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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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News Briefs and updates

| News | June 28, 2019

College Investigated

The law might have broken when an employee at College of the Canyons possibly signed a lease to use space in Valencia Town Center in support of Measure E, and it’s being investigated by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

According to an email from Commission Assistant Sasha Linker, the FPPC is investigating “laundered campaign contributions” and “contributions by intermediary or agent.”

Linker’s email also provided documentation, including the same documents the Gazette previously was given: an event agreement between the school and Westfield, which owns the Valencia Town Center, to lease space in the mall between March 25-June 25, 2016 as a Yes-on-E campaign headquarters; and a document listing the college’s Rockwell Canyon Road address and contact as Claudia Dunn, then the special assistant to Chancellor Dianne Van Hook. The phone number was redacted; the original document lists a college number.

Linker’s email said the FPPC also is looking into the claim that “COC acted as an intermediary by allowing the (Yes on E) Committee to conduct campaign activity from the location (suite 2312) in the Valencia Town Center Mall.”

Richard Michael, who runs the website Big Bad Bonds, previously said the school’s actions violated the state Education Code. On Monday, he called the FPPC letter “kind of a form letter, but it indicates it’s going to the next stage. … The fact they’re looking at it is significant.”

Linker’s documentation also included the letter sent to Van Hook. It repeats the allegations being investigated and adds, “At this time, we have not made any determination about the allegation(s) made in the complaint.”

Linker’s documents say that by July 3, the FPPC will decide whether to investigate, refer to another government agency or take no action.

College spokesperson Eric Harnish said in an email the school has not received a copy of the complaint. “When we do, we will work with the commission to ensure the issue is properly resolved,” he said.

Board member Joan MacGregor said she was aware the FPPC was investigating. “I hope everyone kept proper records. I hope everything was done correctly,” she said.

Former City Council Candidates Settle in Court

In the final disposition of the case of one city council candidate’s civil harassment restraining order against another candidate, Sean Weber was awarded $22,000 in costs and attorney fees, court documents show.

Weber originally filed for a restraining order for himself, his mother, father-in-law and brother May 9, 2017, against Brett Haddock, court documents show. Weber claimed he feared for his and his family’s safety.

Haddock, who like Weber unsuccessfully ran for city council in 2016, was ordered to pay $1,500 per month starting June 1. Weber and attorney Troy Slaten said that as of last week, they had not been paid.

Haddock had appealed to the state Court of Appeal, citing the First Amendment and receiving support in an amicus brief from the UCLA School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic.

But the court ruled 3-0 that Haddock also engaged in private harassment, which isn’t covered under the First Amendment.

“I felt like the red herring was the (First Amendment). It had nothing to do with it, the restraining order,” Weber said last week. “It was his other conduct that I went to court over. It’s his private conduct by contacting of my friends and family and all that kind of stuff.”

The case was returned to the trial court, which awarded most of the $29,000 Slaten said he sought.

Haddock declined comment except to say, “Sean Weber is a psychopath and I want him to leave me alone. It’s ironic that I can’t get a restraining order on him.”

The Elephants in the Room

| News | June 27, 2019

When a political party loses seats it has long held, its leaders tend to come together, lick wounds, figure out what went wrong and try to fix it.

It’s also a time people get vocal, maybe snipe at each other and maybe air grievances in public.

It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. It’s still happening with the Republican Party of the 38th Assembly District.

The locals suffered some big losses during the last cycle. Katie Hill and Christy Smith became the first Democrats to win the congressional and Assembly seats. And although school board seats are non-partisan, Democrats David Barlavi and Laura Arrowsmith won in the Saugus district.

It was not a total loss. Many Republicans won or held onto non-partisan seats, including in the city council, William S. Hart, College of the Canyons, Newhall and Sulphur Springs school boards. But the Barlavi and Arrowsmith seats particularly stung, local party chairman Mark Hershey said, because “They’re the biggest, most visible ones.”

It became too much for some younger Republicans, who started shouting that there was a need to reach younger voters, to raise more money, to recruit new talent to run for offices. And it rubbed some of the old guard the wrong way, resulting in disagreements and the censure and removal of one of the Central Committee members.

Allegations flew, many unsubstantiated. But one thing was clear: Local Republicans had lost their way a bit and would need to refocus to win back seats in 2020.

“My expectation is that they’re going to do their jobs,” said Mike Garcia, a 25th congressional district candidate. “I have been leaning on them. I’ve been somewhat patient with them realizing that they are still reeling from the last election. They’re still trying to figure out who they are, and I know they’re working through some of the personnel issues. … It’s still early, but this is something that’s got to start right now, so I’m hopeful they’ll get it together shortly.”

The truth is, there’s only so much a local political party can do. The county, state and national parties handle much. In fact, party communications chair Joe Messina said, the local party, known as the 38th AD, is chiefly responsible for getting Republicans elected to local races such as city council, school boards and water boards.

But losses up the ballot hurt, too, and might affect local results, so the party leaders have discussed what went wrong in 2018. In the Saugus races, Messina said, Barlavi benefitted from two Republicans running. The 38th AD endorsed Jesus Henao, but Evan Patlian also ran, and he split the vote. Barlavi beat Patlian by 5 percentage points and Henao by 11.

Arrowsmith unseated Judy Umeck, Messina believes, because she was a young, energetic teacher who also benefitted from the voter turnout that sent Hill and Smith to victories.

So, what went wrong? Local Republican leaders focused on several things: The Democrats had higher voter registration, raised more money and had more community involvement. Messina said plans are being drawn up to combat the other party’s gains, although he declined specifics.

But some, such as Cardon Ellis, 36, also felt there was a greater need to reach younger voters through social media. He suggested increasing the online presence on Facebook and adding a simple “Donate” button on the main website (scvgop.net).

“He came in with grandiose ideas,” Messina said, adding he isn’t sure social media wins races but recognizes it brings awareness.

Ellis was liked enough to be appointed to the 38th AD Central Committee. But he also rubbed some people the wrong way. Messina would only say, “He was doing things that were putting the committee in danger.”

Regardless, Ellis was censured and removed from the Central Committee by a 5-2 vote. He provided a list of reasons, all of which he denied. These include incurring expenses without permission, telling a reporter he was not impressed with the Republican candidate, creating his own team to respond to media stories and then not disbanding it, and berating older members.

Ellis particularly objected to the following: “The member has in essence created his own ‘ghost committee’ and doing what he wants the way he wants. This makes for the committee wasting way to much time in cleanup mode. He has created what may be too many liabilities for the committee.”

Ellis blames Messina, but his removal didn’t please everybody. Ellis showed texts of support from Councilmembers Cameron Smyth and Bill Miranda, Smyth saying he told Messina he didn’t approve and Miranda expressing condolences and regrets that the committee removed “the young high energy guy who has ideas and can move us forward.”

“You’re going to have disagreements. It’s the nature of the game,” Smyth told the Gazette. “That being said, I’ve never seen a Central Committee member removed like Cardon.” Since the seven Central Committee members are elected to four-year terms, Smyth thought it could have been handled at the ballot box.

Miranda said he thought Ellis brought his demise onto himself because he didn’t take the time to listen and learn. But he also said he would like to see Ellis back on the Central Committee.

“I think the Central Committee’s got to look in the mirror and say, ‘What are we going to do to modernize ourselves? What are we going to do to fight elections in the new battlefields, the social-media battlefields, the internet battlefields?’ The days of phone calling, door knocking and print advertising, although those are still important, they don’t win elections by themselves anymore,” Miranda said. “You’ve got to be on social media. Like Cardon said, put a donor button on the website. How hard is that? We didn’t have a donor button on the website. The Democrats are raising money like crazy, they’re getting voter registration like crazy, and most of that is through social media.”

How successful the party is will be seen a year and a half from now. Miranda would like to see a consistent message that resonates with Republicans old and young. Smyth said he’s confident the Republicans will coalesce around the eventual nominees. Messina said the party is working to increase youth involvement, raise more than the $60,000 it raised in 2016 and recruit new candidates.

Garcia is one of those new candidates.

“I’m being patient, but I’m being very clear there’s an expectation that all levels of government and all levels of these Republican groups are expected to get the vote out and get the support out for the candidate,” he said.

Wilk’s Attorneys Respond to Claims

| News | June 21, 2019

Star Moffatt’s claim that Scott Wilk should be disqualified from further serving in the state Senate because of his lobbying past is untimely, improper and uncertain, Wilk’s attorneys claim in court documents.

In filing a notice of demurrer, Wilk attorney Scott Hildreth of the Sacramento firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk said Moffatt’s case fails to “state facts constituting a cause of action” against Wilk and it should be completely dismissed.

A demurrer generally assumes the truth of a case’s facts but argues they’re legally insufficient.

“Demurrers are meant to be opportunities for early resolutions of cases that are procedurally or legally improper,” Hildreth said. “We believe Ms. Moffatt’s case is both procedurally improper and legally improper.”

Moffatt filed suit in 2016 seeking to prevent Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) from running for the Senate because he had been a registered federal lobbyist who had not sat out a year before seeking office, per the state’s Government Code.

Wilk had worked for Alexandria, Va.-based Anchor Consulting from 2007-11 doing public affairs work for then-Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon. He won election to the Assembly in 2012 and then won his Senate seat in 2016. He said three years ago that he received his last payment from Anchor in 2012, and an Anchor employee previously told the Gazette the company’s records showed Wilk stopped actively lobbying in 2011 before he ran for the Assembly.

Moffatt has countered that because Wilk had never unregistered, he is ineligible to serve and must be removed from office retroactively. Wilk is more than halfway through his term.

The demurrer documents make the following assertions:

–The case is moot because Wilk has already been elected, that the statute of limitations expired because the election happened, and state law holds that courts don’t have jurisdiction to either remove a legislator from office or hear such cases.

–Moffatt waited three years to serve Wilk, even though Wilk is easy to locate, making the delay in bringing an action unreasonable and prejudicial.

–Since the election happened, the only way to get post-election relief is to have another election. Moffatt should be barred from preventing Wilk from seeking any future election. “Here, the Court cannot know (and should not speculate about) Senator Wilk’s potential future candidacies and how the facts and law cited by Plaintiff would apply to said potential candidacies,” Hildreth wrote in the demurrer.

It’s not known when this demurrer would be heard because the original case, Moffatt v. Wilk, must be reassigned because of the court’s limited jurisdiction. The documents show Hildreth had sought a July 3 hearing date, but the minutes from the May 31 hearing show Wilk or his attorneys must contact the clerk of the new court to reschedule.

“Wilk and counsel members may want to withdraw their demurrer to avoid sanctions for filing their demurrer motion with the wrong court,” Moffatt said in a text.

Regardless, Moffatt said she plans to file an opposition and motion to strike the demurrer in its entirety. She didn’t divulge her entire strategy but said she would make two points: Wilk’s attorneys failed to meet and confer with her before filing the demurrer, per the state Code of Civil Procedure, and they failed to file appropriate supporting declarations.

“They jumped the gun. They were trying to do that stall tactic,” Moffatt said. “I think they put the cart before the horse.”

Hildreth cited the same law as Moffatt in asserting an insufficient meet-and-confer process isn’t grounds to overrule or sustain a demurrer.

You’ve Got Theft: Stolen Mail in SCV

| News | June 20, 2019

On June 9 at 2:31 a.m., someone pulled up in front of Stacy Fortner’s house, walked up to the curbside mailboxes belonging to Fortner and her neighbor, checked them and took whatever mail was in there.

Fortner caught all of this on her outdoor Nest camera. The man walked down Lobelia Lane checking other mailboxes. After 10 minutes, he drove away.

Because of the camera, and because Fortner called the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, the man was apprehended and arrested.

Fortner posted the video on Facebook. Unfortunately, according to sheriff’s PIO Shirley Miller, this wasn’t the first time mail theft was reported – and it won’t be the last.

“It comes and goes,” Miller said. “We’ve made arrests with the public’s help when they’ve called and reported something suspicious like in the wee hours of the night.”

Mail theft is a federal felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. According to thebalance.com, a mailbox is the riskiest non-technological point for identity theft, a study released in October 2007 found.

People typically steal mail for a variety of reasons, which Miller calls a “crime of opportunity.” These include looking for money, credit cards or anything else that can be used to steal an identity, such as a new or renewed driver’s license, bank statements, credit card bills, preapproved credit card offers, re-ordered bank checks and junk mail, the latter to learn about you to determine what kind of scam could work on you or to impersonate you to someone else.

It happened to Fortner’s friends Renee Bowen and Debbie Anderson. Although neither returned calls for comment, Bowen posted on Facebook that it happened to her despite having a locked mailbox, which was one suggestion Miller had to combat mail theft.

“When the sheriff came out for a police report, he said it was constant and really hard to catch,” Bowen wrote, adding she and her husband had their identities stolen as a result.

Anderson wrote that three in a group of mailboxes that included hers were broken into earlier this month, although hers wasn’t. Still, it has required her to go to her local post office to get her mail. The last time this happened, some years ago, she wrote, the post office refused to deliver her mail for two months.

There are plenty of things people can do to combat mail theft. Miller said the best way is to mail everything from inside the post office, although she acknowledges that’s not always feasible. Even official USPS boxes can have mail stolen if the thief opens the slot and fishes with something long with a sticky tip.

In addition to a locked mailbox, in which the carrier puts mail through a slot and the owner opens the box with a key, other suggestions include: finding out when the mail arrives and getting it then, get a box inside the post office, shred all mail before trashing it, switch to paperless billing and statements and don’t use the mailbox flag.

Miller said the United States Postal Service offers something called Informed Delivery, in which the post office sends an email each day showing what mail you’re going to get. If you don’t, you can alert the post office and any appropriate agencies.

Finally, invest in a camera as Fortner did.

Cannabis Law Could Be a Real ‘Doobie’ for Seniors in Pain

| News | June 13, 2019

Val Thomas says she suffers from severe arthritis, a cracked pelvis and has had multiple joint replacements. She has never tried medical marijuana but would like to, except there’s a ban on dispensaries in the city. Her pelvis has made it too difficult to drive, but even if she could (or if she could get a ride), she knows dispensaries are close by in Los Angeles, but she wouldn’t know what questions to ask the people working at one.
“It’s very shortsighted,” the 78-year-old said of the city’s policy. “As you get older, it’s a lot more difficult to get around. If marijuana is an alternative, it should be examined. … I’m not interested in running down to Van Nuys Boulevard and hopping in with some 21-year-old who really doesn’t understand where I’m coming from and hands me something off the shelf. I would prefer working with someone that does understand the type of problems I have and that many of us have up here.”

As the population ages and conditions associated with aging continue to increase, more people will be hurting and seeking pain relief. Many fear opioids because of their addictive and possibly deadly qualities – a Harvard Medical School study published in October found 115 people die daily from opioid overdoses in this country – and are curious about the possible positive effects cannabis could have for them.

Barbara Cochran, 82, knows some of these benefits. She was diagnosed with lymphoma seven years ago and underwent chemotherapy, which caused tremendous stomach and chest pain and nausea. She took hydrocodone for the pain until her son, Scott Stearns, who operates the American Original Collective dispensary in Rosamond, saw the pills, threw them in the trash and insisted she try cannabidiol (CBD) pills.

“My pain was gone in less than two days,” Cochran said.

She said the chemo also zapped her of her appetite, so she tried tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient that gives people the “high” feeling. It got her eating again.

Cochran has hosted “The Senior Hour,” a Wednesday-morning radio show on KHTS with Dr. Gene Dorio devoted to senior living, for many years. The pair often extoll the virtues of medicinal marijuana.

“I’ve always felt cannabis can be very useful for medical treatment and for those who have a pain-management problem,” said Dorio, who specializes in geriatrics and internal medicine. “My patients have been on opioids and I have been able to switch them to cannabis, and it’s just as effective as opioids.”

Now cancer-free, Cochran still takes two drops of CBD oil daily, either on her toast or in her coffee. “It’s like a vitamin for me,” she said. “I haven’t been sick since then. I never get a cold. I strongly believe (CBD) has a lot to do with it.”

Two city councilmembers said they have no problem with their older constituents using cannabis and having it delivered to them. But inadvertently or not, the city and county have placed obstacles on seniors getting access to such treatments. The Board of Supervisors in 2017 unanimously banned cultivation, manufacturing, processing, transportation and retail sale of medical and nonmedical marijuana in any unincorporated county territory until a comprehensive regulatory plan is in place. Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents Santa Clarita, introduced the measure. Barger spokesman Tony Bell emailed this week to say the ban remains in effect.

“It’s unacceptable that L.A. County hasn’t lifted the ban,” Stearns said.

Barger’s move came two weeks after the city unanimously banned cannabis beyond six indoor plants per residence. Then the city council unanimously extended the ban in March 2018. Councilmember Bob Kellar made the motion.

“Having been a 25-year member of the Los Angels Police Department, and seeing the unbelievable destruction of lives as a result of drugs, I, Bob Kellar, will never support anything having to do with drugs as long as I can follow the law,” Kellar said this week.

It is this mindset that bothers Stearns and Thomas. Thomas said Kellar’s view is “at least 20 years out of date.” Stearns said many of his clients are veterans, elderly, in wheelchairs, and suffer from arthritis and nausea. He wonders how a city can be so opposed to helping these people.

“It’s not fair to not have access,” he said. “I’d come in there with a couple of my veterans and a couple of my cancer patients and just hopefully make them feel like sh**.”

And yet, Thomas, Dorio and Stearns are not in favor of casual marijuana use and want strict regulations. Dorio, like Kellar, believes the stuff is a gateway drug, although he stresses that applies to young people. Stearns said, “You don’t need gangsters from MS-13 running a pot shop in your town.” Thomas said she isn’t interested in “getting high.”

“The people about whom most of the council is concerned are the people who can easily drive over the hill, pick up their stash and come back,” she said. “People who are older, who suffer from arthritis or pains of other types, are extremely limited in what they can get.”

The state has always seemed to have an uneven relationship with cannabis. It was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, in 1996. Twenty years earlier, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that reduced marijuana possession to a misdemeanor. And the voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016, which legalized recreational cannabis starting Jan. 1, 2018.

But the voters also rejected recreational legalization in 2010, and the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (other Schedule 1 drugs include LSD, heroin, ecstasy and Quaalude; cocaine, PCP, Vicodin, oxycodone and methamphetamine are Schedule 2 drugs; anabolic steroids are Schedule 3). While the 2018 farm bill removed hemp from Schedule 1, the other forms remain.

Dorio would like to see marijuana reclassified as a Schedule 2 drug, and there have been several unsuccessful attempts since 1972 to change its Schedule 1 classification, most recently in 2017. Councilmembers Bill Miranda and Cameron Smyth said a reclassification might change their minds about having cannabis inside the city.

But first, Miranda said he would want to ensure marijuana is kept out of teens and young people’s hands.

“I’m a brother of an overdose person,” he said. “You have to be very, very careful to make marijuana available to young people.”

Smyth said he’s concerned that cannabis is still predominately a cash business, which to him increases the likelihood of criminal activity. According to the American Bankers Association, because possessing, distributing or selling marijuana remains illegal under federal law, money that can be traced back to state marijuana operations could be considered money laundering and expose a bank to significant legal, operational and regulatory risks.

Smyth believes a reclassification would allow banks to get involved, meaning credit comes into play, meaning less criminal possibilities such as fraud.

“Certainly, the time has come for the federal government to have a serious discussion,” Smyth said.

Yet Smyth and Miranda said they don’t support any brick-and-mortar cannabis shops in the city but have no problem with delivery services.

Unfortunately, Stearns said, there is no money and increased danger in delivery, so he doesn’t.

As intractable as Kellar seems, he said there is one possible way he could consider allowing cannabis inside the city: if compounding pharmacies handled it, which is something Thomas also said she favors. Miranda, again, said he would have to see how young people’s access would be limited. Smyth would want to see if compounding pharmacies could get around “the cash component” before he agreed to lift any cannabis ban.

Neither of the two local compounding pharmacies the Gazette called, The Druggist Pharmacy and Lyons Pharmacy & Compounding Lab, are involved with cannabis, although it’s not illegal.

For now, nothing will change. People can get cannabis, but they have to leave the city to do it.

“It would be nice if we grew up and joined the real world,” Thomas said.

If the county ever lifts its ban, Stearns believes a dispensary will open in the valley but outside the city limits.

And it will be he who opens it.

Wilk Case Continues in Court

| News | June 7, 2019

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Star Moffatt’s quest to have state Sen. Scott Wilk disqualified from office was continued to June 14, Moffatt said. It was not dismissed after Friday’s court session, in which Moffatt had to show the court she had properly served Wilk.

“It’s still alive. I’m happy about that,” she said. “I was able to show that I had hired a legal process server who had served the complaint on May 20, I believe.”

Court documents list the date as May 24. Moffatt said Wilk’s representation challenged that they had never received a copy in the mail. Wilk attorney Brian Hildreth wrote in an email that no motion to dismiss has been made and that the case was continued to give Moffatt time to prove she had properly served Wilk.

“They must have neglected to read the proof of service because the process server had indicated he had put a copy in the mail,” Moffatt said.

She said she expects Wilk’s attorney to challenge the service at the next hearing, which she considers “a stall tactic.”

Hildreth disputed Moffatt’s claim. “The case was filed three years ago and was only allegedly served just days ago,” he wrote in an email. “Senator Wilk is not the one stalling. The continuance was to give the parties time to confirm that proper service had been made.”

Moffatt said, “I will be responding they obviously forgot to read the proof of service. Reading is important.”

Moffatt filed a civil complaint three years ago alleging Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) was ineligible to serve in the Senate because he was a registered federal lobbyist who had not sat out a year before seeking the office, per the state’s Government Code.

Wilk had worked for Anchor Consulting, located in Alexandria, Va., from 2007-11 doing public affairs work for then-Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon. He won election to the Assembly in 2012 and then won his Senate seat in 2016. He said three years ago that he received his last payment from Anchor in 2012.

Moffatt has countered that because she claims Wilk had never unregistered, he is ineligible to serve and must be removed from office retroactively. Wilk is more than halfway through his term.

Moffatt said Wilk’s election was fraudulent.

“Fraud can still go retroactive to disgorgement of his campaign donors’ funds,” she said. “The campaign donations he received were fraudulent for 2016 and (he’d) have to return those monies back. There’s no statute of limitations on that. If he committed fraud, there’s no statute of limitations to disgorge, request and return all taxpayer dollars (to the state) he received as far as salaries for 2016.”

State law indicates a three-year statute of limitations for fraud.
Moffatt had previously sought the county clerk’s office to join her in the suit and was under the impression the office had forwarded the matter to the county’s counsel.

Instead, she was surprised when the Gazette called about it, and she had to explain to the court’s satisfaction last week why she hadn’t properly served Wilk in the last three years.

“I think I had legitimate reasons why,” Moffatt said. “It will be up to the court to determine after that if the court still retains jurisdiction to move forward with the disqualification. …When you break the law, you break the law. If it’s found by the court that you have broken the law, then you have to pay whatever restitution the court orders you to pay.”

Hildreth called the suit “wrong on the facts, wrong on the law and wrong on the timing, but otherwise we are taking this as seriously as we would any other lawsuit that seeks to improperly use the courts to overturn the will of the voters of the 21st Senatorial District.”

Why No Canyon Country Hospital?

| News | June 6, 2019

Bob Kellar and Cameron Smyth have heard the cries: We need a hospital on the east side of town.

“About every election cycle during at least one candidate’s forum” is how often Councilmember Smyth says he hears it, although he acknowledged he didn’t when he last ran in 2016.

Councilmember Kellar doesn’t question the need, either. He said he had a good friend with broken ribs take a ride to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital.

“Bob, it was the most excruciating trip,” Kellar said his friend told him.

Social media is a place people have expressed their desires. On Facebook, Martha Estrada and Andrea RC have posted wishes for a new hospital, citing valley expansion and population growth.

However, it’s not happening anytime soon. It is too expensive and time-consuming to build a hospital here, whether a new one or a second Henry Mayo campus.

According to Joan Hoffman, a health care manager who posted on the discussion website Quora, two hospitals that opened in Dallas in 2017 cost between $800 million and $1.3 billion. Hoffman also wrote that 185-bed Mercy Hospital in Merced cost $166 million when it was built in 2012.

“At less than $1 million per bed, it was considered quite economical, especially for California,” Hoffman wrote, and does anyone expect the 2019 cost to be the same as seven years ago?

What the city could actually do is limited, Smyth said. It could help by speeding up the approval process should some hospital operator seek a parcel of land on which to build.

Or it could task the Economic Development Corporation with finding some company that wants to bring a hospital here. Holly Schroeder, EDC president and CEO, said the organization’s current focus is on bringing industrial, aerospace, technology and biotechnology companies into the city.

That isn’t to say the EDC isn’t ignoring medicine entirely. If a medical-office company wants to move here, Schroeder said she’s happy to help.

And there are numerous options in the city, many of which offer urgent care. Kaiser Permanente opened an urgent-care facility on Tourney Road to go with its medical offices in Canyon Country. Facey Medical Group has several area locations, including one on Soledad Canyon Road that offers mammograms, ophthalmology, optometry, pediatrics, primary care, radiology, ultrasound, treatments for infectious diseases and diabetes, and nutrition and general wellness.

Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers offers a variety of non-urgent services, including immunizations, mental – and behavioral – health counseling, family medicine, women’s health and physical exams.

Exer, which claims on its website that it’s “more than urgent care,” offers emergency-room services at lower costs.

Schroeder said she’s also aware of something she calls “centers of excellence,” in which people can go for a specific purpose, such as cancer treatment or hip replacement, that aren’t full hospitals.

But sometimes, one needs a hospital because the situation is dire, a true emergency – and according to Scripps, there is a difference between “emergency” and “urgent” – or the patient has suffered a trauma. Henry Mayo is the only designated trauma center in the area.

The way Henry Mayo was built also probably couldn’t be replicated today. It was built on land donated by the Newhall Land & Farming Company and opened in 1975 with 99 beds at a cost of $9 million.

Perhaps a second Henry Mayo facility in Canyon Country would also be a trauma center, except Director of Marketing and Public Relations Patrick Moody said it’s too expensive to build another campus. He estimated if would cost more than $100 million to build. Also, with the healthcare industry moving toward what he called “preventive care,” also known as preventative care, which emphasizes shorter hospital stays and more urgent-care facilities, it might not be profitable to build another hospital.

Gone are the days of hospitalizations for such procedures as tonsillectomies, Moody said; they’re now outpatient procedures. Open-heart surgery patients also are being released sooner than a generation ago, he said.

But say Henry Mayo officials wanted to build another hospital and had the money to do it. Moody said it still would take between 10-15 years to finally get it opened because the state regulations are extensive.

The Facilities Development Division of the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) in 2013 put out a 129-page advice guide for working on projects under OSHPD jurisdiction. There are 10 review processes just to get a hospital built, including ones relating to building safety and seismic concerns, to say nothing of whatever city and county requirements there might be.

But if someone else wants to build one, Moody said the hospital would not object.

For now, Henry Mayo and its 232 beds will have to suffice, and Rob Skinner knows this.

“Cities don’t build hospitals, companies do,” Skinner wrote on Facebook. “Hospitals are private businesses. If a company sees SCV as a good place to earn money, then maybe they will invest the hundreds of millions needed in order to build a new hospital. It comes down to money. Just like everything else.”

The Frank Ferry Fan Club

| News | June 6, 2019

Although Frank Ferry failed to receive enough votes to advance to the Los Angeles city council runoff election in August, he nonetheless received help from friends in the area.

Several current and former Santa Clarita city councilmembers endorsed Ferry, as did a former congressman. But it wasn’t enough, as Ferry received 8.86 percent (2,862 votes), good for fifth place out of 15 candidates.

Ferry served the city from 1998-2014 and worked with Mayor Marsha McLean, Mayor Pro-Tem Cameron Smyth and Laurene Weste, all of whom offered endorsements.
McLean said that whenever she went down to the valley as part of any of the various government-related organizations such as the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments, in which she is a board member, “I let them know I support Frank.”

Smyth endorsed Ferry in a video on Ferry’s campaign Facebook page, although he identified himself as a former Assemblyman and neither a city councilmember nor a Santa Clarita resident.

Smyth told the Gazette that as an L.A. City Councilmember, Ferry would keep the relationship strong between Santa Clarita and the north San Fernando Valley.

“With Frank, you got what you saw,” Smyth said. “He was very clear about his position, and very honest about them. Whether you agreed with him or not, you always knew where he stood.”

Another person who endorsed Ferry was former Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, who said in a video Ferry posted on Ferry’s campaign Facebook page that Ferry was a person McKeon relied on for information.

“Frank worked hard and listened to his constituents,” McKeon said. “He was a strong advocate for families, police officers, our youth and our older Americans. I knew I could always count on him.”

Former city councilmember Laurie Ender also endorsed Ferry, mentioning Ferry’s work with the city’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, which the city council formed January 2010 to provide information and education to the community about alcohol/drug/tobacco use by teens (McLean also credited Ferry with it).

One person who did not endorse Ferry was Rep. Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce), although a photo dated May 31 on Ferry’s campaign Facebook page might have given people that idea.

According to Hill campaign manager Kelsey O’Hara, Hill has a relationship with Ferry, as he was one of her teachers at Saugus High, and she invited him to host her local swearing-in ceremony in January.

Officially, Hill endorsed Loraine Lundquist, O’Hara said. Lundquist finished second with 19 percent of the tally (6,145 votes) in Tuesday’s election and advanced to August’s runoff.

As for the photo on Ferry’s page, O’Hara was unconcerned.

“It doesn’t particularly bother us,” O’Hara said. “She does know him, and she has taken photos with him.”

Gary Peterson: COC’s Wildly Successful Golf Coach

| Community, Sports | May 30, 2019

No California junior college coach has been more successful than Gary Peterson. He has guided College of the Canyons golf teams to 12 state titles (nine men, three women) in his 35 years. On the men’s side, that includes four in the last seven years and includes 2019, when the Cougars beat the field by 18 strokes. That matches what the women did last fall.

That’s not all. The men haven’t finished lower than second in seven years.

“We’ve had a pretty good run,” Peterson said.

Like any wildly successful coach, there is a method to his genius. John Wooden had his pyramid of success. Peterson has a three-pronged approach. Without giving away any trade secrets, Peterson said golf is a metaphor for life.

“You have to be honest, work hard and practice to be good,” he said.

A look at the three points:

HONESTY

“It’s easy to cheat in golf,” Peterson said. “Look at our president. He cheats all the time.”

But at Canyons, as is often the case on in golf, it is up to the individual to keep his or her own score, not drop a ball or kick it back into bounds. The honor system is in effect.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t any cheating going on. From time to time, a player will confidentially tell Peterson he or she saw a teammate do something outside the rules. Peterson will investigate by closely watching that player. He also will tell him/her that the behavior has been brought to his attention. If Peterson catches it, one of two things happen. If it’s during a practice, he will “rip them a new one, and if it happens again, they’re off the team.” If it’s during a match, the termination is immediate.

Peterson has kicked one player off a squad – not for cheating but for burying a putter on a green. The termination was still immediate.

WORK HARD (OFF THE COURSE)

Once, Peterson’s rosters were almost entirely made of local golfers. That was the case when the Cougars won their first men’s state title, in 1993. Four of the six that carded 792 at Monterey Peninsula Club were from Hart or Saugus high schools.

Earlier this month, none of the golfers were local; the winner was from Japan, two were Frenchmen, one was Australian and one was from Lancaster. There was only one Santa Clarita player on the roster.

“If I didn’t have to go international, I wouldn’t go international,” Peterson said. “If I could be assured of a local team, I wouldn’t go outside the neighborhood.”

The reason is simple: As the valley got bigger and golfers got better, they started receiving NCAA Division I and II scholarships. This makes Peterson have to work harder to fill a roster.

Not that he’s having too much trouble. He carried 23 this year, although not everyone played (more on that later).

Peterson also has to figure out where to play. Very few courses let the golfers tee off for free, meaning Peterson have to figure out how to stretch his $10,000 green-fee budget across two programs. He said golfers typically are charged between $10 and $18 per round, a deep discount to be sure, but if each player typically is on a course three to four days a week, fundraising is a must.

Of the 10 courses Peterson said the teams frequent, only Sand Canyon and Valencia country clubs allow free rounds. He said Sand Canyon has granted 10-12 days of free rounds, but Valencia only twice a month for a maximum six players.

“We have to watch it carefully,” he said. “I smile a lot and say, ‘Thank you, sir.’ ”

Players also are expected to volunteer at various events and tournaments, often at Valencia. Peterson said the men’s team typically engages in long-drive and beat-the-pro competitions but also might act as witnesses on certain holes or fill groups that have no-shows.

WORK HARD/PRACTICE TO BE GOOD

With 23 on the men’s roster but only six on the course for any tournament, the competition to actually play is fierce. Only the toughest can play, and only 12 played in tournaments this season.

It really is a survival of the fittest. In Peterson’s system, all the golfers play five days a week for four weeks, and every score is counted. The golfers with the six lowest scores play in the first tournament, which for the men is often COC’s lone home contest, the start of February at Valencia. Of the six, the three with the lowest scores automatically compete in the next match; the other three go back into what Peterson calls “the pit,” which is made up of all the golfers who averaged 76 strokes or better.

For the rest of the season, rounds on Wednesday and Friday are counted toward which six will play the next tournament. Again, the top three play the following match and the bottom three go back into the pit.

“You start out and go bogey-bogey-bogey, a young man’s inclination is to just give up,” Peterson said. “But to say, ‘I’m not going to give up. I’m going to focus. I don’t want to go into the pit,’ it hardens them. It will make them aware of their ability to recover. It makes them a strong individual because they don’t give up.”

This year, only four golfers competed in every match, but the competitiveness had its intended effect. By the time the state tournament came around, they were so battle-tested that the pressure of a state tournament was just another leisurely stroll around the course.

It also makes champions. Four times has a COC golfer won an individual state title (one woman, three men, including Nobuhiko Wakaari this year), and COC has become like a breeding ground for Division I and II schools.

It’s normal now for Peterson to recruit an international player who will come for one or two years – or in the case of Jones Comerford last year, one semester – and move on to a larger school. Comerford is now at South Dakota State, but Peterson said he has sent numerous players to San Diego State, San Jose State, Cal State Northridge, Cal State East Bay and Cal Poly.

“D-I coaches know we have an extremely internal competitive team,” Peterson said. “They have to compete against themselves to compete in a match. That’s why we’re so good.”

Katie Hill on the Current State of the Constitution

| News | May 24, 2019

Ask any American what their most cherished part of the Constitution is, and chances are the answers will vary. Some might say the Bill of Rights; others might specify a specific Amendment.

This was not one of the questions the Gazette recently posed to Rep. Katie Hill. However, her emailed answers imply that she is keenly aware of the Constitution’s separation of powers.

When one branch of government does something the other branches can’t resolve, a constitutional crisis arises. Many believe we are in one right now because of President Trump falsely claiming exoneration from the Mueller Report, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin refusing to turn over Trump’s recent income tax returns and Attorney General William Barr refusing to testify in the House.

Asked if we are in a crisis now, Hill wrote, “We’re seeing a breakdown in how our country is supposed to operate and what the founders set up within the Constitution, which is a system of checks and balances. I don’t believe in unchecked use of executive privilege and I believe the Constitution only works if we have three separate but co-equal branches of government.”

The New York Times reported that Trump’s tax returns showed he lost about $1 billion through 1994. Hill (D-Agua Dulce) wrote she wants to see Trump’s more recent returns to ensure his only allegiance is to the United States “and that there are no foreign entanglements. That’s what we want to see and I believe it’s necessary on the grounds of national security.”

She wrote she would be willing to let the process play out, but she expects there will be votes to hold Barr and others in contempt of Congress “if individuals are unable to comply with the rules laid out in the Constitution.”

She also doesn’t see how it would be helpful to anyone for Barr to order an investigation into how the Russia-meddling investigation began.

Finally, she wrote that she didn’t run for Congress on an impeach-Trump platform, instead wanting to improve the cost of prescription drugs and housing. “But we also swore an oath of office to uphold the Constitution, and it is our responsibility to ensure that there is accountability for the president’s actions,” she wrote. “If we let this continue, what does this mean for the future of our democracy?”

Other topics she discussed:

-On the trade war with China: “I’ve heard from Republican businessmen who didn’t support me, but who reached out because they are having to lay off staff and upend their business plans due to these trade wars. The burden of this policy is on the backs of American business, and I take huge issue with that.”

-On a push for family-leave legislation: “Family leave is hugely important, especially because the cost of caretaking is so expensive. We see it not only for new parents, but also for children taking care of their aging relatives. Paid family leave is not only good for individuals, it’s good for communities, and I’m proud to support legislation addressing the gaps within our system.”

-On a photo of four teachers from Summerwind Elementary School in Palmdale holding a noose: Hill released a statement on Facebook, which incorrectly stated the school principal was in the photo. In fact, the principal took and distributed the photo.

“Make no mistake about it, hatred has no place in our schools and no place in our community,” Hill’s statement said. “Our office is in contact with the Palmdale School District’s superintendent, who has put those involved on leave while the incident is investigated. The strength of our community is in its diversity.”

Lancaster Republican Seeks Scott Wilk’s Disqualification

| News | May 23, 2019

Three years ago, a Lancaster Republican filed a civil complaint alleging then-Assemblyman Scott Wilk was ineligible to run for the state Senate because he had been a lobbyist who had not sat out a year before seeking another elective office.

That case remains on the books, with a hearing scheduled May 31. Star Moffatt said she had Wilk served a week ago. She continues to seek Wilk’s disqualification, albeit retroactively.

Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) defeated Democrat Johnathan Ervin 53 percent to 47 percent to win the 21st Senate district seat in 2016. Moffatt had run in the primary but got just 8 percent.

Moffatt expressed surprise when the Gazette contacted her because she thought the matter had been resolved. She had petitioned the county registrar-recorder’s office to join her suit and had received a response on Aug. 5, 2016 saying that while the office doesn’t usually do that, “(O)ur office has not taken a definitive position on the disqualification that is sought in your civil complaint. We have consulted with our County Counsel and will take a look at this again at a future time…”

At issue is Wilk’s lobbying career. He told the Gazette in 2016 that he had worked for Anchor Consulting, located in Alexandria, Va., from 2007-11 doing public affairs work for then-Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon. He said he received his last payment from Anchor in 2012.

“I did not lobby,” he said.

Moffatt contends that doesn’t matter because Wilk never unregistered as a federal lobbyist. “He was still licensed to do federal lobbyist work,” she said, and her original 2016 complaint showed Wilk listed as a current Anchor employee.

An Anchor employee who answered the phone last week said his company’s records showed Wilk stopped actively lobbying in 2011 before he ran for the Assembly.

California’s Government Code Sec. 87406(b) says, “No Member of the Legislature, for a period of one year after leaving office, shall, for compensation, act as agent … by making any formal or informal appearance, or by making any oral or written communication, before the Legislature, any committee or subcommittee thereof, any present Member of the Legislature, or any officer or employee thereof, if the appearance or communication is made for the purpose of influencing legislative action.”

“Just like you and I, a politician is required to uphold both Federal and State laws,” Moffat emailed. “When politicians intentionally do not uphold our laws, it is up to the sovereign people (taxpayers) to hold a politician accountable for lacking transparency when they break law(s).”

Moffatt’s chances are unknown. There’s no indication anyone has ever been disqualified based on past lobbying. For those who have lobbied and then run, a 2014 Washington Post article found some win and some lose. It is more common for elected officials to turn to lobbying after they leave office.

“Society is taking a closer look at candidates and politicians who are not forthright. I think the chances in this case are very good,” she said, “and the thing is, even though he’s served almost half his time, if a person commits a crime and they’re later found that they committed it, should they be exonerated for it? No. You commit a crime, you do your time.”

And if Moffatt loses, she said she’d file in federal court, citing Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 207. It governs restrictions on former elected officials of the executive and legislative branches. It mostly deals with federal positions but mentions certain areas under which state lawmakers might be governed.

Legality of Measure E Support in Question

| News | May 17, 2019

College of the Canyons may have broken the law when it signed a lease to use space in Valencia Town Center in support of Measure E, a critic of bond measures believes.

Richard Michael, who runs the website Big Bad Bonds, said that because the school and not the pro-measure committee handled the lease, it violates the state Education Code.

“The agreement is made with the College of the Canyons, so the College of the Canyons is using its nonprofit status and its resources to get an advantage for a committee that’s going to benefit them politically,” said Michael.

COC spokesman Eric Harnish wrote in an email that without seeing the documents, the school couldn’t comment.

At issue is an event agreement between the school and Westfield, which owns the Valencia Town Center, to lease space in the mall between March 25-June 25, 2016 as a campaign headquarters.

The event description lists a college phone number, the college’s Rockwell Canyon Road address and Claudia Dunn, then the special assistant to Chancellor Dianne Van Hook, as the contact. The lease was for no money.

Contrast that with a state form that lists the Committee For College of the Canyons – Yes on Measure E as having a Woodland Hills address and contact name of Robert McCarty, who was one of the seven committee co-chairs.

Board member Joan MacGregor said she recalled being told about the lease at a meeting, but it was not voted on. “I believe it was donated,” she said, “a donation of an empty space.” Board president Michael Berger didn’t return calls for comment.

In fact, a confidential document received via public-records request and given to the Gazette said that when COC entered into the lease, “the prior tenant had abruptly breached the lease by vacating the space three years before the expiration of the term and Westfield was left without a tenant.”

Richard said the school violated section 7054 of the state’s Education Code, which prohibits community college districts from using funds, services, supplies, or equipment for urging the support or defeat of any ballot measure; and Government Code Sec. 8314, which prohibits an employee from using public resources for a campaign activity. “Public resources” is defined as “any property or asset owned by the state or any local agency, including, but not limited to, land, buildings, facilities, funds, equipment, supplies, telephones, computers, vehicles, travel, and state-compensated time.”

“Here, we have a setup,” Michael said. “They’re using the assistant who’s getting paid a whole boatload of money for her time and energy to put the deal together.”

It’s not known whether the event agreement was signed before, during or after regular business hours. Zach Eichman, Westfield’s senior vice president of communications and public affairs, didn’t return a phone call.

Nor is it known whether the phones, tables and other furniture used in the mall came from COC, the Yes on E committee or outside sources.

Board member Edel Alonso, who wasn’t yet elected to the board when the measure passed, said the possibility that the college broke the law concerns her.

“I would have liked to see what the cost would be, who was making the arrangements, who was responsible for the arrangements (and) was the college staff involved in any way, because that would not be legal,” she said.

Michael believes COC engaged in a common practice he calls “advocacy paid for by the public.” It’s when an entity puts out what is purported to be information about an issue but is really a pitch to approve or defeat it. His latest example is Measure EE, a proposed parcel tax on the June ballot that would benefit the Los Angeles Unified School District to the tune of $500,000,000 a year for 12 years.

There’s a Yes on EE committee website but also an LAUSD-sponsored site that lists the advantages of the measure without any opposing views.

Another point Michael finds suspicious: A state form to the Secretary of State Political Reform Office, the Citizens for College of the Canyons-Yes on Measure E Committee became active April 4, 2016, 10 days after the event agreement began. Additionally, the state form that lists McCarty as the committee contact shows the state qualified it as a committee on March 22, three days before the lease took effect.

Payroll records from the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which handles COC’s payroll, show that Dunn, who now works for UCLA Health under her married name of Claudia Dunn-Martinez and did not return phone calls, made exactly the same pay before and after the lease dates.

A 20-minute video on the KHTS website from April 27, 2016, shows Van Hook, who interviewer Carl Goldman identified as “our chancellor of College of the Canyons,” talking about all the good things she expected to come from the measure if it passed. She never corrected Goldman by insisting she was a private citizen or an individual with no ties to the college.

Less than a month and a half later, the $230 million bond measure passed, 58 percent to 42 percent.

The district attorney has until next year to determine if Dunn or Van Hook broke the law. Even then, it’s possible the DA wouldn’t want to spend time and resources prosecuting because violating Sec. 7054 is either a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum one year in county jail, a $1,000 fine or both; or a felony punishable by between 16 months and three years in county jail.

A similar case involved the Fair Political Practices Commission ruling that the Bay Area Rapid Transit District was guilty of three counts of spending public funds in support of Measure RR, a $3.5 billion bond measure that passed with 70.53 percent of the vote in 2016.

The total fine assessed was $7,500.

Over 6,000 Instances of ADA Noncompliance on COC Campus

| News | May 9, 2019

In the College of the Canyons library is a black three-ring binder called the ADA Transition Plan. At about four inches thick, it runs 295 pages and details the more than 6,000 instances the school was found noncompliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as recommendations on how to fix them and the expected completion dates.

It’s not known what has been fixed because the plan has not been updated, although many projects were supposed to be completed by the last day of 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Other projects are not supposed to be finished until Dec. 31, 2030. College spokesman Eric Harnish emailed to say the school is finishing Phase 1, which focuses on replacing doors. Phase 2, which is scheduled to start later this year, addresses access and paths of travel, including parking lots and walkways. A third phase will address bathrooms and disabled seating in public areas.

The Board of Trustees will receive a full update from Vice President of Facilities, Planning, Operations and Construction Jim Schrage in August, Harnish and board president Michael Berger said.

COC is one of the few of the state’s 114 community college campuses that has such a plan, several people said. The reason it exists in the first place is because of a lawsuit.

Julio Ochoa, who was 28 and disabled from a motorcycle accident when he filed suit April 3, 2013 in Superior Court, alleged that the college “failed to remove these physical barriers to ensure that each of its programs, services, and activities are readily accessible to and useable by persons with mobility disabilities.”

The suit named numerous areas: parking lots and curbs, classrooms, the library, cafeteria, restrooms, gathering areas and sidewalks and other paths of travel with excessive slopes that made it difficult, if not impossible, for Ochoa to get around in his wheelchair.

“Due to his disabilities, Plaintiff (was) unable to independently and safely use public facilities that are not designed, constructed or altered in compliance with applicable accessibility standards for use by disabled persons, without placing himself at significant risk of injury,” the lawsuit said. “Plaintiff has suffered disability discrimination, deterrence, humiliation, emotional distress, and embarrassment, all to his damage.”

Two years later, the sides settled. Included in the settlement was the school paying Ochoa $270,000 “if my notes are correct,” COC lawyer Terry Tao said on a Feb. 21, 2018 video detailing the updates to the transition plan, with another $155,000 in attorney fees. COC also agreed to make 1,769 changes, down from tens of thousands the plaintiff originally wanted. Finally, Ochoa could return and see the progress made (Ochoa couldn’t be reached; his attorney, Jeff Harrison, didn’t return calls).

Tao added that even though some deadlines are still many years away, it’s possible additional extensions can be granted, provided there’s proof of dealing and making progress with the Division of the State Architect (DSA), one of the agencies in charge of overseeing ADA compliance.

One thing was certain: “This campus was identified as having some significant ADA issues,” Tao said on the video.

In addition to personal instances where Ochoa believed he was impeded, the lawsuit named other places the school should fix, including various athletic facilities, a coffee kiosk and the women’s restrooms.

Tao said Ochoa signed up for disabled student programs and services but didn’t use them, which contributed to him ending up in non-accessible classrooms.

Several Canyons officials said the lawsuit was one of several in which the same attorneys went from school to school looking for opportunities to sue. Tao said Harrison’s firm sued UC Riverside, Riverside Community College, the Los Angeles Community College District, Chapman University and “a bunch of campuses from Newport Beach to us.”

“Our impression was that it was about money in some respects,” Tao said. (The Gazette found proof that the firm sued Pierce College in 2008.)

Still, after settling and agreeing to make 1,769 fixes, the school decided to expand its transition plan and look at every single possible instance of ADA non-compliance. One reason was money: No one wanted someone else to find something else that’s ADA non-compliant and bring another suit. Architect Greg Sun said in the 2018 video that a school could be subject to $4,000 per violation. This meant that COC could have paid as much as $7,076,000 plus attorney fees this time.

Another reason, Schrage said on the video, is a desire to be a fully accessible campus.

“We’re not trying to shuck and jive here,” he said. “We want full accessibility. We’re doing everything we can to make this accessible, and to maintain that accessibility.”

As a result, the school contracted PBWS Architects to survey the entire Valencia campus. Tao called it “an unfunded mandate” because the college doesn’t get any money to make ADA fixes.

Tao said the state inspected 41 buildings and 154 acres covering 793,000 square feet, with COC officials following along, trying to get an idea of the cost.

“I don’t remember the cost,” Berger said. “It was extremely expensive.”

Harnish said they found approximately 5,000 additional items; he added that not every item is a separate violation. “For example, a restroom that requires the grab bars all be raised an eighth of an inch could account for as many as 20 items,” he wrote.

Board member Edel Alonso said she spent hours counting all violations in the transition plan and came up with 6,859.

Some could be considered trivial. For example, an accessible parking space in lot 14 is too narrow by .63 inch.

Some could be considered significant: Rooms in Mentry Hall don’t have enough knee and toe space under tables and desks, the sidewalk near the softball field is almost a yard too narrow, and Pico Canyon Hall lockers are inaccessible.

Then there’s four buildings, Bonelli Hall, Boykin Hall, Towsley Hall and West P.E., whose repairs Tao said would be so difficult to bring into ADA compliance that they will be done last in hopes that state comes up with the money to repair or replace them. A future bond issue could be a solution, and Harnish said that some Measure M and Measure E funds are being used. But Berger said, “I don’t remember that being a part of any long-term planning for us.”

Sun said state law requires entrances to be first priority, so doors made up the first phase. The focus was to make doors accessible, including changing knobs for levers and increasing door widths. Kirstyn Bonneau, a PBWS Architects associate, said on the video they looked at between 2,200 and 2,500 doors.

More recently, board member Joan MacGregor said, the locks were changed so they could be locked from the inside.

Since the plan in the library is not updated, very few know exactly what has been completed. Berger said he asked Schrage last month for an update.

“I know that we are – and I’ve asked a lot of questions over the years – it was reported that, as far as the timeline, we are ahead of schedule,” Berger said. “That doesn’t mean we are ahead on every single thing. But the majority of the projects that are online are ahead of schedule. I’m waiting for the August report to get the details.”

Alonso and MacGregor said they have asked for updates, but they know things are getting done because items come to the board for approval.

“I know we’re making progress, but I don’t know how many identified violations have been fixed,” Alonso said. Schrage didn’t return phone calls, but he said on the video he had made numerous purchase orders for new ADA-compliant furniture “for two years.”

Alonso openly wondered if all of this could have been avoided. Tao said communication would have been key.

“How well did you handle the student? How well did you communicate with them? Were you on them right away? Did you make sure that they were properly accommodated?” he said. “Because the law is somewhat unforgiving, and since it is so unforgiving, if somebody’s upset, they have options with regards to using the legal process, and under (the law), they’re entitled not only to their damages but also to their attorneys’ fees.”

Mayors Prayer Breakfast Nearly Brought to Its Knees

| Community | May 9, 2019

To coincide with the annual National Day of Prayer, Joe Messina puts together the SCV Mayors Prayer Breakfast. Most years, the planning goes smoothly.

This was not one of those years.

From struggling to secure keynote speakers to finding a venue to problems with printing the program, Messina said he had more to deal with this year than in recent years.

“I had nothing, I had nothing, I had nothing,” he said. “It was quite interesting. At the last minute, everything kind of fell into place.”

The National Day of Prayer statutorily occurs the first Thursday in May, and the president is required by law to sign a proclamation encouraging Americans to pray on that day. Messina had long ago decided not to plan this event more than three months out because it gave more time for problems to occur. So, in February, he and The Diako Group, which put on the annual breakfast, worked on securing a keynote speaker.

He first attempted to get Mike Lindell, inventor of My Pillow, an open-cell, poly-foam pillow design that has sold more than 41 million units but also has settled lawsuits relating to false-advertising and marketing claims. What drew Messina to Lindell was Lindell’s history of overcoming addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine through prayer.

His people confirmed, then told Messina that Lindell was going to be in Israel.

Then he tried to get Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who resigned in 2009 and later wrote a memoir, “Unplanned,” that was made into a movie.

Messina said her people confirmed, too, but Johnson’s OB-GYN nixed her traveling because of her pregnancy.

Instead, Messina secured the movie’s writer-producers, Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman. He also tried to get syndicated columnist, Republican politician, author, and conservative political activist Star Parker, but she was already booked.

Messina said that every year, the program is the same: there’s breakfast, patriotic music, a Christian speaker and prayer. Messina tried to get the SCV Men of Harmony Chorus, but here wasn’t enough time to make that happen, he said. Then he remembered hearing a group sing Christmas songs in Urdu at the International Friendship Center. It was available.

There’s always a flag salute, and Messina usually entrusts a local William S. Hart Union High School District ROTC with doing the honors (Messina is a board member). But they were booked, so he turned to the local Knights of Columbus chapter.

Of course, a breakfast can’t happen without a site. Last year’s venue, Kelly’s Banquet Hall, lacked the kitchen to handle 300 hot breakfasts, so Messina turned to the Hyatt Regency.

The Hyatt had previously held the event and then declined to do it because groups complained and demonstrated seemingly every year. But Messina said the Hyatt had undergone a management change and “wanted to be part of the community.”

Everything was falling into place. Just one more thing: the program. Messina had been using the same Burbank-based printing company for many years, so he knew what to expect: Email the proofs by the Friday before, and they would be ready for him to pick up by the next Wednesday, the day before the event.

This time, after sending the proofs, he got an email confirming they would get to it in 48-72 business hours. At first, he thought it was just an automatic thank-you-for-your-order email, but something prompted him to call.

Good thing he did, for he learned the company had changed its policy in February. They don’t do work on weekends, and it would be two to three business days before it was approved by a human. The person offered to rush it so it could be done Thursday.

“You mean after the breakfast?” Messina responded.

He found an online outfit that was easy to deal with and inexpensive. He had the program by Wednesday.

By all accounts, he said, the breakfast went off without problems.

“Ultimately, it all came together,” he said. “Everyone was pleased with it.”

Ronnie Wald: The Voice of High School Baseball

| Sports | May 2, 2019

If you were to call Ronnie Wald the Vin Scully of high school baseball, he’d be flattered.

Wald has found his calling as a play-by-play man doing high school and junior college football, basketball and baseball. Those affiliated with West Ranch High know Wald well, as he has called all 28 Wildcat games this season, plus 16 other fall and winter ball games. West Ranch was scheduled to play at Foothill in the first-round of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division I playoffs on Thursday.

This is Wald’s sixth season behind the West Ranch mike. Fans know he’s the guy who has a “press box” on a scaffold above the bleachers behind the plate. It’s just him, sitting on a chair at a table, speaking into his microphone and broadcasting the game over the internet, usually on Facebook Live.

“A high school game being broadcast?” West Ranch coach Casey Burrill said. “He’s a topic of conversation. People ask who he is.”

Wald, 59, grew up in the San Fernando Valley and felt spoiled listening to Scully, Chick Hearn and Dick Enberg calling Dodgers, Lakers and Angels games. He went to Cal State Northridge and got a political science degree, but his love was broadcasting, and he later worked as a news reporter for KGIL-AM 1260.

At first, the idea of doing play-by-play scared him. “That was off the radar for me. It was the hardest thing to do,” he said. “I’d rather read a script.”

But he grew to love the drama of a live event. Now, 37 years later, he has done hundreds of games “that feel like hundreds of years,” he joked.

It wasn’t an easy gig. He had to contract with radio stations in which he would pay to broadcast the games, and then he would have to sell his own ads to make money.

Then came the internet and the ability to turn a telephone into a microphone. Suddenly, it was cheaper to broadcast.

What brought him to West Ranch was the Wildcats reaching the sectional semifinals in 2012. Wald had secured the rights from the Southern Section office to broadcast the semifinals and finals, so he called West Ranch’s game.

Ever the hustler, he contacted Burrill about possibly calling more Wildcat games. Burrill was interested but wasn’t sure how to pay for it. Nor was he sure a public high school could afford it. But in 2014, Wald started calling West Ranch games. At first, he only did audio broadcasts because, as Burrill discovered, the CIF charged nothing for audio but $150 for video of regular-season games (playoff games cost $150 for audio and $250 for video, Burrill and Wald said).

There also were some growing pains, Burrill said. Players complained they could hear Wald as they batted. Burrill responded, “Isn’t it a distraction for the other team, too?”

Parents also sometimes objected to Wald describing that their minor sons committed an error, even though Wald would describe it as neutrally as Scully. One time during a road game, a mother didn’t like how her son the pitcher was being described (he was giving up a lot of runs and hits), so Wald stopped, and Burrill decided to have Wald work only home games until the playoffs.

In 2014, Wald called another West Ranch playoff game, at Chaminade. Burrill was still impressed, and it finally became clear the parents liked it, too. The next year, he started calling all the games, and it’s become so popular that Valencia and Saugus also have sought him to call their games.

Wald also dabbles in football, calling El Rancho High games in Pico Rivera, and Bakersfield College basketball games. He’s also worked for Hawaii- and Alaska-based teams that travel here but don’t bring their broadcast personnel. And he’s in talks to broadcast College of the Canyons men’s basketball games next year, he said.

“I found a nice little niche,” he said.

Former School Board Member Stephen Winkler Dies

| News | May 2, 2019

Stephen Winkler, who shockingly won a school board election only to be removed because he lived outside the district’s boundaries, died April 1 of heart failure, his family said. He was 67 and had been in poor health.

According to his brother, Mike, and Mike’s wife, Deirdre, Winkler spent about $20,000 in what many considered a quixotic attempt to gain a seat on the Saugus Union School District board in 2011. He ran as a teacher, claiming he had more educational experience than most board members. He finished second, ahead of incumbent Rose Diaz by 264 votes, but the top two were elected.

“That was his moment in the sun,” Deirdre Winkler said of Stephen being a board member. “He loved it.”

Almost immediately, he set himself apart by voicing his disdain for unions and his support for charter schools. He also was censured and asked to resign after making statements about Adolf Hitler that the board found to be “expressing support for Nazism, slavery and segregation and enjoyment of cruelty towards animals,” according to a statement then-board member Paul De La Cerda read at a 2013 meeting. Winkler refused to resign, and the board couldn’t remove him.

“He did not do what I advised him: Shut up and play ball and don’t go against the grain,” Mike Winkler said.

Winkler was removed from his position in 2013 after it was found he lived in Sylmar and not on Rio Prado Drive in Valencia like he claimed. Mike Winkler said that his brother lived in Valencia, where he worked as a security guard at a townhome complex.

Part of his pay allowed him to live there, Mike Winkler said, so Stephen would live in a vacant townhome while it was being renovated, then move to another one once the fixes, upgrades and improvements were complete.

“They called him a squatter,” Winkler said, adding that his brother was unable to explain his living situation because “he was book-learned but not quick-thinking on his feet.”

Winkler was born Jan.13, 1952 in Florida to Hungarian immigrants, a year before Mike was born in New York. The family moved to California in 1955, Mike said.

Winkler was known for having a photographic memory in matters related to history, sports or the Bible.

“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Rain Man?’ ” Deirdre Winkler said. “Steve was like that but higher-functioning.” She acknowledged her brother-in-law never was diagnosed with any autism spectrum disorder, although Mike said he thought he should have been.

“He was very intelligent in certain areas, but had absolutely no common sense or social skills,” Mike said.

Stephen earned bachelor and master degrees in history and political science from California State University, Northridge, his brother said, and then got his teaching credential while working as a security guard. He substituted in districts such as William S. Hart, Los Angeles and Palmdale.

“He loved being a substitute teacher,” Deirdre Winkler said. “His students often referred to him as the Penguin,” after the Batman villain.

After his removal, Winkler “went on with his life,” his brother said, but had a difficult time supporting himself. He was never one to make a lot of money, and the election had put him deeper in debt. Being removed from a school board made it harder to get any teaching position. Mike said he told him that the demand for history and political science teachers is far less than for math, science and English.

His lack of finances caused him to seek low-cost or free meals, which was why he frequented various houses of worship: a Catholic church on Friday for fried fish or Tony Alamo’s church for 9 p.m. dinners (he was raised Catholic like his mother, his family said, although his father was Jewish).

Winkler also didn’t exercise and preferred to sit in a cart while shopping. He suffered from Type II diabetes for about 17 years. He had a heart attack in March and underwent quadruple bypass March 20 at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. He was transferred to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center the next day, his brother said, and died there.

Winkler had been married once. He is survived by his brother, sister-in-law and four nieces and nephews. He was buried in California City in a plot next to Mike’s daughter.

Katie Hill Town Hall Disrupted by Unruly Attendees

| News | May 2, 2019

After Rep. Katie Hill held a town hall Saturday, one attendee posted his disgust on Facebook.

“I recently shared a live feed from a town hall meeting with Representative Katie Hill. I wish I hadn’t,” Phil Gussin wrote.

He detailed why: People booed a Valencia High teen when she tried to read a question. They booed when someone said Michelle Obama’s name. They shouted and interrupted Hill when she spoke.

“The display of ignorance and intolerance did not reflect well on the community. We — and I’m including myself — are better than that. Much better,” Gussin concluded.

Hill (D-Agua Dulce) held the town hall at Santa Clarita City Hall to talk about her first 100 days and take questions from constituents. In a nearly three-minute video she posted on Facebook afterward, Hill blamed the commotion on “eight or 10 people who were unfortunately very loud and disruptive and made the experience pretty unpleasant for a lot of the others there.”

Hill Communications Director Kassie King said she knew the most disruptive were from outside the 25th congressional district because when they registered to attend, they were required to give their zip code. Also, King said, “We have video footage and we can match those individuals with other public behavior. We know who they are.”

This isn’t the first time district town hall meetings have become disruptive. Former Rep. Steve Knight dealt with boos several times, including after he voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Gussin wrote that people considered the actions as payback for when Knight took gruff.

“Here’s the problem with that ‘reasoning.’ As far as I know, Rep. Hill never condoned that kind of behavior,” he wrote. “Throughout the campaign, she repeatedly expressed her respect for Rep. Knight despite strong policy disagreements.”

Hill said the importance of hearing from constituents, whether they agree with her or not, remains paramount, so she’s trying to figure out how to hold future ones while limiting disruptions. Her Facebook video mentions such possible formats as one where people talk (or yell) and she listens, or a court-like format where one topic would bring out opposing viewpoints.

King said they have considered asking for proof of residency and barring people who don’t live in the district, but nothing has been decided.

“We’re figuring out the best path forward based on recommendations from other offices, based on recommendations from others who have done this before or who have gone through this before,” she said.

College of the Canyons Suing Saga Continues

| News | April 26, 2019

Former College of the Canyons employees aren’t the only ones who have brought lawsuits against the school. The Auto Tech Department chairman also did so.

Gary Sornborger filed suit June 3, 2015 against the district, President Dianne Van Hook, two deans and four others, alleging retaliation, negligent and intentional inflicting of emotional distress, assault, illegal hiring practices and conspiracy. The complaint was amended twice, on Feb. 17 and Aug. 22, 2016, with one fewer defendant named each time.

Sornborger settled in late 2018 but received no money. In effect, the sides agreed to walk away.

“My official comment is no comment,” Sornborger said. “They tried to knock me out twice. I want to teach.”

College spokesman Eric Harnish declined comment in an email, citing personnel matters. He also wrote, “This is a matter that was resolved in 2017 with no admission of liability by the Defendants and with Plaintiff dismissing his Court complaint.”

COC board member Edel Alonso, who was faculty president at the time, said she found Sornborger to be a good teacher who “didn’t receive the support he needed to be successful.”

COC board member Steve Zimmer, without asking what the Gazette was calling about, referred questions to board President Michael Berger, who didn’t return calls or texts beyond saying he had a client in the lobby and that he had been on vacation for 10 days.

According to the complaint, Sornborger’s troubles began in the summer of 2014 when he needed to prepare for recertification or reaccreditation by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation. His bosses, Kristin Houser and Jerry Buckley, wanted the work completed before the fall semester. Sornborger completed most of the work and submitted payment requests, but Buckley and Houser refused to approve payment for almost a year.

In June and July, Sornborger alleged, Houser signed his name to two college assistant employment forms implying Sornborger approved hiring three people, which he didn’t. He reported this to Vice President of Human Resources Diane Fiero, who in turn informed Houser.

In August, the court documents say that Houser retaliated by removing Sornborger as department chair, firing two employees Sornborger had hired and transferring another employee to the night shift, thereby making it impossible to help Sornborger with computer communications (the documents say Sornborger is disabled, and the employee was a reasonable accommodation for that). The documents say the terminations stemmed from complaints Houser received from then-Instructional Lab Technician Mark Veltre about a “hostile work environment” in the auto shop.

Veltre, who no longer works at the school, couldn’t be reached for comment. Houser, now a lecturer in the California State University, Northridge marketing department, declined comment.

“I don’t have the time and energy for that. I spent way too much time in my life dealing with all that crap,” Houser said. “It’s over and done with. I’d love to help, but I can’t. I’m not interested in getting involved in all of that stuff again.”

On Aug. 19, the Academic Senate convened an ad hoc committee to discuss Sornborger’s removal as department chair. Two days later, the committee found that Sornborger had not been given an official evaluation of non-performance, which was required to remove him from his chairmanship. It also recommended to Buckley that Auto Tech be removed from Houser’s division and placed within a different dean’s division, and the new dean, with Houser’s help, would formulate a new performance plan that Sornborger must abide by for the fall 2014 and spring 2015 semesters.

According to the complaint, Houser refused to sign the committee’s findings and Buckley took no action until October when he moved Auto Tech to the Math, Science and Engineering Department and restored Sornborger’s chairmanship. He also threatened to strip Sornborger again if the NATEF accreditation wasn’t completed by Jan. 1, 2015, and forced him to take a seven-module department-chair training program that did not exist and had never been required before.

On Aug. 25, Sornborger requested Fiero launch an investigation into Houser’s retaliatory actions and take “prompt and corrective action.” Fiero did not return a call for comment.

Two days later, Sornborger alleged, Houser retaliated further by telling then-Assistant Director of Campus Safety Howard Blanchard to curtail an established arrangement in which Sornborger gave his office to Blanchard in exchange for additional Auto Tech student parking. This caused Sornborger to ask then-Academic Senate President Paul Wickline to set up a meeting between the two of them, and Wickline to discuss the situation (Wickline and Blanchard didn’t return phone calls; Alonso said Sornborger told her the meeting took place, but she doesn’t know what was resolved, if anything).

The complaint says that around Sept. 12, Sornborger spoke with Houser and believed “an understanding had been reached.” Instead, he alleged, that while Blanchard was on vacation, Houser ordered campus security officers to start ticketing Auto Tech students’ vehicles. After Sornborger questioned her, he alleged Houser escalated things by ordering vehicles be towed.

According to the complaint, a vehicle belonging to a student who wasn’t on campus got towed on Sept. 17. While Sornborger reported the incident to Buckley and Van Hook, Houser canceled classes for the day.

The student, unnamed in the complaint but later identified as Nick Vaughn, went to campus security to ask Blanchard why his car was towed. The lawsuit alleges campus security officer Tommy Thompson threatened and assaulted Vaughn, something Thompson denied.

“There was a verbal altercation between one of Gary’s students and (Blanchard),” Thompson said. “I heard the verbal altercation, and I came out in the office hallway to back Howard up. … The student started going off on Howard, and basically when I came down the hall, me and Howard were instructing the student he needs to leave the campus, and then when he was going and hopping in his truck, I told Howard, ‘You’re probably going to want me to write a report.’ And he said, ‘Oh, absolutely.’

“I walked out towards the student as he’s getting in his truck, and instead of me trying to write down his license plate and all that, I pulled out my phone camera and took a picture of him, the student and his truck that he was about to get into. Nick Vaughn started cursing me out.”

Thompson then asserted that Vaughn revved his engine and twice charged at Thompson, something Vaughn’s mother, Kelli, denied. She explained that Thompson had informed the students that class had been canceled and if they didn’t leave campus, they’d be arrested for trespassing. She added she had witnesses claiming Nick didn’t curse but screamed, “Excuse me?” repeatedly.

The lawsuit says Sornborger, “while protecting the student, was injured and required hospitalization.” Kelli Vaughn said her son is 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds; Sornborger is 5-foot-7, 165 pounds.

Nick then got into his car, a 1984 Ford Bronco, which was parked next to Sornborger’s car and backed out, still screaming, “Excuse me!” over and over.

Vaughn said Thompson then said, “Are you going to hit me?” and her son responded, “Well, you’d better move!” Vaughn said Thompson didn’t immediately move.

Nick then pulled next to the building, Vaughn said. Sornborger followed to give him paperwork to give to the sheriff’s department to file an addendum to his complaints of retaliation by the school. Then Nick left.

The next day, Vaughn was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, his mother said (Thompson said it was attempted assault). He eventually pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to two years of summary probation, six months of anger management and 30 days of community service.

While Sornborger was hospitalized, the lawsuit says, Houser sent “a threatening and accusatory email falsely accusing (Sornborger) of organizing his students to protest the towing of the student’s vehicle and demanding to know how he planned ‘to make up the instruction time missed by the morning’s activities.’”

Veltre is accused of telling people that Sornborger was or had gone crazy, that he was suspended, that he encouraged students to interfere with the towing, and that he would not be teaching in the fall 2014 semester.

Sornborger was medically cleared to return to work Sept. 24 but was placed on administrative leave and forbidden to discuss the matter with anyone related to Canyons. He was reinstated in November but barred from teaching until the spring.

The lawsuit says Sornborger sustained “physical, emotional and mental damages as a result of his anxiety, loss of self-esteem, loss of self-confidence, embarrassment, humiliation, worry and mental distress.”

 

COC Chancellor’s Legal Fee Reimbursement Questioned

| News | April 25, 2019

Around June 22, 2016, College of the Canyons Chancellor Dianne Van Hook won a restraining order against two people, which required attorney fees, court costs and the like.

According to documents in the matter Van Hook v. Petzold, attorney fees came to $15,099.05, which included a $1,638 discount.

On March 1, 2017, Van Hook wrote a personal check to the law firm Poole & Shaffery for $15,099. In June, the board of trustees approved a purchase order for Van Hook’s reimbursement.

However, two board members claim they don’t recall approving it and expressed concern that it wasn’t clear what they were approving. Nor are they completely sure Van Hook was entitled to the reimbursement.

“I don’t believe I knew what this was for,” Edel Alonso said. “I don’t remember voting for an item to reimburse Dianne Van Hook.”

And from Joan MacGregor: “This is a unique case. As far as I’m aware, it’s not happened before, since I’ve sat on the board, where she has taken reimbursement for a legal expense. It normally goes to the law firm.”

Documents the Gazette obtained include Poole & Shaffery’s invoice to Van Hook dated July 19, 2016 that does not specify what the $15,099.05 was for; Van Hook’s personal check to the firm and a purchase order dated June 7, 2017 for $15,099 for “reimbursement of unanticipated legal expenses in accordance with normal reimbursement procedures.”

There’s also a check voucher, a direct payment voucher signed by Van Hook dated March 9, 2017 and then-board president Steve Zimmer dated June 2, 2017, and a list of 39 purchase orders between May 22 and June 18, 2017, for the board to approve. Van Hook is listed as the vendor, the activity is “general institutional support” and the category is “approved expenditures.”

Zimmer, without asking what the Gazette was calling about, referred questions to board president Michael Berger, who texted to say he had a client in the lobby. Later, he didn’t respond to calls or texts. Nor did board member Michele Jenkins respond to calls.

School spokesperson Eric Harnish emailed to say that because Van Hook was a victim in her role as chancellor this allowed her reimbursement. “She reviewed the expenditure with the Board President. He approved submitting that expenditure for reimbursement by the District.  The item was processed for reimbursement by Business Services per the District’s established procedures, and was unanimously approved by the Board,” Harnish wrote.

MacGregor said when the board receives purchase orders, the specifics are not usually stated. The board also regularly approves reimbursements to Van Hook, the law firms the college can use and legal fees. Poole & Shaffery is on the approved list, she said, but “we don’t use them a lot.”

From time to time, MacGregor said, she or Alonso will ask to discuss a specific expense and vote on it separately. Neither board member recalled asking to have this one separated.

Alonso said Berger, Jenkins and Zimmer often express disdain when she wants a specific expense discussed, accusing her of “getting into the weeds” and unnecessarily lengthening the meeting. Her response is, “I need to understand what I’m voting on. When I ask, I’m given an answer that is not always a satisfactory one.”

MacGregor said she doesn’t feel “I made a mistake” in approving it, but she wants more information. “I have put in a request to the Chancellor’s office, but that’s just gone in, so I don’t expect an answer yet,” she said.

Nor do they understand why Van Hook fronted the money. MacGregor said that when the board discussed Van Hook getting a restraining order, she assumed the district would pay for it.

“It’s rare for her to put that money out,” MacGregor said.

The other issue is whether Van Hook should have been paid back in the first place. In her contract dated Feb. 11, 2015, it clearly states Van Hook is not responsible to pay to defend herself when she is sued. It does not clearly state she is entitled to the same courtesy if she initiates legal action; nor does it expressly say she isn’t.

It is this vagueness that troubles Alonso and MacGregor.

“That is not clear to me,” Alonso said.

“We didn’t have a board discussion authorizing it,” MacGregor said. “I do feel there should be full transparency to the board.”

Rep. Katie Hill’s 100 Days

| News | April 18, 2019

Traditionally, congressional freshmen take it slow, keep their heads down and learn from the more experienced lawmakers. Rep. Katie Hill is not acting like a typical freshman.

Before she even took office, Hill led a movement to ensure Nancy Pelosi was re-elected Speaker of the House, was elected co-freshman representative to the Democratic House leadership, became the first congresswoman-elect to deliver the party’s weekly address, and co-signed a letter to President Trump asking for more federal aid for California fire relief.

Once taking office, she was appointed vice chair of the House Oversight Committee.

Last week marked 100 days in office, and Hill (D-Agua Dulce) sent out a press release touting her accomplishments. In a statement, Hill said, “I am so proud to serve the people of my hometown in Washington and even prouder to already be delivering for our community. I promised that I would put the priorities of the people above corporations and special interests and that’s exactly what I’ve done to achieve results.”

Republicans Mike Garcia and Angela Underwood Jacobs, who have announced they will challenge Hill next year, said in separate statements they object to Hill’s connections to Pelosi and New York Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s agendas. Both also accused Hill of moving too far to the left toward socialism.

Here are the highlights:

Authored bipartisan legislation to address concerns from 25th Congressional District constituents about the flaws in their Medicare Part B enrollment;
Passed a bipartisan bill through the House of Representatives to protect whistleblowers and follow through on her promise to weed out government corruption and promote accountability and transparency;
Delivered on her promise to focus on healthcare by cosponsoring 16 different healthcare bills, including sweeping new healthcare legislation that would lower Californian’s health insurance premiums, crack down on junk health insurance plans, and strengthen protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

This first refers to HR 1788, introduced March 14. Fourteen people have co-sponsored it, including one Republican, Brian Babin of Texas. It currently sits in two committees.

The second refers to HR 1064, introduced Feb. 7. It expands whistleblower protections to include talking to a supervisor in the employee’s direct chain of command up to and including the head of the employing agency, or to an employee designated to receive such disclosures.

The third refers to HR 1884, introduced March 26. It amends the Affordable Care Act to improve affordability, undo sabotage and increase access to health insurance coverage.

It currently sits in three committees.

Hill said she knows it isn’t realistic to get legislation through Congress and onto the president’s desk in 100 days, given how slow things progress through the chambers. The previous Congress passed just 388 bills that became law, according to govtrackinsider.com. The Congress before that passed 329 bills that went to President Obama, according to Quorum.

“The fact that we not only passed some things through but actually had them signed into law is a pretty big deal, especially in a divided Congress like this,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

So far, Hill has authored four bills. Only HR 1064 has passed the House. It currently is in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

According to congress.gov, Hill has attached her name to 177 pieces of legislation. Of these, eight have passed the House, and all of them are in Senate committees.

Hill also signed onto 18 resolutions. Trump vetoed the joint resolution objecting to his declaring a national emergency at the southern border, and Congress failed to override.

Used her position in Washington to cut through bureaucracy and tackle pressing local issues like the CEMEX mine.

Last month, Hill wrote a letter to the Department of the Interior Board of Land Appeals requesting an expedited decision on whether Mexican building materials company CEMEX can mine gravel in Soledad Canyon. Two days later, the ruling came down: Cemex’s contracts are valid until July 2020, but since it would take longer than that to get the operation going, it’s unlikely any mining would ever happen.

According to Communications Director Kassie King and senior advisor Ben Steinberger, who ran point on CEMEX, the IBLA informed Hill that her letter had been received and sent to the right people. Steinberger also said he expected the ruling to come later this year.

Hill insisted, “There was no way that timing is so fortuitous when we’ve been waiting on a decision for three years,” she said. “The fact that we pushed for it and it got done is a testament to the work of my office. The issue is the IBLA has been sitting on this decision for three years. … It became clear the issue was a bureaucratic one. We used our political leverage to make that decision happen, and that shows bipartisan relationships. You don’t get a decision from the (Trump) administration without working across the aisle.”

Of course, Hill wasn’t the first to deal with this issue. Former Reps. Buck McKeon and Steve Knight had tried, to various extents, to get something done. Hill took credit for finishing the job.

“You have something sitting there three years. Then we get the letter issued, then we get a response within two days,” she said. “You’re telling me that happens to be a fluke?”

Introduced her first bill addressing a top local priority, and ensured the legislation was included in a public lands package that passed both Houses of Congress and was signed into law by the President.

King said this refers to Senate Bill 47, a public lands package in which Hill secured a memorial to the Saint Francis Dam disaster of 1928 (Hill’s original bill, HR 1015, never got out of committee).

Hill said that the memorial was a top city priority, even though she acknowledged, “If you go around the district or go around Santa Clarita and ask if this was their top priority, I can’t imagine you would have a huge number of people that would say yes, that’s the case. The city is a massive stakeholder and it’s something they prioritized. We were glad to be able to finish it off for them.”

Opened two district offices, held two town halls, attended 22 community events, and visited 16 businesses, military bases, and other key sites in the district.

That does not count a Santa Clarita office. However, Hill said there is now one, in Valencia near City Hall, but it’s not officially opened pending final House security clearance.

Hill said she felt “frustration at how slow the process can be” to get offices opened. “I’m glad we have it now,” she said.

Secured more than $80,000 in VA and Social Security benefits for 25th Congressional District constituents;

District Director Angela Giacchetti said the actual total was $80,808.66. Two constituents received benefits from the VA, and one receive Social Security benefits.

“People who were broke and struggling have now $80,000 in benefits they didn’t have before,” she said. “We have dozens of cases that are open.”

College of the Canyons Faces another Lawsuit for Alleged Discrimination and Retaliation

| News | April 11, 2019

College of the Canyons has been sued again, this time by a former employee alleging discrimination and retaliation.

The civil case, filed March 27, 2018 in Superior Court and brought by the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing on behalf of Laura Anderson, alleges the college discriminated against her after she suffered a work-related injury.

The suit further claims the school did not make accommodations, retaliated against her for requesting accommodations, forced her into an unwarranted leave of absence, suffered emotional distress and failed to prevent discrimination, according to court documents.

Although specific dollar amounts are not specified, the suit seeks compensatory damages for Anderson for lost wages and emotional distress. It also asks the court to require COC to post written policies prohibiting discrimination and retaliation, require managers to undergo at least four hours of annual training, create a full-time position that will ensure compliance and provide proof of compliance.

The sides met March 20, court records show, but no settlement is indicated. A trial date has been set for February, a source not authorized to comment said.

Previously, former COC employee Donna Frayer sued the school for harassment, intimidation and retribution. She settled seven years ago.

Through an acquaintance, Anderson referred questions to her attorney, Alexandra Seldin, who didn’t return calls. COC’s attorney, Antoine Pitts, said, “I’ll have to have someone call you back” before hanging up on a reporter, but no one did.

Anderson started at COC in 2006 and was an administrative assistant at the Performing Arts Center starting in 2012, according to court documents. Through an acquaintance, she said she left in June 2018.

In mid-2013, she injured her arm and hand, later being diagnosed with an excessive-use injury similar to carpal tunnel syndrome. In September, the district says in court documents, Anderson’s workstation underwent an ergonomic evaluation that led to 11 adjustments. These included adjusting her keyboard, chair, mouse and monitor. The evaluator also recommended a footrest and headset, which the district provided.

A flare-up in May 2014 limited Anderson’s ability to use her right hand to type for just four hours a day, court documents show.

The district reduced her schedule, but not her workload, the court documents said. While the district approved hiring an assistant to help with Anderson’s workload, Anderson’s boss at the time, Evy Warshawski, would instruct the assistant to do unrelated work, which didn’t lessen Anderson’s workload (Warshawski, who now lives in Napa, was unable to be reached for comment).

According to court documents, Anderson “consistently” informed Warshawski that some work was not getting done and she needed help because her injury was not improving.

The district said in court documents that Anderson never made any complaint against Warshawski, “although she had the opportunity to do so.”

When the district did nothing, Anderson requested a transfer, but the human resources department denied her.

At the end of January 2015, then-HR Manager Yvette Barrios told Anderson that the district needed a full-time employee in that position, so Anderson was placed on leave. Court documents show Anderson “objected to and was distraught by this decision, expressing her strong desire to continue working and asked if they could … wait another few weeks to see if there was any change in her condition.” The district denied that request, too, the documents show, “nor did the district explore any alternative accommodations that would allow her to continue working.”

The documents say there were “numerous vacant positions available at the District that Ms. Anderson was qualified for,” but these are not specified.

Barrios, who said she left COC four years ago, declined comment out of professional courtesy, because she still works in HR, because the case is ongoing and because she might be subpoenaed later.

According to court documents, the district said that from May 7, 2014 to Feb. 2, 2015, Anderson’s condition did not improve. The sides agreed that the four-hour workday was not helping her heal. “Ms. Anderson never protested the mutually agreed upon accommodation to provide her 100% paid leave until initiating a complaint,” the district said.

Court documents also show the district said it was mutually agreed upon that Anderson would benefit from full medical leave to focus on healing.

Anderson went on leave around Feb. 2, 2015. Fourteen months later, court documents say, Anderson received a letter from the district saying her paid leave would run out May 25, 2016, and if she couldn’t resume her duties, she would, among other things, lose her benefits.

Anderson requested a two-month leave of absence, which was denied despite a policy that “permitted the District to grant up to (six) months of leave after an employee’s paid leave is exhausted,” the lawsuit said.

Anderson met with Vice President of Human Resources Diane Fiero to discuss the district’s denial.

“Ms. Anderson was told that her leave request was denied because there was no guarantee that she would be able to resume her position at the end of the leave and they needed an employee in the position as her replacement had retired,” the complaint says. “Again, the District refused to discuss alternative accommodations with Ms. Anderson, and in fact, Fiero told her that to modify her essential functions would constitute a ‘misuse of public funds,’ or words to that effect.”

Fiero did not return calls for comment. Court documents say the district denied the request per past district practices. Furthermore, the district was unable to replace Anderson with a full-time employee because the position was not vacant, as it was paying Anderson during her leave, causing the district undue hardship. The district instead used part-time employees.

With no accommodations and afraid of losing her job, Anderson returned to work on or about May 23, 2016, reporting to Lindsay Gambini. The district said she started accruing leave time again, which court documents said ended Feb. 28, 2018. She immediately noticed that Gambini’s boss, Carmen Dominguez, who had taken over for Warshawski, treated her coldly, and that other employees were not speaking to or looking at her.

“It was later discovered that Dominguez had specifically instructed employees not to talk to Ms. Anderson and berated them for doing so,” the court papers say. Furthermore, the suit alleges Dominguez changed Anderson’s hours to later in the day, making it difficult to deal with people on the east coast, which her job required.

The suit alleges Dominguez also required Anderson to train other employees near the end of the fiscal year, making it difficult for Anderson to meet certain deadlines; and perform other unnamed “unreasonable and unnecessary tasks that were never required of her in the past” such as taking weekly department-meeting minutes.

The court documents say neither Anderson nor Gambini understood why Anderson had to take minutes. Reached Monday, Gambini said. “It’s a typical task for a person in that position to do. I was new, so I didn’t know what her predecessor did, but her successor still does it.”

Anderson further alleges in the complaint that Dominguez found her initial minutes unacceptable because they weren’t detailed enough. Dominguez, now Cypress College’s vice president of instruction, referred comment to school spokesman Eric Harnish, who declined comment because the case is still pending.

Dominguez also said, “I still care very much about the Santa Clarita Community College District. They do great work for their employees, and they’re very sensitive to all our needs. That was my experience when I was there.”

Anderson went to Fiero to report Dominguez, but Fiero did nothing because Dominguez was not Anderson’s direct supervisor, court papers say.

The district said in court documents that Anderson never made any complaints against Dominguez. It later discussed the claims with Dominguez but found them “baseless” and “unsubstantiated.”

The district also contended it never received any complaints of discrimination, harassment or retaliation against Dominguez, and it accused Anderson’s lawyers of “an oppressive fishing expedition” for requesting the district identify any of the approximately 200 people who directly or indirectly reported to Dominguez.

After two months of this sort of treatment, the stress was getting to Anderson, so she took a leave of absence through her worker’s compensation insurance. The complaint says she suffered “emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and humiliation, in an amount to be proven at trial.”

“At all relevant times, Ms. Anderson was able to perform the essential functions of her position with or without accommodation,” the complaint says. “At all relevant times, there existed reasonable accommodation that would have allowed Ms. Anderson to perform the essential functions of her position including, but not limited to, job restructuring, transfer to an alternative position, employing an aid or assistant, and/or providing assistive technology.”

The district contends in court documents that Anderson never requested to be transferred, nor was she well enough to return once she went on leave Feb. 2, 2015. The district also said it granted a paid administrative leave from March 1 to April 30, 2018, paid medical benefits and paid her for an additional two months of salary. It also granted her two months of unpaid leave.

Mike Garcia Attempts to Conquer ‘The Hill’

| News | April 11, 2019

Saying he was unhappy with the 2018 election results and “couldn’t just stand on the sidelines and not do anything about it,” Republican Mike Garcia announced Wednesday that he will challenge Rep. Katie Hill in the 25th congressional district.

Garcia, 43 in a couple of weeks, has lived in Valencia since 1983 and graduated Saugus High, which he said might be the only thing he has in common with Hill (D-Agua Dulce).

He said he attended in the U.S. Naval Academy and flew F-18 jets during his 15 years in the service.

“After serving the country for so long and fighting for the values and losing friends in the process, it’s something worth fighting for,” he said. “(Hill) ran a campaign that confused a lot of our voters and she did not represent the district, and I think she’s aligned with the far-left agenda of folks like Alexandria (Ocasio-)Cortez and Nancy Pelosi.”

Garcia is the second person to challenge Hill, following local businesswoman Suzette Valladares.

Who’s Running for City Council? The 2020 Vision Begins

| City Council | April 11, 2019

Twenty Democrats have announced they will run for president next year. Two people have declared their candidacies against Rep. Katie Hill, with others expected to follow.

And down the ballot, it’s not too early to look at the race for city council.

“Is it really time to actually start talking about 2020?” Jason Gibbs asked.

Well, yes. Even though the election isn’t for another 19 months, minds can change and the filing period doesn’t open until next summer, former candidates have been giving some thought about whether they want to give it another go.

DEFININTELY RUNNING

Of the eight people the Gazette reached, only Ken Dean said he was in. Dean, despite not paying for a ballot statement, finished a surprise fifth out of 15 with 14,951 votes (8.33 percent) in 2018.

“A lot of people know me and like what I stand for,” he said, adding the issue that frustrates him the most is traffic and congestion, and it likely will be a campaign theme for him. He said he would like to form two committees if elected: one to examine traffic and one to work on synchronizing the stoplights in the city.

He said the corner of Bouquet Canyon Road and Newhall Ranch Road is particularly bad, as is the intersection of Reuther Avenue and Golden Triangle Road. He said the railroad crossing often leads to delays there, yet he doesn’t experience delays when the train crosses the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Rainbow Glen Drive.

“There’s not an ounce of logic the way they’ve got it set up,” he said.

PROBABLY RUNNING

Councilmember Cameron Smyth said that when he was elected in 2016, he intended to run again in 2020. But that requires him talking to his family and employer to ensure everyone can make the commitment, and since there is no primary election, he has until next summer to formally file paperwork.

THINKING ABOUT IT

Gibbs (ninth place, 10,008 votes, 5.57 percent) and Sandra Nichols (13th place, 5,049 votes, 2.81 percent) are contemplating, they said.

Nichols said she is most likely running, “but in life, there are no guarantees.”

Gibbs said he wants to wait and see if Councilmember Bob Kellar runs again. “If Bob truly decides not to run, there’s a good chance I’ll run,” he said.

Former councilmember TimBen Boydston (seventh place, 12,857 votes, 7.16 percent) said it’s way too soon to speculate, adding he won’t give it serious consideration until at least November.

DEFINITELY NOT

Kellar previously has said he will not run again. On Monday, he reiterated that.

“Twenty years is enough,” he said. “It’s been an honor and a pleasure, but I am out of here.”

Logan Smith (sixth place, 12,871 votes, 7.17 percent) said he isn’t running because he wants to help others get elected or, in the case of Hill and Assemblywoman Christy Smith, re-elected.

He said he expects the council races to be competitive, considering that 61 percent of votes cast in 2018 went against any of the three incumbents. “There’s clearly a willingness to change,” he said. “The question is will it be someone handpicked by an incumbent or fresh blood?”

Diane Trautman (fourth place, 16,479 votes, 9.18 percent) said she would run only if district voting exists, and she doesn’t think there’s enough time for that to happen.

“Something needs to be done to change the dynamics here so that more members of this community, and more diverse even than myself, can actually stand a chance at getting on the council, and that’s not going to happen without moving to council districts,” she said. “It’s just outrageously expensive and extremely difficult to raise that money in this environment. The people who are happy with the status quo will give to the people they know will maintain it.”

These three join Brett Haddock (eighth place, 11,427 votes, 6.36 percent), who a month ago said on Facebook he wasn’t going to run.

“I look forward to seeing the field of candidates when the filing period closes next year, and will be a vocal supporter of those I believe have the same values, and hold a desire to move the City of Santa Clarita in a forward direction,” Haddock wrote. “I will also advocate for the city to abandon at-large elections and move to districts. Hopefully, though unlikely, avoiding a costly (California Voting Rights Act) lawsuit. We can look to the city of Moorpark to learn how to transition to a system that better represents Santa Clarita, and facilitate the electing of superior candidates.”

Saugus Union School District Among the Least Funded

| News | April 4, 2019

It’s a story well told but not welcomed: California ranks among the bottom in funding per student. And the Saugus Union School District ranks among the lowest within that low.

Receiving the second smallest amount of money per student per school year in the county, Saugus got just $7,720 per student for the 2016-17 school year, the most recent year available, according to the California Department of Education. Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said only Hermosa Beach City School District received less.

By comparison, the Castaic district got $97 more and Newhall got $258 more. Sulphur Springs got $8,203 per student per year, and Acton-Agua Dulce got $8,885.
The William S. Hart Union High School District got $8,568, but Saugus District spokesman Lee Morrell said it isn’t fair to compare elementary with high school districts.

Nationally, California ranks 45th in percentage of taxable income spent on education, 41st in per-pupil funding, 45th in pupil-teacher ratios and 48th in pupil-staff ratios, according to the California School Boards Association, which cited state and national sources.

What’s a school district to do? Ever since Proposition 13 cut property taxes, districts have struggled. They can’t simply petition the state for more money. First, there’s Proposition 98, which guarantees a minimum level of the state budget must be spent on K-14 education.

The problem, said Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita), is that once that minimum level is met, Sacramento lawmakers tend to think of education as being fully funded.

“It has operated as a ceiling instead of a floor, and its intent was to be a floor,” Smith said.

Another problem, according to Smith: Govs. Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom have not been willing to put budget surpluses toward education.

“So, it’s a matter of how do we figure, out of the state’s existing General Fund, a means of finding some savings that could be shifted to the education space,” Smith said.

The problem is the Legislature is often hamstrung from so many ballot propositions over time that require various General Fund monies go to various things.

One legislative attempt to solve the problem was to create a local control funding formula, but because the Great Recession led to some deep cuts in education, the LCFF has only restored funding to pre-2007 levels, Hawkins said. So, Saugus is where it is.

Morrell told a story, possibly apocryphal, that explains why Saugus is so poorly funded: Originally, the district was designated as rural and agricultural, which means less funding than urban districts.

Smith has heard that story, too.

“Some of the funding formulas are pretty archaic, and they don’t meet current circumstances at all, when it comes to what it costs to educate a student given the area,” Smith said.
Nor do the formulas take into account special needs, whether learning, emotional or physical, Smith added.

“It is time to move on to something that makes more sense,” she said.

Saugus took the approach of offering early retirements to its teachers and staff. Hawkins said that when she took over in July, the district was overstaffed by 30 positions. Now, 82 people have taken advantage, including 37 teachers, she said.

The good news was that the district avoided layoffs and has been able to increase its class sizes from 26 to 28 students (the district says on its website there isn’t enough funding for smaller class sizes, and Hawkins said 300 teachers and staff are within five years of retirement age). The bad news is some of the most experienced people left, to be replaced by cheaper, less experienced teachers.

Adding to this is what Hawkins says is a shortage of teachers that can be traced to the Great Recession. Declining enrollment is also a factor. The district expects 184 fewer students next year, Hawkins wrote on the district website.

None of the other area districts resorted to early retirements, although Smith, a former Newhall district trustee, recalled a time when Newhall did.

“It’s getting harder and harder,” Smith acknowledged. “With pension costs creeping up and other impending factors, you’re looking at Saugus having to do some early retirement buyouts. Newhall had to do early retirement buyouts in the past. It doesn’t come without a set of tradeoffs.”
Smith said she’s trying to do something about it, signing on to Assembly Bill 39, which requires the state in 2020-21 to increase its basic funding to $13,462 for K-3 students, $12,377 for grades 4-6, $12,745 for grades 7-8 and $15,152 for grades 9-12. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the national average was $11,392 in 2017-18.

California spends about $10,291 on average, according to the California Budget and Policy Center.

AB 39 currently sits in the Education Committee, of which Smith is a member. A hearing was postponed on March 20, legislative records show.

The California School Boards Association is demanding something be done. It is behind Full & Fair Funding, a petition that calls for providing “the access, resources and supports needed to provide a high-quality education for all public school students.”

It does not specify how much per student that is, but Smith and Hawkins support it. Hawkins, in fact, takes it one step further.

“I have a preference that my students have all the money that we need to provide really robust programs with really qualified teachers, and that things like art and music and counselors and those sorts of things aren’t considered extras but are considered core,” she said. “Whether it’s Full & Fair Funding or AB 39, whichever one gets me to the point where that is an easier option than what I’m faced with now, which is very limited funds and deficit spending.”

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