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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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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.”

 

Caforio Gets Early Start

| News | June 8, 2017

The 2018 congressional election is more than 500 days away, but that hasn’t stopped or slowed Bryan Caforio.

Caforio, an attorney who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) in the 25th congressional district just six months ago, is in full campaign mode, attacking Knight and President Trump, reporting polling numbers and trumpeting the various endorsements he has received.

The most recent: Christy Smith, Newhall School District president who’s again running for the 38th Assembly district seat (she lost to Dante Acosta in November). The most prominent: California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, on June 1.

Caforio also announced a poll that showed he is in a statistical tie with Knight, who beat him by 15,019 votes (54 percent to 46 percent) in the last election. And Caforio took Trump to task for backing out of the Paris climate accord, saying in a statement, “With the Porter Ranch Gas Leak, the contamination at Santa Susana, the Chiquita Canyon dump expansion, Whittaker Bermite, Cemex, and so much more, the residents of California’s 25th District know the devastating consequences of politicians turning their backs on the environment all too well. 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.”

But since the election is some 17 months away, does any of it really matter? To Caforio, the answer is yes.

“You put it all together and it builds on the energy we had in the last election,” he said. “We have 17 months to make it happen. … In the next 17 months, I will talk to as many people as possible, defending Social Security and Medicare, continue to build on our broad-based coalition, showing there is a better way.”

Press Release Attempts to Clarify Merger Finances

| News | June 8, 2017

The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce leadership has completed an audit of the Latino Chamber and concluded nothing is wrong with the accounting.

“There is no proof of wrong doing (sic),” Chamber chairman John Musella wrote on Scvbeacon.com. “We’ve reviewed the financials and all is in order.”

On Tuesday, Musella wrote in a press release, “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 respond to an email request to 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).

Musella also wrote in the release that two checks the Latino Chamber paid to the SCV Chamber on March 7, 2015 matched the checking and savings accounts’ ending balances, but he did not provide proof or indicate that he would be providing copies of said checks.

The Latino Chamber did not complete an Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for 2015, and Roa previously told the Gazette he’s trying to find the documentation to complete the form. Musella alluded to this in his release: “We have the records of the Latino Chamber financials being transmitted to the SCV Chamber staff, but no record of the 2015 Form 990. We are now in the process of making that filing on behalf of the former Latino Chamber and will share the 2015 Form 990 with interested parties as soon as it’s available.”

The Gazette has a copy of the SCV Chamber’s Form 990 from 2015, the year the Latino Chamber merged with the SCV Chamber, and there is nothing that shows any monies coming over from one chamber to another, although according to Matt Denny, whose limited liability partnership prepared the SCV Chamber’s 2015 Form 990, there wouldn’t be.

The form is prepared, Denny said, “based on accounting records provided by the chamber. … The tax return is a summary of the year.”
The Gazette originally reported back in April that monies from the Latino Chamber were unaccounted for when the two chambers merged. According to documents provided by Roa and Gloria Mercado-Fortine, co-chair of the 2014 Latino Chamber gala, as much as between $7,000 and $12,100 could be missing.

Denny added that not completing a form, which could be seen as “a lack of transparency,” is of greater concern. “Where are the returns, or where are the records?” Denny said. “There are pretty substantial penalties (for failing to file).”

Denny, who wasn’t responsible for preparing the Latino Chamber tax forms, also said he wouldn’t be surprised if the IRS waived the penalties once the Latino Chamber filed the 990.

In an email, Musella said, “Matt Denny no longer handles the Chamber’s taxes, does not represent the organization and is not authorized to speak on our behalf.”

Media Fallout: Article on KHTS Website Results in Pushback

| News | June 8, 2017

What started as an examination into chamber of commerce leadership has turned into a he-said, they-said situation, pitting media outlets and their sources against each other.

On one side is the Santa Clarita Gazette, which started things by running a series of stories that, while not the original intent, shined a spotlight on some of the leadership problems that have plagued the various area chambers.

Naturally, the other side is the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and its current leader, John Musella, who spoke to KHTS owner Carl Goldman during a commercial break on the May 12 radio show featuring Councilmember Bill Miranda and Gazette publisher Doug Sutton.

In that show, Sutton challenged Miranda to show the documentation he claimed he had two weeks earlier, when Miranda and Scott Wilk sat down with Goldman. Miranda countered by accusing Sutton and the Gazette of racism.

This week, the Chamber also went on Facebook and attacked Sutton and the Gazette.
“Recently, a couple people have publicly made wild accusations about the Latino Chamber’s finances from when they merged with us two years ago. They are meritless,” the statement said. “The Latino Chamber merged with the SCV Chamber in February 2015. The publisher of the Gazette, Doug Sutton, who has run multiple stories about the alleged financial mismanagement of the Latino Chamber merger, was a member of the SCV Chamber Board and Executive Committee at the time of the merger. Sutton voted in favor of the merger.”

Sutton has admitted publicly he does not recall much of the matter, including his vote.
On Friday, June 2, Perry Smith posted an article on the KHTS website entitled “SCV Chamber Responds To ‘Baseless Claims’ By Mercado-Fortine In Local Classifieds Section.” It was Gloria Mercado-Fortine, former Latino Chamber board member, who provided the Gazette with numbers that show as much as $7,000 to $12,100 unaccounted for, although Musella sent out a press release Tuesday saying an audit of the Latino Chamber revealed otherwise.

Multiple parties engaged in a discussion in the comment section following Smiths article, beginning with Sutton, who seemed to take offense at KHTS referring to his publication as a “local classifieds section” (The Gazette’s full name is Santa Clarita Gazette and Free Classifieds).

“Claims, comments or anything written regarding this was published in the Santa Clarita Gazette, not sure what ‘local classifieds section’ you are referring to?” Sutton wrote on the KHTS website. “Is this fake news?”

Sutton added another post on the website and others followed up with their opinions, recorded here verbatim:

Doug Sutton

June 2, 2017 – 5:33 pm

To clarify, I do not recall voting on the matter. Somehow this has become about me, with everyone missing the point: There was not and has not been a legal tax filing for the last year of the Latino Chamber’s existence. Until that occurs all of this back and forth does not mean a thing. Perhaps someone will address this issue.

 Bruce Fortine

June 2, 2017 – 6:29 pm

Perry, I am very surprised at your sloppy journalism in this article. Shame! Even the article title is incorrect: “SCV Chamber Responds to ‘Baseless Claims’ by Mercado-Fortine in Local Classifieds Section.” I doubt if the SCV Chamber has authorized this response by John Musella of “Baseless Claims” because there were no claims. Unfortunately, you refer the Santa Clarita Gazette as the Local Classifieds Section, another put-down of a competitor. To my knowledge, the Gazette has never accused anyone or organization of not properly managing funds, Doug Sutton just asked “where did the money go?” when Carl Goldman interviewed him on KHTS. Gloria has never even asked that question because she and other board members resigned shortly after the gala because of disappointment with management. When you say “the former Latino Chamber has been accused of not properly managing funds when the group merged with the SCV Chamber” Gloria was not even a member. John Musella and you have asked for copies of Gloria’s information which she gladly offered to provide. She would have given you copies at the same time as the Gazette, but you didn’t ask. You have made Gloria the center of your article which is wrong. She explained to you that all she did was provide information that was requested by the media. You and John Musella should check the facts before launching tirades. “The evidence will lead you to the truth.”

 Ken W.

June 2, 2017 – 7:49 pm

I would like to see our local leaders start acting like adults. Sit down with Carl as an neutral party, present all of your documents and move on.

 Stephen Petzold

June 3, 2017 – 6:12 am

I lost faith in Carl Goldman as a neutral party after his sit down interview with Doug Sutton and Bill Miranda. Carl was in studio several weeks before interviewing Wilk/Miranda when Bill pointed to a stack of papers and indicated that he had the numbers. Truth was Bill did not have them and sent the Gazette reporter on yet another wild goose chase. During the interview with Sutton/Miranda Carl should have told Bill to give the papers he had to Doug on the spot. Instead, he rushed out of the studio, placed a call to Chamber president (pro tempore) John Musella who we are led to believe told Carl that Bill’s numbers sounded about right. We still don’t know what that number is, and later in the interview Bill rhetorically pondered what difference it would make even if the money was flushed down the sewer.

 

The focus of Gazette stories is not on the Latin Chamber. It is on whether Bill Miranda properly discharged his duties and responsibilities as the paid CEO of the Latin Chamber prior to, during, and after the merger of the chambers. Why? Because the narrative story the evening of his appointment was that he had successfully negotiated the merger of the two chambers. That is indeed in question.

 Here are some facts.

 The Internal Revenue Service does not have record of receiving a closing Form 990 for the Latin Chamber of Commerce. Fiscal year July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 is not of record. This document would go a long way to determining where the money went.

 The 2015 Form 990 for the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce 2015 annual year (merger year) makes no reference to the merger of the two chambers. No line items, no notes.

 We are told that the merger took place in February 2015, but Marlon Roa filed an amended Statement of Information with the Secretary of State in May 2015 naming William Miranda as CEO. himself as Treasurer, and Byron Alvarado as Secretary. Why? They had been merged in February.

 In October 2016 dissolved the Latin Chamber with the Secretary of State’s office by Marlon Roa. Just one problem.

The Franchise Tax Board has no record of receiving the closing form 3500 that is required and necessary to dissolve a non profit entity.

 All of this time, Bill Miranda was the Chief Executive Officer of the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Chamber of Commerce.

 All funds received and disbursed by the Latino Chamber from July 1, 2014 are unaccounted for at this time. That includes membership dues, special events, and corporate grants.

 We still do not know how much money the Chamber of Commerce received from the Latino Chamber.

 Why does KHTS feel that it is necessary to investigate and disparage Doug Sutton and Gloria Mercado-Fortine rather than have one of their reporters l(Perry Smith ?) do the hard work of a thorough investigative report?

 I guess it is easier to piggyback and criticize the hard diligent work of others.

 We ask, what does “move on” mean?….Be quiet, shut up, sit on the story when a false narrative may have been used to appoint Willian “Bill” Miranda to a vacant council seat despite a paucity of, and questionable qualifications for a position of leadership and financial stewardship.

 Doug Sutton and his reporter Lee Barnathan have courageously pursued a story that is difficult to report in a an insular community like Santa Clarita. In my opinion , they are worthy of praise and admiration not scorn and disparagement by another media outlet.

Part of this story written by Perry Smith is incorrect. In at least two articles in recent editions of the Gazette I was quoted regarding being on the board at the time and not recalling much of the merger. Once in an article written by Lee Barnathan and once in my own column.

 Stephen Petzold

June 3, 2017 – 12:39 pm

Should we know if Johm (sic) Musella resigned from the Governing Board of the SCV Chamber when he took over day to day operations?

 Should we know that William “Bill” Miranda sat on the Chamber’s Governing Board when he sought the council vacancy? Should we know whether William “Bill” Miranda is still a member of the Santa Clarita Chamber?

 Should it be noted that one of John Musella’s clients, namely Chiquita Landfill was the major sponsor of the 2014 Gala?

 

 

Stuck in the Middle – Roa: ‘I just want to be forthright’

| News | June 1, 2017

Marlon Roa is a man caught in the middle, trying to do what’s right and sometimes feeling frustrated as a result.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to do with this.”

This refers to the tale of what documents City Councilmember Bill Miranda had and when he had them. Miranda has said as far back as April 28 that he had the documents that show how much money the 2014 Latino Chamber of Commerce gala made and how much money came with the Latino Chamber when it merged with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber in January 2015.

On May 25, Roa said that Miranda asked for documentation and Roa found the statement of financial income and expense from July-December 2014, which he then forwarded to Miranda, who approved and sent it back.

“Bill asked me for them. I had to go scrape for them. I had to go look for them. Bill did not have them. I gave (the statement of financial income and expense) to him,” Roa said. “When he (said he) had the documentation, he didn’t have this.”

But Roa said he isn’t exactly sure when Miranda called him.

“I don’t know what day I gave these to him, but I went searching for them. When he asked, ‘Do you have anything?’ Then I looked and I found those,” Roa said. “Timeframe? I don’t know. I just know that they asked, I looked, I found, I gave. I’ve been looking for anything for a while, when you first talked to me about the gala (the Gazette first asked in March). I didn’t think anything of it. He called me. He asked me, ‘Is there anything that you have?’ I said, ‘Let me look. Let me go in and see if I can find anything.’ I found this (statement of financial income and expense), gave it to him.”

Roa’s documentation, which he said is an estimate, shows the Sept. 19, 2014 gala grossed $34,440 against approximate expenses of $27,504. But Gloria Mercado-Fortine, who co-chaired the gala, provided the Gazette with actual numbers that show she got them in an email from Roa dated Oct. 1, 2014. These numbers show a gross of $36,075 against approximate expenses of $21,232.

Mercado-Fortine said she asked Roa for the numbers because she wanted to ensure the people she got to come to the gala actually paid.

Roa’s documentation shows the Latino Chamber netted $9,034.87 from July-December; Mercado-Fortine’s show the gala made $14,842. Assuming the numbers are correct, there is between $7,000 and $12,100 unaccounted for, because former SCV Chamber president Terri Crain and Roa previously said the Latino Chamber brought between $1,000 and $2,000 when the merger occurred.

Crain, who did not return phone calls, previously said any monies would have been deposited into the SCV Chamber’s general fund; in this case, however, she recalled that money instead was put into membership to help fund the Latino members who were now SCV Chamber members.

The matter could be resolved if there were income tax documents available, but no one took the responsibility of filing Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service, and this is the other side where Roa feels trapped. He knows the IRS forms need to be completed and filed, and he has taken it upon himself to finally do it, but it’s pretty impossible without the documentation.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to see, if I can do it, because I want to make sure, first, that it wasn’t done; (second), where are the documents, because I’m going to need some of those things to go back and do it,” Roa said. “I’m going to need some of these original documents so going back by this (statement of financial income and expense), it’s going to be extremely hard.”

Roa believes the documentation he needs is with the SCV Chamber, but no one can find anything, he said, because when the chamber moved out of its building on Tournament Road, everything got packed up.

“Everything’s in boxes right now. You came from, what was it, 3,000 square (feet) to 1,000 square (feet),” he said. “Sure, they’re maybe somewhere. Where? I don’t think they’re trying to hide anything. They would’ve given it to you. They’re out there doing what they got to do. They just don’t know. They don’t have it.”

Roa said he’s working with current Chamber President and CEO John Musella to find the papers. Musella didn’t return calls, but has said he isn’t taking the time to find the information.

“I have seen no proof for these baseless claims. As such, I have no reason to spend valuable time digging out the evidence to prove otherwise,” Musella previously said in an email.

Meanwhile, Roa continues to struggle to find the numbers. He’s finding it’s tough doing it alone.

“I just want to be forthright. I want to show you guys everything that I have, the copies, ‘cause these are stuff that I just kept and have copies of. I don’t have the originals,” he said. “Whatever you guys ask for, I’ll give you. You ask a question, I’ll give you the answer. Whatever you guys want, I’ll give you.”

Roa Confirms Miranda

| News | May 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water Merger Update

| News | May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signal Publisher Confronts Council

| News | May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knight in Favor of Investigating Presidential Election

| News | May 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

War of the Words – Accusations of Bias

| News | May 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experts Weigh In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radio Debate Interrupted

| News | May 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caforio Announces Congressional Campaign

| News | May 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually, only five vied in the primary.

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

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

He added his forecast for the next election.

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

Political Briefs

| News | May 11, 2017

Bryan Caforio Considers Congress

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

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

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

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

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

 

Knight Staffer Resigns

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

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

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

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

Miranda’s Claim Contradicted

| News | May 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

| News | May 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miranda Disputes Gazette Article

| News | May 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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