About Alan Ferdman
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When my wife Pam and I moved to the Santa Clarita Valley over a half century ago, it was a very rural and sparsely populated place. It seemed very comforting because I realized my young family was going to be living just three blocks from a grammar school, and a junior high school was under construction about the same distance away.
There were no houses on the hillsides around us, and we considered it a traffic jam if two cars, traveling in adjacent directions, would arrive simultaneously at an intersection displaying four way stop signs, requiring us to patiently ponder which vehicle would get to enter the intersection first. Yep, those were “the good old days.”
As time passed, some neighbors called it progress, while others had more colorful four-letter words to describe the more and more houses being built, and the resulting traffic clogging our Santa Clarita roadways. While I have never opposed property owners developing what they own, I have also been of the opinion that “our elected officials have the responsibility to provide adequate infrastructure for the developments they approve.” Such assurance is supposed to be provided by the City of Santa Clarita establishing land use standards (the general plan), and the collection of fees and charges necessary to provide city services, one of which is adequate and properly maintained roads (bridge and thoroughfare fees). It is understandable why concern over traffic congestion has been growing for a long time. Quoting the Los Angeles Times in 2016, the “Los Angeles area can claim the worst traffic in America, Again.”
Yet, what makes the traffic situation in the Santa Clarita Valley even worse, is the streets are not laid out in a grid pattern, making it almost impossible to synchronize the traffic lights, the city bus service being established without providing egresses at all bus stops, causing buses to unnecessarily block lanes of traffic, and the failure of state, county and city officials to do much more than study the problem. Plus, if you are a regular resident who takes their children to school in the morning, or travels to work and back during rush hour, you already know where the traffic bottlenecks are. If the elected officials really wanted advice on how and where to fix the problem, all they would need to do is ask “John-Q-Public,” and then act on the feedback they receive.
But the insanity does not stop there.
Recently, the State Legislature passed some bills to help cure California’s “Affordable Housing” shortage. Starting with the passage of California SB 229 and AB 494 in October of 2017, “Accessory Dwelling Units” are now legal for construction in single family or multi-family residential zones, in addition to the existing structures. While the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) may not exceed 1200 square feet, garage conversions of 400-square feet may be used. Parking required shall not exceed one parking space per unit; however the ADU shall be exempt from all parking requirements if the property is located within 0.5-mile walking distance of a public transportation station. Changes, primarily to relax the requirements on constructing an ADU are being adopted at the state level in a fast and furious manner. At the April 9, 2019 city council meeting, agenda Item 3 staff report indicated passage of Assembly Bill 68, would prohibit the City of Santa Clarita from imposing a minimum lot size to be used for ADU construction, and also prohibit requiring new parking spaces after a garage or carport is converted into an ADU.
You may remember not that long ago, when the City of Santa Clarita was determined to eliminate illegal garage conversions and put a stop to homeowners renting out their garages as living space. Well, how things change over time. Now the State of California is making those same garages available for conversion into dwelling units. One Canyon Country neighborhood has been made aware of the first of these conversions in their area. It is being accomplished by a property owner who purchased the existing home for use as a rental and in addition is converting the garage for another rental unit. Should the owner decide to rent rooms, as is legal in the City of Santa Clarita, the likelihood is there will be a need to park five or six cars as a result; and with replacements not being required due to the garage conversion, where will they park? In front of other neighbors’ homes, of course, further congesting the neighborhood. Now start to imagine the increased congestion should other property owners follow suit.
Plus, it still isn’t over. At the July 9, 2019 city council meeting, agenda item 7, the council declared opposition to SB 330 which if passed, would prohibit Santa Clarita “from requiring a minimum parking requirement if a proposed residential development is within one-quarter mile of a rail stop …. and also prohibit the city from requiring a minimum parking requirement greater than 0.5 spaces per unit if the proposed residential development is outside of one-quarter mile of a rail stop.” I can’t imagine what planet our state legislators are from. Here on earth, virtually every multi-family development currently does not have enough parking spaces for their residents. Don’t take my word for it; verify the fact for yourself by driving up Valle Del Oro in Newhall, or Isabella Parkway next to Home Depot after 5 PM, and see if you can spot an empty space. Santa Clarita development codes need to be modified to provide more parking spaces per unit, not less. Sure, our city council members lamented about loss of local control, but are they doing any better?
At the same April 9 meeting, agenda Item 13 proposed creation of a “Jobs Creation Overlay Zone (JCOZ),” which would allow the height of office buildings to be increased to five stories without a conditional use permit and provide the Director of Community Development the authority to reduce parking requirements. They voted 4-1 to approve the staff recommended action, with no discussion about the infrastructure (road improvements) necessary to accommodate the added traffic and parking. Next came agenda item 14, proposing to award the design contract for the Dockweiler Drive extension. I rose to remind them about the plight of residents who live in the condo complex at the top of Dockweiler. If the road is constructed two lanes in each direction, with no stopping posted on each side, where will the current residents park? The answer came back that although the road would be constructed as two lanes in each direction, it will only be striped for one. I find the answer hard to believe, but we will just have to wait and see.
The thing I found most infuriating about the Dockweiler extension and 13th Street crossing improvement project discussion was Councilman Kellar’s lecture about how the current road improvement project is all about public safety. If the Council is suddenly so concerned about traffic impeding public safety, what are they planning to do about all the areas around the city which are almost in gridlock? For example, just try driving across town on Soledad Canyon Road, from Shadow Pines to McBean Parkway and then on to the Henry Mayo Hospital at 7AM when school is in session. Think about what happens to our city streets when there is an accident on the 5 freeway or Hwy 14, and how those instances affect first responders in time of an emergency.
Santa Clarita’s roadways are being clogged by the city and county approving developments without providing infrastructure to support our area’s growth. Necessary parking and road improvements are not being provided; this will force people to get out of their cars and use alternate forms of transportation, or the city is waiting for a developer to pay for it. Both of these inactions just keep making the problem worse. It is time for our state, county, and local elected officials to start realizing they cannot fix the California Affordable Housing crisis on the shoulders of our current residents, and they cannot fix our traffic problems by doubling down on solutions which have failed to even hold the status quo. If the situation continues to worsen, perhaps it is time for the public to realize we just have the wrong people representing us.
While I can remember how it was when my wife Pam and I moved to the Santa Clarita Valley, when it was a very rural and sparsely populated place, I wonder if my grandchildren will still be living here, one half century from now, and will they be relating their memories of how the City of Santa Clarita was, before the traffic and parking problems were solved.
Just for the record, this past 4-day weekend has turned out to be a much more vigorous adventure than any other Independence Day holiday I have ever experienced in the past.
Starting off in the darkness of early morning on Thursday the 4th, I was getting ready to load the truck with my part of the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center Parade Float equipment. While checking my list for the umpteenth time, I realized if I left something important home, or miscalculated how the sound system or other electrical equipment was going to work, there would be no way to recover. The float plans were a lot more complex this year, as we had added a pneumatic system to keep our big yellow duck properly inflated, and incorporated the use of a 110 volt inverter to keep the bubbles blowing, along with a whole new set of banners, flags and props. But fortunately, the parade team’s planning paid off. When we arrived at our parade staging location, we had everything needed to decorate our float and all the props were working as designed.
If you were a spectator on the parade route, and were able to see and hear us come by, I hope you noticed how we showed our support for the United Sates Constitution’s 1st Amendment granting freedom of the press, and the 100th anniversary of Santa Clarita’s Signal Newspaper, when we announced the inauguration of the “Dixon Daily News.” In addition, to be in fashion for the occasion, the Dixon Float Decoration Team had our lovely mascot, “Dorothy Dixon Duck,” wearing a custom-made designer shower cap, while taking a bubble bath and reading the latest copy of our paper. But, to be sure those watching did not miss the significance, or importance, of the Dixon Daily News, our CEO Philip Solomon headed up a crew of four bicycle riding newspaper delivery boys and girls, handing out copies which included “Duck Adoption Papers” announcing the “Dixon Duck Dash” to be held on October 12th at Bridgeport Park. Not only will this event be a free fun day for the entire family, if you adopt a duck, or ducks, you could be one of the Dixon Duck Dash’s grand prize recipients and win some big bucks (dollars that is).
Even with all we had to do, we did not forget my seven pound, white, long haired, floppy eared, tail wagging, family member named Baby, who turned 98 in dog years on the 4th. This year, she rode in the center of the float, amazed as always, about all the people gathered to celebrate with her. Yet, what I found most intriguing was our own Mayor, Marsha McLean. As it turned out, the Mayor occupied the parade spot right behind our Samuel Dixon Family Health Center float. What made our Mayor stand out above the other elected officials, was while most of them remained in a safe zone of riding in an automobile, Mayor Marsha showed her daredevil spirit by climbing on the back of a shiny Harley-Davidson trike, to travel the parade route. It was breathtaking to watch as the rider, and our Mayor, paused to do some doughnuts in an intersection. Way to go, Mayor Marsha!
Our float had a great time, but their activities represented just the first half of the day. After taking down the parade float decorations, returning the truck to the rental yard and taking everything back to where it would be stored for next year, there was the question of what to do next. In the morning, American Legion riders were passing out flyers for lunch and afternoon activities at their Newhall Legion Post. Independence Day celebrations were also scheduled at Mint Canyon Moose, the Santa Clarita Elks, and I’ll bet there was a large gathering at the local VFW. It makes me proud to live in this very patriotic city named Santa Clarita.
This year, lunch time brought more than just food on my plate when I was asked if I had felt the earthquake. Since I was riding on a parade float, the earthquake being centered in Ridgecrest and we were buffered by being on the other side of the San Andreas fault, I did not even know the quake had taken place. Finding out later that Ridgecrest was “rocking and rolling” to a 7.1 shaker, my heart went out to all the local residents. I remember the 6.5 1971 Sylmar quake causing my wife and I to shovel a trash barrel full of broken glass out of our kitchen, and the 6.7 1994 Northridge shaker rupturing a natural gas main line two blocks down from my house. When we finally were able to travel to work, we saw first-hand all the apartment buildings on Lassen which collapsed on to their lower level parking areas, plus my wife’s place of employment on Devonshire Boulevard where the 3rd floor became the 2nd floor. Those level 6.5 and 6.7 quakes were bad enough, but a 7.1 had to be a lot worse. Plus, now all the locals must live with the aftershocks, find the resources to repair the damage and calm their nerves. I realize we have been lucky to not have experienced a local major earthquake for over 20 years. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that our luck holds out.
All that was happening, and the holiday was not half over. Last week I wrote about a tragic event which took place on Friday, June 21, 2019. The Jarheads MC, a group of active duty or honorably discharged Marines, FMF Corpsman, and family members, in New Hampshire, were on their way to a charity fund raiser at a local American Legion Post, when a pickup truck towing a car trailer, swerved onto the wrong side of the road directly into the group of motorcycle riders. Seven members of the group were killed and several more were severely injured. It is still very troubling for me to think about men and women who had volunteered to put their life on the line to defend our country, ending up in heaven as a result of a senseless violent incident, right here at home. It makes me even more incensed finding out the perpetrator, “should have had his commercial driver’s license suspended, but Massachusetts did not properly log an impaired driving incident in Connecticut from the previous month”. In addition, “Massachusetts officials announced that Registry of Motor Vehicle workers stopped processing out-of-state violations beginning in March 2018, and 53 bins of unopened mail with thousands of notices were discovered at a records room at the Quincy office of the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). The Bay State’s RMV has issued more than 1,100 suspensions to 876 drivers as it works through a backlog of out-of-state driver’s license violations that sat unchecked for more than a year.” Now, I’m sure the elected officials, in those states, will hold press conferences to cry out how unacceptable the situation was. But from my standpoint, this type of dereliction of duty is becoming all too common. We need to start putting public servants in office whose first priority is protecting the public, instead of those who seem to spend their time verifying their retirement account is fully funded.
When Joe Lozano and I found out that memorial rides and fundraisers were being set up across the country on July 6th to help the victims and families of the New Hampshire tragedy, we decided Santa Clarita should take action as well. With only 10 days lead time, we knew we needed to try something new. So, we opted for a memorial ride, with no ride fee charged, no standard donations collected or prizes awarded. This event would be held solely to raise awareness and would only accept voluntary contributions. I made up a flyer, Joe made some phone calls, and the “Sic Psycles” Road Captain joined in by putting a 100-mile route together. The ride would take the group from the Santa Clarita Elks Parking Lot to the Rock Inn, from there to El Pescador in Filmore and finally to the Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas. It was a gamble, and with so little time to advertise, we had no idea how many individuals would participate, but when we called the restaurants and explained what we were doing, all three welcomed the group. So, on Saturday July 6, at 10:30am, motorcycle riders and their passengers left the Elks parking lot for what was a great ride with a great purpose.
I would like to especially thank several of our friends, who were already scheduled to be out of town on that day, and contributed before the ride, while others gave from their heart the day of the event. Even on such short notice, we are sending over $600 to help the families and victims. God bless all of you who took part in this event. Yet, if you missed the ride, remember it is not too late to help those in need, and if you choose to do so, please give me a call at 661-713-9344, or contact “Jarheads MC” directly at JarheadsMCDonations@gmail.com. Any amount you choose to donate will help.
Always Advocating Alan – Celebrating the Fourth of July and Baby’s Birthday While Helping Those in Need
The Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays. As a youngster growing up in Brooklyn, it was a time when I was ready to view the holiday parade coming down Ocean Parkway. When the last float passed by, I would go up to the solarium on the roof of our apartment building to witness a giant firework display over the ocean. Then after moving to the west coast, growing up and having children of my own, the Fourth of July became a ritual of boating trips to the Colorado River, water skiing, barbeques, and a fun-filled holiday weekend.
But through it all, while our family had a great time, something seemed to be missing. So, thinking about the meaning of Independence Day, I started taking the Fourth of July Holiday a bit more seriously by attending (and more often participating) in Santa Clarita’s Independence Day Parade in Newhall.
Looking back in time, I believe my vision on how to celebrate Independence Day matured in 2006. I had just retired and decided to fulfill a lifelong dream and ride to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. on Memorial Day with the Vietnam Veterans, my wife and our two riding buddies. Motoring through the heartland of America and seeing the patriotism displayed by residents all across our great country made me stop and think about how I had been celebrating some of the most important days of the year.
Independence Day should not be just about barbeques, boating and parties; it should also be a time to reflect on the vision set forth by our Founding Fathers. We need to remember how fortunate we are to be Americans, and plan what we will need to do to assure our children will have the same freedom and benefits we enjoy, so they can pass them on to their children as well.
We must always remember how the lives of American citizens have been continually improved because of the words written in the United States Declaration of Independence, which states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” We should also acknowledge how the citizenry of those times put themselves in harm’s way to establish a country with a vision like no other on the planet, and how each generation thereafter has joined in, when needed, to preserve our republic.
Today, I hear some people talk about when and where the United States has been involved in activities they do not believe is just or right. To them I say that our country is a work in progress, and while it is still not perfect, over my lifetime I have witnessed reduced discrimination of all forms, technology improving our daily lives in many different ways, and the implementation of instantaneous worldwide open communications.
Information is now disseminated in a manner where it has become very difficult to hide wrongdoing from the world’s population. I am optimistic we can continue down the right path if we remain able to speak our minds, hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and continually look for ways for the country to improve. George Washington summed it up over 200 years ago by saying, “Your love of liberty, your respect for the laws, your habits of industry, and your practice of the moral and religious obligations, are the strongest claims to national and individual happiness.” It is therefore most important to emulate our Founding Fathers and never give up our quest for freedom.
Now, I am not suggesting we get so serious that we cast aside any fun and good times that come with a celebration. This year on July 4, I will again be riding on the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center float, where our own “Dorothy Dixon Duck” will be “splishing and splashing in her bath” while reading a newspaper to commemorate the 1st Amendment, which provides our country with freedom of the press.
In addition, a little humor does not hurt either. So, I will not forget to bring my 7-pound, white, long haired, floppy eared, tail wagging family member named Baby, to the parade. Born on Independence Day in 2005, she will turn 98, (in dog years), and I will again enable her to view all those out to celebrate her birthday.
But this year, there is also a very serious situation in the news. On Friday, June 21, Jarheads MC, a group of active duty or honorably discharged Marines, FMF Corpsman and family members in New Hampshire were on their way to a charity fundraiser at a local American Legion Post, when a pickup truck towing a car trailer swerved onto the wrong side of the road directly into the group of motorcycle riders. Seven members of the group were killed and several more were severely injured.
It is very troubling for me to realize that men and women who volunteered to put their life on the line to defend our country would end up in heaven as a result of a senseless violent incident, right here at home. Gone from this life are Michael Ferazzi (Contoocook), Albert Mazza (Lee), Daniel Pereira (Riverside, RI), Jo-Ann and Edward Corr (Lakeville, MA), Desma Oakes (Concord), and Aaron Perry (Farmington). How sad that such a tragedy occurred.
As I am sure you might imagine, the families of those killed and injured need help. Jarheads MC set up a Go Fund Me page and there are several fundraisers being set up across the country. I am proud to reveal how Santa Clarita will be participating in helping those in need.
On Saturday July 6, A Memorial Ride will take place starting at the Santa Clarita Elks Lodge Parking lot, 17766 Sierra Highway, in Canyon Country. A meet-up will start a 9 a.m., riders and drivers Meeting at 10 a.m., with kickstands up and e-brakes off at 10:30 a.m. There will be no “Ride Fee” charged, standard donation collected, or prizes awarded. This event is being held solely to raise awareness and accept voluntary contributions to be sent directly to the victims and their families. Plus, you do not need to ride a motorcycle to join in, and you can choose how far to ride, or drive, with the group.
I hope to see you at the Fourth of July Parade in Newhall and the Memorial Ride on July 6. Join me in celebrating Independence Day by saluting the flag, right here in the land of the free and home of the brave.
Last week, I wrote about my good fortune of being invited by the Sheriff’s Foundation to tour the SCV Sheriff’s station. For me, a highlight of the evening was receiving a presentation by the J-Team, a group of officers primarily fighting juvenile drug addiction. These officers showed their deep concern for all the addicted individuals who they were trying to help get sober by sharing commentaries about their efforts. While I commend the deputies involved in this endeavor for their ability to continue the battle they face in addressing this seemingly insurmountable problem, I was extremely saddened to hear that major drug addiction problems were now being felt at the grammar school level. I shook my head, thinking, here we are, 33 years after Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, establishing mandatory prison sentences for some drug offenses, and I realized even though we are long into the “War On Drugs,” the problem just continues to worsen.
I’m sure you have heard the time weary quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but it seems to be a very insightful statement. Unfortunately, our elected officials appear to only have one answer for every problem. If they decide there is something that they do not want the public to do, they pass a new law saying don’t do it, or there will be a punishment applied. Then, when the old law doesn’t seem to be accomplishing what they intended, they pass another law making the punishment more severe, and as the elected officials brag about what they have done, the problem just lingers on.
But with drugs, it was not always seen as the problem it is today. There was a period in the 1800s when bottles of Laudanum (an opium derivative), was available for anyone to purchase at the General Store. You might remember watching “The Shootist” starring John Wayne. In this story, the hero was dying of cancer, and when his doctor prescribed Laudanum, he asked: “How will I know when to take it and how much to take?” I chuckled when his doctor told him innocently, “You’ll know!” At that point in history, marketing drugs to the public was everywhere, and during the 1890s even the Sears Catalog offered a syringe and a measured amount of Cocaine for $1.50. But, then again, there was a dark side. If you watched the movie “Tombstone,” you probably remember Wyatt Earp’s first wife using Laudanum to combat her migraine headaches, and her subsequently dying of an overdose.
What changed around the start of the 20th century was the public’s concern about a large segment of the population becoming addicted and thereby losing their ability to be productive members of society. So, the lawmakers of the time took up the gauntlet using the only tools at their disposal, and started creating laws prohibiting drug sales and recreational use. But here is the big rub. Laws are only effective when the general public accepts them, and the best example of a law being resisted by the public was the 18th amendment to our constitution, a nationwide ban on the production, importation, transportation, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, known at the time as “Prohibition.”
Brought to you on the silver screen have been many western movies, which all seemed to include saloon-inspired alcoholism, violence, and corruption. Even my favorite old TV western, “Gunsmoke,” seemed to center on the “Long Branch Saloon” with Doc, Festus, Matt and Kitty regularly meeting for a drink. So, to combat the perceived problem, the Anti-Saloon League, social progressives, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union created a massive campaign to end the evils of alcohol” culminating in 1920 with the passage of the 18th U.S. Constitutional Amendment, thereby outlawing the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the United States.
From one perspective the “Prohibition” law was fairly successful. Alcohol consumption during Prohibition was estimated to have been reduced by 50 percent, but the unintended consequences proved the cure to be worse than the cold. Making something illegal which the general population did not want to give up created a large black market for alcoholic beverages, a boom to the moonshine market, with some making their own bathtub mixtures, while other products were being smuggled into the country. It was a time which saw the rise of the mafia, speakeasies (illegal bars) and crime rising to a level never before witnessed. Because of all the negative aspects, as a social experiment, Prohibition lost supporters every year. Finally, the country had had enough, and in 1933 the 21st U.S. Constitutional Amendment was passed repealing the 18th and Prohibition was no more.
Today, in some ways, I see a parallel related to illegal drug use and the Prohibition era. The sale and use of illegal drugs have put large amounts of money in the Mexican Drug Cartel’s pockets and has created a network of drug smuggling and sales crisscrossing our entire country. Drug dealers are looking to make customers out of our children, and young adults by giving away free samples, along with Hollywood glamorizing the effects of recreational drug use. There seems to be so much money involved, no amount of new laws prohibiting the manufacture and sale of illegal drugs alone will stem the tide. Plus, it is not just about our youth. Personally, I watched my children’s godparents lose it all. They had a beautiful house in the San Fernando Valley. He owned a trucking company and she was a nurse at Kaiser. After discovering cocaine, they used every penny they could lay their hands on to buy drugs, and ended up living on the street, until the Lord took them home. It was sad to watch, and no matter what my wife and I tried to help them get clean, their addiction won out. Recently I read an article describing the homeless population as exhibiting an 80 percent addiction rate, and even if that number is overblown, it appears the number of addicted homeless individuals is huge. We need to stop pretending the major homeless problem can be fixed by just creating affordable housing, because addicts will spend all they have on drugs, and are not the least bit concerned when there is nothing left to pay rent.
Now, I am not advocating we simply decriminalize recreational drug use, but I am saying we need to implement a solution which takes the drug traffickers profits away, and thereby eliminates the practice of targeting children as new drug customers. In addition, prescription drugs (opioids) need to be used and provided more sparingly. The alternative is to continue what we are doing by passing more laws prohibiting illegal drug manufacturing, transportation, sales and use, spend more money to fund law enforcement, and fill up our jails. All while the problem continues to get worse.
We should seriously consider Don Wilson’s words: “As a people, we are not very good students of history; we keep repeating the same mistakes at dreadful costs.”
As a country, we must change the way we approach the drug problem, or if we continue down the same tired old road, it will end up as Robert Fuller said: “I have seen the future and it doesn’t work.”
The past week has been family fun time here at Ferdman Clan Headquarters. Saturday brought out a proud set of parents and grandparents to watch our eldest grandson Cole play in Hart’s Bronco Allstar Game. What a great way for him to end the regular season, being chosen as the starting pitcher, getting on base both times at bat to help put runs on the scoreboard, and assisting his team in the field for the win. Then it was on to the People’s Choice Rotary Car Show, and as a member of the Santa Clarita Sunrise Rotary Club, I got to hand out ballots to help decide the leaders in each category. I met a very nice Harley-riding highway patrolman, and smiled when a young little girl sitting on her father’s shoulders politely asked if she could keep the pencil I provided her to fill out the ballot. My heart melted, and I’m sure I would have given her the whole box of pencils if she would have asked for them. Finally, on Father’s Day Sunday morning, Pam and I went out for breakfast at the Elks, where we conversed with friends and spent the morning with Joe and Elizabeth.
With all the goings-on, I also felt extremely fortunate to have been invited to the Sheriff’s Foundation yearly get together. Plus, the event was held right at the Sheriff Station, allowing us to get a firsthand look into the station’s day-to-day operations.
Did you know there is a Memorial Garden honoring their fallen heroes right outside the station? It is located just beyond where the service vehicles are parked. From the street, all you can see is a wall, but on the other side, it tells a very different story. Within the garden was where we started the evening, with a buffet dinner provided by Salt Creek. It made it even better to know Mayor McLean was also present, and as luck would have it, we were seated at the same table. Then, with a full tummy, we were divided into groups of 10 to tour the station, where we would get to view and hear about six areas of operations.
For my group, our first trek was up to the roof for a look at the sheriff’s helicopter. Being a Sheriff’s Pilot did not sound like an easy job. With two 3-hour shifts per day in the air going after the bad guys, and if necessary, attempting to draw fire away from the good guys on the ground in a bird with no belly armor, it did not sound like a job for the faint of heart. Think about it.
Then it was back to the ground floor and out to the parking area for a view of the department’s lethal and non-lethal weapons. It was very meaningful to learn about the deputies’ concern for only using lethal force as a last resort, and the policies and procedures in place to protect the lives of perpetrators who intended to do them harm. I’m not sure I would be so concerned with the safety of an individual running at me with a knife in hand, but the deputies spoke of using bean bag shotgun rounds, as well as other non-lethal weaponry, and they planned to continue their use until such time as their own safety was placed in jeopardy. We were allowed to handle the un-loaded hardware and one of our groups got to fire a training round from the latest non-lethal weapon. Never let it be said we couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, because our marksman missed the target, but hit the building, and it wasn’t even painted red.
Next it was a short walk to the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) vehicle. It pretty much looked like the SWAT vehicles you see in the movies; heavily armored, with a rear area set up with two benches for transporting the team. But the real story should be about the men and women who ride the SWAT vehicle into harms way. The deputy described, and showed us, some of the tools they use, including several different types of body armor. I was surprised to learn that some of an individuals’ body armor is purchased by the deputies themselves. I’m wondering if this situation could be corrected.
Alongside the SWAT vehicle was the command post. As you might imagine, it is a large bus-like RV, with a pop-out in the conference area. As we entered, we could hear the police radios in operation. Looking around, I noticed radio communications, internet and TV access had been provided, along with a large screen in the conference area. Managing and coordinating between all the different agencies during an emergency must be a difficult task. Having the command center available to bring the law enforcement management team closer to the action has got to help make the management process more effective.
Enough outdoor activities, so it was back into the heart of the station to hear from the “J-Team.” There were two deputies present to explain the workings of the team, along with a display of drug paraphernalia. With the J-Team heavily involved in the world of juvenile drug addiction, their heartfelt desire to get the kids off drugs rather than just throwing them in jail is extremely significant. They spoke about interacting with some of the offenders multiple times. It appears to take a great deal of time and effort before many kids are willing to try rehab to get clean, and sadly, many of them who don’t simply overdose and leave this world. It made me think about how frustrating it must be for the deputies to deal with the situation every day, and how they deserve a lot of credit for continuing to stay on a path of doing all they can to help our troubled youth.
Now I was anxious to see the K-9 team (those who know me know I love dogs). But as luck would have it, a big drug bust was now in progress, and they were called into action. A Sheriff’s Explorer had been our guide throughout our visit and the K-9 team being out of the facility gave us a chance to talk with him about what it was like to be a Sheriff’s Explorer in the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station.
This brings me to my personal observations. I spent most of my career as a project and department manager. As such, when given a tour of a facility, I tend to also look at the peripheral activities going on around me, and I was pleased with what I witnessed. I know we are getting a new, bigger and more modern sheriff’s station, but I am happy to report that even though the existing station may be crowded, it appeared well maintained, clean and free of clutter. All the deputies I saw interacted in a professional and polite manner, even when dealing with some unwilling visitors in chrome bracelets, their professional demeanor did not change.
An organization’s performance is driven by the leadership, and while Captain Lewis is consistently telling us, “it is the deputies who do the daily work who deserve our admiration,” he is the one who sets the station’s overall tone. Santa Clarita is fortunate to have Captain Lewis, and his entire sheriff’s station staff. They symbolize a professional law enforcement team, doing all they can to keep our community safe.
They are Santa Clarita’s six-pointed shining star.
Like most of you, I read the paper every day, check the web for the latest news, and wonder why some of the things our community regularly talks about rarely seem to create any concrete results. This week was no exception. Reading Lee Barnathan’s Gazette article titled “Why no Canyon Country hospital?” provides a great example.
As a community, Canyon Country seems to regularly ask, why do certain things happen in some quadrants of the city and not others? Is (Canyon Country, Saugus, Valencia or Newhall) getting its fair share of city services? Come to think of it, wasn’t that the same thing we were saying about L.A. County some 30 years ago? Proponents of cityhood kept telling us, “We need to have more localized control.” Didn’t that message resonate with our community, culminating with the formation of the City of Santa Clarita? Why wouldn’t more local control be just as important today?
According to SCVHistory.com, “On Nov. 3, 1987… Measure U asked whether the area should become a city. An overwhelming majority said yes … Measure V asked whether city council members should serve at large or by district … A somewhat smaller majority said at-large (11,166 votes to 7,905).” Fast forward to the November 2016 city council election, and with over 58,000 voters casting a ballot to fill the council seats, perhaps Santa Clarita has grown large enough to revisit how our city council should be elected. The last time the question of “at large vs. elections by district” was addressed, it ended in a 2014 court decision which didn’t seem to satisfy anyone.
As it happened, the City of Santa Clarita became the defendant in a lawsuit that claimed the city’s at-large election process created a situation in violation of the “California Voter Rights Act,” where a protected minority class was unable to be represented by a candidate of their choice. In addition, the city was not the only governmental agency facing the same issue. Local school boards were named in similar lawsuits and chose to settle by agreeing to implement district voting at their next elections. Opponents of establishing district-based elections spoke about the racial overtone of having a protected minority class getting a larger voice in the election process, as well as their main concern, which was that electing council members by district would put them at odds, each trying to get the most resources applied within their district. In the end, the City of Santa Clarita and the plaintiff’s attorney settled, “The attorney’s fees for the plaintiffs will be paid by Santa Clarita, which is expected to range between $400-600,000,” according to The Signal on March 12, 2014. With that, the city council election would move to coincide with the November even-year election cycle. In my opinion, the city wasted an opportunity and just lost money. Plus, our communities were pushed further from having the ability to elect a candidate of their choice.
If you think about it, don’t you want someone dedicated to providing essential services for your neighborhood? Rob Skinner tells us, “Cities don’t build hospitals, companies do … Hospitals are private businesses … It comes down to money, just like everything else” (Gazette, June 7). Interesting, yet I suppose Mr. Skinner has never heard of a “Municipal Hospital,” which the dictionary defines as “a government hospital administered by city officials.” Not that I’m suggesting the City of Santa Clarita become a medical provider, but I will attest that city government has a major role in determining where businesses, including hospitals, will locate. Through the application of zoning requirements and development agreements, the city can make it easier (or more burdensome) for any business to locate within their jurisdiction. In November 2008, the City of Santa Clarita approved a resolution authorizing the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Development Agreement. While the agreement would benefit city residents by the addition of three medical office buildings and a new hospital tower, it also changed land zoning and parking requirements. One question raised at that time was, will the city provide the same zoning and requirements relief if a health care provider would come forth to build a second hospital on the east side of town? But no answer came forth from the dais. In this case, the city council decided on a strategy which could determine a serious outcome for you or your family sometime in the future.
In last week’s Gazette, Councilmember Kellar spoke about a friend with a broken rib, and how the ride to Henry Mayo “was the most excruciating trip.” But I vividly recall an evening in 2013 with my wife Pam, unconscious due to a respiratory arrest, taking an ambulance trip to Henry Mayo with lights and sirens blaring, Sheriff cars breaking traffic, and arriving with emergency staff waiting at the door for our arrival. Fortunately, God, the fire department paramedics, AMR ambulance attendants, sheriffs, and the Henry Mayo ER team were on our side that day, and it all turned out for the best. I cringe to think of what would have happened if the 107 Paramedic team was off on another call, or a direct route to Henry Mayo was not available due to some unforeseen natural or man-made event.
From my perspective, public safety is the most important responsibility of city government. Politics aside, the Santa Clarita Valley needs another Trauma Center on the east side of the valley. Think about the ‘94 earthquake, which isolated the Santa Clarita Valley from L.A. Should a similar situation occur again, and our single Trauma Center be damaged to the point of taking it offline, you will be on your own.
There are too few fire department paramedic teams in the SCV, and the teams are required to cover too large of an area. For example, the Fire Station 107 Paramedic Team, located on Soledad Canyon Road just east of Sierra Highway, are responsible for handling calls up the 14, as well as in Canyon Country. Should they be out on a call and unavailable, your emergency will be answered by a team from across town, increasing the response time. The issue of having additional paramedic services has been brought up several times, and the answer keeps coming back; firefighters who are also paramedic-certified, cannot perform activities as a paramedic when on the clock as a firefighter, per union rules and the lack of the appropriate drug kit. I have discussed the policy with firefighters personally, and have never found one who would not be willing to help an individual in need.
Above all else, for the well-being of our communities, I support the concept of district elections. It would bring our city council members closer to whom they represent and give them additional incentive to fight for what their constituents need. When it comes to life and death decisions, it better not be “all about money,” because it is not “just like everything else.” Life is something so precious, money alone cannot buy it. District elections would make it more likely for the residents of an area to elect a candidate of their choice and get rid of one who is not fighting for what their neighborhood needs. Could it be that the latter is what some elected officials are afraid of?
Sadly, this week I start my column with a message about the passing of Carl Boyer, one of Santa Clarita’s first council members and mayors.
Carl leaves this life after playing a major role in founding the City of Santa Clarita, while also accomplishing a lifetime of helping children in need. To think, we almost missed out on knowing him. In his own words, from the forward in his book, he made us aware, “Had I not been fearful of losing a few hundred dollars that my wife Chris and I invested in buying our first home, I might never have become involved in community affairs and politics.” Fortunately for all our residents, the concern over losing a small amount of money brought out a man who would leave an indelible impression on how our city would be run.
He inherited a problem-solving mindset from this father, who was an electrical engineer, which not only caused him to analyze everything going on around him, but to document his thoughts as well. When it came to his book, simply titled “Santa Clarita,” the pages became his pallet to display his colorful views, and after publication, he distributed copies to concerned residents. Carl was not one to live in the past. He was always willing to have a conversation, sharing his opinion on what needed to be done today.
Carl Boyer was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was a caring man of action who was a pleasure to be around, and I will miss his charm, foresight and wit every day.
Ever Read the Paper and Wonder, ‘How Did That Happen’?
This week, the City of Santa Clarita, in partnership with a local non-profit, Santa Clarita Archery, celebrated the opening of Santa Clarita’s first archery range. Reported in The Signal’s Sunday edition was a statement by Kieran Wong, chair of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission: “Ronnie and I spoke less than a year ago and we now have a fully operating archery range.” Ron Silos shared this thought by saying, “My vision is hosting the Olympic events in 2028. That’s my hope and dream … To say that Santa Clarita hosted an Olympic event would be a really wonderful impact.” Mayor McLean went on to announce that there will be “an officially sanctioned Olympic Day celebration right here (at the range),” and the public is invited to join.
The opening of an archery range in Santa Clarita represents a great addition to our city’s amenities, as it gives members of our community another recreational opportunity. Yet, I ponder, how did the archery range go from concept to reality in less than one year, in contrast to another group who has been championing and waiting for a Bicycle Motocross Track (BMX track) for over 10 years? It certainly has not been for a lack of land or funding from the Open Space and Parkland Preservation District or the Facilities fund. The BMX community has brought requests before the city council on numerous occasions. Leading the charge, Christian Gadbois has been a passionate advocate for building a BMX track here in Santa Clarita.
BMX competition is also an Olympic sport, and currently, Christian’s daughter Maya “was selected for TEAM USA to represent the U.S. (and Santa Clarita) at the BMX World Championships to be held in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium this July.” His Facebook page indicates, “like the U.S. Olympic Team, all funding for the athletes is based on private funding. Because of that, we are looking for corporate sponsorship for her trip.” Individual private donations are also greatly appreciated.
If there is a sudden interest in bringing world-class Olympic events to Santa Clarita, wouldn’t a world- class BMX track provide another genuine opportunity? So, what put the archery range on such a fast track, while the BMX facility sat in the shadows all this time? I heard a rumor that funding to create a BMX complex is being included in this year’s city budget. But budgeting the money and building the facility are two very different things. The community needs to stay on top of this issue. A paramount concern must be providing our youth with additional sports and skill-based activities in order to broaden their life lessons and raise their heads up from their cell-phone screens.
Relative to the discussion of the new archery range, Sunday’s Signal also indicated “The 1-acre (archery) range is tucked alongside the northernmost canyon in Haskell Canyon Open Space, just north of Copper Hill Drive and Haskell Canyon Road.” The article included a picture of Mayor McLean reviewing her marksmanship, after letting loose with her first three arrows. Marsha looks to be an archery “force to be reckoned with” as she recorded all three on target, with one arrow “in the center” yellow zone. I’ll have to remember to ask our mayor if her accuracy was due to good coaching, or pure natural skill. Good job, Marsha!
But looking at the picture, I started to think about range safety. For starters, what happens if an archer misses the target? What keeps the arrow in check? What keeps spectators out of harm’s way? Therefore, I took The Signal’s advice and brought up SCVarchery.com for more information. The action led me to the SCVArchery Facebook page, as seen in the picture below. As you can see, the Archery range appears to be a temporary activity, set up in the middle of an open field with no provision to contain arrows missing the target, or any barrier to prevent spectators from wandering into the line of fire. I just shook my head in disbelief. Knowing how risk-averse the City of Santa Clarita has been, it is hard to believe they approved the layout. Range safety must be the number one concern, no matter if this facility is a pistol, rifle, or archery range. Having a competent staff running the activity is only a part of maintaining a safe and fun atmosphere. The infrastructure needs to be there as well, and in this case, it appears to be severely lacking.
It seems I may have answered my own question. Is it possible that the reason the archery range went from concept to reality in less than one year is because the city allowed the range to be put in place without requiring any city financial investment? But since this activity sits on city-owned property, the city still bears the responsibility for public safety and will suffer the liability should something go wrong. While I’m still convinced that having an archery range in the City of Santa Clarita is of value to our community, I have my fingers crossed. City staff need to consult with experts in range safety and implement the necessary safeguards before one unfortunate accident puts an end to this great idea.
Memorial Day is a holiday which brings joy and sadness all at the same time. While it is the start of the summer holiday season, it also serves to remind us of our military personnel around the globe who have given their all protecting freedom and our great republic. Unfortunately, this year brings additional despair with the 32nd, and possibly last “Rolling Thunder” ride in Washington D.C. On Memorial Day, riders from all over the country will file out of the Pentagon Parking lot, in a seemingly never-ending parade passing across the Memorial Bridge, down Constitution Avenue to the Capitol, and back to West Potomac Park along Independence Avenue. Possibly for the last time.
“Rolling Thunder” is a collaborative effort of Veterans organizations across the country. No matter where you live in the continental United States, you are close to a pre-planned ride to D.C., scheduled for the riders to arrive in time for Memorial Day. In the Los Angeles area of Southern California, the trip is organized as a 10-day event starting in Orange County by “Run for the Wall” (RFTW.org). Through the years, as I watched news stories about this event, I thought someday, I am going to ride with them. So, when I retired in 2006, with my wife Pam in my Harley’s Passenger Seat, along with George, a Korean War Veteran, and Gene, a Vietnam Veteran, we made our way to the start. I knew from the onset I would be asked where I served, and as I am not a military veteran, I was not going to stretch the truth. I was asked that question many times, and in each case, I was also sternly asked, “If you did not serve, why are you here?” To which I replied, “I am here to support you and thank you for your service to our country.” That is all it took for the tension to subside and a smile to appear on the veteran’s face, with a friendly hand extended.
As motorcycle events go, “Run for the Wall” is unique. No entry fees are charged, and you are invited to ride “all the way” or join the group along the route, and if necessary, drop off as needed. If this is your first time participating, you will be given an NFG badge, indicating you are a New F-G Guy, deserving of an extra hug at morning rider’s meetings. When we signed up in 2006, there was a special table with an author handing out Veterans Self-Help books. He autographed one and asked me to pass it on to a Vietnam Veteran when I returned home, which I did. The year 2006 had about 800 riders ready to get on their way. We were given a choice of taking the Central or Southern Route. With the two groups evenly divided, we chose the Central Route and ended up riding in six groups called “platoons,” which had a two-second interval between them. Within each platoon, we were required to ride side by side, one-wheel length apart. It was a little hectic, with the Road Guards wanting me to pull-up closer, and someone behind me pounding on my shoulder to back off.
Every day started off with an early morning rider’s meeting. It was a time to get information on the day’s events, and possibly to hug an NFG. But each rider’s meeting ends on a somber note, reminding us of a soldier who went missing in Vietnam on the anniversary of this day. A letter to the missing soldier was held up, and the group was asked, “Who will take this letter to the Wall?” Each time, a veteran would volunteer to complete this solemn task.
You might wonder; How do you gas up 400 motorcycles in a reasonable amount of time? Well, gas stops were preselected every hundred miles, with an RFTW Volunteer holding the pumps open. Riders were asked to keep a wad of one-dollar bills with them. You would pull up to the pump, fill your tank and pay an amount rounded up to the nearest dollar. The extra change goes toward fueling the chase trucks and trailers following the platoons. But, about half the time, the gas cost was covered by the gas station owner.
Since the trip is choreographed, participants know where they will be every day. Hotels are available at each “days end” location, or you can camp if you so choose. Along the way, the patriotism and generosity of Middle America shined brightly. Hotels lowered their fees for the event, meals were provided by many VFW, American Legion Posts and even some private restaurants. Town residents know when the RFTW procession will be arriving and are waiting for the group to pass through their town. Onlookers armed with American flags and patriotic banners greet Veterans in a way which makes them feel like the heroes they truly are. One of the more memorable states we passed through was New Mexico, with the Highway Patrol clearing the freeway for us, all while a New Mexico National Guard helicopter flew overhead as we rode through the state. On May 19, 2006, we stopped in Grants, New Mexico for the dedication of a Vietnam Memorial built by private citizens, with ongoing maintenance being taken over by the state. Governor Richardson was present for the dedication and his staff handed out patches to commemorate the day. Then on the Navaho Nation, we witnessed a grand ceremony honoring members of the tribe who served in the military, followed by lunch for all 400 of us. Navaho tribe members are rightfully honored, and are well-known for their efforts as “code talkers” in World War II’s Pacific Theater.
One special place visited by RFTW each year is Rainelle, West Virginia. When RFTW first started their journey to the Wall 32 years ago, Rainelle was one of the first places to openly embrace the veterans passing through their town. Stopping at the high school and taking a tour showed their schools still teach U.S. history, with areas dedicated to pictures representing WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Students competed to see who could get the most veteran’s autographs. But, while we were greeted by the residents of Rainelle with open arms, the morning riders meeting warned us that the law enforcement climate was about to change as we entered Virginia. How challenging it must be for the organizers to be facing hostility for such a patriotic event. We staged just outside of Washington D.C., waiting for the planned unification of central and southern Route Platoons for a ride to the Vietnam Memorial Wall, when our plans came to a sudden halt. You might remember the day before Memorial Day in 2006, a forklift backfired in the basement of a Washington D.C. building, causing the city to be locked down, which required us to remain where we were. When we finally got to our hotel, my small group of three motorcycles did visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Because of the lockdown, there weren’t many visitors present, but the reverent atmosphere remained in place. Nothing will keep your eyes from tearing up when the Wall is directly in front of you.
We arrived at the “Final Night Dinner” early to find round tables set for groups of 12. As our table had empty seats, a young gentleman asked if his party could join us. It turned out that his group included the book author we met the first day who intended to continue giving out his books during the evening. Soon, a long line of Vietnam Veterans formed behind us. They all wanted to speak with the author. Sitting next to him, I heard the same story repeated over and over. It told of soldiers coming home drug-addicted, hitting bottom, and not knowing what to do until they found his book. They wanted to thank him, because the information within turned their life around. It certainly left an impact on me, and the next day, I decided as a non-veteran it was inappropriate for me to participate further. The last phase, “Rolling Thunder,” is something which should be reserved exclusively for veterans.
This year, RFTW got bigger, with 651 participants on the Central Route, 374 on the Mid-Country Route, and 618 on the Southern Route – all still riding for those who can’t. Let’s hope and pray the problems are resolved and “Rolling Thunder” goes on to live again in 2020 and beyond.
This week, my wife and I decided to take a break from the Santa Clarita lifestyle and join some longtime friends in Pismo Beach. We do this in remembrance of when we used to ride up there each year on the first Sunday in December for the San Louis Obispo Toy Run. When my wife and I realized the date had almost arrived, we both reflected on what a good time we had, and how nice it was going to be interacting with friends we have not seen in several years. Suddenly, I recognized the fact that we were not sitting there wishing we were that age again, but instead, we were talking about events in our lives which made us smile. Plus, we continue to experience good times right up to today.
Then later, when I was alone, I started to think about the time long ago when I boarded an airplane for a business trip to McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis. To pass the time on the 5-hour flight, I had purchased an audio book to play in my cassette recorder. We were airborne when I pressed the play button and heard a man with a southern preacher’s drawl come through the headphones. “Oh no,” I thought, “What did I buy?” But I was a captive audience, at which point I had to listen or sit there in boredom for the remainder of the trip. That was the day a gentleman named Zig Ziglar, a remarkable motivational speaker, came into my life. Zig is no longer with us, yet he lives on YouTube where his message still gets out.
I’ve known people who continually reflect on bad things which have happened to them. But Zig helped me reshape my thought process for the better. Sure, I’ve have had my share of problems, frustrations and disappointments, but those instances are in the past, and they have helped mold me into the way I am today. When I think back about them, the negative occurrences do not consume my thoughts. Sometimes, they even provide me an inner feeling of strength.
If you were to visit my home office, besides it always being a mess, you would see I surround myself with memories which make me smile. I never knew my biological father very well. He, like many other men of his era, enlisted in the army to fight in WWII. Unfortunately he passed away shortly after returning home. Yet, even though he was not there to shape my adolescence, the picture of my parents taken before they were married makes me feel warm inside.
My mother, brother and I moved in with my grandparents, and as you might expect, money was an issue. So, my mother found a job in the city working for an art dealer. I never met him, but he must have been a good guy, because one holiday season he sent me a Lionel Train set as a present. For a 7-year-old, there was no greater thrill than watching those trains travel in a circle with smoke puffing out of the locomotive. I still have those trains today, and plan to put them in a display.
My grandfather was my father figure. He loved ocean fishing, and when I was about 8 years of age, he bought me a bright, shiny new fishing pole made from a Santelli fencing foil. Next, he started taking me on day fishing trips, and I loved going with him. Memories of those trips linger as that pole and reel hang on the wall of my office. It reminds me of what a great man my grandfather was.
My mother remarried when I was 12, and we ended up in California where my adoptive father’s family lived. But I was born with a skeletal birth defect which caused my heart and lungs to be displaced, hindering their development. By age 13, I was having trouble breathing. That is when my hero, a Kaiser surgeon named Dr. Winkley, located me and offered to perform surgery to correct the problem. His long-term strategy was to develop a new procedure to correct the issue as unobtrusively as possible, but I would be his first patient. Well, after having my chest opened for 14 hours, my sternum cut loose, all my ribs broken, and a metal plate inserted, I woke up 24 hours after going under with a scar from one side of my chest to the other. The doctors told me it was not a genetic defect, but later in life I worried I would pass it on to my children or their children. Thankfully, the doctors were right, and all my children are OK.
I met my beautiful wife Pam when I was 20, and we were married three months later. We have two children who have grown up to be terrific, self-sufficient, family-oriented gentlemen, along with five wonderful grandchildren. When we were married, I was already working for Litton Guidance who provided me with Kaiser Health Insurance, so I took my new bride to Panorama City to sign up. Well, in those days, Kaiser was so small, the employment office and the health insurance office were in the same room. When the employment department heard she was working at Queen of Angels Hospital, she left for home with health insurance, a new job and a raise. How fortunate we both were to work for companies who valued their employees and helped both of us improve ourselves. Pam earned her degree and became an RN, all while I was able to become a department manager and earn two college degrees of my own.
Family time was a fun time, particularly when we went on vacation. I chuckle when I think about loading up our truck and 8-foot camper, hooking up our boat and heading out for a month on the road. We would pick a place to go, such as Lake Powell, and drive straight there. After a while, when we got tired of staying in one location, we would open the map and find some fun place to visit in the general direction of home. We always ended our trips at Lake Success in Porterville, because in those days, camping was free and you could pull your camper right up to the shoreline. I had to laugh even more, when later in life my boys told me that all the neighborhood kids thought we were rich. “How did they get that idea?” I asked. And they responded with, “None of the other kids got to go on a month’s vacation!” While I loved taking the family on those discover the southwestern United States vacations, we did it because of its affordability. We would leave with $600 in cash, pay for everything, and typically have some leftover in the end. How times have changed!
Through the years, I raced motorcycles, coached my wife’s fast pitch softball team and my sons’ baseball teams, played softball in the Litton Industrial League and the City of Santa Clarita for 30 years, water skied, snow skied, ran for city council twice, and am currently on the board of directors for three local non-profits. So, I guess what I have been trying to explain is that my wife Pam and I have always liked being our age. Pam continues to work as an RN because she loves helping people, and I am still fortunate to ride my Harley and write a weekly column for the Gazette.
No matter what age you are, there is fun to be had when you concentrate on having a good time and smiling – something I learned from my friend, Zig. So, this weekend, we gathered with longtime friends in Pismo, remembering the good times we had riding up each year on the first Sunday in December for the San Louis Obispo Toy Run. We stayed at Dolphins Cove right on the beach, shared lunch at the end of the pier in Avilla, ate a gourmet dinner at the Oyster Loft, visited the world-famous Pismo Moose Lodge and generated a whole new set of terrific memories.
The first time I took a trip on Sierra Highway was in 1956. I was a junior high school student living in Studio City. My best buddy lived down the street, and his dad was in process of homesteading a parcel of land near Victorville. He was a contractor and very capable of putting in the improvements required to take possession of the land. On Friday nights, for almost a year, his dad’s pickup would be loaded with supplies. Then, father, son and I would leave early Saturday morning for a ride to Apple Valley. The Highway 14 freeway had not been built yet, and the best way to get where we were going was north on Balboa Blvd to San Fernando Road and then Sierra Highway. We would typically stop for breakfast at the Halfway House before proceeding on the final leg of our weekend journey out onto Highway 138. Little did I know then, less than 10 years later, Sierra Highway would become the pathway to my own family’s home.
By 1965, my wife Pam and I had been married for two years, and our eldest son Ernie was an infant. I have always had a love affair with motorcycles, which led me to join the 4 Aces MC, an American Motorcycle Association District 37 Competition Club. Motorcycle racing was the focus of the group and something was happening every weekend. We typically competed in TT Scrambles in the summer and Desert Races in the cooler months. For those who are unfamiliar with the terms, TT races, or Tourist Trophy races, were done on a smooth dirt track, with more left-hand turns than right, including at least one jump. Corner banking was optional. When all this got going in the ‘30s and ‘40s, it was customary for competitors to ride to and from the race; Hence the name “Tourist Trophy.” But by the time I got started, we were all trucking our competition bikes to races. Desert Racing was a whole different story. Hare and Hounds were typically around 100 miles of off-road terrain, with riders never passing over the same ground more than once. Hare Scrambles were also the same distance, but over a course which was completed multiple times. Lastly, European Scrambles was a much shorter racecourse, completed as many times as you could in one hour.
About half a dozen members of the 4 Aces lived on Dewdrop Street in what is now Canyon Country. And, as my wife and I found ourselves in the area often, we decided to move here. It was a wonderful rural setting close to a grammar school, and a junior high school was staked out only three blocks away. In those days, the 405 ended at Rinaldi and did not pick up again until Sand Canyon. Sierra Highway was one lane in each direction and provided the link between the two freeway sections. We both traveled Sierra Highway going to work and back every day. Never could we have imagined that the future would put us back into a big city, but that is another story. Today, Highway 14 is directly connected to the 405, and Sierra Highway has been widened to two lanes in each direction. Since Santa Clarita has become a city and Sierra Highway is within its jurisdiction, Caltrans has wanted the city to take ownership of the road. Santa Clarita has declined the offer, indicating their desire for Caltrans to upgrade the road to Santa Clarita standards before the city would take possession. So, with the two jurisdictions at an impasse, the majority of Sierra Highway today looks very much like it did in 1965, with exception of it being widened.
Yet, there have been some missed opportunities for improvement. You may recall, on April 19, 2019, KHTS reported, “The Santa Clarita City Council is expected to … discuss the proposed Newhall Gateway development.” The article went on to say, “The City Council is also expected to receive a conceptual plan for the Newhall Gateway project, a commercial development proposed near Newhall Avenue and Sierra Highway … In 2008, a similar project, Sierra Crossings, was proposed at the same Newhall intersection, but it was later withdrawn in 2010.”
While what was reported is interesting, a lot of pertinent details were left out. As it turns out, the applicants and owners of the property at the southeast corner of Newhall Ave and Sierra highway did not just propose a project, they spent almost $250,000 putting plans for the project through the city’s planning process. According to the April 23, 2019 Staff Report, “The project consisted of approximately 99,000 square feet of commercial space in five buildings including a drive-through restaurant, and a hotel.” The resulting plan was approved by staff and the Planning Commission, as it complied with all of Santa Clarita’s codes and requirements. Normally that would have been enough to put the project on a path for development, except in this case, a city councilmember decided to call the project up for a special City Council Review, “citing design aesthetics and environmental aspects.” I wondered then; how could the project meet all the city’s codes and requirements and have these kinds of issues remaining? Would the city staff be proposing code changes to prevent another project from meeting the same fate? Plus, if you as a citizen want to protest a project and have a special City Council Review, you get to front a hefty fee, but if you are a city council member, you can do it at a whim.
I remember sitting in the audience, listening to Council members Mclean and Weste redesigning the project from the dais. None of the changes were required because the project failed to meet current Santa Clarita codes. Instead, the changes were included because of their personal preferences. In addition, they wanted the developers to include property within the project the developers did not own. Also, there were questions about the economic viability of what was being demanded. Councilmember Ferry suggested the city fund a $200,000 study, which would be repaid by the developer at some point in the future. KHTS reported about it also, stating, “The City Council directed staff to enter into an agreement with Poliquin Kellogg Design Group (PKDG) to conduct a conceptual design and economic analysis for the entire southeast quadrant at the Newhall and Sierra intersection.”
Now, almost 10 years later, the city council again discussed the project on April 23, 2019. But redevelopment agencies have been dissolved, which the April 24 Staff Report indicates “eliminated the city’s ability to assemble parcels and … it’s options to participate in future projects as a funding partner or lead applicant”. Plus, “the City adopted a new General Plan and Zoning Ordinance which increased the site’s development potential,” meaning a larger development could be proposed today, as opposed to the 2010 plan. I would like to cap this narrative with an indication of what the city council decided to do, but minutes of the April 23, 2019 meeting have not been put on the city website yet, as the minutes will not be approved until the May 14 city council meeting.
But one thing stands out. Santa Clarita has been a city for over 30 years, and Sierra Highway, “the Gateway to Newhall and Canyon Country,” is far from what it could and should be. When I look at what the county did on the Old Road, as it borders our city, it is past time for Sierra Highway to get a similar treatment.
I am convinced that most of you – at one time or another – have called a customer service hotline, only to have a conversation which made you think it might have done just as much good to have shared your concern with a wall. Plus, it wouldn’t matter if it is a stone wall, a block wall, a wood wall or drywall, because no matter how much you share your story, concern and frustration, you will never hear anything in return.
The most humorous time I experienced with a customer service call was after assuming responsibility for paying my 98-year-young mother’s bills. I called one company wanting to settle an account and just needed to know the outstanding balance. I could answer all the security questions, but was told they could not talk to me, which made me wonder; how many times do they reject talking to someone who just wants to send them money?
Fortunately, it is somewhat better when asking questions at City Hall. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution gives “people the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Yet, many times, our residents address the city council simply to ask a question or obtain further clarification. If you choose to attend a city council meeting, you will find copies of the meeting agenda with a special cover sheet attached. Quoting from the section “Your City Government,” it reads, “The regular meeting of your City Council is a vital part of the democratic process … The Council appreciates your interest and urges participation in government affairs.” On the back of the cover sheet, under “Public Participation,” it further states, “When addressing the Council, please state your name and city … before you begin your comments. The Council will take no action other than referring the issue to staff.”
While it is important the council knows who is speaking to them, make no mistake; they reserve the right not to answer questions you ask, or even acknowledge they heard what was put before them. As an example, a few city council meetings ago, I addressed the council on the Sanitation District’s decision to stop work on the Recycled Water EIR. Since the SCV Sanitation District Board is comprised of a majority of Santa Clarita City Council members, I asked that they agendize the issue to discuss sending a recommendation on recycled water to the Sanitation District. Councilmember Weste replied that the Sanitation District was waiting for California Fish and Game to get back to them and describe how much of the 20 million gallons a day could be diverted to supply recycled water.
After the meeting, I did some more research, made a few phone calls and obtained a copy of Fish and Game’s letter to Sanitation District staff. As it turns out, the letter indicated what Fish and Game expected to see addressed in the Sanitation District EIR and did not indicate that they themselves were doing any further analysis. At a subsequent meeting, I was made aware that SCV Water already had a contract with the Sanitation District to supply 1,600 acre-feet of water per year to be used for landscaping irrigation. I wondered why the contractually available maximum could not be increased with new Sanitation District customers coming on line. Therefore, I went back to the podium at the last city council meeting and asked if they could agendize a discussion relating to a recommendation on increasing the size of SCV Water’s contract as new Sanitation District customers connect to the system. The silence was deafening, as no answer came forth from the dais.
I know Santa Clarita residents are sharp and must have been aware that I was asking the city council members to basically have a discussion and come up with a recommendation for the two Sanitation District’s assigned city council members to follow. That could make them uncomfortable, but we are talking about a decision which should be in the best interest of the city as a whole. So, last week I shared the recycled water story in more detail in my column, and guess what? Up pops a “Clarification from the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.” I don’t mind if the city, the Sanitation District, or anyone else comments on what I write. I don’t expect everyone will agree with every one of my columns, and good dialog is important if we are to come up with solutions which work for us all. But, at the same time, putting in a “Clarification” without the author attaching their name is unethical and cowardly.
To start, the “Clarification” author did catch a mistake in my column. When I included it would “cost $100 million a year to operate,” I should not have fat-fingered in “a year.” What I intended to portray was the amount required to operate over the first 20 years of the project. Why 20 years? Because when the project was first proposed, it was the timeframe the Sanitation District staff projected necessary to pay off the construction loan and the duration shown in the overall financial analysis. When I saw the author’s statement indicating, “the chloride compliance project (operating cost) is estimated at $5.9 million per year,” it would have been productive if I could have called the author and asked where that estimate came from. Why? Because $5.9 million per year over 20 years equals $118 million, which is 18 percent higher than the estimate I used. Plus, $118 million does not include inflation, so the actuals will cost taxpayers even more. Hopefully, the “Clarification” author will “come out from behind the curtain” this week and explain why the cost of operation is escalating and provide a budget projection over 20 years which includes the additional amount caused by inflation.
Looking at the 2019-2020 SCV Sanitation District Budget straight from the SCV Sanitation District’s website, it shows our residents will be paying $36.4 million in service charges on this year’s property tax bills, and $10.6 million in other Taxes and Grants, which simply comes out of their other taxed pocket. All while the SCV Sanitation District reserves will increase from $118.4 million to $141.9 million this coming year, indicating their revenues are exceeding their Operational and Capital needs. A clarification in this area would be helpful also.
Meaningful, polite and open dialog is important. I firmly believe we will never learn anything by only having conversations with people who share our same views. The Gazette and I are asking for your opinion. “We encourage our readers to write, email and share their thoughts, concerns and criticisms.” Plus, I will take it one step further. Feel free to contact me anytime. My cell number is 661-713-9344. Now I will admit, with all the spam phone calls we are getting as of late, I do not directly answer calls from numbers I do not recognize, so text me or leave a voice mail with your name and number and I will call you back. You will not be talking to a wall, and when we share what we know, we will all profit from the experience.
Did you read last Wednesday’s Signal Newspaper, which included a column titled, “We’re creating community at Earth Arbor Day Festival,” along with a picture of Mayor Pro-Tem Cameron Smyth? I thought it a little odd. It did not say it was written by Cameron Smyth, as I have often wondered if the council members actually write the columns themselves. But putting all else aside, the writing revealed, “The (Arbor Day) festival will kick off with the city celebrating its 29th consecutive year of being awarded the “Tree City USA” designation.”
I could not agree more; the City of Santa Clarita’s efforts in planting thousands of trees all around our community greatly improved our municipality’s look and quality of life. So, if you had been thinking of providing a young tree a place to spread its roots, I hope you had the foresight to pick up one of the free 1-gallon trees at last Saturday’s Earth Arbor Day event. If you missed the event and still long for a tree to hug, young trees are available at our local nurseries at a very reasonable cost. Over 40 years ago, I myself planted a tree in the front yard which was no larger in circumference than a broom handle. Now a very large Fruitless Mulberry, in the summer heat, you can feel the temperature drop when you walk out under it and take a seat in my front atrium.
The second thing which caught my attention was, “The festival also offers residents the tools and resources needed to recycle, compost, and conserve water.” I favor the prospect of recycling. Maybe it is because I am from a generation who fixed things when they were broken, saved leftovers for the next project, and did not believe in discarding usable items. Composting, on the other hand, is another question, because it doesn’t seem like something which will work out too well for those living in apartments, townhouses and condominiums. Yet, when I hear about providing instructions to our residents about water recycling, the hair on the back of my neck begins to rise. Surely, the majority of our population does not believe in wasting water, and we are all aware of the problems which have been created in getting water down from the north, but if our city continues to grow at the current pace, it is highly unlikely individual residents conservation will provide long-term sustainability. In fact, if you look at our water agencies current five-year plan, the only way they can assure an adequate supply over the next five years is for current users to use less. Plus, if the situation was not frustrating enough, every time the community uses less, the water companies want to charge more in order to maintain their infrastructure, because they have no other way to deal with it.
Ok, I’ll admit, I was out of town last Saturday and did not attend Earth Arbor Day. So, maybe you could help me. Did the experts talk about water conservation from the standpoint of using washing machine and shower grey water for residential landscape irrigation? Was information provided in support of rebates to retrofit older homes, where residents need to run their water for a period of time before it becomes warm enough to bathe? Were examples on how to capture and use rainwater provided? Probably not, because creative solutions which take effort do not fit their narrative.
Yet, a very large resource enabling water conservation exists in Santa Clarita today. Several years ago, back when the Regional Water Quality Board decided the chloride level of water coming out of our two wastewater treatment plants was too high, with a stoke of a pen, they decided to require us to lower the level to 100 mg/ltr or less. Think about it. The Chloride standard for water you drink is allowed to be over twice that number. This started the debacle about adding another level of treatment to our wastewater treatment plants, at the cost of over $130 million to build, and $100 million a year to operate. Who will pay the bill? You are. The plan was to ramp up the SCV Sanitation District property tax assessment from 2014 to 2019 in order to reach the level necessary to build and sustain this new proposal. But in order to sell this project to the public, the sales staff was out in full force. They asserted, while our community is rightfully unhappy with the project, lowering the chloride level would make the water also useful for landscape irrigation, and with our treatment plants producing 20 million gallons a day, it was estimated 7 million gallons a day could become immediately available. Be aware, two members of the Santa Clarita City Council also have majority control of the SCV Sanitation District. Their votes alone can raise your property taxes and put the project plan into action. Therefore, the project was easily approved. Planning the additions to the treatment plants was initiated, along with an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to determine how much of our wastewater treatment plant output needed to be put in the river to maintain endangered species habitats, and how much could be diverted for recycling. Then, along came the lawsuits. The Signal reported, “Judge James C. Chalfant agreed with ACWA (Affordable Clean Water Alliance) lawyers and called for more studies on the effects of recycled water on an endangered species of native fish.” The Sanitation District lawyers indicated, “they would respond specifically to those concerns.” Judge Chalfant, “wanted district officials to explain in greater detail how they will protect the unarmored threespine stickleback – an endangered species of native fish.”
In order to get the project moving forward, the SCV Sanitation District broke the project off into “two separate tracks,” one for the treatment plant improvements, and the other track for the recycled water project. Then, much to the public’s surprise, on February 26, 2019, the SCV Sanitation District reversed course and declared they had “formally ceased its own efforts to reduce discharges to the river in favor of recycling water.” They claimed to take this action to protect the Santa Clarita ratepayers and help “clear the way for regional evaluation of all water resources, which will lead to better solutions.”
Really? The SCV Sanitation District is the only major source of recycled water in the Santa Clarita Valley. Knowing the EIR work stoppage had to have the approval of Santa Clarita Mayor McLean and Councilmember Weste, who represent a majority of the SCV Sanitation District Board, I approached the podium at a city council meeting and asked the Council to agendize a discussion on the Sanitation District’s decision. I suggested the city council provide a recommendation to the SCV Sanitation District, which is in the best interest of the city’s residents. Both Mayor McLean and Councilmember Weste indicated their support and understanding of the need to make recycled water available. Councilmember Weste went on to indicate that the SCV Sanitation District was waiting for California Fish and Game to tell them how much of the 20 million gallons a day could be recycled.
Following up and making a few phone calls, I was able to obtain a copy of a letter from California Fish and Game to the SCV Sanitation District. The correspondence outlined studies and methodology they deemed appropriate, to determine the effect of reducing the amount of water into the river would have on endangered species. Then a few days later, I attended a meeting were Steve Cole presented elements of SCV Water’s “Next Drop” water recycling strategy. As it turns out, SCV Water currently has a contract with the SCV Sanitation District for up to 1600-acre-feet per year of recycled water. Today, SCV Water only uses 400-acre-feet per year, leaving the remaining 1200-acre-feet available to satisfy the current new pipelines being put in the ground to bring recycled water to Central Park.
Getting recycled water to where it is needed is expensive, and I applaud SCV Water for implementing sections over time. But what happens when SCV Water needs to increase use over the 1600-acre-foot contractual limit? Why not increase the amount of recycled water available whenever a new user is added to the SCV Sanitation District service roll? In other words, add capacity as it becomes available. Santa Clarita has a number of large projects under construction or in the works. Therefore, without fighting the “endangered species windmill,” why not capture the increase in flow, rather than just add it to the current outflow and aggravate the problem?
Therefore, it was back to the city council podium, asking them to agendize the issue to discuss a recommendation on how to use the additional user flow. They could have water to fill all those purple pipes the city is putting in the ground. But the silence was deafening, as no words on the subject came forth from any member of the council.
No other organization or agency will be able to implement a long-term water recycling strategy, unless the SCV Sanitation District agrees to provide the raw materials, which in this case is the output of their wastewater treatment plants. It is time for the SCV Sanitation District to start getting creative and take action, which is in the best interest of our valley’s residents. The next time an elected official tries to convince you to take out your lawn to save water, tell them you will consider it as soon as they do their job, and recycled water is flowing through all those purple pipes taxpayer dollars bought and buried in the ground. Because at that point, we will be able to cheerfully recognize that the SCV Sanitation District, SCV Water, the new Groundwater Sustainability Agency, and the City of Santa Clarita have finally found a way to work collaboratively.
Clarification/Response from the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County
The Sanitation District wishes to clarify a couple of statements in the article written by Alan Ferdman titled, “Singing the Praise of Earth, Wind and Water.”
First, the cost to operate and maintain the chloride compliance project is estimated at $5.9 million per year, not $100 million per year as stated in the article.
Second, the recycled water component in the original chloride compliance EIR (and all subsequent environmental documents) was independent of the chloride compliance project. The recycled water component was about making more recycled water available for community reuse and not about improving the quality of river water or recycled water. Today, the treated water from the plants is suitable for a wide range of uses including landscape irrigation.
Due to the adverse court ruling mentioned in the article, the recycled water project was separated from the chloride compliance project in 2018. This separation enabled the chloride compliance project to move forward and minimize the risk of fines to ratepayers.
On Tuesday, April 16, KHTS reported, “Safe Home, a home security company, used data from the FBI … of cities with at least 50,000 residents, to compile a list of the safest cities across the nation. Santa Clarita was named No. 9 in California and 49 in the United States.” The very next day, The Signal included a front-page story titled, “City ranked ninth safest in state.” Then, later that week, in the “Signal’s most talked about section,” residents’ comments ranged from memories of when “Santa Clarita was in top 10 safest in the country,” to impressions that it’s “because crime stats are suppressed by LASD.” One resident felt the city would rank even worse if “you excluded Valencia.”
Well, stories relating to the safety of our city have been written from time to time. In this case, I decided to visit www.safehome.org and see for myself who they are. As it turns out, KHTS was correct when they named Safe Home as a home security company. Safe Home describes the company as “a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com,” which does not sound much like an independent research firm.
Next, I brought up www.fbi.gov to see if the same admonitions about their data were still being included. Sure enough, the FBI themselves tells us, “Since crime is a sociological phenomenon influenced by a variety of factors, the FBI discourages ranking locations or making comparisons as a way of measuring law enforcement effectiveness. Some of this data may not be comparable to previous years because of differing levels of participation over time.” In addition, “It’s important to consider the various factors that lead to crime activity and crime reporting in a community before interpreting the data. Without these considerations, the available data can be deceiving. Factors to consider include population size and density.” Therefore, it may not provide a clear picture if we rank our city of 217,000 residents against cities greater than 50,000.
Lastly, rankings depend on how the evaluation team weighs the data. For example, FBI Violent Crime data reflects a “hierarchy rule, which requires that only the most serious offense in a case be counted. The descending order of violent crimes is homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, followed by the property crimes of burglary, larceny theft, and motor vehicle theft.” When I looked at how another company called “Safewise” weighs and views the data, Santa Clarita does not even make the top 50 list. If you were to evaluate the data, how many robberies would you equate to a single homicide? I believe George Buck was right on when he said, “Statistics don’t lie. It’s the people who make up the statistics that lie.” So, instead of becoming one of those people, I’ll just relay my impressions about safety in our fair city.
Since I have lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for over half a century, I have seen changes which have altered my behavior relative to staying alert and not becoming a victim. When I first moved here, Santa Clarita was truly a small town. When my wife and I would go down the street to visit our neighbor, there seemed no reason to close our garage or lock our doors. Neighbors looked out for each other, most local law enforcement was made up of Reserve Officers, and when you saw a patrol car, you most often knew the person driving. Even as the community grew over the next several decades and locking things up became the norm, you could always count on those who lived around you.
For example, in 1990, a 31-year-old recently released jail inmate named Rene who was cold, hungry and living on the street, decided to take refuge in my house. He very carefully pried the window frame out of my back door, entered my house, ate lunch, and left with my leather motorcycle jacket, some change and a handgun. Two of my neighbors, Mr. Sam Rowe and Mr. Mike Quigley, saw him leave my back yard, recognized my jacket, and the chase was on. Rene darted down a street and over a fence, landing him on Soledad Canyon, just as two plain-clothed deputies were driving past. When they recognized he had a gun, the officers started around the block. My two neighbors followed Rene to the Shell Station, which was at Soledad and Whites Canyon, and witnessed Rene jump over a pony wall, which obscured where he was living, so they called 911. Just then, the two deputies pulled into the station were directed to where Rene was hiding, and took him into custody shortly after. When Mike called me at work and told me what had happened, I was sure I would come home to find the house ransacked. But that was not the case, and when I picked up my valuables from the Sheriff’s Station, I was told of Rene’s past and his desire to end it all if he could not return to jail, where he would at least have a full stomach and be out of the elements. It was my first experience with crime and homelessness in the Santa Clarita Valley. The story appeared as front-page news in The Signal on May 9, 1990. I have saved a copy of that paper all this time, and when I see Mike Quigley this coming week, I intend to thank him again.
Did that experience make me feel less safe? For me, it emphasized the importance of “neighbors helping neighbors,” and I feel fortunate as families have moved in and out of my immediate area, and we continue to live near residents who want to maintain good neighborhood relationships, so we are still looking out for each other. Have I taken additional precautions? You bet, but not always just to keep myself safe. About 10 years later, we put in and alarm system. The primary reason was to protect our Maltese named “Puff” and Cat named “CoCo,” in case of a house fire occurring when we were at work.
Now, if I were to use the FBI data, I would concentrate on the parts which show an increase in violent crimes, and consider the need to visit a city council meeting to ask that additional resources be provided to our Sheriff’s Department. I remember going to a Santa Clarita Public Safety Subcommittee meeting years ago and encountering Sheriff Captain Becker, who at the time was serving our community. He provided his report and stated his intent to put another patrol car by Jake’s Way, to which one of the council members stated, “That’s not in the city.” (Jake’s Way had not been annexed into the city at that time). When Captain Becker responded, “That is not important; Crime does not stop at the border,” I knew I was going to like this man. Since then, we have gone through several Santa Clarita Sheriff Captains who have been promoted or retired. Today, Captain Robert Lewis serves in the capacity of managing Sheriff’s Services in the Santa Clarita Valley, and in my estimation, he is an exceptional leader. When interacting with Captain Lewis, it is easy to recognize that he loves his job, not for the power he wields, but because of the community service he provides. Known for his endless energy and ability to resonate with his deputies and the public, Captain Lewis provides us the kind of services which are dedicated to keeping the community safe.
But remember, law enforcement cannot do it all. You must do your part by staying alert, becoming aware of what is going on around you, keeping your eyes open, and alerting the Sheriff’s Office when you see something that looks suspicious. Because when the “brown stuff” hits the fan, statistics will not matter. And if it is something beyond your control, hopefully you will have the assistance of a neighbor. And should you need to dial 911, one of Santa Clarita’s Sheriff Deputies will be ready to answer your call for help.
I’m sure I have shared my story of being in an active shooter situation already, yet I will tell it one more time to help anyone reading this article understand my perspective.
It was in the mid-‘80s and I was a department manager. About 30 members of my staff and I occupied an area on the second floor, to the rear of the building. At the time, the area was filled with cubicles, with my office at one end. It was a morning like any other, when one of my staff members came running into the area and loudly announced, “There is someone in the front lobby shooting at other employees.” Well, that woke everyone up, and they started to congregate in the center of the room. I came out of my office, and as I had not heard any shots, I asked, “Does anyone know where the shooter is?” When the answer came back as a negative, the group got more agitated and nervous. As I was the leader, they looked to me for a decision as what to do. I believed then, as I believe now, that their safety was my responsibility.
Our company had provided management training on this type of situation by advising us to “hide if you can, or flee if you can, or fight if you must.” Since our immediate area did not have any rooms large enough for us to hide, and the second-floor conference rooms were in the front of the building, which was in the direction of the lobby, I chose not to go there. Instead, I decided to leave the building. I had thought about this before, and knew the back stairway was right next to the exit from our area, down the stairs and a left turn would take us out of the building, and then a right turn put us about 30 feet from our facility’s gate, a guard shack, and the parking lot entrance.
The group was becoming more visibly unsettled and I tried to calm everyone down with a little humor by looking at my watch and saying, “It’s 10:30, time for an early lunch. Follow me down the stairs off the facility, and do not return until 1 p.m.” One of my group supervisors was present, and I asked him to take up the rear to make sure everyone followed me. I told him I would wait for him at the bottom of the stairs and take him to lunch. It all went as planned, and in short order all 30 staff members were outside the facility.
Even though the situation seemed dire and threatening, what we did not know was that it was over long before we left the facility. As it turns out, a man entered the lobby asking to see an employee named Joe, who was dating his ex-wife. When Joe came walking down into the lobby, the man took out a handgun and started shooting. Fortunately, he only hit Joe in the small part of his ear, which Gunsmoke’s Festus called the “small hangey-down part.” When Joe realized what was happening and started to flee, the man sat down, put his gun on the table, and waited for the police to arrive. But another scary part was when one of the shooter’s stray bullets passed through a wall, and barely missed a secretary putting a memo through a copy machine, proving drywalled walls offer little protection. As I was driving out of the parking lot, Joe was being wheeled out to an ambulance and police cars were all around the front of the building.
But the story does not end yet. Two weeks later, I was pulled into the security office. The head of security wanted to know what possessed me to lead my staff off the facility. His concern was, “What if you had led the group right into the shooters path?” My response to him was, “What do you think would have happened if I would have held my employees in the center of our office area out in the open, and the shooter would have run into us? I made the best decision I could, using the information I had at the time. If you want a different outcome, maybe security should find a better way of letting employees know more about the situation as it occurs.” At which point, the room went silent and so ended the conversation.
When I read about College of the Canyons (COC) going into lockdown because of an individual who could not distinguish between a few branches and a rifle, I felt compelled to share what I learned from my experience. First, COC represents a far greater challenge. My workplace had almost every building on the perimeter of the facility, making evacuation a relatively simple task. COC, on the other hand, has a more complex mapping of buildings, some of which are bordered by other buildings, making effective evacuation planning contingent on where the danger is occurring. Being able to remotely lock doors is a great idea, providing you have enough information to know which doors to lock, and which to leave open. Otherwise, the worst thing which could happen, as Katie Wynkoop reported, “People didn’t know what to do. They literally just started running through the hall of the Student Center. There was no direction. It was kind of chaotic.”
Yet, Trustee Edel Alonso hit the nail on the head when she asked, “If there are cameras, are they actually working and recording or not? If they are recording, then who’s taking a look at those videos?” My experience taught me that a person will make decisions based on what they know, and if management desires better decisions, they need to provide more real-time information. COC, or any large campus of buildings, needs to have a comprehensive matrix of audio/visual cameras providing the ability to monitor every building entrance and hallway, in addition to the grounds surrounding their facility. While recording is of value, real-time monitoring must be accomplished in a 24/7 security command center, so that the next time a problem is reported, the security team can see and hear what is transpiring and take immediate action. In addition, the knowledge gained by camera review will be very useful in directing security and law enforcement personnel to the trouble spot. Then, using text messages to alert the entire campus, in addition to concerned loved ones as to what is transpiring, we can put those affected in a defensive posture and calm those who are out of harm’s way. COC can make all the plans it feels necessary, but when a tragedy strikes, knowing which part of which plan to implement will depend on how much the decision makers know about the situation. So, the more information they have the better.
Realize also we are dealing with human nature. If you lock down the campus too many times for things which turn out to be non-issues, soon lock-downs will not be taken seriously. In addition, I thought Deputy Chancellors comment interesting when he shared, “Some folks had concerns about an armed presence …. and the anxiety that could lead to … Other folks felt they wanted an armed presence to be responding to any threat.” I would ask, why isn’t the student’s safety the primary concern? COC management needs to be the adults in the room and provide for safety first.
In these two cases, we were fortunate. Both my situation at work long ago and the latest COC lockdown, resulted in no one seriously injured or killed. But, the lesson we should all think about is that all mass shootings which have taken place in recent times occurred within just a few minutes. The faster an appropriately trained and armed security guard or law enforcement officer can get to the scene, the less opportunity there is for the shooter to continue the rampage.
Hopefully that will never happen at College of the Canyons. I know several of the trustees and have faith they will take the lead toward putting an effective surveillance and notification system in place. I would rather we spend the money to enhance student safety and never use it than save a few dollars and wish we had done it.
I am a great fan of Aesop’s Fables. One of my favorites is “The Milkmaid and Her Pail.” One version goes something like this:
“A Milkmaid had been out to milk the cows and was returning from the field, with a shiny milk pail balanced nicely on her head. As she walked along, her mind was filled with wondrous plans for the days to come.
“‘This good rich milk,’ she mused, ‘will give me plenty of cream to churn. The butter I make I will take to market, and with the money I get for it, I will buy a lot of eggs for hatching. How nice it will be when all have hatched, and the yard is full of fine young chicks. Then, when May Day comes, I will sell them. With the money I receive, I’ll buy a lovely new dress to wear to the fair. All the young men will look at me, and when they come near and try to kiss me, I shall very quickly send them about their business!’
“As she thought of how she would settle with these young men, she tossed her head scornfully, and down fell the pail of milk to the ground, and as all the milk flowed out of the pail, with it went her plans for butter, eggs, chicks, and a new dress, along with all the milkmaid’s pride.”
I hope you enjoy this fable as much as I do. Most of the time, the moral of this story is stated as, “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” While it is certainly the case, I believe Aesop might have had an additional, much deeper moral in mind. Because while there are many different versions of this fable, they all seem to conclude the milkmaid’s display of head movement was to show distain for those who would have taken advantage of her. In fact, she appeared to be celebrating her future conquest over them, long before it would happen. So, a little deeper meaning might be, “Don’t celebrate your victory over others until you are actually successful and win.” Or, as Yogi Berra would put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
I see nothing wrong with Aesop’s Milkmaid formulating what in today’s world would be considered a business plan. She thought of her raw materials, how to initiate a manufacturing process, and implement a marketing plan. A good business strategy is paramount to starting a successful business venture. It allows the business owner to anticipate problems and formulate “work-arounds” in advance. Unfortunately, Aesop’s Milkmaid sabotaged herself by being pompous and cavalier.
As I sit and think about the truth contained in this fable, I can’t help drawing an analogy to the city’s 20-year Cemex battle. It seems like we were always celebrating, but we never obtained victory. For example, do you remember the celebration in 2006, when 13 “Thank You Buck for HR5471” banners flew over Santa Clarita’s major arterials, plus one on Valencia Boulevard in front of City Hall? Ms. Ortiz, then the City of Santa Clarita Communications Manager, let the air out of the party when she was quoted as stating, “The banners were intended to broadcast that neither the mine project nor the bill’s outcome are final, and are part of a campaign to thank McKeon, pique interest in the issue and garner support for the bill. About 150,000 sets of postcards voicing support for the measure …. will be sent to all Santa Clarita Valley households and to some in the Antelope Valley. The $5,000 cost for the banners and thousands spent on the postcards comes from the city’s general fund.”
Sometime later, on December 11, 2014, SCVTV published a City of Santa Clarita Press Release telling us, “Santa Clarita received an early Christmas present today from Congress, when Rep. Howard ‘Buck’ McKeon’s HR 5742 unanimously passed on the floor of the House of Representatives as a stand-alone bill.” Then, Councilmember Weste commented, “This is a tremendous victory for our community, protecting us from large-scale mining and is as important to the protection of the Santa Clara River.” Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Kellar stated, “In my 15 years on the City Council, this is by far the best day. Enough cannot be said for the huge effort put forth by so many to bring us to this point.”
Sadly, the bill did not stop the mine or end the story.
Even later, on August 21, 2015, it was reported that the Bureau of Land Management cancelled the CEMEX mining contracts, “based on Cemex’s own inaction.” BLM California State Director Jim Kenna wrote in a statement the next Friday, “The BLM can no longer support the continued and prolonged delays and lack of progress in fulfilling the terms of the contract.” Unfortunately, Santa Clarita’s euphoria was short lived, and on September 30, 2015, ARI reported, “Cemex has appealed last month’s Bureau of Land Management decision to cancel its mining contracts in Soledad Canyon.” Cemex accused the BLM of an “improper decision” and “arbitrary actions,” noting the company has devoted “considerable time” and money working with stakeholders over the past several years for a resolution to the dispute between the mining firm and the community opposed to the mine. City Councilwoman Laurene Weste acknowledged what was happening by saying, “Filing an appeal would be the normal standard response I would expect from a company.”
Just recently, the latest celebration took place during a city press conference, as reported by KHTS, on March 21, 2019. The Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled one of Cemex’s contracts remained valid. Based on their decision, CEMEX retains mining rights through July 2020. Mike Murphy, the Intergovernmental Relations Manager for the City of Santa Clarita said, “The ruling technically leaves Cemex with one of two contracts still valid, but without much time remaining … The practical implications of this ruling are that Cemex is left with a 16-month valid contract for a mine, but they don’t have any of the permits in place.” Mr. Murphy went on to clarify the situation when he stated, “There is no practical way that Cemex can obtain the permits it needs to begin mining … They would have to get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and that takes a minimum of between 18 and 24 months … They would also need permits from the (California) State Water Resources people.” Mr. Murphy emphasized, “I am 100 percent confident that this (ruling) is going to stick.”
“This is a landmark decision, and a landmark day,” Councilmember Weste said. “I’m just glad I lived long enough to see this come to fruition.” Councilmember Kellar “then went on to explain the decision reached by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA), terminates the contracts that Cemex has in Soledad Canyon in July of 2020 … This means that mining will never take place in our community.”
Let’s all keep our fingers crossed Councilmember Kellar and Mr. Mike Murphy are correct. Santa Clarita residents would not benefit from having a large-scale mining operation on our doorstep. But Cemex may have some inside track on permits, or they could take the IBLA’s decision back to court. So, I agree with Councilmember Kellar who went further and said, “We must continue to be vigilant in our efforts over the next 16 months.”
Aesop’s lesson is relevant to this situation, and if he was here, he would advise Mr. Kellar to walk very carefully, as none of us wants to hear Santa Clarita spilled the milk, because as Yogi Berra put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Then, when it is over and our community has won, I will celebrate.
Just by coincidence, last week I was sitting in the KHTS hot seat being interviewed about my views on “supporting our residents in need by volunteering labor and resources to worthy causes around the Santa Clarita Valley.” Specifically, I was asked, “How did I get started contributing in such a manner?” I answered by citing my own very different situations, which led me to become involved.
The first time was about personal involvement. In the mid-1970s, my eldest son was very passionate about playing “Little League Baseball.” After getting to know many of the other parents, we decided to form first a Women’s Fast Pitch Softball Team, and then – not to be outdone – a Men’s Slow Pitch Softball Team. In those days, each of the active parks had a county-funded staff member who oversaw all the activities at their park, which included managing the lights. As you might expect, we got to know each of them very well and were extremely saddened when the young man who staffed North Oaks Park was killed in a motorcycle accident. As it turns out, the county was running short of funding and had placed a hiring freeze on park staff positions. To avoid the community losing use of North Oaks Park after dark, I volunteered to turn the field lights on and off five days a week, and did so for the next four years, until timers were installed. While I did provide a benefit to the community, I look at it now as being a little too self-serving.
Fortunately, my first experience taught me a valuable lesson, and later situations were far more altruistic. For example, while I was working at JPL, a gentleman named Carl made me aware of his involvement supporting Shriners Hospitals for Children. He explained how Shriners Hospital is committed to providing children with world-class care in the areas of Orthopedics, Burn Care, Spinal Cord Injury, Cleft Lip, and Cleft Palate. Plus, they perform those services regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Well, he had my attention. I could see the enormity of value their services provide and the positive impact it creates for each patient they serve. I could not help but ask him; how could I join in and become a Shriner? Well, Carl and some other local members helped me through the process. No, I do not drive one of those little go-carts, but I did join the Motor Patrol and ride my Harley in parades. In addition, every year we visit a Shriner facility around Christmas time and bring toys for our patients. Two years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Alec and his family. You would recognize him in a minute. He is the wheelchair-bound youngster who has appeared in the Shriner TV ad for quite some time. Alec has the support of a wonderful family, and is as charming in person as he is on the screen.
I am sure you can understand why my interest was heightened when I heard about the “16th Annual Elks Riders Rally Across America for Brain Injured Children.” This event resulted from an idea brought forth by New Jersey resident Ray Cola. To start, Ray was looking to get groups of Elk Riders to promote a rally on the second Tuesday in April, with proceeds going to a local family or charity for the purpose of helping brain injured children. While Ray put his first event together for a small number of participants, the rally has grown to be a national event, with members of the Elk Riders participating in virtually every state of the union by sponsoring a rally of their own on the same day of the year. For example, to name just a few, events will be held by Elk Riders in Florida, Bessemer, Medford-Malden, New Jersey, South Amboy, Cranford, Bayonne, Hillsborough, Brick, Pompton Lakes, and Old Bridge. In Florida this year, Lodge 1511 has chosen to help Brenden, who was born with Autism, Bipolar Disorder, intermittent Explosive Disorder, Tourette’s syndrome and a learning disability. His mother, Lynn, and Brenden “have been repeatedly denied necessary assistance and feel as though they’re in and endless battle with insurance. Brenden needs to be cared for in a full-time institution with professional medication regulation, therapy, psychiatric treatment and ABA therapy.”
Here at home for the second consecutive year, Santa Clarita’s Elks Riders Lodge 2379 will be sponsoring a rally and donating the proceeds to a special child in need. On their event flyer, the riders provide an opportunity for you to meet Marissa, a child who “was born to drug addicted parents and adopted by a wonderful woman named Sarah. Marissa experienced a traumatic birth with extensive brain damage and kidney failure as immediate concerns, followed by chronic pulmonary disease, seizures and the inability to eat as a ‘normal’ baby. Marissa spent the majority of her first two years in the hospital requiring many surgeries. Seven months ago, Marissa was hospitalized for a non-emergent issue, but by the time she was discharged three weeks later, she had deteriorated to the point she was put on hospice care and sent home to die. She was semi-comatose for three weeks, and while those who love her sat vigil and waited, she thankfully continued to fight on. One night, without warning, she woke up and went right back to her normal routine as if the last few months had never happened. Today, at six years of age, she is also suffering with renal failure with her estimated kidney function at 4 percent. Some days are better than others, some days are very difficult to get through, but then there are those days when she smiles and laughs, reminding all of us how precious life is. Unfortunately for her adoptive mother Sarah, this is extremely financially demanding, time-consuming, and emotionally draining.”
So, if you believe this is a worthy cause and desire to be a part of the solution, you are invited to join the Elks Riders on April 13 for a day of fun while we raise funds to help care for Marissa. Everyone is welcome to participate in the Poker Run, no matter if you ride in a car, trike or bike. Be ready for a scenic trip around our valley with wildflowers blooming. Sign in at the Elks Lodge, located at #2379, 17766 Sierra Highway Canyon, Country California 91351, starting at 9 a.m., with drivers at $25 and passengers at $15. Arrive early, and if you are one of the first 100 people to arrive, you will be provided a free breakfast burrito. The first participants will be leaving the parking lot at 10 a.m., with the event ending at Route 66, where you will enjoy live music by L.A. Kraze, possibly bid on silent auctions, and buy 50/50 raffle tickets.
It is important to remember that while this will be a day of fun for all, you will be assisting Marissa, a child affected by brain injury, who desperately needs our help.
You can pre-register or donate, by going to: BIC-Ride.com. A special thanks to the Rock Inn, Bravery Brewing, Bergies, Route 66, KHTS and The Gazette for their help making this event a success.
It was 1928 and the economy was booming when Herbert Hoover ran for president by promising, “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” But, in just the next year, the Stock Market crashed, leading the United States into the “Great Depression.”
As the population experienced an unprecedented unemployment rate of 25 percent, bank loans were unavailable, bread lines formed, and despair hit an all-time high. That level of uncertainty opened the door for Franklin D. Roosevelt to run for president, when on July 2, 1932, he accepted his party’s nomination and promised a “New Deal.” After his election, between 1933 and 1939, President Roosevelt’s administration quickly acted to provide his constituents with economic relief, in addition to reforms in industry, agriculture, finance, waterpower, labor and housing. These programs were accomplished by vastly increasing the scope of the federal government’s responsibilities and activities.
While the “New Deal” did not fix it all, along came World War II, which created infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities at a level never before experienced, making the United States the dominant manufacturing center of the world. Yet after the dust settled, we came to understand that anything the government tells us we will be getting for free is just another way of saying, “We will pay for it later.”
Today, almost 90 years later, the economy is booming again, and the Stock Market is hitting “all-time” record highs. All the while, homelessness, drug addiction and health care costs are going through the roof, which certainly seems counterintuitive. But as our elected leaders have not come up with workable solutions for what still ails us, they appear to be suffering from a “depression.” They seem to be thinking, solving a crisis worked in 1928, why shouldn’t it work today? So, they came up with an emergency; the “World is Coming to An End in 12 Years,” if we do not go along with their “Green New Deal.” Now, if I was still young, naive and had never heard of all the times so-called experts, historians, and religious scholars predicted the end of the world, I might get more excited. Google it for yourself, and you will be amazed how many times humanity’s annihilation has been predicted.
So, where are all the scientists predicting our demise in 12 years? It was just several weeks ago when I attended a water board meeting and watched a presentation on the effects of Climate Change using United Nations data. Their model showed the consequences of doing nothing through the end of this century, which is a lot further in the future than 12 years.
Today, there is a very passionate segment of the world’s population genuinely concerned with the consequences of not taking decisive action to reverse the effects of Global Warming. But even the U.N.’s information is not good enough for those whose belief in the “Green New Deal” demands the world immediately eliminate the use of all fossil fuels by converting to 100 percent renewable energy and figuring out how to keep cows from passing gas. Plus, it all must happen within the next 12 years. I even heard one marginally intelligent politician attempt to compare implementing the “Green New Deal” with President Kennedy’s vision of “landing a man on the moon and safely returning him to earth by the end of the decade.” He thinks that if we could go to the moon and we put enough money toward implementing the “Green New Deal,” it will happen.
Why are those expectations unreasonable today? It is easily understood, if you are a technologist. When President Kennedy announced his vision in 1961, the United States already possessed the basic rocket and computational capability (computers) to implement his stated goal. Not that it was easy, or did not require a lot of innovation, but we knew it was possible. But 50 years prior, if President Taft would have come up with an identical proposal in 1910, it would not have happened, no matter how much money he threw at it, because the basic capabilities simply did not exist at that time.
Today, if we were to go “full bore” toward eliminating the use of all fossil fuels, we would run into some insurmountable roadblocks. While it might prove possible to implement ocean-going ships using a combination of sail and solar power, the same cannot be said about the Airline Industry. Eliminating air travel plus air freight would impact every major business in the world. Plus, there are many unknowns, such as how soon could we come up with a method of storing power at night, or when the wind is not blowing? Today, there are companies experimenting with the construction of large lithium-ion battery packs to take homes completely off the grid. But lithium-ion batteries are expensive and represent a substantial fire danger, plus, is there enough lithium to satisfy such a large need?
That brings me to the last challenge of this issue, which is to be very careful not to create even greater ecological problems when implementing solutions for climate change. Remember when we heard about the advantage of replacing Incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL), and the federal government prohibited continued manufacturing and sale of incandescent light bulbs? CFLs use substantially less power, requiring less power to be generated. But the instant their use was suggested, I knew they contained mercury, causing breakage and disposal to become an even bigger problem. Today, CFLs are being replaced by LEDs. A 100-watt equivalent LED produces a brighter amount of light than a CFL, while using approximately a fifth of the power of a 100-Watt incandescent bulb. There is an enormous amount of power to be saved when every home, business, and street light has been converted to LEDs, but someday we will have to dispose of them in an ecologically friendly way.
Since time began, humans have come up with innovative methods and technologies to do more with less, while at the same time improve our way of life. No matter if the problem is global warming, climate change, or how to support an ever-increasing world population; I am confident humanity will find a way to make better use of the earth’s finite natural resources. I also believe those innovations will come forth from the scientists, engineers, and technologists who will implement solutions to satisfy our future needs. Politicians and elected leaders can do their part to enable the necessary research by providing the funding and encouragement required.
Today, per the US Energy Information Administration, the United States consumes 17.6 percent of the world’s energy, of which only 1.6 percent is supplied by Solar and 6.6 percent by wind, making it easy to conclude that the United States cannot solve the problem alone. In addition, we are already starting to see pushback against solar and wind technologies due to the increasing amount of land being consumed by their footprint. In all likelihood, the next generation will look back on 2019 the same way we look back on Y2K, remarking about how silly it was to think the world would end in 2031, and praise how technologies they now find commonplace solved the conundrum we were so nervous about.
They might even choose to quote a past president, whose motto was “It CAN be done,” because of their renewed faith in the future.
When you were a young child, did your parents read Aesop’s Fables to you? One of my favorites is “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” In this story, a hard-working Ant toils diligently to gather and save food for the winter. The Grasshopper, instead of doing the same, basks in the summer sun and enjoys the coolness of autumn without a care in the world. But, when winter came, the Grasshopper “found nothing but snow to eat. He got weaker and weaker until one day he couldn’t move at all. Several ants came by as he was lying in the snow. ‘One of their nests must be close by’ he thought. ‘The ants will give me food.’ But he was too weak to move and the ants didn’t know he was there.” Of course, the moral of this story is, “It is best to prepare for winter because winter always comes, and some winters may be worse than others. There is a time for work and a time for play, and you should save for a rainy day.”
The City of Santa Clarita has their own version of Aesop’s “Ant and the Grasshopper” fable when they remind us, “Decisions made in good times are more important than the decisions made during bad times,” and we should “live below our means.” There is no doubt about it. The principle should not only apply to money, but to other resources we use, as well. For the past several drought years, the one resource in short supply was water. Happily, on March 14, 2019, NBC News reported, “California is officially free of drought after more than seven years, drought monitors said Thursday. The Golden State has experienced some form of drought for 376 consecutive weeks, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, tweeted. It’s the first time the state has been free of drought since Dec. 20, 2011.” So, the question becomes, what good decisions will we make now? How will we save for the next drought period?
From my perspective, the only way to ease the burden during the next drought period is to use resources we already have available, but have not yet taken advantage of. The first of those resources is recycled water, created by our two Wastewater Treatment plants. The Valencia and Saugus plants produce approximately 20 million gallons a day and dump it straight into the river. What a shock when we learned on February 25, 2019 that “the Board of Directors (Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean) for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District of Los Angeles County (SCV Sanitation District) approved a resolution to discontinue environmental studies related to using more recycled water and discharging less water to the Santa Clara River.” Even while a few paragraphs later stated, “The Sanitation District serves the wastewater management of the Santa Clarita Valley.”
Sanitation District management puts the blame on litigation initiated by the “Affordable Clean Water Alliance” as the primary motivator for taking this action, and to protect SCV ratepayers. When the chloride reduction program was first being sold to Santa Clarita’s residents, the only benefit was our ability to use recycled water. As explained in the EIR paragraph titled, “Support for Municipal Reuse of Recycled Water,” “The third project objective (is) to accommodate recycled water reuse opportunities. WRP discharges would not be lower than the minimum flow of 13 (million gallons a day) mgd,” meaning 7 million gallons of water a day would be immediately available, with the number increasing as additional clients are connected. Canceling the recycled water project objective shows we were deceived into supporting this project.
In Clarifications from the City of Santa Clarita pertaining to my column last week, Ms. Lujan stated, “the Sanitation District does not implement recycled water projects.” It would have been more accurate if she would have written, “the Sanitation District does not implement recycled water projects alone.” The way it works is the Sanitation District provides the raw materials of recycled water and then sells it to SCV Water, who sells it to the end user, which could be the City of Santa Clarita or a private entity. Looking at the SCV Sanitation District Chloride Compliance Facilities Plan and Environmental Impact Report published in October of 2013, the third Project Objective is stated as “Provide a wastewater treatment and effluent management program that accommodates recycled water reuse opportunities in the Santa Clarita Valley while protecting beneficial uses of the Santa Clara River.” This was necessary as a result of the Regional Quality Water Board (a group of appointed bureaucrats) fining the City of Santa Clarita $800,000 for pumping water out of the ground in the Shangri-La development and immediately discarding it in the river, because they claim that the water needs to be treated before doing so. To comply with their mandate, water currently being pumped from under Shangri-La, is put in the sewer system, treated in our Wastewater Treatment Plants and then discarded in the river. It is no easier if recycled water is used for irrigation, as permits obtained from this same group are also required.
For years we listened to CLWA management tell us recycled water was too expensive, primarily due to the initial cost of laying the pipes to get recycled water to where it is needed. Yet, more recently, I was highly encouraged by SCV Water management’s plan to implement some first steps in providing this necessary infrastructure. In addition, the city continues to plant “Purple Pipe,” designating it’s use for recycled water when providing landscaping improvements to the roadway medians. The plan is to connect to a source of recycled water when available. Realistically, Purple Pipes in the ground waiting for a source of recycled water provides no value.
SCV Water is not giving up and is exploring what they term “a Next Drop recycling strategy.” Ms. Lujan goes on to point out where some of those drops will come from by stating, “When completed, the new (Vista Canyon Ranch) Water Factory will produce up to 371,000 gallons a day.” Sound like big numbers? Not really. When compared to 20 million Gallons a Day, it represents less than 2 percent of what the Valencia and Saugus plants are currently producing, and less than 1 percent of the Valley’s total water consumption. Plus, the key operative is “When Completed,” translating to “When Available,” which is a term the Grasshopper would have favored.
To sum it up, the two SCV Sanitation District Water Treatment Plants are our valley’s only currently available source of recycled water. While the SCV Water Company is willing to start putting pipes in the ground to transport it to where it is needed, the Sanitation District, led by members of the Santa Clarita City Council, has decided to discontinue efforts to make this water available. While their decision might be in the best interest of the Sanitation District, it is not in the best interest of our valley’s residents.
Will Santa Clarita end up being an ant or a grasshopper? Will we decide to start using recycled water even when times are good, or will we just do nothing in good times and suffer when water availability is scarce? We need to ask those questions at the next city council meeting and find out what the answers might be.
Can you count the number of western movies you have watched where the plot centered on water rights? Typically, where the rights were owned by an honest, hard-working farming family, which were being threatened by an evil cattle baron? Some attribute the quote about whiskey and water to Mark Twain, but no matter if he was the originator or not, those words remind us how important water is to the southwestern part of our country.
For Santa Clarita, it seems there is always either too little or too much water. Take a trip back to the late 1960s, when enough rain fell from the sky for our river (at that time called “the wash”) to be filled all the way to the top and from side to side. The bridge across Soledad Canyon at Camp Plenty was washed away, and the bridge on Sierra Highway just south of Soledad sunk a couple of feet. Another time was brought to light in “This Week in History 1983” in Wednesday’s Signal, when a rainstorm took out a section of Soledad Canyon Road. And, for the last few days, we have read about the problems that water from heaven may create, specifically for the homeowners in American Beauty and the Trestles. Sometimes, too much water is as much a problem as it is a blessing.
Over the years, as weather patterns changed and local rainfall became sparser, we were still in good shape because the State Water Project made up for what nature was not providing. The aqueduct was bringing all the water we needed from the northern part of California. Then, in May of 1996, the hammer fell when the pumping of fresh water south through the Delta was reduced and limited, due to environmentalists noting an increased number of Delta Smelt being trapped in the pumps. As a result of reduced water supply, farmland in the central part of California was greatly impacted. One only had to drive up the I-5 to see many signs reminding us “Crops grow where water flows.”
By now, over 20 years later, you would expect our state government would have found a solution to this problem. While there has been talk of building a “Peripheral Canal” or “Supply Tunnels” under the delta, nothing has happened. The California State Water Project has not added a new reservoir since the 1970s. Aquifers in the central part of our state have been over-pumped to the point where ground levels have reported to be sinking. All the while, thousands of gallons of water north of the delta are being discarded in the ocean because there is no place to store it or move it south to where it is needed. Locally, we have not done much better. During our last drought period, the only solution offered was for residents to “conserve and use less water.” At the same time, our water companies and city officials continued to approve additional development.
All this went on while we have additional water resources which are only marginally being taken advantage of. A few years ago, when the SCV Sanitation District was trying to sell our community on the need to desalinate our wastewater, we were informed the Santa Clarita Valley uses 20 million gallons a day inside our homes and 40 million gallons of water per day for landscaping. Water from inside our homes flows to one of the two Sanitation District Water Reclamation Plants, and treated water is currently discharged into the river, with a small percentage siphoned off to irrigate a Golf Course in Valencia. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that if we were to use our total Water Reclamation Plants output for irrigation, it would reduce our valley’s water consumption by 30 percent. Unfortunately, a portion of the Waste Water Treatment Plant output is required by state regulators to be discharged in the river, in order to maintain protected species habitats. Determining the amount which can be recycled was a most important aspect for the SCV Sanitation District Environmental Impact Report to ascertain. No matter if the amount available is 7, 10, or 13 million gallons a day, it would be a significant impact.
Yet, on February 27, 2019, The Signal reported that the Sanitation District “would not be pursuing recycled-water plans and, specifically, would not be preparing the environmental studies needed to make them happen.” Grace Robinson Hyde, the chief engineer and general manager of the SCV Sanitation District stated litigation which had “delayed compliance with the state-mandated chloride limit by two years and cost ratepayers an additional $5 million … To be very clear, all of the legal and resulting costs incurred to date, as well as those potentially incurred in (the) future, have been and will be borne by the ratepayers.”
Someone needs to remind Ms. Hyde that the Sanitation District creates no funds of their own. Every cost is born by the ratepayers, including the cost of not using recycled water. The District probably could have avoided the legal challenge to the Water Recycling EIR if the Sanitation District had not attempted to use outdated portions of the previous EIR instead of conducting a new study.
Plus, on February 18, 2019, the Orange County Register published an article that included a listing of LA County’s Wealthiest Special Districts. The SCV Sanitation District made the list, as it was reported to have $111.4 million in cash and investments, take in $43.6 million per year and spend $31.4 million per year. These are some of the reasons I find the SCV Sanitation District Board’s decision to discontinue the Water Recycling EIR unbelievable. The only part of the current SCV Sanitation District’s Chloride Reduction project (costing our ratepayers over $90 million) which would benefit those who will be paying the bill, is the ability to use recycled water for irrigation. How could this happen, when the majority of that board also sits on the Santa Clarita City Council? That is the question of the day.
For the last several years, the public has been told about the City of Santa Clarita’s Plan to install “purple pipe,” designating recycled water for all median landscaping. But purple pipe is of no value if it is not connected to recycled water. Since the predominant potential source of recycled water in the Santa Clarita Valley is the output of our Waste Water Treatment Plants, and that water cannot be used, where is the city planning to acquire recycled water to fill all those purple pipes? In addition, SCV Water announced plans to implement the first series of pipelines to transport recycled water to areas like parks and schools. Looks like those pipes will remain empty as well.
In a smart move, two major SCV developments currently in process, (Vista Canyon Ranch and Newhall Ranch) are forming their own Sanitation Districts and planning to use the output of their Treatment Plants for irrigation within their developments.
There is one last bit of sunshine in this discussion, which is storm water. State and local governments spend a great deal of time and your money to keep pollution out of storm water, but very little is done to capture it for our use. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Conservation and Local Resources Committee provided a presentation on the subject of “Storm water Capture and Flows to the Ocean” on January 9, 2018. In it they estimated 7 percent of rainfall, or 457,000 acre-feet per year, goes uncaptured and flows to the ocean within their service area alone. Now water types love to use acre-feet as a measurement. Since 99 percent of the population has no clue what an acre-foot is, it makes the discussion sound so technical. So, let me translate for you. 1 acre-foot = 325,853 gallons, which makes 457,000 acre-feet equal to 147.9 billion gallons. Big numbers. Santa Clarita uses 60 million gallons a day, which is 21.9 billion gallons per year. These numbers show that every year’s worth of storm water which goes uncaptured is enough to provide Santa Clarita with water for 6.8 years.
Therefore, the next time you hear politicians tell you to take shorter showers because there is not enough water, remind them the problem was caused by these same elected officials not being proactive in using recycled water, stormwater capture and local storage. While it is true, all these solutions have a cost to implement and cannot happen immediately, if we stand back and continue to do nothing, water shortages will only get worse.
It seems all this turmoil was foretold by Mark Twain, as he sat in an old western saloon drinking whiskey and thinking about the next fight over water.
If you think your property tax bill is too high now, there was a time in California when property tax increases were out of control.
A story highlighting this issue was written by Joel Fox in 2015 for the California Political Review, which stated, “Let me take you back to 1966 to Newhall, California right here in Los Angeles County, to an item that appeared in the local Newhall Signal newspaper. It came with a picture of an elderly couple standing before their house. It would not be unkind to call it a shack. The house was assessed for taxes at the property’s highest and best use, a standard used by assessors at the time. Since an apartment building had been built close by, this elderly couple’s home was assessed as if an apartment building was built there. The couple’s tax bill, in 1966 dollars, was $1800 a year. Their total income was $1900 a year.” But, “the situation got worse. What happened was property values were increasing dramatically in the 1970s—kind of like now. Property taxes are a function of the tax rate and the value of the property. If the tax rates were not adjusted but the property value increased, taxes zoomed up.”
The problem gave birth to Proposition 13, which was approved on June 6, 1978 by California voters. “It capped the property tax rate, allowed a limited increase for inflation, reassessments on sale of property, and required a supermajority vote in the legislature for state taxes and a vote of the people on local tax increases.” In addition, Proposition 13 went on to limit “ad valorem tax” to 1 percent of the property’s assessed value, returned property tax assessments to their 1976 value, and limited assessed value inflation to a maximum of 2 percent per year.
While Proposition 13 gave homeowners welcomed tax relief, it also created big challenges for local municipalities to gain new revenues to fund services they provide. The answer came on November 5, 1996 when voters approved Proposition 218, “The Right to Vote on Taxes Act.” This bill included “additional requirements for special benefit assessments on real property as well as numerous requirements for property-related fees and charges, such as utility fees imposed by local governments which are no longer allowed to exceed the cost of providing the utility service.”
I am a great proponent of Proposition 218 Special Benefit Districts, as it is a way to finance local services and improvements which the community needs. Why am I so supportive? Because Proposition 218 districts are required to use revenue generated, within the specified district boundaries, for the purposes established when the district is created by a vote of the affected property owners who will be paying the bill. In addition, fees established may not exceed the cost of the service or improvement. Such a structure and restrictions were enacted to prevent funds from being raided for other purposes. Plus, it puts local municipalities in a position of having to sell services similar to a private venture.
But, with any legislation aimed to fix a problem, there comes a dark side. Unfortunately, Proposition 218 allows “Protest Elections” where 50 percent of the eligible property weighted votes, + 1 opposing vote must be cast, in order to prevent an assessment from being levied. Next, ballots are weighted and counted by a property’s assessed value and use. Developers are allowed to vote with the weight of entitled, but not yet build developments, even though they will not be charged until each section of their development is completed. There is also the issue of developers using “Special Benefit Districts” as a substitute for “Mello-Roos Districts,” which have become unpopular and detrimental to selling property. In this case, a Developer will approach a municipality to form a “Special Benefit District” within the boundaries of their development. Since they own the entire property, they will be the only voter, which assures passage.
Currently, we are also reading about municipalities pushing the envelope of what may be included in, and paid for, by “Special Benefit Districts.” So, this is what makes Special Benefit Assessment Districts so important to the well-being of our residents. Very often, additions are small and incremental, not rising to the level to garner public outrage. But, in each case, they result in small additions to your property tax bills and cumulatively they make a substantial difference. California in general, and Santa Clarita more specifically, have become expensive places to live. Younger family breadwinners in increasing numbers have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, while seniors, living on meager pensions or social security are being priced out of their homes. While Special Benefit Districts may not be the major cause of heartache or homelessness in our valley, they do contribute to escalating housing costs and are a process which should be transparent and clearly represented, in order to provide the residents an opportunity to challenge fees and services they do not feel are needed.
Those are the specific reasons I have been following the “Landscape and Streetlight Special Benefit District” issue closely and have been asking so many questions. Last week, city staff provided the answers to my query initiated 10 weeks ago, and published them in the Gazette across from my column. (Staff response is also available on the Gazette website). Although I may not agree with all the information provided, I appreciate having finally received a response. Since they have been provided in writing, there is a reduced possibility of misinterpretation, or confusion, over the city’s position. For now, I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to determine if the answers are timely and acceptable.
But let’s not forget this issue, because around May each year, all Special Benefit Assessment District “Maximum Assessment” amounts and “Actual Assessment” fees, which is what will appear on your Property Tax Bill, will be brought before the city council for approval.
At that time, there will be an opportunity for another careful look.
Being a senior, every now and then I sit back and think about all the good times I have been afforded over my lifetime. I have truly been blessed, being married to my wife Pam for almost 56 years, and having two great sons and five beautiful grandchildren. Both my wife and I have been employed by companies which truly cared about their employees and helped both of us advance in our chosen careers. Now, being comfortable in retirement, I have reached the conclusion that the best age to be is the age you currently are. Every age has advantages and challenges, considering how we and the world change over time. If I were to discuss today’s challenges, which I feel are less than pleasant, I would talk about becoming aware of all my family and friends who pass on and are no longer with us.
Just last week, I received an email telling of Mr. Herb Abrams leaving this world while on a trip to Florida. Herb was approximately 20 years my senior, and we met shortly after the beginning of my employment at Litton Guidance. He was the Vice-President of Product Assurance and I worked for him, off and on, for almost 40 years. He was intelligent, fair, and caring. He was a person I was proud and happy to work for, and I learned a great deal just by my interaction with him.
I vividly remember that whenever a meeting was not going the way he felt was appropriate, he would pause for a moment, remove his glasses, bow his head, and rake his hands through his hair. Then after a moment of silence, he would sit up straight and provide his assessment of the issue. During one of the first times I was present to witness his signature method of showing concern, he rose to remind us, “a person’s perception is their reality.” When I gave him a questioning look, he went on to tell me, “You cannot change a person’s perception with words alone. You must lay out indisputable facts and exhibit a behavior which will allow an individual to discover the truth themselves.” His advice and coaching that day left an indelible impression on my career and life-long attitude in dealing with others. Unfortunately, the last time I saw Herb, he did not recognize me, as his mind was no longer sharp. I tried a little levity by saying, “Herb, it’s me, your favorite employee.” To which he asked, “I was a good boss, wasn’t I?” I responded, “Yes Herb, you were the greatest.”
It was some 20 work years later when Herb’s words helped me gain far better insight into how even unintended behaviors might cause a lasting perceived conflict. By this time, I was a Department Manager and was sitting in for my director who was out of town, when the phone rang. It was Herb’s secretary, who told me Herb was out of town, at a customer’s facility, and wanted to know if I could attend a meeting for him. She went on to tell me the time and place, and that all senior staff members had been invited to attend. But when I asked about the subject, the answer came back, “I do not know.” Well, no problem, I replied, I’ll handle it.
I thought about the meeting and decided to arrive a few minutes early. Hopefully, there would be someone there who could clue me in on the subject matter. All was going according to plan when I arrived at the appointed conference room and started in the door. As I looked in, I could see three people had already arrived. As a long-term employee, I knew each of them, what they did, and the departments where they worked. As none of them were in management, I was concerned the meeting may have been moved. I’ll admit, not knowing the subject, I was embarrassed to ask questions. I thought about pulling my head out of the doorway and going down the hall to ask Herb’s secretary if I was in the right place, when I heard, “Hi Al, glad you could join us.” I sat down next to those already there, engaged in small talk and waited for the room to fill.
I found out was I had been invited to attend a “Cultural Diversity Seminar.” The three employees, who were already there, were the guests of honor. They were going to present their impressions of what it was like to be black and work at our company. The first young lady got up in front of the room and stated, “If I am alone, I will never go to a meeting early.” After a moment of silence for the audience to take in her statement, she went on to say, “If I arrive at a meeting early and I am the only person in the room, other attendees would stick their head in the door, and when they see only me in attendance, would leave and not return until later.” She was convinced that the reason they left was “because she was black,” and nothing anyone subsequently said convinced her otherwise. I remember feeling great admiration for this young lady, who displayed enough inner strength to share her feelings with our senior management team. It was a gamble, as she had no idea how her comments would be taken, or what might happen after the meeting concluded. It was one of those times where nothing risked equals nothing gained.
I personally was taken aback, as I almost did that very same thing. But not because she was black. First, a lack of knowing the subject matter made me hesitant to ask questions. As a Department Manager who spent many parts of a day running from meeting to meeting, it was not unusual to get to the next gathering, observe the meeting was not ready to start, and leave to get some coffee, make a quick phone call, or take a trip to the rest room. I now realized that my behavior might be interpreted by some individuals as a personal affront. If she felt that way because of her race, what about individuals of other heritages? Could some feel disrespected just because of their job function or position within the company hierarchy?
I quickly inwardly vowed to never do that again, but I also did not think that would be enough. In my department, I held weekly staff meetings with all my employees. It was an opportune time to share what I learned and ask everyone to be sensitive to the feelings of others. All I asked was for my guys to say something if they needed to leave for a short time and accomplish anything prior to the start of a meeting. The purpose was simply to ensure any individual remaining did not get the impression they were leaving because of them. I also put the subject in my reminder file to be discussed periodically.
Today, it seems a lot of people are spending a great deal of effort looking for examples of discrimination. I fully realize racial and religious prejudice has not been eliminated and still exists within a part of our population. But wouldn’t it be better for us all if we spent more time and effort looking inward for ways to show our friends and neighbors that we are all on the same team? To that end, I ask you to remember Herb’s words when he said, “a person’s perception is their reality. You cannot change a person’s perception with words alone. You must lay out indisputable facts and exhibit a behavior which will allow an individual to discover the truth themselves.” His advice is as relevant today, as it was when I first heard it, so many years ago.
Responding to Carrie Lujan, City Communications Manager
In last week’s Gazette, Ms. Lujan indicated the purchase of streetlights with conversion to LEDs represented a $30 million savings during the first 30 years. Where did that estimate come from? The published Staff Reports indicated the savings were $22 million and the cost of bond repayment was $26.5 million, both projected over 30 years. Unless she is using “gamblers math,” there are no savings.
She further emphasized residents would be able to ask questions, and extensive community outreach would be accomplished before any further changes to the Streetlight Districts would be presented. How about a commitment from the city to answer the questions that residents ask? For example, I responded to her invitation and called in questions on December 21, then put my questions in writing on January 17, and since reminded her twice. Yet, no answers have been received to date.
Carrie Lujan, Communications Manager, City of Santa Clarita responds:
- The $30 million in estimated operational savings is the current estimate resulting from favorable bond interest rates at the time of bond issuance. The $22 million in savings identified to City Council in May 2017 were net of expenses and based on bond market conditions at that time. When bonds were issued a year later (May 2018), bond interest rates were more favorable, yielding additional forecasted savings.
- Mr. Ferdman had several questions and misunderstandings in regards to this issue. Deputy City Manager Darren Hernández was directed by the City Manager to answer Mr. Ferdman’s questions at the February 12, 2019, City Council meeting. Mr. Hernández spoke with Mr. Ferdman and pointed out the inaccuracies in his statement. Mr. Ferdman had additional questions he wanted answered, but refused to speak further with Mr. Hernández, who is the expert on the issue. To ensure we were extending every professional courtesy, Mr. Hernández even offered to sit down with Mr. Ferdman to review the documents to clear up his confusion. This kind offer was rejected on multiple occasions.
Since Mr. Ferdman is insistent on having a response in writing, please see his questions and answers below:
Please explain the assertion, “Some LMD zones, finance local park maintenance with funds from their LMD assessment and their property tax. This two-tiered funding created an inequity”. How are they paying with both their property tax and assessment?
Property owners within these local LMD zones previously supported the maintenance of City parks through their annual LMD assessments and general property tax contributions.
For example, upon creation of the Northbridge LMD by Los Angeles County, one intent of the zone was to fund maintenance of Northbridge Park. In addition to funding maintenance of their neighborhood park through assessment revenues, parcel owners residing within the Northbridge community also contribute general property taxes used to fund maintenance for parks throughout Santa Clarita.
What is the inequity?
All 13 parks are accessible to all residents of the City. Property owners Citywide fund park maintenance through a portion of their general (1%) property tax. In addition, property owners in certain areas also funded park maintenance through a special assessment for landscape maintenance in conjunction with funding park maintenance through a portion of their general (1%) property tax.
Is the maintenance of these parks specifically disclosed in their LMD Assessment Special Benefit analysis and Engineers Report?
Name the 13 parks referenced by the ballot information and provide their location.
Circle J Park
Copper Hill Park
David March Park
Duane Harte Park
Fair Oaks Park
Golden Valley Park
Valencia Glenn Park
Valencia Meadows Park
West Creek Park
Are these parks all open for public use?
If Staff believes this situation is unfair, why hasn’t staff proposed an appropriate reduction in assessment fees to the council, as it could be accomplished without a property owner vote?
It cannot be accomplished without a property owner vote. The permanent modification of a special assessment rate authorized by the Landscape and Lighting Act of 1972 must be approved through a protest ballot process among all affected property owners.
Previously, when you explained the $4.5 Million transferred out of the Lighting district Assessment figures, documented in the Engineers report, you spoke of the amount necessary to fund the Tanko contract, but failed to mention what happened to the remaining $58,990 which you did not account for?
The amount represents the Streetlight Assessment Fund’s annual required personnel contribution towards retirement health benefits ($4,506) and pension liability payments ($54,484).
Also, why was $464,352 transferred-out of the Ad Valorem Account and then moved to the assessment accounts?
The City Council approved a transfer of $4,444,513 from the Ad Valorem Fund to the Streetlight Assessment Fund as part of the 2018-19 Annual Budget. This transfer was necessary to correct budget appropriation of bond proceeds supporting the City’s streetlight acquisition project.
When will the Engineers report be corrected to show revenue and costs associated with Lighting District 1 and 2 individually?
The engineers report is correct and does not require correction. The City of Santa Clarita has one (1) lighting district funded by a special assessment. Streetlight maintenance services are funded through a blend of assessment revenue and property taxes. The engineers report is related to the levy of special assessments. There are two assessment rates for streetlights: $12.38 (referred to as Zone A for identification purposes) and $81.71 (referred to as Zone B for identification purposes). Property tax revenue is transferred into the streetlight assessment fund to cover the gap between assessment revenue and the cost of streetlight maintenance.
The cost of the Revenue Bonds to purchase and upgrade the streetlights to LEDs has been included in one, or both, of the lighting Benefit District (District 1 and 2). Why does staff feel is appropriate to add payment of the Revenue Bond debt to the District(s) without a property owner vote of acceptance?
The pledge of special revenue, including the existing street lighting revenue, to repay the financing issued to purchase the streetlight system does not require voter approval.
City staff never intended to give property owners a landscape assessment reduction.
Under the rate modification process that was terminated, seven (7) of the twenty one (21) proposed reductions would have reduced the maximum assessment rate below the actual rate assessed for Fiscal Year 18-19. In addition, the rates for five (5) other landscape zones proposed for a reduction of the maximum rate were assessed $0.00 for FY 18-19, two (2) because the costs were shifted to another funding source and three (3) because of surplus reserves are being drawn down. Two (2) zones were slated for increase, one (1) because of the request of a developer to increase the level of maintenance and one (1) because of a cost shift related to a reduction in an overlapping zone.
A scope addition was mysteriously added in the current engineers report without approval by a vote of the ratepayers. This language should be deleted and the purchase of the streetlights should be paid by the General Fund.
The engineers report as prepared by the independent “registered professional engineer certified by the State of California” was drafted by the professional engineer, and was approved by the City Council following a duly noticed public hearing, in full compliance with Proposition 218 and State Law. Proposition 218 does not require a vote of property owners in order to make the modification to the annual engineers report that you referenced. Also, Proposition 218 does not require a vote of property owners in order to issue financing that is repaid by special assessments.
As quite a few Gazette readers are already aware, I’ve spent the better part of two months researching and writing about the recently doomed Landscaping and Lighting District ballot process. In addition, I have been speaking about it at city council meetings because I am of the opinion the council members should answer questions themselves, rather than just having the city manager, or a staff member, do their talking for them. But, I will admit, when I get involved in issues such as this and report back to you, I tend to get a little too detailed. It is just the engineer in me coming out.And so, for a wrap-up, I decided to hit the high points, using plain English. Yet, if you want to see where I got my information, I added footnotes.
So, let’s get started. Prior to Santa Clarita City formation, Streetlight Services were provided by a “Special Benefit District” administered by the county. At that time, all streetlights were funded by Ad Valorem property tax. (A part of the 1 percent of your property’s assessed value). Beginning in 1979, a second district was formed to cover new streetlights added, which was funded by assessments. As of July 1998, all streetlights within the city boundaries were under the jurisdiction of the City of Santa Clarita, which was now responsible to levy assessments required in support of streetlight operations. Streetlight District 1 is funded by assessments, and the original District 2 is funded by property tax, with the amount set by the County Auditor and State Board of Equalization. 
Fast forward to 2007, the city added a section in the Engineer’s Report indicating the proposed assessment rate for District 2 parcels would be $12.38, which is the maximum rate previously approved prior to 1997 by the county, and the city increased the District 1 assessment rate to $52.56. 
Hold on, because in May of 2017, this story really begins when our city council approved the purchase of SCE Streetlights for $9.5 million and conversion of all Santa Clarita Streetlights to LEDs for $5.6 million. All the while, staff did not indicate how they intended we would pay the bill.  But, there was a behind-the-scenes plan in place. In June 2017, staff decided to consolidate all the Landscaping and Lighting Districts in a single Engineers Report. What was called “Special Benefit Districts” became known as “Zones” of a single district, but the concept of charging fees for services within an area of special benefit, or zone, did not change. Not only did the terminology become fuzzy, but a paragraph was mysteriously added, indicating approval of using 30-year revenue bonds for the “acquisition” of the streetlights. Interesting, staff didn’t make their plan known at the time. Of course, those additions allowed the streetlight zones to take on additional activities and debt. As a property owner, I do not remember voting on the change as required by Proposition 218. 
Then, in January 2018, the city council approved a $4.4 million contract with Tanko Lighting to convert all of Santa Clarita’s streetlights to LEDs. They paid for it by borrowing from the streetlight property tax fund provided by the county and committed to repay the amount when permanent financing became available.  In February, the other shoe dropped when the council approved the borrowing of up to $17 million, using revenue bonds, to pay for the streetlight purchase and retrofit cost. But, the real reason for the purchase became clear in the staff report which stated, “The City may lease up to approximately 4,500 poles …. to telecom companies for internet and phone usage. Leasing poles will generate income for the city.” 
Next, in November 2018, our city council approved staff initiating an “Assessment Ballot Process” to modify Landscape Maintenance District and Streetlight Maintenance district assessment amounts. Why? Because staff claimed it is improper for the property owners in Zone 2 (now called Zone A) which includes a portion financed by property tax, since they are not paying the same assessment as Zone B, which has no property tax funding associated. Next, staff indicated a desire to correct a disparity for 13 LMDs, which are paying for parks in their assessments, when the other 22 city-owned parks are financed by the general fund. The vote count and public hearing was planned for January 22, 2018. 
The general public became aware of the election process in late November, when the city mailed out a letter informing affected property owners they would receive a ballot. But the letter never mentioned different versions would be going to certain property owners, dependent on if they were in an LMD, as well as the streetlight zones. Yet, we all got the same deceptive voting instructions indicating that a “Yes” will indicate you support maintaining streetlight services in your neighborhood, and marking the ballot “No” indicates you are opposed. Then came the ballots themselves, with different versions, as well. Some indicated that there would be a proposed decrease in the property owners LMD assessment fee to offset the increase in the Lighting District fee. The information sheets showed that changes to every zone would be the result of a combined vote. Individual property owners’ votes would be weighted by their property’s assessment amount. Decisions made by property owners voting in one zone would directly affect other zones.
Pushback by the residents started almost immediately. Some were confused by the result of a yes or no vote. They asked, does this mean if we vote “No,” our streetlights will go out? Some were put off by the proposed 500 percent increase in the Zone 2 assessment fee. Some wanted to know the justification for the decision being made by a combined vote, rather than an independent vote of their zone. But some started to notice the LMD proposed reduced rate was more than they were currently paying. 
Well, all the pushback caused the city council to cancel the ballot process on January 8. They blamed the confusion on the public not being sufficiently informed. The letter cancelling the ballot stated, “Over the next year, the city will undertake outreach … to determine how to proceed.”
In my estimation, the way forward, would be for the council to start getting more actively involved, and ensure each item which comes before the public is presented in a clear, transparent and honest way. When the public reads a staff report or listens to a staff explanation, there should be no question that what was presented was factual and in plain English. It would be refreshing to hear a Councilmember explain exactly what happened in this case, and what corrective action has been implemented to prevent a similar problem from recurring in the future.
While we have been told this issue is coming back at a future date, I do not believe it. Why? Because, someone at city hall got exactly what they wanted. They inappropriately added authorizations to the Landscaping and Lighting District Engineer’s report to justify a $15-million loan in order to put the city in the business of leasing streetlight poles to Cell Sites and Transmitters – in your neighborhood.
This is not the way to run a railroad. It looks like we might need some new blood blowing the horn.
 City of Santa Clarita Streetlight District No. 1, Engineers Report 2006/7, Page 2-1, Paragraph 2.1, Introduction of SMD No. 1.  Final Engineer’s Report For City of Santa Clarita Streetlight Maintenance District No. 1, Fiscal Year 2007-08, Page 12, Assessment Rates.  City Council meeting May 23, 2017 Agenda Item 15, Staff Report  City Council Meeting June 13, 2017, agenda Item 15, Staff Report. City of Santa Clarita Engineer’s Report, Santa Clarita Landscaping and Lighting District Fiscal year 2017/2018, Page 10, third bullet.  City Council Meeting January 23, 2018, Agenda Item 11, Consent Calendar, Staff Report.  City Council Meeting February 27, 2018, Agenda Item 6.  City Council Meeting November 13, 2018, Consent Item, Agenda Item 8.  Always Advocating Alan, Scams, Shams and Property Tax, 012719.
City of Santa Clarita Responds
by Carrie Lujan, City Communications Manager
Thank you for the opportunity to offer clarifying information. City staff has made numerous good faith attempts to explain this matter to Mr. Ferdman; unfortunately we do not appear to be on the same page.
The City of Santa Clarita is one of no fewer than 22 cities in Southern California that over the past five years has made the decision to purchase their streetlight system from Southern California Edison. The benefit of acquiring our streetlights and converting them to LED technology will generate approximately $30 million in operational savings to the community during the first 30 years of ownership.
The Municipal Revenue Bonds, which funded the purchase of the streetlights, were authorized at the February 27, 2018, City Council meeting, a noticed Public Hearing. The action taken met all public disclosure requirements outlined by California Senate Bill 450, was reviewed by two different law firms and rated by Standards and Poor’s Corporation.
The City purchased the streetlights from Southern California Edison to reduce the current and long-term cost of providing streetlight services for the community.
Per State and Federal law, cities are required to provide access to telecommunications providers in the public rights of way.
Prior to leasing space on any City-owned streetlight pole, the City Council will develop a formal policy for how telecommunication companies can use our poles. This policy will appear on a future City Council agenda, at which time residents will have an opportunity to ask questions or raise issues before the Council takes any action.
Before any future, potential modifications are made to the streetlight maintenance district, the City will conduct extensive community outreach. In addition to engaging residents, staff will work closely with members of the City Council to develop an approach that balances community feedback and the need to create equity among the assessment amount for streetlight services paid by property owners throughout Santa Clarita.
While I am in the third year of writing for the Gazette, I have continued an effort to include columns which only speak to local issues. I have purposely taken that approach, because I have found the public reaction to governmental issues has become so emotional, it is difficult to have an intelligent and worthwhile conversation. Yet, there are some situations I find so important, their impact to our future and everyday life so dramatic, I choose not to be silent. But, in order to provide a realistic narrative, this is the one and only time I will use the words, Republican, Democrat, Trump, and Pelosi, in this column.
So, let’s get started. If you have been following my columns, you are already aware that I was born in Brooklyn, almost a year after Pearl Harbor. My father, like many other patriotic Americans, joined the Army, served in France as a medic, returned home, and passed away shortly after. He, along with many of my other relatives, belonged to the generation who shaped today’s world. They put their lives on the line, fighting to end some of the greatest atrocities the world has ever known. The Holocaust not only put an end to the lives of six million Jews, but also killed large numbers of the mentally challenged, physically disabled, and some who simply shared beliefs counter to the Nazi culture. If that were not horrific enough, medical experiments were performed using the concentration camp population as experimental subjects. Plus, this degree of torture was not performed by the German military alone. Many Chinese captives were subjected to debilitating, life-ending experiments during WW II by the Japanese, in an attempt to obtain chemical and biological weapons.
As a member of the Jewish faith, I fully realize that I am alive today to write this narrative because I was fortunate to have been born in the United States. I am a third generation American because my great grandfather decided to immigrate to our shores, and my parent’s generation had the strength, foresight and fortitude to do their part in ending the chaos around the globe. Today, ninety percent of the United States population was born after 1946 and almost 70-percent after 1965, so it is understandable and unfortunate that the lessons of the 1940s are growing dim.
I hold no ill-will for today’s population of Germany or Japan, as I believe a person should not be held accountable for the sins of their parents. Yet, the situation begs some very important questions. How could the German population have allowed, and participated in, such horrific events? Why did they remain silent? Why didn’t they rise up and put an end to the carnage themselves? I have heard some say that only about 10 percent of the population were members of the Nazi Party, and the remainder of the population did not know what was happening. Well, I do not believe it for a minute. There were way too many civilians and soldiers involved, along with way too many victims, for the word not to have gotten out.
Which brings me to the most frightening question of all: Could similar atrocities happen here, and would the American population put a stop to it? I ask the question, because our American culture does not have a perfect record either. For example, in 1932, a study was initiated to record the progression of syphilis by using a study group of 600 black men. With 399 men having initially contracted the disease, their condition was not treated, nor were they told of their ailment. Instead, their condition was watched, and the disease progression studied. In 1972, when this story was reported in the press, the outrage and lawsuits began, yet it was too late to help those involved, with the last participant dying in 2004.
While I have great admiration for those who enter the medical profession with the goal of helping people, relieving pain, and improving an individual’s quality of life, I also understand there are a small number who have less lofty ideals. I find it unconscionable that medical professionals in Germany or Japan would have performed experiments on captives, as well as those in America who would had been a part of using a minority group as study subjects.
Today, I draw a parallel to those medical professionals who perform “Elective Late Term (Third Trimester) Abortions,” and I cannot remain silent. Doctors have been recorded as describing these procedures, where full term, or almost full term, babies are pulled apart in the womb, or having their skulls crushed with the contents sucked out or being given lethal injections. Now, in New York, these procedures have been legalized, including allowing the child to die, even when born alive during process. Where is the outrage from our population and the medical profession? Are we being silent just like the population of Germany?
Personally, I believe everyone has the right of choice. Unfortunately, individuals on the fringe of both sides of the abortion issue have very conflicting views. Those on one end of the spectrum seem to think you have made a choice when you elect to have sex, while those on the other extreme believe choice ends when the baby is born and the mother elects to keep it. So, whenever there is a call to outlaw “Elective Late Term Abortions,” a cry is heard about the horror of overturning Roe v. Wade. One major celebrity even tweeted, “Buy stock in coat hangers! Here we go, 60 years, back to the back alleys,” spoken by a person who obtained their knowledge from headlines and knows little about the “Roe v. Wade” decision.
To be factual, in 1973, Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court when by a 7 to 2 vote, the justices “struck down an 1857 Texas statute which made abortion illegal except where the life of the mother was in danger.” The court went further to include, “this right (to abortion) must be balanced against the states interests in regulating abortions: protecting a woman’s health and protecting the potentiality of human life … by tying state regulation of abortion to the third trimester of pregnancy.” In 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court rejected the previously used trimester framework, and agreed fetal viability “may occur at 23 or 24 weeks, or sometimes earlier, in light of medical advances.”
Therefore, with Supreme Court decisions which do not legitimize the “Elective Abortion of a Viable Fetus,” it is curious some elected officials are looking to abort life right up to, and after birth. Why are they not being held accountable? Perhaps we should have federal legislation to outlaw “Elective Abortions of a Viable Fetus” as currently defined by the Supreme Court. Because, as we have heard from Medical Professionals, a viable fetus feels pain, and, with the proper medical attention, has a good opportunity to survive outside the mother’s womb. These restrictions would not prevent a woman’s ability to use birth control, choose to abort a pregnancy in early stages, nor prevent doctors from doing what is necessary to protect the life of the mother or child. What it would do, is protect those most vulnerable from being tortured in the name of choice.
Lastly, I wonder where our country will go from here. What choice will the electorate make? Have we become so insensitive to the plight of those who cannot protect themselves, we will sit idly by and not heed their cry? Worst of all, are we on a path to legally euthanize those who are no longer considered productive? While you may think such a thing could never happen here, it was not long ago that I thought the same about the prospect of doctors killing newborn American babies.
It is sad to imagine, another columnist in the future asking how the American population allow, and participate in, such horrific events. Why did they remain silent? Why didn’t they rise up and put an end to the carnage themselves? Will they conclude, with today’s news cycle and electronic methods of communication, that the population had to know what was happening and did nothing to stop it?
What we do today will decide where our Republic will be in the future. Because, we are all “pro-choice,” and someday our children, and their children, will look at the choices we made, and I hope we will have made them as proud of us, as I am of The Greatest Generation who fought evil in World War II!
Well, there I was on a rainy Sunday afternoon, thinking about what to write about this week, when I came across the Gazette’s Letters to the Editor. To start, I would like to thank Patrick Comey for his comments. He is absolutely correct. The street I referenced in my column about a “Drive Around the City” being renamed Railroad Avenue was formally San Fernando Road, not lower Bouquet Canyon. Yet, while Patrick’s perception is that “my dislike of the decision makers was showing,” I feel what was showing is less related to a dislike for the decision makers, and more about my distain for some of the decisions they make – which brings me to the subject of this week’s column.
During the week, I read in both The Signal and the Gazette about the Saugus Union School District initiating a “Dual Language Immersion” instructional program, starting in kindergarten. Now this is a decision I can whole heartedly support. While learning a second language will help the students communicate more effectively with individuals from other parts of the globe, you may be surprised to find that improved personal communication is not the primary reason I support this new program.
So, let me start with a little background. In the last few years, we have been bombarded with so-called experts telling us technology, more specifically Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics, is going to put an end to the working class and hi-paying labor-intensive jobs. But factually, this is nothing new, as technology has been changing the way we work and live ever since the caveman invented the wheel. Jobs which are in high demand today may be replaced by automation or a technological change in the future. What is different today is how quickly technology is advancing compared to 100 years ago, making it difficult to envision where we may be 20 years from now.
I am a senior, and my 46-year work career is in the past. Yet, I spent my entire career in the Hi-Tech world of Aerospace alongside “state of the art” electronic systems. To show part of the contrast with today’s workplace, when I first got my start in 1961, our facility had rooms filled with drafting tables and a very large machine shop with all manual equipment. Plus, every department had several secretaries to answer phones, type and file memos, and a department artist to make presentation charts on large white paper tablets. I’m sure you realize most of those jobs no longer exist, as they have been replaced by technological advances.
Our products and how they were supported changed drastically, as well. The company where I worked designed and built “Inertial Navigation” systems. These are devices, primarily used on aircraft, to determine the aircraft’s current location. The functionality is similar to today’s GPS, but our equipment did not rely on any outside information or emit any radiation. Conceptually, it was very simple. If you know the location of where you are starting from, and if you measure your distance traveled and flight direction, you can compute where you are throughout the flight. Simple in concept, but implementing the device was far from an easy task.
When I was first introduced to Inertial Navigation Systems, implementation was mostly mechanical. The early systems used Spinning Wheel Gyros, and Mechanical (torque to balance) Accelerometers, all mounted on a four-gimbal platform. Computations were accomplished by analog electronics and mechanical Synchros, Servos, Encoders, and Gear Trains. The aircraft’s current location was shown on a mechanical display, similar to a 1980 automotive odometer, in latitude and longitude. Critical components were delicate and assembled by watch makers.
As it turns out, I was fortunate. When digital computers and software started being incorporated in our test equipment designs, I was assigned the task of interfacing with the design engineering team, and a whole new world opened up right in front of my eyes. It wasn’t long before I had completed several computer language courses and was cranking out application software on my own. In those days, I used punch cards to input my work to an IBM Mainframe and received the results on punched paper tape. Talk about ancient technology.
Inertial Systems technologically advanced, as well. Spinning Wheel Gyros were replaced by “Ring Laser Gyros,” mechanical accelerometers replaced by solid state devices; gimbals were eliminated with movement mathematically modeled, and computations being accomplished using software and digital processors. Today, you can buy an inertial measurement unit on a chip.
When I ended my career, almost everything I touched did not exist when I started. My job did not disappear; it evolved and changed over time. It became my responsibility to keep up with the technological advances in order to stay relevant and in demand. As a result, I became proficient in many different computer languages, operating systems, and hardware platforms. There were times I used Assembly and Machine Languages, which vary dependent on the processor being employed; High Order Languages including Basic, Pascal, Ada, C, C ++; And lastly, Scripting and Application Specific Languages. It became evident that the design of a problem’s solution, very often, was dependent on the implementation language chosen. Being fluent and having the ability to think in several computer languages aids a developer to come up with a solution which best meets the customer’s needs. Because language structure, in many cases, molds the implementation.
I hope by now, you see a parallel, of using computer languages, to the study of spoken languages. As constructs differ between spoken languages, being fluent in more than one provides a person with more flexibility in their thought and evaluation process. Having our children learn to speak more than one language will not only help them communicate with others, it will give them the ability to think using more than one logical path. Those mental abilities are precisely what is needed to obtain and grow with jobs of the future.
As the Gazette reported, a RAND study showed, “DLI students outperformed their non-immersion students on state accountability tests,” which seems to affirm my perception that students will benefit in multiple ways, should they become fluent in more than one spoken language.
All of which is why I support, implementing the Dual Language Immersion program. It is a good decision, it will be a good program, and it will help provide today’s students with a bright future in our ever-changing world and work environment.