About Alan Ferdman
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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.
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.
At the last Santa Clarita City Council Meeting, two members of the Open Space District, Financial Accountability and Audit Panel (FAAP), spoke during public participation questioning a $2 million transfer out of the Open Space account.
The action in question, was accomplished at the December 12, 2017 City Council meeting, Agenda Item 15, titled 2017-18 Mid-Year Budget Adjustment. Buried in the staff report for this item was the following information: “The recommended expenditure adjustment in the Open Space Preservation District Fund includes a $2 million funding swap for the Canyon Country Center land acquisition.” “The expenditure reduction of $2,375,263 in Other Revenue funds includes a $2 million funding swap from the Facilities Fund for the Canyon Country Community Center land acquisition, and $17,000 in Public Education and Government Fund for area enclosure and storage of public television equipment.“
Well, if you have read the above paragraph and understood what is going on, you have far greater psychic powers than I possess, so I decided to do some digging. One of the FAAP members who spoke made the comment, Open Space funding is to be used to purchase undeveloped land, and when the City Manager had an opportunity to respond, he issued the same sentiment. As it turns out, the land which will accommodate the soon to be constructed Canyon Country Community Center was not all purchased at one time.
The first section to be obtained was authorized on September 23, 2014, when agenda item 10, looked for approval to purchase approx. 6.5 acres of vacant land, for $4.7 million. Revenue, according to the recommended action, came from the General Fund (Capital Projects Reserve) to expenditure account 19000-5201.004. At least my psychic powers were working this time, as account 5201-004 is defined within this year’s budget, page 294, as “Capital Outlay: Land: Provides for the acquisition of land for city use or for Open Space Preservation.” The Signal reported the deal the next day, in an article penned by Lila Littlejohn. Purchase of the corner property at Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon, along with the restaurant and shops on Sierra Highway came later, and these land purchases were not undeveloped land.
So, what is the problem? When our City Manager responded, he indicated in part; both the City Attorney and the City Manager will be setting up a meeting with the members of the FAAP to explain the City’s position on how they feel the action was legal, appropriate and consistent with the district approved by the voters. But, last time this issue was addressed, Councilmember Smyth indicated the meeting was going to be held by August 26, which is before the Council Members returned from hiatus. Fortunately, as all FAAP members will be in attendance, the meeting must be noticed per the Brown Act, and interested members of the public will be able to attend. Mr. Striplin further indicated the FAAP does not have the authority to dispute the parcels purchased. In some instances, I agree with him. The FAAP cannot challenge the parcels cost, use, or location within the city. But the FAAP can, and should, challenge the acquisition, if the amount of land purchased for active parkland exceeds 10% of the total land purchased, the parcel is outside the three mile district border, or the land is not being purchased for use by the district as open space or active parkland.
Lastly, the FAAP should maintain oversight of Open Space District expenditures, to assure the resources are being spent properly, in support of the district goals and objectives. Such questioning of actions taken, and oversight of funds appropriated is support of the district, are precisely what was intended when the FAAP was formed. As a member of the panel for the first five years of its existence, I was made aware the yearly financial audit, which is funded by the city, only verifies accounting practices. It is not a forensic audit to determine funds are properly spent. Yet even if it had additional scope, passing an audit does not indicate everything is OK. It simply means the auditors did not report any findings.
Also remaining in question is Mr. Striplin’s comment stating, The Canyon Country Community Center is “Active Parkland.” I pondered the validity of his statement, and if true, the Newhall Community Center should be classified as a park also. This time to find out, I went to the City of Santa Clarita’s website for an answer. Under Parks Division, the website indicates, “The City of Santa Clarita offers 34 beautiful and well-maintained parks. Picnic tables, baseball diamonds and basketball courts are just a few of the numerous facilities park patrons can take advantage of.” On the Parks and Facilities Pages, I selected “Parks” and “All Amenities,” which brought up a picture and details on all 34 Parks. Community centers and libraries were not in the listing, because they are identified as “Park and Recreation Facilities,” not “Parks.”
Therefore, I will be waiting to hear the City Manager and City Attorney explain their position, which approves the use of “Open Space District,” (Proposition 218), funds to be used for the purchase of property not designated as Open Space or active parkland by the City. In that same vein, I’m sure they will agree, it would be illegal to transfer revenue from a discretionary fund, (like the Open Space fund) to a non-discretionary fund, (such as the general or facilities fund), unless it was identified as paying back an amount used to benefit the discretionary fund.
Since this action is transferring revenue to the General Fund account for a purchase which was approved by the City Council over three years ago, does it mean staff can use Open Space funding to reimburse the General Fund for any purchase of parkland back through city incorporation in 1997? While it may not be illegal to do so, it certainly displays an abuse of the trust our community had with City Government, when we voted to establish the “Open Space and Parkland Preservation District.” Lastly, I would ask; why in a year where Capital Project funding is projected at $0, does it take $755,556 to administer the fund? (See Open Space Engineer’s Report, page 5). Plus, who specifically is administering the fund?
No matter which way this issue turns out, it has shown the value of having an oversight committee like the FAAP. Our elected officials appear to be asleep at the switch, as our Mayor was quoted in a previous Gazette article as saying; “I’m assuming that all this was looked at before the decision was made to go ahead and use the money to build active parks at the Community Center.” She went on to indicate, “When we receive information that an action is OK to take, we go by what our staff puts forth. As far as I know, this was all done the way it was supposed to be done, and until something different comes up, that’s what we go by.” Thankfully we have FAAP members who ask questions, and make the issue known when they feel a problem may exist.
From my perspective, I am still optimistic staff and council will look inward and use this opportunity to implement changes which will end “business as usual” and strengthen the City’s business practices. Plus, they need to embrace the hard-working volunteers, serving on the FAAP, when they raise an issue.
The Canyon Country Community Center is a great project, which will provide our residents with resources we desperately need. Let’s do the right thing and get past this issue. Then, we can all look forward to the project’s bright future, and I can write a very happy story for the grand opening.
Here in Santa Clarita, we are experiencing extreme summertime heat which has been turning the massive green growth established by a very wet winter into brown dry, dead wildfire fuel. Couple these fire related risks with the fear of earthquakes, our elected officials, along with various organizations, are again out lecturing the public to proactively prepare for the eventuality such an occurrence take place.
I believe they are correct in being concerned. Having lived here for over half a century, I remember the turmoil created in the late 60s when it rained so hard the wash, now called the river, was filled bank to bank, taking out the bridge at Soledad and Camp Plenty, while the Sierra Highway Bridge sank three feet. Panic set in right away, with residents filling our local Safeway Market and buying shopping carts full of consumables. My neighbor and I were there as well, but all we wanted was a case of beer.
Then came the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. Although the power went out for a period of time, my neighborhood was relatively calm. We opened our RV, made coffee and had a small block party until all was restored to normal.
Yet the mid 70s fire was a lot more frightening. Starting over the hill to the south, it burned to the beach, as well as north through Santa Clarita going almost as far as Rosemond. I was at Willow Springs Raceway preparing for a Motorcycle Grand Prix. No cell phones in those days, so my wife Pam called the Highway Patrol and asked if they could locate me and inform me of what was happening. After getting the news, I immediately headed home. I drove the 14 freeway until being forced off at a roadblock, and then negotiated back roads to the next open onramp in order to continue my journey. When I crossed the junction at Soledad Canyon and Sierra Highway, the fire was still burning on both sides of the road. Pam and my two boys were waiting for me, and with the family all together, we headed back north beyond the reach of the fire.
You would think that would be all there was to tell, except 1994 brought with it an earthquake which affected our area even more intensely. Initially, we were evacuated several blocks due to a natural gas main rupturing and spewing gas into the air. Here again, our RV provided some comforts and we shared what we had. But the real issue became apparent when we were informed of the I5 and Hwy 14 interchange being blocked by the highest uncompleted bridge coming down. Using secondary roads, and the resulting traffic congestion, caused many extra hours getting to work and back. Besides all that, Pam worked in the Kaiser Building on Devonshire and Balboa, where the 3rd floor became the 2nd floor as the building structure collapsed. Fortunately, it was before the workforce arrived and no injuries were sustained.
When we finally did get into the San Fernando Valley, we saw the devastation first-hand. How surreal the CSUN parking structure looked rolled on its side, and how sad to view the many apartment houses, with residential over parking, showing damage due to a collapse of the building on the garage area. Luckily, Pam was reassigned to Kaiser in Woodland Hills, which was right next door to Litton Industries where I worked, so at least our nerves were frazzled together during the months it took to repair the roadways.
So, how should each of us prepare? Well almost every so-called expert, will tell you to have a “Go Bag” ready in order for you to be able to “Bug Out” at a moment’s notice. For example, AARP suggests you maintain supplies for every member of your family to “help keep you safe and comfortable in the coming hours and days. Stopping to hunt for your medications or other important needs can cost you critical seconds in an evacuation.” They recommend including an extra phone charger, a portable battery pack, a long-lasting LED flashlight and small hand-cranked or battery-operated AM/FM radio.
For your personal needs, include travel size versions of your toiletries, a backup pair of glasses, first-aid kit, baby wipes and a multipurpose tool which includes a knife and can opener. Pack clothing for a few days, try to include items you can use for layering, plus rain gear and waterproof boots. Pack at least three days worth of each of your prescribed medications, and if you need larger items, such as an oxygen tank, be sure to have a portable version available. Fill a zip-top waterproof bag with photocopies of your birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security and Medicare cards. Include, as applicable, your power of attorney, will, marriage, adoption, naturalization certificates, proof of address, insurance, medical and immunization records, as well as credit and ATM card information. Make sure you have some bottled water and granola or energy bars. Lastly, include money for a few days in small bills and change.
But, while all these things are great to have with you, there is an underlying assumption about where you will be going. The list assumes you will be able to reach a safe place, where food and shelter is available, in a relatively short time. Realizing there may be a large percentage of an area’s population fleeing the disaster area, you should consider the possibility roads may be in gridlock, services may be overwhelmed and people may become desperate. Therefore, ask any friend who has had experience camping in a location which had no services available how long you could survive with the above recommended list of items, and what other items you should have with you. For myself and my wife, I also keep a separate bag packed with a small tent, sleeping bags and back packing pads left over from our motorcycle camping days. We maintain a two-week supply of emergency dried food and I would never leave home in an emergency without a means of self-protection.
In a fire situation, survival is more likely to be dependent on you evacuating when told to do so, and I recommend you follow the guidance provided by our first responders, but realize also, you are heading into unknown territory. Being well prepared can make the difference between life and death. At the same time, confronting disaster when you can shelter in place, allows you the availability of greater personal resources, and provides more time for your family to consider the available options.
Still, let us all hope and pray we are never in a situation which requires the use of our emergency bags, but being prepared helps maintain our peace of mind and calm our frazzled nerves.
It seems a little early, but along with our national election campaign teams gearing up, so goes the 2020 Santa Clarita City Council election cycle. With Councilmember Kellar indicating he will not seek another term, perspective candidates are starting to emerge, and you should expect to see many more coming out of the woodwork in the future. This appears like a great opportunity for an opinion columnist, who has no intention of adding his name to the candidate list, to share his philosophy, and the demeanor I would like to see displayed by the person who would get my endorsement and vote.
I have been retired for the past 13 years and I still have a hard time believing, “time passes so quickly.” Whenever I have been confronted by a person who is despondent about how much longer they will have before they retire, I tell them the following true story. It is of a memory, clearly and visibly fixed in my mind. As it turns out, I was in my office in Woodland Hills, and on the phone with a peer talking over retirement planning, when I recall vividly saying, “But I have 25 more years to work.” Then, almost like the instant you change television channels, those 25 years plus 13 have become the past.
So today, instead of jumping out of bed to get to work, my mornings are filled with sitting in my front atrium with my wife Pam, enjoying a cup of coffee, smiling about all the natural beauty I am surrounded by, and thinking about how lucky I am to be where I am today. As I ponder the future, it seems even more relevant for an individual, or a governmental agency, to follow the words our City Managers have spoken so often — “Decisions made in good times are more important than the decisions made during bad times.” Did I realize when I purchased and planted a little tree a half century ago, that today it would have grown from being no larger than a broom handle, to have a trunk I cannot reach around, and provide shade for the atrium all day long? No, I did not have that much foresight, but it was a good long-term decision, and in most cases, good long-term decisions are the ones which bear the most fruit. So, I will be looking for a candidate who shows an aptitude at implementing long term goals, as well as putting out short term fires.
Next, I will be searching for the candidate who is not overly consumed with telling us how wonderful everything is going, and wanting us to believe that if we just vote them in for another term they will stay the course and nothing will change. We deserve council members who carefully determine which areas truly deserve a positive note, and resist jumping at every perceived opportunity.
For example, last week the Signal contained an article on Thursday August 15, titled “Santa Clarita lauded as hard-working city.” It stated, “Local leaders weren’t too surprised to hear Kempler Industries naming Santa Clarita the 12th-hardest-working city in America.” Holly Schroeder, President and CEO of the SCV Economic Development Corporation stated, “I’m not so entirely surprised to see we’re so hard working,” and Councilmember Laurene West went on to comment, “We have a lot of seniors and young kids working hard.” It sounded insightful, so I decided to see what I could learn about Kempler Industries and the criteria they used.
Visiting their website, I discovered Kempler Industries is located in Elk Grove Village Illinois. Within the company’s description it revealed, Kempler Industries “stocks one of the largest inventories of used machinery in the world.” “Family owned and operated since 1962, we have been buying and selling quality used machinery for more than five decades.” Not exactly a nationally acclaimed research firm, staffed with PhDs.
Per the Signal article and Kempler’s website, Santa Clarita’s “rankings were based on the following metrics: average commute time of 34.9 hours, average workweek 38.4 hours, percentage of workforce 16-64 is 63.9%, and percentage of senior workforce aged 65 and up showing 20.2%.” “Washington D.C. tops our (Kempler’s) list at number one with an overall score of 90 points out of 100.” They indicated, “D.C. exceeds the national average commute time, average workweek hours and percent of seniors still in the workforce.”
So, let me get this straight because it sounds as if the longer it takes the average employee to get to work for less than a full time job, and the more seniors in the city which are still working, rather than being able to retire, the higher you score?
Plus, did you catch their data? If Santa Clarita’s work force 16 and up equals 63.9 percent plus 65 and up equals 20.2 percent, that segment totals 84.1% of the workforce. Are they telling us with an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent, 12.1% of our workforce is 15 years of age and under? Does not sound like something to brag about to me.
In addition, San Francisco was the only California city to make the top 10, coming in 7th hardest working in the country. Are you kidding me? The American city with the 7th largest homeless population, regularly in the news for problems with trash, streets full of used needles and disease scored in the top ten? Even Washington DC, with the 5th largest homeless population in the U.S., topped the Kempler hardest working list at number 1. It appears the Kempler “Hardest Working City” list is based on some very superficial data.
What I am going to be looking for in a candidate for the 2020 Santa Clarita City Council is a person who not only acknowledges and celebrates all the good things we have, but is also ready to embrace and champion solutions to the problems facing our residents every day. It would be an individual looking for a way to shorten commute times by taking decisive action, and fixing our ever-increasing density, traffic, and parking problems. Our city should not be saddled with a council member who accepts the status quo and simply wants our residents to be the solution to increasing traffic by just leaving earlier and spending more time on the road.
My candidate would be a person who realizes and embraces changes in our communities’ wants and needs. Our youth have been waiting for the City to provide a BMX track for over 10 years, and our lack of fairgrounds translates to a loss of many opportunities to Ventura and the Antelope Valley. In relation to emergency health care, we have a shortage of paramedic services, and even though we are in an LA County Fire District, it is an issue which could easily be mitigated if our City Council had a desire to do so. Lastly, our council needs a member who will challenge staff by insisting on having an understanding of everything they present for approval, because such a form of oversight only makes staff better at what they do.
We are a great city, but we are facing growing pains and challenges which must be addressed. So, if you are ready to step into the fray and take on these challenges, I urge you to throw your hat in the ring and be ready to inform all who will listen what you intend to do in making our city even better.
If you are a resident of Canyon Country, or drive through the area on occasion, I’m sure you have noticed the hillside, north of Soledad Canyon Road, just west of Camp Plenty, covered with solar panels. The panels were installed in a hodgepodge manner, not only creating an eyesore for the Canyon View Estates residents below, but for residents across the valley as well. They can be seen from the backyards of homes in Shangri-La, in North Oaks, as well as from Soledad Canyon Road looking north to the hills.
Installation of these panels started around April 2017, with Kerry Seidenglanz, Managing Partner of Canyon View Estates being quoted in the Signal as saying, “the project is being done with the resident’s best interest in mind.” Well, there are a fair number of Canyon View Estates residents, and a whole bunch of Canyon Country residents who do not agree; in fact, they believe the project is an eyesore and want the panels removed.
After over a year of waiting, the City of Santa Clarita published a news brief on September 12, 2018, indicating the city had “filed a formal complaint with the Los Angeles County Superior Court, regarding solar panels installed at Canyon View Mobile Home Estates.” The complaint asks the court for “preliminary and permanent injunction and declaratory relief to abate a public nuisance,” related to the solar panels. The City alleges the solar panels were installed without proper permits, in violation of the Santa Clarita Municipal Code, and in violation of Canyon View Mobile Home Estates’ conditional use permit, which states that 50% of the park needs to be maintained as open space.” On January 27, 2019 the Signal reported the trial court date to be set at October 21st.
Currently, the two sides are doing their respective due diligence, and according to this past Friday’s Signal, the plaintiffs are requesting the ability to depose City Manager Ken Striplin. This centers around the comment made by our City Manager to the City Council, City staff, and to the defendants in 2017 “regarding the lack of authority by the city to issue solar panel permits.” On October 10, 2017, Striplin told the City Council, “The city of Santa Clarita does not have local control or permitting authority over solar panels in mobile home parks.”
On the City side, their attorneys are taking the position, “the City Manager is an ‘apex-level’ employee and therefore lacks sufficient information to offer specific responsive testimony relative to the burden of producing a City Manager for deposition.” So, what is an apex level employee and how does this justify not deposing our City Manager? According to the American Bar Association, “To avail itself of the apex-deposition doctrine, the party opposing the deposition (the City) generally must show that (1) the witness (our City Manager) lacks unique, first-hand knowledge of the facts at issue and (2) other, less intrusive means of discovery have not been exhausted.”
Unbelievable. Last week, our Mayor was quoted, in reference to explaining expenditure defined in the City’s mid-year budget adjustment saying, “I’m assuming that all this was looked at before the decision was made to go ahead and use the money.” She went on to indicate, “When we receive information that an action is OK to take, we go by what our staff puts forth.” Now this week, our city’s “Legal Eagles” are taking the position that our City Manager lacks unique, first-hand knowledge of the facts on the solar panel issue? When I asked who is minding the store, sadly it appears the answer is, “all those lower paid employees residing in City Hall cubicles.”
But looking back on what transpired, there was a time when the City’s position was, “the city of Santa Clarita does not have local control or permitting authority over solar panels in mobile home parks.” Councilmember Kellar sent a letter to State Assembly Member Dante Acosta, dated July 10, 2017, lamenting over, “The current (mobile home park solar permitting) process not providing an opportunity for any local input to allow consideration of unique local circumstances.” He later spoke about the project, during the September 22, 2017 City Council Meeting, when Council Member Kellar reflected on who approved the solar panel project, by saying emphatically, “We did not do it. The City did not know one thing about it.” Yet, by then it was after June 28th, and construction had started.
KHTS published an article, by Perry Smith, alerting the public. The article told of officials at the State Housing and Community Development (HCD) having been contacted and indicated there was no appeal mechanism in their permitting process. Ms. Evan Gerberding, Deputy Director of Communications and Tribal Liaison, was quoted as saying, “HCD officials consider local city and county ordinances that would be applicable. Based on HCD’s consideration of local zoning and laws, the project wouldn’t have been stopped.” She went on to say, “There was no basis for us to say no, or deny that permit. HCD evaluates the safety of the project as well as any regulations the city or county may have in place, before issuing a permit.” Lastly, the article told of, Mr. John Caprarelli, Santa Clarita Building Official, indicating, “A City inspector was on site recently to verify the project did have the necessary permits filed with HCD.” So much for the allegation, the city was unaware of the project until it was built.
I was curious and wanted to read it for myself, so I went to the HCD website to better understand their permitting process. My search led me to HCD’s “Mobile Home and Special Occupancy Plan Review Booklet.” Getting to page two, I found a checklist titled “Documentation Standards for Permits.” Item 1, asked for “approval and signature from the ‘local planning department’ on the Mobile Home and Recreational Vehicle Park Government Agency Approval form or equivalent document.” Wondering which city employee signed off on this permit, I raised the issue at the September 12th City Council Meeting. Mr. Striplin indicated the City did not approve the project. In addition, the City was not aware of the HCD booklet or requirements. Councilmember Marsha Mclean asked staff to look into the matter.
Several months later, Mr. Tom Cole showed me a copy of the HCD Canyon View Estates Permit and the section related to local approval was blank. The next question asked was if the solar panels were installed within the boundaries of the Mobile Home Park entitlement. It took almost a year for Mr. Cole to answer the question, when he revealed locating the Canyon View Estates County Permit, which required 50 percent of the property to remain as “open space,” which today is clearly not the case.
The story of Canyon View Estates and the owner’s solar panels is not even close to resolution, and today we sit waiting on lawyer time, even though every day we get to look at the monstrosity on the mountain. In court, the City has alleged the solar panels were installed without proper permits and is asking for the solar panels to be removed, while the property owners want to leave the panels in place in order to maintain their investment.
Yet the public needs to stay alert and watch carefully to be aware of how this issue plays out. Just as important as removing the panels are to our Canyon Country residents, corrective action to avoid the missteps which have occurred must be put in place by Santa Clarita staff and the City Council. Every agency which had a part in this permitting process failed to carry out their responsibilities in some way. Individuals communicating their agencies positions, attempted to protect themselves and their agency by shooting from the hip, and as the story unfolded, were proven wrong.
I can only hope, all concerned, take this as a learning experience, and fix what is broken.
How the leadership of an organization, or a governmental entity, manages the results of an issue raised or an audit finding speaks loudly. It is as if their actions provide a window to the organization’s soul, and the way they handle adversity opens a door for all to see.
I learned that lesson early. The majority of my work career occurred within the military aerospace arena, and as a department manager, I logged many hours reading and implementing defense acquisition regulations, federal acquisition regulations, military specifications, contracts and product requirement documents. Believe me, when I advise young engineers entering a similar endeavor, I tell them to never take those kinds of documents home to read at night, unless they are looking to be put to sleep.
My responsibilities included validating my department’s procedures and work performance, and was being accomplished to the requirements set forth in those documents. In fact, it was our taxpayer dollars paying the bills; and spending those resources properly was, and should always be, mandatory. During that time, it would have been nice if the world trusted I was doing the right thing; but it was never the case. With almost 50 simultaneous contracts regularly in work, it seemed like the world was full of auditors, as my departments were regularly subjected to a barrage of government, customer and company audits.
I had a choice. I could struggle through each audit event by continually defending our methodology, or I could implement documentation techniques which did not put an extra burden on my employees, preserved our company’s intellectual property and was clear enough for outside auditors to understand. Next, we included a periodic set of our department’s own internal audits, and discontinued preparing for outsiders looking in. In that way, we were able to use outside audits to validate the effectiveness of our business practices, and by taking effective corrective action we brought outside audit findings down to an insignificant level.
Now by sharing my perspective on dealing with audits, I trust you will have an understanding as to why I am dismayed at the City of Santa Clarita’s response to the Open Space and Parkland’s Financial Accountability and Audit Panel’s concerns over the $2 million transfer of funds from the Open Space District, to “cover a shortfall in the facilities fund.” By voting not to approve the report describing the transfer, the panel put in place what amounts to an “audit finding.” City staff could have responded by indicating they would look into the matter and provide an answer by a certain date, but instead they pushed back by trying to bully the panel into approving the report. While Communications Manager Carrie Lujan indicated “the panel’s action changes nothing,” what it does do, is show the community how the city operates.
In last week’s Gazette article by Lee Barnathan, Councilmembers joined in the conversation. Councilmember Smyth indicated “the shortfall comes from the city using facilities fund money,” and “the city finalized the land purchase for the center in 2017.” But, the Signal reported the council purchased the land in 2014 for $4.7 million, and when I checked the facilities fund balance in this year’s budget, the balance is north of $70 million. So where is the shortfall? Was it a shortfall in the amount appropriated for the purchase, and if so, why did the December 12, 2017 mid-year budget adjustment call the action a “funding swap?” Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for staff to put the shortfall in front of the council and request approval of an additional appropriation?
Even more significant is Mayor McLean’s comments as she is quoted saying, “I’m assuming that all this was looked at before the decision was made to go ahead and use the money to build the active park at the Community Center.” She went on to indicate, “when we receive information that an action is OK to take, we go by what our staff puts forth. As far as I know, this was all done the way it was supposed to be done, and until something different comes up, that’s what we go by”.
So, let me get a clear understanding of what our Mayor’s position is. The Santa Clarita City Council just goes by what the staff presents, assuming they did the right thing? Then who is watching the store? It is the City Council’s responsibility to keep staff on the straight and narrow, not just assume everything is OK.
There are council meetings where hundreds of pages of information are presented for approval, usually with a good number on the consent calendar, meaning the staff does not even intend to present a report about them, and the council will most likely not even speak to them. One of the best examples is when the staff presents the 250-page yearly budget for approval. They provides an overview, and if you look at the document itself, the majority of the information is presented at such a high level it is impossible to grasp if the budget is balanced or not. One notable exception is the description of the Capital Improvement Program. Each planned project is shown separately with the ability to show five years of financial planning, including any unfunded monetary requirements. But in actual practice, only the amount supposedly expended in previous years and the amount planned for the current year are included. A separate sheet reveals unfunded amounts per project.
For the past several years I have gone before the City Council when the yearly budget is being placed before them for approval and asked for an explanation of how the information included shows actual and accurate capital improvement project planning. As I have not received an explanation, this year out of frustration I went further and challenged the City Council Members to present the capital improvement planning process to the Canyon Country Advisory Committee. None of them have accepted the invitation. Perhaps, they all use our Mayor’s method of “assuming that all this was looked at before the decision was made to go ahead,” and “we go by what our staff puts forth.”
From my perspective, it is sad this issue popped up in connection with the Canyon Country Community Center. Our local residents are very supportive of this project; in fact, even before it is built, removal of a hideous billboard has made a drastic aesthetic improvement of the intersection. Unfortunately, this situation has greater implications than related to just this project’s financial transparency. It shows how our city is managed, how audit findings are handled and most importantly how corrective action is implemented.
Councilmember Smyth indicated Ken Striplin, Santa Clarita’s City Manager, and Joe Montes, City Attorney, will meet with the Financial Accountability and Audit Panel before August 26 to “provide clarity.”
I’m hoping the City takes some positive action to prevent recurrence of this situation and goes further than just moving some financial allocations between funds… but we will just have to wait and see.
The City of Santa Clarita was formed as a general law city. What this means is the city founders decided not to write a “City Charter,” but instead chose for our municipality to simply follow state law. One constraint placed on general law cities is they cannot impose taxes. Alternately, they establish charges for services provided to residents, and in accordance with Proposition 218, the City can propose benefit assessment districts so as to establish fees to pay for services which provide a “special benefit” to specific properties. The details are described in an engineer’s report.
But, for benefit assessment districts to be established, over 50 percent of the affected property owners must vote in favor of forming the district. Fees are then collected yearly, as a part of your property tax bill.
One of the first benefit assessment districts which really piqued my interest was the “Open Space and Parkland Preservation District,” which came into existence in 2007. While it often appears the idea for a benefit assessment district may come out of the blue, Santa Clarita had been having dialog about an open space district as far back as 2001, as described within the “Staff Presentation of Open Space Plan to Santa Clarita City Council, dated May 18, 2001.” Then in 2005, the public was made aware of a city initiative to establish the district. An engineer’s report for “Open Space and Parkland Preservation District,” prepared by Harris and Associates dated September 8, 2005, contained the details. The first attempt failed, as the proposal did not have a sunset clause and a maximum cost to the property owners was not defined.
Two years later, a new initiative to establish an “Open Space and Parkland Preservation District” was back on the front burner. This time the proposal included a 30-year sunset clause, with the ratepayer cost established at $25 per year, with a $1 per year maximum cost escalator. Council and staff committed to purchase land in order to implement a green belt around the city and included authorizing a maximum of 10% of the purchased land to be available for use as active parkland.
Councilmember Laurene Weste and Parks Director Rick Gould appeared on SCVTV’s Newsmaker of the Week on May 27, 2007 and answered various questions, taken from a transcript of the program. Leon Worden asked, “If you take this money and start buying land, what guarantee is there that some future city council won’t come along and sell it or develop it?” Councilmember Weste answered, “This is being done under Proposition 218 guidelines. For a future city council at any time to do anything to that land, they would have to go back through the same process and go to a vote to the people.” Parks Director Gould answered, “The money that would be accrued from the district would be only used for the purchase of parkland. This measure is focused very much on land acquisition, and primarily on undeveloped land, to keep it from being developed in the future by whoever might own that land. Leon Worden then asked, “So the money that is raised from this, if it passes, can only be spent on raw land? Parks Director Gould answered, “That’s correct.”
I had high expectations. What a great concept; money only being spent on what we voted for, plus Councilmember Ender had put me on the financial accountability and audit panel. Yet my enthusiasm waned shortly after. It turned out the fee of $25 per year with a $1 addition each year thereafter, happened to correspond with the repayment cost of the City borrowing $30 million, but instead only $15 million was borrowed, making me suspect the ratepayer cost had been inflated. Yet, staff was doing an excellent job looking to buy land for open space, while joining with other agencies to share the cost, but no interest was apparent to purchase land for active parkland. Staff had been telling us for years about Santa Clarita’s deficit in parkland acreage, and without active parkland, justification for the District would not have been possible.
Then I started to notice the concept surrounding Proposition 218, giving taxpayers the right to vote on taxes, was not as pure and transparent as advertised. In 2008, the City laid out the plan to dissolve all landscape maintenance districts funding center roadway medians and reforming them, along with adding some new areas, as LMD 2008-1. Those who were already in a district vastly outnumbered the new participants, and were told they were getting a reduction. Not surprisingly, the proposal passed, dragging in other areas, which had voted no.
Shortly after I had left the FAAP, staff looked to purchase land outside the open space three mile district boundary, by claiming even if a tip of the land was within that limit, it was acceptable to do so. But, after the information became public knowledge, staff sort of fixed the problem by reallocating funds so open space money was not used outside the district.
Next came questions about the Shangri-La drainage benefit assessment district which had been operating in the red for several years. Rather than going to the community to solve the problem, staff elected to burden a nearby landscape maintenance district with the cost, while continuing to collect from the Shangri-La district in order to repay what staff had been borrowed from another.
Lastly, was the landscape and lighting district, which sounded very much like the LMD 2008-1 plan. Staff indicated a desire to combine the two lighting districts, promising homeowners in one district a reduction, and looking to redefine financing in the other by substantially increasing their fees. Fortunately, when the truth came out, the Council cancelled the election.
Currently, the city is facing a situation, where the Open Space and Parkland Preservation District Financial Accountability and Audit Panel voted three to one, to not sign off on last year’s open space expenditures. One issue is, “The recommended expenditure adjustment in the Open Space Preservation District Fund includes a $2 million funding swap for the Canyon Country Community Center land acquisition,” outlined in the December 2017 mid-year budget adjustment. In addition, in this year’s engineer’s report, staff has planned to expend $755,000 on administration of the district. An amount I feel is overly excessive.
I realize there will be mashing of teeth, and displeasure at City Hall, for my pointing these issues out. But benefit assessment districts was an area I wholeheartedly supported. I trusted staff and the City Council to keep their word and only spend funds as defined at the time we cast our ballot forming the district. It is unfortunate I must now foretell of never voting for a benefit assessment district again, until management of our districts can be brought back on the straight and narrow.
Perhaps the City of Santa Clarita needs a Financial Accountability and Audit Panel, with their scope expanded to oversee all Santa Clarita’s benefit assessment districts.
About a year and a half ago, I penned a column for the Gazette titled, “Why You Cannot Have a Rational Discussion with Someone on the Extreme Left or Extreme Right.” At that time my thoughts centered on Facebook. I have always found it productive and enlightening to have dialog with individuals who hold beliefs which are different from my own, as I am of the opinion; “You will never learn much of anything by only talking to people who agree with you.” So, as social media roadblocks continued to be placed in the way of having meaningful dialog online, I was becoming increasingly frustrated.
I am a person who tries to draw heavily on my life experiences to reach a conclusion. One instance I remember vividly, occurred around mid-1970, when my family was camping with friends at Lake Success. It turns out my buddy’s daughter was going to meet us there, and he asked me to watch out for her. Well, that evening I saw her driving by and proceeded to yell out, “Hey June, we are over here.” When she did not seem to respond, I tried to yell louder. Suddenly I realized how foolish I had been acting, and I started laughing at myself, because June is deaf.
On that note, I thought of the number of times I found someone trying to get their point across, by repeating their position, only louder the second time around. When it had no effect, an attack on the messenger followed, with personal insults and name calling in abundance. People who use those methods do not seem to understand that an individual’s perceptions will not change by telling them they are stupid and yelling they are wrong. The best a reasonable person can hope for is to gain the other individual’s trust, while getting a better understanding of the other person’s perspective. Plus, if you lay out your position well, it might start the other person thinking about what you said. In some instances, if you proceed using a respectful dialog, instead of approaching the subject in an abrasive manner, you may find out you are actually in agreement, even though you were unaware of it.
I was hoping the social media situation would get better, but the opposite occurred. The next conversation sinkhole we fell into was, when a person ran out of answers, they would attempt to steer away from the subject, by saying something such as, “I don’t like, or trust, him or her.” After falling for those tactics a couple of times, and realizing nothing of value was being accomplished, I developed a strategy of, refusing to continue dialog on a subject when the other person would not agree to stay on the topic at hand. Sure, it ended quite a few discussions, and even though I had to be satisfied with just walking away, I ended up consuming a lot fewer Rolaids. (Just kidding, but I’m sure you get the idea).
Unfortunately, today we seem to have slid down to the bottom of the conversation mountain. Some individuals have discovered “dog whistles,” even though they cannot hear them, and use the term to find “racist” meanings everywhere. Now, vanilla ice cream is a symbol of white Supremacy, everyone you do not agree with is a Fascist, you will be ostracized if you dare to take exception to the policies being brought forward by an individual who is a member of a minority, and our young adults are traumatized by seeing a painting of George Washington. God help us, if those who see racism at every turn go to the supermarket and find cookies and cream or chocolate chip ice cream. I shudder to think of what will come next. In fact, it has gone so far that I don’t know of any public official who has not been called a racist by someone. Yet, if I thought any of the above nonsense was truly the way the public perceived reality and acted, I would be worried. Instead, I find my interactions with folks in the real world to be pleasant and respectful. It makes me angry the media spreads this negative and divisive view of American culture.
If you were to ask me, do elements of racism still exist in our country? I would respond by saying, unfortunately, I realize it does still exist in some circles. At the same time, during my lifetime, our country has come a long way in embracing diversity. For example, in 1952, when I lived in Florida for a year, I witnessed real overt discrimination and fear of retaliation on the black community.
When I moved to Santa Clarita in 1965, I was greeted by a young man who showed me his KKK membership card, and warned me about the problems I would encounter being Jewish in the Santa Clarita Valley. On the other hand, my wife’s coworker at Kaiser was another nurse named Alice. She and her husband Jess became our good friends, and we were honored when they became our children’s Godparents. It floored me, when after inviting them to our house, they questioned if it was OK for them to be in our neighborhood. Why, because they were black.
Fortunately, today as a country, we continue to improve race relations, one small step at a time. During my career as a Department and Project Manager, my management noticed my department’s diverse workforce.
During the Affirmative Action Years, when asked how I did it, my answer was, I do not try, I hire based solely on an individual’s ability to satisfy the job requirements; diversity just comes naturally. In addition, Santa Clarita has become much more of a melting pot, and I am now a member of an organization which would have excluded me, for religious reasons, 60 years ago. I am encouraged by our communities taking this more enlightened direction and am looking forward to the United States staying on the same righteous path. It would be very upsetting to see the process diverted by those just looking for political gain.
So, how do you spot a racist today? If you hear a person talking about an entire group of people in a disparaging way, the person is a racist. For example, if someone tells you, all Muslims are terrorists, all Jews are only interested in money, or all the problems encountered in the United States are caused by old white guys, the person is most likely a racist. If you question the policies put forth by an elected official, and someone tries to say you cannot because the official is a member of a minority, the person is a racist. In the United States, if you know of a specific policy which you are opposed to, or an inappropriate action taken by an individual, you should be free to express your beliefs, no matter who the person is.
Eliminating racism is everyone’s responsibility, and Morgan Freeman said it best — “How do we stop racism? Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man”.
If we would all follow Morgan’s suggestion, and simply treat everyone with the same level of respect you want the next person to show you, discrimination would be eliminated. Then at that point, we will be able to sit down, and respectfully talk about the issues, while keeping an open mind, and learning from the experience.
When my wife Pam and I moved to the Santa Clarita Valley over a half century ago, it was a very rural and sparsely populated place. It seemed very comforting because I realized my young family was going to be living just three blocks from a grammar school, and a junior high school was under construction about the same distance away.
There were no houses on the hillsides around us, and we considered it a traffic jam if two cars, traveling in adjacent directions, would arrive simultaneously at an intersection displaying four way stop signs, requiring us to patiently ponder which vehicle would get to enter the intersection first. Yep, those were “the good old days.”
As time passed, some neighbors called it progress, while others had more colorful four-letter words to describe the more and more houses being built, and the resulting traffic clogging our Santa Clarita roadways. While I have never opposed property owners developing what they own, I have also been of the opinion that “our elected officials have the responsibility to provide adequate infrastructure for the developments they approve.” Such assurance is supposed to be provided by the City of Santa Clarita establishing land use standards (the general plan), and the collection of fees and charges necessary to provide city services, one of which is adequate and properly maintained roads (bridge and thoroughfare fees). It is understandable why concern over traffic congestion has been growing for a long time. Quoting the Los Angeles Times in 2016, the “Los Angeles area can claim the worst traffic in America, Again.”
Yet, what makes the traffic situation in the Santa Clarita Valley even worse, is the streets are not laid out in a grid pattern, making it almost impossible to synchronize the traffic lights, the city bus service being established without providing egresses at all bus stops, causing buses to unnecessarily block lanes of traffic, and the failure of state, county and city officials to do much more than study the problem. Plus, if you are a regular resident who takes their children to school in the morning, or travels to work and back during rush hour, you already know where the traffic bottlenecks are. If the elected officials really wanted advice on how and where to fix the problem, all they would need to do is ask “John-Q-Public,” and then act on the feedback they receive.
But the insanity does not stop there.
Recently, the State Legislature passed some bills to help cure California’s “Affordable Housing” shortage. Starting with the passage of California SB 229 and AB 494 in October of 2017, “Accessory Dwelling Units” are now legal for construction in single family or multi-family residential zones, in addition to the existing structures. While the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) may not exceed 1200 square feet, garage conversions of 400-square feet may be used. Parking required shall not exceed one parking space per unit; however the ADU shall be exempt from all parking requirements if the property is located within 0.5-mile walking distance of a public transportation station. Changes, primarily to relax the requirements on constructing an ADU are being adopted at the state level in a fast and furious manner. At the April 9, 2019 city council meeting, agenda Item 3 staff report indicated passage of Assembly Bill 68, would prohibit the City of Santa Clarita from imposing a minimum lot size to be used for ADU construction, and also prohibit requiring new parking spaces after a garage or carport is converted into an ADU.
You may remember not that long ago, when the City of Santa Clarita was determined to eliminate illegal garage conversions and put a stop to homeowners renting out their garages as living space. Well, how things change over time. Now the State of California is making those same garages available for conversion into dwelling units. One Canyon Country neighborhood has been made aware of the first of these conversions in their area. It is being accomplished by a property owner who purchased the existing home for use as a rental and in addition is converting the garage for another rental unit. Should the owner decide to rent rooms, as is legal in the City of Santa Clarita, the likelihood is there will be a need to park five or six cars as a result; and with replacements not being required due to the garage conversion, where will they park? In front of other neighbors’ homes, of course, further congesting the neighborhood. Now start to imagine the increased congestion should other property owners follow suit.
Plus, it still isn’t over. At the July 9, 2019 city council meeting, agenda item 7, the council declared opposition to SB 330 which if passed, would prohibit Santa Clarita “from requiring a minimum parking requirement if a proposed residential development is within one-quarter mile of a rail stop …. and also prohibit the city from requiring a minimum parking requirement greater than 0.5 spaces per unit if the proposed residential development is outside of one-quarter mile of a rail stop.” I can’t imagine what planet our state legislators are from. Here on earth, virtually every multi-family development currently does not have enough parking spaces for their residents. Don’t take my word for it; verify the fact for yourself by driving up Valle Del Oro in Newhall, or Isabella Parkway next to Home Depot after 5 PM, and see if you can spot an empty space. Santa Clarita development codes need to be modified to provide more parking spaces per unit, not less. Sure, our city council members lamented about loss of local control, but are they doing any better?
At the same April 9 meeting, agenda Item 13 proposed creation of a “Jobs Creation Overlay Zone (JCOZ),” which would allow the height of office buildings to be increased to five stories without a conditional use permit and provide the Director of Community Development the authority to reduce parking requirements. They voted 4-1 to approve the staff recommended action, with no discussion about the infrastructure (road improvements) necessary to accommodate the added traffic and parking. Next came agenda item 14, proposing to award the design contract for the Dockweiler Drive extension. I rose to remind them about the plight of residents who live in the condo complex at the top of Dockweiler. If the road is constructed two lanes in each direction, with no stopping posted on each side, where will the current residents park? The answer came back that although the road would be constructed as two lanes in each direction, it will only be striped for one. I find the answer hard to believe, but we will just have to wait and see.
The thing I found most infuriating about the Dockweiler extension and 13th Street crossing improvement project discussion was Councilman Kellar’s lecture about how the current road improvement project is all about public safety. If the Council is suddenly so concerned about traffic impeding public safety, what are they planning to do about all the areas around the city which are almost in gridlock? For example, just try driving across town on Soledad Canyon Road, from Shadow Pines to McBean Parkway and then on to the Henry Mayo Hospital at 7AM when school is in session. Think about what happens to our city streets when there is an accident on the 5 freeway or Hwy 14, and how those instances affect first responders in time of an emergency.
Santa Clarita’s roadways are being clogged by the city and county approving developments without providing infrastructure to support our area’s growth. Necessary parking and road improvements are not being provided; this will force people to get out of their cars and use alternate forms of transportation, or the city is waiting for a developer to pay for it. Both of these inactions just keep making the problem worse. It is time for our state, county, and local elected officials to start realizing they cannot fix the California Affordable Housing crisis on the shoulders of our current residents, and they cannot fix our traffic problems by doubling down on solutions which have failed to even hold the status quo. If the situation continues to worsen, perhaps it is time for the public to realize we just have the wrong people representing us.
While I can remember how it was when my wife Pam and I moved to the Santa Clarita Valley, when it was a very rural and sparsely populated place, I wonder if my grandchildren will still be living here, one half century from now, and will they be relating their memories of how the City of Santa Clarita was, before the traffic and parking problems were solved.
Just for the record, this past 4-day weekend has turned out to be a much more vigorous adventure than any other Independence Day holiday I have ever experienced in the past.
Starting off in the darkness of early morning on Thursday the 4th, I was getting ready to load the truck with my part of the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center Parade Float equipment. While checking my list for the umpteenth time, I realized if I left something important home, or miscalculated how the sound system or other electrical equipment was going to work, there would be no way to recover. The float plans were a lot more complex this year, as we had added a pneumatic system to keep our big yellow duck properly inflated, and incorporated the use of a 110 volt inverter to keep the bubbles blowing, along with a whole new set of banners, flags and props. But fortunately, the parade team’s planning paid off. When we arrived at our parade staging location, we had everything needed to decorate our float and all the props were working as designed.
If you were a spectator on the parade route, and were able to see and hear us come by, I hope you noticed how we showed our support for the United Sates Constitution’s 1st Amendment granting freedom of the press, and the 100th anniversary of Santa Clarita’s Signal Newspaper, when we announced the inauguration of the “Dixon Daily News.” In addition, to be in fashion for the occasion, the Dixon Float Decoration Team had our lovely mascot, “Dorothy Dixon Duck,” wearing a custom-made designer shower cap, while taking a bubble bath and reading the latest copy of our paper. But, to be sure those watching did not miss the significance, or importance, of the Dixon Daily News, our CEO Philip Solomon headed up a crew of four bicycle riding newspaper delivery boys and girls, handing out copies which included “Duck Adoption Papers” announcing the “Dixon Duck Dash” to be held on October 12th at Bridgeport Park. Not only will this event be a free fun day for the entire family, if you adopt a duck, or ducks, you could be one of the Dixon Duck Dash’s grand prize recipients and win some big bucks (dollars that is).
Even with all we had to do, we did not forget my seven pound, white, long haired, floppy eared, tail wagging, family member named Baby, who turned 98 in dog years on the 4th. This year, she rode in the center of the float, amazed as always, about all the people gathered to celebrate with her. Yet, what I found most intriguing was our own Mayor, Marsha McLean. As it turned out, the Mayor occupied the parade spot right behind our Samuel Dixon Family Health Center float. What made our Mayor stand out above the other elected officials, was while most of them remained in a safe zone of riding in an automobile, Mayor Marsha showed her daredevil spirit by climbing on the back of a shiny Harley-Davidson trike, to travel the parade route. It was breathtaking to watch as the rider, and our Mayor, paused to do some doughnuts in an intersection. Way to go, Mayor Marsha!
Our float had a great time, but their activities represented just the first half of the day. After taking down the parade float decorations, returning the truck to the rental yard and taking everything back to where it would be stored for next year, there was the question of what to do next. In the morning, American Legion riders were passing out flyers for lunch and afternoon activities at their Newhall Legion Post. Independence Day celebrations were also scheduled at Mint Canyon Moose, the Santa Clarita Elks, and I’ll bet there was a large gathering at the local VFW. It makes me proud to live in this very patriotic city named Santa Clarita.
This year, lunch time brought more than just food on my plate when I was asked if I had felt the earthquake. Since I was riding on a parade float, the earthquake being centered in Ridgecrest and we were buffered by being on the other side of the San Andreas fault, I did not even know the quake had taken place. Finding out later that Ridgecrest was “rocking and rolling” to a 7.1 shaker, my heart went out to all the local residents. I remember the 6.5 1971 Sylmar quake causing my wife and I to shovel a trash barrel full of broken glass out of our kitchen, and the 6.7 1994 Northridge shaker rupturing a natural gas main line two blocks down from my house. When we finally were able to travel to work, we saw first-hand all the apartment buildings on Lassen which collapsed on to their lower level parking areas, plus my wife’s place of employment on Devonshire Boulevard where the 3rd floor became the 2nd floor. Those level 6.5 and 6.7 quakes were bad enough, but a 7.1 had to be a lot worse. Plus, now all the locals must live with the aftershocks, find the resources to repair the damage and calm their nerves. I realize we have been lucky to not have experienced a local major earthquake for over 20 years. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that our luck holds out.
All that was happening, and the holiday was not half over. Last week I wrote about a tragic event which took place on Friday, June 21, 2019. The Jarheads MC, a group of active duty or honorably discharged Marines, FMF Corpsman, and family members, in New Hampshire, were on their way to a charity fund raiser at a local American Legion Post, when a pickup truck towing a car trailer, swerved onto the wrong side of the road directly into the group of motorcycle riders. Seven members of the group were killed and several more were severely injured. It is still very troubling for me to think about men and women who had volunteered to put their life on the line to defend our country, ending up in heaven as a result of a senseless violent incident, right here at home. It makes me even more incensed finding out the perpetrator, “should have had his commercial driver’s license suspended, but Massachusetts did not properly log an impaired driving incident in Connecticut from the previous month”. In addition, “Massachusetts officials announced that Registry of Motor Vehicle workers stopped processing out-of-state violations beginning in March 2018, and 53 bins of unopened mail with thousands of notices were discovered at a records room at the Quincy office of the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). The Bay State’s RMV has issued more than 1,100 suspensions to 876 drivers as it works through a backlog of out-of-state driver’s license violations that sat unchecked for more than a year.” Now, I’m sure the elected officials, in those states, will hold press conferences to cry out how unacceptable the situation was. But from my standpoint, this type of dereliction of duty is becoming all too common. We need to start putting public servants in office whose first priority is protecting the public, instead of those who seem to spend their time verifying their retirement account is fully funded.
When Joe Lozano and I found out that memorial rides and fundraisers were being set up across the country on July 6th to help the victims and families of the New Hampshire tragedy, we decided Santa Clarita should take action as well. With only 10 days lead time, we knew we needed to try something new. So, we opted for a memorial ride, with no ride fee charged, no standard donations collected or prizes awarded. This event would be held solely to raise awareness and would only accept voluntary contributions. I made up a flyer, Joe made some phone calls, and the “Sic Psycles” Road Captain joined in by putting a 100-mile route together. The ride would take the group from the Santa Clarita Elks Parking Lot to the Rock Inn, from there to El Pescador in Filmore and finally to the Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas. It was a gamble, and with so little time to advertise, we had no idea how many individuals would participate, but when we called the restaurants and explained what we were doing, all three welcomed the group. So, on Saturday July 6, at 10:30am, motorcycle riders and their passengers left the Elks parking lot for what was a great ride with a great purpose.
I would like to especially thank several of our friends, who were already scheduled to be out of town on that day, and contributed before the ride, while others gave from their heart the day of the event. Even on such short notice, we are sending over $600 to help the families and victims. God bless all of you who took part in this event. Yet, if you missed the ride, remember it is not too late to help those in need, and if you choose to do so, please give me a call at 661-713-9344, or contact “Jarheads MC” directly at JarheadsMCDonations@gmail.com. Any amount you choose to donate will help.
Always Advocating Alan – Celebrating the Fourth of July and Baby’s Birthday While Helping Those in Need
The Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays. As a youngster growing up in Brooklyn, it was a time when I was ready to view the holiday parade coming down Ocean Parkway. When the last float passed by, I would go up to the solarium on the roof of our apartment building to witness a giant firework display over the ocean. Then after moving to the west coast, growing up and having children of my own, the Fourth of July became a ritual of boating trips to the Colorado River, water skiing, barbeques, and a fun-filled holiday weekend.
But through it all, while our family had a great time, something seemed to be missing. So, thinking about the meaning of Independence Day, I started taking the Fourth of July Holiday a bit more seriously by attending (and more often participating) in Santa Clarita’s Independence Day Parade in Newhall.
Looking back in time, I believe my vision on how to celebrate Independence Day matured in 2006. I had just retired and decided to fulfill a lifelong dream and ride to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. on Memorial Day with the Vietnam Veterans, my wife and our two riding buddies. Motoring through the heartland of America and seeing the patriotism displayed by residents all across our great country made me stop and think about how I had been celebrating some of the most important days of the year.
Independence Day should not be just about barbeques, boating and parties; it should also be a time to reflect on the vision set forth by our Founding Fathers. We need to remember how fortunate we are to be Americans, and plan what we will need to do to assure our children will have the same freedom and benefits we enjoy, so they can pass them on to their children as well.
We must always remember how the lives of American citizens have been continually improved because of the words written in the United States Declaration of Independence, which states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” We should also acknowledge how the citizenry of those times put themselves in harm’s way to establish a country with a vision like no other on the planet, and how each generation thereafter has joined in, when needed, to preserve our republic.
Today, I hear some people talk about when and where the United States has been involved in activities they do not believe is just or right. To them I say that our country is a work in progress, and while it is still not perfect, over my lifetime I have witnessed reduced discrimination of all forms, technology improving our daily lives in many different ways, and the implementation of instantaneous worldwide open communications.
Information is now disseminated in a manner where it has become very difficult to hide wrongdoing from the world’s population. I am optimistic we can continue down the right path if we remain able to speak our minds, hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and continually look for ways for the country to improve. George Washington summed it up over 200 years ago by saying, “Your love of liberty, your respect for the laws, your habits of industry, and your practice of the moral and religious obligations, are the strongest claims to national and individual happiness.” It is therefore most important to emulate our Founding Fathers and never give up our quest for freedom.
Now, I am not suggesting we get so serious that we cast aside any fun and good times that come with a celebration. This year on July 4, I will again be riding on the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center float, where our own “Dorothy Dixon Duck” will be “splishing and splashing in her bath” while reading a newspaper to commemorate the 1st Amendment, which provides our country with freedom of the press.
In addition, a little humor does not hurt either. So, I will not forget to bring my 7-pound, white, long haired, floppy eared, tail wagging family member named Baby, to the parade. Born on Independence Day in 2005, she will turn 98, (in dog years), and I will again enable her to view all those out to celebrate her birthday.
But this year, there is also a very serious situation in the news. On Friday, June 21, Jarheads MC, a group of active duty or honorably discharged Marines, FMF Corpsman and family members in New Hampshire were on their way to a charity fundraiser at a local American Legion Post, when a pickup truck towing a car trailer swerved onto the wrong side of the road directly into the group of motorcycle riders. Seven members of the group were killed and several more were severely injured.
It is very troubling for me to realize that men and women who volunteered to put their life on the line to defend our country would end up in heaven as a result of a senseless violent incident, right here at home. Gone from this life are Michael Ferazzi (Contoocook), Albert Mazza (Lee), Daniel Pereira (Riverside, RI), Jo-Ann and Edward Corr (Lakeville, MA), Desma Oakes (Concord), and Aaron Perry (Farmington). How sad that such a tragedy occurred.
As I am sure you might imagine, the families of those killed and injured need help. Jarheads MC set up a Go Fund Me page and there are several fundraisers being set up across the country. I am proud to reveal how Santa Clarita will be participating in helping those in need.
On Saturday July 6, A Memorial Ride will take place starting at the Santa Clarita Elks Lodge Parking lot, 17766 Sierra Highway, in Canyon Country. A meet-up will start a 9 a.m., riders and drivers Meeting at 10 a.m., with kickstands up and e-brakes off at 10:30 a.m. There will be no “Ride Fee” charged, standard donation collected, or prizes awarded. This event is being held solely to raise awareness and accept voluntary contributions to be sent directly to the victims and their families. Plus, you do not need to ride a motorcycle to join in, and you can choose how far to ride, or drive, with the group.
I hope to see you at the Fourth of July Parade in Newhall and the Memorial Ride on July 6. Join me in celebrating Independence Day by saluting the flag, right here in the land of the free and home of the brave.
Last week, I wrote about my good fortune of being invited by the Sheriff’s Foundation to tour the SCV Sheriff’s station. For me, a highlight of the evening was receiving a presentation by the J-Team, a group of officers primarily fighting juvenile drug addiction. These officers showed their deep concern for all the addicted individuals who they were trying to help get sober by sharing commentaries about their efforts. While I commend the deputies involved in this endeavor for their ability to continue the battle they face in addressing this seemingly insurmountable problem, I was extremely saddened to hear that major drug addiction problems were now being felt at the grammar school level. I shook my head, thinking, here we are, 33 years after Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, establishing mandatory prison sentences for some drug offenses, and I realized even though we are long into the “War On Drugs,” the problem just continues to worsen.
I’m sure you have heard the time weary quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but it seems to be a very insightful statement. Unfortunately, our elected officials appear to only have one answer for every problem. If they decide there is something that they do not want the public to do, they pass a new law saying don’t do it, or there will be a punishment applied. Then, when the old law doesn’t seem to be accomplishing what they intended, they pass another law making the punishment more severe, and as the elected officials brag about what they have done, the problem just lingers on.
But with drugs, it was not always seen as the problem it is today. There was a period in the 1800s when bottles of Laudanum (an opium derivative), was available for anyone to purchase at the General Store. You might remember watching “The Shootist” starring John Wayne. In this story, the hero was dying of cancer, and when his doctor prescribed Laudanum, he asked: “How will I know when to take it and how much to take?” I chuckled when his doctor told him innocently, “You’ll know!” At that point in history, marketing drugs to the public was everywhere, and during the 1890s even the Sears Catalog offered a syringe and a measured amount of Cocaine for $1.50. But, then again, there was a dark side. If you watched the movie “Tombstone,” you probably remember Wyatt Earp’s first wife using Laudanum to combat her migraine headaches, and her subsequently dying of an overdose.
What changed around the start of the 20th century was the public’s concern about a large segment of the population becoming addicted and thereby losing their ability to be productive members of society. So, the lawmakers of the time took up the gauntlet using the only tools at their disposal, and started creating laws prohibiting drug sales and recreational use. But here is the big rub. Laws are only effective when the general public accepts them, and the best example of a law being resisted by the public was the 18th amendment to our constitution, a nationwide ban on the production, importation, transportation, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, known at the time as “Prohibition.”
Brought to you on the silver screen have been many western movies, which all seemed to include saloon-inspired alcoholism, violence, and corruption. Even my favorite old TV western, “Gunsmoke,” seemed to center on the “Long Branch Saloon” with Doc, Festus, Matt and Kitty regularly meeting for a drink. So, to combat the perceived problem, the Anti-Saloon League, social progressives, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union created a massive campaign to end the evils of alcohol” culminating in 1920 with the passage of the 18th U.S. Constitutional Amendment, thereby outlawing the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the United States.
From one perspective the “Prohibition” law was fairly successful. Alcohol consumption during Prohibition was estimated to have been reduced by 50 percent, but the unintended consequences proved the cure to be worse than the cold. Making something illegal which the general population did not want to give up created a large black market for alcoholic beverages, a boom to the moonshine market, with some making their own bathtub mixtures, while other products were being smuggled into the country. It was a time which saw the rise of the mafia, speakeasies (illegal bars) and crime rising to a level never before witnessed. Because of all the negative aspects, as a social experiment, Prohibition lost supporters every year. Finally, the country had had enough, and in 1933 the 21st U.S. Constitutional Amendment was passed repealing the 18th and Prohibition was no more.
Today, in some ways, I see a parallel related to illegal drug use and the Prohibition era. The sale and use of illegal drugs have put large amounts of money in the Mexican Drug Cartel’s pockets and has created a network of drug smuggling and sales crisscrossing our entire country. Drug dealers are looking to make customers out of our children, and young adults by giving away free samples, along with Hollywood glamorizing the effects of recreational drug use. There seems to be so much money involved, no amount of new laws prohibiting the manufacture and sale of illegal drugs alone will stem the tide. Plus, it is not just about our youth. Personally, I watched my children’s godparents lose it all. They had a beautiful house in the San Fernando Valley. He owned a trucking company and she was a nurse at Kaiser. After discovering cocaine, they used every penny they could lay their hands on to buy drugs, and ended up living on the street, until the Lord took them home. It was sad to watch, and no matter what my wife and I tried to help them get clean, their addiction won out. Recently I read an article describing the homeless population as exhibiting an 80 percent addiction rate, and even if that number is overblown, it appears the number of addicted homeless individuals is huge. We need to stop pretending the major homeless problem can be fixed by just creating affordable housing, because addicts will spend all they have on drugs, and are not the least bit concerned when there is nothing left to pay rent.
Now, I am not advocating we simply decriminalize recreational drug use, but I am saying we need to implement a solution which takes the drug traffickers profits away, and thereby eliminates the practice of targeting children as new drug customers. In addition, prescription drugs (opioids) need to be used and provided more sparingly. The alternative is to continue what we are doing by passing more laws prohibiting illegal drug manufacturing, transportation, sales and use, spend more money to fund law enforcement, and fill up our jails. All while the problem continues to get worse.
We should seriously consider Don Wilson’s words: “As a people, we are not very good students of history; we keep repeating the same mistakes at dreadful costs.”
As a country, we must change the way we approach the drug problem, or if we continue down the same tired old road, it will end up as Robert Fuller said: “I have seen the future and it doesn’t work.”
The past week has been family fun time here at Ferdman Clan Headquarters. Saturday brought out a proud set of parents and grandparents to watch our eldest grandson Cole play in Hart’s Bronco Allstar Game. What a great way for him to end the regular season, being chosen as the starting pitcher, getting on base both times at bat to help put runs on the scoreboard, and assisting his team in the field for the win. Then it was on to the People’s Choice Rotary Car Show, and as a member of the Santa Clarita Sunrise Rotary Club, I got to hand out ballots to help decide the leaders in each category. I met a very nice Harley-riding highway patrolman, and smiled when a young little girl sitting on her father’s shoulders politely asked if she could keep the pencil I provided her to fill out the ballot. My heart melted, and I’m sure I would have given her the whole box of pencils if she would have asked for them. Finally, on Father’s Day Sunday morning, Pam and I went out for breakfast at the Elks, where we conversed with friends and spent the morning with Joe and Elizabeth.
With all the goings-on, I also felt extremely fortunate to have been invited to the Sheriff’s Foundation yearly get together. Plus, the event was held right at the Sheriff Station, allowing us to get a firsthand look into the station’s day-to-day operations.
Did you know there is a Memorial Garden honoring their fallen heroes right outside the station? It is located just beyond where the service vehicles are parked. From the street, all you can see is a wall, but on the other side, it tells a very different story. Within the garden was where we started the evening, with a buffet dinner provided by Salt Creek. It made it even better to know Mayor McLean was also present, and as luck would have it, we were seated at the same table. Then, with a full tummy, we were divided into groups of 10 to tour the station, where we would get to view and hear about six areas of operations.
For my group, our first trek was up to the roof for a look at the sheriff’s helicopter. Being a Sheriff’s Pilot did not sound like an easy job. With two 3-hour shifts per day in the air going after the bad guys, and if necessary, attempting to draw fire away from the good guys on the ground in a bird with no belly armor, it did not sound like a job for the faint of heart. Think about it.
Then it was back to the ground floor and out to the parking area for a view of the department’s lethal and non-lethal weapons. It was very meaningful to learn about the deputies’ concern for only using lethal force as a last resort, and the policies and procedures in place to protect the lives of perpetrators who intended to do them harm. I’m not sure I would be so concerned with the safety of an individual running at me with a knife in hand, but the deputies spoke of using bean bag shotgun rounds, as well as other non-lethal weaponry, and they planned to continue their use until such time as their own safety was placed in jeopardy. We were allowed to handle the un-loaded hardware and one of our groups got to fire a training round from the latest non-lethal weapon. Never let it be said we couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, because our marksman missed the target, but hit the building, and it wasn’t even painted red.
Next it was a short walk to the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) vehicle. It pretty much looked like the SWAT vehicles you see in the movies; heavily armored, with a rear area set up with two benches for transporting the team. But the real story should be about the men and women who ride the SWAT vehicle into harms way. The deputy described, and showed us, some of the tools they use, including several different types of body armor. I was surprised to learn that some of an individuals’ body armor is purchased by the deputies themselves. I’m wondering if this situation could be corrected.
Alongside the SWAT vehicle was the command post. As you might imagine, it is a large bus-like RV, with a pop-out in the conference area. As we entered, we could hear the police radios in operation. Looking around, I noticed radio communications, internet and TV access had been provided, along with a large screen in the conference area. Managing and coordinating between all the different agencies during an emergency must be a difficult task. Having the command center available to bring the law enforcement management team closer to the action has got to help make the management process more effective.
Enough outdoor activities, so it was back into the heart of the station to hear from the “J-Team.” There were two deputies present to explain the workings of the team, along with a display of drug paraphernalia. With the J-Team heavily involved in the world of juvenile drug addiction, their heartfelt desire to get the kids off drugs rather than just throwing them in jail is extremely significant. They spoke about interacting with some of the offenders multiple times. It appears to take a great deal of time and effort before many kids are willing to try rehab to get clean, and sadly, many of them who don’t simply overdose and leave this world. It made me think about how frustrating it must be for the deputies to deal with the situation every day, and how they deserve a lot of credit for continuing to stay on a path of doing all they can to help our troubled youth.
Now I was anxious to see the K-9 team (those who know me know I love dogs). But as luck would have it, a big drug bust was now in progress, and they were called into action. A Sheriff’s Explorer had been our guide throughout our visit and the K-9 team being out of the facility gave us a chance to talk with him about what it was like to be a Sheriff’s Explorer in the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station.
This brings me to my personal observations. I spent most of my career as a project and department manager. As such, when given a tour of a facility, I tend to also look at the peripheral activities going on around me, and I was pleased with what I witnessed. I know we are getting a new, bigger and more modern sheriff’s station, but I am happy to report that even though the existing station may be crowded, it appeared well maintained, clean and free of clutter. All the deputies I saw interacted in a professional and polite manner, even when dealing with some unwilling visitors in chrome bracelets, their professional demeanor did not change.
An organization’s performance is driven by the leadership, and while Captain Lewis is consistently telling us, “it is the deputies who do the daily work who deserve our admiration,” he is the one who sets the station’s overall tone. Santa Clarita is fortunate to have Captain Lewis, and his entire sheriff’s station staff. They symbolize a professional law enforcement team, doing all they can to keep our community safe.
They are Santa Clarita’s six-pointed shining star.
Like most of you, I read the paper every day, check the web for the latest news, and wonder why some of the things our community regularly talks about rarely seem to create any concrete results. This week was no exception. Reading Lee Barnathan’s Gazette article titled “Why no Canyon Country hospital?” provides a great example.
As a community, Canyon Country seems to regularly ask, why do certain things happen in some quadrants of the city and not others? Is (Canyon Country, Saugus, Valencia or Newhall) getting its fair share of city services? Come to think of it, wasn’t that the same thing we were saying about L.A. County some 30 years ago? Proponents of cityhood kept telling us, “We need to have more localized control.” Didn’t that message resonate with our community, culminating with the formation of the City of Santa Clarita? Why wouldn’t more local control be just as important today?
According to SCVHistory.com, “On Nov. 3, 1987… Measure U asked whether the area should become a city. An overwhelming majority said yes … Measure V asked whether city council members should serve at large or by district … A somewhat smaller majority said at-large (11,166 votes to 7,905).” Fast forward to the November 2016 city council election, and with over 58,000 voters casting a ballot to fill the council seats, perhaps Santa Clarita has grown large enough to revisit how our city council should be elected. The last time the question of “at large vs. elections by district” was addressed, it ended in a 2014 court decision which didn’t seem to satisfy anyone.
As it happened, the City of Santa Clarita became the defendant in a lawsuit that claimed the city’s at-large election process created a situation in violation of the “California Voter Rights Act,” where a protected minority class was unable to be represented by a candidate of their choice. In addition, the city was not the only governmental agency facing the same issue. Local school boards were named in similar lawsuits and chose to settle by agreeing to implement district voting at their next elections. Opponents of establishing district-based elections spoke about the racial overtone of having a protected minority class getting a larger voice in the election process, as well as their main concern, which was that electing council members by district would put them at odds, each trying to get the most resources applied within their district. In the end, the City of Santa Clarita and the plaintiff’s attorney settled, “The attorney’s fees for the plaintiffs will be paid by Santa Clarita, which is expected to range between $400-600,000,” according to The Signal on March 12, 2014. With that, the city council election would move to coincide with the November even-year election cycle. In my opinion, the city wasted an opportunity and just lost money. Plus, our communities were pushed further from having the ability to elect a candidate of their choice.
If you think about it, don’t you want someone dedicated to providing essential services for your neighborhood? Rob Skinner tells us, “Cities don’t build hospitals, companies do … Hospitals are private businesses … It comes down to money, just like everything else” (Gazette, June 7). Interesting, yet I suppose Mr. Skinner has never heard of a “Municipal Hospital,” which the dictionary defines as “a government hospital administered by city officials.” Not that I’m suggesting the City of Santa Clarita become a medical provider, but I will attest that city government has a major role in determining where businesses, including hospitals, will locate. Through the application of zoning requirements and development agreements, the city can make it easier (or more burdensome) for any business to locate within their jurisdiction. In November 2008, the City of Santa Clarita approved a resolution authorizing the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Development Agreement. While the agreement would benefit city residents by the addition of three medical office buildings and a new hospital tower, it also changed land zoning and parking requirements. One question raised at that time was, will the city provide the same zoning and requirements relief if a health care provider would come forth to build a second hospital on the east side of town? But no answer came forth from the dais. In this case, the city council decided on a strategy which could determine a serious outcome for you or your family sometime in the future.
In last week’s Gazette, Councilmember Kellar spoke about a friend with a broken rib, and how the ride to Henry Mayo “was the most excruciating trip.” But I vividly recall an evening in 2013 with my wife Pam, unconscious due to a respiratory arrest, taking an ambulance trip to Henry Mayo with lights and sirens blaring, Sheriff cars breaking traffic, and arriving with emergency staff waiting at the door for our arrival. Fortunately, God, the fire department paramedics, AMR ambulance attendants, sheriffs, and the Henry Mayo ER team were on our side that day, and it all turned out for the best. I cringe to think of what would have happened if the 107 Paramedic team was off on another call, or a direct route to Henry Mayo was not available due to some unforeseen natural or man-made event.
From my perspective, public safety is the most important responsibility of city government. Politics aside, the Santa Clarita Valley needs another Trauma Center on the east side of the valley. Think about the ‘94 earthquake, which isolated the Santa Clarita Valley from L.A. Should a similar situation occur again, and our single Trauma Center be damaged to the point of taking it offline, you will be on your own.
There are too few fire department paramedic teams in the SCV, and the teams are required to cover too large of an area. For example, the Fire Station 107 Paramedic Team, located on Soledad Canyon Road just east of Sierra Highway, are responsible for handling calls up the 14, as well as in Canyon Country. Should they be out on a call and unavailable, your emergency will be answered by a team from across town, increasing the response time. The issue of having additional paramedic services has been brought up several times, and the answer keeps coming back; firefighters who are also paramedic-certified, cannot perform activities as a paramedic when on the clock as a firefighter, per union rules and the lack of the appropriate drug kit. I have discussed the policy with firefighters personally, and have never found one who would not be willing to help an individual in need.
Above all else, for the well-being of our communities, I support the concept of district elections. It would bring our city council members closer to whom they represent and give them additional incentive to fight for what their constituents need. When it comes to life and death decisions, it better not be “all about money,” because it is not “just like everything else.” Life is something so precious, money alone cannot buy it. District elections would make it more likely for the residents of an area to elect a candidate of their choice and get rid of one who is not fighting for what their neighborhood needs. Could it be that the latter is what some elected officials are afraid of?
Sadly, this week I start my column with a message about the passing of Carl Boyer, one of Santa Clarita’s first council members and mayors.
Carl leaves this life after playing a major role in founding the City of Santa Clarita, while also accomplishing a lifetime of helping children in need. To think, we almost missed out on knowing him. In his own words, from the forward in his book, he made us aware, “Had I not been fearful of losing a few hundred dollars that my wife Chris and I invested in buying our first home, I might never have become involved in community affairs and politics.” Fortunately for all our residents, the concern over losing a small amount of money brought out a man who would leave an indelible impression on how our city would be run.
He inherited a problem-solving mindset from this father, who was an electrical engineer, which not only caused him to analyze everything going on around him, but to document his thoughts as well. When it came to his book, simply titled “Santa Clarita,” the pages became his pallet to display his colorful views, and after publication, he distributed copies to concerned residents. Carl was not one to live in the past. He was always willing to have a conversation, sharing his opinion on what needed to be done today.
Carl Boyer was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was a caring man of action who was a pleasure to be around, and I will miss his charm, foresight and wit every day.
Ever Read the Paper and Wonder, ‘How Did That Happen’?
This week, the City of Santa Clarita, in partnership with a local non-profit, Santa Clarita Archery, celebrated the opening of Santa Clarita’s first archery range. Reported in The Signal’s Sunday edition was a statement by Kieran Wong, chair of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission: “Ronnie and I spoke less than a year ago and we now have a fully operating archery range.” Ron Silos shared this thought by saying, “My vision is hosting the Olympic events in 2028. That’s my hope and dream … To say that Santa Clarita hosted an Olympic event would be a really wonderful impact.” Mayor McLean went on to announce that there will be “an officially sanctioned Olympic Day celebration right here (at the range),” and the public is invited to join.
The opening of an archery range in Santa Clarita represents a great addition to our city’s amenities, as it gives members of our community another recreational opportunity. Yet, I ponder, how did the archery range go from concept to reality in less than one year, in contrast to another group who has been championing and waiting for a Bicycle Motocross Track (BMX track) for over 10 years? It certainly has not been for a lack of land or funding from the Open Space and Parkland Preservation District or the Facilities fund. The BMX community has brought requests before the city council on numerous occasions. Leading the charge, Christian Gadbois has been a passionate advocate for building a BMX track here in Santa Clarita.
BMX competition is also an Olympic sport, and currently, Christian’s daughter Maya “was selected for TEAM USA to represent the U.S. (and Santa Clarita) at the BMX World Championships to be held in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium this July.” His Facebook page indicates, “like the U.S. Olympic Team, all funding for the athletes is based on private funding. Because of that, we are looking for corporate sponsorship for her trip.” Individual private donations are also greatly appreciated.
If there is a sudden interest in bringing world-class Olympic events to Santa Clarita, wouldn’t a world- class BMX track provide another genuine opportunity? So, what put the archery range on such a fast track, while the BMX facility sat in the shadows all this time? I heard a rumor that funding to create a BMX complex is being included in this year’s city budget. But budgeting the money and building the facility are two very different things. The community needs to stay on top of this issue. A paramount concern must be providing our youth with additional sports and skill-based activities in order to broaden their life lessons and raise their heads up from their cell-phone screens.
Relative to the discussion of the new archery range, Sunday’s Signal also indicated “The 1-acre (archery) range is tucked alongside the northernmost canyon in Haskell Canyon Open Space, just north of Copper Hill Drive and Haskell Canyon Road.” The article included a picture of Mayor McLean reviewing her marksmanship, after letting loose with her first three arrows. Marsha looks to be an archery “force to be reckoned with” as she recorded all three on target, with one arrow “in the center” yellow zone. I’ll have to remember to ask our mayor if her accuracy was due to good coaching, or pure natural skill. Good job, Marsha!
But looking at the picture, I started to think about range safety. For starters, what happens if an archer misses the target? What keeps the arrow in check? What keeps spectators out of harm’s way? Therefore, I took The Signal’s advice and brought up SCVarchery.com for more information. The action led me to the SCVArchery Facebook page, as seen in the picture below. As you can see, the Archery range appears to be a temporary activity, set up in the middle of an open field with no provision to contain arrows missing the target, or any barrier to prevent spectators from wandering into the line of fire. I just shook my head in disbelief. Knowing how risk-averse the City of Santa Clarita has been, it is hard to believe they approved the layout. Range safety must be the number one concern, no matter if this facility is a pistol, rifle, or archery range. Having a competent staff running the activity is only a part of maintaining a safe and fun atmosphere. The infrastructure needs to be there as well, and in this case, it appears to be severely lacking.
It seems I may have answered my own question. Is it possible that the reason the archery range went from concept to reality in less than one year is because the city allowed the range to be put in place without requiring any city financial investment? But since this activity sits on city-owned property, the city still bears the responsibility for public safety and will suffer the liability should something go wrong. While I’m still convinced that having an archery range in the City of Santa Clarita is of value to our community, I have my fingers crossed. City staff need to consult with experts in range safety and implement the necessary safeguards before one unfortunate accident puts an end to this great idea.
Memorial Day is a holiday which brings joy and sadness all at the same time. While it is the start of the summer holiday season, it also serves to remind us of our military personnel around the globe who have given their all protecting freedom and our great republic. Unfortunately, this year brings additional despair with the 32nd, and possibly last “Rolling Thunder” ride in Washington D.C. On Memorial Day, riders from all over the country will file out of the Pentagon Parking lot, in a seemingly never-ending parade passing across the Memorial Bridge, down Constitution Avenue to the Capitol, and back to West Potomac Park along Independence Avenue. Possibly for the last time.
“Rolling Thunder” is a collaborative effort of Veterans organizations across the country. No matter where you live in the continental United States, you are close to a pre-planned ride to D.C., scheduled for the riders to arrive in time for Memorial Day. In the Los Angeles area of Southern California, the trip is organized as a 10-day event starting in Orange County by “Run for the Wall” (RFTW.org). Through the years, as I watched news stories about this event, I thought someday, I am going to ride with them. So, when I retired in 2006, with my wife Pam in my Harley’s Passenger Seat, along with George, a Korean War Veteran, and Gene, a Vietnam Veteran, we made our way to the start. I knew from the onset I would be asked where I served, and as I am not a military veteran, I was not going to stretch the truth. I was asked that question many times, and in each case, I was also sternly asked, “If you did not serve, why are you here?” To which I replied, “I am here to support you and thank you for your service to our country.” That is all it took for the tension to subside and a smile to appear on the veteran’s face, with a friendly hand extended.
As motorcycle events go, “Run for the Wall” is unique. No entry fees are charged, and you are invited to ride “all the way” or join the group along the route, and if necessary, drop off as needed. If this is your first time participating, you will be given an NFG badge, indicating you are a New F-G Guy, deserving of an extra hug at morning rider’s meetings. When we signed up in 2006, there was a special table with an author handing out Veterans Self-Help books. He autographed one and asked me to pass it on to a Vietnam Veteran when I returned home, which I did. The year 2006 had about 800 riders ready to get on their way. We were given a choice of taking the Central or Southern Route. With the two groups evenly divided, we chose the Central Route and ended up riding in six groups called “platoons,” which had a two-second interval between them. Within each platoon, we were required to ride side by side, one-wheel length apart. It was a little hectic, with the Road Guards wanting me to pull-up closer, and someone behind me pounding on my shoulder to back off.
Every day started off with an early morning rider’s meeting. It was a time to get information on the day’s events, and possibly to hug an NFG. But each rider’s meeting ends on a somber note, reminding us of a soldier who went missing in Vietnam on the anniversary of this day. A letter to the missing soldier was held up, and the group was asked, “Who will take this letter to the Wall?” Each time, a veteran would volunteer to complete this solemn task.
You might wonder; How do you gas up 400 motorcycles in a reasonable amount of time? Well, gas stops were preselected every hundred miles, with an RFTW Volunteer holding the pumps open. Riders were asked to keep a wad of one-dollar bills with them. You would pull up to the pump, fill your tank and pay an amount rounded up to the nearest dollar. The extra change goes toward fueling the chase trucks and trailers following the platoons. But, about half the time, the gas cost was covered by the gas station owner.
Since the trip is choreographed, participants know where they will be every day. Hotels are available at each “days end” location, or you can camp if you so choose. Along the way, the patriotism and generosity of Middle America shined brightly. Hotels lowered their fees for the event, meals were provided by many VFW, American Legion Posts and even some private restaurants. Town residents know when the RFTW procession will be arriving and are waiting for the group to pass through their town. Onlookers armed with American flags and patriotic banners greet Veterans in a way which makes them feel like the heroes they truly are. One of the more memorable states we passed through was New Mexico, with the Highway Patrol clearing the freeway for us, all while a New Mexico National Guard helicopter flew overhead as we rode through the state. On May 19, 2006, we stopped in Grants, New Mexico for the dedication of a Vietnam Memorial built by private citizens, with ongoing maintenance being taken over by the state. Governor Richardson was present for the dedication and his staff handed out patches to commemorate the day. Then on the Navaho Nation, we witnessed a grand ceremony honoring members of the tribe who served in the military, followed by lunch for all 400 of us. Navaho tribe members are rightfully honored, and are well-known for their efforts as “code talkers” in World War II’s Pacific Theater.
One special place visited by RFTW each year is Rainelle, West Virginia. When RFTW first started their journey to the Wall 32 years ago, Rainelle was one of the first places to openly embrace the veterans passing through their town. Stopping at the high school and taking a tour showed their schools still teach U.S. history, with areas dedicated to pictures representing WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Students competed to see who could get the most veteran’s autographs. But, while we were greeted by the residents of Rainelle with open arms, the morning riders meeting warned us that the law enforcement climate was about to change as we entered Virginia. How challenging it must be for the organizers to be facing hostility for such a patriotic event. We staged just outside of Washington D.C., waiting for the planned unification of central and southern Route Platoons for a ride to the Vietnam Memorial Wall, when our plans came to a sudden halt. You might remember the day before Memorial Day in 2006, a forklift backfired in the basement of a Washington D.C. building, causing the city to be locked down, which required us to remain where we were. When we finally got to our hotel, my small group of three motorcycles did visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Because of the lockdown, there weren’t many visitors present, but the reverent atmosphere remained in place. Nothing will keep your eyes from tearing up when the Wall is directly in front of you.
We arrived at the “Final Night Dinner” early to find round tables set for groups of 12. As our table had empty seats, a young gentleman asked if his party could join us. It turned out that his group included the book author we met the first day who intended to continue giving out his books during the evening. Soon, a long line of Vietnam Veterans formed behind us. They all wanted to speak with the author. Sitting next to him, I heard the same story repeated over and over. It told of soldiers coming home drug-addicted, hitting bottom, and not knowing what to do until they found his book. They wanted to thank him, because the information within turned their life around. It certainly left an impact on me, and the next day, I decided as a non-veteran it was inappropriate for me to participate further. The last phase, “Rolling Thunder,” is something which should be reserved exclusively for veterans.
This year, RFTW got bigger, with 651 participants on the Central Route, 374 on the Mid-Country Route, and 618 on the Southern Route – all still riding for those who can’t. Let’s hope and pray the problems are resolved and “Rolling Thunder” goes on to live again in 2020 and beyond.
This week, my wife and I decided to take a break from the Santa Clarita lifestyle and join some longtime friends in Pismo Beach. We do this in remembrance of when we used to ride up there each year on the first Sunday in December for the San Louis Obispo Toy Run. When my wife and I realized the date had almost arrived, we both reflected on what a good time we had, and how nice it was going to be interacting with friends we have not seen in several years. Suddenly, I recognized the fact that we were not sitting there wishing we were that age again, but instead, we were talking about events in our lives which made us smile. Plus, we continue to experience good times right up to today.
Then later, when I was alone, I started to think about the time long ago when I boarded an airplane for a business trip to McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis. To pass the time on the 5-hour flight, I had purchased an audio book to play in my cassette recorder. We were airborne when I pressed the play button and heard a man with a southern preacher’s drawl come through the headphones. “Oh no,” I thought, “What did I buy?” But I was a captive audience, at which point I had to listen or sit there in boredom for the remainder of the trip. That was the day a gentleman named Zig Ziglar, a remarkable motivational speaker, came into my life. Zig is no longer with us, yet he lives on YouTube where his message still gets out.
I’ve known people who continually reflect on bad things which have happened to them. But Zig helped me reshape my thought process for the better. Sure, I’ve have had my share of problems, frustrations and disappointments, but those instances are in the past, and they have helped mold me into the way I am today. When I think back about them, the negative occurrences do not consume my thoughts. Sometimes, they even provide me an inner feeling of strength.
If you were to visit my home office, besides it always being a mess, you would see I surround myself with memories which make me smile. I never knew my biological father very well. He, like many other men of his era, enlisted in the army to fight in WWII. Unfortunately he passed away shortly after returning home. Yet, even though he was not there to shape my adolescence, the picture of my parents taken before they were married makes me feel warm inside.
My mother, brother and I moved in with my grandparents, and as you might expect, money was an issue. So, my mother found a job in the city working for an art dealer. I never met him, but he must have been a good guy, because one holiday season he sent me a Lionel Train set as a present. For a 7-year-old, there was no greater thrill than watching those trains travel in a circle with smoke puffing out of the locomotive. I still have those trains today, and plan to put them in a display.
My grandfather was my father figure. He loved ocean fishing, and when I was about 8 years of age, he bought me a bright, shiny new fishing pole made from a Santelli fencing foil. Next, he started taking me on day fishing trips, and I loved going with him. Memories of those trips linger as that pole and reel hang on the wall of my office. It reminds me of what a great man my grandfather was.
My mother remarried when I was 12, and we ended up in California where my adoptive father’s family lived. But I was born with a skeletal birth defect which caused my heart and lungs to be displaced, hindering their development. By age 13, I was having trouble breathing. That is when my hero, a Kaiser surgeon named Dr. Winkley, located me and offered to perform surgery to correct the problem. His long-term strategy was to develop a new procedure to correct the issue as unobtrusively as possible, but I would be his first patient. Well, after having my chest opened for 14 hours, my sternum cut loose, all my ribs broken, and a metal plate inserted, I woke up 24 hours after going under with a scar from one side of my chest to the other. The doctors told me it was not a genetic defect, but later in life I worried I would pass it on to my children or their children. Thankfully, the doctors were right, and all my children are OK.
I met my beautiful wife Pam when I was 20, and we were married three months later. We have two children who have grown up to be terrific, self-sufficient, family-oriented gentlemen, along with five wonderful grandchildren. When we were married, I was already working for Litton Guidance who provided me with Kaiser Health Insurance, so I took my new bride to Panorama City to sign up. Well, in those days, Kaiser was so small, the employment office and the health insurance office were in the same room. When the employment department heard she was working at Queen of Angels Hospital, she left for home with health insurance, a new job and a raise. How fortunate we both were to work for companies who valued their employees and helped both of us improve ourselves. Pam earned her degree and became an RN, all while I was able to become a department manager and earn two college degrees of my own.
Family time was a fun time, particularly when we went on vacation. I chuckle when I think about loading up our truck and 8-foot camper, hooking up our boat and heading out for a month on the road. We would pick a place to go, such as Lake Powell, and drive straight there. After a while, when we got tired of staying in one location, we would open the map and find some fun place to visit in the general direction of home. We always ended our trips at Lake Success in Porterville, because in those days, camping was free and you could pull your camper right up to the shoreline. I had to laugh even more, when later in life my boys told me that all the neighborhood kids thought we were rich. “How did they get that idea?” I asked. And they responded with, “None of the other kids got to go on a month’s vacation!” While I loved taking the family on those discover the southwestern United States vacations, we did it because of its affordability. We would leave with $600 in cash, pay for everything, and typically have some leftover in the end. How times have changed!
Through the years, I raced motorcycles, coached my wife’s fast pitch softball team and my sons’ baseball teams, played softball in the Litton Industrial League and the City of Santa Clarita for 30 years, water skied, snow skied, ran for city council twice, and am currently on the board of directors for three local non-profits. So, I guess what I have been trying to explain is that my wife Pam and I have always liked being our age. Pam continues to work as an RN because she loves helping people, and I am still fortunate to ride my Harley and write a weekly column for the Gazette.
No matter what age you are, there is fun to be had when you concentrate on having a good time and smiling – something I learned from my friend, Zig. So, this weekend, we gathered with longtime friends in Pismo, remembering the good times we had riding up each year on the first Sunday in December for the San Louis Obispo Toy Run. We stayed at Dolphins Cove right on the beach, shared lunch at the end of the pier in Avilla, ate a gourmet dinner at the Oyster Loft, visited the world-famous Pismo Moose Lodge and generated a whole new set of terrific memories.
The first time I took a trip on Sierra Highway was in 1956. I was a junior high school student living in Studio City. My best buddy lived down the street, and his dad was in process of homesteading a parcel of land near Victorville. He was a contractor and very capable of putting in the improvements required to take possession of the land. On Friday nights, for almost a year, his dad’s pickup would be loaded with supplies. Then, father, son and I would leave early Saturday morning for a ride to Apple Valley. The Highway 14 freeway had not been built yet, and the best way to get where we were going was north on Balboa Blvd to San Fernando Road and then Sierra Highway. We would typically stop for breakfast at the Halfway House before proceeding on the final leg of our weekend journey out onto Highway 138. Little did I know then, less than 10 years later, Sierra Highway would become the pathway to my own family’s home.
By 1965, my wife Pam and I had been married for two years, and our eldest son Ernie was an infant. I have always had a love affair with motorcycles, which led me to join the 4 Aces MC, an American Motorcycle Association District 37 Competition Club. Motorcycle racing was the focus of the group and something was happening every weekend. We typically competed in TT Scrambles in the summer and Desert Races in the cooler months. For those who are unfamiliar with the terms, TT races, or Tourist Trophy races, were done on a smooth dirt track, with more left-hand turns than right, including at least one jump. Corner banking was optional. When all this got going in the ‘30s and ‘40s, it was customary for competitors to ride to and from the race; Hence the name “Tourist Trophy.” But by the time I got started, we were all trucking our competition bikes to races. Desert Racing was a whole different story. Hare and Hounds were typically around 100 miles of off-road terrain, with riders never passing over the same ground more than once. Hare Scrambles were also the same distance, but over a course which was completed multiple times. Lastly, European Scrambles was a much shorter racecourse, completed as many times as you could in one hour.
About half a dozen members of the 4 Aces lived on Dewdrop Street in what is now Canyon Country. And, as my wife and I found ourselves in the area often, we decided to move here. It was a wonderful rural setting close to a grammar school, and a junior high school was staked out only three blocks away. In those days, the 405 ended at Rinaldi and did not pick up again until Sand Canyon. Sierra Highway was one lane in each direction and provided the link between the two freeway sections. We both traveled Sierra Highway going to work and back every day. Never could we have imagined that the future would put us back into a big city, but that is another story. Today, Highway 14 is directly connected to the 405, and Sierra Highway has been widened to two lanes in each direction. Since Santa Clarita has become a city and Sierra Highway is within its jurisdiction, Caltrans has wanted the city to take ownership of the road. Santa Clarita has declined the offer, indicating their desire for Caltrans to upgrade the road to Santa Clarita standards before the city would take possession. So, with the two jurisdictions at an impasse, the majority of Sierra Highway today looks very much like it did in 1965, with exception of it being widened.
Yet, there have been some missed opportunities for improvement. You may recall, on April 19, 2019, KHTS reported, “The Santa Clarita City Council is expected to … discuss the proposed Newhall Gateway development.” The article went on to say, “The City Council is also expected to receive a conceptual plan for the Newhall Gateway project, a commercial development proposed near Newhall Avenue and Sierra Highway … In 2008, a similar project, Sierra Crossings, was proposed at the same Newhall intersection, but it was later withdrawn in 2010.”
While what was reported is interesting, a lot of pertinent details were left out. As it turns out, the applicants and owners of the property at the southeast corner of Newhall Ave and Sierra highway did not just propose a project, they spent almost $250,000 putting plans for the project through the city’s planning process. According to the April 23, 2019 Staff Report, “The project consisted of approximately 99,000 square feet of commercial space in five buildings including a drive-through restaurant, and a hotel.” The resulting plan was approved by staff and the Planning Commission, as it complied with all of Santa Clarita’s codes and requirements. Normally that would have been enough to put the project on a path for development, except in this case, a city councilmember decided to call the project up for a special City Council Review, “citing design aesthetics and environmental aspects.” I wondered then; how could the project meet all the city’s codes and requirements and have these kinds of issues remaining? Would the city staff be proposing code changes to prevent another project from meeting the same fate? Plus, if you as a citizen want to protest a project and have a special City Council Review, you get to front a hefty fee, but if you are a city council member, you can do it at a whim.
I remember sitting in the audience, listening to Council members Mclean and Weste redesigning the project from the dais. None of the changes were required because the project failed to meet current Santa Clarita codes. Instead, the changes were included because of their personal preferences. In addition, they wanted the developers to include property within the project the developers did not own. Also, there were questions about the economic viability of what was being demanded. Councilmember Ferry suggested the city fund a $200,000 study, which would be repaid by the developer at some point in the future. KHTS reported about it also, stating, “The City Council directed staff to enter into an agreement with Poliquin Kellogg Design Group (PKDG) to conduct a conceptual design and economic analysis for the entire southeast quadrant at the Newhall and Sierra intersection.”
Now, almost 10 years later, the city council again discussed the project on April 23, 2019. But redevelopment agencies have been dissolved, which the April 24 Staff Report indicates “eliminated the city’s ability to assemble parcels and … it’s options to participate in future projects as a funding partner or lead applicant”. Plus, “the City adopted a new General Plan and Zoning Ordinance which increased the site’s development potential,” meaning a larger development could be proposed today, as opposed to the 2010 plan. I would like to cap this narrative with an indication of what the city council decided to do, but minutes of the April 23, 2019 meeting have not been put on the city website yet, as the minutes will not be approved until the May 14 city council meeting.
But one thing stands out. Santa Clarita has been a city for over 30 years, and Sierra Highway, “the Gateway to Newhall and Canyon Country,” is far from what it could and should be. When I look at what the county did on the Old Road, as it borders our city, it is past time for Sierra Highway to get a similar treatment.
I am convinced that most of you – at one time or another – have called a customer service hotline, only to have a conversation which made you think it might have done just as much good to have shared your concern with a wall. Plus, it wouldn’t matter if it is a stone wall, a block wall, a wood wall or drywall, because no matter how much you share your story, concern and frustration, you will never hear anything in return.
The most humorous time I experienced with a customer service call was after assuming responsibility for paying my 98-year-young mother’s bills. I called one company wanting to settle an account and just needed to know the outstanding balance. I could answer all the security questions, but was told they could not talk to me, which made me wonder; how many times do they reject talking to someone who just wants to send them money?
Fortunately, it is somewhat better when asking questions at City Hall. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution gives “people the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Yet, many times, our residents address the city council simply to ask a question or obtain further clarification. If you choose to attend a city council meeting, you will find copies of the meeting agenda with a special cover sheet attached. Quoting from the section “Your City Government,” it reads, “The regular meeting of your City Council is a vital part of the democratic process … The Council appreciates your interest and urges participation in government affairs.” On the back of the cover sheet, under “Public Participation,” it further states, “When addressing the Council, please state your name and city … before you begin your comments. The Council will take no action other than referring the issue to staff.”
While it is important the council knows who is speaking to them, make no mistake; they reserve the right not to answer questions you ask, or even acknowledge they heard what was put before them. As an example, a few city council meetings ago, I addressed the council on the Sanitation District’s decision to stop work on the Recycled Water EIR. Since the SCV Sanitation District Board is comprised of a majority of Santa Clarita City Council members, I asked that they agendize the issue to discuss sending a recommendation on recycled water to the Sanitation District. Councilmember Weste replied that the Sanitation District was waiting for California Fish and Game to get back to them and describe how much of the 20 million gallons a day could be diverted to supply recycled water.
After the meeting, I did some more research, made a few phone calls and obtained a copy of Fish and Game’s letter to Sanitation District staff. As it turns out, the letter indicated what Fish and Game expected to see addressed in the Sanitation District EIR and did not indicate that they themselves were doing any further analysis. At a subsequent meeting, I was made aware that SCV Water already had a contract with the Sanitation District to supply 1,600 acre-feet of water per year to be used for landscaping irrigation. I wondered why the contractually available maximum could not be increased with new Sanitation District customers coming on line. Therefore, I went back to the podium at the last city council meeting and asked if they could agendize a discussion relating to a recommendation on increasing the size of SCV Water’s contract as new Sanitation District customers connect to the system. The silence was deafening, as no answer came forth from the dais.
I know Santa Clarita residents are sharp and must have been aware that I was asking the city council members to basically have a discussion and come up with a recommendation for the two Sanitation District’s assigned city council members to follow. That could make them uncomfortable, but we are talking about a decision which should be in the best interest of the city as a whole. So, last week I shared the recycled water story in more detail in my column, and guess what? Up pops a “Clarification from the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.” I don’t mind if the city, the Sanitation District, or anyone else comments on what I write. I don’t expect everyone will agree with every one of my columns, and good dialog is important if we are to come up with solutions which work for us all. But, at the same time, putting in a “Clarification” without the author attaching their name is unethical and cowardly.
To start, the “Clarification” author did catch a mistake in my column. When I included it would “cost $100 million a year to operate,” I should not have fat-fingered in “a year.” What I intended to portray was the amount required to operate over the first 20 years of the project. Why 20 years? Because when the project was first proposed, it was the timeframe the Sanitation District staff projected necessary to pay off the construction loan and the duration shown in the overall financial analysis. When I saw the author’s statement indicating, “the chloride compliance project (operating cost) is estimated at $5.9 million per year,” it would have been productive if I could have called the author and asked where that estimate came from. Why? Because $5.9 million per year over 20 years equals $118 million, which is 18 percent higher than the estimate I used. Plus, $118 million does not include inflation, so the actuals will cost taxpayers even more. Hopefully, the “Clarification” author will “come out from behind the curtain” this week and explain why the cost of operation is escalating and provide a budget projection over 20 years which includes the additional amount caused by inflation.
Looking at the 2019-2020 SCV Sanitation District Budget straight from the SCV Sanitation District’s website, it shows our residents will be paying $36.4 million in service charges on this year’s property tax bills, and $10.6 million in other Taxes and Grants, which simply comes out of their other taxed pocket. All while the SCV Sanitation District reserves will increase from $118.4 million to $141.9 million this coming year, indicating their revenues are exceeding their Operational and Capital needs. A clarification in this area would be helpful also.
Meaningful, polite and open dialog is important. I firmly believe we will never learn anything by only having conversations with people who share our same views. The Gazette and I are asking for your opinion. “We encourage our readers to write, email and share their thoughts, concerns and criticisms.” Plus, I will take it one step further. Feel free to contact me anytime. My cell number is 661-713-9344. Now I will admit, with all the spam phone calls we are getting as of late, I do not directly answer calls from numbers I do not recognize, so text me or leave a voice mail with your name and number and I will call you back. You will not be talking to a wall, and when we share what we know, we will all profit from the experience.
Did you read last Wednesday’s Signal Newspaper, which included a column titled, “We’re creating community at Earth Arbor Day Festival,” along with a picture of Mayor Pro-Tem Cameron Smyth? I thought it a little odd. It did not say it was written by Cameron Smyth, as I have often wondered if the council members actually write the columns themselves. But putting all else aside, the writing revealed, “The (Arbor Day) festival will kick off with the city celebrating its 29th consecutive year of being awarded the “Tree City USA” designation.”
I could not agree more; the City of Santa Clarita’s efforts in planting thousands of trees all around our community greatly improved our municipality’s look and quality of life. So, if you had been thinking of providing a young tree a place to spread its roots, I hope you had the foresight to pick up one of the free 1-gallon trees at last Saturday’s Earth Arbor Day event. If you missed the event and still long for a tree to hug, young trees are available at our local nurseries at a very reasonable cost. Over 40 years ago, I myself planted a tree in the front yard which was no larger in circumference than a broom handle. Now a very large Fruitless Mulberry, in the summer heat, you can feel the temperature drop when you walk out under it and take a seat in my front atrium.
The second thing which caught my attention was, “The festival also offers residents the tools and resources needed to recycle, compost, and conserve water.” I favor the prospect of recycling. Maybe it is because I am from a generation who fixed things when they were broken, saved leftovers for the next project, and did not believe in discarding usable items. Composting, on the other hand, is another question, because it doesn’t seem like something which will work out too well for those living in apartments, townhouses and condominiums. Yet, when I hear about providing instructions to our residents about water recycling, the hair on the back of my neck begins to rise. Surely, the majority of our population does not believe in wasting water, and we are all aware of the problems which have been created in getting water down from the north, but if our city continues to grow at the current pace, it is highly unlikely individual residents conservation will provide long-term sustainability. In fact, if you look at our water agencies current five-year plan, the only way they can assure an adequate supply over the next five years is for current users to use less. Plus, if the situation was not frustrating enough, every time the community uses less, the water companies want to charge more in order to maintain their infrastructure, because they have no other way to deal with it.
Ok, I’ll admit, I was out of town last Saturday and did not attend Earth Arbor Day. So, maybe you could help me. Did the experts talk about water conservation from the standpoint of using washing machine and shower grey water for residential landscape irrigation? Was information provided in support of rebates to retrofit older homes, where residents need to run their water for a period of time before it becomes warm enough to bathe? Were examples on how to capture and use rainwater provided? Probably not, because creative solutions which take effort do not fit their narrative.
Yet, a very large resource enabling water conservation exists in Santa Clarita today. Several years ago, back when the Regional Water Quality Board decided the chloride level of water coming out of our two wastewater treatment plants was too high, with a stoke of a pen, they decided to require us to lower the level to 100 mg/ltr or less. Think about it. The Chloride standard for water you drink is allowed to be over twice that number. This started the debacle about adding another level of treatment to our wastewater treatment plants, at the cost of over $130 million to build, and $100 million a year to operate. Who will pay the bill? You are. The plan was to ramp up the SCV Sanitation District property tax assessment from 2014 to 2019 in order to reach the level necessary to build and sustain this new proposal. But in order to sell this project to the public, the sales staff was out in full force. They asserted, while our community is rightfully unhappy with the project, lowering the chloride level would make the water also useful for landscape irrigation, and with our treatment plants producing 20 million gallons a day, it was estimated 7 million gallons a day could become immediately available. Be aware, two members of the Santa Clarita City Council also have majority control of the SCV Sanitation District. Their votes alone can raise your property taxes and put the project plan into action. Therefore, the project was easily approved. Planning the additions to the treatment plants was initiated, along with an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to determine how much of our wastewater treatment plant output needed to be put in the river to maintain endangered species habitats, and how much could be diverted for recycling. Then, along came the lawsuits. The Signal reported, “Judge James C. Chalfant agreed with ACWA (Affordable Clean Water Alliance) lawyers and called for more studies on the effects of recycled water on an endangered species of native fish.” The Sanitation District lawyers indicated, “they would respond specifically to those concerns.” Judge Chalfant, “wanted district officials to explain in greater detail how they will protect the unarmored threespine stickleback – an endangered species of native fish.”
In order to get the project moving forward, the SCV Sanitation District broke the project off into “two separate tracks,” one for the treatment plant improvements, and the other track for the recycled water project. Then, much to the public’s surprise, on February 26, 2019, the SCV Sanitation District reversed course and declared they had “formally ceased its own efforts to reduce discharges to the river in favor of recycling water.” They claimed to take this action to protect the Santa Clarita ratepayers and help “clear the way for regional evaluation of all water resources, which will lead to better solutions.”
Really? The SCV Sanitation District is the only major source of recycled water in the Santa Clarita Valley. Knowing the EIR work stoppage had to have the approval of Santa Clarita Mayor McLean and Councilmember Weste, who represent a majority of the SCV Sanitation District Board, I approached the podium at a city council meeting and asked the Council to agendize a discussion on the Sanitation District’s decision. I suggested the city council provide a recommendation to the SCV Sanitation District, which is in the best interest of the city’s residents. Both Mayor McLean and Councilmember Weste indicated their support and understanding of the need to make recycled water available. Councilmember Weste went on to indicate that the SCV Sanitation District was waiting for California Fish and Game to tell them how much of the 20 million gallons a day could be recycled.
Following up and making a few phone calls, I was able to obtain a copy of a letter from California Fish and Game to the SCV Sanitation District. The correspondence outlined studies and methodology they deemed appropriate, to determine the effect of reducing the amount of water into the river would have on endangered species. Then a few days later, I attended a meeting were Steve Cole presented elements of SCV Water’s “Next Drop” water recycling strategy. As it turns out, SCV Water currently has a contract with the SCV Sanitation District for up to 1600-acre-feet per year of recycled water. Today, SCV Water only uses 400-acre-feet per year, leaving the remaining 1200-acre-feet available to satisfy the current new pipelines being put in the ground to bring recycled water to Central Park.
Getting recycled water to where it is needed is expensive, and I applaud SCV Water for implementing sections over time. But what happens when SCV Water needs to increase use over the 1600-acre-foot contractual limit? Why not increase the amount of recycled water available whenever a new user is added to the SCV Sanitation District service roll? In other words, add capacity as it becomes available. Santa Clarita has a number of large projects under construction or in the works. Therefore, without fighting the “endangered species windmill,” why not capture the increase in flow, rather than just add it to the current outflow and aggravate the problem?
Therefore, it was back to the city council podium, asking them to agendize the issue to discuss a recommendation on how to use the additional user flow. They could have water to fill all those purple pipes the city is putting in the ground. But the silence was deafening, as no words on the subject came forth from any member of the council.
No other organization or agency will be able to implement a long-term water recycling strategy, unless the SCV Sanitation District agrees to provide the raw materials, which in this case is the output of their wastewater treatment plants. It is time for the SCV Sanitation District to start getting creative and take action, which is in the best interest of our valley’s residents. The next time an elected official tries to convince you to take out your lawn to save water, tell them you will consider it as soon as they do their job, and recycled water is flowing through all those purple pipes taxpayer dollars bought and buried in the ground. Because at that point, we will be able to cheerfully recognize that the SCV Sanitation District, SCV Water, the new Groundwater Sustainability Agency, and the City of Santa Clarita have finally found a way to work collaboratively.
Clarification/Response from the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County
The Sanitation District wishes to clarify a couple of statements in the article written by Alan Ferdman titled, “Singing the Praise of Earth, Wind and Water.”
First, the cost to operate and maintain the chloride compliance project is estimated at $5.9 million per year, not $100 million per year as stated in the article.
Second, the recycled water component in the original chloride compliance EIR (and all subsequent environmental documents) was independent of the chloride compliance project. The recycled water component was about making more recycled water available for community reuse and not about improving the quality of river water or recycled water. Today, the treated water from the plants is suitable for a wide range of uses including landscape irrigation.
Due to the adverse court ruling mentioned in the article, the recycled water project was separated from the chloride compliance project in 2018. This separation enabled the chloride compliance project to move forward and minimize the risk of fines to ratepayers.
On Tuesday, April 16, KHTS reported, “Safe Home, a home security company, used data from the FBI … of cities with at least 50,000 residents, to compile a list of the safest cities across the nation. Santa Clarita was named No. 9 in California and 49 in the United States.” The very next day, The Signal included a front-page story titled, “City ranked ninth safest in state.” Then, later that week, in the “Signal’s most talked about section,” residents’ comments ranged from memories of when “Santa Clarita was in top 10 safest in the country,” to impressions that it’s “because crime stats are suppressed by LASD.” One resident felt the city would rank even worse if “you excluded Valencia.”
Well, stories relating to the safety of our city have been written from time to time. In this case, I decided to visit www.safehome.org and see for myself who they are. As it turns out, KHTS was correct when they named Safe Home as a home security company. Safe Home describes the company as “a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com,” which does not sound much like an independent research firm.
Next, I brought up www.fbi.gov to see if the same admonitions about their data were still being included. Sure enough, the FBI themselves tells us, “Since crime is a sociological phenomenon influenced by a variety of factors, the FBI discourages ranking locations or making comparisons as a way of measuring law enforcement effectiveness. Some of this data may not be comparable to previous years because of differing levels of participation over time.” In addition, “It’s important to consider the various factors that lead to crime activity and crime reporting in a community before interpreting the data. Without these considerations, the available data can be deceiving. Factors to consider include population size and density.” Therefore, it may not provide a clear picture if we rank our city of 217,000 residents against cities greater than 50,000.
Lastly, rankings depend on how the evaluation team weighs the data. For example, FBI Violent Crime data reflects a “hierarchy rule, which requires that only the most serious offense in a case be counted. The descending order of violent crimes is homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, followed by the property crimes of burglary, larceny theft, and motor vehicle theft.” When I looked at how another company called “Safewise” weighs and views the data, Santa Clarita does not even make the top 50 list. If you were to evaluate the data, how many robberies would you equate to a single homicide? I believe George Buck was right on when he said, “Statistics don’t lie. It’s the people who make up the statistics that lie.” So, instead of becoming one of those people, I’ll just relay my impressions about safety in our fair city.
Since I have lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for over half a century, I have seen changes which have altered my behavior relative to staying alert and not becoming a victim. When I first moved here, Santa Clarita was truly a small town. When my wife and I would go down the street to visit our neighbor, there seemed no reason to close our garage or lock our doors. Neighbors looked out for each other, most local law enforcement was made up of Reserve Officers, and when you saw a patrol car, you most often knew the person driving. Even as the community grew over the next several decades and locking things up became the norm, you could always count on those who lived around you.
For example, in 1990, a 31-year-old recently released jail inmate named Rene who was cold, hungry and living on the street, decided to take refuge in my house. He very carefully pried the window frame out of my back door, entered my house, ate lunch, and left with my leather motorcycle jacket, some change and a handgun. Two of my neighbors, Mr. Sam Rowe and Mr. Mike Quigley, saw him leave my back yard, recognized my jacket, and the chase was on. Rene darted down a street and over a fence, landing him on Soledad Canyon, just as two plain-clothed deputies were driving past. When they recognized he had a gun, the officers started around the block. My two neighbors followed Rene to the Shell Station, which was at Soledad and Whites Canyon, and witnessed Rene jump over a pony wall, which obscured where he was living, so they called 911. Just then, the two deputies pulled into the station were directed to where Rene was hiding, and took him into custody shortly after. When Mike called me at work and told me what had happened, I was sure I would come home to find the house ransacked. But that was not the case, and when I picked up my valuables from the Sheriff’s Station, I was told of Rene’s past and his desire to end it all if he could not return to jail, where he would at least have a full stomach and be out of the elements. It was my first experience with crime and homelessness in the Santa Clarita Valley. The story appeared as front-page news in The Signal on May 9, 1990. I have saved a copy of that paper all this time, and when I see Mike Quigley this coming week, I intend to thank him again.
Did that experience make me feel less safe? For me, it emphasized the importance of “neighbors helping neighbors,” and I feel fortunate as families have moved in and out of my immediate area, and we continue to live near residents who want to maintain good neighborhood relationships, so we are still looking out for each other. Have I taken additional precautions? You bet, but not always just to keep myself safe. About 10 years later, we put in and alarm system. The primary reason was to protect our Maltese named “Puff” and Cat named “CoCo,” in case of a house fire occurring when we were at work.
Now, if I were to use the FBI data, I would concentrate on the parts which show an increase in violent crimes, and consider the need to visit a city council meeting to ask that additional resources be provided to our Sheriff’s Department. I remember going to a Santa Clarita Public Safety Subcommittee meeting years ago and encountering Sheriff Captain Becker, who at the time was serving our community. He provided his report and stated his intent to put another patrol car by Jake’s Way, to which one of the council members stated, “That’s not in the city.” (Jake’s Way had not been annexed into the city at that time). When Captain Becker responded, “That is not important; Crime does not stop at the border,” I knew I was going to like this man. Since then, we have gone through several Santa Clarita Sheriff Captains who have been promoted or retired. Today, Captain Robert Lewis serves in the capacity of managing Sheriff’s Services in the Santa Clarita Valley, and in my estimation, he is an exceptional leader. When interacting with Captain Lewis, it is easy to recognize that he loves his job, not for the power he wields, but because of the community service he provides. Known for his endless energy and ability to resonate with his deputies and the public, Captain Lewis provides us the kind of services which are dedicated to keeping the community safe.
But remember, law enforcement cannot do it all. You must do your part by staying alert, becoming aware of what is going on around you, keeping your eyes open, and alerting the Sheriff’s Office when you see something that looks suspicious. Because when the “brown stuff” hits the fan, statistics will not matter. And if it is something beyond your control, hopefully you will have the assistance of a neighbor. And should you need to dial 911, one of Santa Clarita’s Sheriff Deputies will be ready to answer your call for help.
I’m sure I have shared my story of being in an active shooter situation already, yet I will tell it one more time to help anyone reading this article understand my perspective.
It was in the mid-‘80s and I was a department manager. About 30 members of my staff and I occupied an area on the second floor, to the rear of the building. At the time, the area was filled with cubicles, with my office at one end. It was a morning like any other, when one of my staff members came running into the area and loudly announced, “There is someone in the front lobby shooting at other employees.” Well, that woke everyone up, and they started to congregate in the center of the room. I came out of my office, and as I had not heard any shots, I asked, “Does anyone know where the shooter is?” When the answer came back as a negative, the group got more agitated and nervous. As I was the leader, they looked to me for a decision as what to do. I believed then, as I believe now, that their safety was my responsibility.
Our company had provided management training on this type of situation by advising us to “hide if you can, or flee if you can, or fight if you must.” Since our immediate area did not have any rooms large enough for us to hide, and the second-floor conference rooms were in the front of the building, which was in the direction of the lobby, I chose not to go there. Instead, I decided to leave the building. I had thought about this before, and knew the back stairway was right next to the exit from our area, down the stairs and a left turn would take us out of the building, and then a right turn put us about 30 feet from our facility’s gate, a guard shack, and the parking lot entrance.
The group was becoming more visibly unsettled and I tried to calm everyone down with a little humor by looking at my watch and saying, “It’s 10:30, time for an early lunch. Follow me down the stairs off the facility, and do not return until 1 p.m.” One of my group supervisors was present, and I asked him to take up the rear to make sure everyone followed me. I told him I would wait for him at the bottom of the stairs and take him to lunch. It all went as planned, and in short order all 30 staff members were outside the facility.
Even though the situation seemed dire and threatening, what we did not know was that it was over long before we left the facility. As it turns out, a man entered the lobby asking to see an employee named Joe, who was dating his ex-wife. When Joe came walking down into the lobby, the man took out a handgun and started shooting. Fortunately, he only hit Joe in the small part of his ear, which Gunsmoke’s Festus called the “small hangey-down part.” When Joe realized what was happening and started to flee, the man sat down, put his gun on the table, and waited for the police to arrive. But another scary part was when one of the shooter’s stray bullets passed through a wall, and barely missed a secretary putting a memo through a copy machine, proving drywalled walls offer little protection. As I was driving out of the parking lot, Joe was being wheeled out to an ambulance and police cars were all around the front of the building.
But the story does not end yet. Two weeks later, I was pulled into the security office. The head of security wanted to know what possessed me to lead my staff off the facility. His concern was, “What if you had led the group right into the shooters path?” My response to him was, “What do you think would have happened if I would have held my employees in the center of our office area out in the open, and the shooter would have run into us? I made the best decision I could, using the information I had at the time. If you want a different outcome, maybe security should find a better way of letting employees know more about the situation as it occurs.” At which point, the room went silent and so ended the conversation.
When I read about College of the Canyons (COC) going into lockdown because of an individual who could not distinguish between a few branches and a rifle, I felt compelled to share what I learned from my experience. First, COC represents a far greater challenge. My workplace had almost every building on the perimeter of the facility, making evacuation a relatively simple task. COC, on the other hand, has a more complex mapping of buildings, some of which are bordered by other buildings, making effective evacuation planning contingent on where the danger is occurring. Being able to remotely lock doors is a great idea, providing you have enough information to know which doors to lock, and which to leave open. Otherwise, the worst thing which could happen, as Katie Wynkoop reported, “People didn’t know what to do. They literally just started running through the hall of the Student Center. There was no direction. It was kind of chaotic.”
Yet, Trustee Edel Alonso hit the nail on the head when she asked, “If there are cameras, are they actually working and recording or not? If they are recording, then who’s taking a look at those videos?” My experience taught me that a person will make decisions based on what they know, and if management desires better decisions, they need to provide more real-time information. COC, or any large campus of buildings, needs to have a comprehensive matrix of audio/visual cameras providing the ability to monitor every building entrance and hallway, in addition to the grounds surrounding their facility. While recording is of value, real-time monitoring must be accomplished in a 24/7 security command center, so that the next time a problem is reported, the security team can see and hear what is transpiring and take immediate action. In addition, the knowledge gained by camera review will be very useful in directing security and law enforcement personnel to the trouble spot. Then, using text messages to alert the entire campus, in addition to concerned loved ones as to what is transpiring, we can put those affected in a defensive posture and calm those who are out of harm’s way. COC can make all the plans it feels necessary, but when a tragedy strikes, knowing which part of which plan to implement will depend on how much the decision makers know about the situation. So, the more information they have the better.
Realize also we are dealing with human nature. If you lock down the campus too many times for things which turn out to be non-issues, soon lock-downs will not be taken seriously. In addition, I thought Deputy Chancellors comment interesting when he shared, “Some folks had concerns about an armed presence …. and the anxiety that could lead to … Other folks felt they wanted an armed presence to be responding to any threat.” I would ask, why isn’t the student’s safety the primary concern? COC management needs to be the adults in the room and provide for safety first.
In these two cases, we were fortunate. Both my situation at work long ago and the latest COC lockdown, resulted in no one seriously injured or killed. But, the lesson we should all think about is that all mass shootings which have taken place in recent times occurred within just a few minutes. The faster an appropriately trained and armed security guard or law enforcement officer can get to the scene, the less opportunity there is for the shooter to continue the rampage.
Hopefully that will never happen at College of the Canyons. I know several of the trustees and have faith they will take the lead toward putting an effective surveillance and notification system in place. I would rather we spend the money to enhance student safety and never use it than save a few dollars and wish we had done it.
I am a great fan of Aesop’s Fables. One of my favorites is “The Milkmaid and Her Pail.” One version goes something like this:
“A Milkmaid had been out to milk the cows and was returning from the field, with a shiny milk pail balanced nicely on her head. As she walked along, her mind was filled with wondrous plans for the days to come.
“‘This good rich milk,’ she mused, ‘will give me plenty of cream to churn. The butter I make I will take to market, and with the money I get for it, I will buy a lot of eggs for hatching. How nice it will be when all have hatched, and the yard is full of fine young chicks. Then, when May Day comes, I will sell them. With the money I receive, I’ll buy a lovely new dress to wear to the fair. All the young men will look at me, and when they come near and try to kiss me, I shall very quickly send them about their business!’
“As she thought of how she would settle with these young men, she tossed her head scornfully, and down fell the pail of milk to the ground, and as all the milk flowed out of the pail, with it went her plans for butter, eggs, chicks, and a new dress, along with all the milkmaid’s pride.”
I hope you enjoy this fable as much as I do. Most of the time, the moral of this story is stated as, “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” While it is certainly the case, I believe Aesop might have had an additional, much deeper moral in mind. Because while there are many different versions of this fable, they all seem to conclude the milkmaid’s display of head movement was to show distain for those who would have taken advantage of her. In fact, she appeared to be celebrating her future conquest over them, long before it would happen. So, a little deeper meaning might be, “Don’t celebrate your victory over others until you are actually successful and win.” Or, as Yogi Berra would put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
I see nothing wrong with Aesop’s Milkmaid formulating what in today’s world would be considered a business plan. She thought of her raw materials, how to initiate a manufacturing process, and implement a marketing plan. A good business strategy is paramount to starting a successful business venture. It allows the business owner to anticipate problems and formulate “work-arounds” in advance. Unfortunately, Aesop’s Milkmaid sabotaged herself by being pompous and cavalier.
As I sit and think about the truth contained in this fable, I can’t help drawing an analogy to the city’s 20-year Cemex battle. It seems like we were always celebrating, but we never obtained victory. For example, do you remember the celebration in 2006, when 13 “Thank You Buck for HR5471” banners flew over Santa Clarita’s major arterials, plus one on Valencia Boulevard in front of City Hall? Ms. Ortiz, then the City of Santa Clarita Communications Manager, let the air out of the party when she was quoted as stating, “The banners were intended to broadcast that neither the mine project nor the bill’s outcome are final, and are part of a campaign to thank McKeon, pique interest in the issue and garner support for the bill. About 150,000 sets of postcards voicing support for the measure …. will be sent to all Santa Clarita Valley households and to some in the Antelope Valley. The $5,000 cost for the banners and thousands spent on the postcards comes from the city’s general fund.”
Sometime later, on December 11, 2014, SCVTV published a City of Santa Clarita Press Release telling us, “Santa Clarita received an early Christmas present today from Congress, when Rep. Howard ‘Buck’ McKeon’s HR 5742 unanimously passed on the floor of the House of Representatives as a stand-alone bill.” Then, Councilmember Weste commented, “This is a tremendous victory for our community, protecting us from large-scale mining and is as important to the protection of the Santa Clara River.” Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Kellar stated, “In my 15 years on the City Council, this is by far the best day. Enough cannot be said for the huge effort put forth by so many to bring us to this point.”
Sadly, the bill did not stop the mine or end the story.
Even later, on August 21, 2015, it was reported that the Bureau of Land Management cancelled the CEMEX mining contracts, “based on Cemex’s own inaction.” BLM California State Director Jim Kenna wrote in a statement the next Friday, “The BLM can no longer support the continued and prolonged delays and lack of progress in fulfilling the terms of the contract.” Unfortunately, Santa Clarita’s euphoria was short lived, and on September 30, 2015, ARI reported, “Cemex has appealed last month’s Bureau of Land Management decision to cancel its mining contracts in Soledad Canyon.” Cemex accused the BLM of an “improper decision” and “arbitrary actions,” noting the company has devoted “considerable time” and money working with stakeholders over the past several years for a resolution to the dispute between the mining firm and the community opposed to the mine. City Councilwoman Laurene Weste acknowledged what was happening by saying, “Filing an appeal would be the normal standard response I would expect from a company.”
Just recently, the latest celebration took place during a city press conference, as reported by KHTS, on March 21, 2019. The Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled one of Cemex’s contracts remained valid. Based on their decision, CEMEX retains mining rights through July 2020. Mike Murphy, the Intergovernmental Relations Manager for the City of Santa Clarita said, “The ruling technically leaves Cemex with one of two contracts still valid, but without much time remaining … The practical implications of this ruling are that Cemex is left with a 16-month valid contract for a mine, but they don’t have any of the permits in place.” Mr. Murphy went on to clarify the situation when he stated, “There is no practical way that Cemex can obtain the permits it needs to begin mining … They would have to get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and that takes a minimum of between 18 and 24 months … They would also need permits from the (California) State Water Resources people.” Mr. Murphy emphasized, “I am 100 percent confident that this (ruling) is going to stick.”
“This is a landmark decision, and a landmark day,” Councilmember Weste said. “I’m just glad I lived long enough to see this come to fruition.” Councilmember Kellar “then went on to explain the decision reached by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA), terminates the contracts that Cemex has in Soledad Canyon in July of 2020 … This means that mining will never take place in our community.”
Let’s all keep our fingers crossed Councilmember Kellar and Mr. Mike Murphy are correct. Santa Clarita residents would not benefit from having a large-scale mining operation on our doorstep. But Cemex may have some inside track on permits, or they could take the IBLA’s decision back to court. So, I agree with Councilmember Kellar who went further and said, “We must continue to be vigilant in our efforts over the next 16 months.”
Aesop’s lesson is relevant to this situation, and if he was here, he would advise Mr. Kellar to walk very carefully, as none of us wants to hear Santa Clarita spilled the milk, because as Yogi Berra put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Then, when it is over and our community has won, I will celebrate.