About Lee Barnathan

  • Member Since: February 11, 2016


Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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New Dem Enters Assembly Race

| News | 4 hours ago

A Democratic tech startup founder, actress and video game designer/developer has announced she is running for Assembly. A Saugus school district board member might soon join her.

Brandii Grace, 39, announced Nov. 5 on Facebook that she is running for the seat currently held by Christy Smith, who is running for Congress and has not resigned her seat. She wrote that she filed papers the day before. She joins Republicans Suzette Valladares and Lucie Volotzky in the race.

“This is me trying to step up and continue what Christy Smith is doing,” Grace said, alluding to her own behind-the-scenes political experience as a delegate in the state and local Democratic parties as well as her standing on the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council and her time working with the AFL-CIO to pass stronger federal-worker protections. She said she wants to emphasize education as Smith has, particularly for special-needs students.

Grace has no campaign website yet. She told the Gazette her priorities include improving air quality, ending medical price gouging, affordable housing and permanently shutting down the site of the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas leak. The leak, from an underground storage facility owned by the Southern California Gas Company, sent millions of tons of methane and ethane into the atmosphere.

On her LinkedIn page, Grace lists herself as: co-creator and co-founder of “Neil DeGrasse Tyson Presents: Space Odyssey,” a game designed for players to explore science and technology in the universe; a board chair of the Los Angeles chapter of the International Game Developers Association; and a consultant for Engaging Designs. She said she no longer is part of the “Space Odyssey” project.

She also has an Internet Movie Database page that lists her as an actress in two films, including the 2009 Robin Williams-starring “World’s Greatest Dad,” as well as two credits for being on video game crews. And she teaches at the New York Film Academy in Burbank.

Saugus board member David Barlavi called Grace “terrific,” “fantastic” and “a very strong Democrat, a little bit left of Katie Hill and Christy Smith.”

Barlavi also is considering a run, saying on Facebook on Nov. 4 that he’s “still only 97% sure” he’s going to run. On Sunday, he reiterated that percentage hadn’t changed and that he would make a final decision by the end of the month.

“It’s not an easy decision,” he said. “I’ve got to see who else jumps in and evaluate them. I don’t want to step on the feet of someone that’s better than me. I like to win but I don’t like competing against our own.”

That didn’t stop Barlavi from posting on Grace’s Facebook page, “How do you expect to overcome Coach Dave’s incredible handsomeness?”

Grace, who said she recognized Barlavi’s humor, responded with a wink emoji and this comment: “By being super well informed with great policy ideas and empowering an amazing community of people!”

Barlavi then posted a picture of Homer Simpson saying, “D’oh!”

The Plight of the Brights

| News | November 7, 2019

Like the main characters in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” or Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” David and Mel Bright find themselves in a confusing, absurd situation where answers are not forthcoming.

The Brights own Rio Groceries on Soledad Canyon Road, between Agua Dulce and Acton. They have run afoul of the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning’s zoning division. Specifically, the county has them in violation for selling alcohol without a conditional use permit (CUP). The Brights maintain the county delayed the need for it and then failed to explain what has to be done to secure it.

“I don’t get it,” said David, 63. “I just don’t get it.”
Late Wednesday, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office reached out and explained: The Brights need only complete and submit the application they never finished and pay $1,100 and attend a hearing in which the department would decide to grant the CUP or not.

“All the county needs to see is some sign that he is showing progress toward compliance,” said Edel Vizcarra, Barger’s deputy in charge of planning and public works.

Back in 2010, the Brights applied to renew their permit. They submitted their application and $10,000 as instructed. But they were told to wait because Santa Clarita was finalizing its new General Plan, commonly known as “One Valley, One Vision,” a joint effort between the county and the city of Santa Clarita that would create a single plan within the county and city’s jurisdictions for growth and preservation of natural resources. That included various areas being zoned certain ways. The plan was adopted in 2011.

According to Bright, the county “graciously” re-zoned the store into its own commercial zone (it originally was a resort-recreation zone because it served the various nearby campsites going back to 1965) in return for waiting for “One Valley, One Vision” to be completed.

The Brights waited for the county to contact them, which took three years. Once they were contacted, they were told that their permit had expired and they were operating without one. “Well, you guys told me to wait,” Bright said he told them. “It’s nothing but a bureaucratic paper mess.”

Bright said the county’s zoning officer told him to resubmit a floor plan to indicate the amount of commercial space in which alcohol would be sold. He said the total was less than 900 square feet.

Some time later, a second zoning officer came to the store, verified the floor space and told the Brights they had to attend a hearing, fill out a land-use application and pay $500. Bright asked what the land-use application was and was told, “It’s not my department.”

He also told the officer he couldn’t attend any hearing because he had undergone eye surgery. He said the zoning officer “got pissed off” and started an investigation into the store’s lack of CUP, which had expired in 2011.

“She threatened to take my alcohol license away,” Bright said. The license to sell alcohol, granted by the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, had not been cited in the entire 19 years the Brights have been licensed to sell alcohol, he added. However, Vizcarra said, the county also must sign off on a business in its jurisdiction selling alcohol.

Then the Brights got a notice of violation, from Regional Planner Thomas Dearborn, warning them that continuing to sell alcohol without the proper CUP could lead to jail time, and that they owed a non-compliance fee of $798 and $2,793 for “collection of further administrative and collection fees.”

The Brights have not paid those fees. They were told if they did not comply with the zoning ordinance by Oct. 20, they would face more fines. They did nothing, and the county has not come after them.

But their frustration levels have grown.

“All they have to do is approve it (original application) and we’re done,” Bright said. “I don’t know why they keep dragging this out.” Bright suspects the county wants him to start over, but he already paid $10,000.

“Nothing’s changed,” he said. “Why do you keep trying to start over from scratch? You have my money. Why don’t you sign me off? What’s the land-use stuff? Why are you trying to sneak it in?”

Tony Bell, Barger’s spokesman, told the Gazette the goal is to get the Brights into compliance. He also was interested in what happened to the $10,000 the Brights paid the county in 2010. “We still have the record for that,” Mel Bright, said, and Bell said late Wednesday that he found the payment.

For now, the situation remains unresolved, but Vizcarra has spelled out a roadmap. The $1,100 is for the county sending out notice of a hearing to nearby businesses, he said, and to hold the actual hearing.

“It’s just frustrating, the business with L.A. County,” Mel Bright said. “We’re already tired. We’ve had the store for 19 years. Never had a problem, never had a violation. Nothing.”

An Update on the Laemmle Theatre

| News | November 7, 2019

The seven-screen Laemmle Theatre is set to open sometime in the first quarter of 2020, only about three months later than the city originally planned, officials said.

According to Economic Development Manager Jason Crawford, construction continues at the corner of Railroad and Lyons avenues in Old Town Newhall. Concrete for the floors has been poured in the last couple of weeks, Crawford said, and the sides of the building are expected to be in place by the end of the month.

The project continues despite the news from three months ago that the entire Laemmle chain might be up for sale. “There has been no confirmation or denial in our conversations with the Laemmle people,” Crawford said. “It’s full speed ahead.”

Mayor Marsha McLean said she spoke to City Manager Ken Striplin, who told her Laemmle is in “ongoing negotiations” with “an upscale theater chain.” Laemmle can’t sell the property without the city’s consent, McLean added.

On February 9, 2016, the city council approved $3,420,525 in financial assistance to help Laemmle bring a multi-screen theater to the area. Laemmle owner Greg Laemmle told the Gazette back then that the project would not move forward without it.

Many people praised the project, saying they looked forward to the high-quality art-house films Laemmle is known to screen, and it would increase the likelihood they would spend time dining in and visiting a revitalized Old Town Newhall.

But not everybody was on board. Then-councilmember TimBen Boydston thought the money could be better used elsewhere, and Josh Heath wrote in the Gazette, “How will a local Laemmle Theater end up differently than the many art-house cinemas across the country currently struggling to keep up attendance?”

One example came from Claremont, home to the Claremont 5 Laemmle, located near the Claremont Colleges. A recent article in the school paper, The Student Life, quoted Eddie Gonzalez, a 2004 graduate: “But between 2007 and now, streaming has obviously become a thing. It’s devices over cinema. Kids just don’t go.”

A big bone of contention was the millions the city gave Laemmle. But Crawford pointed out that Laemmle doesn’t pocket all that money. The city paid for the land, valued at $440,525, and $400,000 in development fees. It also reimbursed Laemmle $600,000 in site-preparation costs.

However, $1,980,000 will go directly into Laemmle’s coffers once the theater opens, but with that comes an operating covenant that guarantees that Laemmle will operate there for 15 years. Six screens are required to be opened for the first six years. In year seven, the chain could reduce to four screens and convert the rest to retail or office space.

Laemmle would have to repay the city a portion of that money for each year it doesn’t operate under the covenant’s terms. Closing in the first year would get the city back almost all of the $1.98 million; it becomes less with each passing year.

“It will continue to be an art-house theater,” McLean said. “We are looking forward to having an art-house theater. That’s what Laemmle promised, and that’s what we’re going to get.”

Katie Hill’s Open Seat Up for Grabs

| News | October 31, 2019

Just because Steve Knight might enter the race for Congress in the wake of Katie Hill’s resignation doesn’t guarantee he will win, or even automatically advance out of the primary. So says a group of local residents, mostly veterans, who insist they will continue to support Mike Garcia.

“I’ve communicated with Steve Knight on Facebook. Love you, guy, but this is unacceptable,” Bill Reynolds, a local Vietnam veteran, said. “All of my veteran pals are going to stick with Mike.”

Even Knight, who appeared on Monday ready to jump in, took a step back.

“We’re looking at the whole thing,” Knight said on KHTS. “We want to take back the seat. If that means me jumping into the race, then that’s what we’ll do, and if not, that’s OK.”

The news that Hill will resign her seat has created a ripple effect that Trish Lester, president of Santa Clarita Republican Women Federated, called “some musical chairs going on.”

Not only has Knight considered a run, Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita), who told the Gazette last month she considered running for Congress but decided she could get more done in Sacramento than Washington, announced she is also running for Hill’s seat, pleasing some Hill supporters.

Stacy Fortner, a Democratic activist, said on Facebook she’s doing “the Christy dance” with the hash tag “if you know, you know.” And podcaster Stephen Daniels said he doesn’t know a Democrat who knows policy better than Smith.

For their parts, Garcia and Angela Underwood-Jacobs said they would not leave the race even if Knight enters it. Both said they would challenge for the seat in the special election that is required to fill the seat for the rest of Hill’s term, as well as the regular primary in March (a third candidate, Mark Cripe, didn’t return numerous phone calls).

A Smith campaign spokesman also said she would run in both and maintain her Assembly seat “until she is elected to Congress.”

Then late Tuesday, former Trump aide George Papadopoulos, who was sentenced to 14 days in jail and served 12 for his role in the Russia probe, filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission.

A source said Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who was considering a run, is staying out.

According to the Constitution, House seats can only be filled by election. Once Hill leaves office – and as of press time, this date has not been announced – state law says Gov. Gavin Newsom has 14 days to call for a special election to take place on a Tuesday between 126 and 140 days after he calls for it. If Hill leaves Friday, as many believe she will, the earliest date would be March 10. The regular primary remains scheduled for March 3.

Smith’s exiting the Assembly race has left Republican challengers Suzette Valladares feeling eager and Lucie Volotzky feeling giddy.

Valladares said in a statement that she’s willing to debate the issues with anyone. “While I was looking forward to the debate of ideas against Christy Smith, I’m ready to stand up for the people of this district and challenge anyone that the Sacramento political class recruits to fill her seat,” she said.

Volotzky called Smith’s departure “a big plus.” She added, “People will pay more attention to the newcomers and what we stand for.”

Garcia, is also a newcomer, this being his first race. And he’s not going away. “I’ve been in this race since the beginning regardless of who else is running and will continue to do so,” Garcia said in a statement he texted to the Gazette. “Steve Knight served our country honorably, and he has previously earned my vote. He’s a good man, but we need a fresh voice to shake up Washington.”

Many Republicans contacted by the Gazette, some of whom live outside the area but within the 25th district, expressed similar themes: They admire and respect Knight but believe it is Garcia’s time. Many pointed to Knight’s showing in the last election, in which Hill defeated him by nine points.

“Of course, Steve Knight should not get in the race,”

Palmdale resident and veteran John Smith said. “Steve Knight doesn’t have the fire. If Katie Hill can beat him, anyone can.”

Former Congressman and Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly, who once represented the area before redistricting, thinks everyone should “execute their constitutional rights and vote.” But as for him, “I worked hard for Steve Knight and got him elected. I’m supporting Mike Garcia.”

Saugus Realtor Steve Petzold said he’s looking for a candidate in the mold of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) who would support the president, and believes that is Garcia. “Steve Knight was more reluctant to support Trump doing the Russia investigation,” Petzold said. “Papadopoulos is more of a carpetbagger.”

Lester expressed concern that too many Republican candidates could fracture the community as she saw happen when Knight ran against Tony Strickland in 2014. “To have two, three, four strong candidates, I don’t think it does anybody any favors,” Lester said. “It’s going to get uglier, and it makes me sad.”

Alan Ferdman, head of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, summed it up this way: “Both parties are going to do the same thing: Select the person they consider the most electable and pressure everyone else not to run.”

Local Woman Joins Newsom Recall Movement

| News | October 31, 2019

In the spring, Teresa Guzman, 51, became so fed up with Governor Gavin Newsom that her blood pressure started to rise. Her husband suggested she do something about it, so she typed “Gavin Newsom recall” into her internet browser.

Now, the Stevenson Ranch resident is fully committed to removing Newsom from office, much like Gray Davis was recalled in 2003.

“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” she said. “My mailbox is packed. My email, too. My text messages.”

Guzman has joined the recall movement started by author and former U.S. Senate candidate Erin Cruz, who unsuccessfully challenged Dianne Feinstein in 2018. A second recall movement, headed by La Jolla physician James Veltmeyer, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2016 and 2018, also has been approved for circulation.

For either effort to trigger a recall election, supporters have 160 days from the date the secretary of state approves circulating the petition to collect 1,495,709 signatures, or 12 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Cruz’s movement has until February 13th; Veltmeyer’s has until March 5. Guzman pointed out online signatures are not accepted.


Guzman said she wants Newsom out now because she opposes the governor’s redirecting monies collected from the gas tax into rail projects. The Sacramento Bee reported earlier this month that Newsom signed an executive order in September ordering Caltrans to hold $61.3 million in reserve to “reduce congestion through innovative strategies designed to encourage people to shift from cars to other modes of transportation.”

Guzman said her job keeps her on the road a great deal of time, and she can’t always tell if she’s in the proper lane because so many places need paving and marking. She named Interstate 5 southbound approaching the 14 Freeway as an example she encounters daily. Meanwhile, she said, the roads in Topanga Canyon, near Mulholland Drive, have been entirely repaved and it’s “absolutely gorgeous.”

Another issue Guzman has with Newsom is his commitment to California being a sanctuary state. At his inaugural in January, Newsom promised “sanctuary to all who seek it.” The American-born, Republican-registered Guzman, the youngest of nine children who married a Mexican-born native with dual citizenship, doesn’t think people in this country illegally should receive the same treatment as American citizens.

“His inclusive ideology, that bothers me,” she said. “We’re supposed to be open for Americans, not illegal aliens. I haven’t heard him say one thing that benefits the American people. The Democratic Party has blurred the vision of what we started this country about.”

Political Community Reacts to Katie Hill Controversy

| News | October 23, 2019

Mostly silence from the Democrats. Outrage and concern from the Republicans.

Such was the local reaction to the stories of Rep. Katie Hill’s relationships with a campaign staffer and, allegedly, a congressional staffer.

The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday said it would investigate Rep. Katie Hill over her having a sexual relationship with a congressional staff member.

“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Katie Hill may have engaged in a sexual relationship with an individual on her congressional staff, in violation of House Rule XXIII, clause 18 (a),” the committee statement said.

In a statement Hill (D-Santa Clarita) sent to constituents, Hill denied she slept with a congressional staffer, which the conservative media outlet RedState identified as former finance director/current Legislative Director Graham Kelly.

But Hill acknowledged she was involved “in a relationship with someone on my campaign. I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment. For that I apologize. I wish nothing but the best for her and hope everyone respects her privacy in this difficult time.”

She added that she would fully cooperate with the ethics committee and would not further comment until the investigation is complete.

Before the committee’s announcement, local Democrats were mostly silent, while local Republicans expressed outrage, concern and careful analysis.

RedState first broke the news last week. Hill is in the midst of a divorce from her husband, Kenny Heslep, who had known and apparently sanctioned the relationship with the female campaign staffer (RedState didn’t name her but said it was a three-way relationship). Heslep filed for divorce after he came to believe Hill was also allegedly sleeping with Kelly, RedState reported.

The House passed a resolution in February 2018 prohibiting sexual relationships between lawmakers and their employees, which include congressional staffers. The rules say nothing about relationships with campaign staffers.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a 2020 presidential candidate, sponsored a bill in December that President Trump eventually signed that mirrored many of the points in the House resolution, including an automatic referral to the chamber’s ethics committee once a complaint has been lodged.

Hill on Tuesday denied to various national media outlets that she slept with Kelly, and that the relationship with the campaign staffer was inappropriate.

“The fact is I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me,” Hill said in the statement. “I am disgusted that my opponents would seek to exploit such a private matter for political gain. This coordinated effort to try to destroy me and people close to me is despicable and will not succeed. I, like many women who have faced attacks like this before, am stronger than those who want me to be afraid.”
Politico reported that sources close to Hill and Democratic leadership aides dismissed the RedState report as coming from GOP operatives in California seeking to hurt the freshman lawmaker politically.

Of the 20 liberals and Democrats contacted for this story, three went on record. Diane Trautman, a former City Council candidate who attended Hill’s election-night party in November, first expressed shock and then skepticism, but also hoped that “we can get to the bottom of this for the benefit of anyone that feels wronged, and we can know the truth. I want to know the truth before I condemn anybody.”

She also asserted, “Anyone who sleeps with a staffer, it’s inappropriate, absolutely.”

Local podcaster Stephen Daniels, host of “Talk of Santa Clarita,” said he’s frustrated that the RedState articles combine the issues of Hill’s impending divorce from an alleged relationship with a congressional staffer into one story that confuses people.

“There’s no evidence of their relationship that would be a violation of ethics, except for a bitter ex-husband and some texts,” Daniels said. “Katie has denied it. I take her at her word unless something else comes out.”

Saugus school district board member David Barlavi texted that he wouldn’t comment until after Hill does. Once Hill issued her denial, Barlavi said, “I fully support Katie’s comments in the Politico article.”

None of the other 17 on the left commented. Only five answered their phones. The other side of the aisle, however, had no trouble commenting.

All three Republican congressional candidates weighed in. Angela Underwood-Jacobs said Hill’s behavior crossed an ethical boundary and called on her to resign now. “Why should Katie Hill be held to a different standard than anyone in the House?” she said.

Mark Cripe expressed sadness that the story broke the way it did and that he was only concerned with the ethics.” You represent the people, and you’re asked to be put in a spotlight,” Cripe said. “You represent a wide range of people that come from all walks of life. There’s a level of professionalism you’ve got to stick to.”

Cripe said he expected an ethics investigation, so to call for it seemed redundant to him. “She’s going to have to account for her decisions, and ultimately, the voters are going to decide,” he said.

Mike Garcia texted to say the allegations are “very serious and concerning. We should hold our representatives and elected officials to the highest standard. We expect them to conduct themselves with the utmost integrity and respect for the office and their constituents.”

Garcia also called for an investigation and texted, “The fact that our own representative is even subject to questions of inappropriate behavior while in office is concerning for our district. We expect and deserve better.”

Knight, whom Hill defeated in November, suggested there should be an ethics investigation if it’s proven Hill slept with a staffer. Even if it’s consensual, it poses a perception problem, he said.

“A sexual relationship changes how you deal with these people,” Knight said, adding he didn’t know of this happening with anyone he hung out with in Washington. “It starts to make the whole staff and the whole office uncomfortable.”

Trish Lester, president of the Santa Clarita Republican Women Federated, said paying a staffer you’re sleeping with “looks really bad” and that Hill should be punished if an investigation proves she committed ethics violations.

Bill Reynolds, a noted Hill critic, likened Hill’s situation to that of former President Bill Clinton.

“This is akin to Bubba Clinton having sex with Monica Lewinsky,” Reynolds said. “Here, you have a person in power with a staffer.”

Reynolds, talk-show host Joe Messina and CPA/Libertarian Matt Denny expressed concern that Hill could be subjected to blackmail, as there are photos of Hill with the female staffer. Hill currently serves on the Armed Services Committee, which affords her access to sensitive, secretive and national-security-related information and documents.

Denny wondered if this could cause Hill to lose her clearance, which would possibly hurt her aerospace-industry constituents. Reynolds said she should lose her clearance and her committee seat.

And Messina wrote on his The Real Side website, “With her lack of regard for rules and respect for the position she holds and her inability to really secure her information, can we really trust her to keep America safe?”

Eric Early Attempting to Unseat Adam Schiff

| News | October 17, 2019

Saying Rep. Adam Schiff has lied, abused his power and led a witch hunt against the president, Eric Early has announced he’s running for Schiff’s seat.

Early, who often speaks to conservative groups in Santa Clarita, previously ran for state Attorney General and then tried to have the AG removed from the ballot. He was unsuccessful on both, and he recognizes the long odds he has to unseat Schiff (D-Burbank), who has served in Congress since 2001, won his last election with 78 percent of the vote, currently chairs the House Intelligence Committee and is one of the leaders of the impeachment inquiry.

Just don’t call Early’s campaign quixotic.

“That’s your interpretation,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of U.S. Senators who have major power. Nobody gave them a chance in hell. We have a president nobody gave a chance in hell. It’s not quixotic. We’re beyond the word quixotic.”

He does have the backing from the county and state Republican parties as well as former county supervisor Mike Antonovich. And since the top two vote getters from the March primary advance to the November general election, Early likes his chances. Beside Schiff, Independent Jennifer Barbosa, Republican Jon Hollis and Democrat Maebe A. Girl are running.

Early continued, “I don’t want a Congressman who has totally politicized his office and the intelligence committee and turned it into an arm of the Democratic Party. I don’t want a Congressman who cares nothing about our district, who has totally turned his office into a machine just to stay in political power and to try and increase his standing among those for whom he’s carrying water. This guy needs to be removed from office, and the way you remove people from office in our society, short of pretext and made-up things that Schiff is all about, is you vote them out of office. I want him out of office. I want him out of government. I think he’s a danger to our country in many respects. I want him out of office.”

Early said Schiff has done nothing to help the district’s constituents. He said homelessness has increased and nothing is being done to address the mental-illness component.

“Mr. Schiff has ignored it completely,” he said.

Early said Schiff has done nothing to help Californians receive benefits under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, even though Schiff voted against the bill.

“Fighting for a district to continue to allow tax increases that affect our constituents is not fighting for the district,” Early said. “I don’t want our constituents to pay more and more taxes. I’ll do everything I can to help lower the tax burden on our constituents.”

Early said there are infrastructure and immigration problems that must be solved, and Schiff is doing nothing to help.

“We have a guy now, Mr. Schiff, who has never done anything on any of those issues for the constituents. You look at his record and it’s appalling. He’s Exhibit A of a professional politician who gets in and his biggest concerns are doing what it takes to stay in power, to stay in political office and to increase his political standing among those in his party,” Early said. “The moderate Democrats and certainly many of the independents, the do-not-state votes, they want to see a Congressperson helping them in their district, and they don’t want to see somebody in Congress who has been doing what Adam Schiff has done for the last three years, which is fabricate stories to get personal attention for himself and try and destroy a duly elected president.”

Steve Knight Life After Politics

| News | October 17, 2019

On one hand, Steve Knight said he misses being in Congress. But there are aspects of the job he definitely doesn’t miss.

“My first year, I got asked what was the toughest part of working in (Washington) D.C. It’s the travel,” Knight said this week in one of his first interviews since Katie Hill unseated him in November. “It really is the toughest part.”

He added that his blood pressure’s down, his back doesn’t hurt and his schedule is his. But his desire to serve might not have been completely extinguished. Although he ruled out running for office in 2020, he said beyond that, “Life is very fluid.”

In the meantime, he has started Knight Consulting, in which he helps companies and organizations navigate the halls of state and local government.

He didn’t specify what companies, organizations or industries except to say he would like to work in aerospace. He did say that his clients are mostly from the contacts he has made over the last 10 years.

“It’s got a lot of plusses,” he said. “I work with people I’ve worked with. I set my own schedule. I don’t travel unless I want to. I go to Sacramento about once a month.”

And yet, Knight said there are times he wishes he had won re-election because he witnessed a major change in government: the rise of social media.

As he sees it, social media has created more divisiveness and has made it harder for the two parties to work together to get anything done. An elected official can look at hundreds or thousands of comments; Knight said Abraham Lincoln had to answer to just his cabinet.

He also thinks the amount President Trump uses social media is the new normal.

“President Obama started it. President Trump took it to the next level,” he said. He believes the next president will have to build on that in his or her own way.

And while Knight did not point to any one reason why Hill defeated him, he alluded to social media as a contributing factor.

“Social media hurt me because I wasn’t good at it,” he said. “Much of my work is person-to-person. I average about 10 emails a week, and those are catch-ups and follow-ups. … I was a cop, and cop work is face to face, and I really like that.”

Even now, his consulting firm is not online.

Meanwhile, Hill ran what she called the “most millennial campaign ever,” and she still tweets most days.

Naturally, Knight’s loss hurt, he said. “I was one of the few who thought I was doing a good job,” he said. The first couple of months saw him shocked, sad and unsure just what to do next.

“Soon after, you figure out this is America. I need to make money,” he said. “Let’s get going.”

It was his wife that suggested consulting as a way to play to his strengths of helping people solve problems. It was something he couldn’t do in government because bureaucracy moves so slowly.

But as a one-man operation working out of his Palmdale home, Knight admits he has as many clients as he can handle. But since he wants more, he knows he has to bring in a partner and then someone to run an office.

He is looking at office space in Lancaster, five miles from his home. It’s a far cry from the 2,668 miles to Washington.

“I don’t sit on an airplane 11 hours a week,” he said.

Vaping Controversy – Smoke Screen?

| News | October 17, 2019

The recent news regarding lung problems and death from vaping has several store owners annoyed because, they claim, one important piece of information either goes unreported or is overlooked.

Most of the lung problems can be traced to marijuana, specifically the psychoactive ingredient THC.

“It’s fear mongering,” said Fred Deen, owner of Smoke Depot & Vapor Lounge in Valencia. “Media’s just making people afraid. Our politicians just want to do something that looks good on TV. They’re just banning everything. Why don’t you just ban vaping THC, man? Why are you jumping on the vaping nicotine that isn’t hurting anyone? Of course it is stupid. Of course we are against it, but what can you do?”

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that much of the lung illnesses linked to vaping products are from THC cartridges purchased illegally. NBC News had a similar report two weeks ago that said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking into THC laced with Vitamin E acetate, a solvent used to help cannabis work in vape pens, as a primary cause.

Vaping, two store owners said, is not killing people but is a method to stop smoking.

“It’s made for cigarette smokers that don’t want to smoke anymore and wean themselves off nicotine,” said one owner who refused to be identified for fear of economic and possible physical reprisals. He said his stores carry cartridges of varying amounts of nicotine, the idea being one uses decreasing amounts until they’re weaned entirely.

Many of his estimated 250 clients are on the program using vaping to reduce nicotine, with varying degrees of success. He, for one, was a smoker but has seen his energy levels in the gym increase since switching to vaping; although he also admits he hasn’t seen a doctor.

“Hundreds of them switched, and then they stopped smoking,” he said. “They all want to quit smoking. Some do, some don’t.”

He said education is critical, and he and Deen quoted and referred to several studies and articles that demonstrate how much safer – though not completely safe – vaping is.

According to the Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, vaping is using an electronic cigarette (or e-cigarette) to simulate smoking but without burning tobacco. The tool is a handheld battery-powered vaporizer; hence, the name “vaping.”

The user has an inhaler with a heating element that synthesizes a liquid solution made of several ingredients including nicotine but not tobacco. What is expelled is water vapor, not smoke.

The benefits and risks are uncertain because no long-term studies have been done, but the store owners know this: Smoking anything is harmful, but Public Health England, an agency of the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care, said vaping is 95-percent less harmful than cigarette smoking.

PHE also found that between 65 and 68 percent of smokers who tried quitting via vaping succeeded. The New York Times reported that two UK hospitals have allowed an e-cigarette company to open vape shops on their premises.

The store owners also know minors are drawn to vaping products, especially the flavored ones, and they said they refuse to sell to them. Deen said he knows the industry is willing to have technology implemented that would prevent anyone under age 21 from entering a store.

“I understand it’s bad, whether for kids or adults. They shouldn’t be doing it. I’m 100-percent sure kids should not be using it,” the unnamed store owner said. “I know for sure it’s way better than regular cigarettes.”

Added Deen: “It’s like you found bad lettuce in the sandwich and you’re banning the sandwich. This is like a nightmare.”

Lucie Volotzky Runs for Assembly

| News | October 10, 2019

Saying she doesn’t like what she sees in Sacramento, and needs to be a voice for those not represented, businesswoman and former model Lucie Volotzky announced recently she’s running for Assembly.

Volotzky, 64, is the owner of two Blissful Sleep mattress stores in the San Fernando Valley. She is a Republican originally from Montreal but naturalized in the 1980s. She modeled in Canada and most recently competed in the 2011 Ms. Exoti-Lady pageant representing her native country. She bemoans what she sees as too much partisan division and wants to run what she calls “a different type of campaign.”

“I’m running to bring facts and say ‘enough is enough’ to what the government does to us,” she said in a thick French-Canadian accent. “They pass laws (and) they don’t think what will affect the other side. That’s the problem. They have no balance.”

As Volotzky sees it, California is in a sad state. She sees freedom of speech eroding and too much anger on both sides. “You need three things: head, heart and soul,” she said. “A soul to believe, a heart to give and a head to do the right choice.”

Among her platform points, which she provided, are quoted below:

Less taxes, “enabling families and Millennials to have more time to enjoy what they can spend from wages earned.”
Less regulation, “which strangle small business owners and limit hiring more employees.” This includes decreasing the number of forms needed to start and grow a business.
Safe neighborhoods.
Faith-based or charitable solutions to opiate and opioid addiction.

She said a representative should be the method to improve the quality of life in the district, not protect a political agenda. “I feel I’m more of a messenger to opening doors,” she said.

Volotzky is the second Republican to challenge incumbent Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita), joining Suzette Valladares, who dropped out of the 25th congressional district race to challenge Smith.

Christy Smith Looks Back on Her First Year

| News | October 3, 2019

Local leaders often complain that Sacramento makes it difficult for local governments to get things done. After spending one year in the Assembly, Christy Smith sees their point.

“I think there’s nothing more valuable than service at a local level to understand what that means and how decisions that are made in Sacramento impact communities and city municipal governments to do their job,” she said. “I made a point to consistently remind myself of that.”

Smith (D-Santa Clarita) completed half of her first term last month. She secured more than $1.5 million in funding for 38th District projects, including $450,000 for the senior center to complete its capital campaign, $700,000 for Simi Valley’s free health clinic and $397,000 to modernize College of the Canyons’ Boykin Hall.

She authored 14 bills, 12 of which either became law or are on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk awaiting his signature.

“The upper limit of what a member of our house can introduce is 50 bills, which I find too much,” she said, “and so I wanted to focus on quality and impact over quantity, and so I’m happy with this quantity.”

Smith said she maintained her legislative focus “on the issues I campaigned on, which is good governance and government transparency.” Several bills dealt with education.

She created the Golden State Scholarshare College Savings Trust, which provides financial aid for post-secondary students. She wrote legislation that benefits COC nursing-school faculty, expands dual enrollment for high school kids who might want to take advantage of community college course work, helps low-income students pay for Advanced Placement tests, and requires high schools to conspicuously post in bathrooms and locker rooms written policies on sexual harassment and how to report charges, in addition to posting in the already-required main administration building.

She also wrote a new law that allows unclaimed property to be directly returned to the municipalities that might have monies in the state controller’s office. And she honored her late mother by co-authoring a Senate bill that set more ideal nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in hospitals (Smith’s mother was a critical-care nurse and also worked in transitional care, she said).

Along the way, she enjoyed many memorable moments, starting with the swearing-in.

“I kept it together and kept it together, but because this has literally been my life’s goal and my life’s dream, to be in elected office at the legislative level, we got off the floor after swearing in and I was being interviewed on camera and started I started to tear up a little bit,” she said. “The significance of the moment hit me.”

She met with constituents – registered Democrats and Republicans alike, and at least on one occasion wrote legislation because of it. Assembly Bill 1507, which requires a charter school to be located within the jurisdiction or geographic boundaries of the chartering district, is an example, she said.

“That’s one of the unique privileges and responsibilities of serving a district like this is we have this nearly equal balance between conservative perspectives, liberal perspectives, and a large portion that is the most quickly growing segment of our voters is no party preference,” she said. “All three of those groups combined want to see effective government. My ability to connect across whatever the political divide is and really get to the heart of what an individual constituent’s issue is and how the government might be able to serve them better is really what the work is about, regardless of political party.”

Smith said she wants to introduce a similar number of bills in the second half of her term. Included in her package are bills that would set credentials for someone to be called a “special education advocate,” that would help regulate the costs to clear a teaching credential, that would help make the recycling industry attractive to entrepreneurs, and that would help make housing affordable. The Assembly reconvenes in January.

“We’ve got a lot of young professional people,” she said. “We’ve got teachers and firefighters and law enforcement officers, all of whom find themselves priced out of the housing market and these are individuals who should be able to buy an entry-level home, and so we need an all-of-the-above strategy where we’re looking at below-market housing solutions to meet that homelessness crisis but also making sure we’re building enough supply so that hard working people can afford housing, can have that American Dream, can contribute to financial and future security by purchasing a home.”

Joe Messina – Flew Above the Clouds

| Community | October 3, 2019

Joe Messina wears, or has worn, many hats: talk-show host, CNN commentator, helicopter pilot, William S. Hart Union High School District trustee, prayer breakfast coordinator – wait a minute…helicopter pilot?

It’s true. For a period in the late 1980s-early 1990s, Messina flew and filed traffic reports, helped prevent crops from freezing, took tourists, celebrities and rich people around and helped prospective pilots log enough hours.

And it started, he said, because “I was stubborn and stupid.”
In 1989, he was living in Sunland and working as an electrical contractor (yet another life he led!) at Van Nuys Airport when he took a test ride – and threw up all over.

While many people would take that as a sign that helicopters weren’t for them, Messina decided, “I’m going to beat this thing. I’ll take lessons and know I can do it. End of discussion.”

So, he set about getting his pilot’s licenses, first the private one and then the commercial one because the commercial one allowed him to make money; at the time, he had a wife and four kids.

It was the process of obtaining his commercial license that provided challenges. There were medical requirements, and Messina had a difficult time meeting the vision ones. He was born almost totally blind in one eye, and his vision tested at 20/600 when he needed it to be 20/40 without glasses and 20/20 with glasses. His other eye tested at 20/100.

“So then I went and did something stupid,” he said.

That was a procedure called radial keratotomy, which surgically corrected vision (it has since been replaced by other procedures such as LASIK). At the time, it required incisions via scalpel, and Messina said he had to visit the doctor several times before the doctor consented to do the surgery. He put only his right eye under the knife.

Also at the time, the Federal Aviation Administration did not accept the procedure, giving it a reason to deny Messina a commercial license – if it found out.

“Let’s say I stretched the truth on the application,” he said. “I left that off.”

Applications took several weeks to process, so Messina set about logging the required hours to become insurable. He volunteered to fly above the treetops in Ojai to help circulate heat pods around the fruit trees to prevent freezing, and he volunteered to fly camera parts and other equipment for studios. He also took and passed physical, written and flying tests, and joined the appropriate union.

It appeared he was home free, but then he received a letter from the FAA informing him that his license was suspended because he hadn’t mentioned his vision issues. His union appealed, and if Messina could pass a medical flying test, called a “check ride,” he would have his license reinstated. As luck would have it, the test administrator also was blind in one eye, the result of an accident.
After five minutes, the tester concluded Messina flew better than he did. Messina got his license. “It’s permanent. They can’t take it away from you,” he said. The belief was that a commercial pilot could make good money; the truth was vastly different. Messina found he had to take any job he could.

Many of those were doing traffic reports for local radio and TV stations. He flew KTLA-TV reporter Stan Chambers around for three days when the Sepulveda Basin flooded in 1992. He got a job with a La Verne-based traffic watch company in which he was up in the sky during morning and afternoon commutes.

Joe (left) with two passengers

He did traffic reports for various stations, using a different name with each one. He was “Major Mike Hardaway” on KAVL-AM in Lancaster, “Commander Gene Bryant” on a Simi Valley station, “Chopper Chip Erickson” somewhere else, and Joe Messina on Money Radio AM-1200.

“For KAVL, I had to land there once a week so people would believe it was (the station’s) helicopter,” he said. He had a sign he would put in a window to indicate the station.

Traffic watch wasn’t lucrative. Messina said he made $25 an hour if he flew, $10 an hour if he was on standby. To supplement, he would take weekend jobs, making between $200 and $400.

When environmental artist Christo did his “Umbrellas” project in 1991, Messina flew people to see the 1,760 yellow umbrellas that had been put up in Tejon Ranch. And he flew Japanese pilots on pre-check rides, which were required before they got their licenses.

He flew a rich man’s son to Santa Barbara and waited while he entertained whichever woman he was with. He flew on documentary shoots for the BBC, and he flew the helicopter that appeared in Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” video. “I had no clue who that guy was,” he said of Cube.

He also did what he called “romance rides,” in which he would fly couples from one of the Downtown Los Angeles skyscrapers out over the ocean and back.

After a couple of years, he was done, the victim of burnout. He went back to electrical work for a short time before getting into computer work, which he said “carried my family for years.”

“You’re always thinking, where do I pick up another job, how do I get another gig, can I get another weekend shift,” he said, “and it just didn’t work out well.”

COC ADA Meeting Set

| News | September 26, 2019

The College of the Canyons meeting to update its ADA Transition Plan has been scheduled, two board of trustees members said.

Joan MacGregor and Edel Alonso said the meeting would take place Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. in Canyons Hall, room 201. It was originally announced in May that it would be held in August.

This would be the second such update. The first, Feb. 21, 2018, included reports and presentations from college attorneys, consultants, architects and administrators. Spokesman Eric Harnish previously said it would not be part of a regularly scheduled board meeting but that all involved parties were working to find a mutually agreeable time.

The plan, the result of a settlement from a lawsuit a former disabled student filed in 2013, requires the school to fix the more than 6,000 examples of noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Harnish previously emailed to say the school is, at the end of this month, scheduled to finish Phase 1, which focuses on replacing doors, door hardware, including seals, hinges, handles, and frames; and installing automatic openers on doors that could not otherwise be retrofitted.

Planning for Phase 2, which started earlier this year and addresses access and paths of travel, including parking lots and walkways, is nearly complete, Harnish said. The plans will be submitted to the Department of the State Architect before the end of the year, and construction will begin following approval, which Harnish said previously has taken 20 months, meaning construction couldn’t begin until May 2021. The DSA is one of the agencies in charge of overseeing ADA compliance.

Planning for a third phase, which will address bathrooms and disabled seating in public areas, will commence after DSA approves Phase 2, Harnish said.

Hart District Superintendent Selection Controversy

| News | September 26, 2019

Despite concerns from community and media members over how the William S. Hart Union High School District picked its superintendent-elect, the current superintendent said the process was correct, proper and within the law – even though a Brown Act expert says differently.

“I think the board behaved in an appropriate and very wise manner,” Vicki Engbrecht said Tuesday during a 44-minute interview, “and took a lot of time to make the selection of Mr. (Mike) Kuhlman as superintendent-elect. … I take it as a suggestion that the community may have found value in having opportunities for more participation in the selection, but I disagree that the board did anything wrong.”

Terry Francke, chief counsel of the Sacramento-area nonprofit Californians Aware, said it is a violation to discuss policy in closed session, and it appears the district did that when figuring out the criteria for choosing its next superintendent.

According to the July 17 agenda, the board, in closed session, discussed such criteria. Engbrecht said on Tuesday that this included: somebody inside the district with a distinguished district record who is committed to the community.

While other agenda items include notes of what was said in open session, this one does not, although Engbrecht said it wasn’t required. Throughout the process, every item that needed to be reported during open session was, she said.

Francke said, “Policy discussions are strictly for open session” and doing it in closed session violates the Brown Act, which governs meetings conducted by local legislative bodies and presumes public access unless specifically exempted.

Since the Brown Act was passed in 1953, it is incredibly rare to be successfully prosecuted for violating it, but earlier this month, a judge ruled the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors violated the Act by conducting a secret serial meeting in December to narrow a field of 48 applicants to 10 finalists for the vacant Third District seat. Community activist Steve Petzold said he sees similarities to Hart.

Individuals may bring one of three lawsuits to enforce it, one of which is to void a past action. The first step is to send a “cure and correct” letter, which is what Petzold has done. His letter alleges a Brown Act violation because part of an agenda item for the closed-session portion said, “Discussion of criteria to be utilized for selection of superintendent candidates” without anyone reporting in open session what was decided. Although he said he isn’t against Kuhlman becoming superintendent, he wants this appointment vacated and a more visible process implemented with public comment.

Kuhlman, the deputy superintendent, was unanimously approved during the Aug. 21 board meeting. His name was not mentioned on the agenda, which read, “Board to consider appointment of new superintendent, assignment effective upon Mrs. Engbrecht’s retirement (on or before June 30, 2020).” That also was the first public reporting of Engbrecht’s stepping down, although she said she told a group of administrators in May, and the board knew in October.

Francke said not reporting on personnel matters is not a violation. It might be a violation, however, if any action taken in closed session is not reported during open session.

In an email from Debbie Dunn, executive assistant at the Superintendent’s office, from legal counsel, it was stated, “The ‘personnel’ exception was enacted to allow a majority of personnel matters to be discussed freely and candidly in closed session. (Duval v. Board of Trustees (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 902.) This includes discussion of criteria for appointment/employment and the process for conducting the appointment/employment. (Ibid.)”

The Board can meet to discuss the criteria/process for appointing/employing a Superintendent-elect. Board need only report actions to appoint or employ a person; not criteria or process.

But these actions, which Engbrecht defended, perhaps contributed to many believing there was some sort of backroom deal in place. A Signal editorial criticized a lack of transparency and a lack of explanation from any district official.

Engbrecht, who has been in the district since 1976 in various teaching and administrative capacities, detailed the process that ended with Kuhlman’s appointment. She initially wanted to step down after serving only two years as superintendent, which would have been in 2016. But her love of the district and community caused her to extend her contract two times.

During the Oct. 24 closed-session meeting, she suggested the board promote Kuhlman from assistant superintendent to deputy superintendent. “By doing it, it makes it apparent he’s in command,” she said Tuesday. The meeting’s minutes indicate Kuhlman’s promotion was announced during open session, including his name.

There also was a closed-session agenda item, “Conference with Labor Negotiator (per Government Code Section 54957.6). Agency Designated Representative: Board President. Unrepresented Employee: Superintendent.” It is believed this is where Engbrecht told the board she would not be continuing after June 30, but there is nothing in the minutes to indicate what was decided.

“But when that was done in closed session, there was no comment made in open session about what happened, and it should have been ‘Vicki extended her contract to 2020, we thank her very much and she advises us that she will not be asking for a renewal this term,’ ” Petzold said. “That would have notified everybody that there was going to be a replacement coming up.”

After telling the administrators in May she “was not going to ask for another extension,” Engbrecht told them that if they wanted to apply for the job, they should send a letter of interest to board President Bob Jensen by June.

She also said she suggested not using an outside search firm.

Engbrecht said she feels bad for Kuhlman, who wasn’t made available, because he’s not getting a chance to enjoy this time.

But she said she’s thrilled to be able to work closely with her successor, that hundreds of people have told her they approve of Kuhlman’s selection, and that everybody behaved with the district’s best interests in mind.

Katie Hill Changes Position on Impeachment

| News | September 26, 2019

After initially resisting calls to open an impeachment inquiry on President Trump, Rep. Katie Hill has reversed course and now favors it, the same day the House announced it had decided to pursue impeachment.

“I was elected to represent people who love our country, and I swore an oath to uphold, protect, and defend the United States Constitution,” Hill (D-Agua Dulce) said in a statement. “That’s why, now, I strongly support the House of Representatives moving forward with impeachment proceedings – it is what the Constitution, my constituents and my conscience demands.”

Hill’s statement does not specifically address why she changed her mind, but her statement says she believes Trump is a threat to the Constitution’s checks and balances.
The House opened an impeachment inquiry Tuesday after Trump acknowledged he held up aid to Ukraine and pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, for corruption. Hunter Biden did business in Ukraine.

An unnamed whistleblower has submitted a report to the director of national intelligence; Congress is demanding to see it. Trump has maintained he has done nothing illegal.

The House is not convening a formal committee as during Watergate; rather, all six committees investigating Trump will coordinate. Even so, a vote to impeach is far off.
Hill said voting for impeachment “will not be a vote I come to lightly. I acknowledge how divisive an issue this has been, and will be, as investigations move forward. But we cannot let partisan politics interfere with the responsibilities assigned to Congress in the Constitution, and I hope my colleagues, regardless of party, will uphold their oath.”

The New York Times reported that 203 House Democrats support the inquiry, 19 don’t and 13 haven’t responded. No Republican is in favor of it, although 86 of the 198 haven’t announced their views. One independent – who was a Republican before leaving the party – also favors the inquiry.

Lee Hilliard vs. COC

| News | September 19, 2019

Lee Hilliard prides himself on doing the unexpected, causing discomfort to those who oppose him.

When College of the Canyons didn’t do what he had hoped, he filed a grievance. Soon after, he got what he wanted: Two classes will be taught in the spring, with the hopes of attracting high school students to grow his program.

“I do things that come out of the blue, and I’m in a place that makes them uncomfortable,” he said. “They worry now about if they do something, what am I going to do? My responses don’t fit the pattern. I know how to play. I don’t like to play, and you’ll be sorry if I do.”

Hilliard is the chair of the Telecommunications and Electronic Systems Technologies (TEST) department, and he has, at least since November 2016, felt the administration has not supported it. He filed a complaint November 21 of that year alleging conditions “have created a working environment that can only be described as intolerable and this warrants filing this formal complaint.”

The conditions included replacing a full-time instructional lab technician with two part-timers, which Hilliard said forced him to resign from several committees to devote time to training them. This was critical, he said, because the college and the William S. Hart Union High School District had won a $5.5 million grant from the California Career Pathways Trust to get Career Technical Education (CTE) programs into the high schools, which serve as job training.

Hilliard saw this as an opportunity to grow his struggling programs in computer networking and electronic systems. Never the less, he was convinced the administration didn’t support him.

“The district is no longer providing the resources necessary for the TEST department to meet the district’s goals of Teaching and Learning and Technological Advancement,” Hilliard wrote. “With the addition of another full-time faculty member and the department working on scheduling classes off campus, Pathways Grant, the need for the qualified full-time instructional lab technician is greater than ever.”

Hilliard attempted to create the curriculum, only to have it rejected. Eventually, the plan called for offering a four-course series with each class acting as a prerequisite for the next one. The classes were designed by Cisco Networking Academy, and Hilliard had to go through a certification process to teach them. His idea was that students would take the introductory courses during high school and then enroll at COC to take other more advanced ones, leading to an increase in enrollment in his department and, by extension, the school. Also, completing the courses would lead to an industry certification and big-money jobs, he said.

The classes were offered at Golden Valley High after school and were open to adults and students from all area high schools. The first one, a fundamentals class covering the theory of computer networking, began in the fall 2017 semester with 10 students.

But Hilliard was worried the first class would be too boring for high school students, and he was right. Only two students signed up for the second class, on routing and switching essentials, so it was canceled.

Hilliard suggested a different class, about computer repair, should be taught first the following fall.

“They would have taken the computer apart. They would have been familiar with it,” he said. “It might have been of a little more interest to them than the class that did not succeed.”

He also wanted to do away with the prerequisite requirement. But the dean, Harriet Happel, told him that, because the grant mandated which classes could be taught, the same one had to be taught again. Happel didn’t return a call for comment; school spokesperson Eric Harnish emailed to say the school doesn’t comment on personnel matters.

“The grant was not written for a specific course sequence,” Hilliard recently said. “It was written for the entire networking program. … She has no expertise in the field.”

So, Hilliard ran the fundamentals class again for the fall 2018 semester at Golden Valley. Eleven students signed up, including five in high school. Come spring 2019, only two signed up for the second class, leading to another cancellation.

But this time, one of those two students, David Theroux, discovered that the cancellation prevented him from completing the pathway. In an email addressed to Happel dated Jan. 28 that Hilliard provided, Theroux inquired about arranging to possibly take the class online. “I have over 20 years of experience and was just hoping to get this class,” he wrote.

Happel responded by saying she would see what she could do. But on Jan. 31, she emailed Theroux, “At this time, we cannot offer you the option of taking (the next class)” and promised to “continue to explore options to help you complete this pathway.”

Reached Monday, Theroux, now 53, said he wanted to obtain his Cisco certification to advance his career. Instead, “I just had to abandon the entire pathway. I got really frustrated. I was really doing well. I got a 4.0 grade point average. There was no reason why they couldn’t find something else for me. They wouldn’t do anything.”

Upset, Hilliard went to Faculty Association President Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, who suggested in an email, “I think it may be time to reopen the complaint process.”

Vice President of Academic Affairs Omar Torres told Hilliard he had to run the same class a third time. If he didn’t, it would be pulled from the schedule. Hilliard chose to pull it.

The grant ended June 30. But that hasn’t stopped Hilliard from attempting to grow his program. “My enrollment is down,” he said.

He tried again, this time suggesting two classes, on the internet of things and the python programming language – which he would have liked to have had taught at the high schools – be taught at COC for the fall 2019 semester. But first he had to come before the curriculum committee.

Whenever a teacher wants a new class added, he or she first must request it be placed on the committee’s agenda and then secure committee approval. The teacher must make two appearances before the committee, first to justify why the class is necessary, beneficial, important, etc.; and the second to have the curriculum approved.

Hilliard said he submitted his request early this spring. But when he asked Articulation Officer and Curriculum Analyst Patrick Backes about getting his classes on the agenda for this year, he said Backes told him, “I thought you meant for next year.”

“I knew he was told to say that,” Hilliard said.

Miffed, he instructed his attorney, Martha Torgow, to file a grievance, dated May 28, a copy of which she sent to the Gazette. Hilliard alleged the school refused to place his classes on the curriculum committee agenda and that the administration is going beyond its role in developing programs and curricula.

He also referenced the multiple class cancellations at Golden Valley, and he sought the following remedies: that his classes to be placed on the next agenda, that they be added for spring 2020, that they have appropriate marketing and advertising, and that he receives “the flexibility to plan the curriculum to adapt to changing industry needs and to schedule courses to meet student needs.”

This second grievance earned him an Aug. 16 meeting with his union representative and Torres. Torres promised the classes would be ready by fall 2020, but he would do everything possible to have them ready by spring 2020.

The next curriculum committee meeting, scheduled for Aug. 22, had his justification listed on the agenda. Hilliard thought following committee meeting, Sept. 5, would simply be a continuation of his justification. He asked Backes if he needed to be there and was told no. But Committee Chair Lisa Hooper said he should attend, so he did and was surprised to see the meeting was to finalize the curriculum. Torres, Backes and Hooper didn’t return calls.

The classes were approved for spring 2020 and will be in the catalog. Hilliard said these would be college classes for now, but he hopes to attract high school students, too. Theroux said IOT and python classes would interest him, but he fears if he starts again, the next class would be canceled, as he experienced the last time.

Hilliard also has another meeting scheduled with Torres and his union rep to discuss how to improve the department. He knows he got his way for now, but what happens going forward is unknown.

“I know I’m a pain in the butt and I do things nobody expects or anticipates, and I come out of the blue,” he said. “I’m curious to see if anything of actual value gets helped or if it just continues to be lip service.”

Neighbors vs. Sand Canyon Resort

| Canyon Country Magazine | September 19, 2019

Sand-Canyon full logo

It’s a project in its early stages and wouldn’t be completed for years. But it already has stirred opposition from residents and been met with a mostly wait-and-see approach from the city council.

It’s the Sand Canyon Resort and Spa.

Steve Kim, CEO of Sand Canyon Country Club (formerly Robinson Ranch) wants to build a 77-acre complex. At about 534,200 square feet, the project would feature two three-story hotels with a combined 322 rooms, 15 two-story villas, nine single-story villas, meeting center, ballroom, three restaurants, children’s center, spa, gym, salon, two pools, tennis court, mini-golf course, gardens, trails and 393 parking spaces.

Speaking from Seoul, South Korea, Kim touted the project’s benefits: 500 jobs that will keep people from having to go over the hill, $80 million to the local economy, millions of dollars in hotel taxes to the city, amenities to Canyon Country and Santa Clarita getting its own five-star resort similar to the Ojai Valley Inn.

“Santa Clarita has a beautiful location, unbelievable beauty,” he said. “There’s nothing like that. I don’t understand the opposition, unless they’re really selfish.”

Additionally, city Communications Specialist Kevin Strauss said in an email, an existing one-acre water quality detention basin would almost double and be connected via a new storm-drain pipe.

The project would require a zoning change for two land parcels, from open space to community commercial. That means it’s intended for retail and service serving the local market. The other two parcels would remain open space.

The loss of open space is one reason the Sand Canyon Homeowners Association and other residents are opposing. They created the Stop Sand Canyon Resort task force because they feel their way of life in their rural area is under threat. According to its Facebook account, Stop Sand Canyon has 188 members as of Wednesday.

One such member, Dana Martin, has posted several times. These include accusing Kim of offering councilmember Bill Miranda 30 acres of open space to build a cultural center, his skepticism that there is enough water, how grading caused a water runoff onto a neighbor’s property, and whether a resort would really benefit the residents.

Kim said he was aware of the neighbor’s concerns, and he paid the resident, Russell Myers, $5,000 to fix the problem. In a June 10 email to city Associate Planner Hai Nguyen, Kim explained that after the fires and mudslides in 2016, the grading company brought in soils to fill in bunkers and lakes. The February rains caused the runoff, and the city served him a notice of violation.

As for the acres to Miranda, Martin referenced a conversation Kim recounted having with Miranda in Kim’s book, “American Dream.”

In the book, Miranda confessed he’s wanted a cultural center for a while, and Kim said it should have a lot of visitors, but downtown is not the right location.

“We have about 30 acres of open space left over after the development, and I was wondering what the land could be used for,” Kim said.

Miranda responded, “Steve, do you mean you’re going to offer the site to the City?”

Reached Wednesday, Miranda acknowledged he spoke to Kim about it but called the conversation “very superficial. I don’t know if he has 30 acres or 10 acres to offer, but when the time is right, we’re going to be looking around.”

Also opposing the project is Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE). Its president, Lynne Plambeck, posted on the SCOPE website a reminder that the city promised about 300 acres of land in perpetuity as open space when it approved Robinson Ranch in 1996.

Martin also is aware of this, and he challenged Kim on Facebook, “Abide by the conditions of approval for Robinson Ranch, which you agreed to as a member of the ownership group, including preserving the open space that was granted in perpetuity, that you now want to build on.”

People are watching Kim’s actions carefully and haven’t been afraid to report to the city. As far back as 2017, people have logged complaints about early-morning and late-night noise, and alleging illegal grading and other violations. But documents the Gazette obtained have shown only violations pertaining to floodlights shining into neighboring properties, which were resolved.

Grading is occurring on the grounds, and one time the city did cite Kim for failing to obtain a permit to grade. Kim said the grading is not for the Sand Canyon Resort project, and city Associate Engineer Rohil Santa Ana said the project has no active grading permits.

Another objection people have raised goes back to the Sand Fire in 2016. Many found themselves stuck and blocked from exiting the canyon from the side nearest Soledad Canyon and Sand Canyon roads. Many fear a repeat, and they expect such a project to increase traffic, making it that much more difficult to get out if another emergency arises.

Kim said he’s aware of this objection, too, but in a letter he sent to the Sand Canyon HOA board, he figures an average of 940 people would be staying at his resort at any one time, that most people would stay only two or three days, and that they would check in and out during non-commute times, mitigating traffic concerns on the 14 Freeway.

Besides, he said, there already are exits via Robinson Ranch, Canyon Springs and Lost Canyon roads that don’t affect Sand Canyon Road. And he believes that Robinson Ranch’s presence slowed the fire.

“They pick on every little thing,” he said. “These people are so unreasonable. Think about all the benefits. It’s really disheartening.”

Kim provided a 75-page market demand analysis done by multinational real estate corporation CBRE. The city council requested the report at a meeting in July 10, 2018.

Among its conclusions: It would primarily serve the Santa Clarita market, it wouldn’t be visible along any major thoroughfare, and the facilities and amenities would optimize market position and performance.

“An opportunity exists for the development of a high quality, resort hotel at the subject site,” the report said.

Mayor Marsha McLean and Miranda declined to comment about the project, Miranda citing the lack of a finished environmental impact report as the reason. Councilmember Cameron Smyth said he welcomes input from all sides before deciding.

“I want to be as open-minded as possible,” Smyth said, “but I recognize a project like this will have significant impact to the residents of Sand Canyon.”

Only Councilmember Bob Kellar – himself a Sand Canyon resident – has come out in favor of it. “I think it’d be a nice addition to this end of our community,” he said. But he added that he, like Miranda, wants to read the EIR first.

Kim said the EIR, which he said cost $3 million but the city put it at $254,190, is complete, and he wants it released now, but the city told him within a month. Strauss said the EIR will be posted for public comment and will include analyses of traffic, noise and air quality. Soon after, the Planning Commission will hold meetings about the project, and then the City Council will weigh in.

Kim hopes to have final approval by the end of the year, and he has a Jan. 1, 2022 target opening date. In the meantime, the sides dig in for a long fight.

A College of the Canyons ADA Update

| News | September 12, 2019

Edel Alonso wants answers, and when they’re not forthcoming she feels frustrated.

This has been a norm for Alonso, a College of the Canyons trustee who won election in 2016 running on a platform of greater transparency and accountability.

A recent example is she received a report on campus safety and found it incomplete. Missing, she said, was a definitive decision on whether to arm campus security or hire police officers – a point she and the board have discussed for years without resolution. She also wanted a report on on-campus security cameras, their number, their locations and who’s reviewing the footage; and is the outdoor lighting sufficient to guarantee student safety.

Currently, she is having great difficulty getting any information from the administration on how far along the school is with its ADA Transition Plan.

The plan, the result of a settlement from a lawsuit a former disabled student filed in 2013, requires the school to fix the more than 6,000 examples of noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The current plan, which sits in the library, lists projects that were supposed to be completed by the last day of 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, but it’s not updated. Other projects have deadlines as far as December 31, 2030.

Board president Michael Berger and school spokesman Eric Harnish said in May that the board would receive a full update from Vice President of Facilities, Planning, Operations and Construction Jim Schrage in August, but that did not happen.

On Wednesday, Harnish emailed to say the school is, at the end of this month, scheduled to finish Phase 1, which focuses on replacing doors door hardware, including seals, hinges, handles, and frames; and installing automatic openers on doors that could not otherwise be retrofitted.

Planning for Phase 2, which started earlier this year and addresses access and paths of travel, including parking lots and walkways is nearly complete, Harnish said. The plans will be submitted to the Department of the State Architect before the end of the year, and construction will begin following approval, which Harnish said previously has taken 20 months, meaning construction couldn’t begin until May 2021.

Planning for a third phase, which will address bathrooms and disabled seating in public areas, will commence after DSA approves Phase 2, Harnish said.

In July and August, Harnish emailed to say no update meeting was scheduled, but last week he emailed to say that the board, attorneys and administration are working to find a mutually agreeable time for a special meeting. It would not be part of a regularly scheduled board meeting.

For Alonso, it won’t be soon enough.

“That’s been one of my pet peeves,” she said. She personally counted the number of non-compliant examples to be 6,859.

It’s not that she’s completely in the dark. She says that during board meetings, items such as construction change orders come before the board for approval. She is told that these will comply with the ADA suit.

“But I don’t get a full picture,” she said. “I need numbers. What are we completing? I want some way to measure the progress, but I have not received that.”

When she pushes, she is often told progress is being made and she will eventually get the data she seeks. Then when she doesn’t get it, she asks again – and is told the same thing.

“There is a reluctance to have the administration questioned in any way,” she said. “‘The administration has done a good job. We should place our trust with them. By the time they get the information to us, they’ve done all the legwork and we should just agree to it because they’ve always made good decisions’ — I believe that’s the general attitude.”

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to get more specific data,” she said. “I don’t know why that’s so unreasonable.”

CFO Ralph Peschek Demands Hart District Transparency

| News | September 12, 2019

As a chief financial officer, Ralph Peschek is by definition a steward of funds, expenditures, assets and liabilities. But he also considers himself committed to transparency.

For two years now, Peschek, the William S. Hart Union High School District CFO, has attempted to make the district’s finances more clear, visible and accountable to those few who voice skepticism.

“Part of my vision has been, how do we assure the community has access to information, and how do we make this information useful for everyone,” he said.

This becomes what is important when Steve Petzold is concerned.

Petzold, well known as a community member who demands officials account for the monies to which they are responsible – down to the penny, if possible – often cries foul where school bond measures are concerned.

His latest focus is on Hart’s reporting of Measures SA and V. Measure V, passed in 2001, allowed for $158 million in general obligation bonds to build Golden Valley and West Ranch high schools, Rio Norte and Rancho Pico junior high schools and modernize some existing campuses (these funds have been completely spent). Measure SA, passed in 2008, was a $300 million bond measure to help build Castaic High, auditoriums at Saugus and Canyon highs and other projects at existing schools.

State law requires these bonds be subject to annual financial and performance audits by an independent firm. According to Michael Turnipseed, head of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees and a former member of a bond oversight committee in Bakersfield, a financial audit deals with numbers, while performance audits deal with processes.

“Is the money where it’s supposed to be?” Turnipseed said of the financial audit. “A performance audit is not numbers-driven. Did you follow the process? Did you follow what the bond was going to be? Did you follow the district policies? You’re auditing the work product.”

The location of the audits is where the latest disagreement between Petzold, principal officer of The Center for Truth in School Bond Measures, and the district lies.

In past years, the bond measures’ performance audits have been separate, but the financial audits have been combined into the state-required district financial audit.

“They are supposed to have an annual district audit, and they’re supposed to have a separate bond audit,” Petzold said.

Several district officials, including Peschek, two board members and one bond oversight committee member, maintain that the bond’s financial-audit information is included and the district is compliant with state law. Petzold said he found it, but the Gazette found no specific mention of “Measure SA” in the financial audit (Peschek said it’s called “Fund 21”).

All Measure SA audits are available on the district website (Peschek said the Measure V audits are available at the district office by request). The Hart performance audit is four pages long. Contrast that with the 80-page Bakersfield district performance audit for 2010. Bakersfield’s 2010 financial audit is four pages long, but it’s backed by 34 pages of supplemental material that include every single time the school board did anything related to the bond and the dollar amount.

“This is a bible of everything they did,” Turnipseed said. “I looked at Hart’s and wasn’t overly impressed.”

Does the district need separate financial and performance audits? The problem is the law is vaguely written. Also, said Richard Michael of the website Big Bad Bonds, the law doesn’t specify any penalties, “just the public penalty of ‘Can you trust us? Can we be trusted?’

“Almost all government rules are without penalties,” Michael said. “You have to go to court, and in the end, if you win, the taxpayer pays. It’s a victory.”
And a victory is not always guaranteed, Turnipseed said.

“It all depends on what judges say,” he said. “Some people actually submitted the financial audit, put a new sheet on it and called it a performance audit, and it’s exactly the same, and the people challenged that, and the judge said it’s good enough.”

So, Peschek has called on the district board to increase its clarity in reporting how the funds have been used, and it has responded. He said he plans to have separate financial and performance audits, and he hired the same firm that Bakersfield used.

“When you look at the format (the firm) provides us, that’s a little more detailed,” Peschek said. “That’s what I envision. We have opportunities.”

Petzold remains skeptical, but Hart board member Joe Messina welcomes Peschek’s moves.

“We all support him and are looking for better transparency and better communication when it comes to the district finances,” Messina texted to say, “and we’re happy that his fresh set of eyes help us look at things differently, and because of that, we will have more and better transparency and communication.”

Letter from Katie Hill Angers Bill Reynolds

| News | September 12, 2019

Like many constituents, Bill Reynolds receives correspondence from his congressional representative on issues that matter to him. It didn’t surprise him to receive a note from Rep. Katie Hill.

The first sentence, however, did: “Thank you for contacting my office regarding our border security.” Reynolds admits border security is a concern of his, but he adamantly insists he has never contacted Hill’s office.

“It’ll be a cold day in hell if I ever contact her office,” he declared. “Why the hell is she sending me mail? She knows I would never, ever, vote for her, and I’d never, ever, say anything positive about her.”

Reynolds said some of his friends, who also did not vote for Hill (D-Agua Dulce), received similar letters. One person, Jim Farley, wondered if Hill was abusing franking privileges.

“While responses to citizen’s inquiries are allowed, this is clearly a ‘response’ to inquiries that never happened,” Farley said in a text. “It is pretty clear it is just an attempt to appear to be tough on border security. She should not be using taxpayer money to do this.”

According to a 2015 article in Congressional Research Service, franking privileges, which allows members of Congress to send mail without postage, may only be used for matters of public concern or public service. They may not be used to solicit votes or contributions, to send mail regarding political campaigns or political parties or to mail autobiographical or holiday greeting materials.

Hill’s note, likely a form letter, gives her opinion on border security: She is willing to fully fund it as a means to keep out drug trafficking and criminals, and that she has voted to increase funding to the Department of Homeland Security, for physical barriers “where they make sense,” for border agents and to fairly process cases of women and children fleeing violence.

District Director Angela Giacchetti said all correspondence emanates from the Washington office, so she couldn’t speak to how Reynolds received a letter, although it could have been a result of miscommunication (a call to Hill spokesperson Kassie King went unanswered). She did say that, like every legislator, Hill has databases of constituents that can be used for outreach, and when someone asks for Hill’s opinion on an issue, a letter is sent.

Giacchetti also said she knows Reynolds and recognizes he’s a community leader, especially where veterans are concerned, so she would like to communicate with him.

“It is important to engage with folks, even if they disagree with us,” she said. “They might be able to further our service, especially, in his instance, for people who have served this country.”

Reynolds is not swayed.

“She’s trying to put lipstick on a pig,” he said of Hill. “They way she wrote that letter, it’s all (nonsense). … She’s a fraud, and this is more proof.”

Suzette Valladares Runs into Problems After Switching Races

| News | September 6, 2019

Now that Suzette Valladares has officially left the congressional race to challenge Christy Smith in the 38th Assembly district, she has issues to address; such as owing tens of thousands of dollars and not currently living in the district.

According to two sources with knowledge of the campaign, but not authorized to speak, Valladares hasn’t paid staff, many of whom have quit because they were under the impression she was going to bring them to the Assembly race and then didn’t. Now, they are contemplating suing. One source said she owes at least $90,000, including about $25,000 to one vendor.

Another vendor briefly put on her website, “Suzette Valladares doesn’t pay her bills. She owes our small business $17,129.80. Don’t vote for her.” That post, which appeared on Rob Pyers’ Twitter feed on August 29th with the words, “…providing a fresh reminder not to stiff the vendors with the keys to your online accounts,” has since been taken down.

As of Wednesday, Valladares’ website currently was a single screen that said, “We’ll be back soon!”

Valladares did not return numerous calls for comment. Her current campaign consultant, Tim Rosales, referred questions to the Federal Election Commission website, which lists all the monies a candidate takes in and spends. The current FEC file on Valladares shows she took in $20,195.08 and spent $10,991.33, meaning she has $9,203.75 to carry over to her Assembly race. The next report is due September 30th.

Of the listed disbursements, none are to any campaign staff, unlike Rep. Katie Hill’s FEC page, which lists $6,500 in payments to staffers on the first page alone.

One source said that by moving the monies over, it will become more challenging for people to recover any monies they believe they have coming to them because they have to go after Valladares’ congressional campaign funds, not her Assembly funds. They might try and sue to prevent the funds from being transferred, but even if they are successful, there isn’t enough to go after.

Joe Messina, the communications director for the local Republican Party, didn’t sound concerned about the monies Valladares owes.

“Every candidate gets into debt. Every one of them overextends at different points in time during their candidacies,” Messina said. “It all eventually gets paid, so it’s not that alarming. If it was $117,000, yes, it’d be alarming.”

Another issue is Valladares’ address. She has told several media outlets, including the Gazette, that she lives in Acton, but sources say her real address is on Hillside Drive in Palmdale, which is in the 36th district, currently held by Republican Tom Lackey.

However, her residency doesn’t automatically disqualify Valladares. In 2000, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a state cannot add residency requirements beyond what’s in the U.S. Constitution, and a candidate need only live in the area by Election Day. The California primary is March 3rd.

Although that ruling referred to federal races, the Los Angeles Times reported that California’s law actually requires congressional candidates to live in the district where they are running, but that rule is not enforced.

One source said the reasons Valladares switched races included that she trailed in fundraising and that Smith had no Republican opposition once Dante Acosta, whom she defeated and was expected to run again, moved to Texas.

Of the other candidates for Congress, only Mark Cripe had a comment.

“I like Suzette. I completely understand that decision,” Cripe said. “We need good people in the state Assembly. I’m going to miss her in this race. She brought some energy to this race. I would endorse her in a second.”

There might be other candidates that emerges, and this weekend’s state party convention in Indian Wells is the place for that to happen. But for now, Messina said, “It’s great that we have a candidate that’s willing to put her hat in the ring.”

Mike Garcia Has Served His Country, Now He Wants to Serve His District

| News | September 5, 2019

Mike Garcia has answered the call to serve his country. Now, he’s hearing the call again.

Garcia attended the Naval Academy out of Saugus High School before becoming a fighter pilot who saw action in the Iraq War, flying 30 missions above Baghdad, Fallujah and Tikrit, according to his campaign website.

Now, unhappy with the result of the 2018 election that sent Katie Hill to Congress, Garcia, 43 has decided he wants to serve again, as the 25th district representative.

“Why not me? I do believe I’m qualified. I do believe I can do the job and represent the district well. I have the background to do so. I’ve got the track record of proven performance,” Garcia said, referring to not only his military record but his near decade working for The Raytheon Company, a defense contractor. “I wouldn’t have been able to look at my sons and I also wouldn’t have been able to look at myself in the mirror and go, ‘OK, you could have done this.’”
“I do believe our nation is at an inflection point right now. Nothing is guaranteed moving forward. We are in a relative peaceful era right now and an era of prosperity right now. The decisions over the next two to six years will either improve that or prevent that from continuing. That really is the reason I’m doing it.”

In short, Garcia doesn’t believe Hill (D-Agua Dulce) represents the district, that she’s too busy currying favor with House leadership to pay attention to her constituents’ needs. Plus, she’s raising a lot of cash, including $256,592 from political action committees, according to Open Secrets.

“It’s important for the constituents to look at where the money is coming from. It’s important for constituents to understand the magnitude and the investment that these people from outside the district are putting into her (Hill),” Garcia said, “and I do think that really matters, how you’re funded and how you’re propped up by large money is a problem for a lot of folks, but definitely a problem for our current congresswoman.”

Garcia believes as California goes, so goes the country. “The irony is that California, as much debt as we are in and the tax issues we’ve had and the homelessness and everything else, the reason we are still viable and the reason California is doing OK is because the economy at the national level is doing so well,” he said. “We’re really only one bad move away at the national level from having real challenges in California.”

Garcia also believes the process to fix things would take between two and eight years, and he doesn’t have time for that, so he’s getting involved.

“I don’t want my sons to grow up in a nation – it’s bad enough they’re growing up in a state where they’re going to have a hard time finding housing they can afford, they’re going to be taxed to death,” he said, “but to have that be compounded at the national level potentially and see that our economy goes down the tubes and our unemployment rate skyrockets is a real concern. That is the impetus to put that service hat back on.”

So, what does Garcia stand for, other than getting rid of Hill?

• He stands for experience. After leaving the Navy, he studied national security and military doctrine at Georgetown. Then at Raytheon, he enjoyed a high-level security clearance spending 90 percent of his time in business development: bidding on new contracts, winning some, and working with the defense department to find solutions to problems.

“I’m not going to spend six years learning the systems and programs,” he said. “I have firsthand experience on the front lines and the technical background.”

• He favors term limits, between 10 and 12 years. After that, he believes, incumbents get too entrenched and forget to whom they are beholden: the constituents, not the money.

• He’s worried about the national debt, currently at more than $22 trillion, and has a three-step process to get it under more manageable control.

First, balance the budget. Increasing taxes is not the answer, he said. Instead, recalibrate the balance between taxes and spending.

Second, incentivize departments to save money, which he says is “a lost art at the national level.” He knows that if a federal department comes in under budget, Congress will allot less money next time. Instead, he wants to give credit for saving money, and use that money to pay down the debt.

Third, consolidate departments as necessary to eliminate levels of bureaucracy. Garcia believes the Food and Drug Administration can be folded into the Department of Agriculture, for example.

• He’s wary of socialism because one gets what one pays for. If the government wants to take over health care or education, he said, whatever it does will be mass-produced and of lower quality.

“We see that in countries where they have socialized medicine that becomes either exorbitantly expensive and the economy fails because of it, or the health care is below standard and society suffers a result of that,” he said.

Garcia hopes other people will answer the call to serve in their own way. It could be as simple as registering to vote or volunteering for a candidate. It could mean staying informed about the issues and the candidates. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “an informed society can be trusted with their government.” As Ronald Reagan said, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, as Jefferson cautioned, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.”

Valladares to Switch Races?

| News | August 29, 2019

Suzette Valladares, a Republican candidate for congress, might soon drop out of the race and run for Assembly instead.

According to Valladares’ consultant Jimmy Keady, she is “aggressively being courted by the county and the (local) Republican Party. That’s the only comment I can give.”

Joe Messina, media contact for the Republican Party of the 38th Assembly District, declined comment.

Valladares, an Acton resident and CEO of the Little Steps of Faith preschool in Sylmar, is one of four Republicans vying to unseat first-term Democratic Rep. Katie Hill for the 25th congressional district seat.

If she switches races, she would go against another first-term Democrat, Christy Smith. Smith defeated another first-termer, former Santa Clarita city Councilmember Dante Acosta, and many believed Acosta was planning another run until he got a job in Texas and moved away.

Mark Cripe – from Law Enforcement to Politics

| News | August 29, 2019

To Mark Cripe, law enforcement is political; so is being a congressman. Law enforcement requires listening followed by action; so does being a congressman.
Cripe checks both boxes, as a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who has worked with non-violent, at-risk youth. He will retire next March after 29 years. Now, he wants to take a next step and represent the 25th district in Congress. He’s one of several Republicans vying to unseat Rep. Katie Hill next year.

“I consider myself a no nonsense guy. If we’ve got a problem, let’s address the problem and move forward,” he said. “I’m pretty much a what-you-see-is-what you-get guy. I’m not your typical politician. I’m a straight shooter, and I’m running to try and be a common sense voice for my entire community.”

Some might argue the sheriff’s department is in need of some common sense right now. Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been widely criticized for some decisions, including rehiring a deputy who had tried to break into the apartment of another deputy with whom he had been in a romantic relationship. The woman had accused the fired deputy of placing his hands on her neck and harassing her with text messages. The county Democratic Party has said it regrets endorsing Villanueva.

“The sheriff is L.A. County’s highest elected county official,” Cripe said. “The Board of Supervisors is elected by district, but the sheriff is elected by all districts. What deputies do affects how people vote for sheriff.”

Cripe, 54 and a Quartz Hill resident, said he knows that as a deputy, he represents the elected sheriff (he’s served under five of them), and that requires him to “answer a call.” He does this best as a sergeant supervising seven Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives (VIDA) teams. His experiences led him to write a book, “Love Loudly: Lessons in Family Crisis, Communication, and Hope.”

According to the sheriff’s department website, VIDA is a 16-week program for non-violent, at-risk youth ages 11-17½ that brings together community-based organizations, volunteers, schools and families to teach youth the value of effective decision making and taking responsibility for their futures.

Cripe has done this work for almost 20 years. What he has learned is when kids sometime make bad choices, there is sometimes a valid reason. Like the boy who had been in 47 foster homes by the age of 13.

“You start having compassion,” he said. “You start listening to the stories, and you start to understand how to fix that, how to stop breaking kids.”

Now, he wants to transition into not breaking government. As he sees it, many people are anxious about the direction the country’s taking and the places people such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to take them.

“Some people don’t like where we’re at and would like to move us to a socialist type of scenario,” Cripe said. “Other people don’t want to have anything to do with a socialist country. I’m one of those people.”

Actually, Cripe said, he considers fire and police departments, as necessary, calling these “little government socialism.” His objections lie with what he calls “big government socialism,” which he says “is hurting things that this country (is) built on, the Constitution. (I’m) trying to step up and be willing to be a voice against that.”

He thinks that Hill (D-Agua Dulce) is “flirting” with the socialist wing of the Democratic Party, and he wonders if she is the fifth member of “The Squad,” made up of Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are women of color; Hill is white.

“Her social networking puts her with The Squad,” Cripe said. “She is not coming out and saying, ‘Knock this stuff off, that’s ridiculous.’ Maybe she’s trying to support other freshman congresswomen, but it is cause for concern.”

Other platform points include:

– He realizes that taxes are necessary for such things as infrastructure, but he wants more accountability to decrease fraud and ensure the people, organizations, institutions and governmental branches that would benefit from taxes actually receive them.

Generally, he favors less tax, would consider a flat tax, and objects to the aspect of President Trump’s tax plan that limits the state and local deductions to $10,000.

“That might be great for Oklahoma, but the costs in California? That 10 grand doesn’t go very far,” he said. He would prefer a sliding scale based on how expensive it is to live in a state.

– He favors a barrier at the southern border, not to keep out migrant workers, with whom he has no problems, but to keep out drugs and members of various cartels and gangs. At the same time, he acknowledges that any wall wouldn’t completely keep out undesirable elements, but it would slow down the flow of drugs and violence entering.

“Some kind of barrier instead of an open desert is a better arrangement,” he said.

Cripe said he knows he is an underdog in this race. He entered late and lags far behind in fundraising, having only collected $15,410, of which $13,118 is available. But he is undeterred.

“If we have the ability to create change for the betterment of our community, then we should do that,” he said. “The question is run and let the voters decide if they think I have what it takes to be the change they want or need.”

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