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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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Booking it on Free Speech

| News | November 16, 2017

In 2009, not long after Joe Messina joined the William S. Hart Union High School District board, a parent came to the board to complain about a book that appeared on the honors English program’s summer reading list.

The book, “The Bean Trees” by Barbara Kingsolver, was challenged because it included sexual scenes and vulgar language (a plot summary found online mentions a child was sexually abused; Messina said he remembered being shown a depiction of rape).

Messina said he and then-member Robert Jensen wanted a note sent home to parents warning them of the content of the book, but were outvoted.

“The superintendent (Jaime Castellanos) said this is akin to censorship,” Messina recalled. “No, this is parent involvement.”

Something similar is happening in the Conejo Valley Unified School District. According to the Thousand Oaks Acorn, the board president fast-tracked an amendment to the instructional-material policy that gives parents a greater voice in choosing district-wide curriculum and a greater say in what their children are asked to read.

One board member wants teachers to have to notify parents — and get a signature — before their children are assigned books with mature content such as rape, violence and suicide. There would be a standardized notation on the class syllabus: “This book was published for an adult readership and thus contains mature content. Before handing the text to a child, educators and parents should read the book and know the child.”

The proposal also includes this interpretation of mature content: “any piece of literature or nonfiction work (that) is potentially objectionable to someone for some reason.”

Books such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Catcher in the Rye” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which Conejo Valley students have read, would qualify. Any new titles would have to pass muster with a committee of parents and community members before being sent to the board for final approval.

Two committees were formed last month to write a single policy that would codify the district’s longstanding practice of providing alternative assignments to the small number of students whose parents deem a novel inappropriate. The committees comprise teachers and board members, but not parents, something Messina doesn’t understand.

“Where’s the parent committee?” Messina said. “I agree that parents should have more control over what they (children) can read. You can’t give up the children to somebody who says, ‘We got it covered.’”

Students and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom have cried censorship. Hart District spokesperson Dave Caldwell said, “Censorship is a big word,” but added the district certainly welcomes parental involvement.

“Parents can definitely voice opinions either way,” he said. “Parents also have the right to opt out of (their child’s) reading something.”

In the Hart district, like with any public school district in the state, the lengthy list of approved readings – and that means textbooks as well as literature – is set by the state Department of Education, which also includes advisories for books that contain mature content.

Then what Messina calls a “curriculum council,” which includes teachers, parents and administrators, weighs in and narrows the list to several choices from which a teacher could choose; therefore, not every student in the district will read the same books or textbooks.

But before any teacher gets to choose, the board has to approve the list, Caldwell said. Of the three above-mentioned titles, only “Catcher” has been approved, he said.

Messina said the board also has the right to nix titles.

“We rarely push back unless someone complains,” he said. “To say one book is good for everybody, I don’t know how you do that.”

Banned From Facebook

| News | November 16, 2017

Like many people, Matt Denny uses Facebook to keep his friends and family informed about his whereabouts, his family’s accomplishments and anything else he finds interesting that he wants to share.

He also uses memes to express his views, and this is where he has run afoul of Facebook.

Twice he has been kicked off the social media site, including a current 30-day timeout for posting a picture of Che Guevara that says, “Burn Books, Ban Music, Hate Blacks, Murder Gays, Become Symbol of Hope and Freedom.”

Denny is convinced that a computer algorithm is the reason his account was flagged.

“I posted a meme that Facebook called ‘hate speech,’” the Valencia CPA said. “If it’s looked at by a human, (there’s no trouble). A computer sees ‘hates gays’ and assumes it’s hate speech.”

Facebook makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to reach anyone in its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. The Gazette posed the question, “Does a human or algorithm decide if an account gets suspended?” in Facebook’s help center, but didn’t receive a reply.

However, online sources such as Huffington Post and HLN (formerly Headline News) list how to be banned from Facebook. These include posting naked images (including breastfeeding), sharing a famous person’s name (such as Mark Zuckerberg) and lying that you’re older than age 13. The Tasteless Gentleman has a collection of memes that have been banned or couldn’t be shared on Facebook; many are Nazi-related.

A meme is an idea, behavior or style that spreads within a culture. A common form is a photo with accompanying text, such as one Denny posted earlier this month of Liam Neeson in a shot from the movie “Taken.” Denny posted a picture of Neeson talking on the phone with the words, “If you have tacos … I will find them, and I will eat them,” a reference to Neeson’s character’s “I have a specific set of skills” speech.
This post did not get Denny in trouble. The first one that did, however, equated the swastika with the logo of the Antifaschistische Aktion, an umbrella organization for German militant anti-fascists (aka Antifa). He said it bought him a seven-day suspension in September that got extended to 14 days because of a computer error.

“In the ‘20s, the Nazis in Germany had a group called the SA that used violence and intimidation to silence their political opponents — exactly the tactics being used today by the so-called ‘Antifa’ movement,” Denny explained in an email.

The second ban came from the Guevara meme. Denny said in an email that he questions “why Che Guevara is a cultural icon of the Progressive movement when he was a bigoted murderer.”

He continued, “I also believe that FaceBook’s (sic) ban of me was not done by human hands but rather by an AI algorithm that scans graphics for elements of hate speech and defaults to things like ‘Murder Gays’ or a swastika and assumes, without context, that the graphic is hate speech. I’m told that Facebook has acknowledged the problems of their AI, and are working on it.”

In fact, Facebook’s algorithm has been widely written about online, and not always flatteringly. Slate.com pointed out that algorithms created by humans would always have an element of human error in it.

“Facebook’s algorithm … isn’t flawed because of some glitch in the system. It’s flawed because, unlike the perfectly realized, sentient algorithms of our sci-fi fever dreams, the intelligence behind Facebook’s software is fundamentally human,” the Slate article said. “Humans decide what data goes into it, what it can do with that data, and what they want to come out the other end. When the algorithm errs, humans are to blame.”

In June, ProPublica.com reported that Facebook’s hate-speech rules tend to favor elites and governments over grassroots activists and racial minorities. So, “white men” are more protected than “black children” or “female drivers.”

This helped explain, article authors Julia Angwin and Hannes Grassegger wrote, why Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) wasn’t banned for writing that radicalized Muslims should be killed, but Boston poet and Black Lives Matter activist Didi Delgado’s post that said “All white people are racist” earned her a seven-day ban.

In 2013, the Hubspot blog reported, Facebook decided that memes were less valuable than posts about sports teams, current events or shared interests.

ProPublica added that Facebook plans to increase its number of people who are tasked with searching every post for objectionable material from 3,500 to 7,500. But it still doesn’t post what the rules are in determining what is deleted and what isn’t.

Regardless, Denny said in an email that he will no longer be posting things that a “dumb computer (or someone without any knowledge of history, apparently) would think (is) ‘hate speech.’”

He also said in an interview that he is enjoying his time away from Facebook.

“I’m getting a lot more done,” he said.

Locals Weight in on Tax Proposal

| News | November 9, 2017

Last week, the House of Representatives released HR 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, aimed primarily at overhauling the federal tax system. It lowers the corporate tax rate and reduces the number of tax brackets, among its many provisions. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the bill would save the average family of four $1,182 in taxes a year.

Not everyone welcomes the bill. Jess Phoenix, a Democratic candidate for the 25th Congressional district, believes it is a way to penalize states that didn’t vote for Donald Trump, as well as a massive tax cut for the corporations and the wealthy (including Trump).

“It’s so hard to have anything nice to say about this,” Democratic activist Stacy Fortner said. “We thought Bush and Halliburton was a cash grab, but we never saw Trump coming. He’s a bull in a china shop, and the china shop happens to be our country.”

The two points of the bill that most people contacted for this story objected to are the changes in the mortgage interest deductions and no longer being able to deduct state and local taxes (SALT) from federal returns. (In an email, Bryan Caforio, a Democratic candidate for the 25th Congressional district, listed 25 problems, including those two.)

According to the bill’s text, mortgage-interest deductions for purchases and refinances after Nov. 2 are capped at $500,000 (down from $1 million). Deductions for state and local income and sales taxes would disappear, and property-tax deductions would be capped at $10,000.
“That’s putting the burden of the tax cuts for huge corporations and the wealthy on the backs of the middle class,” said Katie Hill, a Democratic candidate for the 25th Congressional district.

“The problem is corporations aren’t people,” Phoenix said, adding she doesn’t believe the notion that helping corporations helps workers.

Logan Smith, a City Council candidate, said his priority is “making sure people who live in Santa Clarita can live in Santa Clarita. Homelessness in Santa Clarita is predominantly caused by housing prices.” He said he’s concerned the bill will disproportionately affect seniors, the poor, disabled persons and veterans, groups he said already can’t afford housing in the area.

“It will contribute to the homeless problem,” Smith said, “and I don’t like that.”

However, Valencia Realtor Phil Levy of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services California Properties said he isn’t sure how much new home owners or refinancers will be affected. He interpreted the bill to mean the $500,000 is based not on a home’s purchase price but on the loan amount, so people who pay enough of a down payment could still receive the full deduction.

Levy said that 85 percent of area homes that sold year-to-date Oct. 31 closed at $700,000 or less, so anyone who puts down, at most, 28.6 percent to get the loan amount to $500,000 qualifies under the bill.

But he also wonders whether a person who puts down 20 percent on a $700,000 home would still get interest deductions for $500,000 but lose only deductions on the remaining $60,000.

“The devil’s in the details and how it will be implemented,” he said.

Besides, Levy said, most people don’t buy houses for the mortgage-interest deductions. They buy for so many other reasons, including needing more space, better schools, no rent, develop wealth – in short, a higher quality of life.

Many people believe their life is better because they can deduct their state and local taxes from their federal taxes, something this bill would disallow. This troubles Christy Smith, a Democratic candidate for the 38th Assembly District.

Smith said she finds this aspect unfair because California already is a so-called “donor state,” meaning it pays more in taxes to the federal government than it receives in services, so “we don’t need to help bail out the government more than we already do.”

According to the Internal Revenue Service, California paid the feds almost $406 billion in taxes in 2015, $292.5 billion in 2012 and $281.2 billion in 2011, more than any other state in each of those years.

But how many pennies on the dollar does California receive is subject to debate. Smith said the last number she saw was 83 cents. According to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, it was 99 cents in 2013. That same year the New York State Comptroller’s office put it at 99 cents. The New York Times quoted the conservative Tax Foundation’s estimate of 78 cents in 2005; and the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research group, put it as $1.06.

“When the federal government falls short, I don’t think it’s fair for California to get hit again,” Smith said.

But for all the fears people have expressed, CPAs remind that nothing is set in stone.

“Whatever ends up at the end is probably different than what is there now,” Valencia CPA Matt Denny said. “There’s no certainty.”

Andy Duchan, a CPA and financial adviser with offices in Glendale and Tarzana, said he has seen attempts to overhaul the tax code six other times since 1981. “My opinion is not to get bent out of shape until there’s a law,” he said. “I’m cautioning people to take their time until we see what it really will be.”

Even Congressman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), who represents the 25th district, said that he doesn’t expect this bill to be the final version.

“I continue to work with my colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee and House Leadership to find a solution to the SALT issue,” Knight said in a statement emailed to the Gazette. “Representing a district with especially high state and local taxes, I understand many of my constituents benefit from SALT deductions and addressing their concerns is a priority of mine. … I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue working towards improvements to this bill that will make our economy stronger and allow working families in California to keep more of their hard-earned income.”

Church Safety Questioned

| News | November 9, 2017

Parts of this story originally appeared Feb. 23, 2017.

It’s widely known that Jewish and Sikh temples, as well as mosques, need increased security given the world today. But very quietly, Christian churches have had to do the same thing. Whether it’s fear of radical Islam or more close-to-home worries such as kidnappings or shootings – most recently in Sutherland Springs, Texas – churches are no longer bastions of safety and sanctuary.

“It’s kind of an upswing, maybe because of the political climate, as well as different agendas,” said Casey McMichael, an elder at Heart of the Canyons Church in Santa Clarita.

“Christians are humans, too,” said Tom Hollenbeck, head of security for Valley Bible Fellowship in Bakersfield. “This is the world we live in. It’s just an unfortunate situation.”

According to an article on the website preparedchristian.net, the incidence of violence at churches from 2005 to 2010 increased by more than

1,000 percent, from 10 to 118. And in 2008, there were more than 24,445 crimes committed at churches/synagogues/temples, said an article by the Christian Security Institute. While this combines various houses of worship, the article’s author, Chuck Chadwick, wrote, “I am willing to concede that not all are going to be Christian churches, but the majority would be.”

Last week, Devin Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church in Texas, opened fire and killed 26 people.

The larger the church, the easier the target, Hollenbeck said. His church has 15,000 members. Contrast that with tiny Cornerstone Church, which has no building of its own and meets in a Valencia warehouse. “We don’t have assets,” youth pastor Colin Dorsey said. “We don’t have anything to protect, except our people.”

The reasons for increased security vary. Some think bad economic times make people more desperate, and churches need to safeguard against that. Others, such as Hollenbeck, believe a church is an ideal place for an estranged parent to try and kidnap a child. And Mike Logan, director of operations at The Sanctuary Church in Canyon Country, said that burglary or petty larceny is more likely to occur than a shooting.

Even more common, Logan said, is a medical emergency, which could be cardiac arrest, difficulty breathing, seizures or falls.

Dorsey said there is a political divide between evangelical Christians who supported Donald Trump and other branches that didn’t. “The church is fighting internally, and all of us are trying to be faithful to the word,” he said. “We’re preaching the radical word of Jesus, yet the church hasn’t experienced much security concerns. Everything is going to hell, so the church gets some backlash. That’s part of being Christian.”

While Kelley didn’t have any ties to any terrorist group, Associate Pastor Bob Lininger of NorthPark Community Church in Valencia and Hollenbeck say Islam is a huge issue.

“I don’t see that as racism as much as religious,” Lininger said.

“Christianity to them is just an abomination.” Hollenbeck said. “They’re cowards and they have to do mass destruction to innocent people.”

So, what are churches doing to safeguard their congregants? As McMichael said, “It’s better to be proactive but be ready if something happens, not that anything has happened.”

Hollenbeck admits to racial profiling: “Dark skin that’s not Hispanic or African-American. Unfortunately, we have to stereotype.”

USA Today reported that Calvary Chapel in Brevard County, Fla. has 30-40 plainclothes volunteers who scan the crowd of 10,000 worshippers. They wear microphones, evidenced by the wires in their ears, to communicate.

The federal government, in 2013, released a report outlining safety recommendations for houses of worship, USA Today reported. The 38-page plan advises congregations to plan for emergencies, including what police call “active shooter” situations.

Logan apparently has seen that report and said the current mindset is, “Run. If you can’t run, then hide. As a last resort, fight.”

This is what Stephen Willeford did when he went over to the Texas church and encountered Kelley. Willeford, who the Los Angeles Times said was a former National Rifle Association instructor, shot Kelley with his AR-15-style assault rifle, injuring Kelley and causing him to flee.

At many churches, all people who work with children are screened, whether through FBI background checks or fingerprinting. At Heart of the Canyons, which meets at La Mesa Junior High and on Valley Street in Newhall, volunteers walk the grounds to ensure no one who isn’t supposed to be there is wandering around. This is to protect the children who are in the La Mesa classrooms, away from the main service in a multi-purpose room, McMichael said.

Logan said The Sanctuary is in the process of having cameras installed. At Valley Bible Fellowship, people check backpacks, perform aisle sweeps and have in place plans for locking down the church and what to do if a shooter appears, Hollenbeck said.

“We confront with love and grace; then if they don’t respond, we try to stop that,” Hollenbeck said, “and we’ll meet resistance with resistance. We try not to escalate unless we have to.”

It doesn’t publicize, and perhaps members don’t realize it (which is how Lininger likes it), but NorthPark has had a security team in place for between seven and eight years, he said, consisting of off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officers and sheriff’s deputies who are also church members. There also are several EMTs to help if people get sick or injured. All security personnel carry radios during Sunday services.

It is the same at The Sanctuary, Logan said. The church has a safety response team made up of retired or current law-enforcement officers, some 300 volunteers, off-duty firefighters and paramedics, a doctor and two nurses who are often on hand to treat medical emergencies, and the church has automatic external defibrillators.

“It’s not a matter of fear, it’s a matter of being wise,” Lininger said. “We want to be wise. We don’t want to walk in fear, but at the same time, we don’t want to be stupid.”

Human Ummah Applies for Non-Profit Status

| News | November 3, 2017

The organization that recently held a fundraiser for first responders but is not currently an exempt nonprofit has filed paperwork to become exempt in the eyes of the state and federal governments, documents provided to the Gazette show.

Human Ummah Foundation, Inc., provided the Gazette with copies of its Internal Revenue Service Form 1023, “Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code,” and the initial registration form with the California Attorney General’s Office.

Currently, the Franchise Tax Board lists Human Ummah as “not exempt,” and the state Attorney General lists it as a “charity organization” that is “non-registered.” The Internal Revenue Service has no listing.

Nasim Khan, the accountant who provided the Gazette with the documents, said he was under the impression that Legal Zoom, listed as the Agent for Service of Process on the California Secretary of State’s web page, would file the documents. It didn’t, so he did.

On Oct. 7, Human Ummah held its first Santa Clarita Valley Heroes Banquet that raised more than $20,000 for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s and Los Angeles County Fire Department foundations.

Khan wrote in an email that no one wrote checks to Human Ummah. The organization collected and forwarded checks made out to the two foundations.

“Since we are in process of (being recognized) by IRS as 501(c)(3) organization, we have adopted the policy which protect donor’s (sic) so they can technically and legally deduct and could not lose their deduction,” Khan wrote.

 

Gridiron Grub

| News | November 2, 2017

Football is almost as important a part of Jim Ryan’s life as Jesus. True, he’s senior pastor at Heart of the Canyons Church, but he also played collegiate football in Texas and coached the freshmen at Canyon High.

One of the often-overlooked (but not to Ryan) aspects of football is the pre-game meal. It is a time to congregate as a community, partake in appropriate foods for which one would truly be grateful, and store enough energy to meet the gridiron challenges later that day.

Pre-game meals are the norm in high school, where booster clubs provide spreads of pastas, meats, salads and desserts. They’re also the norm at big-time four-year schools, which have the budgets to feed an army.

But not all junior colleges have such meals. In fact, not every junior college player can even afford regular meals, and after Ryan discovered College of the Canyons was one such place, he decided something had to be done.

This year, thanks to Ryan and his parishioners, COC football players are enjoying pre-game meals before every home game, and 21 players who would otherwise go hungry during the week are not.

“We just want to let them know the community loves them,” said Jeff Briscoe, who came up with the program name: Gridiron Grub.

The idea started with Ryan, who one Saturday some years ago saw kids eating at a Jack in the Box. A conversation started, and Ryan learned these players were eating their pre-game meal.

“Are you kidding me? You can’t eat Jack in the Box as a pre-game meal!” Ryan said he remembered telling them.

Much later, when church members were looking for a community need to address, Ryan brought up this conversation. Briscoe stepped forward to take a lead, telling Ryan, “You found something for me to do. Two things I love are food and football.”

Ryan called Canyons coach Ted Iacenda. “I told him the story. I said, ‘I don’t know if you have pre-game meals, but would it be OK if the church provided pre-game meals?’” Ryan said. “He got so excited.”

Said Iacenda, a standout running back at Hart who won a section title in 1995 and still holds the area career-touchdown record: “Pastor Jim approached me in late spring or early summer. It couldn’t have come at a better moment.”

Briscoe’s wife, Debbie, worked for Rattler’s Bar B Que and Stonefire Grill, and got the two restaurants to provide the food for the first two COC home games this season, a loss to Fullerton and a win over Long Beach. The church members took care of the next two home games, offering Costco chicken, mashed potatoes and salad before the win over Moorpark, and grilled hamburgers and macaroni and cheese before beating Cerritos.

Road games are different, Ryan saying there would be no way to feed everyone on the road and Iacenda saying the school provides a post-game meal of usually sub sandwiches.

For the home (and regular-season) finale Nov. 11 versus Bakersfield, Ryan said they’re planning meatball sandwiches. All food has been paid for by the church members, Ryan said, at an estimated cost of between $350 and $520 per pre-game meal – all paid for by church members; no funds have come out of the church budget. About 20-25 volunteers shop, set up, serve, clean and break down the room (meals usually are at the church’s Newhall location on Valley Street).

As appreciative as Iacenda was, he told Ryan early on that he wasn’t sure one pre-game meal would suffice for some of his players.

“We’re dealing with 90 young men from all different walks of life,” Iacenda said. “Some of these kids don’t have the resources my Santa Clarita kids have. … These kids are struggling to chase their athletic dreams, trying to get degrees.”

Again, the church responded with large boxes of food for the 21 players believed to most need them. Briscoe said he and Ryan typically do the shopping. Ryan listed all the food that goes in: cereal, bread, peanut butter and jelly, pasta and sauce, cans of chicken and tuna, energy bars, toaster pastries, cookies, fruit, vegetables, canned soup and canned chili. Volunteers also have been known to insert Bible verses. Each box costs about $40 a week.

“These kids can have at least two solid meals a day,” Ryan said. “They have to prepare it.”

The results are tangible: Canyons is 6-2 this season with two games to play. But most importantly, Iacenda said, the players are maintaining their weight. Football takes a great deal out of players, and they often lose weight as the season progresses.

“Weight will fluctuate, and they’ll drop 15-20 pounds,” the coach said. “We have kids putting on weight. It’s really nice.”

For the final home game, Ryan said he’s planning a tailgate in the COC parking lot and hopes all church members will attend. As for feeding the team next year, that’s a given.

“We wanted the kids to know that God loves them, that we love them, and that we care about them,” Briscoe said. “We want to feed bodies and feed hearts and minds.”

Challenging Bail

| News | November 2, 2017

Because of a computer algorithm, a man who had been arrested some 20 times, most recently for illegal possession of a handgun, was released from jail without bail and then allegedly killed someone.

This happened in New Jersey, but a local bail-bond company is worried that something similar could happen here.

“Everybody is on edge in the bail industry,” said Robin Sandoval-March, who with husband Nuri March runs Santa Clarita Bail Bonds.

That’s because state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye came out last week in favor of reforming the bail system. The state’s Pretrial Detention Reform Workgroup, which she established in October 2016, determined that California’s current system “unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety because it bases a person’s liberty on financial resources rather than the likelihood of future criminal behavior and exacerbates socioeconomic disparities and racial bias.”

The report makes 10 recommendations, including using a validated pretrial risk assessment tool – an algorithm. New Jersey is one state that currently uses such a tool, called the Public Safety Assessment. It considers nine factors, including age, nature of the charge, convictions, failure to appear and incarceration, not geography, education level and family status, according to NJTV News.

The PSA was never meant to replace a judge’s discretion, and the questionnaire aims to predict whether someone charged with a crime will show up for court or commit a crime if released before trial, instead of relying on money for bail to get out.

The main problem Sandoval-March and her husband have with this algorithm is that it allows people to be released without bail with no guarantee that they will return to court, which is what bail promises.

“There’s no oversight,” March said. “These low-level criminals who break into houses and cars, if there’s no accountability, these guys are going to do it (commit crimes) multiple times because there’s no incentive not to.”

And who would pay for all these criminals skipping town?  “The taxpayers will be on the hook for all the criminals who don’t show up,” March said. “The streets are not as safe. You’re putting criminals back on the street with no oversight.”

The concept of bail goes back to 11th-century England before the Norman Conquest. It began with the assumption that the penalty for most crimes was a fine paid to the victim. Bail was the amount of the fine, and the accused could be released if a third party would guarantee the accused’s appearance for trial and paying the fine on conviction.

Today, bail is the money or security a person accused of a crime is required to provide to the court to be released from custody, with the purpose of assuring public safety and the defendant’s future appearance in court. The vast majority of defendants who are released on bail in California rely on commercial bail bonds to secure their release, although the Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bails.

Because so many poor and non-white people are incarcerated and unable to post bail, they languish in jails, and people have called for reform. New Jersey and New Mexico voters approved constitutional amendments that ended their reliance on bail and allowed judges to release defendants who aren’t considered dangerous or flight risks.

New Jersey’s using what Quartz Media calls “algorithmic justice,” raising questions about whether the formulas can ever be sufficiently nuanced to contend with the many complexities that criminal-court judges are forced to consider when making difficult decisions. For example, June Rodgers sued New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Attorney General Christopher Porrino for wrongful death after Jules Black got out via the algorithm and allegedly murdered Rodgers’ son, Christian, a few days later.

“It makes it difficult for a defendant to comply if he’s got no skin in the game,” March said. “The system is failing.”

Added Sandoval-March: “Law enforcement isn’t for this. Judges aren’t for this. Lawyers aren’t for this.”

But so far, New Jersey seems to be accomplishing at least its short-term goals. According to Quartz Media, fewer people are detained for lack of money today than in the past. A 2013 study found that almost 40 percent of defendants ordered out on bail stay in jail, unable to pay for their freedom. Now they’re released, regardless of finances, based on their risk assessment.

According to the New York Times, of nearly 3,400 new criminal cases in New Jersey in January, fewer than 10 percent of defendants remained detained and less than one percent got bail, while the rest were free to go.

California’s bail system is inequitable. Sandoval-March said someone accused of domestic violence in L.A. County can expect to pay $50,000 in bail for a felony charge and $20,000 for a misdemeanor charge. In Ventura County, she said, it’s half as much.

“We believe county bail schedules need to be looked at,” she said.

Additionally, there is Proposition 47, which the voters passed in 2014. The measure’s main effects were to convert many nonviolent offenses, such as drug and property offenses, from felonies to misdemeanors. These offenses include shoplifting, writing bad checks, and drug possession. The measure also included exceptions for offenses involving more than $950 and criminals with records including violence or sex offense.

That amount has caused problems, the Marches said. People accused of stealing less than $950 receive a “citation release,” which is a simple ticket.

“Once criminals find out, ‘I can do this crime, go to jail and get a ticket to appear?’ why wouldn’t you continue to do crimes?” March said.

In 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported that “law enforcement officials and others have blamed Proposition 47 for allowing repeat offenders … to continue breaking the law with little consequence.”

In a 2015 Washington Post story, San Diego police chief Shelley Zimmerman described Proposition 47 as “a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card.” She and other police chiefs also expressed concern about the increasing phenomenon of “frequent flier” criminals, people who exploit Proposition 47 to commit crimes. For example, one criminal allegedly brought a calculator into a store to avoid stealing more than $950 worth of goods.

March said Proposition 47 caused a 30 percent drop in business. “It loosened the bail system,” he said. “It made it easier for people to get out without bail.”

Sandoval-March said she feels the only way to fix this is for people to get involved and reach out to their representatives: Assemblyman Dante Acosta, Sen. Scott Wilk and Representative Steve Knight.

Acosta and Wilk are especially important because currently in the state Senate Appropriations Committee is Senate Bill 10, which, among other things would, starting Jan. 1, 2020, allow for some sort of algorithm to be used in determining an accused person’s pretrial risk assessment.

“This is a bedroom community,” she said. “People don’t know what to do. Talk to your local Assembly(man). Talk to your local congressman. It’s like a veil has been put over people’s heads.”

Foundation’s Status Incomplete

| News | October 26, 2017

A local community organization that recently staged a banquet to honor first responders and raise funds for fire and police foundations is not recognized as an exempt non-profit by state and federal tax agencies.

Human Ummah Foundation, Inc., headed by President Jamshed Yazdani, Vice President Moazzem Chowdhury, Secretary Munib Wani and Treasurer Junaid Khan, lists itself as “non-profit” on some of its literature and has registered as a “domestic non-profit” with the California Secretary of State. But the Franchise Tax Board lists Human Ummah as “not exempt,” and the state Attorney General lists it as a “charity organization” that is “non-registered.”

The Internal Revenue Service has no listing.

Chowdhury didn’t return multiple phone calls. Khan told the Gazette he would get in touch with the organization’s accountant, who would forward the paperwork, which never happened. He then didn’t return a subsequent call.

On Oct. 7, Human Ummah held its first Santa Clarita Valley Heroes Banquet that raised more than $20,000 for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s and Los Angeles County Fire Department foundations, according to The Signal.

Randy Michel, a CPA and partner at WongHolland LLP in Woodland Hills, said people who donate to non-exempt organizations could lose their deductions if the IRS were to investigate and determine an organization is not registered as such. Also, the organization and its officers could be held liable if the IRS determined the organization was acting like an exempt non-profit when it wasn’t.

Nowhere on any Human Ummah web page or Facebook page does it mention that the organization is a 501(c)(3) or similar federal designation.

“They could still be doing good things as a non-exempt organization,” Michel said. “It still could be a good organization.”

Gas Tax Rips Californians a New One

| News | October 26, 2017

Are you ready to pay more at the pump? Starting Nov. 1 you will, whether you are ready or not.

As a result of the Legislature passing, and Gov. Jerry Brown signing, Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act, motorists will see prices go up 12 cents a gallon for unleaded fuel and 20 cents a gallon for diesel fuel (local representatives Dante Acosta and Scott Wilk voted against it).

The fee increase was on Don Cruikshank’s mind recently when he drove home from Palmdale on State Route 14 and saw the traffic jam heading the other way, the result of some sort of accident.

“God, look at all those people driving home,” Cruikshank said he remembered thinking. “Those people are driving 60 to 80 miles a day to go to work. Those people I feel sorry for. They’re going to get hit with that 12 cents. If you have a commute, the cost is going to go through the roof. I feel bad for those people who have to commute.”

Although Cruikshank lives close to his business, AV Equipment Rental in Newhall, the diesel increase will affect his business, and he will pass some of that to his customers.

Most equipment Cruikshank rents uses diesel fuel, so everyone will pay more because he will. But it could be worse: Cruikshank stores about 500 gallons; the new law requires anyone who stockpiles at least 1,000 gallons to pay the extra 20 cents per gallon on the stockpiled fuel.

Cruikshank said he isn’t yet sure whether to pass to his customers the increase for fueling his fleet of delivery vehicles.

“We might have to adjust our costs,” he said. “Six months ago, we bumped up our delivery costs due to labor. I hate to nickel-and-dime our customers.”

Dale Heys of Heys Plumbing also isn’t sure what to do. Past fuel increases have led him to add a travel surcharge to his customers’ bills, although he currently does not do this.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again,” Heys said. “Obviously, I don’t want to absorb the costs, but if I see other people doing it, we might have to. Is it a bullet we’ll have to bite or will we pass it on to the consumer?”

Mark Elsebusch of Designated Drivers of Santa Clarita said his company, which he said drives between 100 and 300 miles a night, will absorb the cost, which he estimates will be between $3 and $15 a day.

“Much as we hate paying for gas, we just absorb it and keep our rates at $20 anywhere in the Santa Clarita Valley,” he said.

In the past, steep increases have led to people driving less to conduct business or shop, leading to more online shopping. According to Marin Software, searches for online shopping increase dramatically when gas prices rise. A 2011 Gallup poll showed that the higher the gas prices, the less confidence people had in the overall economy.

The pump prices aren’t the only fees that increase with this new law. Vehicle owners will see an increase in registration fees based on the value of their vehicles, ranging from $25 to $175.

Most of the money is supposed to go toward maintaining and fixing highways, roads and bridges, but enough people are skeptical to the point that a movement to qualify a repeal of this law for the November 2018 ballot has started. The initiative also would include verbiage to disallow the Legislature from passing future fuel-tax increases without a vote of the people.

“Sacramento politicians really crossed the line with these massive car and gas tax hikes and we intend to give taxpayers the chance to reverse that decision with this initiative,” Carl DeMaio, chairman of the coalition Reform California and a former San Diego councilman, said in a statement published by the Sacramento Bee.

DeMaio also is involved in a pending recall attempt of Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman, a freshman lawmaker from Orange County who voted for SB 1, the Bee said.

Cruikshank also is skeptical.

“If it were that the money would go toward infrastructure, it would be palatable,” he said. “But we know the Senate guys will shanghai it to another program. Meanwhile, we’ll still be driving over potholes. It’s an endless appetite for how to fleece the taxpayers. We keep putting these idiots in office.”

Left-Leaning Group Germain-ates in SCV

| News | October 20, 2017

To many Democrats, the results of the 2016 presidential election hurt. But not everyone takes their hurt and turns it into activism as Philip Germain has done.

Germain, though just 20 and a College of the Canyons student, is behind California 25 United for Progress (25UP), a non-profit liberal group dedicated to educating people about the issues.

“We are here to present the issues and let the members of the community decide what to do,” Germain said. “We talk to our neighbors because all politics is local.”

In this hyper-partisan era, 25UP is hardly the only group in the area getting its message out. The conservative Right On SCV also has an Internet presence — and has recently attacked the Gazette and publisher Doug Sutton (a conservative) over some of its (and his) coverage.

25UP has targets in mind, too: President Donald Trump and Congressman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), who currently represents the state’s 25th congressional district, although Germain says his job is not to call for Knight’s defeat; it’s to inform people who their representative is and how Knight has voted. Germain says he has met Knight and “I find him to be prickly and condescending … (but) if he’s my representative, he’s my representative. I do not agree with him 90 percent of the time.”

It was Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton that led to Germain creating 25UP. He worked in the campaign offices shared by Democratic challengers Bryan Caforio and Christy Smith, and the day after the election, as he cleaned a pile of signs outside the office, a woman walked by with her daughter.

“She picked up a sign and got sad,” Germain said, “and she said, ‘I want to thank you for trying,’ and she put down the sign and kept walking.”

Germain said he doesn’t know who that woman was, but it showed him that “People looked lost. People looked confused. I wanted to provide a way to get out of that.”

So, along with former COC student Mai Do (now at Washington College in Maryland), 25UP was born. It now has 150 members and about 1,000 followers, many of whom donate as little as $25 at a time, which has helped the organization place ads trumpeting its opposition to what Knight does.
Its website lists its views on issues, including:

It favors keeping the Affordable Care Act and takes Knight to task for voting for the American Health Care Act, the repeal-and-replace program the House passed in May.
It supports Planned Parenthood and opposes Republicans’ plans to defund the organization, something Knight voted for when he voted for the AHCA.
It believes climate change exists and favors keeping the Environmental Protection Agency. Closer to home, it favors closing the Chiquita Canyon landfill, and regulating and cleaning the Aliso Canyon natural-gas site.
It favors restricting people on the No-Fly List from buying a gun, and expanding background checks.
It opposes ending President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA, which has been blocked by the courts; the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on the matter).
It favors protecting LGBTQ veterans and wants expansion of the Los Angeles VA facility.

Some of the local Democratic candidates applaud Germain and his group.

Caforio, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Knight and is trying again, said he attended 25UP’s first meeting and tries to go as often as possible. “(Germain) tapped into the energy of the people tired of our representative not representing us,” he said.

Christy Smith, who lost to Dante Acosta for the state’s 36th Assembly District seat but will challenge him again, calls Germain “a bright young man who’s got a great future. I’m astonished he took it on and got it off the ground (so quickly).”

Germain said he expects the group to exist through 2020 and possibly beyond, provided somebody takes it over when he transfers to a four-year college or university.

“We’re filling a need,” he said. “We’re not just spouting partisan (stuff). “We’re talking about issues.”

Playing Big Brother with Fireworks

| News | October 19, 2017

Fireworks — all of them — are illegal in Los Angeles County. Yet, people still possess them and shoot them off with little or no consideration of the ramifications — injury, fire, loss of life, limb or property.

It’s a concern city leaders are well aware of, Mayor Cameron Smyth saying the most complaints he has received about any issue was related to fireworks. So, the council did something about it, last week passing a resolution that offers $500 to anyone with information leading to a person being cited for illegal firework activity.

“We don’t envision this to be a cure-all,” Smyth said, “but the more ways we can stop the illegal fireworks, the better.”

This resolution had its start during the July 11 council meeting, when Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Lewis reported to the council activities stemming from the Independence Day holiday.

According to the video from that council meeting, Lewis said that before the holiday, the crime prevention unit reviewed service calls from 2015 and 2016 to determine the problem areas, then went to those areas and used social media to remind everyone that fireworks are illegal and dangerous.

From July 1-4, Lewis said, the station received 179 calls about fireworks, down from 289 the year before. Deputies seized 50 pounds of fireworks and issued eight citations. In some instances, large groups of people, some of whom were drunk and disorderly, surrounded deputies and threatened their safety, which required backup.

Another time, Lewis said, he drove through the Parklane Mobile Estates five times in an unmarked car trying to find the source — a citation can only be issued if the deputy catches someone in the act of setting off fireworks.

He failed each time.

Councilmember Marsha McLean said she got emails in which people knew that fireworks were going to be shot off but didn’t want to report their neighbors. She had the idea of offering a small reward to people who report violators and suggested $500. Lewis welcomed the idea, saying, “If we knew the specific address, we could park there.”

According to an email from Assistant to the City Manager Jerrid McKenna, the reward is available only to people who provide information that leads to a “successful citation(s) of the person or persons committing illegal firework activity. If multiple people call to provide information on the same activity and a citation is issued, the reward amount will be divided by the City in a manner it shall deem appropriate.”

This week, McLean said her concern is to stop people from shooting fireworks into the sky “and go off with a great boom.” She did not mean firecrackers, sparklers, Roman candles and the like, which are called “consumer fireworks” and generally are weaker than those in professional displays.

However, all fireworks are dangerous. According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireworks caused an estimated 15,600 fires in 2013. A 15-year-old teen was suspected of using illegal fireworks that caused a massive fire in Oregon last month, and illegal fireworks caused a small brush fire at a Val Verde natural-gas field this past summer.

McLean said, “What the council passed is good.”

Not everyone agrees with her.

Local activist Alan Ferdman said having people report their neighbors reminds him of Germany leading up to and during World War II. Besides, he said, it’s another example of the city coming up with an idea without an enforcement plan.

“They don’t want to take care of it; they want you to report your neighbors,” Ferdman said. “If you are concerned about safety, you have the ability to report it today. You had the ability to report it last week. You had the ability to report it last month. You had the ability to report it last year. … I think it was the wrong approach, but that’s what the city does.”

Smyth and McLean rejected that.

“These are illegal activities,” Smyth said. “That’s what this is: a crime. It needs to be brought to a halt. … My hope is we are able to adjust out deployment and enforcement accordingly. … It’s a piece of the solution, but there are many other aspects we need to tackle.”

Said McLean: “I don’t need to defend what we did. What we did is a responsible thing to try and stop explosions that take place in the middle of the night and disturb people’s peace. The largest complaint I get is, ‘The City Council never does anything to help (solve) the problem.’ We’re responding to residents who want us to do something.”

Where Have All the Edwards Billboards Gone?

| News | October 13, 2017

Halloween is always a busy time for Jana Einaudi. But without the billboards to advertise her store, she knows this season will be harder.

“People definitely don’t see us as much, even though we’re on the corner of a well-traveled street,” said Einaudi, manager of A Chorus Line at the corner of Cinema Drive and Bouquet Canyon Road. “We don’t have that exposure anymore.”

That’s because of a deal the city made three years ago with the billboard company through which A Chorus Line advertised. Basically, it paid local business Edwards Outdoor Advertising $1.3 million to go away, because city officials wanted to remove as many billboards as possible from within the city limits.

The last of the Edwards billboards came down in July, city Senior Planner James Chow said. One of those last ones was right across the street from A Chorus Line, Einaudi said.

“I see how the billboards had an impact on our sales,” Einaudi said. “I can see how it’s not as busy.”

The Edwards deal was part of a bigger issue that involved electronic billboards, alleged secret backroom deals, and a citizen outcry that one person called “the perfect storm of the City Council pissing off as many people as possible.”

Another person called it “the biggest thing the city had ever seen, in terms of city activism.”

Wanting to get rid of billboards within the city is nothing new; Santa Clarita leaders placed a moratorium on any new billboards in the early 1990s.

In 2014, Edwards was the local billboard company that many local merchants used for that form of advertising, but it wasn’t alone; CBS Outdoor (now Outfront Media) and Clear Channel also owned billboards inside the city limits. Typically, the local businesses used Edwards and the bigger companies used CBS and Clear Channel.

Although there was a moratorium, those billboards along the railroad tracks (called the “railroad right-of-way”) existed and were owned by L.A. County. At some point, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority took that over and in 2014, after three years of negotiations, cut a 50-year deal with the city to build three double-sided electronic billboards to be posted along State Highway 14 and Interstate 5.

Metro would give the city a percentage of the money collected from electronic-billboard advertising and get rid of 62 billboards along the railroad right-of-way. Because of the moratorium, the city would have to make an exception, and it re-zoned some areas from “open space” to create a “billboard relocation overlay zone.”

Some thought the city stood to gain as much as $1 million a year, and 62 fewer billboards meant beautification. Others thought the deal was terrible, that it was hammered out in secret, and that there was no guarantee the city would get anything from the deal.

None of the billboard companies liked the deal, CBS and Clear Channel threatening to sue if the deal went through. People picketed and packed the council chambers to complain, mostly for two reasons: first, that electronic billboards were a driving distraction and how-dare-the-city-change-the-zoning-for-these-monstrosities; and second, many local businesses advertised on the 22 Edwards billboards that were along the tracks, and it wasn’t fair to them or owner Julie Edwards-Sanchez (who didn’t return calls from the Gazette).

The to-do caused the city to negotiate with Edwards to buy her out. At a cost of $1.3 million, some people considered it a bargain; others thought it was the least the city could do after it affected a local business.

“They took a small business and put it out of business,” local activist Alan Ferdman recalled.

“To me, that’s not right,” Einaudi said.

But the people weren’t done making their voices heard. A petition drive started to place a referendum on the ballot to stop the city-Metro billboard deal. Then came accusations that Allvision, a company partnered with Metro that stood to gain from the deal, was paying people to illegally stop signature-gatherers.

People needed to collect 11,170 signatures, and some people thought they would never get that many; they got 16,000, of which 11,370 were certified.

In response, the city placed Measure S on the November 2014 ballot, which asked the voters to approve the deal. It failed 56 percent to 44 percent.

“The City Council clearly was not listening to its citizens that descended upon the meetings,” activist Steve Petzold remembered. “We didn’t want digital billboards.”

But Petzold said he still misses the Edwards billboards.

“They were the least intrusive, and they supported local businesses,” he said.

Einaudi said that every Halloween, in addition to the billboard across the street, Edwards-Sanchez would find some other available billboards for A Chorus Line.

“A lot of people shop on the internet, and people don’t realize there are little shops in town,” she said.

Early Hopefuls for City Council Race

| News | October 6, 2017

Is it too early to talk about the 2018 city council election?

Apparently not. Councilmember Bill Miranda has indicated he will run. Although Miranda didn’t respond to the Gazette, Mayor Cameron Smyth said he received an e-vite to Miranda’s kickoff event “sometime this month.”

Councilmember Marsha McLean also said she plans to run. Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste, whose term also expires next year, did not respond to the Gazette’s phone calls.

It is likely that next year Weste will become mayor (she hasn’t served in that capacity since 2014) and McLean likely will become mayor pro-tem. Some might believe that having a title gives a candidate an advantage, but Smyth points out that is misleading.

“Recent history is mixed,” he said. “In 2014 (actually 2012), the incumbent mayor (Laurie Ender) lost. In 2016, the incumbent mayor (Bob Kellar) won. What I learned from my election (in 2016), with a bigger turnout, was the voters of Santa Clarita are very educated. Titles alone aren’t going to carry the day.”

Additionally, Dante Acosta was not allowed to use the title “Mayor Pro-Tem” on his ballot when he ran for Assembly in 2016 because he was not elected to that position.

But what about racial makeup? Former councilmember and mayor Carl Boyer told the Gazette recently that he thinks Miranda, who has not had a smooth ride since being appointed in January, is vulnerable if a Latino runs against him.

While Boyer didn’t name any names, Gloria Mercado-Fortine has run before, and Saugus school board member Paul De La Cerda put himself in the running for appointment to the council seat.

Both said it’s too early to talk about running, but it’s clear Mercado-Fortine has thought about it.

“Scott Wilk put Bill in,” she said about the state senator who wrote a letter of recommendation for Miranda. “He went after Bruce (Fortine, Mercado-Fortine’s husband and a former College of the Canyons trustee who has butted heads with Wilk in the past) and I before.

“He’s a really vicious person and puts out a lot of trash,” she continued. “It’d be good to do that (run) just to break that stronghold. But it’s early.”

Solar Panel Mess Continues

| News | October 5, 2017

Santa Clarita City Council members expressed outrage and frustration at being unable to do anything about the solar panels that have been erected behind Canyon View Estates. They see it as Sacramento taking away local control and trying to find a way to reassert some jurisdiction.

“I am disgusted with what they have done with the hillside, in complete disregard of the people of Canyon View Estates and the people of Santa Clarita,” Councilmember Bob Kellar said.

“It’s not just Councilmember Kellar’s outrage,” Mayor Cameron Smyth said. “It’s an eyesore for many residents. I certainly share the outrage.”

Without its knowledge, the owners of the manufactured home park started putting up the first phase of what will become 6,000 solar panels on the hill overlooking the property — after removing the vegetation.

Because Canyon View Estates is classified as a manufactured home-planned unit development, the owners needed only approval from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which they received.

Community activist Alan Ferdman looked into the HCD permitting process and found a booklet that said that a person seeking an HCD-approved permit should first “obtain approval and signature from the local planning department.” Ferdman spoke to Tom Cole, head of the city’s Community Development department, to find out who signed off on the solar-panel project. Cole told him the local planning department referred to the closest HCD office.

According to the HCD website, there are no regional offices in Los Angeles County. The closest two are in Riverside and San Luis Obispo.

“I got the impression from Tom Cole that he’s not going to do anything else because he doesn’t have jurisdiction,” Ferdman said.

Calls to Cole went unreturned, but city spokesperson Carrie Lujan emailed to say, “In regards to the solar panels the City has no jurisdiction over the project. The City has no jurisdiction over zoning or building at a mobile home park. Therefore no one at the City would sign off on this project.”

In a separate email, Lujan wrote, “(To) be clear HCD confirmed we do not have local planning control.”

Smyth said the city is trying to find some local control. It has joined with the League of California Cities to advocate against bills currently sitting on the governor’s desk that Smyth said would cede more local control to Sacramento. As an example, he mentioned a bill (Senate Bill 649), which he said would limit cities’ abilities to regulate where cell-phone towers could be located.

“That should outrage everybody,” Smyth said. “We hope the governor will hear our concerns. He’s a former mayor of Oakland.”

As a former Assemblyman, Smyth has friends in Sacramento, and he said he has called on several, including Assemblypersons Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) and Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), as well as former county supervisors now serving in the Legislature.

The League of California Cities has requested that Gov. Jerry Brown veto the bill.

Smyth said he expects Brown to sign SB 649 and others, and if that happens, legal action could be explored.

“If the governor signs the bill, the League of Cities will come together and decide what action to take,” Smyth said.

 

Accounts of The Massacre… Miller: ‘I’ve Had People Die in My Arms’

| News | October 5, 2017

Some days later, Doug Miller recognized how traumatic the shooting in Las Vegas was.

“I hope nobody experiences something like this,” said Miller, who was near the right side of the stage with several family members and friends on the third day of the Route 91 Harvest Festival. “The only ones that do, I have tremendous respect for: our armed service personnel. Now, I have experienced it. … I’ve heard bullets flying by. I’ve heard the ricocheting. I’ve had people die in my arms.”

Miller was not shot, but Jordanne Barr, 24, was. She and her fiancé, former Canyon High and Weber State football player Jordan Adamczyk, 26, enjoyed country star Jason Aldean’s set along with many others. Barr said she was going to leave early, but was waiting for him to play “Hicktown,” which he usually plays early in the set, when she heard what sounded like helicopter blades whirring.

“Moments after, we realized what happened,” she said Wednesday from her bed in Mercy Southwest Hospital in Bakersfield, where she was to undergo surgery on her arm at 2 p.m.

Doug Miller shares his experience

Miller said he thought the gunfire sounded like firecrackers. Facing the stage, he turned over his shoulder to find the source of the noise and saw confetti. “Cool,” he thought.

Then he looked at the Mandalay Bay tower and saw a flashing light and heard a loud bang.

“I saw the muzzle flash,” he said. “I turned back toward the stage. A gentleman in front of me took a headshot, and he dropped. That’s when everyone figured out what happened.”

Everybody hit the ground. Barr and Adamczyk remembered the piercing screams. Miller said the bullets flying by sounded like a whoosh, “like if you can swat something by your ears, but it was high-pitched.”

Miller reached for the man he had seen shot.

“I reached over to see if he had a pulse. He had no pulse.”

Everybody stayed down for about five to seven minutes, men lying on top of their women to protect them. Adamczyk and Barr said they prayed.

“I laid on the ground, Jordan on top of me,” Barr said. “I thought I was shot. My right arm was numb. He said, ‘No, it’s ’cause I’m on your body.’ ”

They looked at her right arm. It was bleeding, worse than what people see in movies.

Miller remembered hearing bullets ricocheting off the metal of the bleachers and barricades. He saw a family friend, Logan Goodrich, holding a girl who had been shot. She was Dominica Zeolla.

“We were sitting ducks … it was utter chaos,” Miller said. “Fortunately, there was no stampeding.”

Miller shouted instructions: When you hear no bullets, run. When you do, stop and drop.

The closest protection was behind the vehicles and tour buses the performers and crew used. Everybody ran there. Miller saw a female police officer and told her he had seen a muzzle flash near the top of the Mandalay Bay tower. She radioed that information.

People were soaked in blood. People were asking for belts to use as tourniquets to stop the bleeding. Barr said one nice man used his belt on her arm.

She called her father, who was also in Las Vegas for work. He told her to get out of there.

Kathie Goodrich shares her experience

Away from the scene
Kathie Goodrich wasn’t able to get tickets for the event because it had sold out. But she had bought the hotel room, at the Tropicana, and decided to go to Las Vegas anyway. She would see friends during the day and see other shows, such as Céline Dion, at night.

From her 21st-floor room that faced the MGM and, therefore, away from the concert area, she had started packing when she heard sirens and saw ambulances down below.

Her mother’s intuition told her something was wrong. She called her son, Logan. He didn’t answer (Miller recalled people shouting to turn off phones in case a gunman walked among them).

She texted a friend, Logan’s mother-in-law. No answer. She texted her daughter-in-law, “Are you OK?”

She felt a tremendous sense of helplessness. “I got to do something. What can I do?”

It felt like two hours, but after about three minutes, her daughter-in-law texted back: “No.”

Then she called Goodrich and told her it’s a mass shooting. “I could hear screaming in the background,” Goodrich said.
The hotels were locked down. Goodrich said her son made it to Hooters before making it back to the Tropicana. He couldn’t leave Zeolla until she was safe.

Amid the chaos
Miller didn’t leave with everyone else. An EMT grabbed him by the shirt and said, “I need your help.”

As they returned to exposed areas, the EMT gave Miller the same instructions he had given: move when you hear no bullets, stop and drop when you do.

They turned a metal barrier on its side and made a gurney. They went to a man who was lying there. Miller grabbed his hand. The man grabbed Miller’s hand. Then he went limp.

The EMT grabbed a banner, and the two men covered him.

At that point, Miller’s wife and daughter, who also hadn’t left but stayed behind the tour buses, came back out (the gunfire had stopped by then), and Miller knew he had to attend to them.

Police were telling people to run to the Tropicana. The Millers did that, and they stayed there in the service area and then in a large conference room until about 5 a.m., when they were released. They went to their room at the Luxor, where Miller showered. He had blood on his clothes and in his hair.

At the hospital
As Barr and Adamczyk ran up Las Vegas Boulevard, a man in what Adamczyk called “an old Jeep” pulled over and asked if they had been shot. When he heard, “Yes,” he insisted on taking them to a hospital.

“He got us there in 10 minutes, running red lights,” Adamczyk said. “I tried to give him money. He said, ‘Give me a hug. I’m going back to get more people.’ ”
The man took them to Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center. Barr’s father later arrived there and kept Adamczyk company while doctors attended to Barr.

Adamczyk washed himself off in a hospital bathroom. His shirt, pants and shoes were bloodied.

“There was a lot of blood. It wasn’t mine,” he said. “I was pretty hysterical, knowing she was shot. I didn’t know the extent of the bullet in her side.”

Doctors found that the bullet that hit Barr’s arm – but missed bone and artery – had gone through and lodged in her fat cells in her back. They decided that trying to remove it would do more harm than good.

Barr’s brother, Aleck, who’s in the Navy in San Diego, received emergency medical leave, drove up to pick up Barr’s mother, Jessica, and Aunt Monica in Bakersfield, and they made their way to Las Vegas.

Barr’s father chartered a plane to Bakersfield, where Adamczyk and Barr live. Before they left, Adamczyk went back to the Tropicana to get their belongings.

“I did not want to go there alone. I was terrified,” he said. “I wanted to leave Las Vegas as soon as possible.”

Barr’s mother accompanied her on the 45-minute plane ride home. Adamczyk stayed an extra night with his mother, who happened to be in Vegas with friends at the hotel Paris, and drove home with her.

Barr said her father knows many doctors, and one recommended a hand surgeon. Barr couldn’t move the right pinky and ring finger, and when she moved it with her other hand, she felt pain where she was shot.

The surgical plan, she said, was for the hand doctor to perform exploratory surgery to assess the damage. A graft from her leg might be necessary, she said, or maybe it will be just a cleanup job. Surgery was scheduled for Wednesday in Bakersfield.

Back at home
Goodrich said Logan wasn’t comfortable talking about his experiences. Ditto Miller’s wife, Deanna, who originally wanted to be interviewed with her husband.

Miller said his wife and daughter, 20, are having a hard time and only want to stay at home. Barr said she is still in survival mode and hasn’t yet cried.

Some good news: Goodrich said Zeolla has come through surgery and is no longer in critical condition. She’s stable.

Adamczyk said it’s been easier for him to talk about it, “but I know it’s going to be hard on Jordanne. She has a bullet to deal with.”

They expect to need therapy, physical and emotional.

Miller said he has had trouble sleeping (he estimated about six hours since Sunday) and constantly thinks about it. But he has returned to work (he was interviewed by phone there) and was leaving early to be with his family.

“It’s a traumatic experience. I get it. It happens,” he said, adding he has been through a shooting before. When he was 17, he saw a grocery store robber shoot his friend. “This is compounded by mass hysteria. Thousands of people trying to help, or running for their lives.”

 

Lyons Ave Puzzle

| News | September 28, 2017

The talk of extending Lyons Avenue past the railroad tracks is nothing new. The city’s General Plan and at least one version of the county’s Master Plan call for it. But as traffic along Newhall Avenue continues to worsen – the extension is supposed to help with that — the plans continue to move forward, albeit perhaps at the speed of current traffic along Newhall Avenue.

The $30 million plan, which calls for extending Lyons over the tracks to meet an extended Dockweiler Drive toward The Master’s University and connect at 12th and Arch streets, is in the environmental-report phase, assistant city engineer Mike Hennawy said. There have been several hearings, and another one was scheduled for Thursday at The Master’s English and History Center, Room 100.

Because the plan hasn’t progressed beyond an environmental impact report, the actual extension hasn’t been finalized. In addition to extending Lyons over the tracks, the original plan calls for a railroad crossing to be built at Lyons and Railroad avenues, and the crossing at 13th Street to be closed.

However, two other alternatives are on the table, one of which Hennawy said has been discarded. That alternative called for leaving the 13th Street crossing intact, in addition to the Lyons/Railroad crossing, but Hennawy said it doesn’t reduce traffic, and the city can’t get the Public Utilities Commission, Metrolink or Metro to approve it. According to The Signal, Metro has given the city $11.4 million in grants.

Alternative 2, on the other hand, remains viable and calls for Lyons to not be extended. Instead, Dockweiler would extend all the way to Arch, and the crossing at 13th would be upgraded. This is preferred to the original plan, Hennawy said, but the City Council ultimately will decide around March. Construction is scheduled for 2020.

“We provide the City Council with the EIR: ‘This is the connections and here are the impacts,’” Hennawy said. We studied the alternatives, and here are the impacts. Thirteenth Street is superior.”

One councilmember, however, will not have a say. Laurene Weste owns “a ranch with seven horses and a house” near where Dockweiler and/or Lyons would extend and, by law, must recuse herself from the discussions. Weste did this when the council decided to bring the Laemmle Theatres to Newhall.

As a result, Weste said she doesn’t care which option the city chooses, and it won’t matter because, unlike what people believe, she doesn’t stand to make any money off the deal, because the city has a 100-feet road right-of-way.

“The city’s doing the planning, and that’s as much as I can tell you,” she said. “They own the road right-of-way to my property.”

Another factor to be considered is The Master’s. While no official returned the Gazette’s call seeking comment, Hennawy said that the school got approval back in 2009 to build the part of the Dockweiler extension that would go through the university.

Critic Questions Messina’s Dual Roles

| News | September 28, 2017

Joe Messina is many things to many people, including himself. He’s a radio talk-show host (35 stations nationally carry his show), a Christian, husband, father of four, grandfather of four, Republican Party chairman for the 38th Assembly District and president of the William S. Hart Union High School District board of trustees.

He realizes that when certain hot-button issues arise, he can examine them differently, based on what role he’s playing. Take, for example, sex education in the classroom. Radio host Messina opposes teaching sex education (he does, however, approve of teaching reproductive health). School board president Messina recognizes that state law requires sex ed to be taught, so it will be taught in all schools.

Unfortunately for him, not everyone recognizes that a person can look at an issue from opposite sides because they are required to.

Anthony Breznican, a local resident who took Messina to task in The Signal after Messina appeared to have posted on Facebook a Sept. 1 article from TheLastLineofDefense.org about a mosque in Houston that didn’t help Hurricane Harvey refugees because, the imam said, “Allah forbids us helping infidels.” Breznican correctly pointed out that this website is in the same vein as The Onion, in that all stories are fake, but made to look like real news.

“Everything he does, everywhere he goes, he stands as a representative of our school district,” Breznican wrote. “Our state representatives may want to reconsider aligning with a man who either disseminates lies that are deliberately meant to foment hate … or is too dim to know when he’s being obviously hoaxed.”

Reached this week, Messina said he didn’t post the article. The person who did works for one of the four media companies that post to his site.

Messina also knew the article was fake — once he saw it. Someone told him about it, but by the time he went online, the post was gone.

“It’s my site, my responsibility,” he said. “We’re human. We make mistakes. You’ve got to allow people to fix their mistakes.”

The above comment is not to be taken as an apology, however, Messina said, because his detractors use apologies as reasons to have him removed from the school board. And he’s planning his own rebuttal to Breznican.

“I used to apologize. I don’t anymore,” he said. “It doesn’t do any good to fight. They’re not interested in an apology. … People who hate me are going to hate me.”

On the radio show, he says, he calls out “the idiocy on both sides.” When he’s a school-board president, he is sworn to ensure all children have a safe learning environment and to make sure the district conducts its business “within the guidelines of state law.”

Regardless of his radio show or other views.

Council Reacts to Questions About Miranda

| News | September 22, 2017

Instead of ringing endorsements for beleaguered City Councilmember Bill Miranda, other councilmembers appeared to step back after the Gazette called for his resignation.

Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste and Bob Kellar declined comment, Kellar saying, “I don’t know what it’s (Gazette’s call) predicated on. I’m not going to weigh in on a fellow councilmember. I wouldn’t weigh in even if I knew the reason, unless he robbed a bank or something like that.”

Marsha McLean at first declined comment before changing her mind and saying, “I’ve not seen any legal document at all to prove what was written in the paper, and until I see factual, tangible, legal proof, then I would give the benefit of the doubt. I would to anyone.”

Mayor Cameron Smyth called the Gazette column, written by publisher Doug Sutton, “personal opinion. That’s not my business.” He also said he thought the matters regarding Miranda’s dealings with the two chambers of commerce and the lack of financial reporting had been “resolved.”

Asked about Miranda becoming the first sitting councilmember to be sued, Smyth responded, “Do you know that for a fact?” Told the reporter was 90-percent sure, the mayor said, “He wasn’t sued as a result of his duties as a councilmember.”

He continued, “I had my criteria: love of community, willing to put the work in to learn, desire to serve. A number of candidates fit the bill. … We made the best decision with the information available.”

The mayor then was asked, “If you knew then what you know now, would that have changed things?”

His response: “That’s the beauty of our system. In a little over a year, the voters will have the opportunity to take full measure and will decide if they want to see him in office or not.”

For his part, Miranda texted that he had no comment.

The above comments (or lack of) are in stark contrast to the positive words the councilmembers gave back in January when they voted to appoint Miranda to replace Dante Acosta in the first place.

It was Weste who nominated Miranda. She was particularly impressed with Miranda when he talked about merging the Latino Chamber into the SCV Chamber. “I started with who I thought would be best,” she said then.

McLean, who seconded Weste’s nomination, said, “I know Bill Miranda as a person who has been active in the community. I know him as someone trying to bring the Latino business community to the forefront. I know Bill Miranda is a person who is caring and active in non-profits. I chose him because I feel he will do a good job.”

Even Kellar, who opposed Miranda, called him “a fine man.” And Smyth, who cast the deciding vote, said, “I certainly felt comfortable supporting Bill as I did with other candidates.”

Privately, council watchers say, this is an indication that Miranda is starting to embarrass the other members.

“I would think so,” said Carl Boyer, a former city councilmember and mayor. “If they’re supporting him, they’d say so. … Miranda’s definitely in big trouble if a well-known Latino runs against him.”

Instead, Smyth made an unsolicited comment about a magazine ad in which Miranda gave a testimonial for Nola Aronson’s Advanced Audiology and used his title in the ad.

“I would have never done what he did,” Smyth said. “Had he asked, I would have counseled him not to run the ad.”

According to the Political Reform Act of 1974 (renewed 2017), an elected official cannot use his office for personal gain. That Miranda was appointed makes no difference.

Assuming Miranda gave the testimonial without being paid, one could argue that Miranda broke no law. But there is a complication: Aronson has placed an ad in Miranda’s Our Valley magazine. It’s a different ad and does not show Miranda, but the ad is on the Our Valley Media website.

A call into the Fair Political Practices Commission’s advice line led to a spokesperson saying he couldn’t give third-party advice, but Miranda’s actions didn’t appear to violate the Act.

Miranda told The Signal that he was surprised his title appeared in the ad and has asked that his testimonial not be used anymore.

“I apologize,” Miranda said. “The error that I will live up to is using my council title. I don’t think it’s illegal, immoral or unethical. I just don’t think it was something we should do.”

That seemed to make no difference to Smyth.

“I’m not his keeper,” he said. “If he had just asked, I would have told him I thought it was a bad idea.”

Resident: ‘It’s Ugly. There’s No Doubt it’s Ugly.’

| News | September 21, 2017

What can the city do regarding the solar panels that were installed above Canyon View Estates?

Without its knowledge, the owners of the manufactured home park started putting up the first phase of what will become 6,000 solar panels on the hill overlooking the property – after removing the vegetation.

It is an admitted eyesore.

“It’s ugly. There’s no doubt it’s ugly,” said resident Josh Burke, a renter since 2012. “I’m sure he thinks it’s ugly.”

“He” is Managing Director Kerry Seidenglanz, who admits the non-symmetrical way the panels have been erected is less attractive. But he insists the benefits far outweigh the aesthetic drawbacks.

“Solar is a benefit, not just for ecology but also for Canyon View,” he said. “We’ve had two power outages recently – both (Southern California) Edison’s problem. … We’re producing our own power. If Edison has a blackout, we’ll still have air conditioning.”

A resident who didn’t want to be identified texted that she wasn’t aware she would have power during a blackout, as a result of the solar panels.

Seidenglanz said the residents would still have to pay for their power, as each unit has its own meter and is connected to the power grid. But there will be power in the complex when other nearby places are suffering from power outages.

Because Canyon View Estates is classified as a manufactured home-planned unit development, Seidenglanz said he only needed to get approval from the state, specifically the Department of Housing and Community Development, or HCD, which he has, after “50 inspections.”

This has left the city on the outside, and plenty of people are unhappy about it. Residents and community members called, and officials from the city’s code enforcement came out three months ago, Seidenglanz said.

“They looked everything over and said we did not have the permission of the city,” Seidenglanz said. “No, we did not. … HCD is in charge.”

According to city spokesperson Carrie Lujan, once the owner provided a copy of the permits HCD issued, the city had no further jurisdiction. But community activist Alan Ferdman pointed out at the Sept. 12 council meeting that the HCD puts out a construction plan review booklet. The very first guideline says that a person seeking an HCD-approved permit should first “obtain approval and signature from the local planning department.”

Ferdman asked, “Who in the city did the planning approval before this went up to the state, and if, in fact, that didn’t happen, why aren’t we looking to go and see what we can do to resurrect the process?”

City Manager Ken Striplin answered, “The answer is nobody. Planning did not know. Planning was not asked to approve the project. We found out about the project the same time everybody else did, when it was built.”

That did not satisfy Councilmember Bob Kellar, who was upset about it enough to mention it at the Aug. 22 council meeting. Calling it “an abomination,” Kellar expressed disgust with Sacramento.

“The thing I want people to know is we did not do it,” Kellar said. “It was completely carried out by Sacramento. … That’s Sacramento working for all of us out here.”

Kellar had previously sent letters to Assemblymen Dante Acosta and Tom Lackey and Sen. Scott Wilk complaining that the city has no recourse under the law and that HCD “should at the very least contact cities to ensure local circumstances are considered.”

Lackey sent a response saying his office will research the HCD’s processes “and I will let you know if I am able to author legislation to remedy this problem.”

Meanwhile, the final panels will be installed before the beginning of December, Seidenglanz said.

“I believe in solar,” he said. “If God gave us the sun, why not use it?”

Beware: Ransomware

| News | September 14, 2017

As someone in IT management for more than 20 years, Randy Salzer knows the scourge that is ransomware. But just in this calendar year, things have gotten worse.

“Ransom viruses are getting smarter,” said Salzer, owner of It’s a Geek technology professionals. “Attacks have increased 250 percent in 2017.”

Ransomware is nothing new. Since 2012, this type of malicious software that typically encrypts files and won’t free them unless someone pays a ransom, usually in bitcoin or some other untraceable digital currency, has cost people $1 billion, according to Salzer.

And the cost for not paying the ransom increases, he said. What starts as $1,500 escalates to $2,500 if one waits a week, then $5,000 if one waits two weeks.

The latest viruses he has seen, called “Nuclear” and “Locky,” tend to affect Windows 10 systems, in which it disables the system’s file history and deletes files. The files are typically pdf files, documents, QuickBooks programs, even iTunes libraries. But Windows 7 systems also can be affected, he said, and now he’s seeing mobile devices being affected.

“I have a customer in Washington State that lost 200,000 files,” Salzer said. “He kissed their butt. He paid them, and they gave him the encryption code (to get back his files).”

Most people unknowingly download the virus from an email that resembles something from FedEx or UPS. It might say that the package is delayed so download this to track it. Salzer said that Amazon is now being named in these emails.

Once the ransomware goes to work and encrypts files, Salzer said, there is no way to get back the files, so backing up the system is paramount.

“The only defense you have at all is to do a previous version, but the main thing is an online backup program that does the backup to multiple places,” Salzer said.

An example would be a business version of Dropbox, a web-based file-hosting service. But Salzer warns that the home version people use is not sufficient because files need to be backed up to more than one place.

The good news, if there is any, is that these viruses don’t tend to destroy the computer, because the ransomers need the computer to work so payment can be made, he said.

Pest Control Tactics Bug Resident

| News | September 14, 2017

It sounded harmless enough for Debbie Ames. A salesman from a pest control company came to her door in July and spent an hour convincing her to use them because they had the best sprays, the best poisons and the best granules to kill bugs, snails, vermin, etc. He also mentioned that a neighbor used them, so Ames decided to give this company a try. After signing a contract, she suffered a bit of buyer’s remorse because she felt the company didn’t kill the pests like it claimed it would.

“I was stupid. I totally trusted the guy,” she said. “I want to save anybody from getting into the same position as me.”

Ames had been using All Pest Pros, located on Agua Dulce Canyon Road, and had been satisfied overall. But she had the occasional rat problem in her 3.3-acre Sand Canyon spread, plus spiders and other uninvited pests. As she has a horse’s tack room, a main house, a detached garage with covered patio adjacent to a swimming pool, a side yard where she keeps her three goats and two hens (she also has a rabbit, five horses, three dogs and five cats), a guest house and a mobile home, there are a lot of places for pests to make homes and lay eggs.

Besides, neighbor Carol Hill had used them, she was told. So, on July 6, she contracted with EcoShield Pest Control, which has 14 locations listed on its website, from Canoga Park and several other California cities to Mesa and Chandler, Ariz., Alabama, Miami, Seattle, Chicago and South Carolina.

The service contract, which Ames provided to the Gazette, calls for an initial same-day service, regular services every 60 days with email and text reminders, and payments of $145 every other month through June 2018. Ames used a credit card to pay.

“Usually, we can afford it,” Ames said. “It’s not the end of the world.”

For that initial service, she said she was told, the man would clear the spider webs, spray around and lay down granules that would not hurt her chickens.

Unfortunately, the worker put down the granules where the chickens could eat them, which would kill them. The worker realized the mistake and swept them up. Ames said he told her she would need to soak the area really well for the next five to 10 days as a precaution.

Additionally, he didn’t clear all the webs.

On July 20, she found a large spider web in her garage. The next day, she walked outside the tack room and saw a rat looking at her – right near a rattrap. The day after that, she found mouse and rat droppings all over the back patio and in the garage. She had not experienced this with All Pest Pros.

She tried to call the company, but the service contract had no phone number on it. She went online and found several EcoShield listings, but didn’t know which to call. She tried a number in the 818 area code, and whoever answered told her to call an 866 number. This led to someone answering and identifying the company as Orkin.

After eight minutes, Orkin couldn’t find her account, so she asked if they were connected to EcoShield and was told to call the corporate number (a 770 area code located in Georgia). She called several times but always got “user busy” on her cell phone (when the Gazette tried, the result was a busy signal).

At this point, she tried calling Hill, who owns a four-acre horse ranch down the road from Ames. Hill said she never contracted with EcoShield.

“As I recall, I had company at the time. I was sitting on the front porch,” Hill told the Gazette. She said the salesman was clean-cut and polite, not unlike the Mormon church people she sees.

“I said, ‘No, I don’t want your service,’” she said. “A friend said (to her), ‘Let them spray and see how it works.’ I’m 99 percent sure I paid in cash. I didn’t want to write a check.”

Hill said EcoShield told her someone would come out every couple of weeks, but she didn’t want that.

“I wrote a scathing note, scathing for me,” she said. “‘I do not want your service. I do not want your email. Discontinue sending me things or I will report you to the authorities,’ and they discontinued.”

Ames, meanwhile, reported EcoShield to the Better Business Bureau to dispute the payment on her credit card. She received a call from an EcoShield official named Landon who said she is on the hook for the payments because she signed a contract (calls to Landon went unreturned).

“I don’t want them around,” she said.

She isn’t alone in her disappointment with EcoShield. The Gazette checked Yelp reviews for all 14 locations, plus Santa Clarita. There were 382 negative reviews and 373 positive ones.

Each type followed a pattern. The negative reviews highlighted pushy sales tactics, ineffective poisons and the belief that the entire operation was a scam. The positive reviews focused on the polite employees, the effective work they did and, when a customer was disappointed, how they fixed things.

Ames has gone back to All Pest Pros and reports no more bugs. “Their poison works,” she said, clarifying that EcoShield had not harassed her, but she feared the situation would affect her credit rating, which she said is in the 800s.

Recently, she got a call from “Matt” at EcoShield, who apologized for the service she received and offered to send his “best tech” to her house. She denied the offer and Matt reversed her penalty charge, so her account is now clear.

Hart District Wants the Dough

| News | September 7, 2017

At some point, Dave Caldwell estimates, the William S. Hart Union High School District will receive $83 million in state funds from November’s Proposition 51.

Caldwell, the district spokesperson, has a list of needs on which to spend the money. These include new construction and modernization at Canyon, Hart and Saugus high schools, the new Castaic high school and Placerita and Sierra Vista junior high schools.

When the district will get those funds, however, is anybody’s guess.

“Now, we have to wait for the state to say what they’ll release to us and when,” Caldwell said. “We don’t have any control over that. They (the state) may say we can receive 50 percent of that in 2019 and maybe (the rest) at a later date.”

One of the problems stems from a 2016 audit by the Office of State Audits and Evaluations that documented problems with how funds are doled out.

The report, cited in Gov. Jerry Brown’s annual budget report, found instances in which school districts inappropriately used school-facilities-bond funding to purchase vehicles, tractors, tablets, golf carts, mascot uniforms, and custodial/cleaning supplies.

“They were outlandish,” said Richard Michael, who runs the website Big Bad Bonds, which is dedicated to providing strategies to defeat local bond measures.

As a result, the governor wants the State Allocation Board and the Office of Public School Construction to revise policies and regulations to implement front-end grant agreements that define basic terms, conditions, and accountability measures for participants that request funding.

“Once these measures are in place to verify that taxpayers’ dollars are appropriately used, the Administration will support the expenditure of Proposition 51 funds,” the governor’s report concludes.

Michael says that could mean wealthier districts such as Hart could receive less.

“The larger they’re taking, the more likely they’ll be bypassed by more needy schools,” Michael said.

Proposition 51, which passed with 55 percent of the vote, authorized the state to sell
$9 billion in school construction bonds. However, the Sacramento Bee reported, the state has sold just $400 million as of mid-August.

“The last time voters passed a statewide school bond, state matching funds were available within 30 days,” the Bee editorial said. “On average, more than 90 percent of bond funds were committed within four years of the passage of previous statewide school bonds.”

The Bee estimated that $20 billion is needed over the next decade to fully repair and modernize the 70 percent of classrooms that are at least 25 years old and the 40 percent that are more than 50 years old. That would include all the schools (except Castaic) for which Caldwell said the funds would be earmarked.

As for Castaic, Caldwell said those Proposition 51 funds would not be needed to complete construction in time for the school’s scheduled fall 2019 opening.

“Measure SA provided funds for Castaic High School,” Caldwell said of the 2008 bond issue that authorized the district to borrow $300 million. “Additional funds based off of Proposition 51 we can use. We are building Castaic High School. We have the funds to build Castaic High School. It’s going to be built.”

 

Upon Further Review – Latino Chamber Finances Still in Question

| News | September 7, 2017

Back in 2014, the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Chamber of Commerce announced in its September gala program the formation of the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“The mission and purpose of the Foundation is to support children, youth and families by providing effective, high-quality educational programs, workforce readiness programs and college readiness programs,” the program ad said. “The programs include scholarships, mentoring, leadership training, career day involvement, business workforce readiness, college preparation training and other services that benefit youth in the community.”

It received at least a $1,045 loan from the Latino Chamber, according to the Latino Chamber’s 2014 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 Schedule O. Since current City Councilmember Bill Miranda was at the time CEO of the chamber and the foundation, it appears the chamber loaned itself the money. That same form shows the chamber finished with a negative $2 in net assets.

Yet, the Latino Chamber’s final return, in 2015, lists on a Form 990 Schedule N with $8,281 in “cash and receivables.”

Miranda did not return calls for comment to explain the discrepancy. SCV Chamber Chairman John Musella, who took responsibility for filing the final Latino Chamber’s tax returns, explained it in an email as, “That was the loan that was written off.”

Take away the $1,045 from the $8,281 and that leaves $7,236 unaccounted for. The 2015 tax forms do not indicate where that money went. In fact, every number on the form is a zero.

Pressed further about that money, Musella responded in another email, “As I said, that figure includes the loan, accounts receivables, assets, etc., that were written off, donated or disposed of.”

According to GuideStar, an information service specializing in reporting on U.S. non-profits, the IRS has revoked the non-profit status of the foundation, now called Santa Clarita Education, Inc., for failing to file tax forms for three years, 2013-15; and on July 26, the state Attorney General’s office sent a delinquency notice.

“Late fees will be imposed by the Registry of Charitable Trusts for each month or partial month for which the reports are delinquent,” the note says. “Directors, trustees, officers and return preparers responsible for failure to file these reports are also personally liable for payment of all late fees. Charitable assets cannot be used to pay these avoidable costs.”

According to a statement of information filed March 30, the officers listed are Miranda as CEO, Bob Pacheco as secretary and Marlon Roa as CFO. Pacheco previously distanced himself from Santa Clarita Education, Inc.

This raises additional concerns, according to Steve Petzold, a Saugus realtor who has been a vocal critic of how the chambers conduct their business.

“The Latino Chamber should have attempted to recover the money from itself,” he said. “You just can’t write it off. You have to attempt collection. Look at the procedures. The board is supposed to sit down and account for the assets and attempt to collect. Bill was dealing between himself and the Latino Chamber.”

Musella wrote in an email, “It is my understanding that it is being (or has been) shut down as they never got it fully off the ground. It has nothing to do with the SCV Chamber and we were never responsible for anything related to it.”

There are other aspects of the 2014 Form 990 that remain unanswered.

The form lists no membership dues and assessments. There’s a discrepancy, considering the Latino Chamber’s own Statement of Financial Income and Expense (FIE) for July-December 2014 lists $2,050 in membership income. The FIE form is the same one Roa gave the Gazette in May after Miranda told Roa to find some numbers. Roa found the FIE, submitted it to Miranda, who approved it, leading to the question, where did that money go?

Under “Salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits,” Form 990 the Latino chamber paid $3,651. Yet, on the second page, none of the eight officers listed show having been paid.

Furthermore, the FIE shows $6,000 paid to the CEO, but the Form 990 does not show Miranda as having received any money.

Finally, under “Occupancy, rent, utilities, and maintenance,” Form 990 shows the Latino Chamber paid $15,549. But the Latino chamber occupied no building. It existed as an entity without a physical space. What occupancy or rent could there be? Is it related to the $14,378.63 it paid the Hyatt for its Sept. 2014 gala?

WANTED: Plumbers

| News | August 31, 2017

Dale Heys is convinced working with your hands is a dying art.

“Kids nowadays, they’re so used to apps and computers, not like 20, 30 years ago when they fixed bikes, fixed skateboards,” the co-owner of Heys Plumbing in Valencia said. “They’re not used to that anymore. … Every bike a kid owns is $99 at Wal-Mart, so if you break it, parents buy them another one.”

Heys, 44, has been in the plumbing industry for 26 years, having learned at the side of his father, John. In that time, he has seen a dearth of new plumbers coming into the industry. Most of his company’s plumbers are in their 30s, and two trucks sit outside his office because he doesn’t have the personnel to use them.

“I was talking to my dad, ‘Man, I just don’t get it,’” Heys said. “He can’t give me any advice.”

Heys remembers the days when he’d place an ad and get at least a dozen responses. Now, he’s lucky if he gets one or two.

“You won’t find another plumbing company in the area that isn’t hiring,” Heys said. “You look online and there’s tons of openings.”

Heys then demonstrated by going to indeed.com and typing in “plumbing opening” in the search bar. Up came 333 new jobs and 401 pages of listings.

When people call, he sometimes has to tell them he doesn’t have anyone available to come out today.

It’s gotten so bad, Heys said, that it’s common for plumbing companies to raid the competition and try to steal plumbers away.

“My guys can be on a job site and there’ll be another plumber working the neighborhood,” Heys said. “They’ll solicit my guys. … If I see a plumber walking down the street, I won’t solicit him.”

The shortages aren’t limited to plumbers, Heys said. Electricians, welders, air conditioning technicians and “anything having to do with building a building or a house” are also in short supply, he said. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for masonry workers is expected to grow by 15 percent by 2024. The need for electricians is expected to grow by 14 percent over that same time, roofers by 13 percent and plumbers by 12 percent.

Heys said today’s millennials favor instant gratification, and plumbing doesn’t offer that. A person interested in plumbing must first serve an apprenticeship of two to three years, and then comes another three to four years of experience before really being able to call himself “plumber.”

Most millennials want regular 9-to-5 jobs and weekends off, he said. Plumbers are in demand seven days a week, 365 days a year.

It’s dirty and sweaty work, too. Starr Tomlinson, co-owner of The Drain Co. in Northridge, says, “It’s true that the younger generation doesn’t want to get their hands dirty. We’re constantly looking for someone we can train. This generation wants to work behind computers or on the phone, something (where) they won’t break a sweat. It’s not a sexy job.”

Contrary to the stereotype that blue-collar jobs pay less than white-collar jobs, plumbing can be lucrative. Heys said plumbers with six or seven years of experience can make between $80,000 and $100,000.

“If you need extra money, you can go on call. You can take an extra shift,” Heys said. “Most people need to take second jobs. Here, you just go on call. The first emergency call comes in, you make more.”

For emergency calls, he said, plumbers can charge time-and-a-half or double-time.

Heys thinks one of the problems is today’s youth aren’t exposed to the industrial arts. According to William S. Hart Union High School District spokesperson Dave Caldwell, Canyon, Hart and Saugus have auto shops, Saugus and Placerita Canyon Junior High School have wood shops, and Canyon has a welding shop.

However, Caldwell said, the lack of apprentices is a statewide problem that educators are trying to resolve. “What are we doing to educate productive members of society so they can be successful?” he said.

To that end, Saugus, Canyon and Valencia are moving toward having something called makerspace, which is a workspace where people with common interests can go and collaborate.

Castaic will also have this in the form of “flex-tech” buildings, in which the rooms can be altered for various technologies to be taught. This will be part of the district’s Career Technical Education program. “The goal is to have Career Technical Education that would be beneficial to kids, once they get out of high school, to learn a trade,” Caldwell said. “How deep that will go, I don’t know.”

College of the Canyons has a Construction Management and Technology department that will offer a certificate or associate degree in construction management. Although there is no specific class devoted to plumbing, Heys said plumbing will be included.

So, despite the current low numbers, Heys actually is optimistic about the future.

“We’ve got to get back to people working with their hands,” he said.

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