About Alan Ferdman
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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.
Always Advocating Alan – The Holiday Season is Here. Will There be a Present in your Stocking This Year?
I envision each of you enjoyed as wonderful and memorable of a Thanksgiving Day holiday as my wife Pam and I experienced again this year. For the Ferdman clan, it was an opportunity, just like many Thanksgiving’s past, for four generations to be gathered around a table, not only to partake of a meal, but to enjoy each other’s company while sharing stories and listening to what was going on in each of our family members’ lives.
For my clan, Thanksgiving also signals the start of America’s holiday season, and just like you, I have some holiday rituals which I enjoy each year. Now, this may seem odd to some, coming from a Jewish transplant from Brooklyn, but each year I cannot wait to watch the original version of three special movies: “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” When I was young, these three films were shown on television continually throughout the month of December. I noticed sometime later, as an adult, television stations discontinued to air these movies, and in some cases, they scheduled the showing of remakes, which I felt did not tell the story as well as the originals. The programming changes became even more troublesome, when I asked my grandchildren if they had seen these three great films and they responded by saying they had never heard of them. That caused me to jump on the internet and purchase a DVD of each one, so as to never miss seeing them each year again.
I believe these special films tell stories with an important underlying message. The morals conveyed are more than just a purely Christian message. Each story contains a life lesson for all humanity. First you have to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In this film, George Bailey comes to realize the positive influence his life has had on people around him. This is a life lesson that resonates more strongly the older a person becomes. I challenge everyone to take a little time, sit back, close your eyes, and reflect on when your life has had a positive influence on the wellbeing of others. You may surprise yourself.
Next to watch is “A Christmas Carol.” Framed around the Christmas holiday, Ebenezer Scrooge is forced to look at his life. He is reminded of how he acted cruelly to those who were kind to him and those who loved him. He then confronts his own mortality, and the picture looks pretty grim. Scrooge awakens, having experienced an epiphany and changes his behavior. It is intended to show each of us that it is never too late to realize when we are going down the wrong path, to feel remorse, and change our ways for the better. While I am sure none of our readers have exhibited improper behavior to the level of old Ebenezer, you might think about an area in your life where you may have treated someone in a way you would not have wanted to be treated, even if it was ever-so slightly. Like Ebenezer, you cannot change where we have been, but we can make an effort to change directions and prevent such an occurrence from happening again.
Lastly, I watch “Miracle on 34th Street.” This story revolves around a kindly old man named “Chris Cringle” who claims to be Santa Claus. When arrested for mental issues, the story’s hero, attorney Fred Gailey, takes on the challenge of proving that Chris is the one and only Santa Claus in court. For an adult, the story points out problems created by the commercialization of the Christmas season, sometimes overshadowing the meaning of the holiday itself. But it takes the innocence of a child, Susan Walker, to show us the importance of understanding that, “faith is believing when common sense tells you not to,” and when using faith in something, or someone, is appropriate.
Now, Pam and I love giving our grandchildren presents every year, and I would never suggest we were going to discontinue the practice. What I would ask you to do is to keep the holiday sprit alive. No matter if you will be celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Prophet Muhammad’s birth, Buddha’s vow to reach spiritual enlightenment, or any other celebration (which I apologize for not identifying), just remember why you are celebrating. Then keep a spring in your step, a smile on your face, kind words on your lips, and pledge to stay that way all year long.
Which brought me to thinking about some good things happening in Santa Clarita. We have become a diverse community, openly embracing residents of all religions and national origins. So, when I read Saturday’s Signal, it made me proud to learn about some very different holiday celebrations taking place this year.
For example, on December 1, the Swadeshi Cultural Group will host its annual Indian cultural show at the Newhall Family Theater. The event will commence at 5:30 p.m. Information about tickets and the event itself can be seen at www.swadeshiusa.org or by calling (661) 904-4069.
On December 2, residents are invited to the Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah’s first day, at the Westfield Valencia Town Center at 5 p.m., hosted by the SCV Jewish congregations of Beth Ami, Beth Shalom, and Chabad of the SCV.
From now through December 22, The Canyon Theater Guild will be performing their rendition of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” (Check their website for more information). Also, from now through December 24, Santa will be available on Level 1 of Westfield Valencia Town Center by H&M. (See their website for hours).
But I cannot “sign off” without completing a follow-up from last week, and providing a potential Christmas present. As I am sure you recall, last week I wrote about my inability to get a local DMV appointment to renew my drivers license prior to my current license expiring. That caused me to take a 150-mile road trip to the Santa Maria office in order to beat the deadline. Well, it turns out I was not alone. Mr. Ronald Viersen penned a letter to the editor, which appeared in The Signal, lamenting about the same problem. Only his situation is even worse. His license already expired in October, and he could not get a local DMV renewal appointment until December 10. Mr. Viersen indicated he started driving in 1957, meaning he had probably been caught by the DMV requirement that requires drivers over 70 to take a written test when renewing their license.
So here is my question. Since the California DMV offices are overwhelmed, and drivers tests are now given and graded by computer, why not authorize appropriate outside organizations, such as the Auto Club, to conduct and monitor the process? I also do not understand the logic that if a person does not have a real ID by October 2020, they will need to show a valid passport to fly commercial. If that is true, why is a valid passport not good enough to get a “Real-ID”? Lastly, since passports have a unique identification number, and passport renewals can be obtained through the mail, why does the California DMV require you personally show them the same information as you needed to get a passport to obtain a California “Real-ID”? I would not even mind if an additional fee was charged to renew at the Auto Club or by mail. That would have been a lot better than driving 150 miles to do the same thing.
As of the November election, Christy Smith became our new State of California Assembly Representative. OK, I know she will not be officially in that role until next year, which is a little late for a 2018 Christmas present, but I think I will give her a call and see if she will look into helping fix this problem when her term starts early next year.
So here I am on Sunday, writing out a column for the Gazette on my birthday. There was a time when being 76 years old seemed a very long way off. Currently, I feel fortunate to just be healthy, almost wealthy, and somewhat wise. Today, I received birthday cards from my wife, birthday greetings on Facebook, my sons and their families (plus some friends) phone-singing their homespun renditions of “Happy Birthday,” and I had lunch with my mother and brother – and the day is not over yet.
But the oddest birthday greeting I received was three months ago from the DMV, reminding me my drivers license would expire on my birthday this year. You would think if they really wanted to wish me a happy birthday, they would have extended my license expiration date by a few months, but no, it came with a group of instructions to be followed, which did not seem like a happy greeting at all.
First, they decided that to renew my license, I was to come to their office, take a written test, get a new picture, and provide a new thumb print. Did they really think my thumb print had changed since the last time I visited their office? Next, if I wanted a “Real ID,” I needed to bring my birth certificate or a passport, a W-2 or 1099 with my full social security number on it, and a utility bill showing my name and address. First, why did they think I would even consider getting a fake ID? Yet, think about their logic. If I did not get a “Real ID,” I would not be able to use my driver’s license to fly commercially after 2020, and I would have to use a valid passport instead. Then why didn’t they just accept my current passport with my picture, certified by the feds, as proof I am me? Just another example of bureaucrats in action.
OK, I’ll admit, I procrastinated a little. Yet, with two months to go before my birthday, I got online to make an appointment in order to fulfill the DMV’s requests. But, to my surprise, the earliest appointment available at the Newhall office was almost one month after my birthday. No big deal, I thought, I’ll just check the offices in surrounding cities. When those offices did not show an appointment prior to my license expiring, I started checking DMV offices up the coast, until I finally queried Santa Maria, and was able to book an appointment on Monday, November 5, at 2:20 p.m., almost 150 miles away. The next instruction on my DMV birthday card, was for me to fill out a “Drivers License Renewal Application” online. Going to the DMV website, I soon became aware that in order to fill out the application form, I first had to establish a DMV user ID, password, provide answers to six security questions, and if the site did not like any of my inputs, the answer came back “ERROR” and required me to start all over.
Finally, after getting through the sign-in maze, I got to the renewal application, and when I clicked on it, up popped a message telling me I could not submit the application online and I should mail it instead. Of course, a link to the application form or the correct mailing address was not provided. At that point, I gave up and decided to just show up for my appointment. I’ll have to explain what happened when I got there. What could go wrong?
So, on November 5, at 8 a.m., Pam and I boarded our trusty Ford Escape for the trip out the 126, up the coast to Santa Barbra, over San Marcos Pass, north on Highway 1, to Santa Maria. We arrived early enough to stop for brunch, visit the Monolith Butterfly Park and finally arrived at the DMV office a little before 2 p.m. The parking lot was full, but as luck would have it, someone was leaving just as we arrived. I thought I was in trouble when I saw a large number of people sitting around outside, and when I entered the building, the waiting areas were full and the lines were long. Except for one line, this was titled, “appointments.”
I walked up and explained I was early for my 2:20 appointment. The DMV representative asked me if I had filled out an application online, and when I explained that the website would not let me, she said “it happens all the time,” and gave me a form to take to window 9. At that point, another DMV representative took my form and told me she would call me when a computer became available for me to put in my application. I only had to wait about 15 minutes when I was seated at a computer and filled out the application form, which provided me with a numerical code to give to the DMV representative. After that, things started to move quickly, and I was returned to the computer to take the automotive and motorcycle drivers test, which I passed.
Next it was on to another window where I turned in my “Real ID” information, gave a thumb print, and took the eye test. Since I had cataract surgery, which corrected my distance vision, and my previous license had a restriction requiring me to wear corrective lenses, I thought it would be a good idea to take the eye test without glasses and have the restriction removed. Making such an unusual decision caused at least three different DMV representatives to ask why I was wearing glasses if I did not need to. To which I replied, “I still need reading glasses, and using transition lenses eliminates the need for separate sun glasses.”
Then it was on to the next window for a picture, and yet another window to receive my temporary paper drivers license. I completed the process and was on my way a little before 3 p.m. While the process seemed cumbersome, the DMV staff members were all courteous, friendly and competent. Pam and I decided to spend the night in Pismo and made a little vacation out of it all.
Why I am telling this story, is to provide our readers a reminder about how governmental organizations seem to work. For example, local DMV offices are not provided the capacity to handle their required workload, and instead their customers must take the initiative to find a way around the problem. DMV staff members are not the issue. They were performing their assigned tasks as fast as they could. DMV offices not being able to process their area’s paperwork is a legislative and management responsibility, and in situations where we are forced to deal directly with the DMV, there is no compelling reason for them to improve. Which is precisely why I oppose a government takeover of health care. While not being able to book a local appointment in time to satisfy my need and having to drive to Santa Maria to renew my driver’s license was not a monumental inconvenience, a similar situation in obtaining medical services and appointments would not only be unacceptable, but possibly life-threatening.
The truth is that some activities are best handled by the government, while others best serve the public by operating in the private sector. Health care is one of those services best administered by practicing medical professionals, allowing decisions to be made which are in the best interest of their patients. It is something I learned when I was very young and will share my experience with you some time in the future, because without the aid of those medical professionals so long ago, I would not be celebrating my birthday today.
This Sunday opened a new chapter in my understanding of just how much our neighbors value and appreciate the brave men and women who have served in defense of our great nation. While it may have been the 15th anniversary of the San Fernando Valley Veterans Day Parade, it was the first time I lined up on Laurel Canyon with two Santa Clarita Elks Riders, who are Veterans, for a mid-day ride down the boulevard, among the almost 100 participating groups.
The parade began at the corner of Laurel Canyon Blvd and San Fernando Mission Blvd, then proceeded down Laurel Canyon 1.1 miles to the Ritchie Valens Recreation Center and Park, on the corner of Laurel Canyon Blvd and Paxton St, where a carnival was happening at the recreation center. Not only was the street lined with smiling faces waving patriotic materials, but when each group stopped at an announcer’s station, the names of each group’s veterans, along with their branch of service, were announced to the public. Even as the parade drew to a close with our group lined up as number 88, the crowd remained attentive and enthusiastic in their display of appreciation. You might think of adding the San Fernando Valley Veterans Parade to your list of options on how to celebrate Veterans Day next year.
So, you might consider my dilemma. With this last Sunday being Veterans Day and the city council election being over with the results in print, I thought I knew what to write about this week, but the subject matter changed when the news reported on a shooting in Thousand Oaks. Plus, it made it even more disconcerting to find out the perpetrator was a veteran.
It turned out, Ian David Long, a 28-year-old, was a marine combat veteran who served as a machine gunner, reaching the rank of corporal. He served a seven-month tour in Afghanistan during his nearly five years of service. On that fateful evening, Long walked up to the Borderline Bar and Grill, shot the security guard standing outside, then walked inside and opened fire, killing 11 patrons plus Sheriff Sargent Ron Helus who was answering the 911 call, and injured an additional 18 other people. Finally, (Long) was found dead of a gunshot wound in a back room at the bar. “The amount of blood inside the bar made it difficult to tell whether he shot himself or was killed by law enforcement,” said Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean. A report, released after his autopsy, indicated Long died of a self-inflicted gunshot.
Long was armed with a legally obtained .45 caliber Glock 21 semi-automatic hand gun, outfitted with an extended magazine, which held a greater amount of ammunition than is legal in California. In addition, US News reported, “Six off-duty, unarmed police officers, from various agencies, were at the bar when the shooting began, according to Sheriff Dean,” and that “Officials from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office in processing evidence at the scene and at the shooter’s home.”
Long lived five miles from Borderline, and local law enforcement was aware of his erratic behavior. Ventura County Sheriff Dean indicated police have had “several contacts” with Long in recent years. “Deputies were called to Long’s home in April for a complaint of disturbing the peace, which said he was irate and was acting irrationally,” (LA Times Article November 8). USA Today also reported, “Long … was interviewed by police at his home last spring after an episode of agitated behavior that authorities were told might be post-traumatic stress disorder,” yet mental health workers decided he did not meet the standard for an emergency psychiatric hold.
Fortune reported that Dominique Colell was a high school track coach, who recognized Long’s name as her one-time attacker. The event allegedly took place during a track practice 10 years ago when Colell was trying to determine the owner of a found cell phone. “Ian (Long) came up and started screaming at me that was his phone,” Colell told CBS. “He just started grabbing me. He groped my stomach. He groped my butt. I pushed him off me and said after that — ‘you’re off the team.’” Colell also said she later reported the alleged incident to another coach and to a school administrator, who told her that she was “just too young and good looking to be taken seriously.” Colell said she was pressured to accept Long’s apology and let him back on the team so as to not jeopardize Long’s future in the Marines.
Colell further noted that while some contend Long’s act of violence could be a result of PTSD after serving in Afghanistan, she believes that he had anger issues and emotional problems long prior.
The Washington Post reported Todd Stratton telling of an incident which occurred during a 2011 New Year’s Eve party when Long was so drunk and angry that he broke a fellow marine’s nose. The other Marine was trying to calm Long down when Long took a swing at him. “He was just pissed off and drunk and was trying to get in a fight,” said Stratton. “No one knew why he was getting so upset.”
Next, I am sure we will hear some send “thoughts and prayers,” while anti-gun activists will start a call for more gun control, others may even question why the off-duty law enforcement officers present were unarmed, and for a time the news will report on the investigation into Long’s motives. The problem is, the public has heard these things so many times, that our feelings are being numbed to such tragedies which are taking place all too frequently. I sense the public’s frustration as awareness sets in, realizing none of these solutions or activities will end the carnage.
I am personally getting resentful of hearing that the perpetrator had issues going back to high school, and school staff either did nothing or swept the issue under the rug. What about the effectiveness of our country’s law enforcement policies? They appear to allow individuals to just grow a “rap sheet, ”and stay out on the street, avoiding punishment, rehabilitation or treatment. So much for, “If you see something, say something,” because if no one is listening, or willing to take any action, what value does it provide?
Plus, there is the issue of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). We seem to hear about it all the time. Yet, when I was having a conversation about the Borderline incident with my son, it really got me thinking when he asked me, “Why do you think, we did not hear about tragedies like Borderline occurring after our Viet Nam soldiers returned home? Didn’t some of them suffer from PTSD also?” Now, there is something to ponder. Could it be the role of today’s U.S. military in war-torn countries overseas, along with the current rules of engagement, are aggravating the situation? Perhaps those of you with an opinion on the PTSD issue could pen a letter to the Gazette editor and get a dialog going.
Yet, with all the problems we face, it is hard for me to express the sadness I feel because of the Borderline incident. The loss of a loved one, particularly a child, by the hand of a deranged individual, must cause more grief and difficulty accepting than I could possibly imagine. But, we should all remember, David Long did not do what he did because he was a veteran. Long’s problems appear to go back long before his military service, when those in charge failed to act. If we truly want to prevent another tragedy, we will need to pressure our elected and appointed officials to act when they become aware, or are made aware, of those who exhibit behaviors which are dangerous to others.
In the meantime, I will continue to heartfully thank our veterans for their service, pray for the wellbeing of the Borderline victims and their families, and look for a realistic solution which will put an end to the carnage.
Writing “Always Advocating Alan” at this time in November seemed a little awkward. Halloween is over, and by the time you read this article, the 2018 midterm and City Council elections will also be history. So, even though my crystal ball was not clear enough to tell me who the winners would be, I decided to write a little bit about both.
Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. Why? because it provides a chance for our children, and young adults, to show their creativity by coming up with costumes and getting out in the world to interact with those they have never met, by asking for a “treat.” Pretty scary stuff when you are very young.
As a pre-teen living on Ocean Parkway in New York, I do not recall anything about Halloween. I became aware of the holiday after I moved to Studio City in California and was excited about the prospect of being visited by costume-clad kids. But alas, living on a hilly street, no one ever came to the door. Later in the evening, some of my friends and I would go down to the “flat land” in North Hollywood and try our luck. We even visited Bob Hope’s house in Toluca Lake a couple of years, where his butler would stand out front and hand out 50 cent pieces. That was a big deal in the 50s.
Halloween blossomed for Pam and I after we moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1965. In those days, parents would load up children in cars and vans and take them all over the valley. I was overwhelmed the first year and settled into a ritual of buying boxes of 100 candy items, so I could keep track of how many children visited. At the height of it, 350 children trick-or-treated at my house. Unfortunately, soon after came the scares about candy laced with needles and other things, and the number of trick-or-treating children fell off dramatically. In recent years, there have been few houses on my street lit up on Halloween night. Trick-or-treaters normally number about 50 neighborhood children, carefully watched by parents or family members.
But it always brings a smile to my face and warms my heart when one of the children walks up to my display and I hear “trick or treat,” particularly the little ones who do it so timidly. Plus, I even get to think about Halloweens gone by, when a parent reminds me that they trick-or-treated at my house when they were young.
As far as the city council election outcome, I don’t know who will win, but I can only hope whomever is elected will come to realize that it is just as important to openly discuss the challenges Santa Clarita currently faces as it is to advertise any success the city may have achieved. Plus, it never builds confidence when the city takes credit for someone else’s ideas or achievements.
Doing the peoples’ business in public, keeping the public informed and providing a forum to ask questions of our city’s elected officials and city staff is what city council meetings should be all about. On the demeanor of the council and staff at council meetings, Diane Trautman described it eloquently in an October 26 Gazette article. She said if a person comes before the council and is either critical or offers an opposing viewpoint, “It is not treated as a matter of disagreement. It’s treated as an insult to the councilmembers. So, there’s not a welcoming of different ideas. It seems everyone has to agree.” I’ll take it one step further by including, “many questions raised by residents at city council meetings are never answered.”
Providing a forum to bring up important issues in more than three-minute visits to the city council podium is the main reason I enjoy writing “Always Advocating Alan” for the Gazette. I do not object when my text is forwarded to the city prior to publication, because many times the city chooses to respond. Plus, once in writing, staff comments can no longer be challenged as a fabrication.
Which brings me to Ms. Lujan’s response to my column last week. It starts off, “In response to Alan Ferdman’s editorial.” Webster’s dictionary defines an editorial as “a newspaper or magazine article that gives the opinions of the editors or publishers.” I do not write editorials, I write opinion columns, as defined by the words printed under every one of my submissions by Gazette management. In discussing Santa Clarita City Council’s actions on homelessness, Ms. Lujan indicated “In 2017, the Ad Hoc Committee on Homeless Issues was formed by the Santa Clarita City Council” and the “Community Task Force on Homelessness met for the first time in October.” Since both groups are made up of individuals selected by city staff who meet in private, do not produce any minutes and do not reveal when their meetings will take place, it is not surprising the public would want to know what is going on. Plus, if these two committees are formed by the Santa Clarita City Council, why don’t they fall under the Brown Act open meeting law, and why do the council and staff want to keep their discussions secret?
In contrast, I have been asking a question about Measure H funding for quite some time. In the July 20 response to my column, Ms. Lujan stated, “In just over a year since Measure H was passed, Bridge to Home has already been approved for more than $1 million in Measure H funding for operations and development. So, last week, I asked: “We keep hearing about … 1 million dollars from Measure H being allocated to Bridge to Home. Perhaps my pen pal Ms. Lujan will explain when the funding will be available, over what period of time, and if it is a recurring allocation.” The response came from Ms. Edwards, Board President Bridge of Home (BTH), who stated, “In September, BTH responded to a Request for Proposal to provide year-round shelter services. …. We are waiting to see if BTH will receive the contract. …. That contract will begin early in 2019 and amount to $987,000 annually for three years to fund year-round operations.”
Translation: As of this date, Bridge to Home does not have the funding. I hope they get it, but in the meantime, there is no good reason for the city not to capitalize on the county’s desire to build a year-round shelter in our valley. A collaborative effort using an open, public process would be very beneficial to bring forth ideas to help solve the problem. I can only hope the three individuals elected to fill those council seats decide to host open public discussions and deliberations on the homelessness issue.
Stay tuned, because there is even more to this story.
As a “Yiddish Mensch” from Brooklyn, this past week’s slaughter of parishioners in a Pittsburg Synagogue struck particularly close to home. Not because it was worse than when similar tragedies have played out in a Church, Temple, Mosque, or any other religious place of worship, but because for the past decade, I have come to realize such a horrific event is a possibility even when I attend high holiday services here at home.
It also reminded me of a time when being a victim while in “shul” (temple) was the last thing on my mind, even though similar tragedies had been occurring all around the globe. What is hard to imagine is the grief and despair of those directly involved. In the Jewish faith, an individual observes “Shiva” (seven days of mourning) for parents, spouses, children, and siblings who have died. Mourners remain at home, while friends and family come to offer their condolences and provide comfort. May God help the victims’ families find inner peace during this time of such extreme sorrow.
The question now becomes, “What can we do about it?” Let’s start with what is of no value: blaming others, attempting to make political hay, or forwarding your personal agenda, is what keeps us from making real progress. If you want to make a difference, please pledge to treat everyone the way you want to be treated. Be fair, respectful and kind, no matter what the other persons, race, religion, nationality, or political party. You will be very surprised when you find out that you agree far more than you are at odds with other people. Imagine; you might even cause a person to have hope and mellow out, thereby nipping a possible future tragedy in the bud.
The joyful part of the week was being part of the Halloween costume and pumpkin-decorating contest judging team at the Newhall Community Center last Friday night. Held every year, this family event is co-hosted by the Newhall Community Center, the Sunrise Rotary, and the Salvation Army. “Hats off” to the Newhall Community Center Staff this year for their organization, their individual costumes, and a very scary (but fun) haunted house. The Sunrise Rotary provided the pumpkins, water, snacks and the judging team, while the Salvation Army guided the winners to their prizes. This year’s judges included Bruce and Gloria Mercado-Fortine, Ken and Debby Chase, Andrew Taban and me. As there are so many creative families participating, making the decision is not easy, as the judges mingle in the crowd to consider and acknowledge each child’s efforts. Putting all else aside, this event provides a time for participants and hosts alike to smile, have a great time, and think about coming back again next year.
As for a productive way of spending Tuesday nights, city council meetings twice a month always provide something of interest. Some may find the subjects not very exciting, but city council meetings have an important intended purpose. It is the time and place to witness our elected representatives conduct the people’s business in public. Decisions are to be made at that time and not discussed by a majority of the council prior to the meeting. In reference to last week’s Gazette article by Lee Barnathan, Mayor Weste was quoted as saying, “No, the council does not make up their mind ahead of time. There’s a lot of discussion and quite often the council will totally hold something over, or they ask questions.” I have always wondered, if that were true, why are there so many items on the “Consent Calendar”?
At the October 23 city council meeting, Agenda Item 4 proposed funding not to exceed $200,000 for a City Council Chambers Audio/Visual Upgrade, Phase I. Now, I understand that $200,000 is “small potatoes” in the Santa Clarita city council scheme of things, but in my book, it is an amount worth looking into, and if the city council feed on Channel 20 was still working at your house, you would have heard me ask, “What new features are we getting?”
I think it was a reasonable question, particularly since the staff report referenced the winning company by saying, “Based on their (Integrated Media’s) …. In-depth understanding of the project needs, staff recommends …. Installation of Council Chambers audio visual equipment to fulfill the enhancement and features …. as set forth in the RFP.” How could staff make such a recommendation without knowing precisely what features they were getting? Councilmember McLean, however, did not appear to know exactly what was being purchased either, when she made the comment, “I just noticed the Dias is going to be modified …. I don’t know what they are planning to do.”
I can’t help but wonder if any of the council members were aware of precisely what was being proposed. Then, after my comments concluded, there was not one word of discussion, no staff report, no renderings presented, or included in the Proposal Response. There was just a “move for recommended action” and the council unanimously voted yes. By the way, I made the comment about Channel 20’s broadcast of our city council meeting because I know it failed around the middle of the meeting in Saugus and Canyon Country. I’m sure you will take comfort in knowing the staff reports indicating Phase II and III are planned for future years, when the television broadcast system will be addressed. So much for doing the people’s business in public, the prioritization of problems which need repair, or discussions relating to the agenda item itself.
The next item of interest came by way of Agenda Item 7, LOS ANGELES COUNTY REGIONAL PLANNING COMMISSION: PHASE II TESORO DEL VALLE PROJECT. I thought this a very important and interesting topic because of the many times we have heard our council members lament that they have no jurisdiction in the unincorporated areas.
The shelter issue started over 20 years ago when the Santa Clarita Community Development Corporation was formed, and a temporary winter homeless shelter was put in operation. Their first major location was the Via Princessa Metrolink Parking lot, which unfortunately caused a great deal of heartburn for a nearby condominium complex. Councilmember Ferry formed a committee that was unable to locate an acceptable shelter location. Sometime later, Mr. Paul Novak, representing Supervisor Antonovich, came up with a brilliant plan to locate acceptable sites. He invited everyone who was interested and set out to build a list of where the public did not want a homeless shelter built.
After the list was complete, Mr. Novak sent out a small team to find locations which did not violate the criteria established. Drayton Street, the shelter’s current location, is one of those sites. Mayor Ender then spearheaded the creation of a City of Santa Clarita Permanent Shelter Overlay Zone. But starting with the SCCDC and then being rebranded as “Bridge to Home,” the community has been told a permanent year-round shelter is coming soon. Realistically, however, funding to support a permanent year-round shelter has never been made available.
I believe Bridge to Home has done a tremendous job with the resources they have been provided, and I also do not believe the Tesoro Del Valle project is an acceptable location for a homeless shelter. But for the city to take the position that having a second county-sponsored shelter “will dilute the ability of Bridge to Home to expand in the future,” appears to be more about maintaining control than solving the shelter issue.
We keep hearing about the city donating the land and more than $1 million from Measure H being allocated to Bridge to Home. Perhaps my pen-pal Ms. Lujan will explain when the funding will be available, over what period of time, and if it is a recurring allocation, because that is not enough money to build and operate a permanent year-round shelter. The City of Santa Clarita needs to step up and solve the problem, or it will come as no surprise when someone else decides to pick up the gauntlet.
Stay tuned, this story is just getting started.
In response to Alan Ferdman’s editorial:
The City of Santa Clarita has long supported Bridge to Home and is actively working to address homelessness in our community.
Just this year, the City Council approved the transfer of approximately $1 million worth of land to Bridge to Home for a permanent, year-round shelter.
In 2017, the Ad Hoc Committee on Homeless Issues was formed by the Santa Clarita City Council to discuss and work toward the most effective strategies for addressing homelessness in our city. The committee meets to collaborate with stakeholders from the Santa Clarita Valley and beyond – including homeless care providers, advocates, social workers and other partners.
The city applied for and received a planning grant from the County of Los Angeles to hire a research group to develop a comprehensive solutions plan to address and combat homelessness.
The first action item of the plan is already being implemented as the Community Task Force on Homelessness met for the first time in October.
City staff meets monthly with Bridge to Home.
The City has provided support for organizations such as Bridge to Home and Family Promise through Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding and Community Service grants for many years. In addition, the City annually awards CDBG funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist lower-income residents in the areas of decent housing, a suitable living environment and expanded economic opportunities.
Some of the top priorities for your City Council this year when awarding grants were mental health services, homeless services, a homeless shelter, affordable rental housing, senior rental housing and job creation/retention.
Clarification of Bridge to Home Funds
By Peggy Edwards, Board President Bridge to Home
After Measure H passed, Bridge to Home (BTH) has been provided several opportunities to respond to opportunities to contract to provide additional services. These include:
Approximately $400,000 to subcontract to Los Angeles Family Housing for four case managers and supervisory time, rent and employment costs such as telephones and mileage. These case managers’ work serves individuals and families.
$680,000 to build a family building on the Drayton Street property.
$90,000 from Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger for sewer and utilities hook-ups.
In September, BTH responded to a Request for Proposal to provide year-round shelter services. This is the first opportunity ever for our community to receive this type of funding. We are waiting to see if BTH will receive this contract. If so, we will provide 30 emergency crisis beds and 30 “bridge” housing beds for people engaged in case management services and actively searching for permanent housing. That contract will begin early in 2019 and amount to $987,000 annually for three years to fund year-round operations.
Measure H funds are distributed according to a county-wide plan developed prior to the tax being approved by the voters. There are 21 initiatives in the plan that are eligible to receive Measure H funding. Each year, an appointed body of representative stakeholders reviews and sets priorities for Measure H funding for the next three years. This process determines what funding will be available the following years.
It has been a busy and fun couple of weeks for me. Starting with having the honor of asking candidates questions at the College of the Canyons City Council Candidate Forum, being the emcee at this year’s Rubber Ducky Festival put on by the Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers, attending the HUF dinner honoring our first responders, participating in the Canyon Country Advisory Committee Candidate Meet and Greet, supporting my wife Pamela (RN) as Kaiser Permanente honored her 55 years of service, and finally riding out to Famoso Raceway to visit with longtime friends Jim and Karen Reed, and watching Jim’s Top Fuel Funny Car “Choo Choo Mama” in action. Jim, by the way, is running for Mayor in Paso Robles. Plus, this Friday night, I will be judging the Sunrise Rotary’s Halloween Costume and Pumpkin contest, along with my wife Pam, Ken and Debbie Chase, Andrew Taban, and Bruce and Gloria Mercado-Fortine, to be held at the Newhall Community Center.
Yet, as my year-end activities are winding down, so is our “even-year” election process, and since I have no further commitments to candidate forums, debates or meet-and-greets, I can finally chime in and discuss my observations. First and foremost, I am truly disappointed in where the City’s California Voter Rights Act settlement has left us. While it is true that holding our city council election in November, on even years, along with federal and state elections has increased the number of voters by three-fold, interest in finding out what the candidates have to offer has plummeted, with attendance at the major forums falling by at least 50 percent.
My thoughts are that the reason is mostly likely due to election overload, caused by caustic partisan campaign dialog currently used in federal and state races. Today, it is virtually impossible to have an intelligent discussion about the issues surrounding those races. So, like many others, I choose not to write about them at all.
Then comes the problem of having 15 candidates running for three city council seats, as part of an “at large” jungle election process, where we can each pick up to three candidates. Historically, it can be shown, the greater the number of candidates, the larger the dilution of challenger votes, giving the incumbents an even more enhanced “incumbent advantage.” Nothing screams the need to divide the city into districts and adding the use of a primary system more than what is currently taking place.
One important obstacle this election’s candidates have failed to adequately address is traffic congestion on our streets. It appears we are “over” the tipping point, and the city no longer has the ability to dial back this problem. While we can build the remaining planned roads through the Whittaker-Bermite property to alleviate some of the traffic congestion on Soledad and Bouquet Canyon roads, nothing has been proposed to help other impacted areas, such as Soledad Canyon east of Sand Canyon, which backs up badly every day.
The cause has been the General Plan (OVOV) predicting the problem while promoting development without putting effective traffic mitigations in place. The best we can hope for is the city council taking action to keep traffic congestion from getting worse, but I would not hold my breath. A couple of weeks ago, my column included excerpts from the Circulation Element, you might want to go back and have another look.
As far as the incumbent’s positions, Ms. Laurene Weste indicated the OVOV General Plan is a good plan. Not perfect, but good, and her goal for the next four years is to protect what we already have. She foresees the city’s future housing shortage to be solved by “infill,” which “refers to building within unused and underutilized lands within existing development patterns.” Over the years, I watched development in the west San Fernando Valley, during the time I worked in Woodland Hills. Infill translated to replacing single family dwellings with apartment buildings, creating even more population density. Do you really want to see the same happen in our valley?
The other incumbent, Ms. Marsha McLean, tells us the importance of her experience and relationships she has established with numerous groups, such as the California League of Cities and transportation-related committees. Ms. McLean was quoted in The Signal on July 11 saying, “So when you have an organization with 480 cities and we’re all on the same page, we can and we have made a difference.”
I wonder what has been accomplished. It was only two years ago when Measure M (for Metro), Measure H (for homeless) and a county park’s parcel tax, were passed. Each one of these initiatives made Santa Clarita a major contributor, but we will be getting little in return.
Appointed incumbent, Mr. Bill Miranda, is currently the most approachable of the five incumbent councilmembers. He answers his cell phone and returns text messages with regularity. He indicated his tenure, since being appointed to the council, has provided him the opportunity to come up to speed. He wants to use the knowledge he has gained to serve for the next four years. My only misgiving with Mr. Miranda is, his taking up the self-serving mantra of telling us about “all the other cities who are envious of Santa Clarita.” I would hope, if elected, he would discontinue the “city self-promotion” and turn his attention toward fixing some of our outstanding problems.
Of the challengers, my first choice is Mr. TimBen Boydston. During Mr. Boydston’s previous tenure as a city councilmember, he openly recognized the problems being created by our current General Plan’s circulation element, took up the fight against digital billboards, CEMEX, and the chloride scam. He is the challenger with the most knowledge of Santa Clarita city issues, and he knows how our present form of city government operates. While some of our residents may fault Mr. Boydston’s presentation style, more information was brought before the public at city council meetings during his tenure, than ever before or after.
Ms. Diane Trautman served several terms as a Planning Commissioner. Her experience makes her the most knowledgeable candidate in the area of land use. So, I was concerned when I saw her campaign material talk about the Santa Clarita Valley’s population doubling in the next 30 years. Looking out on the web, the city lists its population as approximately 213,000. The best figures I could get for the unincorporated county was an additional 63,000, putting the total valley-wide population at approximately 278,000. Doubling the current population yields a total of 556,000, which is even 93,000 more than the 483,000-buildout number reported in The Signal on April 21, “Building boom is according to plan.” If we house that many more residents in high-density housing, you’d better look for a job where you work from home, because getting around the city will eat up most of your day. Ms. Trautman needs to lay out a clear plan as to how she would handle such a large population increase.
Mr. Jason Gibbs is a bright newcomer to city politics. I like the guy. He is personable, easy to talk with, and comes across very sincere. I think if he sticks with his ambition to sit in a councilmembers seat for the next two years, becomes more knowledgeable about city issues, and stays visible to the public, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Today, however, with his number one issue being the formation of a public safety commission, he demonstrates a lack of connection to the most pressing every day Santa Clarita issues of traffic congestion, homelessness, and affordable housing.
I feel fortunate to have been able to connect with almost every one of the 15 city council candidates. Getting to know some of the new friendly faces, like Sankalp Varma, was a pleasure, and I would like to continue staying in contact with each of them. I harbor no ill will for any of the candidates. Each candidate should understand this column represents my honest opinion, and I hope each of you will take my comments to heart, in a most constructive way.
Over the years, I have many times thanked the almighty for my being born an American. Our country has remained a place where every individual is granted the freedom and ability to pursue their passions, their dreams, and the life of their choosing. As a country, we have been successful because we have been able to adapt to changing times, while maintaining our individual freedom of choice.
The United States has been a melting pot of ethnicities, religions, and national origins. Having a diverse population allows for the sharing of different perspectives, as well as ways of accomplishing our national and individual goals. As a computer scientist, I am an individual who studied and applied different computer architectures, algorithms, and languages. The idea that language structures, in many cases, drives the way a problem is solved, is an excellent example of how to open your mind to new ideas. I firmly believe the concept applies to spoken languages as well.
A basic rule of life is that over time, change will occur. We can never expect the world to stand still. Yet, even though change is hard to deal with at times, change is something we need to embrace. When I moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1965, I did so to escape the San Fernando Valley’s urban style of living and settle in a more rural area. I witnessed the development in the West San Fernando Valley that began to change the look and feel of the area. Unfortunately, I have witnessed the same transformation in our Santa Clarita Valley, as well. Continued development and population increases have brought forth traffic congestion and a shortage of resources, which not only affect our legacy residents, but also our new residents.
What to do about it has been the question at hand. Remember, change is going to occur, no matter if we like it or not. But, when this discussion comes up, nothing irritates me more than having to listen to those who want us to emulate and implement European-style changes, such as the “One Valley, One Vision” concept of “Valley of Villages,” as well as all the other United Nations Agenda 21 items. If you have been reading my column, you are aware of my love for motorcycle touring. When traveling through areas such as national parks, it is not unusual for tourists to make comments and ask questions about my Harley. I specifically remember one French family who had mentioned their love to vacation in America because they could rent a car and go wherever they wanted. If foreign tourists understand and appreciate American freedom, I often wonder why so many of our citizens are so willing to give it up.
Look, I grew up in a walkable village. It was called Brooklyn. We did not own a personal vehicle, and were limited as to where we could go by the connectivity of the New York City subway system. There was no such thing as going to a store and bringing home and item such as a table, chair, or television. All those things had to be delivered. My grandmother had to go shopping every two days because there is only so much that could be carried in her small shopping cart. Forget anything like going to Costco or Food 4 Less. That was over 60 years ago. Today, I doubt if any of our Santa Clarita residents want to live with those constraints.
I also have great distain for the celebrities who tell us that our lifestyles use too much of the country’s resources, when they live in 10,000 square-foot homes, are driven around in limousines, and fly all over the world in private jets. As Americans, we solve problems through technological innovation. Imagine what it would be like if technological advances stopped in 1900, when the primary transportation method was horse power, the streets were not paved, and an outhouse was behind your back door. Talk about pollution and an unpleasant way to live. If we are going to meet the challenges of today, no matter if is climate change or the strain placed on our natural resources, we need to continue to innovate. Just using less while the population grows is not going to solve the problem.
Plus, I also believe Americans are intelligent enough not to be fooled by those who push their agenda with false narratives. A great example was the article published in The Signal on October 6 titled, “Survey: Driver’s Seat Not for Youth,” which reported on the results of a survey of 600 Southern California college and university students. The heart of the article indicated, “Nearly 70 percent of students said their personal vehicles best met their personal needs. … 90 percent of the students said they would consider using public transit instead of driving if it was reliable, affordable, convenient and safe.” How can someone honestly conclude from the data “University students would prefer public transportation if stronger options were available”? A person indicating that they will consider something does not make it their preference.
Paul Gonzales, a Metrolink Spokesman, said “Young people think of transportation … very differently than their parents.” Really? I would like to have Paul visit my family. My 18-year-old granddaughter gets around town in her car, as does her boyfriend. My next in line Granddaughter is about to take Drivers Education. The simple fact is public transportation in the Santa Clarita Valley does not meet the majority of our resident’s needs.
Metrolink services are limited by the fact it shares rail lines with freight trains, restricting the times services are available. While Metrolink does take many of our residents to and from work, it provides such services only for those who work along the Metrolink right of way, with their work hours coinciding with Metrolink’s hours of operation. Santa Clarita Transit ridership is down 16 percent over the past several years, and when I mentioned it in a prior column, the Santa Clarita Public Information Officer responded by saying, “Transit ridership is down throughout greater Los Angeles, not only in Santa Clarita.” Others who I have spoken with believe transit ridership is down due to residents using Uber and Lyft. But, as the use of those services becomes more prevalent, it adds to traffic congestion, as every resident’s trip on Uber and Lyft add additional vehicle trips when the driver comes to pick up, and then retreat after the resident’s ride is over.
I am using the article on “Youth Transportation” as an example of why we need to listen carefully when an issue is explained to us. We should be wary of having faith in a person’s dialog, when they shout about a problem but have no supporting data or realistic solution. No matter if the subject is traffic, over-development, homelessness, climate change or something else, no problem is insurmountable, if we as Americans work toward a real solution.
I believe in our country’s creativity and resilience, and am confident some day in the future, a column will be penned, by an unnamed author yet to be born, who will write, “Imagine what it would be like if technological advances stopped in 2020.”
“How could we possibly live that way today?”
Is your Santa Clarita life better today than it was four years ago?
Will your life be better four years from now?
With the 2018 Santa Clarita City Council election drawing near, candidates are out participating in forums, debates, and events, trying to say things they think will get you to vote for them. But in reality, this is a time when each of us should be asking ourselves, “Are things better today than they were 4 years ago, and if I vote for a particular set of individuals, will my life be even better four years from now?” How you answer the question is partly determined by your own personal experiences and what is constantly being placed in front of you. So, let me diverge from answering those questions while I provide some examples of what we’re being told.
I want to start with the good side of things, by thanking Matthew Stone for his response to my column last week. In contrast with the previous week’s author, Matthew simply answered my question and then provided his own take on the situation. That is what honest dialogue is all about. Matthew’s perspective may differ from my own perception, but that’s alright, because when you engage in honest dialogue, you typically learn something new. I’ve always been of the opinion that nothing is ever gained by only discussing things with individuals who agree with you. It is crucial to have an open dialog in order to gain an understanding of other perspectives and perception if you intend to accurately evaluate your own position. You may even change your opinion, and believe me when I say; having an open mind is a sign of personal strength and integrity.
Now let’s look at how the dialog tone differed with the city’s response to the billboard and traffic issues. I don’t fault Ms. Lujan because she’s new. She wasn’t around when the billboard proposal was on all our minds and is just repeating what she has been told. At the same time, she needs to realize that in contrast, I did not just recently come to the party. I’ve been following the billboard issue in Santa Clarita since joining the Canyon Country Advisory Committee in 2000.
Plus, during the 2013-14 timeframe, I was in personal contact with Edwards Outdoor Advertising and the Outdoor Advertising Association who funded the No on Measure S campaign. Sure, the city already owned the land they decided was a location for the new billboards, but it was zoned Open Space, so they rezoned it to business park. Sure, the city purchased Edwards Outdoor Advertising, but they used the ploy, if you don’t take our offer, Metro will just evict you and you will get nothing. Sure, they caused 47 boards to come down, but they were the small Edwards-owned boards which our local businesses used, not the big billboards. Lastly, they didn’t mention after Measure S was defeated, Clear Channel and CBS offered the city a deal to take down all their billboards in the city in exchange for two electronic billboards on the I-5 in the industrial area, but the city was not listening.
Yet, there is little we can do about it now, so when a city councilman compared the billboard removal at Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon with Measure S by saying, “There was an initiative a couple of years ago to remove billboards that the voters chose to defeat, so we have had to find other ways to get some of those billboards removed,” it is an improper analogy, and I just ask the city to discontinue blaming the public for where we are today.
In contrast, traffic is another story. It is bad and getting worse. No one I have come across likes the idea of sitting in traffic every morning while taking their children to school or going to work. Plus, if you live near a school, try getting in – or out – of your neighborhood at the beginning or end of a school day. Traffic congestion wastes time, creates additional pollution, and harms the quality of our lives.
If the city was doing such a good job completing traffic studies and requiring new developments to mitigate traffic problems caused by their increased use of our infrastructure, how did we get in the situation we are in today?
The answer can be found in the current General Plan’s (OVOV) Circulation Element. Page C-5, Table C-1 defines the levels of Service Standards for Urban Streets as rated, from A (Free Flowing) to F (High Delays). There is no lower grade than F. Next, go to page C-12 for a discussion of Peak Hour Traffic Conditions, which reads, “the current (a.m.) and (p.m.) peak hour conditions will continue to worsen over time.” Finally, look at page C-15 and read the Recommendation for Street and Highway System, where it states, “The city strives to achieve a LOS of D or better … while recognizing in higher density urban areas …. A level of service F may be necessary to implement the General Plan.”
Now let’s see someone try to tell us we are not where we are today because it was planned all along. For Ms. Lujan to say the OVOV plan “involved significant input from residents and business owners” almost sounds like she is blaming the residents for the problem, which is just the wrong road to go down. Our residents may have commented on the OVOV General Plan, but final review and approval was the responsibility of the Santa Clarita City Council and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
In my opinion, traffic congestion remains Santa Clarita’s public enemy number one today. Not because it is caused by development, but because it is caused by our city government not requiring sufficient infrastructure be provided to accommodate all of our new residents. I have not yet decided who will get my three votes come November 6. I am keeping an open mind, and over the next month will continue to attend the remaining forums and other events to listen to what our candidates have to say. But, for the candidates who don’t believe traffic congestion is the key issue in this city council election, I believe they have lost touch with reality, and they will most likely not get my vote.
When you ponder about who to vote for, ask yourself if your City of Santa Clarita life is better today than it was four years ago. I urge you to find out all you can about the candidate’s main issues and solutions. If you have the opportunity, ask them how they intend to make a difference by making your life even better four years from now. Then make your decision on who to vote for – an informed decision – because creating a brighter future is what this election is all about.