About Alan Ferdman
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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.
Last Wednesday afternoon, my red Harley and I pulled into my driveway ending a 2500-mile road trip, which had led us through Portland, Anacortes, south to Eugene, and then home. On the atrium table, I found a pile of newspapers waiting patiently to be read. Opening the one on top, I noticed an article about the billboard at Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon. The way the story was told reminded me of a time, almost three decades ago, when I worked alongside a young man who aspired to be a professional magician. We had many conversations about how illusions were created, and he shared information, from numerous books, about the design of “stage props” used by Houdini and other famous mortals of magic. We talked about creating illusions using lighting, backgrounds, and even having a member of the audience planted to provide the prop needed to wow the audience. But the method he used to joke about most was being helped by his female friend “Miss Direction.” He made me realize, misdirection can be used to accomplish many different goals. First, and foremost, misdirection can be used to focus your attention on one thing, while the illusion is being created somewhere else. Yet he also made me realize, misdirection can be used to focus your attention on something, which will cause you to think in a way which makes the illusion seem real.
On Tuesday, September 25, The Signal published an article titled “Billboard Removal Postponed.” Councilmember Smyth is quoted as saying, “There was an initiative a couple of years ago to remove billboards that voters chose to defeat, so we had to find other ways to get some of these billboards removed.”
Well, his statement is true. The voters did, for the first time, choose to undo a Santa Clarita City Council decision, but this is misdirection, as it has nothing to do with the billboard located at Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road, or any other billboard which was not located on the Metro Rail right-of-way.
In 2014, Allvision Outdoor Advertising had proposed that the City of Santa Clarita and the County of Los Angeles enter into a 50-year contract to place Electronic Billboards on the 5 and 14, in exchange for Billboards being removed along the Metro Rail right of way. There was enormous community opposition to the proposal because the city did not own land to accommodate the new billboards. The council instead rezoned open space locations to business park, and several homeowners came forward in opposition, as the new billboard locations would cause light to shine directly into their bedroom windows. The city also forced a local small business out of business by purchasing “Edwards Outdoor Advertising,” and lastly, the way compensation was defined, Santa Clarita would be paid after paying Allvision, LACO, and all other expenses.
It was a bad deal, leaving 56 Billboards up throughout the city and no guarantee of city revenue. On March 26, 2014, Council members Bob Kellar, Frank Ferry and Marsha McLean voted in favor of the Allvision deal, while Councilman TimBen Boydston voted against it. On November 4, 2014, voters overturned the council’s decision 56 to 44 percent. Yet, with all that water under the bridge, today I am confident the Canyon Country community is overjoyed to finally see the Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Billboard come down. This blight removal is as big of an improvement as when the utilities were undergrounded on Soledad Canyon Road.
Next, I opened the Gazette to read Traffic Clarification from the City of Santa Clarita. Ms. Lujan correctly pointed out the long-term blueprint for growth and development is the general plan. In June of 2011, the City of Santa Clarita adopted a new General Plan known as One Valley One Vision (OVOV) which became a component of the LACO General Plan. Generating the new OVOV plan was a joint effort between the County of Los Angeles, and the City of Santa Clarita to create a single vision for future growth of our Valley. The implementation was, in part, driven by a state of California mandate for the plan to accommodate 500,000 residents in the SCV. During the planning period it was fully understood, meeting the state’s growth criteria would cause traffic congestion to get worse. To enable planning new developments, the requirement for traffic studies was changed from “Peak Hour Traffic Studies” to “Averaged Hour Traffic Studies.” (An average-hour study uses traffic data from all 24 hours of the day.) When Ms. Lujan indicated the city did not have any jurisdiction over development in the unincorporated areas, she failed to consider OVOV was supposed to be a single vision for future growth, and the city did have an input to the plan. We are where we are because in 2011, our city council planned it to be that way. There is no need to use misdirection by sugar coating it, just tell us how the city is going to fix it.
Lastly, I will reference my column titled “High School Students and SCV Water.” As reported in The Signal on September 16, “A report on the supply and demand of water in the SCV was presented last week to the members of the SCV Water Agency Board.” The report showed SCV users are using more water today than one year ago. They want us to be aware that in 2013, SCV was using 73,460 acre-feet of water per year. In 2015, with all the emergency drought-related water conservation efforts, usage fell to 54,491-acre feet, but with the drought ending in 2017, usage increased to 63,555 acre-feet. Plus, usage is continuing to rise in 2018.” Well, after reading The Signal’s articles and while attending a presentation on this same subject, I asked a simple question: How many new connections have SCV Water divisions approved since 2013? The answer came back, “I do not know.” It therefore appears that SCV Water wants to keep adding users while at the same time reducing overall water demand in our valley by having existing customers use less and less. Then, I offered a conservation solution related to the use of recycled water.
But, here comes Dan Masnada, out of retirement, using misdirection in its classic form. First, vilify your opposition and then move the conversation in another direction. Dan cannot dispute the numbers I presented, because they were generated by the water company, not me. He failed to address the most basic part of the issue. How can water company officials accurately indicate the communities recycling effectiveness using overall water usage numbers, when the water company continues adding new customers? Lastly, Dan wants us to wait for recycled water infrastructure to be implemented at $5.5 million per year through 2050, without telling us how much recycled water will be available each year. In reality, Dan and I have disagreed over the use of recycled water for years, but it is nice to know something positive has happened, because Matthew Stone is currently the SCVWA General Manager.
So, to all our Gazette readers, I invite you to keep those letters, comments, columns and clarifications coming. The Gazette is the place to facilitate a healthy dialog.
The Santa Clarita City Council election cycle is in full bloom, and as usual, every two years we get ready to hear our politicians, and those who want to be our politicians, talk about Santa Clarita’s largest perceived problem: Traffic congestion.
If there is a consensus among Santa Clarita residents relating to the biggest issue they face daily, it’s traffic, and it’s getting worse all of the time. I am happily retired, so why would this bother me? At least I no longer need to put up with morning rush hour traffic, but on Friday night at 6 p.m., if I decide to visit the Moose or Elks, it takes 20 minutes of stop-and-go traffic to get from Whites Canyon to Sierra Highway, which can be very frustrating.
What can be done to solve this problem becomes a topic every time a City Council candidate is looking for your vote. We keep hearing about the complexity of a solution to the problem, because Santa Clarita is not laid out on a grid system, but follows our majestic Canyon topology. But, I’m betting you do not get much comfort looking at all the beauty when you are stuck in traffic while trying to take your children to school or get to work.
Next, we always hear the experts tell us, there isn’t a way out of this problem by just building roads. What we need to do is get out of our cars and use other means of transportation. They talk of walking, bicycles, increased Metrolink usage, building light rails and being able to use other means of transportation. What great suggestions. I’ll just tell my 97-year-old mother to ride a bicycle when she goes shopping, as soon as I can figure a way for her to also carry a walker. OK, I know that sounds sarcastic, only because it is. Look; bicycling, jogging and long walks are great recreational activities, but for the majority of our residents, those transportation methods are not realistic ways to support their daily life. Increased Metrolink service and adding other light rail lines also require a large footprint, very similar to road construction. Plus, rail lines are inflexible. To support the population’s changing needs, providing a system of overall light rail coverage, like parts of New York City, require greater amounts of land and resources than Santa Clarita is capable of supplying.
The best way to have fixed the traffic problem should have been by providing a level of planned land use which accounted for the increased traffic being created by new development. I believe land owners have a right to develop their properties in accordance with approved zoning, but adding more users or cars to our infrastructure should be accompanied by the new infrastructure required to keep traffic flowing freely. When the state of California mandated the county and the city plan for the SCV to house 500,000 residents, One Valley One Vision was put in motion, and it was written to approve new development using “average traffic data” rather than “peak traffic data.” I realize traffic engineers are schooled in helping traffic flow freely, yet I don’t think anybody believed using traffic data from 4 a.m. was going to help anybody get across town during rush hour.
This is also a public safety issue. With only one trauma center (limited paramedic services) and one sheriff’s station in our valley, our safety could be in jeopardy. How many times have you seen our paramedic Teams, followed by an ambulance, going down the wrong side of the street, or just sitting stuck in traffic, because the road is totally packed with vehicles? So it is very important we find a way to bring help to those in need rapidly.
The last Santa Clarita mass transit system hope is the Santa Clarita Transit. You have seen those bright and shiny city buses traveling empty, or almost empty, all around the city. In some parts of Santa Clarita, traffic regularly gets to standstill behind them at bus stops because of a bus turnout not being installed. Plus, On August 27, 2018 The Signal reported Santa Clarita Bus ridership went down 16 percent since 2015. Adrian Aguilar, Transit Manager for the City of Santa Clarita stated, “A lot of little things add together to create a larger impact.” “We’ve seen student enrollment level off, which has been a part of our ridership base. And also the popularity of Uber and Lyft, as well as big (changes in) travel patterns in terms of commuting for work.” While it is a fact that the largest single transit user-base is students going to and from school, when I ask residents why they do not make better use of the city transit system, I’m told convenience is the main reason. Santa Clarita buses do not run often enough to be used without a significant loss of time. As an adult, I have not been a user of the Santa Clarita Transit. However, when I was working at JPL, I regularly used the local municipal transit which took us from JPL down Foothill and back at noontime. The trip was free, and a bus came along every 15 minutes. It was far more convenient than using my personal vehicle, so I understand the concept of convenience causing usage. If the City of Santa Clarita wants to reduce traffic by using their municipal transit systems, busses need to run more often, 24 hours a day, and a program to implement bus turnouts over time should be initiated. I also understand my suggestion is risky and will cost money. However, if we do the same thing we have always done, we will get what we have always had.
If the City of Santa Clarita does not take positive action to reduce traffic congestion, or at least keep congestion from getting worse, the time will come when our city will be in gridlock, and not just in peak times. When it happens, you can expect much longer travel times, first responders being unable to get to victims in time to help, reductions in your property values, and the only place you will be able to go, is round and round your local roundabout.
Clarification from the City of Santa Clarita – Traffic Circulation
by Carrie Lujan, City Communications Manager
Traffic has been, and remains, an important issue for residents and a high priority for our City Council. This is also an issue that always has been, and will continue to be addressed through the Circulation Element of our General Plan.
The General Plan is a long-term blueprint for growth and development within City limits. The Circulation Element is the master roadway plan that meets and accommodates existing and projected circulation and transportation needs of the City. Recent roadway projects that have provided additional capacity and improved traffic flow in the City include the extension of Golden Valley Road, from Newhall Ranch Road to Plum Canyon, and the Golden Valley Road/SR-14 Bridge widening project. The Newhall Ranch Road Bridge is currently being widened to provide additional vehicle lanes. In addition, the City has recently completed 21 capacity enhancing improvements, and has 11 more in the works that will increase traffic flow.
Other future roadway improvements include the eastern extension of Via Princessa from its current terminus near Circle J Ranch Road, the connection of Dockweiler Drive to Railroad Ave, the extension of Magic Mountain Parkway south to Via Princessa, and Santa Clarita Parkway which will be a north to south arterial road extending from State Route-14 to Bouquet Canyon Road. Growth and traffic go hand in hand. Within City boundaries, development is controlled by the City; however, most new development is occurring in the unincorporated areas surrounding Santa Clarita, which our City does not have jurisdiction over. The City does have an extensive traffic mitigation program for new housing developments, through which the developer is responsible for a mitigation fee to provide road enhancements.
Contrary to what is stated in Ferdman’s editorial – traffic conditions are not evaluated at 4 a.m. There is a fine balance between acceptable levels of congestion versus excess roadway capacity that would go unused during most of the day. In addition, the excess lanes would cause much wider intersections, creating the need for additional pedestrian crossing time, impacting signal timing and signal synchronization.
Santa Clarita City Transit plays a vital role in circulation. They served 2,775,328 people last fiscal year, taking millions of car trips off our local roads. The perception of buses running empty all day can be misleading. Not all riders are boarding at the same location and or traveling to the same destination. During peak hours, the City has 48 local buses on the road at once, many at capacity.
Transit ridership is down throughout greater Los Angeles, not only in Santa Clarita. Our City is seeing a change in ridership trends, which is why in early 2018 the City Council awarded a contract to update the City’s Transportation Development Plan (TDP). This plan serves as a roadmap for future transit service throughout the Santa Clarita Valley. As part of this effort the City currently has a community survey posted online at santaclaritatransit.com/tdp, to solicit input regarding public transit.
In regards to bus turnouts, their purpose is to help alleviate backups behind buses. However, installing turnouts depend on many factors including available right-of-way, traffic patterns and roadway design, to name a few. New developments within the City are required to install turnouts when appropriate.
In addition to planning for future roadways and assessing transit to make sure we are best, and most efficiently serving our community, the City also continues to utilize smart city technology in our Traffic Operations Center (TOC), which is the core of the City’s multi-million dollar Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). Traffic engineers are currently installing the next phase of the ITS – adaptive controllers, which monitor traffic and automatically adjust traffic signal timing, to accommodate real-time traffic flow. By the year 2020, the plan is to have 120 adaptive controllers on City streets actually managing circulation with real time traffic conditions.
The City of Santa Clarita is working every day to utilize technology, the Circulation Element and community input to create a road system which is efficient and safe for our community to travel on.
Over the past few months, I have watched several TV news programs sum up the week’s activities with a list of “Hits and Misses.” Since I prefer not to only write about problems and solutions, I thought I would give the format a try.
So for this week’s top hit, I picked Hart High School Student Annie Niednagel and the Young Americans for Freedom Club who organized an event in remembrance of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on our country, honoring the near 3,000 innocent souls who lost their lives that fateful day. While I understand the lasting impact this tragedy has on adults who watched the events unfold firsthand, it is heartwarming to know that our young adults, who may not have even been born on that day, will be helping the country to “never forget” and stay vigilant in maintaining a strong posture in defense of our population.
For the “Miss by a Mile,” I have chosen SCV Water’s latest Water Conservation public release. As reported in the Signal during the week, and again in the Sunday Signal (September 16 edition), the articles revealed, “A report on the supply and demand of water in the SCV was presented last week to the members of the SCV Water Agency Board.” The report showed SCV users are using more water today than one year ago. They want us to be aware that in 2013, SCV was using 73,460 acre-feet of water per year. In 2015, with all the emergency drought-related water conservation efforts, usage fell to 54,491 acre-feet, but with the drought officially ending in 2016, usage increased to 57,966 acre-feet and then in 2017 to 63,555 acre-feet. Plus, usage is continuing to rise in 2018. So, what is SCV Water’s plan to reverse the trend? They tell us they are going to “Increase our (SCV Water’s) approach on water efficiency, and then “as fall approaches … encourage customers to take a minute to adjust their (watering) timers down,” plus continue to pay for residents to take out their lawns and issue rebates for “switching to smart controllers.”
Well, after reading The Signal’s articles, and while attending a presentation on this same subject by Mr. Dickens of SCV Water, I asked a simple question: How many new connections has SCV Water divisions approved since 2013? The answer came back, “I do not know.” Then, let me get this straight. SCV Water wants to keep adding users, and at the same time, reduce overall water demand in our valley by having existing customers use less and less? Throughout the last few years, we have seen new housing developments built, including Via Metro and the Trestles. The Newhall Crossings and the Five Knowles projects are currently under construction, along with a ton of houses on Plum Canyon. New projects such as Skyline Ranch, the Sand Canyon Plaza, and Vista Canyon Ranch have already been approved, and are starting construction. EIRs have been initiated for the Bouquet Canyon Project and the Sand Canyon Resort. Now, I may not be a rocket scientist, although I did work alongside many of them, but I can still confidently forecast, without SCV Water coming up with a better way of doing business, that their conservation effort is doomed to failure.
What amazes me is that the solution to SCV water conservation issues is staring right at the SCV Water Board. Remember the numbers quoted by the Sanitation District a few years ago? They told us that the Santa Clarita Valley uses approximately 60 million gallons of water a day. Two thirds of the water is used for irrigation. One third, or 20 million gallons a day, is used in households, and that water ends up in the sewer system traveling to our two water treatment plants. After treatment, are we recycling? Is the SCV using that resource for irrigation? No, we are just discarding it into the Santa Clara dry riverbed. The city currently has several “Drainage Benefit Assessment Districts” which pump water out of the ground to stabilize areas due to past development projects disturbing underground springs. Do we take advantage of it and use it to irrigate our landscaped medians, parks or schools? No, we put it into the sewer system, treat it, and then also discard it in the Santa Clara dry riverbed. Maybe, instead of paying residents to remove their turf, providing rebates on “Smart Controllers,” and advertising for residents to take shorter showers, SCV Water should use its resources where it would do the most good, and start using the available recycled water to offset current demand on the new water supply. It was not that long ago when the concept of “One Valley, One Water Company” was being sold to us, and we were informed of a $600,000 plan to start installing a section of recycled water supply piping. How about SCV Water telling us how far along that project is? It would be nice to know something positive is happening.
To top it all off, the State of California is now getting involved by threatening to mandate a “55 gallon per-person, per-day indoor use (limit) by 2022.” Not only are our state officials shouting unrealistic goals, they have mandated that each watershed must come up with a Ground Water Management Agency. The September 13 Signal reported, “SCV Water sharpened its profile as a GSA (Groundwater Sustainability Agency) by creating a seven-member governing board that would report to the state.” By forming the GSA as a Joint Powers Authority, it will include representatives of the City of Santa Clarita and Los Angeles County. They are expected to receive a $416,000 grant to help cover 15 percent of the $2.7 million they are estimating to spend thru 2022 generating the Groundwater Sustainability Plan.
So, hold on to your pocketbooks as unelected bureaucrats spend millions of dollars on another plan, with no action. I would rather see the $2.7 million go toward piping the SCV so we could make use of our recycled water.
I agree this is a challenging problem. SCV Water tries to impress you when they indicate, “An acre foot of water is about the same as a football field flooded with 1 foot of water.” I believe they use acre-feet measurements because it sounds so technical, and most residents do not know that 1 acre foot = 325,851 gallons.
But if you do the math, you will find out the Sanitation District’s estimate of the SCV using 60 million gallons a day is pretty close, adding credence to the fact that recycling 20 million gallons a day could solve the SCV’s water conservation issue without shortening your daily shower, taking out your lawn, or affecting your “quality of life.”
As the November 6, 2018 City Council Election draws closer, I frequently ask friends if they are intending to vote. What does not surprise me, is the number of those I speak with who don’t even know Santa Clarita has a city council, or cannot name anyone on it. While I can see some advantages to have such a blissful lack of knowledge, I know several council members who wish I shared such bliss. But, the reality is, since the Santa Clarita City Council has a large influence on all our city resident’s daily lives, we need to pay attention to their decisions.
Since the City of Santa Clarita’s formation in 1987, as a California General Law city, our residents have been represented by a five-member City Council. Every two years, we alternately elect two or three city council members. Currently, our city council members are elected “at-large,” meaning every city resident is given the opportunity to vote on every candidate. This year, there will be three seats up for grabs, currently held by Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean and Bill Miranda. Seats held by Bob Kellar and Cameron Smyth will become available in 2020.
Santa Clarita does not elect a mayor or mayor pro-tem; these are positions chosen amongst the city council itself. Their additional responsibilities include conducting city council meetings and leading various ceremonial occasions. Neither of these two positions is granted any authority in excess of the remaining city council members.
Now comes the challenge, because with 15 candidates on the ballot, it is almost overwhelming. Currently on the ballot is TimBen Boydston, Ken Dean, Jason Gibbs, Brett Haddock, Mathew Hargett, Marsha McLean, Bill Miranda, Sandra Nichols, Cherry Ortega, Logan Smith, Diane Trautman, Sankalp Varma, Sean Weber, Laurene Weste, Paul Wieczorek. (Do not consider the order of candidate names as having any significance other than they are in alphabetical order by last name.) You might be thinking, “Who are these people? What have they done? What do they want to do? How will this election affect my daily life? Whom should I vote for?”
That is precisely why I am writing this “self-help” column. First, I suggest you NOT vote for a candidate because your buddy likes them, their name is familiar, or they are a member of your political party. City councils are intended to be a non-partisan office, and I believe it should stay that way. The best way to make an informed decision on how to cast your ballot is, to listen to the candidates themselves. Determine which of the candidates you perceive will do the best job representing our city, your interests, and our future, and then cast your ballot knowing you are making the best decision possible for your city, yourself and your family.
Since 2006, the Canyon Country Advisory Committee (a division of the Santa Clarita Community Council) has conducted city council election events. For this election cycle, their “meet and greet” format will be used. Each participant will be given the opportunity to introduce themselves, have a 15-minute question and answer session (where audience members come to the microphone and ask the questions they consider most important), and an opportunity to wrap up. With only two CCAC meetings prior to the November election, and a two-hour time limit per meeting, only 10 openings were available. The CCAC Board of Directors made the decision to give priority to the candidates who had chosen to provide a ballot statement. At the Wednesday, September 19 CCAC Meeting, candidates TimBen Boydston, Brett Haddock, Logan Smith, Diane Trautman, and Sankalp Varma will be participating. At the Wednesday, October 17 CCAC Meeting, candidates Jason Gibbs, Bill Miranda, Sandra Nichols, Marsha McLean, and Laurene Weste will be participating.
Both “meet and greet” meetings will be video recorded and uploaded to Youtube. Links to the presentations will be provided on the CCAC Facebook Page, in my subsequent columns in the Gazette, and emailed to CCAC friends and members. But feel free to view the events in person and ask questions you believe are important. CCAC Meetings are held on the third Wednesday of the month, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge Banquet Room, 18000 Sierra Highway in Canyon Country. Everyone is welcome, and the event is free.
Another great opportunity to see and hear the city council candidates in person will be occurring on October 8, when the College of the Canyons’ Civic Engagement Steering Committee, the Santa Clarita Valley League of Women Voters, and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee will be jointly hosting a Candidate Forum where all 15 candidates have been invited to participate. For this event, all candidates have been asked to provide information about why they should be elected to serve on the city council and what they believe are the top three issues facing Santa Clarita residents today. This information will be provided both online and in print at the forum.
This new and exciting format will be putting forward unique questions to each candidate, generated by the forum steering committee prior to the event. If you have any burning questions you would like raised, please forward the question and the candidate to be queried to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be sure to inform the committee of your suggestions. The COC Candidate Forum will be held in the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center, located at the College of the Canyons Valencia campus on Monday October 8. The forum itself will take place from 7 to 9 p.m., but if you can be there a little earlier, we would welcome meeting and hearing from you between 6:30 to 7 p.m. This meeting will be live-streamed, as well as video recorded and uploaded to Youtube. Links will be provided on each of the hosts’ Facebook pages. As with the other candidate events described above, everyone is welcome and there is no charge for admission.
Now, I hope you found this information worthwhile, informative, and you have been marking your calendar with these important dates. But in case you forgot, let me help you. Wednesday, September 19 is the First CCAC Meet and Greet, Monday, October 8 is the COC Candidate Forum, Wednesday, October 17 is the second CCAC Meet and Greet, and Tuesday, November 6 is Election Day. On the ballot, you will get to choose candidates for federal, state, and county offices, as well as Santa Clarita City Council choices. Each elected office is important, as decisions made affect our daily lives in some way. Yet, city council members provide representation closest to all of us. Taking a bit of time to find out about our city council candidates and making an informed decision is the hallmark of our great republic. I know I can count on you to make the right decision.
As I sat at my keyboard staring at a new American flag, I was thinking about what the subject of this week’s column would be, when I came to realize you would be reading my words on the Friday prior to September 11. While that day has a lot of meaning for my wife and I, I often wonder what our young adults truly know about the events which occurred on that fateful day. Have their parents spoke with them about their feelings when the towers came crashing down? Is the September 11 terrorist attack a topic discussed in school? Do they know almost 3,000 innocent people lost their lives and an additional 6,000 plus were injured by this terrorist attack on American soil? It concerns me, because even though the event is burned in my memory, as vividly as if it happened yesterday, I realize our new voters have no first-hand memory of September 11, 2001 at all.
From my perspective, I was a World War II baby, born just one year after America’s official entry into the conflict. Yet, even without personal involvement, I was brought up and made aware of the times, with stories on television, in school and at home, about Pearl Harbor, the war in Europe, the Holocaust, and the war in the Pacific. There were heroes all around me. My biological father served as a U.S. Army Medic in France and passed away shortly after his return from Europe. My adoptive father served in the Pacific with the Navy and his brother was an Army B-29 Navigator instructor. My parents never pushed it on me, but I remember going through the bookcase filled with books about Jewish events in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. History became even more real to me after moving to California. I was almost a teenager and we lived down the street from a wonderful elderly European couple who had numbers tattooed on their arms. I knew what that meant, but I never asked about it, until one day when they decided to share a small portion of their experiences. As a young adult, I worked alongside an engineer who was originally from Southeast France and had been conscripted into the Luftwaffe as an anti-aircraft gunner, and a U.S. Navy Veteran who was an Arizona Pearl Harbor survivor. It could be my experiences and the knowledge I gained fueling my concern about American history not currently being adequately taught in our schools and universities, because knowing what happened in the past gives us a clearer understanding of what is happening today, and allows us to strive for a better tomorrow.
Most of us who experienced September 11 as an adult know exactly where we were and what we were doing on that morning. I was getting ready for work, and as usual was watching the morning news, when to my disbelief, we were shown footage of a commercial airliner crashing into the World Trade Center. Then, if that was not bad enough, we watched live as a second plane crashed into the other tower, and a little over an hour and a half later, both towers pancaked down to the ground. A third plane crashed into the outer ring of the Pentagon, and a forth hijacked airliner was brought down in Pennsylvania by the passengers in a heroic attempt to regain control of the aircraft.
With all phone lines busy, I was unable to reach JPL, so I drove there and found out the facility was closed and on lock down. Listening to the news on the way home, I heard many governmental facilities were shut down as well, our skies had been cleared of all commercial and general aviation aircraft, and military jets were on patrol. For that uncertain length of time, the United States was closer to being on a homeland war footing than I had ever experienced in my adult life. I was angry and frustrated. How could our aviation experts have not proactively put safeguards in place to prevent this from happening? I was determined to do something to show my solidarity with the rest of the country.
Up until September 11, 2001, I was one of many who would get out their American flag on holidays and put it on display in front of my house. But right at that moment, I realized it was not enough, and decided an American Flag would fly in front of my house 365 days a year. Just like our brave men and women in uniform who defend our country, my flag flies day and night, no matter the weather. Each flag serves an enlistment of a year, and throughout its service, it becomes frayed and torn, and reminds me of the difficult job our service men and women perform around the world. Each year, on the morning of September 11, a new flag is raised to begin the cycle anew. I do not retire my flags. They are marked to show the year they served, and it is hoped they will someday fly again. They are provided a place of honor in my office, next to an American Flag flown over the capital. For the first several years after September 11, 2001, numerous events of remembrance were held each year. On the 10-year anniversary, our local Elks Lodge held a commemorative event and my 10 flags were proudly on display.
Unfortunately, as time has passed, there have become fewer instances of commemorative events on September 11. But, we must never forget. World War II greatly changed the world. With the advent of nuclear weapons, another World War is unthinkable. Yet, as a country, we cannot sit back and expect to have time to react in the event of major aggression. An ocean no longer provides us with a high level of protection. Today, the world has changed again. The enemies of freedom and democracy are coming at us with less sophisticated attack methodologies. They believe they can destroy our confidence and our resolve to fight back.
On September 11, 2001 the United States was put on notice. Those who wish us harm will use unconventional methods to accomplish their evil goal by targeting innocent civilians. Remembering the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon can serve as a reminder for our country to always stay vigilant in determining ways to keep our population safe.
To help us “never forget,” my flags, like the patriots on United Airlines Flight 93, are always ready to answer the call. May God Bless America, and keep the United States the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.”
On August 17, my wife Pam and I celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary, but due to other obligations, we were prevented from making it a really special occasion. So this week, we are going to make up for it and escape Santa Clarita by spending a weekend in Pismo. It is an area we love to visit, and we have always preferred staying in one of the two older motels at the end of Main Street, right on the beach. The location puts us one block from the pier, restaurants, Harry’s Bar, and as I’ve always joked, within crawling distance of the local Moose Lodge. This lodge is a truly unique place. The locals are friendly, and you can spend time sitting at the bar, gazing through the picturesque windows out across the beach and ocean. As you can imagine, we are looking forward to a romantic and relaxing weekend, while enjoying each other’s company, reminiscing about days past, and making future plans. All while separated from the political drama, which will be continuing back home in Santa Clarita.
In my last column, after seeing a Signal article reporting a majority of our city council members had attended a private roundtable discussion about wildfire prevention, I posed a question to city staff asking whether the meeting should have been subject to the Brown Act, requiring it to be formally noticed and open to the public. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Brown Act, let me put it in layman’s terms. Typically called the “California Open Meetings Law,” the Brown Act was put in place to require municipalities, other elected bodies, commissions and certain committees, to discuss issues and make decisions openly in front of the public. Ms. Lujan, communications manager for the City of Santa Clarita, provided an explanation indicating, “The meeting in question with Secretary Purdue and Congressman Knight does not fall within the requirements for a Brown act notice meeting by the local jurisdiction, as the subject of management, safety and prevention of wildfires on federal land is not within the subject matter jurisdiction of the city council.”
Using the criteria referenced, Ms. Lujan is absolutely correct, but what triggered my concern points out why municipalities have to be extremely careful. My question resulted from reading a Signal article, dated August 15 written by Crystal Duan, which simply stated the discussion was about “wildfire solutions” and quoted Mayor Weste and Mayor Pro-Tem McLean speaking about city issues.
Yet, problems related to perceptions of Brown Act violations are not an issue isolated to Santa Clarita alone. It was just the beginning of this July, when the Ventura County Star reported, the Ventura County “DA looking into whether majority of the Simi Valley City Council violated open meeting law.” Chuck Hughes, a Ventura County Chief Deputy District Attorney and a Brown Act specialist, stated, “In general, when a majority of a legislative body is together and discussing or hearing about issues that the legislative body would normally address, the Brown Act is potentially triggered. There are notice requirements and various exceptions that may or may not apply.”
Taking in all that advice, we still do not know what specifically was discussed at the “roundtable discussion,” other than the few quotes reported, so let’s leave the Brown Act applicability issue and potential violations to the legal eagles and Facebook contributors.
My main concern when I saw the Signal article, was: “What does the City of Santa Clarita plan to do in order to minimize the potential risk of wildfires, within the city itself and on the property which it owns?” Wildfires are not something new to the Santa Clarita Valley. If you lived here long enough you may remember the mid-70s, when a brush fire started in Sylmar and burned its way to the ocean, while at the same time burning north almost all the way to Rosemond. The fire’s path went right through what is now the city of Santa Clarita.
That week, I happened to be out at Willow Springs Raceway working with a group of Four Aces Race Club members readying the track and surrounding area to host our Motorcycle Grand Prix. It was a time before the internet and cell phones. My wife and two young sons were back at home in Santa Clarita, and as the fire approached, Pam called the Highway Patrol, telling them my location and asking then to notify me about what was going on. I immediately headed back toward Santa Clarita. I traveled on the freeway until I encountered a road block, then took back roads until I could get back on the freeway, and I eventually worked my way back home. When I crossed Soledad and Sierra Highway, the fire was burning on both sides of the road. I was lucky to get back home and never considered the potential danger involved. You may also remember, around 10 years ago, when a much smaller fire started on Sierra Highway toward Agua Dulce and worked its way through Santa Clarita easements. Ultimately, several homes were destroyed above North Oaks Park. Both fires were primarily fed by dry brush, which indicates the need for our community to be concerned, and for our local officials to take appropriate action to keep our communities safe.
With the city having established an Open Space and Parkland Preservation District, with the goal of establishing a “Green Belt” around the city consisting of land maintained in its natural state, we must realize by doing so, a fire fuel source has been permanently added on the border of our community. Each year during the rainy season, and hopefully we will have another good rainy season soon, we witness new life spring forth from the ground and generate a beautiful green ground cover, which unfortunately turns into dry dead brush in the heat of summer.
While the public has not been made aware of the “Wildfire Round table” discussion content, the fact the discussion took place demonstrates the need for governmental meetings to be open and informative. Certainly, planning for public safety should not be accomplished behind closed doors. It would be in all our best interest if the City of Santa Clarita would host its own “Open Community Meeting” and discuss what actions have been implemented to reduce the risk of wildfires in our city. Perhaps it is time to discuss firebreaks between city-owned open space and populated areas, thinning out some of the fuel sources, along with the establishment of additional maintained fire roads, including water sources to enable firefighters to quickly knock down fire outbreaks before they become out of control wildfires.
No matter what happens next related to the Brown Act, all actions taken to mitigate the dangers posed by wildfires to the City of Santa Clarita should be considered a positive outcome. It is always a good idea for city officials to present their action plans and listen to public opinion. Let’s hope the city schedules an “Open Community Meeting” on this issue soon. I’ll be there, and I hope to see you there also.
This week, I was saddened by the passing of Aretha Franklin. She was my generations “Queen of Soul” and a self-taught pianist. I will always vividly remember her performing “Respect” in the Blues Brothers movie almost 40 years ago. God bless you Aretha, I am sure you will forever be inside the pearly gates singing songs from heaven’s hymnal. On a different note, as a proud Shriner, on Saturday I boarded my Harley and rode in Tehachapi’s parade to show support for our 22 Shriner’s Hospitals for Children, a very worthwhile cause. But something curious also took place this past week. A couple of Gazette readers asked, why does the city get to add comments after your column?
To answer the question, I explained: “The timeline for producing the Always Advocating Alan column is a bit different than what you might expect.” Most columns are written, published, and the author waits for comments to be sent in, for publication in a later addition. In my case, I write Always Advocating Alan on Sunday Afternoon, making it available to the Gazette first thing Monday morning. The Gazette then forwards my column to the city. If the city returns comments by Tuesday afternoon, they are included below my column. The Gazette goes to print on Wednesday, and I get to read city comments on Thursday, when the whole cycle starts again. I have no objection, because city comments enhance the dialog, and I get to author the next column.
As I write my commentary every week, I feel fortunate to have retired after a 46-year career as a department/project manager in aerospace. During the majority of the time, I worked on Department of Defense projects and was responsible to read, interpret and implement Defense/Federal Acquisition Regulations, military and commercial specifications, and contractual requirements. As you might imagine, I became adept at reading long boring documents, which would put most people to sleep. One thing I learned early in my career was to never justify a position by using one line out of a document, because understanding the surrounding text is required to establish the statement’s true and complete meaning.
From my column last week, Ms. Lujan, Communications Manager for the City of Santa Clarita, took exception to my comments which stated, Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem are improper Ballot Designations for our two incumbents, as neither of those offices are held as result of a “vote of the people.” She goes on to site “California Code of Regulations Title 2, Division 7, Chapter 7, Section 20712 (d), as allowing the use of titles like ‘Mayor’ or ‘Mayor Pro-Tem’ as legislative leadership provisions.” But in doing so, she failed to inform you of the context in which the sample designations were defined.
Section 20712 which Ms. Lujan references, pertains to “Proposed Ballot Designations Submitted Pursuant to Elections Code Section 13107, … (a)(1)”, which requires Ballot Designations represent “the … office … to which he or she was elected to that office by vote of the people.” To make it short, the paragraph, Ms. Lujan noted, reveals samples of how to use Ballot Designations to comply with the specified three word limit, but the section does not expand on the limitations imposed by 13107(a) (1), and since Santa Clarita Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem are not offices elected by a vote of the people, the examples do not apply to our city council election.
In addition, I knew about this Election Code section, but did not mention it in my column, because Election Code 20710, General Provisions, sub-paragraph 5 states, “The regulations set forth in this Chapter shall apply only to elections held for offices for which election returns are certified by the Secretary of State of the State of California,” making it most likely this whole section is not applicable to the Santa Clarita City Council election process.
The issue of using Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem as Ballot Designations has been a contentious issue, since State Assembly Member Dante Acosta was prevented from using “Mayor Pro-Tem” as a ballot designation in his State Assembly bid four years ago. While I appreciate city staff coming out with a written position on the issue, I also feel the city clerk in this instance has not applied the election code in a manner consistent with previous state decisions. At least now, candidates have been given the opportunity to comprehend the rationale behind the city clerk allowing these Ballot Designations to be used. It is unfortunate, however, that the issue will not get a higher-level hearing, unless a challenger, or group of challengers, take the time, effort, and provide the financial resources to file a “Writ of Mandate” in Sacramento challenging the city clerk’s decision. The decision on how to proceed now rests with the challengers.
On another topic, Ms. Lujan correctly pointed out commissioners are nominated, not appointed by council members. I can see she is going to keep me on my toes, and I thank her for the help.
But now, with this point by counter-point process in place, I started thinking about how we could enhance our mutual dialog even further. I wondered what would happen if I were to ask a question, rather than putting forth an opinion. Would the city provide an answer?
This past week, both The Signal and Facebook made the public aware of Representative Knight hosting a roundtable discussion of local and federal officials to discuss solutions to fight wildfires. It appears the meeting was not open to the public, as a COC student was reportedly denied access. On Wednesday, August 15, a Signal article written by Crystal Duan stated, “Santa Clarita Mayor Laurene Weste, Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean and Councilman Bill Miranda were in attendance … Weste spoke of the city’s emphasis on purchasing and preserving open space, and also discussed how the burden to maintain the wild landscapes of SCV falls on the residents. ‘We need tougher building codes and harsh penalties on people that start fires.’ Mclean suggested ‘using grazing livestock, such as Goats as a solution.’ ”
Ms. Lujan, could you help clarify the situation and explain why a meeting, where the majority of our city council attended and openly discussed issues concerning the City of Santa Clarita, did not require compliance to the Brown Act, including the meeting being publicly noticed and opened to the public? Other meetings, where a majority of the city council is invited to attend, such as the Sand Canyon Home Owners’ Association annual meeting, have always been noticed and open to the public per the Brown Act. Why are these meetings treated differently?
I feel confident the city staff will provide an explanation, and I want to thank Ms. Lujan in advance. I look forward to reading all about it.
by Carrie Lujan, Communications Manager City of Santa Clarita
The purpose of the event that Mr. Ferdman references was for the Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to discuss the wildfires which have affected California in recent years. More specifically, to discuss how they relate to federal lands. The City of Santa Clarita is surrounded by the Angeles National Forest. Meetings held to discuss subject matters within the jurisdiction of the City Council are subject to the Brown Act. The meeting in question, with Secretary Perdue and Congressman Knight, does not fall within the requirements for a Brown Act noticed meeting by the local jurisdiction, as the subject of management, safety and prevention of wildfires on federal lands is not within the subject matter jurisdiction of the city council.
Candidates Have Submitted Their Papers, the Flag Has Dropped, and Our City Council Race is Officially Underway
Friday, August 10 was the final day for city council candidates to turn in their paperwork qualifying them to appear on the November ballot, and our Santa Clarita City Council race has officially commenced. It won’t be long before we will witness campaign signs going up all around the city. The 2018 city council election is somewhat of a record breaker, with 20 individuals pulling the initial papers, and 15 of them returning their completed documentation, including qualified nomination signatures, ballot designations and ballot statements. And, if they choose, a check to pay for printing their ballot statements in one or two different languages.
At the same time, many of our local school boards are preparing for their district elections, some of which will occur for the first time. You may remember several years ago, when our city council and many of our local school boards were taken to task, with some alleging they were in violation of the California Voter Rights Act by electing their leadership “at large,” thereby preventing protected minority classes from electing candidates of their choice. With school boards settling their portion of the allegations by dividing their domain into districts, it appears incumbency still has advantages, as a portion of the elected seats are not being contested.
The City of Santa Clarita settled by agreeing to move their election from April to November, and authorized “Cumulative Voting,” providing state authorities would certify the new voting methodology. Cumulative voting is a weighted voting process. If there were three seats being voted on, as there are in this city council election cycle, each individual voter would get three votes, which could all, or in part, be cast for a single candidate. Confused? Don’t worry about it, the state failed to certify the new voting method, so the only change was moving the city council election to November. Yet, that has drawbacks as well. Since November elections draw many more voters, the cost of running an effective campaign for a city council seat, as I found out during the last election, rose almost by a factor of four. With the cost of printing and mailing a reasonably-sized flyer approaching a half dollar per mailer, and with November elections having approximately 50,000 regular voters, well, you can do the math. Plus, bulk mailing does not help reduce cost, because postal zones are not synonymous with city boundaries and the number of households in the city far exceeds the number of regular voters. Obtaining a level of campaign donations for a candidate to get their message out is the challenge each candidate will face when trying to gain a seat on the podium.
I believe it is obvious that there is still an incumbent advantage. Our two elected incumbents – Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean – have been in office for quite some time, and have the name recognition that comes with their long tenure in public service. Ms. Weste was first elected to the council in 1998 and Ms. Mclean was first elected in 2002. Santa Clarita does not have an elected Mayor. Instead, the mayor and mayor pro-tem are appointed by the council members each year. I find it interesting however, that Ms. Weste is currently serving as mayor, and was also mayor in 2006, 2010, and 2014, while Ms. McLean is currently mayor pro-tem and was also serving in the pro-tem position during those same years. All of which are election years when they were running for city council. Seems like a pretty good bit of razzle-dazzle, keeping a four-year rotation going when there are five members on the city council.
Why I bring this bit of history up, is because our city staff has allowed mayor and mayor pro-tem to be used as ballot designations in previous city council elections, even though it is not authorized by California Election Code 13107, which defines ballot designation verbiage as, “(1) Words designating the elective city … office which the candidate holds at time of filing the nomination documents to which he or she was elected to that office by a vote of the people,” or “(2) The word ‘incumbent’ if the candidate is a candidate for the same office he or she holds at the time of filing the nomination papers, and was elected to that office by a vote of the people.” Since “Santa Clarita Mayor or Mayor Pro-Tem” is not an office “elected by a vote of the people,” such a ballot designation would be improper and misleading. Let’s hope we see a change this election cycle. On the other hand, Councilmember Miranda has been serving on the city council for the past year and a half and will benefit from his participation at city council meetings. It is appropriate for him to use a ballot designation of “appointed incumbent” per 13107 (4).
Lastly, it comes to whose name is known in Santa Clarita. TimBen Boydston has once served as an appointed councilmember, with an additional term as an elected councilmember, and Diane Trautman has served as a Planning Commissioner, having been appointed by Councilmember McLean, and more recently by then Councilmember Boydston. City Council Candidates Sandra Nichols, Brett Haddock, Paul Wieczorek, and Ken Dean have run for city council before, and they know what they are getting themselves into, while it will be a new experience for Jason Gibbs, Matthew Hargett, Cherry Ortega, Logan Smith, Sankalp Varma and Sean Weber. I wish them all the best of luck. Yet, for those who are new at this, they will quickly learn it takes a lot of time and is a very tall hill to climb.
For me, I have been a city council forum moderator, worked on city council campaigns, was a candidate for city council twice, and am now entering a new chapter as a Gazette columnist writing about city council elections. I think I am going to enjoy my current role the best.