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About Martha Michael

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A professional writer for decades and the editor of multiple products from Valley Publications, Martha is in a constant search for new challenges. While maintaining her editing post for more than eight years, she also opened an antiques business and authored her first book, “Canyon Country,” by Arcadia Publishing.

Martha manages two blogs—one for business and one that is more personal—and works to market and perfect her craft in every arena. Lack of energy is never a problem, and Martha is daily generating ideas, taking photos and talking to members of the community. She believes strongly that “everybody has a story.”

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Update from the Stop Sand Canyon Resort Group

| Canyon Country Magazine, Community, Sand Canyon Journal | October 10, 2019

Sand-Canyon full logo

A group of concerned Sand Canyon residents formed the Stop Sand Canyon Resort Task Force and are taking steps to formally resist a building project proposed by Sand Canyon Country Club owner Steve Kim.

Hundreds of residents attended a standing-room-only meeting on September 11 at The Church of the Canyons to hear from speakers set up by the task force. Issues on the agenda included:

  • Emergency Evacuation Dangers
  • Major Zone Change Required
  • Cumulative Infrastructure Burden & Other Developments
  • Open Space Elimination

Two retired fire captains spoke first, discussing the hardship of evacuating during fires. Using phrases like “recipe for disaster,” they spoke of the difficulty in getting people, horses and other animals out of the canyon during the Sand Fire of 2016. Cars, trucks and trailers sat on roads for hours waiting to drive out of Sand Canyon when evacuated.

The two former firefighters laid out physical reasons why alternate routes to exit Sand Canyon are not reasonable alternatives when there’s a wildfire.

Resident and architect Russell Meyers, AIA, spoke about the changes required to allow Steve Kim to proceed with a project of this size, including a removal of Sand Canyon’s “Special Standards District” zoning.

“This rezoning & project will adversely affect our rural and equestrian lifestyle with the infusion of high-density, mass commercial-oriented development in the least density-zoned area of our city,” he said. “And it will do so now and more so in the future.”

He explained that the general plan is intended and recognizes the need to provide for all residents with a well-rounded and healthy lifestyle, establishing the appropriate distribution of land use by type, intensity, density and codes through zoning.

“Our special village and Special Standards District is facing the most transformational challenge to date,” he said. “We need to protect it. This individual developer’s current proposal, long-term vision or underlying agenda intended in our community is not compatible with mine nor, hopefully, your vision. It’s our choice where and how we choose to live.”

Next, Sand Canyon resident Susan Carey spoke to the group.

“We are being told by project supporters that we, Sand Canyon residents, will have to adjust our lives to accommodate this commercial facility and get used to more traffic, constant noise and thousands of visitors,” she said. “And the reason we’re supposed to make these sacrifices? There (are) two: So the city can get tax revenues from the hotel and so the developer makes a huge profit from the speculative real estate purchase.”

She talked about the lack of fairness in the trade-off and the alarming change in the environment if the City of Santa Clarita leadership agrees to it.

“Many of us are very worried that if the city is leaning toward approving this project then that’s a signal to us residents that the city is ready to disregard our special status,” she said.
Resident Michael Hogan took the stage next and told the audience about the stipulations made when the land was sold to Ted Robinson for the golf course. He explained that city leaders made sure there was plenty of open space and protected the rural nature of Sand Canyon. He also said that none of the current Santa Clarita City Council members were serving at the time.

Residents do not want members of the Santa Clarita Planning Commission or the City Council to forget the zoning granted to Sand Canyon at the time nor to dismiss it as unimportant. That’s one of the goals of the task force.

“What started as three people at my dining room table grew into a task force of 27 in order to stop the Sand Canyon Resort from changing the land’s zoning from open space to community commercial,” said Alex Guerrero, chairman of the Stop Sand Canyon Resort Task Force. “It has now taken on a life of its own, with hundreds of Sand Canyon residents now standing united in opposition of this development.”

When the late Clement and Paula Cox sold some of their acreage for the development of Robinson Ranch Golf Club and adjacent homes in the late 1990s, there were stipulations drafted regarding zoning.

On September 10, 1996 the Santa Clarita City Council unanimously approved, with community input, a zone change allowing for the construction of single-family homes and the preservation of approximately 300 acres of land into perpetuity as recreational/open space at the location being proposed for this resort.

“Perpetuity, as we all know, is defined as ‘forever,’” Guerrero said. “Now, the City of Santa Clarita is entertaining a request by a developer to change that open space zoning to allow for commercial construction. That should alarm all Santa Clarita residents. That park, trail, greenbelt, Central Park or bike path our citizens thought they had ‘in perpetuity’ in their local neighborhoods are vulnerable if a billionaire developer wants to come convince the city to eliminate our open space in all corners of this city. The current City Council and Planning Commission will have to search within themselves and decide if they want to reverse a unanimous action taken by the Santa Clarita City Council in 1996. If that happens, how can we trust City Council votes and promises ever again?”

The Stop Sand Canyon Resort Task Force has a Facebook page and website you can visit to stay updated.

On the website StopSandCanyonResort.org you will find a petition you can sign, which reads:

We, the undersigned are:
AGAINST the Sand Canyon Country Club Hotel and Resort Development
AGAINST REZONING and ask that the Santa Clarita City Council keep Robinson Ranch golf course as Open Space
ASK the Santa Clarita City Council to recognize the Sand Canyon SPECIAL STANDARDS DISTRICT
https://www.facebook.com/groups/StopSandCanyonResort/

What is being proposed?
•      This will be one of the largest resorts in L.A. County right in the middle of Sand Canyon.

•      Zone change for this project will allow for future massive, dense, commercial use throughout the entire canyon forever.

•      3,000 occupants (guests, employees)

•      Main Hotel (1 three-story building 165,000 sf)

•      Main Hotel Basement & BOH (23,000 sf)

•      Wedding Hotel (3 three-story buildings 67,500 sf)

•      View Villas (14 two-story villas 110,000 sf)

•      Oak Villas (9 one-story & 1 two-story villas 47,500 sf)

•      Grand ballroom (10,000 sf)

•      Junior ballroom (3,000 sf)

•      Meeting room & pre-function space (10,700 sf)

•      Dining (3 restaurants with kitchens 25,000 sf)

•      Spa/Gym/Salon (33,000 sf)

Coach Joseph Maiale Blazing New Trails

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sports | September 13, 2019

Less than a year ago, Joseph Maiale got married, started a new job and took over the Canyon High School football team. With so many transitions at one time, it’s safe to say this new cowboy is a trailblazer.

Coach Joseph Maiale with team captains Evan Cox (#24) and Aydyn Litz (#12)

“It’s been amazing – I’ve loved every second at Canyon,” said the 38-year-old Maiale, who joined the special education staff at the school last semester when he also began working with the football team. “They are both, in many ways, full-time jobs. But it doesn’t feel like work. I spend a lot of time here at Canyon – I like teaching and coaching is a pleasure on top of that.”

Just last month he moved to Santa Clarita from Oxnard, where he coached a successful football program. He joined them during a rebuilding phase, which he’s also been a part of at other schools.

“I’ve worked on several staffs – St. Genevieve, Harvard-Westlake – it’s something I have experience with and the process is really fun,” said the coach, who may apply similar rebuilding strategies at Canyon, which he describes as having “a couple of rough years.”

Maiale’s strategy? Consistency.

“Do we do the little things right? Do we do them all the time?” he posed. “Consistency is good in whatever we do. The lessons are consistency and effort.”

Maiale grew up in Reseda and played football at Cleveland High School and Pierce College. He then joined the football team at Menlo College in Northern California.

He’s been coaching about 15 years, but changed careers a few years ago when he left a job in sales to become a special education teacher. He also worked as a substitute teacher.
“I’m used to transitions,” he said, “but I’m looking forward to staying here.”

So, while a lot has changed in the new coach’s life, he’s no maverick on the field. He just believes everyone is the sum of their experiences.

“I’m new here. I bring my experience working at different schools,” he explained. “I have some success and some experience helping programs rebuild. And I’ve been where the facilities are not this good and there’s not this much support.”

Canyon High School football is a Maiale family experience. Maiale’s brother George was on the Cowboys coaching staff last year and continues as a defensive coordinator, while Joe’s specialty is offensive coordinating and line coaching.

“I’ve been fortunate to coach as long as I have,” Coach Joe Maiale said. “I’ve pretty much coached every position on the field.”

Joe and George’s parents, who still live in Reseda, attend the games along with other family members. Their father coached them through Pop Warner and Little League and now enjoys watching from the stands.

“I’ve been around a lot of really successful coaching,” Coach Maiale said when asked about his style. “We’re teachers. Are we teaching the kids the right way?”

The new Cowboys coach hopes to improve the program, of course, but he also wants to foster a positive family atmosphere, inviting the community to attend games.

“I want them to come out and be a part of it. We want it to be a family … we want you at the games,” he said. “We welcome Canyon alumni to be part of something special. It brings up the school and the culture.”

And so far, so good.

“Everyone is very supportive,” he said. “Everyone’s been so kind and welcoming. I’ve had the time of my life.”

Sand Canyon Country Club Hotel & Resort Where does it stand?

| Canyon Country Magazine | August 13, 2019

An email went out to Sand Canyon homeowners at the beginning of April 2019 informing the neighborhood that the original Notice of Preparation, or NOP, for the property – formerly Robinson Ranch – had been amended. The email from Hai Nguyen, associate planner for the City of Santa Clarita, informed residents of the revised NOP and gave them the opportunity to give him feedback over a one-month period.

A meeting was called for May 21, 2019, offering interested parties the chance to go to Sand Canyon Country Club to meet with Nguyen and Steve Kim, who has owned the 77-acre golf course for approximately three years. About 50 residents gathered at the site for a short tour and general briefing.

Before all attendees had assembled, Kim told a few residents who arrived early, “This used to be a 36-hole golf course. Because water has always been an issue, we changed it to a 27-hole golf course, which is plenty, because the golf population has dropped significantly, as you know. Not many people play golf anymore.”

The project site is located at 27734 Sand Canyon Road at the northeast corner of Sand Canyon Road and Robinson Ranch Road.

According to the NOP, the proposed project would result in the replacement of existing open space that was formerly a part of the Mountain Course of Robinson Ranch Golf Club with a new resort and spa consisting of the following:

Main Hotel: three-story building with 241 rooms/keys totaling approximately 165,000 square feet, and back of house and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing space in the Main Hotel basement totaling approximately 23,000 square feet
Wedding Hotel: three three-story buildings with 81 rooms/keys totaling approximately 50,000 square feet air conditioned space and 17,500 square feet of open non-air-conditioned space with an outdoor wedding ground and pergola
View Villas: 14 two-story villas with 56 rooms/keys totaling approximately 110,000 square feet

The Sand Canyon Homeowners Association Board of Directors drafted a list of “major concerns” with the proposal, which was sent to residents in the area: (SC=Sand Canyon and RR=Robinson Ranch)

Primary reasons that the SCCC Resort is a seriously inappropriate project for the Sand Canyon Community.

  • Dangerous. The project is dangerous to Sand Canyon residents and resort guests/workers because:
    Currently, there is no way to quickly and safely evacuate SC residents, and resort guests and workers, from the canyon in the event of a wildfire. Adding hundreds of hotel occupants and staff will only exacerbate the already existing and dangerous evacuation problem.
    Even if a 2nd access road across the Santa Clara River is added to service the SC and the resort, the number of people and vehicles involved in an evacuation would still radically slow evacuation of SC residents on SC Road and at the intersection of SC Road with Lost Canyon Road, increasing the risk of death and injury to residents and resort visitors.
    If the resort is used to ‘shelter in place’ firefighting resources will have to be devoted to the resort instead of saving SC residences and fighting spread of the fire. Shelter in place is a last resort and not a first line of fire defense.
    Building any high-density facility in a high-risk fire area such as Sand Canyon is simply irresponsible, especially as climate change and drought periods have increased, and will continue to increase fire risk in the area.
    Sand Canyon Special Standards District (SCSSD). The resort is inherently incompatible with the purpose of the SCSSD, which is to “maintain, preserve and enhance the rural and equestrian character of Sand Canyon.” The resort would be a high-density, purely commercial and non-rural use in direct conflict with the purpose and intent of the SCSSD standards.
  • Zoning. (It is) incompatible with Sand Canyon zoning, which is low-density residential throughout Sand Canyon (1 or 2 acre min. lot size). Resort would be a high-density commercial use completely incompatible with the zoning that applies to all other areas of Sand Canyon. Most Sand Canyon residents live here BECAUSE of the zoning and SCSSD protections against commercial uses and developments like the proposed resort. Consistent zoning protects community character and property values.
  • Water. The resort will require significant and enormous water volumes to operate even in drought periods, using resources that would otherwise be available to existing residents and businesses.
    Cumulative projects an impermissible burden on infrastructure. When analyzing this project and its effects on SC (and the Sand Canyon 14 freeway on and off ramps), the other current and planned projects must be taken into consideration. The Vista Canyon project and Sand Canyon Commercial Plaza (NE corner of Sand Canyon and Soledad) are already underway and contain hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail, office and residential square footage. When the Mancara project is factored in along with Ted Robinson’s land, hundreds of acres of development are going to cause unmanageable and dangerous overloads on the existing infrastructure. Simply put, this project cannot be looked at in a vacuum.
    Open Space Conversion. (It) takes away 75 acres of Open Space that SC residents were specifically promised as part of the Robinson Ranch Golf Course approval. The RR golf course project approval included dedication of acreage on the RR property to be Open Space, which was an essential element of that approval to many SC residents who otherwise would have opposed the RR golf course.
  • Traffic. The resort itself (even when one does not consider the other projects) will add substantial traffic to Sand Canyon Road, from resort guests, workers and service vehicles, when SC is already very busy and backed up at Lost Canyon Road many times during the day to traffic diverting (due to Waze and Maps) from Hwy 14, school traffic, and other local traffic use.
  • Noise. The resort would have noisy outdoor activities for most each day and into the night, including a water park, outdoor pools, outdoor wedding venue and sports courts, which will impact surrounding neighborhoods and wildlife in the National Forest Area adjacent to SCCC. Hotels require large delivery trucks and trash trucks that bring noise at odd hours.
  • Lights. Night lighting at the resort will impact surrounding neighborhood and wildlife in the adjacent National Forest Area.
  • Viability. If the resort fails, which many think is likely due to weather, setting and lack of nearby attractions that would be of interest to potential guests, and expected of a 5-star resort, the buildings will be a blight in the community, with no alternative use that is compatible with SCSSD or surrounding zoning.
  • No Development and Hotel Management Experience. The current owner has already stated his intention to “run” the hotel himself. Simply put, he has no hotel or development experience. His lack of experience in running a golf course has already created unfortunate results. Further, the current ownership has no experience in developing such a large project. The inevitable missteps and mistakes will have drastic impacts on many unintended victims (the SC residents) who will have to live with those impacts for dozens of years.
  • Negative Impact on Property Value. Buyers looking for a new home will avoid homes near Hotels and Commercial Properties due to noise, transient activity, increased traffic, and potentially unwelcome events. Homeowners who must sell could become “distressed sales.”

Deborah Rocha on the Move

| Canyon Country Magazine | July 17, 2019

Like many horse lovers, Deborah Rocha keeps things moving. The ambitious founder of SRD Straightening Reins has kept the equine therapy nonprofit operating for eight years while teaching full-time in the Saugus Union School District.

She’s also had to move the organization’s horse ranch a number of times, mostly due to the charity’s financial limitations. And she’s at it again.

After a brief time in Sand Canyon, SRD Straightening Reins has moved to Davenport Road on the border of Canyon Country and Agua Dulce.

And Rocha’s moved on in other ways. She retired from teaching on June 14 after 34 years, which means she can devote herself even more wholly to the work of the nonprofit.

“I’m going to take a leap of faith,” Rocha said. “I think there’s a huge need. And I can’t stand by and do nothing.”

It’s hard to imagine Rocha “doing nothing,” but she explained what she meant by the statement.

“I was looking at where I was and what I was doing, and I couldn’t do either well,” she said. “The Board has been very supportive.”

SRD Straightening Reins is a 501(c)(3) offering interactive therapies to improve adolescent and teen mental health and well-being.

She recently had six youth working with SRD – ages 11 to 17 – who had been suicidal.

“We know when we get the kids to the ranch and into counseling, we can get them to stop self-medicating,” she said, “and get them back in a regular school setting.”

SRD is working with the Hart District, with the kids who aren’t in a place where they can be in a school setting. Rocha is also working with youth who are a part of the foster care system, some of whom are homeless.

The ranch where SRD currently operates is only an acre, so the nonprofit is open to other property options. Like most charities, SRD always needs more resources. Ninety-five cents on the dollar goes directly to programs for the kids, Rocha said.

They have scouts who establish projects on the ranch, which is volunteer labor. A Girl Scout troop helped to plant ground cover. Volunteers from Real Life Church in Valencia created fire clearance around the property and contributed to perimeter fencing for additional privacy.

Rocha is working on sustainability with funding and tackling some of the organization’s short-term and long-term goals, but it’s difficult to obtain government money such as grants.

“Here’s the challenge – when you look at city grants, they want to give you money for a new program, not for operations,” Rocha explained. “Then the Board has to decide, ‘Do we start a new program and stop one that’s working?’ We say no.”

But the animals have to be fed.

“We have some animal sponsors that offset the cost,” she said. “Our feed bill is anywhere from $1,400 to $1,700 dollars a month. And we do get a discount on vet bills.”

They recently had a goat that got sick and died while several kids were on the ranch. Rocha said it’s the type of event that offers a therapeutic opportunity. In this case, there were foster children in the program who had recently lost their mother and it opened some doors for discussion.

“The animal isn’t the only piece. It’s the trained clinician, the equine specialist. They ask, ‘What’s the animal doing and why?’” Rocha explained. “The opportunity to be with a herd of animals gives them time to reflect where they are and what they’re doing.”

Part of the process involves building the confidence to work with a 1,400-pound animal.

“Even the chickens – it’s them being present where they are and the trained staff being able to capitalize on that,” Rocha said. “They can redirect: ‘What do you mean you don’t know how to communicate? What do you think the animal is saying to us?’”

Because of the safety issues involved in working with large animals, those who enter the program have to gain control of any drug or alcohol addiction before they can access services at Straightening Reins. But anyone Rocha can help through the program, she does.

“We don’t turn anybody away if somebody needs services,” she said. “One comes from as far away as Long Beach.”

Most Straightening Reins clients are age 10 to 19, she said, but currently there are individuals in the program age 5 to 23 who are getting horse therapy.

“We’re seeing more in their late teens to early 20s,” Rocha said.

She said they’re employing three foster youth and seeking employment for seven at-risk young people.

When contacted, individuals can start therapy within 72 hours. Part of the advocacy at Straightening Reins involves becoming informed about the person’s school system, the day program and any doctors the family is working with. And it extends to everyone involved, from survivors who have lost someone to siblings of someone battling mental illness.

“It’s coming together,” Rocha said. “I’m not giving up on these kids.”

Hougo – We Go

| Canyon Country Magazine | July 17, 2019

For most of us, the closest we get to becoming world travelers is to stream the Netflix series “Planet Earth” on our iPads. But for Jim and Gwen Hougo, it’s been a way of life for the last 17 years. Since retiring in 2001 they have brought their total travels to 48 United States and 97 countries.

Sound impossible? For some of us, it probably would be.

“I spent 30 years teaching in Canyon Country and got to work with some of the most wonderful families,” Gewn Hougo said. “I am still in touch with many of my former students through the wonders of Facebook. One of the things I most enjoy is sharing my travel adventures.”

They didn’t hit the road immediately after retiring, but postponed their first trip, as the attacks of 9/11 occurred just a month after they hung up their hats.

“My husband, who worked for Lockheed for 34 years, always had traveling on his ‘bucket list,’” she said. “(We) were scared about the future, as were most Americans. But eight months later we took off in our new motor home for four months to explore our beautiful country. I think we visited 26 states, 325 museums, and many national and state parks. Let me tell you, we have one incredibly beautiful country with wonderful people.”

But their travels haven’t stopped at the U.S. borders.

“Then I took my retirement trip for a month in Australia, and three weeks in New Zealand,” she said. “We discovered this whole world is full of beautiful places, fantastic people and wonderful adventures. My fellow Sulphur Springs teacher, Mrs. Burleigh, and her husband joined us for a fun time. We also stopped off for a week in Tahiti to break up the long plane ride.”

Their next adventure took them to South Africa for 42 days.

“We got a little, 18-foot motor home and in a tour with nine other couples explored this amazing country,” she said. “It was in 2002, so Nelson Mandela was stepping down and the country was struggling with the upcoming elections. … The inequality of white and black Africans made for great social confusion.

“The animals in Krueger National Park provided the safari experience and the modern and wealthy society gave us much to explore.”

The couple has racked up so many miles of exotic travels that it’s hard to make a distinction among favorites. “It depends on what you consider important,” Gwen Hougo said. “For history, nothing beats Egypt and China. For pure beauty, New Zealand and Tahiti are hard to beat.”

She also finds a lot of common features across the globe. “We do have beautiful memories of exciting adventures,” she said: “Every place in our incredible world has something special to share with a traveler with an open mind.”

New Business – Panacea

| Canyon Country Magazine | July 16, 2019

One of the first of its kind in Santa Clarita, Panacea is a new business that just opened its doors in Canyon Country. It is a store carrying a range of CBD merchandise, meaning they are hemp plant products, which have the same benefits as the cannabis plant but with no psychoactive effects.

“We opened a month ago and have been building a loyal customer base from the community,” said store co-owner Nare Hami.

The products at Panacea are derived from hemp, and not cannabis, therefore none of their products have the ability to get you high. They carry sublingual oils, pain creams, edibles, skin care, disposable pens, vapes, pet treats and more.

“There’s a difference between marijuana and cannabis, CBD and hemp,” Hami explained. “The products we carry are derived from hemp. Legally, CBD products can carry up to .3 percent THC or less and this does not get you high. People do not realize the benefits it has as far as medicinal use goes. People who have tried it and done their research swear by it.”

Panacea’s clientele are individuals who want to avoid taking chemicals and relying on medication with negative side effects.

“Our target customers would be anyone looking for the link to good living,” Hami said. “Generally the customers that purchase CBD are dealing with arthritis pain, fibromyalgia, anxiety, insomnia, or just an imbalance in their system.”

Humans and other mammals have an endocannabinoid system, and proponents of CBD claim it helps to balance all of the body’s systems, creating homeostasis.

“This means the CBD attaches to receptors in your body and helps maintain a balance in each system,” Hami explained. “People don’t realize the positive effects CBD has on humans and pets. They quickly assume it is like marijuana and (aren’t) informed.”

Hami said it was curiosity that drove her family to become involved in the business.

“For a year now, we started reading every article there was about CBD and finding anything CBD related to see what it really was,” Hami said. “The business is run by our family and we all have tried CBD for a long time for different reasons. I personally use it for chronic back pain and anxiety and it has changed my life. I went from not being able to drive without having anxiety to driving all the way to San Diego and back alone without a single trace of panic.”

In the short time Panacea has been open the family has liked its reception. “Our customer base has been very satisfied with CBD, but everybody reacts differently,” Hami said. “What works on me may not work on you and it is always recommended to check with a doctor before using CBD, especially if you are taking any medication.”

Skyline New Home Development

| Canyon Country Magazine | July 16, 2019

When you drive down Sierra Highway and look up to the west, the new homes you see on the ridge are part of the Skyline development, which held its grand opening last fall.

There are approximately 1,200 home sites, according to Lyndsay Fuller, Pardee Homes director of sales and marketing. At press time there were about 150 homes sold and 20 are already occupied.

“We just did a survey of buyers so far and it was staggering how many people responded about the location and views,” Fuller said. “Also, the open space and having breathability.”

Some of the advantages to Skyline, Fuller said, is the presence of a community center, which was ready on opening day.

“It’s like having a resort amenity in your backyard,” she said, “with cabanas, a state-of-the-art gym with Peloton bikes. The gym is about 1,200 square feet.”

Like a lot of housing developments, residents have access to a clubhouse they can rent out for parties. There is an outdoor area with built-in barbecues totaling 3,800 square feet of common space. There’s a coffee bar on site and the coffee bar doubles as a welcome center for the home sales office.

The Lookout is a community space for recreation, fitness and entertaining and a second recreation area is planned for 2021/2022. People can connect with the neighborhood at pools and playgrounds, a bocce ball area, as well as the workout room and coffeehouse.

“You can go to the coffeehouse and get information about all four neighborhoods,” Fuller said. “We staffed it with a barista who is also a licensed sales professional for home buyers starting their home search.”
The neighborhoods are:

Sola: 1,882-2,225 square feet
Celestia: 2,001-2,596 square feet
Mystral: 2,600-3,132 square feet
Lyra: 2,861-3,506 square feet

“Skyline is unique,” Fuller said. “We took home a silver award at the (California Building Industry) Gold Nugget Awards.”

There are several dry creeks, one near the gym, and their focal points use reclaimed water. In the children’s area there’s a splash pad near the pool and a water tower system with buckets.

Fuller explained that Skyline has progressive features that appeal to millennial home shoppers. For instance, there is a butterfly garden you can only access through the paseo system which you “stumble upon while on a hike,” she said.

The paseos connect all the way down to the proposed elementary school, which will be the newest addition to the Sulphur Springs School District when it opens in the future. And the road for vehicle use connecting Whites Canyon to Sierra Highway is set to open this fall.

To visit Skyline you can drive to the office at 29049 Stratus Street in Santa Clarita. It opens every day at 10 a.m. except Wednesdays, when it opens at 1 p.m. It includes access to the model homes and the amenities.
Visit LifeatSkyline.com.

New Business – Window Genie

| Canyon Country Magazine | July 15, 2019

If you ever wished your windows were magically clean and clear, you can move on to your next two wishes now. Canyon Country’s newest arrival is Window Genie, a company with the tagline: “We clean windows and a whole lot more!”

“Above all, we are a service business – complete customer satisfaction and repeat business are our primary goals,” said Kelly Ford, who opened the business with her husband, Joe. “Our variety of services are geared to help homeowners maintain the value of their investment.”

Window Genie cleans screens, tracks, and sills offering a “no-streak guarantee.” The company is the largest national provider of window film (solar protection, security and decorative) and they also clean solar panels to help maximize efficiency. Services include pressure washing most every exterior home surface including cement, pavers, stucco, brick, wood, roofing materials, pavers, and siding. And their expertise also includes cleaning rain gutters and downspouts.

Homeowners in Canyon Country for 25 years, the Fords like engaging with the community, leaving the corporate world behind. “We have developed the most amazing network of neighbors and friends – there is a real sense of community here,” Kelly Ford said. “We have watched this valley grow and prosper while still managing to retain a ‘small-town’ feel – in Canyon Country, most particularly.”

The Window Genie franchise concept is owned by Neighborly Brands, a premier provider of services focused on repairing, maintaining and enhancing customers’ homes and businesses. In the SCV it includes Mr. Rooter, Mr. Appliance, Mr. Handyman, Molly Maid and Rainbow International. Also, through “Window 4 Wishes” franchise partners contribute to their favorite causes in their communities across the nation. For Window Genie of Santa Clarita those include Alzheimer’s research, veterans’ support and animal rescue organizations.

Contact Window Genie by calling 661-568-6768 or visit WindowGenie.com/santaclarita/.

Route 66 Classic Grill

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | July 15, 2019

George Thomas knows what he likes. And when he makes a decision, he doesn’t let challenges stop him.

It’s been 20 years since he opened Route 66 Classic Grill in Canyon Country. And that’s after a 25-year career on the Los Angeles Police Force.

It’s pretty safe to say he likes big projects – He’s even built more than one home in Sand Canyon.

“I moved out here in 1973 when I became a Los Angeles policeman,” Thomas said.

He lived about 12 years in Valencia before buying a lot on Saddleback Road where he and his wife at the time turned their ideal floor plan into a reality.

“We’d go to new construction sites like Circle J and go through models and take pictures of things we liked,” he said. “We kind of put our pictures together and showed it to the architect and after a lot of drawing and redrawing, we had it built.”

The Thomas family was extremely content with their design – they even used the floor plan when they built their next house – only in reverse.

“We loved that floor plan,” he said. “We were constantly having people approaching us wanting to buy the plans and build a house.”

Knowing what he likes came in handy for George Thomas when planning his restaurant – another first for him. He liked the ‘50s diner theme and wanted it to involve cars. At first he looked into the Hudson’s Grill franchise, but consultants urged him to create his own restaurant.

“I knew very little going in and I just listened to everybody. I was like a sponge – anybody who had anything to say about what I should do,” the restaurateur said. “I’ve been absolutely blessed.”

Whatever he did, the Santa Maria native knew one thing would be on his menu: Santa Maria tri-tip.

“I grew up barbecuing with my dad on oak wood – he did it for Kiwanis and American Legion,” he explained. “In Santa Maria the Chamber even has a barbecue museum, which goes back to the 1800s when the cattle ranchers would go to big auctions there. They would barbecue their beef and compete for who had the best beef.”

Thomas grills tri-tip every day on oak wood at Route 66 and he said it’s a customer favorite. He also has a trailer that does off-site grilling for events.

When it came to decisions about his new restaurant’s location, he was considering Stevenson Ranch. “Because my boys grew up in Canyon Country and went to Canyon High School, I decided to do it here,” he said.

George Thomas’ son Rick and his L.A. County Fire “Strike Team” during one of the local fires

LeAnn Rimes at Route 66 during the Fire Hogs Fundraiser

Crowds at a Love Ride after-party

Thomas’ sons, now both grown and working as firefighters, played football at Canyon High, and George Thomas is one of the parents who was pivotal in getting Coach Harry Welch to return to the school. Thomas and others also garnered the funds to erect a sign reflecting the field’s new name: Harry Welch Stadium.

“I was point man for getting the stadium named for him,” he said. “We passed the hat among big fans of Harry’s and paid to have the sign made.”

But it’s the tip of the iceberg when you consider Thomas’ support of local causes.

You can see the massive attendance at Route 66 Bike Nights, which are every Wednesday, and the parking lot is packed during monthly car shows. Thomas has the longest running bike night and car show in Santa Clarita history.

And in this facet as well, Thomas knows what he wants: for local nonprofits to benefit.

“A man wanted to put on a California State Arm Wrestling Championship,” Thomas explained. “I said we’ll do it under one condition: benefit a local nonprofit.”

He has other examples too.

“There was a car accident on Soledad where some young men got killed, so I called Canyon High School and asked the principal if there was anything I could do,” he said.

Thomas was directed to Safe Rides, a nonprofit organization offering teens free, safe rides home on weekends after partying. For 20 years all of the proceeds from Route 66 car shows went to Safe Rides, which is now closed, so the shows are benefiting Rotary Club.

“Safe Rides was a perfect fit for us because it’s about kids driving safely,” Thomas said.

Two of the business owner’s favorite events were the tribute to 9/11 and a special event honoring a military man from Canyon Country.

“A local Canyon High School graduate became a Navy Seal,” Thomas said. “I met his parents and I was so impressed by hearing his story. He was constantly deployed and they never knew when he was coming home. We recognize (soldiers) when they’re injured or killed, but not while they’re alive.”

So, Thomas organized a “welcome home party” for the young man which drew approximately 500 attendees. It included a low flyby from a Van Nuys Condor Squadron.

“When I asked if they’d do (the flyby) they said, ‘Absolutely.’” Thomas said. “I told them to drive back up to Route 66 for dinner after returning to Van Nuys and they did – to meet the (man of honor).”

The list of events and fundraisers goes on and on. There have been so many, in fact, that Santa Clarita Planning Commissioner Dennis Ostrom called Route 66 Classic Grill the “entertainment hub for this side of the valley.” Thomas likes that reputation.

And even when it comes to the future, George Thomas knows what he wants. His two boys and four grandchildren live in the Santa Clarita Valley and he’d like to spend more time with them. Also, six years ago he started riding his bike, as many as 20 miles a day.

But while he is contemplating retirement, he won’t abandon the goals of Route 66 Classic Grill. He wants the friendly staff and popular food choices at the restaurant to thrive … and for the events to continue.

Live Entertainment Review Canyon Theatre Guild

| Canyon Country Magazine, Entertainment | June 6, 2019

It’s been years since I took in a double feature. And not only that – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen two live theatre performances in one day … until a couple of weeks ago. I saw a matinee performance of “Moonlight & Magnolias” and went to the opening night of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” both at Canyon Theatre Guild in Newhall.

Moonlight & Magnolias
One of the things that attracted me to “Moonlight & Magnolias” is its relationship to “Gone with the Wind.” Being a big GWTW fan, I’m well acquainted with the characters, plotline and some of the off-camera drama of the 1939 “Best Picture” Academy Award winner.

Set in the office of David O. Selznick (who won “Best Director” honors from the Academy for GWTW), there are only three other cast members, including Selznick’s secretary, “Miss Poppenghul” (played by Linda Thompson), director “Victor Fleming,” and “Ben Hecht,” a screenwriter.

The play is a farcical account of Selznick’s efforts to save the film from its flawed script, but the characters are based on real individuals. The real-life Selznick did replace the movie’s original director – George Cukor – with Fleming, and he actually did hire Hecht to doctor the script.

Like most satires, it’s a hyperbolic depiction of true events, but the setup was historical. Selznick did practically hold the two men hostage for days while they worked on the screenplay.

The four actors in Canyon Theatre Guild’s production were all up to the level, especially their comedic timing. It’s hard to believe the three men – Michael Collins (Fleming), Barry Agin (Hecht), and lead, Paul Michael Nieman (Selznick) could memorize that many lines.

Audience members who will like M&M the most, I believe, are: those who like Hollywood inside stories; “Gone With the Wind” fans; and people who like physical comedy.

Like a lot of satirical material, you learn some of the back story by reading between the lines. At times the actors mimic GWTW characters from “Rhett” to “Prissy” and take calls from the likes of Hedda Hopper and Vivien Leigh.

Canyon Theatre’s production begins with a short screening of clips from “The Three Stooges,” which is an excellent tie-in to the type of humor you can expect in M&M. A lot of it involves falling, slapping and poking, so if you love Moe, Larry & Curly you’ll be laughing a lot in Newhall.

The Importance of Being Earnest
A jewel from the late Oscar Wilde, “The Importance of Being Earnest” is fun to see over and over again. The lead character is the apparently upstanding “Jack” (played by Christopher Flowers) who is guardian to “Cecily” (played by James Coblenz) and has an imaginary brother named “Ernest.”

Jack’s love interest is “Gwendolen,” (played by Keri Green) whose cousin is his best friend, “Algernon” (played by Matthew Fernandez). Because “Jack” goes by “Ernest” while in London, there is confusion, particularly when “Algernon” poses as imaginary brother “Ernest,” and Jack’s beloved, Gwendolen, states that she only wants to marry a man named “Ernest,” adding to the irony and general befuddlement.

Confused? You’re kind of supposed to be.

The Canyon Theatre Guild cast did a great job. They clearly worked on their British accents and delivered them believably. Some of the casting was unusual, but it added to the intrigue that Wilde was known for. The performance lived up to my expectations – amusing and fun.

May Day Call for Cure Local Parent Fights for Childhood Cancer Research

| Canyon Country Magazine | May 13, 2019

Janet Demeter of Agua Dulce took her seven-year fight to Capitol Hill on May 1, 2019 with a band of parents advocating for pediatric cancer research. After losing her 3-year-old son, Jack, to DIPG, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, which is the deadliest of pediatric cancers, she founded Jack’s Angels to bring patients closer to treatment by removing the disease from total obscurity. There has been no change in either treatment or prognosis since Neil Armstrong’s daughter, Karen, died of it in 1962.
“My main motivation for working for this cause has always been the experience we had, out of the gate, hearing that there were no solutions for my son because ‘the numbers aren’t great enough for investors’ – which was a clear message at the time,” Demeter says. “My son’s life had no value to the medical research system in place. I didn’t know that it was one of the most common and deadliest forms of childhood brain cancer.”

The DIPG Advocacy Group held meetings with both members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, bringing information and support from constituents and evidence of the vast number of affected families across the United States. House Leadership and members of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee are especially important, as these members decide the fate of H. Res. 114, which indicates the need for greater research funding for pediatric cancers in general.

Thanks to pressure from Demeter and others, May 17 has been named Brain Tumor Awareness Day.

Approximately 200-400 children are diagnosed with DIPG annually in the United States and it is considered a rare disease, as is every form of childhood cancer. As the leading cause of death in children in the United States after accidents and injuries, cancer strikes all ages, but brain cancer tops the list for pediatric cancer mortalities – and DIPG is responsible for the majority of those deaths.

For more information, visit DIPGadvocacy.org or JacksAngels.org.

Birtwick Park Equestrian Center 3rd Annual Win Place Home Gala

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | May 11, 2019

A barn party is coming to the Canyon – and your attendance supports the rescue of retired racehorses.

Birtwick Park Equestrian Center is hosting the 3rd Annual Win, Place, Home Gala and Silent Auction fundraiser on Saturday, May 18 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

In addition to taking in the atmosphere of a country-western celebration, you can shop from a large collection of auction items in the barn, where you can also see the horses you’re supporting. The auction will include hundreds of items for bidding and there will be a raffle to win two Disneyland one-day Park Hopper tickets (you have to be present to win).

Last year, more than 100 guests attended the event at Birtwick Park, which raised more than $11,000 for the non-profit. Beginning at 5 p.m. guests can peruse the silent auction, meet the horses, visit the crafts table, and buy food and drinks.

Located on Lost Canyon Road in Sand Canyon, the ranch has plenty of room for the family-friendly event, which will include the chance to see two miniature unicorns; free glitter tattoo and caricature from Taylor Entertainment; free psychic reading from Michael Mirth-Magical Entertainer; giant games provided by Joymode; scavenger hunt trivia game to win raffle tickets; a bounce house; a kid’s craft table; food provided by Jersey Mike’s; drinks provided by Firestone Walker and Garage Brewing Co.; a SynNutra booth and much more.

CJ Marinaccio, the founder/CEO of Win Place Home, Inc., created the non-profit after working at a racetrack in the early part of her career. When she moved to Sand Canyon she brought some horses with her and decided to begin taking them in to care for them after their life on the track. She gets them treated for injuries and lets them retire there.

“I worked at the racetrack from 2005 until 2015 and saw many horses come to the track and go from being treated like champions to being forgotten about when they were done,” Marinaccio said. “I decided to be in their lives in a different capacity. They had enough to help them on the track. They needed help getting off of it.”

The first boarder to move in to Birtwick Park with Win Place Home was Thorin in February of 2016. The nonprofit provides surgery when needed and finds adoptive homes for some of them.

When horses leave the electrified scene of the racetrack they have a vastly different lifestyle at Birtwick Park, which Marinaccio named for an estate in “Black Beauty.”

“When we get a horse we gently let them down from being a racehorse,” Marinaccio said.

Her horses eventually get a job to do at Win Place Home. “When they get off the track and can settle into just being a horse, it’s amazing how much their personality shifts!” the founder said. “And when they are put into a second job that they WANT to do they are so willing to please.”

Birtwick Park is located at 16257 Lost Canyon Road in Canyon Country. For more information about the non-profit, visit WinPlaceHome.org. Tickets can be ordered online at WPH.givesmart.com and auction items are available for bidding online before the event.

The Unshrinkable Riley Weinstein

| Canyon Country Magazine | May 10, 2019

She’s a Canyon High grad, a horseback rider, a dancer, a dance teacher, an actor, and “Miss Amazing California.” She’s also a longtime Canyon Country resident who lives life to the fullest.

Riley Weinstein, who turns 27 this month, doesn’t let anything get between her and her dreams – not even her disabilities. At the age of 2 she had a brain aneurysm followed by two strokes, which left her paralyzed on the left side. The next few years were devoted to helping her physically catch up to whatever level was possible.

Though she began with setbacks that would cause a lot of us to give up, Weinstein gained a forward momentum that never seems to stop.

“I had to relearn how to do everything – how to walk and talk – everything,” she explained. “That’s where dance came into my life. My mother was a dancer herself and got me into my first dance class at 5 years old.”

The expressive art form became a powerful force for Weinstein. “Dance is my passion,” she said. “Dance will never be out of my life.”

And in a show of tenacity, she didn’t stop at dance lessons.

“Growing up there were not dance classes for students with disabilities,” she said. “So, at the age of 14, I started my own dance class with the help of Becky Graham & Denise Redmond, owner and directors of Carousel Ranch, a therapeutic horseback riding center for students with disabilities.”

Weinstein rode at Carousel Ranch in Agua Dulce from about the age of 5 into her teens.

Love of Dance
“I started volunteer teaching at Vibe Performing Arts Center under the supervision of another teacher and then I went on to Santa Clarita School of Performing Arts, where I taught dance for students with special needs for about six years,” she said. “I also started benefit concerts called ‘Getting the Word Out,’ where we had singers, bands such as Malbec and BlueSky Reality, and we had Jerry Ferris who’s famous for ‘The Bachelorette’ and ‘Switched at Birth.’”

Ferris had emceed a Make a Wish Foundation event when an 11-year-old Riley Weinstein’s wish was granted to have her life story made into a documentary. The film premiered at The Grove in Los Angeles. He also emceed her dancing showcase called “INSPIRE,” and Weinstein has involved other celebrities in her projects, including Alex Frost of “So You Think You Can Dance” and actress/dancer/choreographer Zina Bethune.
Before Weinstein rented space independently at New World Dance, she was a student for about six years at the studio.

“There I was taught by Jessica Shull and started from a teen to adult dancing with her,” she said. “I remember getting so excited to see her every lesson and class because she was more than just a teacher to me, she was a mentor and friend.”

She also took dance classes from Brandy Thilesen, who was creative director, and Terry Bixler, who was owner of New World Dance at the time.

Bixler, who she calls her ‘Dance Dad,’ not only allowed her to teach dance to individuals with special needs, he has supported Weinstein throughout many of her endeavors, including the Miss Amazing pageant.

“He also let me choreograph in his studio whenever students and I needed it for my showcase events and let me use students from his studio,” she said. “I can’t thank this man enough for what he has given me. There’s so much more he has done for me.”

Weinstein is interested in teaching again, but needs to get a group of students together. She needs about 8-10 individuals with disabilities who are interested in taking a class, and she also needs to find a studio where she can rent space.
Calling her style “rhythmic jazz tap,” Weinstein teaches jazz techniques for the first half and tap for the second. “My class is not like any other tap class,” she explained. “Because I have students with disabilities, they learn rhythm and listening skills. Also a little bit of rhythm dance routines with tap.”

In addition to the Miss Amazing Foundation and Carousel Ranch, Weinstein is also involved with the Academy Of Special Dreams, an organization giving artists with disabilities an opportunity to show off their art.

Pageant Winner
“Miss Amazing is a pageant for young women and girls with disabilities and it’s to help them with confidence, learn social skills and basically just gain self-esteem,” the new statewide title holder explained.

Each participant chooses a “buddy” to help her throughout the day with makeup and hair and get her ready for the verbal introduction at the beginning of the pageant. Buddies also help girls practice their walk onstage, their talent and interview skills.

For the interview, participants meet with judges before the pageant. “Some participants do have mental disabilities, so (the judges) will ask them, ‘Do you have a dog? What’s its name?’ I get asked harder questions,” Weinstein said. “They asked me, ‘What makes somebody beautiful?’”

Part of the challenge also, she said, is that you don’t have a lot of time to answer. “The trick to these interviews is you have to basically have a conversation with them. They don’t like when you take too long to answer a question,” she said, pointing out the intimidating factors involved. “One of the judges won Miss Universe, so here I was talking to Miss Universe!”

The pageant participants walk in gowns with male escorts across the stage “and pose while they are saying our special qualities,” she explained. “This year my escort was pretty cute, so I liked that.”

Janice Dosh of Canyon Country was one of Riley Weinstein’s elementary school teachers and she recently reconnected with her former student, who invited her to attend the pageant.

“The Miss Amazing pageant provided such a favorable setting for all the contestants,” Dosh said, “fostering confidence and poise with a lot of positive attention from the audience.”

And because Weinstein has been crowned Miss Amazing in other divisions when she was younger, she knows how to prepare for the national competition held in Chicago in August.

“I’ve gained a lot of skills, I’ve learned a lot about being independent and learning leadership,” she said. “When you’re crowned you’re a leader to everybody else.”

The Gym
Weinstein’s “pageant buddy” was Sawyer Gordon, a trainer at Results Fitness in Newhall.
“Sawyer is my trainer at my gym … she’s also a friend,” Weinstein said. “She was an amazing buddy this year.”

Training with Gordon and others at Results Fitness has had a lasting effect, according to Weinstein.

“It definitely makes me feel a lot stronger,” she said. “I have a left-sided weakness from paralysis. … Having the physical limitations I do with my disability, (working out) makes the left side of my body a lot stronger. I couldn’t lift a kettle bell at first. I’m now lifting 40 kilograms. That’s like 80 pounds.”

Serving as a buddy was Gordon’s first experience with the Miss Amazing Foundation, which she admired for its message about empowering women.

“Riley has really inspired me,” Gordon said. “As a female athlete and a coach I always like watching people push themselves in whatever way they can, and these girls are doing that. … It doesn’t matter if you have a disability, you can accomplish what you want.”

Acting
And in more proof that Riley Weinstein can’t be stopped, she’s been acting for the last few years alongside Hollywood heavy hitters.

“Two years ago I did a show called ‘Scream Queens’ with Emma Roberts, Abigail Breslin, Lea Michele, Jamie Lee Curtis and John Stamos,” Weinstein said. “It was so much fun. I started out getting a guest role; then it moved on to a recurring role on the show.”

She said the show is available to viewers on Hulu. And last year she did a short film for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, where directors are instructed to cast at least one person with a disability. She played a part in a short film called “Ain’t Woke” by writer/director Cory Reeder.

“I played a teen millennial hit man with Debra Wilson,” Weinstein said. “It was a great experience. Cory Reeder and I are beyond friends. He took me to the red carpet with him last year for it. … He called me and asked me to be his date. He literally went over and beyond for me just casting me in this role.”

Weinstein said she is always looking for opportunities to do more acting.
“I’m hoping for this really big opportunity to do a role for Abigail Breslin. She is writing a show and she wanted to cast me in it to play somebody who is, like, goth, which I’ve never played before,” she said. “That would be so much fun. I love Abigail Breslin.”

Weinstein and her two siblings attended Sulphur Springs Community School, Sierra Vista Junior High and Canyon High School. She graduated in 2010.

She has a fraternal twin named Taylor who Riley says she’s “attached to for life.”

“We are totally the opposite from one another, but we are more than sisters – we are best friends,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine my life without my sister.”

She also has a younger brother whose name is Max.

“I loved watching him grow up,” she said. “I still always remember him as a little boy and am amazed how incredible a man he is becoming.”

Many would agree that Riley Weinstein could use the same adjectives about herself. In less than three decades she’s accomplished more than many of us do in a lifetime, and the sky’s the limit from here. Regardless of what happens at the national pageant in August, one can hardly describe her as anything but “amazing.”

Canyon Country Kids ‘Come On Down!’

| Canyon Country Magazine | April 16, 2019

For the Lankford family, the game is always afoot. Johnny and Kelly Lankford of Canyon Country are not satisfied with just watching their favorite TV game shows from their family room. They have been part of live studio audiences several times and they don’t show any signs of slowing down.

The couple has been to “The Price is Right,” “Ellen’s Game of Games,” and “Winsanity,” where Johnny was chosen to be an active audience participant. And now, their kids have caught the bug.

Last month their daughters Kailey, 11, and Kiki, 5, had their game show debuts.

“We were all watching ‘The Price Is Right’ one day, and Kailey said, ‘When can we go on? Do they ever have kids’ days?’” Kelly explained. “So, I looked online and, ironically, it said they were taping ‘Kids’ Week Preschool Day’ on Kiki’s 5th birthday!”

That was just the beginning of the Lankford’s good luck. They got tickets and went to CBS, where hopeful participants were interviewed by the producer.

When he asked Kiki her favorite “Price is Right” game she screamed, “PLINKO!” And when asked if she could win anything in the world what would she want, and she screamed, “A NEW CAR!”

The producer told Kiki, “I like your energy,” so it wasn’t a huge surprise that when the taping began, the 5-year-old was the first name called to “come on down!”

Kelly and Kiki competed against two other parent-preschooler contestants standing at the bidding stations for the first round. Of course, each child was coached by the parent, but the preschoolers got to deliver their answers – which were guesses on merchandise pricing – into the microphones. When Kelly told Kiki to bid $9.99 on a product, the youngest Lankford leaned in to the microphone and announced, “9-9-9-9-9.” Responding to the comical answers the show was getting from young contestants like Kiki, game show host Drew Carey pointed out that “The Price is Right” never had kids that young competing before.

Kelly and Kiki won the round and went up onstage to play “One-Two-Three Blocks,” then advanced to spin the wheel, which sent them to the “Showcase Showdown.” (You’ll have to tune in on April 22 to see how Kiki did on that final round. Spoiler alert: It goes very, very well.)

“Trust me, it was amazing!” Kelly said.

A few weeks later was “The Price is Right Elementary/Middle School Day,” and the lucky Lankfords’ second win: Kailey was chosen to appear on the show. She brought her father, and because she was older, Johnny stayed seated when Kailey was commanded to “come on down!”

“When you’re sitting in those chairs waiting to hear your name, at that moment your heart stops – you have no idea,” said Kailey, who’s watched the show since she was 4 years old.

She stepped up to the bidding station and made it onstage. “I played the easiest game – it’s the ‘Vending Machine,’” she said, explaining that you have to choose the most expensive combination of products. Johnny weighed in from the audience and Kailey made her choice – she won the game, then headed for the wheel. Kailey’s spin didn’t send her to the Showcase, but she exited with prizes.

Neither Kailey nor Kiki are allowed to go back on “The Price is Right” for 10 years, but when the time comes, you can expect to see Kailey return to the stage. “I want to get on as many game shows as possible,” she said.

A student at Golden Oak Community School, Kailey has appeared on a television commercial as an actor. “I like being in front of people and showing my expressions,” she said. “I’m not one of those shy ones. I say, ‘Let’s go, let’s do this.’”

Kiki, whose real name is Kilani, attends Prime Time Preschool in Canyon Country, where she likes both the work and the teachers. “Miss Jennifer is nice,” Kiki said. “We read some books and do science experiments. We have sharing time and we go outside.”

Johnny and Kelly have lived in Canyon Country for 23 years. “What we love most is the beautiful mountains, plenty of shopping, our friends and family live here – and the weather, of course!” Kelly said.

Tune in to watch Kiki on Monday, April 22 at 10 a.m. on CBS and Kailey on Wednesday, April 24, also at 10 a.m. on CBS.

Sand Canyon Country Club Resort Expands – Replies from residents requested

| Sand Canyon Journal | April 13, 2019

Sand Canyon residents are asked to provide input about upcoming changes in the neighborhood.

Less than a week after the Sand Canyon Homeowners Association meeting held on Monday, March 28, 2019, an email was sent out from the Santa Clarita planning department regarding the scope of the Sand Canyon Country Club’s project. Associate Planner Hai Nguyen sent a revised Notice of Preparation, or NOP, with a new description of SCCC owner Steve Kim’s plan for the development.

The following is Nguyen’s letter to the Sand Canyon Homeowners Association:

The City of Santa Clarita is the lead agency and is preparing an Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) for the Sand Canyon Resort Project. The City previously circulated the Notice of Preparation (“NOP”) for the project between October 17, 2018 and November 16, 2018. This revised NOP has been circulated to provide opportunity for public comment and input regarding the EIR’s expanded scope which now includes updates to the project description and new project area; approximately two-acre area south of Robinson Ranch Road would be utilized as a water quality detention basin associated with the project.

We need to know the views of your agency as to the scope and content of the environmental information, which is germane to your agency’s statutory responsibilities in (connection to) the proposed project. Your agency may need to use the EIR prepared by our agency when considering your permit or other approval for the project.*

Due to the time limits mandated by State law, your response must be sent at the earliest possible date, but not later than 30 days after receipt of this notice. As such, the comment period for the Notice of Preparation begins on April 2, 2019 and ends on May 2, 2019. Please send your written response to Hai Nguyen at the address shown (below).

The approximately 77-acre project site is located at 27734 Sand Canyon Road at the northeast corner of Sand Canyon Road and Robinson Ranch Road.

The proposed project would result in the replacement of existing open space that was formerly a part of the Mountain Course of the Robinson Ranch Golf Course with a new resort and spa consisting of the following:

  • Main Hotel: three-story building with 241 rooms/keys totaling approximately 165,000 square feet, and back of house and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing space in the Main Hotel basement totaling approximately 23,000 square feet
  • Wedding Hotel: three three-story buildings with 81 rooms/keys totaling approximately 50,000 square feet air conditioned space and 17,500 square feet of open non-air-conditioned space with an outdoor wedding ground and pergola
  • View Villas: 14 two-story villas with 56 rooms/keys totaling approximately 110,000 square feet
  • Oak Villas: nine one-story villas with nine rooms/keys totaling approximately 38,000 square feet and one two-story villa with five rooms/keys totaling approximately 9,500 square feet
  • Function Wing: meeting center and celebration open air atrium (32,500 square feet), a grand ballr om (10,000 square feet), a junior ballroom (3,000 square feet), meeting rooms (4,500 square feet), and pre-function space (6,200 square feet)
  • Dining: three restaurants with kitchens, pantries and back-of-house totaling approximately 25,000 square feet
  • Children’s Center: approximately 7,000 square feet including nursery, kids program spaces, cooking classrooms, and a teen arcade
  • Spa/Gym/Salon: Spa, gym and salon facilities as well as a retail boutique totaling approximately 33,000 square feet
  • Outdoor Recreation: two pools, one tennis court, two pickle ball courts, a nine-hole miniature golf course, picnic areas, meditation garden, nature garden, and three miles of trails
  • Parking: 375 parking stalls and 18 car parking spaces in Oak Villa garages

Additionally, as part of the project, the existing approximately one-acre water quality detention basin located south of the project site and south of Robinson Ranch Road would be enlarged to a total of 1.9 acres and connected to the new resort project via a new storm drain pipe.

*(The project description, location, and the probable environmental effects are contained in materials that were attached to the original email.) To offer your opinions/concerns, contact: Hai Nguyen, Associate Planner, City of Santa Clarita Community Development Department, 23920 Valencia Boulevard, Suite 302, Santa Clarita, CA 91355 (661) 255-4365. Email: Hnguyen@santa-clarita.com.

Audrey’s Unicorns

| Canyon Country Magazine, Community | April 12, 2019

Most would agree that the Varner family has rare qualities. Longtime Santa Clarita residents Candice and Chris Varner are well-known local educators with a reputation for maintaining a supportive role in the lives of their students, even after graduation.

But in a rare and challenging situation, the teachers have become the students, as Chris and Candice have been learning to navigate circumstances beyond their control.

Chris is both a teacher and the head football coach at West Ranch High School and Candice is the director of district relations for Opportunities for Learning. They also have five children, both adoptive and biological, who are in myriad sports and activities. While the inherent challenges of a large family would be difficult for anyone, the Varners had an additional setback last year when their oldest daughter, Audrey, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

The disease is rare and Audrey’s diagnosis at the age of 6 was also unusual. “What normally happens is you get a newborn screen where they check the genes and cystic fibrosis is one of those,” Candice explained. “Audrey’s adopted and those records weren’t transferred, so we don’t know if she was flagged for that or not.”

Audrey was hospitalized for pneumonia last year and she wasn’t improving after being treated with antibiotics. The doctors were unsure why, but hinted at the possibility of cystic fibrosis.

She was placed on the waitlist for Children’s Hospital and the Varners were grateful when she advanced to the top so they could access the hospital’s experts.

“Audrey had gotten a diagnosis of asthma and they didn’t think that’s what it was,” Candice explained. “They did gene testing. For cystic fibrosis you have to have a gene from both parents. If you only have one, you’re a ‘carrier,’ but if you have both then you have cystic fibrosis.”

It’s unimaginable for most parents to keep moving forward, even with a small family. But the Varners, in rare form, continue to handle it like troopers.

“My husband and I processed it differently,” Candice said. “I was kind of in denial. (I thought) ‘33,000 is such a small number, there’s no way.’ For me it was a gut punch, but for Chris, he had already processed it. Chris was really my rock with this.”

Support from competent medical professionals is also a big help.

“She has the most amazing team at Children’s Hospital,” Candice said. “We were lucky we were immediately connected with them. The support from them and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has been incredible.”

It’s a “family affair,” Candice said about handling schedules, treatment and difficult news.

“Audrey is the middle of five kids and we’re really blessed that our kids understand that Audrey takes sometimes a little more of Mommy and Daddy’s time because she’s sick,” she said. “I’m really proud of how my kids have rallied around her. It’s a Varner family thing.”

Candice said they remain open about the facts. “Yes, it’s terminal. There’s no cure and my kids know that,” she said. “There are times, like after a bad appointment, it’s nice to come home to a supportive atmosphere. When you don’t have any other option, you make it work. Cystic Fibrosis will not define her life.”

She calls the support from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation “amazing.”

“When Audrey first got her diagnosis I knew she was getting taken care of. I needed something to take care of me too,” she said. “The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation reached out to me and connected me with some other cystic fibrosis parents in Santa Clarita. It was amazing to talk to parents who knew what I was talking about.”

Through the Foundation, the Varners were introduced to the fundraiser Great Strides. “Right away, immediately, Audrey was the one who got so excited about it,” Candice said. “It made me feel better about the whole thing – raising money to find a cure for my daughter.”

The upcoming Great Strides event gave Chris and Candice a place to convert their emotion into action, and since there’s not yet a cure, more research is needed, which means more money is needed. So, they formed a Great Strides team – Audrey’s Unicorns.

For a family fighting an epic battle with unimaginable stakes, the unicorn seems an appropriate symbol. And with the help of friends, the Varners defied odds once again.

“We immediately dove into this,” Candice said. “They told me how we could grow a team and we were lucky – with the community and West Ranch High School and Opportunities for Learning, Audrey’s Unicorns had the largest team – and we did that in three weeks.”
There are various streams of funding during the Great Strides team-building process. Topper’s Pizza held a fundraiser for Audrey’s Unicorns, the largest the Valencia pizza restaurant had ever had.

“It’s amazing to see how people are coming out to support her,” Candice said. “The football team was there – Audrey sees the football team as 50 extra big brothers for her. As a parent, it was so incredible to see it reciprocated – the community, the football players out to support her.”

The day of the Great Strides walk was also an opportunity for people to show their support. “Just seeing everybody out there in Audrey’s Unicorn shirts … she was so excited to see people there,” Candice said. “She has a tutu and a unicorn headband – amazing to see this little girl empowered.”

This year’s local Great Strides 2-mile walk will be held on Audrey’s birthday – Saturday, May 11 – at West Creek Park in Valencia. Check-in is at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 10 a.m. Register at Fightcf.cff.org/goto/AudreysUnicorns.

“It’s huge. There are activities, food, vendors and it’s really to raise awareness and understand that this is a struggle not too many people know about,” Candice explained. “There’s no federal funding for cystic fibrosis research. Cystic fibrosis doesn’t have a cure. We are optimistic that the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will continue the amazing research they’re doing.”

But as for the day-to-day coping, it’s of course not all rainbows and unicorns. “There are times I have to walk out of the room and have a good cry,” she said. “She sees sometimes up to eight doctors and specialists in a day. We like to do something special after; we usually go to Disneyland or something. If we can finish the day with something fun – she can remember, ‘I had churros and rode Space Mountain,’ rather than ‘I had to have blood drawn.’”

The Varner kids take the “Strawfie Challenge” to relate to their sister during her breathing treatment.

According to the Audrey’s Unicorns web page, there are nearly 300,000 Americans living with cystic fibrosis, and symptoms include difficulty breathing – similar to breathing through a straw. The medication is $300,000 a year, Candice said, grateful for the support from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “It’s very expensive to be sick.”

The work continues and so does the hope, especially for Audrey’s Unicorns, who are aiming to raise money for enough research to find a cure. Showing her resolve, Candice summed up her commitment to the cause: “We will walk until a cure for cystic fibrosis is found.”

Vision to Be Organized

| Canyon Country Magazine | March 25, 2019

With the popularity of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” you’ve probably done some self-examination to decide if a little change is in order. But if applying the KonMari method sounds overwhelming, it’s possible you just need a little help.

There are a lot of circumstances that might lead you to reach out to Canyon Country resident Christie Johnson:

If your “junk drawer” is a closet
If you’re the only child of a hoarder
If you’ve got mass quantities of something you defend with “What if…”
If inviting Marie Kondo to your house would make her cry

There are plenty more reasons to call a professional organizer like Johnson, and the bonus you get is she trains you to use new practices to make it easier for you to go forward without a repeat of untidy habits.

Vision to be Organized is the name of Johnson’s business, which involves her working side-by-side with you to create systems of organization that work for you. She is an objective party, able to put ownership of your belongings in perspective, while remaining sensitive to your needs and desires.

“That is a part of me as an organizer – I’m sentimental for my clients,” Johnson explained. “Other organizers might say, ‘You don’t need it anymore, it’s not doing anything for you.’ I will say, ‘Let’s document the story.’”

The clutter part of it gets addressed later in the process. Johnson approaches the client to suggest that the documentation is enough without holding onto the physical items, which may be furniture, like rocking chairs, or home goods, such as teapots or handkerchiefs. She’ll ask, “Do we really need it to document the story, or is there someone else in the family who could use it?”

One of the hurdles for an individual who has trouble parting with things is their attachment. “Why they have it in the first place, why they bought it, why they received it into their house,” she explained. “They ‘can use it someday’ or ‘why should they get rid of it if they don’t need to?’”

The majority of Johnson’s clients have read the book by the new Netflix star Marie Kondo about increasing your joy by decreasing clutter.

“Most of them have multiple organizing books in their house,” she said. “But applying the methods to it is another thing – it just doesn’t click.”

Perhaps none of us need another reason to de-clutter, but it’s helpful to be reminded of the advantages.

“Obviously, a kind of clear space, in the sense you have room to move around, so you don’t trip on anything or stumble,” Johnson said. “And health-wise, it contributes to cleanliness, because a lot of (knickknacks) bring dust into the house as well.”

She brought up another downside to ignoring the new trend toward tidiness: “The agony of throwing things in the spare bedroom and just closing the door, and then you don’t ever really have a spare bedroom available for a guest – which is impractical.”

Johnson’s home is nowhere near the image some people have of a stark, austere, sparsely-furnished house belonging to a professional organizer. She decorates with quilts, Swedish horses and plenty of memorabilia, mostly honoring family heritage, complete with a “genealogy wall” along the stairwell.

The most common articles that she’s seen residents purging are clothing and electronics. And for the latter, by the way, Johnson recommends smashing your hard drive.

One of the bigger challenges with clutter that people have is excessive paper. “Bills and receipts, trying to get away from the piles and files and the file cabinets,” she said. “If they feel uncomfortable getting rid of old papers, like tax returns, they can scan them.”

Originally from Nebraska, Johnson moved to California to work in the fashion industry, hoping for a Hollywood wardrobe connection. When it didn’t pan out that way, she ended up in retail management, later leaving the chore of working nights, weekends and holidays to launch her own business.

A scrapbooking fan during the ‘90s craze, she worked in a crafting store and found herself organizing a lot of photos as a part of assisting locals with their scrapbooks.

“They’d say, ‘There could be more photos, but they’re in that guest room’ or in ‘that closet’ or in ‘that drawer that’s messy and disorganized,’” she said. “And I’d say, ‘I can help you tidy that up.’”

That led to organizing various spaces in her clients’ homes in search of photos, and she realized she could expand her scrapbooking business, also noting the rise in organizing shows on TV. Next she found an industry affiliation to join – National Association of Professional Organizers.

She’s active in NAPO, including the Los Angeles chapter and a virtual chapter of the association. She also attends and speaks at conferences in and out of California.

Johnson will teach a class at the SCV Family History & Genealogy Fair at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, at 24443 McBean Pkwy in Valencia, on March 23. The conference is free and open to the public and will run from 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. For more information, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/scv-family-history-and-genealogy-fair-2019-tickets-55138466638.

Her trajectory got its start early. Johnson’s first job was at a pizza restaurant, where she earned an award for “most organized.” Later, her interests and experience contributed to her current expertise and, like her colleagues, she developed a specialty. There are organizers with narrow specialties, including: photo books; video transfers; memory boards; kosher kitchens; and eco-friendly organizing.

The job of a photo and genealogy organizer requires a certain amount of flexibility, as there are ongoing shifts in the technology market. And sometimes it’s the client, especially those who struggle with ADD or OCD, she said. Tasks can get bogged down when they spend too much time making decisions about one small item or if they have way too much to wade through.

“I don’t specialize in hoarding, though I have worked on the TV show twice,” Johnson said.

As an assistant to another organizer, her first gig on the A&E series “Hoarders” involved a young woman whose mother had passed away.

“She was trying to keep the memory of her mom alive, and she had young children and wanted them to remember,” Johnson said. “There were photos involved, so I came on to help her work through some of the photos and some of the memorabilia even.”

The second hoarding project was a mother and two daughters whose household had deteriorated due to personal setbacks.

“The mom went through a divorce and she had some health issues, so her life just stopped,” Johnson explained. “As we peeled back the layers you could actually see the stuff in the house get younger and younger. The top layer was the girls’ recent boy craze and the bottom was their toys and baby clothes.”

But the job wasn’t as difficult to endure as it sounds, she said.

“It wasn’t dirty or dusty – it wasn’t bad, it was just layers of their life,” she said. “A team came in and everybody specialized in something different. Someone specialized in kids, someone in paperwork, someone in organizing the kitchen, someone for closets. We all came in and as soon as we knew what we needed to do, we gravitated to that.”

You could sense the family’s relief at the end of the job, Johnson said, but those scenarios can spark problems in the future, with a likelihood of recidivism. “We’re in there for two 8-hour shifts, and then we leave,” she said. “They didn’t learn the skills … they need training.”

She’s worked with various clients for 10-15 years now, witnessing growth along the way. “When I have the same client over time, their lives change,” she said. “The system they had set up may no longer be needed, so that needs to be changed. Like when they used to pay with paper, now it needs to go online.”

Johnson’s business has also experienced change since she launched it.

“Back then there wasn’t that much information about (organizing). They’d call me because they’d say, ‘I can’t walk in my house’ or ‘I can’t find this,’” she said. “Now there’s a lot of knowledge and information put out there – the books, the shows, your best friend getting organized and you not being organized … people are more aware of it than they were 10 years ago.”

The upside to it is that now it’s not as hard to get the client sold on the job.

As far as the reason some people need help with organization is due to many factors, she said. “There’s a genetic component and also lifestyle, and exposure you’ve had, education or no education,” she explained.

Johnson has guided people through the latest DNA testing, as well, but warns that family secrets sometimes pop up.

“I have a client who’s adopted and wanted to do the genealogy to find out who her birth parents are,” she said. “As I hand her the test, I tell her, “As long as you know it could find you siblings and other relatives.”

Johnson’s client responded affirmatively. “She and I are hoping for something very exciting,” she said.
For Canyon Country residents, living in a fire zone means they have an added incentive to put genealogy documents and photos in a safe place.

“It’s not just fires – it’s earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes – it affects everyone,” Johnson said, adding that people everywhere should scan their genealogy materials and put scans into a cloud service, such as Dropbox.

It’s the dual benefit to the whole process – absence of clutter and protection of valuables.

When asked her greatest satisfaction, Johnson said, “When we have the photos in beautiful books or they’ve all been scanned and all the scanned information is given to family members.”

Visit visiontobeorganized.com.

Vista Canyon Update

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | March 20, 2019

Canyon Country Magazine checked in with Stephen Valenziano from JSB Development to find out the status of Vista Canyon, which is the property in the Sand Canyon/Lost Canyon area. The first phase, building the water reclamation plant, is pictured.

“The Water Factory is complete – equipment now being tested and certified,” he said in an email. “We will operate the Water Factory for 18-24 months before turning it over to the City of Santa Clarita.”

It is scheduled to be operational in June or July.

“The first three-story commercial office and retail building is about eight weeks away from completion, with initial proposals and leases under review,” Valenziano said. “Street paving, sidewalk and curbs, street lights, etc. is now underway.”

And what’s next?

“Bridge design is 95 percent complete,” he added. “The City has redirected a grant and will be building the bridge, with reimbursement coming from future developer bridge & thoroughfare fees. Road intersection work is beginning in summer /fall, with actual bridge construction beginning in spring 2020.”

The city bus transfer station construction will start in a few months, according to Valenziano. Grant funding for the new Metrolink station is nearing completion and station design is 95 percent complete. Station construction may start as soon as late 2019 or early 2020. Over the next 5 to 7 years, the balance of 650,000 square feet of offices, 165,000 square feet of retail, a 200-room hotel and approximately 400 luxury multifamily units will follow in the Town Center portion of the project.

How has the rain affected the Vista Canyon schedule?

“It has been a difficult winter for construction projects,” Valenziano said. “The rain has caused us, and all other builders throughout Southern California, some delays.”

Dallas builders JPI purchased the west side of the Vista Canyon development and construction is now underway for 480 luxury multifamily units.

The east end of Vista Canyon is in a land sale transaction with a major national homebuilder, which is scheduled to close at the end of the month. They will build 245 small-lot, detached homes for sale and the first models are scheduled to arrive in October.

Look in the April issue of Canyon Country Magazine for another update … and possibly an announcement!

National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day is March 29, 2019

| Canyon Country Magazine | March 20, 2019

You see them when you drop off your dry cleaning, call out a plumber and have your trees trimmed. But the local business climate is benefited when you also choose a mom and pop company for other needs, such as clothes shopping, auto parts and hardware.

March 29 is Mom and Pop Business Owners Day, where communities everywhere focus on local companies that can more easily survive when we shop with them.

“When you own a small business, you pour everything into it,” said D.W. Cookie Co. owner Devar Ward. “It’s more value to the customer and to the mom and pop. Every dime counts, everything that comes in counts. It’s a way of supporting your own community.”

According to the National Center for Business Journalism, it’s the Small Business Administration, or SBA, that determines what falls into that category. It’s industry-specific, so in some cases the size of a business is based on the number of employees the company has, but in other industries it’s based on total receipts.

The agency considers “economic characteristics comprising the structure of an industry, including degree of competition, average firm size, start-up costs and entry barriers, and distribution of firms by size,” the website says. “It also considers technological changes, competition from other industries, growth trends, historical activity within an industry, unique factors occurring in the industry which may distinguish small firms from other firms, and the objectives of its programs and the impact on those programs of different size standard levels.”

An article on NationalToday.com offers support for celebrating small business.

“Our economy couldn’t run without small mom and pop businesses,” it says. “They create economic growth and provide almost 70 percent of all new jobs in the country. That’s why every year on March 29 we acknowledge the more than 27 million small businesses in this country by celebrating National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day.

Rick and Margie Segel put the “holiday” on the calendar in honor of their parents, who ran a successful hat shop. They launched the business in 1939 and it grew to a 10,000-square-foot shop earning $2 million. The emphasis is on “long hours, hard work and dedication” that small business owners pour into their work.

Local business owner Karitza Gladden of Roast & Perk in Canyon Country also keeps her parents’ efforts in her thoughts. They had a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, which means she knows the “fine print of running a business,” including the daily perseverance involved.

One of the biggest challenges, Gladden says, is “introducing a brand new brand, and gaining customers’ trust,” which can lead to success in standing out against the sometimes bigger names available.

That’s precisely the idea behind the national day of recognition.

“Mom and Pop shops bring fresh ideas to the marketplace,” the article says. “In today’s economy, when you can find the same products in every Big Box in every city, it’s refreshing to find something new which everyone else hasn’t discovered yet.”

“With big businesses all the stuff is automated now,” Ward said. “Sometimes the only interaction with a person you can get is that human interaction of a mom and pop shop.”

Paul Dell’Olio of Paul’s Paint & Hardware in Canyon Country finds his greatest satisfaction in providing that contact.

“There are many differences between mom and pop and big box stores, but number one for us would have to be when a customer walks into our store, we smile, we help and we care – enough said,” Dell’Olio commented. “Owning your own business is a lot of hard work. The reward is all the wonderful relationships we’ve developed with our customers over the last 25 years.”

One of the other good reasons to support small business is that their success gets poured back into your community.

Gladden makes a point to hire high schoolers, so they learn to feel comfortable with people, learn a trade, and experience work in the real world.

And during a recent season of fires, Roast & Perk, which is located in the Canyon Country Theatre complex, facilitated the collection of supplies for first responders.

The benefits go both ways, Gladden says: “Even though we are small, we are still receiving a lot of love from the community.”

The website encourages everyone to “share the love” with small business owners, suggesting creative ways to pay tribute to mom and pops. The most obvious one is to “shop local,” of course. And the second is to share what you’re doing on social media. The more attention these businesses get the better.

You can also simply drop a note to your favorite business owners thanking them for their hard work. After all, you may not otherwise have access to those extra soft cookies or custom made T-shirts.

The Great Outdoors

| Canyon Country Magazine, Sand Canyon Journal | March 19, 2019

Life in Sand Canyon is never dull, especially with dramatic changes in weather this year. It’s been a wet winter, so Canyon Country Magazine checked in with some of our neighbors…

Wildlife Waystation

The Wildlife Waystation has reached out to supporters more than once for assistance. The constant rain has caused mudslides and flooding that’s affecting the lives of the hundreds of animals living at the sanctuary.

An email went out on Friday, March 1 from the Wildlife Waystation saying:

Thank you for supporting us! You’ve made a big difference this week helping to address our water, heating and repair needs. We are incredibly grateful.
We asked for your help this week because it is a very challenging time right now and our resources are strained. Also, since it is National Justice for Animals Week, we wanted to share with our friends and supporters some of the issues we face while providing the very best quality of life, which all animals deserve.

We›re asking one last time for your help this week. We have a large population of animals — much larger than most municipal zoos. A significant portion of our animals are geriatric or have special needs. Medicine is expensive. Analysis is expensive.  And, treatments are expensive.

The Wildlife Waystation has a full-time veterinary team providing daily care. Most sanctuaries rely on contracted veterinary support services to care for animals weekly, or even monthly in some cases.

For more information about the nonprofit animal sanctuary, call 818-686-6681 or visit WildlifeWaystation.org.

Placerita Canyon Nature Center
They have had a lot of water in Placerita Canyon, but the Nature Center is doing very well, says Evelyne Vandersande, editor of the nonprofit’s newsletter, “The Rattler.”

“There is no major problem with the stream, but it is running, and we love to see kids coming to play in the water,” Vandersande says. “I am sorry to say that we just received the news that the Canyon Trail won’t be open any earlier than next November. We had hoped it could be sooner.”

The Placerita Canyon Nature Center is planning its annual Open House, held on May 11, 2019.

Regular Programs
Every Saturday the PCNC offers a Family Nature Walk at 11 a.m. and a Native Live Animal Presentation at 1 p.m. There is no charge for these programs.

Every second Saturday of the month there is a docent-led Bird Walk starting at 8 a.m. for beginning to advanced birders. Bring binoculars, a field guide and water.

Every third Saturday of the month there is a Twilight Hike. Here’s the schedule:
March 16 7:00 pm

April 20 7:00 pm

May 18 8:00 pm

June 15 8:00 pm

July 20 8:00 pm

Every third Sunday of the month is the Community Nature Education Series, held at the Nature Center at 2 p.m. with a different topic each month. Check the website calendar for the current schedule.

Every fourth Saturday of the month there is a “Blooms of the Season” wildflower walk from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Every second Saturday of the month there is a “Nature Tots” program for children 3 to 5 years old from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Pre-Registration is required.

Canyon Country Resident Receives Award from PCNC

The annual Paul Levine Cup was presented to Placerita Canyon Nature Center docent Suzy Hermann of Canyon Country.

“Suzy’s attention-grabbing techniques while making a classroom presentation and unique educational approaches while teaching children is exactly what the Paul Levine Cup represents,” says an article in “The Rattler.” “Suzy motivates children in a way that enables them to understand and appreciate the natural features of Placerita Canyon. Many children come away saying they had the best day of their life.”

Originally from La Canada, Hermann became enamored with the outdoors as a youngster.

“My brother and I could wander the canyons, climb trees, throw rocks and just plain run around exploring all there was to enjoy outdoors,” she says. “It’s always better outdoors. We had dogs, cats, rats and snakes to keep us busy.”

She graduated from John Muir High School in Glendale and entered the nursing program at Pasadena City College. It was a chance meeting at a gas station where she jumped out of her car and hollered, “Hi ya, handsome!” that led to a 55-year marriage, the birth of a son and daughter – and now three grandchildren as well.

The Hermann family moved to Canyon Country when it was still called Saugus, where she heard about the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates and became a member.

Life took her away from the PCNC during the years of playing softball and soccer, coaching sports, teaching swimming, teaching Sunday School, all while putting in 50 years of nursing.

“I always intended to return actively to the Nature Center and eventually did,” Hermann says. “All I had to do was retire, which came about six years ago. … For me, the best part of being a docent is time spent with the kids, enlightening them with new knowledge about the beauty of animals, plants, ecology and how to enjoy and value all that nature presents, and helping them realize that nature is not to be feared, but to be protected, while hungrily exploring it all.”

Film Screenings at Congregation Beth Shalom

| Canyon Country Magazine, Entertainment | March 16, 2019

A place of worship isn’t normally a venue for screening movie entertainment, but for the leadership at Congregation Beth Shalom’s monthly film series, being outside of the mainstream is a good thing.

“Five years ago, the CBS Film Series started as a way to bring wonderful and little known independent films to the community,” said Suzannah Warlick. “The two movie theaters in Santa Clarita typically show the same big budget blockbusters, (but) independent films don’t have those same budgets for publicity. They’re usually confined to film festivals and other venues you have to be in-the-know to find.”

The public is welcome to attend. And to get a taste of how unique the event is, among the movies they’ve screened are “Land of Milk and Funny” about an American Jewish standup comedian bringing colleagues to Israel and “93 Queen” about a Hasidic lawyer who creates the first all-female ambulance corps in New York City.

The CBS Film Series was designed to bring these diverse and lesser-known films into the public eye. At Congregation Beth Shalom’s first screening they only had 19 people in the audience, but it’s grown exponentially since then, so now they can typically expect about 100 people at the monthly event.

“With audience members spreading the word and bringing their friends, the film series even attracts people from neighboring communities as close as the San Fernando Valley and as far as Los Angeles,” Warlick said.

And the value is also a big draw. For the price of a $5 ticket, you get lunch and popcorn along with the movie.

“It’s a terrific way to meet new people and broaden your film horizons,” Warlick added. “We try our best to bring directors, producers, or relevant speakers to accompany the film for a Q&A. If we can’t make that happen, we still give the audience interesting information so they come away with an even better understanding of these amazing movies.”

The most recent film the group screened was “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,” which has a score of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The film featured Carl Reiner’s interviews with 90-year-old celebrities to get their insights about life. Dick Van Dyke, Kirk Douglas and Betty White were among those in the movie.

To stay informed about the Congregation Beth Shalom Sunday movies, you can get on a list to receive updates by emailing them at cbsfilmseries@gmail.com. You can also “like” the CBS Film Series on Facebook. Or you may also join more than 1,000 members on the Santa Clarita Monthly Independent Film Series Meetup group on Meetup.com.

All Locked Up – escape rooms

| Canyon Country Magazine | February 15, 2019

It turns out a lot of people like to be locked inside a room with their friends and rely on their wits to find a way out. In fact, many of them put their money down and spend their free time in jails, crypts and police stations … well, sort of.

Escape rooms are creatively designed live action puzzles, where players get an hour to follow clues and find their way out.

If most of your neighbors are still doing the usual “dinner and a movie,” when they go out, they now have a chance to get out of a rut and try something new. As of two months ago, residents on the east side of the SCV can experience the fun and stimulation of an escape room without leaving Canyon Country. All Locked Up just opened behind Denny’s on Soledad next to Betitos in the space where Flair Beauty School existed for decades.

Mike Motherspaw and his girlfriend Danielle Desch wanted to give people of all ages a new option for entertainment and they chose a business that’s close to home – in more ways than one. Both Canyon Country natives, it’s an area that hasn’t had one of these popular live gaming sites in the past. And they chose the business model they did because they’re huge personal fans of attempting all kinds of escape rooms. So far, they’ve been to 45 different sites.

“Wherever we go we end up doing escape rooms – Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego – and we’ve done quite a few in Arizona,” Motherspaw said. “That’s what we do when we travel.”

But they’re not alone. The escape rooms at All Locked Up are already occupied at a pretty remarkable rate, a testament to the pastime’s popularity.

“We’ve met people who’ve done over 200 escape rooms,” Motherspaw said. “There are some real enthusiasts out there.”

If you haven’t been through one yourself, you may be wondering if visit after visit would get boring … but they’re all different. Motherspaw compares it to pizza, pointing out the obvious differences between what you get at a restaurant like Vincenzo’s vs. Costco. And that philosophy goes into designing their rooms at All Locked Up.

“It starts with a theme,” he explained. “One of our two rooms is a garage. Not a cave man’s garage – it’s grandpa’s garage … saws on the wall, it smells like oil, there’s still sawdust on the ground. It’s like an old garage.”

Then there’s the puzzle part of the business, which refers to the challenges participants face to “escape” the room.

“Once you get your theme you ask, ‘What do you find in a garage you could make a puzzle out of?’” Motherspaw said. “Some escape rooms are just keys and locks. Some are very simple. Sometimes we over-think puzzles … sit back and relax, don’t over-think it.”

His partner is the one who’s deep into thinking through and designing the puzzles, he said.

“My favorite aspect is when people go into our rooms and they say, ‘Wow – how do you pull this off?’” said Desch. “We love when people escape – their excitement and happiness when they get out, when they successfully do the room.”

In “The Garage,” which the couple considers a medium-to-hard range in difficulty, there’s about a 40 percent pass rate. That means that 60 percent of groups attempting to escape don’t get out within the hour allotted. But if that sounds too challenging or not challenging enough, All Locked Up has levels of difficulty you can choose from when you take on their other escape room, which is called “The Classroom.” Various paths are built into it, so it accommodates groups in a range of ages and stages.

“Every sound, everything you see, what things you see on the walls – the white boards, the clock above the white boards, like a movie, you forget that you’re in a retail location,” Motherspaw described. “Everything that comes into your brain when you think of a classroom has to be there.”

The Classroom is appropriate for all ages – 6 to 106, Motherspaw says – partly because you can choose the level of difficulty and also because they designed it to resonate with a family-centered community.

“All we care about is that they have a good time,” Desch said. “Even during the experience, we maybe give them an extra clue if they do a dance-off for instance … just as long as everyone who comes through has fun.”

Motherspaw is mostly responsible for the construction, which he said is minimal, involving just wood, dry wall and paint, for the most part. They plan to add “Aunt Debbie’s Apartment” next month and “The Morgue” close to Halloween. Their fifth room will be a rotational room, which means its theme will change regularly. “The Garage is going to stay,” Desch said. “It’s very customized.”

The business owners do their research out in the field. “Every time we leave an escape room we create a pro-con list,” Motherspaw said. “What did we like, what can we avoid, like if we’ve seen that puzzle too many times.”

The escape room themes he’s grown tired of, he said, are science labs and crime investigation rooms such as police stations. The most important aspect of the room design, he said, “is to be immersed in the experience. If you’re in The Garage there’s nothing that reminds you that you’re not in a true garage. Some people are all about the puzzles, but at the same time, it’s important to me that you walk into a room and it smells right, it feels right.”

All Locked Up is located at 18914 Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country. You can reach the staff at 661-235-6969 or book your escape room experience at ALUSCV.com.

Voice of Empowerment Karli Webster brings it home with personal music on a new EP

| Canyon Country Magazine | February 15, 2019

Many an author with a book launch or an artist with a show has echoed concerns about how much appreciation they can expect from their hometown audience.

But if you’re Karli Webster from Canyon Country, you just got confirmation you really can go home again.

After becoming a solid Season 13 contender on “The Voice,” Webster is pursuing her vocal music career, including a newly released EP, “Bittersweet,” which she shared with an audience at Wolf Creek Brewery in Valencia last month.

Suzy Arias joined her friend to see Karli Webster perform.

Karli Webster (left) visited with locals Daniel Baca, Ysela Coch and Kennedy Poirier before the show

There were more than just a few familiar faces filling the Spiegeltent at Wolf Creek, waiting for the chance to hear the 22-year-old’s latest music. You could see Webster working the room, exchanging hugs with former classmates and chatting with family friends between performances by musicians that preceded her onstage – The Band Lexington and Dakota Spencer.

She stopped at a table to talk to Kennedy Poirier, who attended Valencia High School when Webster was at Canyon High. She said she’s becoming reconnected to the singer through a mutual friend, Ysela Coch, who invited Poirier and another friend, Daniel Baca, to the concert.

A former Sylmar High School classmate of Webster’s father, Ronson, was there for the concert. Valencia residents Lisa Sickafoose and her 18-year-old daughter, Jordan, wanted to hear the latest Karli Webster music after watching her on “The Voice.”

“It was amazing,” said Lisa Sickafoose about watching Karli on TV. “I was biting my nails.”

The release party and the new album were a great forum to show the young singer’s artistic growth since “The Voice.” Webster is defining herself with more clarity, which adds depth to her original music – which, in turn, connects her to the listening audience.

The five tracks on Karli’s new EP “Bittersweet” include original music, one song that the 22-year-old wrote seven years ago.

When she wrote “Catching Air” at age 15, Webster was ruminating over an end to a relationship that taught her the importance of self-worth and personal strength. For the “Bittersweet” EP she reworked the number with songwriters Terra Naomi and Hilton Wright and the album’s producer Dennis Herring, who’s worked with Counting Crows, Modest Mouse and Jars of Clay.

Dan, Jim and Deanne Barton took a table in the Spiegeltent to hear Karli Webster sing.

The song “When It’s Over” communicates her struggle to cope with anxiety and panic disorder.

“What’s a Gal to Do,” which dropped on digital service providers early this month, sends a broad message. “This song is about embracing femininity as power, regardless of who you are or what that means to you,” Karli explained. “I wanted to play off of the ‘sensitive, innocent, hopeless’ narrative that has been consistently used to define women in film, music, and history.”

“Anyone” is the first song Karli wrote after she was released from “The Voice.”

“At this time in my life I had absolutely no idea where my life was headed, but I knew for certain that I didn’t need anyone to tell me who I needed to be, and this song is about that,” she explained.

There’s another thing Karli Webster’s experiences seem to have taught her over the last couple of years, which you could see from the way she seamlessly connected people from the past with her current message along her artistic journey.

And that is: “The longest way round is the shortest way home.”

New Urgent Care a Shot in the Arm for Canyon Country

| Canyon Country Magazine | February 15, 2019

Your son splits open his knee; your daughter sprains an ankle; and you have chest pain. The old school solution may have sent your son to the doctor’s office, your daughter to X-ray, and you to the ER.

But now, Canyon Country has one stop to treat all of those circumstances: Exer More Than Urgent Care in the Facey Medical Building on Soledad Canyon Road.

Injecting the words “new” and “convenient” into a description of the east side of the Santa Clarita Valley is, for some residents, a big win.
But another claim that may be felt even more acutely by residents is that, by contrast to hospitals, “Exer is a fraction of the cost and wait time.”
According to Truven Health Analytics, 71 percent of visits to hospital emergency departments are unnecessary or could be avoided.
“We are going to redefine what urgent care is,” said Exer More Than Urgent Care CEO Rob Mahan. “We’re pretty passionate about what we’re doing here.”

What they’re doing, Mahan said, is offering patients a wider range of services commonly associated with hospital emergency departments, which lowers patient costs. Most urgent cares, for instance, won’t administer intravenous fluids, mostly because it ties up a room, which limits the facility’s profits.

“Low-acuity patients are going to ERs, where there are the highest cost treatments,” he said. “It’s unnecessary to send someone to the ER for an IV. When someone is transferred to an ER (from Exer), we review everything. We look at why.”

Exer More Than Urgent Care has a 2 percent transfer rate, he said, while other urgent cares send up to 20 percent of their patients to hospitals due to a lack of onsite treatment options.

Canyon Country residents won’t have to darken the doors of a hospital for a comprehensive set of services from EKGs and X-rays to pharmacy and lab tests. Exer claims to treat 80 percent of the cases typically seen in an ER and patients can purchase medications on-site for a flat fee of $25. The goal is to bring emergency medicine closer to patients, so Exer More Than Urgent Care partnered with Facey Medical Group to offer the walk-in ER alternative.
You might say it’s just what the doctor ordered, considering the Canyon Country area is a 15-20 minute drive to reach an ER. The new arrival’s proximity to homes may even mitigate occurrences of code blue situations.

Mahan made a strong statement to sum up the facility’s purpose. He said, “We’re going to revolutionize what an urgent care should be.”

Exer More Than Urgent Care is located in the new Facey building at 14550 Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country and it is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is the 10th Exer facility to open in Southern California, the second in the Santa Clarita Valley. Other locations include: Calabasas, Pasadena, Northridge, Beverly Hills, Newbury Park, Sherman Oaks, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and Stevenson Ranch. For more information, visit Exerurgentcare.com/urgent-care-canyon-country.

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