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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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It’s All About the Money

| News | 19 hours ago

It appears that some of the Democratic challengers in the 25th congressional district races are slowly turning from civility to hostility.

Katie Hill’s campaign announced on Monday that she had outraised her fellow Democrats in the year’s first quarter. This was a day after Bryan Caforio’s campaign put out an announcement entitled, “Bryan Caforio Leads Money Race.”

Hill disagreed and pointed to the Federal Election Commission report. “He can say he has more cash on hand,” she said.

In fact, that is exactly what Caforio is claiming. The release said he leads all Democrats with $539,740 on hand, although the FEC puts it at $555,284.89. (The campaign said it would file an amendment to adjust the total, reflecting ballot statement and filing fees not previously included).

Incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) has more than $1 million available, according to the FEC.

Hill has $528,661.41 on hand, but she pointed out that Caforio loaned himself $75,000, and if that is subtracted, Hill has more cash on hand.

Caforio’s campaign manager Nicole DeMont said the loan is a result of Hill refusing to sign the “People’s Pledge” to keep “dark money” from Super PACs out of the race. Hill claimed the loan, which she said Caforio took out on March 31, is a sign Caforio is desperate to “look like he’s still in the race.”

Hill also has raised $18,000 in “transfers.” She explained that is her share of money that political action committee Emily’s List has raised for various candidates (Emily’s List has endorsed Hill).

Both candidates have issued refunds, Caforio $200 and Hill $915. Caforio’s refunds are because people accidentally donated twice when they meant to donate once. It is not because they donated beyond the maximum allowed amount, as is the case with Hill’s campaign. These are amounts to people who have exceeded the maximum donation in a quarter.

Caforio also has a disbursement to Gretchen Zovak, dated Nov. 3, 2017, for $738 as “event supplies.” Zovak currently works for the Jess Phoenix campaign.

According to Phoenix media manager Jennifer Buonantony, Zovak worked on Caforio’s campaign but switched to Phoenix. While she worked for Caforio, he bought chocolates from her to give to his supporters. She now handles event merchandise, such as T-shirts, for Phoenix.

The Elephant in California

| News | 23 hours ago

Upon examination, the Democratic majorities and influences in California can seem impossible to overcome. Consider:

Since 2011, Democrats have held the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller, attorney general and insurance commissioner.

In the Legislature, Democrats have been the majority in both houses since 1997. The Assembly had a Republican majority from 1994-96. Before that, one has to go back to 1970. The Senate also has had a Democratic majority since 1970 except for 1972-74, when it was evenly split 20-20.
The state’s Republican delegation to the House of Representatives hasn’t been the majority since 1958, and there hasn’t been a Republican senator since John Seymour was appointed to finish Pete Wilson’s term after Wilson was elected governor. Seymour lost his bid for his own term to Dianne Feinstein in 1992.
The state has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1988.

What’s a Republican to do if he or she wants to win elected office from this state? The Gazette spoke to two prominent Republicans to try and find out.

Tom Del Beccaro, an author, attorney and former chair of the California Republican Party, thinks Republicans need to pick a few issues Democrats are not paying attention to that will resonate with voters, offer solutions to those issues, and sell those solutions to the voters.

“Voters are impatient and demanding. You’ve got to give them something,” Del Beccaro said. “You can’t just say, ‘Like me.’ You’d better have some specific solutions. People like ideas.”

Del Beccaro said there are numerous issues Republicans could trumpet: water, education, taxes, transportation and crime. But the risk is to try and solve every problem, he said. Instead, pick and choose because “if you run on too many ideas, people won’t remember any ideas.”

An example he mentioned was the Contract with America that Newt Gingrich championed in 1994. It was a Republican Party document that promised eight reforms that would be enacted and 10 bills that would be debated and voted on in Congress. Many believe it was instrumental in helping the Republicans control both houses of Congress for the first time since 1953.

Any state Republican who thinks that acting like a Democrat will work is sadly mistaken, he said. It will take ideas, but also money, a grassroots movement and technology. Look no further than the 25th congressional district race, where three Democrats have raised more than $2.4 million in the last 15 months on the idea that incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) is ineffective in representing the district, and their way is better.

“This isn’t Iowa, where you can get in front of thousands of voters,” Del Beccaro said. “You have to have money, a big organization, but you have to have a resonating message.”

And getting out the message has been a problem for state Republicans, according to conservative radio-show host Joe Messina.

“We suck at getting what we stand for out,” he said, “and we let others drive the narrative about what we stand for. We should be coming out with what is our message.”

So, what should the message be? Messina thinks it needs to be American and local, “American,” as in everybody has an opportunity to succeed; “local,” as in the cliché that politics is local. Look at Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, who started locally and took his message to Washington.

“How do I represent people?” Messina said. “Do what the Democrats do. They have community organizers. They go to different events, and they talk to constituents: ‘What issues are you running into? What concerns do you have?’ It is at the community level (that) you get your message out.”

And in getting out that message, stop using party labels, Messina said. Use “Californian” instead.

Do these things, Del Beccaro said, and there is a chance the minority party could become the majority again. But Messina cautioned it might take a few election cycles.

“You can stick on principles,” he said, “but it’s going to tab how you deliver, where you deliver and how often you deliver.”

Steve Knight Behind the Scenes

| News | April 12, 2018

As the June primary draws closer, Steve Knight finds himself in a situation similar to many incumbents: He’s the only member of his party running for re-election in his district, and he runs on his record.

In some ways, Knight (R-Palmdale) finds himself in a different situation as he attempts to secure a third term as 25th congressional district representative.

He’s widely considered among the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the state; three of his Democratic challengers have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars – though none as much as Knight. And although California has a top-two primary, in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election, Knight is unconcerned, but takes nothing for granted. He pointed out that in 2014, he and fellow Republican Tony Strickland made the cut.

But privately, this is what people say about him: He stays in the background for much of his two-year term, voting party over country, and then as the primary/general election draws near, he suddenly comes out from under his hole and trumpets everything he’s done in his term.

Knight’s response: He prefers to work behind the scenes, the party in control sets the agenda, and Congress moves so slowly that it takes so long to get anything done, but once there is something to report, he will.

“I don’t think I’m loud and on Fox (News) and MSNBC a lot,” he said by phone during a 39-minute interview Monday. “I do it on purpose. This is a hard job.”

As Knight sees it, there are three types of people serving in Congress: those who seek as much publicity as possible, those who put their heads down and work to get things done, and those he calls “seat fillers” – those whose districts are so safe they can just show up and be re-elected again and again without needing to sponsor any legislation.

“I put myself in the second group,” he said. “We do as much as we can. This is not a city council, where you can get a lot done every two weeks. It takes a while. … I ran for this office to get something done. It takes a lot of time and energy. But when we get something done, we’ll make it known. We’ll put out press releases. If you don’t tell anybody, nobody knows.”

As for voting party over country, Knight calls that “an absolute lie,” even though the website FiveThirtyEight.com estimated Knight has voted in line with President Trump’s positions 98.6 percent of the time.
Knight says the party in power dictates the agenda. When the Democrats controlled Congress, he said, the Democrats voted for the Democratic agenda 99 percent of the time.

Other topics on which Knight commented:

-The border wall and DACA. Knight said the Democratic leadership is being “disingenuous” because it’s using the so-called Dreamers as “pawns” and isn’t really interested in solving the problem of what to do with the millions who came here as young children when their parents illegally immigrated.

“If you really want to get things done, come back to the table,” he said of the Democrats. “Let’s do DACA. Let’s do border security. … One bill. I’m ready to do that right now.”

Knight did not specify what “border security” means. As far as he’s concerned, it could be a wall, an electronic barrier or more guards. But he said he is ready to vote in favor of granting the DACA children permanent residency.

“They should be here. We should be done with it,” he said.

-The so-called “People’s Pledge.” Democratic challenger Katie Hill declined last week’s offer to join Bryan Caforio and Jess Phoenix in pledging not to accept any money from outside funding unless they were ready to give the same amount to charity. Knight questioned what exactly constitutes “dark money,” wondering if money from labor unions would count (Caforio has been endorsed by 20 unions, Hill by none; Phoenix has no endorsements listed on her website). He also credited Hill for not letting herself be put into a box that Caforio and Phoenix wanted.

-The state’s sanctuary law. Knight said Gov. Jerry Brown signing SB 54 into law was an example of “politics over policy.” He said he and other California Republicans tried to show Brown that signing such a law would make it more difficult to get things done because the other 49 states see California as doing its own thing, so they might do their own thing and cause less cooperation than there already is.

“He (Brown) wanted to thumb his nose at President Trump, and he did, and now Trump is mad about it,” Knight said. “This is what you get: You get the politics of sanctuary cities.”

As for cities opting out (Los Alamitos, Aliso Viejo, San Juan Capistrano and Huntington Beach have, and Orange County plans to support the federal lawsuit against the state), Knight says he leaves it to the cities to decide and has no reaction if cities within his district decide to or not.

Local Views on Sanctuary City Debate

| News | April 12, 2018

The backlash over the state sanctuary law has escalated, with Huntington Beach, Aliso Viejo, San Juan Capistrano and the Orange County Board of Supervisors joining Los Alamitos in opting out.

Closer to home, the Santa Clarita City Council decided to place on a future agenda a discussion about the California Values Act (SB 54) and possibly vote to oppose it and support the federal lawsuit against it.

Councilmember Bob Kellar led the charge at Tuesday’s meeting, as he has ever since Los Alamitos opted out last month. Cameron Smyth joined him. But these two aren’t running for re-election in November.

Mayor Laurene Weste has said she’s running, although she hasn’t filed official papers yet. Still, she was the third to request the matter be placed on the agenda. But she did it somewhat reluctantly, saying she wasn’t happy that matters like this have fallen to city councils. She also demanded the discussion be polite, because she doesn’t like the direction civil discourse in this country has taken.

“I would like us to have civil discourse where finally in America we solve the problems, not just throw things at each other,” she told the council. “This gives you an opportunity to discuss – civilly – your problem and your differences about what’s going on. And I’m going to reinforce civility, because when this item comes back, if the room isn’t civil then the meeting won’t continue.”

The other incumbents, Marsha McLean and Bill Miranda, said nothing Tuesday. McLean told the Gazette earlier, “I have no statement.” However, she declared at the March 27 meeting, “We are not a sanctuary city. Several years ago, folks came and wanted us to declare ourselves a sanctuary city and we chose not to do that.”

Miranda previously said he is not in favor of a city passing any ordinance that violates federal law. He also said he doesn’t like when state law challenges federal law and when local law challenges state law. Yet, at the March 27 meeting, he joined Kellar in wanting to place the matter on a future agenda.

Asked to clarify, Miranda didn’t return calls for comment.

Council candidates Brett Haddock, Logan Smith and Diane Trautman publicly supported SB 54, which prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from using money or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes. Also, law enforcement may not notify immigration officials if a non-citizen is arrested for violating some controlled-substance provisions or is a witness and/or victim to a hate crime.

“People have an idea it allows law enforcement to shelter people that are criminals, that should be held and should be deported,” Trautman said. “We need to do a better job of educating people about the (law’s) realities. … We are an immigrant country. I love that diversity. It has added tremendously to our country. If you object to sanctuary city (law), you’re making it harder for police to do their job. … You invite opportunities for racial profiling and we shouldn’t be encouraging that.”

Haddock and Trautman also oppose joining the federal lawsuit against California. Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed suit last month, claiming the law endangers federal agents.

“To spend all that money (on a law) our local law enforcement mostly supports – I believe Sheriff Jim O’Connell came out in favor of it – it’s counterproductive,” Haddock said.

In fact, O’Connell originally opposed the Act, stating that other state law suffices. But according to several media sources, O’Connell changed his mind after discussions led to changes in the bill that satisfied him. Smith read O’Connell’s statement during the council meeting.

“With the passage of this motion, our council members have declared war on Dreamers and immigrant families in Santa Clarita,” Smith said in a statement. “Available data supports the assertion that sanctuary cities are safer cities and Los Angeles County law enforcement leaders have issued statements in support of the California Values Act. Council members should be focusing on local issues, like addressing our housing crisis, ending the opioid and heroin epidemic, and bringing good-paying jobs to our city.”

Smith told the Gazette that SB 54 was written “to protect people trying to live their life, live the American Dream,” and people shouldn’t confuse punishment with justice. It’s perfectly right to deport criminals such as the Filipino sex offender who was here illegally when he was accused of assaulting a teen in Saugus in 2015.

“If our immigration policy went after those people, it would be easier for me to stomach,” Smith said.

Katie Hill Questions ‘People’s Pledge’

| News | April 5, 2018

Katie Hill’s refusal to sign the so-called “People’s Pledge” to keep outside spending out of the 25th congressional district race means the pledge will not go into effect.

Hill’s Democratic opponent, Bryan Caforio, signed the pledge and called on Hill and Jess Phoenix to join him. Phoenix did, but the pledge is moot since Hill isn’t signing.

Under the pledge, if any group other than the candidates’ designated campaign committees gives money supporting or opposing any of the three candidates, that candidate must give that same amount to charities designated by the other two candidates. So, if a PAC gives $50,000 to Caforio, he would have to give $25,000 each to Phoenix’s and Hill’s charities.

The pledge stemmed from Massachusetts then-Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren agreeing in 2012 to discourage advertising from super PACs and other independent groups. It arose from the landmark 2010 Supreme Court case Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission. In it, the justices granted First Amendment free-speech rights to organizations, but the effect has been a massive increase in such organizations donating large sums of money to campaigns all over the country.

The Washington Post reported in 2012 that it’s unclear how effective the agreement would be because candidates are prohibited from coordinating with independent groups. It is for that reason that Hill refused to sign.

“The pledge is asking me to be accountable for independent expenditures (IEs). The trick with IEs is that my campaign cannot legally know about or coordinate with them,” Hill said in an emailed statement. “So, if I understand the pledge correctly, it sounds quite hollow. This pledge would essentially require my campaign to be signing a blank check. That is fiscally irresponsible and simply a stupid strategy. I owe far better to the 5000-plus people who have invested their hard-earned dollars into my campaign.”

All three candidates have spoken out against the Citizen’s United decision and have promised to address campaign-finance reform if elected. Hill claims Caforio received millions of dollars from organizations, such as labor unions, when he unsuccessfully tried to unseat Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) in 2016.

Caforio’s website currently lists 20 unions endorsing him, which does not necessarily mean he receives money from them. According to opensecrets.org, run by the Center for Responsive Politics, Caforio received $796, 444 from outside spending in 2016; and $2,957,690 was spent in opposing Knight.

“I wonder what has changed his mind this time,” Hill wrote. “It’s disingenuous political posturing and I’m not going to be a part of it. I am all in favor of taking meaningful steps to drastically reform campaign finance regulations and practices – that’s why, from day 1, I have pledged not to take corporate money. This pledge is not that.”

Caforio said in an email that Hill not signing is an indication that “she’d rather have a super PAC buy her election than protect our democracy. Unfortunately, it’s now clear that Katie Hill’s prior statements about wanting to get big money out of politics were nothing more than empty campaign promises.”

City Gives Theater Business Front Row Seat

| News | April 5, 2018

Cameron Smyth wonders if the city should be getting into the theater business. It currently operates The MAIN in Downtown Newhall – Smyth was not on the Santa Clarita City Council when it made that decision in 2016 – and last week allotted $75,000 as part of an agreement with the Newhall School District to ensure the Newhall Family Theatre for the Performing Arts is available to the community 70 days a year.

“It’s something new for the city. We have to keep our eye on it,” Smyth said. “Philosophically, I’m not sure the city should be running and operating a theater, but that’s a discussion for another time.”

Perhaps he should know this: The city currently subsidizes between an estimated $20.76 and $39.67 per ticket at the city-managed The MAIN theater.
“I don’t have a clue what that means,” Mayor Laurene Weste said of the dollar amounts.

The Gazette determined the subsidies based on the expenses the city provided since running The MAIN last year: $54,873 in salary, $55,200 in rent and $9,559.57 in utilities. It had 2,475 people pay $21,449.02 in ticket sales. Another 2,254 people used the theater for free events.

In almost 20 years, according to city Arts and Events Manager Phil Lantis, the city has given money to build the Canyon Theatre Guild, ensure the community has access to the performing arts center at College of the Canyons, taken over The MAIN, and now has the agreement with the Newhall district.

There’s also the Thursdays@Newhall series, Light Up Main Street, the Cowboy Festival, the library, community center and soon-to-be-opened parking structure, Lantis said. He did not mention the Laemmle Theatres or the possibility of an ArcLight Cinemas coming.

“The city managing The MAIN as a mini-arts center, and the support for the Newhall Family Theatre for the Performing Arts, continues this tradition of transforming Old Town Newhall into a vibrant destination for residents and visitors to celebrate the wonderful creativity our community has to offer,” Lantis said in an emailed statement.

It’s a grand investment, an amount Lantis put in the millions of dollars, but its managing The MAIN and the money to the Newhall district has at least one vocal critic: TimBen Boydston, executive and artistic director of the Canyon Theatre Guild. He determined that the $7,500 the city gives his nonprofit results in a 25-cent subsidy per ticket.

“Those numbers are huge subsidies per person. You can see how unfair it is the government spending that much money for their theater activities. How is that fair to the other theaters in the area?” Boydston said. “If the city wants a level playing field, then how about giving the same to the Canyon Theatre Guild? You should be subsidizing all the nonprofits at the same rate.”

Boydston said he appreciates the $436,000 the city put up to build the CTG. He also said the city gives $7,500 each to the E.S.C.A.P.E Theatre, the Santa Clarita Master Chorale, the Santa Clarita Ballet and the Santa Clarita Philharmonic. The Gazette attempted to contact all four, but only Philharmonic president Mark Elfont would comment.

“We’ve been pleased with what the city does for us,” he said. “It’s good to see the city reaching out to all organizations. I’m pleased with what’s going on.”

Having the PAC at COC, The MAIN and the new Family Theatre gives nonprofits such as the Philharmonic and Santa Clarita Ballet other places to hold their events. The CTG can’t exactly do the same thing, although it receives an additional $7,500 to help defray costs for an event at COC, and the city rents it during the Cowboy Festival, Boydston said.

Smyth said he is aware and appreciates Boydston’s “concern about competition.” But he and Weste insist that choice is good.

“More arts options isn’t going to hurt the CTG,” Smyth said. “The more we can provide opportunities, it’s sure to benefit everybody down there, including the Canyon Theatre Guild.”

Said Weste: “If we don’t give them (the public) choices, they’ll go where there are choices.”

Perhaps ironically, Boydston was on the City Council and voted to approve the city’s taking over The MAIN in 2016. Now, he and his theatre might become collateral damage.

“I was pretty certain that once they investigated it and realized how much it would cost, that they would not take that path,” he said. “I did ask the city manager at the time, and I was told, ‘Oh, we’re only going to look at it,’ and they did a study at the city and estimated it would cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars if the city were to manage that facility.”

Underwater Hockey

| News | March 29, 2018

Weston Monroe and Glen Terry know the difficulties associated with their sport’s name. People hear “underwater hockey” and immediately think “hockey.” Then they think fighting, blood, checking, and they wonder how somebody can do that while submerged and holding their breath. They also wonder how people can hold that long stick.

“People generally conceive hockey as being more of a rough sport, something more physical,” Terry said, “and if you add the dimensions of water, it can get pretty scary if someone’s starting to think about, ‘Oh my God, they can hold you, bang up against you, hit you, punch you, all under water? No thank you.’”

Monroe, who has played the sport for 11 years and currently is vice president of the L.A. Kraken Underwater Hockey Club that practices Tuesdays at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center, and Terry, the secretary, patiently explain. The sport, which began in 1954 in England, originally was called Octopush, and the sticks are the size of a hairbrush, about 10 to 12 inches long.

“When I say ‘Octopush,’ the person’s brain is blank. Now, I get to fill in the canvas how I want to without any preconceived notions,” Monroe said. “They’ve got this hockey stick in their brain, and they’re trying to picture a tiny little hockey stick, and they still picture it … with the little blade on the end, because people actually picture a little hockey stick like a souvenir you might get.”

Game equipment includes a three-pound puck, goggles, snorkel, gloves and fins. Games are two halves of 12-15 minutes with a three-minute halftime. Substitutions are free; as soon as one of the six players’ snorkels breaks the water’s surface, another player can go in – and they don’t have to dive down. If they’re playing defense and their team is attacking, for example, they can watch the game with their masks in the water, using the snorkel to breathe.

It’s almost entirely non-contact and extremely safe, although penalties are called for a variety of offenses, most commonly for using the stick to illegally contact the opponent, and for swimming into a person. Since the action is under water, referees use hand signals to indicate the foul and penalty. But if a person takes a fin to the face, there’s no foul.

“It’s actually his fault because he’s dumb enough to be there,” Monroe said. “There’s certainly some hits and bumps, but as soon as you feel something, your mask got knocked off a little bit, you just took in some water, or you know you’ve got to go back up (to the surface), you do. Never has there been an incident where somebody gets injured because of a lack of oxygen.”

But what Monroe and Terry think is the best selling point is that anyone can play – and they do. Right now, the club skews older, but Monroe would like to start a juniors program for ages 16 and up.

“First time I went, there was Nate, he’s like the international superstar,” Monroe said. “You had Cynthia, this little Filipino girl who weighs maybe 100 pounds. There’s Steve Herbert, who’s 270-280 pounds, maybe 5-5, big, fat, roly-poly dude who you look and think, ‘Well, he’s not very athletic,’ but in the water he’s amazing. There was Leigh who was from Canada. She’s like this 280-pound woman who’s actually on the Canadian national team, and she’s amazing, fast frickin’ hands.”

Another player came wearing a scar that stretched from the back of his neck to his tailbone, Monroe said.

“You’re looking at him like, what the heck? Back surgery, and I’m like, ‘Can you do this?’ and he goes, ‘It’s the only sport I can play.’ ”

At a tournament featuring the Canadian women’s national team, the women beat a co-ed team that Monroe was on, 7-1, and then three got out of the pool and breastfed their babies. Monroe recalled a national tournament in which an 86-year-old man played in a higher division than he did; a 71-year-old woman dominated Monroe, 56.

Monroe was a soccer player, although he had been a lifeguard and spent time snorkeling and spear fishing. Terry, 47, played basketball and baseball at Saugus High School. Neither saw himself as a water-sports guy until playing underwater hockey.

“I didn’t want to let go of being in a sport; and even though it took me a long time to be out of it, I played baseball all the way up to close to my 30s and then I didn’t pick up sports again until my 40s,” Terry said. “Baseball I could not do any longer. I had disk problems, back areas. I had surgery done. I didn’t see myself as physically able to do it. But when I started adding water, just the practicing of swimming, working with the team, I find myself at 47 probably the most healthy I’ve ever been physically.”

Monroe also sees the benefits. After having back surgery 15 months ago, the doctor recommended aqua therapy.

“I get to go back into the water? My brain lights up. I want to go back and play,” he said. “My doctor said, ‘Your recovery was remarkable compared to all my other patients.’ … This is age-friendly. I can play this for a long time.”

Saugus School District Questioned on use of Bond Funds

| News | March 29, 2018

Is the Saugus Union School District misusing construction bonds? Jason Gibbs wants to make sure the answer is no.

Gibbs, a member of the district’s nine-person citizens oversight committee, wonders if an expenditure in the Measure EE building fund audit called “salaries and benefits” violates the provision that school construction bonds are not to be used for such things.

“We’re concerned only in the sense that it’s a number on a piece of paper, and we want to see where it’s coming from,” Gibbs said.

The board followed suit at its last meeting and asked for the same additional information.

At issue is an expenditure in the audit for the year ending June 30, 2017 for $263,863 in salaries and benefits. Under state law, specifically Propositions 13 (1978) and 39 (2000), school bonds may not be used for “teacher and administrator salaries and other school operating expenses.”

The actual text on page 1 of the Measure EE bond, which voters approved in 2014, says something slightly different: The proceeds can only be used for “construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation or replacement of school facilities, including the furnishing and equipping of school facilities … and not for any other purpose, including teacher and administrator salaries and any other school non-construction operating expenses.”

Yet, on page 11 the text differs slightly. It says that “teacher and non-construction related administrator salaries and other non-construction related operating expenses” are prohibited.

It is this difference, argues Richard Michael, who runs the website Big Bad Bonds, that is so critical.

“This is a tactic to give districts reliable cover to do what they’re doing,” he said. “This is what they try to do to siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars in bond money. In every district, my anecdotal information is that between 10 and 20 percent of funds are reimbursed back to districts in salaries, which is illegal.”

Michael referred to a three-page letter Saugus District Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Nick Heinlein received from attorney Brian W. Smith of the Irvine-based law firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Rudd & Romo. In it, Smith addressed the differences in the wording and pointed to a 2004 opinion by then state Attorney General Bill Lockyer that said construction-related administrative salaries were within the law. This is the same position oversight committee chair Collin Schoenfeld took at the district board meeting.

Michael countered in a written response that since Smith represents the district and not the oversight committee, “the letter is just a thinly veiled effort to confuse the (oversight committee) and impose the district’s agenda on it.”

Michael wrote that Smith doesn’t address “the prohibition against bond proceeds being spent on salaries in both the California Constitution and the Strict Accountability in Local School Construction Bonds Act of 2000 (Proposition 39).”
Heinlein saw a copy of Michael’s report and didn’t want to comment because, as he said in an email, “(I)t seems like an opinion piece and we are all entitled to our opinions.”

He did, however, write that he calculated the percentage of salaries and benefits as 4.47 percent of the total expenditures.

“I just wish it was easier to explain that bonds often bring with them a whole huge list of projects,” he wrote. “These new projects bring with them a new workload that, typically, existing staff simply cannot add to their already long list of duties. Some districts hire construction management firms and other consultants to do the work, others create positions and add staff in hopes to avoid the high cost of consultants, but most often, it’s a mix of consultants and staff.”

Heinlein said that the district is paying district personnel to oversee the project, not a management company.

“I wonder what people think school districts are supposed to do once the bond is passed,” he said. “Who is supposed to do all these projects? … The whole thing is very confusing to me. Bond projects are a long-term plan, and these folks are paid out of the bond funds. We’re hiring people. We’re not supplanting funds. It’s not for anything else.”

That’s what Gibbs wants to ensure.

“I believe it’s our job to act independently and check to see if they’re doing a good job,” he said.

Default Judgment Against Miranda

| News | March 22, 2018

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A default judgment has been entered against City Councilmember Bill Miranda in a case brought by a national banking association alleging breach of contract and failing to pay back a credit card balance.

According to court documents, the Superior Court in Chatsworth on Oct. 31 awarded Synchrony Bank $5,002.98 “for goods, wares or merchandise sold and delivered to defendant for which defendant promised to pay plaintiff,” plus $294 in costs.

Synchrony Bank, according to its website, deals with investments such as certificates of deposit, money-market accounts and retirement accounts. In the suit against Miranda, it alleges it lent money to Miranda at Miranda’s request.

“This cause of action is based on a credit card account/sum of borrowed money that defendant knowingly requested and/or accepted from plaintiff, from which defendant has not repaid as promised,” the suit reads.

Miranda said he’s contesting the judgment.

“This is far from over,” he said. “This will be decided in 2019, if not before.”

Back in November, Miranda acknowledged that the 2019 court date was intentionally set that far out because the court wants the sides to settle.

“There aren’t any talks right now because need is the mother of invention,” he said in November. “As you get closer to where you start paying attorneys, you go, ‘Whoa! Let’s settle.’ ”

Miranda is believed to be the first sitting Santa Clarita City Council member sued.

Will Santa Clarita Pull a Los Alamitos?

| News | March 22, 2018

Don’t expect Santa Clarita to go the way of Los Alamitos anytime soon.

The second smallest city in Orange County on Monday voted to exempt itself from the state’s sanctuary law, saying it conflicts with federal law.

According to the Orange County Register, the ordinance says the council “finds that it is impossible to honor our oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States” and at the same time comply with the California Values Act, which went into effect Jan. 1.
Under the Act, state and local law enforcement agencies are prohibited from using money or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes. It also says that law enforcement may not notify immigration officials if a non-citizen is arrested for violating some controlled-substance provisions or is a witness and/or victim to a hate crime.

Of the four Santa Clarita council members reached for this story (Marsha McLean didn’t respond) only one was in favor of Los Alamitos’ actions.

“God bless Los Alamitos. Somebody’s starting to think with a clear head,” Bob Kellar said. “I would make Santa Clarita a non-sanctuary city.”

Kellar said he has taken numerous oaths in his life in which he promised to support and defend the federal and state constitutions. “They are not to be in conflict with each other,” he said, “but our Legislature has taken a stand that is inconsistent, and I find that reprehensible. … What are we doing violating federal law? That’s disgusting.”

Bill Miranda said he is not in favor of a city passing any ordinance that violates federal law. He also said he doesn’t like when state law challenges federal law and when local law challenges state law.

“I do not like the concept of each group challenging an upper-level authority,” he said. “I think it’s a bad precedent. … If we have the ability to ignore laws we don’t like, we may at this point protect cities, but what if a law is passed that is counter to our beliefs? That’s what I’m against, violating laws just because you don’t agree with it.”

Cameron Smyth took a more measured approach, saying he considered Los Alamitos’ actions “an interesting take on local control. If the state wants to institute its own policy, then why couldn’t a city do their own?”

Smyth and Miranda said they fully expect this to end up in the courts, and until then, Smyth’s willing to let it play out. But he made it clear that “Sacramento continually is trying to eliminate local control. … I’m all for local control.”

How Santa Clarita law enforcement might handle the law might be different if Santa Clarita had its own police force as Los Alamitos has, Smyth said. But the county sheriff’s department is in charge, and Sheriff Jim McConnell has made clear his objections to the state sanctuary law.

“(The law) prohibits my agency from responding to federal requests for notification when one of my jail facilities houses someone charged with a crime who might be the subject of an immigration enforcement action,” McConnell wrote in a letter dated March 6, 2017 and provided to the Gazette from the department’s information bureau. “State law, the TRUST Act, already governs when and how a local entity may detain a person subject to an immigration hold.”

The TRUST Act, which has been state law for four years, protects immigrant crime victims and witnesses from deportation if they come forward and report what they know. There’s also the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act, which became law Jan. 1, 2017 and which McConnell mentioned he supported in a YouTube video from March 2017. It requires law enforcement to notify an individual in custody that immigration officials want to talk to him/her and that the person can consent or decline the interview. It also mandates that if immigration is told about the individual’s release date and time, that person or attorney/designee must also be told the same information.

However, McConnell also rejects President Trump’s immigration policies, saying that the TRUTH and TRUST acts suffice. “Our department policy clearly states that our deputies do not ask for one’s immigration status. Immigration enforcement remains a federal responsibility,” he said in a statement.

The whole matter bothers Mayor Laurene Weste.

“I’m watching our country, the one I love, that I took an oath to protect everywhere I can, I’m watching everybody fighting, and I’m sad by all the fighting,” she said. “We get so much done when we think intellectually. … Everyone is getting frustrated. The art of the compromise has gotten lost, and we need to get it back.”

The Future of Pot up in Smoke

| News | March 22, 2018

To pot or not to pot, that is the question facing the Santa Clarita City Council. And they’re finally doing something about it.

More than a year since Proposition 64 made recreational cannabis legal for adults in California – but only a couple of months since it could be implemented – the city will hold a public hearing at next week’s council meeting to get community input on what to do.

The starting point is an ordinance the city is considering that would, according to Mayor Laurene Weste, who has seen the ordinance in advance of Thursday’s release, limit its use to a person’s home and, in keeping with state law, limit the amount grown to six plants. The Signal reported the ordinance also would prohibit using combustible gases while growing the plant, and develop standards for disposing of the plant.

Several councilmembers contacted for this story said a reason it has taken this long to bring the matter up for discussion is the city wanted more information, so staff members visited Colorado to find out how things might go here. They learned that, although the city would derive additional revenue in taxes and fees, it would be mostly offset by additional costs in law enforcement and permits, leaving a profit that Weste, Cameron Smyth and Bob Kellar said isn’t worth it.

That doesn’t mean marijuana use is forever illegal within the city. Weste said she favors medical uses, which has been legal in California since 1996. Smyth, while opposing retail, recreational facilities, is open to having it legal in the city to make hemp and extract oils such as cannibidiol and other cannabinoids.

Bill Miranda said, “I’m a traditional guy” when it comes to marijuana, so he believes that it is a gateway drug. But he also acknowledges, “Young people have a different view of cannabis than some older people; and it’s state law, and I’m obliged to take state law into consideration. … I want to stay open and listen to arguments.”

Only Kellar seemed virulently opposed to legalizing marijuana in any way.

“I’m a retired LAPD officer. I’ve seen the ramifications of drugs,” he said. “I will simply tell you this: I oppose the legalization of marijuana in the state of California at any level. I will stand in the way of (this law in any way).”

Kellar also objected to receiving revenue from marijuana. The California Business Journal reported that while the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (as are LSD, amphetamines and heroin, among others), Don Smith, a Northern California businessman building greenhouses specifically to grow marijuana, said he thinks it’s “absolutely inevitable” that the government will come to realize there’s big profits in pot.

“There’s no doubt the U.S. federal government will not ignore the money,” Smith said. “The problem will solve itself. The government wants the money.”

Kellar disagrees.

“It’s an absolutely, unbelievably shameful behavior that any level of government would suggest they’ll make money off things that are detrimental to the health of society,” he said.

Mining for Politics

| News | March 15, 2018

As president of Safe Action for the Environment, Inc., Andrew Fried knows the threat of developing the sand and gravel mine in Soledad Canyon is constant, and has been since 1999.

He’s seen his share of battles, mostly pitting moneyed developers such as the Mexican company CEMEX against environmentalists who claim a mine would severely affect traffic, air pollution, water pollution and local fish, plants and wildlife.

Those were easier for him to handle. Now, he has to fight on several fronts, one of which is politics.

“Unfortunately, this has become a political problem,” Fried said. “It has become very convoluted as it has dragged on, and sprouted tentacles that go in every direction.”

As Fried sees it, the politics began with former Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, who introduced several bills (the website govtrack.us puts it at eight) to either cease mining in Soledad Canyon or cancel the contracts the Bureau of Land Management granted to CEMEX. Of these, only the last one, introduced Nov. 19, 2014, ever passed the House; it died in the Senate.

Fried said the reason these bills failed was because “Buck wasn’t working it. The question you can ask is why.”

Fried also has a possible answer: McKeon was pro-mining. The website opensecrets.org reported that in his 11-term House career, McKeon accepted $662,341 in donations from the construction sector, of which about half was individual contributions and half were from PACs. This ranks fifth of the 13 sectors listed and pales compared to the nearly $1.6 million he took from defense and $1.4 million from finance, insurance and real estate.

McKeon also accepted $228,716 from the general-contractor industry, but the website does not list individual names, and it’s not believed CEMEX ever gave money to McKeon. However, opensecrets.org shows McKeon accepted $5,000 from an individual linked to the mining industry for his 2014 re-election. He also received $98,575 from “construction services” over the years, including $44,325 for his 2012 campaign.

Fried furthermore was miffed because McKeon rose to chair the powerful Armed Services Committee, and while that group had nothing to do with CEMEX, Fried believes McKeon had the power to get something done (in fact, the one bill of his that did pass the House occurred when McKeon was the committee chair).

McKeon is long gone, and Steve Knight has served the last two terms. Knight has said that CEMEX is his biggest priority, and he has introduced two bills to stop the development, most recently on March 16, 2017. It’s still in the Natural Resources Committee.

“Steve Knight isn’t working it,” Fried said. “He doesn’t have the influence Buck had.”

The Gazette obtained a copy of a letter addressed to the heads of the Senate and House appropriations committee urging them to allow CEMEX to mine under the terms of the two contracts the Bureau of Land Management canceled in 2015. Forty-four Republican Congress members signed it; Knight is not one of them.

“Congressman Knight is leading a bipartisan effort to try to ensure that mining operations do not occur in Soledad Canyon,” Knight communications director, Chris Jusuf, wrote in an email. “The letter circulated by several members … is counter to this goal because it asks for the prohibition of funds to change the existing mining contracts for the Canyon. This is why Congressman Knight did not sign this letter.”

That didn’t stop some of his Democratic challengers from attacking Knight. Michael Masterman-Smith and Katie Hill said Knight lacked leadership.

“If something is legislatively bad for the constituents and you sit on the sideline, then it’s an absence of leadership,” Masterman-Smith said, “and we don’t get the solutions we need.”

Bryan Caforio said that during one of the debates before the 2016 election, after the BLM had canceled the contracts, Knight “celebrated like he did something. I said, ‘No, this is an executive action. We need a legislative solution permanently barring the development of the mine because I am not going to leave it to the whims of the next president.’ He laughed and said, ‘Just like Bryan the lawyer to propose another law.’ It’s an example of him not caring.”

“Steve Knight, and his party, controls the House, the Senate and the presidency. If he’s not able to get his top priority (through), then he can’t do a damn thing for this community, and he shouldn’t be retained to represent this community,” Caforio said.

However, anybody who successfully unseats Knight would go to Washington as a freshman congressperson, wielding even less power. What to do?

Caforio, Masterman-Smith and Katie Hill said consensus building and compromise are the keys for a freshman representative to accomplish anything.

“You need somebody who will take leadership and make it a priority,” Hill said. “We’ve all got a million priorities. This is one of the truly local issues, so you need other members (of Congress).”

One thing Fried knows: He won’t support Knight this time around. He already rejected an invitation to attend a $500-a-plate dinner. Instead, he has given $450 to Caforio and $150 to the group 25 United for Progress.

David and Goliath

| News | March 15, 2018

Every summer, David Ian Stears sets up a stage, brings lighting, sound and dressing rooms into Towsley Canyon to put on the Shakespeare in the Park series as part of LA SummerFest, which he produces.

He admits it’s a “major undertaking,” so in 2015, when the city asked people such as Stears to put together a wish list for what could be done to support the local arts, Stears, the executive director of the Santa Clarita Shakespeare Company, eagerly participated. Like many who attended the planning meetings, atop his list was to have a community amphitheater in the Rivendale Park and Open Space, where he currently stages LA SummerFest.

This amphitheater would seat about 600 and would be used not only for Stears’ productions, but also for music festivals, non-profits and church functions.

When the Santa Clarita City Council unanimously approved the Rivendale master plan in 2016, it included the amphitheater. But the plan was never funded, and in February, the city put out a seven-question survey asking for the public’s input on possibly building a 3,000- to 6,000-seat facility in a yet-to-be-determined location, although two council members said the most likely site is somewhere within the 996-acre Whittaker-Bermite property.

“I am absolutely not opposed to a big amphitheater,” Stears said. “It would be great for Concerts in the Park. But not in lieu of a smaller one for the community. If a big amphitheater gets built, we’ll never see a smaller amphitheater.”

Council members insist one has nothing to do with the other. In fact, Bob Kellar and Mayor Laurene Weste said, the city has many projects in the pipeline, some of which are now being built, such as the new sheriff’s station, senior center and the Canyon Country Community Center. Others haven’t yet, but will one day: sports, swimming and tennis complexes and a mountain bike course.

“It’s not cast in stone,” Kellar said. “We know the community wants an amphitheater. Nothing’s off the table. Maybe a smaller one in Towsley Canyon, maybe a bigger one in Whittaker-Bermite.”

Besides, Weste said, the focus has been to help the arts community in Downtown Newhall, facilities which could be used now.

According to TimBen Boydston, executive and artistic director of the Canyon Theatre Guild and a City Council member when Rivendale was approved, the change in priorities came after the city conducted the survey and found that family events and concerts were what the majority wanted in an amphitheater.

“Those are two different things,” Boydston said. “Three thousand to 5,000 seats would not be filled by the citizens of Santa Clarita. They would be filled by the people of greater Los Angeles. … I’m not saying this is a bad idea if that’s what the people want to do. But it’s expensive, and let’s be clear. It’s not the amphitheater the people originally wanted.”

Maybe not, but Weste said people’s priorities have evolved to the point they want big-name talent coming to Santa Clarita. She mentioned how it would be nice if Willie Nelson would come and perform at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons, and it happened in 2014.

“The more the city grows up and becomes the wonderful city it is, they don’t want to leave the valley,” Weste said. “We can all go down to the Hollywood Bowl. It’s not that far. We’re growing into our dreams.”

Early’s Start: Battling Becerra

| News | March 8, 2018

Eric Early insists he’s not angry. He prefers “very concerned and very upset by what’s happening.”

He’s referring to the state of California, which he describes as “completely out of control,” the result of one party having control of the state legislature. So, the managing partner of the Los Angeles law firm Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae is running for attorney general.

“What’s coming out of one-party rule has been madness, thanks to the supermajority,” he said this week while sitting outside a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Sherman Oaks. “I know the state needs better, because our state is in trouble. One-party rule is never good. … Any member of the public can see that. You can see the arrogance. You can see it in the bills: everything from sanctuary cities to emptying prisons to straws.”

He’s referring to, in order, Senate Bill 54, the so-called “sanctuary state bill” that bars state and local law-enforcement agencies from helping with immigration enforcement; various ballot propositions that have allowed non-violent offenders to be released early from prisons; and Assembly Bill 1884, which originally called for penalties of between $25 and $1,000, a six-month jail sentence, or both, if a restaurant worker gives a plastic straw to a customer who didn’t first request it. The bill received so much negative attention from Fox News and Twitter, among others, that bill sponsor Ian Calderon (D-Whittier) amended the bill to remove the penalties. It’s currently in committee.

“It shows you the M.O. of this one-party rule,” Early declared. “They intentionally treat the voters like they’re idiots, and I resent that. I do not like where our state is being taken by the party in power.”

Early’s running against incumbent Xavier Becerra, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, both Democrats; Republican Steven Bailey, a retired El Dorado County Superior Court judge, and Republican attorney Nina Salerno, president of Crime Victims United of California. Early never acknowledged Salerno and called out Bailey for being “farther to the right than me” and pointed out that Bailey is being investigated. In fact, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported in February, the state Commission on Judicial Performance launched formal proceedings against Bailey, alleging that 11 times Bailey misused his office.

“The guy should win,” said Peter Scott, one of Early’s law-firm partners. “This guy’s a great manager and an effective executive.”

Early says he’s the most centrist candidate and characterizes Becerra as being “far left” and Jones as being “alt-left.” But it’s Becerra for whom Early saves his choicest attacks. He calls Becerra, a former U.S. Representative appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to replace Kamala Harris after her Senate election, “a Nancy Pelosi clone who has been gifted the Attorney General’s office, and he’s been using it for his own personal, political platform.”

Early said he doesn’t like that Becerra has sued the Trump Administration 22 times (actually 24), often using Washington, D.C. lawyers at taxpayer expense. The Los Angeles Times reported that Becerra hired Alejandro Perez, a former legislative affairs director for the Obama administration, to run the Washington office. The Times called having a D.C. office “an unusual move for a state attorney general.”

“I’d love to get the bills for the legal fees. I’m sure it’s millions of dollars,” Early said. “I’d love to see Mr. Becerra voluntarily produce those legal fees. … One of the first things I can do when I get elected is, I go through Mr. Becerra’s lawsuits and I figure out which ones I’m going to dismiss.”

The first one, he said, would be the case Becerra filed in September seeking to block construction of a border wall.

Early also took Becerra to task for his handling of the text of the possible gas-tax repeal. It is the attorney general’s responsibility to write information about various ballot propositions, but a Sacramento judge ruled that what Becerra wrote (“repeal revenues” and “eliminates recently enacted road repair and transportation funding,” according to the Fresno Bee) was misleading because it didn’t mention the words “taxes” or “fees.”

Instead of rewriting the text, Becerra appealed and won. Travis Allen, a gubernatorial candidate who led the original move to repeal the 12-cent tax that went into effect Nov. 1, said he would appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“That is Exhibit A of how duplicitous and misleading these folks are,” Early said.

He also believes an attorney general needs to be more forthcoming about what ballot propositions are really about. He pointed to two, 47, The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (2014), and 57, The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act (2016).

Proposition 47 was intended to convert many nonviolent offenses, such as drug and property offenses, from felonies to misdemeanors and decrease prison and jail populations, but one unintended consequence, the Washington Post reported, has been an increase in robberies and property thefts. Criminals know that stealing less than $950 is a misdemeanor, so some have taken to using calculators to ensure they never steal more.

Law-enforcement officials told the Post and the Times that they are seeing the same criminals again and again, and the law doesn’t force them to get treatment if their crimes are drug-related.

Proposition 57 allows early parole consideration for nonviolent felons. The problems arise when one considers the definition of “nonviolent.” The state lists 23 violent offenses but, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, not all rapes are considered violent. Therefore, a judge ruled last month, some sex offenders must be considered for early parole because their specific crimes are not among the 23. The Times reported that could allow earlier parole for those convicted of raping a drugged or unconscious victim, intimately touching someone who is unlawfully restrained, incest, pimping a minor, indecent exposure and possessing child pornography. Also, a person incarcerated for a non-violent crime but who has a previous sex-crime conviction, is eligible for early parole.

No sex offender has yet been released early under Proposition 57, Brown has promised none will, and the judge ordered parts of the law to be rewritten. But Early isn’t satisfied.

“This is why I’m running,” he said. “The attorney general should give fair warning about what these propositions are about. California used to be the greatest state. It used to be the land of milk and honey. I want to turn the state into the greatest state in the greatest country God has ever created.”

And Then There Were Two – They Think

| News | March 1, 2018

It appears that Bryan Caforio and Katie Hill have their sights set on each other and no other Democrat in the race for the 25th congressional district seat.

The indications come from the latest polling the two campaigns released, plus some news from the state’s Democratic Party conference last weekend in San Diego.

The polls focus primarily on Caforio and Hill and their chances of beating incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale). In the Caforio poll, done by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research of Montgomery, Ala., he leads all Democrats in various demographic categories: registered Democrats, men, women, voters of color and voters 65 and older; although he trails Knight by 43 percent to 19 percent (Hill gets 17 percent in this poll).

Additionally, the poll, which contacted 500 likely Democratic primary voters Feb. 11-15 and conducted interviews in English and Spanish, read profile information on Caforio, Hill and Jess Phoenix, and then asked for a preference. Caforio got 41 percent, followed by Hill’s 27 percent and Phoenix’s 17 percent.

Hill cited two polls. A Seattle-based Strategies 360 poll showed she was the only one who could beat Knight head-to-head, 49 to 45 percent, while Knight beats Caforio 50-45 percent. The poll interviewed 401 people.

A CA-BAM! PAC poll done by FM3 Research in Los Angeles shows Hill would beat Knight by 13 points, while Caforio wins by just one point. That poll also showed that more non-partisans, men and women, favor Hill over Caforio; and that 23 percent of Republicans support Hill compared to 14 percent for Caforio.

Both candidates, unsurprisingly, touted their polls while minimizing their opponent’s. Hill, citing what supporters told her after they allegedly received calls, said Caforio’s poll asked negative questions about her, something Caforio denied.

“That is not at all what this is,” Caforio said. “It is not based on any message. This is today who do you vote for. … They were hearing just positive information, just biographies. There’s nothing negative about Katie Hill. It’s all positive. It’s how she describes herself.”

Caforio claimed that Hill’s scenarios are hypothetical and said that, while his poll used Hill’s exact wording from her website, Hill’s poll did not use Caforio’s own wording, something Hill said had everything to do with the outside company that conducted the poll.

“Be skeptical of internal polls,” Hill said. “You can pay $30,000 to show what you want. … All the momentum is in our favor, and he needs a poll to slow the good.”

Hill preferred to trumpet what happened at this weekend’s party convention. Nobody came away with the 60-percent majority needed to earn the party’s endorsement, which allows for raising funds jointly with the party.

Caforio came closest with 52.8 percent, followed by “no endorsement” at 32.1 percent and Hill at 15.1 percent. No one else was eligible because no one else submitted a name.

Hill considered this a victory because Caforio had 73 percent in a pre-convention delegate vote, and she was pushing for delegates to vote against endorsement now to give herself more time. She also considers all “no endorsement” votes as votes for her, and she believes that if one takes away the four votes Caforio got for himself, his wife and two designees, she’s ahead.

According to Christy Smith, a convention delegate also running for the 38th Assembly district seat, one candidate she declined to name made some negative comments that she considered “unacceptable in the 25th,” so she started pushing for no endorsement.

“We need to give both of them (the time) to make their cases,” she said. “We’re truly a purple district.”

On Tuesday, Smith officially endorsed Hill. Smith said she had previously endorsed Caforio, but his website no longer lists her.

School Safety

| News | March 1, 2018

Six months ago, the Sulphur Springs Union School District examined its safety and security policies and procedures, its board president said. His Newhall School District counterpart said the focus is ongoing. Over at the William S. Hart Union High School District, a spokesperson touted some of the drills the schools practice.

It doesn’t take a massive school shooting, like what happened Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., for area school districts to take stock of their schools and the likelihood that something similar could happen.

While no one boldly claimed such an occurrence is impossible here, the four area school districts reached for this story (Saugus Union didn’t respond) have policies and procedures in place to ensure it never does.

“We are always trying to strengthen our schools,” Sulphur Springs Board President Ken Chase said, and several other districts made similar comments.

In talking to Sulphur Springs, Newhall and Hart districts, plus reading the Castaic Union School District’s policies online, most safety and security issues center on fences and access.

Most of the 54 area schools are enclosed, although Newhall board president Philip Ellis acknowledged that Valencia Valley, Newhall and Meadows elementary schools remain unfenced, but negotiations to enclose those schools are ongoing. He said once the contracts are signed, a combination of chain-link and wrought-iron fences, which he prefers, would be built.

“Chain-link fences are easy to climb,” he said. “Wrought-iron looks more decorative and lasts longer if constructed properly. They’re probably more effective than chain-link, but every fence is under constant review.”

Another challenge schools face is properly screening any outsiders who want to enter the grounds. According to USA Today, the Parkland shooter easily walked onto campus as the school day was about to end.
Most of the area schools keep all gates locked and limit access through a single door or gate near or into the administration buildings. Often, these access points are manned. Chase said that because of Parkland, the Sulphur Springs district office now would require outsiders to be buzzed in. The offices are wired for such a system, which now will be activated.

All districts have emergency procedures in place in the event somebody (or something, such as a large cat or similarly wild animal) unauthorized is on campus. Many districts have arrangements with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Department to have resource officers patrol the campuses. Unfortunately, none of the districts have one officer solely assigned to one school. Hart, district spokesman Dave Caldwell said, has one officer assigned to one high school and one junior high. People can tell if the officer is on campus because the patrol car is there.

Caldwell described two different lockdown drills that all 16 schools practice. In one, teachers and/or staff discuss and practice what should happen in the event of a lockdown; in the other, everyone implements what they’ve practiced.

Caldwell said the Hart District students have been told to run into the nearest open classroom, after which the doors are locked and barricaded, the lights are turned off and the blinds are drawn. He added that students should be thinking about similar measures when they’re off campuses.

According to Castaic District business and noninstructional operations, when students are in class, a general announcement (“Exercising a lockdown”) will be made to all teachers and staff. All classroom doors and gates are locked, and students are not released for any reason.

If this happens during recess or lunch, a bell will ring for at least five seconds, indicating the need for yard-duty supervisors to immediately bring students into classrooms.

During lockdowns, each room will be contacted via intercom and asked if everything is OK. If it is, the teacher replies, “Everything is OK.” If not, the response should be, “We are in the middle of a lesson.”

Caldwell said all Hart District schools have something called Text-A-Tip, a phone number unique to each campus that students can text what they heard.

“We’ll get them 24 hours a day, and we’ll investigate 24 hours a day,” Caldwell said. “If you see something, if you hear something, say something – or text if you feel uncomfortable.”

There seem to be some kinks to still work out. Caldwell said the texting is confidential, but not anonymous, yet the Saugus High website invites students to “submit an anonymous tip.”

Also, not every school website has Text-a-Tip on its home page. Only Rancho Pico, Saugus and Canyon do, and they’re not in the same places. All schools also have a “Safety Planning Message from the Superintendent’s Office” on the home page. A click there mentions Text-a-Tip.

Teacher Fired for Lack of Filter

| News | March 1, 2018

A substitute teacher was fired Monday after making disparaging comments about President Trump and then making an inappropriate comment about guns to a student.

The incident took place during a photography class at William S. Hart High School and involved the teacher and a 17-year-old student. According to the student, whose name is being withheld at his parents’ request, the teacher noticed an image of President Trump on the student’s computer wallpaper and rolled her eyes.

A friend said, “We support our president,” to which the student said the teacher responded, “Well, you must like a president that supports school shootings.”

“That pissed me off,” the student said, “for the reason that it’s not true, and I don’t like when teachers talk about that stuff. It sends a wrong message for what our education system’s trying to achieve.”

Another friend suggested the teacher shouldn’t discuss politics, to which the student said the teacher responded, “If I had a gun and it went off, it would go off in (the student’s) direction.”

Infuriated, the student said he started walking out but was given a referral to the main office, a form of discipline. He said he went and talked to assistant principal Kullen Welch, who the student said was very understanding.

“He could tell it was the teacher’s fault,” the student said. “I explained to him that I didn’t feel like she would hurt me. … Everyone makes mistakes. I don’t hold any ill will against her.”

State law does not allow a school to comment on specific personnel matters. Hart district spokesperson Dave Caldwell said the student’s father, Dave Reeves, requested the teacher’s name be withheld.

“The moment the administrator heard of the situation in that class, the teacher was removed from the classroom and escorted from campus,” Caldwell said. “Steps were taken that she will not teach in our district again.”

Although the student said he does not fear for his safety, Reeves said the family would nonetheless obtain a restraining order against the teacher.

“We have to,” Reeves said, “because in this day and age, you don’t know. He’s a happy-go-lucky kid. In 30 years when he’s a parent, or 10 years or 20 years, he’ll understand why we’re concerned.”

The local sheriff’s department also got involved, Reeves saying an officer went to the teacher’s house to investigate if any guns were at her house.

“We’re waiting for a return phone call” from the department, Reeves said Tuesday.

The Signal reported that a complaint was filed and is being reviewed, but no arrests had been made.

Planned Santa Claritahood

| News | February 22, 2018

Philip Germain had friends at Saugus and Valencia high schools who became pregnant and suffered the wrath of their parents. Then they’d go to a place such as Planned Parenthood and get help.

“Growing up here, there were not a whole lot of options available to you,” he said. “It was kind of taboo.”

Germain is now trying to advocate for people by involving himself with the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project, a political advocacy organization that works to advance reproductive health through political action, advocacy and education, according to the PPAP website.

Germain knows there are nine public high schools, one private high school, one community college and one private university in the area. That’s thousands of students who might need or want access to various reproductive-health services and support that aren’t as available as Germain would like. The closest Planned Parenthood offices, for example, are in Palmdale, Canoga Park, Van Nuys and Burbank. Dinah Stephens, PPAP senior director of public affairs, said the Palmdale and Van Nuys clinics see about 27,000 patients a year, but she didn’t know how many were from Santa Clarita.

“There’s not a whole lot of access for birth control, or if (you) need to get tested,” he said. “It’s not easy to go to a pharmacist and say, ‘I need Plan B (morning-after pill).’”

This does not mean that Planned Parenthood will soon be opening a clinic locally, and Germain said that is not his goal. He simply wants people to know what’s available.

Planned Parenthood provides a wide variety of reproductive-health services, including contraception, breast exams, cervical cancer screening, pregnancy testing and pregnancy-options counseling, treatment for STDs, vasectomies, LGBT services and abortion.

According to a March 2017 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 75 percent favor federal Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood to pay for non-abortion services, and 69 percent of those responding to a Pew Research Center poll in January say Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.

Germain said his goal with advocacy is to petition county, state and federal legislators to ensure that reproductive-health services remain available. He said he hasn’t yet contacted any of them, but it’s known that Sen. Dianne Feinstein opposes any defunding of Planned Parenthood, and Sen. Kamala Harris has received a perfect rating from NARAL Pro-choice America, one of the country’s oldest abortion-rights advocacy groups.

According to Chris Jusuf, communications director for Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), “Congressman Knight does not believe taxpayer dollars should pay for abortions. Rather than subsidies going to a specific corporation, he would rather have a system in which clinics and care centers can apply for funding on an equal playing field. This way, patients would be able to receive important services such as prenatal care, pap tests, mammograms and other treatments from an organization that is more closely tied to the community and can serve them better.”

David Creager, chief of staff for Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita), said Acosta does not support taxpayer money going to abortion services, but having access to care “is a good thing.” Sen. Scott Wilk’s (R-Antelope Valley) office did not respond.

Germain reached out to Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. Stephens wouldn’t comment on any individual volunteer, citing privacy and consent laws, but said, “Anybody who feels committed to Planned Parenthood, we want to work with.”

Germain also said he has not contacted, but would be willing to work with, the SCV Pregnancy Center, which offers pregnancy testing and confirmation, STD testing and treatment, and consultations about a variety of sexual health matters, including abortion.

Angela Bennett, president and CEO of the SCV Pregnancy Center, referred an inquiry to Marana Moore, of the Virginia-based public relations firm Swell Communications. Moore said she couldn’t comment on anything related to Planned Parenthood because of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. The court must decide if a California law requiring nonprofits licensed to provide medical services to post information that abortions are available elsewhere violates an anti-abortion organization’s First Amendment rights.

The SCV Pregnancy Center is part of NIFLA, which is a member of the National Pro-Life Religious Council.

Regardless of the court’s finding, or any pushback he might get locally, Germain will move forward with his advocacy.

“It’s a way of letting legislators know, ‘hey, can’t keep out a segment of the population that’s been dismissed,’” he said.

Jess Phoenix’s Erupting Campaign

| News | February 22, 2018

Jess Phoenix raised almost $300,000 in 2017 in her bid to win the 25th congressional district seat, and almost all of it has come from small donors. Her people say she has some 5,000 individuals donating an average of $42 and has accepted no more than $1,000 from any single political action committee.

But her total is still some $382,000 less than the candidate with the next highest total. So, if money isn’t coming from big spenders, the only way to get out her message is to meet with the people.

That’s what she’s been doing, and on Monday, she was in Simi Valley at $5 or Less Bookstore meeting constituents and talking about issues. It was the first in what her handlers say would be a weekly tour of bookstores and businesses. She’s also hosting events in restaurants; one was scheduled Wednesday at La Charrita in Newhall.

“My favorite thing about campaigning is meeting people and talking to them,” she said. “It’s really informative.”

Eight people of various ages sat with Phoenix around two tables and talked about what concerned them, whether that was traffic and why Californians call Interstate 5 “the 5” or why would anyone want to go to LAX on a Friday night.

“We’ve got to get people fired up, get momentum. The true stakeholders are the citizens. It’s not the wealthy,” she told them. “It’s the everyday people, and you don’t want to piss off the everyday people.”

But it also got serious, one person asking how Phoenix would be able to compromise in Washington, another asking about how to make climate deniers understand the realities of climate change, another wondering how to reach pro-life women and white women who voted for Donald Trump.

Phoenix, 36, had answers for each question, but she comes at each issue like the scientist she is: investigate, ask questions, make and test a hypothesis, modify as necessary.

“Every person is born a scientist,” she told the group. “‘Does this book taste good? Can I put my finger in my eye socket?’ … If I don’t know the answer, I’ll go find people who do know.”

As an example, she told a story of a time in Tanzania (she has lived in 10 states and three countries) where she learned that if you turn your car perpendicular to a giraffe, it will look bigger and the giraffe won’t attack. She would never have known that without some local “expert” telling her.

“I always want there to be a dialogue,” she said.

Now, to the answers. How to compromise? Phoenix says she sees the next Congress full of first-time representatives who aren’t steeped in politics and will be willing to compromise. The trick, she said, is remembering that politics has long and short games, and it’s important to always remember the long game, the big picture.

At the same time, there can be areas that are not open to compromise. For Phoenix, these are civil rights and social justice, which includes women’s reproductive rights.

How to reach people who deny climate change? “You’ve got to get people to see the economic realities,” she said. “If you can’t hit them with emotions, hit them in the wallet.”

How to reach pro-life women and white women who voted for Trump? She said pro-life women who voted for Trump simply because they oppose abortion need to be shown that there are ways to reduce the number of abortions through various programs, none of which she named.

“You may not have someone who’s instantly on board, but you see, there’s a dialogue. You have to start those difficult conversations,” she said. “You have to say it in ways that are not dismissive. You have to be able to hear them, too. You have to think of people as people.”

Another point: If she doesn’t advance to the general election, Phoenix said she will continue to work on highlighting incumbent Steve Knight’s (R-Palmdale) voting record and policy positions.

“I have a massive Twitter following now, which is awesome, and that’s one thing I see that distinguishes me from the other candidates: I can take this race national,” she said. “We’ve had to elevate Knight’s platform because he’s kind of a low-key guy. … He’s voted 98 percent with Trump, he voted against wildfire tax deductions, etc., etc. That’s what I’d be able to advocate for very effectively, is just amplifying and saying, ‘Look, this is Knight, this is who he is, this is what he represents, and this is why he’s bad for us.’ We need somebody with a spine, with the courage of their convictions, in office.”

Phoenix’s message apparently reached Suzanne Minae, who attended with her 14-year-old daughter, Alexis. She asked the question about abortion.

“I really like Jess, what she has to say,” Minae said. “I like her attitude and her approach to reaching people as individuals.”

One vote safely secured, Phoenix moves on to try and find more.

Early Race for Fundraising

| News, Uncategorized | February 15, 2018

On Feb. 1, with 124 days until the California primary and 279 days until the general election, Jess Phoenix decided this was the time to tout her fundraising.

Jennifer Buonantony, Phoenix’s media manager, put out a release that trumpeted how Phoenix, candidate for the 25th congressional district, raised $102,143 in the last 10 days of 2017. Buonantony titled it, “Volcanologist and Congressional Candidate, Jess Phoenix, Ignites Fundraising Momentum with Grassroots Campaign in CA25.”

One week later, Duane Dichiara, campaign consultant for Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita), put out a release announcing that his man had outraised Democratic opponent Christy Smith by nearly $200,000 in 2017.

Smith’s response: “I’m happy for him.”

At this point, does it really matter how much money has been raised? Sure, more money means more ability to get out one’s message, whether by mailers, advertisements, commercials, social media or a host of other options. But nowhere does raising so much money guarantee election. Hillary Clinton raised about $468.2 million more than Donald Trump, according to the Washington Post. In 2014, Tony Strickland outraised and outspent Steve Knight by about 5-to-1, yet Knight captured the 25th congressional district seat.

In this cycle, nobody has raised as much as Knight (R-Palmdale), who is running unopposed and, therefore, won’t have to spend any money for the June primary. Contrast that with what six Democratic candidates have raised. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which obtained figures from the Federal Election Commission, it’s $1,675,753, yet only one of them is guaranteed to advance to the general election (Knight communications director Chris Jusuf said he can’t comment on campaign matters; Knight campaign consultant Matt Rexroad didn’t respond to an email request).

Katie Hill raised more money than Bryan Caforio, something she is proud to mention.

“We’re a grassroots campaign that’s effective,” she said, adding that raising a great deal of money indicates momentum and a campaign’s strength.

Hill also said she doesn’t have to pay a filing fee, because she got more than the 2,000 signatures required to place her name on the ballot, saving her campaign about $2,500.

“It shows the support we’ve got,” she said.

Caforio’s campaign manager, Nicole DeMont, seems unfazed that Hill has overtaken Caforio. She took aim at Knight, saying that who gives to a campaign is important because it could be an attempt to buy influence.

“(Knight’s) reports are filled with contributions from the Koch brothers, corporate PACs and the Trump Administration,” DeMont said. “It explains Steve Knight’s voting records a lot.”

Knight has received 266 PAC donations totaling $439,450, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Koch brothers PAC is not listed among them, but DeMont provided a link to the Federal Election Commission that showed Knight accepted $2,500 from the PAC on Dec. 22. DeMont also provided a link to two Los Angeles Times stories about Vice President Mike Pence and House majority leader Kevin McCarthy hosting a September fundraiser to benefit Knight and other vulnerable California Republican House members. One story showed Knight received $133,000 as a result.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the candidates who have raised the least amount of money are saying they want a campaign about ideas.

“It can matter, but we have candidates who are notoriously underfunded and then get elected and go on to be great leaders,” Michael Masterman-Smith said. “If ideas resonate, then (candidates) might not require (larger) amounts of funds other candidates require.”

Scott McVarish goes one step further by making campaign-finance reform a part of his platform. He has a plan, which he calls Citizens United Levy, so named after the Supreme Court decision that gave corporations First Amendment protection and unleashed ever-larger sums into campaigns.

In McVarish’s plan, every contribution exceeding $100 is subject to a 50-percent tax that goes into a pool. Every three months, each registered voter nationwide gets an equal share of the pool to donate to any candidate or group that does not accept donations of more than $100.

“The Koch brothers and their network spent close to $1 billion. Imagine $500 million of that being distributed to voters in America,” he said. “It’s a massive disincentive. You’ll see big money getting out of politics.”

McVarish said he wants to win without resorting to donations of more than $100. How’s he doing?

“I honestly don’t know,” he said, laughing.

25th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT FUNDRAISING TOTALS

Candidate        Raised              Spent            Cash on hand

Steve Knight    $908,127          $150,571             $794,748
Katie Hill          $693,079         $310,231             $382,848
Bryan Caforio  $663,637         $289,411             $377,203
Jess Phoenix    $281,491          $171,304             $110,188
Scott McVarish $23,120          $19,202               $3,918
Michael Masterman-Smith

$12,369             $0                      $12,419
Diedra Greenaway $2,057         $2,057               $0
Through Dec. 31; Courtesy of Center for Responsive Politics via Federal Election Commission

38TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT FUNDRAISING TOTALS

Candidate                Raised              Spent                 Cash on hand

Dante Acosta           $322,854.60    $177,380.43         $159,325.74
Christy Smith          $128,442.34    $106,901.64         $75,858.65
Through Dec. 31; Courtesy California Secretary of State (cal-access.sos.ca.gov/default.aspx)

Israeli War Volunteer

| News | February 15, 2018

If one could give a valentine to a country, Rob Hershenson would give one to Israel.

“I fell in love with it,” he said. “There’s an energy there I can’t describe.”

Between October 2012 and August 2014, Hershenson visited five times, including three times in four months. The first two trips were with daughters Emma and Allison; the third was with then-wife Sandi. They mostly hit tourist spots.

On the fourth trip, he went alone and saw non-tourist spots in such places as Hebron, in the West Bank. He remembers passing a bus stop in an Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion.

While Rob Hershenson was in Israel, a moment of silence was held in memory of the 32 soldiers who lost their lives during Operation Protective Edge. There were 32 rocks placed around the flag, one for each soldier.

Rob Hershenson with “Madrichot,” two members of the Israel Defense Forces in charge of volunteers.

That bus stop meant nothing at the time, but in June 2014, three Israeli teens were abducted from that bus stop in Hebron and later murdered. Israel accused Hamas of the act, and while Hamas always denied it, the act nonetheless caused the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

That war led Hershenson, who is Jewish, to return to Israel a fifth time – against his family’s wishes.

“My kids and ex started panicking,” he said. “I felt this was something I had to do.”

Hershenson’s decision to enlist was final.

“The appearance was, I put my beliefs over the worries of my children,” he said. “I understand, but this was a commitment, and I follow through on my commitments.”

He connected with a program called Volunteers for Israel, which lets people spend time living and working on an Israeli Defense Force military base with soldiers and volunteers from other countries.

According to the VFI website, programs exist for youths ages 17-25, adults and groups. For the adult group, volunteers live on the base and perform non-combat civilian support duties such as packing medical supplies (which Hershenson said he did, and couldn’t stop thinking about “M*A*S*H”), repairing machinery and equipment, building fortifications and cleaning, maintaining and painting the base.

He lived in barracks, wore the same clothes as IDF soldiers, but without patches (U.S. law forbids anyone who has never served in the armed forces from wearing another country’s military uniform) and worked Sunday to Thursday. Weekends were his.

Hershenson had heard that volunteers complain that they don’t get to meet actual soldiers. “I say that’s your responsibility,” he said, and he made sure he did.

While there, he got to know and appreciate the Israeli defense system known as the Iron Dome. Its purpose is to intercept and destroy short-range rockets and artillery shells fired from distances of 2.5 and 43 miles that might hit populated areas – while the rockets are still in the air.

Whenever he heard a siren on the base, he knew he had a finite amount of time to find shelter, either in a World War I-style trench, an office building, a specially designed shelter or even a bathroom. In Israel, it’s typically between 60-90 seconds, depending on the rocket’s point of origin and intended target. Hershenson was on a base near Ben Gurion International Airport, which was a target, but the missiles were coming from farther south.

Once a day, he estimated, he heard those sirens and had plenty of time to seek shelter.

“You realize 90 seconds is a very long time,” he said, so much so, that one time he moved from one place to another because one woman would say the Shema each time she was in the shelter. The Shema is traditionally a Jew’s last words before death.

“I said, ‘Will you stop saying that? We’re not going to die,’” Hershenson said. “I got up and went to a different shelter.”

To this day, whenever Hershenson sees a single puffy cloud against a blue sky, it reminds him of the aftermath of an Iron Dome rocket or missile colliding with a hostile rocket or missile.

“You see the rocket coming this way and you see the rocket coming that way, and then BOOM!” he said. “You hear and feel the concussion of air. You feel the air move. You wait, and everyone hears (the) all clear (signal), and then you go back and eat.”

Hershenson met volunteers from Canada, the Netherlands, England, Italy (one Italian was converting to Judaism) and Colombia, in addition to the United States. He was supposed to volunteer for 19 days, but received permission to extend it by five days.

That was his last trip to Israel. He plans to go back, and maybe take his fiancée with him. She is Romanian, non-Jewish and has never been.

Hershenson hopes she’ll fall in love with the place as much as he did.

‘Legal Scam’ or Helping Hand

| News | February 8, 2018

As far as Bruce Fortine sees it, lawsuits stemming from alleged violations of the California Voting Rights Act are a big racket.

“It really is. It’s a legal scam,” he said.

Fortine made his comments in relation to the Gazette obtaining a copy of the 2014 settlement between plaintiffs Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser and College of the Canyons (officially the Santa Clarita Community College District; Fortine was a member of the board of trustees at the time of the suit).

“The attorneys involved found something that was very – it’s a profit center. It’s an outstanding profit center,” Fortine said.

In the suit, the five attorneys for Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser, led by Kevin Shenkman of the Malibu firm Shenkman & Hughes and Rex Parris of the Lancaster-based R. Rex Parris Law Firm, received $850,000 from the college (the plaintiffs received nothing because the law requires civil-rights plaintiffs to be monetarily harmed, and they weren’t).

COC also pledged to move the election to November of every even-numbered year, institute district voting and voter-registration drives, and adopt a cumulative voting scheme in which people could vote for more than one trustee.

This is similar to the settlement with the city, in which attorneys received $600,000 and promised to move the elections to November of every even-numbered year and adopt cumulative voting.

Also similar was that cumulative voting didn’t happen. According to Canyons Deputy Chancellor Barry Gribbons, the state had no regulations for cumulative voting and couldn’t create any fast enough. Also, the county registrar didn’t think the county had the ability to effectively count cumulative votes. A judge subsequently struck down the provision in the city’s case; COC had the option to run the election itself, but Gribbons said it would have been a logistical nightmare because people would have to go to one polling place to vote for COC trustees and another place to vote for everything else.

However, the city settlement does not require a move to district voting, and in the COC settlement, the plaintiffs promise not to sue the school again, and if somebody else sues the school to prevent implementing any part of this settlement, the plaintiff’s attorneys have to represent the college at no cost to the school.

“That’s one of the major positives of the settlement,” Gribbons said.

That doesn’t make it seem any less a sham. Fortine believes other people feel that way but don’t understand what is happening. The Los Angeles Times pointed out in April that Shenkman had filed 10 CVRA lawsuits to that point and threatened so many other cities and districts he couldn’t recall them all.

Included in that list were suits against Palmdale and Santa Clarita, COC and two local elementary school districts, Saugus and Sulphur Springs. Newhall, Castaic and William S. Hart school districts were threatened.

“I didn’t think the lawsuit was about anything except making money,” Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford told the Times after that city settled for $4.5 million.

The CVRA was passed in 2001 and expands on the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 to make it easier for minority groups in California to prove that their votes are being diluted in elections. Gribbons said he believes it was written ambiguously, making lawsuits possible, and he would like to see the Legislature make changes to it.

Currently, one Latino, Edel Alonso, is on the COC board. She defeated Fortine in the last election.

Jacking Up All The Trades

| News | February 8, 2018

Back in 2016, Todd Hall said, he did some plumbing work for Sam Gardian, who was preparing Southern Smoke BBQ & Brewhouse in Newhall for opening. Hall said he installed the plumbing, the gas line, the water line and the water heater, and he used his contacts to expedite some processes with the city and utilities.

He’s still waiting to be paid, about $25,000 in his estimate.

Hall made his displeasure known on Facebook, where on Jan. 10 he posted the following: “Sam Gardian who owns Southern Smoke in Newhall is a deadbeat who owes me 25k, Beware!”

Hall, owner of Hallway Plumbing, also posted on the SCV Rotten Businesses Facebook page: “Sam Guardian (sic) of Southern smoke BBQ hasn’t paid me or any of the other contractors who built Southern smoke. He owes me well over 25k and others equal if not more. I bent over backwards talking to the city, gas and water companies to waive fees and expedite his opening only to be met with bad checks and excuses. Beware of anyone who would treat the SCV community with such disdain. Our community is about friends and neighbors not who we can screw over to make a buck. Beware of southern smoke.”

Hall said the general contractor and the people who installed the electric wiring and the fire sprinklers also have not been paid (they couldn’t be reached), but he’s not, apparently, the only one.

Gigi Grey-Bronstrup said on Facebook that Gardian worked as a realtor and owed her construction company money a few years ago. She said she got a judgment against Gardian, who then filed for bankruptcy, “so we never got paid.”

Steve Hunt, who said he worked for Gardian when Gardian owned the car shop Nostalgic Creations in Valencia, also claims Gardian owes him about $600 in unpaid wages, which he doesn’t think he will ever see.

“I really thought he was a friend. 2 years later and he still owes me for working for him. So sad he treats people like this,” Hunt wrote on Facebook.

Reached later, Hunt explained that he thought Gardian was taking money from the shop and putting it into the restaurant, since it was clear to Hunt that Gardian’s priorities had shifted.

But Hunt still saw things he didn’t like. For example, Hunt said Todd Hall’s black Corvette, which was at the shop, “was a shambles” when Hall went to pick it up. Hall said on Facebook, “Trashed one of my Corvettes and screwed the paint up on another. Shut the doors on the shop and sold all the cars being worked on. Luckily got mine out before he sold mine.”

Hunt said actor Taylor Lautner paid Gardian $20,000 to put in a motor. “I don’t know what happened to the money,” Hunt said. “He never found the motor. I don’t know what Sam did with that money.”

Hall said he went to an attorney who said it would cost $30,000 to get his $25,000 back. He started hounding Gardian for the money, and one day was told a check was waiting for him at the restaurant.

Hall sent managing partner Cathy Hammond over there.

“I get there and he’s not there yet,” Hammond said. “When he got there, he came out of his truck with such an attitude.”

Hammond had copies of receipts to give Gardian if she got paid. Instead, she said, he started screaming at her and grabbed at the papers but grabbed her wrist instead. More screaming followed.

When she left (without money), she decided to call the police, only to find out he already had, so she went back to the restaurant. The police kept the two separated, Gardian by his restaurant, Hammond in the back of the squad car, while each gave their side of the story. Hammond said she was in the car for 45 minutes.

“He is a piece of work, that guy,” Hammond said. “That was real special.”

Not everybody has a negative opinion of Gardian. Staci Silberman Nebel wrote on the SCV Rotten Businesses Facebook page, “Omg!! I know him and have been to his place several times. He’s always so nice to me. So sad to hear all this!!!! I would of (sic) never guessed.”

Sue Bird, the chair of the Old Town Newhall Association, said she had never heard of any complaint about Gardian or Southern Smoke. Neither had TimBen Boydston, executive and artistic director of the Canyon Theatre Guild.

Others, such as Dan Carpenter, believe otherwise.

“I think 90% of the businesses don’t really deserve to be on this page but this one guy is your SCV dirty rotten business owner,” Carpenter wrote on Facebook. “This is one shady guy that everybody should be cautious doing any business with.”

Hall might not have the money owed him, but he had a lien placed on the property (which Gardian does not own), so he will eventually get his money.

Gardian, through all of this, was unable to be reached for comment. His car shop, though now closed, has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau.

In an unrelated matter, he has been accused of sexual harassment and is scheduled to go to trial later this month.

Acosta Accuser Resurfaces

| News | February 1, 2018

Jennifer Van Laar said that as a woman working in politics or business, she figured she would be hit on. But what she didn’t expect was the retaliation she said she experienced in the aftermath of accusing then-Assembly candidate Dante Acosta of sexual harassment.

“I guess I was naïve when I started in politics,” she said on “The Talk of Santa Clarita,” a local podcast. “I looked at people who were congressmen or assemblymen or state senators as people I should look up to, who had good morals and values and who were looking out for the best in whatever community or nation, and then you get involved in something like this and you see people acting like that, in worse ways than most working class people would act. And you go, oh, do I really want these people as leaders?”

Van Laar, 45, alleged that not only did Acosta proposition her, but Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Antelope Valley) tried to punish her and keep her and her business partner from working after she told Wilk’s wife, Vanessa, and Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) about what she claimed Acosta had done.

“My theory is, looking back on it now, is because they were told in June (2016) about this and did nothing, and it could come back to make him look bad, so he just wants to punish me,” she said. “I had heard of rumors of, ‘Don’t cross them or the payback’s a bitch,’ and I saw that. I wasn’t even crossing them. I was trying to help them. That’s the thing. I was going to them as friends and warn them and protect them from what could be a damaging affiliation.”

In an emailed statement, Wilk said he listened to the podcast and said Van Laar’s claims that he discouraged people to do business with her are false. Acosta Chief of Staff David Creager said Acosta has no comment. Acosta has previously denied the allegations, has called Van Laar a liar who was looking for revenge and said she was trying to land him as a client.

Although Van Laar, a Simi Valley resident, had previously written about her ordeal on RedState.com and had filed a defamation suit against Acosta before withdrawing it due to what she said was the stress of her father’s deteriorating health, the podcast was the first time she had spoken publicly about her ordeal.

She said she did it now because host Stephen Daniels asked and, with all of the allegations that have come out in various industries against various leaders, it was time. Also, she felt by staying quiet, she was doing a disservice to any women who have not yet come forward.

“I felt the atmosphere has really changed around this issue in the last year,” she said. “I feel I have a responsibility to talk about this issue.”

Van Laar said she had met Acosta when both worked for Knight and she found him friendly, outgoing, ambitious and a conversationalist. In January 2015, they were in Washington for Knight’s swearing-in, Van Laar having moved on to political consulting.

Van Laar said Acosta wanted to talk about his political future with her. At the time, Knight moving to the House meant his state Senate seat was open, and Acosta wanted to run for it, but wasn’t sure of his chances if Wilk or anyone else ran for it.

Van Laar said on the podcast that she thought he wasn’t that great on policy, “but there’s not a whole lot of work for a Republican campaign strategist in California.”

He invited Van Laar out for a drink, she said, and then propositioned her. She didn’t detail his exact words but said she laughed it off.

“You figure you’re going to get hit on in business, and if you shut it down forcefully, then you get called a bitch and they go around saying that you’re a horrible person, so you have to shut it down but in a nice way,” she said. “So, I said, ‘Oh I don’t mix business and pleasure. Ha-ha,’ and went on with the conversation for about 10 minutes.”

She said she went to her hotel room and called some friends to tell them what happened and how disgusted she felt.

She said Acosta never propositioned her again but made comments, “whether it’s about how my skirt made my legs look, or my heels, or how my dress hit my curves the right way, or just the up-and-down leering look.”

But although she said she felt anxious whenever she was in the same room as Acosta, she wasn’t done with him. Before the late Sharon Runner ran for the seat, her health was in question, and around Christmas 2015 Van Laar had heard she might not run, so she texted Acosta, met him for coffee, told him what she knew, “and we kind of made plans of what he wanted to do to be in that position to file if it were to become available.”

Her reasons for doing so: “He was a potential client still. I had said no. He hadn’t propositioned me again. While some of his comments were disturbing and inappropriate, I’d said no. I figured I was the only one. I didn’t know of anyone else who had been treated that way and just figured there’s a lot of men that do act like that.”

Later, when she heard hints that she wasn’t the only one, she felt she had to do something. She contacted Knight first because he had endorsed Acosta, and this could hurt his re-election campaign and/or the Republican Party.

“He was stunned, sad for me, apologetic to me, very sensitive,” Van Laar said. “If you’re going to talk to somebody you consider a friend about an issue like that, he was exactly how you would hope somebody would respond. He asked if I wanted him to take any particular actions. I said no.”

Knight Communications Director Chris Jusus said he had listened to the podcast but could not confirm or deny Van Laar’s account.

“He supports women who come out with their stories, and (they) should be treated with respect,” Jusus said of Knight.

Van Laar said she didn’t want anything to come out because it would put her in an awkward position. So, she called her friend Vanessa Wilk, Scott’s wife, and spoke for about 20 minutes. Vanessa urged her to not go public out of respect to Acosta’s wife, Carolyn. Instead, she suggested Van Laar go through the senior district Republicans and let them handle it.

On June 2, 2016 Van Laar sent an email to Vanessa Wilk, a copy of which appeared on the website Sclarita that October. Van Laar also cc’d Scott Wilk and Knight. In it, she expressed sympathy for Carolyn Acosta and concern for the Republican Party and the district.

“But at the same time, I cannot sit back as someone, I believe, will eventually embarrass the district and the party and maybe even cost us a legislative seat because of his constant skirt chasing climbs the ladder,” she wrote. “If he would use his position to proposition me, what would he do as an Assemblyman in Sacramento where there are Capitol staffers and interns and lobbyists for him to chase after?”

Vanessa Wilk told The Signal in October 2016, “I don’t know if it’s true, but it was suspect to me, the timing of the phone call.”

Van Laar said the repercussions were great. The Republican Party abandoned her, people began saying she misinterpreted things, was difficult to work with, was socially awkward and had a friend who was a pedophile, which made her laugh and allege Acosta’s surrogates were behind that.

“I know I didn’t misinterpret anything,” she said. “I’ve never heard ‘socially awkward,’ or difficult to work with. I can be intense for sure, but what does ‘difficult to work with’ have anything to do with this?”

She also alleges Acosta retaliated by threatening her business associates with their jobs if they didn’t call Van Laar a liar. “I had people I considered friends out doing videos calling me a liar and basically insinuating that I was pursuing Dante,” she said. This was one of the main reasons she filed a defamation lawsuit against Acosta and other unnamed defendants on Nov. 1, 2016.

In December 2017, Van Laar wrote an email to Assemblyman Ken Cooley
(D-Rancho Cordova), who chairs the Rules Committee, alleging Acosta improperly used Assembly funds to harass and intimidate her in February and that he and Scott Wilk conspired to “defame me and destroy my career.”

“I am filing this report because I believe Asm. Acosta and Sen. Wilk’s retaliatory conduct toward me, both as legislative candidates and now as elected office holders, should not be tolerated, and they should be held accountable,” the letter concluded.

A call seeking comment from Cooley’s office was not returned. Wilk not only denied any conspiracy to the Gazette, but agreed that his wife was right to encourage Van Laar to go to Knight.

Van Laar said she hopes the Rules Committee will discipline Acosta in some way, and she hopes the voters will vote out Acosta and Wilk. Acosta faces re-election against Democrat Christy Smith (who declined comment) in November; Wilk isn’t up for re-election until 2020.

She said she feels betrayed and now considers herself party-less. She said she rooted for Christy Smith to win in 2016 and won’t vote for Acosta this time, but she also won’t endorse Smith. She no longer considers the Wilks friends.

She also doesn’t regret her actions.

“I don’t have any regrets about telling (Knight) or the Wilks about it, because it was the right thing to do,” she said. “Once I knew there were rumors of other women that this kind of behavior had happened with, I felt like I had a duty to let them know. That wasn’t wrong. As far as coming forward about the retaliation, I don’t have any regrets about that. Even if there were negative consequences to me, I still think it’s the right thing to do. I think you stand up for what’s right even if it hurts.”

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