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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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Obama Stumps for Hill

| News | September 14, 2018

Former President Barack Obama came to Orange County last week to stump for several Democratic congressional candidates, including Katie Hill. It was the first time someone so prominent spoke for somebody running for the 25th district seat.

Hill couldn’t be there, having committed to attending the Los Angles County Labor Federation in Acton.

“Making the decision to miss the event with President Obama wasn’t easy – like so many of you, I have a deep respect for President Obama and it is an honor to have his support,” Hill said in a statement. “However, I chose to stay in my district because I made a commitment to our community months ago to be there, and keeping my commitments to the people of the 25th district is the very reason I am running for office.”

Obama spoke Saturday at the Anaheim Convention Center in support of Hill and six others. He said of Hill, “Even though Katie Hill can’t be here today – she’s at another event for working men and women in L.A. – but if you’re from her community, you already know Katie: Daughter of a local nurse and a police officer, educated in the public schools, she’s running to take the values of her community to Washington and make real change.”

Since the district was drawn in its current boundaries, no one with such status as Obama ever stumped for a candidate. Buck McKeon didn’t need the help; neither did current two-term incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), whom Hill seeks to unseat.

“It’s hugely significant,” Hill said of Obama’s stumping. “This shows how important this district is across the country. It’s a must-win district for the Democrats. We know the fate of the Congress depends on who wins the House. This is what we’re seeing. Republicans are doing what they can to keep Steve Knight in. Democrats are doing everything they can to make sure I win.”

Knight campaign consultant Matt Rexroad said Obama coming some 75 miles away from the district to stump changes nothing, and he didn’t read any significance into it.

“We’re just rolling along,” he said. “I think you’re the only one calling us about it.”

Legal Battle Between Council Candidates Continues

| City Council, News | September 13, 2018

Brett Haddock will have his day in court Sept. 27 when his appeal of the restraining order fellow city council candidate Sean Weber secured against him will be heard in the state Court of Appeal.

Haddock said he had hoped that the court would stay the order on First Amendment grounds without a hearing, but the court’s tentative opinion backs Weber.

“We are inclined to find the appellate record inadequate to evaluate his constitutional claims,” the appeal said. “While Haddock may be allowed to publicly criticize Weber online, other evidence in the record showed a course of private harassing conduct directed at Weber and his family that justified the order.”

Weber said in a statement: “There is a group of online bullies (aka internet trolls) who try to shut down anyone who threatens their traditional power base. These groups of trolls (some paid) participate in and run social media forums targeting opponents for the sole purpose of harassing them.”

Haddock said his attorney told him it’s normal for an appeal court to come out with a tentative opinion that upholds the lower court’s ruling. Weber secured a two-year restraining order that expires July 2019, citing his fears that Haddock was going to “kill my family” because online posts from 2015 show Haddock talking about going on a “murderous rampage” and that Weber is Haddock’s “target.” Court documents showed Weber’s attorney also said Haddock posted some of Weber’s easily identifiable information such as address, date of birth and car’s license plate.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Laura Hymowitz issued the restraining order despite saying, “Most of what Mr. Haddock is doing just doesn’t quite reach the standard.”

Haddock provided the Gazette with a copy of his appeal and an amicus brief filed by two members of the UCLA School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic. Haddock claims the court erred in issuing a restraining order against him because the actions he took – he has said Weber objects to his calling him out for what Haddock sees as bullying – were protected under the First Amendment.

“Most importantly, he effectively concedes that he sought the Order because he viewed Mr. Haddock’s political speech as illegitimate,” attorney Kenneth White of the Los Angles firm Brown White & Osborn wrote. “He … sneers that Mr. Haddock – a citizen, privileged by the First Amendment to write about what he sees fit – ‘had made something of a second career of “shedding light” on people who displeased him.’ What he does not show is substantial evidence of harassing conduct …”

Haddock also sent the Gazette a screen shot of what he called “a defamatory website” that was up for one day in July. The page calls Haddock “charlatan, bully, fraud, abuser.”

Haddock said his attorney sent a note to Weber’s attorney, and the site went down.

Weber said he didn’t know anything about any website. “My attorney never said anything,” he said.

“He’s being pretty relentless,” Haddock said, “and he’s got his cronies coming after me, which is always fun.” Two people he named were Jeff Martin, who has said Weber inspired him to run for a William S. Hart Union High School District board seat, and Nick Rowin, a friend of Weber’s who owns a plumbing business.

Martin couldn’t recall ever having spoken to Haddock and guessed that his vocal support of Weber has caused Haddock to put him in that group. Rowin said it sounded like Haddock, who Rowin incorrectly called “a sitting council member,” accused him of online bullying, which he denied doing by saying, “absolutely not.”

He did, however, say he spoke to Weber about the case and posted an article on Facebook on Sept. 6 that included the transcript of the hearing.

“The intent Mr. Haddock had is pretty mean,” he said.

Weber provided an online plea from May 4, 2017 asking people to “please stay away from the negative direction some have gone. They want to drown out our voices with intimidation. Don’t be baited into a negative tone. I want their support too. So, please select your words carefully, showing intellect. Minds can be changed. Notice that the only ones that say anything negative about m also state that they don’t know me. Get to know each other. We are the community.”

For now, the restraining order stands, but Haddock said it has not yet affected his council campaign, although he expects Weber to “show up at my events and be as disruptive as possible.”

“People are aware of it,” he said. “The feeling I get is a level of admiration for weathering the storm for standing up to Sean Weber and his cult of personality. My fear is people won’t see it for what it is: calling out Mr. Weber. My hope is that it’s transparent.”

Sandra Nichols Campaigns as Voice for the Voiceless

| Meet the Candidates | September 13, 2018

Sandra Nichols describes herself thusly: “I’m 69 years old, I don’t work. I live on retirement and Social Security, I rent, I take the bus – I owned a car and gave it to my son last September – I am disabled.”

In other words, she considers herself perfect to run for city council to be “a voice for people who think they have no voice, that have limited financial resources, who have no say in the increase of their property taxes, no say in development.”
She said she feels so strongly about this that she’s using a payment plan to pay for the ballot statement. She further saved money by keeping hers to fewer than 400 words, thus paying $1,100 instead of $2,200.

Throughout the 52-minute phone interview, Nichols outlined various problems she has with the way things are run, opined how she would do things differently, and often struggled to make a point without further explanation.

She began with her experience: a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Indiana and a master’s in public administration from California State University, Fullerton. She was a branch manager in the home healthcare industry for almost 20 years, which gives her an awareness of what goes on in local government. She said one of her tasks was to write grants.

She then attacked three of the five current council members for their pedigrees. Bob Kellar, she said, “has made a lot of money. He has a real estate office on Friendly Valley.” (Its actual street address is on Sierra Highway; Kellar also has offices on Soledad Canyon Road and Avenue of the Oaks.)

About Laurene Weste, one of the incumbents Nichols is trying to unseat, she referred to the Lyons Dockweiler extension when she said, “When they cut through from Lyons (Avenue), she’s going to make a lot of money. She owns that property back there.” (Weste has repeatedly denied she would stand to gain anything but refused the Gazette’s request in July to show definitive proof.)

“Cameron Smyth has a name,” Nichols said, and then referred to Cameron’s late father, Clyde, by saying, “There’s a street named after him, for God’s sake.”

As for the other two other incumbents running Nov. 6, Nichols said she doubts Marsha McLean really is beholden to nobody – like McLean says – because, “You get a little campaign financing, you feel obligated. Those people who give you money expect something from you. I’m not fundraising at all.”

And without specifics, she questioned the methods Bill Miranda, who was appointed over Nichols and 48 others in January 2017, used in running the Latino Chamber of Commerce.

“I read about how he ran the Spanish chamber,” she said. “I didn’t think he had the experience or the knowhow or education to run anything like that. If a person is going to open a place and they don’t know how to do that and that and that … You delegate, so you get people who know that expertise. I was a good delegator.”

She said that if elected, she would do what she understood former councilmember (and current candidate) TimBen Boydston did: thoroughly research an issue before voting on it. She cited Boydston’s commitment to studying the Laemmle Theatres project as an example.

“I would try to read and review and talk to other people before I’d vote on an upcoming project,” she said. “I might be run off, but at least they would have a voice.”

Then she started discussing some platform points.

•She wants to protect low-income residents from an increase in city property taxes, even though the county, not the city, assesses and collects taxes; and she wants to give voice regarding new developments such as the proposed Sand Canyon Resort. The city council in July authorized an environmental impact report for the project, which would turn part of the Sand Canyon Country Club into a hotel resort of 217 rooms and 27 villas.

“I don’t think everyone in Sand Canyon wants that in their area,” she said. “I know people that live in Sand Canyon. They wonder how that development is going to affect traffic.”

•She wants to a 45 mph speed limit on Sierra Highway. She told of watching traffic speed by as she waited at the bus stop at Sierra and Flying Tiger Drive.

“I think of little babies in strollers. They don’t know if you’re down low, how it affects you,” she said. “I use a scooter. I’m down low. I almost got hit on Flying Tiger and Sierra. They go so fast, those big trucks. I don’t mean semis. Those SUVs. They don’t look down. They look up, and they’re whizzing by. Not just me. Pedestrians. There’s a lot of foot traffic on Soledad, Sierra, Via Princessa. I’m sure there are a lot of other parts in the city, but I can’t name them.”

•She wants to tackle and drug and homeless problems by including recovered drug addicts and former homeless people in the solutions because, she reasoned, they might know something about those issues.

“All these agencies will be involved with finding a solution, but not any ex-homeless people,” she said. “If you watch the news in L.A., a lot of things are started by ex-homeless people. They know.”

Finally, Nichols addressed her chances of winning a seat, despite not fundraising beyond calling registered voters from a county list she purchased in 2016 and placing signs that she kept from two years ago.

She will make the rounds, including Wednesday’s candidate forum at The Oaks Club Valencia, the Oct. 8 forum at College of the Canyons and the Oct. 17 Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting at the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge.

“I think my chances will be good if the affordable-housing and low-income people who don’t feel like they have a voice vote,” she said, “but you never know who’s going to vote.”

The Bridge to Somewhere, Someday

| News | September 13, 2018

An unforeseen complication with a storm drain has caused a “substantial delay” in construction of the pedestrian bridge near the intersection of Golden Valley Road and Sierra Highway, city officials said.

The city set a target completion date for November, and according to city communications specialist Mayumi Miyasato, that is still the plan. But according to the city’s website, the bridge was supposed to be installed this summer.

“At this moment the crew is working on preparing the foundation for the bridge placement,” Miyasato said in an email. “The steel-truss bridge itself is currently being fabricated out of state and we expect to receive the bridge sometime in October when it will be placed.”

The city council last Sept. 26 awarded $3,477,652 to C.A. Rasmussen, Inc., to build the bridge that will go over Sierra north of Golden Valley. Miyasato said it’s part of a federally funded project that includes a new bus turnout and right-turn lane from southbound Sierra onto Golden Valley, a new sidewalk, bus shelter pad, access ramps and crosswalks, landscaping, street lights, extending the median nose, new pavement and traffic striping, and signal modifications to allow for U-turns.

Additionally, the intersection of Sierra and Rainbow Glen Drive will receive pavement maintenance, traffic striping and signal modifications for U-turns, Miyasato said.

“The City is diligently working to complete the project and will continue to do its part to ensure the impact to our residents is mitigated,” Miyasato said.

Cornhole-in-One

| News | September 6, 2018

A stranger approached Ben Budhu and offered his explanation of the game Budhu calls cornhole: It’s an excuse to drink beer, socialize and throw beanbags at a hole.

“You pretty much nailed it,” Budhu said with a laugh before adding, “and you’re not going to get hurt.”

Whether it’s called cornhole, beanbag toss, bag toss, sack toss, bean sack or any other name, if it’s being played in Santa Clarita, chances are Budhu is somehow involved.

Every Monday, he hosts games at The Dudes’ Brewery in Valencia. Twelve times a year, he runs a four-week league out of Wolf Creek Brewery (the current iteration, which has its league finals Friday, has 26 teams). He does corporate and charity events, too.

On Labor Day, he was at The Dudes’ again, only this time running a 100-person tournament, with the winner (he and his partner, as it turned out) earning a free hotel stay and entry into the Wild West Showdown in Las Vegas Nov. 2-4.

Many locals competed, as did teams from the Antelope Valley, Ventura, San Diego and Fresno. Just about each time someone new walked into the brewery, Budhu greeted them warmly with a guttural groan or a “what’s happenin’, buddy?” He then used an app he and a buddy created to sign up people into the tournament.

Cornhole dates to 1883 but gained popularity in Cincinnati and Chicago in the 1970s. The two competing governing bodies, the American Cornhole Association and American Cornhole Organization, are in the Cincinnati area. The ACA runs the American Cornhole League, which sanctions the Las Vegas tournament; and ESPN broadcasts the ACO national championships.

It’s a simple game: Teams of two to four try to toss four one-pound beanbags into a six-inch hole from 27 feet away. The beanbags are six-by-six inches, with one side being slicker so it can slide on the board and the other side stickier so it doesn’t slide.

The hole is in a two-feet-by-four-feet platform called a board that is raised three inches in front and 12 inches at the back. Bags that go into the hole are worth three points; those on the board get one point. The first team to get 21 points wins, but points are only earned after cancellation scoring. This means that if Team A throws four bags into the hole and Team B lands three bags on the board, Team A gets nine points.

Budhu discovered the game four years ago and thought he was really good. Then he found out that he had been playing it wrong, tossing from 20 feet instead of 27. Still, he went online and discovered the ACA and ACO, neither of which had any West Coast presence.
So, he took it upon himself to spread the game. He found SCV Cornhole in 2015 and is now a certified regional director, meaning he can run tournaments.

The Labor Day one featured 30 teams, many with names befitting the sport: CornDawgs, Slide It In, Me So Corny, Can O Corn (Budhu played on SellBud; his wife and sister competed as Booyah Sisters).

Brian Reagan, who competed on Sacks Deep, said he had only been playing four months. He said he saw a Facebook posting from Budhu, came out one Monday, “had a blast and now I’m here all the time.”

He said he loved the competitive spirit and the people, plus the beer.

Chris Haslock competed with his son, Chad, as the Haz Beens. He said the team name arose out of him and his kids playing baseball and softball; now, they play cornhole and are “has beens” with the other sports.

“I would golf with my dad,” Chris said. “Now, it’s me and my kids playing cornhole.”

He said the family likes the game so much that on a recent golf vacation to Palm Springs, they brought along their cornhole bags and boards and played poolside, in their hotel rooms and in a nearby bar.

They played two rounds of golf.

Sitting off to one side was Budhu’s wife, Sheri. Does she consider herself a cornhole widow?

“I call him my corn star,” she said.

District Voting: The People Could Force the Issue

| City Council, News | September 6, 2018

When Mark White ran for city council in 2016, changing to district elections instead of at-large voting was one of his platform points. Although he’s not running this time, he still feels the city would be better served if there were elected representatives from various communities.

“We shouldn’t be a city where one half of one percent gets elected and decides who runs things,” he said. “District elections will make it harder for them to decide.”

Santa Clarita is one of the largest cities that has not moved to district voting, even though attempts have been made. Most famous was the lawsuit the city settled in 2014 after two Latino plaintiffs claimed they and their fellow Latinos’ votes were diluted under the California Voting Rights Act. The CVRA, which expands on the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, has been widely used to compel cities, school districts, water boards and the like to move to district voting. But the city didn’t, instead moving the election to November from April and going to cumulative voting, which a judge threw out.

White fears another lawsuit – and the settlement that taxpayers would foot – is coming.
“It’s inevitable,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if a lawsuit happened right after the election, even if (current councilmember) Bill Miranda gets elected.”

However, White is not actively looking for a plaintiff to sue, nor is he personally planning to sue, which wouldn’t work because the CVRA is used to prove minority groups have their votes diluted.

A lawsuit isn’t the only way the city would be forced to move to district voting. Two other ways exist: the council places the matter on the ballot or an initiative earns enough signatures to qualify for a vote.

Since three current councilmembers, Bob Kellar, Marsha McLean and Laurene Weste, oppose moving to district voting, the only way the council will put the matter to the people is if candidates who favor it are elected (McLean and Weste are running for re-election in November).

The other two councilmembers, Miranda and Cameron Smyth, are open to discussing it, although Miranda said in a text he wants “input from the public before deciding whether to introduce (the) measure to the council. The input needs to be a large sample.”

Candidates on the record of either favoring district voting or letting the people decide include Logan Smith, Diane Trautman, Brett Haddock (“We desperately need districts,” he said) and TimBen Boydston. Smith even went as far as calling for seven districts and directly electing the mayor, and Boydston said he would ask to place the matter on the council agenda during the very first meeting after he’s sworn in.

Common reasons given for making the move include spending less money to get elected and that the city is too large and too many people don’t feel like they are being heard.

“It’s time for our community to move in that direction,” Trautman said. “I want people to feel they are having a voice in their governance. This is something we (should discuss) to understand what it entails, what it involves, what the repercussions would be.”

Another possibility is the initiative process, which Haddock said he would explore if he were not elected. The state Election Code spells out the process for how a municipal initiative (as opposed to a state ballot proposition) could qualify for a ballot. Basically, proponents must file intent to circulate a petition, the initiative’s text and any other written statement or purpose (500 words maximum) to the city clerk, plus pay a maximum $200 filing fee. The same information also has to be published in a local newspaper.

Then the proponents have 180 days to collect enough signatures (10 percent of the city’s registered voters for a regular election, 15 percent for a special election) to qualify. This is where it gets expensive. Haddock and community activist Alan Ferdman estimated it would cost $100,000 to successfully qualify for a ballot, which was the cost to defeat Measure S. Most of those costs would be from hiring paid signature gatherers and advertising.

“With 30 to 40 people, it could be done,” Ferdman said, “but it would require a large amount of dedicated individuals that would be willing to spend three months or however long.”

Right now, the initiative process seems a real long shot. White said he hadn’t even thought about it, Trautman would be willing to work on it but not take the lead, and Haddock might take the lead but is worried about the cost. Smyth said he wouldn’t sign the petition.

Boydston also questioned whether district voting is as important to others as it is to White and Haddock, who put district voting among his top five priorities.

“I don’t see the issue, like many city-level issues, as being important enough to enough people,” Boydston said. “The population, as a whole, doesn’t have enough time to follow the arguments.”

McLean Touts Vision and Experience

| News | August 30, 2018

If the three most important words in real estate are “location, location, location,” then the three most important words in Marsha McLean’s city council re-election campaign are “experience, experience, experience.”

She laughed at this suggestion, but make no mistake: Over a long career that has included four council terms, McLean has amassed a sizable list of accomplishments, 20 of which were on a sheet of paper she provided.

“I could keep you here another hour,” she said near the end of a 59-minute interview at Cathy’s Deli.

However, if pushed, McLean lists the following: her involvement with Bridge to Home and securing more affordable housing, the new senior center and sheriff’s station; increased train service, including a direct route to Burbank airport, and various capital projects in various stages of development. These include, but aren’t limited to, the Canyon Country Community Center, the parking structure and Laemmle Theatres in Newhall, a new library/community center in Saugus and replacing bridges and infrastructure in Valencia.

McLean also kept returning to all of the various committees, coalitions, organizations, associations, task forces, councils, clubs and boards she has served, led, sat on, worked for and advised. Another handout she provided listed 28 different bullet points, many of which included more than one position or organization.

“There’s something to be said for experience,” she said. “(With) my experience on regional boards and commissions, I have built up relationships that benefit the people of Santa Clarita. That doesn’t happen overnight. We still have many issues ahead of us in which the relationships I have built are relevant.”

One issue she returned to repeatedly regarded roads. She claimed she secured $300 million for roads and road improvements, including a $47 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. A press release from Rep. Steve Knight said the $47 million was an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant to the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority that would help ease congestion on Interstate 5; McLean’s name was nowhere to be found.

Many people, most notably TimBen Boydston, have criticized McLean for allowing traffic to escalate to the point of comparing it to the San Fernando Valley. McLean said she’s ready to have roads built through the Whittaker-Bermite property right now, as well as extending Magic Mountain Parkway, Santa Clarita Parkway and Via Princessa. There just needs to be a developer willing to come in and show a plan.

The problem is no developer wants to build only roads. They want to build homes, offices, retail centers – McLean envisions a large conference center – and everything else a developer and city council want with 996 acres to spare. But since no plans have been forthcoming, there are no new roads, and traffic continues to worsen.

“You have to fight for it. You have to work for it, on all levels of government,” McLean said. “We are not finished with our roads.”

While McLean touts accomplishments and optimism, when challenged and criticized she states that certain people “have a propensity to always bring out the negativity, so I don’t believe in negativity. I believe in truth, and if I sound defensive and sensitive, I can’t help how you think it sounds. I’m trying to tell you the way things are, and I would find it very sad if everything positive gets turned into a negative.”

Still, she knows as an incumbent, she wears a target. Various council candidates have objected to various qualities, behaviors and actions McLean (and other councilmembers) have taken.

Mostly, she sticks to a pat answer: “I respect other people’s opinions even when I don’t agree with them.” This was her response when asked to respond to Brett Haddock’s calling for a four-term limit, Logan Smith’s thinking the council has its mind made up before coming into chambers and hearing public comment, and Boydston’s criticism of “One Valley, One Vision.”

City Council Candidate Diane Trautman was once appointed to the city Planning Commission by McLean. When asked to respond to Trautman, who said, “Marsha takes offense when anybody disagrees. She’s really sensitive,” McLean interrupted and said, “I’ve known Diane Trautman years upon years upon years. I won’t comment on what she says, but she knows me better than that.”

Regarding the three-councilmember rule she said, “No comment. We need to – no comment.”

She answered almost every other question. She said she reads each council agenda packet in its entirety, asks the city manager numerous questions (most of which are answered before the council meeting), and reads various other city, county and private-sector reports looking to find ways to benefit the city.

“I am in this job 24-7,” she said. “My day goes beyond an eight-hour day. That’s just the way I wish to do the job.”

She does not think, as Trautman does, she gets critical or insulted if someone comes in and offers an opposing viewpoint. “We are five members that were elected to our positions,” she said before correcting herself because Bill Miranda had been appointed. “I represent the residents of Santa Clarita. My decisions are based on facts and as a resident what I feel is best for the residents of the city.”

That is why she said she voted against marijuana dispensaries in the city. She said a majority of residents have emailed, called and spoken to her voicing their objections. When asked to provide how wide a majority, she refused.

“I talk to families. I talk to parents, and the way they feel is they don’t want their children exposed to this,” she said. “People who need access to medical marijuana should have access to medical marijuana, and they do.”

McLean turned 78 in July. She is running for her fifth term and, unlike Laurene Weste and Bob Kellar, has not ruled out running again in four years.

“I have a vision, and I have the experience necessary to ensure our city continues to grow and enjoy the quality of life our citizens deserve,” she said.

Monitoring Traffic from the Bowels of City Hall

| News | August 30, 2018

Deep within the third floor of City Hall is a window. You could walk past it and never realize it’s there or what’s behind it. The sign on the glass is nondescript, too: “Traffic Operations Center.” Blinds are shut, preventing any peeks inside.

The locked door leads to another door that requires punching in a code to gain access. But once past that door, enter the center and see how the city monitors the flow of traffic.

It’s not a very large room, just 216 square feet, but three large screens on two walls and four smaller screens atop a desk in the center of the room dominate. Opposite the entrance are five large cabinet doors that hide the computers. Next to the door are 11 other computerized boxes called controllers.

This is the room where Cesar Romo spends much of his time, when he’s not out in the field or looking at the same images and intersections on his cell phone that are on the screens.

“I’m very passionate about this,” said Romo, the city’s traffic signal system administrator. “I’m always looking for ways to make traffic better for Santa Clarita.”

Romo took about an hour Tuesday to demonstrate how the multimillion-dollar system works and has been operating since 2006. First, some basics: The city only monitors the 191 signals within the city limits, so if someone calls and reports a malfunction to a light in Stevenson Ranch or Castaic, Romo or a city staffer will call the county or Caltrans to report it.

On one desktop screen is an overhead map of the valley filled with colored dots that denote traffic signals. The colors have meanings: A green dot means the signal is synchronized and operating properly, a blue dot means a signal only changes when a car trips a sensor at the intersection, a purple dot means a train is crossing, and a red dot means the signal is offline but not necessarily malfunctioning, Romo said. In fact, during the demonstration, red dots changed to green or blue.

When Romo clicks on a dot, the intersection pops onto the screen, courtesy of a satellite photo. Green or yellow arrows appear and disappear, indicating the flow of traffic (no arrow means the light is red). There’s also a flashing red light to indicate a pedestrian (shown as an orange light at a corner) pushed the crosswalk button.

On another desktop screen, Romo calls up a camera that’s broadcasting live from the intersection. Now, he can watch traffic move on one screen and see how it matches the arrows on the other screen.

“It’s nice to be able to look at two images and see traffic at the same time,” city Traffic Engineer Gus Pivetti said.

From this remote distance, Romo said, he can modify the timing if needed, whether by emergency, malfunction or enough people call about an intersection and he, after investigating, decides it needs modification.

“It’s a lengthy process,” he said. “You can’t just retime one light. You have to look at the whole artery.”

And if he’s not in the office, he can call up the image on his phone.

When a signal malfunctions or when the sheriff’s department makes changes because of an accident, Romo and Pivetti are among those in the department that get emails – no matter the time of day or night.

“Whether he’s in the center or not, there’s full-time communication,” Pivetti said.

If the situation warrants alerting the public, when a fire erupts, a water main breaks or an evacuation is needed, city spokesperson Carrie Lujan gets involved by sending the alert through various social media platforms. Then Romo or someone else calls the county, because that’s who’s in charge of signal maintenance.

Another aspect the center has been able to help determine is the need for what Romo and Pivetti call “dynamic lanes,” which are lanes that can be used for various purposes at various times of day.

Romo called up the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway. The camera – one of 300 the city uses – showed that eastbound on Soledad Canyon, a sign lights up at certain times to make the right lane, normally a turn lane, a lane to either go straight or turn right.

This system also showed that over time, that intersection needed more left-turn lanes, so the city moved the median over, giving more lanes to the eastbound Soledad Canyon and northbound Sierra Highway sides.

Since the traffic center has been online for several years now, there have been several upgrades and improvements (Romo said he’s currently in Phase 4A
of 7). A current one is called the adaptive traffic system, and its purpose is to measure the best timing plan during peak hours.

Romo is testing the system in Canyon Country on Whites Canyon Road between Stillmore and Steinway streets because there are three schools nearby “and traffic fluctuates a lot,” Romo said. “I want the system to adapt.”

Is it a perfect system? Romo admits it’s not.

“It’s going to have some issues, but what is acceptable?” he said. “Roads are designed to handle a certain number of vehicles. When the number of cars exceeds that, you have congestion.”

But something must be going right. In a back corner are various awards the center has won. These include two Best Use of Technology honors from the American Public Works Association and the 2007 Outstanding Public/Private Sector Civil Engineering Project from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

And yet, when asked if the residents by and large knew this room existed, Romo said, “I’m not sure.”

But he also said, “I think we manage traffic pretty good.”

Sean Weber Weaves Council Campaign

| Meet the Candidates | August 23, 2018

In some ways, what Sean Weber seeks to accomplish by running for city council is a return to true representative democracy, a truly involved electorate and no partisanship.

“That’s no longer happening,” he said Monday while sitting inside a Starbucks. “You have policies that are being dictated from Washington D.C. You have policies that are being dictated from both parties where everybody’s so polarized, they’re all fighting each other and they’re not following what’s really going on … to the point that people are tuning it out. It becomes so difficult that people are disengaging because of the polarization. You can’t have a conversation with someone without it getting into those kinds of things. … It’s reality and if you don’t go along with party politics, you’re ostracized.

“If I want to do something in this world, and I want to say at least I’m putting forth the effort, it may not be me that actually does it. Definitely, hopefully it sparks conversation. If you want to see change in this world, it starts with your home, it starts with your house, it starts with your community, it starts with your town, it starts with your friends. That’s what it’s about.”

And Weber has his friends. At least three expressed support online for him to run, and Jeff Martin said Weber inspired him to get involved, so he’s running for a William S. Hart Union High School District board seat.

“He also inspired a lot of people to pay attention to politics,” Martin said. “He’s definitely had an impact.”

Weber said he thinks there’s a problem when the same incumbents, and what he calls “the rotating circle that goes through all the commissions, all the water boards, all the school boards,” keep serving.

“They’ve done great to get us here, yet I’m not certain that they know what it takes to get us where we need to go,” he said. “We do not want to become the Valley.”

This campaign might prove quixotic, but it’s not stopping Weber. He knows there are many roadblocks standing in his way. He’s 36, and only Cameron Smyth (28) and Frank Ferry (32) were younger when first elected to the council. Also, he didn’t pay to have a ballot statement included (only five of 15 candidates didn’t).

Third, he has a criminal past, having pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of witness dissuasion in 2004. He spent six days in jail awaiting his hearing and later was sentenced to 36 months of probation and 192 hours of community service. His probation ended after 26 months, and his record was expunged. Court documents show Weber requested an early end to probation because “my employer is preparing to send me to law school and I would like to clean my record to begin the application process.”

Weber said Monday he never applied to law school. He also provided the name of the woman who accused him of witness dissuasion, but she did not return a phone call.

Weber said the matter was “a family issue” but said he wouldn’t be who or where he is today without having gone through this when he was 22.

However, he is still going though the matter of a two-year restraining order a court granted him against another city council candidate, Brett Haddock.

According to the court transcripts dated July 11, 2017, Weber sought protection because he feared Haddock was going to “kill my family” because online posts from 2015 show Haddock talking about going on a “murderous rampage” and that Weber is Haddock’s “target.” Weber’s attorney also said Haddock posted some of Weber’s easily identifiable information such as address, date of birth and car’s license plate.

“My parents’ house was singled out, and the car window was smashed,” Weber said Monday. “They took nothing.” Weber also posted a photo online of the smashed window.

The transcripts also reveal that Weber and Haddock don’t know each other personally and only met briefly during the 2017 city council appointment process.

“All these things taken together, it looks like Mr. Haddock has an unhealthy obsession with my client,” attorney Troy Slaten told the court.

Haddock’s attorney, Kenneth White, said the “murderous rampage” comment was Haddock’s problems with an insurance company. “They are trying to betray a two-year-old post as being something else,” White said.

In court documents, Haddock said that during the appointment process, Weber “threatened people with libel, slander, defamation for indirect quotes, but still had the spirit of what he was saying. He has engaged in – it really comes down to bullying. … I believe I have a morale (sic) obligation to stand up for people who abuse their public citizens. … I am not a violent person. I am adamantly a pain in the ass, but I’m just using my First Amendment rights to stand up for people that are being bullied.”

Superior Court Commissioner Laura Hymowitz, saying she finds it unusual for a private citizen to appoint oneself to go after bullies, issued the restraining order despite saying, “Most of what Mr. Haddock is doing just doesn’t quite reach the standard.”

The two cannot be in the same room until after July 2019, meaning that Haddock’s previously stated desire to have all city council candidates share a meal – and he invited all but Weber to do so – can’t happen.

Against the backdrop of all this baggage, Weber presses on. He wants to use his technology background to make Santa Clarita “a smart city” by improving infrastructure to support the various small businesses that he says are so important. Right now, he said, the city is not adequately planning for such basics as faster internet connections. He would like to see the entire city go wireless.

“When you have chains all over the city, and they’re what’s growing and pushing out all the small businesses, then you don’t have money going back into the city, and I care more about small businesses and the people that work out of here that started businesses, want their businesses to grow,” he said. “Those mean more to me than those chains.”

As The Pages Turn

| News | August 16, 2018

After the city decided to take control of its three libraries and give a private company the boot, City Manager Ken Striplin wrote an article in The Magazine of Santa Clarita assuring people that this move will benefit everyone.

“Transitioning to an in-house service will help the City better deliver on the library mission,” Striplin wrote.

Months later, people on Facebook beg to differ. One string started last week had 160 comments, mostly from people complaining about employees not knowing what they’re doing, a lack of books and having to go to county libraries in Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and Acton; staff cuts, program cuts, cleanliness and computer glitches.

“Libraries are, believe it or not, huge with my generation,” city council candidate Logan Smith wrote. “I’m really frustrated with how this whole thing has been handled.”

Jodi Bachman Osburn wrote, “Since the city has completely taken over it seems as if no actual librarians and the depth of materials is awful, even e books the amount available is horrendous. Shame on our Santa Clarita city council.”

For his part, Striplin did not respond to the Gazette. The Gazette sent city spokeswoman Carrie Lujan 11 questions for Striplin, to which Lujan responded.

“Every day we get feedback from our residents about City services, and we make adjustments to address their concerns and improve services,” Lujan wrote. “This is why nearly 90 (percent) of residents are satisfied with City service per our public opinion poll conducted by Godbe Associates. We always invite feedback, questions and concerns through our Resident Service Center (RSC) at santa-clarita.com/RSC.”

Lujan said that in feedback in July revealed that 90 percent of respondents said the staff effectively addressed the issue, 89 percent said the staff timely responded to them, and 93 percent found staff courteous.

Still, Lujan included in the Facebook string a message from city librarian Shannon Vonnegut, who apologized.

“I want to assure you that providing the best library service possible is our first priority,” Vonnegut said, offering her email address and phone number. “I also wanted to share options for getting books that are not currently on the shelves at any of our three branches. We do offer interlibrary loan borrowing and our staff is always willing to help request a loan for our patrons.”

It was Barbara Hills Kehoe who began the string Aug. 7, complaining about staff failing to verify books had been returned, emailing a scanned document and providing incorrect information on how to print from the computers.

“I have spoken to at least 10 new employees … and I am appalled at their ignorance on how to do things,” Kehoe wrote. “I know they arent (sic) all librarians, but heck, know your basic stuff.”

Lujan did not think the staff was learning too slowly.

When the city left the county library system in 2010, the New York Times reported, it paid Rockville, Md.-based Library Systems & Services (LSSI) $4 million to run the Newhall, Canyon Country and Valencia branches. That included hiring staff and buying books. LSSI held the contract for seven years before the city took over. The Signal reported the move would save the city $400,000 the first fiscal year.

Cecill Cornell Holguin wrote that she encountered some issues getting books from other libraries when LSSI was in charge. “I knew that when the city decided to run everything ‘in house’ it would be even worse,” she wrote. “With only 3 libraries in town how are they supposed to have a big enough catalog for requests?”

Lujan said 94 percent of items checked out came from “our local collection. Of that 6 (percent), many were titles we had in our collection, which were currently checked out by another patron. We believe we can meet the needs of our library patrons through better collection development. We invest $850,000 a year in our collection by adding new items.”

Kathy Bullock bemoaned the difficulty her book club is having securing the necessary 10 copies.

“I never had to go to county for book club books before. Or for most books for that matter,” Bullock wrote. “I don’t know how the person in charge got the city to believe we don’t need to borrow from other libraries.”

Lujan said the city can handle book clubs and referred to the Book Club in a Bag program in which the Valencia branch provides 10-12 copies of pre-selected titles (the library website lists 22) along with conversation starters.

Many people also complained that many experienced (read: high-paying) staff were let go and replaced by younger people.

Evelyne Vandersande wrote, “They want to save money and they will. They are closing one hour earlier and are using young employees, minimum wages and part time so no benefits. Those employees do not know what they are doing? Of course not! No experience at all.”

Actually, Lujan said, the Valencia branch hours shifted an hour earlier, from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. to 9 a.m.-8 p.m., on Mondays through Thursdays to give families with younger children more time to access the library before lunch or naptime. She added that all library employees are paid more than minimum wage and that the pay and benefits are better now than in the previous contract.

Kim Durand Nunez wrote about a time she asked a Valencia branch employee a question. “The girl rolled her eyes at me and gave me a hard time while checking out. Won’t go back unless absolutely necessary,” she wrote.

Many posters made it clear that they are now going to the county libraries in Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and Acton, although Dana Eklund, who wrote she worked at the Sylmar branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, said she sees many “come over the hill to get access to the vast collection of 72 branches plus the LA Central Library. It takes about a week to transfer items across the city to Sylmar Library, sometimes less. Granada Hills branch is also close.”

Not every post on the string was negative. Pat Czyzyk said she would rather deal with someone who is still learning but is pleasant than have to deal with someone who has experience but is unpleasant.

Darren Hernandez, who didn’t identify himself as a city employee but Lujan said was deputy city manager and director of neighborhood services, defended those hired.

“The implication is that unqualified people were hired. That’s untrue and unkind to those who were selected,” he wrote. “You aren’t being mean to me, you’re being mean to them.”

Eric Early Strikes Out Again

| News | August 16, 2018

Denied.

That one word, issued Friday by the Supreme Court of California, put to rest attorney Eric Early’s attempt to have Attorney General Xavier Becerra removed from the November ballot because his state bar status was “inactive.”

“No comment, just one word: denied,” Early said. “Sweet, huh?”

Last week, the Supreme Court requested immediate briefing, and Early asked the Court to rule whether an attorney who maintains “inactive” status with the bar can serve as AG under Government Code Sec. 12503, which states, “No person shall be eligible to the office of Attorney General unless he shall have been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the state for a period of at least five years immediately preceding his election or appointment to such office.”

Early, who ran unsuccessfully for AG in the June primary, has long maintained the answer is no. Becerra changed his status to “active” Jan. 1, 2017, court documents say, and Early contends in those same documents that Becerra would be active for one year, 10 months and five days on Nov. 6.

In their reply, Becerra’s attorneys insist Becerra is eligible to continue serving as AG.

“Becerra meets that eligibility requirement many times over. The Court admitted him to practice 33 years ago, on June 14, 1985, and his admission has never been revoked or suspended,” Stephen Kaufman, Gary Winuk and Jay-Allen Eisen wrote in court documents Early provided to the Gazette. “Apparently unwilling to accept the democratic process, Early and his campaign committee ask this Court to take the extraordinary step of overturning the primary election.”

Early, vowed to continue fighting, but he won’t meet his goal of having the matter heard before the Aug. 13 deadline for the secretary of state submitting names and statements to the printer.

“That ship has sailed,” he said.

Early’s next move is to re-file with the state Court of Appeal and let the matter be heard on a non-emergency basis. He previously filed an emergency writ with the court.

“Someone’s got to interpret this statute, because it’s not been interpreted by the courts,” Early said. “It’s got to be ruled upon by a court.”

This is the second time Sec. 12503 has been cited in a failed attempt to invalidate an AG. After Jerry Brown was elected AG in 2006, Contra Costa County Republican Central Committee chairman and state GOP vice-chair candidate Tom Del Beccaro unsuccessfully brought the exact same suit. Brown’s status was “inactive” from Jan. 1, 1997, through May 1, 2003, according to bar records.

TimBen There, Done That – Boydston is Back and Boisterous as Ever

| Meet the Candidates | August 16, 2018

He’s back, and he’s angry – at the lack of roads in the city, at the hypocrisy over water, at political cowardice and with two long-serving incumbents.

TimBen Boydston is running for city council again, two years after being defeated in his bid for re-election. Last time, he ran as an independent, one who looks out for the people and isn’t afraid to be controversial.

None of that came across during the hour-long interview Tuesday. What came across was his annoyance at Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean.
He blamed them for supporting the One Valley, One Vision plan that he said has led to an increase of traffic so great that it’s starting to resemble the San Fernando Valley.

“I fought against the One Valley, One Vision plan very hard. One reason was the traffic,” he said, his vice rising for not the last time. “They voted to allow your traffic to get worse. They voted for it. You have to read the details to see that. I do not want to spend the next few years watching this place become the San Fernando Valley.”

As far as Boydston is concerned, Weste and McLean represent traffic continuing to get worse and worse. His voice rose again as he said, “If you’re sitting at a traffic light, it’s the third, fourth or fifth cycle, and you still haven’t gone through, you can thank Mayor Weste and Councilwoman McLean.”

Boydston said when he was on the council, he asked for a traffic study that looked at peak traffic instead of average traffic, which he said the city currently uses.

“Nobody cares what traffic looks like at 2 in the morning,” he said.

The obvious solution is to build more roads, he said, and he reminded that he helped ensure construction on the Golden Valley Bridge and Via Princessa. He now wants the street to reach Wiley Canyon Road, which he says is already planned – except the council lacks “the political will to complete it.”

He knows that the Whittaker-Bermite property is a factor, but he insists roads can now be built through parts of Whittaker-Bermite “if they had the political will. They will not even address the issue because they’re not serious about building roads.”

Boydston said he’d be willing to bring up the matter as a bond issue, asking if the people would be willing to fund construction to expand Wiley Canyon, Magic Mountain Parkway and Santa Clarita Parkway that would run straight through Whittaker-Bermite.

“If the roads are not built, we will continue to have gridlock,” Boydston said.

Boydston also takes Weste and McLean to task for what he sees as hypocrisy. “In the worst drought in a hundred years, Mayor Weste and Councilmember McLean voted for new city landscaping and to water it,” he said. “Instead of setting an example, they’re telling other people to do what they can to save as much water as possible, yet they voted to put in landscaping (in the medians) and use water to water it.”

At this point, Boydston segued into what he sees as the incumbents’ political cowardice.

He was shocked that McLean, who received widespread praise for fighting to keep Elsmere Canyon from becoming a landfill just outside town in 1996, wouldn’t join Boydston and fight to keep Chiquita Canyon – also outside of town – from expanding.

And he railed against the council for passing a rule – sometimes called the “TimBen Rule” – that requires three councilmembers’ consent to place an issue on the agenda. This came about because Boydston wanted to have the city partner with the county in reducing homelessness. Instead, he said, Weste and McLean (and Bob Kellar) passed a new council rule. The council refused to even take a seat at the county’s table, and by the time Cameron Smyth finally woke up the other members and they started tackling the homeless question, Boydston said, it was two years too late to see any real county money.

“I believe being a leader on the city council, you are supposed to take a stand on an issue that affects your city,” Boydston said. Needing three people to create an agenda item “is like a Third World democracy. … In a true democracy, anyone can put something on an agenda. It’s ludicrous, but it’s the council’s cowardice.”

Boydston also touted some accomplishments, including making sure an oil pipeline contract included more liability insurance to the city, fighting to keep the Burbank-to-Palmdale high-speed train out of Santa Clarita (he said Weste voted for it and McLean favored it before changing her mind) and fighting to defeat Measure S so there would be no digital billboards in open spaces.

He also helped seniors by opposing seniors-only mobile-home conversions to all-ages parks, favored a new senior center and community center – both of which are being built – helped get rid of red-light cameras and helped bring body cameras to sheriff’s deputies.

Yet he is far from satisfied with the way the city is run and feels he can do more to help the people.

“Santa Clarita is a good place to live, and it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,” he said. “If you ask people who’ve lived here a long time if they think Santa Clarita is a better place to live now than 10 years ago, I think most would say no.”

Request for Weste Interview Goes South

| Meet the Candidates | August 9, 2018

Laurene Weste’s re-election campaign for what would be an unprecedented sixth term on the city council seems to be starting just fine. Although as of Tuesday, she had not yet turned in her paperwork to the city clerk, she still had a few days, and she raised about $24,000, more than any other candidate.

Weste was set to be the fifth candidate for city council (and first incumbent) the Gazette interviewed and wrote about for its occasional “Meet the Candidates” series. She did something different, however, requesting questions be emailed to her instead of sitting down for an interview, as Diane Trautman, Jason Gibbs and Brett Haddock did; or consenting to talk via telephone, as Logan Smith did.

The Gazette complied and emailed her the following questions on July 31, prefacing that “these aren’t softball questions.”

1. Why have you decided to do this by email instead of meeting and/or talking?

2. What will you do differently than in any of your previous terms?

3. You so often say how great Santa Clarita is. What is the best thing about it? What are the largest things that need addressing/improving/fixing? Why? How do you propose to solve these?

4. You have repeatedly denied you stand to gain anything from the Lyons-Dockweiler extension, yet the perception persists. What definitive, tangible proof can you offer to put those naysayers to rest?

5. There is a perception that the councilmembers have their minds made up on an issue before they go into chambers and listen to public comment. I have heard this regarding the Laemmle Theater project, the Lyons-Dockweiler extension, the cannabis dispensary ban, the homeless action plan and the sanctuary city question. Logan Smith made this point when I interviewed him. Is it true? On average, how much time do you spend reading staff reports? Do you do independent interviews and reviews of issues?

6. Brett Haddock is calling for term limits: a maximum of four. What do you say?

7. I quote Diane Trautman: “Laurene tends to talk to people like children.” What is your response?

8. I quote Diane Trautman again: If a person comes before the council and is either critical or offers an opposing viewpoint, “It’s not treated as a matter of disagreement. It’s treated as an insult to the councilmembers. So, there’s not a welcoming of different ideas, and that’s not helpful to anybody. … It seemed to be that everyone has to agree, and that’s a dangerous thing to do, and it leads to groupthink.” Do you think Diane’s comments have merit? Why or why not?

9. Diane Trautman believes the city council should set policy and the city manager should carry out the council’s plans, but here, it’s backwards. Is she right? Do you believe the council should take the lead, or should it rely on Ken Striplin to set the agenda?

10. The council’s average age is 68, but take away Cameron Smyth and it’s 73.75. You will be 70 on Election Day. I quote Bob Kellar: “Are we supposed to stay on the city council until we’re 90 years old?” What do you say to those who believe it’s time for a new generation?

11. If elected, this would be your sixth term. You have said this will be your final term. Is there anything that could make you run for a seventh?

In its original email, the Gazette hoped to receive a response by Friday. When none came, a reporter called Weste, who responded that she was on the other line talking to a sick relative, that she hadn’t yet had time to respond but would, abruptly said, “God bless” and hung up.

The Gazette continues to hope Weste will respond and will print her answers if she does.

Santa Clarita’s Facebook Community – Love thy neighbor, share thy dog video

| News | August 9, 2018

Want to be kept updated on the local fire? There’s a Facebook page for that.

Need to know what your friends think about a particular issue? There’s a Facebook page for that.

Feel you have to sound off on what some school board, city council or water board member said? The same Facebook page is available.
While there are numerous community pages residents can join to be informed about what’s happening around Santa Clarita (and what people are saying about it), only one has more than 20,000 members: Santa Clarita Community.

“When something comes up, and people want to discuss it, there’s a forum for it,” said Mike Devlin, one of the group administrators.

Here is where people share video and photos, ask for recommendations, create polls, link articles and sound off when somebody angers them with their comments.

It’s where reporters troll for story ideas, people connect with strangers, and candidates announce their fundraisers.

“The goal is to be there,” Devlin said.

And they have been since May 2013. There was an earlier group, SCV Letters to the Editor, in which the administrator kicked off several people, including Lee Rogers, who suggested a new group, Santa Clarita Community.

“We wanted a better version of what we got kicked off of,” Devlin said.

At the time, Facebook group pages were relatively new, and Devlin said nobody realized how big it would become. An early clue was the number of comments they got when the Saugus Union School District censured then-board-member Stephen Winkler for posting online comments people found inappropriate, then removed him because he violated residency requirements.

Another hot-button issue was Measure S, the digital billboard issue. So was the 2014 city council race and the House race between Steve Knight and Tony Strickland (Devlin said that once upon a time, Knight actually posted in the group. “It was a different time,” he said).

Like any group, the administrators have rules. The original ones included no in-search-of or recommendation posts, no spam or fake names, no personal attacks; and topics must be local Monday through Thursday but anything goes on the weekends. Also, members had to have some tie to the area.

Some of those rules still exist, but Devlin said it can be tough to enforce. ISO and recommendations were easily found (a violation of rule 4, although the rule says that if it’s unique, it might be allowed), and members personally insult and shame each other (rules 2 and 5). Devlin said this is the price that’s paid for having so many members. Of the one third of posts not allowed, most violate the ISO or personal-attack rules.

“The destruction of the other person is your main objective if you’re online. That catches us off guard. We’d rather people find a way to get along,” Devlin said. “It comes and goes with the issue. … You have to commit to being in the fray and taking on all comers, or not at all.”

The most important thing, Devlin said, is to have polite discussions. In fact, to him, the conversation is more important than the outcome.

“We have a really good thing going,” he said. “We’re not trying to drive it in a particular way.”

Early’s First Attempt to Keep Becerra off the Ballot Fails

| News | August 2, 2018

A judge rejected an attempt to have Attorney General Xavier Becerra removed from the November ballot because his state bar status was “inactive,” but the man who brought the case is appealing.

Eric Early

Eric Early, a candidate for attorney general who didn’t qualify for the November election, said he filed an emergency petition for a writ of mandate with the state Court of Appeal.

“This needs to be heard,” Early said.

And it needs to be heard by Aug. 13, he said, because that’s the date the secretary of state sends the names and statements to the printer.
At issue is whether Becerra, who was appointed AG by Gov. Jerry Brown to replace Kamala Harris in early 2017, is eligible to serve and run for AG because from January 1991-January 2007, Becerra was an inactive member of the state bar.

Government Code Sec. 12503 says, “No person shall be eligible to the office of Attorney General unless he shall have been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the state for a period of at least five years immediately preceding his election or appointment to such office.”

Becerra changed his status to “active” Jan. 1, 2017, court documents say, and Early contends in those same documents that Becerra would be active for one year, 10 months and five days on Nov. 6.

“When you’re inactive, you’re not allowed to practice, and if you practice, it’s a misdemeanor,” Early said.

In his 34-page brief to the Court of Appeal, Early lays out the reasons he believes the Superior Court erred in ruling Becerra is eligible.

First, he quotes a 1999 case that says if the law’s language can be interpreted more than one way, the court must consider, among other aspects, “the legislative objectives of the statute, its legislative history, public policy, and the overall statutory scheme of which the section is a part.” Early contends that Sec. 12503 clearly states that inactive membership doesn’t allow Becerra to be admitted to practice.

“The phrase ‘admitted to practice’ as used in the statute can mean only one thing – the actual ability to practice law,” Early’s petition says. He adds that the court erred in interpreting the law any other way.

Early then goes into the history of Sec. 12503, which started as Assembly Bill 147 in 1966. At that time, he argues, the state constitution contained an identical eligibility requirement for judges. “The language in Government Code Sec. 12503 is identical and appears to have been lifted directly from this provision,” Early brief says.

Early also quotes then-AG George Deukmejian, in 1980: “We believe the [five year bar membership requirement] is designed, at least in part, to establish a minimum qualification of actual experience and skill in law, demonstrated by uninterrupted membership in the State Bar.”

Early says the court disregarded the various cases he quoted because they involved involuntary suspensions (Becerra voluntarily changed to “inactive” status).

“However, this is a distinction without a difference,” Early’s petition says. “Whether the suspension from the ability to practice law is involuntary or voluntary, the effect is the same – the attorney is prohibited from the practice of law.”

Next, Early cites Sec. 6006 of the Business and Professions Code, which he says the Legislature added in 1989 to ensure an inactive lawyer could not become a judge. “However, the Legislature did not extend this statutory modification to the eligibility requirements for Attorney General in Government Code Sec. 1250,” the petition says. “(T)he Legislature’s decision not to extend such an ‘inactive lawyer’ exception to eligibility for Attorney General directly reflects the Legislature’s intent that ‘inactive’ membership in the State Bar does not count toward the five-year admission to practice requirement of Government Code Sec. 12503.”

Finally, the petition states out-of-state cases that support Early’s position, from 2007 in Maryland and from 2010 in Connecticut. Each time, an inactive attorney was ineligible to run for AG because he hadn’t been active for the statutory minimum time.

“We want to make sure a person who runs for attorney general has minimum competence as a lawyer,” Early told the Gazette.

This is the second time Sec. 12503 has been cited in a failed attempt to invalidate an AG. After Brown was elected AG in 2006, Contra Costa County Republican Central Committee chairman and state GOP vice-chair candidate Tom Del Beccaro brought the exact same suit. Brown’s status was “inactive” from Jan. 1, 1997, through May 1, 2003, according to bar records.

Brown won; Del Beccaro planned to appeal, but didn’t because of costs.

Early said emergency writs with the Court of Appeal are rarely granted. “This is one circumstance where the writ should be granted,” he said.

Brett Haddock Goes All-In

| Meet the Candidates | August 2, 2018

Brett Haddock knows he’s associated with the bow tie. He wears them frequently and even uses it as part of his campaign logo. Although he’s just 33, he recognizes the references to former Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and conservative commentator Tucker Carlson before he stopped wearing them.

“I was inspired by Bill Nye,” he said. “When I ran (for city council) in 2016, I wanted a way to set me apart from other candidates and show that I’m kind of unconventional, and what better way to illustrate the point than the bow tie?”
On this hot afternoon, however, Haddock eschews the bow tie for a simple gray t-shirt as he sips lemonade in a Newhall coffee shop. But he’s still a candidate for city council, having done it in 2016 “to get (his) feet wet,” and then seeking the appointment that went to Bill Miranda.

Now, Haddock hopes to take a seat currently held by Miranda, Laurene Weste or Marsha McLean.

“I didn’t think I had a chance in hell before,” he said, and the Gazette seemed to agree, grouping Haddock with three other long-shot candidates in a Sept. 1, 2016 story headlined, “The Unfamiliar Few.”

“This time, I think I have a good chance,” Haddock said. “I feel confident about it. I’ve got a message that speaks to the majority of people. I’m a working-class guy (who) understands the needs of the middle class and the changes we need to make to sustain the future.”

In fact, he feels so confident that he quit his job as a software engineer at eBay to devote full time to his campaign.

“I’m willing to gamble until November,” he said. “It’s going to be a tight Christmas.”

In Haddock’s mind, the “needs of the middle class” means having the jobs here in the area so people don’t have to commute, and having afterschool extracurricular and vocational training for kids. While Haddock said he knows the council can’t directly make these things happen, it can take the lead and find the means, such as working with College of the Canyons and school districts.

And “the changes to sustain the future” refer to the need to recognize changing demographics in the city – younger people moving in and wanting to start families – and make housing more available. Haddock suggests more high-density housing close to mass-transit hubs.

“We need to build neighborhoods like Old Town Newhall,” he said.

Another need: reduce traffic by overhauling the city’s mass-transit system and incentivize carpools, although he didn’t specify how. Haddock said there’s a multimillion-dollar traffic center on the third floor at City Hall.

“A handful of major intersections are tied into it, where if it was staffed, it could be dynamically changed to ease some congestion,” Haddock said. “Right now, there (are) 3 separate schedules for the timer. That’s great, but when we have an accident at Valencia (Boulevard) and Bouquet (Canyon Road) that stops up traffic, we need to be able to dynamically change those lights to ease congestion without having a deputy out at the intersection to reroute traffic.

“Or those times we had an emergency in Canyon Country or Saugus and we got to get across town but we have the sheriff’s deputies blocking traffic. If we had an actual member of staff watching the intersection and make all the lights green, they could actually get across town.”

Haddock said that center is unstaffed, and he would like to see a two-person staff. “Then we have to spend a little money and upgrade the intersections in town to tie into the system so they can all be dynamically rerouted.”

Other platform positions:

He believes councilmembers should serve a maximum of four terms (16 years).

He believes in running a positive campaign, which he articulated in an open letter in The Signal in June: After the filing period closes Aug. 10, all candidates should meet for dinner (everybody pays their way) without media or staff. “We sit together and have a civil discussion; not about our candidacy or campaign, but about who we are,” he wrote. “Sharing our stories and our love for the City of Santa Clarita. My one request is that we take a candidates-only photo; just something to show that we were all able to get together and have a peaceful meal.”

Haddock declined to name who has responded. “A couple of people said they will do their best to make it,” he said.

The Gazette reported in 2016 that Haddock believed digital billboards were an issue. Now, Haddock said he stands by that acknowledges there are more important issues, such as the opioid and housing crises and seniors struggling to make ends meet, to deal with first.

Katie Hill and Steve Knight Weigh-In on Summit

| News | July 26, 2018

President Trump’s performance at last week’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin caused widespread condemnation from all sides. Arizona Sen. John McCain called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Former CIA director John Brennan called it “treasonous.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sided with the intelligence community. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Trump must recognize that “Russia is not our ally.” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Trump’s inability to contradict Putin was “another sign of weakness.”

CNN commentator Anderson Cooper found it “disgraceful,” and Fox Business Network host Neil Cavuto called it “disgusting.” And so on.

Keeping in mind that any action Congress might take against a president starts in the House of Representatives, and since neither incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) nor challenger Katie Hill have made public comments about the summit, the Gazette posed the same questions to each. Both responded Tuesday morning by telephone.
1. What is your overall impression of Trump’s performance at the summit? Does it match what someone else already said, be that McConnell, Ryan, Schumer, McCain or any Fox or CNN commentator?

Knight said he didn’t like that Trump sided with Putin at the expense of the U.S.’s own intelligence and military. He also repeated his belief that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election, that “Putin is not our friend, Russia is not our friend,” and that the president needs to talk to Russia from a position of strength, something Trump did not do.

Hill called Trump’s performance “one of the most embarrassing moments in modern American history. We shouldn’t be kowtowing to a dictator. It’s embarrassing and scary at the same time.”

2. Do you believe Trump meant to say “would” or “wouldn’t”?

“We all know he meant what he said,” Hill said, and that Trump only walked it back after the backlash from both parties was so immense.

“To be clear, changing one word doesn’t take away what he said about Putin and our own intelligence agencies,” she said. “You don’t get to say, ‘Oops.’ It’s irresponsible, a pretty terrible way to lead, and it’s not credible.”

Knight said he hoped that Trump misspoke and meant to say, “wouldn’t,” but he declined to directly answer.

3. Do you believe the president’s comments and actions rise to the level of treason or high crimes and misdemeanors? Why or why not?

Knight said, “no” and said he thought people mentioning treason hated Trump before Helsinki. But he also found Trump’s comments “weak” and wondered why the president tweeted so forcefully (in all capital letters) at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, which he also didn’t like, but couldn’t be as strong to Putin when they were in the same room.

Hill examined the definition of treason. According to Article III, Sec. 3 of the Constitution, a person commits treason if he makes war against the U.S., “adheres to the enemies” of the state or gives them aid and comfort. Hill added an element of intent and committing an overt act to her definition. Conviction requires two witnesses in open court, and the penalty ranges from five years in prison to life without parole and a minimum $10,000 fine to death.

Hill said Trump’s comments are an overt act that gives adherence to the enemy. “Those we can see,” she said. “We’ve seen him give aid and comfort to the enemy. He’s choosing Putin over our own security agencies and intelligence.”

However, Hill is not yet convinced of Trump’s intent and isn’t ready to declare Trump has committed treason.
4. Do you believe Congress should take action against the president? Censure? Impeachment? Why or why not?

Hill said that before Congress takes any action, the Mueller investigation must be allowed to continue “without interference.” The findings would determine what action Congress should take, she said.

She also doesn’t like Trump’s efforts to undermine it. “How are we going to investigate a president if it’s always being blown off as a witch hunt?” she said.

Knight said he does not believe Trump committed any crime and therefore is not deserving of censure or impeachment. But he insisted that because of social media, representatives and senators are taking actions all the time, whether that’s criticizing or complimenting the president (Knight specified that he liked that Trump requested NATO countries contribute two percent of their gross domestic product to defending NATO).

5. Trump wants to meet with Putin again, this time in Washington. Do you think that’s a good idea? Why or why not?

Knight said he has no problem having any president meet with any other world leader, but it must be done from a position of strength. “Putin is a KGB operative and very crafty,” he said. “It’s got to be done right. Talk about the issues and tell people your stance: ‘We absolutely believe you interfered in our election.’ ”

He believes that the backlash from Helsinki will cause Trump to deal with Putin differently the next time. “It’s a time to be firm, or don’t meet with him,” Knight said.

Hill said the meeting in Helsinki went so badly that she doesn’t see how another meeting would be a good idea. She doesn’t like the symbolism of “inviting a dictator … into the White House. What does that tell you? (Trump’s) willing to ignore blatant attacks on our democracy. … Trump’s actions have put us in a position of weakness across the globe. Our leader doesn’t have trust in our military and our intelligence. What does that say? We’re incapable of having a unified message of protection with a leader who’s all over the place.”

Don’t Gibb Up on Your Dreams

| Meet the Candidates | July 26, 2018

Jason Gibbs loves Santa Clarita and believes that the city council has moved the city “in a positive direction.” He just wants to build on that.

“The council and the city would benefit from a new perspective,” he said. “Someone who understands and respects the foundation the city was built on, that wants to come in and build on those relationships, that always wants to strive to make this community better and doesn’t approach it simply from ideology.”

Logic might indicate that voters who feel the way he does would simply vote for the incumbents Nov. 6. This is the challenge Gibbs faces as he tries to win a council seat currently held by Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean or Bill Miranda: separating himself from them.
“There really is something to the power of incumbency,” he admitted.

In fact, beating an incumbent is never easy. The Campaign Workshop Blog says challengers succeed only six percent of the time. One has to do a great deal to combat an incumbent’s name recognition, publicity advantages (such as parades, speeches and media) and a distracted electorate that is too busy living life to take the time to really follow what is happening.

Gibbs, 37, said his time on the council “will parallel” what’s been happening already. So, again, why vote for him?

Throughout his 53-minute interview with the Gazette, Gibbs never directly answered the question, but perhaps the councilmember endorsing him, 74-year-old Bob Kellar, did.

Though saying he didn’t want to “spread divisiveness,” Kellar also said, “Are we supposed to stay on the city council until we’re 90 years old?”

Here are some of Gibbs’ platforms:

He wants the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation to bring more business here.

Gibbs is in favor of paying down the debt incurred from the employee retirement program, CalPERS.

Gibbs believes in maintaining good relationships with the water agency and school board.

Gibbs says that the Lyons-Dockweiler extension at 13th Street is the most viable (as the city currently does).

He believes the roads over the Whitaker-Bermite property are coming sooner rather than later.

Gibbs approves of the recent action plan the city drew up to tackle homelessness.

In June 2017, Gibbs wrote a Signal editorial about the city council discussion about manufactured home rent adjustment procedures in which he took residents and park representatives to task.

“By the end of the discussion, both residents and park representatives appeared dissatisfied and ignored,” he wrote. “While many will hold the City Council and city staff responsible for the discourse, I believe they are working diligently toward a textbook compromise – one in which both sides will end up being equally disappointed.”

His campaign’s sentiment seems to be: If you like the direction the city is heading but think the councilmembers are too old, vote for Gibbs, 37.

One of the few times he publicly disagreed with the council was its limiting marijuana plants to the house and not the attached garage. Gibbs would have liked to include attached garages.

Another was a Signal editorial he wrote in the May 5, 2017 issue. He disputed Miranda’s contention that somebody who sought appointment on the council, as he and Miranda did, needs certain experiences along the way.

“The only requirements I recall were to be at least 18 years old, be a registered voter and reside within the city limits,” he wrote. “A passion to serve, a willingness to have your life scrutinized, and an unwavering commitment to represent our city the best that you can, these are all the qualities you should need. One reason I applied was I felt young families were lacking a strong political voice in town. We have a lot to offer, not the least of which are new viewpoints and ideas that may successfully bypass established norms and breathe new life and vigor into Santa Clarita.”

The one original issue Gibbs discussed is his desire for a new fourth city commission, devoted to public safety. “It’s at the forefront of most people’s minds, after your wallet,” he said.

Although he doesn’t have the entire concept fleshed out, instead opting to let he and his fellow councilmembers work out the details later, Gibbs said he knows he wants his commission to work with the sheriff’s department, the public and nonprofits to tackle problems such as crime, roads/traffic and homelessness.

Gibbs said the commission would work “just the way our council would benefit from myself being on the council: a new perspective, new expertise, a new way of thinking instead of us getting into any kind of tunnel vision. So, if you only had five people who are strictly from the sheriff’s department, if you only had five people from nonprofits, you don’t benefit. We need to get away from vacuums.”

As for Gibbs’ chances of overcoming incumbency, Kellar said he is “a sharp young man. … He’s going to have to prove himself to the voters, and that’s OK. I think the man will be able to hold his own.”

Tied Up in Lancaster

| News | July 19, 2018

Cameron Smyth said he had heard about Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris’ desire to ban neckties on the radio last week, and then saw it online on the Drudge Report, so he didn’t need to see the story in the front page of Monday’s Los Angeles Times.

“If Rex is doing this, maybe we should do Tank-top Tuesday and see how that goes,” the Santa Clarita councilmember said, tongue firmly in cheek. “Maybe Flip-flop Friday. I think that would go over very well.”

Although Smyth wasn’t taking Parris seriously – in fact, none of the four councilmembers reached did – Parris insisted he wasn’t joking when he suggested his city should consider banning employers from requiring their workers to wear neckties. He made the suggestion at last week’s city council meeting, Fox News reported.

Parris pointed to a July 7 article on the Big Think blog that referenced a study that found blood circulation to the brain can be reduced by 7.5 percent, which the study called “statistically significant.” The study appeared in the journal Neuroradiology and involved 30 participants at the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Germany. Half had their blood flow observed while wearing a Windsor-knotted tie tied to the point of slight discomfort; half went tie-free.

“I don’t think that’s a small number,” Parris said of the 7.5 percent. “I’m certainly not going to laugh at it.”

Parris also was aware of a 2007 study that suggested a link between blood flow to the brain and creativity, he said.

Parris said he was unaware if Lancaster has any dress code. Smyth said that back in the late 1990s, Lancaster Mayor Frank Roberts instituted what Smyth called a “desert dress code” of short-sleeve Hawaiian-print or pullover shirts for city employees. Parris said that was done during the summer months only.

According to Human Resources Clerk Diane Long, the Santa Clarita’s dress code ranges from business casual (long pants, collared shirt, turtleneck, loafer/dress shoes for men; dress, skirt, blouse, sweater, turtleneck, loafer/flats/pumps/dress shoes for women) to professional attire for council and commission meetings (suit/sport coat and tie for men; pant or skirt suit for women). T-shirts, various tank tops and spaghetti straps, cargo pants, jeans or denim pants, stretch pants, sneakers, flip-flops, and sandals are among the disallowed items.

Parris said the feedback he has received has been “98-percent positive. The only people opposed to it are men’s clothing stores.”

Santa Clarita councilmembers are in the two percent. Smyth laughed at it and called it “silly, and there’s no need for a government involvement. I work for a large corporation and we have our own dress code policies, and it’s predicated and set by the corporate leaders, not our local government.”

Bill Miranda also laughed before adding, “I hope they enjoy their necktie party, but we have more important things to do.”
Other councilmembers found little to no humor.

“I don’t know that a necktie is a requirement for good work production,” Mayor Laurene Weste said. “Do you wear one? I don’t wear one, either.”

“Are you serious?” Bob Kellar said. “I probably won’t waste my time. He can knock himself out. This is absolutely ridiculous. No further comment need be said.”

Parris said he understood the pushback from Santa Clarita, considering he was one of the lawyers that represented two residents who successfully sued the city over California Voter Rights Act violations in 2014.

“They tend to say demeaning things,” he said. “When it comes to city (councilmembers), some are proactive, and some ride in parades, and I find people that are proactive tend not to ride in parades.”

But he remains undaunted in his desire.

“If it takes the city of Lancaster to lead the charge, I’ll lead it,” he said.

Trautman on Council: ‘I Don’t See Much Courage in Discussions from Any of Them’

| Meet the Candidates | July 19, 2018

Diane Trautman sits outside a Starbucks and carefully considers the question. For the next 58 minutes, she does this, rarely stopping to sip her beverage and regularly looking at her interviewer as she chooses her words.

With 12 years on the City Planning Commission (2002-2010 and 2012-16), including two turns as chair, and previous attempts at running for city council in 2000 and 2008, plus two attempts at being appointed to the council, the 25-year resident and CalArts graduate is a known quantity at City Hall.

And she’s trying again in November, attempting to wrest a seat away from Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean or Bill Miranda.

“I’m known in town. I have name recognition,” she said. “Republicans support me as well as Democrats. I want to listen to people. I don’t want to exclude anyone. … Two incumbents have been on the council for 36 years total. I understand it’s good for people to be on who have an understanding of the history, but when you become narrow in your preparation and thinking, and you become unable to hear voices that don’t agree with yours – their being out of touch is something I’m going to drive home.”

What Trautman, 63, currently sees on the council is an exclusionary quintet. If a person comes before the council and is either critical or offers an opposing viewpoint, “It’s not treated as a matter of disagreement. It’s treated as an insult to the councilmembers,” she explained. “So, there’s not a welcoming of different ideas, and that’s not helpful to anybody. … It seemed to be that everyone has to agree, and that’s a dangerous thing to do, and it leads to groupthink.”

At this point, she was reminded that she hadn’t specified any single member, so was she taking about anyone in particular? She sat back, again considered her words, and continued.

“I don’t see much courage in discussions from any of them,” she began. “Laurene tends to talk to people like children. Marsha takes offense when anybody disagrees. She’s really sensitive. … Marsha doesn’t want to run contrary to anyone. She has been insular in her thinking, and that doesn’t bode well for a city that’s growing. I don’t get a sense of any conviction from Bill Miranda. I don’t see any independent thinking from him.”

Trautman takes pride in her ability to consider all sides and viewpoints. She said that as a commissioner, she read everything, “made copious notes and I asked questions in public so the public would see I was looking at things more deeply. … (The council doesn’t) dig deeper than they have to. They look at it but largely rely on staff.”

And Trautman thinks that’s backwards. The council should set policy and the staff should carry it out, but she doesn’t think the current members have the vision to do that.

“The city council is supposed to create the vision for the city, the policies, the direction, the standards,” she said. “This means you’ve got to interact with those other entities, the county and the school districts. There’s not enough cooperation to solve some of the problems.”

A conservative such as Steve Petzold appreciates the liberal Trautman, saying he would consider voting for her and writing on Facebook, “Diane Trautman is thoughtful and measured with her words. It is safe to say that DT has the respect of current council members based on her years of service on the Planning Commission. … The democratic process benefits from her candidacy.”

A summary of Trautman’s priorities:
–She wants the city to be more aggressive in finding affordable housing, especially if the belief that there will be half a million people living in the valley eventually. Some of those housing options must be near transit centers.

–Public safety is more than just fire and police. People must be educated in safer driving and how to make room for cyclists and pedestrians. Find a way to make more walkable communities by looking at how other cities did it and adjusting to here.

–The city should work within the county’s homeless initiative to improve public safety and public health, especially of it wants Measure H funds.

–She wants to grow the local economy by reviewing city processes that seem to hinder small businesses. Also, maintaining existing buildings can keep rent lower than erecting new buildings.

–She wants to increase transparency in government by streaming all public meetings, not just the council and planning commission’s. She also wants a website redesign, develop better written policies, create a code of ethics, revise the council’s norms and procedures; and welcome community input on the questions of district voting, direct election of mayor and changing to a charter city.

What Went Up Must Come Down

| News | July 19, 2018

For months, whenever Alan Ferdman saw Community Development Director Tom Cole, he would ask about what was being done with the solar panels on the hillside of the Canyon View Estates mobile-home park. The first 11 times or so, Cole didn’t give him an answer he liked.

But last week, Cole told Ferdman something was up, and on Monday, the city finally hit the owners with a notice of violation and ordered the panels to come down.

According to a city press release, “The owners installed multiple solar panels on the hillsides, within and outside of the mobile home park, without obtaining required permits and without complying with conditions of approval associated with the conditional use permit for the park. … While the City supports efforts to move to renewable energy, the City takes seriously its responsibility to enforce conditions of approval designed to protect the quality of life in Santa Clarita, balancing the need for development with the preservation of open space.”

“It pays to be persistent, and it pays to be patient,” Ferdman said. “Just got to keep at it – and have enough people complain.”

Ferdman was by far not the only person to complain about the panels, which were erected in such a non-symmetrical way as to be an eyesore.

Councilmember Cameron Smyth, who was mayor last year when the panels went up, said a dozen people complained to him. City Community Preservation Manager Daniel Rivas said he received multiple complaints from residents inside and outside the complex, including single-family homeowners along Whites Canyon Road.

Clearly, the city had to do something. Just complaining about how the city had no jurisdiction and blaming Sacramento, as many claimed Councilmember Bob Kellar often did, wasn’t going to cut it with the residents.

“There was unanimity amongst the council that something needed to be done,” Smyth said.

But because Canyon View Estates is a classified as a manufactured home-planned unit development, the owners only needed approval from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development. Managing Director Kerry Seidenglanz, who didn’t return a call for comment, previously acknowledged that he didn’t go through the city because he didn’t have to. He also said he received the necessary state permits after “50 inspections.”

Rivas said it took months of research and communication with the HCD and the county before they found something. Before Santa Clarita incorporated, the county issued conditional-use permits, and the city was required to honor them upon incorporation, Rivas said.

What officials finally found was a requirement that such a county permit required 50 percent of the property to be maintained as “open space.” The panels violate that, so the owners need additional permits from the city.

Rivas said officials reviewed the matter with the city attorney before issuing the violation. Communications Specialist Kevin Strauss said the city sent the owners notices by regular and certified mail last week, and waited for confirmation of receipt before announcing.

“I don’t have the name of who mailed it or who signed for it,” Strauss said.

Kellar applauded the move.

“I’m delighted to see any possible solution to this problem,” he said. “To (muddle) the view with such a mess is unacceptable. … I was delighted to find any possible vehicle.”

Rivas said the owners have until Aug. 11 to meet with city officials and either detail how the panels will go away or seek the additional permits.

As for a possible lawsuit, Rivas said he didn’t know what to expect and can’t speak to that. Kellar said he isn’t going to read into anything.

“The proper thing is to have the panels removed and restore the area to what it was,” he said.

Candidate Attempts to Become the Youngest Elected to City Council

| Meet the Candidates | July 12, 2018

Logan Smith knows his age might be a factor in people not voting for him for city council. But he insists Santa Clarita is getting younger, and the current councilmembers do not typify.

The five current members’ average age is 68.2 years. But take away Cameron Smyth (46) and it’s 73.75 years.

Smith, 25, is vying for one of three seats held by Marsha McLean (she turns 78 in September, Bill Miranda (75) and Laurene Weste (she turns 70 in October).

According to the city’s website, 30 percent of the population is between 30-44. Another 6 percent is between 20-24. Only 9 percent is 65 and older.

“I don’t feel like the average person in Santa Clarita has a voice in that chamber,” Smith said.

He seeks to change that by acknowledging he doesn’t have all the answers, but he’s willing to read and research the issues and hear the residents before casting a vote – things he doesn’t see the current council doing. While he refused to attack any councilmember by name during the 51-minute interview, he points to the Lyons-Dockweiler extension, cannabis sales and the recent homelessness ban as examples.

Regarding Lyons-Dockweiler, numerous Placerita Canyon homeowners came before the council to express opposition to the extension.

The council sat silently – Smith said it was “stony-faced” – and then unanimously voted for it. Smith thinks the councilmembers didn’t read the staff reports closely enough and came into chambers already having made up their minds.

“Fundamentally, we need public servants who serve the public,” Smith said. “That’s not something I’ve seen in that council chamber.”

Some believe Weste stands to gain financially from the extension, which Weste has denied repeatedly.

“If anybody is using their public office to enrich themselves, that’s unconscionable, especially to the detriment of people who live here and work here,” Smith said.

Another example Smith points to is cannabis sales. The council earlier this year extended a ban on commercial cannabis businesses, on top of its already existing ban on medical-marijuana dispensaries. The only legal marijuana in the city is a maximum of six plants indoors per residence.

During the March 27 meeting, Smith, who regularly attends council meetings and makes public comments, usually identifying himself as “a candidate for city council,” criticized the council for failing to read various online reports that show links between the availability of medical marijuana and fewer heroin and opioid overdoses. He also took the five members to task for failing to see the potential revenue stream by legalizing and regulating cannabis and not “stick our heads in the sand and allow the black or gray market to continue to thrive.”

McLean needed clarification on the differences between medicinal and recreational marijuana, and stated she favors medical cannabis. Smith scoffed, saying McLean voted for the ban in the first place.

Resident Bart Joseph, who called himself “a four-time cancer survivor,” also spoke about cannabis’ importance to his recovery and how he can’t afford to grow his own in the city. Weste said she was sorry for the hardships Joseph had suffered.

“The council nodded and was concerned – and voted unanimously to extend the moratorium,” Smith said. “I don’t think any of them, except Cameron, did the bare minimum before voting.”

A third place Smith found the council’s research lacking was the recent unanimous passing of an ordinance that sets out to block homelessness on public streets. It bans individuals from sitting or lying down in various public spaces, including streets, sidewalks and landscaped areas.

Smith said he isn’t sure the council adequately read the text because “If you sit on a sidewalk, you can be fined $500. If you sleep in your car in the driveway, you could be ticketed. If you sleep in a tent in the back yard.”

Smith acknowledges that these violations won’t happen, but he thinks laws shouldn’t be written so generally that they could be interpreted in unintended ways.

“Model (United Nations) students at College of the Canyons are held to a higher standard when they write fake laws,” Smith said.

Smith, who works as a field organizer for the California Clean Money Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization favoring public funding of election campaigns, said he got the idea to run last summer after hearing Bernie Sanders speak in Chicago.

Sanders told the audience that anyone who is thinking of running for office needs two pieces of advice: do it, and don’t hire consultants.

He didn’t, and now he has his sights set on City Hall. He would be the youngest to ever be elected. Smyth, 28 when he was first elected in 2000, is the only person elected in his 20s. The next youngest was Frank Ferry, 32 when elected in 1998.

“The council thinks we’re still a small town. That’s blatantly incorrect,” Smith said. “To stick your head in the sand and act like we’re not the third largest city in Los Angeles County is reckless and irresponsible to the people.”

(Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series profiling the various local candidates for elected office.)

Staying Afloat with the USS Iowa

| News | July 12, 2018

Jeff Armendariz finds practicing law stressful. That’s why he loves his weekends, when he can leave the pressures of defending people accused of drunken driving or domestic violence and drive the 58 miles south to the Battleship Iowa Museum in San Pedro.

“Not only is it a great escape from being an attorney, it’s a subject I love and get to learn more about,” he said.

Two to three times a month, Armendariz finds himself on the Iowa, where he gets to indulge his passion for military history, which stems from his sixth-grade teacher bringing the Civil War to life. He has collected numerous artifacts, including rifles, pistols, swords, cartridge boxes, carbines and an 1811 printing of George Washington’s Farewell Address.
The USS Iowa has a colorful past that includes carrying President Franklin Roosevelt across the Atlantic to meet with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin, and bombing the Marshall Islands and Japan during World War II; bombing North Korea during the Korean War, and escorted oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq War. Also, a mysterious explosion inside the second turret killed 47 crewmen in 1989.

Armendariz gets to tell visitors these stories and more, but he especially enjoys what he learns from the guests, some of whom served on the Iowa and worked in the hot and sticky confines of the engine room or kitchen. They tell tales of sleeping under the stars on the deck because it was so hot below deck, and they remember how rough the Pacific Ocean waves could be.

“They can tell you more than what you learn from a book,” Armendariz said.

Yet the most interesting person he ever met since starting as a volunteer tour guide July 7, 2014, was a WWII army paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne who jumped onto the beach at Normandy on June 6, 1944. This veteran also participated in the Battle of the Bulge and the unsuccessful Operation Market Garden.

As he walked around the Iowa – and Armendariz marveled that this 80-something man walked up and down ladders like he was 18 – he walked onto the bridge and remarked, “If I’d known the Navy was this cush, I’d have joined the Navy.”

Armendariz’s law career has been anything by “cush.” After passing the bar in 1994, he worked in the Ventura County district attorney’s office handling assault and battery, driving under the influence, drug possession, weapons charges, petty theft, grand theft and hit-and-run cases.
Starting out on his own in 1998, he went with what he knew and started defending people who he says are “legitimately responsible” for the crime of which they are accused “and must pay a price.”

Much of his job is damage control and managing expectations while showing he cares, he said. For example, a domestic violence case might find him defending someone whose spouse demands “a pound of flesh,” but other times the victimized spouse might not realize that a call to law enforcement brings about an arrest, emotional tolls and the need to report what happened.

He often encounters a wife that tells him, “I don’t want my husband to go to jail even though he hit me. Help me, Jeff.”

Armendariz might be able to have his client plead down to something like disturbing the peace. Some clients appreciate what he does; others wonder if that was the best he could do. Not every client’s sense of what’s fair matches reality, he said.

His other cases – DUI, drugs, hit and run, grand theft, child pornography and sex crimes – often are similarly stressful. He often finds himself with clients who committed the acts they are accused of, and it’s his job to explain why going to trial might not be the best option (a majority of his clients never face trial, he said).

“But if a person didn’t do it, and they’re factually innocent, I’ve got to convince a jury, or prosecutors, so they can see it the same way. That can be stressful,” he said.

Is it any wonder he likes to indulge his passion on weekends?

“It’s a nice place to get away for five hours,” he said of the Iowa.

Court Rules in Favor of Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers

| News | July 5, 2018

No Longer Required to Disclose State-Sponsored Services

As president and CEO of a crisis pregnancy center, Angela Bennett was unhappy that the state required her clinic, the SCV Pregnancy Center, to post information about what was available at state-sponsored clinics.

Specifically, that meant information about abortion, a service Bennett’s center does not offer – although she acknowledges it’s an option many consider, and her center’s website has a page devoted to it (generally, crisis pregnancy centers are nonprofits that counsel women against abortion).

Bennett was quite happy that the Supreme Court last week struck down that California law. The justices decided that in the matter of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA, of which the SCV Pregnancy Center is a member) v. Becerra, the state violated the free-speech clause of the First Amendment.

“No one should be forced by the government to express a message that violates their convictions, especially on deeply divisive subjects such as abortion,” Bennett said in an email. “The Supreme Court rightfully said that the state of California could not use its power to force pro-life pregnancy centers to provide free advertising for the abortion industry.”

On the other side, a despondent Philip Germain, chair of CA 25 United for Progress, lamented, “It’s pretty sad we have a government that wants to regulate a woman’s body more than banks or firearms.”
The SCV Pregnancy Center is a licensed medical clinic staffed by licensed doctors and nurses, Bennett says, and narrowly focuses on diagnosing pregnancy, then providing alternatives. That includes tests and ultrasound imaging. It also offers other services, such as STD testing and some counseling.

Once pregnancy is confirmed, a woman is educated about her options. Bennett said on “The Real Side with Joe Messina” that the goal is to ensure the woman has the information she needs to confidently decide.

In 2015, while the state considered Assembly Bill 775, the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency) Act, Bennett went to Sacramento to express concern.

“Women are really smart. They know what their legal rights are, and they know what’s available to them. You don’t have to put posters and signs in medical clinics or in doctors’ offices to tell them that they have a legal right to have an abortion or where they can get it,” Bennett said on “The Real Side.” “The major issue was the mandated speech, the violation of our freedom of speech.”

The Supreme Court agreed, Justice Clarence Thomas writing for the 5-4 majority that the law “imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the State’s informational interest.”

On Messina’s radio show, Bennett likened the law to going to a Ford dealership and being told there is a Chevrolet dealer nearby.

“To mandate speech is just as egregious an assault against the freedom of speech as silencing groups of people,” Bennett said. “The government should not mandate speech, and least of all require organizations to speak against their conscience.”

Local reaction went along pro-choice/pro-life lines.

Congressman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) said in a statement, “The First Amendment of our Constitution guarantees us the right to free speech. This also includes protecting citizens, in this case pregnancy centers, from being forced to convey messages they object to or do not believe in.”

His opponent, Katie Hill, had a different view, saying this gives such centers the chance to not provide “fully accurate information to women about their options and programs related to pregnancy and family planning. This decision allows an organization with an agenda to provide incomplete information to women in crisis who are, in many cases, completely unaware of the bias of the supposed health care practitioner.”

Bennett said in an email that she has no plans to take down the abortion page from her center’s website.

“We provide factual information about all of a woman’s options to anyone who walks through our doors,” she said. “There is no reason for us to remove information from our website that tells women that we will provide accurate information in a non-judgmental environment.”

For his part, Messina told the Gazette that the SCV Pregnancy Center offers post-abortion counseling, something Planned Parenthood does not do (in fact, some PP clinics do).

“If you’re looking for abortion, go to an abortion clinic or Planned Parenthood. They offer abortions at a discount,” Messina said. “If you want counseling, go to a crisis pregnancy center.”

Local attorney David Barlavi claimed there is a difference between “religious free speech,” and “medical free speech,” which he says doesn’t exist in the law.

“Doctors can’t tell you (that) you have cancer knowing you don’t have cancer,” Barlavi said.

To which Kevin Theriot, senior counsel of the Christian, conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented NIFLA, said in an email, “The Supreme Court disagrees.”

Some pro-choice advocates see this decision as a step toward overturning Roe v. Wade and a return to, as Barlavi put it, “back-alley abortion.”

Others are less concerned.

“As a world leader, I don’t see us going backwards on women’s rights,” Stacy Fortner, executive board member of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Democratic Part, said while in Washington D.C. “If it were overturned, there would be an amendment to the Constitution that gives the rights back. I don’t see it as an end. I see it as an attempt.”

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