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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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An Open Letter to Katie Hill

| Opinion | November 8, 2018

Dear Rep.-Elect Katie Hill:

You have made history by becoming the first Democrat elected to the House from this area, having defeated Steve Knight in what I’m sure you’ll agree was the longest and most challenging and expensive campaign you have ever endured. Let me be the next to say congratulations. It was a true marathon, you having declared back in March 2017, and you are to be commended for this incredible accomplishment.

Of course, you won’t be seated as part of the 116th United States Congress until January, giving you time to reflect on what has happened and what you plan to do in this upcoming term. As I’ve covered this race from the start, I have some definite ideas of what I think you should consider, think about and do for the next two years.

The most important thing is to put the interests of your constituents first. In other words, vote district over party. From day one you should demonstrate that you are looking out for their welfare. Do not give your constituents the perception that you do little to nothing until six months before the election and then start trumpeting your accomplishments.

I saw many Facebook posts that said, in effect, you would vote with Nancy Pelosi over and over again. Granted, “Nancy Pelosi” is a Republican buzzword, but you need to be independent and not cast your vote with the Democrats as much as Knight did with the Republicans (the website FiveThirtyEight pegged it at 98.9 percent). You would be wise to remember the support Knight has given the veterans and the aerospace industry.

You also need to read up on CEMEX and become intimately familiar with it. While taxes, the economy, jobs and healthcare are important to everyone in the district, mining in Soledad Canyon is a Santa Clarita-specific concern. Saying you hadn’t heard of it until relatively recently cost you any chance of winning The Signal’s endorsement and showed true ignorance (in fact, the Gazette quoted you in an article about CEMEX back in March). If you truly want to represent everybody like you say, you must understand this issue.

Knight alienated a wide swath of voters by objecting to his voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and many in the district are convinced the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will be detrimental, and he infamously said about Social Security, “I absolutely think it was a bad idea.” Granted, you won’t have a problem with these issues, but something unforeseen will arise, and you had better be ready to discuss and explain yourself better than Knight did.

My second suggestion concerns accessibility. A candidate often grants better access than an incumbent, and you would be wise to remember how accessible you have been. That means meeting with all constituents, not just those in Santa Clarita. Don’t let there be stories of locking doors and refusing to meet people. When you return to the district, why not randomly drive around and show up somewhere unannounced? You can take the pulse of your constituents that way.

Finally, for heaven’s sake, avoid the perception of hypocrisy and disingenuousness. People believe that you chased the money – witness your refusal to sign the so-called “People’s Pledge” to keep outside money out of the race and the fact that you raised more than $7 million this cycle. And only mentioning you’re bisexual, a gun owner and a survivor of sexual assault when the issue arises makes you look opportunistic and cheapens these tenets of your identity. You should be proud of who you are and where you’ve come from.

I’m not saying, “Do these things and you’re guaranteed to be successful.” You’ll never please everybody, it’s tough to get much done as a freshman congresswoman, and surely there will be serious Republican challengers the next time around. But true representative government means listening to those you represent. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders and representatives such as Brad Sherman and Adam Schiff are not your constituents. Don’t do what they want if that will harm the people in the 25th.

Once again, congratulations. Good luck, and we’ll be watching.

Katie Hill Makes History

| News | November 8, 2018

Fox News declared the Democrats were on their way to retaking the House of Representatives before the polls closed in California. Within the first hour after the polls closed, it had become official.

Several hundred people gathered at the Canyon Santa Clarita on Tuesday night to see if Katie Hill would join the numerous Democrats (many of whom were first-time candidates and women) in turning at least the lower chamber blue.

Although the totals aren’t official until the Secretary of State certifies the election next month, Hill led Rep. Steve Knight by 4,117 votes (51.3 percent to 48.7 percent), and Knight conceded via voicemail around 10:30 a.m., a press release from Hill’s people said.

Santa Clarita has voted Republican since it first could cast votes. That changed.

“We’re at a moment of history,” Hill told her hundreds of supporters Tuesday night when the race was still too close to call. “We really, truly are at a moment where … Americans are standing up, where young people are standing up, where women are standing up. And where regular people who say it is not OK for us to have a political system that only represents the wealthiest people in our country and big corporations and special interests and partisan politics, and it leaves the rest of us behind.”

The next day, it still felt surreal to her.

“I still feel like a regular person,” she said. “It’s just bizarre, but I guess that’s what it’s supposed to be, right? You want to have people there (in Washington) who aren’t politicians but are there to represent the people, and I know I can do that.”

What mattered to those assembled was that they finally have a representative that city council candidate and county Democratic Party delegate Logan Smith said “will represent the best interests of the district.”

“We want representation of our values,” said Stacy Fortner, member of the Democratic Part of the San Fernando Valley. “We don’t want Trump’s agenda shoved down our throats.”

That means get ready for investigations into various Trump-related activities and issues, from collusion with Russia and protecting the Robert Mueller investigation to subpoenaing his income tax forms. But since the Republicans kept their Senate majority, a split Congress means more gridlock.

That didn’t matter to Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who made an appearance at the Hill party.

“It doesn’t matter if we have an 11-seat majority, a 16-seat majority or a 20-seat majority,” Sherman said. “I need an ally to work with on local issues. We have got to compel the federal government to issue natural gas storage regulations.”

But on Tuesday, everything seemed secondary to Hill. She told the crowd that this campaign let people who didn’t feel like they had a voice be heard.

“We’ve let people know that their vote matters, and that we’re counting on them, and the only way we can make change happen is if we are the change,” she said to wild applause. “What we do know is no matter what the outcome is, this is only the beginning of the fight. We have to continue this. This is a moment where we have to win for the people, people that have been sitting silent on the sidelines because they don’t think their voice is going to be heard no matter what.”

For many of those people, it felt good to be rid of Knight, who they felt didn’t represent them.

“I don’t think he has a sense of direction,” city council candidate Diane Trautman said. “I think he just follows. I think Katie will stand up for things. Steve Knight is a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy.”

Volunteer Elise Levine, who doesn’t live in the district (she splits time between Brentwood and Chatsworth), said Knight is “unavailable to his constituents, playing hide and seek like other Republicans, and this district doesn’t deserve another term of that.”

On Tuesday, before it was official, Hill made it clear that she wanted to win as part of a big national Democratic Party victory.

“The biggest thing is that if we go in with a mandate, if we go in with a big victory, it shows that the United States people are ready for a serious change, and that change is the way we’re able to approach things, so I really hope to go in with a strong victory … and that means we’ll be able to get to work,” she said.

On Wednesday, she sounded very similar.

“What this is all showing is it is a changing of the dynamics and the makeup of Congress, and that’s what’s going to allow us to start making changes,” she said. “I’m proud to be part of the first wave of something that is truly making a major shift that is going to last for generations.”

Do Election Endorsements Matter?

| News | November 1, 2018

On candidate websites, endorsements get their own page. In the 25th congressional district, incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) lists 19 individuals and 11 organizations that approve of him. Challenger Katie Hill lists 75 individuals and 32 organizations that favor her.

It’s all very nice, and it generates some positive buzz and momentum as Election Day grows closer. But does it really matter? How much difference does it really make that people or organizations – some of whom don’t live in the district and can’t vote for either – come out and say, in effect, “Vote for this candidate?”

“I don’t think it does that much,” Hill said.

Matt Rexroad, Knight’s campaign consultant, concurred.

“I don’t know if it guarantees any votes,” he said.

Endorsements, acts of giving one’s approval or support to someone or something, can matter. According to University of Arizona Department of Communication and School of Government and Public Policy Professor Kate Kenski, endorsements can act as what she calls “a cognitive shortcut for voters, so voters who are trying to decide between many different candidates in many different races oftentimes … need some kind of shortcut to make a determination about who they should vote for.”

However, as Kenski told Arizona Public Media, that can backfire. “If someone is not trusted, if someone has burned bridges in certain ways, them offering their support can be a signal to people who don’t like that person that whoever they are supporting, is someone they don’t want to support.”

There was a time when endorsements mattered. Wichita, Kan., television station KAKE ran a piece that said endorsements meant a certain number of votes as recently as the 1970s; now, voters don’t want to rely on the word of somebody they’ve never met.
“Endorsements like this are a big deal historically, but they’re not a big deal electorally,” Russell Arben Fox, Wichita State professor of political science, told KAKE.

Rexroad, co-founder of the Sacramento-based strategic consulting firm Meridian Pacific and veteran of more than 100 campaigns, said endorsements are really effective when a candidate isn’t well known, but since Knight and Hill have “near 100-percent name recognition,” the value of any endorsement is less.

Rexroad identified various types of endorsements: political, media, individual, celebrity, organization and political party. Of these, the political party’s backing is what he considers most important, because a party can put its infrastructure and financial resources behind a candidate. For example, if a mass mailing would cost a candidate $30,000, the party might be able to do it for $20,000 because it’s a nonprofit and can command lower rates, Rexroad said.

The flip side to that, Hill said, is people too often go down the ballot and mark a name based on party affiliation.

“I’ve had Democrats say they don’t know what party I’m with, and they’re not going to vote for me because they didn’t know I’m a Democrat,” she said.

Hill said organizational endorsements help if the voter favors a particular issue and is looking for what a particular group says. But the drawback to that is that groups typically skew toward either Democrat or Republican, and she would like more people to vote not based on politics but on ideas.

“So many vote whether you’re a D or an R. I’d like to see that change during the course of time,” she said. “It’s hard to make that happen.”

Rexroad is confident that the district is filled with enough voters who are taking the time to read about the various people and issues on the ballot and will make educated choices.

“The 25th district will make decisions based on what you know,” he said.

Endorsements be damned.

Casting Controversy Over Voter Roll Credibility

| News | November 1, 2018

When Jim Lentini didn’t receive his elections material, he called the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder.

“You’re not going to like this,” a woman on the line told him. “You guys are not in the system.”

Lentini and his wife, Susan, are longtime voters, regularly walking to nearby Sulphur Springs Elementary School to cast their ballots, although Susan suffered a stroke and did not vote in the primary. Now, he was being told that he would have to travel to a Sylmar library to re-register her.

The problem was that the deadline to register to vote Nov. 6 was Oct. 22.

Public Information Officer Mike Sanchez said both are registered and are able to vote next week, but since they are listed as “vote by mail,” they must bring their ballot to the polling place and surrender it in exchange for an in-person ballot. No trip to Sylmar is necessary.

It is these kinds of mysteries that make Mark Meuser incensed. Meuser, running for Secretary of State, said he has found numerous examples of problems with voter rolls. These include people listing businesses or post office boxes as their residences, non-existent resident addresses and people failing to list dates of birth on voter registration forms that are accepted by county registrars.

“It’s been so lax, we don’t seem to care that we don’t have accurate state registration roll,” Meuser said by phone from Anaheim earlier this week.

And he blames current Secretary of State Alex Padilla for failing to maintain the rolls. One of the office’s primary duties is to act as the state’s chief election officer.

When people think of “voter fraud,” they probably mean “voter impersonation,” in which a person not eligible to vote votes under the name of someone who is eligible, votes more than once or pretends to be another eligible voter.
It was for this kind of fraud that Donald Trump, soon after taking office, went on Twitter and called for “a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered in two states, those who are illegal and even those registered to vote who are dead.” He claimed that this fraud was the reason he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

In fact, this kind of fraud is extremely rare and has never been proven to affect an election’s outcome. But there are other worries surrounding elections, such as the reliability of accurate voter rolls.

Mark Meuser. Photo by: submitted.

According to Meuser, the problems have little to do with whether a person can prove their identity. Rather, he said, the state needs to do a better job at verifying citizenship (only American citizens can vote), residences, and that the address listed is actually a residence.

An area he said should be examined is jury-service summons. He said he found some 449,000 people returning jury summonses saying they’re not American citizens and, therefore, aren’t eligible to serve on juries. They’re also not eligible to vote, but Meuser wonders how many of these people ended up voting.

In fact, Padilla’s office announced this month that between April and September, 1,500 people who signed up for driver licenses at Department of Motor Vehicles offices accidentally were registered to vote because of DMV employee errors. Some of those people are non-citizens. The Los Angeles Times reported that Padilla canceled those registrations upon discovery, but he couldn’t say if any had voted in the June primary.

Meuser also found from looking at statewide databases (access the Gazette does not have and, therefore, cannot verify), 23,108 people with a birthdate older than the recognized oldest person in the state (birthdate: July 24, 1906) were registered to vote, and 16,780 voted in the 2016 election.

“There are two explanations: Somebody has fraud going on or the county registrar is failing to uphold the law,” Meuser said, adding that state law requires registration forms to include a date of birth; forms are to be returned if it’s missing.

Meuser also found that 75 people listed a fictitious address in Malibu when they registered to vote; 15 of those people actually voted. “OK, where do they really reside?” Meuser said. “What’s going on? We don’t know.”

Furthermore, he said, 10 people listed a jewelry store in San Diego as their residence; six voted. Twelve listed a miniature golf course, 31 listed a check-cashing store in Gardena, and 16 listed a non-existent Long Beach hotel.

“They are diluting the vote of the people who live in that district,” Meuser said.

None of these numbers are very large, and many might argue that such infinitesimal numbers wouldn’t affect and election. Meuser acknowledges that a major race such as president or governor might not be affected, but down-the-ballot races could.

“Bernie Sanders won his first race (mayor of Burlington, Vt.) by 10 votes,” Meuser said. “Seventy-five people in a precinct could flip a mayoral race, a city council race, a supervisor race.”

The solution, Meuser said, is to have the Secretary of State do a better job comparing registration rolls with Social Security rolls, DMV records, property tax assessments and information credit card companies use. “When you see problems, you need to flag them for investigation,” he said.

The other thing people can do is vote. Meuser said the more people who vote, the less special interests can turn an election.

“The best way anybody can guarantee representative government is to get out and vote,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re a progressive Democrat or a Tea Party Republican. Massive voter turnout beats a well-planned fraud every single time.”

Evan Patlian: Bringing School Board to Surface

| News | October 25, 2018

Evan Patlian knows that school boards in general are not highly valued. The trustees are not as well known as other people running for other elected offices up the ballot. He seeks to change that as a candidate for the District 1 seat on the Saugus Union School District board.

“School-board members are valued and respected members of the community because they are actively working for the right reasons, which is the betterment of our children and for the one common goal of excellence in education,” Patlian said recently over lunch at Scorpion Internet Marketing, where he’s an internet marketing manager. “I think perception comes off as negative when an individual or group of individuals allow for outside factors to start to play in the business of education, whether that be political party lines, business advancement, money.”

According to a 2015 Education Week article, school boards risk dysfunction because of the need to compromise and collaborate – and failing to do so. “While a board member independently calls the shots in the campaign, the job itself demands collaboration, a willing exchange of ideas, and acceptance of the school system’s framework for advocating change,” the article said. “When these practices of good governance are not upheld early on, relationships within the board and with administrators become strained.”

This is what Patlian seeks to avoid as he vies with David Barlavi and Jesus Henao for the seat Paul De La Cerda chose not to seek because he’s getting his doctorate in education at USC. He has De La Cerda’s backing as well as the endorsements of current board member Dave Powell, Newhall district board President Phil Ellis, the Saugus Teachers Association and the California School Employees Association.

But he’s not resting on that. Instead, he’s calling for better communication between board members and among the board, the schools, teachers and students.

“It’s been seen and talked about quite a bit that maybe the communication is not where it needs to be between the five members of the board,” he said. “I hope to change that, and the only way you can effectively change something is to model it yourself. I am going to openly communicate and listen and be willing to hear everyone’s point of view as well as give my own, and hopefully we can come to an accord.”

Too often, he said, the board tends to communicate in ways that puts the members in the best possible light. “We need to be more honest and open about what’s going on. Solutions are going to be bred from that,” he said. “You can’t always just promote the good. You have to be honest about everything.”

He also wants to model behaviors a different way: “Why not have the five school-board members go to a school site and participate in a physical event with the students? If we’re asking teachers and parents and students to do something, we should be able and we should be willing to do it ourselves. I’m a big fan of if I want something done, I’ve got to do it myself and show it as an example.”

There are two people he especially wants to be an example for: his two children, one of whom already attends a district school, one who will when old enough. To Patlian, it makes perfect sense to serve in a community in which he lives. If he’s going to do right by them, then he’ll do right by the other approximately 9,900 district students.
“I can relate with the parents that send their kids to our classrooms every single day,” he said. “The decisions that the board makes are not just going to affect the Saugus school district. They’re going to affect my home.”

To do right by them, he believes, the district has to address five student needs: educational, physical, mental, emotional and psychological development.

Educationally, he would like to see fewer acronyms. He ticked off several: LCAP (Local Community Accountability Plan), ESL (English as a Second Language, which he initially incorrectly called ELS), ECFF (Education and Community Funding Formula), 504 (a special-education plan under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973).

“When there’s too many acronyms, they all start to blend together,” he said. “If you tell someone English as a Second Language, that’s not hard to remember, but you put ESL along with LCAP and all these other ones, they all start to sound the same – even for someone who’s trying to get on the school board and should know all this by heart.”
He said he would like to see a database on the district website that explains all the acronyms as well as any relevant sections of the state Education Code. Written in layman’s terms so the average parent could understand, too.

But Patlian also emphasized the need to help a child’s inner self. While suicide is not prevalent in elementary schools, depression is on the rise, whether from bullying or neglect.

“We’ve got to do a better job of fulfilling a core value in children, which is – and they already know this – genuine kindness,” he said. “We need to be better as adults, as stakeholders in their lives, be better at seeking opportunities to show we care for people, that we’re kind to others. That impact on our kids is going to be tremendous, and they’re going to start to model that behavior to their classmates and to other adults.”

De La Cerda said Patlian’s ideas, passion and the fact his kids are or will be in the district are reasons he endorsed him.

“It’s important to have parental voices,” De La Cerda said. “Evan has longevity ahead of him. His ideas are innovative.”

Laurene Weste on Dockweiler, Decision-Making, Age

| Meet the Candidates | October 25, 2018

While every city council candidate who filed a ballot statement willingly consented to be interviewed, Laurene Weste didn’t. The Gazette emailed her questions back in July, per her request, yet she didn’t respond, and even hung up on a reporter who called seeking responses.

Privately, many believe Weste behaves this way because she doesn’t think the Gazette’s questions are worth her time. When she wants something, the belief goes, she can be as sweet as anyone. But when she has no use for someone, she ignores or acts arrogantly and demeaning. As Diane Trautman said, “Laurene tends to talk to people like children.”

At the recent candidate’s form at College of the Canyons, a reporter asked Weste if she was ready to answer the questions. She smiled and said, “You have no questions.”

But the Gazette had 11 questions, so when Weste appeared at last week’s Canyon Country Advisory Committee City Council Meet & Greet, Gazette editor Sarah Farnell posed three of them to Weste.

You have repeatedly denied you stand to gain nothing from the Lyons-Dockweiler extension, yet the perception persists. What definitive, tangible proof can you offer to put those naysayers to rest?

I think that’s a really good question. I’m glad you asked that. It gets it right off the table. When I got my place, I moved on a ranch and I wanted to be there because I had horses. I still have six … So, next to me is a city-owned road right-of-way, and they’ve had it from the county and it was apparently taken in the 1960s and the city inherited it, and they have it, and they’ll use it when they’re ready to use it. Like a lot of road easements in this valley, sit there for decades. I don’t get anything for it, and why would the city pay me for something they already own?

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

Oh my God, that’s a good question. I got a headache right now. I’m reading constantly because we get this much every week (turns to her left and spreads her hands out vertically) and then we get all the things from you. No, the council does not make up their mind ahead of time. There’s a lot of discussion and quite often the council will totally hold something over, or they ask questions. We have a good constituency. They bring things up and we try to work thought it, and if we can’t get you where you want to be where it’s comfortable, we continue until we do.

The council’s average age is 68, but take away Cameron Smyth and it’s 73.75. You will be 70 on Election Day.

Yeah! I’m good.

I quote Bob Kellar: “Are we supposed to stay on the city council until we’re 90 years old?” What do you say to those who believe it’s time for a new generation?

Well, it is time, and we will. Bob’s going off. I’m still roller skating, riding my horses and I water ski, so I’m having a heck of a good time. I think you should go off if you are not well, and I don’t care what that age is. I think you should not be there if you can’t do the workload. I personally think in America, you don’t start judging people by their age, but I’m very proud to be my age, which is 69 (her birthday is Oct. 26). I am thrilled that I can do actually more, probably, than I used to because I’m not sedentary. I’m proud to be the age I am, and I’m proud to work with people that have knowledge and compassion and have learned a lot through having life experiences, and I love working with Cameron, and I am sure we will get some other great young people.

A fourth question was not directly asked, but some of Weste’s opening statement could be interpreted as an answer.

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

We’re improving traffic and we’re to expanding our road network. That’s critical. It’s important because we all are frustrated with traffic, including my family. We’re going to be building Via Princessa. That is the major connection from Canyon Country all the way across to the I-5, connecting up with Wiley (Canyon Road). We’re working to improve our transportation options. … Just this month, $47 million was approved to enhance and make the I-5 safer and open up that blockade where all that traffic is congested. We’ve got a new truck lane coming that will protect us driving along the 5 from the big rigs, and we’ll also have an HOV lane.

The remaining six questions have not been answered despite subsequent attempts to reach Weste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, the Gazette hopes Weste will reconsider and respond to these questions before Election Day. If she does, they will be printed.

Weber Wins in Court

| News | October 18, 2018

City council candidate Sean Weber had his two-year civil harassment restraining order against fellow candidate Brett Haddock upheld, meaning the order is in effect until July 19.

The state Court of Appeal ruled 3-0 that Haddock “has been engaging in a course of conduct, harassment and stalking by posting, sending, delivering harassing and derogatory electronic messages to (Weber) and his family and friends, in public and private forums who have asked him to stop to no avail.”

“Today is a great day for my family and the legal system,” Weber said. “The court spoke loudly when it issued the unanimous decision.”

Haddock had argued a First Amendment right, retaining a prominent First Amendment attorney and receiving support in the form of an amicus brief from the UCLA School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic.

But while the court agreed Haddock has the right to criticize a candidate for public office, “The problem with his argument is that he has not included a sufficient appellate record for us to evaluate his claim. Even on a sufficient record, however, we would reject his argument because the evidence before the trial court demonstrated that Haddock also engaged in a course of private harassing conduct toward Weber and his family, which justified the restraining order notwithstanding any claimed protected speech.”

Haddock seemed aghast at the ruling.

“They referenced Mr. Weber’s claims, and his claims were not supported by any evidence,” Haddock said. “To fabricate an entire case, produce no evidence, and have a court uphold it is not an acceptable outcome for our legal system, and it’s a very dangerous precedent to set.”

He said he is considering further appeals but will hold off until conferring with his attorney, which he said was to occur Wednesday. The next level would be the state Supreme Court, but according to one of the justices, the Court hears an average of 83 cases from an average of 8,600 petitions.

“I’m willing to take this as high as I can,” he said. “It’s just a grave injustice.”

Weber filed for a restraining order for himself, his mother, father-in-law and brother May 9, 2017, according to court documents. In the original complaint, Weber said protection because he feared Haddock was going to “kill my family” because online posts from 2015 show Haddock talking about going on a “murderous rampage” and that Weber is Haddock’s “target.” Weber’s attorney also said Haddock posted some of Weber’s easily identifiable information such as address, date of birth and car’s license plate.

Haddock’s attorney has said the “murderous rampage” quote was aimed at an insurance company.

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

Court documents also said Haddock posted an article on his blog entitled, “Sean Weber: Charlatan, Bully, and Criminal” with the text, “As my friends and family can attest, I’ve made something of a second career helping to expose frauds and bullies.”

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

Weber said he considers the matter settled and just wants to move on. He said he has no immediate plans to seek civil damages as long as Haddock continues to abide by the terms of the restraining order.

“It’s now clear Mr. Haddock’s case was frivolous, and I look forward to putting this behind me,” Weber said. “If he continues, that’s on him.”

Coach Varner Makes Comeback – From Cutting Teeth with Cowboys to Wildcat Winning Streak

| News | October 18, 2018

Many know the name John Wooden; fewer can name the coach who succeeded him.

West Ranch football coach Chris Varner looked it up and found it was Gene Bartow. After Wooden retired in 1975 with 10 national college basketball titles at UCLA, Bartow stepped in for two seasons and guided the Bruins to a 52-9 record and an NCAA Final Four appearance (Wooden was 54-7 in his last two seasons).

As a former Bruin said in a 1990 Los Angeles Times article, “Any college in America would give its teeth to have a coach that would take them 52-9 in two years. That wasn’t good enough at UCLA.”

Varner can relate: He replaced Harry Welch at Canyon High. Maybe people don’t know who Welch was, but once upon a time, Welch did more than anyone to put the area on the map. He coached the Cowboys to five sectional titles in two stints, including an upset of mighty Concord De La Salle to win a state title. The stadium at Canyon is named for him. He even has his own Wikipedia page.

Four years after taking over, Varner stepped down to spend more time with his family. It would be five years before he coached again.

“The thing I loved most at 21, I hated most at 31,” he said. “I didn’t think I would ever coach again.”

Obviously, he returned, and West Ranch is better for it. The Wildcats are 8-0 with two games to play, their best start ever. One more win will set the school record for most Foothill League wins in a season. With wins Friday at Hart and next week against Valencia, the Wildcats would win their first Foothill League title. West Ranch has beaten Hart once; it never has beaten Valencia.

“Obviously, we’re satisfied on what we’ve done so far, but we’ve got more to do,” Varner said. “It feels good to win.”

When it comes to winning in football, very few locally were as successful as Welch. Well known for getting the most out of his players, Welch guided the Cowboys to three Southern Section titles (1983-85), and a then-record 46-game winning streak in his first stint, which lasted 12 seasons. He returned to Canyon in 2001 and won two more section titles, culminating in the state title in 2006.

Varner, who played at Buena High in Ventura before coaching the freshmen there for three seasons, had wanted to be a head coach by the time he was 30. With no prospects in Ventura or Oxnard, he looked elsewhere.

While taking classes at The Master’s College (now University), a professor knew Varner was a coach. “Next thing I knew, I got an email from someone I didn’t know,” Varner said.

That someone was Welch, who was looking to fill a vacancy. Varner did some research and learned about the win streak but also about a 1989 incident in which Welch, after his team lost in the playoffs at Santa Barbara, broke a glass trophy case in a postgame tirade after believing Santa Barbara received an additional down after time had expired with Canyon ahead 21-14 (the Cowboys lost 28-27 in overtime; the Los Angeles Times also reported that two doors, a blackboard and a drinking fountain had been broken or dismantled, but Welch admitted to breaking the trophy case).

Varner also asked his coach at Buena, Rick Scott, who coached at Hart at the same time Welch started at Canyon, about Welch. “He said, ‘Harry is a winning coach, but some people don’t like working for him,’ ” Varner explained.

Varner took the job in time for the 2003 season. He thought he was going to be on the varsity staff, but instead coached the freshman team defense after Welch asked him to. He did that for two seasons, which coincided with the Class of 2007 entering Canyon – the same group that later won state.

Along the way, Varner heard stories about Welch. His program was accused of running an illegal after-school practice, causing the Southern Section commissioner to suspend him for a year, resulting in Welch suing and winning a case by claiming his due process had been denied. Varner heard about run-ins with parents and boosters. But other than asking Welch about the trophy-case incident – and hearing Welch regret it – he kept his head down and did his job, becoming the junior varsity coach and helping where he could for the eventual state champs.

“As much as I admired him, I didn’t grow up here,” Varner said. “I had been in the Army. I had done things. I was not a blind follower. I was not drinking the Kool-Aid.”

That win against De La Salle was the last game Welch ever coached at Canyon. He resigned to take a job at St. Margaret’s in San Juan Capistrano, where he won 30 in a row, three more section titles and a state title in three seasons. From there, he went to Santa Margarita for three seasons and won another section and state crown.

Welch announced his resignation from Canyon on April 27, 2007 at age 61, causing the school to scramble to find a replacement in time for spring football. Varner was the only on-staff person to apply for the job.

He was 29. “I was following a legend much older than myself,” he said.

Almost immediately, Varner discovered that the program might have been his, but he couldn’t do what he wanted. Despite 18 starters being gone for the 2007 season and retaining most of Welch’s staff, the prevailing opinion was, “We won state. Why would we want to do it differently?”

Asked why he didn’t insist on his way, he said, “It was a lack of confidence in myself. I wasn’t ready for the job. It was trial and error, trial by fire.”

He also quickly learned that being a JV coach, where he was accessible, was different than heading the varsity, where accessibility could be interpreted as weakness, and what was praise before could quickly turn to criticism.

Canyon went 4-6 that first year, 5-5 the next year and 2-9 the year after that. But it wasn’t just the losing records that got to Varner. It was the fan reaction.

His house got egged. He had to change his cell-phone number because of the harassing calls.

He said he suffered chronic insomnia. His goatee turned white (even now, he dyes it). He didn’t eat, stopped exercising and lost 35 pounds, to 175.

“I became a shut-in. I didn’t want to wear Canyon stuff,” he said. “I made a mistake in going on those anonymous message boards and reading the comments. I got anonymous letters.”

But he couldn’t escape the status of being the Canyon football coach, sometimes at close range. To get to the football office, one has to walk off the field and pass the concession stand and restrooms before coming to the gym – plenty of time and space for people to gather and make their feelings known.

Varner got booed. He heard the shouts of “Varner sucks!” People put papers on windshields accusing the program of going backward. Once, somebody hired a plane to fly a banner that attacked then-Principal Bob Messina, “MISS HARRY YET? THANKS BOB.”

Up in the stands, Varner’s wife, Candice, who played soccer at Canyon and was Welch’s teaching assistant for a time, also heard the shouts. One time, she was with their son, Austin, who was 5. She would ask the shouters to stop because their son was here; they responded with F-bombs. Their son cried and asked, “Why is everybody mad at Daddy?”

“It was then I knew I wasn’t long for Canyon,” Varner said.

Despite an 11-20 record after three seasons, Varner didn’t quit, in part because coaching was what he wanted to do, and because he knew his fourth season was going to be better because of the talent.

Sure enough, the Cowboys went 10-2 that season. Boos turned to cheers. As he walked off the field toward the football office, Varner recognized people who had booed him but now were nice and complimentary.

“I didn’t forget. I didn’t want it,” he said. “I needed a break. … I was young. I made mistakes. Had I been head coach at Hueneme and making those mistakes, it wouldn’t have mattered.”

He quit to spend more time with his family, although he maintained his teaching load at Canyon (he taught history). He coached his sons in flag football and baseball. His brother died of bladder cancer in Riverside, and he was there for the family.

“If I was still coaching, I would’ve missed it,” he said.

Despite having two kids, the Varners wanted a third, but Candice had suffered miscarriages. She was in her third trimester when Chris stepped down, but was unable to carry to term again.

At that point, they looked into adopting. After a long process, they found a child who had been rescued from a meth den but who had a younger sister. Not wanting to separate the pair, they adopted both.

All five of the Varner children are Wildcats this year

Then came the miracle: Candice got pregnant and delivered a daughter. In a year, the Varners went from two to five kids.

Although not coaching, he nonetheless stayed in football by doing commentary for SCVTV and Fox Sports West. And he got more involved with psychology when he was asked to teach the Advanced Placement course at Canyon in 2011.

“Since 2010, I did a lot of soul searching, introspection. Why did everything have to go so bad for me? I’m a good guy, a good coach. Why did things have to happen?” he said.

He found a quote often attributed to Tony Robbins but really came from a 2014 commencement speech actor Jim Carrey gave at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa: “Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you.”
There’s also a poster that hangs on a classroom cabinet that mentions an unknown author’s Seven Rules of Life. At least four of these could apply to Varner and what he experienced.

No. 1: Make peace with the past so it doesn’t affect the present.
No. 2: What others think of you is none of your business.
No. 3: Time heals almost everything.
No. 6: You are in charge of your happiness.

These also could apply to the recent struggles that have befallen the family. His son Austin was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008, and his daughter Audrey has cystic fibrosis.

“You try and push forward and live,” Varner said.

Of course, football and coaching never left him. In 2015, he helped his replacement, Rich Gutierrez, the last half of the season. He said he thinks that if the West Ranch job didn’t open up, he’d still be teaching at Canyon and helping Gutierrez.

But in 2016, the West Ranch job did open up. He was wiser about the fickleness of mankind and decided that if he didn’t like it, he would quit at the end of the season. Still, West Ranch had no football tradition.

“West Ranch was a good place to put Varner’s brand of football. It was a good chance for me,” he said.

He took some of what he learned from Welch. The coach was famous for his attention to detail and the process that went into it. So, Varner knew the team could score a touchdown, but if a player missed a block, there needed to be some examination as to why. “That could cause us to lose games,” he said.

Welch also was excellent at selling the sport and making people think that they were the most important person in the world at that moment. So, Varner went out and got T-shirts for all the teachers.

He also does things differently. Primary is his desire for flexibility. Not all kids can be coached the same way. Some respond to negative reinforcement just fine; others need praise. How he disciplines depends on the situation. He can jump, scream and get in a player’s face; but if he does it too often, it becomes white noise and the players don’t respond. Also, lengths of practice and off-season weight training can vary.

Most of all, everyone should have fun. Unlike at Canyon, kids don’t play football at West Ranch so they can say they play football at West Ranch. “Kids would rather play a different sport or play videogames or hang out by the pool,” Varner said. “You’ve got to get them to believe in themselves.”

The Wildcats are 8-0. Think they believe?

“Everybody fails before they succeed,” Varner said, fully aware of the wisdom behind those words.”

The Price of Safety

| News | October 11, 2018

Al Hunt sells a school security system he believes in. But he’s having a difficult time convincing school districts they need it.

The reason: the cost. The Hunt Communications School Emergency Notification Bridge, powered by XOP Networks, runs about $25,000 per school, including installation. That’s $250,000 to equip all 10 Newhall School District campuses, and $375,000 for the Saugus Union and William S. Hart Union High School districts.

“That’s the biggest thing that’s held it back,” Hunt admitted, “but you can’t give something away for nothing.”

Indeed, the website (emergencynotificationbridge.com) offers details about the system. Hunt highlighted some features: During an actual emergency, such as a school shooting, administrators can use the phone system to call everybody who needs to know what’s happening, from teachers and on-campus security personnel to fire, police and ambulance. Parents can receive phone calls or texts and district officials can alert principals. The system also can be wired to security cameras that police can access.

Hunt estimated that the price per student is only about $30.

Hunt said the system exists at airports such as John Wayne and Lost Hills-Kern County, and the company is bidding for a contract at Los Angeles International.

School districts, however, are another matter. When Hunt approached someone at a school district in Huntington Beach, he said, “If it was up to them, they’d write the check right then and there.” (He also said he would provide a list of districts that use the system but didn’t.)

None of the local districts have the system. In fact, Hunt hasn’t taken any meetings. He said he has no contacts for Castaic and Newhall school districts, didn’t know Sulphur Springs existed and tried numerous times with Saugus but got no reply (Hunt said he’s only been selling this system for about six to eight months).

According to Saugus board member Chris Trunkey, the normal procedure calls for district staff to evaluate any system that gets pitched. Only when the district determines a system is worthwhile does it get sent to the board for approval. Trunkey said he can’t recall the board approving a new security system in the last couple of years, but he knows the board regularly approves contracts that have to be renewed.

Saugus district Director of Safety & Risk Management Keith Karzin didn’t return a phone call.

The procedure is similar in the Hart district. Hunt said he contacted his friend, school board member Joe Messina, about the system.

Messina said the Hart district gets pitched often about many things. He said he told Hunt that if he really believed in the system, he should talk to district staff.

“You go through the proper channels, and I’ll look into it,” Messina said. “Calling a trustee is not a proper channel.”

Hart district spokesman Dave Caldwell said he wasn’t sure if Hunt ever contacted the district, but even if he did, he would have had to go through a bidding process.

Hunt is not dissuaded. In fact, he said, if every parent wrote a check for $30 to the school district, the system would be paid for.

“If you look at it per child, it’s not prohibitive,” he said.

Council Candidates Continue to Compete

| Meet the Candidates | October 11, 2018

The most recent city council candidate forum, which occurred Monday at College of the Canyons and was put on by the COC Civic Engagement Steering Committee, the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, resembled a presidential debate more than previous forums.

The 13 candidates (minus Cherry Ortega and Paul Wieczorek) sat in front of the room alphabetically, microphones spread out. Separating the candidates and the audience of about 50 citizens and press was an island of tables where sat three moderators who had a list of questions they would ask each candidate.

For two hours, the moderators asked, and the candidates answered. Those who have read the Gazette’s articles profiling the various candidates probably weren’t surprised at the answers, since the candidates restated what they already said. For example, Bill Miranda stressed that one needs three votes on the council to get anything done, Marsha McLean touted her experience, TimBen Boydston spoke about the lack of water, Brett Haddock talked about how he’s not working to focus exclusively on his campaign, etc.

Yet as the night went on, it became clear that winners and losers emerged. This is not to say that people placed in one or the other group have helped or hurt their chances for election. Nor does not being mentioned mean a candidate has either a great or no chance. It simply means that according to this reporter, on this one night, in this one forum, these won or lost.

WINNERS
1. The format. Alan Ferdman, the Canyon Country Advisory Committee chairman and one of the moderators, said the intention was to avoid asking a series of what he called “Gotcha questions” in favor of letting candidates talk about what they thought were important issues. A narrative each candidate had submitted provided the basis for the questions the panel of three moderators asked. (Only candidates who submitted a narrative were allowed to come, which was why Ortega wasn’t there.)

“I got a lot of positive feedback from a lot of candidates,” Ferdman said.

2. The incumbents. Holding office has inherent advantages. Candidates trying to unseat them often have to go on the attack to cause doubts in voters’ minds. But nobody directly went after Laurene Weste, McLean or Miranda. The closest anybody came were the times people alluded to “the council.” But nobody went after the three by name.

And there were opportunities. When incumbents championed the roads that would be built or touted the homelessness plan, challengers could have pointed out the increasing traffic problems, how needing here votes to place a matter on the agenda isn’t helpful or how the homeless shelter should have been built a long time ago – and then faulted them by name. But nobody did, and time is running out for any challenger to convince an undecided voter he or she is a viable alternative.

3. Logan Smith. The youngest candidate impressed many with his intensity and knowledge of the homeless problem in the city.

“Logan Smith, for his age, he was very knowledgeable and articulate,” Bruce Fortine said of the 25-year-old. “I think he’d make a good councilperson.”

4. TimBen Boydston. The former councilmember has presented himself as an impassioned man, and nothing changed Monday. He railed against the council’s decision to need three votes to place a matter on the agenda (the so-called TimBen Rule) and took the council to task over the water shortage.

“TimBen spoke well about his prior service,” supporter Steve Petzold said, “and his willingness to engage the public and study an issue before making a decision.”

5. Jason Gibbs. He came across as more polished and confident than when the Gazette interviewed him in July, perhaps giving people a reason to vote for somebody younger – even though his the-council-has-done-a-great-job message remained unchanged.

“Jason Gibbs, he’s articulate and knowledgeable,” Fortine said.

LOSERS
1. Diane Trautman. The one candidate who openly attacked the incumbents by name when the Gazette interviewed her in July did nothing of the sort on Monday. She said the next day she wanted to point out errors and inconsistencies with what the incumbents said but didn’t feel the format allowed for it.

One of her supporters, Stephen Winkler, was wearing a Trautman button, but nonetheless said he thought she had “an off night, but that was due to the questions. I know she’s hard-working and dedicated.”

2. Brett Haddock. He didn’t do enough to explain his positions. That was especially true when he was asked to explain his proposal to customize a computer system that will route a van or bus to a destination. Puzzled looks permeated the gallery. Haddock later thought he had spoken too broadly.

“I could see where I could have extrapolated more on policy,” he said. “I was off my game. I had gotten some family news that wasn’t great.”

3. Sankalp Varma. He admitted that he’s new to campaigning, having never run for public office before. His idea for a spiritual center made no sense, and snickers and skepticism met his long-term solution for a monorail.

4. Paul Wieczorek. He didn’t even show up, which surprised Ferdman because, “He contacted me expressing interest. I sent him a reminder on Saturday.” Wieczorek didn’t return a phone call asking why.

5. Elaine Ballace. She’s not a candidate but an actor who showed up hoping to ask the candidates questions. Unfortunately, the format didn’t allow for it, so she said she hopes to make it to the Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting Oct. 17 at the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge where the incumbents, Varma and Nichols are scheduled to attend.

Contamination Cleanup Completion Given ‘The Bird’

| News | October 11, 2018

In November 2016, Hassan Amini, the project coordinator in charge of directing and coordinating the cleanup of the Whittaker-Bermite property, said the soil cleanup and decontamination would be complete by Sept. 28.

That obviously didn’t happen. Blame a bird and federal bureaucracy for the latest delay.
According to Amini and others interviewed for this story, the Whittaker Corporation was in the process of applying to renew a federal permit to clean soil in a dry streambed when a visitor to the site in September spotted two California gnatcatchers within the property, but not in the streambed area.

The gnatcatcher is an endangered species (the Audubon Field Guide blames housing developments for its endangered status), causing a quandary. Agencies need to be informed when an endangered species is present, but the birds were not interfering with the current areas being cleaned.

Acting cautiously, Amini reported the incident to the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues the permit, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the endangered species program under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The two agencies have 135 days to consult and issue an opinion. Amini estimates that means the agencies will inform him by the end of January.

Amini said this bureaucratic delay does not affect current areas being cleaned up, “but we are (almost) done with those,” he said. “If we do not clean additional areas we need to go to, we’ll be sitting on out hands, shutting down until they (ACE and USFWS) go through this. It’s really a disaster to our schedule and this project.”

The 996-acre Whittaker-Bermite site was used by the Department of Defense to manufacture munitions using a chemical called perchlorate that is harmful to humans. In rocketry’s early days, it was common to spread the excess perchlorate on the ground and let it evaporate – except too much of it seeped into the soil and groundwater, thus contaminating it.

The water decontamination is scheduled to start once the soil is cleaned and will last as long as 30 years. The soil cleanup has been going on for nine years, with various agencies often having said the completion is on schedule and then pushing back the completion date. Amini said this week that despite the Sept. 28 target completion date, he was shooting for the end of November. Now, that’s also unlikely.

Rick Drew, head of the Whittaker-Bermite Citizens Advisory Group, said this is just business as usual.

“It goes along with what I’ve been saying: three to five years,” Drew said. “We’re still three to five years (away). I’ve been involved with it 10 years now.”

Amini hopes that the two agencies will realize that this permit is not for developers but for the good of the community and issue the permit quickly.

“If I have the permit in my hand on Nov. 15, I should be done with the project within the January-February time frame,” he said. “I’m optimistic (but) I have no idea. It’s a hope, not a promise.”

From ‘Fighting Fascism’ to Running for School Board

| News | October 4, 2018

In person, he’s “Coach Dave” running for a non-partisan seat on the Saugus Union School District board. Online, however, he’s a liberal-leaning activist fighting what he sees as fascism in this country.

These are the two sides of David Barlavi. He wants to “Make American FUN Again” (his campaign slogan, and he has a website, teamMAFA.com) yet rails at Donald Trump, calling him “a treasonous president” and “Cheeto.” He refers to Republicans as “Repuglicans” and posted a picture of himself flipping off a person dressed like Trump in a striped jailbird costume.

He admits he has no idea how to run a campaign, but has definite ideas about how a school (and a district) should be run.

“Everything in life should be FUN and enjoyable, including politics,” he said on his campaign website. “This is especially true when it comes to the education and well-being of our kids, grandkids, teachers, and school staff & administrators.

But in recent years, we’ve lost the FUN of America.  Fortunately, we can get America’s FUN back with a new attitude toward our neighbors, communities and public service.”

In the course of a 56-minute interview Monday at The Paseo Club, Barlavi focused on his love of children, their importance and his history of coaching them, which helped formulate his platform. He also expressed conviction that his liberalism is the side that’s right and helpful, and the conservatism practiced in Washington today is harmful and on the side that’s wrong.

First, however, came the kids. Barlavi, 49 and an attorney, said he has coached more than 100 youths, including his children and grandchild, over 13 years in basketball, flag football and soccer (he also volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters). Some of that coaching took place at Bridgeport Elementary after a teacher who feared she was ill-equipped to teach football to her fifth graders reached out to him (Barlavi played football at Grant High in the 1980s.).

Running for school board, he said, is just a different way to help children. His platform centers on children being safe from what he calls the three Bs: bullies, bullets and bias.

“Bullying is counterproductive to education and learning,” he said. “We need to make sure kids are having fun.” Also, teachers need to be safe from bullying administrators.

“It’s a fear of open and honest communication that might lead to repercussions,” he said. “Teachers fear being able to express themselves in the classroom. … The board can be a leader in saying open and honest communication will not be punished.”

Barlavi said he is concerned with the “epidemic of school shootings,” reminding that a severe one happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. “There are steps we can take to make schools safer,” he said, including visitor photo-ID badges, searching bags, a full-time security guard at every school, cameras and motion detectors. He opposes metal detectors, however. As for bias, Barlavi said he’s worried about Muslim, immigrant and non-white children coming under scrutiny. “I want to make sure kids don’t feel uncomfortable at school and teachers feel welcome and comfortable,” he said.

Other platform points include:
•Working to increase state funding by creating ways that teachers, parents, business leaders and other stakeholders can directly pressure state representatives to make school funding a priority.
•Increase sports, music and the arts in the schools. Barlavi wants to hire physical education teachers, partner with the city and private leagues to ensure kids can participate, and ensure anyone who wants to play an instrument or engage in drawing, painting, sculpting or any other art can. He said he knows this costs money, which is why there needs to be an increase in school funding. He credits West Creek Academy for introducing African and Central American music and wants that to spread across all 15 district schools.

•All board members should be fingerprinted.
•Board members should serve no more than three terms (12 years).

Barlavi’s activism goes back to the 1992 beating of Rodney King. He has especially stepped up the rhetoric after Trump won the presidency.

An example comes from a July 22 Facebook posting: “90 percent of registered repuglicans are still trumpanzees, and their support for cheeto did not falter even last week with cheerio’s lips firmly on Putin’s rear end on world television. How will we be able to move on as a country like this? Even when we take our democracy back, these open bigots will still be among us? How will we deal with their undying support for fascism?”

Barlavi has his supporters. Meghan Rafferty posted that she would vote for him.

Scott Ervin, while not coming out and saying he supports Barlavi, played devil’s advocate when he posted, “So why CAN’T he be on the school board? Everyone knows DB is very supportive of ‘the children.’ His personal views, outside of being a (potential) school board member shouldn’t preclude him from serving on the board … right?”

But there are also people such as Wendy Garcia, who posted, “David Barlavi is a scary man. Anyone with children in the Saugus school district, I suggest you get out and vote. Stop thinking it doesn’t affect you, it does!”

And from Betty Arenson: “This type on a school board? NOOOO!”

To which Barlavi responds, “If you don’t feel my outspokenness and my beliefs don’t qualify me for serving, then don’t vote for me.”

It remains to be seen if he can defeat Jesus Henao and Evan Patlian and win the seat Paul De La Cerda chose not seek again.

Learning from the Curve – Miranda Ready for Candidacy

| Meet the Candidates | October 4, 2018

At some point since January 2017, Bill Miranda stopped thinking he was as an appointed city councilmember and considered himself a councilmember.

While it’s undeniable that Miranda was appointed to complete Dante Acosta’s term, he has been on the job for 21 months. The learning curve might have been steep – and he certainly brought his share of baggage with him – but Miranda says he is ready to take his place as an elected councilmember.
“There’s never a point when you feel like you got there because there’s always stuff,” he said Monday at a Newhall coffee shop. “But there’s a point where it became more palatable, where I understood it more. I’m not a politician, and even though I’ve been involved with the activities and all that, I’m no politician. I have no idea what it was going to take.”

What it took was weathering the storms brought by people seeking to delegitimize the appointment process and the person who was appointed. When Acosta left to serve in the Assembly, many people favored an election; the council balked at the cost and preferred appointment. Many thought the person who received the highest number of votes and wasn’t elected – TimBen Boydston – should be elected; the council balked at that, too. And when many people thought that with 50 applicants there should have been forums and information sessions, the council balked at that, too.

Miranda said those were emotional situations, “but had nothing to do with me, frankly.”

After winning appointment – in which he told the story of being the last to apply when city lists show he was 36th – Miranda had to deal with aspects of his past.

Specifically, the Gazette wrote a series of articles questioning where was monies raised in 2014 by the Latino Chamber of Commerce, in which Miranda was CEO. Miranda was never alleged to have embezzled anything; he simply was unable to ever provide proof of where the money went and passed responsibility to the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce because the two entities merged. (He did, however, take responsibility in November 2017 for failing to ensure the Latino chamber filed its tax documents on time.)

During an April 28, 2017 show on KHTS, he pounded his open right hand on some papers and said he had proof. The Gazette offered to meet him anywhere at any time to see it; he never met and instead insisted the paper already had it. (Earlier this year, the Gazette asked Miranda for proof of his military service; he provided it.)

On May 12, again on KHTS, Miranda accused Gazette publisher Doug Sutton of bias in challenging where the money went. During the May 23 council meeting, then-Signal publisher Chuck Champion verbally attacked Miranda for failing to show where the Latino Chamber money was and for accusing Sutton. He also took the other councilmembers to task for not properly vetting Miranda before appointing him.

Miranda said nothing that night and later declined comment. On Monday, he said, “I grew up in the (19)50s and 60s as a Puerto Rican kid in New York City – not just a Puerto Rican kid, a dark-skinned one. I have taken as much abuse in my life as anybody would ever want to take. That’s the bad news. The good news: You get a thick skin.”

Synchrony Bank filed suit July 1, 2017 and later won a default judgment for about $5,000. A settlement court date has been set for next year. Miranda said Monday there is nothing new to report.

The Franchise Tax Board suspended his limited liability company, Our Valley Group, for failing to meet tax requirements. Miranda said an agreement was reached, and a payment plan was put in place.

He used his councilmember title in an Our Valley Magazine ad, which possibly violated a 1974 law that prohibits an elected or appointed official from using the office for personal gain. Miranda admitted that was a mistake.

When he was appointed by a 3-1 vote, Councilmembers Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean and Cameron Smyth were effusive in their praise. Nine months later, members weren’t commenting.

Yet now, those same councilmembers endorsed him. Smyth said he never regretted voting to appoint Miranda but acknowledged the steep learning curve Miranda had.

“Like anybody who gets elected or appointed the first time, you don’t realize how much work is involved until you are doing the work,” Smyth said. “Bill has done an excellent job of really putting his head down and learning the issues and trying to do what he thinks is best.”

Miranda said the most important lesson he has learned: “It takes three votes to get anything done. Even though it’s obvious, it’s a hard realization.”

To help learn that, he takes to heart what he believes is his primary mission as a councilmember: to listen and talk to everyone. He might live in Valencia, but he knows he represents Canyon Country, Saugus, Newhall, etc.

There are three issues the constituency cares about the most, he said: public safety, traffic and housing. Yet his campaign website only offers the following platforms: economic growth and initiatives for veterans, arts and seniors. There is one mention of public safety within the economic growth page.

Miranda did, however, address the traffic situations during the 54-minute interview. He said the solution is in three parts, the first being the traffic operations center hat already exists on the third floor in City Hall. The second part is the technology upgrades that continue. One such is adding and updating sensors that automatically start a timer when a car trips it. Miranda said it will take time, but one intersection he said has shown improvement is Sierra Highway and Rainbow Glen Drive.

The third part is to increase busses and trains. “We need to put more busses on the street, and they need to be more reliable,” Miranda said, acknowledging that many busses are currently half-filled and will continue to be until they run more efficiently.

“We need to budget more dollars for transportation. That’s a council matter,” he said.

And there needs to be more Metrolink trains because it makes no sense for people to have to cut their evenings short because they don’t want to miss the last train home, he said. While he said he knows the city has nothing to do with Metrolink, it’s up to councilmembers to advocate on the city’s behalf.

Is Miranda done learning on the job yet? He caused some eyes to widen when, during the last council meeting, he abstained during a vote to approve the consent calendar. He said it’s because he forgot to request an item be removed and didn’t want to vote no for everything else.

Until Nov. 6, however, he remains an appointed councilmember, even if “I don’t feel like I’m serving Dante’s term.”

The Red Elephant in the Room

| News | September 27, 2018

Everywhere they look, red is turning purple, possibly on the way to blue. Unacceptable, they say, and so they fight in the way they know how: by educating, empowering and electing.

This is a strange time to be a Republican in California, and Terri Lovell knows this. Yet she and her fellow Santa Clarita Republican Women Federated (RWF) members don’t give up as they try, in their own way, to stem the tide of any kind of blue (read: Democratic) wave.

“We can see all around us California is being taken over by leftists, for a long time, as more and more people with those kind of leanings move into our district,” Lovell said. “The reason we still have hope is that there are a lot of Republicans in California.”

As an example, she said she attended a conference after the 2016 election and learned that more Californians volunteered, gave more money, worked more phone banks and pounded the pavement more than residents of any other state.

Additionally, more than 4 million Californians voted for Donald Trump; only Florida and Texas cast more votes. Whether that’s a function of California’s population can be debated, but it tells Lovell that the group shouldn’t give up just because the state won’t be giving its 55 electoral votes to a Republican anytime soon.

“I don’t think California is a lost cause,” she said. “California is worth fighting for.”

So, the Santa Clarita RWF sticks to its mission of registering Republicans to vote, educating people about conservative philosophies such as limited government and individual liberty, and electing people who share those philosophies.

The group, which started in 1951, meets the third week each month at The Oaks Club; one month for a Tuesday lunch and the next month for a Saturday breakfast. The meetings usually include updates from representatives of Republican office-holders (locally, that’s Steve Knight, Dante Acosta and Scott Wilk) and a guest speaker. That guest speaker could be someone local (Gazette publisher Doug Sutton spoke last month) or someone seeking a more major office (gubernatorial candidate John Cox came; Lovell said she invited Travis Allen, too, but he was double-booked).

Members often attend county, state and national conferences – Lovell heard her preferred presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, speak at one – where they get updates from elected leaders and attend workshops on such topics as leadership and writing ballot propositions. They also often meet with Knight, Wilk and Acosta in their offices to discuss issues and voice concerns.

During the city council debate about sanctuary cities, members turned out, and they currently are working hard in favor of Proposition 6, which would repeal the gas tax the Legislature passed last year.

Lovell named several members who are involved in specific areas. Linda Paine founded the Election Integrity Project, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring the integrity of voter rolls and stopping voter fraud. Donna Basail is a force within the Yes on 6 movement. Gala Cruz organized a Make America Great Again rally last year.

The group also involves itself with other outside conservative organizations, such as Young America’s Foundation, which commits itself to individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values; and Turning Point USA, which combats what it sees as on-campus discrimination of conservative-leaning speakers.

Members participated in the recall of Josh Newman, a Democrat who represented the 29th state Senate district but was ousted because he voted in favor of the gas tax. Lovell points to that as a victory and an indication that the fight must continue.

“What keeps us going: We may not be able to have a huge impact, but we do get little victories,” Lovell said. “Keep chipping away. That’s the only choice we have. When we get those victories, good. Then maybe we can get another one. I don’t see anyone in my club with slumped shoulders. We have a really positive attitude. You want to fight for your state. As long as I’m here, I’m going to keep fighting for California and maybe one of these days, it’ll turn around.”

Sankalp Varma Drives Council Campaign Forward

| Meet the Candidates | September 27, 2018

To Sankalp Varma, nothing makes more sense than having an Uber driver serve on the city council.

“It gives me a very real perspective on the community,” he said.

Actually, Varma, 47, is so much more than a driver. His father earned his Ph.D. in chemistry and metallurgy in his native India, and his mother was descended from royalty, he said. Sankalp, which can be translated from Hindi to mean “determination,” moved with his family from India to the Bronx, then Levittown, Penn., El Toro (now Lake Forest), Winston-Salem, N.C., Bonita, Sherman Oaks and Santa Clarita, where he lives with his wife and son.

The birth of his son, Max, four years ago is what put him on the path to Uber. He had already made his money working in production and post-production in the entertainment industry. Then he started DVD manufacturing for Lightning Media. At his peak, he made one million DVDs a month. When the DVD market downturned in 2011 in favor of digital downloads and streaming, Varma started distributing regional Indian films.

Max’s birth made him rethink his priorities. “I’m at a point where I’m lucky enough to spend time with him when I want,” he said.

He said he typically works 5:30 a.m.-noon (although he spoke to the Gazette at 10:15 a.m. Monday), then spends time with wife and son before heading back out at night.

As he gives rides to his various customers, it sometimes resembles HBO’s “Taxicab Confessions.” Riders talk about their problems and Varma listens, sometimes mentioning that he’s running for council.

What he hears has helped form his platform, which he says are full of “forward-thinking ideas with progressive ways to accomplish (them).”

Millennials and empty nesters bemoan a lack of nightlife. Varma can’t count the number of times he’s given rides to partygoers who have to leave the valley to drink, dance, socialize and whatever else they have in mind.

His idea: a rooftop club to take advantage of the wonderful views. It can have the alcohol flowing or it can be dry, depending on the need. He also thinks an entertainment and retail district near Six Flags Magic Mountain, similar to Universal CityWalk, would be a good idea.

Another group he often drives are those who need medical marijuana, convincing him that a dispensary is needed locally.

“If Canada has completely legalized it, and if our state has completely legalized it, there’s no reason people have to leave Santa Clarita to go get medicine,” he said.

The homeless population could be served by opening some sort of spiritual center to help people get sober “and get them work-ready immediately,” he said.

He’d also like to see a hospital or medical center in Canyon Country. As great as he finds Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (Max was born there four years ago), “every minute counts,” and traffic can make the trip longer.

To combat traffic, he proposes a monorail system and a people mover based out of the dry Santa Clara River that can connect the communities. “I live in traffic every single day,” he said. “I’ve heard we need to create more roads. We need a long-term solution. There’s a 30-year planned community near Magic Mountain (Newhall Ranch). That will bring 50,000 to 100,000 more people.”

Finally, he would like to see the city build an Olympic training center to coincide with the 2028 Los Angeles Games. He envisions an indoor track but also would like to include Castaic Lake in some way.

It took several tries during the 38-minute interview to get Varma to explain how the city council could help in these matters. He said he could provide the leadership to create opportunities, but it would take community members to step forward and put them into action. He said as a councilmember he could help by directing people to various federal grants and incentive programs or by seeking charitable trusts to donate.

The most important thing right now, he said, is to come up with ideas. “That’s what’s really missing,” he said. “It takes a community to get on the same page.”

Acton-Agua Dulce Bond Measure Questioned

| News | September 20, 2018

The text of the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District current bond measure, Measure CK, is misleading and should have been rewritten, opponents claim. The bond proponents, meanwhile, insist the language is legal and meets state-law requirements.

The measure asks the voters to approve $7.5 million in general obligation bonds to renovate or modernize Agua Dulce and Meadowlark Elementary schools, High Desert Middle School and Vazquez High School, plus the charter school that currently sits on the site of Acton School that the district still owns. The list of projects includes upgrading electrical systems, painting, lighting, sewer and septic systems; fix, repair or replace leaky roofs, air conditioning, heating and ventilation; get new security cameras, computers, hardware and software; construct or improve athletic facilities, bring everything up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards; and repair, replace or improve paving, roadways, access ramps and landscaping.

The voters need to pass the measure with a 55-percent majority to enact it.
“If it doesn’t pass, the community is missing out on a huge opportunity,” Superintendent Larry King said.

Despite its enrollment numbers of just 10,016 students as of 2016-17, King says the district is suffering from overcrowding, the result of having to close Agua Dulce due to low enrollment and turning Meadowlark into grades K-4 and High Desert into grades 5-8. The plan was to reopen Acton but the state didn’t allow it, King said.

Steve Petzold, principal officer of The Center for Truth in School Bond Measures, is the bond measure’s primary opponent, having written the argument against the measure and the rebuttal to the argument in favor of it. He raised several concerns over the course of several interviews.

“This (school) board has an obligation to the voters to give them the facts up front so they can make an informed decision,” Petzold said.

First, Petzold claimed, the text of the bond question violates Proposition 39 (2000) because it requires “a specific list of school projects to be funded,” but the current list is vague. King says the district’s San Francisco-based bond counsel, Jones Hall, advised on the wording. “We did not get super specific because we wanted bond flexibility,” King said.

To which Petzold replied, “It’s very honest, but how the hell can you make it general?”

Bill Kadi, a Jones Hall shareholder who said he was one of a team that advised, wrote and reviewed the measure, said he is satisfied it meets all statutory requirements.

Petzold also said the language does not meet the requirements of Section 13119 of the state Elections Code that requires the ballot question to be written, “Shall the measure (stating the nature thereof) be adopted?” The bond question is not written in that format, but Kadi said it’s not applicable because it’s a bond, not a measure.

The law also says the wording applies, “If the proposed ordinance imposes a tax…” Kadi disagreed, saying, “We don’t believe it’s applicable to a school bond.”

Richard Michael, who runs the website Big Bad Bonds and spoke to Petzold about Measure CK, said county clerks violate this law all the time. His website lists 25 of them, including Los Angeles County’s Dean Logan. Petzold sent Logan a letter, a copy of which he provided the Gazette, in which he lists six examples of how the bond measure isn’t written according to state law. One of those is Section 15122 of the Education Code that requires the words “Bonds-Yes” and “Bonds-No” in the ballot question, which are currently absent.

Petzold also forwarded an email from Julane Whalen, constituent services coordinator with the County Registrar-Recorder/Clerk’s office. “The Code does not compel this Office to take any action based on the demands listed in your letter,” she wrote. “At this point, we have reviewed these requests and no further action by this Office will be taken at this time.”

This didn’t surprise Michael. “Nobody is going to unless somebody sues,” he said.

Kadi said the final text would include the required wording, although the version currently available on Michael’s website doesn’t.

A final concern with the wording is that the ballot question says the bonds would be sold “at legal rates” instead of listing the actual interest rate, which Michael said is currently a maximum of 12 percent. He thinks the rate isn’t mentioned because the bond measure is more likely to be rejected if people see the interest rate. His research shows only four of 1,243 bond measures since 2001 stated the interest rate, and all failed.

John Greenlee, managing director at Emeryville-based Caldwell Flores Winters, Inc. who also advised on the bond, said the “legal rate” is currently 12 percent.

This isn’t the first bond measure the district’s voters have had to consider. They previously approved Measure CF in 2008, which allowed for $13 million in bonds that allowed the district to primarily replace portable classrooms with permanent ones.

Petzold said that some of the issues he has with Measure CF affects the district’s credibility regarding Measure CK. For example, Proposition 39 requires a school board to conduct annual, independent financial and performance audits until all bond funds have been spent to ensure that the bond funds have been used only for the projects listed in the measure. On the district website, an audit is combined for the years 2009-15, along with audits for 2016 and 2017.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Lynn David said these were done before she arrived a year ago and doesn’t know why they were combined. “All audits are clean audits,” meaning all funds have been spent only for the purposes stated in the bond measure.

Petzold also wondered why Measure CF was for $13 million, but latest audit says $15.9 million. Greenlee said that’s because the bonds were capital appreciation bonds in which no interest was initially paid. When the payments come due, accountants list the interest as additional principal, he said.

Petzold also pointed out that Measure CF’s estimated property taxes was $25 per $100,000 of assessed value but in reality became $38 per $100,000 of assessed value. Greenlee said that since bonds are issued over 30 years, the assessed value has to be estimated because it’s impossible to predict what will happen over 30 years. In this case, the demise in the real estate market affected the value of homes, so the dollar amount went up.

Knight Returned Two NRA Checks

| News | September 20, 2018

When Rep. Steve Knight told the “Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast that he had not taken any money from the National Rifle Association, it wasn’t true, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

As reported by the progressive magazine Mother Jones, the Knight campaign accepted $5,000 from the NRA in a 13-month span: $2,500 in July, $1,500 in May and $1,000 in July 2017 (this on top of $3,000 he accepted during the 2016 election cycle). These contributions appear in the NRA’s FEC filings but not Knight’s because political action committees must file monthly; candidates must file quarterly, and the third quarter ends Sept. 30.

Knight (R-Palmdale) campaign consultant Matt Rexroad said the campaign returned the two 2018 checks, although he acknowledged the $2,500 was deposited before being returned.

As for the July 2017 check, Rexroad said, “He made his statement publicly and we’re trying to live up to that standard. July 2017, we’re not dealing with that.”

Knight’s opponent for the 25th congressional district seat, Katie Hill, who has criticized him for taking NRA money, told the Gazette she was surprised when she first heard Knight say on the podcast, “Well, we haven’t taken any funds from the NRA lately.”
“It’s just another indication he will say one thing when it suits him, but if he gets in front of gun lovers, he’ll say he gladly takes from the NRA,” Hill said.

The NRA has endorsed Knight and given him an A rating. The NRA Political Victory Fund gave him the same rating in 2016 for his “proven pro-Second Amendment record and is committed to protecting your gun rights!”

Rexroad said Knight’s record on the Second Amendment “is what is it, and I imagine it will continue.”

Mother Jones reported that gun violence prevention groups object to Knight’s co-sponsoring a bill that would force states to recognize out-of-state concealed-carry permits, as well as his votes that would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration from sharing individuals’ mental-health records with the background-check system that is used to determine whether individuals are eligible to purchase weapons.

Furthermore, Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), who founded a gun-control group, has spent $12,000 in digital ads opposing Knight’s re-election, Mother Jones reported.

Obama Stumps for Hill

| News | September 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal Battle Between Council Candidates Continues

| City Council, News | September 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Nichols Campaigns as Voice for the Voiceless

| Meet the Candidates | September 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then she started discussing some platform points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bridge to Somewhere, Someday

| News | September 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornhole-in-One

| News | September 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They played two rounds of golf.

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

“I call him my corn star,” she said.

District Voting: The People Could Force the Issue

| City Council, News | September 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McLean Touts Vision and Experience

| News | August 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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