About Lee Barnathan

  • Member Since: February 11, 2016


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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Community Representation Needed?

| City Council, News | March 31, 2016

It’s an issue that doesn’t go away; it just creeps up from time to time.

At the March 22 Santa Clarita City Council meeting, during the time for public comment, two people stepped to the microphone and asked about changing the city council election to a vote by districts instead of the current system, in which everyone votes for everyone regardless of where everyone lives. It’s called “at-large voting.”

Realtor Steve Petzold would like to see the council consist of an at-large mayor and four council members representing the following districts: Canyon Country, Newhall, Saugus and Valencia (other areas, such as Castaic and Stevenson Ranch, would become part of these four districts). Currently, council members Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean live in Newhall; Mayor Bob Kellar and council members Dante Acosta and TimBen Boydston live in Canyon Country.

“The larger cities in the county of Los Angeles, which includes (the) city of Los Angeles as well as Long Beach, do have districts,” Petzold said at the March 22 meeting. “I do believe it’s a discussion that we should have. … It’s very important that the people here in Santa Clarita understand the advantages and disadvantages of district voting as well as at-large voting.”

Here is some of each, according to the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network (aceproject.org):

•Provides voters with strong constituency representation because each voter has a single, easily identifiable, district representative;
•Maximizes accountability because a single representative can be held responsible and can be re-elected or defeated in the next election;
•Ensures geographic representation.

Currently, Boydston favors having the discussion placed on the agenda to bring up at a future council meeting. For that to happen, three council members must request it, and when Boydston brought it up at the council meeting, no one else spoke up. He also has expressed support for the matter to be placed on a ballot; again, no one has supported him.

“We don’t know how the people think about this,” he said. “If you put it on the ballot, the question would be settled.”


•They must be redrawn on a regular basis to maintain populations of relatively equal size;
•They are usually artificial geographic entities whose boundaries do not delineate clearly identifiable communities, and as a consequence, the entities have no particular relevance to citizens;
•Because of their tendency to over-represent the majority party and under- represent other parties, they cannot produce proportional representation for political parties.

Currently, Kellar opposes districts, saying the city has done “a phenomenal job of looking out and working hard for our citizens. This city has flourished under the system of at-large voting. Why would you want to change something that works?”

McLean is wary because she fears another lawsuit. In 2013, residents Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser sued the city, alleging the elections violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, which makes it easier for minority groups (in this case, Hispanics) to prove that their votes are being diluted. The plaintiffs wanted the city to move to district voting. They similarly sued three school districts: College of the Canyons, Sulphur Springs and Saugus. All three went to district voting.

The attorney representing Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser also represented other plaintiffs suing about a dozen cities and school districts, including the cities of Highland, San Juan Capistrano and Palmdale and two school districts in Lancaster. They won in Palmdale, settled in the school districts and forced Highland and San Juan Capistrano to adopt a “cumulative” voting system, which allows a person to cast multiple votes for one candidate or spread out the votes among several candidates.

Santa Clarita, at a cost of $1.25 million, settled in 2014. Included in the terms were moving the election from April to November and going to cumulative voting. Each voter was to have three votes.

But the California Secretary of State’s office rejected cumulative voting in all the cases because it was unclear if it was legal in the state. So, come this November, voters will go to the polls in another at-large election.

“I don’t want to have someone come in again and cost the city a million dollars,” McLean said. “I’d hate to see us have to go through it again.”

Dante’s Political Inferno Continues

| City Council, News | March 24, 2016

Dante Acosta knows things can happen fast when you run for public office. But he also knows sometimes what happens is downright stupid.

Cases in point: Unnamed people have challenged the title that would appear with Acosta’s name on the June ballot, and another local publication has called for him to resign his city council seat.

“People act like there’s something nefarious going on,” he said, annoyance clearly in his voice. “Just complete absurdity.”

Who are these unnamed people attacking Acosta? No one would come forward and talk on the record, and only one person dared speak on condition of not being identified.

“People I talk to, he seems to be a political opportunist,” the person said. “He isn’t satisfied with just one position.”

The person also said Acosta didn’t do himself any favors once he got elected to the Santa Clarita City Council. “He got into office and his whole demeanor changed,” the person said. “He became arrogant and self-involved. He’s snubbing people along the way.”

Then the person backtracked. “He may not be, but it’s the perception.”

According to Acosta, when he signed the forms at the Registrar-Recorder’s office in Norwalk last week that put him on the ballot, he was asked to put in a title and chose “Mayor Pro Tem, City of Santa Clarita.”

That put him in violation of the state’s Elections Code Section 13107, subdivision (a)(1), which says that the ballot designation “shall be the elective office which the candidate holds at the time of filing the nomination documents.”

Acosta was not elected mayor pro tem; he was elected as a councilmember. This earned him a phone call from Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office, telling him he’d have to change his designation.

Acosta said he chose “Councilmember, City of Santa Clarita,” and that is what will appear.

That should have been the end of things, but The Signal editorial board has called on him to step down from the council, should he win the June primary. The paper also called him “the poster child for political entitlement.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” Acosta said, his voice rising. “I work nine to five-plus for an elected official (Congressman Steve Knight). I worked for 37 years in the private sector prior to wanting to serve my constituency in the community.”

As an example, Acosta raised the precedent set by other leaders in similar circumstances.

“It’s ‘Let’s attack Dante.’ Why would I resign, and who has? Who has ever resigned after winning the primary?”

Acosta said that what The Signal is asking for has not been done before. He pointed out that Scott Wilk wasn’t asked to resign from the College of the Canyons board of trustees before being elected to the California Assembly, Christy Smith wasn’t asked to resign from the Newhall School Board any of the times she won a Democratic primary, and Cameron Smyth wasn’t called upon to resign from the City Council before being elected to the Assembly.

Not stated by Acosta, but nonetheless true: Los Angeles Councilmember Mitch Englander is running for Mike Antonovich’s seat on the County Board of Supervisors, and Knight (R-Palmdale) ran for Congress while serving in the state Assembly. Neither has or had been called upon to resign.

“There’s no political entitlement,” Acosta said. “I have a job every day. I go to that job every day. I do that job every day. And I’m running for political office.”

Acosta: What If He Wins?

| City Council, News | March 18, 2016

Santa Clarita City Councilman Dante Acosta is seeking the 38th District State Assembly seat vacated by Scott Wilk, who is running for state senator in the 21st District, now that Sharon Runner is not seeking reelection.

What happens on the City Council if Dante Acosta wins his bid for the 38th Assembly District seat?

The council will have two choices, according to Councilmember TimBen Boydston. Members can either appoint someone to finish Acosta’s term or hold a special election.

Boydston first served on the council as an appointee to finish the remainder of Cameron Smyth’s term in 2006 after Smyth left the council for the Assembly.

Boydston favors the election. “I would be inclined to have the people decide,” he said. Then, after acknowledging that an appointment would cost much less, he added, “There are costs to democracy.”

Acosta also serves as Mayor Pro Tem, so if he were to leave, the council would choose a new Mayor Pro Tem. That likely won’t happen until after the new council is seated following November’s election. The council also will have to decide on a new mayor. At press time, Dante Acosta did not return our calls for comment.

Sanitation District in Hot Water

| News | March 17, 2016

What this comes down to is a battle of ideas and the lawsuits that follow if one’s ideas aren’t heard or heeded.

Is it possible to lose by winning? Residents might be one step closer to finding out.

A Superior Court judge recently struck down parts of the 2013 Environmental Impact Report that the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District was required to write and submit regarding how it would remove excess chloride in the water. This could jeopardize the district’s ability to meet the state mandated 2019 deadline for ensuring its discharged water contains no more than 100 milligrams of chloride per liter (mg/l) because without an EIR, the district can’t move forward and build the necessary plants. Failure to meet the deadline would trigger massive fines, which likely would trickle down to the residents.

An unincorporated association called the Affordable Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) brought the suit in response to it being unsatisfied with the route the sanitation district chose to take.

“This whole mess is being thrust on us,” ACWA member Flo Lawrence said.

Bryan Langpap, a project manager with the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, which shares responsibility for getting the chloride levels to 100mg/l, does not believe this ruling will affect meeting the deadline. To continue, the districts must get the EIR certified, and they will meet March 23 at 6 p.m. at City Hall to attempt to do so.

Chloride is a substance so toxic that if untreated it can rust cars and cause serious health problems, but add sodium to it and the result is table salt.

The problems started in 2013, when Santa Clarita residents lost the fight to be allowed to have chloride levels in discharged water higher than 100 mg/l. They point to other districts such as Simi Valley (150 mg/l), Conejo Valley (150mg/l) and Thousand Oaks (150mg/l) that are allowed higher levels. Some people call paying for the necessary equipment to make this possible a “chloride tax.”

The SCV Sanitation District came up with plans to remove the chloride via reverse osmosis at the Valencia Water Reclamation Plant. This filters the water and leaves behind salty water called brine. The district’s plan to get rid of the brine by way of deep well injection, a process by which the water would be sent deep underground.

Since the injection was to be in Stevenson Ranch, the residents “complained with pitchforks,” Lawrence said, and that plan was dropped in favor of trucking the brine to a county plant in Carson, where it would be treated and released into the ocean.

Lawrence, then president of the Castaic Town Council, objected to the plan and, in a July 23, 2013 letter to the district members on CTC stationery, suggested five alternatives. These included filing a lawsuit or pursue a legislative route, the end result being the same: get the level increased.

The district ignored the letter, so the town council tried again with a letter dated June 30, 2014. Again, no written response, although Lawrence said he received lip service akin to good ideas, but it’s too late to go in another direction.

Meanwhile, the ACWA, led by community leader Allan Cameron and lawyer Robert Silverstein, was planning legal action and asked Lawrence if he wanted to add his name. Lawrence said yes.

The court decision not only sets aside the EIR, it halts the sanitation district’s ability to start trucking out the brine until the EIR is certified. Langpap said the public would be able to comment during Wednesday’s meeting.

But the ACWA isn’t stopping the fight. The SCV district said in a statement that the brine-removal method is different than the one described in the 2013 EIR. The ACWA countered with a letter sent to the sanitation district board (Mayor Bob Kellar, Councilmember Laurene Weste, county supervisors Hilda Solis and Mike Antonovich), its lawyers and Langpap, that warns that moving forward this way “strongly suggest(s) that the District is now, or shortly will be, in contempt of the Court’s judgment and ruling.”

As for losing by winning, Lawrence said, “That’s an eventuality, but my mother, when I was growing up, taught me to look for what’s right instead of what’s wrong.”

He insists there is still time to find the best solution, which he says is to get the chloride levels increased. Kellar has said that fight is past.

Don Cruikshank

| Community | March 11, 2016

In Don Cruikshank’s world, it’s go-go-go and help-help-help.

Whether it’s renting big machines, coaching kids or serving as parks commissioner, Cruikshank doesn’t stop providing positive assistance to those he meets.

“You can’t get away from dealing with the … community,” said Dan Cota, who has coached football with Cruikshank for 23 years at Hart High School. Cota said it’s Cruikshank’s patience that helps him help others.

“He’ll sit and listen to you, and then he’ll take that information and make his final decision,” Cota said. “He’s my calming force.”

That kind of calm came in handy the morning of Jan. 17, 1994.

Cruikshank had already been in business since 1978 as co-founder and president of AV Equipment Rental when the Northridge earthquake struck. He sprang into action that morning, calling many Northern California contacts requesting equipment. Many responses he got went something like this: “We can’t come to L.A. We’ll never get out.”

“No, the I-5 (closure) is below us,” Cruikshank responded.

“Over the next several months, it was go-go-go,” he said. His company did things as small as bring in heaters for members of law enforcement and fill propane tanks in the middle of the night. “We literally became a 24-hour business. I was rolling out of the house in the middle of the night doing all kinds of fun stuff.

“The earthquake made a lot of stuff possible for us. It took us from a relatively small operation to a relatively large independent rental yard.”

Another place Cruikshank found himself in a position to help was coaching. Like many, he got involved because his son was playing, although that didn’t immediately matter. Cruikshank’s father watched Don play Little League baseball, but his involvement went no further. Don thought the same would happen for him.

In Don’s case, Robbie Cruikshank was starting T-ball, but his coaches were a couple of kids. “They obviously needed help,” Cruikshank said, so at age 28 he began coaching.

The next season, he and a group of friends decided to coach their own team, so for the next two years, there was a Cruikshank in T-ball.

When Robbie was older, he started at William S. Hart PONY Baseball, and Cruikshank followed. But instead of just coaching, he got further involved by getting elected to the board of directors. For about a decade, he served in various capacities: three years as president, two years as executive vice president, and also a term as finance director. He was director for the Pinto (ages 7-8) age bracket and held several posts for the Colt (ages 15-16) program, where he was founder, director, and chairman of the rules committee.

At the time, Hart didn’t have a field appropriate for Colt baseball, so he made a deal with The Master’s College to use that field. TMC was the home field when Hart won the Colt World Series in 1988.

When Robbie started high school, he made the Hart football team. Cruikshank thought he was done coaching – time to go back to the stands and just watch, although he joined the booster club.

Before his son’s sophomore year, Hart coach Mike Herrington asked Cruikshank if he would be interested in coaching. He needed a defensive coordinator on the freshman level. Cruikshank had played only one year of high school football, and it was on the offensive line at Alemany, so what did he know about defense?

No problem, Herrington said. His brother, Rick, who at the time was the varsity’s defensive coordinator, would teach him.

Twenty-three years later, Cruikshank is still at it, although he and Cota have taught at the JV level for six years.

The reason?

“The coaching staff(s) became my circle of friends, and I had so much fun doing it,” he said. “When I get that call from Dan Cota: ‘You ready to go again?’ Yeah!”

He’s also become close with many ex-players, and he thinks it won’t be long before he’s coaching the son of a former Hart player. He has no interest in coaching varsity.

“One, I’m not qualified,” he said. “Two, I’ve got a life outside football.”

A new chapter to that life is becoming one of five commissioners for the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services. He replaces the late Duane Harte.

“It’s really an administrative position,” he said, but his time at Hart PONY, the football booster club and the Lions Club and other nonprofits, has prepared him for this.

To his pleasure, the department handles things he didn’t expect, such as graffiti removal, hiring crossing guards and running the teen court, a program for at-risk teens that is an alternative to the juvenile court system.

It’s just another place for him to go-go-go and help-help-help.

“I get excited about programs that affect youth,” he said. “Mentoring is a huge part.”

Five Knolls Sign

| News | March 10, 2016

For at least a day or so, Hollywood came to the Santa Clarita Valley. Not because of some movie or TV shoot, but because of a housing development.

In big white letters, in clear view from the cross-valley connector, Fallen Warrior Bridge and where Golden Valley Road meets the Santa Clara River, it spelled out “FIVEKNOLLS.”

The sign likely came from people associated with Brookfield Homes, which is building the Five Knolls development, but the comparison to the original Hollywood sign is unmistakable.

In 1923, a sign advertising a housing development, originally called “HOLLYWOODLAND,” appeared on Mount Lee in the Hollywood Hills section of the Santa Monica Mountains. Developer H.J. Whitley had already used a sign to advertise his Whitley Heights project, which was located between Highland and Vine avenues. He suggested to his friend, Harry Chandler, the owner of the Los Angeles Times, that the land syndicate in which he was involved make a similar sign to advertise their land.

Real estate developers contracted the Crescent Sign Company to erect 13 letters on the hillside, each facing south. The sign company owner, Thomas Fisk Goff (1890–1984), designed the sign. Each letter was 30 feet (9.1 m) wide and 50 feet (15 m) high, and the whole sign was studded with some 4,000 light bulbs.
The FIVEKNOLLS sign wasn’t as large and wasn’t lit, and it didn’t sit well with the city. According to Communications Manager Gail Morgan, Brookfield Homes violated Chapter 17.51.080 (C) (1) of the city’s building code by surreptitiously putting up the sign without seeking a permit. The law states, “…it is unlawful for any person to place, erect, structurally or electrically alter, … move or display any temporary or permanent sign without first obtaining a sign approval from the Planning Division …”

Morgan wasn’t impressed, either. “It looked Photoshopped,” she said.

City Associate Planner Patrick Leclair said the sign also violated Section Q of that chapter.

“You can probably point to the sign’s height. You can probably point to the sign’s area. You can see different things they’re in violation of,” Leclair said.

Morgan said the city requested the developer take down the sign, which Brookfield did on Tuesday.

“Brookfield Residential offers its apologies, and is cooperating with City of Santa Clarita to remove the Five Knolls sign as soon as possible,” a Brookfield spokesman said in an email.

Football Turf Wars: Crushed Cork vs. Crumb Rubber

| News | March 3, 2016

Health Concerns Drive Debate

Saugus and Hart high schools are scheduled to have their synthetic athletic fields replaced this year. School administrators and William S. Hart Union High School District officials have two types of fields to consider: one that uses crushed cork as its infill and one that uses pulverized tire pieces, called “crumb rubber.”

Valencia and Canyon had their synthetic fields replaced last year. Each chose the crumb rubber infill. They were not concerned about the possibility that crumb rubber could be hazardous to your health.

“We never had any health issues,” Valencia athletic director Brian Stiman said.

There have been reports that occasionally make the news that question whether the chemicals in pulverized tires are, in fact, dangerous and cancer-causing, the latest being a Los Angeles Times article published Monday. It lists chemicals the Environmental Protection Agency determined are in these pieces: benzene, mercury and arsenic.

Because benzene is ubiquitous in gasoline, human exposure is unavoidable. Benzene targets the liver, kidney, lung, heart and brain and can cause cancer in humans. Mercury can cause both chronic and acute poisoning, and arsenic is a known poison that could cause cancer in humans.

The article mentions that more than 60 studies have been done in two decades, and none have proven a link to cancer. But the federal government, perhaps bowing to public pressure, has announced a multi-agency study, with a report due by the end of the year.

This puts Hart and Saugus in a bind: They need new fields, but what if the report comes out saying the fields are dangerous? This question particularly worries Hart athletic director Linda Peckham.

“The cancer issue, that’s very scary. It freaks me out,” she said. “It’s very disconcerting. I don’t want to put any kid at risk. … We need more data, but we need a new facility.”

No one dismissed the Times report out of hand. It’s just that they have no one expressing concern to them.

Canyon football coach Richard Gutierrez loves his new field, but he acknowledged, “If you give people a venue to find something wrong, you’re going to find something.”

To Gutierrez, it’s just technology improving. He played at Saugus in the early 1990s using helmets that seem quaint by today’s standards.

“Guys in yesteryear, they were in leather helmets,” he said. “Today, the technology would blow their socks off.”

At the district level, public relations officer Dave Caldwell said no one has stepped forward and expressed concern. “It’s all preliminary,” he said. “We’ve begun to investigate.”

Saugus athletic director Jeff Hallman has a unique view. “Being a cancer survivor myself, I can believe anything,” he said. “If there is a definitive study, I feel the district would do its due diligence. It’s something I’m keeping my eye on.”

There are no easy answers, but the issue isn’t going away. West Ranch and Golden Valley are scheduled to get new fields next year.

$20 or $10,000?

| News | March 3, 2016

Picture the scenario: You’re drunk, so you can’t drive home. You call for a car. On the ride home, you start to feel sick. So, you may consider just heaving right there … unless the car is yours, in which case you can probably find a way to avoid the mess.

“In your own car, you’re more well-behaved,” said Mark Elsebusch, who with his wife, Samantha, runs Designated Drivers of Santa Clarita.

The idea is simple: People unable to drive (or shouldn’t) can get someone to drive their car home, and another car follows to take the driver home afterward.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, someone died in a drunk-driving accident every 51 minutes in 2012. Elsebusch said he’s seen stats that say one in three people will be involved with a drunk-driving incident, either as a drunk driver, passenger to a drunk driver or someone who encounters a drunk driver. Also, he said, 30 people die each day from such encounters.

With 80 establishments owning liquor licenses in Santa Clarita – and with half of those staying open until 2 a.m. seven nights a week – the need to get home safely is paramount, in Elsebusch’s mind.

“The social consciousness of getting a safe ride home is growing,” he said.

A big selling point is that paying $20 now for a ride can save you a possible $10,000 in legal fees from a DUI.

Elsebusch got the idea from his days driving a taxi, which he did off and on for 20 years to supplement his income in between jobs in the entertainment industry. He noticed that many of his passengers complained about being put in taxis, because they needed their cars the next day.

But he wasn’t able to really put his plan into action until cell phones became common. Now, people can call whenever or wherever. He started in April 2011; within 30 days, he knew he needed more drivers beyond him and his wife. He currently has three main drivers and five or six drivers who follow. Samantha acts as dispatcher all week and Mark follows drivers one weekday.

For the privilege of having someone drive you and your car home, clients pay a flat fee of $20 (not including tips) to go anywhere in Santa Clarita, which includes Agua Dulce, Castaic and some northern San Fernando Valley areas. To go to or from Acton, it’s $40; $60 gets you to anywhere from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica; and Palmdale/Lancaster will run you between $60 and $100. That doesn’t include tips, in which people give as much as 40 to 80 percent.

Almost five years later, the company is approaching its 20,000th ride, and only three times did someone not pay.

“One guy from Texas said, ‘I’m not going to pay.’ I said, ‘It’s worth $20 to find your keys,’ and I chucked them,” Elsebusch said. “He was still looking for them when I left. I chucked them far.”

Drivers are available starting at 7 p.m., and the earliest they stop driving is 3 a.m., although after 4 a.m. is common. “I usually sleep from 6 (a.m.) to 2 (p.m.),” Elsebusch said.

The clientele tends to skew older and in higher income brackets, Elsebusch said, because the older you get, the smarter you get when it comes to drunk driving (it’s the younger people who drive foolishly, Elsebusch said). They have regular clients, including a doctor who plays poker every Thursday and then gets a ride home to Pasadena. Bar owners, servers and DJs regularly use the service.

The state requires each driver to show proof of liability insurance, and the company is registered as an LLC with the state Department of Transportation.

Not everyone can be a driver. Elsebusch said it takes someone with the social skills to handle inebriated people. For example, a driver has to know how to deal with that woman in the bar who wants to say goodbye to everyone – even if she doesn’t know him or her. Ideal drivers are bartenders and people who drink socially.

Other types who don’t work out include people who don’t drink (“They don’t understand,” Elsebusch said) and recovering alcoholics (“They want to lecture.”)

“So many people butt heads with customers,” he said.

Designated Drivers has been in the area longer than Uber and Lyft, but Elsebusch says the more the merrier to help people get home safely. Besides, these drivers use their own cars, making them similar to taxi drivers; and they usually lack the social skills and street smarts taxi drivers have to deal with inebriated folks.

“Imagine your boss coming into your office every 30 minutes heaping praise for the job you did. That’s us,” Elsebusch said. “It’s almost embarrassing.”

Smyth Considers Run for Council

| City Council, News | February 25, 2016

Whether they know it or want to admit it, the three declared Santa Clarita City Council candidates – and anyone else who later decides to enter the race – are heading for an election campaign unlike any before.

A great deal can change between now and the July filing date. Others might join Mayor Bob Kellar, Councilmember TimBen Boydston and retired aerospace engineer Alan Ferdman in the race for two council seats. All candidates must figure out if they want to change anything, because the election is in November instead of April.

Although Election Day is 257 days away, four questions already have arisen.

Will Cameron Smyth run?

It seems everyone has heard the rumors that Smyth, a former councilmember and state assemblyman, will run again for a council seat. Smyth admitted that he has been “encouraged by folks across the city,” including Kellar. And Smyth is seriously considering it.

“I’ll make a decision sooner rather than later,” Smyth said. Although he has time to formally enter the race, “I owe it to those encouraging me to run to make a decision well before the filing date.”

If Smyth runs, would name recognition help or hurt?

The name “Smyth” is well known in the valley. Before being elected to the state legislature, Smyth was elected to the council in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. He twice served as mayor, in 2003 and 2005.

He followed in the footsteps of his father, Hamilton “Clyde” Smyth (1931-2012). The elder Smyth served the William S. Hart Union High School District as its superintendent from 1975-92 and later served as city councilmember from 1994-98, which included being mayor in 1997.

Saugus realtor Steve Petzold sees Smyth as a serious threat to his preferred candidates, Boydston and Ferdman.

“People who meet Cameron feel like they know Cameron,” Petzold said. “I think he could (win), I think he could (finish second), which would put him on the council. … Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, people like Cameron.”

But a cautionary local tale is Duane Harte, who ran for council in 2014 on the strength of his name, but lost.

Another factor to consider: Smyth has not been part of the city’s political scene since leaving his post to serve in the California State Assembly in 2006. He left office in 2012 to enter the private sector, where he is now vice president of state affairs for Molina Healthcare.

“He’s been out of Santa Clarita politics for at least 10 years. Most people don’t know him,” Ferdman said. “Am I terrified if Cameron gets in? No. Would it change how we campaign? Maybe.”

Allan Cameron, a longtime resident who has run numerous campaigns for seats on water agencies, city councils, school boards and state offices, remembers Jan Heidt, who served several terms, stepped down and tried to get re-elected some years later. She lost.

“Everybody needs to be respectful of the competition and run a thorough campaign,” Cameron said.

What about candidates running together?

If Smyth enters the race, one could say it would be wise for Boydston and Ferdman to team up and campaign as one slate; the same goes for Smyth and Kellar.

But the odds of it happening are slim. Kellar and Smyth said they’ve never done it before and won’t start now. Cameron says that a successful slate requires the candidates to do “a lot more of what it takes to be a successful candidate,” meaning whatever they have to do to get themselves elected – including, but not limited to, exploiting social media, pavement pounding, phone calling and soliciting money – they have to do also for the other candidate.

“Slates don’t get unilaterally elected,” Cameron said. “People vote a la carte.”

The election will be in November. What effect will this have?

According to Cameron, this will be the first time in 28 years the council will not have its own April election, but instead will be on the ballot with everything else, which this year includes ballot propositions, a county Board of Supervisor, state Senate and Assembly, the U.S. Senate and House elections, and the presidency.

Presidential elections always drive more people to the polls; all candidates must take that into account. “Any candidate running would be insane not to,” Cameron said.

“It changes the way you campaign,” Smyth said. “How do you reach that many more people? How do you get your message out when other candidates are trying to get their messages out?”

Cameron has one answer: Polling.

“If I was Cameron Smyth … I’d get funds together and get an opinion poll so as to not be in the dark,” Cameron said.

This, however, is very expensive. Cameron, who has commissioned polls before, says one poll costs $50,000, and three will set you back $200,000. No one has ever raised that kind of money for a city council seat, he said.

So, that means candidates will have to go back to good, old-fashioned campaigning: participate in candidate forums, meet with as many people as possible, exploit social media, which Cameron calls “the newly emerged King Kong of politics.”

“They’ll be bigger numbers, but the basics are still there,” Kellar said.

Local Man Remembers Days as Aerospace Engineer

| Community | February 20, 2016

Alan Ferdman has seen a great deal of change. If he has his way, he’ll see yet another change: Himself on the City Council.

Ferdman, 73, has lived in Canyon Country since 1965 and can tell story after story about how the area has grown and changed (does anybody else remember the agricultural airport?) and not always for the better, in his opinion. He also spent his career working in the aerospace industry and thrived, despite industry changes.

“I watched the industry get digitized,” he said. “More mechanical gave way to more electronic.”

For example, one of his first projects upon joining Litton Guidance and Control (a division of the defunct Litton Industries) in 1961 was to build an electromechanical navigator unit for a fighter jet. It was 18 by 18 inches, weighed 50 pounds and cost $50,000.

“Now, you can buy a chip for $50” and get the same thing on a drone, he said.

Over time, Ferdman worked for Litton and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on navigational equipment for the F-4 Phantom, the F-104 Starfighter, the F-14 Tomcat, the F-22 Raptor, the A-6 Intruder, the P-3 Orion, the B-52 Stratofortress and the EF-111A Raven. Most of his work came during the Cold War, so the systems he and his department developed had to work in nuclear, bacteriological and chemical environments, in case the Soviets dropped any of those types of weapons on the U.S.

Sometimes, his work was classified “secret” or “top secret,” meaning he was only told the parts he needed to be told to complete the system(s) on which he worked.

Some might romanticize working in such environments. Others might think conspiratorially that someone would sell secrets to the Soviets. For Ferdman, it simply went with the job – even though the government canceled all of the top-secret projects on which he worked.

“You have to do it,” he said. “They (government) will give you information about what they want you to produce. You assume the specifications are correct. We’re experts in a particular area, and we build that area. We were told to build a certain component, and we did that. People were pretty good at keeping their mouth shut.”

However, there was the time the FBI came calling, which Ferdman said happens when you’re assigned to something “top secret.” But this unnerved the neighbors.

“My neighbors were in a panic. ‘Al, the FBI is here. What’s going on?’ I said, ‘Don’t worry.’”

Ferdman believes that this type of government work, along with his 16 years of service to the Canyon Country Advisory Committee that includes 14 years as chairperson, has prepared him to serve on the City Council. He said this is the only office he aspires to and will only serve two terms because “like my friend George Washington said, you serve two terms and then you go home.”
There are three points to Ferdman’s platform, he said. He wants to ease traffic (“No one can say it’s getting better,” he said), eliminate what he calls “backroom deals” (“The people’s business should be done in public”) and increase public safety. He’s calling for a second sheriff’s station on the other side of the city, more paramedics and a decrease in the murder rate, which he attributes to increased domestic violence.

“He’s the type of person we need,” realtor Steve Petzold said. “He takes the time to explore the issues … just like (Councilmember) TimBen (Boydston) does. He stays in touch with the community.”

This will be Ferdman’s second attempt to be elected. He lost in 2014 to Dante Acosta by 104 votes. “I needed 104 more friends,” he said.

This time, he’s running for seats currently held by Boydston and Mayor Bob Kellar. The top two vote-getters win. The possibility exists that he will defeat Boydston, who he supports and who spoke at Ferdman’s Jan. 21 kickoff event.

“He’s honest, transparent, and he is very detail-oriented,” Boydston said. “Alan is smart and hard-working.”

“I’ve got the time,” the retired Ferdman said, “and I’ve certainly got the passion to serve the community and make sure this community stays great for generations to come.”

Vista Canyon Water Update

| News | February 18, 2016

Rightly so, the JSB Development website proudly trumpets its Vista Canyon development, calling it an “environmentally sensitive and sustainable plan (that) incorporates a highly walkable and transit-oriented focus.” It goes on to mention other positive features: “(d)esirable living, working, shopping and recreation areas are located within close proximity to one another and are connected by miles of multi-use trails.”

Perhaps surprisingly, what’s missing from the description is any mention of the water recycling plant that will, according to JSB president Jim Backer, create more water than what the entire community will need.

What’s more, the plant, when finished, will become the City of Santa Clarita’s property.

“We don’t know of any being built and then turned over to the city,” Backer said, adding there aren’t 50 such plants being built in the county.

The plant will be the first structure to go up, but bureaucratic delays in securing the necessary permits from entities including the Regional Water Quality Control Board have delayed things by a month or two, Backer said.

“Questions need to be answered,” he said. “It’s all part of the process. It’s standard operating procedure. We hope there is a timeframe.”

At this point, he added, he would have liked to have secured the permits and been on to the next step, holding public hearings. But these delays have not pushed the entire project off its scheduled 2017 opening.

Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar said he did not remember the details of the project and didn’t want to comment on it, but he said, “Anything that Jim Backer tells you, you can take to the bank. Jim Backer is a great man in our community, and he does great work.”

Backer said the plant grew out of a desire to build a sustainable community. The idea for it came from a woman (who he declined to name) he worked with four years ago who was very much pro-environment.

“Her passion for that was something that was really important,” Backer said. “We took her seriously.”

Similar plants have been built in Arizona, so Backer and his people did their research. One difference between those plants and the Vista Canyon one: the Arizona plants were built out of town and away from population areas, which isn’t possible here.

However, Backer said, the Vista Canyon plant will be on a far end of the project. According to the Land Use Plan on the JSB website, it will abut the Santa Clara River to the south, a connector road to the north, and open space to the east and west.

Dollar Doubts Loom Over Laemmle

| News | February 11, 2016

The vacant lot bounded by Lyons Avenue, Main and 9th streets and Railroad Avenue still stands, though its days are numbered. Sooner, rather than later, there will be a new Laemmle Theatres multiplex, a mixed-use retail/resident complex and a parking structure.

With any new commercial venture, there is talk about how this new project will add to a city’s coffers. It’s a feel-good moment when a city council, as Santa Clarita’s did Tuesday night, votes to approve and front the seed money (in this case, $3,420,525 from the facilities replacement fund, to help Laemmle).

Naturally, a city expects a tidy return on its investment, so these questions remain: How much revenue will Santa Clarita gain as a result, and how long will it take to recoup?

City leaders have done their due diligence in trying to answer that question. They funded studies by Applied Economics of Phoenix and Kosmont from Manhattan Beach that concluded the city stands to gain $190,021 in the first year. City Economic Development Manager Jason Crawford said during the city council meeting that there are estimates that point to increased revenue in future years.

However, the true amount cannot be determined yet for two reasons: Firstly, it’s not known how many people will actually come to Old Town Newhall. The reports estimate 200,000 people will visit annually and spend an average of $15 each, above and beyond the admission tickets and popcorn, from which the city is ineligible to receive monies. Councilmember TimBen Boydston on Monday questioned if any of these 200,000 people would have gone to the other local theatres in the area. If so, “that is not new tax dollars. That’s robbing Canyon Country and Valencia to pay Newhall,” he said.

Secondly, the council did not vote to allocate any money for the mixed-use or parking portions of the project, although Crawford estimated the parking structure would cost $15.2 million, making the project’s total price tag – and amount the city puts out – unknown.

Nor is it official if the parking structure will be free or require payment. Charging for parking would certainly recoup monies faster, but Mayor Pro Tem Dante Acosta received applause after vehemently declaring Tuesday that parking will be free.

Furthermore, it’s unknown how many parking spaces there will be. Crawford said the plan is for a six-level parking structure with one underground level, but the actual configuration and number of spaces have not yet been finalized. Boydston said the documents presented to the council shows 400 spaces at $38,000 per space, which equals $15.2 million.

That the project is popular in the community isn’t in dispute. Of the 40 public comments at the council meeting, 90 percent urged approval. That was on top of the 103 pro-project comment cards Mayor Bob Kellar said he was holding and the more than 100 emails Acosta said he collected on his phone.

Even those who spoke in opposition only objected to the subsidy and the potential price of the parking structure – not to having Laemmle there. But this raises a point: Why give Laemmle any money? On a relevant, yet much larger scale, a reason the National Football League hasn’t had a team in Los Angeles since 1994 is because no one would give a billionaire owner public money. Now that owner Stan Kroenke is privately paying for a new stadium in Inglewood, the Los Angeles Rams once again exist.

Kellar said on Monday he wishes the city didn’t have to give any money, and he wonders if Laemmle could build without city help (Laemmle has said he wouldn’t come without the subsidy, but he would build without the parking structure).

“Would I like less money? Yes,” Kellar said. “This is a tremendous opportunity. It will be the crown jewel for what we’ve done for Downtown Newhall.”

Besides, the mayor said, this is nothing out of the ordinary. The City of Santa Clarita has helped bring a Costco and a Home Depot here, and also purchase and renovate the Canyon Theatre Guild, in which Boydston serves as executive and artistic director (Boydston cast the lone “no” vote Tuesday; Councilmember Laurene Weste recused herself, because she lives within 500 feet of the project and wanted to avoid any conflict of interest). It also balked at Nordstrom’s $20 million price tag in 1999, and the upscale retailer still has no local presence.

“These are quality of life amenities for our community,” Kellar said.

Whether the cost is worth it remains to be seen.


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