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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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Council Reacts to Questions About Miranda

| News | 12 hours ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That seemed to make no difference to Smyth.

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

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

| News | September 21, 2017

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

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

It is an admitted eyesore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware: Ransomware

| News | September 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pest Control Tactics Bug Resident

| News | September 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additionally, he didn’t clear all the webs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t want them around,” she said.

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

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

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

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

Hart District Wants the Dough

| News | September 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Upon Further Review – Latino Chamber Finances Still in Question

| News | September 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WANTED: Plumbers

| News | August 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why No Override? Gov. Brown Vetoes Majority

| News | August 24, 2017

A bill co-sponsored by State Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Antelope Valley) and Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) passed with a supermajority in both houses, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

There is no indication that the houses will override the veto, despite having more than enough votes to do so.

Senate Bill 341, which doubles the number of two-year terms that a member of a local school bond citizens’ oversight committee may serve— from three to six consecutive — passed 34-0 in the Senate on Mar. 30 and 74-0 in the Assembly on June 29, only to be vetoed by Brown on July 17.

The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Bakersfield) and Assemblymen Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) and Randy Voepel (R-San Diego).

In vetoing the bill, Brown wrote, “This bill is a statewide solution to a limited problem. Although a few school districts cite difficulty (in) recruiting members to serve on their bond oversight committee(s), this bill could create fewer opportunities for community involvement statewide. This is contrary to the goal of the bond oversight committee, which is to ensure that taxpayers have the opportunity to provide proper oversight of these funds.”

To override the governor’s veto, 54 assemblymen and 27 senators would have to agree, but as of July 17, there has been no movement to do so. In fact, on the state legislative information site, it only says “July 17: In Senate. Consideration of Governor’s veto pending.”

The Legislature reconvened Monday after a month-long recess.

Neither Wilk or Vidak responded to the Gazette’s queries of whether there is any chance of overriding the veto. Acosta referred the question to his spokesperson who speculated that the Democrats aren’t willing to go up against Brown.

“They’re willing to vote for it on face value. However, a lot of members worried that (override) will upset the governor, and that might affect their legislation,” the spokesperson said.

Several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and San Diego Union-Tribune, have noted that no California governor has had a veto overridden since 1979, during Brown’s first terms. The U-T reported that neither house has seriously tried since 2009.

As perhaps an instructive example, the U-T told of a time in January 2016 in which Sen. Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) sought to override a veto of a bill that passed with zero “no” votes. It was a bill that would have made it a felony to possess certain date-rape drugs without a prescription (it was passed in light of the Bill Cosby scandal).

Brown vetoed it Oct. 3, 2015.

Anderson called for an override, but Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said Anderson had no standing because he wasn’t the bill’s author. Anderson argued that any senator could call for an override. In the end, Anderson could only get seven votes to override against 17 to oppose (the other 16 senators didn’t vote).

“We’d love to get it passed, but we can’t do it alone,” the Acosta spokesperson said. “There seems to be a reticence to overturn.”

Varner: Everybody Wants a Stadium

| News | August 24, 2017

Some area athletic directors think the high schools don’t need their own football stadiums, but some coaches know different.

“Everybody says it,” West Ranch coach Chris Varner said. “Everybody in the community, everybody in the program. Everybody wants a stadium. I have people daily asking me.”

And this from Golden Valley JV coach (and athletic director) Mike Edwards: “Anyone who visits our field would (agree), ‘Man, it would be an outstanding place to have a stadium.’”

So far, the six schools in William S. Hart Union High School District use three stadiums. Hart and Saugus play at College of the Canyons (and receive only about 5-10 percent of concession monies, Hart AD Linda Peckham told the Gazette last week); West Ranch shares with Valencia; and Golden Valley shares with Canyon. Each team keeps the concession monies during home games.

So far, the six schools in William S. Hart Union High School District use three stadiums. Hart and Saugus play at College of the Canyons (and receive only about 5-10 percent of concession monies, Hart AD Linda Peckham told the Gazette last week); West Ranch shares with Valencia; and Golden Valley shares with Canyon. Each team keeps the concession monies during home games.

District spokesman Dave Caldwell said that if schools want to build their own stadiums, they’d have to pay for it themselves, as there is no state funding for such things.

The reason, he said, is that schools receive state funds for physical education classes, not for sports, so fields (and a gym) are required for P.E. classes. “A stadium is a separate cost item,” Caldwell said. “The school has to pay for that. Valencia and Canyon did that separately with no state funding.”

In fact, Valencia athletic director (and first football coach) Brian Stiman told the Gazette last week that the reason his school has a stadium is because a big donation allowed for lights to be installed first. The stadium didn’t open until 2004, a decade after the school opened (Valencia played its home games at Canyon before that).

Knowing lights are the key, Varner said his program is actively raising money for lights. He said it would cost between $500,000 and $600,000.

“That is doable,” he said before adding, “We’re not even close.”

Over at Golden Valley, Edwards said there are no fundraising-for-lights going on, even though he can see the competitive advantages of having them. For example, a school with lights can have teams practice under them, thereby more accurately simulating game conditions (high school football games start at 7 or 7:30 p.m.).
“Other schools can stagger practices. We can’t,” Edwards said. “All our games and practices have to be done by 5, when it starts to get dark.”

Edwards said he can bring in portable lights, but it’s not the same.

Nor is it just the football teams that are affected, he said. Soccer teams practice and play in the winter, when the days are the shortest. “Other schools stagger soccer practices in the winter,” he said. “It’s not a great option for us.”

Edwards said Golden Valley and West Ranch were built to accommodate football stadiums, even though one side of Golden Valley’s field is on a bluff and one side of West Ranch abuts a housing development.

“We would love to have our own, and it’s a beautiful location,” he said. “(But) a lot of things are outside of our control.”

Varner said he thinks that winning will make it more likely his school will one day play their home games under the lights where Valencia Boulevard ends. He’s even tried to get temporary lights for his team’s annual homecoming game so people can see permanent lights could work.

He previously had been told that Golden Valley and West Ranch had to get lights at the same time. He now knows that is a lie.

“We can raise it, we can build it,” he said.

Candidate Roundup

| News | August 17, 2017

Even though the next election isn’t for another 15 months, the candidates are out and about, raising money and occasionally slamming their incumbent opponents.

What they’re rarely doing is going dirty against each other. The closest is Zack Czajkowski, campaign manager for Katie Hill, who’s trying to defeat Bryan Caforio so she can take on incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) in the 25th congressional district.

“Bryan, he’s a known candidate, but he lost by six, and Hillary won by seven,” Czajkowski said. “We know this is a tight race. We know Caforio is the front-runner. But I think we’re starting to build momentum.”

More common are comments such as this one from Czajkowski: “Every Democrat I’m impressed with. No matter who wins, it will be a strong Democrat. Whoever gets out of the primary will beat Steve Knight in November (2018).”

A look at the candidates and one incumbent:

BRYAN CAFORIO
Having already run against Knight gives Caforio name recognition, which has helped him raise a great deal of money fast. Campaign manager Nicole DeMont bragged that Caforio raised $223,018 in the second quarter, and he didn’t start campaigning until May.
Most of those contributions were less than $200, a press release said.

Also, Caforio opened an Antelope Valley office, in Palmdale, in late July and a Santa Clarita office on Railroad Avenue near Saugus Café more recently. DeMont said the AV office’s opening is significant because it’s the earliest a candidate has ever opened a field office. It’s important, she said, because the Antelope Valley is more liberal than other areas within the district.

“We’ve got to run up the score in Palmdale and Lancaster to make up for the more conservative parts of the district in Santa Clarita and Simi Valley,” DeMont said.

DeMont admitted that the Santa Clarita office hasn’t had any kind of opening ceremony yet. “Right now, we’ve got some folding chairs, Red Bull and three desks,” she said. “Having two offices this far out from the election shows how much energy and momentum our campaign is seeing.”
Caforio has received numerous endorsements so far from elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome, and several labor groups. The most recent was Aug. 2 when the United Steelworkers Los Angeles and Orange County Legislative Education Committee endorsed him.

Finally, DeMont said, the National Republican Congressional Committee is running an attack ad against Caforio and Josh Harder, a Democrat challenging incumbent Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) in the 10th district. Denham, like Knight, is considered vulnerable. However, the ad doesn’t mention either Democrat by name; it does prominently mention Nancy Pelosi and the term “single-payer” when referring to health insurance.

“Doing that 15 months before the election not only shows that Knight is vulnerable (we all knew that) but also that they know Bryan is the candidate who can beat him,” DeMont wrote in an email.

NRCC spokesman Jack Pandol told the Los Angles Times that Caforio and Harder are the targets of the ad because they “aren’t being up front with the progressive base and mainstream voters about their position on single-payer. They can’t escape taking a position on this forever.”

KATIE HILL
Czajkowski also trumpets his candidate’s fundraising acumen, saying Hill, executive director and deputy CEO of People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH, a statewide organization that provides homeless services and develops housing, has received donations from 1,400 people, compared to Knight’s 40.

“It shows you really have a people-powered campaign,” he said. “Katie has taken zero dollars from PACs. This is more grassroots. Forty donors is pretty abysmal. It also shows (Knight) doesn’t care about local donors. Steve’s not even making an effort.”

Czajkowski also believes that Caforio’s number of endorsements might be a bit misleading when one considers the possibility of dual endorsements. He said that Hill isn’t yet as well known as Caforio, but if Hill has another strong fundraising quarter, she might start receiving endorsements from people who also have endorsed Caforio.

Hill’s latest endorsement, coming July 31, was from Laurie Friedman, assemblywoman from the 43rd district, which covers Glendale, Burbank and parts of Los Angeles.

CHRISTY SMITH
Just because Smith is running for Assembly (she’s again challenging Dante Acosta in the 38th district after losing by six points last year) and not Congress doesn’t mean money isn’t an issue. She said she has raised close to $98,000, with about $70,000 of that available as cash on hand (the rest has been eaten by expenses, she said).

“We’re on track to raise enough to cover our budget and do some outreach,” she said.

Smith also said she was proud that she has 270 in-district donors, most giving no more than $25.

STEVE KNIGHT
With the Congress in recess until the beginning of September, Knight has been visiting the district, talking to various groups and hearing from constituents. One thing Communications Director Megan Dutra said would change as a result of these meetings is improving the content of Knight’s regular newsletter to include bigger-picture issues. Example: North Korea’s threatening Guam. Dutra acknowledged that “North Korea is legitimately frightening to the district,” so Knight will be making more statements about such things, Dutra said.

Dutra said she hadn’t spoken to Knight about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s decision not to launch missiles at Guam or President Trump’s statements about the violence in Charlottesville, Va., but said the congressman fully supports Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Once the House of Representatives reconvenes, Dutra said, its priority will be to overhaul the tax code. She said one has to go back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency to find the last time the code has been changed.

Dutra said Knight’s priority would be taking a look at the corporate income tax, which makes sense, considering he’s on the Small Business Committee. “He always tries to include small-business aspects that will definitely come out of the (debate),” Dutra said. “He has full faith the House will pass something and create more growth for our country, but then there is the Senate. It’s not easy.”

As for his Democratic opponents, Caforio and Hill, raising large sums of money now, Dutra said, “They’ll always be there, but his concern is making sure he can do his job. That’s his main priority.”

No Friday Night Lights

| News | August 17, 2017

In many places, high school football stadiums are a big deal. Last year, Sports Illustrated ran an online feature highlighting 13 of them. Many were in the South, and many cost millions to build. Alamo Stadium in San Antonio was $35 million, Bazemore-Hyder in Valdosta, Ga. cost $6.5 million for its most recent upgrades, and Eagle Stadium in Austin, Texas cost $60 million and seats 18,000.

Around the same time SI ran its story, the New York Times reported that voters in McKinney, Texas have given the go-ahead to spend nearly $63 million on building a high school football stadium after months of contentious debate in the suburb north of Dallas.

No one is saying Santa Clarita is as football-mad as in the South, but it’s still a pretty big deal. Yet only two high schools, Valencia and Canyon, have on-campus stadiums. The other four schools don’t. Saugus and Hart play at College of the Canyons; West Ranch typically plays at Valencia; Golden Valley’s home games are at Canyon.

Why is this? The area’s certainly not poor. Why does each school not have its own on-campus home? District spokesman Dave Caldwell found it an interesting enough question to look into it, but he didn’t call with his findings before the Gazette’s deadline. He guessed it had to do with a lack of clamor.

In talking to the schools — and their athletic directors — it seems Caldwell was partly correct.

“There’s not a big push,” Valencia athletic director and former football coach Brian Stiman said. “We got it covered with three stadiums.”

But money and space also are factors. Still, for now, the ADs seem satisfied with the current setup.

Saugus athletic director Jeff Hallman said it’s been this way since he was at Hart 40 years ago. “It’s pretty special to go over to COC,” he said. “For Hart and us, you’re not going to get a nicer venue.”

Hart athletic director Linda Peckham concurred, but mentioned one drawback: The college keeps the vast majority of concession monies. “They give us five or 10 percent, which is nothing compared to the other schools,” she said. “They make thousands while we make a few hundred.”

Stiman pointed out that space is a factor, and space includes parking. If people were to take a look at the four schools without stadiums, they would see the spatial problems. Saugus, West Ranch and Golden Valley have plenty of parking, but Saugus’ field is up against the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Golden Valley is on a bluff and West Ranch has houses nearby; there’s no room to build stands or put in lights for any of them.

Hart has the acreage but lacks parking; there’s no room to expand parking lots without taking away from the large grassy area that overlooks Hart’s turf field.
Stiman said Valencia got a stadium because a large donation led to installing lights. The stadium came later, opening in 2004, 10 years after the school opened.

“It certainly would be nice if everybody had their own stadium,” Stiman said. “God forbid COC were to say the (William S. Hart Union High School) district can’t use the stadium.”

Perhaps it is unreasonable to assume a football stadium at every school would be possible when none of the school’s gyms have air conditioning. Stiman said the district has a policy of equity: If one school has it, all must have it.

Hart District board president Joe Messina found it an interesting enough question to look into why none of the gyms have A/C. He guessed it had to do with money.

“Who’s going to pay for it?” Messina asked.

He’s right. Take Hart. Peckham said that after the 1994 Northridge earthquake destroyed the school’s gym, it was rebuilt to have air conditioning. But to put the air conditioning unit on the roof required the roof to be reinforced. Suddenly, what looked like an affordable $30,000 job became a way-too-expensive $250,000 project.

Stiman reminded that it won’t be long before a seventh school, Castaic, will open (it’s scheduled for fall 2019), and upkeep and repairs to air conditioning units haven’t been figured into any equation.

But Stiman raised one question: “Why isn’t the stadium issue an equity issue? I don’t know.”

Questions About Latino Chamber Tax Return

| News | August 10, 2017

After much delay, the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce last week filed the 2014 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for the Latino Chamber. As far as SCV Chamber Chairman John Musella is concerned, the matter is closed.

“The issue has been resolved and the chamber has no further comment on the matter,” Musella wrote in a press release last week. Later last week, he repeated that after the Gazette analyzed the form and found inconsistencies.

An analysis of the form revealed it answered some questions and left others unanswered. Largest among the unanswered questions: Where is the money that came over from the Latino Chamber when it merged with the SCV Chamber?

The tax forms show a net loss of two dollars, so how could between $1,000 and $2,000 – the amount former SCV Chamber CEO Terri Crain recalled – have come into the chamber coffers? Crain told the Gazette back in March that the money went toward membership for the Latino Chamber members who were now SCV Chamber members.

Speaking of membership dues, the Form 990 lists no membership dues and assessments for 2014. There’s a discrepancy, considering the Latino Chamber’s own Statement of Financial Income and Expense (FIE) for July-December 2014 lists $2,050 in membership income. The FIE form is the same one Latino Chamber treasurer Marlon Roa gave the Gazette in May after CEO Bill Miranda told Roa to find some numbers. Roa found the FIE, submitted it to Miranda, who approved it. Where did that money go?

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

Finally, under “Occupancy, rent, utilities, and maintenance,” Form 990 shows the Latino Chamber paid $15,549. But the Latino Chamber occupied no building. It existed as an entity without a physical space. What occupancy or rent could there be?

Actually, there is a possible answer: The FIE shows that the Latino Chamber paid the Hyatt $14,378.63 for its Sept. 2014 gala. Could this be it? If so, what about the $1,170.37 difference? It’s hard to know, since Musella won’t comment.

Things That Check Out
Much of the return deals with the expenses from the September 2014 gala, and thanks to the FIE, it is easy to see that much of what is on the FIE matches the Form 990. In fact, five items match exactly and four others are within a dollar. Only one item, office expenses, has a greater amount on the FIE than the Form 990 ($108.15 to $68).

There are only two that are way off: Advertising/Promotion ($885 on Form 990, not listed on FIE) and Networking Mixer ($689 on Form 990, $255 on FIE, but again, the FIE is for six months).

Also, the tax return shows the chamber raised $36,760 under “program service revenue including government fees and contracts.” According to the FIE, the 2014 gala grossed $34,440, so this is close (although it’s not certain the numbers are the same, as no one at the chamber’s commenting).

Under “Professional fees and other payments to independent contractors,” the Latino Chamber paid $11,768. The FIE shows Bill Miranda was paid $6,000 for the second six months of 2014. Assuming he received the same in the first half, that’s only a $232 difference.

Also, under “sponsorship income,” the numbers match: $1,500 on each form.

 

 

Chamber Finds Financial Feet

| News | August 10, 2017

John Musella admits the SCV Chamber of Commerce hasn’t been on solid financial ground for “at least five or six years, if not longer. It could have been close to a decade.” Blame it on economic downturns or incompetent leadership if you wish, but the fact remains that the current chairman (don’t call him CEO; that position doesn’t now exist) has skillfully maneuvered the chamber into a more solid financial place.

“Chamber bills are being paid in less than 30 days,” he said. “We’re current with everybody. … The SCV Chamber will be 100 percent debt free in the next 60 days. This puts us into a very strong position financially to allow us to move forward.”

When it appeared bankruptcy was the likely option, the 41-year-old Musella didn’t go there. Instead, he followed a time-honored plan: Put your financial house in order first; then start researching what the people really want, and then give it to them, just as long as the financial goals stay met.

“John clearly understood the challenges the chamber was facing and was willing to make the difficult decisions to do what it takes to get the chamber back on track,” Mayor Cameron Smyth said. “Not everybody has that ability or wants to take that responsibility.”

But Musella did, starting with that infamous lease that soon proved impossible to pay. Not only that, but he decided the space in the building on Tourney Road was more than what the chamber needed.

“The office space was more than double the size the chamber needed because, like every other business that went through the Recession, they downsized and remade themselves for where the market is today,” he said during a 45-minute interview at a local Starbucks. “The chamber needed to do that, too. We didn’t need that big of an office space, and we certainly couldn’t afford to pay that kind of a rent.”

Although the SCV Chamber defaulted on the lease and ended up owing $700,000 in unpaid rent, broker commissions, related charges, the unpaid lease balance and interest, Musella was able to reach an agreement with the landlord to settle the matter. The terms are confidential.

“I’m sure there’s lots of people who are curious and what’s involved with that,” Musella said, “but we’re restricted by the terms of the agreement, and 99.99 percent of legal settlements are confidential.”

Musella also made some difficult cost-cutting moves: eliminating the CEO position and cutting staff. Even he isn’t being paid for his 25 hours a week he estimates he’s giving to the chamber.

Then he did to the chamber what he does to his own public relations firm.

“I look at every dime I spend, and I went into the chamber office and I started looking at every dime spent at the chamber, and there were things we were spending money on every month that were … unnecessary,” he said. “For instance, we had two storage units. We were paying roughly $120 a month on each of those storage units. I understand people accumulate things and have to store them, but at the same time, there’s a value to the items in the storage unit, and at some point the cost of the storage unit becomes more expensive than the value of its contents. And so we went and emptied the storage units. We got rid of a bunch of stuff, took the important files back to the office and got rid of those expenses. That’s $240 a month times 12.”

Another example: centerpieces. Musella said people wanted centerpieces for the installation dinner, but he wasn’t going to pay for them. Somebody would have to donate them. Somebody did.

“When you run a small business, people look at every dollar you’re spending because you’ve got to respect the people who are providing you your income and you’ve got to look at every dollar,” he said. “All those small costs start adding up.”

Once the financial situation became clearer, Musella started the second phase of his plan: a questionnaire sent to members and non-members (the Gazette received an emailed copy, too). The questions include what events have people participated in, barriers to participating more, understanding of the mission statement, and ranking the chamber’s effectiveness and importance.

“We want to hear from people as far as what they thought about the programs today and what they think we should be doing or could be doing,” he said, “because what I think may or may not be actually relevant to … the people that enjoy the chamber. … So, I want to make sure we’re hearing from everyone, members and non-members, because we always want to increase membership in addition to maintaining our membership.”

This survey closed Friday. Musella emailed to say that he, some chamber members and business leaders will be analyzing the responses ahead of the third phase of this plan: a strategic planning session Aug. 25 at Princess Cruises to be led by Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

Musella said the all-day session – open to the board of directors only – is the first step toward setting short-term and long-term goals. One goal is beefing up membership from 955 now to 1,300.

“We’re going to start at the very basics of the planning session: What is the mission of the organization and does our mission statement accurately reflect where we’re at and where we want to go five years from now,” he said. “Once we establish the mission statement, it’s a matter of going through and talking about how do we implement that mission statement to provide value to the membership and then how do we provide that value to membership while making sure the financial income is there to support the mission of the organization.”

Schroeder, who said she is pleased to help, thinks Musella is a good communicator who will assess the situation and then communicate it to the chamber board.

“John Musella has been a godsend to our chamber,” Councilmember Bill Miranda said. “He took over the reins at a most precarious time and has been able to achieve an unprecedented turnaround. I attribute that to his leadership abilities and his willingness to take problems head-on.”

Musella has a few other tasks to accomplish before his term ends Dec. 31. One is to find another location. The city has given the chamber free digs in City Hall until Nov. 30. Musella said he’s confident the chamber will be gone by Nov. 1, giving him a 30-day cushion.

“We have some office space leads,” he said. “It takes time to find that space because the square footage we’re looking at is the 1,300- to 1,400-square-foot range. … Most offices are 2,500, 3,500 square feet for a small office. That’s where a lot of vacancies are at, so to find something in that 1,000, 1,500-square-foot range is a challenge. There’s just not that many options. We’ve found some and we’re working on a deal.”

Then he has to choose the next board chairperson, and he hopes that by the first quarter of 2018, the chamber will either have hired a new chamber head or will be actively searching for that new leader. He isn’t sure that last goal will be met.

If that is the only goal that he fails to reach, his winning percentage will still be very high.

“I’m very appreciative he has the talent to do the job,” former chairman Curtis Woods said, “but also he has the time away from his business to get everything settled.”

Councilmember Sued for Non-Payment

| News | August 3, 2017

City councilmember Bill Miranda has been sued by a national banking association for breach of contract and failing to pay back a credit card balance, court documents show.

In papers filed July 11 in Superior Court in Chatsworth, Synchrony Bank alleges Miranda owes $5,002.98 “for goods, wares or merchandise sold and delivered to defendant for which defendant promised to pay plaintiff.”

Miranda, who didn’t return calls for comment, is believed to be the first sitting Santa Clarita City Council member to be sued. Carl Boyer, a longtime city resident, former councilmember and author of the book “Santa Clarita,” couldn’t recall it ever happening before. City spokesperson Carrie Lujan emailed to say she didn’t know of anyone, either.

“That would be a question best asked of them,” she wrote.

The closest was the city being sued for discrimination over its at-large elections, resulting in the 2016 election being moved from April to November. Also, TimBen Boydston was subpoenaed in a lawsuit stemming from the council’s decision to leave the county library system. However, Boydston said, he was subpoenaed between his two council terms.

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.

In addition to the money, the bank seeks “such other and further relief as the court may deem proper.” Synchrony’s attorney, Michael Vlachos of San Diego-based CIR Law Offices, declined comment, saying, “I cannot give details to anyone not a party to the case.”

This is not the first time Miranda has had money issues. As the Gazette has previously reported, thousands of dollars were unaccounted for when the Latino Chamber of Commerce merged with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber. Miranda has claimed he has all the records, but has previously refused to show the proving documents. (However, at press time the Gazette received a press release from the SCV Chamber announcing the filing of the Latino Chamber’s 2015 tax form.)

“He has a pattern of behavior of not paying his bills,” Miranda critic Steve Petzold said. “His business (Our Valley Media LLC) was suspended by the Franchise Tax Board at the time he applied for the City Council. His business was suspended in June 2016 by the Franchise Tax Board, and he listed that as his source of income.”

Current councilmembers Marsha McLean and Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste, in appointing Miranda Jan. 17 to fill the seat vacated by Dante Acosta, lauded Miranda for his role in the merger. McLean, before seconding Weste’s nomination of Miranda, called Miranda “a person that I believe is very good at bringing the community together, for what he did bringing the Latino Chamber and the SCV Chamber together. I know for a fact that was very, very difficult.”

Even Councilmember Bob Kellar, who voted against appointing Miranda, called him “a quality guy” and then told him, “You’re a fine man and you’d do a great job.”

None of the council members reached (Weste didn’t return calls) knew about the lawsuit and none wanted to comment.

“I’m not going to comment on any council member’s personal finances,” Mayor Cameron Smyth said.

Kellar pointed out, “Out of fairness, virtually anybody can be sued, but I’m not going to weigh in until learning more.”

Chamber Struggles Revealed in Court Documents

| News | July 27, 2017

A settlement has been reached between the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and the owner of the chamber building on Tourney Road, but not before court documents show the chamber defaulted on its lease and ended up owing $700,000 in unpaid rent, broker commissions, related charges, the unpaid lease balance and interest.

“Today the Chamber is in a solid financial position and I’m excited about the future of the Chamber,” CEO John Musella said in an email.

Dues-paying members will not be told the details of the financials or the strategy of the settlement, according to Musella.

“The matter was settled quickly and the terms of the settlement are confidential,” he said in the email.

The case between My Three Sons, LLC, owner of the building at 27451 Tourney Road, and the chamber was dismissed in Superior Court without prejudice June 30 with stipulations. These specific stipulations are not included in the court documents, precluding chamber members from gaining access to the settlement terms.

Chamber attorney Mark T. Young of the Santa Clarita firm Donahoe & Young also said the stipulations “are confidential.”

My Three Sons filed suit April 7 against the chamber because “within the past four years defendants failed to pay rent and therefore have defaulted under the terms and conditions of the Lease Agreement,” court documents say.

In court papers, the plaintiffs sought $700,000 plus attorney’s fees, interest, court costs and any other relief “the Court may deem just and proper.” It is not known if the plaintiffs received any of the above.

According to court documents, the plaintiff’s predecessor, a limited liability company called Tourney Plaza I, owned by Jim Backer of JSB Development, and chamber president Larry Mankin, entered into a 10-year lease agreement starting March 5, 2010 and ending March 31, 2020. Under the terms, the court documents show, the chamber paid a $16,960 security deposit and prorated first-month’s rent of $4,240. For the next six months, or until Sept. 30, 2010, the chamber enjoyed free rent, after which time the monthly rent restarted at $4,240 from Oct. 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011. It then increased yearly, with its largest jump from $4,240 to $8,734.50 a month from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012.

It would have exceeded $10,000 starting April 1, 2016 and would have reached its highest monthly rent in 2019-20, $11,064.75.

Had the chamber paid the lease in full, it would have spent $1,094,512 in total rent.

“Defendants materially breached the Lease Agreement in that they have failed and refused, and continue to fail and refuse, to pay the base rent and other amounts due owing under the Lease Agreement,” the court documents say.

Missing from the court documents is the exact time My Three Sons took over ownership of the building from Tourney Plaza I or if there were other interim owners (Backer didn’t return a call for comment). However, according to the website Bizapedia, My Three Sons LLC filed with the state Oct. 16, 2013 and is listed as “Active.”

Members of the Santa Clarita City Council, when contacted, were unsurprised to hear about the chamber defaulting on the lease.

“It is no secret that the chamber is trying to get back on track,” Councilmember Marsha McLean said. “The bankruptcy is public knowledge. There is no reason whatsoever for the council to be involved in their legal proceedings.”

Councilmember Bob Kellar said he couldn’t recall if the chamber had filed for bankruptcy (Musella denied the chamber ever did). “We know something was worked out,” Kellar said. “We don’t know the intricacies. Beyond that, we all know the chamber has been financially stressed.”

Councilmember Bill Miranda said in an email it was his understanding there had been a settlement with the landlord.

Going forward, Musella wrote, the chamber is preparing a new strategic plan, having started with a 10-question online survey, a copy of which Musella emailed the Gazette. It includes questions about one’s business, the various chamber events one might have attended, barriers to attending events, ranking the most important and effective chamber functions, and one’s views of the chamber’s mission.

A strategic planning session to be facilitated by Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Holly Schroeder is also coming, Musella added.

“In addition, we are currently raising funds to upgrade our office technology including new computers, new member software and a new website,” Musella wrote. “I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved at the Chamber so far this year. We’re in a good position now, which is allowing us to plan for a bright future. We’ve only just begun. It’s a great time to get engaged with the Chamber.”

 

 

 

City Council Not Required to Adhere to City’s ‘Code of Ethics’

| News | July 20, 2017

Bob Kellar absolutely loves being a city employee, even if he didn’t realize he was, at first.

“It has been a privilege and an honor, and I hope I’ve done well,” the city councilmember said. “I had no idea when I was elected that it provides for being a city employee.”

It is true: City council members are immediately considered employees, which entitles them to a salary (in this case, $1,832.57 a month) and benefits, according to city spokeswoman Carrie Lujan. They have to go through the same training as everyone else, but they also have to undergo state-mandated training through the Fair Political Practices Commission every two years. Lujan confirmed that all five current members have completed that training.

(Lujan accidentally gave the Gazette the ethics code dated Aug. 15, 2008 with former City Manager Ken Pulskamp’s signature on the bottom. She said there is a current version with the only changes being City Manager Ken Striplin’s signature and replacing Carl Newton’s name as city attorney with Joseph Montes.)

Councilmember Marsha McLean said that calling councilmembers city employees “is a misinterpretation of what we are and what we do.” They’re only considered city employees, she said, for the purpose of “receiving stipends.”

But she also admitted that they are employees in the sense that they answer to the electorate.

The six-page copy of the city’s Code of Ethics and Conduct given to the Gazette lists “all elected officials of the City” as “Persons Governed by Policy.” It enumerates 17 points to adhere to, including integrity/honesty, accountability/responsibility, respect, fairness, conflict of interest, and act in the public interest. Also, it says, “There are no exceptions to the above stated guidelines without City Council approval.”

Does it have any teeth? It says that anyone who thinks a councilmember has violated the ethics code must report it to the City Council.

In a bizarre scenario, that means a councilperson could report his or her peer. Hunt Braly, an attorney with Poole & Shaffery, said, “Any citizen could include a member of the city council.”

So, can a city councilmember be fired under this code?

“No,” Lujan said.

Was it illegal to hold an appointment process instead of an election the two times the council chose to do that? No, says Braly.

“The law allows an appointed process. The law allows an elected process,” Braly said. “(The city’s code of ethics) does not trump what election laws allow you to do.”

McLean said having a written code of ethics doesn’t matter, because “I would hope every elected official would be happy to adhere to ethical standards. Putting words on a piece of paper means nothing. You have to be an ethical person.”

Kellar said he thinks that in certain instances of criminal wrongdoing, it would be wise for a councilmember to step down or recuse himself or herself. He gave “embezzlement” as an example.

“It can be an awkward situation,” Kellar said. But he also reminded, “Your fellow councilmembers are not judge and jury.”

Former councilmember TimBen Boydston finds the code lacking. He was on the council – and voted to approve these standards – in 2008.

“I voted for half a loaf rather than no bread at all,” Boydston said. “It was disturbing for me we did not have an ethics code.”

His main criticism of the code is its lack of an independent ethics committee that would operate outside the city manager’s purview. Currently, anyone alleging an ethics violation must report city staff to the city manager; or to the city council if they believe a councilmember or city manager has broken the code.

“However, there was no support on the City Council for that idea,” Boydston said. “As a practical matter, if someone on the council, someone who is an employee of the city, wanted to speak to someone about unethical behavior, they end up going to their boss or taking the extreme measure of trying to engage the district attorney’s office.”

 

Council to Examine Chamber Lease

| News | July 7, 2017

Although the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce receives widespread support from the City Council, that alone does not guarantee the city will continue to let it keep its rent-free digs at City Hall.

Granted, the chamber is ensconced in Suite 265 until Nov. 30, giving the council plenty of time to decide what to do, but at least three members have indicated the council will not give the chamber carte blanche just because it has in the past.

Mayor Cameron Smyth made it clear he wants to examine the lease that brought the chamber to City Hall in the first place, since he wasn’t on the council when the two parties drew up the agreement.

“The city needs to take a real fine look at whether the city wants to extend it,” he said. “When the lease comes due, I would expect the council should take a close look.”

The lease agreement, which the city provided to The Gazette, was for 12 months free rent, although the chamber has to pay monthly utility charges or $342.29, or $4,104.48 over the 12 months. Additionally, the chamber has to pay for its own telephone, internet and insurance.The lease agreement, which the city provided to The Gazette, was for 12 months free rent, although the chamber has to pay monthly utility charges or $342.29, or $4,104.48 over the 12 months. Additionally, the chamber has to pay for its own telephone, internet and insurance.

Furthermore, should the chamber remain there after Nov. 30, it would have to pay $5,000 a month in rent for the 1,048 square feet it currently occupies — that’s if the city allows it to stay. The terms say the city has the right to boot the chamber out on Nov. 30.

The other councilmembers who want to take a look at everything are Marsha McLean and Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste. Both ardently support the chamber and appreciate its purposes and functions “for a number of generations,” Weste said.

“At the end of the year, we need to take a look and see if they’re doing what we hope they’re doing,” McLean said.

McLean also said she is “not ready to see the chamber go away because it’s such an important tool for small businesses,” including her window-cleaning business. When she moved to the area in the 1970s, she joined the chamber and said she held various positions on various committees over the years.

Although she said she is no longer a chamber member, “I want to see the chamber succeed,” she said.

Councilmember Bob Kellar said he thinks it’s too early to decide the chamber’s fate, but he made it clear he is a big supporter and would do just about anything to keep it alive, including letting it continue to stay at City Hall.

“I have no issue with making their home at City Hall a while,” Kellar said. “We had the space available, so why not? When we help the chamber, we’re helping businesses as well.”
The city also currently commits $40,000 to the chamber every year. None of the council members interviewed (Bill Miranda didn’t return calls) indicated they want to change the financial commitment in any way.

“At this point, I am still comfortable maintaining the city’s (financial) involvement,” Smyth said.

Latino Chamber Founder: ‘I Tried to Warn Them’

| News | July 6, 2017

As far as Bob Pacheco was concerned, 2014 was a great year for the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Chamber of Commerce. In a letter to the chamber board of directors, Pacheco wrote, “We made a profit of $10,000 for the first time on the GALA (sic) and I obtained an $8,000 (actually $10,000) grant from SoCalGas. Why give up now?”

Pacheco wrote these words in January 2015 before the Latino chamber board, led by chamber CEO Bill Miranda and treasurer Marlon Roa, voted (Pacheco recalls by a 7-5 margin) to merge with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce. Pacheco resigned in protest and has had no contact with either man since.

“Because I was the founder, I thought, since we made such a huge impact on the community, I thought it was wrong to end,” he said. “I tried to fight it.”

The mystery of where the money went when the chambers merged remains unsolved. Miranda didn’t return calls and Roa referred all questions to current Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO John Musella, who didn’t return calls.

But there is no doubt what became of the grant: Most of it never reached the chamber.

“I tried to warn them, but they assumed it would be easy to keep the grant,” Pacheco said. “They didn’t realize this was a unique project, and they assumed their contacts would help them keep the grant.”

In 2014, a grant Pacheco applied for came through: The Latino Chamber was to receive $10,000 from Southern California Gas Company for its Advanced Meter Program (Musella was never part of this, but Roa wouldn’t explain why he would refer calls about this to Musella). According to the SoCalGas website and accompanying YouTube video, the program adds a communication device to all residential and business gas meters that transmits the information electronically, thereby eliminating the need to have someone come by and read it.

The two-year grant was to help get the word out to the Latino community in advance of the actual meters being installed, Pacheco said. And the Latino chamber did some of that, he said.

“We did some outreach, had meetings, mentioned it at all our events,” Pacheco said. “Letting the Latino community know about the meter changes. Our mission was to get the word out to let the Latino community know that these changes were coming.”

Not widely known was that this grant was for ethnic chambers. When the Latino chamber ceased to exist, the award stopped. Pacheco estimates the Latino chamber received less than $2,500 for the six months it existed while receiving the grant.

“They assumed they’d be able to continue with the grant,” Pacheco said. “That was part of the plan. It was something they thought would happen.”

It didn’t. What’s more, Pacheco said he wasn’t involved with Miranda and Roa’s move to merge, but he wrote a letter, a copy of which the Gazette previously obtained, which outlined his objections to the board of directors:

• No one asked the members what they thought
• Pacheco was unaware of any agreement with any officer of what he calls “the big chamber”
• The vote to merge was non-binding by chamber bylaws
• The board did not have the power to dissolve the chamber
• The Board of Advisors, people who had contributed the largest amounts of money, had not weighed in and deserved a refund of their monies if they objected to the merger
• Any action taken that isn’t keeping with the bylaws exposes board members to liability

“I knew the Latino chamber would die under the big chamber,” Pacheco said.

When the vote to merge became official, Pacheco resigned almost on the spot, and he took with him the knowledge of how to file Internal Revenue Service forms. This fell to Roa and Miranda, and Pacheco got the sense those two were overwhelmed with the task of filing tax documents, as well the necessary ones to dissolve the chamber. Pacheco recalled former chamber CEO Terri Crain promising to assist, but in the end, Crain, Miranda and Roa passed responsibility to others.

“Nobody knew how difficult it was,” Pacheco said. “They thought it was a one- or two-hour matter to handle.”

The final IRS Form 990 was never filed, and Roa previously said he and Musella are trying to complete it now.

When Pacheco resigned, he also separated himself from the Latino chamber’s education foundation, which was formed in 2013-14 and, according to a Sept. 23, 2014 article in The Signal, received $5,000 in pledges at the 2014 gala.

That education foundation is now called Santa Clarita Latino Education, Inc., according to a statement of information filed March 30, 2017. The officers listed are Miranda as CEO, Pacheco as secretary and Roa as CFO.

Although Pacheco has not spoken to Miranda or Roa in two years, he is unconcerned that his name is still listed.

“My resignation effectively removes me. It doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “My resignation supersedes whatever is there. I resigned in 2015. I’m not an officer. I have no responsibility.”

There was one additional reason he didn’t keep fighting: his health. He had suffered kidney problems and was not strong enough.

Now, he’s healthy and has taken a new turn in life. He’s retiring from his CPA career and transitioning into wellness and holistic medicine. He is president of the Santa Clarita chapter of the Holistic Chamber of Commerce. According to its website, it’s “a growing group representing local holistic professionals, practitioners and businesses. We encourage and promote healthy living, and support the professionals and businesses that make it possible.” The group’s next meeting is July 18 at the Persia Lounge.

Although he has had no contact with Miranda or Roa, Pacheco says he doesn’t hate them and would shake their hands and say hi if their paths crossed.

The Latino Chamber of Commerce is but a memory.

“It seemed like a waste to do the merger and lose our identity,” Pacheco said, “but no one was as passionate as I was.”

 

Caforio’s Trump Strategy

| News | June 29, 2017

It’s a strategy the opposition party has used since the early days of the Republic: linking the incumbent to an unpopular president of the same party.

Bryan Caforio is employing this strategy now, 16 months before the next congressional election. He’s attempting to link Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) to President Donald Trump.

But will this work? While the election is far off and so many things can change between now and Nov. 6, 2018, a recent Los Angeles Times article says this strategy is not working now.

“Trump is so distinctive a politician that it’s hard to persuade voters that other Republican candidates are carbon copies of the president,” the Times wrote. “Trump’s outsized persona makes even those Republicans who share his views seem more moderate.”

The Times points to five special elections that were held to replace people who resigned to work in the Trump Administration. Republicans won four of those races, including Georgia’s 6th district, the most expensive House race in history. The fifth was in blue-state California.

“Simply going into the district and trying to tie them to Trump is not going to be enough to defeat them,” California-based strategist Katie Merrill told the Times.

In the four races, Democrats gained votes, including 10 points in Georgia, but still came up short. When Caforio challenged Knight in November, he also gained 69,181 more votes than Tony Strickland got in 2014, but still lost by the same 53 percent to 47 percent. (Knight, incidentally, received 77,908 more votes than in 2014; Strickland declined comment through a spokesperson.)

“If I move our race (10 points), I’m going to win,” Caforio said.

Caforio’s current strategy is to remind voters that Knight has voted along party lines 22 times. These include the American Health Care Act, the House’s version of the repeal and replacement of Obamacare; and the Financial Choice Act, which would roll back parts of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a consumer protection law passed in response to the financial crisis of 2007-08.

“It’s not enough to say ‘Donald Trump,’” Caforio told the Gazette. “Steve Knight has voted with Donald Trump 100 percent of the time, so it’s impossible not to talk about them.”

According to Caforio’s website, he has posted a press release equating the two a total of three times since Caforio declared he’s again running for Knight’s seat.

The first was March 31 about health care: “While our own congressional representative, Steve Knight, avoids facing his constituents who are concerned about their health care, we now know that Trumpcare will cause at least 46,400 people right here in the 25th District to lose their health insurance. That’s unacceptable.”

The second was May 17 about the Russia investigation: “After learning about the potential obstruction of justice from President Trump and his attempt to end a vital FBI investigation, there should no longer be any doubt that we must have an independent investigation. If Congressman Knight is ready to put his partisan politics aside and get the American people the answers they deserve, he will sign onto the discharge petition.”

The third was June 1, about Trump exiting the Paris climate treaty: “I am disappointed to see Trump abandon the landmark Paris climate agreement and the progress we have made to combat climate change. … As Steve Knight continues to take tens of thousands of dollars from dirty oil and gas corporations while putting their profits above the health and safety of our community, I will stand with the families of our district who want the peace of mind to know that the air they breathe and the water they drink is safe.”

Caforio isn’t always equating Trump and Knight. He has attacked Knight five times and touted his various endorsements seven times.

“I’m not a politician. I’m an attorney going after corporate interests,” he said. “When I see Steve Knight, who just voted to roll back Dodd-Frank, I’m going to talk about it. … Maybe Steve Knight one day will look out for his community. My job is to communicate my message.”

 

Miranda Backs Out: Councilman Reneges on Commitment

| News | June 22, 2017

As head of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, Alan Ferdman works at securing speakers and subject matter for his organization’s monthly meetings. That often means scheduling city councilmembers.

Ferdman has tried to get newest councilmember Bill Miranda for the past two months, but each time, Miranda has committed, only to back out.

The way Miranda backed out of Wednesday’s meeting struck Ferdman: He canceled on Monday via his secretary, who told Ferdman that something had come up.

“That pisses me off. He did it last month, too, except he gave more notice,” Ferdman said. “This time, it was in the 11th hour. Rather crappy.”

Ferdman said it’s unusual for people to cancel so close to the date, but when it happens, they usually call him personally. (Miranda did not return phone calls to explain what came up.)

“It’s not normal to call the day before and say something came up,” Ferdman said. “It’s unusual to have a secretary call me. Usually, there’s more mutual respect.”

Had Miranda appeared, the Gazette would have asked him to account for where the Latino Chamber money went when it merged with the SCV Chamber, or if he had seen the two checks (or copies of them) that Chamber head John Musella said he had that proved there was no wrongdoing. Miranda has for months claimed he has the documentation but has never proffered it. Former Chamber treasurer Marlon Roa recently gave the Gazette the statement of financial income and expense from July-December 2014, which was in his possession, not Miranda’s.

Ferdman said he would have welcomed the questioning. “If he’s that thin-skinned, then I don’t know,” Ferdman said.

Ferdman said he knows it’s possible that something really did come up; he believes that Miranda’s actions show a lack of respect.

In the past, when people cancel on the CCAC, Ferdman said, he tries to reschedule with the person. Sometimes, it takes a few months before that person can appear. Ferdman said he hopes Miranda will appear soon.

 

Albert Einstein Academy Struggles to Remain Open

| News | June 22, 2017

As far as Rabbi Mark Blazer is concerned, the system is rigged and it’s difficult, if not impossible, for a charter school to exist, let alone thrive; also, the emotional toll it places on educators, parents and students is exacting and frustrating.

That is what Blazer, founder of Albert Einstein Academy of Letters, Arts and Sciences, believes as his creation struggles to remain open beyond next year.

“People are very emotional. It’s a very horrible experience, fighting when you realize how little is under your control,” said Blazer, who leads Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita. “Charters provide a huge amount of control back to parents, to students. It brings education back to accessibility, and makes it real, and makes it tangible. … The education system in California is a monolith that’s inaccessible, unfeeling, distant and disconnected, and charter schools allow parents and students to be close to the operations. When people are close to something, and they find that those relationships can be yanked away, it’s a horrible feeling.”

Those horrible feelings might have been mitigated a bit because the 450 students in grades 7-12 will have a place to go for the 2017-18 school year. This happened after the school filed an injunction against the William S. Hart Union High School District and the Los Angeles County Board of Education, which both voted against renewing the school’s charter, which expires June 30. The hearing is July 13 and will determine if the school can set aside the denials until the state Board of Education can hear the petition in mid-September.

“There will be a school next year,” Blazer declared.

When Blazer set about to create Einstein’s charter, he knew he would face widespread area resistance. The five area school districts – Hart, Saugus, Newhall, Sulphur Springs and Castaic – had little motivation to accept a non-public, non-religious school in their midst. One reason was money: The state gives public schools money for each student each day the student comes to the public school. Blazer said each child nets a school (and its district) $7,000. Multiply that by 450 students and that’s $3,150,000 not going to the district’s coffers.

Also, fewer babies were being born during the Great Recession. According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, births fell 4 percent in 2009. That means there are smaller numbers of kids now in elementary school, meaning less money coming into the districts. For example, The Signal reported that the Saugus Union School District enrollment fell by 500 kids between 2009-13. The website says the district has 10,100 kids, meaning it’s fallen by another 100 students since 2013.

According to KHTS, Sulphur Springs endured a round of teacher layoffs in 2015 due to lower enrollment numbers, and Castaic’s superintendent spoke about lower enrollment in his district in 2016.

Furthermore, Blazer said, housing development in the area slowed during the Great Recession, so fewer younger families could afford to move into the area and put their fewer numbers of kids into the area schools.

As expected, Blazer said, Hart declined to charter Einstein in 2010. Newhall School District quickly denied Blazer as well, board member Christy Smith saying at the time, “There isn’t a need for a charter school to come in and help students perform. The purpose of a charter school is low performance, and we don’t have that.” (Smith, who is currently running for state Assembly, didn’t return calls seeking an update to her comments.)

Blazer strongly disagrees with Smith and points to Sec. 47601 of the state Education Code: “It is the intent of the Legislature, in enacting this part, to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure …”

“Charter schools exist for myriad reasons,” Blazer said.

Saugus denied Blazer four times. Discussions with Sulphur Springs and Castaic led Blazer to believe those districts weren’t interested, either.

It took Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District to finally grant the charter as a K-12 school, although Einstein continued to operate grades 7-12 under the Hart District (Einstein has a K-6 school that is unaffected by all of this). The Hart District board has never granted a charter and unanimously denied the renewal this time around, citing concern for the school’s finances and governing structure.

“We need to exercise our fiduciary responsibility for the rest of the Santa Clarita Valley for whom pays the cost associated to the other 22,000 students and their families and their relatives and friends,” board member Steve Sturgeon said at the time. “I’m going to move that we deny this petition. I apologize for that from the bottom of my heart, but we need to move forward for the whole community.”

The County Board of Education also denied the renewal, by a 4-3 vote, after its education staff reported that Einstein presents an unsound educational program for students to be enrolled in the school, is unlikely to successfully implement the proposed educational program, and does not provide a reasonably comprehensive description of all required elements in a charter school petition.

Also, The Signal reported, there were concerns regarding the school’s racial and ethnic balance, performance among all student groups, unrealistic financial and operational plans, delinquent audits and a lack of transparency with the school’s involvement with the larger Charter Management Organization AEALAS, Inc.

One member who voted in favor was Doug Boyd, who told the Gazette, “I voted to grant the appeal. Their problems were on the way to being resolved, and the education was sound for the children.”

Blazer isn’t giving up the fight, although it’s clearly taking a toll on him.

“Watching families go through the heartache is very frustrating for me,” he said. “We have no control over things. There’s nothing I can do. We’re taxpayers. You’d think we could do something.”

 

Chamber Refuses, Still No Proof of Finances

| News | June 22, 2017

The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce chairman made it clear he will not be providing proof that the Chamber’s audit of the Latino Chamber was clean.

In a one-word email reply, John Musella said, “No.”

The Gazette had called Musella seeking to see the checks (or copies of them) that Musella claimed cleared the Latino Chamber of any wrongdoing when it merged with the SCV Chamber in January 2015.

Musella previously wrote in a press release that two checks the Latino Chamber paid to the SCV Chamber on March 7, 2015 matched the checking and savings accounts’ ending balances.

“The Latino Chamber financials were prepared by a qualified bookkeeper, managed by a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and overseen by the treasurer of the Latino Chamber’s Board of Directors.  … I’ve seen a lot of non-profit financials over the years and the Latino Chamber’s financials were some of the most organized and well prepared I have seen. Clearly they were a well-run and well-managed organization.”

Musella did not name the bookkeeper, CPA and treasurer, although Bob Pacheco is a CPA who handled earlier Latino Chamber tax forms, and Marlon Roa was the last treasurer of record (Roa referred all questions to Musella; Pacheco has steadfastly refused comment).

The Gazette originally reported back in April that monies collected from the 2014 Latino Chamber gala and when the two chambers merged were missing. Bill Miranda, then-Latino Chamber CEO and current Santa Clarita City Councilmember, said on a radio show that he had the documentation but refused to provide it, even accusing the Gazette of racism in its dogged pursuit of the proof. This led The Signal Publisher Chuck Champion to publicly castigate Miranda at a council meeting.

According to documents provided by Roa – documentation that he, and not Miranda, had – and Gloria Mercado-Fortine, who along with Henry Rodriguez co-chaired the 2014 Latino chamber gala, as much as between $7,000 and $12,100 could be missing.

One reason for the missing monies was poor bookkeeping and a passing of responsibility. No one associated with the Latino Chamber filed the necessary Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for 2015. Roa previously said that since the two chambers had merged by June 30, 2015, it would have fallen to then-SCV Chamber President and CEO Terri Crain to ensure the documents were filed.

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

Rodriguez has said Miranda would have taken care of it. Miranda previously said Roa would have given the figures to Pacheco and Pacheco would have been responsible for filing. But Pacheco had already left the Latino Chamber in protest of the merger.

Roa has said he is now working with Musella to try and locate the documentation to complete the Latino Chamber Form 990 for 2015, but it might be difficult since so much of the Chamber’s papers are in boxes, the result of moving from its Tournament Road digs to a much smaller place in City Hall.

 

The Cost of Castaic High School

| News | June 15, 2017

Steve Sturgeon has wanted a high school in Castaic since 1999. It’s coming closer and closer to reality, as grading is complete and construction has started.

“It’s going to be a great high school,” said Sturgeon, a member of the William S. Hart Union High School District board.

But at what cost? Estimates run in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but the possibility remains that it will not put the Hart District in the red.

“We won’t be over. We won’t be dipping into the (district’s) general fund,” Hart School Board President Joe Messina said.

Still, it’s not yet clear exactly how much the project will cost. What is clear is the following:

The school is being built by Castaic High School Construction, Inc., owned by Larry Rasmussen of Spirit Holding, Inc., at a cost of $126.2 million, Hart District spokesperson Dave Caldwell said. The district awarded the contract in October. The money covers all the construction of the physical buildings and the landscaping.

“That is the guaranteed max contract, no more, no less,” Caldwell said.

The grading of the site was completed beforehand at an estimated cost of $43 million, Sturgeon said. There are costs associated with permits, architect fees, and various county and state costs that could total as much as $35 million.

Sturgeon said the district has set aside as much as $3 million in the general fund for furnishing the buildings with desks, chairs, etc., as well as library books and cleaning/mowing costs. (This differs from Messina’s claim about not dipping into the fund, in that the $3 million has been set aside for a specific purpose; Messina referred to having to spend money not allocated for the project.)

Assuming the above estimated costs are correct, that means it will cost about $203 million. But that doesn’t take into account any unforeseen costs along the way. For example, the state Department of Education typically changes its rules regarding school design annually, and should major changes occur, it might cause changes in the building plans. Also, construction costs rise annually at a rate of about 5 percent, Messina estimated, although Caldwell said the construction contract is set, which should mitigate that.

The funds for building the school came courtesy of Measure SA that the voters approved in 2008. That measure provided $300 million in bonds for various school construction and upgrades, and Caldwell said in an email that the district is using the remaining estimated $95 million for the performing arts centers at Canyon and Saugus high schools, a two-story addition and infrastructure upgrade at Hart, and classroom additions at Placerita and Sierra Vista junior highs, among others.

The reality, Messina and Sturgeon said, is that the various district-wide projects could push the total budget to more than $300 million, but if that happens, the district can tap into state matching funds made available by Proposition 51 that the voters approved in November. Messina said as much as $61 million is available.

Another thing to consider: The scope of the Castaic High School project has changed over the years. Messina said the original idea was to use the same plans for West Ranch and Golden Valley high schools and build a third identical school in Castaic.

“If we used the original plans, it would have cost $180 million,” Messina said.

But over time, different people wanted to include different things in the school. For example, Messina wanted (and got) what he calls flex-tech buildings, in which different technologies could be taught from one year to the next. Solar power could give way to wind turbines without having to change the physical structure of the buildings.

Someone else wanted (and got) a performing arts center, and suddenly the land chosen for the school (Romero Canyon) wasn’t big enough. Fortunately, Messina said, the developer found a piece of land that was in foreclosure. Now, there was enough room.

The first class is scheduled to enroll for the fall 2019 semester.

 

State Law Mandates Enrollment for Illegals in Hart District

| News | June 15, 2017

Some believe it is easier for a child to enroll in school while here illegally than if he or she legal residents.

That’s what Joe Messina said he discovered as he tried to help a family here legally try to get their children enrolled in the William S. Hart Union High School District, the board of which Messina sits as president.

He tells the story this way: A couple came to this country to work securing the necessary visas to do so, and deciding to live in the area. They thought it was a short-term project, so they left their children in their home country, which Messina would only describe as “overseas.” But the project was extended by two years, and the couple felt they no longer could leave their kids thousands of miles away, so they brought them into this country and secured visas so they could legally live here and attend school.

But somewhere along the way, somebody checked the wrong box or somebody gave somebody faulty information, and the children were given the wrong type of visa to register and attend their home public school.

“The kids were in a kind of education limbo,” Messina said.

Private school, charter school or home schooling remained options, but none were really viable due to costs and logistics. Messina received a call to see what he could do.

He found out it would take between four and six months to fix the problem. “It’s government bureaucracy at its finest,” Messina said.

He tried contacting Rep. Steve Knight’s office and was told it would take about the same amount of time. Finally, somebody tipped him off: If the parents go to a different school in the district and say they are here illegally, “it all stops,” Messina said.

No more questions, no more bureaucracy.

The reason: The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe. The Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that all illegal immigrant children between grades kindergarten and 12 cannot be denied education.

Hart District spokesperson Dave Caldwell confirmed, “That’s the law. We must accept all children. That’s my understanding.”

Furthermore, Messina explained, a family would have to go to a different school because every school has its own registrar, so the school that first denied the child already knows that the problem is the wrong visa, but other registrars don’t know.

The irony is not lost on Messina: “Do it legally and it screws up, so lie.”

 

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