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Laemmle Theatre Project in Newhall

| City Council, News | December 3, 2015

Green Light if No Parking Structure, Red Light if No Subsidy

On Tuesday evening, an Old Town Newhall Redevelopment Block Reception was held at City Hall. Greg Laemmle, president of Laemmle Theatres, and Jason Tolleson of the Serrano Development Group delivered a presentation of project details. The presentation included renderings of the proposed project in Newhall that includes a Laemmle Theatre, mixed use retail, housing space and a public parking structure.

Green Light
The City of Santa Clarita is considering paying for a parking structure for the theatre and retail outlets at an approximate cost of $9-10 million. When asked if the city-built parking structure was not approved, would the company still proceed with the building of the theatre, Laemmle said it would be. He indicated that not all of their other theatres have ideal parking situations, but customers are resourceful in finding places to park, especially in evening hours and weekends.

“I believe there is a somewhat adequate supply of parking, between the library, the Metrolink station, and surface streets within a half-mile radius of the theatre,” said Laemmle.

Red Light
Included in negotiations between the city and the principals is an approximate $3.5 million subsidy to offset construction costs. When asked in a subsequent email if the project would move forward without those additional funds, Laemmle explained why the issue is a deal breaker. It read:
With regard to the $3.5 million subsidy, we would not be able to move ahead with the project without receipt of funds in that amount, absent some sort of guaranteed proof that construction costs would be substantially lower than currently estimated. And if you’ve even (sic) done construction, you know that costs are rarely lower than estimated.

Ultimately, the $3.5M is needed to bring the net cost down to a figure that is commercially reasonable. Without those funds, we would have difficulty securing bank financing for the project. We would need to find additional equity investors, which would be difficult given the relatively low rate of return coupled with the risk associated with developing a single use facility. The alternative is that we would have to saddle the operating entity with too high of a rent, and we would then likely take a pass on the project for fear that it would be too likely to operate at a loss.

Laemmle believes the economic advantage of moving forward speaks for itself.
“City staff and consultants have carefully looked over the numbers on this project,” said Laemmle’s email. “And I believe that they will ultimately provide the council and the public with the numbers to show that the subsidy for the theatre plus the cost to build and own the parking structure ultimately represent a smart and prudent investment.”

With city funds required to complete the theatre, the proposed project has set off somewhat of a firestorm in the ranks of local pundits. There are arguments on both sides, some saying the city has no business subsidizing for-profit companies, while others claim it would be money well spent, with great benefit to the Santa Clarita community. Stay tuned, as this will undoubtedly bring a swarm of heated opinions, much like the chloride and billboard controversies of the past.

Will Boydston be Santa Clarita’s Next Mayor Pro Tem?

| City Council, News | December 3, 2015

With the Santa Clarita City Council set to choose the city’s next mayor pro tem on Tuesday, some residents have raised the question of whether Councilman TimBen Boydston will be given fair consideration for the position.

The average time it takes for a councilmember to become mayor pro tem after his or her first election is 31 months, but Boydston has served almost twice that and has never been selected.

“In the entire history of Santa Clarita, no elected city council member has been denied the privilege of serving as mayor pro tem during their first term,” resident Steve Petzold said. “Including his interim term, TimBen has served a cumulative 59 months.
This is the time to recognize his extraordinary service and leadership in the community.”

For some, these statistics beg the question: what is stopping the city council from choosing Boydston for the position?

Anyone who has attended a city council meeting recently may have noticed Boydston’s outspoken nature and determination to make his opinions known – which often differ from that of his fellow council members – but whether this is related to his being repeatedly “passed over” for the position of mayor pro tem remains unknown.

When asked if he believes that Boydston would serve the City of Santa Clarita well if selected as the next mayor pro tem, current Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar responded, “It doesn’t take rocket science to know that there are concerns,” but didn’t elaborate.

“If the other council members are not in support of electing him mayor pro tem, why won’t they come out and state their reasons why?” asked Doug Sutton, publisher of the Santa Clarita Gazette. “It seems they’re afraid to create more conflict, when they should be willing to come forward with their concerns for the benefit of the community.”

Mayor Marsha McLean and Council Members Dante Acosta and Laurene Weste did not return requests for comment as of press time Wednesday.

Kellar said he couldn’t speak for the other members of the council, but offered some insight into how he will approach the upcoming vote next week.

“I try to make all my decisions, I try to predicate them on the best information (available), whether it’s having to do with who’s going to be mayor or whether or not we’re going to support a project,” Kellar said. “I try my best to do what I think the right thing is for our community.”

Boydston himself said he doesn’t know why he has been repeatedly passed over in the rotation for the position, or if he will be seriously considered in next week’s decision.

“I know that in the past, Councilman Acosta has indicated to me on a personal level that he would be in favor of me serving as the mayor,” Boydston said. “I don’t know if he still feels that way or not. As to the other three council people, I have no idea.”

According to Boydston, the fact that city council members are elected by the residents of Santa Clarita means that each and every council person deserves a fair chance at entering the rotation to become mayor pro tem, which traditionally leads to their appointment as mayor.

“Traditionally what’s happened is it rotates between all of the people,” Boydston said. “But actually who goes next, there’s no rules written down, and it’s not part of our policies and procedures. I believe it should be, because the voters decided that I should be on the council, and I have a lot of supporters who are asking the question as well: ‘Why aren’t you being considered for one of those positions?’”

Alan Ferdman, chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, said that the notion of elected city council members choosing among themselves for the positions of mayor and mayor pro tem should work well, “so long as the council members do not deliberately derail the process.”

“Over the past several years, we have been witness to the majority of our council members voting themselves superior compensation over new council members,” Ferdman explained. “Over the past decade, we have witnessed our council members voting to place a member in the role of mayor when that individual is up for reelection.”

Ferdman concluded that actions like these “do not reflect the will of the electorate and are not in the best interest of the city of Santa Clarita.”

However, Boydston noted that McLean has been passed over in the rotation before, and Kellar pointed out that he himself has been passed over as well — which could indicate that the situation may not be specific to Boydston.

“It has happened certainly on more than one occasion over the years,” Kellar said.

Regardless of whether the decision to pass over Boydston in the past has been deliberate or unintentional, his supporters are calling on the current city council to give him fair consideration before voting next week.

“TimBen Boydston should be treated fairly and given a place in the mayoral rotation process,” Ferdman said. “As an individual, elected to the office of city councilmember, he must be treated as an equal. That is what the city of Santa Clarita’s system of government relies on to work effectively.”

No More Cameras at Stoplights in the City

| City Council, News | March 26, 2015

by Steve Petzold

The various opinions by drivers about “smiling for the camera” have long been debated, but now a final decision has been made. At Tuesday night’s meeting, Santa Clarita City Council members ended the Red Light Camera Photo Enforcement Program in the City. The final vote was 3-2, with council members Kellar, Acosta and Boydston voting to end the contract, while Weste and McLean voted to renew.
During the past year, City of Santa Clarita Traffic Engineer Andrew Yi has consulted with a private contractor, Kimley-Horn, while testing the effect of longer yellow light times on the number of tickets issued. Reportedly, the effect was rather dramatic.
Historically, the yellow light times for left hand turn lanes were set at 3.5 seconds, a half second longer than that recommended by the State of California. By increasing the allotted time to 4.5 seconds, the number of tickets issued dropped below the number necessary to keep the program financially viable. It was estimated that the City would lose $250,000-$500,000 per year by extending the time to that recommended by Kimley-Horn. Redflex , the contractor that operated the program for the city, was paid $4,000 per month for each of the seven cameras currently in operation.
Some opposing opinions by council members were expressed prior to calling the vote.
A few council members expressed opposing opinions before taking the vote.
Councilman Kellar reflected upon his 25 years as a member of the L.A. Police Department and the impersonal nature of a ticket issued through the red light camera program. He talked about the days when he would make a stop for an infraction and have the ability to issue a warning. Bob Kellar also indicated that the fine of $490 was excessive for the violation. Officials reported that the City of Santa Clarita only received $150 of the $490 ticket, with the balance going to the L.A. County and the State of California.
Council member Boydston seemed to believe that the program was largely premised upon revenue generation rather than public safety. With the prospect of the program becoming a drain on the City and of questionable benefit, Boydston’s vote to end the program was never really in doubt.
Council member Acosta’s position seemed to turn on the fact that he felt the program was unconstitutional, although he did not elaborate on the point. Councilman Acosta voted to terminate the contract.
Council member Weste made a strong plea to keep the program. Weste said that she felt the program enhanced motorist safety and she could not put a value on the life that might be saved by extending the program. She was clearly willing to renew the contract, even with the prospect of financial loss to the City.
Mayor Marsha McLean talked about her experience living in the vicinity of a red light camera intersection. Marsha talked about the years before the camera and hearing the sound of heavy braking, the impact, and the sirens of emergency vehicles. Marsha voted to retain the program after making clear that she thought driver behavior would change for the worse after camera removal.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Jay Beeber (left) and James Farley are satisfied with removal of red light cameras. photo courtesy Steve Petzold

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Jay Beeber (left) and James Farley are satisfied with removal of red light cameras. photo courtesy Steve Petzold

Jay Beeber of Safer Streets L.A. has been a longtime advocate for properly engineering intersections and brought unique technical expertise to the program evaluation. James Farley, a resident of Valencia, kept a focus on the program for over a year and worked hard to make sure that the program review was conducted properly.

City Council Unanimous on Mobile Home Park Changes

| City Council | March 12, 2015

by Perry Smith
City officials unanimously approved changes to a mobile home park ordinance Tuesday night. The members passed the ordinance on a first hearing with a few revisions, said officials.

“There are basically three changes,” said Erin Lay, housing program administrator for Santa Clarita. “One was to reduce the standard increase minimum from 3 percent to 2.6 percent. (If approved it would) also decrease the maximum standard rent increase from 6 percent to 5 percent.”

Sand Canyon mobile home park resident Ray Henry said the city is changing the ordinance “so the park owners would be more profitable, and to diminish the power that park residents have to appeal any rent increases.”

The City is looking to reduce appeals, which are costly for city staff and park owners, Henry said, by making additional hoops for residents to jump through in order to file their appeals. The appeals generally result in a significant decrease to the amount of rent requested by park owners, according to City officials.
There are two types of rent increases for mobile home park residents and the park owners: standard and nonstandard increases. Standard increases are not subject to appeals.

“We do know that, historically, nonstandard increases are significantly more expensive to park owners,” Lay said. “They are almost always appealed.”

All appeals regarding nonstandard rent increases are subject to review by the manufactured home park rental adjustment panel. The panel is made up of two elected mobile home park residents, two elected mobile home park owners, and a fifth member chosen by the four.

The third change calls for City staff to develop the form for an appeal process to be approved by the manufactured home park rental adjustment panel. This is one of the biggest issues Henry has with the ordinance.

While city officials worked to tout the advantages of both sides, mobile home park residents — many of whom are on fixed incomes — registered their disapproval to changes at the last meeting, when the council adjusted the ordinance in response to residents’ concerns.

“If it’s not broken, then there’s no need to try and fix it,” said Henry, a mobile home park advocate who has spoken at at least a dozen City Council meetings on issues for residents like himself. He said the issues have been ongoing since 2006 for park residents.

He felt the changes made it harder for residents to appeal the nonstandard rent increases, adding forms that amounted to additional hoops for residents to jump through, while making it easier for the park owners to raise rates.

The city’s ordinance is limiting the grounds of appeal for which a rent hike can be challenged, he said, noting that the City’s law calls for a form to be created with specific grounds on the form by which park residents can appeal rent increases; however, residents are not being informed of the grounds they’re going to be limited to ahead of time. Those decisions are expected to be made by the rent adjustment panel.

The ordinance’s goal is to “tighten up” the language, Lay said, “so it was clear on what was allowable and what wasn’t.”

But Henry is also unhappy park owners are able to claim two years’ worth of improvements in the notices they send out justifying standard rent increases, when the prior ordinance allowed 12 months, and now park owners will be able to raise rents, regardless of whether residents are notified ahead of time, he said.

The previous ordinance caused confusion and required Santa Clarita City staff to spend hundreds of hours addressing public records request acts and issues over jurisdictions and appeals, officials countered.

The last four appeals over nonstandard rent increases cost the city about $164,000, Lay said.

Ultimately, the updates are “protecting the owners and residents of manufactured homes from unreasonable rent adjustments,” Lay said, “while at the same time recognizing the need of park owners to receive a fair return on their investment.”
article courtesy www.hometownstation.com

Alan Ferdman Planning for 2016 Santa Clarita City Council Election

| City Council | March 12, 2015

Alan Ferdman confirmed Wednesday that he is starting to put his team together for the 2016 Santa Clarita City Council election.

While he has yet to formally announce plans to run in the election, Ferdman is hosting an “Opening Bell” event March 25 in Newhall, inviting residents to “show your support for electing Alan Ferdman to the Santa Clarita City Council.”

“This is kind of a fundraising and team building exercise,” Ferdman said. “The problem right now is that we don’t know when the election is going to be … and the voting method is still undecided. (When we find out), that’s the time that we’ll come out and have a real formal announcement process.”

Ferdman said he plans to apply what he learned from his participation in the 2014 election with a similar “grassroots type” campaign.

“We’re going to look at targeting the needs of our average residents and looking for their support,” he said.

If elected, one of Ferdman’s goals is to improve what he calls the City Council’s “lack of attention” to the community’s opinions regarding controversial issues like billboards and the location of the deep well injection site.

“We have a large number of folks that are deeply concerned about those issues, and when they go to the Council, while they seem to be recognized, the Council doesn’t seem to act until something occurs that forces them to act,” Ferdman said, referencing the hundreds of Stevenson Ranch residents who recently attended a heated City Council meeting to speak out against the deep well injection site plans.
“We don’t ever need to have to get to that point,” he said. “We should look at what the needs of our community are a little closer, so that when we see an issue brewing, we should take action on it before it explodes.”

Other issues Ferdman plans to address if elected include the increase in traffic throughout the Santa Clarita Valley and accommodating the city’s growing diversity.

“I think (traffic) is something every citizen can recognize as a problem here in Santa Clarita,” he said. “There’s a myriad of things that, as we become larger, we need to start paying attention to those things that go with being a large city… We’re really now the third largest city in the County, and we need to start acting like a large city.”

City Council to Consider Updates to Mobile Home Rent Procedures

| City Council | February 6, 2015

by Melissa Lampert

Anyone living in mobile home parks in Santa Clarita will have the chance to make their opinions known about potential changes in their rent procedures at two upcoming City Council meetings.

The changes have been proposed to the Santa Clarita Municipal Code 6.02, which offers guidelines on annual rent increases and the appeals process for proposed increases.

Some of the proposed changes include returning the minimum annual standard rent adjustment to three percent, the addition of a fifth member to the current adjustment panel and changes to the appeals process for both the panel and park residents, according to the city’s housing website.

City Council members are set to consider the changes at meetings tentatively scheduled for Feb. 24 and March 10 at 6 p.m. Community members are invited to attend the meetings and will have the opportunity to contribute verbal or written comments with Spanish/English audio translations available.

The announced dates are considered tentative until the official meeting agendas are posted 72 hours before each meeting at City Hall and on the City’s website at www.santa-clarita.com. All meetings are held in City Council Chambers at City Hall, located at 23920 Valencia Boulevard.

The original, draft and amended draft of SCMC 6.02 are available online at www.santa-clarita.com/housing.

My Comments about Public Comment

| City Council, Opinion | January 15, 2015

by Steve Petzold

Steve head shotI went to the City Council meeting on Tuesday evening planning to make a statement regarding the lack of a meaningful response to the voter’s rejection of Measure S on November 4, 2014. Unfortunately for me, a large number of individuals had already signed speaker cards and I would be required to wait until the end of the meeting to make comment.

For those of you unfamiliar with council procedure, let me provide a quick background. Following an invocation and time for awards and recognition, the council allows public comment from a maximum number of ten individuals for up to three minutes. This time is typically reserved for issues from the public that do not relate to items on the published agenda. If the number of public commentators exceeds 10, they must wait until after the council has finished the normal business, and public comment is allowed to commence again. In general, the members of the city council are not allowed to publicly comment on items not on the agenda.

For items on the agenda, speakers are allowed three minutes for comment before consideration of the issue.

In my opinion this system works fairly well, although the public speaker is at a disadvantage, because they do not have the ability to respond to, or rebut statements made during council consideration of the item.

What I learned during the time that I sat through public comment is what I would like to share with you today.  There are several issues that we should keep our eyes on over the next few months.

Santa Clarita, as most of us know, has several mobile home communities, concentrated in the Canyon Country area. These mobile homes are usually owned by residents, but sit on spaces that are leased from the landowner. There is a rent control ordinance that covers these parks and the City Council is considering an ordinance that allows for an update on allowable rent increase. The number that I hear is a maximum three percent increase.

A large number of the speakers at the beginning of last night’s meeting are residents of the mobile home parks who object to this increase, because they are on fixed incomes and the increases on their Social Security are less than those on the proposed lease increases.

If I learned one thing during the billboard battle over Measure S, it was to have a degree of empathy for the concerns of others, even if I did not find a great deal of value in the issue itself. I recognized one of the speakers as a dear man who I often see at the Senior Center. He and his “wife” sat through the meeting to hear a response to the plea for rent increase relief. It really touched my heart to see the sincere concern on their faces.

The City plans to make a decision in the late winter or early spring. It certainly appears to me that the City Manager, staff, and Council members are attempting to find a good balance, although I expect that the residents will be unhappy with the result.

The other issue for us to watch is the proposed expansion of the Chiquita Landfill in Val Verde. On this issue, the City has no meaningful control and the decision is in the hands of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Next to the mobile home residents, the next largest number of public comments came from citizens concerned with this issue.

But, Santa Clarita City Council will not make this decision; City staff does evaluate the public documents and makes recommendations and comments for the City Council to review. There are many serious concerns that the public has about this expansion, but powerful interests are in favor of it and there does not seem to be a reasonable alternative plan for future solid waste disposal requirements.

It was rather nice to sit back and see the important issues that affect our city and the Santa Clarita Valley discussed by citizens like you and me.
It is important for our representative democracy and the future of the SCV that citizens utilize the City Council public comment period. My advice is to take advantage of this process … and get your speaker card in early.

MESSAGE FROM THE MAYOR

| City Council, News | December 5, 2014

Laurene westeLaurene Weste
December 2014

The year 2014 has been another incredible one for Santa Clarita. I am pleased to share with you some of our City’s major accomplishments—inclusive of improving our infrastructure, purchasing land for open space, hosting festivals, adding new trail connections, being recognized as a top business destination, improving traffic and creating beautification projects.

In January, we opened the Newhall Roundabout in Old Town Newhall. This landscaped traffic circle provides a unique gateway into our Old Town, while improving traffic flow at this intersection. In February, we completed a major beautification project at Sand Canyon and SR 14. The project incorporates low-water use plant material and attractive hardscape, providing a unique gateway into our City from the east. We also opened a new bike trail connection at Golden Valley Road near Golden Triangle.

Spring and summer were loaded with great festivals and events, aimed at providing free and low-cost family entertainment, right here in our community. This spring, the annual Cowboy Festival attracted thousands to Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio, where nationally-renowned western performers entertained locals and visitors. We also hosted our annual Earth Arbor Day event at Central Park. In May, Santa Clarita was once again a host stage for both a start and a finish for the AMGEN Tour of California.

This summer, we hosted our 20th annual series of free concerts as part of the Concerts in the Park program. Thousands enjoyed a summer of Saturday evening events filled with music and friends at Central Park.

This fall was marked by several major land acquisitions including the 302-acre Gateway Ranch project, which was formerly slated to be a massive housing development adjacent to our City’s southern borders.  We also purchased 6.5 acres near Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road for the future, permanent Canyon Country Community Center. Additional property acquisitions include acreage adjacent to Canyon Country Park for future park expansion, and acreage at the entrance to Towsley Canyon. All of these beautiful lands are now part of the City’s Open Space Preservation District and will be protected forever.

In November, we opened our first Small Business Incubator in Old Town Newhall. The incubator supports entrepreneurs and start-ups on the verge of significant growth, providing them with the tools they need to succeed. Our Business Incubator is centrally located in the City’s Arts and Entertainment District and is seeking creative-focused companies. The Incubator provides office space, management guidance, technical assistance, and even help with financing to help get these creative companies off the ground.  Speaking of business, Santa Clarita was also named one of the “Most Business Friendly Cities” in Los Angeles County by the L.A. Economic Development Corporation.

In Valencia, we recently completed the widening of the McBean Bridge across the street from the post office. The newly widened bridge expanded traffic lanes and includes a new, protected bicycle and pedestrian trail. Furthermore, several intersections throughout the City have received timing upgrades, helping to improve traffic across town.

Keep in mind, these are just some of the many accomplishments our City achieved this year. I want to personally thank you for your participation in our City. If you are interested in learning more about the many programs and projects we are working on, please visit santa-clarita.com.

Sincerely,
Laurene Weste

Fight Over Climate Credits

| City Council, Gazette, News | July 17, 2014

Southern California Edison has awarded a $40 credit to homes for the purpose of upgrades, in an effort to encourage homeowners to create more eco-friendly residences. The change may include eco-friendly purchases, such as energy-saving light bulbs.

Residents of some manufactured home parks claim park owners have not complied with procedure and are robbing customers of the eco-friendly wealth. Other customers of electrical companies have found a break in their electric bills, receiving a $40 credit.

These credits are to be awarded semi-annually, once in April and then again in October, for a total of six years.

While each homeowner received the credit in the form of an adjustment to the household energy bill, when it comes to manufactured home parks, it is up to the management and owners to distribute the credits among residents.

To inform tenants of the credits rewarded them, a flyer from Southern California Edison explaining the procedure was to be posted in a conspicuous area. However, it has come to the attention of concerned citizen Doug Fraser that some parks have not credited the $40 to tenants and have not posted the notice stating the distribution was to happen.

Edison distributed notices to separately-metered park owners to announce the proper procedure for the distribution of the $40 rebate.

The notice clearly states at the top of the page: “Please post this notice in a conspicuous area,” in bold, black ink.

The notice also states it is the owner’s responsibility by law to pass along the money. “As a master-metered customer, you are required by law to pass along any credit or rate reduction that you may receive to tenants,” it reads.

The following language from the California Public Utilities Code Section 739.5 is also represented, mandating how credits, including the California Climate Credit, should be distributed to tenants.

It reads, “Every master-meter customer of a gas or electrical corporation subject to subdivision (a) who, on or after January 1, 1978, receives any rebate from the corporation shall distribute to, or credit to the account of, each current user served by the master-meter customer that portion of the rebate which the amount of gas or electricity or both, consumed by the user during the last billing period bears to the total amount furnished by the corporation to the master-meter customer during that period.”

At the City Council meeting on June 25, Fraser, a Canyon Country resident and a member of the Santa Clarita Community Housing Association, spoke during the public participation segment that he was seeking council support to have the letter distributed to residents residing in the parks that receive rebates.

Fraser provided a copy of a newsletter he created with the information from Edison on the rebate.
“This paper you have in front of you is some information on the climate credit that was discussed on May 13. At that time the council directed city staff to provide and research this a little more and then disseminate this information to the manufactured home residents. Well, on June 9 the RED control panel met, but, against my opposition, they decided not to disseminate this information. The City staff did not put together any type of flyer or anything to present, so I put together — on the backside is the actual letter to the owners about the $40 credit, and I think it’s wrong to not pass this out,” he argued.
Fraser recommended that the action be taken to distribute the newsletter in a CPI mailer that is sent to tenants of the parks in August every year.
“Well, this is actually a public utilities commission policy, so I don’t see why the City can’t continue the policy of support with this issue,” said Fraser. “In August the staff sends out a CPI letter to all the residents so it would be really convenient to just print this up and copy it and put it in that envelope – only cost you a couple hundred dollars, so that’s not enough to suppress this information.”
Fraser went as far as accusing park owners’ lack of compliance with Edison’s posting policy as a form of “robbery.”

Fraser said, “If we don’t do anything about it, then essentially the reimbursement that has already been gone to the manufactured park owners is essentially being robbed from the residents, because they’re not passing that $40 on to the residents. It’s equal to $40 twice a year for the next six years, $480 total.”
In response to Fraser’s comments, City Manager Ken Striplin provided information about the manufactured home panel meeting in which the topic was discussed.
“In regards to the Edison letter, I want to make a clarification,” said Striplin. “It is my understanding that the panel did have a discussion about the letter and whether or not there was a necessity to send it out to all the residents, and I believe the panel voted.”
Striplin continued stating that, to his knowledge, the home park panel did not find the action necessary, and that no allegations had been made by tenants that they had not received the climate credits. One member of the panel is a park tenant and agreed with the vote, according to Striplin.
Councilmembers voiced their opinions concerning the mailing of the newsletter. Mayor Laurene Weste, who agreed the letter should at least be posted somewhere, scoffed at the end of her comments, saying, “It’s $40.”
Striplin responded to Mayor Weste, assuring her it was a requirement of the PDC that the letter be posted, but City Attorney Joe Montes was unsure if it had to be posted at every park.
Councilmember TimBen Boydston was very clear in his support for the tenants of the parks to receive a copy of the letter explaining the $40 rebate.
“I do not understand why it would be a problem to Xerox a letter from Edison or a memo that we do and just include it in another mailing that has to go out once a year anyway,” said Boydston.
Montes responded to his comments with responses from the panel meeting held concerning the issue.
“It was staff’s understanding that the panel strongly felt that it was not appropriate to get involved in sending these notices out, because they thought it would create confusion with the residents,” said Montes. “It only applies to parks that are separately-metered and some parks are not separately-metered.”
Montes continued with the panel comments, stating the panel did not want the residents to come to them or the City with the issues arising from unpaid rebates, because they were not the correct jurisdiction to deal with it.
“The panel also felt that if the notice was sent out in a city-mailer and there was an issue about whether or not the rebate had been paid, that there was a concern that the residents would then appeal that issue to the panel when the panel really has no jurisdiction over it. It’s the PUC that has the jurisdiction,” said Montes.
Boydston was visibly upset after this comment and reminded the council members and attendees of the meeting that they are here to serve and help citizens.
“Obviously, I can’t make a motion. I thought that that was going out to residents and I don’t see that that’s a very big, difficult thing to determine which parks are separately-metered or not separately-metered, and if the notice goes out to those who are, and they come to the City, we can certainly write a letter to the PUC saying these people have, I mean that’s our job, we represent these people. And I do understand that there is a panel that kind of takes care of that issue and everything, but I don’t see that it’s a big thing we should do. That’s my suggestion.”
Boydston’s comments went unanswered and the council continued with the meeting.
According to Fraser at press time, nothing has been done about the issue and there are still parks that do not have the newsletter for their tenants to view. As well, he claims, there are park owners who have not paid the $40 rebate to their tenants.

Chaos, Tension & Frustration

| City Council, News | June 26, 2014

Council Meeting on Billboard Referendum
Results in Emotional Conflict.
By Jessica Vidal and Josh Heath
page 1 storyThe latest developments in Santa Clarita’s ‘’billboard saga’’ came Tuesday night as the City Council voted to redirect a controversial, recently passed billboard proposal to the November ballot.

The decision came in response to a successful referendum campaign from local citizen group CABB (Citizens Against Billboard Blight). The group formed weeks after the City passed the billboard proposal in February despite significant opposition from concerned residents. During the month of May, they collected over 18,000 signatures calling on the city to either kill the deal or put the measure to a vote.

Per terms of the proposal, the L.A. Metro Transit Authority would take down 62 static billboards along the railroad right of way in exchange for the City granting permits for three new digital billboards along the 5 and 14 freeways. The digital billboards would be an extremely lucrative source of revenue and would bring in an estimated $400,000-$600,000 annually to the city, according to the proposal.

CABB attended the meeting, standing outside of the Santa Clarita City Hall building since that afternoon, protesting and holding signs on Valencia Boulevard that read “Repeal the Deal.” It was very clear the stance of this group and many came forward during the discussion portion of the meeting, expressing their thoughts – nicely or not.

Members of CABB took issue with several parts of the proposal, such as the placing of one of the digital billboards on open space land near wildlife, the fact the majority of the deal was negotiated out of public view, and the requirement that the digital billboards could not show any political-related speech.
During the meeting, several opinions from the community were heard. Supporters of the proposal, who wished to put it to a public vote, tried to devalue the significance of the thousands of signatures, alleging that many of the signature gatherers were not truthful about what the petition really said. As speaker after speaker presented their arguments for or against a vote, the audience became unruly—booing, clapping, and making loud side remarks to one another and to speakers.

Of the main themes discussed throughout the night, a point that TimBen Boydston defended, which later became an issue in regard to its wording on the ballot—(yes, the issue will see the light of day at the ballot box)—was that the wording cites 62 billboards removed, however there are only 40 remaining. The 22 billboards owned by Edwards have now been purchased by the City, therefore the wording on the ballot may not be accurate, as the terms of the deal have been changed.

The terms “backroom deal” and “casino lights” were continuously repeated throughout the discussion to Councilman Kellar’s displeasure, who voiced his opinion about it during his commentary.

The city’s procedure for negotiating the deal was done legally, Kellar said.

“You do not make these negotiations at the dais, that’s why you have closed session and it’s provided for by law,” he said. “There’s no dishonor in a public vote.’’

One speaker played a tape in which Mayor Pro Tem McLean was advocating her support of wildlife, assuring that she would not sign the deal if she thought it would hurt any wildlife. Key players in the Metro deal cited a UCLA biologist’s report, which alleged that no wildlife would be affected by the deal. However, attention was brought to an accusation that the biologist’s study was misrepresented, and a new statement was brought forth stating that it would indeed affect the wildlife in the area.

During their comments, McLean and Kellar opposed this allegation, McLean saying that she was unsure whether the biologist had even visited the area under discussion, as she had, being very familiar with the pass. Members of the audience became vocal, making remarks in astonishment of the newfound allegation that the biologist was not a reliable source of information. Kellar gave his own remarks, saying that there were thousands of cars passing through that freeway area everyday, shining their lights, and that a digital billboard would not add something that wasn’t already there, again getting remarks from citizens in the room.

Tension rose again in the audience and on the council when it came time for the final comments from Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean. Audience members cried out to hear her comments when Councilmember Bob Kellar motioned for a vote.

Steve Petzold, although resisting at first, was removed from the room after calling out directly to McLean, but was allowed to reenter the room.
CABB representatives exited the room as the discussion turned to the details of the ballot materials. Later in the evening, several derogatory posts were seen on CABB’s Facebook page.

McLean went on to give her comments and the motion to move to a vote took place and passed. The vote was 3-1 with council members Bob Kellar, Marsha McLean and Dante Acosta voting to put the proposal on the ballot. Boydston, who’s been an opponent of the billboard deal from early on, was the lone vote in opposition. He criticized the deal, believing that the City should have gotten better terms.

“It doesn’t make any sense, you have to go back to the negotiating table,” Boydston said, noting the terms of the deal have changed since residents pushed for the referendum.

The cost of the election is $204,000, according to city officials.

Los Angeles County officials received more than 16,000 signatures in opposition to the city’s plan to put up the giant electronic billboards in Santa Clarita. Of those, 11,370 were deemed sufficient, which exceeded the 11,170-signature threshold.

A public vote was one of three choices given to city officials as the result of residents’ referendum effort.

The referendum called for Santa Clarita to either repeal the deal with Metro, put the deal to a vote on the ballot or to table the discussion for at least a year before retrying.

Former City Council Candidate Calls Voting Rights Lawsuit “Garbage”

| City Council, Gazette, News | April 17, 2014

by Jessica Vidal

As Santa Clarita elects its first Latino City Council member, some residents question a lawsuit settlement regarding election inequality, including a losing candidate from last week’s election.

“Dante Acosta is the first Hispanic to win a spot,” said Berta Gonzalez-Harper, a losing candidate for City Council. “Had they waited to vote, the whole lawsuit would have been garbage. They could have continued with the lawsuit, but they (the plaintiffs) wouldn’t have won.”

The City of Santa Clarita was sued earlier last year due to civil rights discrimination, violating the California Voting Act of 2001, according to Santa Clarita City Attorney Joe Montes. This act was created and passed to make it easier for minority groups in California to prove that their votes are being diluted in “at-large” elections. “At large” means that all voters in the city can cast ballots for all open seats, and that council members represent the city as a whole, and not smaller districts within the city. The act does not require that there be an established geographic district where there is a minority concentration.

The City of Santa Clarita settled the lawsuit and agreed to the terms, including a $600,000 award. The trial was set for February of 2015. Why, then, was a decision made so quickly?

“I think that City Council jumped the gun,” said Gonzalez-Harper. “They should have waited for the results of the election. There had never been a Hispanic City Council member, but there were three running this year. There was a good possibility that at least one of us would have made the council.”

There were a total of three Hispanic candidates running for City Council this past election, Dante Acosta, Berta Gonzalez-Harper, and Gloria Mercado-Fortine.

Alan Ferdman, a candidate from the City Council election last week commented on the basis of the suit.

“I believe during the election, and I based everything on the fact, that every person in the community should have partial representation. If a minority group has a perception that they are not being represented it is up to elected officials to do what they can to remedy or convince the disenfranchised group that they are being thoroughly represented,” said Ferdman.

Ferdman went on to say that he thought that the Council’s means for deciding were wrong.

“I think that it would have been more prudent to hold off until they had the new council rather than making the decision at the last minute,” he commented. “I don’t understand the rationale as to why they settled the suit. They (the council) thought it would be too expensive to fight it. That’s wrong. A suit should be settled because you believe it to be correct not because you want to save money. That’s not convincing the minority community of being equally represented. They’re saying that they’re going to do the least we can do for the least amount of money in order to get off the hook.”

Gonzalez-Harper said that her reason for running was the lawsuit. She believes that the city could have saved that money and avoided problems, had they simply waited for the election to pass.

“They haven’t given any money yet, but, had they waited for the results, they would have seen that there was no basis for the lawsuit anymore. The City made a mistake, it’s a waste of money, I think. I don’t understand why there was such an urgency to vote.”
This act expands on the federal Voting rights Act of 1965. Critics of the act say that it inappropriately makes race an important and predominant factor in elections.

“The effects of the city’s at-large method of election are compelling,” the lawsuit states. “Despite a Latino population of approximately 30 percent in the city of Santa Clarita, no Latino has ever been elected to Santa Clarita’s City Council.”

This is a result of “a lack of access,” according to the suit.

“The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief barring the city from continuing its procedure of at-large elections,” said a KHTS article published in July of 2013.

Dante Acosta became the first Latino to win a seat on the Santa Clarita City Council since the city’s first election.

“I’m an American of Hispanic and Irish descent and I’m proud of my culture. As an American first it is somewhat distressing to put people in boxes and categories in order to allow them to be represented. I didn’t run on that platform, as far as the lawsuit is concerned, I wasn’t there. My answer would have to be hypothetical, I’m not comfortable commenting. I was not in favor of the lawsuit, it was not reasonable, given that we’ve had virtually no Hispanics run in past elections. It was not reasonable to settle right before the election where there were three candidates of Hispanic descent. How can there be rationally-polarized voting when a Hispanic has just won an election throughout the entire city? I don’t know what the legal technicalities of the law are or what the council recommended even with the knowledge that there were three Hispanic candidates running so I don’t know if they should have waited to settle. I don’t know what the legal technicalities are or if the electing of a Hispanic would have remedied the violation.”
In the past 10 years the Latino community has grown to represent about one-third of the City, yet it is not until now that there is a face on the council to show for it.

“If I was being cynical, I would say that the council members took the issue off the table so that the newly elected wouldn’t have a say. Marsha McLean was the only one that did not agree. She had guts while the others just settled,” said Gonzalez-Harper.

Council member McLean was not opposed to moving the election date.

“Sometimes you have to look at what’s right and wrong, and you have to fight what’s wrong,” McLean said in an interview with Hometownstation.com.

Kevin Shenkman, the attorney from Shenkman and Hughes representing the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the City of Santa Clarita, gave money to the democratic candidate Steven Daniels.

“He gave just under the legal limit to the democratic candidate Steven Daniels, a Caucasian, and nothing to myself, and to my knowledge, to none of the other Hispanic candidates. You would think that if the intention with the lawsuit was to help the Hispanics be represented in City Council that he would have given some money to a Hispanic candidate,” said Gonzalez-Harper. “I believe that this lawsuit was never about helping out the Latino community, it was about the money.”

According to sources, no California Voting Act lawsuit has been successfully litigated by a defendant.

It’ll Be A While…City Council Race Results Could be a Week Away

| City Council, Gazette | April 10, 2014

Dante

Dante Acosta – 4562 unofficial votes

by Jessica Vidal
After months of campaigning, thirteen City Council candidates, including two incumbents, found themselves awaiting poll results into the night on April 8, 2014.

The polls opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning and remained open until 8 p.m.. Including mailed and absentee ballots, the election officials had their share of ballots to count in City Hall, having about 38,837 total votes.

Alan Ferdman 4516 unofficial voes

Alan Ferdman 4516 unofficial voes

Gloia Mercado-Fortine - 4355 unofficial votes

Gloia Mercado-Fortine – 4355 unofficial votes

At several polling locations, citizens with signs supporting various causes and candidates stood the required distance away from the polls and continued their support throughout the day in an attempt to swing still undecided voters.

Dante Acosta was still campaigning on election day, starting his day out at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning holding up signs with a group of supporters on the corner of Whites Canyon and Soledad. Acosta commented that the race was a close one, saying poll results would arrive late.

“Generally, results go into the next day, it depends on the absentee ballots. It’s going to be tight, especially around the third and fourth slots,” Acosta said.

Acosta held his Election Night celebration at the Backwoods Inn.
Stephen Daniels said he expected a tight race between Alan Ferdman and Maria Gutzeit, two candidates he expressed he would work best with and like to see in City Hall, “Those are the top candidates people are looking to vote for. The third council spot is a wildcard. I’ve talked to them and from my understanding, while we don’t agree on everything, there is a consensus that we all really want to do something about listening to the people and doing what is best for the community. They will be on City Council.” Candidate Daniels attended Ferdman’s party at Route 66, “My second vote went to him. He’s a good person, he’s been very welcoming to me and I came to show him my support.”

Candidate Gloria Mercado-Fortine said if elected, she could work with anyone, “I think that that’s one of the skills that I will bring to city council, my ability to work with different people. The school board doesn’t always agree but we respect each other’s opinion and I believe I can bring that to City Council.” Mercado-Fortine held her celebration party at Robinson Ranch, “I [thanked] my volunteers and had friends over to enjoy the hardwork, it’s been a year since I declared I would be running, it’s been a long haul!”

By 9 p.m., candidates McLean and Weste both had a comfortable lead and it seemed that the real race was for the third slot being fought out between Mercado-Fortine, Acosta, and Ferdman.

At around 10:20 p.m., Dante Acosta was still hopeful in the 4th slot with less than 50 votes behind Fortine, “At this point we are really hoping to just make the top three but it’s been really close. This proves that every vote truly counts. We’re gonna be here until they kick us out!”

By 10:45 p.m., much had changed. Fortine, previously holding on to the third slot, had been pushed back to fifth, and Ferdman, anxious, was 100 votes behind taking the third slot, “The lead is very comfortable [for the incumbents] so it looks like it’s a race for third. It’s a nail biter! We’ll just have to wait and see. The numbers are tightening up.”

After a long night of counting for the officials and an even longer night of anxious waiting for the candidates, there are still votes to be counted. At this time, both incumbents, Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean, seem to have retained their seat on the Council with a comfortable lead. The third council spot is still up for grabs.

By Wednesday morning, the City Council website read that there were still approximately 900 ballots left to count and that final results would be posted on or before May 1st.

According to Alan Ferdman, contacted at 10:30 a.m.on Wednesday morning, the official vote won’t be out until the following Tuesday, a situation that he says is reasonable, “There’s still a possibility that third place can change, we heard from City Hall that the 600 ballots that were dropped off had polling places and the remaining 950 will be counted next Tuesday. They have to validate the ballots and make sure they are legitimate. I have to say I did not think it was going to be this close, this election surprised everybody and that’s the way elections go.”

Maria Gutziet got to the point, “I’ll be back in 2016.”

Dante Acosta commented at 2 p.m. Wednesday and said he was not anxious about the results, “I’m grateful to be in this position. I’m looking forward to a positive outcome. I’m 46 votes ahead and anything is possible. I’m just looking forward to that resolution. I’m confident but I don’t take anything for granted. We are so close that I think that’s a reason why they have to be so careful and make sure they dot their i’s and cross their t’s.”

There are 965 uncounted ballots hopefully to be counted by next Tuesday, “That’s the plan, it depends how fast we get them back from the county,” said Deputy City Clerk Susan Caputo at 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

With just 46 votes separating Alan Ferdman and Dante Acosta, there’s no winner yet to be had.

Campaign Infraction?

| City Council, Gazette, News | April 3, 2014

By Jessica Vidal

Running for Santa Clarita City Council puts the spotlight on the candidates, who open up their lives to scrutiny from citizens and opponents alike. Their actions are often put under the microscope and there is always someone fishing for a reason to hurt a candidate’s popularity, especially when the election draws near.

The 2014 Santa Clarita City Council election is scheduled for April 8, a little less than a week away. With the campaigning coming to a close, some are looking for missteps by their opponents, such as catching candidates slipping up when it comes to campaign rules and regulations.
Sources reported that Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean, running for reelection this year, sent out mailers without an address and is speculated to have campaigned during a city council meeting last Tuesday, March 25. With the date drawing nearer, temptations to increase voter turnout and sway ballot results tempt the candidates, but it is hard to gauge how much of it is true and how much is simply trying to reduce an opponent’s chances of winning.

McLean’s mailers are reported to have been without an address, a violation of Government Code 84305, stating, “No candidate or committee shall send a mass mailing unless the name, street address, and city of the candidate or committee are shown on the outside of each piece of mail in the mass mailing.”

When confronted with the issue, McLean countered, saying, “The address was inadvertently left off of one of my mailers. It was a printing error. When I realized the error, I called the FPPC (California Fair Political Practices Commission) and reported the incident.”

Although a violation was made, McLean realized the mistake and corrected it before it was brought to the attention of the public. However, although the mailers were reported, they still made it into the hands of citizens and doing what they were intended to do, address or not, which is help her campaign.

Another reported violation made by McLean was reported to have happened during the City Council meeting. The meeting, lasting a total of more than six hours, was mainly focused on the billboard contract and where the most concentrated amount of time was spent. During this segment, McLean spoke of the contract and it was then that she began to campaign.

During the City Council meeting McLean said, “I am a resident of Santa Clarita. I’ve been a community activist for 30 years working to the benefit of this community. … I am committed to look at all sides of an issue and make a decision that I think is a benefit to the majority of the citizens. … The project is what it is, you either like it or you don’t. … This is the project: taking down 62, 118 faces, brightly lit billboards, of which many shine directly into people’s homes, and replacing them with three double-sided digital boards, of which none will shine into people’s homes,  a condition that I placed into the contract, that if any one of them can be seen from someone’s home after shielding, it can’t be lit … $400,000 to $600,000 extra money annually into the city’s budget, which, by a condition I placed into the contract, will be used for city community projects … $30,000 to be used for the formation of the first ever Small Business Marketing Committee, to benefit all small businesses in Santa Clarita, a condition that I had placed into the contract. … If any of you know me at all, you know that I am protective, overly protective, obsessed with protecting open space and if I thought any of this was going to harm a wildlife corridor, the light was going to spill out anywhere that was going to harm animals and such, I would not have voted the first time for this project.”

Later in the meeting McLean spoke again on the subject.

“There are four people up here; Frank is leaving, and I’m the only one up here that’s up for re-election, and I was told in a personal phone call today, I won’t divulge who it was, but I was encouraged to vote no to avoid a glossy ‘hit-piece’ being sent out on me,” she said. “So, all the people that are listening, when that hit-piece hits your mail, just understand what it is. That’s all I have to say. I just don’t feel comfortable stating who it is, I prefer not to. But, if pressed by somebody, I would.”

Duane Harte, a candidate running for City Council, said he didn’t have much to say.

Harte did say, however, “I think it is up to the council whether they think that was appropriate; she was saying what she felt needed to be said.”

Maria Gutzeit, present during the meeting, is sure that Mayor Pro Tem McLean was campaigning.
“I do think she campaigned, I was there when it happened,” said Gutzeit. “Having been in public office for so long, you just don’t see that. It was really inappropriate for her to use the public time to promote the campaign. I was really surprised that she did that, you just don’t mention campaigns or use public television to promote yourself. It was a televised event, it was a televised reminder to the citizens that she was running, which is a huge advantage for her over the challengers. It is or should be forbidden to do that.”
Alan Ferdman, a candidate also running for City Council and present during the meeting also expressed discontent with McLean’s comments.

“She was [campaigning] and it was inappropriate,” said Ferdman. “When she mentioned she was running for City Council and some of her perceptions about the election, that sounded like campaigning to me. At the time, it should have been the city attorney’s job to stop her or come up and tell her that it was not a legal thing to do. You cannot use government resources to campaign. You’re being videoed and telecast and, as an elected official, are not allowed to use those resources.”

McLean responded to the allegations about her campaigning during the billboard discussion at the City Council meeting.

“When any project is brought forth to the City Council, it is and has been my goal to make it as beneficial to the residents and to the City as possible,” said McLean.  “I asked that certain conditions be placed in the contract, in open session, at the first public hearing, and they were agreed to by the project proponent.”

Other candidates were contacted but had not responded by press time.

McLean’s actions have been put under the spotlight since the city council meeting. Speculations about the regulations being broken have brought up questions about the true regulations of campaigning and government codes. Overall, candidates have to understand these terms in order to avoid mistakes or misinterpretation from the public.

The Need for New Blood on the City Council

| City Council, Gazette, Opinion | April 3, 2014

Four years ago I agreed with Councilman (Bob) Kellar when he said that we needed new blood on the City Council. The three Council members running at that time were re-elected, yet again. It is time for a change. Twenty years is too long to serve on the City Council. I applaud those in the local press and on social media who have said it is time for fresh ideas and new faces. As our city grows and grows up, we need new leadership. There are many excellent candidates running for office this year, some for the first time. In the years to come, some will prove their mettle and dedication and hopefully also serve on the Council. Santa Clarita is fortunate to have so many qualified individuals who want to represent our citizens, and I look forward to working with whoever wins the seats.

My endorsements for City Council are for people that I believe will do a great job, but by no means the only people that can do the job. I believe we need individuals who are, above all, independent thinkers, intelligent, hard working, and respectful of the citizens who come to us. They need to actually listen to the citizens, even when being criticized. They need to be able to work with the City Manager and staff with respect, and take the time to understand staff recommendations. They must also have the intelligence and courage to be able to disagree with those recommendations when their judgment and study shows the need.

They need to be able to engage in public debate in a respectful manner, as this is the cornerstone of a democracy, and to not be afraid of being in the minority. They should have the courage to always give the reason for their vote, and answer the questions of the public to the best of their abilities. They must always remember that they are in their job to serve, not to be served. They need to be strong enough to admit mistakes, apologize, and then find solutions, not excuses.

This is a tall order, but representing the people is a sacred trust. The people pay for their government and deserve to have their tax dollars managed wisely. And do I always achieve these ideals 100 percent myself? Of course not, but the key is to never stop working to become a better representative. The following are three people who I believe are like-minded in the pursuit of these ideals – not perfect people, but people who have shown that they are committed to the principles above.

Alan Ferdman, a smart, retired manager and engineer from the aerospace industry who works full-time for free as a community advocate, helping people interface with their government and trying to make our city an even better place to live. He has an excellent grasp on processes that will benefit the city by helping make it become more efficient. He has a heart for the people and is always trying to help the “little guy.” His respect for diversity and his appreciation of people’s strength through their differences is huge. His ability to understand and relate to all sides of an issue makes him an excellent leader.

Maria Gutzeit is an intelligent businesswoman, who also has an engineering background. She is an elected official serving with distinction on the Newhall County Water Board and is skilled in coalition building. As a mother of a young child and also a caregiver, she understands the challenges of families in Santa Clarita. Her husband is a small business owner, so she understands the need for good paying jobs and a dynamic local economy. Working in the environmental business, she understands the importance of finding the optimum level of regulation based on science, not politics.

Gloria Mercado-Fortine is an accomplished educational consultant with a background in education, who currently serves on the William S. Hart School Board. She has experience working with many companies, so understands the world of business. Being in education, she knows the importance of good jobs and the education needed to get them. Through her collaboration with the City she has helped create a safer environment for our children to grow up in. Her work with at-risk children and alternative education has given her a heart for the disadvantaged.

The City of Santa Clarita was founded to give its people the power to determine their own fate, to be able to address their government and be heard, and to do the will of the people. Our city is not a for-profit corporation, and although we must be fiscally prudent, we must not make our decisions based on how much money we can make, how big we can grow our bureaucracy, or which special interest group has better connections.

The people of Santa Clarita need to take their City back. The power is in your hands. Vote April 8.th.

At Your Service,
TimBen Boydston, Councilman

Meet Berta Gonzalez-Harper

| City Council, Gazette, Meet the Candidates | March 13, 2014

Berta Gonzalez-Harper

Santa Clarita claims to be a “business-friendly” city, yet there are many instances of start-up businesses going through a very difficult process in obtaining necessary permits, often leading to unforeseen expenditures and drawn out delays that make success difficult. What would you do to streamline this procedure and provide assistance to small business start-ups to get them off on the right foot? What would you do to reduce fees or burdens on business and new development?

As a retired small business owner, I would start by disagreeing with your verbiage. Santa Clarita IS a business-friendly city. The City of Santa Clarita does not have a separate City business tax, nor is there a utility user tax either unlike many other cities. Home based businesses are allowed without much hassle as long as certain parking and other common sense requirements are met and it takes one phone call to the City to be given information on how to proceed.

In addition, the City has a one-stop permit office specifically created to address the time and effort necessary to obtain needed permits in order to do business here, and a proactive Film Office to expedite filming permits within the City too.

Nevertheless, to address your claims, the first thing I would do, is perform an in depth assessment of how our permitting process is helping or hurting our business community. If, as you claim, the process needs refinement or change, as a council member I would take on a proactive role to make sure needed changes  happen and would enlist the input of local small and large business owners, and business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, VIA, and others to help accomplish the goal of making Santa Clarita an even more business-friendly environment. I would have measurable benchmarks to meet, and request the council agendize a comprehensive public report to present to the residents and business owners on proposed changes and progress made.

Do you support a plan to extend Via Princessa through to Golden Valley Road and eventually to Railroad Avenue? If so, how would you expedite this process to help with cross town traffic?

The Via Princessa/Magic Mountain Pkwy extension is a needed East/West road cutting through the Whittaker-Bermite property. As a Canyon Country resident, the completion of this road will shorten my trips to Newhall substantially, particularly during peak traffic hours when Soledad is essentially gridlocked, but first we must complete clean up of the Whittaker-Bermite property. As an original and ongoing  Whittaker-Bermite Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) member, I remain involved to ensure that the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) stays on track  to meet the clean up time line of 2016 for this important centrally located property vital to our road extensions.

The Lyons Dockweiler extension is more problematic in my opinion and needs further study to determine whether that road is even feasible and worth the money to build, given all of the challenges.

In your opinion, why has the Whittaker-Bermite clean-up project taken so long to complete? If elected, how would you try to affect its timely completion? What would you support to be developed on the site?

The Whittaker-Bermite clean-up is taking a long time due to several factors including the various substances and levels of contamination on the property,  the millions of dollars it costs to remediate, the different federal, state, county, water, city government, and private agencies involved. Other important factors are the bankruptcy of the property owner, the insurance policies in effect to pay for the clean up, and the evolving technologies available for the most complete clean up possible, given what we know today.

I have publicly stated that once the property is as clean as possible, because there are different levels of contamination within areas – some areas have none, others have little, others more, and a few that will never be available for unrestricted use for, say, single family homes, which is the highest clean up required – I would like to do a feasibility study on whether a “teaching” hospital, not affiliated with the state of California, could be built on this 996-acre site.

The Whittaker-Bermite property has great freeway access, is one of the few remaining large parcels in the center of the city, and a teaching hospital would bring much needed services and good paying jobs right to the center of the City and closer to the east side of our valley.

With Disney expanding their studios in Placerita Canyon, and within close proximity, a second hospital nearby is an added benefit. Disney has a history of cooperating with Providence Saint Joseph Hospital across the street from Disney Burbank Studios and I think Disney would find a quality hospital close by a great community amenity. If a teaching hospital was not feasible, I am open to any other creative ideas that bring needed services and good paying jobs to our community.

What experience or talents can you bring to the City Council that makes you a better choice than other candidates?

I am a fair-minded individual who does not follow the herd. Most of the other candidates have not been as involved as I have been for 21 years, are not as well informed, or have other obligations which make it very difficult to dedicate full time to serve. I am also one of the few candidates who does not have an anti-city bias. I do not always agree with every decision but am fair enough to understand that not every decision is going to go the way I want it to either. Some candidates continuously manipulate issues to unfairly paint the city in the worst possible light without presenting all of the facts fairly so folks can make their decisions with all the pertinent facts at their disposal.

City leaders must make decisions taking into consideration all aspects and potential ramifications and then decide what will provide the greatest benefit to city residents and business owners alike. It is a difficult task to reconcile competing interests at times, and some candidates and others use contentious issues to stir up the folks with half-truths and outright lies in order to bolster their personal agendas.

I have years of business experience, 21 years of local community involvement, the maturity and knowledge to understand complex issues, am the only candidate whose election could potentially defeat the Soliz vs. City of Santa Clarita lawsuit, saving taxpayers millions in legal fees. I am also bilingual, a non-partisan voter, retired living on a fixed income modest budget in a working class neighborhood, and am unfailingly fair in my assessments.

The voters will decide whether a knowledgeable, fair, and long time involved grass roots candidate without further political aspirations, glossy mailers, or special interest backers is who they want to have represent them or not.

If elected to City Council, will you be able to maintain your other local responsibilities?

I retired early and am without other responsibilities, business/professional, family/personal or board/civic, which would preclude dedicating myself full-time to public service. I am ready, willing, and able to serve the residents.

Can you articulate your position on the current litigation of the California Voting Rights Act?

I am opposed to the Soliz vs. City of Santa Clarita lawsuit using the poorly written California Voting Rights Act of 2001. This law is so poorly written that unscrupulous lawyers and their “clients” do not have to prove anything, simply find public entities with out the “flavor of the day” represented. Our City and several school districts are currently being sued by this same bunch. Today it is Hispanics; tomorrow it can be Blacks, next time LGBT, and so on. These “plaintiffs” were virtually unknown to me before the lawsuit was filed. Neither had ever run for office nor been involved in this community, yet they claim that Hispanics have been precluded from election to city council by “polarized voting” caused by our at large electoral process. I would have more respect for any of these folks if they had spoken to any of us who are Hispanic and have been involved in our community. In fact, I attended the only locally held informational meeting by the proponents of this lawsuit AFTER it was already filed and the host failed to call on me, despite my having had my hand raised virtually the entire time; so much for wanting more Hispanic (MY)  participation. I guess it only applies if you agree with them.

Hispanics are not represented on the council because credible, viable candidates have not run. I do not believe that race and ethnicity are the defining characteristics for good leaders. There are crooks and jerks, or honest and fair civic-minded individuals in every group, and I believe informed voters understand that.

We Hispanics are spread out throughout Santa Clarita and not relegated to particular “barrios” and we come from all economic levels too. However, I am the only candidate who is Hispanic and lives within one of the neighborhoods called out in the lawsuit. I believe this lawsuit is designed to make the lawyers millions, but also serves to potentially disenfranchise ALL voters within Santa Clarita by forcing the creation of artificially delineated voting districts based upon race and ethnicity and denying all of us the ability to vote for and hold accountable all FIVE council members.

If this lawsuit is successful, our city will be broken up into districts with only your particular district representative accountable to you and the other four, or however many, exclusively looking out for their individual district. Voting districts set up individual fiefdoms with far greater potential for corruption, cronyism, and influence peddling and do not help minorities of any kind receive better or more city services. Canyon Country and Newhall have received the lion’s share of city money over our 26 years of cityhood, precisely because all council members understand that voters in those areas have demanded city investment, and have the power to replace ALL of them with others if they are not responsive to community needs.

If each community is its own voting district, Valencia, Saugus, and Newhall have no incentive to approve their constituents’ money being spent on needed services for Canyon Country. The same issue is foreseeable no matter which individual community name you insert instead of Canyon Country.

I use the example of Pacoima and Sherman Oaks, both areas are districts within the City of Los Angeles. Pacoima forms part of the 7th District and has a Hispanic Representative, Félipe Fuentes, and Sherman Oaks forms part of the 4th District and has Representative Tom LaBonge. No fair-minded person can convince me that each district has equal representation of city services, investment in infrastructure, or benefits to the individual community. These communities  do not have equal city investment, community amenities,  or equal problems, precisely because more affluent areas are not treated the same as are less affluent areas and only their individual representative is accountable to those residents.
If Pacoima residents and all other 7th District voters could vote for all City of Los Angeles District Representatives you would see very different results, because then each and every one of the Los Angeles representatives would be accountable to all City of Los Angeles voters. They could not set up their own little fiefdoms where they have all the power to influence what the ultimate King or Queen, the Mayor of Los Angeles, decides to do in their district.

Our system of at large elections ensures that, as a city, we business owners, residents, and elected officials,  all work together for the benefit of all areas within our city regardless of demographic or economic indicators.

Do you think that a change to district voting from city-wide general voting will help or hurt Hispanic/Latino interests? In fact, can you think of any political interests or aspirations for Santa Clarita Hispanic or Latino voters that can or should be recognized separately from the interests of the average City voter or any other group?

As a first generation bilingual American of Hispanic ancestry, I am opposed to and will work tirelessly to defeat the Soliz vs. City of Santa Clarita lawsuit. If successful, this lawsuit will force changes on how our city functions forever by forcing us to form segregated voting districts based upon race or ethnicity, denying residents the ability to vote for all five council representatives and holding all of them accountable to and working for all Santa Clarita residents.

Voting districts will irreparably harm all residents, including minority voters, pitting districts against each other for coveted taxpayer dollars and placing less affluent communities at a distinct disadvantage when asking for citywide taxpayer money to fund individual districted community investment.

Moreover, on a personal note, I am very tired of folks who say they have “our” best interests at heart, but never bother to ask our opinion. Please do not “help” me anymore; I am capable of speaking for myself and I have never been held back by any city representatives from running for office or stating my views. I cannot say the same about my supposed “saviors.”

Changing to artificially created gerrymandered districts based upon race or ethnicity does not benefit anyone, least of all Hispanics or other “minorities,” since the representatives of those other districted areas will have no incentive to work to benefit the constituents of someone else’s district. Having districts competing for the same pot of taxpayer money does not create a more unified and better overall city, but in fact leads to more divided and differently treated areas within the city.

Another issue is that we will lose our ability to fight external issues as one UNITED city instead of only an individual district being concerned with an issue and willing to spend money to fight against it. Without the entire city en force fighting these issues and spending citywide tax dollars, Newhall may become the Boyle Heights and Canyon Country may become the Pacoima like areas of this city. We need  all city taxpayers to continue spending and  investing in all areas of our city, as has been the case over the 26 years of our cityhood, with more money spent in the areas with the most pressing needs. All you have to do is look at our neighbors to the south to see what happens within heavily districted and distinctly less desirable City of Los Angeles areas.

I believe the majority of Hispanics want what most others want, good paying local jobs; affordable housing; clean, safe neighborhoods; great schools, parks and libraries, ample shopping and other amenities,  and a responsive government. It does not matter to me what race or ethnic group our leaders belong to as long as they are doing a good job for all of us, and if they are not we have the power to remove all FIVE and replace them.

Regarding the Ventura septic chloride issue, are you behind the proposed R.O. solution and deep well brine disposal? What would you like to tell voters on this subject?

I am an original and continuing opponent of our Sanitation District’s various proposals to require city taxpayers to pay millions of dollars for chloride clean up benefiting Ventura County farmers and other downstream users. This entire issue is a manufactured problem based on old studies done in Riverside County claiming damage to avocado and strawberry crops in that area. There has been no site-specific study done which substantiates that crop damage is occurring downstream of us, or that we are exclusively responsible.

All of the proposals are designed to reach an artificially low 100 mg chloride level in order to force Santa Clarita water ratepayers to pay to clean water we purchase from the state of California. The true reason is so that the over pumped Ventura aquifer and its water wells can be recharged by filling up with our cleaner water. Ventura County has  routinely over pumped their wells by their own irresponsible actions, dropping their water levels to the point that salty sea water has intruded into their water sources, necessitating the need for our water to dilute theirs to useable levels. I would tell our voters that it “isn’t over yet” and we need to fight this unfunded mandate until the bitter end. If we give in, we will be paying millions and over time billions to clean water we did not pollute to give away to folks who have not been good stewards of their own natural resources, and these demands to remove the substance du jour will never end.

How much would you pay from the tax dollars of City residents to stop the CEMEX mine?

There is no simple answer to that question. I would continue to fight this mega mine until there is no other recourse. Not only is the CEMEX mine in play for potentially one hundred years of mining, air pollution, dynamite blasting, ridge removal, increased asthma, valley fever  and other respiratory ailments, horrendous truck traffic, etc., but I am concerned  that another mining concern, Vulcan Industries, is right behind them with another huge mine if this one manages to go forward.

I would not bankrupt our city, but would carefully evaluate and would exhaust all possible remedies available to defeat this mine from going forward and operating right next to our homes and schools. Defeating this mine is critically important to the future of our valley.

To reach Berta Gonzalez-Harper, call 251-0056.

Meet Gloria Mercado-Fortine

| City Council, Gazette, Meet the Candidates | March 13, 2014

Interview by Chris Ball
What experience or talents can you bring to the City Council that makes you a better choice than other candidates?

As a life-long resident of the Santa Clarita Valley, I have demonstrated a life-time of commitment to my community through public service.

My experience as a publically elected official gives me a solid foundation to do the job and hit the ground running. I have been privileged to serve on the Hart School District Governing Board for 15 years. Hart is the largest full-time employer in the Santa Clarita Valley. The Board oversees a budget of $200 million dollars per year and a school facilities bond of $300 million dollars.

Professionally I have served as a teacher, principal and district administrator for the Los Angeles Unified School District where, in my last position, I supervised 125 schools and oversaw a budget of $125 million dollars per year. I am currently an education consultant and the Chief Executive Officer of Global Education Solutions, Inc.

I want to bring my experience, leadership and fresh perspective to the City Council.

If elected to City Council, will you be able to maintain your other responsibilities with the Hart Board, Samuel Dixon, Hispanic Chamber, or others?

If elected to the City Council, I must resign from the Hart School Board. You can’t hold two elected positions at the same time.

I have always been an active community member. I serve on several non-profit boards and civic organizations and I will continue to support and provide leadership to these organizations. Being involved and visible in the community is one way that I can always be accessible and responsive to the public.

A follow-up question to the above: Can you list your volunteer affiliations?

Some of my volunteer affiliations include:

Board of Directors, SCV Boys & Girls Club
Chairwoman of the Board of Directors, Samuel Dixon Health and Family Centers
Board of Directors, Child and Family Center
Executive Committee, SCV Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Past Chair, Light the Night, Annual Walk and Fundraiser
(raised close to $500,000 in two years as Chair).
Executive Committee, Santa Clarita City/Sheriff Anti-Gang Task Force
Board of Directors, SCV Latino Chamber of Commerce
US Marine Corp Ambassador
(attended an abbreviated Boot Camp in San Diego last year)
Advisory Board, Circle of Hope
Advisory Board, YMCA of Santa Clarita Valley
Member, Past President, Zonta Club of SCV
Celebrity Waiter, benefiting the SCV Senior Center

Can you articulate your position on the current litigation regarding the CA Voting Rights Act (CVRA)? 

I support the current at-large election system. As a locally at-large elected official, I represent all constituents and all areas of the Santa Clarita Valley. In my opinion, districting tends to divide communities as they wrestle for funding and other resources for their own district instead of what is good for the entire community.

Do you think that a change to district voting from city-wide general voting will help or hurt Hispanic/Latino interests? In fact, can you think of any political interests or aspirations for Santa Clarita Hispanic or Latino voters that can or should be recognized separately from the interests of the average City voter or any other group? 

I believe that district voting would hurt Latino interests, based on recent demographic studies of the Santa Clarita Valley.

In late 2012, in an effort to comply with the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) and decrease exposure to potential claims, our five school districts and the Community College District commissioned a demographics study for the purpose of evaluating our compliance under the CVRA. While the demographic studies indicated that there was a possible need to increase the voting power of certain voting blocs within each school district, the studies also indicated that redistricting did not increase minority voting power because the voting population was substantially dispersed throughout the valley ethnically. The studies showed that new districts could not be constructed to have a positive impact on voting and could possibly decrease minority voting power.

A better way to encourage more voter participation from all groups would be to convert to an even year election system without redistricting.

Do you think that government subsidies for low income, under-insured and uninsured under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will provide additional insurance revenues for the Samuel Dixon Family Health centers? Or will benefits under Obamacare reduce the need for clinics like Samuel Dixon?

The Affordable Care Act will definitely provide additional insurance revenue for the Samuel Dixon Family Health Center. First, there will be many more people enrolled in Medi-Cal. They will have more access to qualify for Medi-Cal under the new law. Secondly, it will also substantially increase enrollment with people having commercial/private insurance. Historically, many have been denied insurance due to preexisting conditions. With the ACA, that all changes, and people have to be accepted with preexisting conditions. That is truly remarkable.

In short, the ACA supports organizations such as SDFHC.

Regarding the Ventura septic chloride issue, are you behind the proposed Reverse Osmosis (R.O.) solution and deep well brine disposal? What would you like to tell voters on this subject?

The City should absolutely fight. It’s a State mandate that should be funded by the State. The State imposed requirement of 100mg/ltr. for salt discharge into the river are arbitrary limits that have no scientific base.

I believe that the City should do everything within its means to fight this. I am glad to see that the SCV Sanitation District’s Board of Directors has challenged the State’s ruling on chloride compliance.

I do not necessarily support the proposed R.O. solution with deep well brine disposal since there are other methods of treating and filtering the chlorides that I think should have been investigated.

I also believe that the City and County need to stay in front of regulatory issues and continue to look for new technologies to address the chloride issue.

How much would you pay from the tax dollars of City residents to stop the Cemex mine?

At this point in time, Senate Bill 771 has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office so it is difficult to know what the costs will actually be for Santa Clarita. The score will determine how much compensation CEMEX would give up for not mining in the SCV as well as the value of the aggregates, the associated royalties and the cost to the federal government.

While settling with Cemex may be an expensive proposition for the residents of the SCV, not coming up with a plan to raise funds would be devastating to our valley on many levels.

In 2001 the Hart and Sulphur Springs School districts commissioned a study to protect student health. The estimated cost to protect six schools in the Canyon Country area of the Hart District was $31,000,000 and for nine schools in the Sulphur Springs District was $24,000,000. That’s $55,000,000 of our taxpayers’ money to keep our kids somewhat healthy! Members of our community are not aware of the medical protection cost involved if the Cemex Mine is approved. The study addressed the cost of installation of mitigation equipment in classrooms, additional janitorial expenses and filtering air on school busses. The study also addressed the carcinogenic effect of diesel truck emissions, silicosis from silica particulate matter, asthma from limestone particulate matter and valley fever from biological spores.

If operational, the Cemex Mine would increase congestion on Highway 14, contribute to serious health issues, harm protected native species, lower our quality of life and have a dramatic effect on home values.
What are your opinions about the billboard deal that was just debated in the City Council?

At this point, a decision has been made. The City Council has approved the Metro billboard proposal. The deal will generate revenue for the city, remove 62 billboards on METRO’s right-of-way and replace them with three electronic billboards on the 14 and I-5 freeways. However, based on information presented to city council during the discussion, it was revealed that other cities have received a better deal than Santa Clarita. Perhaps it would have been wiser to take the time to negotiate a better deal for the City. I would not settle for anything less.

As I have stated in public forums, I am in favor of the efforts to beautify the city and the removal of the billboards along Railroad and Soledad would be an enhancement. However, I am concerned about the impact on our local small businesses that use these billboards to advertise their businesses. For many businesses, billboard advertisement is affordable and they are able to market to the local consumer. I believe that we need to support our local businesses by providing alternative affordable marketing opportunities.

Duane Harte

| City Council, Gazette, Meet the Candidates | March 10, 2014

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Santa Clarita claims to be a “business-friendly” city, yet there are many instances of start-up businesses going through a very difficult process in obtaining necessary permits, often leading to unforeseen expenditures and drawn out delays that make success difficult. What would you do to streamline this procedure and provide assistance to small business start-ups to get them off on the right foot? What would you do to reduce fees or burdens on business and new development?

The permit process should be made as simple as possible. One of the ways this could be done is to have a class available for those who may find themselves in need of the permitting process. This class could possibly offer insights as to what will be expected from a potential business startup. Many times I have wondered about what would be required to develop a piece of property, but the information was not available until I was into the permitting process after I had gone to the expense of purchasing or leasing a property. The information should be readily available prior to property acquisition.

Do you support a plan to extend Via Princessa through to Golden Valley Road and eventually to Railroad Avenue? If so, how would you expedite this process to help with cross town traffic?

I do support the extension of Via Princessa. I believe it would help our traffic patterns, just as the Cross Valley Connector has. The only way to get this done is through the cleanup of the Whittaker/Bermite property. We need to expedite that cleanup.

In your opinion, why has the Whittaker-Bermite clean-up project taken so long to complete? If elected, how would you try to affect its timely completion? What would you support to be developed on the site?

I was a member of the original CAG for the Whittaker-Bermite project. That project has been going on for way too long and needs to be expedited. I would work with the DTSC to push this project to completion for whatever development will take place. The first project to be done, once the cleanup is completed, would be the extension of Via Princessa. Since “the donut hole” is the center of the city, I would prefer to see commercial and public development occur there, rather than residential development.

What experience or talents can you bring to the City Council that makes you a better choice than other candidates?

I have run a successful business for more than 30 years. I have held leadership positions in many different organizations. I have a degree in business/accounting. I have worked with city staff in nearly every department with positive outcomes. I am able to work to get things done instead of trying to push an agenda.

If elected to City Council, will you be able to maintain your other responsibilities?

Not only will I be able to maintain my other responsibilities such as the Historical Society, the Veterans Memorial, The American Legion Riders, the SCV Parade Committee, The Chamber of Commerce, etc., it will enhance my association with those organizations.

Can you articulate your position on the current litigation of the California Voting Rights Act?

I believe we are being wrongly accused of violating the CVRA. Everyone is able to run for City Council, no matter their race or creed. We all have the same opportunity to raise funds, get our name out to the public and the myriad things it takes to win a seat. I think districting in order to sidestep this litigation would be a mistake. The City should do its homework and fight the suit.

Do you think that a change to district voting from city-wide general voting will help or hurt Hispanic/Latino interests? In fact, can you think of any political interests or aspirations for Santa Clarita Hispanic or Latino voters that can or should be recognized separately from the interests of the average City voter or any other group?

I don’t believe districting would help Latino or any other minority interests. It would only create animosity between districts over every little project the City promotes.

It is my belief that every citizen should have the same opportunity to run for any office and I believe that opportunity exists in our city.

Regarding the Ventura septic chloride issue, are you behind the proposed R.O. solution and deep well brine disposal? What would you like to tell voters on this subject?
I don’t believe the question should be the approval, or not, of the R.O. system to clean up our water. The question should be, do I agree with the City of Santa Clarita footing the entire bill for the process. In that respect, my answer would be a resounding NO. This is just another unfunded mandate from the state. We should be partnering in this cost with the state of California, Ventura County and the growers downstream that will be the sole benefactors of this costly endeavor.

How much would you pay from the tax dollars of City residents to stop the Cemex mine?

Cemex has been a pending cancer on the residents of Santa Clarita for decades. We have not denied the mining proposal on the property, but the scope of the mining. They have refused any mitigation alternatives offered them. We have spent millions of dollars fighting this proposal in order to keep the quality of life we have all come to know in our wonderful valley. We can’t give up now that we are close to a resolution. It is impossible to know, at this point, what the scoring process will come up with. We may get by with next to nothing or be on the hook for a few million dollars. We just don’t know. To put numbers into play at this point could jeopardize any negotiations we may have to enter into. To fail in these negotiations would not only give Cemex the go ahead to create the largest mining operation in the U.S., it will open the door for an even larger project from Vulcan Industries, located right next to the Cemex property.

Harte Won’t Rock the Council Boat

| City Council, Gazette, Meet the Candidates | March 8, 2014

Duane Harte has been a community fixture in the Santa Clarita Valley since 1974. Moving from the San Fernando Valley, he has resided in Canyon Country, Valencia, Newhall and Saugus. He retired from the Navy after 23 years as a navigator, and he served at the helm of the family’s direct mail advertising business from 1981 until he retired last year. With all that time on his hands, Harte feels this is a good time to run again for Santa Clarita City Council (he ran unsuccessfully in 2002).

Given all of Harte’s time serving as a council appointee to the Parks and Recreation Commission and working with other organizations, including Friends of Mentryville, SCV Historical Society, SCV Veterans Memorial Committee, SCV Chamber of Commerce, SCV Committee on Aging, SCV Senior Center Charitable Foundation, Newhall Redevelopment Committee, Friends of the Libraries of the SCV and the Canyon Theatre Guild Board of Directors, Harte could be viewed by some as an insider candidate who won’t rock the boat.

But Harte does feel there are some important issues still facing the City, particularly chloride disposal, Whittaker-Bermite and the Cemex mine. He was on the Whittaker-Bermite Citizens Advisory Group and rejoined the group last year. His vision for the property is to turn it into a city center commercial zone, rather than have it become another residential development.

Contrary to many business owners’ views, which were supported by the recent vote of the City Council, to eliminate billboards promoting local businesses along the railroad right-of-ways, Harte thinks the City is “business-friendly.” He relays how he has spent the last 18 years with the SCV Chamber of Commerce and says, “Businesses don’t want to move to the SCV because they can’t find the right employees or buildings that are the right size.”

This is in spite of the fact that half the working population commutes from the SCV to jobs in other parts of the Los Angeles basin and that there is available land for businesses to build scalable buildings.

Harte feels the City Council has done a good job with having balanced budgets, a healthy reserve and the parks and recreation programs, but feels they could do much better, especially with respect to having more active parkland and listening to residents. Harte believes that residents don’t interact with the City much, but says he found the City accommodating when he had dealt with them on residential issues.

When asked about his time on the Newhall Redevelopment Committee, Harte says, “What has been done has been great, but it has been a problem getting anchor stores.”
He approves of the ability of restaurants to have outdoor tables and feels that the hardest thing is to “get people to look at the area differently.” He also says, “Redevelopment didn’t drive Newhall Hardware out of business.”

When asked to differentiate himself from the current incumbents, Harte says, “I’ll be more able to work with everyone and I have a different experience set.”

Harte also indicates that he “wouldn’t have settled the chloride issue as easily” and that he didn’t see any reasons for significant changes of the Council makeup via the election, adding, “Why change things now?” He thinks it is “important to keep continuity on the Council.” Harte would be willing to litigate with the Regional Water Quality Control Board, but believes it is likely too late for that. He supported the incumbents elected to go along with a settlement without a fight.

Harte sees himself as an insider, because he’s worked with the City. “But that doesn’t mean I agree with everything they do,” he says.

He feels they need to step up their game on service requests regarding contractor permitting, parks and synchronization of traffic signals. (He feels that traffic is still an issue.)

When asked about his ideas on the Soledad corridor, Harte says he feels that there is a need to create a plan for new development or redevelopment and that there is a “hodge podge of parking lots and buildings, poor ingress and egress, ADA and aesthetics issues, and that any plan will take decades to implement.”

With respect to One Valley One Vision, the joint City/County general plan, Harte feels that if job creation worked as envisioned under the plan, he would be happy, but he doesn’t think the job creation would materialize and that he is not a fan of the “valley of villages” concept pushed by the City. He does like the Villa Metro development across from the Saugus Metrolink station and thinks that residential planning would depend on having the infrastructure to handle it. Harte also indicates he “wouldn’t be for just approving residential development without jobs.”

When asked about whether the City should go to a district voting approach, Harte says he is against districts, but that the Council should decide what is best as a city, rather than being driven by litigation, and that if on the Council he would be willing to litigate against the voting rights lawsuit.

Finally, Harte has no strong preference regarding an elected Mayor and feels that the City is better off with law firm representation rather than a staff City Attorney. Harte says he is also happy with the Los Angeles County Fire and Sheriff’s services, and that he personally hates speed bumps.

Alan Ferdman

| City Council, Gazette, Meet the Candidates | March 8, 2014

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Santa Clarita claims to be a “business-friendly” city, yet there are many instances of start-up businesses going through a very difficult process in obtaining necessary permits, often leading to unforeseen expenditures and drawn out delays that make success difficult. What would you do to streamline this procedure and provide assistance to small business start-ups to get them off on the right foot? What would you do to reduce fees or burdens on business and new development?

Anyone who has been involved in the permitting process is likely to tell stories of problems they encountered. I have had similar experiences in gaining permits and approvals for residential remodels. My experience has included submitting plans, gaining approvals and purchasing all specified permits, only to have inspectors point out that I did not have all the permits required. On another project, I had a civil engineer draw the plans, Plan Check signed them off, only for the inspector to decline approval of the work at the job site because, as he stated, “I don’t like it.” So, it was back to City Hall for a remedy.

From my point of view these types of problems represent a lack of staff training and understanding of what is required. Problems like this go unreported because no one wants to raise the issue once they have struggled their way through the system. The city needs to set up a method of monitoring how well the permitting process is working. The function needs the authority to not only review the effectiveness of the process, but to take corrective action when problems become apparent.

To make matters worse, every year we witness “Fee and Charge” increases being brought before the City Council.  Rationale for the increases normally revolve around the Consumer Price Index or what other cities charge for similar processes. As your council member, I will challenge those fees and charges to understand the actual costs and will not approve any fee or charge that is not justified. Should that translate to a cost reduction, I will be pleased to reduce the amount charged to our residents.

Do you support a plan to extend Via Princessa through to Golden Valley Road and eventually to Railroad Avenue? If so, how would you expedite this process to help with cross town traffic?

Extending Via Princessa from Canyon Country through the Bermite property and connecting with Via Princessa in Newhall would provide another vital link across our valley. In addition, the planned link from Via Princessa to Magic Mountain Parkway is also very important. I absolutely support completion of these two important roads. They will be a major factor in taking the traffic burden off of Soledad Canyon and improving traffic flow across our valley.

Expediting the completion of these important pieces of infrastructure requires the completion of the Bermite cleanup.

In your opinion, why has the Whittaker-Bermite clean-up project taken so long to complete? If elected, how would you try to affect its timely completion? What would you support to be developed on the site?

A good part of why the Bermite clean-up is taking so long, is that our council members are not monitoring the process or pushing for completion. I have observed the last three multi-jurisdictional meetings and noted the absence of any council members. The meetings normally consist of a set of incoherent reports which are never impacted against the project end date. For the past six months the process has been stalled, waiting for Edison to install power and obtaining grading permits from the city. Waiting translates to no progress and one has to wonder why these actives were not foreseen and better planned.

To ensure we finish this job before the insurance money runs out, as a council member, I would insist that a completion schedule be generated and status reported at each quarterly meeting. If we do not hold the project manager accountable to complete on schedule, this effort will continue to muddle along and never reach a state where the property will be of any value.

What experience or talents can you bring to the City Council that makes you a better choice than other candidates?

As the chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee for the past 12 years, I have spent many hours interacting with city staff and helping residents deal with city issues. This activity has made me familiar with neighborhoods around the city and problems faced by residents every day. When you couple that with my career experience managing multiple complex projects in a large organizational environment, it gives me the expertise to understand how to get things done.

If elected to City Council, will you be able to maintain your other your other local responsibilities?

Being chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee for the past 12 years has been a very rewarding experience. Since that position, in many ways, provides a governmental oversight role, it would be improper for me to remain in that position. This is something the CCAC Board understands and the board has been openly preparing for a possible change in leadership over the past year. I wholeheartedly support community groups and will continue to do so as a council member. My vision is to have similar groups actively operating in all parts of the city, as I believe having more eyes on governmental affairs makes for better government and a better city.

Can you articulate your position on the current litigation of the California Voting Rights Act? 

Let me start by saying, although I understand the California courts may make this decision for us, the CVRA has opened an opportunity for us to have dialog about Santa Clarita’s governmental structure and how it might change in the future.
From the time the City was first formed, many of our decision makers have looked for the entire valley to be one city. Looking at it from a governance perspective, it makes absolute sense for communities west of the 5 freeway to be a part of Santa Clarita. When you think about it, the same could be said for the Castaic communities. A future prospect of having competing cities, so close together, would not be in anyone’s best interest.

The issue, as I see it, is the residents being annexed need to be comfortable they will be fairly represented. They need to be convinced the reason they are being brought into the city is not simply for Santa Clarita to capture their tax base. There must be mutual benefit and respect.

Perhaps at that time, Santa Clarita will grow large enough in population and area when changes to our governmental structure, including Council Members elected by district, will not only be needed but demanded by our new residents. Remember, when we formed our city, we did so to bring us closer to our elected officials. Looks like “Déjà vu all over again.”

Remember, change is never easy and we should never fear open and honest dialog.

Do you think that a change to district voting from city-wide general voting will help or hurt Hispanic/Latino interests? In fact, can you think of any political interests or aspirations for Santa Clarita Hispanic or Latino voters that can or should be recognized separately from the interests of the average City voter or any other group?

I am a great believer in having a system which provides fair and impartial representation for all of our citizens. During my career as a department/project manager I hired my employees based on their ability and never considered race or gender in my decisions. But, I also realize that perception is reality and we need to be sensitive to any hint of prejudice. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and, in the end, the only way we will win the hearts and minds of all our residents is by sincerely displaying unbiased attitudes and actions.

Regarding the Ventura septic chloride issue, are you behind the proposed R.O. solution and deep well brine disposal? What would you like to tell voters on this subject?

Our city council members, acting as Sanitation District directors, let the chloride issue slide until the problem became such an emergency it could no longer be ignored.  Our Sanitation District had eight years to do “field trials” and obtain “real data” to confront the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s decision to set the Chloride TDML at 100mg/ltr. They failed to act and take advantage of that opportunity. The action they did take was to borrow $23 million to fund the EIR and Facilities Plan. Then they voted to spend $886,000 with Community Conservations Solutions for public outreach consulting, while Councilmember Laurene Weste was on Community Conservation Solutions’ Board of Directors.  This was an effort to convince Santa Clarita that spending millions of dollars to make this issue go away was a good idea.

According to the Sanitation District staff, the Option 2 Water Treatment Plant additions and brine disposal using deep well injection will cost $142 million, interest will be another $47 million, operating the plant for 20 years (including a projected 3% inflation rate) another $100 million and, lastly, there is the $23 that started it all. Get ready because, after the election in May, the announcement of Sanitation District rate increases will be made known.

At the time Option 2 was selected, my position was, and still is, that we should use the five years necessary to permit and plan this project to continue to fight for relief from the 100 mg/ltr TDML requirement. We should use every possible method at our disposal. Santa Clarita must use all legal, legislative and administrative methods available. This is a scam, pure and simple. No benefit is provided to anyone except those who receive the construction contracts.

How much would you pay from the tax dollars of City residents to stop the Cemex mine?

Cemex is one of the top environmental issues in Santa Clarita today. The prospect of this mega-mine causing air and noise pollution, plus greatly increased truck traffic on Hwy 14, is something most of our residents do not want.

With our City Council fighting the mine for over 10 years, investing upwards of $10 million in the battle and failing to resolve the issue, they are now backing S771.  Passage of the bill creates a process that will prevent the mine from opening, but puts Santa Clarita squarely on the hook to come up with any shortfall of funds. Estimates of what this will cost and plans established about how to raise the funds should be openly presented and discussed at regular city council meetings.

Otherwise, when we find out how much it will cost us, the public will get stuck with paying the bill, our current city council will claim success and then they will attempt to place blame on someone else.

Sandra Bull

| Gazette, Meet the Candidates | March 7, 2014

Sandra Bull

Sandra Bull

Santa Clarita claims to be a “business-friendly” city, yet there are many instances of start-up businesses going through a very difficult process in obtaining necessary permits, often leading to unforeseen expenditures and drawn out delays that make success difficult. What would you do to streamline this procedure and provide assistance to small business start-ups to get them off on the right foot? What would you do to reduce fees or burdens on business and new development?

The planning department needs revamping to assist and streamline the process for small business as well as the average homeowner. Explanation of laws and restrictions should be made clear, and not just assumed.

 Do you support a plan to extend Via Princessa through to Golden Valley Road and eventually to Railroad Avenue? If so, how would you expedite this process to help with cross-town traffic?

I am in favor of the new extension. This new extension would ease traffic, and improve connectivity. Canyon Country would be connected to the rest of the city with a main corridor, having access to the new library and the Senior Center.

My house borders Wiley Canyon; yes, I do have more noise from the traffic from the original extension of Via Princessa, but, believe me, it is worth it. The Bermite clean-up project needs to be cleaned up first.

 In your opinion, why has the Whittaker-Bermite clean-up project taken so long to complete? If elected, how would you try to affect its timely completion? What would you support to be developed on the site?   

The city has not really concentrated, or given this enough priority. I would ask, “Just what do we have to do to get this done?” then work to that end with determination. The only thing that I see would be possible is manufacturing. I would rather see it as a park or open space.

What experience or talents can you bring to the City Council that makes you a better choice than other candidates?

As a professional working with parents and families in my schools, respect and listening to their concerns was a first priority. That is what is lacking in this City Council. They are elected officials, yet they seem to think their wisdom is superior to that of the people. We only have one City Council member that listens; he is new, and he does not have the “Good Old Boys” mentality. We need new representation; I would bring that to the council.
If elected to City Council, will you be able to maintain your other responsibilities?

I am retired; I would give my FULL attention to the council.

Can you articulate your position on the current litigation of the California Voting Rights Act? This is more government control.

The 13 candidates running for City Council show the great diversity and are representative of the citizens of Santa Clarita.

Do you think that a change to district voting from city-wide general voting will help or hurt Hispanic/Latino interests? In fact, can you think of any political interests or aspirations for Santa Clarita Hispanic or Latino voters that can or should be recognized separately from the interests of the average City voter or any other group?

As stated in the last question, we do have great diversity of those running for City Council. The interests of all the citizens should be considered.

Regarding the Ventura septic chloride issue, are you behind the proposed R.O. solution and deep well brine disposal? What would you like to tell voters on this subject?

I would like the State to pay for the mandate. I want a solution that would have the least economic impact on the proposed tax assessment. At this time this is the most economical solution. This avoids additional fines from the State, while waiting for the resolution of the impending lawsuit.

How much would you pay from the tax dollars of City residents to stop the Cemex mine?  

This mine must not happen. Fortunately, we have it tied up in sub-committee until the end of this year. The health and welfare of the citizens must come before money.

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