the next day, Cerestine “Tina” Viramontes, taking their last ride to heaven. Dealing with such tragedies brings us to the realization of how blessed we are to have another day to spend with family and friends. We are grateful to live in a community where organizations like Bridge to Home, Family Promise, Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers, and many others are there to help those in need. Plus, we also acknowledge our responsibility to keep our community on a “straight and narrow path,” so as to remain a great place to live.
With the future in mind and with the Lighting District issue “front and center” for a city council decision, it is important we realize this issue goes way beyond the purchase of street lights. This issue is a representation of how the City of Santa Clarita will communicate information regarding projects, in addition to how the city will handle charging for services from this point on.
With that in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to share some background information, and then review the timeline and council actions on the street light issue.
First and foremost, as a general-law city, Santa Clarita does not have the authority to initiate taxes. Instead, assessments are levied against property using a process defined in Proposition 218. Known as the “Right to Vote on Taxes Act,” this piece of legislation permits the City of Santa Clarita to raise revenue for projects and services which provide a “Special Benefit” to properties, provided they are established by a vote of the affected property owners. The most recent, large-scale example of using this methodology was when the city established the “Parkland and Open Space Preservation District.” During the campaign to establish this Assessment District, we were constantly assured by our city council that revenue collected by a 218 Assessment District cannot – and will not – be used for any purpose other than as defined in the proposal, and later reflected in the engineers report.
As concerned community members, we cannot allow Proposition 218 Assessment District revenue to be used for purposes outside of the District’s defined objective. We must not permit the management of separate assessments to be lumped together, so one assessments election can affect another assessment’s resources, projects, services and liabilities. Why? Because if we allow those things to go unchecked, there is no assurance district resources will not be used inappropriately and result in uncontrolled raises in our property tax bill.
In addition, Proposition 218 allows the City of Santa Clarita to include automatic cost escalators in Assessment District definitions. Currently, the city council and city staff favor using the Consumer Price Index to determine each year’s maximum assessment increase. But as concerned community members, we need to push back when a year’s assessment is raised by more than necessary to fund the district’s activities. When the “Parkland and Open Space Preservation District” was established, a “Financial Accountability and Audit Panel” was put in place. It may be time to do the same for the other Proposition 218 Districts, as well.
Last week, the city’s communication manager commented on my column. While I still take exception to several of her comments and the Frequently Asked Questions currently posted on the city website, I believe maintaining a healthy dialog is beneficial to us all. To that end, I took Ms. Lujan up on her offer, and gave her a call. We had a productive and friendly conversation, but since it was the end of the week, we lacked sufficient time to adequately address all our mutual concerns. I therefore decided to hold off my impression of the city’s comments for another week. In the meantime, so you may more fully understand the issue, let’s follow the timeline and the money by using information provided by city council staff reports.
The streetlight issue was placed before the community on May 23, 2017, Agenda Item 15, where staff advocated for the purchase of 16,125 streetlight poles from Southern California Edison at a projected cost of $9.6 million. The Staff Report continued by showing the cost of electricity being reduced by $8.85 per streetlight per month, if the purchase was consummated and the streetlights were converted to LEDs, at a cost of $5.6 Million. The estimated reduction in electricity cost was therefore $1.7 million per year. Adding in the cost of maintenance, the staff’s estimate of the yearly savings was reduced to $749,000 per year, or $22.5 million over 30 years.
All very interesting, except the dissertation ended with the statement, “Approval of the recommended action allows the city to enter into a Purchase and Sale agreement with SCE …. Staff will return …. with recommended financing options.” In plain English, the staff and council approved a purchase without knowing how they were going to pay for it.
“On September 27, 2017, the city (staff) sent out a Request for Proposal (RFP) identified as LMD 17-18-18 soliciting for Street Light transition services,” (LED Implementation), even though a funding source had not been named or approved.
On January 23, 2018, Agenda Item 11, the city council approved a contract with Tanko Lighting, not to exceed $4,444,513. It was to be funded by the Santa Clarita Lighting District fund 354, which is the LACO CLMD 1867 Lighting District supported by ad valorem (property tax) revenue. The staff report also stated, “All funds … will be returned to the Santa Clarita Light District Fund Balance upon issuance of permanent financing by the City Council.”
Then, on February 27, 2018, Agenda Item 6, the city council approved the use of “Revenue Bonds” of up to $17 million to finance the streetlight purchase and conversion to LEDs. “The total payment amount calculated to the final maturity of the bonds is estimated to be $25,630,052.” If you have been following the money, you can see the amount exceeds Mr. Tonoian’s May 23, 2017 savings estimate of $22.5 million, putting us in the hole by $3.1 million. Who gets to pay for these bonds? “The Bonds are secured from the installment payments. Pledged to the payment of the installment payments by the city are (1) assessments levied on Streetlight Zone A and Streetlight Zone B, and (2) the ad valorem revenues from Streetlight Maintenance District No. 2, formally County District CLMD 1867, which the city has ALWAYS included in its streetlighting budgets.” Let that sink in for a minute. You will not be saving, you will be paying more.
So why proceed if there is no savings? I suspect the answer is in the staff report where it says, “At Council’s discretion, the City may lease up to approximately 4,500 poles based on potential demand and location, to telecom Companies for there internet and phone equipment.” In other words, more cell phone towers close to your home, and a revenue-generating scheme for the city.
Finally, on November 13, 2018, agenda item 8, the “other shoe fell” with the council providing the go-ahead to staff to initiate a Proposition 218 election process. The direction included removing the maintenance cost of 13 parks from certain Landscape Maintenance Districts and moving the costs to the General Fund. This action does not require a Proposition 218 Ballot and could even more easily have been accomplished by a council administrative action. In addition, nowhere in the staff report does it recommend, nor did the council direct the election be accomplished for all zones with a single vote. This is clearly being done to manipulate the election outcome.
Starting with the first informational letter, the information provided has been deceptive. It stated within, “Marking the ballot with a ‘Yes’ will indicate you support maintaining streetlight services in your neighborhood and marking the ballot ‘No’ will indicate you are opposed.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This ballot will not determine if the streetlights in your neighborhood will be lit up brightly. It will determine a realignment and escalation of additional costs, not only to streetlight operation, but park and landscape funding, using a very unfair, and possibly illegal, single-vote process.
When confronted with opponents to this action at the last city council meeting, our five council members seemed confused and uninformed. But, with this issue being piecemealed in front of the council for the last year, and our council always telling us how they research and understand every agenda item before them, what conclusion should we draw? Our city council members are supposed to be representing and looking out for us, their constituents, not just trying to milk the community for all they can.
The ballot information requires far more than clarification, or a better sales pitch, as stated by Councilmember Miranda. As informed and concerned community members, there are two things we can do. First, VOTE NO on your assessment ballot and immediately return it to the city. A second, and more far reaching action, is to be at the January 8, 2019 city council meeting and voice your opinions and concerns. The best thing the council can do at this point is cancel the election and start over in a more fair and transparent manner.
Always Advocating Alan – The City of Santa Clarita’s Lighting and Landscape Assessment District Ballot
Vote NO, Vote NO, Vote NO.
There I was, ready to experience a very happy and merry holiday season, when the City of Santa Clarita placed a lump of coal in my mailbox, informing me of a proposed modification of my property’s Street Light Assessment, raising the rate from $12.38 per year to $81.71. The letter also informed me that a ballot was on the way, and sure enough, it did arrive, along with a load of extremely convoluted and confusing information. Why was information about Landscape Maintenance Districts (LMD) included? Little did I know, and the information sent to me did not include, if your property is subject to certain LMD costs as well, you would be voting on reducing your LMD assessment, in addition to accepting the Street Light Assessment increase for the entire Levy A Zone, all by casting a single ballot. This action makes no sense, and the only appropriate metaphor seems to be that the city is replacing their porch light by buying a new lawn mower.
Having prior experience looking into Proposition 218 Assessment Districts, I went straight to the city website to review the Landscaping and Lighting Engineers Report. This document is supposed to define the Assessment District, justify the special benefit to the properties included, and show how the money should be spent. Just because the city elected to show many different “Proposition 218 Assessment Districts” in one document and define them as “Zones,” does not change the way they are required to be managed. Each city-defined zone must be managed separately, and funding for one zone cannot be used for purposes other than was defined when the Zone (District) was created. We have heard our city council tell us many times, do not worry about Proposition 218 Assessment District funds, because they must be used for the purpose you voted for. Now is the time to see if the city council members will be true to the law, and their word.
Looking at the Landscape and Lighting District Engineers Report, page 15 shows how our lighting districts are currently funded. At the start of this Fiscal Year, the combined Streetlight and Traffic Light Districts had a surplus of $16,333,680, and anticipated collecting an additional $5,877,567 this year, all without raising assessment rates. Of that amount, $8,950,000 is being used to purchase Edison street lights. That amount is within $623,000 of the total purchase price as defined in the May 17, 2017 Agenda item 15, which authorized the purchase. In addition, the 2018 Engineers Report shows another $4,503,503 being transferred out of the fund to “who knows where.”
So, there was plenty of funding available to purchase the streetlights outright without going to the residents for more money. But a more important question is, where did the $4.5 million go? How is it appropriate to spend lighting district funds outside the lighting district?
Next comes the issue of the $2,811,046 of lighting district revenue from your General Property Tax, and $5,000 from County Signal Inspection. City staff is claiming this amount is a subsidy, but is it? The amount in question comes from the L.A. County Street Light District. Going on the L.A. County website, there are FAQ’s which deal with this subject. Besides, if Santa Clarita no longer uses those funds, do you think it will reduce your property tax bill? It will not, and your property tax bill will remain calculated at 1 percent of your assessed value, and the money will be used elsewhere. Therefore, paying for lighting out of the Levy A and B Special District instead of the L.A. County Lighting District is essentially another tax increase.
But the most infuriating part is the city attempting to influence the election by sending different ballots to homeowners who will be voting a reduction in their LMD assessment fees and claiming to “offset” the increase being added to the lighting district fee. If you read all the information carefully, you will find out that this is not such a good deal. Agenda Item 8 from November 13, 2018 tells part of the story. As disclosed, city staff decided to fund the LMD reductions by pulling “park maintenance” costs for 13 parks out of these LMDs, and “shift(ing) the cost into the Area Wide Zone that covers nearly the entire city.” Yet, the cost addition to the Area Wide Zone is not defined, and the increase will not be getting an “up down vote” by the residents affected.
There are also other ways, which some residents believe, the election is biased. First, on the Ballot Information Sheet, Section 7 Balloting Process, it states, “Ballots are weighted proportionally by each parcel’s assessment amount. (This means $1 = 1 vote).” Does this indicate the sum of the lighting assessment added, plus the LMD reduced assessment amount, will be used to determine each property owners vote? If your property is not in an LMD being modified, will your vote on the Lighting District Fee increase be overwhelmed by the extra “dollar votes” by property owners who also pay into an LMD?
The city FAQ answered the question, “If someone does not return his or her ballot, is it considered an automatic ‘Yes’ vote?” by stating, “the voting process is based solely on counting ballots that are returned.” But it is important to know both how the ballots will be counted, and how the decision will be made. Will the outcome be recognized based upon the ratio of “Yes vs. No” ballots returned, or will this be decided by counting the number of protest ballots (No Votes) and comparing the quantity against the number of potential votes?
Lastly, in past Assessment District elections, developers are able to cast votes based on the number of units in each entitlement they had been granted, even though the development had not been built. They do that with the understanding they would not have to pay the assessment until construction was complete. Therefore, developers do not have a reason to vote NO. The last time we experienced a similar Assessment Election process was in 2008, when all the LMDs were dissolved and reformed, along with new districts being established to pay for street medians. Those being provided reductions in assessment rates far outnumbered those being encumbered with new assessments. Not surprisingly, the ballot passed. At the time, Councilman Bob Kellar indicated he recognized the inequity, and vowed it would never happen again.
These and many other questions were asked during public participation at last Tuesday’s city council meeting, and the council members responding appeared confused and uninformed. If the council members did not fully understand this process, why was it initiated on the consent calendar and not openly discussed in public? The question is, who is minding the store, and who is deciding city policy? Using the figures in the December 13, 2017 staff report, purchasing the street lights will get the city a better electric rate, and by converting to LEDs, the cost of power per streetlight is reduced from $12.81 per month to $3.96. Based on a transfer of 16,125 streetlights to the city, the savings would amount to $1,712,475 per year in electricity alone.
If the City of Santa Clarita was truly interested in equalizing the streetlight assessment fee across all property owners, there would be a realistic analysis to determine the actual cost per property owner over time, which would initially reduce Levy B and increase Levy A, but neither assessment would be as high as currently proposed. In addition, the city’s FAQ indicates they will “pass along any future savings … amongst all property owners.” How and when it will happen should be disclosed, because the LED conversion alone represents a reduction of $24.81 per property owner per year, almost twice what Levy A is currently paying.
This information represents just the tip of the iceberg, and there will be more to come. In the meantime, the only way for Santa Clarita property owners to get a fair deal, is to stand up, vote NO, and be present at the January 8 city council meeting to voice concern. A NO vote will force the truth to be told, with the possibility of a fair election in the future. Lastly, vote NO to tell the city council to start doing the people’s business in public, instead of using the consent calendar.
I do not feel good about lighting the city’s lump of coal during the holiday season, but the election is on, and time is of the essence. So, after you finish mailing your ballot, sit back, think happy thoughts, and have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
How many of you remember the TV show “Hill Street Blues,” where each episode started with a morning police briefing, culminating with Sergeant Phil Esterhaus telling his troops, “Let’s be careful out there”? It is something to think about, as safety is all of our responsibility. Taking the message seriously comes with the realization that each of us experience risks every day just by being alive, and no matter how careful we may try to be, no person knows when they are going to grab their last breath.
Nothing drove the message home to me more than when I found out that my good biker buddy, Anthony “Tony” Princotta, was involved in a devastating motorcycle accident while on the way to the Elks Lodge, Monday, December 3. He was transported to Henry Mayo Hospital, underwent surgery, and unfortunately took his last breath on Wednesday, December 5. If you did not know Tony, and if he had not started on a ride to heaven at this time, you would have had the opportunity to meet him sometime in the future. Tony was in the prime of his life, a person with an infectious smile, incredible energy, loads of compassion, and a far-reaching vision. Alongside his loving wife Deana, they founded our local Santa Clarita Elks Riders chapter over a year ago. As one of the Elks Riders founding members, I can assure you, this group of bikers is not just interested in motorcycles; they want to help those in need, and have done so by hosting events which provided support to the community.
Plus, his vision did not end there. It was just three days prior to the accident when he shared his future goals with me. He wanted to spend this next year unifying Elks Riders around the country, forming a coalition with the Moose Riders, the Shriners Motor Patrol, the Rotary and other service organizations, in order to make an even larger positive community impact. Such an undertaking represents a huge project, and it seemed like only a person with Tony’s can-do attitude and ever-increasing work ethic could make it happen. I had agreed to support him with introductions and opportunities to get his message out, and was shaken to the core with the news of his passing.
Anthony “Tony” Princotta will be remembered as a man of action. He represented a 1984 Christmas present to his parents, and loved his wife Deana and family dearly. He was a responsible man who served our country as a Marine while being awarded two purple hearts in Afghanistan, the founder and President of Elks Lodge 2379 Elk’s Rider Chapter, and a person dedicated to the service of our community. He also emerged as a hometown hero, when he chose to remain in the hail of bullets to help a wounded woman during the recent Las Vegas mass shooting. Those who knew Tony will always remember him, and if we are lucky, a little of Tony’s spirit may have rubbed off on all who met him.
On Friday, December 7, members of the Santa Clarita and Sunland Tujunga Elks Riders met to honor “Zeus,” as he was known to his fellow riders, to grieve, and discuss how to keep Tony’s “Zeus Spirit of Service” alive in the future. It was an emotional gathering, with tears welling up in the eyes of many members. Remembered were the causes he championed, which included hosting a car and motorcycle charity event to raise money for children who suffer from brain injuries in April, and last month hosting a similar event to gather toys for veteran’s children. Throughout the evening, Elks Lodge members, including a district representative, stopped by to offer their condolences. Yet none said it better than the Lodge’s favorite bartender, Shelly, who with tears in her eyes and a crackle in her voice expressed the feelings universally felt when she said, “It is so sad, Tony was like our son.”
So, for the holiday season, and all year round, no matter if you are riding on two, three, four, or more wheels, let’s pledge to honor Tony’s memory and emulate the “Zeus Spirit” by doing all we can to stay safe on the road. Let’s all slow down, give other drivers the utmost courtesy, be sure to stop and provide a path for emergency vehicles when you see red lights flashing or hear sirens blaring, and stay calm when traffic problems become apparent.
Let’s all remember that Tony is looking down on us from heaven, and he wants nothing more than for us to stay safe by heeding Sergeant Phil Esterhaus’s message of, “Let’s be careful out there.”
Community Opinion Survey: Santa Clarita’s Holiday Present to Itself
Every two years, the City of Santa Clarita contracts with a consulting firm to perform a “Community Opinion Survey.” At first glance, it is a good practice to perform an appraisal of any organization’s operations, in order to foster self-improvement and enhance customer satisfaction. Reading the city’s consultant report, the True North Research Inc. introduction shows it is in full agreement when it stated, “this report provide City Council and Staff with information that can be used to make sound, strategic decisions in a variety of areas including service improvements and enhancements, measuring and tracking internal performance, budgeting, policy planning, and community engagement.”
Yet, the Signal article titled “Recent Santa Clarita Poll Reinforces Past Results,” published Wednesday, November 28, stated: “A recent poll conducted by the City of Santa Clarita showed … the most important community issues perceived by the public have remained the same.”
I don’t know about you, but it made me start to think that if the results indicated community issues are in the same position as prior years, what has the city been doing to fix those old issues? One positive note was identified as a “most notable” change, which indicated “14 percent of those surveyed said they found zero concerns facing the community,” as opposed to 3.8 percent in 2016. Now that is pretty impressive, so I decided to have a look at the survey results myself.
Analyzing survey results is nothing new to me. Throughout my time as an aerospace department manager, I used surveys regularly to gain knowledge about my personal management methods, as well as my organizations performance. I quickly discovered that if the intent is truly process improvement, you do not want a rating, you want information which can be used to help the organization work as smoothly and efficiently as possible. So, my surveys simply asked, “what do you want more of, less of, or the same of, from me?” You have to have a thick skin to ask those questions, because people will tell you. I learned the way to make it work was to provide feedback on each item, and use what I learned to improve when I could and explain when the situation did not allow it. After a few cycles, my credibility with both employees and customers was greatly improved, and areas where the situation prevented the requested change was much more readily accepted.
So, to validate the results of the recent City Opinion Survey, my first step was to find the basis for the result that 14 percent of those responding perceived there were zero concerns facing the community. Looking at the questions themselves and the raw data, what I found was; Question 2 had 13 percent answering “not sure, cannot think of any” after being asked to identify “the most important issue Facing the Santa Clarita community today.” Then, 14 percent answered “Question 4” as “not sure, cannot think of any” after being asked to identify “the one thing to make Santa Clarita a better place to live.” I don’t think I would have extrapolated that 14 percent had zero concerns from those answers, particularly after reading 16 percent of those who responded to “Question 6” when asked to explain why they were satisfied with city services answered they were “not sure,” 13 percent responded to “Question 20” they were “not sure” if they received the seasons magazine, and 15 percent responded to “Question 15” as “not sure” “why they preferred to leave the Santa Clarita community” (relative to work, school, entertainment, shopping, etc.).
Next was a look at the questions, where the community was asked to grade a statement about city services as being, satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, or dissatisfied. Then when charting the responses, the pollster grouped the satisfied and somewhat satisfied together, as well as grouping the somewhat dissatisfied and dissatisfied together, before reaching a conclusion based on the two composite groups.
This is one form of “push polling” used to obtain a predetermined outcome. The questions are skewed to one side of an issue, the goal being to obtain a desired outcome, under the mask of survey research. Pollsters are students of human nature. They know a person who has a limited issue with a product, or service is more likely to say they are somewhat satisfied as opposed somewhat dissatisfied. The majority of us are optimists, and since some of the products or services being asked about have some positive attributes, we tend not to want to appear negative. Using this method of grouping answers almost always benefits the city.
To illustrate this issue, page 11, figure 3 of the survey shows a comparison of our community’s perception of “overall quality of life.” The data from 2016 and 2018 is fairly consistent. The number of those who responded “Excellent” and “Good” did not change much from year to year. In contrast, Page 15, figure 6 of the survey shows a comparison of our communities “Overall Satisfaction.” The data from 2016 and 2018 is also fairly consistent, if you combine satisfied with somewhat satisfied. But, if you look at these components individually, you would see a large shift, with satisfied being reduced by 20.7 percent and somewhat satisfied increasing by 16.4 percent in 2018, compared to 2016. While a person could celebrate the composite number remaining very high, the changes to the individual components display a very large negative trend in community satisfaction. This is an area which clearly needs city council and city staff attention.
If I were given the opportunity to ask the consultant questions, I would question why the decision was made to establish the survey target population using a list of registered voters, leaving out about 17 percent of voting-eligible residents, to explain the rationale for accepting Latino/Hispanic response at approximately 30 percent below the city demographics, and lastly, I would question if they were aware of a reason why the responding Canyon Country residents in 91387 (the more affluent area of Canyon Country) was almost double the response from 91351.
But the most curious area of the survey report was in the description of Figure 46, “providing a plot of the maximum margin of error.” It goes on stating, “The maximum margin of error for a dichotomous percentage result occurs when the answers are an even split.” So, how is this applicable to this survey? Talk about, “if you cannot dazzle them with brilliance.”
Now, I’m betting most of you are not statistical experts and have no idea what a “dichotomous percentage” is. Well, dichotomous variables are variables “with two categories or levels.” The most common example is a coin flip resulting in heads or tails. Most all of us would say there is a 50-50 chance of either occurrence, while most of us also understand it takes a fairly large number of flips to validate the hypothesis. There is mathematical formula established used to determine the confidence level 50-50 will occur per the number of flips. But this survey did not use questions which resulted in two state answers; therefore, calculating the margin of error for this instance is a much more complex task, and the report is silent on how it was accomplished.
By now you are probably wondering why I titled this column, “Santa Clarita’s Holiday Present to Itself.” I did it because within the report is data which, if carefully evaluated, could provide incentive for our city council and city staff to make changes which would greatly benefit the community. In fact, at the last Santa Clarita City Council meeting, Mayor Weste made a point of indicating that City Management has heard the community’s voice loud and clear, knowing traffic congestion is our number one problem which needs to be fixed, as it topped the list as the most important issue facing Santa Clarita. Plus, we have just seen the tip of the iceberg. Our city needs to focus on all the areas where “somewhat satisfied” is large, or growing, with time. While I understand city management loves to celebrate, they need to also roll up their sleeves and find ways to continuously improve every product and service they provide. Keeping the community informed of what is in progress, in addition to making those identified improvements a reality will turn Santa Clarita’s holiday present into our community’s holiday present, as well.