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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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Roa Confirms Miranda

| News | May 26, 2017

The former treasurer for the Latino Chamber of Commerce said he now has the documentation for the 2014 gala, confirming what Councilmember Bill Miranda told the Gazette after Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Marlon Roa, who sits on the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber’s board of directors, said Miranda gave him the Latino Chamber’s 2014 statement of financial income and expenses, which includes the gala.

“I know I have it in an email,” Roa said.

On Tuesday, Miranda said he had last week turned over the profit-and-loss statement to Roa.

“He emailed it to me. I looked at it. I said it looks good to me, and I sent it back to him,” Miranda said Tuesday. “I gave it to the people that need to have it.”

Roa said the gala grossed $34,440 against expenses of about $27,504. But he added that included in those expenses was $2,940 for a smaller chamber event, World’s Fair. Roa added that World’s Fair was a break-even event, but the approximate $2,900 in income is not included in the gala’s gross.

“I’m not seeing the breakdown,” Roa said. “It can’t be anymore than what we made.”

This is the second time Miranda has said Roa has the numbers. Previously, Roa told the Gazette he had only estimates that said about $34,000 in income and $27,000 in expenses.

Roa said he would make the documents available to the Gazette later this week.

Still unaccounted for are the documents showing how much money the Latino Chamber brought into the merger with the SCV Chamber, as well as the relevant Internal Revenue Service Form 990.

Water Merger Update

| News | May 25, 2017

The water bill that would consolidate the various water districts into one Santa Clarita Valley Water District hit a small speed bump on the way through the state Senate’s Appropriations Committee, but some supporters are confident it will, nonetheless, get through and move on to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 634, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Antelope Valley) had previously unanimously passed the Natural Resources and Water, as well as the Governance and Finance committees. But in appropriations, it got put into the “suspense file,” which is required for any bill that could cost the state at least $50,000 (Senate bills) or $150,000 (Assembly bills).

The suspense file is like a legislative limbo, a place where a bill can be held until lawmakers can determine if the state has the funds to pay for it. If so, the bill moves to the full Senate (or Assembly) for debate. If not, the bill dies.

According to several online sources, some people object to the suspense file because the bill doesn’t get a hearing or a vote, which is why the L.A. Times and the California Forward website (cafwd.org), say it’s “where bills go to die.”

In the Senate, the Times said, a bill’s author won’t know if the bill died because of money or politics (the Appropriations Committee is five Democrats and two Republicans). Wilk’s office did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

According to the committee report, SB 634 went into the suspense file because the state would lose income tax revenue when the private Valencia Water Company merges into the public SCVWD, estimated at the “low hundreds of thousands annually beginning in 2018-19” (the bill requires VWC to merge within six months of the new water district’s formation). Also, there would be an unknown loss of revenue from property taxes, and the agency that would oversee the water district, the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for the county, would not receive state money.

SB 634 will be heard with the other 259 bills currently in the suspense file on Thursday.

The local water boards, Castaic Lake Water Agency and Newhall County Water District, favor the bill, saying it will lower costs and streamline processes. NCWD president Maria Gutzeit said she is unconcerned that the bill is in suspense.

“My understanding is that is a normal process,” Gutzeit said. “They put all of them in suspense for two weeks, then they move forward. I was told (passing) was automatic.”

Among those that oppose is LAFCO. Executive officer Paul Novak said the agency, despite numerous attempts by CLWA and NCWD to its endorsement, still opposes it until more amendments are introduced. Novak has said he wants the bill to more clearly spell out the new district’s powers as they relate to LAFCO’s powers.

“At the end of the day, it’s a bill by the two water districts that Sen. Wilk has introduced on their behalf,” Novak said. “It’s not LAFCO’s bill. It’s their bill. We want a role for LAFCO.”

Another opponent is Comprehensive Development Consulting, whose president, Allan Cameron, listed 44 “fatal flaws” with the bill. Many of these refer to the lack of an election to determine if the voters want this new district.

Stacy Fortner, another opponent, said one issue is that the bill removes the public’s chance to protest anything. “It’s one more step into water privatization,” she said.

Signal Publisher Confronts Council

| News | May 25, 2017

Saying that the city deserves better governance, Signal Publisher Chuck Champion blasted City Councilmember Bill Miranda on Tuesday for repeatedly failing to make available the Latino Chamber gala and chamber-merger numbers he has promised to the Gazette; took offense at Miranda playing the race card against Gazette Publisher Doug Sutton; and suggested the other council members were lax in vetting Miranda before appointing him.

“I have issues with the reasons that you, in fact, put this member on this board. I brought that to (your) attention for you to look into it. Each one of you chose to say it wasn’t your responsibility,” Champion said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “Those monies have still not been accounted for. I am not standing here suggesting that anyone has stolen them. But I do suggest that if you place so much importance on an individual and his acumen to run a business, to be a CEO and chairman, then you should sit there and expect that those monies are accounted for.”

Miranda has repeatedly claimed he has the documentation from the 2014 Latino Chamber gala and the monies brought into the merger with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber, but repeatedly refused to produce them for the Gazette (on Tuesday, he said he had given some to former treasurer Marlon Roa; see sidebar).

He then accused Sutton and the Gazette of bias against Latinos, something Champion found unacceptable.

“That is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, it’s insulting, Bill, that you would dare accuse Doug, who you know so well, to surface this issue because you are Hispanic or Latino,” Champion said, his voice rising. “That’s not true, and that will not go unanswered.”

Councilmember Marsha McLean responded by stating, “For people who know me, they know very well that no one, no one, influences me on any decision that I make sitting up here. I make my own decisions, period.”

After the meeting, McLean said what was going on was “unfortunate.” Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste said, “We have to work our issues out.” Mayor Cameron Smyth said he hoped Miranda would come clean.

“I trust Mr. Miranda will address it, and he will answer the questions that are posed to him,” Smyth said. “I certainly understand the desire to make sure everything is presented accurately and so it doesn’t have to be done incrementally, but again, ultimately, that’s a decision for Councilmember Miranda to make.”

Miranda said nothing in response to Champion and later had no comment.

Outside council chambers, Champion said he regretted the Signal’s editorial stance favoring appointment, questioned why Internal Revenue Service form 990 had not been filed and took Miranda to task for failing to live up to a CEO’s responsibilities.

“I believe any CEO, any competent CEO, would have collected those records and submitted them immediately and eradicated any suspicion. Instead, he goes on the offensive to suggest race,” Champion said. “He claims he was a contractor, which is not true. He is on the incorporation documents. He is the CEO. There is documentation that he ran that organization, that he was responsible for those things, and a good steward would have closed this business in an appropriate way.”

Champion also took time to blast what he sees as state Sen. Scott Wilk’s undue influence. Wilk wrote a letter of recommendation on Miranda’s behalf. The Signal previously published an editorial decrying Wilk’s meddling in non-partisan elections.

“He’s ingratiated himself to all, and at some point, some have distanced themselves, recognizing it’s not good. So, there’s likely people on that board that are not as quote-unquote obligated to him as they once were, but look at what happened,” Champion said of Wilk. “He made calls. He not only wrote letters, he made calls. He lobbied for this individual. And they did nothing to vet that individual, which leads the council to a place where one of the council members is under a cloud of impropriety because he can’t account for, or won’t account for (the monies).”

Saugus realtor Steve Petzold applauded Champion’s comments but also questioned Champion’s timeline.

“He’s right on. I’m glad he’s joining the fight over what happened to the money,” Petzold said. “It’s a real deficiency, not a real vetting process, and that’s a demerit to the city.”

Later, he texted: “Chuck’s statement raises a lot of questions for me. How long has he known, when did he research it, when did he ask city council to consider?”

Champion stopped short of calling for Miranda’s removal from the council, in part because he wasn’t sure how Miranda could be removed (city spokesperson Carrie Lujan emailed that recall or resignation are the only ways).

But he made it clear that Miranda can and should clear this up.

“If he doesn’t successfully and completely present this information, then the council needs to look at who sits next to them. I need to see evidence that he produces,” Champion said. “He claims to have proof. He pounds desks with this hand on top of piles of paper and says, ‘I have the proof,’ and then does not produce it. That is a behavior of an individual that is not the behavior that our council members should engage in.”

Knight in Favor of Investigating Presidential Election

| News | May 18, 2017

Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) has taken a stand regarding the FBI’s investigation into Russia meddling in the last presidential election. According to the L.A. Times, Knight has called for a special prosecutor to take the lead.

“It is time for an investigation of Russia’s intervention in the U.S. election. There is too much at stake at home and abroad to not take this step. There is so much conflicting information from many sources; Americans deserve the opportunity to learn the truth,” Knight said in a statement. “As stated before, I continue to support any efforts done by the House Intelligence Committee and join many of my colleagues in supporting the assignment of a special prosecutor to take over the ongoing FBI investigation.”

Previously, Knight said President Trump had the right to fire FBI head James Comey, but he looked forward to what the Russia/Trump campaign investigation would reveal.

According to the Times, two other California Republicans also are calling for a special prosecutor: Darrell Issa of Vista and Tom McClintock of Elk Grove, although CBS News reported in February that Issa backtracked on that issue.

Bryan Caforio, Knight’s past and future opponent for Knight’s 25th Congressional seat, echoed Knight’s call for an independent investigation.

“If Congressman Knight is ready to put his partisan politics aside and get the American people the answers they deserve, he will sign onto the discharge petition,” Caforio said in a statement. “The fate of our democracy is on the line. For Knight to do anything less is simply lip service.”

War of the Words – Accusations of Bias

| News | May 18, 2017

From conservative budget cuts seen as discompassionate to Barack Obama’s detractors seen as racist, political optics fuel bias — and with 24-hour news, it occurs almost every minute of the day. Individuals in public office soon find that part of the job includes a greater spotlight and higher standards.

Locally, the Santa Clarita Gazette has been embroiled in its own twists on the subject. In April, the Gazette printed  articles addressing leadership of the local chambers of commerce after numerous hours of research and interviews. The process brought Santa Clarita City Councilman Bill Miranda into focus regarding an inquiry into money raised at the 2014 Latino Chamber’s gala.

The Gazette could not determine what happened to the money. No one was accused of embezzlement or misappropriation. The Gazette has repeatedly requested that Miranda provide the accounting of the funds raised, and he has not, most recently on May 12 during a radio show on KHTS that also featured Doug Sutton.

“What, I have to do your writing for you, too?” Miranda said during the broadcast. “Wait, I have to write your articles and proof your articles and edit your articles for you so you can attack me?”

Then Miranda accused the Gazette of bias, more specifically, racism.

“All of a sudden, the Latino gets into public office and the Latino chamber is under scrutiny with a microscope, and with the facts easily attainable, and being told where did the money go?” Miranda said during the broadcast. “What are we, a bunch of hoodlums? Are we perceived as a bunch of hoodlums? ‘Where did the money go?’ How do you explain where did the money go?”

There are no easy answers, and Miranda declined to comment for this story despite having said on the radio show, “Try quoting me a little more often and try quoting (the source who fed the Gazette the original idea) a little less often.”

Sutton was accused of neglecting to look into the Latino Chamber money matter while he served on the Santa Clarita Chamber’s board of directors.
“And I didn’t. To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention,” he admitted.

Allan Cameron has lived in the area a long time. So has Bob Kellar. Both have much experience dealing with the press. Yet neither of them understand why Bill Miranda refuses to show the Gazette the documents that could explain where the monies from the 2014 Chamber of Commerce gala went.

“It’s a strange thing to say, ‘I have it, but I’m not going to do your job for you,’” said Cameron, a community activst.

“Why would you choose to answer that way, I don’t know.” City Councilmember Kellar said, “You’d have to ask him.”

Role of Public Official
Former Hart School District school board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine co-chaired the 2014 Latino Chamber gala. She said Miranda and former treasurer Marlon Roa were ultimately responsible for the numbers.

“We (elected officials) are held to a higher standard because we are responsible for overseeing a huge budget,” Mercado-Fortine said. “(Bill Miranda) doesn’t understand his responsibility as an elected official, in terms of protecting the interest of the taxpayers.” (Miranda was not elected, but appointed.)

Michael Cruz, a Canyon Country resident who ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2006 and later served on the city’s parks, recreation and community services commission, said anyone running for, or appointed to, public office must expect a level of scrutiny.

“You need to get a thick skin,” Cruz said. “I think Bill is in the process of learning that.”

SCV Chamber Chairman of the Board John Musella backed Miranda in saying he doesn’t see the need to “spend valuable time digging out the evidence to prove otherwise.”

“I think the real story should be about why people are spending time spreading rumors about the (Latino Chamber) and the merger (with the SCV Chamber) with no proof of their baseless accusations,” Musella wrote. “What is their end game? What is the benefit to them? If they believe these things, surely they have proof of their claims. If not, the real story should be the source of the rumors and what they have to gain by making such disparaging accusations.”

Hart District Board President Joe Messina, also a radio show host, grabbed onto Miranda’s belief that the entire reason for the stories was because The Signal owners, who have a partnership with Doug Sutton, wanted the stories done. Sutton has denied this, but Messina said the viewpoint exists in the community.

“I don’t know if it’s a truth or a lie. I have heard stories from both sides,” Messina said. “If I’m sitting in Bill’s chair, I don’t know if it’s ever going to work out with me and them.”

Who’s Biased?
“Does the community at large think the Gazette is acting inappropriately, or is there some bias?”

Neither Berta Gonzalez-Harper, who founded the Hispanic Business Committee within the chamber and ran for city council in 2014, nor Mercado-Fortine nor Cruz thought so. Cruz name-checked Sutton as not racist, and Gonzalez-Harper was upset Miranda played the race card at all.

“You mean to tell me that because we have Hispanic surnames, we are judged solely and exclusively by that? Please,” she said.

Newspapers rely on people — leaders, whistle-blowers, activists, concerned citizens, people with their own agendas, etc. — to provide them with information that can more completely flesh out a story. Miranda’s refusal to provide information leads some to conclude he doesn’t have it.

“I still have documents from 2004,” said Gonzalez-Harper. “You’re telling me you don’t have documents. Something is screwy. Something is not right. … You’re going to want to keep copies … There’s no law prohibiting you from being transparent with finances.”

Most people, however, think the solution is for Miranda to produce what he says he has or admit he doesn’t. If he doesn’t put this behind him, Gonzalez-Harper said, it could hurt his chances for election. But nothing will happen as long as Miranda insists on holding on to what he says he has and the Gazette continues to insist he has to prove it.

Experts Weigh In

Political players lie, and many who don’t are accused of lying. The debate over why goes on indefinitely. What theories do mental health professionals have as to why a person would cling to what appears to be a lie or accuse others of bias, such as playing the race card?

Judi Lirman, a Tarzana-based marriage and family therapist, refers to the propaganda technique called “The Big Lie.” In it, people can’t believe someone could lie on such a scale, so they conclude the person is telling the truth.

As for playing the race card, Lirman says it’s a common diversion tactic, similar to what President Trump is doing, and can be explained thusly:

A parent asks Johnny why he hit his baby sister. Johnny replies that it’s because she poked him, so shouldn’t the parent be upset with the girl?

However, when asked about the Gazette’s ongoing dialogue with City Councilman Bill Miranda, Lirman acknowledges that he might have faced discrimination. “There’s a lot more discrimination in our society than what we want to believe,” she said. “He may be primed for that.”

What happens next, Lirman said, is a person’s fight-or-flight reflex kicks in. “As a public figure, he can’t just disappear,” she said. “He repeats it even if it’s preposterous. It’s out of panic. He’s doing an adult version of the temper tantrum in the hopes that you will go away and give him what he wants, which is to be left alone.”

Ron N. Gad, a licensed psychotherapist and Ph.D. candidate with the Beverly Hills Therapy Group, specializes in personal image and identity. “Every culture has that unconscious goal to be a part of the ‘other,’ not to be the ‘other.’”

Gad said he thinks Miranda playing the race card is related. “What you’re trying to do is put down the Hispanic people who are working so hard. ‘You’re accusing us rather than accusing me.’ When he or she looks to support and defend identity, it’s an identity of many layers, on every level. He is trying to stand up and say, ‘You’re wrong and this is why I’m defending my image, the image of my office, the image of every Hispanic person in this community, the image of every Hispanic politician.’”

Radio Debate Interrupted

| News | May 18, 2017

The co-owner of the local radio station said the glitch on Friday’s show featuring a city councilmember and the Gazette publisher was due to “a technical error.”

“Facebook crashed on us,” said Carl Goldman, who also hosted the program that featured Councilmember Bill Miranda and publisher Doug Sutton arguing about their feud over Miranda’s unwillingness to provide documentation of what the 2014 Latino Chamber of Commerce gala made and where the money went.

The debate was spirited. Miranda sounded like he was about to level some charge at Gazette publisher Doug Sutton when the video abruptly ended, causing some concern.

“Let me confirm for viewers (many that have contacted me) that this video is severely edited,” local activist and realtor Steve Petzold wrote on Facebook.

On Monday, Goldman said the entire audio of the show was on the website’s podcast, and the entire video was uploaded in two parts to YouTube. Goldman said every KHTS broadcast is backed up these ways.

“We always have three safety nets, so we know we can always capture it,” Goldman said.

Caforio Announces Congressional Campaign

| News | May 18, 2017

Saying he wants “to harness the unprecedented level of energy we have been witnessing, and to move this community in a direction that aligns with our values — not Donald Trump’s values,” Bryan Caforio announced he again will run for the 25th Congressional District seat.

“For us, it’s about continuing to build what we started in the last election,” said Caforio, who failed to unseat incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) in November, losing by 15,019 votes (54 percent to 46 percent).

Caforio, an attorney, slammed Knight for his vote favoring the American Health Care Act, which Caforio said would cost 46,000 constituents health care and affect 310,000 with pre-existing conditions.

“That’s basically one out of two people,” he said. “Look to your left, and if you don’t have a pre-existing condition, that person has, and if that person doesn’t have a pre-existing condition, it’s you.”

Caforio joins two others who already have declared. Katie Hill, 29, is the current executive director and deputy CEO of the non-profit PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), an organization working to end homelessness. Geologist Jess Phoenix, 35, runs an educational science non-profit called Blueprint Earth that maps the Mojave Desert. She’s running with help from 314 Action, which recruits people with science backgrounds to run for office.

“The Democratic Party is a big party. I think it’s great,” Caforio said of Hill and Phoenix. “Last time, there were as many as seven people running.”

Actually, only five vied in the primary.

Hill said she welcomes Caforio, with whom she has met and talked. “We’re excited for a spirited primary,” she said, “and no matter what happens once the primary’s over, we’re fully committed to unite after the primary and work to have the best representation in Washington.”

Caforio said in a press release that his kickoff on Saturday was the largest in the 25th District. Asked to justify, he responded, “Looking back, we’ve never seen anything like it, going back to the Buck McKeon days.”

He added his forecast for the next election.

“This is going to be the year the public is not voting as the Republican Party,” Caforio said. “Up and down the ballot, people are going to be looking out for their community and not for the donors and corporations, the special interests. … We are in 2017, in the richest country the world has ever known, and healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”

Political Briefs

| News | May 11, 2017

Bryan Caforio Considers Congress

Bryan Caforio, who unsuccessfully ran against Steve Knight for the 25th congressional district in November, said he might try again.

“I’m overwhelmed with the outpouring of support we got from people asking us to run,” Caforio said, “that my wife and I are seriously considering it.”

Caforio lost by 15,019 votes (54 percent to 46 percent) to Knight (R-Palmdale), who won a second term. Should Caforio enter the race, he would join two others who already have declared.

Katie Hill, 29, is the current executive director and deputy CEO of the non-profit PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), which works to end homelessness.

Geologist Jess Phoenix, 35, runs an educational science nonprofit called Blueprint Earth that maps the Mojave Desert. She’s running with help from 314 Action, which recruits people with science backgrounds to run for office.

 

Knight Staffer Resigns

Dan Outlaw, who served as Congressman Steve Knight’s (R-Palmdale) communications director for the past three and a half years, is leaving his post at the end of the week to return to California, he said.

Megan Dutra already has replaced him, and Outlaw is assisting in the transition.

Originally from Sacramento, Outlaw said he is heading to the Bay Area to work in his girlfriend’s family business, which is making gourmet gift bags.

Outlaw said he does not expect Knight to make a statement about his leaving because “I’m just a staffer.”

Miranda’s Claim Contradicted

| News | May 11, 2017

The former treasurer of the Latino Chamber of Commerce said he does not have the exact figures for how much the September 2014 gala made, contradicting what former CEO and current Councilmember Bill Miranda said.

Miranda told KHTS, “I have all the proof. We have all the numbers.” But when the Santa Clarita Gazette called him and asked him to name the time and place a reporter could pick up those documents, Miranda texted suggesting Marlon Roa has the documents.

However, Roa told the Gazette that he had only projected numbers and that the actual figures were turned over to the SCV Chamber of Commerce.
Roa shared his projections: The gala grossed $34,000 and had expenses of $27,000, leaving $7,000. The Gazette previously published Roa estimating the gala netted between $9,000 and $10,000, with Miranda saying, “That’s a more reasonable number.”

SCV Chamber CEO John Musella did not return a call requesting the documents.

Steve Knight: Everybody With a Pre-Existing Condition Will Be Covered

| News | May 11, 2017

Steve Knight reiterated that health care is difficult and there is much still to do, but he is satisfied with the House of Representatives’ version of the American Health Care Act that narrowly passed last week.

“We need some sort of health care that is affordable and sustainable. If we make a program that lasts years, how is that better, as opposed to a program that works for generations?” Knight said Tuesday during a 13-minute phone interview. “We know the other program (the Affordable Care Act) is dying in four years. You see states that are dead. … Virginia pulled out. Iowa has no coverage. … Is that a success?”

The AHCA includes an amendment (the Upton Amendment) that Knight signed onto that he says will ensure everybody with a pre-existing condition is covered. It calls for $8 billion from 2018-23 that would go into a pool to cover people with the highest-risk pre-existing conditions, people Knight said would “fall through the cracks” and not be covered without this pool.

While Knight (R-Palmdale) didn’t identify which pre-existing conditions would qualify, he did define “pre-existing condition” as “a condition that happens before you’re insured” and if there is a lapse in coverage due to losing your job or bankruptcy.

Despite Knight’s beliefs, Business Insider reported that the amendment does not specify that the $8 billion be used to help people with pre-existing conditions, but instead says the funds are to be used to “reduce premiums or other out-of-pocket costs of individuals who are subject to an increase in the monthly premium rate for health insurance coverage as a result of such waiver.”

This has led to speculation, including an article from Money magazine, that the bill would cover people with pre-existing conditions but at a rate so high that they couldn’t afford the coverage. An AARP report estimates those high-risk people could pay premiums as high as $25,700 a year. The Center for American Progress estimated that 46,400 people in Knight’s district would lose health care by 2026 under the AHCA. That’s the 29th most among the 53 congressional districts.

Area Democrats have come out firmly against the bill and, by extension, Knight. Bryan Caforio, who lost the election to Knight in November but is considering another run, said in a statement, “I could not be more disappointed to see our congressman choose to stand with Trump rather than with the hundreds of thousands of constituents in this community whose health care is in jeopardy because of this disastrous bill.”

Katie Hill, the executive director and deputy CEO of a non-profit that works to end homelessness who already has declared she will run against Knight in 2018, said in a statement, “The ACA always needed significant reform, but the AHCA is not the answer. The AHCA makes it so that people aged 50-64 could pay up to five times as much for health insurance. It eliminates the cap on how much those with pre-existing conditions can be charged for insurance. Yes, it guarantees access, but it does not guarantee affordability.”

Knight said he understands the protests, but insists he’s trying to pass legislation that will work in all 50 states. California and its ACA exchange, Covered California, have been insulated against some of the problems other states have experienced, he said, but it can’t separate from the program completely.

“We’re trying to do the best we can to make a sustainable and affordable healthcare system that can last for generations,” he said.

Hill said she hopes the Senate will produce a more responsible plan. Knight said he doesn’t know what the Senate will do. He criticized some unnamed senators who go on social media as “folks who love to (say) nonsensical things.”

“I don’t know until they start working,” he said. “I’m skeptical because they yell and scream knowing health care is difficult. We’ve done our job of moving forward a healthcare bill that is sustainable.”

And yet Knight acknowledged that there is more to do with health care. He would like to examine how to lower prescription drug costs in the future. “The House’s job is not over,” he said. “There are still a lot of healthcare issues.”

Miranda Disputes Gazette Article

| News | May 4, 2017

City Councilmember Bill Miranda disputed an article in the Gazette last month about the Latino Chamber of Commerce gala, but didn’t provide any additional details when requested.

Miranda took issue with Gloria Mercado-Fortine’s claim that Southern California Edison and the Gas Company each donated $10,000 (Mercado-Fortine previously clarified that statement, and the Gazette published a correction).

“I don’t want to get in a war with anybody, but if I have to, I will,” Miranda said during an interview with Carl Goldman on KHTS AM-1220 last week. “They are trying desperately to create something that didn’t exist. They’re saying the 2014 Latino gala had $10,000 donors. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

According to the video of the interview, Miranda then pounded his open right hand on some paper and declared, “I have all the proof. We have all the numbers. All we ask is, you really want to print something like that? Do your homework, OK?”

The Gazette twice called Miranda asking for those documents, even saying Miranda could name the time and place to give them, or he could deliver them to the Gazette’s offices at his convenience.

Miranda sent a text suggesting former treasurer Marlon Roa has the documents. A call to Roa’s insurance office was not returned.

Water Merger for Dummies

| News | May 4, 2017

Water. It’s a topic as boring as it is important to our existence. Locally, there’s an alphabet soup of water agencies: CLWA, NCWD, VWC, SCW. There are wholesalers and retailers. It’s enough to make one’s head spin and eyes glaze over.

But many things are happening that will affect residents and businesses alike in the coming months. So, here are facts everyone needs to know.

  1. How do people get their water now?
  2. Residents and businesses are currently served by four water agencies: Castaic Lake Water Agency, Newhall County Water District, Valencia Water Company, and Santa Clarita Water. CLWA owns VWC and SCW.

There currently are two types of water agencies: wholesaler and retailers. Wholesalers buy water from the state and sell it to other agencies. CLWA is a wholesaler.

Retailers provide water to customers using either state water it buys from wholesalers or from their own groundwater wells. NCWD, VWC and SCW are retailers.

  1. Have there been problems with having so many water providers?
  2. Too many providers have often meant redundancies, interagency conflicts, regulatory challenges and lawsuits. CLWA and NCWD have sued each other.

 

  1. Ouch. What’s changed?
  2. In late 2015, CLWA and NCWD representatives started to meet to discuss how to settle the lawsuits. In February 2016, then-NCWD Board President B.J. Atkins put forth a plan in which CLWA and NCWD would become one agency, thereby ridding itself of duplicate infrastructure, such as vehicle fleets, computers and desks. The goal, Atkins said, was reducing debt and operating in the ratepayers’ best interests. The agency, whatever the name, would comprise four departments: buying and importing state water, dealing with local ground and well water, focusing on capturing storm water, and water recycling.

After several public hearings, presentations to local businesses and a financial evaluation that determined both agencies were healthy, the CLWA and NCWD on Dec. 13 held a joint public board meeting and voted to enter into an agreement to settle litigation between the two agencies. The settlement agreement includes a commitment to seek state legislation to combine the CLWA and the NCWD into a new public entity.

  1. Why seek state legislation?
  2. Because the water agencies were created by state law (NCWD in 1953 and CLWA in 1962), it requires an act of law to combine into one agency.

 

  1. Is there any state legislation?
  2. Of course. State Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Antelope Valley) has submitted Senate Bill 634, which would create a single water district, the Santa Clarita Valley Water District.

 

  1. What would the new SCVWD look like?
  2. The new district would assume the current CLWA boundaries, meaning it would cover all of Santa Clarita, Castaic and up to the Ventura County line (the community of Val Verde would continue to be a customer, but would not become part of the new district. Also, VWC would become fully part of the new SCVWD within six months).

 

-The new SCVWD would assume the duties of wholesaler and retailer. It would continue to buy water from the state as CLWA did; and it would sell, manage and deliver that water, along with ground and well water, as NCWD, VWC and SCW did. It also would build, operate and maintain hydroelectric, solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy.

-Additionally, the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) must approve the SCVWD. LAFCO is a bureaucratic body formed to ensure local governments are operating efficiently. The bill says SCVWD must submit an application to LAFCO by Jan. 31, 2018, regardless of the bill’s status in the Legislature.

  1. Does the bill say anything about the board of directors?
  2. The bill details the board of directors. There currently are 15 board members between the two districts. That will be reduced to nine by Jan. 1, 2023. Those nine members will come from three electoral divisions, which are defined in the bill. Three people would be elected to the board from each electoral division for four-year terms. These board members would be paid the same amount as the salary the CLWA pays its members as of Dec. 31 of this year. The board must appoint a general manager, secretary and treasurer/auditor.

Between now and Jan. 1, 2025, the board may do the following only with a four-fifths majority: issue debt of more than $10 million and get rid of the independent ratepayer advocate. After Jan. 1, 2025, the board may do these things by simple majority.

 

  1. What is an independent ratepayer advocate?
  2. According to NCWD Board President Maria Gutzeit, it is a third-party expert in water rates that will advise the board on what rate to set. Gutzeit said enough people felt there was a need to bring in somebody who knows how rates are set by agencies of this size. “It’s a learning process for all of us, and we wanted another opinion,” she said.

On or before Jan. 1, 2019, the new SCVWD board will set rates.

 

  1. Bottom line: What is it going to cost me?
  2. Gutzeit and Atkins said combining into one agency means savings of $14 million over 10 years and about $1.62 million a year after that. But how much that means for an individual customer is unknown. State regulations and mandated conservation levels could affect rates. Since the board will ultimately decide how to spend the savings, it depends on who is on the board at the time. The board could use the savings on a host of things, such as technology upgrades, or it could pass the savings to the ratepayers.

Atkins said the current average is between $42 and $50 a month. He expects rates to be stabilized. “Imagine paying 2017 rates in 2030,” he said.

  1. Is there any opposition?
  2. Yes. Ed Dunn, a local water activist, objects to most of the bill, saying the public is not protected and he says, “The legislators must have their heads far up where it’s pretty dark.”

 

Dunn highlighted Sections 4 and 29. Section 4 deals with the debts and obligations of the various entities. Dunn fears that the SCVWD will assume all debts and obligations, and pass them on to the ratepayers. Atkins disputes this, saying that NCWD ratepayers will pay off its debt in 2018 and will not assume CLWA’s outstanding debt.

Sec. 29 says that no public corporation or agency that has the same purpose as the SCVWD can form in the SCVWD area without consent of the SCVWD board. “Whatever happened to government by the people?” Dunn wants to know.

  1. Is all this happening soon?
  2. No. Wilk’s bill is still making its way through the various Senate committees. It has passed the Natural Resources and Water committee, as well as the Governance and Finance Committee. It next must pass the Appropriations Committee before the entire Senate votes on it. Should the Senate approve, it would have to go through the same process in the Assembly before reaching the governor’s desk.

 

 

 

Chamber Chronicles: Recalling a History of Challenges

| Community | April 27, 2017

Bob Kellar remembers the date well.

“You mean July 5, 1995?” the councilmember asked.

Indeed. As the last president of the Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce, Kellar recalls the date he sat at a press conference announcing the unification of the Canyon Country Chamber with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce.

He also remembers the reason for the move.

Two years earlier, executive director Bonnie Barnard had made off with, according to Kellar’s estimates, between $75,000 and $80,000 over three or four years. She accomplished this by not paying taxes on the Handy Worker Program and instead keeping those monies. Later, the Internal Revenue Service got involved.

“We were not able to pay our bills,” Kellar said. “That’s what forced our hand. We were in a mess, make no mistake about it.”

Before the misappropriations, the Canyon Country Chamber “worked hard to represent businesses in Canyon Country,” Kellar said. Members would visit various businesses and survey what could be done to help their profits. These businesses were not necessarily chamber members, Kellar said.

“We were doing a form of economic development,” Kellar said. “The chamber lobbied for roads. We were very strong in the beautification of the area, and we’d give awards to businesses (who beautified the area).”

The big annual event was Frontier Days, a celebration of the Old West and Santa Clarita’s pioneering days. Attendance of more than 20,000 was common at the four-day event, which would feature a parade down a one-mile stretch of Soledad Canyon Road, country-western music and dance, concerts, a tractor pull, fake gunfights, carnival and a rodeo, which was located at the fairgrounds on which now sits the Vista Canyon development.

The event ran for 31 years, 29 in Canyon Country, and after the two chambers came together, at Saugus Speedway for a year and across the street (where River Village now sits) for a year.

According to an article in a festival program by Linda Pedersen, the early celebrations included donkey rides for the adults, plus muddy pig wrestling and greased pole contests for the children. There also was a Frontier Belle contest, in which the early winners had to demonstrate horsemanship.

Unfortunately, what chamber leadership failed to recognize was the possibility of a criminal in the midst. Barnard had been siphoning off funds for several years before Charlotte Tyree, daughter of Carolyn, the only full-time chamber employee, received a call from the bank informing them that a check had not cleared. That simple discovery led to a forensic audit that revealed the depths of Barnard’s wrongdoing. It centered on misappropriated funds from the Handy Worker Program, the same program now being run by the Santa Clarita Senior Center, which helps residents of low and moderate incomes repair their homes with work grants.

When the IRS came calling, Kellar met with the agent and assured him that, as a retired police officer, he was doing everything in his power to make this right.

“He got aggressive with me,” Kellar said. “He leaned in and told me, ‘You need to know that if we don’t resolve this, we’re coming after you.’”

Kellar said he sold a 1946 flatbed truck to help pay the costs.

Barnard never faced criminal charges. Instead, the two sides struck an agreement that if Barnard paid back at least $30,000, she wouldn’t be prosecuted. She did, and she and her husband, Grant, a bigwig with the Elks, moved to Palmdale.

“I don’t think her husband had a clue,” Kellar said. “I’m sure he was embarrassed.”

Grant Barnard died in 2011. There is a Bonnie Barnard listed as a member of the Palmdale Chamber of Commerce, but calls to the listed number were not returned.

Kellar believes that is the same Bonnie Barnard who caused such problems years ago. He knew the Barnards had moved to Palmdale, and he warned someone he knew not to let Bonnie near any money.

But the damage had been done. Adding to the problem was that the chamber did not carry directors’ and officers’ liability insurance, Kellar said, because no one saw a need.

Kellar and the leadership had no choice but to seek out the Santa Clarita Chamber to protect the Canyon Country members. Nine Canyon Country board members, including Kellar, became members of the Santa Clarita board; Carolyn Tyree went to work for the SCV Chamber.

“It certainly is a regret,” Kellar said. “We had every confidence in her. How many times have you heard this story? You have to always keep your guard up. There will always be somebody to play by different rules.”

Chamber Cornered by Costs

| News | April 27, 2017

Late last year, The Gazette asked the question, “Is the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce in trouble?” There had been some layoffs, membership was down, and the city was holding fast to its annual financial commitment.

Now, the question can be asked again. The chamber is out of its offices on Tournament Road, the result of a lease it couldn’t afford, and has taken up temporary digs in City Hall. Additionally, the chamber board eliminated its president/CEO position in March, widely believed to be another cost-cutting move. Lois Bauccio, who was interviewed for this story before being let go, had held the position since September.

Is the chamber in trouble? Depends on whom you ask.

Reached after her position’s elimination, Bauccio stood by her original statements.

“We are challenged, but it’s not a lack of wellness,” she said in early March. “We’re not an organization that will ever have large amounts of money.”

However, Councilmember Bill Miranda, who was on the board of directors until he had to resign in January to take his council seat, has a different view.

“The chamber is not financially well yet,” he said. “We need to find a place better suited to running a chamber.”

One of the biggest problems was the lease. Unlike many agreements that call for a fixed monthly amount, the chamber and building owner entered into a 10-year agreement in 2010 that saw the rent increase over time.

According to former chamber President and CEO Terri Crain, the chamber paid a security deposit of between $10,000 and $15,000 and then for the first six months enjoyed a rent abatement, which called for deferred rent for the first six months and half rent the second six months. But after a year, the abatement ended and the back rent came due. Crain said the rent jumped to $8,800 a month in 2011, when she became president.

“When I walked in and realized what the rent was escalating to, I started campaigning the first three or four months, either move or renegotiate the lease because the rent wasn’t sustainable,” she said. She criticized the board as being “apathetic. Basically, they nodded their heads and said yeah.”

The rent increased to $9,000 a month in 2012, then $10,000 in 2013, then $10,500 in 2014. Crain estimated that by the end of the 10 years, the rent would have reached $15,000 a month. And that didn’t include maintenance fees and taxes.

One problem was that the membership numbers were down from the late 1990s-early 2000s high of about 1,800 members. Bauccio said that basic dues are $360, and she put the current membership at about 1,100. Using those numbers, it would lead to $396,000, or $252,000 less than some 17 years ago (although Bauccio said there are other membership levels, which would offset some of that difference).

But the rent would have gone as high as $180,000 a year. Assuming everybody pays the minimum dues, it leaves the chamber with $216,000 to operate, hardly enough. It should make sense that the chamber had to lay off employees, most notably Bauccio (they currently have two; at their peak, they had seven).

They thought they were going to get a membership and financial boost in 2015 when the Latino Chamber of Commerce merged into the SCV chamber. But Crain said only about $2,000 came into the chamber coffers, and the 100 new members she thought she was getting was really more like 30.

“The rest hadn’t paid or were just listed,” she said. “There was always a story.”

Crain also said the chambers believed the merger would lead to more revenue for a single entity. Instead, she said, “That was not how it worked. It was people saying, ‘Yahoo! One less thing to give money to.’ ”

Meanwhile, the lease still had to be paid. Bauccio said the chamber attempted to sublet some of the space, but a deal between the landlord and two private parties fell through. Bauccio saying the chamber had nothing to do with it, and she was looking to sublease the space when she was let go.

“Anybody you know who needs 3,000 square feet?” Bauccio asked. “It’s a constant effort to be the most fiscally responsible chamber.”

The city got involved and gave it free space for one year; personnel moved in Jan. 1, city Economic Development Manager Jason Crawford said. He also said that the city would continue to honor its $40,000 annual commitment to the chamber.

“They have not asked for more, and we don’t intend to provide them more or less,” Crawford said.

Councilmember Bob Kellar, a big fan of chambers of commerce going back to the days of the Canyon Country chamber, said he would like to see the chamber enter into discussions with the Valley Industry Association (VIA) and see “if there is any opportunity to come together. Both are struggling,” he said.
VIA and the chamber share some goals, specifically helping various businesses and business interests connect and collaborate. Both are partners with the city, which gives VIA $8,000 a year.

However, Kellar said, the two groups have not met. “It’s their decision,” he said, “but I would do anything to facilitate.”

VIA CEO/President Kathy Norris declined comment other than to say, “We think the chamber’s wonderful.”

This is far from the first time a local chamber of commerce has been in financial trouble. In the 1990s, the Canyon Country chamber couldn’t pay its bills and became part of the SCV chamber after its executive director was found to have stolen tens of thousands of dollars (see Chamber Chronicles on page 11). And the Latino Chamber of Commerce also merged into the SCV chamber in 2015 amid financial woes.

The current health of the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce also pales when compared to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which receives $200,000 each from the city and county. Many large businesses have fled the chamber for the EDC, although many on the EDC executive committee are also chamber members. But many EDC directors are not, and there are no immediate plans for the EDC to rescue the chamber in any meaningful way, although EDC President/CEO Holly Schroeder didn’t rule it out.

Miranda said the first step toward financial stability is to collect dues and to remind those who resist paying of all the benefits they get with membership. Bauccio said a leadership void (Jim Bizzelle served for three months as interim president between Crain’s April 2016 resignation and Bauccio taking over in September) led to delinquency. Now that Bauccio has been let go, the board’s executive committee, led by Chairman John Musella, is in charge, but whether that contributes to a void remains unknown (Musella did not respond to an email request for comment).

Another potential problem: Crain said that times have changed and chambers face competition from various other networking groups, as well as from people who choose to give their money to their own personal causes rather than to a chamber.

“They don’t care if you go to Sacramento to fight for you,” Crain said of one service a chamber provides. “They need customers in their stores. The rest of what a chamber does is irrelevant to them.”

Miranda said he hopes that isn’t the case.

“What I hope will happen with our chamber is that it would start looking at the other networking groups, find out what they offer and start offering that,” Miranda said. “The chamber’s a networking organization, and if you yield the networking responsibilities, then Terri’s right and there’s no reason for the chamber.”

Messy Merger

| News | April 20, 2017

Back in September 2014, the Latino Chamber of Commerce held one of its more successful gala fundraisers. Memories being what they are, people aren’t sure exactly how much it netted. Estimates range from $9,000 to $17,000, but regardless, it was considered a successful event.

How much was really raised, and where that money went, however, remain a mystery. According to activist Steve Petzold, who emailed the Gazette a copy of the letter he received from the Internal Revenue Service, the IRS does not have the chamber’s Form 990 from the fiscal years ending June 30, 2015 and June 30, 2016. This is the form that provides the public with financial information about a nonprofit organization.

All of the involved parties, from the gala chairpersons to the relevant chamber officers, spoke with the Gazette and tried their best to recall. But their reports resulted in several conflicting stories on the record, mostly about the Latino Chamber’s last months before becoming part of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce in early 2015.

 Gala Memories

Gloria Mercado-Fortine and Henry Rodriguez chaired the event. Current city councilmember Bill Miranda was the president and CEO at the time, and he recalled staying out of the planning stages because “Henry and Gloria wanted autonomy and we said, ‘Fine.’”

Mercado-Fortine said the autonomy covered only the program. “We decided on the speakers. We decided on the entertainment,” she said. “As CEO, he attended every meeting, and so did (treasurer) Marlon Roa.”

Regardless, Miranda said, “I remember (the gala) well. We probably had 300 attendees, and the average attendee probably paid $75.”

Roa agreed that the event “went well,” but since it was held at the Hyatt Regency Valencia, “expenses were high,” he said.

 How Much Money?

Based on Miranda’s recollection, the gala grossed at least $22,500; after that, things get cloudy. Mercado-Fortine recalled Southern California Edison and the Gas Company donating $10,000 each, something Miranda disputed.

“I think Gloria is so far off base as to what was raised,” he said. “Ten thousand dollars from two sources? Are you kidding me? That’s more than we ever raised at any gala.”

Roa estimated the gala netted between $9,000 and $10,000. “That’s a more reasonable number,” Miranda said.

Rodriguez said Miranda and Roa were ultimately responsible for the numbers. “We were, more than anything, planning the actual event,” he said. “I wasn’t responsible for the financials of it all. … Bill and Marlon, I didn’t step on their toes over that.”

 Who Should Have Filed with the IRS?

According to CPA Randy Michel, a partner with WongHolland LLP in Woodland Hills, a nonprofit with a fiscal year ending June 30 must file Form 990 by Nov. 15, or Feb. 15 if granted an extension.

But since the IRS has no record of receiving those forms, somebody didn’t do the job. Now it’s hard to find someone to take responsibility.

Roa said that since the two chambers had merged by June 30, it would have fallen to then-SCV Chamber President and CEO Terri Crain to ensure the documents were filed.

Crain said either Roa or Bob Pacheco, a CPA, was supposed to file with the IRS, but it also could have fallen to then-SCV chamber treasurer Steve Chegwin. A source told the Gazette that Chegwin had begun the process, but Crain told him to stop because Roa was going to do it.

Rodriguez said Miranda would have taken care of it. Miranda said Roa would have given the figures to Pacheco and Pacheco would have been responsible for filing. But Pacheco had already left the Latino chamber in protest of the merger (Pacheco has steadfastly refused to comment on any chamber matter).

To this day, it appears no one has filed. “I don’t know what the repercussions would be” for failing to file, Michel said.

According to the IRS website, the penalty for failing to file is $20 a day, with a maximum of either $10,000 or 5 percent of the organization’s gross receipts for that year, whichever is less.

And Finally…

The merger between the two chambers happened around January 2015, or about four months after the gala. According to Roa and Crain, only between $1,000 and $2,000 came over from the Latino to the SCV chamber. No matter the amount, Crain said any monies would have been deposited into the SCV Chamber’s general fund; in this case, however, she recalled that money instead was put into membership to help fund the Latino members who were now SCV Chamber members.

That leaves thousands of dollars unaccounted for, and with no IRS forms to explain, one question remains.

Where’s the money?

 

The Championship Cycles

| Sports | April 13, 2017

by Lee Barnathan 

Those who pay attention to area prep sports know that certain teams seem to be at the top of the league every year. Those who have been here for decades recognize that teams might enjoy sustained success for a time and then falter.

Call them championship cycles. Every school has them in some sports.

Consider:

  • Canyon won eight football league titles and three straight sectional crowns in 10 years, then finished near the bottom of the league standings before rising again to win consecutive section titles and one state championship. Hart has won nine sectional titles, including four in a row and five in six years – between 1998-2003. But the school’s football team hasn’t won a league title since 2009, although it won the section title and reached the state title game in 2013.
  • Golden Valley stayed near the cellar in most sports, then won back-to-back league titles in boys’ basketball and a state cross country title. Before that, the Saugus girls won five straight state cross country titles from 2006-2010.
  • Hart dominated in cross country for decades (including a national title in 1991), but now hasn’t won a league title since 2009. However, Hart currently won four straight girls’ soccer league titles and has dominated in swimming, having won 32 of 33 girls’ and 18 consecutive boys’ league titles in one recent stretch.
  • Canyon was the area power in boys’ and girls’ volleyball, winning a combined 25 league titles between 1971-2000. Valencia now has won a combined 26 league titles since 2001. That includes a national title in 2008.
  • Saugus dominated softball in the 1990s, wining six league crowns. Then Valencia won nine in a row in the 2000s, including a national title in 2007.
  • Hart dominated in baseball with 16 league titles between 1982-2001 and a section championship in 1999. But West Ranch has dominated lately, winning three of the last five league crowns.

“Things go in cycles,” William S. Hart Union High School District Director of Human Resources and Equity Resources Greg Lee said. “Teams rise and fall. They go in cycles.”

How do these cycles work? What are the factors that go into periods of sustained excellence? In talking to various coaches and athletic directors, the following factors all play a role.

Coaching consistency. Look at any successful program and you’ll see no coaching carousel. Canyon football under Harry Welch, Hart football under Mike Herrington, Valencia football under Larry Muir, Hart swimming under Steve Neale, Valencia girls’ basketball under Jerry Mike, Canyon girls’ basketball under Jessica Haayer, Valencia boys’ volleyball under Kevin Kornegay. And so on.

“All of the coaches have been around a long time,” Valencia’s athletic director, Brian Stiman, said. In fact, since Valencia opened in 1994, Stiman and Muir are the only two to ever coach varsity football.

 

 

 

 

But it’s not just the head coach. For years, Herrington’s brother, Rick, has been defensive coordinator. Brother Dean Herrington, now the head coach at Paraclete in Lancaster, once ran the vaunted run-and-shoot offense that turned Hart into a football factory.

At Canyon, Welch was joined by Stiman and Enrique Lopez (who became Valencia’s first athletic director). Kornegay, who has a football background, learned from people such as Mark Knudsen, who still assists the Valencia girls’ program.

Contrast that with Hart boys’ volleyball, which has had 12 coaches in 13 years. It’s no wonder Hart hasn’t won a league title since 1993.

“Keeping a coach, that’s a huge problem,” Linda Peckham, Hart’s co-athletic director, said.

That special group of kids. Every once in a while, a program will get an influx of talent that will transform a program.

“When I was coaching (basketball), you teach the game to be played the right way, how to play hard,” Saugus athletic director Jeff Hallman said, “and then every couple of years you get that special group. It all comes together and you pop back up to the top.”

Sometimes that talent is one player: Chad Strickland was singularly responsible for Hart’s only two boys’ volleyball league titles, in 1992-93.

Sometimes, the talent is in one sport. Canyon girls’ basketball got what Canyon athletic director Scott Arnold called “a very special group of girls” that has keyed Canyon reaching the sectional final in consecutive seasons (2016-17).

Sometimes, the talent crosses more than one sport. Peckham said that from the moment Hart’s Class of 2013 stepped on campus in fall 2009, “They transformed our programs, boys and girls. They were so strong across the board.”

Sometimes, the talent is home-grown – that is, the kids are at their neighborhood, or home, school; sometimes transfers come in.

“It’s not uncommon to attend three high schools in four years,” Stiman said.

Population pool. According to Hart district spokesman Dave Caldwell, the schools currently have enrollments of between 2,400 and 2,500 students, except for Valencia, which is closer to 3,000. This means Valencia can draw from a larger pool of potential talent.

“There’s strength in numbers,” Peckham said. “That’s when the bigger schools have an advantage.”

Stiman disputes this, saying his school’s special education programs are larger than at any other district school, which “definitely skews our population size.”

But there is some validity to the notion that more schools can potentially dilute the talent pool for any one school. When Valencia opened in 1994, it started to draw kids from Castaic, and Stiman points to a group of football players from Castaic as a factor in the Vikings finally beating Hart in football in 2004.

“You have to look at the enrollment of the school and the size of schools,” Lee said. “Two versus four versus six. We’ll have Castaic soon, and you’ll see a shift. … When Castaic starts, they’ll take students from Valencia.”

Success breeds success. Peckham says it’s a cliché to say so, but it’s nonetheless true. Kids who come into a winning program want to continue the winning tradition. No one wants to be responsible for the winning to end.

Stiman said it’s part of a cycle: A coach on campus who interacts with the kids develops communication and a rapport, which breeds respect, which makes kids want to work hard, “and when they work hard, you have success,” he said.

Another factor is the feeding programs. Club sports, especially in soccer and volleyball, have helped Valencia and Hart stay competitive. Longstanding youth football and track programs have led to sustained excellence in the area.

Peckham points to the four community swimming programs that feed Hart: Old Orchard I, Old Orchard II, Summit and Valencia Hills.

“These kids all get to be decent swimmers,” she said. “You get depth, and depth in league championships is key because (in swimming), they score in the top eight. That has been a factor.”

 

Chamber Suffers from EDC Effect

| News | April 13, 2017

by Lee Barnathan 

Like many cities, Santa Clarita has a chamber of commerce and an economic development corporation, each with its own functions. The EDC’s purpose is to attract new businesses and industries into the area. The chamber works on behalf of its members to maintain a healthy business climate.

Yet some people believe that these two entities sometimes work at cross-purposes, resulting in the EDC unintentionally contributing to the chamber’s financial woes.

“I would have to agree with that,” former chamber President and CEO Terri Crain said. “My opinion is, by the city and county funding the EDC, it made the chamber seem irrelevant. If you wanted to join the exclusive club, you joined the EDC.”

Not everyone shares this viewpoint. EDC President and CEO Holly Schroeder and City Councilmember Bob Kellar, whose chamber experiences reach back to the days of the Canyon Country Chamber, say the EDC and chamber are complementary.

“The EDC’s focus is in bringing in what we call ‘traded clusters,’” Schroeder said, naming aerospace, biotech and entertainment as examples. “We’re not focusing on whether we bring in a Cheesecake Factory or not.”

EDC origins

There has been a chamber of commerce in the area since at least 1957, but the EDC is much newer. In 2011, in the midst of the Great Recession, a committee of chamber members led by attorney John Shaffery and Bill Kennedy met with College of the Canyons President Dr. Dianne Van Hook and others to discuss bringing some sort of economic development organization into the area.

“We saw an additional opportunity to create responsible business in Santa Clarita,” Kellar said. “The city had an economic development office. We saw an opportunity to bring good, solid companies and good paying jobs into Santa Clarita.”

“We knew we needed to be proactive and drive the bus on that strategy,” Schroeder said.

Together with city and county officials, they examined different models and came up with their own. Then they asked the city and county for startup and continuous funds. The city and county each agreed to pony up $200,000 annually with the understanding that there would need to be private contributions, and these would have to increase over time.

According to City Economic Development Manager Jason Crawford, those private contributions started around $6,250. Contribute $25,000 and you buy yourself a seat on the executive committee, Crawford said. There also is a board of directors that is limited to 50 (there currently are 33).

The hope was always that once the new businesses and industries came to Santa Clarita, they would join the chamber of commerce, and this has happened to some extent. Of the current 14 EDC executive committee members, 11 are also chamber members. But only nine of the 33 directors are chamber members (six others have the organization, but not the person, listed as a chamber member).

Differing viewpoints

There was always inequality from the start, beginning with the amount the city gives each. The EDC gets five times the $40,000 the chamber gets, something that Crain didn’t seem too happy about.

“I joked that you could slap the EDC label on a cow’s behind if it gave money,” she said. “What an incestuous, entitled group of people.”

It continues, said TimBen Boydston, a longtime resident and former councilmember, with the amount of money one must contribute to join the EDC. The EDC executive committee aside, many businesses don’t want to pay big bucks to join the EDC and the chamber.

The inadvertent result, Boydston said, is “The EDC has replaced the chamber. The chamber had different levels. Big businesses pay more, little businesses pay less. When the EDC was formed by the city and the county, they became the big dog in town. It costs a lot to be in the EDC. It takes all that money. The chamber has only the little businesses.”

Said Crain: “Most of them left, or they did very little with the chamber.”

To paraphrase Leon Worden, a longtime resident and head of SCV TV, say you own a flower shop. The EDC’s job is to identify a need and bring in that business. But the little mom-and-pop flower shop that belongs to the chamber doesn’t want more competition being brought into the valley.

Yet, Worden also said, “I don’t know if I’d characterize the EDC as killing the chamber.”

He isn’t alone. Kellar sees a complementary relationship between the two. “There are companies that bring employment opportunities, and those people spend money on mom-and-pops,” he said.

Can the EDC rescue the chamber?

Schroeder said it’s good for the business community to have a strong and healthy chamber to go with the EDC. But, the challenge is how to make the chamber stronger and healthier.

Crawford has said the city has tried to help by giving the chamber a year of free digs at City Hall, which began Jan. 1. Would the EDC help in some way, too, perhaps by making a financial donation?

“That is a great question. I don’t have an answer for it,” Schroeder said. For that to happen, the board must discuss and approve such a move, but as of now, “there have not been any formal (talks) like that,” she said. Nor is there a scheduled board meeting for another month, she said.

She also hasn’t spoken to the 18 board members who are not chamber members about joining, but she said she wouldn’t be opposed to it if the board asked her to.

However, Schroeder said, the EDC has tried to help by telling its businesses that the chamber is “a business resource that is available to join.” Members have also told various businesses that are either moving into the area or expanding that there is space in the chamber’s former building on Tournament Road that could be sublet.

“We haven’t found success yet,” she said.

That building remains vacant, and the EDC remains in far better shape than the chamber.

 

A Knight in Waiting

| News | March 30, 2017

The House never voted on the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever know how Congressman Steve Knight would have voted.

According to an email from spokesman Dan Outlaw, Knight (R-Palmdale) never saw the final version of the American Health Care Act, “so it is impossible to take a position on it.”

“As you know, the bill was changed several times throughout the process and even more changes were being considered in the final hours before a vote was planned,” Outlaw said. “We were paying close attention to how each amendment or change would affect members of our community, and many of these proposals would have had serious implications.”

Knight released this statement: “Rebuilding a healthcare system that works for Americans and families is an extremely important and complex topic, and my colleagues and I were, unfortunately, unable to reach a consensus on how best to repair our flawed current policy. I look forward to continuing to work to advance patient-centered healthcare laws that provide sustainability and stability for members of our community and the health care system as a whole.”

Outlaw said Knight was in Washington on Friday and would have cast a vote.

In clarifying Knight’s statement, Outlaw said in the email that Knight supports “replacing the most harmful and unsustainable pieces of the failing Affordable Care Act. He did express concerns that some versions of the AHCA would be harmful to certain members of our community, such as individuals between the ages of 50 and 64, while not do enough to reduce our federal deficit, which is one of the biggest threats facing our nation.”

President Trump has signaled a desire to move away from healthcare and work on tax reform. Outlaw repeated that until there is any legislation before the House, “(W)e cannot take a position. Rep. Knight does feel that our tax system needs to be reformed in order to grow our economy and allow families to plan and save for their future.”

This is far from the first time Knight has not taken a stand. After Trump signed his first executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations, the Los Angeles Times listed the viewpoints of all 55 members of the California delegation. Knight was one of the few to take no official view.

What Knight has been doing is joining a bipartisan effort to urge the Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate and address ongoing problems with the VA’s crisis line program.

Veterans’ issues have long been something Knight cares about deeply. In 2016, he supported the “No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act,” a bill that required the VA to establish a management plan for the Veterans Crisis Line.

Earlier this year, he reintroduced the No Hero Left Untreated Act, which would establish a pilot program for the VA to provide a promising neurological treatment to help veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, chronic pain and opiate addiction.

Westfield Mall Avoids Brick-and-Mortem

| News | March 30, 2017

The news has been grim for brick-and-mortar stores and shopping malls. But the Westfield Valencia Town Center seems to have avoided many of the problems.

True, there are currently 10 store vacancies, according to a map on the mall’s website. But with a new music venue coming in September, things seem to be looking up locally.

Tentatively called Canyon Santa Clarita, the venue will occupy the space of the former Red Robin restaurant, plus space from four adjoining businesses that will be moving out, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

The venue owner, Lance Sterling, also owns the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, The Rose in Pasadena and the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.

“We’re excited about this,” Sterling told the Tribune. “It allows us to get bigger and better with multiple locations. People don’t want to drive to downtown L.A. to see REO Speedwagon. But they would go see them if it was only eight to 10 miles away. Eighty percent of our clientele lives about that far from our venues.”

This good news out of Valencia flies in the face of what’s happening in retail around the country. According to the Arizona Republic:

–JC Penney is closing 138 stores and offering buyouts to 6,000 workers “as it attempts to cut costs and shrink its retail footprint.”

–Kmart is closing 108 stores and Sears is closing 42 stores. Sears, which owns both chains, told the Republic, “Substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue.”

–Macy’s said at the beginning of the year that it has either closed or will shutter 68 stores, including Simi Valley, and reports have surfaced that the company may be put up for sale.

–Radio Shack this month filed for bankruptcy for the second time (the first was in 2015) and will close 187 stores, bringing the total to more than 2,400. The latest closings could affect 1,850 employees.

And Bloomberg News is reporting that Payless might file for bankruptcy and close 400 to 500 stores.

The reasons for these closings: More and more people are shopping online.

This is not a new phenomenon. According to a 2012 article in The Atlantic, “(T)he e-commerce revolution is seriously impacting commercial real estate. … These mall and shopping center stalwarts are closing stores by the thousands, and there are few large physical chains opening stores to take their place.”

Yet, somehow the problems seem to not exist at the Valencia Town Center. The store’s JC Penney, Sears and Macy’s are not on the Republic’s list of closings, and in September, the mall will welcome that 25,000-square-foot music venue.

Joel Alvarez, a sales associate at Guitar Center in Stevenson Ranch, told the Tribune that Canyon Santa Clarita should liven up the area’s music scene.

“This will be a big deal,” he said. “I think it will definitely draw large crowds.”

Seats will typically cost $20 to $38, with some front-and-center seating running more. That’s much less (and much closer) than what people pay to see a show at Staples Center or the Microsoft Theatre at L.A. Live.

“Residents have been asking for a venue like this for quite some time and the city was proactive in going after this,” city economic development associate Evan Thomasen told the Tribune. “We let them know there would be an audience that’s hungry for this. The venues (Sterling) runs draw some very big, recognizable names. That will be a real benefit for people who are looking for local entertainment but don’t want to drive to the San Fernando Valley or L.A.”

It’s a Little Early, Don’t You Think? No, They Don’t.

| News | March 18, 2017

Dante Acosta and Steve Knight have been in office only a few months — Knight since Jan. 3 and Acosta since Dec. 5 — and the next election won’t be until Nov. 6, 2018. Yet, they already have opponents.

Christy Smith has announced she will again seek Acosta’s 38th state Assembly seat; and Katie Hill, executive director and deputy CEO of the non-profit PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), has stated her intent to challenge Knight in the 25th Congressional district.

“Why so early? The biggest thing is I am an unknown name,” Hill said. “It’s going to take me a lot of time to build up that name recognition.”

Hill said she expects the 25th to be one of the most hotly contested districts in the country, as it was in 2016 when Knight (R-Palmdale) defeated attorney Bryan Caforio by 16,300 votes and seven percentage points.

Hill said she has reached out to Caforio, and she hopes to talk to him next week. She also has reached out to Smith, who didn’t return numerous calls. Hill said Smith also declared early because “It’s a tough race and (she wants) to get going.”

Acosta defeated Smith by about 11,100 votes and five percentage points.

“I need to start fundraising right away,” Hill said. “I need every bit of the time and money to win it.”

Through a spokesperson, Acosta declined comment. “He’s focused on doing the job that the district elected him to do,” Chief of Staff David Creager said.

Knight political consultant Matt Rexroad said in a statement, “Last election Nancy Pelosi and the folks in Washington DC imported a Beverly Hills trial attorney. They wasted millions of dollars. We don’t know Ms. Hill but look forward to the upcoming election cycle.”

Who Cares About Sierra Highway?

| News | March 16, 2017

Bob Kellar estimates he drives on Sierra Highway “10 times a week” and sees how stretches of it are poorly maintained – potholes, cracks, garbage and faded lines. It’s enough to frustrate anyone, let alone a city councilmember.

“So many roads, at a point in time, they will all find themselves in a state of disrepair,” Kellar acknowledged.

So, why doesn’t the city do something about it? Back in the fall, parts of Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country were paved as part of the city’s Road Rehab Project. Kellar said the city spends between $8 million and $10 million (the city’s website puts it at about $9.5 million) annually on slurry seal and overlay road preservation to improve roadways and extend their lives.

Sierra Highway, however, is different because although the road runs right through the city, it is mostly Caltrans’ responsibility and has been for decades.

“We don’t own it as a city,” Kellar said.

Sierra Highway has been in bureaucratic limbo ever since the Antelope Valley Freeway was built in 1971. Before that, Sierra Highway was designated state Route 14, and parts of the road that run through the city never lost that designation because the state never finished decommissioning Sierra as SR 14. City Director of Public Works Robert Newman said the stretch from 500 feet north of Newhall Avenue to Friendly Valley Parkway is still officially State Route 14U (for “Un-relinquished”).

Since before incorporation, Newman said, Caltrans and Santa Clarita have been in talks to have Caltrans relinquish control of Sierra Highway to the city.

As is often the case, state law, specifically the Streets and Highways Code, makes this perhaps harder than it has to be. Secs. 73 and 27 of the Code say that the street in question’s condition must be at a certain standard, vaguely called “state of good repair,” before it can be relinquished.

Newman said this happened about 15 years ago, when the city took over parts of San Fernando Road and Magic Mountain Parkway. At a cost of $5 million, which the state paid to the city, the roads were repaired and restriped. San Fernando Road was later renamed Newhall Avenue and Railroad Avenue.

The city has its eyes on a .7-mile stretch of Sierra Highway between Golden Valley Road and Friendly Valley. Newman said that in the past, Caltrans has hesitated relinquishing small stretches and would prefer the city to take the entire portion of Sierra that runs through the city, but Kellar and Newman said the city doesn’t want to take control of a stretch between Golden Valley and Newhall Avenue because of “geologic issues” (Kellar’s words) along the slope. Specifically, Newman, said, the dirt on the slope keeps sliding into the street, and grading is needed to stop that.

“Ultimately, you have to throw in liability, but money (is the real issue), unless the state is willing to come up with the money,” Kellar said.

Alan Ferdman, chairman of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, said Newman once told him it would cost $30 million to adequately repair Sierra from Friendly Valley south to the city line.

Ferdman said the city already is in charge of that stretch of Sierra between Friendly Valley and Via Princessa, and that it wants the Golden-Valley-to-Friendly-Valley segment because “it has been developed on both sides, so grading issues are not a factor.”

City Public Information officer Carrie Lujan said in an email that Caltrans owns Sierra north of Soledad Canyon.

Help might be on the way in the form of legislation co-sponsored by Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) and state Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita). Introduced in February, Assembly Bill 1172 would authorize the California Transportation Commission to relinquish all or any portion of Sierra Highway from Friendly Valley to Newhall. It also would end the 14U designation.

“AB (SIC) 1172 relinquishes control of a section of the Sierra Highway to the city of Santa Clarita,” Acosta spokesperson David Creager said in an email. “This was requested by the city due to the state’s inability to maintain the section of highway. The city wishes to take over responsibility for the section in question in order to make sure that the highway doesn’t fall into any further disrepair.”

Newman said the city wants the bill amended to read that the relinquishment would be only that stretch of Sierra between Golden Valley and Friendly Valley, but state law doesn’t allow any bill to be amended until 30 days have passed since introduction. Newman said city staff is working with Acosta and Wilk’s offices to get the bill amended.

Newman said that not only must this bill pass, but also the state and city need to negotiate the standard the road must reach before it can be relinquished and any monies that need to change hands, and then the CTC has to approve the funding and relinquishing.

“It will still be going on 12 months from now,” Newman said.

Steve Knight Town Hall

| News | March 10, 2017

Steve Knight has read the Constitution and knows the lawmaking body is the Congress, not the president. Yet, until this week, when the House of Representatives unveiled its healthcare plan, it appeared that Congress was ready to cede its legislative responsibilities to Donald Trump and his executive orders.

Since Jan. 20 when Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President, the public has heard about numerous executive orders – Fox News listed 18. They include withdrawing from trade agreements, banning federal money to pro-abortion international groups, reviving two oil pipelines, authorizing the building of the wall along the Mexican border and a travel ban from six (previously seven) Muslim-majority countries.

Knight (R-Palmdale) said he understands why people believe Congress is shirking its duties. “The last two presidents have jumped on executive orders a bit quickly,” he said, but he added the legislative process takes more time. That is why the pieces of business he has sponsored – an aerospace act to fund NASA and space exploration; designating the site of the 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster as a national monument; and treatment programs for veterans with PTSD – have not yet reached Trump’s desk, but Knight fully expects Trump to sign all three. The latter two he thought would reach Barack Obama’s desk, but didn’t.

In the meantime, there is much to address. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Knight listened intently to Trump’s address to Congress last week and heard the president’s desire to beef up military spending by $54 billion.

Knight favors increased spending, but “We don’t know how he’s going to get $54 billion.”

Knight also spoke about healthcare during the 29-minute phone interview with The Gazette on Friday. He said it is a complex issue. Just keeping the Affordable Care Act or repealing it entirely is not happening.

“The ACA’s got a lot of problems, and we’ve got to change a lot of them,” he said, “but certain things are working very well.”
Two aspects he likes: allowing children to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26 and insuring people with pre-existing conditions (the House Republican plan unveiled Monday keeps people with such conditions insured).

Other problems: the price and availability of healthcare in other states. Knight said California is one of the few states where costs have increased slowly, less than 10 percent annually, he said. But Arizona’s costs went up 116 percent, he said, and some states have only one or two plans. That’s not much choice.

“California’s been the best, but problems have come from other states,” he said. “We know they’re (problems such as cost increases) coming and we can’t stop them. California can’t just break off. It’s connected.”

Knight said something has to be done about healthcare because in six or seven years, he said, the government will be forced to spend $1 trillion on Medicaid, the government insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for healthcare. It’s at $413 billion this year, he said.

“If the (Republican) bill doesn’t work, I won’t vote for it,” he said.

Other topics Knight commented on:

•Trump’s desire to eliminate two regulations for every new regulation: “It’s politically a good sounding board. It’s really for people to not write a lot of regulations. It’s a simplistic way of looking at it. … If regulation is needed, we can do it. We can go through the Congressional process.”

•The wall, which is estimated to cost $20 billion: “I don’t see where you’re going to get $20 billion. I said we needed stronger security along the border. I didn’t say we needed a 795-mile continuous wall.”

•The travel ban: Knight said there is nothing wrong with additional vetting for people in countries where we don’t have records or information about the people. But he opposed Iraq being on that list, because “We’ve been dealing with them for 17 years. We have a lot of background on them. I think (Trump) jumped the gun on Iraq. I was talking to the prime minister of Iraq last week, and they are very upset with it.”

Trump’s updated ban eliminated Iraq, but it still didn’t include Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. Knight said he could talk “for two hours” on why Saudi Arabia should be on the travel-ban list.

 

There Goes the Neighborhood

| News | March 2, 2017

In some ways, Nati Braunstein has lived in what you might call a horror movie for much of the past year. Call it “The Ravenhill Terror.”

It started serenely enough. Braunstein and his family left the crime and noise of North Hollywood and moved into a house on Ravenhill Road in Sand Canyon.

“The house looked lovely and the neighbors looked lovely,” he said.

Looks deceived in this case. Just a few weeks after moving in, one of his next-door neighbors started allowing recreational vehicles and trailers onto the property – as many as five trailers housing as many as 18 people, he said.

“My neighbor, she can’t make the mortgage,” Braunstein said. “She said she screened the people carefully.”

Not carefully enough. Law enforcement has made several appearances. There have been shouting matches, drug-related arrests and even a registered sex offender living there, Braunstein said police told him.

“They look like what you expect, single men living in a trailer park, vagrants,” he said. “Dirty, grungy-looking folk.”

One of the vehicles was parked right by the fence abutting the Braunstein property. Now, he has privacy concerns.

“I asked her a week ago. She promised to close the windows and move it as soon as possible,” he said.

The trailer has moved to the other side of the property. Braunstein wrote in an email that he thinks it’s because of his Feb. 25 Facebook post which, in part, reads, “I’ve asked them to move the trailer they have parked right on the fence. It’s (sic) windows overlook our backyard where my kids play as well as a few bedrooms, the kitchen, and living room windows.”

Braunstein is not alone in his antipathy. Another neighbor has anonymously written two letters to the city detailing the complaints. Besides the trailers, the letter-writer alleges people are living in makeshift shacks and in two barns; the owners have illegally graded the land that changed the flow of water so that it floods the neighbor’s property; they have found needles, syringes and alcohol bottles at the nearby bus stop; and several dogs have escaped and wander the neighborhood.

“(T)he City has all of these great guidelines in place to prevent this from happening and going this far. Why can’t we implement them????” the second letter reads.

It turns out, the city is aware of it. Councilmember Bob Kellar, who has lived on Ravenhill for 38 years, “about 150 yards” away, knows the story.

“His concerns are extremely warranted,” Kellar said of Braunstein. “I will be responding to him.”

City Community Preservation Manager Daniel Rivas said a notice of violation was issued in January against the owner of the property. Rivas said because the matter is ongoing, he can’t name the actual violator or code violation without the consent of the owner; the second of two neighbor letters to the city state that the property owner is Kacia Keegan and she has placed ads on Craigslist seeking “caretakers” for “trailer living.”

How soon Braunstein’s “horror show” will end remains to be seen. Rivas said it depends on how cooperative an owner is. It could take as few as 30 days (not in this case) to more than a year.

Rivas said the process works thusly: A city official inspects and investigates, filing a notice of violation if warranted. The notice describes the actual violations, whether of the city’s municipal code or various state codes, includes actions that must be taken to correct the situation, and a timeline to complete it.

What then would follow is a re-inspection, Rivas said. If the violations still exist, an administrative citation is issued. Three of these could be issued before the case is referred to the city attorney, who could file criminal or civil charges, or could perform a nuisance abatement, which would allow the city to hire a contractor to do the necessary work to fix the problems – at the property owner’s cost.

“Our goal isn’t to start down that administrative-citation path,” Rivas said.

All Braunstein wants is for this nightmare to end. Next week will be the first anniversary of moving to Ravenhill.

“I’m going to have to buy a gun now, which my wife is unhappy about,” he said. “I’m absolutely uncomfortable living next door to transients.”

What Diversity Means to the City Council

| News | February 23, 2017

SECTION 1. The City of Santa Clarita reaffirms its status and commitment to be an inclusive community.

SECTION 2. The City of Santa Clarita recognizes, values, and will support the rights and privileges of all members of our diverse community.

These 40 words, part of the anti-hate resolution the City Council unanimously passed last week, could mean different things to different people.

The current political environment, in which people march in protest of President Donald Trump’s policies, particularly his desire to build a wall along the Mexican border and limit immigration, might have weighed on some.

Councilmember Bob Kellar, who brought forth the resolution (although he said city staff wrote it), and Mayor Cameron Smyth said he was aware of the possible political overtones but insisted it had nothing to do with that.

For Kellar, it was promises kept to some community members who had come to him and expressed fear about increased hate crimes, though they were not personally victims.

“I said I would give it some serious thought,” Kellar said. “We have never, as a city, stood for anything but responsible behavior.”

Kellar said he made verbal statements similar to the resolution last year as mayor, “but that wasn’t enough to satisfy some people, so the best thing to do was put it in writing,” he said.

Having it in writing, and thereby reaffirming the city’s position, was exactly the resolution’s point for Smyth and Councilmember Marsha McLean. “It did nothing more than put into language the policy of the council,” Smyth said.

McLean said, “The city has never tolerated bigotry or intolerance. In my mind, the words are no different than the way we have conducted ourselves all along,” and if having it on paper makes people feel better, that’s fine.

Smyth said this sentiment goes back to at least Sept. 11, 2001. Following the terrorist acts of that day, Smyth said, the council (on which he served) moved to assure any skittish residents that the city didn’t want them to feel unwelcome or targeted.

Although he didn’t recall the council passing any sort of resolution then, he felt the council had made it clear even then that “we are a city that is open and welcoming, and we are not going to tolerate bigotry and discrimination at any time.”

Councilmember Bill Miranda also thought the resolution reiterated the city’s policy, since the city has “diversity of race, diversity of culture, diversity of thought, so we welcome that. … I feel, personally, I represent diversity on the council, so I feel strongly that we should embrace it.”

But he had more on his mind when he cast his vote.

“It is February. It is Black History Month. It is Women’s History Month. These things will always come to mind this time of year,” he began, forgetting that Women’s History Month is in March. “We just celebrated President’s Day. It’s a chance to look back on our history and see what ones embraced diversity and who didn’t. I think you’ll find embracing diversity works. That’s one of our core strengths of our country, and we want to make sure we don’t lose it. The history of the world and the history of the United States of America is filled with threats to diversity, starting with colonial days. Certain people were allowed and certain people were kept in the background: women, men of color, some religions. In this country, if you were Catholic, it took a while for you to be able to come to the table. Al Smith (first Catholic presidential nominee) didn’t happen until (1928). JFK in 1960. The biggest issue wasn’t his youth and inexperience, it was that he was Catholic.”

Miranda also recognized diversity of thought as part of the First Amendment. “Many times, if we disagree with people, we tend to shut the other person’s opinion off, and that’s not right. There’s freedom of speech. We might not like it, but it’s in our Constitution. We must allow it.”

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