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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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Mike Garcia Steps up the Attacks

| News | April 2, 2020

Maybe it’s because the May 12 special election draws near, and maybe it’s because going negative is a common move that has paid off in the past, but the Mike Garcia campaign has ratcheted up the attacks on Christy Smith.

In addition to the usual swipes via press release or campaign website, the Garcia people have created a website (scarysmith.com) to attack Smith on her voting record and her priorities.

Garcia campaign spokesman Lance Trover said the point is to highlight the differences between the two candidates.

“Mike Garcia is a former Navy fighter pilot who believes taxes in California are out of control and wants to lower the tax burden on Californians, while career politician Christy Smith stands for higher taxes, jobs killing bills like AB5 and taking the Sacramento dysfunction to Washington D.C.,” Trover wrote in an email.

It’s not that the Smith people haven’t been attacking Garcia, either. On Twitter, they have painted Garcia as a pro-life extremist and a Trump acolyte who doesn’t trust science.

“Mike Garcia’s out-of-touch, partisan attacks in the midst of this crisis demonstrate he’s not a good fit for this district,” Smith Deputy Campaign Manager Kunal Atit wrote in an email. “Christy is currently focused on her work as this community’s public servant, ensuring state response to local constituents and connecting people with essential information, services, and resources. Christy will be just as dedicated to our community once she is elected to Congress, working with members of both parties, putting service first and politics last.”

The Cook Political Report changed its assessment of the race from “Likely Democrat” to “Leans Democrat,” leading the San Francisco Chronicle to conclude that the seat is not guaranteed. It has been 22 years since a Republican picked up a House seat in California, the Chronicle reported.

Steve Knight also endorsed Garcia, saying on Facebook, “I believe Mike will be successful in his run against Christy Smith in May. Mike worked hard in this campaign and will continue to do so until the final votes are cast.”

The Signal, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, former Governor Pete Wilson and former Congressman Buck McKeon are among the 13 organizations and 45 individuals who also endorsed Garcia.

Smith counts 57 organizations, 23 federal and 46 individuals among her endorsements, including the Los Angeles Times, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Santa Clarita’s Charity Auctioneer Mark Drilling

| Community, News | March 26, 2020

If you’ve ever attended a live auction in the Santa Clarita Valley, chances are you know Mark Drilling.

Maybe you don’t know him by name, but you certainly know him by voice.

Let’s have some fun. A two-night stay, airfare for two and dinner for two. Alright, here we go. I’ve got a $500 bid, six now seven. Eight hundred dollar bid, now nine. I’ve got nine hundred, gotta bid one thousand. Eleven, gotta bid twelve. I got 13, gotta bid 14. Sold!

Drilling, as the above paragraph indicates, is an auctioneer. Although based in San Diego, he comes up here several times a year to help entertain and raise funds for such organizations as the Boys & Girls Club, Carousel Ranch, SCV Senior Center and the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer.

“I’m fortunate to be part of your events,” Drilling said while driving between his home and John Wayne Airport. “They’re very nice people, very philanthropic, and they’ve become my friends.”

In Santa Clarita, Drilling is known as a fundraising auctioneer, meaning he attends galas and other big fundraisers and attempts to sell not only the items to be auctioned but also the emotional satisfaction of donating to a worthy cause, which he calls “the special appeal.” He said he’s always conscious that giving is optional, so he wants to ensure he knows more than just the auctioned item and its opening bid.

“I go out of my way to understand and learn about the organization I’m serving, and when I sell, I can incorporate what I learned and help people understand,” he said. “I’m selling values. I’m selling something to a volunteer or to a board member, or to a member whose child might have diabetes. I have a fondness for organizations that benefit children, that benefit the environment and that benefit animals.”

But Drilling does other types of auctions, too. As many as six days a week, he travels the country auctioning off automobiles in such places as Denver and Las Vegas, although it remains to be seen how the current coronavirus crisis affects his work. So far, he reports numerous fundraising-auction cancellations but little drop-off with commercial auctions because they’ve gone online. Instead of standing in a big Las Vegas casino ballroom or Denver warehouse in front of hundreds of people, Drilling now stands in an empty room with computers linking the bidders.

“Nevada closed all non-essential business for 30 days. Apparently, the auto auction is an essential business,” he said. “I was in (John Wayne) airport at a bar. I was the only person at the bar. Normally, I can’t get in. I looked at the bartender: ‘How’s it going?’ He said, “You’re my first customer.’ It was 2 p.m. … Empty airports are terrifying.”

Although he has been an auctioneer for about half his life, Drilling, 52, never set out to do it, although he said he was impressed as a youngster watching auctioneers with their unbuttoned shirts, gold chains, greasy skin and cowboy clothing speaking really fast as they auctioned the items. In fact, he attended San Diego State and later graduated Boise State with the intention of becoming a teacher. But he got a job at an auto auction company in Seattle in 1997 whose general manager asked if he would run auctions.

His first job was as ringman, a junior auctioneer who assists by working the floor and helping identify bidders. A boss told him that he had a good personality, so maybe he would like to try fundraising auctions. But if he was truly serious, he should go back to school.

There are auction colleges. Drilling attended the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Mont. There, he learned the various types of auctioneering (including land, livestock, art, real estate, government and consignment in addition to commercial and fundraising), laws and licensing, bid calling (“You learn tongue twisters,” he said) and voice care.

The problem with auctioneering is that once someone gets a position, he or she doesn’t leave. “It’s like becoming the fire chief of a small town: There’s one of you. You get the job after someone else dies,” he said.

It took him five years before he really felt like he made it. Among the odd items he’s sold: a piece of live performance art, liposuction, braces for a child’s teeth, dinner with Robin Williams (winning bid: $60,000) and dinner at Disneyland (winning bid: $80,000).

He also met Muhammad Ali but couldn’t think of anything to say except “I love you, Champ.” And at one Humane Society auction, a Great Dane urinated on a Maltese in the front row, causing the owner to scream and Drilling to have to work hard to keep from laughing.

The reason he came to Santa Clarita was the lucky meeting of Myrna Condie and auctioneer Mark Schenfeld at a Utah auction. Condie and her husband, Gary, were well known local philanthropists who each won Santa Clarita Valley Man/Woman of the Year, Gary in 2005 and Myrna in 2012. Condie invited Schenfeld to work the Boys & Girls Club’s annual Festival of Trees event in November 2003. Schenfeld did for a few years, but when his schedule didn’t allow it, Drilling took the gig.

“He’s very clever. He’s quite active and very professional,” Condie said of Drilling, “and he’s very effective. He’ll bring in more money than you could bring in on your own.”

Drilling has been coming here ever since, and one job led to another, first Carousel Ranch and then the Hoefflin Foundation.

“It’s the only job I’ve ever had where I get paid to be me,” he said.

District voting; It’s Complicated

| News | March 26, 2020

Ken Dean has been clamoring for district elections for at least two years. He’s going to get it in November because the city council has been forced to move that way. But will he even have a district to run in?

“I would be concerned,” Dean said. “That would not make me too happy.”

And yet it’s entirely possible because no one knows what the city council districts will look like. It is altogether possible that Mayor Cameron Smyth won’t have a district to run in. Neither might Chris Werthe, Jason Gibbs or anyone else who has declared their candidacies. If they don’t live in one of the two districts up for election in November, they’re out of luck.

It’s also possible that people such as Alan Ferdman, TimBen Boydston and Diane Trautman might join the race if the districts are drawn into where they live. And it’s possible that districts will be drawn with more than one incumbent in it. Nobody knows – yet.

But Scott Rafferty, the Northern California attorney representing a local group called Neighborhood Elections Now that brought the city to this point, said the goal is clear.

“Our objective is to empower neighborhoods and large swaths of city that have never been represented on the council,” he said. “You’re going to have competitive elections, which you’ve never had in Santa Clarita. Who are competitive elections good for? Voters. All voters. Who doesn’t like district elections? Incumbents, special interests and supporters of those incumbents who are afraid they’ll lose.”

Possible districts
It’s not known how the districts will look, but Rafferty is pretty certain Newhall, Valencia, Saugus, and Canyon Country won’t be their own districts. There might be more than five districts – Bill Miranda suggested seven.

One reason is that the population isn’t evenly spread. Another is geography: There’s a lot of open space. A third is the California Voting Rights Act, which requires a protected minority class (in this case: Latino) to have its votes counted evenly against the rest of the population. It doesn’t mean a Latino has to be elected to the council – Miranda’s appointment and subsequent election did not prevent this move to districts from happening.

“They cannot look like a salamander and not look like a national district for Congress people, which is unbelievably disingenuous,” Boydston said.

Rafferty said his unnamed client would be happy with “one good minority district,” and he is pushing for that to be in Canyon Country. He even has basic boundary lines in mind: Sierra Highway and points east down to the Santa Clara River and west to Camp Plenty Road. If that becomes a district, Canyon Country residents Dean and Boydston couldn’t run but Ferdman could, and he said his chances of entering the race would be “a good possibility. I’d have to talk the wife into it.”

But draw the district a little more south and Dean and Boydston could run (Boydston told the Gazette that running was “a definite possibility”). In that case, Ferdman said he would defer to Boydston and not run.

Beside Canyon Country, Latinos are heavily represented in Newhall, but Rafferty said he doesn’t think Newhall is large enough to be its own district.

Then there’s the complication of having four councilmembers living so close to each other. Smyth, Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean live in Newhall, Miranda just over the line in Valencia. Rafferty fully expects at least one district will be drawn with more than one incumbent there.

Here’s where it gets confusing. Assuming Smyth lives in the district once it’s drawn, he could run for election, but so could Weste, McLean or Miranda if they’re also residents of that district – even though none of their terms expire until 2022. If that happens and Smyth wins, he becomes the district councilmember and the loser(s) would serve out their term(s) and leave the council but could run against Smyth in 2024. Weste said she was concerned only with the current public health crisis and abruptly hung up.

McLean also said her focus is on the virus, but then she said, “I believe that when the approximately 225,000 residents find out they will be able to vote for only one of us to represent the entire city, they’re going to be extremely upset.”

If the incumbent beat Smyth, that incumbent would be the district councilmember and serve a four-year term starting in 2020. Smyth would leave the council, creating a vacancy that would have to be filled by special election or appointment to complete the two years of the incumbent’s original term. Rafferty said in that case, it’s very likely he would haul the city into court and allege a CVRA violation. If the council appointed Smyth, he definitely would.

Another possibility: Districts could be drawn now but only two would be contested in November. The others would be vacant until 2022 while Miranda, Weste and McLean finish their at-large terms. But there’s one more complication: the census. Once it’s complete, districts might have to be redrawn depending on what the census reveals. If the districts drawn then don’t include an incumbent, nothing would stop that incumbent from moving into a new district to run, although Weste has previously said this is her last term.

Rafferty presented a nightmare scenario: No district is drawn to include Newhall in 2020. His rationalization for that is there are three Newhall-based councilmembers, making it necessary to have representation elsewhere, such as in Saugus and Canyon Country. If that were to happen, Smyth would leave the council in 2020 but could run in 2022 once a district is drawn where he lives.

A Saugus district would be good news for Gibbs and Trautman, who live there. “I have dreamed of running for city council,” Trautman said.

Another problem
Then there is the demographer, National Demographics Corporation. The council decided last week to award a $60,000 contract to the firm to draw the maps based on its having drawn maps for three area elementary school districts and the water board.

Rafferty said he is familiar with the Glendale-based firm. But NDC has had maps rejected and questioned. Contra Costa County rejected NDC’s map in 2018, the East Bay Times reported, out of fears wealthier candidates would have more money to spend than working-class candidates. A judge earlier this month signed off on a different map that will be used in 2020, the Richmond Standard reported.

Also, a judge found the Martinez City Council map was gerrymandered: It was drawn in such a way that four incumbents – including two who live on the same street – were in different districts, according to NBC Bay Area. The judge didn’t force the city to redraw it but warned it had better get ready to redraw if attorney Kevin Shenkman – who successfully sued Santa Clarita in 2014 – appeals.

Smyth and Miranda said they were unaware of these incidents but were unconcerned.

“I’m sure every demographer has submitted maps that have been challenged and rejected,” Smyth said. “Not all have a perfect record.”

A call for transparency
The process is long, but the time to do it all is short. Because the council announced its intent to move to district elections for November (by a 4-0 vote; Bob Kellar was absent due to miscommunication, he said), it has until June 17 to complete the process, which includes five public hearings, making mapping tools available to the public in case people want to submit their own maps, posting the proposed maps, selecting the map and adopting an ordinance that makes district elections official with the chosen map.

Complicating matters is the coronavirus and the state’s orders to stay at home. The city has canceled all meetings until April 20 and might extend that to May 5. Rafferty has not wavered in his desire to get this done now and promises to go to court if the process is not completed by June 17. As it stands, if the city completes it, Rafferty would receive $30,000 and no suit would be filed.

Trautman and Boydston called for complete transparency, something Smyth and Miranda also promised and Rafferty said he would monitor. Miranda said he expects NDC to take public input into account when drawing the maps. He also said there would be a website the public can access to see the maps and then give comment.

“There are so many possibilities. That’s why there’s a demographer to weed out the impossibilities,” he said. “We’re going to err on the side of caution and not leave ourselves open to another lawsuit.”

But Trautman expressed concern that the compressed time will make completion more difficult.

“You need to take into account people that are not technically savvy,” she said. “I’m worried. They (city) need to do outreach to communities that don’t participate. They need to listen to the public instead of the handful of people they normally reach out to.”

Regardless of how the process eventually plays out and how the map will eventually look, Dean knows one thing.

“It’s going to be interesting,” he said.

The Cat is Out of the Bag

| News | March 19, 2020

On the Friends of the Castaic Shelter Facebook page are numerous posts announcing the latest dogs and cats that have come into the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control’s shelter in Castaic. They need homes, and when one is adopted, the site proudly trumpets that, too.

One such cat that came in last year was Dot, and she had a litter of kittens with her. According to several volunteers, the family was separated, which was never supposed to happen, helping to bring about the sad result of the kittens being euthanized. Dot was later adopted.

The head of the shelter said the separation was due to miscommunication, expressed regret over the incident and said steps have been taken to avoid a repeat. Some volunteers complained that the problem lies with the acting kennel sergeant, who they allege is a cat-hating bully who euthanizes them faster than dogs.

Therein lies the philosophical disagreement occurring at the shelter. While nobody claims any laws or rules have been broken, these former volunteers allege the cats are not being given enough time to acclimate and adjust to the shelter.

“I have a problem with the way she euthanizes animals,” former volunteer Sheila Cannon said of Sylvia Rodriguez, the acting kennel sergeant. “There are eight (cages) available. They should be able to be adopted. Why are we putting down cats when there are cages available?”

Rodriguez was not made available to comment, and Karen Stepp, the shelter’s animal control manager, said she could not comment on any personnel matter. But Stepp expressed disappointment in the volunteers’ claims and asserted the staff and volunteers do everything possible to keep animals alive and get them adopted.

“If it’s a philosophical difference, it’s unfortunate,” Stepp said. “I don’t know how to change their feelings. I don’t think they understand. I don’t think they look at the total picture. Sometimes, the parameters don’t fit the ideals.”

Debbie Somers started volunteering at the shelter in March 2018. She said she recalled another volunteer quitting around the same time, upset that the cats were not getting proper medical care and were euthanized. “She didn’t feel it was appropriate,” Somers said.

She soon saw a reason: Rodriguez. The kennel sergeant’s job description requires, among other things, engaging the animals to determine their current conditions (including physical and mental states) and suitability to be fostered and, hopefully, adopted. Stepp said the shelter has a high adoption rate, something Somers agreed with, “especially with dogs.”

Somers said Rodriguez treated cats differently. She would take a pole with a rubber hand on it and poke the cat in the cage. “Any cat with a brain will hiss,” Somers said, and Rodriguez would determine that if it hissed, the cat must be feral. If it hid in the back of the cage, it also must be feral.

Feral cats are considered unadoptable and are placed in a room the public can’t access. The longer they’re in there, the more likely they will be euthanized. Somers questioned if those cats were really feral or just frightened. Sometimes, she said, staff and volunteers would be able to go in and see if they could hold or pet the cats. If so, they were more likely taken out of the room and placed in public areas where the odds of adoption increased. But Somers said Rodriguez was inconsistent in her allowing people into the feral room.

“Cats take longer to adapt to a shelter setting,” Somers said. She added that animals are supposed to have 10 days to adjust, but Rodriguez was deciding in just minutes. “It’s an extreme overreaction, and it results in cats being put down,” she said.

Stepp acknowledged the shelter doesn’t get too many friendly cats, but those that do come in are kept “for a long time.” She also said she never saw Rodriguez use the pole with rubber hand “but I believe volunteers have done that.”

Even if the cat bites, that doesn’t necessarily make it feral, Stepp said.

“You wouldn’t know how many cats that bit me that I adopted out,” Stepp said. “We do everything we can to keep them alive. If they’re feral, that’s the tough spot.”

Somers and Cannon said Rodriguez would pressure volunteers to foster or adopt the cats or they would be euthanized.

“People are afraid to confront her. Volunteers are afraid to confront her,” Somers said. “She is a classic bully, and one way or another, you’re going to pay: The cat gets put down.”

Said Cannon: “This isn’t a secret. This is a problem, and this isn’t a secret who it is.”

One June 4, Cannon and Somers said, with Rodriguez on vacation, volunteers, veterinary staff and Stepp met and decided that if a fostered kitten or cat were to be returned, there would be no euthanizing the animal for at least 72 hours. Additionally, no cat would be euthanized without someone first getting a chance to foster it, and volunteers could now work with feral cats to see if they could be, as Stepp said, “turned around.”

When Rodriguez returned, Cannon said, she announced that she wasn’t at the meeting and, therefore, wasn’t part of the agreement.

“She started cleaning house.” Cannon said.

Cannon acknowledged that, while she didn’t agree with how Rodriguez did her job, she didn’t think Rodriguez broke any rules or laws. She pointed out that the county’s nine-page euthanasia policy, of which the Gazette obtained a copy from Animal Care and Control’s deputy director, is written “in such a way that if favors animal care staff than the animals” and that it appeared contradictory in places.

As examples, Cannon mentioned the last paragraph on the first page lists that symptoms of “irremediable suffering” such as diarrhea, vomiting, some skin conditions, arthritis and wheezing are not, by themselves, not grounds for euthanizing an animal. Yet there is a list on the seventh page of some of these same symptoms as reasons that could be given for euthanizing, although the introductory paragraph clearly states “The following are not necessarily justifications for euthanasia within the statutory holding period.”

Stepp said she didn’t have the guidelines handy and acknowledged it’s always possible policy changes could be contradictory. “We’re hoping they’re not,” she said.

Regardless, it was the incident last July with Dot and her kittens that caused volunteers to speak out, complain and, in Somers’ case, quit in protest.

According to a Facebook post and emails given to the Gazette, Dot was a friendly black-and-white stray cat that had given birth to five kittens in the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital parking lot. Nurses wanted to know if it was safe to bring the family to the shelter, and on July 12 after hours, the six felines came in.

The intake worker, on just his third day and not knowing how to input new arrivals into the computer system, felt overwhelmed and resentful that he had been left alone to care for the animals. He needed to leave in an hour and had yet to clean the dog cages. He did not enter Dot into the computer, instead making notes on a pad of paper. He left the family in the carrier overnight.

The next day, a Saturday, a similar-looking cat had given birth to four kittens and was in the same cage as Dot’s five kittens, but Dot was not there.

Naturally, Dot’s kittens stopped eating, although some of them weren’t healthy to begin with. Unweaned kittens are supposed to stay with the mother. Some volunteers and Rodriguez succeeded in force-feeding some of the kittens.

Somers said Rodriguez asked her if she had found anyone to foster the kittens. Somers said not yet. She left to visit her sister in the hospital. Upon returning, the on-site veterinarian told her that after she had left, Rodriguez euthanized all of them and tried to blame the volunteers for mistakenly separating them from Dot.

“I held the five kittens. They were in my arms,” she lamented. “It breaks my heart and I couldn’t continue.”

Stepp, due to retire in two weeks after 13 of her 31 years in animal control at Castaic, sent an email apologizing for the mistake and promising changes to prevent any future reoccurrence. An investigation began, but Somers objected to Rodriguez’s involvement.

“You don’t have the executioner investigate the execution,” she said.

The damage had been done. Cannon’s loud complaining, in house, to the press and up the chain of command, led Rodriguez to complain to Stepp that Cannon was creating a hostile work environment. Cannon said she felt retribution by Rodriguez and has decided to take three months off from volunteering.

“I don’t want me being there to be an excuse to not change things,” she said. “I’m not looking for mutiny. I’m looking for a correction of course.”

Candidates on Coronavirus

| News | March 19, 2020

The current coronavirus pandemic has predictably affected the race for Congress, with the candidates stepping off the trail in favor of virtual town halls or performing their day jobs.

Republican Mike Garcia’s campaign put out a press release announcing a series of virtual town halls, first in Simi Valley and then later in Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley.

“This can’t be about partisan politics,” Garcia said. “It’s about taking care of our people. It’s not Republican versus Democrat.”

Democrat Christy Smith is busy being the 38th Assembly District’s representative. On Monday, she joined her colleagues in voting to release $500 million in emergency funds stemming from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s state of emergency declaration on March 4. Then the Legislature voted to adjourn until at least April 13.

“In the coming weeks, I will work closely with our local partners to make sure these funds are properly targeted and disbursed, in addition to providing whatever service or resource assistance needed from the community,” Smith said in a statement. “I thank the Governor for his concise problem solving and collaboration with the Legislature. These are difficult times, but we will get through this together.”

Smith’s communications director, Danni Wang, said the district offices remain open, and anyone who feels negatively affected by this crisis, whether economically or healthily, is invited to contact the offices.

Wang also two bills Smith previously introduced could help: one that would help bring per-student funding to schools in the event of an epidemic and one that would exempt people from paying sales tax on certain emergency preparation items.

For Garcia, the current crisis hits home because he knows Carl Goldman, the general manager of radio station KHTS, who contracted the virus while on a Princess Cruises ship. Princess is headquartered in Santa Clarita and started a 60-day suspension of operations last week.

“It makes it personal, but it doesn’t change how we attack: Take all necessary steps, washing hands, avoiding contact,” Garcia said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Garcia said he would like to meet with Princess officials and see how he (or the government) could help. But he acknowledged there would be a negative economic impact, a comment he made last week after the widespread closures of schools and cancellations of large-crowd events but before the extensive closures of businesses and before President Trump acknowledged that it could take until summer for the virus to come under control.

“This virus is not fully characterized. We don’t know if warmer temperatures will kill it,” he said. “We don’t know the transmission percentage, and the mortality rate is higher than other viruses. There are unknowns with this. It’s good to err on the side of safety.”

Garcia said Trump needs to listen to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and medical-health professionals. Smith’s campaign referred to a Harvard Business Review article that suggested the U.S. health care system is inherently incapable of handling this type of health crisis.

“In the midst of this public health care crisis, there are two contrasting visions provided by the candidates in this race,” Deputy Campaign Manager Kunal Atit wrote in an email. “Mike Garcia wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions without health care, and cut programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Christy Smith will strengthen the ACA, fight for a public option, and protect Medicare and Medicaid. On May 12th, voters in CA-25 will choose between those two visions.”

Atit also took aim at former Rep. Steve Knight, who after failing to advance to either the special-election runoff or the November general election endorsed Garcia.

“It is not surprising that someone who voted to raise taxes on California families, and leave countless residents of CA-25 without healthcare, would endorse someone who wants to pursue the same destructive agenda,” he wrote.

What Now Sulphur Springs?

| News | March 12, 2020

Sulphur Springs Union School District has not decided whether it will resubmit its failed bond measure in time for the November general election.

“At this time, the Board (of Trustees) has not made a determination as to if and/or when they may go out for another bond measure,” Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi wrote in an email. “We greatly appreciate all of the parents, staff members, law enforcement, fire fighters, community members and voters that supported Measure US. We know that we have very old buildings in our district and we need to continue to work to support our facilities program.”

Measure US, which would have allowed the district to sell $78 million in general obligation bonds, failed by 58 percent to 42 percent, but it was far from the only bond measure to fail. According to Richard Michael, who runs the Big Bad Bonds website, only 35 of 120 bond measures (29 percent) put before voters last week passed. Contrast that with 2019 in which between 85 and 90 percent of the bond measures passed.

“People are just disgusted,” a gleeful Michael said. “Not all of them had opposition. Most didn’t have arguments against (included in voter-information pamphlets).”

An example, he said, was in Fullerton. The elementary and high school districts put bond measures before the voters. No one submitted arguments against either measure. The only opposition he knew about was one man putting up a couple of signs.

Both failed, as did all nine bond attempts in Orange County. In Los Angeles County, six of 11 passed with the needed 55 percent of the vote; one that failed received 53 percent.

The Orange County Register suggested that having a state bond measure going down to defeat didn’t help. Michael said he thinks that since the failed attempt to repeal the 12-cent gas tax the Legislature passed in November 2017, people are thinking twice about voting to take on more debt.

“They’re getting pinched and pinched,” he said.

Michael also took a shot at the various consultants who tell school districts that their polling indicates a bond would pass. Sulphur Springs used Sacramento-based Deane & Company for its financial and treasury needs and named its president, Shawnda Deane, as the Yes on US committee’s treasurer, which Michael alleges is illegal.

“The consultants all have egg on their face,” Michael said. “They’re not pretending to follow the law. School districts will be more uncertain about the consultants, which I think are rigged.”

It’s also possible that voters objected to some of the issues that came to light before the election. Specifically, Bob Kellar violated city norms and procedures by signing on as a member of the city council, not a private citizen. Then Kawaguchi might have violated state law by using her district email address to the county registrar-recorder requesting Kellar’s designation change. The county might have violated state law by making the change after the December 13th deadline it set.

Regardless, Steve Petzold, principal officer of the Center for Truth in School Bond Measures and author of the argument against the measure, isn’t done with this matter. He sent three complaints to the Fair Political Practices Commission detailing the alleged wrongdoings. He said he expects nothing to come of it, but it can’t hurt to hold the district accountable for its actions.

Michael applauds Petzold’s move, saying it’s a big mistake to not go after those that break the law, even when the bond measure failed. But he also couldn’t know for sure how much Petzold had to do with Measure US failing. “Anything done had some effort,” he said. “Whether (Petzold) does, you have to interview voters, and nobody does exit polls (for school bond measures).”

Michael also said he expects Sulphur Springs to try again. Under state law, a district may reintroduce a bond measure 90 days after the last election. Contrast that to Idaho, where proponents must wait six months, he said.

Should the district re-file, Michael said, he hopes for a repeat of what happened with Lompoc Unified. Voters rejected a bond in June 2016, then again by a worse margin in November 2016, then again by an even worse margin in June 2018. The district is trying again in November.

“This is so corrupt,” he said. “(Rejecting the bonds is) somewhat refreshing.”

Henry Mayo Employees Fired after HIPAA Violation

| News | March 12, 2020

Several Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital employees were fired after illegally viewing the information of the Saugus High School shooter, an official confirmed.

According to Patrick Moody the hospital’s director of marketing, public relations and community engagement, these employees violated patient privacy laws in viewing information about the shooter.

“It is unfortunate that some employees had curiosity about the event and accessed patient information inappropriately,” Moody wrote in an email. “Henry Mayo does not tolerate any violation of patient privacy laws and appropriate disciplinary action was taken, up to and including termination, against the individuals for which no legitimate business reason was found for their actions.”

Moody did not say how many employees were involved, when they were fired or what information they saw.

Under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), only personnel directly involved with a patient may view information related to that patient. However, some employees (an unnamed source claimed 13 in total) looked at information on Nathaniel Tennosuke Berhow, who died at Henry Mayo after allegedly murdering two classmates and shooting three others on his 16th birthday before taking his own life.

“Henry Mayo takes the privacy of our patients very seriously,” Moody wrote. “All employees receive extensive annual training on state and federal privacy regulations. The training includes detailed descriptions of the potential consequences of violating any of these regulations. All suspected breaches of our HIPAA policies are thoroughly investigated with appropriate consequences, including termination, implemented for confirmed violations upon conclusion of a review.”

District Voting as Soon as November?

| City Council, News | March 5, 2020

The city is in discussions with the attorney who threatened legal action if the city doesn’t move to district voting, officials said.

“The (city) council has instructed the city attorney to engage in discussions with the plaintiffs’ (attorney, Scott Rafferty),” Mayor Cameron Smyth said. He added that the council would meet in closed session before Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Smyth said no plan is in place, but the demand letter Rafferty sent gives the impression that the group Rafferty represents, Neighborhood Elections Now, wants district voting in time for the November general election.

Rafferty confirmed as much and added that districts have to be drawn now and then redrawn in 2022 based on what the census reveals. “That creates the opportunities to get it right for the next time,” he said. “It’s a more participatory process to draw all the districts for 10 years.”

At the same time, Rafferty insisted, “Nobody wants a process that is unfair to incumbents.”

However, since so many incumbents live so close to each other, it is possible that a district would be drawn with more than one current councilmember living in it. One possible scenario could be Smyth running for a seat in a district that also would include the residences of Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean and Bill Miranda. Those three could continue to serve as at-large members until their terms expire in 2022 and then not be eligible until 2024 if they chose to challenge Smyth.

“Frankly, Rafferty said, “that’s the incumbents’ problems, not the voters’.”

Contrasting Camps on Election Night

| News | March 5, 2020

Two years ago, it was past midnight before anyone was sure of the 25th congressional district primary election results. On Tuesday, Mike Garcia knew 18 minutes after the polls closed.

“It’s going to be a knife fight,” he declared to between 100 and 200 supporters at Route 66 in Canyon Country. “The Democrats are going to come at us. We need to keep the momentum going, and because of you, we will win on May 12.”

May 12 is the date of the runoff election between Garcia and Christy Smith to see who will complete Katie Hill’s term. The two also appear headed to a November showdown to determine who wins a full term that starts in January.

Smith also knew early that this was the likely outcome, although she didn’t address her fellow Democrats until closer to 10 p.m. After her remarks, she told the Gazette that the size of the field made it unlikely anyone would receive the necessary 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Although the outcome was never in doubt – both candidates said they had polling that indicated they would finish 1-2 and deny Steve Knight, Cenk Uygur, George Papadopoulos and everyone else – the atmosphere at the two locations was very different.

GETTING THEIR KICKS
Route 66 overflowed with Garcia supporters, who monopolized the patio and spilled into the parking lot. Many wore red Garcia shirts and hats (“Republican red,” Garcia called it) and seemed genuinely thrilled that their candidate had gotten this far.

Bill Reynolds, one of Garcia’s most vocal supporters, told the story of how he suffered tightness in his chest, shortness of breath and dizziness on Feb. 22, one month after his mother had died. He told his wife he wanted to go to Kaiser Permanente on Tournament Road, but she called 911. Soon, fire trucks and an ambulance were outside to take Reynolds to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.

On the way, Reynolds said he told the paramedics, “Make sure you vote for Mike Garcia.”

The man responded, “You’re campaigning now?”

Reynolds said he told Garcia about it.

“He laughed his ass off,” Reynolds said.

At the other end of the patio, Cole Howard was excited because, as an 18-year-old, he voted for the first time.

“It was not a surreal experience, but I got a sense of pride,” he said. “I’m doing my part.”

Howard attended with his father, Curt, who said his son volunteered for Garcia’s campaign before he did. Cole said he was taken with Garcia’s speaking style, his confidence and “the way he asserted himself. That made me stick to him.”

Four years ago, Cole said he would have voted for Donald Trump. Not so Curt, who said he didn’t vote for Trump but probably would this time. But the two regularly talk politics because Cole is so interested.

“I’m so entertained by them (Democrats) and their, how should I say this? Their lunacy,” Cole said. “The random things they promise.”

Curt said he knows the importance of the 25th district. “What happens with the Democratic Party will affect what happens in the 25th. If the Democrats stay as divided as they are, it will hopefully affect voter turnout. As close as it is, it may come down to a few hundred or a few thousand (votes).”

SMITH’S SESAME STREET 4G
A quieter and more formalized affair occurred at Smith’s campaign headquarters in Stevenson Ranch. The turnout was smaller, closer to 100 than 200 people, and the room was larger, with room for catered Mexican food, tables and chairs, a stage at one end and risers for TV cameras, which numbered six (Garcia had one; one person noted that Telemundo was at Smith’s campaign and not Garcia’s). The faithful wore all colors, not just blue, and spent more time looking at their phones checking results than visiting, socializing and celebrating like they did two years ago when Hill outlasted Bryan Caforio to advance to the general election.

“We’re not worried,” Stacy Fortner said. “We’re not concerned. There’s an air of confidence in the room.”

In a corner sat Bruce Fortine and his wife, Gloria Mercado-Fortine. Registered Republicans, they were there in support of their longtime friend.

“You go for the person,” Bruce Fortine said. “I think Christy and Mike are both good candidates.”

The reason people were there seemingly was to hear Smith speak. But first, they had to listen to remarks from three people, including, state Senate candidate Kipp Mueller, who appeared headed for a showdown with Scott Wilk in November; and Rusty Hicks, chair of the California Democratic Party.

After Smith took the stage to loud applause, she announced her remarks would be “brought to you by the letter G.”

The first G was for her mother, Gail, a nurse who died after not being able to afford insulin to treat her diabetes, putting her daughter on a path to ensure better health care for all. The second G was for gratitude, for the work of staff and volunteers, and for another election and a chance to “find our moments of greatness when it seems darkest.”

The third G was for grace and the need to find human connections face to face instead of online. “Grace is what will conduct us to that better future,” she said. “We need to find grace and ethics and dignity, and restore that to our government.”

The final G was for grit.

“The eyes of the nation will turn to California’s 25th. They will be seeing what we do here as a bellwether for what happens in November: Can we hold the House, can we potentially flip the Senate, can we get ourselves on that path to the better day we have all been feeling the need for since 2016,” she said. “We have to resoundingly, through our grit, through our commitment, demonstrate that that answer is yes, absolutely yes. But we know we’ve got that grit, and we’ve got a story to tell in CA-25. We have done this work. We have built the foundation. We’ve got a solid frame and infrastructure. We built this house. We’re gonna live in it.”

She said later the staff had permission to sleep in on Wednesday, but after eating a good breakfast, “May 12 is the next hurdle.”

Comprehensive Candidate Review, Primary is Tuesday, March 3rd

| News | February 27, 2020

Most people have probably made up their minds about who they will vote for come March 3rd. Some also likely already have cast their ballots. But for those still unsure, here is a summary of every candidate for Congress, State Senate and Assembly.

Regarding the 25th congressional district race, unless noted, all candidates are running for the special primary to complete Katie Hill’s term and the regular primary to win their own term.

All names are listed alphabetically.

Although their names remain on the ballot, Christopher Smith (Congress) and Susan Christopher (Assembly) have suspended or ended their campaigns.

CONGRESS:

Otis Lee Cooper: The only candidate not to name a party preference, Cooper is a Native American who works as a legal defense investigator. He believes elected officials have forgotten about “We the People,” so he seeks to solve problems that will benefit the people, not the political party. He is running only for the full term.

He is dedicated to solving working-class issues, but instead of platform points, he lists the issues without addressing them specifically, so what side he’s on is unknown. The issues include veterans, rent control, slumlords, marijuana legalization, gun laws, LGBT laws, immigration laws and wages.

Robert Cooper: The Democrat who has lived in Santa Clarita for 20 years is an associated professor at UCLA and serves as co-faculty Director of the UCLA Principal Leadership Institute. He’s also the founding pastor of Berean Baptist Family Fellowship of Valencia.
His website lists three priorities: people over politics, focus on healing; and leadership not lies. He favors investing in public schools and addressing student-loan debt, expanding access for affordable housing and addressing homelessness, and investing in alternative transportation systems, though he doesn’t give examples.

Getro Elize: The Democrat and Antelope Valley resident is a patient resource worker for the county Department of Health Services. He served in the Army and graduated from Howard University.

He pledged to run a campaign free of corrupt corporations, crooked lobbyists and PACs. He seeks to mobilize a homelessness task force and request emergency funds from county and state officials for emergency shelters and expand rapid re-housing efforts. He wants to build a county hospital in the AV, help rural areas by building more roads and expanding the electrical grid there, eliminate student-loan debt, increase teacher pay and increase long-term-care support and services.

Mike Garcia: The Republican, 43, is a first-generation American who served in the Navy and was the first to declare his candidacy, back in April. He lives in Valencia and graduated from Saugus High. He has a rabid local following; including many who used to support Steve Knight but now believe Garcia better articulates their views. He also received The Signal and Gazette’s endorsements.

He favors term limits of between 10 and 12 years. He’s worried about the national debt and has a three-step process to get it under more manageable control: balance the budget, incentivize departments to save money and consolidate departments as necessary to eliminate levels of bureaucracy. He’s wary of socialism where health care and education are concerned. He wants to reduce taxes and government. And he supports the president.

Kenneth Jenks: The Republican served in the Marines and raised two kids in Santa Clarita. He traces his ancestry back to the Mayflower.

He believes the Democrats’ socialist tendencies are bad for the country, opposes health care to illegal immigrants, favors greater school choice, supports all environmentally friendly energy sources; desires a strong military, border patrol, ICE and cyber security. Regarding immigration, he wants to end illegal immigration and address birthright and chain migration with legislation, although he doesn’t specify what type of legislation he wants.

Steve Knight: The former two-term congressman lost to Hill and was set to work in the private sector when friends (and former Washington colleagues, led by House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield) called on him to run again after Hill resigned. His entering the race caused two others to drop out.

Knight graduated from Palmdale High and Antelope Valley College before serving in the Army and as a member of the Los Angeles Police Department. City Councilmember’s Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean endorsed him.

Knight’s website doesn’t list campaign points. Instead, it lists what he did while in Congress. Nine of his bills were signed into law; he name-checks Trump for signing six of them but does not name Barack Obama for signing the other three.

Courtney Lackey: The Republican and local resident is only running in the special election to finish Hill’s unexpired term. She says on Facebook she will give full attention to the district when others will be campaigning.

She favors terms limits for House and Senate members, a balanced budget, a health care system run by doctors and patients, an education system run by parents and teachers, a fully funded veterans program and full Social Security protections.

David Lozano: The Republican was a sheriff’s deputy in Watts and a Monterey Park reserve police officer before becoming a bankruptcy attorney and counts former county Supervisor Mike Antonovich as a fraternity brother.

As congressman, he says he will secure funds to strengthen law enforcement’s psychological methods to approach and subdue wrongdoers; provide a home, food, clothing and jobs to those in need, especially those homeless or mentally ill; expand Palmdale’s aerospace industry and ensure full military finding, protect the borders and support legal immigration.

Daniel Mercuri: The Republican from Simi Valley calls himself “rough around the edges …who speaks plainly.” He served in the Navy.

Of all the candidates, his website provides the most platform details. He seeks to limit lobbying power, favors term limits of eight years for House members, wants to simplify a bill’s language and provide proof that the representative – not a lobbying firm – wrote the bill.

He also wants to abolish the IRS and the Sixteenth Amendment, increase education funding but leave it up to the states to decide how – with the provision that teacher salaries must increase. But he also opposes student debt forgiveness. Regarding health care, he favors a government program to compete with private insurance, a prescription drug price cap and holding hospitals accountable for price gouging.

He wants to help veterans, close the borders to all regardless of nation of origin except for those who provide economic growth, deport criminals to their own country’s prisons, increase punishments for gun crimes, replace Social Security with a National Retirement Security Program and introduce a national voter ID program. He opposes the Green New Deal but favors independent scientific research, seeks to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortions except for rape or threat to mother’s life.

George Papadopoulos: The Republican and former member of Trump’s 2016 campaign’s foreign policy advisory panel is only running for the full term. He pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI and served 12 days in federal prison. He does not live in the district.
His website is only a page to invite people to join and donate, although there is a mention of ending “Democrat corruption.” His Facebook page offers comments on a few foreign policy happenings but not platform points.

David Rudnick: The Lancaster resident and former Republican volunteered for John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign and served as a page for South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Mark Sanford. He switched parties over the GOP’s stances on LGBTQ rights and same-gender marriage. He also served in the Army and Marines and was reprimanded for vocally opposing the Bush Administration’s discharging all LGBTQ service members as well as racism, hazing and the Iraq War strategy. He left the military on a misconduct discharge and then, after feeling disillusioned with Obama, supported Sen. Rand Paul in 2012.

Now running as a Democrat – and only in the special election – Rudnick supports strengthening Social Security and Medicare, protecting the environment, ending homelessness, paying down the national debt (though he doesn’t say how); preventing a nuclear Iran, and keeping the Chinese out of Hong Kong and strengthening Israel against Arab threats. He wants to help veterans by capping interest rates at 9 percent, waiving taxes on a veteran’s home for two generations and waiving credit ratings for veterans. He opposes abortion, euthanasia and mandatory vaccinations.

Christy Smith: The current Assemblywoman, 39, stepped into the race almost as soon as Hill resigned. She previously said she considered a congressional run in 2018 but decided she could get more done in Sacramento. One year in, she’s attempting to switch. She secured The Signal’s endorsement, a rarity for a Democrat.

As a former Newhall school district board member, education has been a priority, and she seeks to invest in local classrooms to reduce class sizes, increase teacher pay and, while she doesn’t call for ending student debt, wants to ensure they don’t have a lifetime of it.

She also wants to get dark money out of politics and supports ending the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. She supports investing in public safety so response times decrease and neighborhood security improves. She believes health care is a right and that Congress needs to control the costs of care and medicine. She favors a woman’s right to choose and will vote to fund Planned Parenthood.

She favors gun safety, believes climate change exists and the need for more solar and wind technology, immigration reform, equal rights for all and affordable housing.

Cenk Uygur: A Democrat, he doesn’t live in the district but says he doesn’t need to see the corruption that plagues Washington. He’s running to get rid of corporate PACs. As host of the multi-platform show “The Young Turks,” Uygur regularly discusses politics.

He wants higher wages and blames Mitch McConnell for blocking a bill that would increase the federal minimum wage. He believes the AV needs a four-year college and a VA hospital. He favors Medicare for all and seeks to build more homes for the homeless. He wants to protect DACA and the Dreamers, supports the Green New Deal, federal background checks for gun buyers and marijuana’s legalization; wants to end cash bail and the death penalty, thinks federal prosecutors should investigate police shootings, and backs a woman’s right to choose.

Anibal Valdez-Ortega: A first-generation American, AV resident and UCLA graduate, he’s a Los Angeles attorney representing lower-income groups in a variety of areas, including immigration, real estate, personal injury, bankruptcy and family law.

He believes medical care is a right, education is essential, climate change is real and the country must sign back onto the Paris Agreement. Locally, he’ll fight for funding to widen the 14 Freeway, tax corporations at a minimum of 10 percent, and extend DACA and a pathway to citizenship.

STATE SENATE:

Warren Heaton: The Democrat and College of the Canyons adjunct history professor is an immigration attorney whose practice focuses on refugee and asylum cases. He served in the Army as an interrogator and Russian translator.

His website lists three platform points. Healthcare is a right, so he favors a public health insurance program to guarantee access for all. The housing shortage is a crisis, so he favors building more middle-class housing and investing in clean energy, public transportation and infrastructure repair; and increased K-12 education funding, decreased student debt and increased full-time faculty.

Steve Hill: The Democrat and Palmdale resident served in the Marines for five years, followed by a decade in aerospace and another decade serving with the Department of Corrections. He also is a stand-up comedian, using that avenue to point out Wall Street corruption and working-class struggles.

This is Hill’s second attempt at this seat. Four years ago, the Gazette ran a story highlighting his atheism and ties to Satanism, although he prefers the term “humanism.” He got only 12 percent of the primary vote and did not advance to the general election.

His platform calls for the states to take over from the Department of Education, end jailing people with mental health issues, drug addictions and social ills; and protect small businesses and startups.

Dana LaMon: The Democrat and Lancaster resident has been blind since age 4 (he’s 67 now), but that didn’t stop him from graduating from Yale with a math degree and from USC law school. He also won the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking.

On his website are his six E’s: education, environment, economy, equality, efficiency in government and excellence in society. He calls for affordable education for all, higher pay for teachers, protecting natural resources, higher-paying jobs, equal rights for all and an individual responsibility to be better and work to do better.

Kipp Mueller: The Democrat and Adelanto resident is an attorney who handles discrimination, wrongful termination and retaliation cases. He graduated from Cal in 2008 and Columbia Law in 2014.

Mueller wants to strengthen the middle class by balancing state budgets, strengthening unions, enforcing the labor code, building green infrastructure and repairing old infrastructure. He favors universal health care and more transparency in medical billing. He’s committed to reproductive justice and women’s rights that include the right to choose. He believes everyone should have a home but doesn’t offer ways to combat homelessness. Finally, he favors clean energy over Big Oil.

Scott Wilk: The Republican incumbent has served one term. He has three platform points, which he calls “pillars:” a transparent and accountable government, economic growth and social equity. His campaign website lists achievements in each area, although many of these apply to his time in the Assembly and not his current term.

Of those that do apply to his Senate term, they include: Senate Bill 53, which expands open meetings to include various advisory groups. It unanimously passed the Senate and is in an Assembly committee. SB 1409 and 153 allowed AV-area farmers to grow industrial hemp. Gov. Jerry Brown signed these two bills into law in 2018. Wilk also authored legislation that Brown signed that calls for released or paroled sex offenders to be returned to either their last known city of legal residence or last city where family lives.

Although he didn’t write the bill, Wilk supported legislation to establish a pilot program for accrediting teachers at the community college level; and he ensured the AV got its share of homelessness funding.

ASSEMBLY:

Dina Cervantes: She’s a Democrat and small-business owner in the education sector with years of experience as a student activist and teacher. She counts leading the fight to freeze student-fee increases within the California State University system as a top accomplishment (she graduated from Cal State Northridge). She also worked for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

While her website offers no concrete or specific details, she is committed to improving healthcare access, defending women’s reproductive rights and justice, expanding preschool, ensuring college is affordable, preparing students for 21st century jobs and creating high-paying jobs in emerging sectors, combating climate change, protecting natural resources, and addressing homelessness by building affordable housing.

Annie Cho: Born in Korea, Cho emigrated with her family in 1971 when she was in the fifth grade. She graduated from Cal State Los Angeles at age 20 with a political science degree. After college, she worked for Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston in Washington, Speaker Pro Tempore Mike Roos in Sacramento, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee in 1982-84 and the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1984-88.

Neither her website nor her Facebook page offers any platform positions. Instead, her website mentions she has been involved in several Democratic caucuses, served as a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power commissioner, owned a public relations firm and now works as a realtor, and received an Emmy nomination for a weekly Koran-language half-hour public affairs show. Her Facebook page trumpets how much money she’s raised and her endorsements, of which The Signal is one.

Kelvin Driscoll: The Santa Clarita resident and Democrat said he’s running because he wants his young daughter to grow up in a world in which she can feel safe. He graduated from USC and has been an adjunct lecturer in both the USC School of Social Work and the Human Services Division of Long Beach City College.

His website is sparse on details, but his candidate statement says he wants more affordable child care and early-learning opportunities, less student debt, neighborhoods that don’t fear gun violence, more affordable housing, health care based on need and not employment status, and to combat climate change to decrease the severity of wildfires and mudslides.

Brandii Grace: When the Gazette spoke to Grace in November, she didn’t yet have a campaign website. She does now, and her story starts with her growing up in extreme poverty and homelessness but working hard to lift herself and her veteran grandmother out of poverty. She graduated from Western Washington University and created a video game designed for players to explore science and technology in the universe. She also has two acting credits on her Internet Movie Database page and two credits for being on video game crews.

Grace lists six platform points: affordable health care, affordable senior and disability care, affordable child care, fully funded public education, investing in renewable energy, and addressing housing and homelessness so people can live closer to work and don’t get pushed out by rent increases.

Her Facebook page goes into more detail and adds additional platform positions relating to improving digital infrastructure and online privacy; reforming labor so unionization is protected, banning forced arbitration and letting people opt out of AB 5 if they want; and reforming prisons, cutting costs and improving worker programs for non-violent offenders.

Suzette Valladares: The Republican originally ran for Congress but switched to Assembly amid being courted by the local and county Republican Party, which endorsed her. So did The Signal, although it gave no reason why.

Valladares’ campaign website and Facebook page mention no platform points. It took an email to the campaign to get a list: reduce the state’s cost of living, allow parents greater educational choices for their children, stop human trafficking and drug smuggling at the borders, protect neighborhoods and decrease homelessness through solutions that include housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment; and “bring thoughtful balance to a state government dominated by an out of touch political class.”

Valladares also never answered questions relating to her residency and complaints that she didn’t pay staffers and consultants. She has said she lives in Acton, but sources have said she really lives in Palmdale, which is not part of the 38th district. A subsequent email to her press contact went unanswered. She has to establish residency by Tuesday.

Lucie Volotzky: Born in Montreal and naturalized in the 1980s, the Republican speaks three languages, owns two Blissful Sleep mattress stores in the San Fernando Valley and is a former model. People who talk to her can’t help but notice her strong French-Canadian accent.

Among her platform points: repeal AB 5 to help independent contractors, amend Proposition 47 to hold people more accountable for their crimes, ensure Central Valley farmers have the water they need, give everyone better school choices, cut taxes, end loopholes and limit regulations, protect soldiers and veterans, and pass common-sense legislation to tackle homelessness and sex trafficking. Like other candidates, she is short on details and specifics.

Is District Voting for City Council Inevitable?

| News | February 20, 2020

Local resident Mark White is convinced more people favor breaking the city council into districts than the current councilmembers want to acknowledge. As it stands, the city has perhaps stubbornly held onto at-large elections when every other local entity has gone to districts. Now that the city again faces a lawsuit, White sounds wistful.

“The city council refused to put (discussing district voting) as an agenda item. It’s unfortunate,” White lamented. “It seems to me there’s exposure and they should have done something to avoid a second threat to a second lawsuit.”

This threat came in the form of a letter from Walnut Creek, California-based attorney Scott Rafferty representing a group called Neighborhood Elections Now that claims at-large elections have hurt Latino voters, which violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). Rafferty knows who exactly is in this group, but he isn’t naming names until an actual suit is filed. The letter only says it comprises “a variety of races and ethnicities.” The letter discusses only district voting. It does not address directly electing a mayor.

Mayor Cameron Smyth and Councilmember Marsha McLean declined comment, although Smyth repeated his commitment to at least discussing it. McLean previously said she was wary about another lawsuit.

“The issue of districts has been brought up before, and I have served in both at-large and district circumstances,” Smyth said, referring to his holding city council and Assembly posts. “Regardless of the system in place, I’m going to serve the people of Santa Clarita to the best of my abilities.”

People who have called for district voting were pleased.

“It’s way past time,” said Diane Trautman, a Saugus resident who ran for council three times, “I’m happy to see this, and I hope the city responds as they should.”

Those opposed expressed their displeasure.

“I’m disappointed and disgusted that this once again is coming to the city of Santa Clarita,” Councilmember Bob Kellar said. “The city has done remarkably well with this existing form of government.”

The city was previously sued in 2013 by Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman representing local residents Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser. As part of the settlement, council elections were moved to November from April, but at-large voting remained.

Like Shenkman, who sued many districts, Rafferty has done this before. In 2018, he sued the West Contra Costa County Unified School District on behalf of a Latina client, forcing the district to divide into five districts starting with the 2020 election.

Shenkman once told the Gazette the city would be sued again. Rafferty summed up the reasons why he’s threatening: Santa Clarita is a large city, it’s expensive to mount an effective campaign, incumbents have been entrenched for a long time and four of them live close to each other, making it likely 80 percent of the population won’t randomly run into any of them in public.

“It’s not racially representative. It’s not geographically representative, and it makes government more removed from each neighborhood,” Rafferty said. He wrote, “The prospective plaintiffs do not seek a Latino majority district. They seek only an opportunity to influence the outcome of the election that is equal to that enjoyed by voters who are white and not Latino.”

What The Letter Says:
Rafferty sent the city a 13-page letter, a copy of which the Gazette procured via public-records request. In it, he details a system hell-bent on maintaining the status quo at the expense of growing non-white populations.

Rafferty wrote that Latinos make up 35 percent of the population and 21 percent of eligible voters, while Asians make up 11 percent of eligible voters and African Americans five percent. Whites are now the minority among the entire population, but still account for 57 percent of eligible voters. He also said at-large voting has helped Laurene Weste stay on the council since 1998, Kellar since 2000 and McLean since 2002, although Kellar is retiring. Smyth was first elected in 2000 and served until leaving for the Assembly in 2006. He ran again in 2016 and won.

All four are white.

“The illegal at-large system has entrenched incumbents who were elected 20 years ago when Santa Clarita was 80 percent white and only 20 percent Latino,” Rafferty wrote. “Today, four out of five council members (1) are septuagenarians, (2) have served for 20 years, (3) are Republicans in a majority Democratic city, and (4) live within a one-mile radius of each other. This is not the result of a democratic process.”

Rafferty’s next point: No one has ever been elected by a majority.

From 1987 until now, candidates win election with small percentages. In 1987, those elected received between eight percent (Carl Boyer) and 12 percent (Howard “Buck” McKeon). Rarely does anyone receive at least 20 percent of the vote; it’s only happened in six out of 16 elections.

Smyth came closest to a majority with 40 percent in 2004, and he’s the only person to ever receive more than a third of the vote, although Kellar came close with 32 percent in 2004.

Smyth said Monday that the 2004 election was unique in that it had just three candidates (Henry Schultz was the other, and he got 28 percent, which would have been enough in any other election). Contrast that with the last two elections, in which 11 people vied for two spots in 2016 and 15 people ran for three seats in 2018.

One of those three seats went to Bill Miranda, the one nonwhite member and only one of two nonwhites to ever be elected, although he first was appointed. Rafferty argues that Miranda’s presence does not mean Latino votes are being equally valued because, he wrote, “Mr. Miranda is not the Latino candidate of choice,” having received only about four percent of his votes from Latinos.

In fact, until 2014, Michael Cruz was the only Latino candidate who won even five percent of the vote. Miranda won 11 percent in 2018 and Dante Acosta won 12 percent of the total vote in 2014, but Rafferty wrote that Acosta didn’t even carry the Latino vote; Alan Ferdman did (Ferdman, who lost to Acosta by 104 votes, said he didn’t know).

“Member Bill Miranda did not seek the support of the Latino community when the Council appointed him in 2017 and he did not receive it when he ran for election in 2018,” Rafferty wrote. “Tellingly, neither his campaign website nor his Voters’ Edge profile claims a single endorsement from any Latino organization or individual leader other than former Santa Clarita resident Dante Acosta.” Also, when Miranda applied for appointment, none of his three letters of recommendation came from any Latino leaders or organizations.

Miranda did not return numerous calls for comment.

Rafferty also wrote, “In a city that has grown to encompass 66 square miles, four council members now live within a one-mile radius.” Smyth, Weste and McLean live in Newhall. Miranda lives in Valencia, close to the Newhall line. Kellar lives in Canyon Country.

“The illegal method of election has protected those choices from the effects of annexation, demographic change and political realignment,” Rafferty wrote. “That is why the incumbents spent $1.2 million of public monies to settle the Soliz litigation on terms that allowed at least two of their members (Weste and McLean) to survive, when district elections would have doomed them.”

What People Are Saying:

Predictably, no one who has stated a view in the past has changed opinions. Many say districts lead to greater number of participants; others say it leads to fiefdoms.

Trautman and Ferdman count themselves in the more-will-get-involved camp. “If people look at the benefits, it will allow more people to participate because they’ll feel there is an opportunity for their voices to be heard,” Trautman said. Ferdman, a Canyon Country resident who ran for council in 2014 and 2016 but didn’t in 2018 because he found it too expensive, thinks district voting will make campaigns more affordable.

Kellar is in the fiefdom camp, pointing to the Los Angeles City Council, which is divided into 12 districts. “Everybody’s fighting for their little piece of the pie,” he said, “and it gets in the way of the responsibility of working together on the myriad of issues a city has to deal with.”

Two city council candidates have come down on opposite sides of the issues. Ken Dean, who has run seven previous times, favors the move and thinks having so many councilmembers living so close to each other isn’t fair to the people.

He also rejects the fiefdom argument. “If that were a big problem, that’d be a problem with the L.A City Council, the Burbank City Council and state government,” he said. “Look at (Sen.) Scott Wilk. He’s concerned about the district, but he’s also concerned about the state of California.”

Jason Gibbs, who ran in 2018, texted his opposition — “District elections end up putting neighborhoods against each other,” Gibbs wrote. “I’m running for council to solve problems for the entire city. While I oppose the lawsuit and the move to districts, I know whether it is in a district election or citywide I look forward to engaging with residents and solving problems for our entire city.”

How a New Station Chief is Selected

| News | February 13, 2020

Many might think that the sheriff would unilaterally select the deputy in charge of the Santa Clarita Valley station. In fact, the city and county have significant input into who is chosen.

While Sheriff Alex Villanueva has the final say who replaces Robert Lewis, who has since been promoted to commander and placed in charge of the department’s special operations division, the mayor, city manager and representative to the county district supervisor will be part of a panel that will interview all qualified applicants, city and county officials said.

According to Mayor Cameron Smyth, Councilmember Bob Kellar and Michelle Vega, spokesperson for County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, this process has been in place for many years. Smyth said he participated 17 years ago as mayor.

“This process fosters collaboration and open dialogue about the needs of the community, especially as it relates to public safety and building partnerships with stakeholders,” Vega said in an email.
Smyth said the panel would interview the applicants later this month, although he said he is unsure who will comprise the panel but does not believe Barger will participate. He also said he has not seen a list of qualified applicants yet but is expecting to have enough time to prep for interviews.

Kellar said the mayor and another councilmember usually joins the city manager and county representative, and he’s eager to be involved.

According to a February 2019 press conference, Villanueva wanted to change the selection process to decrease cronyism and increase the number of lieutenants to apply. Lieutenant is the first rank below captain.

Smyth said he expects the panel to make its recommendation to Villanueva within 30 days of completing interviews. Whether the panel disagrees or comes to a consensus remains to be seen.

“I’m one for one,” he said, referring to recommending Patti Minutello, who served as captain from 2003-06.

One Ballot, Two Elections

| News | February 13, 2020

When Lena Smyth received her primary-election ballot, she took a look at it and immediately felt concern.

“I don’t think it’s going to make perfect sense,” she said.

Smyth, a College of the Canyons political science professor, referred to the 25th congressional district race, in which voters will have to make two choices: who they would like to finish Katie Hill’s term and who they want to be their representative starting in January.

The ballot states which race is which. First comes the regular primary race, listed as “United States Representative, 25th District.” It starts with three names on one page and then continues on the next page with 10 more names. The top two vote getters will advance to the November general election.

That is followed by “United States Representative, 25th District (Unexpired term ending January 3, 2021).” This is the special election to complete Hill’s term, made necessary after she resigned. If a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she will serve until Jan. 3; if not, the top two vote getters will meet in a May runoff.

Ten people, including current Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita), fellow Democrat Cenk Uygur and Republicans Steve Knight and Mike Garcia, are in both races, so their names are listed twice. But the names are in different orders and sometimes on different pages. Plus, one candidate’s name is listed differently: as Getro Franck Elize in the primary and Getro F. Elize in the special election.

Some names, such as George Papadopoulos and F. David Rudnick, are only listed once because they decided to vie for only that race, Papadopoulos for the full term and Rudnick only until January. And although he dropped out, Christopher Smith is still listed on the ballot for the regular primary.

“The candidates have been trying to communicate,” Smyth said, and it’s true that Garcia’s campaign placed an ad in the Gazette urging people to vote twice.

“But when I look at the ballot itself, it is less clear,” Smyth said. “Not all voters will understand. Some will understand.” She added that the more closely a person has followed the races, the more likely he or she would understand.

Because this is what Smyth called “unprecedented, a very unique situation,” it’s not known if the election will go smoothly or will be something similar to Florida in 2000, when voters couldn’t tell if they were voting for Al Gore, George W. Bush or someone else.

Nor is Smyth sure if voters will vote for the same person in both races. “Many of us won’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Another wrinkle is that people can start voting at voting centers as early as Feb. 22, though most area centers will open starting Feb. 29.

“You wonder how they’re going to navigate the ballot,” Smyth said.

Mike Garcia – Flying High

| News | February 6, 2020

Anne Dunsmore has been a political consultant and fundraiser for 42 years. She has worked thousands of campaign events for candidates aspiring to offices ranging from local posts to the highest one in the land.

She said she has never seen what is happening with Mike Garcia.

“Even I find it unusual,” she said.

Whereas other candidates typically get 25-50 people show to an event, 110 attended Garcia’s fundraiser Friday at Valencia Country Club as he seeks to win the 25th congressional district seat.
Whereas candidates in other races Dunsmore’s handling are struggling to raise money, those 110 people forked over $15,000, she said, with more expected. She said that’s because people committed to the $100 entry fee but then gave more.

Whereas many candidates are worn out and need a push when it’s a month away from the primary, it’s Garcia who’s doing the pushing, Dunsmore said.

Whereas most candidates don’t even do direct-mail requests in a contested primary, Dunsmore said, Garcia has 9,000 contributions.

“He’s real. He’s driven. He’s energetic,” Dunsmore said. “We’re not dragging him around. He’s dragging everyone else around. He’s the fastest study of any candidate I’ve ever worked with.”

Last week, Garcia attended not only the event at Valencia, but also events in Acton and Simi Valley that raised a total of $75,000. Dunsmore said the campaign typically grosses between $5,000 and $25,000 at any one event, although once at former Rep. Elton Gallegly’s house, the donors combined for $85,000, which she considers an anomaly that won’t repeat.

But it doesn’t matter because Dunsmore can spot the excitement.

“I can tell you they’re not typical,” she said of the events. “It’s ridiculous.”

To clarify, this was a campaign event, so it followed a structure. People milled about, sipped alcohol, nibbled on hors d’oeuvres, socialized and checked out the table that had $25 shirts and hats – or bought some. They listened to special guest Howard “Buck” McKeon, who represented the area in Congress for 12 years, and Garcia speak.

McKeon said typical campaign things such as “This is important” and “We need a (congressional) majority.” He also extolled the virtues of the president and requested everyone get out and talk up Garcia.

Garcia stressed the national importance of this race, how this election is “a choice of stupendous magnitude,” credited Donald Trump, explained why he’s running (“so this country doesn’t turn into California,”) and what he stands for (a wall, strong military and strong border patrols, making the Trump tax cuts permanent). He mentioned the “headwinds and undercurrents” he and the Republicans face, and stressed his four C’s (Constitution, capitalism, competition, charity).

People cheered Trump and booed when Garcia name-checked former Rep. Katie Hill and current Democratic candidate Christy Smith. And they gave Garcia a standing ovation when he finished.

“I am the new breed of conservative Republican,” he declared. “This isn’t about Democrat versus Republican. This is about right versus wrong.”

The crowd, mostly older and white but with African Americans, Latinos and Asians also present, were there because they believe in Garcia.

“He’s genuine,” volunteer Rick Barker said. “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say, ‘My God, he does not sound like a politician. He actually answered my question.’ ”

Thomas Cadman, a banker who served in the Army, said he remembered the first Garcia event he attended: a pizza party on Lyons Avenue. Between 50 and 60 people attended. “Each time I came to these events, they’re getting bigger,” he said. “A lot of new faces.”

Some attendees took shots at former Rep. Steve Knight, who’s also running. Don Williams said he “hit the pavement for Steve Knight and Dante Acosta” but now finds Knight “wishy-washy” and “not a solid Republican.”

Dave McKean, a Garcia volunteer who coordinates with churches, was a Knight supporter who thought Knight “left his conservative principles and went with the Establishment. My sense is he’s like Hillary (Clinton): He’s entitled.”

Victoria Redgtall, born in Surrey, England, lives in Valencia but is registered to vote in Toluca Lake, acknowledged Knight has more name recognition than Garcia, “but (Knight) lost the district.”

Even McKeon seemed aware something was different. “I’ve done a lot of events in this room, but I never had a crowd like this,” he told the audience.

As unusual as Dunsmore finds this, she no longer is surprised.

“The response is due to him,” she said. “It’s our job to expand on it.”

The Lowdown on Assembly Bill 5

| News | January 30, 2020

It might be the most controversial state law since Proposition 13 more than 40 years ago.

It is Assembly Bill 5, and just about anyone who works in the so-called gig economy knows about it.

AB 5 became the law on January 1st. It codifies a state Supreme Court case that basically held most independent contractors should be classified as employees and, therefore, are entitled to labor protections such as minimum wages, sick leave, unemployment and workers compensation benefits, none of which independent contractors are entitled to. It also means companies are responsible for providing those benefits and paying the costs associated with those benefits.

Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita) voted for it; Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) voted against it.

The law provides a three-part test for companies to determine if a person should be classified as an independent contractor: the person is free from control and direction of the company in connection with the work, the person does work that is outside the company’s usual work; and the person is engaged in an independently established trade, occupation or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

Numerous industries and occupations are exempt: licensed insurance agents, certain licensed health care professionals, registered securities broker-dealers or investment advisers, direct-sales salespersons, real estate licensees, commercial fishermen, workers providing licensed barber or cosmetology services.

Two groups that are not covered are rideshare drivers and freelance journalists, although the law allows journalists to make 35 submissions a year; for a weekly paper such as the Gazette, all submissions in any one issue count once toward the 35. Additionally, newspaper distributors are exempt until next January 1st.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed right before the law went into effect. One filed by the California Truckers Association, were successful. A federal judge granted a restraining order December 31st.

The American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Press Photographers Association also field suit, with the website Law360 reporting that the state urged the suit to be dismissed because the law doesn’t unfairly restrict freelance journalists.

Regardless, Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) has introduced two bills to help the newspaper industry, each of which Wilk is one of nine co-authors. SB 868 would exempt freelance journalists, and SB 867 would make the distribution exemption permanent.

Gazette Publisher Doug Sutton said AB 5 affects four journalists who work for his paper, but without the exemption for distributors, it would be too costly to continue producing.

“I am committed to finding a way for Californians to continue working in the way that works for them. Last year the Governor and majority party left many industries and professions scrambling to survive when Assembly Bill 5 was passed and signed into law – including newspapers and freelance journalists,” Wilk said in a statement. “Today, we are taking a first step in fixing the new law’s many flaws by helping California’s newspapers and journalists continue in their traditional way of doing business.”

There may be more bills coming to modify AB 5. Smith said in a statement she is part of a working group to address fixes to the law, and that work is ongoing. She told the Gazette last fall she would be amenable to modifying AB 5.

But at least one industry isn’t waiting to see what the Legislature does, and it’s the industry most targeted by AB 5: ridesharing, primarily represented by Uber, Lyft, Postmates and DoorDash.

These organizations have reacted in many ways. They filed a lawsuit, submitted a ballot proposition, ignored the law and quietly changed the app for California drivers.

Postmates and Uber filed in district court on December 31st, claiming AB 5 is unconstitutional. Unlike the truckers, the rideshare companies have not won. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the judge declined to grant the injunction but didn’t dismiss the suit and will take more time to consider the objections.

Meanwhile, Uber came up with “Project Luigi,” which the Washington Post called a companywide initiative to change the app in this state to help build its court case that its drivers are free and independent. These include removing set prices for trips and replacing them with ranges based on distance and estimated time. Drivers can decline these without penalty.

Uber, Lyft and DoorDash are spending $30 million each to get a ballot proposition on the November ballot that would exempt them from AB 5.

Amid all this, the companies also seem to be ignoring the law. Gary Emerson, who drives for Uber and occasionally takes rides into Santa Clarita, said he has received no communications from Uber about AB 5.

NPR reported that gig companies are simply refusing to reclassify their workers. Instead, Uber, Lyft and other gig companies are negotiating with lawmakers and labor unions to create a new class of worker: a contractor with some added benefits.

Some of these benefits appear in the ballot proposition: minimum compensation levels, insurance to cover on-the-job injuries, automobile accident insurance, healthcare subsidies for qualifying drivers, protection against harassment and discrimination, and mandatory contractual rights and appeal processes.

One thing’s for sure: This law’s final form hasn’t been set.

Voting Centers

| News | January 30, 2020

Many people have spent numerous elections walking to the same place near their homes to vote. That might change come March 3 because they now will be required to vote at one of 25 area vote centers, according to the county registrar-recorder’s website.

The changes come as a result of a bill passed in 2016 that required counties to give voters more choices in how to cast ballots. They still can vote by mail, but if they choose to physically cast a vote, they will have to go to a vote center.

Additionally, some centers will start accepting ballots starting Feb. 22, 11 days before the actual primary; others will begin taking ballots Feb. 29.

Below is a list of centers, grouped by date of first accepting ballots:

ACCEPTING STARTING FEB. 22
Bouquet Canyon Elementary School, multipurpose room, 28110 Wellston Dr., Saugus
College of the Canyons, Seco Hall 101, 26455 Rockwell Canyon Rd., Valencia
Fire Station 126, 26320 Citrus St., Valencia
George Caravalho Santa Clarita Sports Complex, gymnasium, 20870 Centre Pointe Pkwy., Canyon Country
Newhall Community Center, multipurpose room, 22421 Market St., Newhall
Old Town Newhall Library, multipurpose room, 24500 Main St., Newhall
Orchard Arms Senior Apartments, community room, 23410 Wiley Canyon Rd., Newhall
Stevenson Ranch Library, meeting room, 25950 The Old Road, Stevenson Ranch

ACCEPTING STARTING FEB. 29
Al-Umma Center, 18027 Sierra Hwy., Canyon Country
Canyon Country park, West Room, 17615 Soledad Canyon Rd., Canyon Country
Castaic Middle School, multipurpose room, 28900 Hillcrest Pkwy., Castaic
Castaic Sports Complex, Community Room 2, 31320 N. Castaic Rd., Castaic
Cedarcreek Elementary School, Committee Room 7, 27792 Camp Plenty Rd., Canyon Country
Hilton Garden Inn, Pacific Room A&B, 27710 The Old Road, Valencia
La Mesa Junior High School, multipurpose room, 26623 May Way, Canyon Country
Mint Canyon Moose Lodge, meeting hall, 18000 Sierra Hwy., Canyon Country
Mountain View Elementary, multipurpose room, 22201 Cypress Pl., Saugus
Newhall Park, multipurpose room, 24923 Newhall Ave., Newhall
Our Lady Perpetual Help Church, Junipero Serra Conference Room, 23045 Lyons Ave., Newhall
Rio Norte Junior High School, multipurpose room, 28771 Rio Norte Dr., Valencia
Santa Clarita Park, multipurpose room, 27285 Seco Canyon Rd., Santa Clarita
Sierra Vista Junior High School, multipurpose room, 19425 Stillmore St., Canyon Country
Valencia Hills Club, recreation room, 24060 Oak Vale Dr., Valencia
Valencia Library, multipurpose room, 23743 W. Valencia Blvd., Valencia
William S. Hart Union High School District, Annex, 21380 Centre Pointe Pkwy., Canyon Country

The Law-Breaking and Rule-Breaking Circus within Measure US

| News | January 23, 2020

Two more allegations of wrongdoing have surfaced regarding the Sulphur Springs Union School District’s bond measure, joining the already proven incident of a city councilmember breaking a rule.

And yet, one of the people making the claims believes the alleged actions will make no difference in whether the voters approve or defeat Measure US on March 3rd.

“It’s a mess,” said Richard Michael, who runs the Big Bad Bonds website.

So far, the following chain of events has occurred:

First, City Councilmember Bob Kellar violated the council’s norms and procedures when he signed on to the measure using his office. He later requested the district change the designation from “Santa Clarita City Council” to “Santa Clarita Citizen.”

So, district Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi sent an email on January 3rd at 8:06 a.m. using her district email address to the county registrar-recorder requesting Kellar’s designation change. This apparently violates the Government and Elections codes forbidding an employee from using public resources urging support or defeat of a measure.

Stephen Petzold, principal officer of the Center for Truth in School Bond Measures and author of the argument on the measure, provided the Gazette with the email. On it, he wrote a note to Assistant District Attorney Alan Yochelson, head of the Public Integrity Division, indicating it’s a supporting document to show the violation. Petzold said he has filed a formal complaint. The Gazette called the division and was referred to the media relation’s department.

In a voicemail statement, Kawaguchi said the district may use resources to prepare bond documents and that it is her responsibility to ensure the documents are prepared correctly. “This was done, and Robert Kellar did request for the documents to be corrected, and that was confirmed and submitted to the registrar’s office for correction,” she said.

By making the change, the county likely violated the state Elections Code because it made the change after the December 13th deadline it set to submit arguments. County spokesman Mike Sanchez didn’t return numerous calls for comment.

And yet, Michael said, “In the whole scheme of things, none of these things are going to affect the outcome of the election.”

The reason, he explained, is twofold. First, people have to know the wrongdoings are happening. “Then, they’d have to care that these people are doing things illegally.”

Petzold and Michael clearly care. Petzold said he agrees that Kawaguchi can prepare the documents, “but the argument in favor of it is not a required element of the document.”

Furthermore, state law allows school board members to write and submit arguments, but a superintendent is not a board member.

Michael said the county is violating equal-protection tenets of the law because it could, and did, make a change after a deadline when an individual would have to get a court order to do the same.

“If one side can get their way, why can’t the other side get their way?” he said. “The law shall be applied to all people of the same class equally. Both proponents and opponents should be limited to the deadline. One side got a special exemption; a private party could not. If Petzold said, ‘I demand you make this change,’ do you think the registrar would?”

“The government does not prosecute its own corruption.”

Bob Kellar Changes Ballot Designation

| News | January 17, 2020

Councilmember Bob Kellar has changed his ballot designation for the upcoming Sulphur Springs School District bond measure that will appear on the March ballot.

Kellar’s name will be accompanied by the designation, “Santa Clarita Citizen” instead of the original “Santa Clarita City Council,” he said.

This is because the council has rules requiring a councilmember to explicitly state he or she represents only himself or herself and not the council or city.

Kellar previously said he signed as he did thinking it would not be an issue, but Steve Petzold, who wrote the argument opposing the $78 million Measure US, requested the change.

Petzold forwarded an email from City Manager Ken Striplin that indicated the change. Kellar confirmed, saying, “I told you if I was in error, I would correct it. I was in error, so I corrected it.”

Jason ‘Gibb-ing’ back to SCV: Gibbs’ City Council Run

| News | January 16, 2020

Jason Gibbs decided that if he truly wants to serve the people of Santa Clarita, he should get to know them better.

So, he did. He joined the Valley Industry Association (VIA), where he’s currently vice chair of advocacy. He got involved with the William S. Hart Union High School District, joining its WiSH Foundation and its advisory committee. He also serves on the Boys and Girls Club advisory committee, the county’s Safe Clean Water Program Watershed Area Steering Committees and the Measure EE bond oversight committee.

People certainly are noticing all Gibbs, 38, has done. He recently was named a 40 Under Forty honoree by Santa Clarita Magazine and the local chapter of the Junior Chamber International.

What he has learned is this: “There are a lot of incredible people who have dedicated themselves to making Santa Clarita a better place,” he said. “These people are out there every day trying to make the city great.”

Gibbs wants to do that, too, only he wants to do it in the political arena. That’s why he already has submitted paperwork to run for city council.

“Getting to know people is important so they know who (you) are,” he said. “People want people in City Hall they know, so they know they’re being represented by someone who’s been there with them.”

This is Gibbs’ second try. Two years ago, he finished ninth out of 15 candidates with 10,008 votes (5.57 percent). But this time could be different. Councilmember Bob Kellar is retiring, and he and fellow Councilmember Laurene Weste have endorsed Gibbs to take over; last time, voters returned Weste and two other incumbents to their seats.

“Jason is a very, very bright, energetic person, and there is nothing that would make me happier than to see him take over my office,” Kellar said. “He’s a tremendous asset to Santa Clarita.”

Additionally, Gibbs has worked to differentiate himself from other candidates; last time, he ran on a platform of basically continuing what the council had done, which made it hard for him to step out from the incumbents’ shadows.

While he still believes the city has been moving in the right direction, he is pushing harder for his most unique point: adding a city Public Safety Commission.

“I still think (it’s) viable,” he declared.

In Gibbs’ mind, it would be organized similar to the existing planning, arts and parks and recreation commissions. While he hasn’t finalized such details as how many members it would comprise or whether a council member would sit on it, he said he would like to see police, fire and emergency service personnel on it.

Many of his platform points return from two years ago, if slightly modified:

He still wants to pay down the debt incurred from the employee retirement program, CalPERS, but he now calls for a maximum of 10-percent debt. Two years ago, he didn’t specify the debt load.

He still wants to maintain good relationships with the school boards but now says safety on the school grounds is the school boards’ responsibilities. Two years ago, he didn’t assign responsibilities to any group.

He acknowledges the city thinks the Lyons-Dockweiler extension at 13th Street is most viable but now says he wants to see what city engineers come up with because he’s concerned about how much traffic could increase at that intersection. Previously, he went with the city’s opinion unquestioned.

He was confident the roads through Whittaker-Bermite were coming sooner rather than later but now isn’t as sure. “It’s not clean. We don’t have the go-ahead,” he said. But unlike last time, he specified what roads he wants built through there: Via Princessa, Santa Clarita Parkway and Magic Mountain Parkway.

He also wants a large industrial area built that will offer many jobs and keep people from having to commute. “The 5-14 interchange is not getting any better,” he said. “I think there’s a desire to not travel down to the San Fernando Valley.”

Maybe that industrial center ends up in Whittaker-Bermite, or maybe a high-quality development, such as Porta Bella, brings the roads with it. Regardless, Gibbs said, there is a need for housing to be a part of any development plan.

“Santa Clarita has not had a shortage of development the last 20 years,” he said, “housing is needed.”

And Gibbs said housing of all sorts is needed: condos, start-ups, high-end and high-density – any type that would help homeowners not spend 95 percent of their paychecks on housing.

He said that after the 2018 election, he took a vacation and decided to remain involved in the community. Now, he seeks to involve himself his way.

“They respect someone who wants to learn and get involved and give back along the way,” he said.

Christopher Smith Drops Out of Race

| News | January 16, 2020

Cites No Viable Path to Win

Christopher Smith, one of the congressional candidates who lives outside the 25th district, announced he is dropping out, citing no viable path to win.

“I’m proud of what my campaign has accomplished and the attention that I’ve called to important progressive policies,” he said in a statement. “However, it’s time to step down and let the voters of CA25 hear more from the candidates who are most likely to succeed on Super Tuesday.”

Smith did not file paperwork to run in the special election on March 3rd, when the ballot will include two places to vote for a candidate: one to finish former Rep. Katie Hill’s term and one to win the term that would begin next January. He said he didn’t file for both elections to try to limit voter confusion.

He said he would not endorse another candidate but called on the other campaigns to not be so disrespectful.

“I tried to run a respectful campaign from a place of integrity. I regret that this race has become so divisive among the local Democratic Party and progressive groups,” he said. “I call on all campaigns to moderate their tone and to recognize that all candidates are seeking to serve their community and deserve each other’s respect.”

Christy Smith Remains Focused on Assembly

| News | January 9, 2020

Although Christy Smith is running for Congress, she hasn’t forgotten her current job as an Assembly member.

When the legislative session began Monday, Smith was in Sacramento and introduced Assembly Bill 1837, which maximizes daily-attendance school funding during times following certain natural disasters or if the governor has declared an emergency.

The bill is in keeping with the four areas Smith wants to focus attention: education, public safety, economic development and supporting local communities.

In her first year, Smith sent 12 bills to Gov. Gavin Newsom, of which 10 became law. These include securing more than $1.5 million in funding for 38th District projects, including $450,000 for the Santa Clarita senior center to complete its capital campaign, $700,000 for Simi Valley’s free health clinic and $397,000 to modernize College of the Canyons’ Boykin Hall.
She also created the Golden State Scholarshare College Savings Trust, which provides financial aid for post-secondary students. In addition, she wrote legislation that benefits College of the Canyons’ nursing-school faculty, expands dual enrollment for high school kids who might want to take advantage of community college course work, and requires high schools to conspicuously post in bathrooms and locker rooms written policies on sexual harassment and how to report charges, in addition to posting in the already-required main administration building.

She also wrote a new law that allows unclaimed property to be directly returned to the municipalities that might have monies in the state controller’s office.

The two bills Newsom vetoed dealt with establishing a state grant program to help low-income students pay for Advanced Placement tests and extending local control accountability plans to charter schools.

A spokesperson said more bills likely would be introduced before the February 21st deadline.
Smith also has spent time campaigning for Congress as she seeks to replace Katie Hill and/or win her own term. Her Facebook page shows she received an endorsement from Ventura County firefighters.

She did not respond to several invitations to debate from Cenk Uygur. Spokesperson Mackenzie Shutler said Uygur sent an offer December 23rd, 30th, January 3rd and 6th but never heard back. Smith Campaign Manager Brandon Zavala said her non-participation is “100 percent” because she’s in Sacramento.

Still, Uygur and fellow Democrats Anibal Valdez-Ortega, Christopher Smith and Getro Elize were scheduled to meet Thursday at Transplants Brewing Company in Palmdale. Shutler said no Republican candidates were invited.

Uygur, Valdez-Ortega and Christopher Smith in a joint statement accused Christy Smith of intimidating people trying to organize a debate.

“Ultimately, as the handpicked candidate by the Democratic Party in Washington, Christy Smith is doing everything she can to avoid giving the people of CA-25 a chance to hear her debate the issues with other candidates in this race before voting begins on February 3,” the statement said. “Each day she continues to dodge a debate, and even attempts to silence others from debating, is another day she refuses to answer the hard questions about the challenges facing the district, California, and our nation.”

Campaign spokesperson Lexie Kelly said Smith is focused on her Assembly work.

“As the only woman in the race, she will not be directed by a bunch of men from outside the district who are hosting a media stunt,” Kelly said. “She is already doing the job of delivering for the people of CA-25.”

The Dean is Back – Ken Dean’s Eighth Attempt to Win a City Council Seat

| City Council, News | January 9, 2020

To some, perhaps, Ken Dean might seem what the press seems to a professional athlete: a necessary evil that is part of the job you just have to deal with. Eventually they’ll go away, only to resurface again later.

Dean has attempted to win a city council seat seven times without success, although he has come close three times. He’s back for an eighth try, loudly beating the same drum he always beats — bemoaning the traffic and congestion. Now he’s added a new wrinkle with the need for affordable housing.

This time, his chances might just be different. Dean says more people are coming around to his thinking and as proof he points to the last two elections in which he finished fifth both times and received the highest vote totals he ever has.

Additionally, Signal Editor Tim Whyte predicted Dean will win; and with Bob Kellar retiring, one seat is wide open.

It’s not like Dean is unfamiliar to city officials beyond shouting how bad traffic is. He has served on several city committees, including the formation, open space, housing and ridgeline committees. He also opposed the city council’s approval of placing a Mello-Roos tax on the ballot and led the charge to defeat it.

He’s not alone in his belief that traffic is worse. Two Canyon Country residents, Alan Ferdman and Rick Drew, said as much. Ferdman criticized the city for not doing enough, and Drew said it’s going to get even worse once the Vista Canyon, Mint Canyon Plaza and Skyline Ranch projects are completed and opened.

Then again, maybe this is just another example of Dean raising his voice and not enough people responding. In the past seven elections, he has received a combined 31,645 votes and never reached 10 percent. Twice, he finished second to last: 10th of 11 in 2006 and 12th of 13 in 1994.

Additionally, Whyte wrote that he was “taking a flier just for fun” in predicting Dean’s victory, and neither Ferdman nor Drew endorsed him.

But Dean marches on undeterred.

“Traffic and congestion is a nightmare and a disgrace,” he declared, “and nobody does a damn thing about it.”

Dean has plenty of examples, but his most common ones are the intersection of Bouquet Canyon and Newhall Ranch roads, which he calls “a disgrace;” the section of McBean Parkway between Magic Mountain Parkway and Creekside Road and the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Ruether Avenue.

He also said what used to take him eight minutes to reach Valencia High via Newhall Ranch Road more recently took 20-25 “because (the city keeps) putting in traffic lights and doesn’t synchronize. The city says it’s synchronized. I say that’s insulting.”

Dean’s solution is to form two committees and task them with specific functions: a roads committee to develop roads through the Whittaker-Bermite area; and a traffic committee to synchronize signal lights and use bus egresses, or turn-ins, so stopped busses don’t block traffic lanes.

Doing nothing, he said, is out of the question because it would violate an early-cityhood objective to avoid turning into the San Fernando Valley. Now, Dean said, he has friends in Sherman Oaks and Studio City who say the traffic is worse in Santa Clarita.

Related to the traffic woes, he said, are the housing woes. If there is no affordable housing, people have to commute to the jobs, whether inside or outside of the city. More commuters mean more traffic. Therefore, affordable housing also is needed, he concluded.

Dean said he is excited for the new Costco to open at the Valencia Town Center. Costco typically hires minimum-wage workers, so he would like to see the city do something to make housing affordable for these and others.

To Dean, affordable housing means two-to-three bedroom units with one or two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining area and family room. They could be as small as 1,200 square feet and cost between $350,000 and $400,000. “They can’t be all houses that sell for $600,000,” he said. “They don’t have to be 2,500 square feet.”

Dean states he knows one-bedroom apartment rents run about $1,800 a month, not including utilities, food, gasoline and entertainment. Renting a room costs about $800 a month. “There’s no affordable housing out here,” he added.

But make no mistake, housing is secondary to traffic and Dean will continue to sound the alarm as long as there is a reason to sound the alarm.

“Everybody I talk to says, ‘You know, you’re right. Traffic and congestion are the number one issue,” he said. “Traffic, traffic, traffic.”

Will the eighth time be enough? The election isn’t until November.

“I’m saying what people want to hear, and I’m consistent,” Dean concluded.

Bob Kellar Signs On; Petzold Complains

| News | January 3, 2020

City Councilmember Bob Kellar might have inadvertently violated the council’s norms and procedures when he signed on in support of a Sulphur Springs School District bond measure that will appear on the March ballot.

 

Kellar acknowledged he supports Measure US, a $78 million bond for upgrading and replacing the roofs, heating and air conditioning units, repairing and upgrading playground equipment, repaving parking lots, improve landscaping, drainage and irrigation, improve ADA access and upgrade safety and security systems.

 

Kellar’s signature is on the county’s Declaration of Author(s) of Arguments or Rebuttals, along with the title, “Santa Clarita City Council,” according to Tim Dang, who heads the election planning section.

 

However, in a letter to the mayor also given to the Gazette, Steve Petzold, who wrote the argument against the bond measure, says Section 2B of the Council Norms and Procedures requires councilmembers to explicitly state that they represent themselves and not the council or city.

 

“The voters in the Sulphur Springs (district) may be tricked and deceived by the use of the title selected by Robert Kellar into believing that the City, and/or the City Council, support passage of a massive bond measure,” Petzold wrote. “I respectfully request that the City Council and the City issue a letter of clarification to me and local media indicating the fact that neither the city not the city council support passage of Measure US.”

 

Petzold said that when he saw the signature page, “I noticed he didn’t put Realtor, businessman, senior citizen or resident. I’m suspicious (he does) that intentionally.”

 

Kellar said he signed as he did thinking it would not be an issue. But he said he would contact the city attorney and if so advised would issue such a statement.

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