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And Then There Were Twelve

| City Council | 2 hours ago

After a historic 15 candidates vied for three seats on the city council, early election results indicated Wednesday that all three incumbents will once again serve on the Santa Clarita City Council.

The positions will be occupied by Mayor Laurene Weste, Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean, and Councilman Bill Miranda. The Gazette interviewed four defeated candidates who were willing to share their campaign reflections.

Diane Trautman
Trautman finished fourth in the City Council race. Trautman detailed her thoughts on her campaign via phone interview.

“I always felt that (the race) was going to be fairly close, but having had sufficient experience as 12-year planning commissioner and being involved for many years, I thought that I would get a positive response from the community… I felt that the atmosphere was going to (make it) possible to win the seat this time.”

In order for candidates to get their messages out, forums held by College of the Canyons and other media outlets were facilitated as a way to streamline the process. However, Trautman believes that these formats may have been too structured.

“I think forums have their place, but it might have been helpful to have more debates to talk about some of the statements that were made and challenge them.”

As for raising money and obtaining the resources to run, Trautman felt that incumbents had the upper hand.

“It’s always very difficult raising money when you’re a non-incumbent. Incumbents have advantages through the press, and there is bias,” said Trautman.

“It’s also very difficult because when you are not an incumbent in an area like ours, it’s difficult for people who are not in your party to openly support you for fear of retribution. That’s been true forever. This year more people where willing to step forward and be listed in my contributors.”

Despite these challenges, Trautman expressed her gratitude for her supporters and the energy behind her campaign.

“People were engaged and they wanted to make change. All of the people that I met with wanted to know, “What can I do?” I want to work with them to find a way to plug them in to groups or to make this a better place for everyone.

“I am incredibly grateful for all of the help and support and all of the votes. Win or lose, I’m going to continue to work in this community, and I invite everyone to get in touch with me, because we need to keep the momentum going in this community.”

Ken Dean
Ken Dean finished fifth in the race. He didn’t purchase a ballot statement, and attributes his success to ballot designation and sign psychology.

“There are two factors. One, it’s known that if you’re first on the ballot, you have an advantage by 1.5 percent. Secondly, I am a teacher and an educator, and I have name recognition … Everybody respects a teacher.”

Dean is also an interior designer and claims he had an advantage with how he utilized color.

“You never put green and blue together on a sign. When I teach school, I cover things like the psychological effects of color. Green and blue just does not work, and distorts what you are putting on there. My sign was so simple: white background, blue letters.

Dean says he finished fifth in the last election using the same campaign strategy.

“I did the same thing did last time. I got out there myself and I walked street corners for hours.”

Running for council in the next election isn’t necessarily on his mind at the moment. However, he hasn’t turned down the possibility just yet.

“I’m doing very well. I believe that I’m saying things that the people want to hear. I still firmly believe that we need district voting and term limits. Everybody I’ve talked to said they felt they wanted term limits,” Dean said. “We need to have affordable housing and continue to protect our seniors and our veterans.”

Although Dean ran for council, he claims he wasn’t running “against” the incumbents, but simply does so because it is his right.

“All of the incumbents are friends. When you get people in office, they become stagnant and you need to have new people with new visions. If you don’t have leaders with new visions and new focus, city histories have proven to fall into decline.”

Dean’s final thoughts on the election included strong feelings toward endorsements and ballot statements.

“Endorsements aren’t worth the wet paper they are printed on. And the other thing that is an absolute, complete rip-off is the candidate statements that cost thousands of dollars,” Dean said. “Every one of the candidates below me spent thousands of dollars on these statements, and I beat them all. Everyone I’ve talked to doesn’t read those statements. I’m proof of it.”

Brett Haddock
This was Haddock’s second run for council, and he finished in eighth place.

“I didn’t really set expectations for myself, other than to do better than I did last time,” said Haddock. “I don’t know if I can really dissect it and say I would have done anything differently. I think it’s a very challenging race, and the voters by and large are ready for a change.”

Although the incumbents took the victory, Haddock believes that the results also reveal the public’s desire for new leadership.

“When you have 15 people for three spots, it splits the votes. If you tallied up everyone else’s vote (the incumbents) would have lost by a wide margin.”

For now, Haddock does not have set plans to run in 2020.

“You know, I’m going to take a minute and recoup. It’s exhausting, and I don’t even want to think about it. My plan is to sleep until January,” Haddock said. “I won’t outright rule it out, but I think my efforts right now are better spent making sure our elections are fair.

Part of his plan to make elections fair includes encouraging the city to switch to district voting.

“Regardless of how people may feel about districting, it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen. The three incumbents have been vocal about their opinions, but I don’t want to pay several million dollars to settle a lawsuit for something we know is going to happen. Within the next year we need an actual concrete plan about real districts in the 2020 election.”

Haddock ended the phone interview by imparting optimism.

“Looking at the numbers, we’ve seen a historic turnout for a midterm, and I just want to thank everyone for turning out and voting. This is how democracy works, and this is what democracy looks like. We have some hiccups in our election system, but nothing we can’t overcome, and I’m looking forward to a bright future.”

Jason Gibbs
Gibbs entered his first city council race without expectations, finishing ninth. In a phone interview the morning after the election, he described his campaign experience overall.

“It was fun, it was challenging, and it was emotional.”

When asked if he would have changed anything about his campaign, he had the following to say:

“I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I had a good message and a good platform. Things just fell where they fell,” Gibbs said.

So far, Gibbs has not thought about a future council run. “I’m still trying to figure out what I’ll have for breakfast,” Gibbs said. “I’ll stay involved in the community in some other fashion.”

As for his take on the election results, Gibbs was humble.

“In the end, the community spoke, and if they felt that they did a good job, then they are the people who should be there.”

Laurene Weste on Dockweiler, Decision-Making, Age

| Meet the Candidates | October 25, 2018

While every city council candidate who filed a ballot statement willingly consented to be interviewed, Laurene Weste didn’t. The Gazette emailed her questions back in July, per her request, yet she didn’t respond, and even hung up on a reporter who called seeking responses.

Privately, many believe Weste behaves this way because she doesn’t think the Gazette’s questions are worth her time. When she wants something, the belief goes, she can be as sweet as anyone. But when she has no use for someone, she ignores or acts arrogantly and demeaning. As Diane Trautman said, “Laurene tends to talk to people like children.”

At the recent candidate’s form at College of the Canyons, a reporter asked Weste if she was ready to answer the questions. She smiled and said, “You have no questions.”

But the Gazette had 11 questions, so when Weste appeared at last week’s Canyon Country Advisory Committee City Council Meet & Greet, Gazette editor Sarah Farnell posed three of them to Weste.

You have repeatedly denied you stand to gain nothing from the Lyons-Dockweiler extension, yet the perception persists. What definitive, tangible proof can you offer to put those naysayers to rest?

I think that’s a really good question. I’m glad you asked that. It gets it right off the table. When I got my place, I moved on a ranch and I wanted to be there because I had horses. I still have six … So, next to me is a city-owned road right-of-way, and they’ve had it from the county and it was apparently taken in the 1960s and the city inherited it, and they have it, and they’ll use it when they’re ready to use it. Like a lot of road easements in this valley, sit there for decades. I don’t get anything for it, and why would the city pay me for something they already own?

There is a perception that the councilmembers have their minds made up on an issue before they go into chambers and listen to public comment. We’ve heard this regarding the Laemmle Theater project, the Lyons-Dockweiler extension, the cannabis dispensary ban, the homeless action plan and the sanctuary city question. Is it true? On average, how much time do you spend reading staff reports? Do you do independent interviews and reviews of issues?

Oh my God, that’s a good question. I got a headache right now. I’m reading constantly because we get this much every week (turns to her left and spreads her hands out vertically) and then we get all the things from you. No, the council does not make up their mind ahead of time. There’s a lot of discussion and quite often the council will totally hold something over, or they ask questions. We have a good constituency. They bring things up and we try to work thought it, and if we can’t get you where you want to be where it’s comfortable, we continue until we do.

The council’s average age is 68, but take away Cameron Smyth and it’s 73.75. You will be 70 on Election Day.

Yeah! I’m good.

I quote Bob Kellar: “Are we supposed to stay on the city council until we’re 90 years old?” What do you say to those who believe it’s time for a new generation?

Well, it is time, and we will. Bob’s going off. I’m still roller skating, riding my horses and I water ski, so I’m having a heck of a good time. I think you should go off if you are not well, and I don’t care what that age is. I think you should not be there if you can’t do the workload. I personally think in America, you don’t start judging people by their age, but I’m very proud to be my age, which is 69 (her birthday is Oct. 26). I am thrilled that I can do actually more, probably, than I used to because I’m not sedentary. I’m proud to be the age I am, and I’m proud to work with people that have knowledge and compassion and have learned a lot through having life experiences, and I love working with Cameron, and I am sure we will get some other great young people.

A fourth question was not directly asked, but some of Weste’s opening statement could be interpreted as an answer.

You so often say how great Santa Clarita is. What is the best thing about it? What are the largest things that need addressing/improving/fixing? Why? How do you propose to solve these?

We’re improving traffic and we’re to expanding our road network. That’s critical. It’s important because we all are frustrated with traffic, including my family. We’re going to be building Via Princessa. That is the major connection from Canyon Country all the way across to the I-5, connecting up with Wiley (Canyon Road). We’re working to improve our transportation options. … Just this month, $47 million was approved to enhance and make the I-5 safer and open up that blockade where all that traffic is congested. We’ve got a new truck lane coming that will protect us driving along the 5 from the big rigs, and we’ll also have an HOV lane.

The remaining six questions have not been answered despite subsequent attempts to reach Weste.

What will you do differently than in any of your previous terms?

Brett Haddock is calling for term limits: a maximum of four. What do you say?

I quote Diane Trautman: “Laurene tends to talk to people like children.” What is your response?

I quote Trautman again: If a person comes before the council and is either critical or offers an opposing viewpoint, “It’s not treated as a matter of disagreement. It’s treated as an insult to the councilmembers. So, there’s not a welcoming of different ideas, and that’s not helpful to anybody. … It seemed to be that everyone has to agree, and that’s a dangerous thing to do, and it leads to groupthink.” Do you think her comments have merit? Why or why not?

Diane Trautman believes the city council should set policy and the city manager carries out the council’s plan, but here it’s backwards. Is she right? Do you believe the council should take the lead, or should it rely on Ken Striplin to set the agenda?

If elected, this would be your sixth term. You have said this will be your final term. Is there anything that could make you run for a seventh?

As always, the Gazette hopes Weste will reconsider and respond to these questions before Election Day. If she does, they will be printed.

Council Candidates Continue to Compete

| Meet the Candidates | October 11, 2018

The most recent city council candidate forum, which occurred Monday at College of the Canyons and was put on by the COC Civic Engagement Steering Committee, the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, resembled a presidential debate more than previous forums.

The 13 candidates (minus Cherry Ortega and Paul Wieczorek) sat in front of the room alphabetically, microphones spread out. Separating the candidates and the audience of about 50 citizens and press was an island of tables where sat three moderators who had a list of questions they would ask each candidate.

For two hours, the moderators asked, and the candidates answered. Those who have read the Gazette’s articles profiling the various candidates probably weren’t surprised at the answers, since the candidates restated what they already said. For example, Bill Miranda stressed that one needs three votes on the council to get anything done, Marsha McLean touted her experience, TimBen Boydston spoke about the lack of water, Brett Haddock talked about how he’s not working to focus exclusively on his campaign, etc.

Yet as the night went on, it became clear that winners and losers emerged. This is not to say that people placed in one or the other group have helped or hurt their chances for election. Nor does not being mentioned mean a candidate has either a great or no chance. It simply means that according to this reporter, on this one night, in this one forum, these won or lost.

WINNERS
1. The format. Alan Ferdman, the Canyon Country Advisory Committee chairman and one of the moderators, said the intention was to avoid asking a series of what he called “Gotcha questions” in favor of letting candidates talk about what they thought were important issues. A narrative each candidate had submitted provided the basis for the questions the panel of three moderators asked. (Only candidates who submitted a narrative were allowed to come, which was why Ortega wasn’t there.)

“I got a lot of positive feedback from a lot of candidates,” Ferdman said.

2. The incumbents. Holding office has inherent advantages. Candidates trying to unseat them often have to go on the attack to cause doubts in voters’ minds. But nobody directly went after Laurene Weste, McLean or Miranda. The closest anybody came were the times people alluded to “the council.” But nobody went after the three by name.

And there were opportunities. When incumbents championed the roads that would be built or touted the homelessness plan, challengers could have pointed out the increasing traffic problems, how needing here votes to place a matter on the agenda isn’t helpful or how the homeless shelter should have been built a long time ago – and then faulted them by name. But nobody did, and time is running out for any challenger to convince an undecided voter he or she is a viable alternative.

3. Logan Smith. The youngest candidate impressed many with his intensity and knowledge of the homeless problem in the city.

“Logan Smith, for his age, he was very knowledgeable and articulate,” Bruce Fortine said of the 25-year-old. “I think he’d make a good councilperson.”

4. TimBen Boydston. The former councilmember has presented himself as an impassioned man, and nothing changed Monday. He railed against the council’s decision to need three votes to place a matter on the agenda (the so-called TimBen Rule) and took the council to task over the water shortage.

“TimBen spoke well about his prior service,” supporter Steve Petzold said, “and his willingness to engage the public and study an issue before making a decision.”

5. Jason Gibbs. He came across as more polished and confident than when the Gazette interviewed him in July, perhaps giving people a reason to vote for somebody younger – even though his the-council-has-done-a-great-job message remained unchanged.

“Jason Gibbs, he’s articulate and knowledgeable,” Fortine said.

LOSERS
1. Diane Trautman. The one candidate who openly attacked the incumbents by name when the Gazette interviewed her in July did nothing of the sort on Monday. She said the next day she wanted to point out errors and inconsistencies with what the incumbents said but didn’t feel the format allowed for it.

One of her supporters, Stephen Winkler, was wearing a Trautman button, but nonetheless said he thought she had “an off night, but that was due to the questions. I know she’s hard-working and dedicated.”

2. Brett Haddock. He didn’t do enough to explain his positions. That was especially true when he was asked to explain his proposal to customize a computer system that will route a van or bus to a destination. Puzzled looks permeated the gallery. Haddock later thought he had spoken too broadly.

“I could see where I could have extrapolated more on policy,” he said. “I was off my game. I had gotten some family news that wasn’t great.”

3. Sankalp Varma. He admitted that he’s new to campaigning, having never run for public office before. His idea for a spiritual center made no sense, and snickers and skepticism met his long-term solution for a monorail.

4. Paul Wieczorek. He didn’t even show up, which surprised Ferdman because, “He contacted me expressing interest. I sent him a reminder on Saturday.” Wieczorek didn’t return a phone call asking why.

5. Elaine Ballace. She’s not a candidate but an actor who showed up hoping to ask the candidates questions. Unfortunately, the format didn’t allow for it, so she said she hopes to make it to the Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting Oct. 17 at the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge where the incumbents, Varma and Nichols are scheduled to attend.

Learning from the Curve – Miranda Ready for Candidacy

| Meet the Candidates | October 4, 2018

At some point since January 2017, Bill Miranda stopped thinking he was as an appointed city councilmember and considered himself a councilmember.

While it’s undeniable that Miranda was appointed to complete Dante Acosta’s term, he has been on the job for 21 months. The learning curve might have been steep – and he certainly brought his share of baggage with him – but Miranda says he is ready to take his place as an elected councilmember.
“There’s never a point when you feel like you got there because there’s always stuff,” he said Monday at a Newhall coffee shop. “But there’s a point where it became more palatable, where I understood it more. I’m not a politician, and even though I’ve been involved with the activities and all that, I’m no politician. I have no idea what it was going to take.”

What it took was weathering the storms brought by people seeking to delegitimize the appointment process and the person who was appointed. When Acosta left to serve in the Assembly, many people favored an election; the council balked at the cost and preferred appointment. Many thought the person who received the highest number of votes and wasn’t elected – TimBen Boydston – should be elected; the council balked at that, too. And when many people thought that with 50 applicants there should have been forums and information sessions, the council balked at that, too.

Miranda said those were emotional situations, “but had nothing to do with me, frankly.”

After winning appointment – in which he told the story of being the last to apply when city lists show he was 36th – Miranda had to deal with aspects of his past.

Specifically, the Gazette wrote a series of articles questioning where was monies raised in 2014 by the Latino Chamber of Commerce, in which Miranda was CEO. Miranda was never alleged to have embezzled anything; he simply was unable to ever provide proof of where the money went and passed responsibility to the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce because the two entities merged. (He did, however, take responsibility in November 2017 for failing to ensure the Latino chamber filed its tax documents on time.)

During an April 28, 2017 show on KHTS, he pounded his open right hand on some papers and said he had proof. The Gazette offered to meet him anywhere at any time to see it; he never met and instead insisted the paper already had it. (Earlier this year, the Gazette asked Miranda for proof of his military service; he provided it.)

On May 12, again on KHTS, Miranda accused Gazette publisher Doug Sutton of bias in challenging where the money went. During the May 23 council meeting, then-Signal publisher Chuck Champion verbally attacked Miranda for failing to show where the Latino Chamber money was and for accusing Sutton. He also took the other councilmembers to task for not properly vetting Miranda before appointing him.

Miranda said nothing that night and later declined comment. On Monday, he said, “I grew up in the (19)50s and 60s as a Puerto Rican kid in New York City – not just a Puerto Rican kid, a dark-skinned one. I have taken as much abuse in my life as anybody would ever want to take. That’s the bad news. The good news: You get a thick skin.”

Synchrony Bank filed suit July 1, 2017 and later won a default judgment for about $5,000. A settlement court date has been set for next year. Miranda said Monday there is nothing new to report.

The Franchise Tax Board suspended his limited liability company, Our Valley Group, for failing to meet tax requirements. Miranda said an agreement was reached, and a payment plan was put in place.

He used his councilmember title in an Our Valley Magazine ad, which possibly violated a 1974 law that prohibits an elected or appointed official from using the office for personal gain. Miranda admitted that was a mistake.

When he was appointed by a 3-1 vote, Councilmembers Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean and Cameron Smyth were effusive in their praise. Nine months later, members weren’t commenting.

Yet now, those same councilmembers endorsed him. Smyth said he never regretted voting to appoint Miranda but acknowledged the steep learning curve Miranda had.

“Like anybody who gets elected or appointed the first time, you don’t realize how much work is involved until you are doing the work,” Smyth said. “Bill has done an excellent job of really putting his head down and learning the issues and trying to do what he thinks is best.”

Miranda said the most important lesson he has learned: “It takes three votes to get anything done. Even though it’s obvious, it’s a hard realization.”

To help learn that, he takes to heart what he believes is his primary mission as a councilmember: to listen and talk to everyone. He might live in Valencia, but he knows he represents Canyon Country, Saugus, Newhall, etc.

There are three issues the constituency cares about the most, he said: public safety, traffic and housing. Yet his campaign website only offers the following platforms: economic growth and initiatives for veterans, arts and seniors. There is one mention of public safety within the economic growth page.

Miranda did, however, address the traffic situations during the 54-minute interview. He said the solution is in three parts, the first being the traffic operations center hat already exists on the third floor in City Hall. The second part is the technology upgrades that continue. One such is adding and updating sensors that automatically start a timer when a car trips it. Miranda said it will take time, but one intersection he said has shown improvement is Sierra Highway and Rainbow Glen Drive.

The third part is to increase busses and trains. “We need to put more busses on the street, and they need to be more reliable,” Miranda said, acknowledging that many busses are currently half-filled and will continue to be until they run more efficiently.

“We need to budget more dollars for transportation. That’s a council matter,” he said.

And there needs to be more Metrolink trains because it makes no sense for people to have to cut their evenings short because they don’t want to miss the last train home, he said. While he said he knows the city has nothing to do with Metrolink, it’s up to councilmembers to advocate on the city’s behalf.

Is Miranda done learning on the job yet? He caused some eyes to widen when, during the last council meeting, he abstained during a vote to approve the consent calendar. He said it’s because he forgot to request an item be removed and didn’t want to vote no for everything else.

Until Nov. 6, however, he remains an appointed councilmember, even if “I don’t feel like I’m serving Dante’s term.”

Sankalp Varma Drives Council Campaign Forward

| Meet the Candidates | September 27, 2018

To Sankalp Varma, nothing makes more sense than having an Uber driver serve on the city council.

“It gives me a very real perspective on the community,” he said.

Actually, Varma, 47, is so much more than a driver. His father earned his Ph.D. in chemistry and metallurgy in his native India, and his mother was descended from royalty, he said. Sankalp, which can be translated from Hindi to mean “determination,” moved with his family from India to the Bronx, then Levittown, Penn., El Toro (now Lake Forest), Winston-Salem, N.C., Bonita, Sherman Oaks and Santa Clarita, where he lives with his wife and son.

The birth of his son, Max, four years ago is what put him on the path to Uber. He had already made his money working in production and post-production in the entertainment industry. Then he started DVD manufacturing for Lightning Media. At his peak, he made one million DVDs a month. When the DVD market downturned in 2011 in favor of digital downloads and streaming, Varma started distributing regional Indian films.

Max’s birth made him rethink his priorities. “I’m at a point where I’m lucky enough to spend time with him when I want,” he said.

He said he typically works 5:30 a.m.-noon (although he spoke to the Gazette at 10:15 a.m. Monday), then spends time with wife and son before heading back out at night.

As he gives rides to his various customers, it sometimes resembles HBO’s “Taxicab Confessions.” Riders talk about their problems and Varma listens, sometimes mentioning that he’s running for council.

What he hears has helped form his platform, which he says are full of “forward-thinking ideas with progressive ways to accomplish (them).”

Millennials and empty nesters bemoan a lack of nightlife. Varma can’t count the number of times he’s given rides to partygoers who have to leave the valley to drink, dance, socialize and whatever else they have in mind.

His idea: a rooftop club to take advantage of the wonderful views. It can have the alcohol flowing or it can be dry, depending on the need. He also thinks an entertainment and retail district near Six Flags Magic Mountain, similar to Universal CityWalk, would be a good idea.

Another group he often drives are those who need medical marijuana, convincing him that a dispensary is needed locally.

“If Canada has completely legalized it, and if our state has completely legalized it, there’s no reason people have to leave Santa Clarita to go get medicine,” he said.

The homeless population could be served by opening some sort of spiritual center to help people get sober “and get them work-ready immediately,” he said.

He’d also like to see a hospital or medical center in Canyon Country. As great as he finds Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (Max was born there four years ago), “every minute counts,” and traffic can make the trip longer.

To combat traffic, he proposes a monorail system and a people mover based out of the dry Santa Clara River that can connect the communities. “I live in traffic every single day,” he said. “I’ve heard we need to create more roads. We need a long-term solution. There’s a 30-year planned community near Magic Mountain (Newhall Ranch). That will bring 50,000 to 100,000 more people.”

Finally, he would like to see the city build an Olympic training center to coincide with the 2028 Los Angeles Games. He envisions an indoor track but also would like to include Castaic Lake in some way.

It took several tries during the 38-minute interview to get Varma to explain how the city council could help in these matters. He said he could provide the leadership to create opportunities, but it would take community members to step forward and put them into action. He said as a councilmember he could help by directing people to various federal grants and incentive programs or by seeking charitable trusts to donate.

The most important thing right now, he said, is to come up with ideas. “That’s what’s really missing,” he said. “It takes a community to get on the same page.”

Legal Battle Between Council Candidates Continues

| City Council, News | September 13, 2018

Brett Haddock will have his day in court Sept. 27 when his appeal of the restraining order fellow city council candidate Sean Weber secured against him will be heard in the state Court of Appeal.

Haddock said he had hoped that the court would stay the order on First Amendment grounds without a hearing, but the court’s tentative opinion backs Weber.

“We are inclined to find the appellate record inadequate to evaluate his constitutional claims,” the appeal said. “While Haddock may be allowed to publicly criticize Weber online, other evidence in the record showed a course of private harassing conduct directed at Weber and his family that justified the order.”

Weber said in a statement: “There is a group of online bullies (aka internet trolls) who try to shut down anyone who threatens their traditional power base. These groups of trolls (some paid) participate in and run social media forums targeting opponents for the sole purpose of harassing them.”

Haddock said his attorney told him it’s normal for an appeal court to come out with a tentative opinion that upholds the lower court’s ruling. Weber secured a two-year restraining order that expires July 2019, citing his fears that Haddock was going to “kill my family” because online posts from 2015 show Haddock talking about going on a “murderous rampage” and that Weber is Haddock’s “target.” Court documents showed Weber’s attorney also said Haddock posted some of Weber’s easily identifiable information such as address, date of birth and car’s license plate.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Laura Hymowitz issued the restraining order despite saying, “Most of what Mr. Haddock is doing just doesn’t quite reach the standard.”

Haddock provided the Gazette with a copy of his appeal and an amicus brief filed by two members of the UCLA School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic. Haddock claims the court erred in issuing a restraining order against him because the actions he took – he has said Weber objects to his calling him out for what Haddock sees as bullying – were protected under the First Amendment.

“Most importantly, he effectively concedes that he sought the Order because he viewed Mr. Haddock’s political speech as illegitimate,” attorney Kenneth White of the Los Angles firm Brown White & Osborn wrote. “He … sneers that Mr. Haddock – a citizen, privileged by the First Amendment to write about what he sees fit – ‘had made something of a second career of “shedding light” on people who displeased him.’ What he does not show is substantial evidence of harassing conduct …”

Haddock also sent the Gazette a screen shot of what he called “a defamatory website” that was up for one day in July. The page calls Haddock “charlatan, bully, fraud, abuser.”

Haddock said his attorney sent a note to Weber’s attorney, and the site went down.

Weber said he didn’t know anything about any website. “My attorney never said anything,” he said.

“He’s being pretty relentless,” Haddock said, “and he’s got his cronies coming after me, which is always fun.” Two people he named were Jeff Martin, who has said Weber inspired him to run for a William S. Hart Union High School District board seat, and Nick Rowin, a friend of Weber’s who owns a plumbing business.

Martin couldn’t recall ever having spoken to Haddock and guessed that his vocal support of Weber has caused Haddock to put him in that group. Rowin said it sounded like Haddock, who Rowin incorrectly called “a sitting council member,” accused him of online bullying, which he denied doing by saying, “absolutely not.”

He did, however, say he spoke to Weber about the case and posted an article on Facebook on Sept. 6 that included the transcript of the hearing.

“The intent Mr. Haddock had is pretty mean,” he said.

Weber provided an online plea from May 4, 2017 asking people to “please stay away from the negative direction some have gone. They want to drown out our voices with intimidation. Don’t be baited into a negative tone. I want their support too. So, please select your words carefully, showing intellect. Minds can be changed. Notice that the only ones that say anything negative about m also state that they don’t know me. Get to know each other. We are the community.”

For now, the restraining order stands, but Haddock said it has not yet affected his council campaign, although he expects Weber to “show up at my events and be as disruptive as possible.”

“People are aware of it,” he said. “The feeling I get is a level of admiration for weathering the storm for standing up to Sean Weber and his cult of personality. My fear is people won’t see it for what it is: calling out Mr. Weber. My hope is that it’s transparent.”

Sandra Nichols Campaigns as Voice for the Voiceless

| Meet the Candidates | September 13, 2018

Sandra Nichols describes herself thusly: “I’m 69 years old, I don’t work. I live on retirement and Social Security, I rent, I take the bus – I owned a car and gave it to my son last September – I am disabled.”

In other words, she considers herself perfect to run for city council to be “a voice for people who think they have no voice, that have limited financial resources, who have no say in the increase of their property taxes, no say in development.”
She said she feels so strongly about this that she’s using a payment plan to pay for the ballot statement. She further saved money by keeping hers to fewer than 400 words, thus paying $1,100 instead of $2,200.

Throughout the 52-minute phone interview, Nichols outlined various problems she has with the way things are run, opined how she would do things differently, and often struggled to make a point without further explanation.

She began with her experience: a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Indiana and a master’s in public administration from California State University, Fullerton. She was a branch manager in the home healthcare industry for almost 20 years, which gives her an awareness of what goes on in local government. She said one of her tasks was to write grants.

She then attacked three of the five current council members for their pedigrees. Bob Kellar, she said, “has made a lot of money. He has a real estate office on Friendly Valley.” (Its actual street address is on Sierra Highway; Kellar also has offices on Soledad Canyon Road and Avenue of the Oaks.)

About Laurene Weste, one of the incumbents Nichols is trying to unseat, she referred to the Lyons Dockweiler extension when she said, “When they cut through from Lyons (Avenue), she’s going to make a lot of money. She owns that property back there.” (Weste has repeatedly denied she would stand to gain anything but refused the Gazette’s request in July to show definitive proof.)

“Cameron Smyth has a name,” Nichols said, and then referred to Cameron’s late father, Clyde, by saying, “There’s a street named after him, for God’s sake.”

As for the other two other incumbents running Nov. 6, Nichols said she doubts Marsha McLean really is beholden to nobody – like McLean says – because, “You get a little campaign financing, you feel obligated. Those people who give you money expect something from you. I’m not fundraising at all.”

And without specifics, she questioned the methods Bill Miranda, who was appointed over Nichols and 48 others in January 2017, used in running the Latino Chamber of Commerce.

“I read about how he ran the Spanish chamber,” she said. “I didn’t think he had the experience or the knowhow or education to run anything like that. If a person is going to open a place and they don’t know how to do that and that and that … You delegate, so you get people who know that expertise. I was a good delegator.”

She said that if elected, she would do what she understood former councilmember (and current candidate) TimBen Boydston did: thoroughly research an issue before voting on it. She cited Boydston’s commitment to studying the Laemmle Theatres project as an example.

“I would try to read and review and talk to other people before I’d vote on an upcoming project,” she said. “I might be run off, but at least they would have a voice.”

Then she started discussing some platform points.

•She wants to protect low-income residents from an increase in city property taxes, even though the county, not the city, assesses and collects taxes; and she wants to give voice regarding new developments such as the proposed Sand Canyon Resort. The city council in July authorized an environmental impact report for the project, which would turn part of the Sand Canyon Country Club into a hotel resort of 217 rooms and 27 villas.

“I don’t think everyone in Sand Canyon wants that in their area,” she said. “I know people that live in Sand Canyon. They wonder how that development is going to affect traffic.”

•She wants to a 45 mph speed limit on Sierra Highway. She told of watching traffic speed by as she waited at the bus stop at Sierra and Flying Tiger Drive.

“I think of little babies in strollers. They don’t know if you’re down low, how it affects you,” she said. “I use a scooter. I’m down low. I almost got hit on Flying Tiger and Sierra. They go so fast, those big trucks. I don’t mean semis. Those SUVs. They don’t look down. They look up, and they’re whizzing by. Not just me. Pedestrians. There’s a lot of foot traffic on Soledad, Sierra, Via Princessa. I’m sure there are a lot of other parts in the city, but I can’t name them.”

•She wants to tackle and drug and homeless problems by including recovered drug addicts and former homeless people in the solutions because, she reasoned, they might know something about those issues.

“All these agencies will be involved with finding a solution, but not any ex-homeless people,” she said. “If you watch the news in L.A., a lot of things are started by ex-homeless people. They know.”

Finally, Nichols addressed her chances of winning a seat, despite not fundraising beyond calling registered voters from a county list she purchased in 2016 and placing signs that she kept from two years ago.

She will make the rounds, including Wednesday’s candidate forum at The Oaks Club Valencia, the Oct. 8 forum at College of the Canyons and the Oct. 17 Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting at the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge.

“I think my chances will be good if the affordable-housing and low-income people who don’t feel like they have a voice vote,” she said, “but you never know who’s going to vote.”

Always Advocating Alan – The 2018 Santa Clarita City Council Election: Who Should You Vote For?

| Meet the Candidates, Opinion | September 13, 2018

As the November 6, 2018 City Council Election draws closer, I frequently ask friends if they are intending to vote. What does not surprise me, is the number of those I speak with who don’t even know Santa Clarita has a city council, or cannot name anyone on it. While I can see some advantages to have such a blissful lack of knowledge, I know several council members who wish I shared such bliss. But, the reality is, since the Santa Clarita City Council has a large influence on all our city resident’s daily lives, we need to pay attention to their decisions.

Since the City of Santa Clarita’s formation in 1987, as a California General Law city, our residents have been represented by a five-member City Council. Every two years, we alternately elect two or three city council members. Currently, our city council members are elected “at-large,” meaning every city resident is given the opportunity to vote on every candidate. This year, there will be three seats up for grabs, currently held by Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean and Bill Miranda. Seats held by Bob Kellar and Cameron Smyth will become available in 2020.

Santa Clarita does not elect a mayor or mayor pro-tem; these are positions chosen amongst the city council itself. Their additional responsibilities include conducting city council meetings and leading various ceremonial occasions. Neither of these two positions is granted any authority in excess of the remaining city council members.

Now comes the challenge, because with 15 candidates on the ballot, it is almost overwhelming. Currently on the ballot is TimBen Boydston, Ken Dean, Jason Gibbs, Brett Haddock, Mathew Hargett, Marsha McLean, Bill Miranda, Sandra Nichols, Cherry Ortega, Logan Smith, Diane Trautman, Sankalp Varma, Sean Weber, Laurene Weste, Paul Wieczorek. (Do not consider the order of candidate names as having any significance other than they are in alphabetical order by last name.) You might be thinking, “Who are these people? What have they done? What do they want to do? How will this election affect my daily life? Whom should I vote for?”

That is precisely why I am writing this “self-help” column. First, I suggest you NOT vote for a candidate because your buddy likes them, their name is familiar, or they are a member of your political party. City councils are intended to be a non-partisan office, and I believe it should stay that way. The best way to make an informed decision on how to cast your ballot is, to listen to the candidates themselves. Determine which of the candidates you perceive will do the best job representing our city, your interests, and our future, and then cast your ballot knowing you are making the best decision possible for your city, yourself and your family.

Since 2006, the Canyon Country Advisory Committee (a division of the Santa Clarita Community Council) has conducted city council election events. For this election cycle, their “meet and greet” format will be used. Each participant will be given the opportunity to introduce themselves, have a 15-minute question and answer session (where audience members come to the microphone and ask the questions they consider most important), and an opportunity to wrap up. With only two CCAC meetings prior to the November election, and a two-hour time limit per meeting, only 10 openings were available. The CCAC Board of Directors made the decision to give priority to the candidates who had chosen to provide a ballot statement. At the Wednesday, September 19 CCAC Meeting, candidates TimBen Boydston, Brett Haddock, Logan Smith, Diane Trautman, and Sankalp Varma will be participating. At the Wednesday, October 17 CCAC Meeting, candidates Jason Gibbs, Bill Miranda, Sandra Nichols, Marsha McLean, and Laurene Weste will be participating.

Both “meet and greet” meetings will be video recorded and uploaded to Youtube. Links to the presentations will be provided on the CCAC Facebook Page, in my subsequent columns in the Gazette, and emailed to CCAC friends and members. But feel free to view the events in person and ask questions you believe are important. CCAC Meetings are held on the third Wednesday of the month, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Mint Canyon Moose Lodge Banquet Room, 18000 Sierra Highway in Canyon Country. Everyone is welcome, and the event is free.

Another great opportunity to see and hear the city council candidates in person will be occurring on October 8, when the College of the Canyons’ Civic Engagement Steering Committee, the Santa Clarita Valley League of Women Voters, and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee will be jointly hosting a Candidate Forum where all 15 candidates have been invited to participate. For this event, all candidates have been asked to provide information about why they should be elected to serve on the city council and what they believe are the top three issues facing Santa Clarita residents today. This information will be provided both online and in print at the forum.

This new and exciting format will be putting forward unique questions to each candidate, generated by the forum steering committee prior to the event. If you have any burning questions you would like raised, please forward the question and the candidate to be queried to alanferdman@yahoo.com and I will be sure to inform the committee of your suggestions. The COC Candidate Forum will be held in the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center, located at the College of the Canyons Valencia campus on Monday October 8. The forum itself will take place from 7 to 9 p.m., but if you can be there a little earlier, we would welcome meeting and hearing from you between 6:30 to 7 p.m. This meeting will be live-streamed, as well as video recorded and uploaded to Youtube. Links will be provided on each of the hosts’ Facebook pages. As with the other candidate events described above, everyone is welcome and there is no charge for admission.

Now, I hope you found this information worthwhile, informative, and you have been marking your calendar with these important dates. But in case you forgot, let me help you. Wednesday, September 19 is the First CCAC Meet and Greet, Monday, October 8 is the COC Candidate Forum, Wednesday, October 17 is the second CCAC Meet and Greet, and Tuesday, November 6 is Election Day. On the ballot, you will get to choose candidates for federal, state, and county offices, as well as Santa Clarita City Council choices. Each elected office is important, as decisions made affect our daily lives in some way. Yet, city council members provide representation closest to all of us. Taking a bit of time to find out about our city council candidates and making an informed decision is the hallmark of our great republic. I know I can count on you to make the right decision.

District Voting: The People Could Force the Issue

| City Council, News | September 6, 2018

When Mark White ran for city council in 2016, changing to district elections instead of at-large voting was one of his platform points. Although he’s not running this time, he still feels the city would be better served if there were elected representatives from various communities.

“We shouldn’t be a city where one half of one percent gets elected and decides who runs things,” he said. “District elections will make it harder for them to decide.”

Santa Clarita is one of the largest cities that has not moved to district voting, even though attempts have been made. Most famous was the lawsuit the city settled in 2014 after two Latino plaintiffs claimed they and their fellow Latinos’ votes were diluted under the California Voting Rights Act. The CVRA, which expands on the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, has been widely used to compel cities, school districts, water boards and the like to move to district voting. But the city didn’t, instead moving the election to November from April and going to cumulative voting, which a judge threw out.

White fears another lawsuit – and the settlement that taxpayers would foot – is coming.
“It’s inevitable,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if a lawsuit happened right after the election, even if (current councilmember) Bill Miranda gets elected.”

However, White is not actively looking for a plaintiff to sue, nor is he personally planning to sue, which wouldn’t work because the CVRA is used to prove minority groups have their votes diluted.

A lawsuit isn’t the only way the city would be forced to move to district voting. Two other ways exist: the council places the matter on the ballot or an initiative earns enough signatures to qualify for a vote.

Since three current councilmembers, Bob Kellar, Marsha McLean and Laurene Weste, oppose moving to district voting, the only way the council will put the matter to the people is if candidates who favor it are elected (McLean and Weste are running for re-election in November).

The other two councilmembers, Miranda and Cameron Smyth, are open to discussing it, although Miranda said in a text he wants “input from the public before deciding whether to introduce (the) measure to the council. The input needs to be a large sample.”

Candidates on the record of either favoring district voting or letting the people decide include Logan Smith, Diane Trautman, Brett Haddock (“We desperately need districts,” he said) and TimBen Boydston. Smith even went as far as calling for seven districts and directly electing the mayor, and Boydston said he would ask to place the matter on the council agenda during the very first meeting after he’s sworn in.

Common reasons given for making the move include spending less money to get elected and that the city is too large and too many people don’t feel like they are being heard.

“It’s time for our community to move in that direction,” Trautman said. “I want people to feel they are having a voice in their governance. This is something we (should discuss) to understand what it entails, what it involves, what the repercussions would be.”

Another possibility is the initiative process, which Haddock said he would explore if he were not elected. The state Election Code spells out the process for how a municipal initiative (as opposed to a state ballot proposition) could qualify for a ballot. Basically, proponents must file intent to circulate a petition, the initiative’s text and any other written statement or purpose (500 words maximum) to the city clerk, plus pay a maximum $200 filing fee. The same information also has to be published in a local newspaper.

Then the proponents have 180 days to collect enough signatures (10 percent of the city’s registered voters for a regular election, 15 percent for a special election) to qualify. This is where it gets expensive. Haddock and community activist Alan Ferdman estimated it would cost $100,000 to successfully qualify for a ballot, which was the cost to defeat Measure S. Most of those costs would be from hiring paid signature gatherers and advertising.

“With 30 to 40 people, it could be done,” Ferdman said, “but it would require a large amount of dedicated individuals that would be willing to spend three months or however long.”

Right now, the initiative process seems a real long shot. White said he hadn’t even thought about it, Trautman would be willing to work on it but not take the lead, and Haddock might take the lead but is worried about the cost. Smyth said he wouldn’t sign the petition.

Boydston also questioned whether district voting is as important to others as it is to White and Haddock, who put district voting among his top five priorities.

“I don’t see the issue, like many city-level issues, as being important enough to enough people,” Boydston said. “The population, as a whole, doesn’t have enough time to follow the arguments.”

Sean Weber Weaves Council Campaign

| Meet the Candidates | August 23, 2018

In some ways, what Sean Weber seeks to accomplish by running for city council is a return to true representative democracy, a truly involved electorate and no partisanship.

“That’s no longer happening,” he said Monday while sitting inside a Starbucks. “You have policies that are being dictated from Washington D.C. You have policies that are being dictated from both parties where everybody’s so polarized, they’re all fighting each other and they’re not following what’s really going on … to the point that people are tuning it out. It becomes so difficult that people are disengaging because of the polarization. You can’t have a conversation with someone without it getting into those kinds of things. … It’s reality and if you don’t go along with party politics, you’re ostracized.

“If I want to do something in this world, and I want to say at least I’m putting forth the effort, it may not be me that actually does it. Definitely, hopefully it sparks conversation. If you want to see change in this world, it starts with your home, it starts with your house, it starts with your community, it starts with your town, it starts with your friends. That’s what it’s about.”

And Weber has his friends. At least three expressed support online for him to run, and Jeff Martin said Weber inspired him to get involved, so he’s running for a William S. Hart Union High School District board seat.

“He also inspired a lot of people to pay attention to politics,” Martin said. “He’s definitely had an impact.”

Weber said he thinks there’s a problem when the same incumbents, and what he calls “the rotating circle that goes through all the commissions, all the water boards, all the school boards,” keep serving.

“They’ve done great to get us here, yet I’m not certain that they know what it takes to get us where we need to go,” he said. “We do not want to become the Valley.”

This campaign might prove quixotic, but it’s not stopping Weber. He knows there are many roadblocks standing in his way. He’s 36, and only Cameron Smyth (28) and Frank Ferry (32) were younger when first elected to the council. Also, he didn’t pay to have a ballot statement included (only five of 15 candidates didn’t).

Third, he has a criminal past, having pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of witness dissuasion in 2004. He spent six days in jail awaiting his hearing and later was sentenced to 36 months of probation and 192 hours of community service. His probation ended after 26 months, and his record was expunged. Court documents show Weber requested an early end to probation because “my employer is preparing to send me to law school and I would like to clean my record to begin the application process.”

Weber said Monday he never applied to law school. He also provided the name of the woman who accused him of witness dissuasion, but she did not return a phone call.

Weber said the matter was “a family issue” but said he wouldn’t be who or where he is today without having gone through this when he was 22.

However, he is still going though the matter of a two-year restraining order a court granted him against another city council candidate, Brett Haddock.

According to the court transcripts dated July 11, 2017, Weber sought protection because he feared Haddock was going to “kill my family” because online posts from 2015 show Haddock talking about going on a “murderous rampage” and that Weber is Haddock’s “target.” Weber’s attorney also said Haddock posted some of Weber’s easily identifiable information such as address, date of birth and car’s license plate.

“My parents’ house was singled out, and the car window was smashed,” Weber said Monday. “They took nothing.” Weber also posted a photo online of the smashed window.

The transcripts also reveal that Weber and Haddock don’t know each other personally and only met briefly during the 2017 city council appointment process.

“All these things taken together, it looks like Mr. Haddock has an unhealthy obsession with my client,” attorney Troy Slaten told the court.

Haddock’s attorney, Kenneth White, said the “murderous rampage” comment was Haddock’s problems with an insurance company. “They are trying to betray a two-year-old post as being something else,” White said.

In court documents, Haddock said that during the appointment process, Weber “threatened people with libel, slander, defamation for indirect quotes, but still had the spirit of what he was saying. He has engaged in – it really comes down to bullying. … I believe I have a morale (sic) obligation to stand up for people who abuse their public citizens. … I am not a violent person. I am adamantly a pain in the ass, but I’m just using my First Amendment rights to stand up for people that are being bullied.”

Superior Court Commissioner Laura Hymowitz, saying she finds it unusual for a private citizen to appoint oneself to go after bullies, issued the restraining order despite saying, “Most of what Mr. Haddock is doing just doesn’t quite reach the standard.”

The two cannot be in the same room until after July 2019, meaning that Haddock’s previously stated desire to have all city council candidates share a meal – and he invited all but Weber to do so – can’t happen.

Against the backdrop of all this baggage, Weber presses on. He wants to use his technology background to make Santa Clarita “a smart city” by improving infrastructure to support the various small businesses that he says are so important. Right now, he said, the city is not adequately planning for such basics as faster internet connections. He would like to see the entire city go wireless.

“When you have chains all over the city, and they’re what’s growing and pushing out all the small businesses, then you don’t have money going back into the city, and I care more about small businesses and the people that work out of here that started businesses, want their businesses to grow,” he said. “Those mean more to me than those chains.”

The City on Council Elections

| City Council | August 16, 2018

by Carrie Lujan

In Alan Ferdman’s article, he is referring only to Elections Code (EC) citations; however, California Code of Regulations Title 2, Division 7, Chapter 7 section 20712(d) allows the use of titles like “Mayor” and “Mayor Pro Tem” as legislative leadership positions.

For the designation of an appointed councilmember, the author cites, EC 13107(a)(4), that allows the use of “Appointed,” plus the title of the appointed office. The City Clerk’s interpretation is that the councilmember may use that title, but has the option to use other designations as allowed by law.

The term “ballot statement” is incorrect – the author seems to be referring to the candidate statement that is printed in the Official Sample Ballot.

The author also states that a candidate was appointed to the Planning Commission by a Councilmember. This is incorrect – a Councilmember nominates a Commissioner, but a majority council vote is needed for appointment.

TimBen There, Done That – Boydston is Back and Boisterous as Ever

| Meet the Candidates | August 16, 2018

He’s back, and he’s angry – at the lack of roads in the city, at the hypocrisy over water, at political cowardice and with two long-serving incumbents.

TimBen Boydston is running for city council again, two years after being defeated in his bid for re-election. Last time, he ran as an independent, one who looks out for the people and isn’t afraid to be controversial.

None of that came across during the hour-long interview Tuesday. What came across was his annoyance at Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean.
He blamed them for supporting the One Valley, One Vision plan that he said has led to an increase of traffic so great that it’s starting to resemble the San Fernando Valley.

“I fought against the One Valley, One Vision plan very hard. One reason was the traffic,” he said, his vice rising for not the last time. “They voted to allow your traffic to get worse. They voted for it. You have to read the details to see that. I do not want to spend the next few years watching this place become the San Fernando Valley.”

As far as Boydston is concerned, Weste and McLean represent traffic continuing to get worse and worse. His voice rose again as he said, “If you’re sitting at a traffic light, it’s the third, fourth or fifth cycle, and you still haven’t gone through, you can thank Mayor Weste and Councilwoman McLean.”

Boydston said when he was on the council, he asked for a traffic study that looked at peak traffic instead of average traffic, which he said the city currently uses.

“Nobody cares what traffic looks like at 2 in the morning,” he said.

The obvious solution is to build more roads, he said, and he reminded that he helped ensure construction on the Golden Valley Bridge and Via Princessa. He now wants the street to reach Wiley Canyon Road, which he says is already planned – except the council lacks “the political will to complete it.”

He knows that the Whittaker-Bermite property is a factor, but he insists roads can now be built through parts of Whittaker-Bermite “if they had the political will. They will not even address the issue because they’re not serious about building roads.”

Boydston said he’d be willing to bring up the matter as a bond issue, asking if the people would be willing to fund construction to expand Wiley Canyon, Magic Mountain Parkway and Santa Clarita Parkway that would run straight through Whittaker-Bermite.

“If the roads are not built, we will continue to have gridlock,” Boydston said.

Boydston also takes Weste and McLean to task for what he sees as hypocrisy. “In the worst drought in a hundred years, Mayor Weste and Councilmember McLean voted for new city landscaping and to water it,” he said. “Instead of setting an example, they’re telling other people to do what they can to save as much water as possible, yet they voted to put in landscaping (in the medians) and use water to water it.”

At this point, Boydston segued into what he sees as the incumbents’ political cowardice.

He was shocked that McLean, who received widespread praise for fighting to keep Elsmere Canyon from becoming a landfill just outside town in 1996, wouldn’t join Boydston and fight to keep Chiquita Canyon – also outside of town – from expanding.

And he railed against the council for passing a rule – sometimes called the “TimBen Rule” – that requires three councilmembers’ consent to place an issue on the agenda. This came about because Boydston wanted to have the city partner with the county in reducing homelessness. Instead, he said, Weste and McLean (and Bob Kellar) passed a new council rule. The council refused to even take a seat at the county’s table, and by the time Cameron Smyth finally woke up the other members and they started tackling the homeless question, Boydston said, it was two years too late to see any real county money.

“I believe being a leader on the city council, you are supposed to take a stand on an issue that affects your city,” Boydston said. Needing three people to create an agenda item “is like a Third World democracy. … In a true democracy, anyone can put something on an agenda. It’s ludicrous, but it’s the council’s cowardice.”

Boydston also touted some accomplishments, including making sure an oil pipeline contract included more liability insurance to the city, fighting to keep the Burbank-to-Palmdale high-speed train out of Santa Clarita (he said Weste voted for it and McLean favored it before changing her mind) and fighting to defeat Measure S so there would be no digital billboards in open spaces.

He also helped seniors by opposing seniors-only mobile-home conversions to all-ages parks, favored a new senior center and community center – both of which are being built – helped get rid of red-light cameras and helped bring body cameras to sheriff’s deputies.

Yet he is far from satisfied with the way the city is run and feels he can do more to help the people.

“Santa Clarita is a good place to live, and it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse,” he said. “If you ask people who’ve lived here a long time if they think Santa Clarita is a better place to live now than 10 years ago, I think most would say no.”

Request for Weste Interview Goes South

| Meet the Candidates | August 9, 2018

Laurene Weste’s re-election campaign for what would be an unprecedented sixth term on the city council seems to be starting just fine. Although as of Tuesday, she had not yet turned in her paperwork to the city clerk, she still had a few days, and she raised about $24,000, more than any other candidate.

Weste was set to be the fifth candidate for city council (and first incumbent) the Gazette interviewed and wrote about for its occasional “Meet the Candidates” series. She did something different, however, requesting questions be emailed to her instead of sitting down for an interview, as Diane Trautman, Jason Gibbs and Brett Haddock did; or consenting to talk via telephone, as Logan Smith did.

The Gazette complied and emailed her the following questions on July 31, prefacing that “these aren’t softball questions.”

1. Why have you decided to do this by email instead of meeting and/or talking?

2. What will you do differently than in any of your previous terms?

3. You so often say how great Santa Clarita is. What is the best thing about it? What are the largest things that need addressing/improving/fixing? Why? How do you propose to solve these?

4. You have repeatedly denied you stand to gain anything from the Lyons-Dockweiler extension, yet the perception persists. What definitive, tangible proof can you offer to put those naysayers to rest?

5. There is a perception that the councilmembers have their minds made up on an issue before they go into chambers and listen to public comment. I have heard this regarding the Laemmle Theater project, the Lyons-Dockweiler extension, the cannabis dispensary ban, the homeless action plan and the sanctuary city question. Logan Smith made this point when I interviewed him. Is it true? On average, how much time do you spend reading staff reports? Do you do independent interviews and reviews of issues?

6. Brett Haddock is calling for term limits: a maximum of four. What do you say?

7. I quote Diane Trautman: “Laurene tends to talk to people like children.” What is your response?

8. I quote Diane Trautman again: If a person comes before the council and is either critical or offers an opposing viewpoint, “It’s not treated as a matter of disagreement. It’s treated as an insult to the councilmembers. So, there’s not a welcoming of different ideas, and that’s not helpful to anybody. … It seemed to be that everyone has to agree, and that’s a dangerous thing to do, and it leads to groupthink.” Do you think Diane’s comments have merit? Why or why not?

9. Diane Trautman believes the city council should set policy and the city manager should carry out the council’s plans, but here, it’s backwards. Is she right? Do you believe the council should take the lead, or should it rely on Ken Striplin to set the agenda?

10. The council’s average age is 68, but take away Cameron Smyth and it’s 73.75. You will be 70 on Election Day. I quote Bob Kellar: “Are we supposed to stay on the city council until we’re 90 years old?” What do you say to those who believe it’s time for a new generation?

11. If elected, this would be your sixth term. You have said this will be your final term. Is there anything that could make you run for a seventh?

In its original email, the Gazette hoped to receive a response by Friday. When none came, a reporter called Weste, who responded that she was on the other line talking to a sick relative, that she hadn’t yet had time to respond but would, abruptly said, “God bless” and hung up.

The Gazette continues to hope Weste will respond and will print her answers if she does.

Brett Haddock Goes All-In

| Meet the Candidates | August 2, 2018

Brett Haddock knows he’s associated with the bow tie. He wears them frequently and even uses it as part of his campaign logo. Although he’s just 33, he recognizes the references to former Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and conservative commentator Tucker Carlson before he stopped wearing them.

“I was inspired by Bill Nye,” he said. “When I ran (for city council) in 2016, I wanted a way to set me apart from other candidates and show that I’m kind of unconventional, and what better way to illustrate the point than the bow tie?”
On this hot afternoon, however, Haddock eschews the bow tie for a simple gray t-shirt as he sips lemonade in a Newhall coffee shop. But he’s still a candidate for city council, having done it in 2016 “to get (his) feet wet,” and then seeking the appointment that went to Bill Miranda.

Now, Haddock hopes to take a seat currently held by Miranda, Laurene Weste or Marsha McLean.

“I didn’t think I had a chance in hell before,” he said, and the Gazette seemed to agree, grouping Haddock with three other long-shot candidates in a Sept. 1, 2016 story headlined, “The Unfamiliar Few.”

“This time, I think I have a good chance,” Haddock said. “I feel confident about it. I’ve got a message that speaks to the majority of people. I’m a working-class guy (who) understands the needs of the middle class and the changes we need to make to sustain the future.”

In fact, he feels so confident that he quit his job as a software engineer at eBay to devote full time to his campaign.

“I’m willing to gamble until November,” he said. “It’s going to be a tight Christmas.”

In Haddock’s mind, the “needs of the middle class” means having the jobs here in the area so people don’t have to commute, and having afterschool extracurricular and vocational training for kids. While Haddock said he knows the council can’t directly make these things happen, it can take the lead and find the means, such as working with College of the Canyons and school districts.

And “the changes to sustain the future” refer to the need to recognize changing demographics in the city – younger people moving in and wanting to start families – and make housing more available. Haddock suggests more high-density housing close to mass-transit hubs.

“We need to build neighborhoods like Old Town Newhall,” he said.

Another need: reduce traffic by overhauling the city’s mass-transit system and incentivize carpools, although he didn’t specify how. Haddock said there’s a multimillion-dollar traffic center on the third floor at City Hall.

“A handful of major intersections are tied into it, where if it was staffed, it could be dynamically changed to ease some congestion,” Haddock said. “Right now, there (are) 3 separate schedules for the timer. That’s great, but when we have an accident at Valencia (Boulevard) and Bouquet (Canyon Road) that stops up traffic, we need to be able to dynamically change those lights to ease congestion without having a deputy out at the intersection to reroute traffic.

“Or those times we had an emergency in Canyon Country or Saugus and we got to get across town but we have the sheriff’s deputies blocking traffic. If we had an actual member of staff watching the intersection and make all the lights green, they could actually get across town.”

Haddock said that center is unstaffed, and he would like to see a two-person staff. “Then we have to spend a little money and upgrade the intersections in town to tie into the system so they can all be dynamically rerouted.”

Other platform positions:

He believes councilmembers should serve a maximum of four terms (16 years).

He believes in running a positive campaign, which he articulated in an open letter in The Signal in June: After the filing period closes Aug. 10, all candidates should meet for dinner (everybody pays their way) without media or staff. “We sit together and have a civil discussion; not about our candidacy or campaign, but about who we are,” he wrote. “Sharing our stories and our love for the City of Santa Clarita. My one request is that we take a candidates-only photo; just something to show that we were all able to get together and have a peaceful meal.”

Haddock declined to name who has responded. “A couple of people said they will do their best to make it,” he said.

The Gazette reported in 2016 that Haddock believed digital billboards were an issue. Now, Haddock said he stands by that acknowledges there are more important issues, such as the opioid and housing crises and seniors struggling to make ends meet, to deal with first.

Don’t Gibb Up on Your Dreams

| Meet the Candidates | July 26, 2018

Jason Gibbs loves Santa Clarita and believes that the city council has moved the city “in a positive direction.” He just wants to build on that.

“The council and the city would benefit from a new perspective,” he said. “Someone who understands and respects the foundation the city was built on, that wants to come in and build on those relationships, that always wants to strive to make this community better and doesn’t approach it simply from ideology.”

Logic might indicate that voters who feel the way he does would simply vote for the incumbents Nov. 6. This is the challenge Gibbs faces as he tries to win a council seat currently held by Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean or Bill Miranda: separating himself from them.
“There really is something to the power of incumbency,” he admitted.

In fact, beating an incumbent is never easy. The Campaign Workshop Blog says challengers succeed only six percent of the time. One has to do a great deal to combat an incumbent’s name recognition, publicity advantages (such as parades, speeches and media) and a distracted electorate that is too busy living life to take the time to really follow what is happening.

Gibbs, 37, said his time on the council “will parallel” what’s been happening already. So, again, why vote for him?

Throughout his 53-minute interview with the Gazette, Gibbs never directly answered the question, but perhaps the councilmember endorsing him, 74-year-old Bob Kellar, did.

Though saying he didn’t want to “spread divisiveness,” Kellar also said, “Are we supposed to stay on the city council until we’re 90 years old?”

Here are some of Gibbs’ platforms:

He wants the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation to bring more business here.

Gibbs is in favor of paying down the debt incurred from the employee retirement program, CalPERS.

Gibbs believes in maintaining good relationships with the water agency and school board.

Gibbs says that the Lyons-Dockweiler extension at 13th Street is the most viable (as the city currently does).

He believes the roads over the Whitaker-Bermite property are coming sooner rather than later.

Gibbs approves of the recent action plan the city drew up to tackle homelessness.

In June 2017, Gibbs wrote a Signal editorial about the city council discussion about manufactured home rent adjustment procedures in which he took residents and park representatives to task.

“By the end of the discussion, both residents and park representatives appeared dissatisfied and ignored,” he wrote. “While many will hold the City Council and city staff responsible for the discourse, I believe they are working diligently toward a textbook compromise – one in which both sides will end up being equally disappointed.”

His campaign’s sentiment seems to be: If you like the direction the city is heading but think the councilmembers are too old, vote for Gibbs, 37.

One of the few times he publicly disagreed with the council was its limiting marijuana plants to the house and not the attached garage. Gibbs would have liked to include attached garages.

Another was a Signal editorial he wrote in the May 5, 2017 issue. He disputed Miranda’s contention that somebody who sought appointment on the council, as he and Miranda did, needs certain experiences along the way.

“The only requirements I recall were to be at least 18 years old, be a registered voter and reside within the city limits,” he wrote. “A passion to serve, a willingness to have your life scrutinized, and an unwavering commitment to represent our city the best that you can, these are all the qualities you should need. One reason I applied was I felt young families were lacking a strong political voice in town. We have a lot to offer, not the least of which are new viewpoints and ideas that may successfully bypass established norms and breathe new life and vigor into Santa Clarita.”

The one original issue Gibbs discussed is his desire for a new fourth city commission, devoted to public safety. “It’s at the forefront of most people’s minds, after your wallet,” he said.

Although he doesn’t have the entire concept fleshed out, instead opting to let he and his fellow councilmembers work out the details later, Gibbs said he knows he wants his commission to work with the sheriff’s department, the public and nonprofits to tackle problems such as crime, roads/traffic and homelessness.

Gibbs said the commission would work “just the way our council would benefit from myself being on the council: a new perspective, new expertise, a new way of thinking instead of us getting into any kind of tunnel vision. So, if you only had five people who are strictly from the sheriff’s department, if you only had five people from nonprofits, you don’t benefit. We need to get away from vacuums.”

As for Gibbs’ chances of overcoming incumbency, Kellar said he is “a sharp young man. … He’s going to have to prove himself to the voters, and that’s OK. I think the man will be able to hold his own.”

Trautman on Council: ‘I Don’t See Much Courage in Discussions from Any of Them’

| Meet the Candidates | July 19, 2018

Diane Trautman sits outside a Starbucks and carefully considers the question. For the next 58 minutes, she does this, rarely stopping to sip her beverage and regularly looking at her interviewer as she chooses her words.

With 12 years on the City Planning Commission (2002-2010 and 2012-16), including two turns as chair, and previous attempts at running for city council in 2000 and 2008, plus two attempts at being appointed to the council, the 25-year resident and CalArts graduate is a known quantity at City Hall.

And she’s trying again in November, attempting to wrest a seat away from Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean or Bill Miranda.

“I’m known in town. I have name recognition,” she said. “Republicans support me as well as Democrats. I want to listen to people. I don’t want to exclude anyone. … Two incumbents have been on the council for 36 years total. I understand it’s good for people to be on who have an understanding of the history, but when you become narrow in your preparation and thinking, and you become unable to hear voices that don’t agree with yours – their being out of touch is something I’m going to drive home.”

What Trautman, 63, currently sees on the council is an exclusionary quintet. If a person comes before the council and is either critical or offers an opposing viewpoint, “It’s not treated as a matter of disagreement. It’s treated as an insult to the councilmembers,” she explained. “So, there’s not a welcoming of different ideas, and that’s not helpful to anybody. … It seemed to be that everyone has to agree, and that’s a dangerous thing to do, and it leads to groupthink.”

At this point, she was reminded that she hadn’t specified any single member, so was she taking about anyone in particular? She sat back, again considered her words, and continued.

“I don’t see much courage in discussions from any of them,” she began. “Laurene tends to talk to people like children. Marsha takes offense when anybody disagrees. She’s really sensitive. … Marsha doesn’t want to run contrary to anyone. She has been insular in her thinking, and that doesn’t bode well for a city that’s growing. I don’t get a sense of any conviction from Bill Miranda. I don’t see any independent thinking from him.”

Trautman takes pride in her ability to consider all sides and viewpoints. She said that as a commissioner, she read everything, “made copious notes and I asked questions in public so the public would see I was looking at things more deeply. … (The council doesn’t) dig deeper than they have to. They look at it but largely rely on staff.”

And Trautman thinks that’s backwards. The council should set policy and the staff should carry it out, but she doesn’t think the current members have the vision to do that.

“The city council is supposed to create the vision for the city, the policies, the direction, the standards,” she said. “This means you’ve got to interact with those other entities, the county and the school districts. There’s not enough cooperation to solve some of the problems.”

A conservative such as Steve Petzold appreciates the liberal Trautman, saying he would consider voting for her and writing on Facebook, “Diane Trautman is thoughtful and measured with her words. It is safe to say that DT has the respect of current council members based on her years of service on the Planning Commission. … The democratic process benefits from her candidacy.”

A summary of Trautman’s priorities:
–She wants the city to be more aggressive in finding affordable housing, especially if the belief that there will be half a million people living in the valley eventually. Some of those housing options must be near transit centers.

–Public safety is more than just fire and police. People must be educated in safer driving and how to make room for cyclists and pedestrians. Find a way to make more walkable communities by looking at how other cities did it and adjusting to here.

–The city should work within the county’s homeless initiative to improve public safety and public health, especially of it wants Measure H funds.

–She wants to grow the local economy by reviewing city processes that seem to hinder small businesses. Also, maintaining existing buildings can keep rent lower than erecting new buildings.

–She wants to increase transparency in government by streaming all public meetings, not just the council and planning commission’s. She also wants a website redesign, develop better written policies, create a code of ethics, revise the council’s norms and procedures; and welcome community input on the questions of district voting, direct election of mayor and changing to a charter city.

Filing Period for 2018 City Council Election Opens July 16

| City Council | July 12, 2018

As Santa Clarita gears up for its upcoming election season, interested individuals will have the opportunity to vie for one of the three city council seats that will be up for grabs this November.

The filing period for local residents interested in running in the 2018 Santa Clarita City Council election will open Monday, July 16 and close Friday, August 10. In the event that any incumbent councilmember does not file by 5 p.m. on Friday, August 10, the filing period for all non-incumbent candidates will be extended to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, August 15.

Prospective City Council candidates must secure the signatures of 20 to 30 registered city voters prior to filing nomination paperwork. Each candidate is also required to file a Statement of Economic Interests, disclosing investments and interests in real property at the time that the nomination paper is returned for filing. There is no charge for filing nomination papers.

For a fee, candidates may also prepare a statement to be included in the sample ballot materials, which is mailed to voters. Statements may include the candidate’s name, occupation and brief description of no more than 200 words stating their education and qualifications. The estimated fees are $2,200 for printing the candidate statement in English only, and $4,400 for English and Spanish translation. The fees are due when nomination papers are filed.

Nomination papers and candidate handbooks will be available by appointment beginning July 16, in the City Clerk’s Office at City Hall, Suite 120, located at 23920 Valencia Blvd. Election office hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except during holidays. Prospective candidates should call the City Clerk’s Office at 661-255-4391 to schedule appointments to obtain and return materials for candidacy.

Anyone wishing to lend their signature to a potential candidate’s nomination paperwork must be a registered voter residing in the City of Santa Clarita, at the time nomination papers are issued. Each eligible voter may nominate up to three prospective candidates.

The three top vote-getters are expected to be sworn into office on December 11, prior to the regularly-scheduled city council meeting.

Registered voters in the City of Santa Clarita will have the opportunity to elect three City of Santa Clarita Council Members of the five-member City Council, for a term of four years each. These seats are presently occupied by incumbents Mayor Laurene Weste, Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean and Councilmember Bill Miranda. Santa Clarita’s 2018 General Municipal Election, consolidated with the Los Angeles County Statewide General Election, will be held on November 6.

For more information on the 2018 Santa Clarita General Municipal Election, including results of past city council elections, visit votesantaclarita.com.

Candidate Attempts to Become the Youngest Elected to City Council

| Meet the Candidates | July 12, 2018

Logan Smith knows his age might be a factor in people not voting for him for city council. But he insists Santa Clarita is getting younger, and the current councilmembers do not typify.

The five current members’ average age is 68.2 years. But take away Cameron Smyth (46) and it’s 73.75 years.

Smith, 25, is vying for one of three seats held by Marsha McLean (she turns 78 in September, Bill Miranda (75) and Laurene Weste (she turns 70 in October).

According to the city’s website, 30 percent of the population is between 30-44. Another 6 percent is between 20-24. Only 9 percent is 65 and older.

“I don’t feel like the average person in Santa Clarita has a voice in that chamber,” Smith said.

He seeks to change that by acknowledging he doesn’t have all the answers, but he’s willing to read and research the issues and hear the residents before casting a vote – things he doesn’t see the current council doing. While he refused to attack any councilmember by name during the 51-minute interview, he points to the Lyons-Dockweiler extension, cannabis sales and the recent homelessness ban as examples.

Regarding Lyons-Dockweiler, numerous Placerita Canyon homeowners came before the council to express opposition to the extension.

The council sat silently – Smith said it was “stony-faced” – and then unanimously voted for it. Smith thinks the councilmembers didn’t read the staff reports closely enough and came into chambers already having made up their minds.

“Fundamentally, we need public servants who serve the public,” Smith said. “That’s not something I’ve seen in that council chamber.”

Some believe Weste stands to gain financially from the extension, which Weste has denied repeatedly.

“If anybody is using their public office to enrich themselves, that’s unconscionable, especially to the detriment of people who live here and work here,” Smith said.

Another example Smith points to is cannabis sales. The council earlier this year extended a ban on commercial cannabis businesses, on top of its already existing ban on medical-marijuana dispensaries. The only legal marijuana in the city is a maximum of six plants indoors per residence.

During the March 27 meeting, Smith, who regularly attends council meetings and makes public comments, usually identifying himself as “a candidate for city council,” criticized the council for failing to read various online reports that show links between the availability of medical marijuana and fewer heroin and opioid overdoses. He also took the five members to task for failing to see the potential revenue stream by legalizing and regulating cannabis and not “stick our heads in the sand and allow the black or gray market to continue to thrive.”

McLean needed clarification on the differences between medicinal and recreational marijuana, and stated she favors medical cannabis. Smith scoffed, saying McLean voted for the ban in the first place.

Resident Bart Joseph, who called himself “a four-time cancer survivor,” also spoke about cannabis’ importance to his recovery and how he can’t afford to grow his own in the city. Weste said she was sorry for the hardships Joseph had suffered.

“The council nodded and was concerned – and voted unanimously to extend the moratorium,” Smith said. “I don’t think any of them, except Cameron, did the bare minimum before voting.”

A third place Smith found the council’s research lacking was the recent unanimous passing of an ordinance that sets out to block homelessness on public streets. It bans individuals from sitting or lying down in various public spaces, including streets, sidewalks and landscaped areas.

Smith said he isn’t sure the council adequately read the text because “If you sit on a sidewalk, you can be fined $500. If you sleep in your car in the driveway, you could be ticketed. If you sleep in a tent in the back yard.”

Smith acknowledges that these violations won’t happen, but he thinks laws shouldn’t be written so generally that they could be interpreted in unintended ways.

“Model (United Nations) students at College of the Canyons are held to a higher standard when they write fake laws,” Smith said.

Smith, who works as a field organizer for the California Clean Money Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization favoring public funding of election campaigns, said he got the idea to run last summer after hearing Bernie Sanders speak in Chicago.

Sanders told the audience that anyone who is thinking of running for office needs two pieces of advice: do it, and don’t hire consultants.

He didn’t, and now he has his sights set on City Hall. He would be the youngest to ever be elected. Smyth, 28 when he was first elected in 2000, is the only person elected in his 20s. The next youngest was Frank Ferry, 32 when elected in 1998.

“The council thinks we’re still a small town. That’s blatantly incorrect,” Smith said. “To stick your head in the sand and act like we’re not the third largest city in Los Angeles County is reckless and irresponsible to the people.”

(Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series profiling the various local candidates for elected office.)

So You Think You Can Run for City Council

| City Council, Opinion | July 12, 2018

Past Santa Clarita City Council races have always been entertaining and exciting for the 12 people who keep up with local politics, and of those 12, the six people who aren’t running.

But, if you are new to the circus that is SCV politics, it can be overwhelming – even more overwhelming if you decide to throw your hat into the race. With the filing period quickly approaching, all eligible contenders are getting in line. And if you are worried about the people you are up against, don’t. In fact, we have already seen them a million times before. They’ll probably fit one of the following descriptions. Maybe you will even see yourself in one of these predictable stock characters.

The “John”
Hey, you. Yes, you. Don’t think we don’t see you bending over to fix someone else’s busted sprinkler with your own hand tools. You have control-fueled altruism written all over your uptight face … and that makes you perfect. You have it all: a quiet wife, kids who are quiet around you, and a neighborhood that is quiet because of you. You simply can’t deal with noise because of all of the noise that’s buzzing around that ‘ol noggin of yours. “Bills, bills … should I murder my wife … bills.” It can get overwhelming. But you keep it cool, because one day, you’re going to snap. And they’ll all be sorry. Until then, channel it into voting on laws that keep homeless people from being absolutely anywhere.

The “Deborah”
Debbie! Deborah! Deb! You are absolutely wonderful. Always volunteering, always giving your time. You are everywhere at once. You have such kind words to say all of the time. But sometimes, your opinions surprise us a little. Like, “Disney makes kids want to get ‘gay married,’” and “John Kerry’s reptile tongue can taste American fear.” You are so quirky. So colorful. So … off. You are always on top of making those seasonal vests that definitely don’t give you away as a chronically anxious stitcher. Don’t worry, the government isn’t going to be taking away your needles – at least not anytime soon – so stitch together some legislation that will make it harder for residents to start small businesses.

 

The “Jeff”
Look at you sporting that American flag pin on your blazer. You are goal-oriented. The city council is clearly not your last stop. You have your lizard eyes on the grand prize – the state stage, that is. You will kiss as many babies it takes to earn a one-way ticket to sweet Sacramento. You are mild, moderate, and utterly forgettable. At least for now. When the time comes, you will take a firm stance in compliance with an issue that is extremely agreeable. That way, you have the credible background of local politics to keep you up, without the backbone of moral integrity and chutzpah to weigh you down.

The “Betsy”
If giving a crap about local politics was a sport, you are Babe Ruth. You haven’t missed a single meeting since 2007, and everyone knows it. You have read every law, read between every line, and drew every connection that was or wasn’t there. From CEMEX to Measure S, you knew that something fishy was going on before they even drafted those meeting agendas. You are the car alarm that goes off when someone slams the door a little too hard. You are tenacious. What would we do without you? The council knows your handwriting, so they don’t even have to read the name on the public speaker card. Godspeed.

Note: this is satire in case you got this far and aren’t sure.

Electing Our Mayor Possible

| City Council, News | December 21, 2017

Ojai did it. Goleta did it. Santa Clarita could do it, too, but for now, it’s just hypothetical.

It’s changing the city government from a ceremonial mayor to directly electing one.

In November, Goleta voters decided they wanted to do away with the ceremonial mayor who rotates annually and, instead, elect a mayor who serves a two-year term. Two years earlier, Ojai did the same thing, and in November elected its first mayor.

No one is saying Santa Clarita will follow suit. In fact, some City Council watchers firmly believe it’s not happening because the council members would only go for it if they believed they could get elected mayor.

“I don’t think (Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha) McLean or (Mayor Laurene) Weste could,” said one, adding that Councilmember Cameron Smyth probably would favor it.

Smyth said he welcomes the conversation but repeated that he’s “agnostic” about the concept, and said he finds it cynical that someone would suggest Weste or McLean are like that.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence,” he said. “I’ve known Laurene and Marsha to do what I know they think is right for the city.”

For it to happen, the people must vote for it. There are two ways to bring the vote to the people: by initiative/referendum or, in the cases of Ojai and Goleta, by the city council placing the matter on the ballot.

The state’s Government and Election codes spell out how voters could place an initiative or referendum on the ballot and what wording would be required. Basically, it would be a referendum on the City Council’s decision to rotate the mayor position annually. Petitioners would need at least 10 percent of the city’s registered voters to sign for the question to be placed on the ballot. The petitioners would have to write how they want the council to be structured, how long a mayor would serve, how many council members and any term limits, to name some considerations.

A famous example was Proposition 13, which was an initiative that acted as a referendum on the way the state taxed real property.

If the council placed the matter on the ballot, voters would have to answer three questions: Do they want to elect four councilmembers and a mayor; would the mayor’s term be four years; or would the mayor’s term be two years? If a majority answers yes to the first question, the mayor’s length of term would be determined by which length got the most yes votes (in Ojai, 68 percent favored two years; in Goleta, it was 59 percent).

In either case, no special election is required. The matter could be placed on a ballot for a regularly scheduled election, such as Nov. 6. The city would not have to convert to district voting. Neither Ojai nor Goleta has council districts.

Nor would this require a complete overhaul of the city government. Santa Clarita is a general-law city with a council-manager type of government. That means the state’s Government Code defines the city’s powers, and the city manager supervises the city’s operations. Changing to a directly elected mayor does not require the city to become a charter city such as Los Angeles.

Nor does it require eliminating the city manager. In Goleta, the mayor is a member of the city council with the same powers as the other council members. The differences are that the mayor could be paid a different amount and would make appointments to boards, commissions and committees. But those would need the council’s approval. So, an elected mayor could make more money and could appoint somebody to replace current City Manager Ken Striplin; the council could say no.

In fact, Ojai’s first directly-elected mayor, Johnny Johnston, was previously the city manager.

Early Stages of City Council Election

| City Council | December 7, 2017

As expected, Laurene Weste will stand for re-election next year and, if successful, her unprecedented sixth term would be her last.

“I am planning to run (and then) not planning to run again,” she said. “Things can change. I know I’m needed. There are a lot of cool things to do.”

Weste was first elected in 1998 and served with original council members Jo Anne Darcy and Jan Heidt. Of the 16 other people who have been on the council, she has served with 13 of them.

Weste joins incumbents Marsha McLean and Bill Miranda as candidates. McLean is seeking her fifth term, Miranda his first after serving the final two years of Dante Acosta’s term (Acosta resigned to serve in the Assembly).

Also running is Logan Smith, a 13-year resident of the area. Smith told The Gazette this week that he received a $500 campaign contribution from Assemblyman Matt Dababneh (D-San Fernando Valley); since Dababneh has been accused of sexual harassment, Smith is donating $250 each to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network and the Domestic Violence Center of SCV.

Former councilmember TimBen Boydston said he is “seriously considering” another run, as are Ken Dean, Mark White, Paul Wieczorek and Sean Weber, sources say.

Current councilmember Bob Kellar, who was re-elected last year to a fifth term, said this is his last term.

“I intend not to run again,” he said. “I’ll be 76 (in 2020, when his term expires). It’s time I let somebody else (serve).”

Carl Boyer Criticizes Council

| City Council, News | January 5, 2017

One of the city’s founding fathers has been watching the Santa Clarita City Council’s recent actions (and inactions) and is not pleased with what he’s seeing.

“Good government means you deal with the problems, you represent the people, and where the people need to be led, you lead them,” Carl Boyer said.

Boyer was a member of the first city council and served as mayor twice, in 1991 and 1996. Carl Boyer Drive on the east side of town is named for him.

The main problem he says the council is failing to address is the traffic, which he says is “the only issue that affects everyone every day. I get tired of waiting 117 seconds for the light to change at Wiley Canyon (Road) and Lyons (Avenue).”

Another problem Boyer sees is the terrible condition of the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 between the McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard off-ramps. He says the council could (and should) be contacting Caltrans about getting the roads fixed.

“When I was on the council, (City Manager) George Caravalho used to take a trip to San Diego and talk to the Caltrans commissioners, and it’d get fixed,” he said.

In fact, Mayor Cameron Smyth said, the council is in constant contact with Caltrans.

“To assert we are not advocating or interacting regarding our freeways is misplaced,” Smyth said. “It’s not as easy as sending me down to Caltrans and demanding X actions are taken. That’s why we developed regional alliances to fight for more federal and state road dollars. That’s the best way.”

Councilmember Marsha McLean, after praising Boyer for being “a respected member of the community for a very, very long time,” said the city has secured county (Measure M), state and federal funds to address the traffic and freeway issues. Some of these funds, McLean said, will go toward paving Interstate 5 between the Newhall Pass and Castaic.

“Dealing with traffic and freeway issues is very complicated,” she said. “It’s a process that takes far too long sometimes. We go after federal grants all the time, and most of the time, we are successful.”

When it comes to representing the people, Boyer says the methods the council has used in selecting Smyth as the new mayor and in appointing the fifth council member leave much to be desired. First, Boyer favors a direct election of mayor, but absent that, he believes in a strict rotation, meaning a councilmember who serves long enough would be mayor every fifth year.

“We had a very unpopular councilmember and I made damn sure she got her chance to be mayor,” Boyer said of Jill Klajic, who won election in 1990 and was mayor in 1992. “She was, and she lost her next election (in 1994). … These council members have made it political.”

Boyer said not having any community input as in 2006, when a 16-member citizens committee – assembled without council input – debated and ranked the various candidates, is symptomatic of the problem.

“They’re not asking the public for input. They did before,” Boyer said. “They’re just going to read applications and hear a three-minute talk and vote? That’s a pretty bad way to do it. I’m not necessarily in favor of spending $350,000, but an election gives candidates time to spell things out for longer than three minutes.”

Smyth said he thinks the public will be very involved because the entire process will be out in the open during council meetings, and since the matter is on the agenda for the Jan. 17 special meeting, people will be able to comment specifically about any applicant, good or bad, and any aspect of the process.

“The process gives more public input than a citizens committee,” Smyth said. “How is having a group of unelected citizens appoint someone to the city council fair? Ten years ago, the council made its own decision and virtually ignored the citizens committee.”

Boyer said this reminds him of the time the council opted out of the county public library system six years ago. Boyer said he thought it was the right thing to do, but the council didn’t inform the public sufficiently. This resulted in then-Mayor Laurie Ender, who Boyer said was leading this move, taking the fall. She became the only councilmember to be defeated for re-election while holding the ceremonial “mayor” title.

Also on that council: current members Laurene Weste, Bob Kellar and McLean. Kellar declined comment and Weste couldn’t be reached.

Smyth said a direct election of a mayor could happen here one day as it did in Palmdale, Lancaster and Simi Valley. “As the city grows and changes, things are not going to be the same as when we incorporated in 1987,” he said.

These problems, as Boyer sees them, arise because certain council members have spent what he sees as too much time on the council. Weste has been in office since 1998 (five terms), Kellar since 2000 (he was just elected to his fifth term) and McLean since 2002 (four terms).

“I don’t think anyone served more than three terms, except Jo Anne Darcy,” Boyer said, and scvhistory.com backs him up. Darcy served four terms.

Smyth served one full term, was elected to a second term and left midway through to serve in the state Assembly. He was elected a third time in November.

“Everybody has to make their own decision,” Smyth said. “I certainly don’t expect to be spending four or five terms on the council. When I was termed out (in Sacramento), I chose not to run for anything else because I believe in a citizen legislature. … I believe the voters will make their voices heard if they’re not happy with what you do.”

Admittedly, Boyer spoke up to further his own agenda. He favors breaking away from Los Angeles County and, along with the Antelope Valley communities, forming an Antelope County. At the very least, he would like to see the council demand a county office be placed here. The county clerk is 47 miles away in Norwalk, and there are offices in Van Nuys and Lancaster, but not here.

Smyth acknowledged that cityhood was born out of Boyer’s and others’ initial efforts to create a separate county. He pointed out that the last county created in the state was Imperial County, but incorrectly gave the year as in the 1930s; it was 1907. He added that, although he favors smaller, localized government and state Sen. Pete Knight crafted legislation to leave the county, the logistics for creating a new county are great.

“I have the utmost respect for Mr. Boyer and his service to the city, being one of our city fathers,” Smyth said. “I can appreciate his input. … But when the entire county votes on a measure like this, (winning is) very difficult and very expensive.”

Council Appointment Process Questioned

| City Council | December 22, 2016

To paraphrase “Hamlet,” Act I Scene IV: Something is rotten in Santa Clarita.

That is what a small, yet vocal, group of people are saying as they watch the Santa Clarita City Council move through its process to name a mayor and appoint a fifth member.

“I don’t think they care, because so few people pay attention: maybe 20 citizens that don’t sit on the council but regularly go to meetings,” Saugus realtor Steve Petzold said.

It is all a matter of perception vs. reality; and these people’s perception of reality differs greatly from that of the various council members. In fact, none of the three members interviewed (Marsha McLean was out of town, a relative said) believe the concerns have merit.

“It’s valid to those who say it,” Bob Kellar said. “Are they valid to us? No.”

Added Cameron Smyth: “I learned a long time ago that whatever decision you make, there are those that are going to find fault. … You can’t convince people if people believe there is a conspiracy. It’s unfortunate. It’s false.”

What The Signal’s editorial board calls “the six-year-old rift between elected and constituents” begins with the process by which the council selected Smyth as mayor and Laurene Weste as mayor pro tem. Smyth had not sat on the council for 10 years, although he was twice mayor, in 2003 and 2005.

“The mayor position is still ceremonial,” Smyth said.

Typically, the mayor pro tem becomes mayor the next year. Dante Acosta was mayor pro tem, but had to resign after winning election to the Assembly, leaving the council to select both positions. Weste was last mayor in 2014, McLean in 2015 and Kellar this year, so it follows that Weste would be mayor now.

Since that didn’t happen, people such as Alan Ferdman and Joe Messina believe that it was a setup so Weste and McLean would be mayor and mayor pro tem in 2018 – the year they are up for re-election.

“Him becoming mayor, I was caught off-guard,” said Messina, currently the William S. Hart Union School District board president and radio show host. “As I sat there and thought it through, it made sense. (Having the title) always gives you a leg up.”

Weste responded, “Cameron is a native son. Twice he was mayor. His father was mayor. He wanted (it). Marsha had no interest. Bob said he wasn’t doing it. I said the same thing in The Signal. I wouldn’t have been mayor. Nothing complicated here. Cameron fits all the criteria, and I think it’s appropriate.”

And this from Smyth: “You could argue that the incumbency didn’t work for Mr. (TimBen) Boydston, so to say that having the title of mayor or mayor pro tem is going to put somebody over the top, I think that is not valid.”

Boydston, however, did not hold a title when he was defeated in November; because the council had selected Acosta as mayor pro tem over him. Laurie Ender (April 2012) is the one person to be defeated for re-election while holding the title.

So, the rift continues. People such as Petzold and the unnamed members of The Signal’s editorial board object to the councilmembers selecting their own replacement. Petzold has gone so far as to start a Facebook page devoted to the appointment process.

“We’re watching,” he said, adding he was “extremely disappointed” that the council chose to appoint.

There are numerous other examples in which a governing body doesn’t select its own replacement. The Supreme Court doesn’t do it. When a sitting U.S. senator is elected president, as Barack Obama was eight years ago, the Senate didn’t pick Obama’s successor; the governor appointed.

Even the city council didn’t do this 10 years ago when Smyth went to the Assembly. It used a 16-person volunteer citizens committee put together by city staff – not the council itself – to find the right choice. That its top pick, Bob Spierer, wasn’t appointed (Boydston was) tells some people that either the system works or the council learned a lesson and this time wants more control over the situation.

“The council will go through the process to pick the candidate of their choice,” Ferdman said. He added he does not know who that is, but Petzold believes it to be “a member of the protected class,” the implication being a Latino. The city was sued over allegations that the access of minority voters, specifically Hispanic ones, was being limited by Santa Clarita’s at-large elections, thus violating the California Voting Rights Act.

Paul De La Cerda, a Saugus Union School District board member, has expressed interest, and a source told the Gazette that De La Cerda has been out seeking endorsements. Petzold opposes appointing De La Cerda, because to do so would leave a vacancy on the school board, leading to another appointment.
A source said that McLean is terrified that another lawsuit could result. Smyth argued that the council should have more say-so.

“I genuinely believe that deferring the decision to a citizens committee would be an abdication of our responsibility as council members,” Smyth said. “Even if the thing to do is have a group of unrelated, unaccountable citizens to make a selection and the council can wipe our hands of it, but I believe to have the greatest amount of accountability is for the council to make the choice, and if the public is unhappy, there is recourse: the ballot box.”

Kellar said he wants to find “the most qualified person, nothing more, nothing less. I don’t care if they’re red, green or yellow.”

The Signal is suggesting that if the council doesn’t go to a citizens committee, everyone who meets the basic criteria of being 18 and living in the city should apply.

Will that happen, thus making it considerably more difficult, but not impossible, to appoint? Stay tuned.

To paraphrase Bette Davis in “All About Eve”: It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

How to Pick a Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem

| City Council | December 2, 2016

After the new Santa Clarita City Council is seated on Dec. 13, one of the tasks at hand will be to designate a new mayor and mayor pro-tem. Who will they be?

Since the two positions are non-elected, any council member – in this case, Bob Kellar, Marsha McLean, Laurene Weste or Cameron Smyth, all of whom have served as mayor in the past – is eligible.

“All are certainly capable come January,” Smyth said. “It’s a unique situation the council hasn’t faced before at any time in its history.”

There are few specific criteria. Smyth said that when he was on the council from 2000-06, the procedure worked this way: The presiding officer (usually the mayor) declares the mayor’s post to be vacant and opens the floor to nominations. Any council member may nominate any other council member, including themselves (council members may accept or decline). Then there might or might not be discussion, and the vote follows. Three votes are required. Once the mayor is designated, the same members follow the same procedure for mayor pro-tem.

Typically, a member who serves as mayor pro-tem becomes the next mayor, but Dante Acosta was elected to the Assembly and must vacate his council seat (the council also must decide in its Dec. 13 meeting how to fill Acosta’s seat).
“We’ll have a discussion and decide. That’s how we’ve done it in the past,” Kellar said. “Anything is on the table.”

Well, almost anything. Council members cannot discuss the matter with various other members or they will be violating the portion of the Ralph M. Brown Act (Government Code 54950) that covers informal and undisclosed meetings held by local elected officials.

Smyth put it this way: “Two council members can have a discussion. Bob, Laurene and Marsha can’t go outside and meet. Bob can’t go to Marsha and then call Laurene. Then it’s considered a serial meeting.”

There also are traditions that might or might not be honored this time around. For example, the current mayor typically isn’t designated in consecutive years. That would leave out Kellar, and he said he isn’t interested in doing it in 2017. Only one time in the city’s history has a designated mayor been asked to continue in the role: In 1999, Jo Anne Darcy was asked to serve in 2000.

Also typically, the various council members rotate the position, with the one who hasn’t been designated in the longest time getting to serve next. That could leave out McLean, who served in 2015 (McLean didn’t return a call for comment). Weste hasn’t been mayor since 2014, but she said she isn’t seeking it. Kellar was mayor in 2013.

Smyth hasn’t been mayor since 2005, but he just got elected, and no newly elected member has ever then been designated mayor. The closest is the nine times an incumbent council member was re-elected and then designated the next year.

“I certainly feel comfortable that I am prepared to serve in either of these positions if nominated,” Smyth said. “I’m just not going to nominate myself.”

Kellar said Smyth could be designated “from a procedural standpoint. Is it likely? Probably not.”

A source told the Gazette that it’s advantageous to be up for re-election while holding the mayor or mayor pro-tem positions. Seven times the sitting mayor won re-election; only once was a sitting mayor defeated: Laurie Ender in 2012. Weste and McLean will be up for re-election the next time, so it might benefit them to have the labels.

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