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About Alan Ferdman

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Always Advocating Alan: Voting in 2020 or California vs. Iowa

| Opinion | February 20, 2020

Starting on Saturday, February 22, Voting Centers will open allowing L.A. County residents to cast their ballots for the Presidential Primary Election, to be held on March 3, 2020. But this year, the community will be using a new voting system.

At a cost of $300 million (CNN Wire Feb 15, 2020), the new system named, “VSAP” (Voting Solutions For All People), is advertised as (LAVote.net), “Voting REIMAGINED, (using) An innovative voter-centered approach to voting for Los Angeles County.” VSAP “was developed by the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk (RR/CC) in 2009 to address an aging voting system and an increasingly large and complex electorate.” But is it all true? Or, have we spent a great deal of money to line the pockets of the development team, and in reality, accomplished very little?

So, in order to decide if value was being added, I looked into VSAP’s features, capabilities, and potential security risks. Having spent 46 years in the high tech world of embedded software development and systems design, possessing degrees in Computer Science and Software Engineering, along with my experience as a college-level adjunct faculty member, I have been witness to constant changes in technology, which has made me realize, “implementing a new technological innovation is only worthwhile if it provides a simplified way for a user to do a specific task.” Nothing drove this home more, than when my company started putting personal computers on every desktop. I remember walking into an administrator’s office to witness him keying in a large spreadsheet, element by element, into excel. He had built the entire spreadsheet on paper, copying data from computer reports, and doing all the math on a calculator. When I asked, what are you doing? His answer came back, I am using the computer. No, you are not, I replied, you are just adding another step, and taking longer to get your job done. The problem was, he had not been taught how to use excel functions, or how to populate the tables from the source data. After showing him those process steps, it cut his time to build the final report by over 50 percent, making the use of new technology worthwhile.

In 2003, L.A. County changed its voting system from punched cards to the INKaVOTE System. I am sure most of you recall 2000 and the dimpled or hanging chad controversy. I remember using punched cards in the early years of my career and believed implementing INKaVOTE to scan voting results was a big improvement. But, it did not change the concept of a voter selecting their candidate of choice, other than changing from punching a stylus through a card, to marking the card with ink. There were enough options on the INKaVOTE voter card to account for every variation created by local elections, and absentee voters used the same voter card as poll voters. Plus, because voting was accomplished by precinct, poll workers knew which ballot configuration would be used for each voter, and could plan for it in advance. Security risks mainly revolved around maintaining the integrity of the vote by preventing voter cards from being illegally added, exchanged, or modified, and ensuring correct programming of the counting machines.

Remember, the County Website is telling the public, this new system was designed to “address an aging voting system.” The only thing “aging” was the counting equipment and the designers could have replaced them for a whole lot less than $300 million. Most experienced developers know, using the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) design philosophy is most often the best, because each new feature adds an additional probability of Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” from biting the development team in the rear. But I also am very much aware of the sad fact, if you give a problem, to a group of designers you are “paying” to solve a problem, their solution may be the largest, most bloated solution they can sell you. It is truly a situation of “Buyer Beware.”

To gain a good understanding of the new VSAP voting system, I attended two live “voter presentations”, obtained information from the LA County Website, and read several published articles on the new system. Unfortunately, neither of the presentations were provided by individuals who had knowledge of the system’s technical design features, but instead wanted us to center on, the slick, new, color, computer interface, we will be using to vote. In reality, your trading a book and a pen, for a computer and a printer, and that is supposed to be progress?

But to be fair, let’s review your new voting experience, now that you can vote at any L.A. County Voting Center over 11 days. The first thing to remember is, because you can vote at any center, the poll workers will no longer have a printed list of voters. Instead, the poll worker will check an interactive data base, “ePollbooks” to verify your eligibility to vote. Since you can even register to vote without having to show ID, just give your name and address, and if there is no conflict on ePollbooks you are good to go. I wonder how many new voters can be added to a single address before the election team becomes suspicious a fraud may be taking place.

Since the BMD (Ballot Marking Device), is not electrically connected to any other part of the system, the information contained in ePollbooks must also reveal the configuration of your ballot. I would therefore assume the ballot you will be given will contain a code indicating your ballot configuration, otherwise how would the Ballot Marking Device know the content of your ballot to display? For example, I live in an area which will vote on the Sulfur Springs School District bond. If you live in another area, outside the Sulfur Springs School district, you should not see that item on your ballot. Therefore, if ePollbooks, or the connecting network goes down, all voting stops. If ePollbooks data becomes corrupted, or if hackers get into the network and play with the data, and the developers have not implemented a system of backing up each transaction, the validity of election results will be in question.

Next, we are sent to a BMD, where we insert our ballot. We select our language preference and after our ballots content becomes visible, you will be able to select who you wish to vote for. All candidates, for each elected office, may not be visible, so hopefully you will know how to scroll up and down the page. When you are satisfied, follow the instructions and your ballot will be printed. After you verify your ballot selections are correct, you cast your ballot by feeding it back into the BMD, and your ballot is stored in a lock box, attached to the rear of the BMD.

That leads to another question. This process requires all ballot configurations, in all languages, be preloaded in every BMD. Hopefully, all the data is correct. However, I suggest each voter verify their BMD displayed ballot agrees with their sample ballot and if there is a discrepancy, report it to the poll workers and your local news station immediately. Also, while proponents of this new system argue a voter has the opportunity to verify who they voted for before submitting their ballot, they had the same capability in the INKaVOTE system.

But wait, there is more. You can, if you so choose, use the Interactive Sample Ballot (ISP). Designated as “a convenient and optional application to speed up the voting experience.” All you have to do is, get on the internet and go to “LAVote.net/ISB.” Enter your information, and your voting selections. Then generate a Poll Pass (QR Code). Take a copy of the Poll Pass to the vote center and scan it into the BMD. This will cause your vote selection to become known to the BMD, and you can avoid using the “slick, new, color, computer interface” to enter your data. But I am wondering, did you just put your vote selection on the internet for the state to potentially store, or a hacker to grab?

Lastly, the BMD Lock Boxes are taken to Norwalk by the LACO Sheriff Department. Since Ballots are no longer universal (all the same, inclusive, format), the counting system must determine each ballots format to enable an accurate count. This process is a lot more hardware/software intensive then the INKaVOTE system and will therefore be more error prone. Security risks relating to ballots being illegally added, exchanged, or modified by individuals handling the ballots are no different from the previous system.

But, we are also being proudly told, the development has been implemented using “Open Source” technology. In short, what does it mean? Source code for the data base, compiler and other support software products, are available on the web for all to see. Could it be they are making it easier for hackers as well? Also, Open Source products are typically not supported, so if a design error is encountered, it will be up to the LACO support team to determine and implement a fix.

I have my fingers and toes crossed all will go well. But my experience with large scale developments tells me, the likelihood is, VSAP will have problems on initial roll-out. Let’s all hope the 2020 election cycle it not the time, California makes the Iowa fiasco look small and tells the world L.A. County wasted $300 million.

Always Advocating Alan – Happy Valentine’s Day

| Opinion | February 13, 2020

There are scholars who tell us that 270 A.D. was the time the populace started commemorating Valentine’s death. By the middle ages, St. Valentine had become one of the most popular saints in England and France, bringing on a celebration for those in love to share cards, presents and good times. For me, after being hit with Cupid’s arrow, I have been fortunate enough to offer a Valentine’s Day card to my wonderful wife Pam 56 times, one each year since we were wed; and to my good fortune, she has accepted my offering every time.

While Valentine’s Day is not a public or religious holiday, it is widely celebrated by all ages. You might remember when you were very young and handed out “be-my-valentine” cards, hearts, or candy to many classmates, hoping to receive a few yourself. Then, as you became more mature, the giving and receiving became more serious and more meaningful, culminating with most of us putting a ring on our favorite Valentine’s finger, promising to love and honor that person “until death do we part.” Plus, there are many of us who believe we will be together again even after our days on this earth have passed.

So if you are reading this on the 14th and are thinking, “Oh my God, I forgot to get my Valentine a card,” or you are reading this after the 14th and are thinking “OMG, I forgot altogether,” I strongly suggest you get your tail feathers in gear, get to your favorite store as quickly as you can, and right your wrong. Because if you do not – and even if your Valentine says, “it is no big deal” – believe me, as someone who has done this 56 times, forgetting is a big deal, which will not fade from your Valentines’ memory any time soon.

There are so many of us who celebrate Valentine’s Day. The day has been heavily commercialized, and I am sure you noticed all the stuffed animals, heart-shaped boxes of candy, and card displays seemingly in every store. I think it’s still all great, but as I have matured, I have moved away from thinking of Valentine’s Day as all about me, and have started thinking the day should be a time to celebrate the love between family members, and the companionship of friends. Now it does not mean you should start buying Valentine’s Day cards by the box. I just take the time to reflect how fortunate my wife and I are to have children, now adults, and grandchildren who are happy and doing well on their own. In addition to brothers, cousins, and in-laws whom I have shared my life with, alongside my 98-year young mother Jean, who lives close by in Friendly Valley. I think about how lonely life would be without the help and companionship of friends.

Maybe those thoughts are the reason I have been so concerned about the plight of Santa Clarita’s senior population living alone on Social Security. When I think of a senior being put out on the street, I realize they were wives, husbands, and possibly mothers and fathers, who are in the fourth quarter of their lives, and have lost the support structure required to maintain the most basic survival needs. While no one has ever rightfully accused me of being a bleeding heart when it comes to the senior population, I realize seniors are a group who have already given their all, and I do not understand why so many of our governmental agencies have given up on them. We need to stay focused and help as much as we can.

At 77, some might also call me a senior, but I am not ready for a rocking chair yet. My Harley’s seat is just fine, and I plan to keep twisting the throttle for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, both Pam and I worked at companies which helped their employees improve, while at the same time we both understood and embraced the concept of “lifelong learning.” Many a time I have sat back, thinking about the problems some of our less fortunate seniors face, and have thought, “There by the grace of god goes me.” So I made sure to plan for the future so all will be OK should I be first to leave this life behind, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to do so.

Yet today is a special day, and you would be at your best with a smile on your face and a spring in your step. Pam and I wish you a very Happy Valentine’s Day. May the person you offer a Valentine’s Day card, accept it the same way Pam accepted mine and make your day very special.

L.A. County’s New Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP)

It is always amazing to watch our local governments come up with the most convoluted methods in order to fix a problem by making the solution more complex and potentially more error-prone. L.A. County’s Voting Solutions for All People (VSAP), our new voting system, is the latest example. Which, after the March primary, could make the Iowa application developers seem like geniuses in comparison. Starting February 22, this new system will allow any citizen to register, change party affiliation and cast their ballot at any location, without having to show identification. Duplicate voter entries are supposed to be avoided by the poll workers addressing ePollbooks, a county-wide database. But what happens if the data base says you have already voted? What if ePollbooks goes down? How does the votes get counted and the count verified?

The new L.A. County Voter system will be discussed at the February Canyon Country Advisory Committee Meeting, (a division of the Santa Clarita Community Council), Wednesday, February 19, 2020, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge Banquet Room, 18000 Sierra Highway in Canyon Country, 91351. There is no admission charge and all residents are invited to attend.

Always Advocating Alan – Seniors Living on Social Security Need Help

| Opinion | February 6, 2020

While I was considering continuing my story about “how it all got started,” I could not forget the plight of seniors in Santa Clarita living on Social Security and the results of our communities ever-escalating rent increases. It brought me back to a time when I experienced the problem first-hand.

Digressing back to 1965, I had become a member of an American Motorcycle Association, District 37 Competition Club, the 4 Aces. About half a dozen of the club’s members lived on Dewdrop Street, in what was then Saugus. It seemed like my wife Pam and I were in Santa Clarita every weekend. One of my fellow 4 Aces members, Ed Morris, approached Pam and I and suggested we move in with him while we were looking for a house. We could share expenses, save some money, and be that much ahead of the game. Six months later, our escrow closed, and we became permanent residents. Ed was one good guy, and helped several other families move to our valley as well, including my good friends Jim and Alice Lingrosso.

Fast forward 30 years later. Ed had been twice married and divorced. We had lost track of him, as he moved out of the area. Then suddenly, Jim found him on foot, wandering down Sierra Highway. Ed was homeless and living up the canyon in an inoperative van.

To make this story clearer, Ed was 10 years my senior, and had suffered a serious desert motorcycle accident about six years before we met. The mishap left him cognitively impaired. He was a professional flat track expert who made his living as a cabinet maker. While he was very good at his profession and had no problem with the math involved, he lacked the ability to balance his checkbook. When Jim and my family lived with Ed, he would visit his parents weekly, and they helped him with financial matters. Unfortunately, by the time Jim found him on Sierra Highway, his parents and past employer had passed on, and without their help he was just existing. Ed had always been a heavy drinker, and by this time he was a full-blown alcoholic. But for all his failings, he had a heart of gold, and would give anyone who asked for help the last picture of George Washington he had in his pocket, without concern of how he would eat or pay bills the next day.

Well, Jim picked Ed up and found a spot for him in Newhall’s Whispering Oaks Apartment Complex. Next, came setting up a Social Security SSA account. Jim had a job lined up which was out of town, so he gave me a call to see if I could help. It seems while Social Security did consider Ed disabled, because of his drinking problem and other limitations, they would not give him the money directly. He needed to find a “Social Security Representative Payee,” someone willing to manage his funds. So, after a visit to the local Social Security Office, filling out some forms, and hearing some instructions, the process was under way. Two weeks later, I was approved to take on the task, and for the next seven years, until Ed Morris passed on from COPD, it was my responsibility to pay his bills, ensure he had a roof over his head and food on the table.

I believe it also very important to understand, no matter how mature or disabled a person is, and how true you desire to help, you must not rob a person of their dignity. Jim and I decided, Ed was not a child and should share the responsibilities of maintaining his life. He had a small pension from the Carpenter’s Union, which we had direct deposited monthly, and he was provided an ATM card to access the funds. In that way, Ed had an ability to partially fend for himself, even though it was limited to his monthly allotment.

Social Security funds were handled in a separate account, with all disbursements made by check and a yearly audit of how the funds were used was required. At the time of Ed’s passing, I received a letter from Social Security directing me to close the account and pass on the remaining balance to his trustee or next of kin. Which, of course, I did.

Interesting story, but what has that got to do with today’s issue of seniors being forced out of their homes? Well, I remembered saving that check register all these years. I recovered it from it’s resting place, opened it up, and staring me right in the face was an entry of $575, the amount a one-bedroom Whispering Oaks apartment was going for in 1996.

I wondered what would the apartment cost today, if AB 1482 was established back then? Using AB 1482’s allowable rent increase of 5 percent plus a 3 percent Consumer Price Index, compounded from 1997 to 2019, a one-bedroom Whispering Oaks apartment would cost $3376 per month today, and no seniors living on Social Security would be able to pay such an amount. As it turns out, the previous Whispering Oaks owners were raising rents at an average of less than 2 percent per year.

Why is this example germane to the discussion? Because, when I asked the city council to explain how they were going to help our seniors, a portion of the City Manager’s answer was in part, they (the property owners) are in compliance with state law, the prior owner implemented rent increases which were “lower than allowed over time” and the new owner has come in and increased the rents in a manner which is in compliance with the affordability agreement “over time.”

Putting an example of the city’s answer in plain English, if you were part of a rental agreement which allowed the owner to raise the rent $10 per month, and for the first 10 years the owner decided to only raise the rent $5 per month, on the 11th year, it is the city’s position that it is acceptable to raise the rent $10 for the current 11th year and add another $50 per month, to make up for the years you did not raise the rent the maximum amount.

This is but another situation just like what happened with the Manufactured Home Rent Ordinance protests. At that time the city told the resident that the allowable yearly maximum increase is cumulative, and the property owner may come back in future years and recover any of the past allowable increases which they had previously determined to not be necessary. Since then, the City of Santa Clarita has been using this same concept in determining “Benefit Assessment District Increases” as well, and now new landlords are being allowed to do the same, even though they did not own the property in the past. I strongly suggest you never vote “Yes” again, for any issue, or sign any contract, when yearly increases are not clearly defined as only pertaining to the current year’s criteria.

Part of the AB 1482 loopholes are stated in text which excludes from rent increase limitations, buildings less than 15 years of age, vacant apartments, renters who have not resided in place for a minimum of 12 months, and regulatory restriction contained in an agreement with a government agency. It is no wonder all our local state elected officials voted NO on AB 1482, and only our governor appears to think “California will boast the nation’s strongest statewide renter protections.”

In essence, the city will not be committing any help for the seniors involved, instead they put the problem off on the County of Los Angeles to enforce the rules and asked the Senior Center to provide seniors with information.

So, while you hear a constant buzz from our City Council about the need to build more affordable housing, it is just a buzz, because affordable housing is too expensive to construct in our city, and existing senior affordable housing is fast becoming too expensive for seniors to afford.

I understand private property owners need to be financially solvent and deserve a fair profit on their investment, but if they choose to deal in senior affordable housing and then use their legal influence to force seniors out on the street, they should not be rewarded for such misdeeds.

Always Advocating Alan – How it all Began

| Opinion | January 30, 2020

For the past three years, I have had the pleasure of writing a weekly Gazette column. One surprising aspect has been the number of readers who have personally thanked me for the information I provide. Yet, one recurring question I also hear has been, how did you get involved in city issues? Well, since John Boston recently penned a political commentary in The Signal, I feel it is appropriate for me to pen some of my personal “Time Ranger” details in the Gazette.

My story starts several years after my family moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1965. Growing up, my eldest son did not share my passion for motorcycle racing and was looking to play baseball instead. My wife was the first in the family to pick up the gauntlet, and along with several of her friends in the neighborhood, put a women’s softball team together, which they named the “Hopeful Honeys.” In those Santa Clarita Valley times, the county was hosting three league cycles per year. Women played fast pitch softball, while men’s teams were playing slow pitch. I came on board as my wife’s team’s coach, and after a few league cycles, our skill levels were improving. When our first base woman introduced us to her sister Karen, a gold pitcher, we were able to couple Karen’s skills with a Hart High trained catcher Gladys, enabling the team to take their first league title, and the team dropped “Hopeful” from their name.

Neighborhood husbands did not want to be left out and shortly thereafter formed a men’s slow pitch team, sponsored by the Thrifty Shopper Market. There were only three softball diamonds in our area with lights: Newhall, Seco Canyon (Robot Park), and North Oaks Park, and each of them were staffed with a full-time county employee. Tragedy struck in 1974 when the North Oaks staff member, Roger Wolf, was killed in a motorcycle accident. The local sports community was heartbroken, and a commemorative pedestal and plaque was installed adjacent to the North Oaks playing field. But the county was short of funds and operating under a hiring freeze, which begged the question, “Who would manage the lights at North Oaks Park?”

After several discussions with Jeff Wheeler, the County Parks and Recreation Director, I volunteered to handle the lights on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday as needed to allow County League play. So, for the next three years, I fulfilled my assigned responsibility, until automated light timers were installed, and in 1978 County Parks and Recreation’s Karen Grant presented me with a commendation plaque, which still hangs on my office wall today.

Softball league participation was steadily growing, and as teams were accepted on a first come, first served basis, my son and I would camp out at the Newhall Park league office door the night before team registrations were accepted in order to insure our teams got in. Yet, one aspect I thought curious related to team registration fees only being accepted in cash. That is, until I overheard a conversation about the money not being sent to the county but being accumulated in a private local bank account instead. Plus, the account balance had grown to $28,000. When I was unable to get a good answer from the league officials, I called down to Supervisor Antonovich’s office and reported the problem. In a subsequent meeting with the county, I was asked what I wanted done with the money. I answered, expressing a desire to have the money used to improve our community parks. So, when the next league cycle started, I had to smile when new aluminum bleachers appeared next to each diamond, and subsequent league fees were accepted by check made out to Los Angeles County.

It was about that same time when my eldest was starting high school. He was waiting to be old enough to play on my team and I thought it was an excellent idea for him to get first-hand experience participating as an adult. The problem was, girls were able to play in the women’s league at 16, but boys were not eligible until they were 18. After several calls, I was successful getting the County Parks Department to make both the male and female age eligibility 16. The change allowed both my sons, and several other neighborhood boys, to be able to participate in our adult leagues at the same time they were ready to get their first driver’s license.

Well, the leagues participation continued to grow, and we often bragged we had the largest softball league participation in the state. Yet at the same time we were experiencing discipline problems, with fights occurring on the field and after the games. Yearly managers meetings were rowdy as well, and our new city officials were considering cancelling the men’s softball league. Getting together with Rick Putnam, Director of Parks and Recreation, and his right-hand man Chris Daste, we came up with the idea of forming a city-sponsored adult softball committee, comprised of players, to help manage the league and hopefully calm league operations. Committee members would set playing rules, and rule on protests, while city staff remained in charge of issues relating to player discipline, safety, field staffing, and fees. The committee was kicked off at the next managers meeting, along with Barbra Coates taking up the reigns as the League Sports Coordinator.

At the first adult softball committee meeting, I was elected chair, and proposed the committee use a “Consensus Decision-Making Process.” This method uses a concept where all committee members must agree a rule change is needed and the change methodology is acceptable to implement. It requires committee members to understand and accept, the changes proposed might not be an individual’s favorite solution but would be a solution we could all support. In that way, there were no winners and losers, as occurs when putting changes to a majority vote. While it took about six months for the group to become comfortable with consensus decision making, it started working and progress was being made. How did we know? At each league team sign up, a survey was provided to each team manager reminding them of the changes which had been implemented for the last league play, and went on to ask if they wanted to continue to use the new rule as implemented, or return to the way the rule was previously written. We were experiencing over 95 percent acceptance of new rules implemented, and when the league managers voted to return to the previous wording, we immediately complied with their preference. Barbara, at the same time, could not have been more supportive. She was easy to work with, consistent, and upheld discipline decisions without exception. The leagues were running more smoothly, with protests and problems declining. Barbara stayed with us until retirement over 10 years later, and the committee, players, and park staff were very sorry to see her time with the city come to an end.

Time flies when you are having fun, and it was now 2000. A City contractor had torn up the street in front of my house in preparation for resurfacing and left it in an unfinished condition for over 6 months. Calling into City Hall, I was told the repair had not been completed because the contractor could not procure the required materials. I was looking for a better explanation when I picked up a Signal newspaper and read about the “Canyon Country Better Than Ever Committee” sponsored by the City of Santa Clarita. I joined the group, and in 2002 when our City Staff Liaison Terry Maus left Santa Clarita, I was elected Chair.

Then within a short time, adult sports were without Barbra Coates’s support and Rick Gould, Director of Parks and Recreation, disbanded the adult softball committee. At that point, I was almost at the end of my participation in adult softball and started turning my focus toward city-related issues.

In the future, I will pen another chapter, which will bring my story up to the present day.

Always Advocating Alan

| Opinion | January 23, 2020

AB 1482, authored by San Francisco’s Assemblyman David Chiu, and titled the “Tenant Protection Act of 2019” was passed by the California Legislature in October 2019 and became effective on January 1, 2020. Just to be clear about how our local California elected officials voted on this measure, the bill passed 48 to 26 in the Assembly with Tom Lackey and Christy Smith voting NO, and passed 25 to 10 on the Senate floor with Scott Wilk also voting NO.

“Curbed Los Angeles” on January 6 quoted California Assembly Member David Chiu saying: “Millions of California renters are just one rent increase or eviction away from experiencing homelessness … Just because someone rents doesn’t make them any less worthy of having a stable home.”

While I agree renters deserve a stable home environment, this new California law will not provide it. First and foremost, language in the bill which limits property owners to raise rents 5, including an increase for the Consumer Price Index (CPI) each year, is only applicable providing; the property is over 15 years old, or is a single-family home owned by a corporation. Owner-occupied housing (including duplexes) and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are exempt from the increase limitations, providing the owner does not rent out more than two rooms or units. Therefore, those who own the most expensive newer rentals will be allowed to increase rent solely at their discretion, driving up average affordable housing rents for the rest to follow.

To show the absurdity of it all, Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “with AB 1482, California will boast the nation’s strongest statewide renter protections.” So, what do you do if your landlord provides an increase notice in excess of what is allowed? Since Chiu’s bill does not include an enforcement mechanism, his “office advises tenants to contact an attorney or legal aid organization.” In plain English, he will do nothing to help, putting the burden on those who can least afford it to hire legal counsel and fight the increase in state court. If Gov. Newsom believes this bill represents strong protections, I would hate to find out what the weakest state protections are.

Hopefully, the community’s experience with AB 1482’s form of Rent Increase Restrictions will not be analogous to the City of Santa Clarita’s implementation of Manufactured Home Park Rent Adjustment Procedures. One thing residents learned from the application of the city’s Manufactured Home Ordinance is, when a law or ordinance allows rent increases at a specified level, many property owners will take advantage of the guidelines and continually push increases at, or beyond, the allowable level – at which point the burden is put on the renter to fight the increase. At the November 2019 Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting, I presented an overview of AB 1482. One section was an analysis of how rents would increase at the defined levels. Using a starting point of an individual paying rent equal to their Social Security (SS) Check, and using a CPI and SS increase of 3 percent per year, rents will double in 9 years, and the shortfall for the individual living on social security would require an additional SS increase equal to two-thirds of their existing payment to stay in their home. The entire presentation is available for you to view at https://youtu.be/Cj8h42OFU4c.

Yet, who would have expected a property owner to be so bold and brash as to challenge California’s new rent law on the very first day it became effective. But, that is exactly what has transpired. Almost immediately, the story hit the evening news with CBSLA Channel 2 airing a story which can be seen on their website. Next, KHTS published a story on January 17 and The Signal followed on Saturday January 18, about the Whispering Oaks Senior Apartment complex on Market Street in Newhall taking on new owners. The complex will now be managed by Positive Investments Inc., an Arcadia property management company.

So, for a very Happy New Year’s greeting, residents awoke on January 1 to find a notice posted on their doors foretelling of 20 percent to 55 percent rent increases to be effective on March 1, 2020. One 78-year-young resident reported being notified of rent going from $840 to $1000 per month, while another reported her rent increasing from $840 to $1300 per month. Sadly, her comments included, “All the residents here are older, and some are rationing insulin to pay for food.”

So why did the management company raise the rents? It was reported they said, “The rent increase was due to meet the average market values. Everyone around the area in affordable housing is paying $1000 but people here only pay about $800, so it will be raised to the market value.” Translation: we bought the property, now we want to increase our profit margin, and we are not concerned about our current residents. Such reasoning is the primary cause we do not have affordable housing springing up in Santa Clarita. Because maximizing return on investment and providing affordable housing are mutually exclusive.

Mayor Cameron Smyth was quoted as saying on Friday that he’s “been in contact with a handful of tenants” and said “the city is working with the county and trying to determine the best course of action. We want to make sure that any efforts on rent increases are done within the scope of the law, and in cases where they are not, then it’s necessary for the city or county to step in and protect the residents.” But then later, our Mayor Smyth goes on to say, “The law is too vague when it comes to enforcement and loopholes exist.” Confused about what the city will be doing to alleviate the issue? Me too.

Since AB 1482 includes language which indicates the new law does not override City Rent Control ordinances, why can’t the City of Santa Clarita put enforcement methodology and criteria in their book of rules? A similar thought was expressed in Randy Shaw’s October 15 Beyond Chron article where he says, “The challenge now shifts to enforcement. … Rent control jurisdictions have agencies in place to enforce rent cap and eviction laws. Other cities do not. …. Addressing this lack of an enforcement mechanism must be a priority.”

While protecting our residents was not first on the city’s agenda when dealing with Manufactured Home rent increases, we need to hold our mayor and council members’ feet to the fire this time around. KHTS reported in April 2019, “Santa Clarita Rent Experienced (the) Largest Increase in Los Angeles Metro Area.” Such news was not very encouraging, and I don’t want to see an article in April 2020 telling us Santa Clarita has the largest population of homeless seniors in the Los Angeles Metro Area, either.

Our seniors need and deserve our help. Don’t forget, if you are lucky, you will be a senior someday also, and you just may be helping your future self.

Always Advocating Alan: Fixing the Homelessness Problem, and How Much Money Will Be Enough?

| Opinion | January 16, 2020

I am again putting pen to paper to discuss homelessness in Santa Clarita and how our taxpayer dollars are being wasted. Why? Because, each week I am reading about additional tax-payer money being thrown at the problem, with no real solutions in sight. Last week I spoke of Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond supposedly passed to house the homeless in LA City; and Measure H, a county wide sales tax addition to provide $3.55 billion for homeless support services over the next 10 years.

But, the requests to spend more money just kept on coming. In an article published in the Huffington Post, dated December 6, 2019, “Governor Gavin Newsom announced a 100-day challenge program to combat homelessness. The program …. replicates a successful national model and will be done by California cities and counties.” He stated, “With a single stroke of your pen, you (Mr. President) can make a major, positive impact on homelessness right away.” Governor Newsom went on to say, «You can immediately order your Department of Housing and Urban Development to house 50,000 homeless Californians with federal housing vouchers – this, combined with critically important increases in fair market rents, can stably house a significant portion of our street homeless population faster than almost any other action you could possibly take.» This money grab must have fell on deaf ears, because on January 9, 2020, AFP reported, “California Governor Gavin Newsom is seeking $1.4 billion from (California) lawmakers to tackle the escalating homelessness crisis in his state and plans to use the money to open shelters, pay rent and provide health care.”

Yet, with all the billions planned to fix the homelessness problem it just keeps getting worse. For the first time our North Oaks community is witnessing multiple homeless individuals camping out on the Soledad Canyon Road sidewalk, just west of Whites Canyon. This issue is complex, requiring different plans and actions for those who are mentally or physically ill, chemically addicted, experiencing a temporary setback, and those who want to remain living on the street. Those differences were brought home again, when last week, I was working in my garage and spotted an elderly woman coming down our street pushing a cart. It was filled with returnable plastic bottles towering above her. When she saw me, she came over with a plastic bottle in her hand and I was under the impression she was asking if I had any I could contribute. She is apparently Asian and does not speak English. When I signaled, I did not have any, she thanked me, turned away and headed back toward her cart. I felt terrible not being able to help her, so I pulled out my wallet, took out a few dollars and called out to her. When she saw I wanted to give her money, she shook her head no, but I persisted until she accepted. She thanked me again, and I silently watched her push her cart around the corner.

Where is the help for her? She is not lazy and she seems to be doing whatever she can to survive. For that matter where is the help for those poor souls camped out on Soledad Canyon in the cold of winter? These two situations appear to be the tip of the iceberg. Homeless encampments are constantly being found in the river, and our overall homeless count is rising. If we do not identify and solve the root cause of these issues quickly, Santa Clarita can easily turn into another Santa Monica. That is why I signed off last week with the “hope someone at Santa Clarita City Hall is both listening and willing to take action.”

Well, someone at City Hall did respond, but unfortunately, they did so anonymously. I am not sure what the respondent intended to imply by calling my column an “Editorial,” but I want to dispel any misinterpretations.  Wikipedia defines an “Editorial” as “an article written by the senior editorial staff or publisher of a newspaper.” Typically, a newspaper’s editorial board evaluates which issues are important for their readership to know the newspaper’s opinion.

Therefore, in the interest of accuracy, I can most assuredly say, I am not a member of the Gazette staff, and I do not collaborate on what subjects I will write about. The big hint should have been the title “OPINION” printed in large letters over my column, my being labeled as a contributor, plus the statement following my column indicating, “The Views and Opinions … are those of the writer, not necessarily those of … (the) Santa Clarita Gazette.”

Next, the respondent took exception to my assertion, “From the very beginning, our City Council did not take much interest in Measure H financial planning, and today we shuffle along without sufficient funds to handle our local homelessness problem”. For you to understand my position, let me take you back to what was reported in the LA Times in mid-2017. Measure H did not disclose a clear service, spend plan, or how the money would be spent geographically. The only information provided told of, what the money MAY be spent on, instead of what it WILL be spent on.

After passage, LA County formed a committee to determine where the money would go, and the City of Santa Clarita was not included in this decision-making process. All did not go well, and on April 17, 2017, an LA Times article titled, “So Far, They Can’t Agree” indicated, “The third of the panel’s four scheduled meetings ended last week with votes on whether to form a subcommittee to dig more deeply into …. competing interests (was) rejected,” and instead they voted to “toss the quandary back to county executives for more guidance.” “The committee, … has until May 10 to recommend a three-year budget to the Board of Supervisors.”

The problem was, “county officials … (were) asking for $615 million by the third year, nearly twice what would be raised by the new tax.” “Schwartz of Shelter Partnership …. requested for rental assistance and services (indicating) $87 million over three years was far too low.” Andy Bales, CEO, Union Rescue Mission, said “…. people living on the streets …. suffering would be relieved more quickly if half the money was given directly to organizations that already provide shelter.” Bringing KCET to the conclusion, “The money will go to the same homeless organizations that let homelessness get out of hand.”

So, during all the confusion what did the City of Santa Clarita do? The Signal reported on April 14, 2017, the first “Ad Hoc” Homelessness Committee Meeting had been set up by City Councilmembers Smyth and McLean.  As an “Ad Hoc” committee, the meetings would not be publicly noticed and there would be no minutes published. Twenty people representing the Sheriff Department, Bridge to Home, Domestic Violence Center, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) and Family Promise were in attendance. (KHTS April 14, 2017) Some very interesting quotes came out of the meeting. Councilmember McLean assured us, “You voted for it, you’re paying for it, the money is coming back to the community.” Katie Hill said, “We are committed to making sure you’re getting that money. If you want it, I promise you you’ll be able to get it.” Laurie Ender said, “If our taxpayers locally are paying into that, they should see the benefit of it. The county is going to do well with Santa Clarita tax money.” Finally Councilmember Smyth stated, “This will be the first of many meetings and hopes to include faith groups in the conversation on homelessness. He said he plans to host an open Measure H workshop in the future.”

So, it is now two and one half years later and based on the statements of our elected leaders, it is hard for me to become ecstatic or supportive when SCV taxpayers have paid in north of $14 million per Measure H, and has received back grants of a mere $425 thousand. Plus, with our city spending $50 thousand on a 3-year action plan, $75 thousand for a part time homeless coordinator and $300 thousand to research and acquire property for Family Promise SCV to operate and provide transitional housing units for their clients, it all sounds like future planning, with no Measure H money being used for the immediate direct benefit of homeless individuals.

Lastly, the respondent stated, “Many other cities in this county are facing public backlash,” but “the opposite is true here in Santa Clarita.” This sounds like a wake-up call for us to bring this issue to our City Council loudly and often.

Yet irrespective of everything said, I am willing to listen and am offering “the anonymous city spokesperson” a spot on the Canyon Country Advisory Committee agenda to explain why we should be optimistic about the City’s homelessness plans and actions.

All the spokesperson needs to do, is give me a call.

Always Advocating Alan – Homelessness and Wondering Where All Our Money Went

| Opinion | January 9, 2020

In years past, we have been continually told about the many souls who have become homeless in California. It is becoming an increasingly difficult problem to address as the numbers increase and solutions are taken off the table by our legislators in Sacramento. In some California cities, the problem has become so acute that businesses are being forced to leave, public safety is at risk with crime on the rise, and diseases are being seen which were thought to have been eradicated long ago.

On June 4, 2019, The Guardian published an article reporting that Los Angeles has experienced a 16 percent increase in the homeless population over the past year. It went on to state, “There are now 36,000 homeless in the City of Los Angeles and nearly 59,000 across L.A. County, a 16 percent and 12 percent uptick respectively.” So, you may remember 2016, when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti stated, “The voters of Los Angeles have radically reshaped our future — giving us a mandate to end street homelessness over the next decade.” The mayor had led an effort to pass Proposition HHH. “This $1.2 billion bond would more than triple L.A. city’s annual production of supportive housing and help build approximately 10,000 housing units.” Just in case you are not good at doing math in your head, the plan was to spend $120,000 per unit from Measure HHH, and the resulting units would each have to house approximately five homeless individuals for Mr. Garcetti’s predicted results to become reality. This plan was flawed from the beginning, and the only thing L.A. voters ended up with was a property tax increase.

With the passage of Measure HHH, and green bills seemingly floating out of the clouds, L.A. County could not be left behind, and their money grubbers came up with Measure H the next year. This initiative, placed on the ballot by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, when passed by a 2/3 majority vote, would be funded by a sales tax increase of “one-quarter of one cent for a period of ten years, generating approximately $350 million in annual revenues to fund a set of strategies identified by the L.A. County Homeless Initiative. These strategies aim to prevent homelessness, increase income, subsidize housing costs, provide case management and other services, increase access to affordable housing, and create a coordinated delivery system” (County of Los Angeles Public Health, Health Impact Evaluation Center).

I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to understand that adding an additional $3.55 billion over 10 years to the City of L.A.’s $1.2 billion is not going to solve the issue for L.A. County’s 47,000 (in 2017) homeless street residents either, if the resulting actions are to build $400,000 apartments. Yet the sales pitch came fast and furious. Phil Ansell, director of the county’s Homeless Initiative stated, “To put this funding in perspective, a quarter-cent sales tax would translate into an additional tax of 10 cents on the purchase of a $40 sweater, or $1 on the purchase of a $400 television.” While that does not sound like much, I calculated in March of 2017 that the Santa Clarita Valley would be contributing approximately $7.7 million a year.

Next came The Signal’s Measure H debate at College of the Canyons. Ms. Katie Hill, then Deputy CEO and Executive Director of PATH (People Helping The Homeless) spoke in favor of the initiative. Ms. Hill and Phil Ansell (L.A. Times) talked about placing 45,000 individuals into permanent housing in the first five years, which I thought was a pretty tall order and would never happen. When at the debate, I was able to raise one question: “Would the (Measure H) funding be divided geographically according to the homeless population in any given area?” Ms. Hill did not have an answer or reveal any financial information during the debate. Then came the election, and Measure H passed with 77 percent in favor.

Today, after three years of Measure HHH and two years of Measure H implementation, the homeless problem has not shrunk; instead it has grown even larger. Thankfully, the idea of just throwing money at a solution is losing its luster. Even Supervisor Barger has come to understand, “It’s not working the way we are doing it,” as he told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m going to finally say what I think needs to be done to move forward.” But it takes real guts to take the issue on, particularly when you have powerful forces pushing the other way. I believe the California Globe showed sufficient intestinal fortitude when on Dec. 28, 2019, they published an article asking the question, “Who Has Profited From The Homeless Crisis Financially and Politically?” It is an informative read that makes you think, particularly when they wrote about a “crew of self-proclaimed homeless advocates receiving six-figure salaries stemming from Ballot initiates to public donations, campaign contributions, and sweetheart deals.” To emphasize their position, they published PATH’s tax returns, which show PATH having $47.7 million in revenue in 2017 and spending $25 million — over 50 percent — on salaries.

It seems KCET had it right in 2017 when during the Measure H campaign their position was, “The money will go to the same homeless organizations that let the homelessness get out of hand.” In concept, that is precisely what is happening in Santa Clarita today, although unlike organizations such as PATH, our groups are mostly made up of local nonprofits, the majority of which operate on a shoe-string and have the best interest of our community in mind. But even with all the good intentions demonstrated by many of our local organizations, it does not change the concept, “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got.”

From the very beginning, our City Council did not take much interest in Measure H financial planning, and today we shuffle along without sufficient funds to handle our local homelessness problem, while donating most of our money to the big Measure H machine to the south. When Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth brought forth the concept of a Homelessness Task Force, he implemented it in a way where attendance is limited to those organizations he has invited, the meetings are not noticed nor open to the public, and results are not published. We are currently in the situation KCET lamented, in which the meager amount of funding goes to the same “Good Old Boys and Girls” organizations, and new ideas are not sought after or welcomed.

So, while our current homeless shelter has been provided funding to operate year-round this year, it resides in temporary structures, without connection to city water or sewer system, and lacks sufficient beds to house our homeless population. This is not the fault of Bridge to Home, the folks who run the shelter. They have been working diligently with the resources available. It is time for the City of Santa Clarita and the County of Los Angeles to step up and correct this very fixable issue.

Let’s hope someone at Santa Clarita City Hall is both listening and willing to take action.

The City Responds:

In Mr. Ferdman’s editorial “Homelessness and Wondering Where All Our Money Went,” (above)he states the “City Council did not take much interest in Measure H financial planning, and today we shuffle along without sufficient funds to handle our local homelessness problem.” The City has been and continues to participate in all County policy and planning summits since Measure H passed in 2017. Due to this partnership and participation, the City is one of only a few to acquire three Measure H grants totaling $425,000. This funding was used to develop a three-year action plan ($50,000), hire a part-time homeless coordinator for the next 12 months ($75,000), and research and acquire property for a future permanent site for Family Promise SCV to operate and provide transitional housing units for their clients ($300,000).

In addition to Measure H funding, the City has committed significant resources to this issue. Recently, the City donated two properties (valued at more than $1 million) to Bridge to Home that will house their future permanent facilities, as well as $50,000 for a project manager to expedite its completion. The City Council also granted $100,000 to help the Bridge to Home expedite its expansion to year-round services and leverage even more Measure H funding for additional services. Both of the monetary donations were given from the City’s General Fund and did not take into account additional Measure H funding directly awarded to Bridge to Home.

Santa Clarita is also one of only a few cities to have developed a task force (formed in 2018), comprised of more than 30 local service professionals, to implement the local action plan. Many positive actions have been completed by this group that will help further expand local service capacity to help those experiencing homelessness in the community. Mr. Ferdman incorrectly claims that the Task Force operates in a way that is closed off from the public. In fact, reporters do attend Task Force meetings and frequently report on what happens for public education.

Many other cities in this County are facing public backlash, impeding action. The opposite is true here in Santa Clarita, thanks to the leadership of the City Council, volunteerism of members on the local task force and overall support of this community to embrace action and change. There is much more to do, but to group this City and the positive actions being taken with county-wide generalities is simply not fact.

Always Advocating Alan: The Roaring Twenties, Take 2020

| Opinion | January 6, 2020

I was ordering breakfast last Sunday when, after offering a “Happy New Year to all,” a very insightful and gorgeous female reminded me that we were about to enter the Roaring Twenties all over again. I was taken aback for a moment when I realized she was right. Like the first time around, the stock market is at an all-time high — my 401(k) balance is going through the roof — so I decided to consider some comparisons.

In the United States, the 1920s was called the Roaring Twenties because of “the exuberant, freewheeling culture of the decade.” It was a time when a large percentage of the population ignored the prohibitions set forth in the 18th Amendment, which made it a crime to import, manufacture, transport and purchase alcoholic beverages. This unpopular law enabled the creation of a huge black market, giving criminals a way to illegally make money, and directly brought about the rise of organized crime. Although this period has been romanticized with stories of illegal stills, fast cars outrunning the law, speakeasies and Eliot Ness’s Untouchables, the public would have been better served if a lesson had been driven home about the ineffectiveness of making laws that are not popular with a large segment of the country’s population.

 

Contrast the selling of illegal alcohol in the 20s with the illegal drug trade of today. Heaven only knows why so many Americans are hooked on illegal drugs, but the government’s “war on drugs,” which has doubled down on the failed methods of 100 years ago, has only created an even larger problem. Drug cartels are floating in greenbacks and causing death, destruction and misery on our southern border and further south. Medical professionals are, in some cases, so nervous about being prosecuted that they are making some unbelievably insensitive decisions. A couple of years ago, I visited a friend who was dying of pancreatic cancer. She had only days to live and was in great pain. Her attending physician had taken her off a morphine pump because he feared she would overdose and he would be seen as the cause of her death. Thankfully, she passed on three days later. Our elected officials are all so reluctant to alter their tack and try something new, for fear of failing to immediately solve the problem and being called out as too soft on the issue. So, the only good thing to come out of Prohibition were the advances in stock car racing and NASCAR that resulted from rumrunning and bootlegging.

In the 1920s the country experienced wealth as never before. I chuckle when I read stories of families having so much more expendable cash than in the past, they were buying store-bought clothes, radios, electrical appliances and even cars. By 1927 Henry Ford had manufactured and sold 15 million Model Ts, and Model As were entering production. It was the Golden Age of Radio, movies with sound were first released in 1923, and Gramophone Records came into being in 1925.

 

But now it is 2020, and we are experiencing the Roaring Twenties squared. What would someone from the 1920s think about an average person’s wealth today when they entered most homes and found 40-, 50- and even 60-inch television sets adorning the living room walls? Would their eyes widen even further when they discovered the family had more than one television set, and almost every new car had a radio, CD player and even possibly an MP3 player? Just imagine how unbelievable it would be to them when they witnessed your children watching a movie in the back seat of their car? Next, you could wow them with home heating and air conditioning, garbage disposals, dish washers, and please don’t let them trip on your robotic floor cleaner. But I think the most impressive thing would be how almost everyone has telephone service, via a cell phone.

Yet it even amazes me today every time Apple comes out with a new $1000 iPhone, and on the news I see images of customers lined up around the block waiting for the Apple Store to open, so they can turn over ten Benjamins for the new product.

Now I realize that at no time in human history has a society been blessed with such wealth and prosperity as the United States of America, while at the same time, the most prosperous regions of our country have a large homelessness problem. The only answer I can muster is, just like the drug addiction problem we are facing, the root cause of the problem is not being addressed, and those in charge are refusing to look for new solutions for this problem as well. The legislative segment has never solved the problem because the only solution they ever offer is to throw more money at it.

 

Suppose the legislators were to establish a Homeless Task Force to address the homeless crisis in our area. Then they would have the leader only invite participation of individuals currently involved in the issue, hold the meetings in private, and prevent any minutes or results of the meetings from being released to the public. Do you think any new solutions would be suggested? No? Well, that is precisely what is happening in Santa Clarita today, and the only people currently satisfied with the results are those whose pockets are lined and the politicians trying to sell you their talking points. Think about what you can do. As a country, a community and as individuals, we have an opportunity to make the second round of the 20s roar like never before. But it will require us to do more than throw a few dollars at solving our societal issues. Hopefully, you will get involved, attend city council meetings and legislative town halls, write to your legislators and your newspapers, speak your mind, tell the community your ideas and most importantly make sure to vote in every election for candidates who offer solutions, rather than just hot air.

 

Because it is up to us to make a difference if we expect to still be singing, “Happy days are here again, The skies above are clear again, So let’s sing a song of cheer again, Happy days are here again,” when 2030 rolls around. I am optimistic that our community and our country will figure it out and do the right thing.

 

Therefore, from myself, my wife Pam and all the Ferdman Clan, may 2020 provide you, your family and our entire community a prosperous, healthy and happy year.

Always Advocating Alan – Remembering The Past and Looking Forward to 2020

| Opinion | December 26, 2019

With less than one week to go before the new year, there is not much time remaining for you and me to make New Year’s resolutions — you know, the ones we intend to keep. For many years, I had given up that New Year’s ritual, but I am ready to give it another shot. You already know my first two resolutions because they were in last week’s column. Now is the time for me to decide if I should make any additional commitments.

While pondering what they might entail, I came across a commentary written by Rabbi Mark Blazer titled, “Celebrating Light in the Darkness,” which was published by The Signal on Dec. 21, 2019. In it, he reminded us of how important it is to recognize and show our appreciation for the “sacrifice and selflessness” of our first responders. In Rabbi Mark’s own words, “We too often neglect to offer our appreciation to all those who risk their lives every day in our own backyard, men and women of our police, fire and paramedic departments … Remember(ing) many of these heroes; law enforcement, EMT’s, nurses and fire department personnel, are traveling outside of this area to help others.” I could not agree more. Plus, my wife Pam showed me the level of commitment required for her to earn an RN license, and by her actions, I came to realize her commitment to nursing was primarily a desire to help people, not just earn a paycheck. This year, after a 56-year career with Kaiser Permanente, she will retire and end a lifetime of service to her patients.

In that vein, at the November Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting, the CCAC Board of Directors honored our Sheriff Department, Los Angeles Fire Department, California Highway Patrol and the US Forrest Service firefighters for their spectacular work on the Tick Fire. And since the Saugus incident had occurred right before the meeting, their efforts in putting that issue to rest were mentioned as well. What I thought was most remarkable was how humbly each group accepted their award. In each case, they made mention of how efforts provided by the other agencies helped them make the overall effort successful.

This started me thinking about how fortunate my wife and I are for the efforts of the 107 Fire House team. Their actions were instrumental in saving Pam’s life in 2013 and they returned in 2019 to help her again. So, when I heard that for the second year Brad and Jenny Coukos, supported by Lodge 2379 Elks Riders, were planning a special holiday “thank you” meal for Station 107 team members in recognition of their efforts in keeping our community safe, Pam and I had to join in. On Sunday at about 4:30 p.m., we arrived at the fire station with food in hand but had to wait for the engine to return from a call. On their return, we all sat down together, shared a meal, thanked each fireman for their service, and ended the dinner with everyone smiling.

Yet Rabbi Mark Blazer’s commentary reminded me of something equally important, and that is how our faith-based leaders play a pivotal role in helping us deal with everyday stressful situations and recover from the aftermath of manmade or natural tragedies. I met Rabbi Blazer about eight years ago, after attending one of Temple Beth Ami’s High Holiday services. I was highly impressed by his congregation’s inclusiveness of women and families, giving them an active role in the service, his acceptance of new ideas, and his explanations during the services. He reminded me of another rabbi I had met 56 years ago.

All those memories came back vividly when I read Raychel Stewart’s Dec. 16, 2019 commentary, “How to navigate interfaith families this holiday season.” You see, Pam and I discovered a successful route through this maze with the help of a very special person. I’ve already told you I am a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, but I have never revealed that Pam is a Catholic girl from Los Angeles. At the time, I am sure both sets of parents would have rather we married within our respective faiths, yet they never tried to convince us not to take the plunge nor put any roadblocks in our path. One item of concern, however, was: who was going to marry us, and would the religious component of the ceremony satisfy us and our families?

While I do not remember who introduced us to Dr. Hirschberg, he became the answer to our prayer. The good doctor was a rabbi with a congregation in the San Fernando Valley. There was also a Methodist church down the street that was lacking a minister, and he was also conducting Sunday services until a replacement minister could be found. I remember asking him how he could conduct services in both places, and I will never forget his answer: “Don’t we all pray to the same god?” Rabbi Hirschberg had one prerequisite for performing our wedding ceremony, and that was we were to meet with him several times. He wanted to counsel us on what to expect as we journey through life as an interfaith couple. He then performed our wedding ceremony on Aug. 17, 1963. After we were hitched, Pam and I spent many an evening with family members talking about the similarities of our two faiths. There was never any competition, and we would both attend church or synagogue whenever an important event was in the making.

In many ways Rabbi Blazer today reminds me of the rabbi I knew 56 years ago. When I was a young boy in Brooklyn, my grandparents attended an Orthodox Shul (Temple). Men and women prayed in separate sections and children stayed with their mother. It was not until a boy turned 13 years of age that he “became a man,” meaning he now prayed with his father, was allowed to wear a Tallit (prayers shawl) and would then be called to the Bimah (raised platform where the rabbi and canter lead the service) to display his Hebrew skills as a part of his bar mitzvah ceremony. Today, Temple Beth Ami provides an equal opportunity for women to learn and be an integral part of Jewish life, with each milestone shared by the entire family. That is not to say Temple Beth Ami is the only temple that has taken such an enlightened path, but it displays Rabbi Blazer’s ability to bring community members together even if they are members of an interfaith family.

I sincerely hope each of you had a very merry Christmas, happy Chanukah, or just sat down with family and friends for a good meal and came to the realization of how blessed we are. Four generations of our Ferdman family gathered together for our yearly Christmas/Chanukah gathering, celebrating our good fortune of having a healthy family, marking the end of another great year, and looking forward to 2020.

Always Advocating Alan

| Opinion | December 19, 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, I was looking at the calendar and realized this will be the last opportunity I have to wish all our Gazette readers a very merry Christmas and a happy Chanukah. December is also a time when I celebrate the anniversary of my regular weekly column being published in the Gazette. Since the first bit of writing in December of 2016, I have penned over 156 weekly articles, and I have come to realize that most of the time I write about an important date after the fact. So, I have started my list of 2020 New Year’s resolutions, the first of which is to change my behavior and get out in front of those important dates.

We also seem to be losing sight of our history. The issue became abundantly clear when I opened the Dec. 7 Signal and did not see one word about the Pearl Harbor attack, the “day which will live in infamy,” on the front page. We are ignoring our history, and while a lot of folks blame the public school system for the problem, the rest of us are contributing by not insisting that America’s important historical events be spoken of and remembered. Such acknowledgment has become my second 2020 New Year’s resolution.

December is also a time when we experience the last City Council meeting of the year. Starting with a special meeting called to order at 5 p.m., the city’s aristocratic collective pay homage to this year’s outgoing mayor. They appear to be showing their desire to remain a member of the chosen few over the next calendar year. To be fair, this year’s mayor, Marsha McLean, did an outstanding job over the past twelve months. Marsha made herself extremely accessible, agreeing to attend and participate at numerous nonprofit venues, as well as the normal yearly city functions. Her performance sets the bar very high, and we will have to wait and see if the 2020 mayor, Cameron Smyth, can better her effort. Yet, one disconcerting aspect has always been that the council member chosen as mayor is also up for election during his or her mayoral term in office, which many speculate is “a setup” to increase the incumbent election advantage.

Public participation in City Council meetings has also diminished during 2019. The number of regular attendees, along with those willing to speak out about issues, has severely fallen off. During the past several City Council election cycles, there have been over 10 candidates competing for your vote. One can only wonder why they do not participate in council meetings and only appear to pop up during the few months before the election is held. It is no wonder many of them possess limited knowledge about the issues facing our community. So, why do any of them believe we would give them our vote and trust them with important decisions?

Then again, city management could also use an infusion of renewed enthusiasm, and the following is a perfect example. In mid-year 2017, the owners of Canyon View Estates installed a group of ugly solar panels on the hillside above their manufactured home park. When the residents complained to the city, they were told there was nothing that could be done. But in September of 2017, I made the City Council aware the state permit checklist required local approval and later asked what the boundary of the manufactured home park was. It took almost a year for Tom Cole to obtain the information, and he then showed me a copy of the state permit request, on which the local approval block was blank. In addition, Mr. Cole noted the original county agreement required the property owners to maintain 50% of the property in its natural state. So, in July of 2018 the city cited Canyon View Estates, requiring removal of the solar panels from the hillside. In September 2018, the property owners had declined to comply, and as a result the city filed suit to obtain “preliminary and permanent injunction and declaratory relief to abate a public nuisance,” according to city officials (KHTS, Sept. 23, 2018). Then, after some back-and-forth legal maneuvering, we were told a “hearing for the city’s motion to compel the inspection of the property … was moved from the end of March to Jan. 21 [2020].” “Santa Clarita wants to enter the mobile home park ‘for the express purpose of inspecting, surveying, measuring, photographing and videotaping the property, including but not limited to the solar panels installed on the property,’ according to court documents” (SCV News, Dec. 9, 2019).

Let me get this straight. It is two and one-half years since the panels were installed and residents complained, but the city still does not know how many panels are installed, how large they are, and does not have knowledge related to the topology of the land? Can’t they get a copy of the state permit? This just does not sound right, so I stood at the podium of the Dec. 10 City Council meeting during public participation and asked: how could the city be in this position at this time? What is the strategy for resolving the issue? And how long does the council anticipate it will take? The answer from the city manager was, “This is ongoing litigation,” and not one word further was spoken by the council members.

I am fully aware the Brown Act provides authorization for ongoing litigation to be discussed in closed session, but it does not prohibit status or information from being disseminated to the public. This issue has taken way too long to resolve, and it appears it is going to take a lot longer. What does this say about City of Santa Clarita operations and our City Council? Perhaps it is time to consider a full-time elected mayor — someone to run city operations and be held accountable by the voters every two years? Something to think about next year.

But for now, it is time to concentrate on faith, family and fun. So, since this is my last opportunity in 2019, here it comes: Wishing all of you a very merry Christmas and a happy Chanukah from Always Advocating Alan and the entire Ferdman clan.

Always Advocating Alan – Happy Holidays are Here Again

| Opinion | December 12, 2019

The year-end holiday season is a time I look forward to each year. It always seems like everyone has a smile on their face and a song on their lips. The turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, the Christmas songs playing on the radio, and holiday movies continually showing on television all lift me out of the normal cycle of life into a much happier place. Then New Year’s Day would arrive, and I would be brought back down, realizing the regular yearly cycle was starting over again.

Yet in the last decade, there were additional year-end activities that stretched the holiday season out a little further. October brought with it the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center’s Rubber Ducky Regatta. This is an event where thousands of rubber duckies race down their slick water raceway, each sponsored by a human adoptive parent looking to win a grand cash prize. Just watching the excitement in the kids’ expressions lifted my spirits, and I was hooked. After working with the Dixon team who put on the event, I was made the committee chair and last year I also became the MC. Some people told me my institutional rise was not because of my talent, but was instead due to my outlandish duck support costumes. I think they are totally incorrect and I pledge to continue wearing my clown shoes at future events.

Then it is on to November, when the Sunrise Rotary, in partnership with the Newhall Community Center, puts on a Costume and Pumpkin Decorating Contest. I am a Rotarian and became the chief judge, responsible to put the judging team together and guarantee that winners are selected. Here again, I am not convinced it was the great job I did during my first year’s effort, but more likely that no one else wanted the responsibility (plus the fact I have not been attacked by a disgruntled competitor’s parent). Yet the risk of bodily injury is well worth it when you consider how much fun the children have and how proud and happy their parents become when you compliment their children’s effort.

But this holiday season seemed different and did not appear to provide the same passion as those in the past. When I spoke about it to several of my friends, they agreed. Perhaps, here in Southern California we are just not used to having a grey, rainy holiday. I know the cancellation of the Rubber Ducky Regatta and pumpkin event due to the recent fires has a lot to do with it also.

So, being the outlandish costume lover, physical daredevil and optimist that I am, it was off to the next holiday extravaganza, the Granada Hills Holiday Parade. This was going to be my fourth year riding my Harley in the parade at the invitation of Bill Martin, the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge and the Reseda Moose Lodge. The plan was for me to wear an Uncle Sam costume and have Kris Kringle, supplied by the Reseda Lodge, as my passenger. This is the third year Kris has ridden with me. He is a great passenger, never leans the wrong way and has little to nothing to say. I was so ready for this event I added a 13-star Betsy Ross flag on the back of my bike.

There were just a few days to go when I checked the weather report and found it forecasted rain on Sunday, Dec. 8. I was not happy and used some non-printable four-letter words to describe my feelings about having another holiday event cancelled. But as the day approached, and the likelihood of rain diminished, I decided I was going rain or shine. Getting up Sunday morning, since it was raining lightly, I put on my rain gear and rode to meet Bill. As you might suspect, no other riders joined us for the journey to the Reseda lodge, and by the time we arrived it was raining even harder.

On arrival, I was pleasantly surprised by the Reseda team’s commitment to participate in the parade no matter what, and from the time we left for our staging position, it continued to rain. On arrival, I looked around and observed Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops, Girl Scout troops, YMCA floats, community dance teams, marching bands, custom car clubs and more all getting ready. Then, like a message from heaven, the rain stopped about one hour before the parade was scheduled to start. The sun came out of hiding, and not one drop fell on the parade or the spectators.

When the Reseda Moose entry took its turn entering the parade route, we consisted of Tommy Moose, a green lady elf and a dinosaur walking, a well decorated truck and trailer with passengers, and two motorcycles representing Mint Canyon Moose. I was happy to see such a large number of spectators lining the route, with parents and children all smiling and having a good time. If you have been with me on parades, you know I tend to stop and talk with folks along the way. No one expressed downheartedness because of the rain, making it very pleasant to offer a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone I could.

My year-end positive attitude has returned, and I look forward to riding in the Granada Hills Holiday Parade again next year, alongside my friends from Reseda and Mint Canyon Moose.

Tell Us Your Thoughts and Observations

The week before last, I authored an article on the heels of the Saugus High School shooting. I speculated on what we might do to prevent tragedies of this nature from occurring again. While I realize it was only my opinion, nothing the experts have accomplished has put a stop to some of our young adults settling their grievances by killing fellow students and then, in most cases, taking their own life as well. I believe opening an ongoing dialogue may reveal what needs to change in the way we have been addressing the issue.

This week, I’d like to thank Anne Marie Whalley for taking the time to pen a column on being a responsible and caring parent and grandparent. I absolutely agree — parents and grandparents have a profound effect on a child’s development, yet that is only a part of the picture.

Hopefully, we can put more pieces of this puzzle together. Please send the Gazette your thoughts and observations because we want to listen. You may be the one to offer the best solution.

Always Advocating Alan

| Opinion | December 5, 2019

Well, here we are again, celebrating the year-end holiday season. Hopefully we have all had a very happy Thanksgiving, eaten a large, delicious meal and shared our love of friends and family. For the Ferdman clan, this year differed a bit from the norm. For the first time in a very long series of Thanksgiving celebrations, my wife, Pam, did not get up in the middle of the night to check on the turkey cooking in our oven, and a family get-together was not in our holiday plans.

Instead, my eldest son took his family on a road trip to visit the Grand Canyon. When I heard about his plans, I smiled thinking about the vacations we spent as a young family motoring around the Western United States in our 8-foot camper and towing our boat. We would change travel plans from day to day in order to visit a new place we had heard about or found on a map. There is nothing that makes geography more real and exciting than exploring the open road, as opposed to flying to a destination. I am glad Ernie and his wife, Kameron, decided to share this opportunity with their children.

My younger son had planned to pack up his off-road equipment and head to the desert for a family campout. It was planned as a time for his children to ride dirt bikes and quads and experience nature, even when it is cold outside. I was pleased hearing about his plans also. When my two guys were smaller, and I was far more indestructible, or at least I thought so, we spent many a weekend in the desert at District 37 motorcycle races. Getting one’s children out of the city, allowing kids to be kids by twisting the throttle on their own, and thereby gaining an understanding of self-reliance and the consequences of their own actions, is a gift every parent should find a way to provide. As it turned out, snow made the trip to the Grand Canyon more challenging than first anticipated, and the winter storm cancelled the desert outing. So, I got to smile again when Scott, his wife, Johnnie, and their boys came for a visit on Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, Alison, my eldest granddaughter had to work.

So, as Pam and I experience the fourth quarter of our lives, we are both grateful our two-minute warning has not yet sounded. We are still very capable of making new memories but often reflect on our past as well. As time has inched past yesterday and is heading toward the next celebration, it is always possible to turn back the clock and reflect on how grateful we are, not only for successes we have experienced, but for all those wonderful people who helped us along the way.

Not long after we moved to Canyon Country, a family moved in across the street. Bob was a retired veteran who had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. As a dashing and debonair man in uniform, he had swept his wife off her feet while stationed in the Philippines. Blanqui had been previously married and had two boys, whom Bob adopted as his own. Their union created a daughter, Teressa, and another son, Charlie, who was about the same age as my eldest. As time flew by and their eldest boys left home, they downsized but still lived very close by. The daughter married and relocated to Arizona, to be followed by her younger brother. Currently, Bob and Blanqui look down on us from heaven, as the eldest brother Robert is engaged in a battle with stage 4 cancer. This past Thanksgiving, Teressa and Charlie drove from their homes in Arizona to visit with Robert and offer him a place of refuge with them where they live. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we all shared a dinner together at what used to be one of their favorite restaurants. I am confident that their parents are smiling along with Pam and me as they witness the bond of family love bring their siblings so strongly together once again.

I feel blessed when I turn back time and reflect on the past. Challenges I have faced and failures I have experienced seem to have faded away and have almost become non-existent, while good times and happiness with friends and family shine brightly as if they happened just yesterday. This year, we made new memories sharing a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with friends in Simi Valley and telling stories of our past yearly motorcycle rides together up north. Then on the Friday after Thanksgiving, we had the pleasure of attending a “Friendsgiving” at the home of Joe and Liz Lozano, where we enjoyed delicious food and discovered we knew someone who made fantastic cookies.

I have come to appreciate Thanksgiving as a time to recount all the wonderful people I have shared my life with. It is a chance to realize how fortunate I have been: married to my wife Pam for the past 56 years, my two sons Ernie and Scott, their wives Kameron and Johnnie, our five grandchildren, Alison, Madison, Cole, Briona, and Carson, my 98-years-young mother, Jean, two brothers, Fred and Bruce, and all the friends who have helped us on our journey through life.

Because Thanksgiving should not be a time to reflect on how many material things we own or how much money is resting in our bank accounts. Thanksgiving should be a time to reflect on all those we have helped, all who have helped us, and how joyful our lives will be if we just continue to do all we can to help out family and friends in their journey through life.

Always Advocating Alan – Children Must Avoid Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Because, “You are What Goes Into Your Mind” (Zig Ziglar)

| Opinion | November 28, 2019

It has been two weeks since 16 seconds of madness in Saugus put Santa Clarita in the national news. Although our community has a great deal of community pride, it was shown we are not isolated from the problems facing the rest of the country. Quoting myself from last week, “The loss of a child is a tragedy that no parent should ever have to endure, and my heart and prayers go out to each member of the affected families.” We must be prepared to look inward if we are to find ways of preventing such an occurrence from happening again.

Predictably, every time an event of this magnitude takes place, the affected community feels a sense of shock and remorse. To the benefit of our area, religious leaders, elected officials, community leaders and citizens have huddled together to share their grief and demonstrate the strong family bond we have in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Next must come a discussion about keeping our children safe. What can we do? Unfortunately, there are those who use every tragedy to push their own agenda, and it does not appear to matter to them whether or not the situation would have been prevented by what they espouse. These so-called experts tend to double down, wanting us to travel their failed path even faster, ignoring the fact that the problem has continued to escalate. Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results,” and in this case he appears to have hit the nail on the head.

Like many of you, I have given it a lot of thought over the past two weeks. I have been asking myself and others, what has changed since I was of high school age? Why is this situation escalating today? As a society, are we the cause? I know many individuals have blamed the breakup of a traditional family structure and the lack of religious principles as the reason. But perhaps, the issue goes even deeper. Some who have reached my age openly wish they could be young once more and do it all again, but not me. As I watch my grandchildren mature, I have become aware of the pressures put upon them, many of which I never had to deal with. As a young adult, I had far more freedom than children today. We were encouraged to play, explore outdoors and develop our understanding of the world and personal responsibility. Learner’s permits for driving were available at fifteen-and-a-half without taking a driver’s education class, and being sixteen years old allowed us to purchase a gun. Yet, I cannot recall a school shooting taking place during that time.

In contrast, today the media continues to report about the curriculum in our schools changing around the country, and I wonder how much of those changes have been implemented locally. Because, children need time to be children and discover the world at their own pace. Adults attempting to impress their agenda on children at an age where they do not understand the issue may just be confusing and frustrating our youth.

For example, kindergarten is a time for youngsters to become comfortable in a social setting. Then, as they begin to feel a kinship with their peers, if they are told they cannot hug each other or call another student their best friend, what message are we sending? If that was not confusing enough, there are schools in our country today that tell students that genders are not comprised of just boys and girls, but there are others. Just think about how that must sound to young minds.

Far too many of our children are being diagnosed with mental issues for which their parents are told they need treatment. Our modern society has come to believe anything can be cured with a pill. So, children are being prescribed an ever-increasing number of drugs that possess suicidal side effects, along with other mind-altering issues. Could this alone be causing some of the problems?

Young adults have been prevented the ability to discover skills by the elimination of shop classes. I suspect the classes were eliminated due to the fear of litigation in the event of a student injury, but our young students need to be made aware of all options available to enable their lifelong success. When I was in junior high school, wood, metal and electric shop were all offered as electives, along with home economics classes. You may find it odd, but I believe there is a direct correlation between building something in shop class and modern technology. When a student makes something in shop class, they must go through an orderly process and use available tools and materials to end up with a finished product. When an engineer writes a computer program, he or she must define an ordered set of commands, using what is called intrinsic functions (similar to using available tools) in order to come out with a finished working product. There is a lot to be learned by building something that can be touched, felt and used.

Common core math is the biggest bit of lunacy being heaped on our young students today. The part I find most humorous is this: I understand the algorithm, but the reasoning behind using the technique is never fully explained to the student. Plus, it should never totally replace the shorter method you and I learned in school. Why? Because the old method is more compact, and borrowing or adding to the next column is also a good way to explain powers of 10, although no one ever does it. Telling our young students that they must do things the most cumbersome way just increases their frustration level and stifles their desire to learn.

Today society places too much emphasis on the minority population and ignores or belittles the majority. As a Jew, I always knew I was a member of a religious minority. When I was in high school, it felt good when the school started being more inclusive at the end of the year holiday celebration. I have come to believe it would be a valuable diversity technique for public schools to teach comparative religion classes, giving equal time to the major world beliefs. It should not be used to indoctrinate students, but to inform them of what many in our community believe.

Having pride in our nation, our founding fathers, our history and our Constitution (not to mention understanding the Constitution) has left many of our schools. Concern over offending someone by reciting the pledge of allegiance, playing the national anthem or displaying an American flag is absurd. As Americans, we should be offended when these things are not done.

I could go on and on, but the most damaging thing we appear to be doing to our children today revolves around helicopter parenting. Children need to learn how to deal with failure, what to do when things do not go their way and the simple fact that they cannot be the best at everything. The last youth baseball team I coached was 37 years ago. I used Pat Riley’s philosophy of cautioning my players to not compete with other team players, but to strive for their personal best. At the end of the season, we had a team party, and I shared the areas were each player demonstrated superior skills to those they exhibited at the start of the season. It not only surprised the parents and players, it provided an incentive for the players to continue their individual effort. I hoped it would also provide a lesson to help carry each of those young adults through their lifelong journey.

I am pointing these areas out with the hope of starting a dialogue on how to help our young adults deal with everyday life. When individuals become frustrated and despondent, and then go to social media, movies or video games for an answer, it may send them spiraling off on a destructive path because they have not been provided the skills to sort out a productive solution.

Both the Gazette and I welcome your feedback. It does not matter if you agree with me or not. I would appreciate hearing from you. I have always said that you never learn anything by only talking with those who share your opinion.

Always Advocating Alan – The Holiday Season, Prevention and the Sadness in Saugus

| Opinion | November 21, 2019

As far back as I can remember, the middle of November has marked the start of what I consider the holiday season. Perhaps I came to feel that way because I was young and impressionable during a period when three very famous movies appeared continually on my rabbit-ear-adorned, black-and-white TV, along with a never-ending string of Christmas songs playing on the radio. Or maybe it was due to my starting another trip around the sun on starship earth every 18th of November. This year, as my 77th trip circumnavigating that bright thermonuclear ball was about to start, my thoughts focused on the holidays to come.

Now, you might wonder why a Jewish transplant from Brooklyn would have been so greatly impacted by watching those three movies, but “A Christmas Carol,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” contain valuable life lessons that transcend any one religious belief. Ebenezer Scrooge sends us the message that no matter what we have done or how old we are, it is never too late to see the error of our ways and change our behavior. “Miracle on 34th Street” shows us there are times when faith in a power beyond our control helps us deal with our daily issues. But most importantly, George Bailey reminds us that even though everything may not go our way, what we do every day affects those around us, and if we were able to change the past, we might lose all that is precious to us today. These films helped shape my belief system, as well as my faith in the Almighty. In fact, I have been so moved by them that I purchased the DVDs and make sure to watch them every year.

This brings me to the sadness in Saugus created by a 16-year-old high school student this past Thursday. The loss of a child is a tragedy that no parent should ever have to endure, and my heart and prayers go out to each member of the affected families. It would have been bad enough if the carnage had been caused by an accident, but the mental anguish becomes overwhelming when we realize it was caused by 16 seconds of irrational and reckless stupidity.

Unfortunately, there is always an immediate knee-jerk reaction whenever a tragedy occurs. In this case, some will blame the gun, while others blame mental health, and some may even focus on his interaction with other students, all before any background information becomes known. But one thing is painfully obvious. No matter what situation drove the shooter to take the action he pursued, it did not solve anything and only created more grief for the victims, their families and our community.

As for the gun, I view a firearm as a tool. It is a crafted metal object with no mind of its own. Like many other tools, it can be dangerous or used to produce a positive outcome. Even today, I know individuals who still use firearms to feed their families over the winter and one local individual who used her firearm for self-protection. Teaching firearm safety and the dangers of their use is very important. I never wanted my two boys to discover a firearm in my house or anywhere else and think it was a toy.

One other thing I have come to realize is that laws, in and of themselves, do not prevent evil from occurring; they simply punish those who exhibit contrary behavior when they get caught. Aren’t there already laws that prohibit murder? If laws are so effective, why are homicides occurring? Our local sheriff’s department does their best to keep us safe, but they cannot be everywhere to protect us from everything.

So, how can we obtain an understanding of the problem our children are facing, and deal with it? I have often pondered this question: does the entertainment industry display a mirror of our societal norms, are they just providing entertainment to allow us to escape the realities of the world in which we live or are they shaping the way we think? Entertainment professionals are business types, and if they produced films that did not have audience acceptance, they would be out of business. I have therefore concluded that the answer is a little bit of each. Sadly, gone are the days of the original “A-Team,” where lots of bullets were fired and nobody ever got hit. Going even further back in time, we had episodes of “Gunsmoke,” where Mathew Dillon’s Code of the West included such principles as never shoot an unarmed person, never shoot a person in the back and always wait for the bad guy to draw first. Even though MeTV still broadcasts those old shows, our viewing norms and sensitivities have changed, enabling us to view more gory and graphic content, which permits us to escape reality into a world filled with people being shot and killed with fully automatic weapons. If those venues are our only frame of reference, some may actually come to believe it is an acceptable way to relieve their real-life frustrations.

In addition, many parents today are overprotective and have forgotten their children need to learn how to deal with failure, things not going their way and the consequences of their actions, as well as how to be successful. I often wonder if the world is more dangerous today than it was in the past, or if the instant communication of social media just makes our problems so much more visible. In the end, as parents and a community, we need to find ways to live in our current environment. Raising an issue without offering solutions is not productive, so I offer the following thoughts, not as absolute answers, but as a vehicle to initiate dialog.

First and foremost, we must come to the realization that society will never be able to restrain every mentally deranged individual from committing violent acts. We must take all the reasonable precautions we can, but some individuals will slip through the cracks, and unfortunately, we will not be 100% successful.

Perhaps we should also look at the way we handle tragic events today. For example, when my company experienced an active shooter situation in the ’80s, law enforcement and medical services concluded their activities at the plant within two hours, and the company quietly offered mental health assistance. Because of the way the situation was handled, 80% of the employees were not even aware it happened. Is it possible that the way we are handling situations today — witnessing the tragedy explode on social media, multiple organizations looking to provide help and the school closing for two weeks — may be inadvertently traumatizing students and our local community?

We must also find methods to keep our students safer at school. Using today’s technology, it would be relatively easy to ring a campus with video cameras and use motion detection technology to alert authorities when the perimeter has been compromised by an intruder. Implementing multiple controlled entry points with metal detectors may have put an end to the recent Saugus shooter’s plans, making the concept a very worthwhile investment to consider.

While this event may soon disappear from the public view, we must realize it will be in the hearts and minds of the victims’ families and friends for as long as they ride earth’s starship around the sun. Nothing we do today will change what happened last Thursday, but our actions may prevent another set of innocent victims from being deprived of the opportunity to look back on their lives, gain an understanding of the impact they had on others and smile over their precious memories.

I feel so sullen thinking of those who lost loved ones. It was a needless and senseless act, which created a deep sadness in Saugus and throughout the rest of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Always Advocating Alan – Fires, Power Outages, Risk Management and Your Elected Representatives

| Opinion | November 15, 2019

When you enter the workforce and start your journey building a career, you will probably find out that there is a lot to learn. This often happens despite the fact that you may have gone to school to learn a skill and may think you know what you will be doing. In my case, I spent two years studying basic electronics and vacuum tube theory, only to go out in industry and never see a vacuum tube in any of our products. Technology had passed me by, with solid state electronics now providing the functionality. I even had to learn to reverse my mindset as we discussed discrete circuitry design with hole flow as opposed to electron flow. So started my experience with lifelong learning, which has meant always scrambling to stay abreast of the latest components and technologies.

However, I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I had been working for about five years when general purpose digital computers started making their way into our test equipment products, along with the necessary software. I foresaw endless possibilities and could envision that a whole new world was about to open up. Since I was still the junior engineer in our group, and the electrical engineering types wanted nothing to do with this new soft technology, I was assigned to the activity. Sometimes, you just need to do what comes naturally, and after a few company classes, I realized software development was going to be my thing. Then lightning struck again when I was assigned to a project working with two consultants from Zeta Systems, who shaped my world for years to follow. Software development was a relatively new field, but even in its infancy, they understood and used coding conventions, variable naming standards, embedded documentation and configuration management techniques, most of which are still relevant today. All of this provided the skills for me to advance to lead programmer and finally a department manager.

It would have been nice if all things came as easily, but as I told those working on my projects, if it was easy, everybody would do it. So, I will admit, I had a hard time wrapping my arms around and implementing risk management. It was not until about halfway through my career, after returning to college to further study software engineering techniques and reading a few more books, that the concept became clearer. What I came to understand is that a risk management process is not just buying insurance or implementing fixes for problems after they become apparent. It encompasses the identification of all potential risks, analyzing their severity and likelihood of occurrence and then determining what should be done. Resulting actions could include mitigating (fixing) the risk, buying insurance to prevent loss, watching the issue over a period, accepting the risk, or retiring the risk when concern is no longer apparent. Each risk, including the individual action plan, must be approved by an appropriate risk owner. In this way, the risk owner assumes responsibility for the action plan and will take the issue far more seriously.

Does documenting a risk and risk owner always lead to a happy ending? Absolutely not. Take, for example, the Challenger space shuttle accident. Did the booster engineers know there was a potential safety risk to fly with a low ambient temperature? You bet they did. They were pressured into changing their position by the program manager, who traded off other concerns against a known safety risk. And that brings us to how human nature affects risk taking. We deal with risks every day. You experience the risk of having a tragic car accident every time you drive away from the curb. But, 99.9% of the time, you will arrive at your destination without a scratch, and the concerns over taking the risk diminishes with time. So, the Challenger’s program manager may have thought, “We have flown in low temperatures before. Why would I suspect there will be a problem today?” Of course, we know what happened.

I see similar scenarios with the wildfires our community has recently experienced. Have our governmental agencies developed and analyzed a list of all potential fire-related risks? Is there a mitigation plan established for each potential risk, and has the plan been effectively implemented? I think you know the answer. Wanting to understand how the City of Santa Clarita addresses risk management, I went to their website and became aware that risk management is now the responsibility of the city clerk. City risk management “administers the funding of self-insured portions of the program, manages administration of general liability claims … and provides training to minimize the risk of future losses.” Then I visited the L.A. County Fire Strategic Plan Community Risk Reduction Unit: “Community Risk Reduction is the identification and prioritization of risks, threats and hazards, followed by the implementation and evaluation of strategies to lessen their impact.” Finally, I went to the SCV Water website and searched on risk management. Surprisingly, the result came back without an answer and recommended I try another search.

Our first responders — firefighters and sheriff deputies from all over California and neighboring states — did an outstanding job fighting the latest round of wildfires, protecting our homes and saving lives. Yet, the lack of in-depth risk management planning and information on governmental agencies’ websites was not surprising. When risks lay dormant, with the severity and consequences outside of our daily concern, the subject of risk management is not very glamorous. But, when danger becomes apparent and an agency takes controversial actions like turning off the power (supposedly to keep us safe), our interest becomes keen, and our local politicians awaken to write letters and campaign on fixing the issue, waiting until the public loses interest.

So, I ask you, did turning the power off really keep us safe? Just like the example above, the plan did not always work as intended. There is always a risk when the power is restored, and in one case this past fire season, restoring power blew up a transformer, which in turn started a separate fire. Then there is the question of residents who rely on electricity to meet life-saving medical needs. Even if they have battery backup, there is a limit to how long the equipment will operate on its own. This week, the press reported that State Sen. Wilk called for a special session to investigate the effect power shutdowns have on local residents, Assemblyman Tom Lackey requested that FEMA provide water and generators to rural communities, and Assemblywoman Christy Smith wrote our governor requesting “far-reaching and comprehensive solutions.” Even our Santa Clarita City Council is getting in the act at the Nov. 12 City Council meeting, when they discuss the PUC’s plan to investigate the issue. It seems the glamor has returned to risk management.

This round, however, may hold the public interest a lot longer. Generators are flying off the shelves of local stores, and many residents are actively preparing for another round of arbitrary power blackouts. As the public invests money in keeping themselves safe, the subject of how to fix our power distribution system will be on the their mind for the foreseeable future. Plus, I’m betting it will not be long before we start hearing about injuries occurring when connecting generator power to homes, not to mention the danger of storing large quantities of gasoline.

In the meantime, we should be asking our elected representatives some obvious questions. If property owners are required to clear brush 100 feet from their homes, why doesn’t the city and county provide 100 feet of brush clearance at the boundary of the open space they own? Why are there vacant lots within city and county limits currently covered with dead brush? Why aren’t there fire hydrants installed in all areas where residents have been established? Why aren’t there fire hydrants available at the boundaries of all open space? Why haven’t our utilities been required to update their power distribution systems to account for the high winds we experience each year?

At the time of this writing, I plan to ask all those questions at the Nov. 12 City Council meeting. But most importantly, I want to know why the City of Santa Clarita doesn’t have a robust risk management process in place, with risk lists published for public consumption. By the time you read this, the meeting will already have happened. You can assess the City Council’s answers for yourself by going to their website.

Always Advocating Alan – California is Headed Toward Being the Pyrite State

| Opinion | November 7, 2019

I remember days long ago when I sat watching Western movies, after adjusting the rabbit ears on my 19-inch black-and-white TV. I can’t count the number of times the plot centered around a bad man salting his gold or silver mine in order to sell it to an unsuspecting homesteader or cow puncher. There were also a fair number of stories about a hard-working, but inexperienced Easterner-turned-miner who thought he had struck it rich. Unfortunately, when he took a bag of his newfound wealth to the assayer’s office, the man behind the counter laughed and informed him it was fool’s gold, or pyrite. In those days, movies always ended on a positive note, where the disadvantaged lead character continued to work hard and ended up striking it rich anyway, while getting the last laugh.

It was not many years after those TV-watching days had gone by that I interviewed and secured a job at Litton Guidance and Control in Beverly Hills. It was 1961, and California was still benefiting from the massive industrialization and technology innovations that had been initiated to support winning World War II. The state had the weather and open land to support advances in aviation, electronics and almost anything else. It might seem odd now, but in order to support all the activity, round-topped Quonset huts were put up on what is now prime real estate. For the first six months, I worked at the original company site located at 336 N. Foothill Road. Each day, I would drive past Beverly Hills City Hall to what was an industrial area. I often think about going back and finding out what stands at that location today, but I never seem to do it.

My department was moving to Woodland Hills. The facility was to be located on Burbank Boulevard, between Canoga Avenue and Desoto Avenue. Bordering on Canoga Avenue was a horse ranch, while Pierce College owned the land on Desoto Avenue. On the north side of Burbank Boulevard, where the Warner Center is now, was a corn field. I used to call the west San Fernando Valley the shopping and restaurant capital of the world. With Litton, Rocketdyne, Atomics International, Hughes and other large companies creating a need, small machine shops and supply houses dotted the landscape, along with furniture stores and restaurants. It seemed like anything you needed was available on the way home from work.

California had it all. Unfortunately, we have allowed it to slip away over the years, a small amount at a time. Like death by a thousand small cuts, no single thing can be declared responsible. But as property values, taxes, labor rates and other business expenses slowly increased, companies started moving their operations to other parts of the country. If you drive around the west San Fernando Valley today, you will see that it is a very different place. The old Rocketdyne facilities on Canoga Avenue are shopping centers. The Litton facility on Burbank Boulevard, now owned by Northrop Grumman, is being sold off one piece at a time. Hughes left their facilities in the North Valley, and General Motors left Van Nuys a long time ago. Plus, Lockheed even left Burbank for Georgia and moved the Skunk Works to the Antelope Valley.

Well, times do change, but have our elected officials noticed what has been occurring? Have they tried to reverse the exodus of major industries? Instead, they seem oblivious to all that is currently going on and appear to be making the state’s problems even worse. This past winter, God gave us a break from the drought and blessed our area with a good amount of rain. Water falling on our natural landscape in the winter and the subsequent growth it created must have surprised our elected representatives, because they all sat back, did nothing and waited for the inevitable effect of summer heat — the drying out of all the new vegetation, which then created massive amounts of fuel for the coming fire season.

Then our Sacramento mental midgets passed AB 1054, which created a fund for public utilities to access if they cause more than $1 billion in property damage, and also set up another useless advisory board to make recommendations on wildfire prevention. So far, the only thing this has done for us (or to us) is the shutting off of power by the public electric utilities, supposedly to keep us safe. California leads the nation in wanting to turn off your air conditioning in the summer to help manage the power grid load, forcing the population to live with brownouts and blackouts in times of high demand because the utilities have not upgraded their capacity, and finally turning off the power in fire season. Yeah, I heard — supposedly to keep us safe. Yet from their perspective, the best part is that you get to pay the bill.

If you were in charge of locating a major company to a new area, would you select a location in California, which cannot guarantee power for your operation and has promised that there will be times when power is unavailable? I bet you would be looking at another state. Plus, what about water? It was reported in the California Globe on Nov. 3 that the El Dorado Irrigation District will be unable to pump water to customers when the power is out. Our local SCV Water Agency informed us on Facebook that a number of their generators have had to be relocated. These generators are used to power the pumps that fill our water tanks and have contributed to making water available during the recent power outages. But what if the power outages are more encompassing and sustained for a much longer period? What then?

Even with the drought officially over and ex-Governor Brown now able to shower, California still faces the prospect of legislated water rationing by two bills he signed before leaving office. Since 2000, when the Sacramento Delta pumps were shut down due to the delta smelt, eight water bonds totaling $30 billion have been passed promising more water availability. So where did all that money go? Why hasn’t a solution to the water problem been implemented? We need to bring water down to Central Coast farmers and Sothern California cities rather than dumping it into the ocean, as is the current practice.

The reason California has a power and water problem is simple. Residents have been too complacent. We have accepted the corruption and ineptness of our elected officials. If you think I am referring to a single level of governmental bureaucracy or party affiliation, you are dead wrong. In recent years, California has become known for fires, homelessness, poverty, a return of medieval diseases and rat-infested cities. California will continue to lose its shiny, golden image as long as the individuals representing us are unwilling or unable to fight for what is best for California’s residents and the future health of our state.

Think about it. Only you and I can turn California golden again. We must demand change at the ballot box, in town hall meetings and in governmental public gatherings. No amount of “salting” California’s advertising pamphlets will prevent new businesses and potential new residents from discovering that California has become the Pyrite State.

I hope you will take my words to heart and join me in making California the Golden State once again. I’m confident we can do it. If we just keep pushing diligently in that direction, we will write the end of this movie plot just like they did in those old black-and-white films — by striking it rich and getting the last laugh.

Always Advocating Alan – Fires, Fun and Halloween

| Opinion | October 31, 2019

As I sit here pondering the state of the world, nothing makes me more melancholy than thinking about how events taking place this current season have disappointed our youth. This time last year, we had already been witness to ducks racing down their blue, slippery raceway to determine the yellow bird champion of the year at the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center’s “Dixon Duck Dash.” Just a few days later, it was time for our youngsters’ creativity to be unveiled with the Newhall Community Center’s “Halloween Costume and Pumpkin Decorating Contest,” put on by the Sunrise Rotary, the Salvation Army and the City of Santa Clarita. Each year, I look forward to these two events, as they represent a happy time, with children smiling and enjoying the evening, all while their parents get to beam the kind of pride only a parent can exhibit.

Ok, I admit I get a lot of warm feelings out of these events as well. This was my fifth year chairing the Dixon Duck Dash, and it would have been my second year dressing up in a yellow and orange costume as the event’s MC. Plus, it was to be my fourth year as the chief judge for the Newhall Community Center’s “Costume and Pumpkin Contest,” along with Bruce and Gloria Fortine, Ken and Debbie Chase, and my wife Pam, who all returned as seasoned judges of the event. This year, we also had something planned that had never happened before in the history of Santa Clarita’s children’s Halloween competitions: Mayor Marsha McLean and her husband were going to join the team of judges, and each one of our winners was to be honored with a certificate of recognition by our own California State Assemblywoman Christy Smith.

It took something earth-shattering to derail the plans for such monumental events, and the two recent California brush fires did just that. The first one lit up just before this year’s Dixon Duck Dash. Flames from the Saddleridge fire caused the closure of Interstate 5 and other nearby roadways. Traffic on alternate routes clogged streets, and all the turmoil prevented the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center’s volunteers from trucking the duck raceway up from Pasadena in time for race day. Less than two weeks later, the Tick fire burned close to our township and caused evacuations for some 50,000 Santa Clarita residents, necessitating that the Newhall Community Center be used as a refuge for those who were temporarily displaced. So, while I was gravely disappointed, I am also very proud of how our volunteers, city staff, firefighters, sheriffs and other first responders helped provide for residents unable to return home, and cared for those in need during this latest local emergency.

But like the great Yogi Berra would say, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” And I say, “The good stuff ain’t over yet.” I am writing this column on the Sunday before Halloween, and with everything that has happened to derail our children’s good times this holiday season, Halloween stands ready as an opportunity to make up for it all. I love this holiday. It is a time when neighbors show their friendship and goodwill to fellow neighbors by handing out treats to the neighborhood’s children. Even though our two sons are grown adults with youngsters of their own, and even though they live just far enough away that they most likely will not be trick-or-treating at my house, I will not let our local youngsters down. Currently, it is even more important because times have changed. When I first moved to the Santa Clarita Valley, Halloween represented a night when almost all the homes were lit up. Bands of kids in costumes roamed the streets with their parents, looking for a treat. But then came the candy scares and the nightly news stories, and now parents- rightfully- watch out for their children much more diligently. Unfortunately, today most homes are dark, and only children from our immediate area come forth yelling, “Trick or treat.”

Knowing there is less adult participation makes me even more diligent in putting up lights and decorations, in order to make sure that our home’s welcome message is visible. I smile just thinking about the little ones who timidly approach and then run back to their parents after receiving their treat. It is even great to see the older kids, who nervously laugh as if to say, “Yes, I am getting a little old for this, but Halloween is still fun.” But the thing that makes my heart go pitter-pat the most is when a parent brings their child around and tells me, “I remember coming to your house and getting candy from you when I was a trick-or-treater.”

I realize I am writing this before Halloween, and you will not get to read it until this year’s Halloween is history. I sincerely hope you were in one of those brightly lit-up houses, armed with bags of candy, and ready to make a child happy. But if you were not, please consider what you can do to brighten up your neighborhood’s Halloween next year. It is never too late to start, and if you do, there may come a time when a parent will bring a child to your door and tell you, “I remember coming to your house and getting candy from you when I was a trick-or-treater,” and I’m betting it will make your heart go pitter-pat as well.

Always Advocating Alan – It’s Fire Season and We are Living with Past Decisions and Unintended Consequences

| Opinion | October 24, 2019

From the moment when each of us performed a head-first dive into a life of our own, and then shortly thereafter decided to show our discomfort with our new world by crying when the doctor slapped us on the rear, we have needed to make decisions to support our continued existence. In our early years, it was pretty simple. All we had to do was let out the signal we were hungry or dirty, and miraculously our problem was solved for us. The results and consequences of our actions were therefore always positive, but unfortunately for us all, it would not remain that way for long.

Next came a period of experimentation. In some cases, we might have discovered the negative consequences of our actions by ourselves. We touched something hot and it hurt, giving us the first realization of situations where something negative might occur if we did not understand the environment before acting. But there was also the time when we thought our actions were proper and even fun, yet Mom or Dad held a distinctly different view. You may have thought, If someone took all that time to put those pages in a book, why wouldn’t it be OK to rip them all out again? This led to behavior that might also have left us crying, though this time it was Mom or Dad who slapped us on the rear. There went our first experience with unintended consequences.

As we grew older, we learned to make decisions within societal boundaries. Obviously, if we had not, we would have gotten metaphorically slapped again, but not by Mom and Dad. Plus, as we traveled through life, possibly getting married and raising children of our own, probably starting a career that necessitated accounting for the wellbeing of our employees or co-workers, our decisions and their consequences became even more relevant. We also came to understand that sometimes our decisions had negative consequences that could not be avoided. We realized there would be many occasions when we would have to take a risk, hoping that such events would not occur. We had to balance the positive and negative aspects of our action plans to determine if the inherent risk was necessary. Then, every so often, we would get bit by an unintended consequence we had not considered.

So, I ask you to look inward and answer this question- but please, do it quietly by yourself. Did you ever want to do something so desperately that you ignored substantial risks and went ahead with reckless abandon? I know I did, and fortunately for me, the risks never materialized in a way that surprised me. I raced motorcycles for 17 years. Did I know there was a substantial risk of personal injury? Of course I did. Was I ever injured? Oh yeah, I was. Fortunately, it was never permanently debilitating, and it did not endanger anyone else.

This leads me to my assertion: the wider the net of your responsibility is, the more careful you need to be in determining your course of action. As the number of people impacted by a decision increases, so too should the diligence exercised in reviewing the benefits, analyzing all the risks and thinking over how to deal with the consequences. During my career, I needed to consider the potential effects on my family, my 100 employees and the company as a whole. That seems to pale in comparison to the responsibility of an elected official who has our entire city’s population of 220,000 residents to think about. But when things go wrong in Santa Clarita, I hear too often about unintended consequences, when I just cannot believe our leaders were unaware of the issues involved.

With fire season upon us, I think about open space and affordable housing in particular because these two areas have a direct effect on each other. If you were a resident of Santa Clarita in 2007, you may remember the sales pitch for establishing the Open Space Preservation District. Councilmember Laurene Weste championed the initiative for the purpose of forming a green belt around the city, providing a permanent wildlife habitat and slowing down urban sprawl. I thought a reasonably sized green belt was a good idea then, and it still remains a good idea today. If you jump in your car and drive south through the Los Angeles area, you will find yourself traveling from city to city without noticing any visual demarcation between them. It is nothing new. I remember driving in the 1950s from my parents’ house in Studio City to the Toluca Lake Bob’s Drive-In wondering what street defined the border of North Hollywood and Burbank. Having a defined border can help instill pride in our city and also provide other benefits.

However, slowing down or preventing urban sprawl is not something open space will accomplish. In reality, a green belt promotes urban sprawl. “How?” you might ask. First, a green belt of open space around Santa Clarita prevents the city from expanding outward, causing individuals who want to live inside the city to build projects with greater density on the available acreage. Second, as vacant land inside the city becomes a more valuable commodity, it causes prices to rise, making homes less affordable and less available to lower-income residents. Lastly, if an individual cannot afford the price tag on a home inside the city, they simply look on the other side of the green belt, where land and homes are more economically priced. Hence, the open space strategy promotes urban sprawl and makes housing inside the city less affordable. I do not believe any of this was unknown to city leaders. But the unintended consequences do not stop there.

Every year the Santa Clarita Valley suffers fire damage. The unintended consequences of open space and poorly maintained county easements are unfortunate. It is these spaces that provide the fuel for most fires in our area. Since our valley experienced a very wet rainy season this year, the fuel source created by the summer’s hot sun was even more jam-packed and ready to ignite. It doesn’t seem to matter if the brush is ignited by a car’s catalytic converter, a downed power line or a match. When the smoke begins to rise and the flames turn red and yellow, it takes a lot of our firefighters’ efforts to put it out. Then, if the situation gets bad enough and you are asked or told to evacuate, our lack of infrastructure also becomes apparent.

So, after carefully weighing both sides of this issue, I still believe a reasonably sized Green Belt around the city is a good idea, provided the city places a reasonable limit on its depth, incorporates fire brakes where open space backs up to residential properties, and provides adequate fire roads, including water availability. The wider the net of responsibility our council and staff casts, the more careful they need to be when determining a course of action, reviewing the benefits, analyzing the risks and thinking over the consequences. I’m sure our city staff will be up to the task, provided our city council makes this public safety issue a priority.

Always Advocating Alan – Is California Losing Its Golden Image?

| Opinion | October 17, 2019

The end of World War II, a little over 70 years ago, left the United States as a manufacturing giant. We were producing products at an astounding rate, in order to serve what appeared to be an ever-ballooning market. Skilled manufacturing workers were in high demand, and many companies were willing to provide the education and training needed to get the job done. It was a time, when a company’s goal was to produce an ever improving and less costly product, looking to capture a larger part of the available market share. The companies considered themselves successful, if their number of customers increased, in addition to bolstering their gross profit.

Rolling on to the late 1960’s and 70’s, companies philosophy started to shift. Articles and books were being published which changed the outlook of business in America. It was being revealed a company could make far more money by selling a product, than manufacturing it. American business executives became consumed with changing the United States from a “manufacturing based” to a “service based” economy. Many a company’s senior management set goals which provided their technologies to countries which had substantially lower wage rates, in order to reap the profits of selling the final product to our domestic customers. I remember discussing the concept with an older “grey beard” at the time. It seemed like all our consumer electronics where being manufactured in Japan, and with their companies holding a lot of U.S. cash, they were subsequently buying up stateside real estate in record quantities. His take on the matter was, “not to worry,” because they cannot take the properties home, and at some time in the future, they will be forced to sell them back at substantial losses. Well, his predictions were correct. But then, other countries started to undercut Japan’s labor rates while producing quality products also. Along with the shift in production partners, American big business dynamics continued to evolve, as bottom line profit became more important than the product a company would develop or sell.

Sorrowfully, this same dynamic has extended itself to California’s public utilities. So far, our state has continued to prosper doing more with less, but I see the tipping point looming in the future which could change all that. For example, think about our state’s growth compared to future water availability. Realize it or not, we live in a desert. A great amount of the water needed to sustain Southern California, is imported from other areas. If it had not been for the foresight of implementing Mr. Mulholland’s plans for reservoirs and systems to transport water from northern California, our area would be very different than it is today. Then, 20 years ago along came the issue of the “Delta Smelt” being caught in Sacramento Delta water pumps used to propel water down our aqueduct to a thirsty Southern California. Also, it should be understood, between the northern California water supply and Southern California’s large urban cities, is a food producing area unlike anywhere else. I remember, driving up Highway 5 just after Y2K and seeing all those signs reminding the public, “Food Grows, Where Water Flows”. You would think an unnecessary disruption in the food supply would be treated as an emergency. Instead, California politicians, and our courts, have tossed this issue around for the last 20 years, with no solution in sight. First came the idea of building a peripheral canal around the Sacramento Delta, then when the plan stagnated, a new idea was brought forth to create tunnels under the Delta. Now two decades later, nothing has happened. Farmers desperate to stay alive have over pumped their aquifers to a point where the mid coast ground is sinking, and many “produce products” are currently being imported from other countries. The environmental, as well as financial damage, caused by the inaction of our California Legislature is appalling. Hopefully, a solution will be implemented before the damage becomes permanent. Remember all the legislature needs to do, is flip ON the water pump switches and the immediate problem would be eliminated, allowing them time to find and implement a permanent solution.

In the meantime, if you care to check our local future water plan, you will note our local water company does not have sufficient water availability to sustain projected development. Their plan revolves around you conserving and using less. Plus, as our area uses less of their product, they raise the price to make up for the consumption shortfall. So much for the goal of an ever improving and less costly product, to capture a larger part of the available market share. They now consider themselves successful, if their gross profit is stable as the water demand decreases.

If you feel the situation with water is disconcerting, be advised our electric utilities have been stepping in the same business model quagmire, and they went “over the top” this past weekend. Here too, our electricity suppliers have been asking us to lower our use, by turning up our thermostat in the summer, accepting the idea of rolling blackouts, and instead of rewarding consumers for using their product, they developed different rates punishing customers for the quantity of electricity used and the time of day they use it. This weekend Electric Utility Senior Management took another dive into the abyss and displayed how poorly managed their power distribution system has become, when they announced their plans to blackout some areas this weekend, due to a “Red Flag” high wind warning. Of course, they claimed it was being done for public safety, but I believe their plan was orchestrated to mask the fact they had not been properly maintaining power lines across the state. If my Electric Utility Senior Management Team was here in front of me, I would ask; Why haven’t you planned for Santa Ana wind conditions? Don’t we experience them every year? Why haven’t you been upgrading the power grid to account for new development? Why should I have to pay increased rates, when I use more electricity?

This is extremely important, because in an emergency, the lack of electricity can be even more detrimental to your wellbeing than a lack of tap water. At least, most homes have a supply of water sitting in their refrigerator and hot water heater. Plus, if you have an advance warning, you can fill every available container you own, but not so with electricity. When the power goes down, your household appliances go down also. For example, you will lose heat as modern Forced Air Furnaces will not operate without the electric blower running. Should you lose power long enough, the food in your freezer and refrigerator will spoil. If you have an electric stove, you will not be able to cook. Think you might be able to drive to a relative or friends house? Pray you have enough fuel in your vehicle, because gas stations without power will not be able to pump gas? Think you’re safe by owning an all-electric vehicle? Hope you charged it after you drove it last. Want to check the news to see how bad the emergency is? Might be a problem if your Internet Connection, Voice over IP Phone system or Cable Service is down? Providing you have the power to turn on your TV and home network to check if the rest of the stuff is running. But the worst of the worst may occur if you have someone living in your home who needs special medical equipment to survive. Most life-saving medical equipment will have a battery backup, yet how long will it last, and will the power come back on in time?

I know a percentage of our population has prepared for power disruptions by using natural gas-powered generators or a Solar system with battery storage, but most of our residents do not have any electricity back-up systems in place and therefore remain at the mercy of the power grid.

Unfortunately, this past weekend, our area experienced a devastating fire. Electric utilities shutting down areas with perceived potential problems did not prevent recurrence of this issue. As a community, we deserve better than having to put up with shoddy utility services. It is another reason California needs new blood in our legislature, representatives who will provide our friends and neighbors the services we desperately need. Let’s make our voices heard and let’s get some action started in Sacramento. California should be shining again as the Golden State, and not continuing down the path of becoming America’s first 3rd world country.

Always Advocating Alan- Why are California Highways and Byways in Such Bad Shape?

| Opinion | October 10, 2019

Relocating to the Santa Clarita Valley in the mid-60’s was a smart move. I had become involved with Desert Cross Country Motorcycle Racing and it seemed like my wife and I were traveling to the Santa Clarita Valley every weekend, visiting friends and getting prepared for another Sunday race event. I had become a member of the Four Aces MC, an American Motorcycle Association District 37 Racing Club, and several of our members had taken up residence on Dewdrop Street, which at that time was in Saugus. It didn’t take long before Pam and I started house hunting, and within a short time, my young family had taken up residence in what is now Canyon Country.

I must admit, I was a lot younger and more resilient at that time. Sundays’ race normally required the family to pack our necessities Saturday night, leave home about 4am on Sunday morning, and drive 100 miles to the event.

Yet, it was a great time for all who participated. Almost every open area was able to be used, and even though there were about 40 events per year, there was enough open land so that no one considered reusing another club’s racecourse. Revisiting where your club had put on a race the following year, you could see an outline of the course by looking at the new green vegetation cropping up in the tracks of last year’s race. It demonstrated how well the land had rejuvenated itself.

Motorcycle Desert Racing was getting increasingly popular. Each Hare and Hound was a minimum of 80 miles in length and by the time the “View Finders” ran their signature event in 1966, which was televised on Wide World of Sports, it was not unusual to have up to 3000 riders waiting for the race to start. Then, after the day’s race was over and all our club’s riders were accounted for, we packed up, headed home, got a good night’s sleep and it was off to work on Monday morning. Like I said, “I was a lot younger and more resilient at that time.”

Some racing events were even farther away from home, and something became very noticeable. It seemed like the farther away from home we traveled, the worse the roads became. It ended up as a standing joke. I remember numerous conversations about how well-maintained Los Angeles County roads were in comparison to when we crossed the county line, and again when we crossed the California state border.

Unfortunately, that is no longer the case and my assessment of today’s road conditions are very different. As time went by I retired from motorcycle racing, but my love of riding two wheeled motorized vehicles has stayed with me to the present day. Of course, I traded my dirt bike for a street touring model and have traveled around the country. With my wife Pam, in the passenger’s seat, we traveled from Orange County to Washington D.C. with the Vietnam vets, then meandered our way west taking 17 days to get home by clipping the northern top of Texas and then taking a shortcut home through Canada. It has been fun to ride and visit friends in Oregon, motor to Sturgis, do the Yuma Prison Run, ride to Arizona Bike Week, sit in the saddle all the way to the Anacortes Oyster Festival in Washington State and travel to the Little Bighorn National Monument in Montana.

I love motorcycle touring. While traveling and seeing the wonders of our country in a car is far better than watching a travel show on television, riding in the open is just that much better of an experience. You become part of your surroundings, and on many of our trips, rather than race to get where we were going, we staged at National Parks enabling us to ride through in the freshness of the morning air.

Yet, as much as I love motorcycles, I am fully aware two-wheeled suspension is not as good, or forgiving, as a modern automobile, therefore road conditions become even more noticeable. So, when a discussion comes up about what the road conditions will be on a trip, the consensus seems to revolve around how much better roads are when you view California in the rear-view mirror. Not only are the roads better maintained and cleaner, the speed limits are more realistically set, with drivers being far more interested in traveling at the legally set speed. All one needs to do is, set the cruise control, relax and enjoy the trip.

I am not sure how you feel about it, but I am very curious why our neighboring states have roads in so much better shape than ours. Isn’t California supposed to be the Golden State? I keep hearing about how California represents such a large part of the nation’s economy, and if that is true, why don’t we have the best maintained roads in the country? I’ll bet there are a lot of you who will answer the question by saying, “Our roads are in the shape they are in because of the monetary policies our elected leadership in Sacramento have put in place. They spend tax payer dollars on things which do not benefit California’s tax paying residents, they pass laws which make building and maintaining roads more expensive than other states so as to line the pockets of their friends and they place an overwhelming amount of emphasis of enriching themselves by funding bloated pension plans.”

In addition, our Sacramento geniuses keep putting nonsensical ballot measures before the public to mitigate the roadway problem, which duped the public… time and again. Take the 2016 “Measure M” initiative for example. It was supposed to, in part, help fix Interstate 5 congestion by generating $860 million per year. Metro spent a ton of money on public outreach in order to sell this initiative. At a public meeting held in Valencia, I, along with some other folks raised the issue, “The major cause of Interstate 5 traffic congestion is the bottleneck created by the 5/Hwy 14 interchange.” Yet, what they proposed to do, and subsequently did, was add lanes along Interstate 5 between Castaic and Newhall.

Why — so you can get to the bottleneck faster? Plus, those same lanes were committed by the previous passed ballot initiative. Nothing is being done by Measure M to alleviate traffic at the interchange. Then came the special gas tax initiative, to fix our Highways; but all it seems to have done is increase fuel and transportation costs, making the cost per gallon of fuel higher in California than anywhere in the country.

Now, California Governor Gavin Newsom wants to take gas tax money to pay for his housing project. He is looking to use $1.75 billion to entice communities to build more affordable housing at an accelerated pace. This is nothing new; for example, from “2007 to 2010, $1.3 billion in transportation funds was spent not to build or repair state roads but to finance other programs that were apparently more politically rewarding (i.e., generated more votes) than fixing bridges and filling potholes.”

California voters must fix this problem at the ballot box, by electing representatives who have pledged to support the California taxpayers, by providing road improvements and the services we desperately need. In 2018 California voters missed an opportunity to reduce gas taxes by failing to pass California Proposition 6, and we are now seeing the result at the pump. We must not let that happen again.

Yet, with all that being said, Santa Clarita city residents may not be fully aware of the problem, because while California highways and byways crumble, Robert Newman and his public works team have been doing an admirable job maintaining and top coating our city streets.

Always Advocating Alan – Test Your Luck and Adopt a Duck

| Opinion | October 3, 2019

It is hard to believe a year has passed so quickly. October has arrived and with it comes the start of fall and one of my favorite annual events, The Dixon Duck Dash (formally the Rubber Ducky Regatta).

Now, some of you may just remember the Rubber Ducky Regatta from viewing pictures of all those ducks swimming down a water filled raceway, along with smiling children watching them go by; but there is a lot more to this event and it gets better each year. It is a time for family fun, an opportunity to meet your neighbors, witness some of our valley’s youth perform, learn about local organizations and have a chance to win cash prizes.

For the younger set, or those young at heart, there will be a climbing wall, face painting, a photo booth, a special kiddie duck decoration table and special race; as well as the opportunity to watch the three duck heat races and a final duck race main event. There will also be a band, elected officials in attendance and a funny looking guy in clown shoes as the day’s MC.

General admission is free. Still, you can buy into a targeted raffle, purchase a snack from the food trucks and grab on to some very authentic Dixon Duck Dash related merchandise, which will be offered at cost. The Samuel Dixon Family Health Center (SDFHC) staff wants you to have a great time. You will even have an opportunity to get a picture with Dorothy Dixon Duck, our very yellow, large duck mascot.

This event is Samuel Dixon Family Health Center’s only fundraiser of the year, and in order to win one of the grand prizes of $2000, $1000 or $500 you will need to test your luck and adopt a duck, and then cheer your duck entry on for the win. A duck can be adopted for $5, a Quack Pack (6 ducks) for $25, a Duckie Dozen (12 ducks) for $50 or a Duck Flock (24 ducks) for $100. Ducks can be adopted by visiting any SDFHC location, on the sdfhc.org website or at the event itself.

It was not but a few weeks ago when a family crisis reminded me, again, that nothing is more important than your health and the health of your loved ones. Please think about how your duck adoption contribution will go directly to provide medical services for someone in need. I hope it makes you feel as warm inside as it does for me.

The prospect of directly lending someone a helping hand is what makes the SDFHC and this event so special. Being the Dixon Duck Dash committee chairperson for the past five years and currently the SDHFC Board of Director Treasurer allows me to witness, firsthand, how all of our resources are being used to aid our community members.

This need has been there for a very long time, and it all started with us some 40 years ago when the first Samuel Dixon Family Health Center was established by Reverend Samuel Dixon in Val Verde. Reverend Dixon realized there was a need to provide health care for his flock and surrounding residents, so he took that leap of faith and answered the challenge by acting. Today, SDFHC is a California non-profit corporation, and their vision has expanded to three health care centers — Val Verde, Newhall and Canyon Country. Two outreach locations have also been established, one at College of the Canyons and the other at the California Institute of the Arts. Yet, even though SDFHC is now a corporation, it retains the founding family’s ideals, traditions and values; with Dr. Samuel P. Dixon seeing patients on a regular basis. The forward-looking progress enacted by the SDHFC Board of Directors can be seen by the addition of mental health services and expansion of the Canyon Country Health Center, currently in progress.

SDFHC provides “immunizations and vaccines, physicals, screening and diagnostic tests, well baby care, preventative programs, family planning, women’s health services, prenatal services, treatment of illness and injury and more,” “with all charges based on the individual’s ability to pay.” Many times, the services provided “prevented illness and injury from getting worse, eliminated the need for unnecessary trips to the emergency room and enabled family members to gain employment.”

I hope you will decide to bring your family and participate in the Dixon Duck Dash on Saturday, October 12, in Bridgeport Park, from 11am to 2pm. It will be a time to have a lot of family fun while we help provide health care for those in need, and perhaps you will get to take a prize home as well. Plus, please also make a point and say “hello,” introduce yourself and shake the hand of the MC, because if you have not figured it out, the “funny looking guy in clown shoes” will be ME.

For more information visit www.sdfhc.org

Always Advocating Alan – How Traffic Will Affect Your Life

| Opinion | September 26, 2019

There was a time when increasing traffic was just an annoying part of Santa Clarita life, but as the Valley’s population and housing density has increased, traffic congestion is becoming a health hazard as well as a safety issue. Two weeks ago, I wrote about how an absence of traffic congestion helped save my wife’s life. While no one wants to call 911 or take a red-lights-and-siren e-ticket ambulance ride to the hospital, it is a sad fact, the day of the week and time of the day your emergency takes place, may determine your survivability. Our situation occurred in the late evening, between 10 and 11 o’clock at night. The first responders had a traffic-free ride to our house and the time to get to the hospital was not lengthened by traffic getting in the way. Should the same situation have occurred on a weekday during morning rush hour, the extra time might have created a very different result.

We were reminded how lucky we were again this past Friday. I was driving my wife to her medical appointment at Henry Mayo for an important test. We had left early providing plenty of time to get there. Our vehicle was going west on Soledad and had traveled almost to Cinema Drive, when traffic just stopped. Looking ahead we could see a line of traffic as far as the eye could behold. Not knowing how long the traffic would remain stationary and not wanting to miss our appointment, we turned left on Cinema Drive, then right on Railroad Ave., right on Lyons Ave., and right on Old Orchard, finally entering the Henry Mayo Complex straight ahead. We still have no idea what caused the traffic bottleneck or how long it lasted, but without an alternate route, there is a good chance we would have missed the scheduled test time, and possibly had to schedule another appointment. Now, this was not an emergency and fortunately we knew of an alternate route, but if an ambulance on a Code 3 call would have gotten stuck in this mess, it may not have gone so well for the patient inside.

I remember in 2009 when the City of Santa Clarita decided to restripe Decoro Drive. In doing so, they took away a lane of traffic and made it a bicycle lane. This action was supposedly accomplished in response to a section of the Non-Motorized Master Plan, passed in June of 2008 by a 5-0 city council vote. Because this street is very well used in transporting children to and from school, subsequent council meetings were filled with angry parents, which resulted in the street being returned to its previous configuration in short order. Yet, I also remember some individuals saying this may be the start of “road- or traffic-dieting” in Santa Clarita. Believe it or not, there are some officials who think they can make the public safer by reducing the number of driving lanes on our streets to make room for bicycle lanes. Their plan is to slow traffic by increasing congestion.

In theory, I suppose this is true. But all you need to do is ask the parents of children who reside east of Sand Canyon on Soledad how fast traffic flows during their morning trip to school, and how much earlier they had to leave to account for traffic congestion. While road-dieting slows traffic to a crawl and supposedly reduces accidents, it raises drivers’ heart rates, blood pressure, and puts them in a very nasty mood. Plus, it may create a negative outcome if a first responder or ambulance team needs to get to the scene of a tragedy and transport the sick or injured to a trauma center across town. They must have a clear and open roadway to be effective.

In the real world, I call the city’s Non-Motorized Master Plan an immature, not well-thought-out effort. While bicycling represents a very good recreational activity, it is used by far less than one percent of our residents to take their children to school, shop, or go to, and from, work. Considering Santa Clarita’s master plan (One Valley One Vision) provides for almost doubling the SCV population, at the same time the California State Legislature is enacting new laws requiring an increase in housing density and reduced parking requirements; what is our City Council leadership thinking? The few remaining planned new roads are still waiting for developer funding to be built, and when developers fund new roads they never seem to relieve existing traffic loads, because the roads are built to handle the traffic created by the builder’s new project. So, if city staff does not start taking remedial action to account for all the new traffic to be created by planned new development, Santa Clarita will end up in gridlock.

Yet, this past week, right here in the Gazette, was an article titled “Scheduled Road Improvements to Include Enhanced Striping and added Bicycle Lanes.” The information provided revealed Plum Canyon Road and Smyth Drive will be reconfigured to include a bicycle lane in both directions, where an additional traffic lane could be, or was available. The article also indicates parking on the north side of Smyth Drive will not be impacted, but it fails to inform us about the south side. So, why are they doing it? It’s because “recent traffic studies indicate that the addition of bike lanes on these stretches of road will not impact traffic circulation.” What about the increase in Plum Canyon traffic as the remaining new homes and Skyline Ranch become fully occupied? Is there a trigger level where the traffic lanes will be restored? I’ll bet not. Plus, I was under the impression City Hall had committed not to implement road-dieting, but it seems like we are witnessing the plan quietly change unless, of course, the public rises up and puts a stop to it once again.

In the meantime, Santa Clarita continues to spend money on facilities such as bicycle lanes, which get very limited use and make excuses when automotive traffic congestion becomes a problem. I’d like to see some creative thinking instead. How about implementing a method which provides the best for both uses? We could set up a system where the space is used for recreational bicycle use on the weekend and as a lane to accommodate automotive traffic during the week.

Well, there was no byline on the Gazette article, but it was stated more information could be obtained by contacting Tom Reilly, the “Trails and Bikeways Planning Administrator” at City Hall. I think I’ll give Tom a call also and ask him what the projected bicycle traffic number is on those bicycle lanes. Maybe I can find out who the City of Santa Clarita “Automobile Roadway Planning Administrator” is.

Always Advocating Alan – Never Let History Repeat Itself

| Opinion | September 19, 2019

I grew up in a time when Roy Rodgers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger were heroes in each weeks’ Saturday morning matinee, on the radio and later on the television screen (in those days, it was a very small screen). It was a time when good always ended up victorious over evil, and all the kids could strap on their cap pistols to play Cowboys and Indians. There was not much talk of political correctness then, but if you read Gene’s Cowboy Code and watched the comradery between The Lone ranger and Tonto, you got the feeling you wanted to be just like them. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned about Roy and Dale’s adopting children of different origins, or why William Boyd was so adamant on never accepting another role after playing Hoppy.

Still, even then, some things confused me. Why did some Indians fight with the Cavalry, why did the Indians always circle their enemy and why did the government guys break treaties? Well, a lot of years later I was riding to Sturgis with a friend when we decided to take a shortcut and visit the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument in Montana.

When we first pulled into the monument area, I was struck by all the gravesites visible from the road. No way could that many soldiers have died with Custer I thought; and I was right. I was made aware the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument is also a part of the National Military Cemetery System, and if you take a tour of the 5,000 gravesites, you will find tributes to soldiers who died in battle starting with Little Bighorn through Vietnam. Today, the cemetery is at capacity.

When we put our kickstands down, we were fortunate to be in time to take a bus tour of the battlefield. Getting on the bus we were greeted by our tour guide, a young, tall member of the Crow tribe who joked with us about being safe even though the driver was a member of the Sioux. It was all in jest, as they were good friends.

Our first realization we were not taught the whole story in school was when we learned the battlefield was approximately six square miles. Plus, if you think you can visualize the battle from watching western movies with the Cavalry riding in on horseback with bugles blowing and sabers drawn, you are in for a surprise. Our tour guide explained that a lot of what happened was a result of how different the Cavalry and Indians were armed, fought and came to the battle.

First, the Cavalry tended to conscript men of smaller stature and use quarter horses because of all the equipment they needed to carry with them. Unlike in the movies, Cavalry columns were followed by wagons with some farm animals in tow as they needed supplies with them. Not only that, they were dressed in wool uniforms which were probably not very comfortable in the summer heat. They were armed with Springfield single shot rifles, Colt single action revolvers and the officers carried sabers. The Indians, on the other hand, traveled to the fight as a tribe. Being close to home, so to speak, they tended to pick the strongest braves and fastest horses for the fight. Although, according to our Crow tour guide, only about 25% of their braves had rifles, and a much smaller number had repeating rifles; it was their battle tactics which defeated Custer’s troops.

So, what happened? It was around 1874 when the Sioux tribe, who lived to the east of the Crow by treaty, had outhunted their territory and entered into an agreement with Washington. This allowed them to leave their reservation, enter Crow territory to hunt and then return to the Sioux reservation. But, in 1875 Sitting Bull decided to stay put. The Crow, being a much smaller tribe, were fearful of being overrun by the Sioux so they elected to aid the Cavalry because they believed “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” At the very end of 1875 President Grant sent the Sioux an ultimatum ordering them to leave Crow land within six months. In the middle of 1876, an army was sent out to enforce the president’s order, with Custer to lead a scouting party of 600 troops to determine the location of the Sioux tribe.

Custer had a huge ego, and when one of his men reported the location of the Sioux encampment he saw glory in the making. His officers wanted to scout the situation further, but he would not hear of it. Instead he devised a battle plan, dividing his troops up in three parts. The first section would attack the left flank, and he, with the second group, would attack the right flank. The third group, which included the wagons and provisions, would circle around and attack from the rear. As the fist group came into position on the left flank, soldiers counted off in groups of three, with each third soldier being assigned to hold the horses. The remaining soldiers took cover, signaled they were in position and Custer gave the command to attack. The problem was Custer had only seen a small part of the Sioux encampment. He did not realize he was attacking 18,000 Indians. Well, the first group was overwhelmed, driven back and then retreated up a hill where they dug in. The Sioux, now knowing the army was in the area, went out looking and caught Custer’s group out in the open. Custer ordered his troops to ring their position with their horses, shot them and use the bodies for cover. 2,500 Indian warriors rode circles around the Cavalry’s position, making them harder to hit and raising a lot of dust making it harder to see, all while ever tightening the circle so their primitive weaponry would be more effective. It did not take long for the combat to become hand to hand. After a soldier fired six shots from his revolver and one from his rifle there was no time to reload. At which point, Custer’s men were easily overrun and killed.

The third group of soldiers made their way to the battle and realized what was happening. They took cover up the hill with the second group. The majority survived the battle because in order for the Indians to get them they had to ride up the hill, making them easy targets for the soldier’s rifles. In the end, the Sioux rode off having won the last battle they would win in the Indian Wars to come.

While this account varies with others I have read, I tend to accept it as it is corroborated by the words of Captain George K. Sanderson, who established the first Little Bighorn memorial. He reported, “I accordingly built a mound out of cord wood, filled in the center with all the horse bones I could find on the field. In the center of the mound I dug a grave and interred all the human bones that could be found, in all, parts of four or five different bodies. This grave was then built up with wood for four feet above ground. The mound is ten feet square and about eleven feet high; is built on the highest point immediately in rear of where General Custer’s body was found.”

I tell you this story hoping you think about how yesterday’s problems and issues are very much like what we are experiencing today. We need to use what we learned to avoid winning the battle and losing the war, as the Sioux did so many years ago.

Always Advocating Alan

| Opinion | September 12, 2019

I’m betting virtually every person reading my column today has at one time dropped a coin and pulled the handle on a “One Arm Bandit,” placed a bet on the green felt of a gambling table or participated in a game of cards at one of our local casinos. They do this even though each individual knew there was a high probability they would be leaving with less money in their pocket than they had when they walked in the door. So, why do we do it? Because it is human nature to get excited when taking risks, and there is always the possibility we will be lucky today and win. Plus, it is particularly fun when the risks taken have little damaging consequences should the person fail to persevere. Sure, there are those compulsive gamblers who lose everything and destroy their lives, but the vast majority of those inside the casinos know when to stop because losing more than they can afford is no longer fun.

Yet in our real lives, we roll the dice every day. Each night when we lay our head down and go to sleep we fully anticipate we will awaken the next morning having won another day of life. Thankfully, unlike the bet we placed at the casino, we will win this “game of chance” many rolls in a row. But sometimes, an unlikely event occurs which forces us to metaphorically “drop a dime” and place our bet by dialing 911.

For me, this has happened twice, and I feel very lucky to have won the wager, and the game, more than once. The first time was six years ago last September. I was in my home office when my wife, Pam, called out to me for help. Her asthma had worsened during the evening. She was using her nebulizer to give herself a breathing treatment but it was not working. As she was having an increasingly difficult time breathing, she knew something was terribly wrong and told me to call 911. As I sat next to her on our bed, talking to the 911 operator explaining the situation, she informed me help was on the way. Then without warning, Pam collapsed in respiratory arrest and started gasping for air.

I remember being in a panic, trying to turn her on her side, listening to the emergency operator’s suggestions, running through the house to unlock and open the front door, then back to her, then the house alarm went off. Fortunately, because Pam told me to call 911 when she first felt a real problem was occurring, it was only about 20 or 30 seconds before the fire station 107 paramedic team came running into my house. The paramedic took one look at Pam and yelled, “Get the Epi kit!”

First it was a shot of epinephrine and then she was immediately loaded up for transport. Going out the front door I saw two Sheriff cars waiting. I jumped in the front seat of the AMR ambulance and we were off for a wild “red lights and siren” ride to Henry Mayo Hospital, with the Sheriffs blocking traffic at major intersections. Upon our arrival at the emergency entrance, a team was outside waiting for us to arrive. They quickly got her inside and within 15 minutes she was sitting up, talking and wanting to go home. Well, as you might imagine, there was no going home at that time. Kaiser first ambulanced her to Panorama City and then Sunset for a battery of tests. In the end, the doctors decided it may have been caused by a reaction to her medication (which they changed), in addition to providing her with an EpiPen kit.

It is hard to explain, but it felt like we just won the lotto. All the stars were in alignment and if one thing was out of place, she may not have pulled through. Think about it. If not for the early 911 call, the immediate availability of the fire department’s 107 paramedic team, AMR’s quick response and transport, the help of the Sheriff to speed up our trip across town and the staff at Henry Mayo taking swift remedial action, the outcome may have been very different. So how could anyone be even luckier? I can tell you — it is when a similar event happens again.

Pam was recently the recipient of a total knee replacement, and a little over a week ago she was about halfway through the six week recovery period. We were coming home in the evening and I was helping her walk from the driveway to the house. About halfway up our front lawn she told me her legs were tired and she might not be able to make it all the way in the house. She was standing there with her walker and seemed stable. So, I got the idea to have her wait while I opened the atrium gate and move a chair to the entrance. I thought if she could make it to the chair, we could wait until she was ready to go the rest of the way. But when I turned back to her I saw her face go blank, she started to stumble backwards, passed out and down she went. Fortunately, even though her back side landed on the walkway, her head landed on the lawn. Getting to her as fast as I could, I found her unconscious and not breathing. I panicked again not being sure what to do, I yelled her name and shook her face, at which point she gasped twice and started breathing normally. But she was not moving, so I grabbed my cell phone and called 911. AMR was the first to arrive, with the fire department team close behind. They found me on my knees next to Pam, with her still motionless on the ground. By the time she was in the ambulance, Pam was sitting up and talking. It was another lights and siren trip to Henry Mayo, where the emergency room team ordered a CAT scan, a chest X-ray and an ultrasound of her knee to verify blood clots were not a problem. This time she did get to go home, but further testing is being performed by order of her regular physician.

So, for the second time all the stars were in alignment. The fact Pam’s head did not hit the pavement, her fall did not impact her knee recovery, the fire department was available, AMR’s quick response and transport and the staff at Henry Mayo taking the necessary remedial action, and performing testing to verify no obvious underlying problem existed, makes me extremely thankful. Six years ago, I wrote a Letter to the Editor at the Signal thanking all who aided Pamela in her time of need, and today Pam and I want to express our gratitude again.

To the fire fighters and paramedics at Fire Station 107, the AMR ambulance staff, our Sheriff deputies and the doctors, nurses, technicians and supporting staff members of Henry Mayo’s emergency room team, please accept our most heartfelt thank you for a job well done — not just for what you did for us, but for the service you provide to our entire community. God bless all of you.

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