Marsha McLean is serving as mayor for the fourth time, having previously served in 2007, 2011 and 2015. Her selection this time was most acrimonious, as Bob Kellar nominated Cameron Smyth before McLean nominated herself and received the necessary three votes, though not before outgoing mayor Laurene Weste seconded Smyth’s nomination, then cast the deciding vote for McLean, much to Smyth’s annoyance.
But that’s past, and McLean has much she wants to do in her year as mayor. She spoke to the Gazette by phone for 33 minutes last week, with her comments edited only for clarity and relevance to the questions asked. (Editorial comments are included in parentheses.)
Do you have any final comments you want to make about the selection process?
The incident was unfortunate, but I am the mayor and I intend to move on and represent all of our residents as they deserve to be represented.
What goals do you have for this year?
The most common comments I get when I’m out and people come up to me and they say, “We’re a growing city but we want to let you know that we really appreciate the emphasis on families, that we are a clean, safe city and a wonderful place to live, and we still have that hometown feel.” So, one of my goals is to make sure it stays that way. As a city grows, sometimes our residents can get lost in the shuffle, but I want residents to feel like they’re a part of the process and know where to go to get information that they need, and to make sure that it’s factual information, that it’s correct information. So, I’m going to be meeting with Ken Striplin, the city manager, to see how we can accomplish more public output and more knowledge about how to access the city council.
You mean beyond the time for public comment at city council meetings?
Absolutely. Yes. Everyday, because a lot of people, if they read something on Facebook that may be true or may not be true, and people go, “Oh my gosh.” And then they start being concerned when the actual information on it is quite different than from what they might be thinking it is. So, I want to try to help with that.
The state makes it really difficult for local governments by putting restrictions on how city councilmembers can publish and communicate information to our residents. The state, they can send out newsletters, individual Assemblymen or state Senators or even federal elected officials can send out newsletters. We can’t do that because the state has put restrictions on it. The city’s not allowed to mail anything out with our picture on it or from us. It has to come from the city manager. A lot of times, we’re kind of in the background, and people don’t realize we’re accessible and available to them.
(Reporter’s note: According to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, a councilmember could send an email to any or all constituents who request information, and a city can email a newsletter that includes councilmember photos because emails are not considered “tangible” items and, therefore, are not subject to the state’s mass-mailing prohibitions.)
What specific outreach ideas do you have?
I’m going to brainstorm with Ken and Carrie (city spokesperson Lujan) and see what we can do this time in order to bring people in and just let them get information that they may need to contact city council members, and how to get information. We have a great website but, unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t aware that they can go on that website and pretty much get any type of information they need. So, that’s one thing that needs to be better implemented. I don’t know exactly yet, but it’s going to be something, and it’s going to be hopefully be a fun thing and an informative thing.
How about publishing your phone numbers?
I’ve got a listed phone number. It’s my home office number. It’s on every single piece of literature that I have ever sent out. During my campaign, it’s always accessible.
I’m really always busy anyway. It doesn’t matter if I’m a councilmember, mayor pro-tem or mayor. I’m always busy because I think it’s really important to be involved in local organizations and not just go to events but actually work on the committees and work nonprofit events. I think it’s important to be involved that way. I also think it’s extremely important for our city to be involved in regional organizations. I’m very well known at Southern California Association of Governments. I sit on their policy committee and their regional council. I’m involved with the League of California Cities; and on all of these things that keep happening where our taxes keep getting raised, I am there at the beginning on stakeholder committees trying to help our residents. For instance, on this Measure W thing that just passed, I’m not sure that it was overwhelmingly passed (Reporter’s note: It passed with 69.45 percent of the vote; it needed two-thirds), but I’m not sure that residents and businesses know how much it’s going to cost them come July 1. Our city already pays a stormwater fee, and I’ve been in there from the beginning attempting to have them understand that we need to get a credit for what we already pay. There’s still more work to be done on that. I belong to an elected official stakeholder committee, and I was a charter member of that. I’m still going to be working on that and trying to understand exactly what that’s going to do.
So, you want to continue to work behind the scenes?
Exactly. That’s extremely important. On transportation, I’m a director on the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments. I’m vice chair of the North County Transportation Coalition. I’m also founder of North Los Angeles County Communities Protection Coalition that opposes any high-speed rail route that adversely affects any community, from Burbank to San Fernando, Sunland, Tujunga, Acton, Agua Dulce and such. Personally, I feel the money being spent would be much better served fixing our current infrastructure.
What adverse effects of high-speed rail to you want to avoid?
Fortunately, since they were going to be coming through Santa Clarita, most of it was going to be above ground, and it was going to be going through Sand Canyon and destroying churches and schools and residents. They changed that. They moved it farther east, and they put most of it underground (Reporter’s note: Current plans are for a 4,000-foot tunnel about 400 to 500 feet below the surface along the 14 Freeway from Sand Canyon to the Vulcan mine site close to Lang Station Road). When you do that, there could be vibrations. When they go in and out of the tunnel, there’s all kinds of noise. There’s safety issues, and also they’re planning to split some open space farther north in half that we worked very hard to gain, near the Cemex mine. (Reporter’s note: McLean has expressed concern that the Vista Canyon project could be affected.) There’s just all kinds of things they’re going to be discussing when they come out with their environmental impact report, and you need to get in there early to make sure that they address the issues that are needed to be addressed. I continuously attend all of the meetings and comment, so we’re going to be very involved in that.
What will your role be once the Bureau of Land Management releases its final report on the Cemex mine?
We’re just going to have to see. We’re really hopeful that it’s going to come out and be positive for us, and it will be done. We don’t know. … In my opinion, it’s been going on way too long.
Right now, there’s nothing we can do but wait and hope that the decision comes down that has a positive outcome. There’s lots of things that can be done once the decision comes out if it doesn’t go our way. That’s hypothetical.
In 2008, the city challenged the validity of the mining contracts and ended up paying Cemex $524,476.60 in attorney fees. Would the city consider suing again?
I cannot tell you what the city will or will not do at this point. I will say that it’s going to be a difficult road if they try to get their permits and stuff. Anything that is said right now is hypothetical because we don’t know yet. I can tell you that we’re not going to let it go through easily.
Santa Clarita has new state and federal representation from Democratic women who are from Santa Clarita. How as mayor do you plan on leveraging that?
It’s really important to be able to work on both sides of the aisle, so to speak. I have always come across as, the position of a councilperson is non-partisan, and I have always been able to work on both sides. I have friends on both sides. I respect other people’s opinions and I think it’s important, especially now, to communicate that. I plan to carry that forward as mayor and have a relationship with both Katie Hill and Christy Smith to make sure that we continue to achieve the monies we need and the attention that we need.
Could Santa Clarita benefit because Hill is from the area and Steve Knight was from Palmdale?
Steve Knight may have been from the Antelope Valley. He was always here and always available and always accessible. He worked very hard for Santa Clarita.
Has anyone communicated with Hill that Santa Clarita expects the same treatment?
We have reached out. Actually, the chamber of commerce had a get-together, and Katie Hill and Christy Smith were both there. I was very impressed with both of them and how they plan to make sure that our citizens are represented well. I’m looking forward to working with both of them very closely and making sure that we have great relationships.
What if some person or persons comes forward and sues the city over California Voting Rights Act violations, as was done before?
Let’s just wait and see what happens on that. My only comment would be I don’t understand why anyone – our city forefathers put together our city government, and it has worked for over 30 years. I don’t know why anyone would want to try and put another expense to take something that works and to change it.
Probably because they think it doesn’t work anymore and needs to be changed.
Well, that’s going to be up for debate. I can’t speak to hypotheticals. I just hope that people will think long and hard before they bring that to our city.
In light of the selection process, is it your goal to mend fences or bridge gaps with other councilmembers?
This year, we’re going to be overseeing the opening of the new sheriff’s station, the new senior center, the new Canyon Country Community Center, the new library community and arts center in Saugus, working with Supervisor (Kathryn) Barger for hopefully a new cultural arts center, continue the progress in Old Town Newhall, providing upgrades to infrastructure in older, established communities; the cleanup of Whittaker-Bermite, new roads through there once it’s clean: Magic Mountain Parkway, Santa Clarita Parkway, Via Princessa; traffic improvements; Antelope Valley Metrolink improvements, for instance late-night trains to L.A., the list goes on and on. As mayor, I’m going to be making sure that all of those things happen. I take being mayor extremely and very seriously, and I will be busier this year, but it is an honor and it is also fun. We have a lot of things we need to accomplish.
Do you expect all of those things to be completed and open this year?
It is in our 2020 plan, so some will be open this year, some are in the process of being built, but it still needs to be seen through the process.
You didn’t mention the Laemmle Theatre and permanent homeless shelter. Did you want to include those?
Yes. Those are two things that are extremely important. I serve on the city’s homeless ad hoc committee and will be continuing to have meetings on that. We need to make sure Bridge to Home gets the funding they need from the county. We pay an awful lot of taxes since that sales-tax measure (Measure H) passed, and I’m not real happy with the fact that money that could have come to Bridge To Home went somewhere else because they said they didn’t have enough. We cannot continue to be put on the back burner with that county money that has come in with that Measure H money.
Are you referring to the nearly $1 million in grant funds that Bridge To Home thought it was getting?
I am referring to any grant that Bridge To Home applied for that they had expected to get but did not because the money was spent elsewhere.
Is it a goal to have the homeless shelter built?
It’s been our goal and it continues to be our goal.
Repeating the question: Are you interested in smoothing over the edges with the other councilmembers?
As mayor, I plan to move on and represent all of our residents as they deserve to be represented. I am always willing and able to work cohesively to make sure our residents are well represented.
Regardless of who’s on the council?
Of course. I have always worked within our council to make sure that we are able to come to a consensus. We can’t always come to a consensus, but I can’t imagine anyone on our city council is looking forward to not working together.