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About Lee Barnathan

  • Member Since: February 11, 2016

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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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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.”

The city has taken a low-key approach, but that doesn’t mean it’s neutral. Kim provided a 75-page market demand analysis done by multinational real estate corporation CBRE. City Manager Ken Striplin is listed as the client, but city spokesperson Carrie Lujan said the council requested the report.

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.”

Recycling Woes

| News | August 29, 2019

It used to be simple for John Sinapyan, owner of Sierra Recycling. People would bring in their plastic, glass or cans with the CRV designation, he’d pay them for it, then he would sell those containers to companies that would process the materials and send them to China, where they would be recycled into something else. Everyone made money.

It’s no longer so simple because China is no longer accepting as much, and companies don’t know what to do with their trash, nor do they know where to sell it. Sinapyan says he’s getting 25-30 percent less per pound than he used to.

“What can I do? We don’t have a choice,” he said. “Since July, it’s impacting us really bad.”

What’s happening now is actually a ripple effect two years in the making. In 2017, the Chinese government announced new standards for what recyclable materials it would receive. Before that, 10 percent of the seven million tons of garbage China bought came from the U.S.

According to the Los Angeles Times, China found that the United States often shipped contaminated and poorly sorted recyclables. The Orange County Register reported that last year, China forced the return of any bales that weren’t 99.5 percent recyclable. Diapers and food waste, for example, are not recyclable and usually end up in landfills. Most haulers are also unable to recycle plastic foam or any paper product with a plastic lining, which includes virtually all disposable beverage cups.

This year, the Chinese government said it would accept only the most valuable plastics and paper, which total less than 1 percent of what it took in 2016.

China’s refusal to take the world’s garbage has led to some investment in U.S. recycling plants, but scrap waste is piling up in warehouses and parking lots, the Register reported. Some is ending up in waterways, oceans, landfills and incinerators. In nearly all cases, waste disposal is more expensive and increases pollution.

Other countries, such as Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, are getting more plastic garbage but lack the ability to process as much garbage as China, NPR reported.

“China’s trying to do something. That’s the problem they’re having,” Sinapyan said. “I hope the United States will open manufacturing (centers).”

Because it’s more expensive, and because no one wants the garbage, people aren’t buying as much material to recycle. Larry Vaccaro, a 22-year veteran of recycling in the state, said it’s a matter of economics. Right now, raw material, such as oil, is cheap, and cheap oil makes it cheaper to make more plastics.

“The economics favor the landfill when it comes to our own trash,” Vaccaro said.

Another bad sign are the complete closures of all 284 RePlanet recycling redemption centers, including the ones at a Ralphs in Valencia and Albertsons in Saugus. RePlanet was the state’s largest recycling redemption center. Now, 750 employees are out of work.

Lance Klug, a spokesman for CalRecycle, a state agency, told the Times that 996 such centers have closed since 2015.

Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit that studies issues in California’s recycling industry, estimated to the Associated Press that more than 40 percent of redemption centers have closed in the last five years, resulting in consumers getting back only about half of their nickel and dime deposits on bottles and cans.

These are concerns posted on Facebook. Kathleen D. Carver wrote that the last time she recycled; she was paid less than in the past for her year’s supply of cans and bottles. “Someone is pocketing all that money,” she wrote.

Dawn Doherty Matthews posted that she has been recycling to teach her granddaughter its importance. “She’s collected five big bags. Now what do I do?” Matthews wrote. “This is so sad.”

The closures mean people will either throw their recyclables directly into the garbage or place them in curbside recycling bins, which are often filled with contaminated material that must be discarded.

Mayor Marsha McLean said she favors waste-to-energy plants that incinerate trash at high temperatures, producing energy and decreasing what’s put in landfills. Reports vary about how much pollution it creates, but McLean believes education is necessary to prove its merits.

“We tried to do our recycling center out here; people got up in arms,” she said. “Right now, no one is willing to invest in facilities to get rid of stuff to get rid of landfills.”

Meanwhile, McLean said, the city has recycling agreements with Waste Management and Burrtec that if any resident needs containers, they are provided free. And there are some recycling centers still operating within the city limits that pay for some items. McLean suggests the website www.earth911.com to find a local place.

Sierra Recycling is one such location. Sinapyan said he has seen an uptick in business, and it helps that he has exactly one employee and low rent. He would like to see Congress pass legislation protecting mom-and-pop centers such as his from monopolies, but it’s going to take the citizenry petitioning its leaders for that to happen.

“It’s not fair,” he said. “The United States is based on small businesses.”

Vaccaro said there is a discussion centered on something called Extended Producer Responsibility, in which manufacturers take responsibility for what happens to the products they make at the end of the products’ lives.

Without using the EPR moniker, several state bills address this. Assembly Bill 1080 and Senate Bill 54 would require 75 percent of single-use plastic products be phased out by 2030, and AB 792 would require beverage-container producers to have no less than 75 percent postconsumer recycled plastic content on and after January 1, 2030.

It remains to be seen what will happen. Vaccaro said, “Recycling will never be the answer by itself.”

It also remains to be seen if Facebook poster Angie Southwick’s opinion becomes the norm. She wrote, “It’s not worth the time and money put into it.”

Assemblywoman Smith Calls for Gazette Boycott

| News | August 23, 2019

Assemblywoman Christy Smith called for an advertising boycott of the Santa Clarita Gazette over publisher Doug Sutton’s weekly column, “Doug’s Rant.”

“I will no longer be promoting my official state activities, nor sponsoring paid campaign advertising in Santa Clarita Gazette and Free Classifieds,” Smith wrote on her Facebook page.

Anthony Breznican’s Twitter post (@Breznican) on Saturday morning was the first public outcry. Smith’s Facebook post followed shortly after on Sunday morning.

At issue is Sutton’s August 16th column in which he voices his opinions about racism, white supremacy and Donald Trump. Many of the hundreds that commented on Smith’s post expressed shock and disgust that Sutton seemed to be at best minimizing, and at worst denying, that these things exist in Santa Clarita or the Trump presidency.

“Come on you Trump derangement sufferers, please tell me words and actions of what this man has said or done to cause you to believe that he believes the white race is better than all other races and he should have control over all other races?!” Sutton wrote. “Don’t give me the poppycock of him saying that some illegals coming in to our country are criminals, saying the squad should go back to where they came from or Baltimore is a horrible place to live. Seriously, if you think those words represent the definition of a white supremacist then I almost feel sorry for you. And if you think statements like those cause sick people to shoot other people, then I definitely feel sorry for you.”

In an email, Sutton explained that this column’s purpose was to point out that many who the left call “white nationalist” or “white supremacist” are not. He also asserted that the left is more concerned with name calling and labeling than problem solving.

“I agree there are negative factions in every area of our political landscape,” he said. “I disagree that it is as rampant as those criticizing me may feel.”

Smith (D-Santa Clarita) didn’t return calls to her cell phone, her Sacramento office or her district office. On Facebook, Smith quoted a Morning Consult/Politico poll from last week that said 47 percent of voters perceive white nationalism as a threat, and she referenced FBI statistics that showed hate crimes increased from 2014-17.

“I’m exercising my ‘white privilege,’ the privilege of moving money, marshaling resources, and saying no more,” she wrote. “I urge anyone who supports this publication with your ad dollars to do the same. Let’s show our neighbors we stand with them.”

Many posters applauded Smith’s decision. Many wrote similar to Kathye Armitage’s post: “Thank you for speaking up about this. I am with you.”

Other posters called Sutton names. Abby Savell called him “a simpleton who in his own white male privilege, has no idea of how to process deeper layers of thought and nuance of any sort.” Bruce McFarland said he was “a blind self-deluded man.”

The group CA25 United for Progress expressed support for the boycott and provided a link on its Facebook page of 38 Gazette advertisers’ email addresses and 42 business listings.

One Smith supporter, Victor Lizano, posted an encouragement to email Gazette advertisers inviting them to join the boycott. At least one person, Breznican, did.

“I live in Santa Clarita and there is a boycott movement happening against the Santa Clarita Free Gazette over the publisher’s recent column excusing and diminishing the danger of ‘white supremacy,’” Breznican wrote in an email an advertiser forwarded to the Gazette. “In the current issue he dedicated a full page to a ‘rant’ declaring that white supremacy is a hoax. He has previously called himself a ‘defender of the problem of whiteness,’ and the new column includes a section dedicated to white pride. Your company advertised in that issue of the Gazette, and you deserve to know what kind of articles are appearing alongside your company’s name.”

Sutton said in an email that he has received “significant support from those advertisers who have been contacted and encouraged to pull their advertising. I will also say that for every one of these attacks on me and this newspaper there have been just as many in support of us.”

“The purpose of this boycott is to shut down my paper and put good people out of work. Furthermore to silence an opinion they disagree with and to shape the media landscape locally to their liking and opinion,” he said. “The method of group thinking I’ve seen on social media is actually a sad reflection on many in our community to jump on a bandwagon based on inaccurate descriptions of my opinion.”

Saugus school district board member David Barlavi, who posted that he donated $100 to Smith’s 2020 re-election campaign, told the Gazette that Sutton must retract his comments; acknowledge racism, white supremacy and white nationalism exist and apologize.

Sutton says he challenges the critics to specify “the exact words I used that conveyed I’m a racist. I was, in no statement, condoning or encouraging any form of white supremacy, I was not stating any superiority of any race. I’ve also written before that all forms of mistreatment of any person of any race, religion, nationality or sexuality is wrong!”

Poster Guy Nohrenberg also challenged Smith to specify which parts of Sutton’s column she found objectionable. And David Goss sent out an email to advertisers in response to the email he received.

“While it’s everyone’s right to disagree with others, I do not feel it’s right to attack an entire business over one person’s comments,” Goss wrote. “Doug’s paper employs some very wonderful people, and while the purpose of this hit piece is to hurt Doug, it also affects hard working people of the Gazette who may or may not share the same opinion as Doug. I would encourage you to not make a decision on whether to continue to advertise with the Gazette based on this underhanded and horrible practice of outing advertisers in an attempt to shame them into removing their advertisements.”

What To Do About Acosta’s Open Water Board Spot

| News | August 22, 2019

Now that Dante Acosta has resigned his seat on the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency Board, the county finds itself in the same situation it found itself in late last year when it appointed Acosta in the first place.

Acosta, a former Santa Clarita City Councilmember and Assemblyman, had been nominated by County Supervisor Kathryn Barger to sit on the board as the county’s representative. He resigned Monday to take a job in El Paso, Texas, with the Small Business Administration.

The seat will no longer exist as of January 1, 2023, the result of Senate Bill 634, which created the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency. The law requires the number of directors to be cut from its current 14 to nine all-elected positions. Current board Vice President Maria Gutzeit said the board is trying to downsize now. President Bill Cooper and member Lynne Plambeck said in December that they would like the seat eliminated.

“It’s largely up to Kathryn Barger and the country supervisors,” Gutzeit said. “They can choose to select someone or leave it unfilled.”

Barger spokesman Tony Bell emailed to say the position would be filled.

“We are looking at a number of qualified candidates and expect to notify the Board with a decision as soon as possible,” Bell said.

Stacy Fortner, a former Castaic Lake Water Agency board candidate, said she’s interested in the position, which represents between 900 and 1,000 customers in Castaic and Val Verde. She added that she spoke to Barger’s Santa Clarita field representative, Stephanie English, on Monday in the district office about the seat and other available positions.

Jason Gibbs Gives It Another Go

| City Council, Meet the Candidates | August 15, 2019

Last year Jason Gibbs ran for City Council, campaigning on a message of “If you like the City’s direction but think it’s time for a new generation, vote for me.”

He finished ninth out of 15 candidates with just 5.57 percent of the vote. He’s back to try again, and while his message is similar, it comes with a warning: If certain priorities are not enacted, Santa Clarita will cease to be the wonderful place Gibbs has long felt it to be.

“We have a great opportunity to be a thriving city long into the future, but we need to start hitting it right now. Hit it from the mindset that Santa Clarita is a great place, and coming from the mindset that I want to be here in 30 years so that I can say I remember when the city was good, and I can still say in 30 years from now that this city is a great place to live and raise a family,” he said.

Like last year, Gibbs, 38, says he loves the city and believes its leaders have steered it in favorable directions. He cited as examples its financial stability and a small-town feel despite its growth.

“You always hear people say, ‘We left the (San Fernando) Valley because we didn’t want to become the Valley.’ Santa Clarita was the place to escape to. You flash forward to 30 years of cityhood. Santa Clarita is still, when you’re out and about, at the fundraisers for the nonprofits, at the local community events, you see a lot of the same faces, so people still say it has the small-town feel of the people who are actively engaged with the community,” he said. “If you look at our books, we’ve had 20 plus years of a balanced budget. We have 20-percent operating reserves (the city doesn’t actually have a reserve fund). We are paying down our pension debt.”

He also likes the City’s homelessness plan and is pleased at the $375,000 in Measure H funds that will go to buying property for housing and funding a homeless coordinator (the recently hired Gabriela Martinez).

Another difference from his last campaign: Gibbs is vying for an open seat. Councilmember Bob Kellar has said he won’t seek a sixth term and has endorsed Gibbs. Kellar’s support last year didn’t help Gibbs unseat Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean or Bill Miranda, but with only one incumbent (Cameron Smyth) running, Gibbs has as much of a chance as anyone.

“It means a lot for someone who has served this city 20 years to look at you and say, ‘It would mean a lot to me if you sat in my place when I’m gone,’” Gibbs said.

But all is not sunshine, rainbows and unicorns with Gibbs. He’s concerned the state’s public employee retirement system, CalPERS, is overstating its solvency, and he fears cities or employees (read: taxpayers) will foot the future bills. And he knows traffic is a major problem, which he blames on not enough roads and too many people.

“People in Santa Clarita overall are extremely happy. They enjoy living here. They enjoy what the city provides. They’ve done that very systematically,” he said. “But we are a city that’s approaching a quarter million people. There’s talk that when we build out in 20, 30 years, there could be 400,000-plus. … You like what the city has done? Well, here are some things I think we need to implement and start processing if we want to continue to be the success we’ve enjoyed so far.”

First, pay down the pension debt. He applauds the City’s desire to reduce its obligations by 90 percent.

“I’d still like to see 95 to 100 percent in ten years because if those rates drop, the effect on us will be minimized,” he said. “We’ll have more money available because we’re not paying into the pension program, so we will be fully funded and have more money and resources available to put into infrastructure in this community.”

As for traffic, Gibbs’ solution is to develop cross valley connectors at Via Princessa, Santa Clarita Parkway, Magic Mountain Parkway and the Lyons Avenue extension to Dockweiler Drive. In fact, he favors extending the road at 13th and 15th streets but acknowledges it’s likely too expensive and not worth the cost.

“We have Newhall Ranch coming in on the west side of town,” he said, “but part of Newhall Ranch being included in One Valley One Vision (the city’s 2011 General Plan) was to have the roads and infrastructure necessary to accommodate the growth that’s going to come.”

Gibbs also would like to see more economic development in the form of more industries coming here. Right now, he said, only biomedical and movies are prevalent. He hopes the new Center at Needham Ranch, a 135-acre industrial center being built near Eternal Valley Memorial Park & Mortuary, will provide opportunities.

But there’s a catch — these things have to be done now. Or else.

“I worry if we don’t start pushing those things a little harder and we don’t start making it a true priority, we can start going backwards,” he said. “It’s going to be too expensive to live, too hard to commute out, the traffic is going to get worse down that (Interstate 5/14 Freeway) interchange if we don’t bring that business here and allow the opportunity for people to make a good living wage, pay for the homes and the quality of life we have here. It’s going to start to go downhill.”

A Concerned Citizen, a Fire Captain and Some Dry Brush

| News | August 15, 2019

Judith Gilbert saw the growth and became concerned.

The vegetation on the other side of the wall that divides the Sierra Park mobile home complex and the Tres Robles Homeowners Association condos had turned brown. Gilbert, 80, feared fire.

Calls to the city and County Fire Station 107 went mostly ignored for a month. Finally, a fire captain visited Monday and told her it was not a fire hazard, which didn’t appease her.

“Ten or 11 homes are affected,” she said. “It’s very close to my house.”
Fire is a reality in the area. In just the past four months, there have been at least three small fires in Canyon Country alone: a vehicle fire that spread to brush near the 14 Freeway at Golden Valley Road in April (called the Golden Fire), a vegetation fire that broke out in a residential backyard in May and a July fire that destroyed several RVs.

Gilbert has lived in the complex on Soledad Canyon Road for nine and half years. She recalled a fire behind the complex about six years ago that was caused by a flicked cigarette; her home wasn’t damaged. A year or so after that, someone had cleared the brush but she didn’t know who because she wasn’t sure who owned the land. She said she had spoken to fire department officials and wondered if they had found out and contacted the landowner.

The heavy rains this past winter led to new growth. Now, that growth is dry and has crept up the cinderblock wall at one end and along an iron fence the HOA erected on the other end.

In early July, she said, she contacted Station 107, located just across the street. “I talked to six or seven different captains,” she stated. “They said they’d check into it. I started July 2, and I haven’t heard back.”

A neighbor who contacted the City got a similar lack of response, Gilbert said.

Station 107 Captain Ryan Chapin said he has seen narrow land strips in which weeds grow but are not connected to any brush. A brush area of concern ends up on a declaration list, which leads to an inspection, he said, which makes it easier to find the property owner.

“If it’s an unsightly thing, we’re not in the business of going around and telling people to clean up their yards,” he said. “If it’s a genuine fire hazard, we will start working towards getting that handled.”

He nonetheless promised to drive by and take a look.
Councilmember Bob Kellar, reached while on an Alaskan trip, said he often receives calls about dried brush, such as that which runs close to the Metrolink stations.

“I said, ‘Thank you much.’ I made a call, and within a week, it was all cut back,” Kellar said. “If there is an issue, I reach out to Public Works (Department).”

This only applies to city owned land, Kellar explained. If it’s on private property, “We don’t have a right to take taxpayer’s money and go out there and deal with something unless it poses some kind of a real threat to safety. Then we’ll take another look at it.”

This strip of land is private property owned by the HOA, a tile search revealed. A call to the management company resulted in leaving a message for the HOA board, but no one returned the call.

Captain Chapin went over, spoke to Gilbert, inspected the growth and determined it was “just weeds and nothing that poses a significant fire hazard to either side.”

“We explained to her, and that’s why she feels like she wasn’t getting a response from Fire, because it doesn’t even come near the qualifications of that being a brush situation where we would go to our brush-clearance unit,” Chapin said. “Whoever cleaned it before, that was on their own volition.”

Gilbert said she felt like she and Chapin weren’t speaking the same language.

“The way he said it, he passed it off as nothing,” she said. “He didn’t really convince me.”

Chapin said it would be simple to use a weed trimmer, remove the grass and throw six inches of mulch or bark to prevent further growth. But if a fire arises, the station is right across the street and would respond quickly.

“There’s little to no fire hazard. Could those weeds catch on fire? Any patch of weeds could catch on fire, but it doesn’t pose a life safety risk or a hazard to those structures,” he said. “It’s not connected to brush. There is no brush. It’s just some small little weeds.”

Meanwhile the brush remains, as does Gilbert’s concern.

“Maybe I’m making too big a deal out of it,” she said, “but it’s going to get worse.”

*Check back next week as the Gazette tries to help Judith solve her brush problem.

Getting to Know Angela Underwood Jacobs

| News | August 8, 2019

If a congressperson is supposed to work for the people they represent, Angela Underwood Jacobs has the requisite experience.

The banker and Lancaster City Councilmember might be best known for leading the charge to draft an ordinance known as “Gabriel’s Law.” It’s named for Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured to death by his mother and her boyfriend in 2013 when he was just eight years old. Social workers with the county Department of Children & Family Services faced criminal charges for mishandling evidence of escalating abuse. The mother pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life without parole; the boyfriend was convicted and sentenced to death.
“When Gabriel Fernandez passed away, it was such a senseless death. As a mom, as a parent, it completely broke my heart. The mayor and I were talking, having a conversation about life, and we started to talk about him. I said, ‘We need to find a way to do more to protect children, their families and DCFS as well,” stated Underwood Jacobs.

The Lancaster City Council unanimously adopted the ordinance in 2017. Now, all county social workers must digitally record visits made to Lancaster homes.

“If nothing else, we are sitting at the table talking about what else we can all do better, and that is what this is about — saving lives and figuring out easier ways to get things done,” she said.

Underwood Jacobs hopes to do the same for the 25th congressional district, so she challenged Rep. Katie Hill for the seat, one of four Republicans to do so.

“What I do really well is establish meaningful, working relationships with people with diverse backgrounds, ages, ethnicity and other socioeconomic factors; and yes, even across party lines,” she said. “Together, we are the solution. Individually, we are special, but together, we are spectacular.”

Underwood Jacobs said she grew up Republican with a conservative value system. These values include being fiscally responsible (she would cut unnecessary spending, opposes higher taxes and favors reducing the national debt), earning an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work and placing a high importance on family and education.

She subscribes to some of today’s Republican Party standards as well; for instance, she favors funding the President’s border wall, opposes Medicare For All and favors a minute of silence in school for prayer.

In addition, she also believes in equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, bemoans the lack of civil communication in society and Washington (“We need to be able to hear one another, and we’re not doing a great job of that”) and defers to the courts on abortion while stressing she never would terminate a pregnancy herself.
“Everyone has to stand before God and be judged. That’s not my job,” she said.
Underwood Jacobs furthermore defers to people she considers experts. For example, the Mueller report proved Russia interfered in the 2016 election. “If they say Russia meddled, I have to believe that,” she said, admitting she has not read the 448-page redacted report. “I have to trust the experts are doing their job.”

And she’s not afraid to stand corrected. She criticized Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce) for voting for the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination and segregation based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in a wide variety of areas including public education. Underwood Jacobs said this bill, currently in the Senate, would allow boys and girls to compete on the same teams, although the bill says nothing of the sort.

“That’s what I read,” she said. “I don’t want to misspeak. I’m going to triple check. Your questioning gives me pause. I want to make sure I’m right.”

“I know who I am,” she said. “I’m hoping that I’m doing myself justice. I know my heart is in the right place. I know my mind is in the right place.”

To date, Underwood Jacobs’ campaign claims it has the highest percentage of in-district donations out of all candidates in the race for the 25th District. They have raised 130% more than Hill in itemized donations.

Hill campaign manager Kelsey O’Hara disputed the percentage. Citing Federal Election Commission numbers, O’Hara said Underwood Jacobs had 95 itemized donations, compared to Hill’s 872.

Katie Hill’s Primary Opponents Look Back at her First Six Months

| News | August 1, 2019

Earlier this month, Rep. Katie Hill marked six months in office. Meanwhile, her primary opponents expressed ranges of dissatisfaction with her performance.

Hill (D-Agua Dulce) listed nine accomplishments in a press release. They range from the mundane (opening district offices, attending town halls, community forums and community events) to her leadership positions, to the various pieces of legislation she either led or voted on that had passed.

She introduced five bills, one of which passed the House but remains in a Senate committee. That’s House Resolution 1064, which expands whistleblower protections to include talking to a supervisor in the employee’s direct chain of command up to, and including, the head of the employing agency, or to an employee designated to receive such disclosures.

Another bill, HR 1015, calling for a St. Francis Dam memorial to be built, became part of a public lands package that President Trump signed. It’s the only piece of Hill-sponsored legislation to become law.

Hill also wrote four amendments that passed out of committees and one amendment that passed out of the House. That was for HR 3055, which increases federal firefighting funds by $7 million that is paid for by decreasing a different fund by the same amount. The bill has yet to be assigned to a Senate committee.

“The work that we’re able to do on the local level – accomplishing our community priorities and performing constituent services – are my top priorities. Even in a divided government, we can come together and get things done for our district,” Hill said in a statement. “I’m proud to use my positions in leadership to advocate for our community at the highest possible levels and I look forward to many more years of success, together.”

The first accomplishment listed is for 204 constituent cases opened, 72 cases completed (51 successfully) and $336,773.96 in total benefits for constituents.

District Director Angela Giacchetti explained that, while every case is different, all are related to problems with federal agencies. Hill’s constituent problems mostly deal with departments related to veterans’ affairs and immigration, Giacchetti said.

Many constituents sought help securing VA-related survivor or Medicare benefits, or getting visas to travel to a foreign country to attend a family funeral, she said.

“Usually, these cases get to us when something is stuck, and our job is to unstick it,” she said. “Sometimes, all it takes is a letter from our office.”

Predictably, Hill’s Republican opponents are not impressed with her first six months. Three criticized her allegiance to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and most found her too liberal for their tastes.

“Katie Hill’s lack of performance, her self-professed adulation of Nancy Pelosi as her hero, and her focus on following Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s socialist agenda more than our district the past six months affirms my decision to run against her,” Mike Garcia said in a statement. “She has proven herself unwilling to do this job and would rather spend her time on cable news shows defending the positions of the extreme wing of her party. We need a representative that is more focused on the needs of our district’s constituents than the shameless desire to be a member of the liberal elite.”

Angela Underwood Jacobs last week described Hill’s first six months as “lackluster.” On Tuesday, she explained.

“She’s gone back on her word. I believe she’s been in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi and her agenda,” Underwood Jacobs said. “Originally, she said she would be independent and stand her own ground. I don’t see that, personally. She’s a Socialist Democrat who’s done everything she could to undermine the core principles our country was founded upon.”

Underwood Jacobs criticized Hill for favoring Medicare For All and voting for the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination and segregation based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in a wide variety of areas including public education. Underwood Jacobs said this bill, currently in the Senate, would allow boys and girls to compete on the same teams, although the bill says nothing of the sort.

Underwood Jacobs also said Hill favors letting 16-year-olds vote. In fact, Hill voted for HR 1, which allows 16-year-olds to register to vote.

Hill also voted for a bill that prohibits removal proceedings against certain illegal immigrants and provides them paths toward permanent-resident status. Underwood Jacobs said this allows illegal immigrants to engage in gang activity and let people with multiple convictions to apply for permanent residency. In fact, immigrants with one felony or three misdemeanor convictions (not counting some cannabis and domestic-violence misdemeanors) are ineligible.

“She is out of touch with the people in the 25th congressional district,” Underwood Jacobs concluded.

Mark Cripe took a different tact, first saying, “I will always give people in office the respect they deserve, so you are not going to hear me bag on Katie Hill, plain and simple. I may feel that I would have done things differently; but first of all, she’s a freshman, she’s just figuring her position out, and that can’t be easy to do given all the turmoil going on between everybody.”

But then Cripe expressed dissatisfaction with Hill’s connection to Pelosi.

“Nancy Pelosi has taken Katie Hill under the arm, and Nancy’s pretty much gone in directions that are different than I would go,” Cripe said. “She’s grooming Congresswoman Hill. Where’s that gonna go, and how far left are we gonna go with all that?”

Cripe also said he didn’t like that she voted against a law that provides $4.5 billion for humanitarian assistance and security to respond to migrants attempting to enter the country through Mexico. Trump signed the bill July 1.
“If we’re going to help these people, if we’re going to address significant problems within our own infrastructure so these people do get due process, then we need to get the funds to do so,” he said. “I would have definitely voted for that bill to get those people the help they need.”

Actually, Hill voted for the original bill but voted against the final bill. In a statement, she explained that she found the Senate’s version “a rush job” that didn’t include enough accountability to ensure the funds actually kept the children safe and the border secure.

Finally, Suzette Valladares said, “I would characterize (Hill’s first six months) as lockstep, progressive, liberal, not reflecting the values of the 25th congressional district.”

City Panel Fights Funds for Canyon Country Community Center

| News | August 1, 2019

Th11-Paper money

In a rare rebuke, a City panel last week voted against approving a financial report that included a $2 million transfer from one City fund to another because it believed the City was wrong to allocate the funds this way.

The open space preservation district’s financial accountability and audit panel voted 3-1, with one absence, to reject the report after the City Council approved moving the money from the preservation district’s account to cover a shortfall in the facilities fund.

The shortfall comes from the city using facilities-fund monies to build the Canyon Country Community Center, Councilmember Cameron Smyth said. Smyth said the city finalized the land purchase for the center in 2017.

The panel’s action changes nothing, City spokesperson Carrie Lujan wrote in an email. Mayor Marsha McLean said the City Council’s actions were legal and within the parameters of the bylaws set forth when the open space preservation district was created in 2007. “Just because you don’t like something that was done doesn’t mean it was wrong,” she said.

Still, McLean said, City Manager Ken Striplin and City Attorney Joe Montes will schedule a meeting with the panel “and let them know what the rules are and tell them they were done under the parameters of the open space rules put in place.”

According to panel member Sandra Cattell, City officials repeatedly told the panel that it had to approve the action because it was handled correctly, and then if the panel wanted to discuss it, it was free to do so.

“We were given a phrase — funding gap. We asked, ‘Why $2 million?’ ‘It was a funding gap.’ That sends up a big red flag,” Cattell said. “What if the gap would have been $8 million?”

The City correctly told the panel that ten percent of the land bought with open space funds could be used for active parkland. Cattell said she believes the Community Center is a redevelopment and not part of open space. “That in itself is disturbing to me, that they called it open space,” she said.

Cattell also said the transfer, which made up exactly one sentence in the report, “was kind of hidden.”

“Transparency is missing,” she said. “I don’t want to see the money used this way. I understand this is an important activity center in a park-poor section of the city. It’s a vital need. It’s just wrong how they’re funding it.”

McLean said the panel’s rejection is unprecedented. The closest similar incident came in 2015 when it became public knowledge that the City wanted to use open-space funds to purchase land that was too far outside the city (the limit is three miles). According to McLean and Councilmember Bob Kellar, the City corrected the discrepancy and used different funds to buy the land.

As for this action, McLean said the report had to be, and was approved, by an independent auditor before the Council could approve.

“I’m assuming that all of this was looked at before the decision was made to go ahead and use the money to build the active park at the Community Center,” McLean stated.

Asked why she didn’t check it herself, she responded, “When we receive information that an action is OK to take, we go by what our staff puts forth, and if there’s something wrong with it, then there’s something wrong with it and we’ll need to look at it. As far as I know, this was all done the way it was supposed to have been done, and until something different comes up, that’s what we go by.”

Smyth said he appreciates the panel’s value, and that city staff is providing the members with any additional information they seek. He said he expects the meeting between Striplin, Montes and the panel to take place some day before the Aug. 27 city council meeting. He said the meeting’s purpose would be to “provide clarity.”

Getting to Know Suzette Valladares

| News | August 1, 2019

Suzette Valladares has heard the comments: “You’re a mother to a young child. Why run for office? Why not stay home?”

“What are we in, 1950?” she asked, “I’m proud to be a mom. I’m proud to be a mom running for Congress.”

She’s also a Republican and a Latina, not a combination many come across but one that fits her perfectly, and she seeks to parlay that uniqueness into unseating Rep. Katie Hill next year and representing the 25th congressional district.

She was the first of what are now four Republican challengers to Hill (D-Agua Dulce), having been joined by Mike Garcia, Angela Underwood Jacobs and Mark Cripe.
She said it’s extremely rewarding “having mothers come up to me to introduce their daughters to me and say, ‘We’re so proud to have a conservative Latina leader in the community running for Congress. Thank you for showing my daughter she can do anything.’”

Valladares’ platform is informed by her family’s background and experiences; for example, her views on immigration. As an American-born child whose relatives came from Mexico and Puerto Rico, she recognizes how important immigrants have been to the building of this country, so she wants to build a path to citizenship.

Yet from a story she heard about from her grandmother, who worked with Cesar Chavez in the grape fields near Bakersfield, Valladares learned a unique twist on illegal immigration. As Chavez worked to unionize, he and his followers also had to deal with undocumented workers in the fields.

“The only way to change those conditions was to unite and to strike,” Valladares said, “and if you had people that were willing to cross that picket line, specifically people that were not documented to work because they were taking money under the table to work anyway, it contradicted what they were trying to do.”

She also wants a secure Mexican border, but not to keep out people truly needing asylum. Instead, she wants to keep out drug and human traffickers. She blames the drug cartels for abusing and exploiting young children by taking advantage of asylum loopholes to smuggle in drugs. “Just because I want a safe, secure, modern border doesn’t mean I’m not pro-immigrant,” she added.

Even the reason she became a Republican comes straight out of a life experience. A counselor knew she was vocal and showed potential for activism, so she suggested Valladares go hear then-Vice President Al Gore speak at Fairfax High in 1999.

Valladares had been raised with the values of hard work, education, religion, family’s paramount importance and giving back to one’s community. According to Los Angeles Times and Time magazine articles, Gore spoke of gun restrictions and banning discrimination against gay students.

“Everything he said contradicted what my family said,” she recalled. “Nothing he said was resonating with me.”

Other platform points:

 She opposes universal health care and “Medicare for All,” but believes health care must be affordable and accessible for all Americans. The key, then, is to keep costs down through a variety of ways. These include being able to buy drugs from other countries, selling policies across state lines and combining government and private investments.

One way she would do that is to create a Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA) within the Department of Health and Human Services to research, create and find cures and treatments. It would be modeled after a similar Department of Defense program created during the Eisenhower years that developed military and non-military technologies such as computer networking and the basis for today’s internet.

“If we can bring true cures to things like cancer or even therapies for diseases like dementia that currently have no therapy, no cure, we could more rapidly bring down the costs of health care,” she said.

 She favors President Trump’s belief that for every new regulation, two must be removed. She said that since 1970, 190,000 new regulations have been implemented. According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the regulatory restrictions within the Code of Federal Regulations increased by more than 1 million between 197and 2016.

The Mercatus Center’s report said it is unlikely all these regulations were carefully crafted. Valladares knows this is true. Running her late mother’s non-profit daycare, she finds having a regulation that requires mats on changing tables to be of a certain thickness to be “burdensome.”

“Why are we getting so hyper-focused on the smallest of details instead of making it easier for the industry to safely open up more?” she said.

Not all regulations are bad, she said. Those that benefit public safety, the environment, clean air and clean water must remain.

 She supports block grants for early childhood education and favors local control of public schools.

 People need to hire more veterans, who in turn need to be encouraged to work, her website says. She wants to better address their families’ needs, including physical and mental health care, employment opportunities, job training and retirement benefits.

Getting to Know Chris Werthe

| Meet the Candidates | July 25, 2019

Ask Chris Werthe the first thing he would do upon being sworn in as a city councilmember and he thinks for almost a minute before answering, “Talk to the other councilmembers.”

While it might be more common for people to attempt to place on the agenda some issue they promised to deal with upon election, Werthe’s military background does not allow that. He sees that as “a bit arrogant. We’ve got to be realistic.”

It remains to be seen how realistic his chances are to win a seat on the city council next year, but he’s giving it a go, having declared last month.

Two seats will be up in November 2020. Cameron Smyth likely will seek re-election in one. The other is wide open because Bob Kellar is retiring. Previous candidates Ken Dean, Jason Gibbs, Sean Weber and Sandra Nichols have indicated an interest in running again. With so many candidates making it hard to stand out, sources say local political parties are considering rallying behind one candidate despite city council being a non-partisan position. The top vote getters will win the election.

Werthe, who previously unsuccessfully challenged Bob Jensen for a seat on the William S. Hart Union High School District board, said he hopes to secure the local Democratic Alliance for Action and County Democratic Party endorsements.

Werthe said the endorsement process won’t begin until next year, but it’s realistic to think he’ll get the DAA endorsement since his wife, Constance, is recording secretary.

Realistic might just be an ideal word to describe this 37-year-old veteran who joined the Navy in 2000 and then spent three years in the Army from 2003-06. He left the service and noticed that the health care and educational benefits and opportunities he received in the military didn’t exist in society at large. He thinks they should.

“With education, your tuition was paid for,” Werthe said. “With health care, you didn’t think about it. I had appendicitis; they sent me to the (civilian) hospital (and) they took care of it the same say. Then I saw some bills and they said don’t worry about it.”

He grew up Republican and conservative but also noticed that the Republican Party at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency seemed to not care about society at large. He felt the GOP was saying, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

“Good luck with that,” Werthe said. “You get out in the real world, it’s different.”

He’s been in the real world for the last 13 years, having been discharged from the Army in 2006 (he drove a gas truck) after serving in the Navy from 2000-03 as a steam plant operator for the nuclear power plant aboard the submarine USS Santa Fe.

In some ways, the military never left him. His wife is also a veteran. His job at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, where he’s chief safety inspector, is a government job. He’s planning to join the Army reserves.

He likes discipline, and he believes the city council needs it.

Discipline “trains you when to lead and when to follow,” he said. “It gives you the benefit of avoiding the silliness that our council runs into, being petty in public; and gives you discipline in the sense of finding out what your constituents want and going after it.”

He said discipline also would allow him to be more patient when community members speak at council meetings. Werthe (pronounced “Worthy”) said he finds the current council “dismissive” of the public, especially those who speak at every meeting. Eye rolls are common, he said.

“I understand there are repeat visitors, but when you take a position like that, you should take everything seriously. You should give us all respect,” Werthe said. “Some have no idea who Alan Ferdman is, (but the council’s reaction) might make them think twice about speaking at the dais.”

Back to what he would do first. After much thought, he settled on moving toward district elections because he fears another lawsuit. The city previously was sued over violating the California Voting Rights Act, resulting in moving the election to November of even-numbered years instead of April.

Local school districts also were sued or threatened with suits; many moved to district voting as a result. City councilmembers, who could place the matter before the voters, have resisted.
“The expenses that would be incurred, I don’t think the city can take a loss like that,” Werthe said. “That’s why I’d rather not settle. I’d rather do it.”

He said he’s aware of the drawbacks: councilmembers fighting over resources for pet projects for their districts at the expense of the whole city. But he believes the plusses – better representation and accessibility to a single councilmember – outweigh the minuses.

The second issue he would tackle is reducing traffic. He backs the idea of building population centers close to transportation hubs, a plan the council seemed to sign off on when it approved the Vista Canyon development in 2011. After three years of legal action, the project broke ground in 2015.

“I applaud Vista Canyon, and I think it should keep moving in that direction,” he said.

Heaton and Mueller vs. Wilk (Part 2) Getting to Know Kipp Mueller

| News | July 25, 2019

To successfully unseat state Senator Scott Wilk next year and reclaim the 21st district for the Democrats for the first time since 2012, Warren Heaton and Kipp Mueller have some things to overcome, aside from the usual challenges of beating an incumbent.

For Mueller, it is proving that he can win despite his youth and recent move into the district.

As recently reported, both candidates list health care, housing and homelessness as campaign issues. Both also are OK with the public option for health care, although Heaton said he wants people to be able to keep their policies if they like what their employers offer. Both also favor bringing high-paying green jobs to the district and think rural areas would be the best places to put them.

Nonetheless, Wilk will be a formidable opponent; so here’s a first look at what they’re doing to address concerns.

Kipp Mueller:
The 33-year-old employment attorney moved to Santa Clarita earlier this year, having grown up in Sacramento. Voters in the area don’t take too kindly to people who run so soon after establishing residency (see: Caforio, Bryan).

“The approach I have is the burden of proof is on me,” he said. “I am out here meeting people, giving our message out and seeing if people like it.”

Mueller (pronounced MULL-er) actually has worked in the district, specifically Adelanto, for several years. He feels a kinship with Santa Clarita, especially after people helped him search for his missing dog.

His work also regularly causes him to access the state’s labor code, civil code and code of civil procedure, so he knows his way around state law.

His message differs from Heaton in a couple of ways: He pushes for re-establishing a strong middle class, supports reproductive freedoms and pledges to work on the effects of climate change.

He said he believes that middle class can find jobs in clean technology.

“We have a ton of sun and a ton of wind,” he said. “I think this district, if it has a representative that the clean-tech economy knows is friendly, is an ally and will be working alongside it, we can get thousands of jobs into this district doing clean-tech work and profoundly grow the economy in this district.”

He acknowledges that a woman’s right to abortion will not disappear from California should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, but he says reproductive freedom goes beyond pregnancy. He mentioned three bills he’s watching and would favor.

Senate Bill 464 requires training to reduce racism and bias in maternal mortality cases. SB 24 allows college health clinics to offer abortions. SB 135 expands paid family leave rights.

Wilk voted for SB 464, which currently is in the Assembly. He voted against SB 24, which also is in the Assembly. SB 135 hasn’t yet reached the Senate floor for a vote.

Mueller also wants it known he isn’t aligned with oil companies, which he places much blame for climate change and the inability to switch to alternative, cleaner fuel sources.

News Briefs and Updates

| News | July 18, 2019

Katie Hill Divorce

Congresswoman Katie Hill’s husband has filed for divorce, court documents show.

First reported by the tabloid news site The Blast, Kenny Heslep is seeking spousal support from Hill (D-Agua Dulce). The two were married in 2010 and have no children.

According to court documents, Heslep provided a six-page narrative to explain the reasons. These include how he and Hill had decided she would be the breadwinner and he, who admits he has few job skills, would stay home and handle the domestic duties, which include caring for the horse and other animals on their 2.5-acre ranch.

The court documents say Hill told Heslep in June she was leaving him and stopped transferring money into their joint account, leaving no money to feed the animals.

A source told the Gazette that Hill was possibly frustrated at Heslep’s lack of work and inability to find work.

A Hill spokeswoman said there would be no statement regarding this matter.

Upcoming Moffat vs. Wilk Hearing Update

The next hearing in Star Moffatt’s quest to disqualify State Senator Scott Wilk will be August 29th, Moffatt and court documents said.

According to Moffatt, this will be a simple status conference. The case recently was reassigned, so Moffat and Wilk’s attorneys are expected to update the new judge on what is happening.

Moffatt filed suit in 2016 seeking to prevent Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) from running for the Senate because he had been a registered federal lobbyist who had not sat out a year before seeking office, per the state’s government code. Wilk was elected to the Senate in 2016 and is more than halfway through his term.

Heaton and Mueller vs. Wilk – Getting Personal with Warren Heaton

| News | July 18, 2019

Part 1 of 2 Series
To successfully unseat state Senator Scott Wilk next year and reclaim the 21st district for the Democrats for the first time since 2012, Warren Heaton and Kipp Mueller have some things to overcome, aside from the usual challenges of beating an incumbent.

For Heaton, it is being a Democrat who can reach both liberal and conservative residents.

As reported last week, both candidates list health care, housing and homelessness as campaign issues. Both also are OK with the public option for health care, although Heaton said he wants people to be able to keep their policies if they like what their employers offer. Both also favor bringing high-paying green jobs to the district and think rural areas would be the best places to put them.

Nonetheless, Wilk will be a formidable opponent; so here’s a first look at what Heaton is doing to address concerns. Check back next week for Mueller’s take.

Warren Heaton:
The College of the Canyons adjunct faculty member and immigration attorney said he likes good policy that benefits the most people, having seen from his time in the insurance and banking fields how good regulations protect consumers and how bad regulations end up costing consumers money. His challenge is to figure out how to enact policies without alienating a large swath of voters, be they Democrat or Republican.

“District 21 is a microcosm of what’s going on in the United States, where you have this urban, educated, professional class who are doing relatively well. They can afford to buy a home. They have health care. Their concerns are related to education, the environment, public transportation,” he said. “Then you have this rural part of the district, and their concerns are jobs, health care, the lack of public transportation; you have addiction issues, and they’re struggling to hang on.”

He said he thinks public transportation is one issue where he can bridge the divide. Urban voters who drive the already clogged freeways welcome a faster, cleaner option; rural voters who can only afford to live in distant places such as Adelanto, Hesperia and Palmdale want to get into town faster.

Another uniting issue: green jobs. If urban voters want more green jobs, as Heaton believes, those jobs can be in rural areas. He suggested the Antelope Valley.

“I’m about smart policies that will benefit the entire community, not just one party over the other. I’m left on some issues and right on the others, but I think that’s exactly where this district is,” he said. “This district isn’t an extreme district where we’re going to decide things based on abortion rights or gun rights.”

From his time as a COC adjunct faculty union representative, Heaton sees a great pay disparity between adjunct and full-time faculty. He applauds the legislature for passing Senate Bill 1379 in 2016, which gives these part-timers collective-bargaining rights.

Wilk voted against the bill while in the Assembly.

“Wilk was part of the problem,” Heaton said. “There’s a difference between good policy and ideology. You can’t just step into government with some ideological stance and think you’re going to be an effective legislator. You have to understand how your ideologies are going to interact with policy and how that’s going to interact with people you represent.”

Wilk has Challengers

| News | July 12, 2019

Two attorneys have announced they will challenge Scott Wilk next year for Wilk’s 21st Senate district seat.

Kipp Mueller, who handles discrimination, wrongful termination and retaliation cases; and immigration lawyer Warren Heaton, who also teaches at College of the Canyons, have declared their candidacies.

Both list healthcare, housing and homelessness concerns as platform issues on their candidate websites. Both favor the public option for healthcare, and both express alarm at the cost of housing and the rise of homelessness as a result.

Muller also seeks to “re-establish a strong middle class that suits the 21st century” by strengthening unions, enforcing the labor code and balancing the budget. He wants to safeguard reproductive freedoms and women’s rights, and he recognizes the need to do something to combat climate change.

“Now, most families fear the first of the month. We’ve seen decades of stagnant wages while healthcare, housing and other life expenses continue to climb,” Mueller said in a statement. “An economy that used to work for families like mine has now turned into millions of families just struggling to get by.”

Heaton, who declared last week, supports “a dramatic expansion in public transportation” and more infrastructure funding. He also supports more money in K-12 education and investments to lower student-loan debt and increase the number of full-time faculty members.

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

| News | July 12, 2019

Chris Ball is experiencing first hand how slowly the wheels of justice turn, and he isn’t happy about it.

Ball, who last year filed a lawsuit alleging his bookkeeper misappropriated, embezzled, converted and/or diverted $1,586,732.06 going back to 2006, wants Neilla Cenci thrown in prison for it. Cenci remains free, and Ball said she declared bankruptcy once she was caught (a call to Cenci went unreturned).

Ball has petitioned the county district attorney’s office to get things moving, and he isn’t happy about the speed. He has taken the tact that the more annoying he can be, the more likely the case will be handled just to make him go away.
“I’m really good at throwing hand grenades. I’m really not good at persuasion,” he said. “When it comes to dealing with institutions, that’s the only way I know how.”

To that end, Ball filed a public records request seeking, among other things, various records and memoranda related to District Attorney Jackie Lacey using the phrase “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied;” and the overtime and disciplinary records of Deputy DA Adewale Oduye, who’s handling Ball’s case.

Ball admitted he’s not the least bit interested in what’s found. He just wants to light a fire under Lacey and her staff.

“If she has gone out, got herself elected by promising swift execution of justice, then I’m here to tell you that that is not happening,” Ball said. “My Public Records Act request is the only mechanism I can think of that will force the top management at the district attorney’s office to pay attention to my case. … I want the district attorney to get pissed off and say, ‘Look, I don’t need this s***. Go ahead and prosecute this case.’ That’s what this is about.”

Cenci was arrested September 6th in connection with pilfering $37,755.48 that an IRS audit of Ball’s construction company revealed. An arrest report from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Department showed she was granted $20,000 bail. No charges were filed; instead, Det. Robert Morris of the Sheriff’s fraud and cyber crimes bureau investigated, executed search warrants and found more than 1,000 checks totaling almost $1.5 million deposited mostly into five banks or credit-card companies: Visa, Discover, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America.

Morris submitted his findings to the DA. Public Information Officer Paul Eakins and said the office got the case April 24th.

Ball received an email June 24th from Oduye saying he had been assigned the case.

That didn’t sit well with Ball.

“Detective Morris built your case with bank search warrants and told me in March that he had proof from the thief’s bank records and from my bank records that she had stolen over a million dollars,” Ball wrote in an email to Oduye the same day. “April, May and June have now gone by. That’s 90 days that your office has done NOTHING.  That’s 90 days the embezzling thief can hide the stolen money or plan her escape. That’s 90 days she has enjoyed her freedom.”

Oduye responded with a request to meet. Ball wrote back, “I do not need to meet with you, and I have no questions for you, except one: What will it take to get urgent action from your office?”

Ball explained that his civil matters – suing the banks and merchants that laundered the stolen money and getting Cenci’s bankruptcy overturned – are strengthened if Cenci is arrested again. Also, the theft-insurance company won’t pay out until there is an arrest, he said.

On June 28th, Oduye responded that civil litigation carries no weight and that he must evaluate the case to determine if he could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. He said he would meet with Morris, and Morris confirmed to the Gazette that the two had met.

“Although I cannot make any promises, I do hope to come to a filing decision within the next 6 months,” Oduye wrote.

That didn’t sit well with Ball, either. He responded by attaching the state’s victims’ rights laws that, among other things, call for “expeditious enforcement” and “expeditious disposition” and that a victim is entitled “to a speedy trial.”

“The success of my civil case and the recovery of stolen assets are dependent on your prompt action,” Ball wrote on June 29th.  “My civil case is directly relevant to your statutory duties. Ignore that at your own peril.”

“He’s taking a lazy approach, and I’m not accepting it,” Ball said.

Ball added he doesn’t have time to try and meet with Lacey to put a face to the case. Nor does he care if his actions tip off Cenci.

“The detective is just as frustrated as I am,” Ball said.

Morris said Ball’s actions have “kind of got the ball rolling much better.” But he knows how slow things move.

“That’s just part of the program,” Morris said. “I get frustrated sometimes with how it works because the system is bogged down. The DA has to work at the pace they’re given. They work with the parameters they have. They’re short bodies, they have a heavy caseload, and they have to work by statute. Sometimes, the general public doesn’t understand. They think it needs to go faster, but its part of the process.”

If Ball had his way, the process would resemble what’s seen in Hollywood: full justice in an hour.

Instead, wife Krissy Ball said, “Nothing is happening, and it’s driving us insane.”

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