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Council Reacts to Questions About Miranda

| News | 5 hours ago

Instead of ringing endorsements for beleaguered City Councilmember Bill Miranda, other councilmembers appeared to step back after the Gazette called for his resignation.

Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste and Bob Kellar declined comment, Kellar saying, “I don’t know what it’s (Gazette’s call) predicated on. I’m not going to weigh in on a fellow councilmember. I wouldn’t weigh in even if I knew the reason, unless he robbed a bank or something like that.”

Marsha McLean at first declined comment before changing her mind and saying, “I’ve not seen any legal document at all to prove what was written in the paper, and until I see factual, tangible, legal proof, then I would give the benefit of the doubt. I would to anyone.”

Mayor Cameron Smyth called the Gazette column, written by publisher Doug Sutton, “personal opinion. That’s not my business.” He also said he thought the matters regarding Miranda’s dealings with the two chambers of commerce and the lack of financial reporting had been “resolved.”

Asked about Miranda becoming the first sitting councilmember to be sued, Smyth responded, “Do you know that for a fact?” Told the reporter was 90-percent sure, the mayor said, “He wasn’t sued as a result of his duties as a councilmember.”

He continued, “I had my criteria: love of community, willing to put the work in to learn, desire to serve. A number of candidates fit the bill. … We made the best decision with the information available.”

The mayor then was asked, “If you knew then what you know now, would that have changed things?”

His response: “That’s the beauty of our system. In a little over a year, the voters will have the opportunity to take full measure and will decide if they want to see him in office or not.”

For his part, Miranda texted that he had no comment.

The above comments (or lack of) are in stark contrast to the positive words the councilmembers gave back in January when they voted to appoint Miranda to replace Dante Acosta in the first place.

It was Weste who nominated Miranda. She was particularly impressed with Miranda when he talked about merging the Latino Chamber into the SCV Chamber. “I started with who I thought would be best,” she said then.

McLean, who seconded Weste’s nomination, said, “I know Bill Miranda as a person who has been active in the community. I know him as someone trying to bring the Latino business community to the forefront. I know Bill Miranda is a person who is caring and active in non-profits. I chose him because I feel he will do a good job.”

Even Kellar, who opposed Miranda, called him “a fine man.” And Smyth, who cast the deciding vote, said, “I certainly felt comfortable supporting Bill as I did with other candidates.”

Privately, council watchers say, this is an indication that Miranda is starting to embarrass the other members.

“I would think so,” said Carl Boyer, a former city councilmember and mayor. “If they’re supporting him, they’d say so. … Miranda’s definitely in big trouble if a well-known Latino runs against him.”

Instead, Smyth made an unsolicited comment about a magazine ad in which Miranda gave a testimonial for Nola Aronson’s Advanced Audiology and used his title in the ad.

“I would have never done what he did,” Smyth said. “Had he asked, I would have counseled him not to run the ad.”

According to the Political Reform Act of 1974 (renewed 2017), an elected official cannot use his office for personal gain. That Miranda was appointed makes no difference.

Assuming Miranda gave the testimonial without being paid, one could argue that Miranda broke no law. But there is a complication: Aronson has placed an ad in Miranda’s Our Valley magazine. It’s a different ad and does not show Miranda, but the ad is on the Our Valley Media website.

A call into the Fair Political Practices Commission’s advice line led to a spokesperson saying he couldn’t give third-party advice, but Miranda’s actions didn’t appear to violate the Act.

Miranda told The Signal that he was surprised his title appeared in the ad and has asked that his testimonial not be used anymore.

“I apologize,” Miranda said. “The error that I will live up to is using my council title. I don’t think it’s illegal, immoral or unethical. I just don’t think it was something we should do.”

That seemed to make no difference to Smyth.

“I’m not his keeper,” he said. “If he had just asked, I would have told him I thought it was a bad idea.”

Resident: ‘It’s Ugly. There’s No Doubt it’s Ugly.’

| News | September 21, 2017

What can the city do regarding the solar panels that were installed above Canyon View Estates?

Without its knowledge, the owners of the manufactured home park started putting up the first phase of what will become 6,000 solar panels on the hill overlooking the property – after removing the vegetation.

It is an admitted eyesore.

“It’s ugly. There’s no doubt it’s ugly,” said resident Josh Burke, a renter since 2012. “I’m sure he thinks it’s ugly.”

“He” is Managing Director Kerry Seidenglanz, who admits the non-symmetrical way the panels have been erected is less attractive. But he insists the benefits far outweigh the aesthetic drawbacks.

“Solar is a benefit, not just for ecology but also for Canyon View,” he said. “We’ve had two power outages recently – both (Southern California) Edison’s problem. … We’re producing our own power. If Edison has a blackout, we’ll still have air conditioning.”

A resident who didn’t want to be identified texted that she wasn’t aware she would have power during a blackout, as a result of the solar panels.

Seidenglanz said the residents would still have to pay for their power, as each unit has its own meter and is connected to the power grid. But there will be power in the complex when other nearby places are suffering from power outages.

Because Canyon View Estates is classified as a manufactured home-planned unit development, Seidenglanz said he only needed to get approval from the state, specifically the Department of Housing and Community Development, or HCD, which he has, after “50 inspections.”

This has left the city on the outside, and plenty of people are unhappy about it. Residents and community members called, and officials from the city’s code enforcement came out three months ago, Seidenglanz said.

“They looked everything over and said we did not have the permission of the city,” Seidenglanz said. “No, we did not. … HCD is in charge.”

According to city spokesperson Carrie Lujan, once the owner provided a copy of the permits HCD issued, the city had no further jurisdiction. But community activist Alan Ferdman pointed out at the Sept. 12 council meeting that the HCD puts out a construction plan review booklet. The very first guideline says that a person seeking an HCD-approved permit should first “obtain approval and signature from the local planning department.”

Ferdman asked, “Who in the city did the planning approval before this went up to the state, and if, in fact, that didn’t happen, why aren’t we looking to go and see what we can do to resurrect the process?”

City Manager Ken Striplin answered, “The answer is nobody. Planning did not know. Planning was not asked to approve the project. We found out about the project the same time everybody else did, when it was built.”

That did not satisfy Councilmember Bob Kellar, who was upset about it enough to mention it at the Aug. 22 council meeting. Calling it “an abomination,” Kellar expressed disgust with Sacramento.

“The thing I want people to know is we did not do it,” Kellar said. “It was completely carried out by Sacramento. … That’s Sacramento working for all of us out here.”

Kellar had previously sent letters to Assemblymen Dante Acosta and Tom Lackey and Sen. Scott Wilk complaining that the city has no recourse under the law and that HCD “should at the very least contact cities to ensure local circumstances are considered.”

Lackey sent a response saying his office will research the HCD’s processes “and I will let you know if I am able to author legislation to remedy this problem.”

Meanwhile, the final panels will be installed before the beginning of December, Seidenglanz said.

“I believe in solar,” he said. “If God gave us the sun, why not use it?”

Local Resident to be on ‘The Voice’

| News | September 21, 2017

When Blake Shelton, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Hudson and Adam Levine met Karli Webster of Canyon Country, they probably thought they were listening to a seasoned performer who trained for years to appear in front of millions of viewers on “The Voice.”

Indeed, the 20-year-old Webster will appear on TV as a contestant on this season of “The Voice” in one of the “Blind Audition” episodes, scheduled to air September 25, 26, October 2 and 3. But it’s the young singer’s talent — not her experience — that got her there. Her family and friends hounded Webster to compete, which she dismissed season after season, never expecting to truly make the cut.

“They believed in me more than I believed in myself,” Webster said. “I was proving to myself that I could do it, more than proving it to them — they knew I was going to be just fine on that stage.”

Last February she agreed to go to the open call in Las Vegas, so en route to Nevada, Webster thought it might be a good idea to decide on her audition songs. She chose Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and “The Story,” a folk rock number recorded by Brandi Carlile.

“I finally picked those on the way there,” Webster said. “They felt most true to who I am as a performer. And they were songs that were easy for me to sing — I felt comfortable doing them under pressure.”

Underscoring the part destiny has played in Webster’s bright future, she was named for Carly Simon, she said, and considers herself a vintage ‘70s folk rock artist, for the most part. That fact also may offer a clue about the hush-hush content of the first four shows.

“It’s going to be a little bit different from the other blind auditions,” Webster said. “I have a different style than a lot of the other singers who’ve been on the show.”

The Santa Clarita native said she didn’t really sleep the night before “The Voice” taping.

“But the day of, I had so much peace,” she said. “I was confident about the work I put into my song. I was just grateful for the experience.”

Andrea Vibe of Vibe Performing Arts Studios in Santa Clarita is Webster’s go-to voice coach when she wants feedback or needs polishing before an important performance. She got her vocal talent from her father, Ronson Webster, and took piano lessons from the age of 4 from Suzy Hanna, but her performance experience is minimal. Webster sang locally at Heart of the Canyons Church and took part in musicals at ESCAPE Theatre and Canyon High School, plus performed a few original songs at It’s a Grind in Castaic.

“Doing ‘The Voice’ was me forcing myself to finally get out there,” she said. “I’ve never sung in front of an audience that big. It was wonderful meeting all of those coaches. They treat all the artists with so much respect. They are all so amazing.”

An even bigger audience will watch the coaches and talented contestants when they tune in to NBC for the ‘Blind Audition’ episodes. Best of all, they’ll find out how they treated Karli, the local voice with the “vintage vibe.”

COC Launches Payload to Trap Interplanetary Cosmic Dust

| News | September 15, 2017

A recent flight from New Mexico successfully launched a College of the Canyons payload designed to pick up Interplanetary Cosmic Dust Particles, or IDPs. On Monday, Sept. 4, NASA’s High Altitude Student Platform, or HASP, sent up the payload, which was developed by Astronomy & Physics Club students.

It’s the second year in a row the college was selected for the HASP program, and College of the Canyons is one of only five community colleges ever chosen during the program’s 11-year history.

The team of 12 students improved upon last year’s prototype designed to collect IDPs in the upper stratosphere, but the payload experienced some in-flight challenges when its enclosure was activated during the flight. However, the team, led by COC student Daniel Tikhomirov, worked together to troubleshoot the problem and found a way to keep the payload’s enclosure open as a passive collector.

“We will not know for months whether the box captured any dust particles,” Tikhomirov said. “Maybe we’ll capture some particles, but it is unlikely that they will be collected on the payload’s copper plates. Luckily, the optical dust sensor did not fail to give us interesting data on the detection of dust particles.”

The team’s second HASP experience has given the team of COC students invaluable hands-on experience and insight into the fields of science and physics.

“These students are getting graduate student-level project experience at the community college level,” said Teresa Ciardi, a physical science professor at the college who, along with Greg Poteat, an adjunct manufacturing instructor, served as co-advisor on the project. “They are getting real skills that will help them as they move forward in their education and careers.”

In the fall, Tikhimirov will be designing and controlling prototype vehicles for Mars navigation as a Student Independent Research Intern (SIRI) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

As the author of last year’s accepted proposal to HASP, Tikhomirov submitted another proposal in December 2016 to send an improved version of the team’s payload on the HASP platform, which is carried aloft by a scientific balloon. The balloon, measuring 79 feet in diameter, traveled to an altitude of 108,000 feet.

The proposal was accepted in January 2017, which is when the team began to work.

When the final payload launched, a camera was attached to the science balloon, which allowed the team to view the launch and the scene from above during the flight on the NASA HASP webpage.

After the science balloon’s launch, the NASA HASP recovery team followed the team’s specific checklist to retrieve, detach, pack, and send the team the box that was designed to trap IDPs. The team will analyze the box at a clean room at COC.

Funding for the payload, clean room cleaning and equipment for payload testing was provided by the COC Foundation. The HASP program is run by Louisiana State University and the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility.

Beware: Ransomware

| News | September 14, 2017

As someone in IT management for more than 20 years, Randy Salzer knows the scourge that is ransomware. But just in this calendar year, things have gotten worse.

“Ransom viruses are getting smarter,” said Salzer, owner of It’s a Geek technology professionals. “Attacks have increased 250 percent in 2017.”

Ransomware is nothing new. Since 2012, this type of malicious software that typically encrypts files and won’t free them unless someone pays a ransom, usually in bitcoin or some other untraceable digital currency, has cost people $1 billion, according to Salzer.

And the cost for not paying the ransom increases, he said. What starts as $1,500 escalates to $2,500 if one waits a week, then $5,000 if one waits two weeks.

The latest viruses he has seen, called “Nuclear” and “Locky,” tend to affect Windows 10 systems, in which it disables the system’s file history and deletes files. The files are typically pdf files, documents, QuickBooks programs, even iTunes libraries. But Windows 7 systems also can be affected, he said, and now he’s seeing mobile devices being affected.

“I have a customer in Washington State that lost 200,000 files,” Salzer said. “He kissed their butt. He paid them, and they gave him the encryption code (to get back his files).”

Most people unknowingly download the virus from an email that resembles something from FedEx or UPS. It might say that the package is delayed so download this to track it. Salzer said that Amazon is now being named in these emails.

Once the ransomware goes to work and encrypts files, Salzer said, there is no way to get back the files, so backing up the system is paramount.

“The only defense you have at all is to do a previous version, but the main thing is an online backup program that does the backup to multiple places,” Salzer said.

An example would be a business version of Dropbox, a web-based file-hosting service. But Salzer warns that the home version people use is not sufficient because files need to be backed up to more than one place.

The good news, if there is any, is that these viruses don’t tend to destroy the computer, because the ransomers need the computer to work so payment can be made, he said.

Pest Control Tactics Bug Resident

| News | September 14, 2017

It sounded harmless enough for Debbie Ames. A salesman from a pest control company came to her door in July and spent an hour convincing her to use them because they had the best sprays, the best poisons and the best granules to kill bugs, snails, vermin, etc. He also mentioned that a neighbor used them, so Ames decided to give this company a try. After signing a contract, she suffered a bit of buyer’s remorse because she felt the company didn’t kill the pests like it claimed it would.

“I was stupid. I totally trusted the guy,” she said. “I want to save anybody from getting into the same position as me.”

Ames had been using All Pest Pros, located on Agua Dulce Canyon Road, and had been satisfied overall. But she had the occasional rat problem in her 3.3-acre Sand Canyon spread, plus spiders and other uninvited pests. As she has a horse’s tack room, a main house, a detached garage with covered patio adjacent to a swimming pool, a side yard where she keeps her three goats and two hens (she also has a rabbit, five horses, three dogs and five cats), a guest house and a mobile home, there are a lot of places for pests to make homes and lay eggs.

Besides, neighbor Carol Hill had used them, she was told. So, on July 6, she contracted with EcoShield Pest Control, which has 14 locations listed on its website, from Canoga Park and several other California cities to Mesa and Chandler, Ariz., Alabama, Miami, Seattle, Chicago and South Carolina.

The service contract, which Ames provided to the Gazette, calls for an initial same-day service, regular services every 60 days with email and text reminders, and payments of $145 every other month through June 2018. Ames used a credit card to pay.

“Usually, we can afford it,” Ames said. “It’s not the end of the world.”

For that initial service, she said she was told, the man would clear the spider webs, spray around and lay down granules that would not hurt her chickens.

Unfortunately, the worker put down the granules where the chickens could eat them, which would kill them. The worker realized the mistake and swept them up. Ames said he told her she would need to soak the area really well for the next five to 10 days as a precaution.

Additionally, he didn’t clear all the webs.

On July 20, she found a large spider web in her garage. The next day, she walked outside the tack room and saw a rat looking at her – right near a rattrap. The day after that, she found mouse and rat droppings all over the back patio and in the garage. She had not experienced this with All Pest Pros.

She tried to call the company, but the service contract had no phone number on it. She went online and found several EcoShield listings, but didn’t know which to call. She tried a number in the 818 area code, and whoever answered told her to call an 866 number. This led to someone answering and identifying the company as Orkin.

After eight minutes, Orkin couldn’t find her account, so she asked if they were connected to EcoShield and was told to call the corporate number (a 770 area code located in Georgia). She called several times but always got “user busy” on her cell phone (when the Gazette tried, the result was a busy signal).

At this point, she tried calling Hill, who owns a four-acre horse ranch down the road from Ames. Hill said she never contracted with EcoShield.

“As I recall, I had company at the time. I was sitting on the front porch,” Hill told the Gazette. She said the salesman was clean-cut and polite, not unlike the Mormon church people she sees.

“I said, ‘No, I don’t want your service,’” she said. “A friend said (to her), ‘Let them spray and see how it works.’ I’m 99 percent sure I paid in cash. I didn’t want to write a check.”

Hill said EcoShield told her someone would come out every couple of weeks, but she didn’t want that.

“I wrote a scathing note, scathing for me,” she said. “‘I do not want your service. I do not want your email. Discontinue sending me things or I will report you to the authorities,’ and they discontinued.”

Ames, meanwhile, reported EcoShield to the Better Business Bureau to dispute the payment on her credit card. She received a call from an EcoShield official named Landon who said she is on the hook for the payments because she signed a contract (calls to Landon went unreturned).

“I don’t want them around,” she said.

She isn’t alone in her disappointment with EcoShield. The Gazette checked Yelp reviews for all 14 locations, plus Santa Clarita. There were 382 negative reviews and 373 positive ones.

Each type followed a pattern. The negative reviews highlighted pushy sales tactics, ineffective poisons and the belief that the entire operation was a scam. The positive reviews focused on the polite employees, the effective work they did and, when a customer was disappointed, how they fixed things.

Ames has gone back to All Pest Pros and reports no more bugs. “Their poison works,” she said, clarifying that EcoShield had not harassed her, but she feared the situation would affect her credit rating, which she said is in the 800s.

Recently, she got a call from “Matt” at EcoShield, who apologized for the service she received and offered to send his “best tech” to her house. She denied the offer and Matt reversed her penalty charge, so her account is now clear.

Teachers of the Year Recognized by Hart Board

| News | September 14, 2017

Wednesday’s meeting of the William S. Hart Governing Board honored 17 Teachers of the Year.

The District Teacher of the Year is Mary Purdy, who retired at the end of last year as the choir teacher at Canyon High School. She is now one of 16 individuals being considered for Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year.

The entire list of Hart School District Teachers of the Year for the 2017/2018 school year honored Wednesday night were:

-Michele Siner, Chemistry, Academy of the Canyons
-Jessica Meraz, Electives, Arroyo Seco
-Ravinder Athwal, Science/Algebra, Bowman
-Mary Purdy, Choir, Canyon
-Jamie Foderaro, Special Education, Golden Valley
-Martin Kirby, Physics, Hart
-Jessica Dabbeekah, Mathematics, La Mesa
-Denise Baker, Spanish, Learning Post
-Monica Ludlow, Librarian, Placerita
-Carine Clewis, Special Education, Rancho Pico
-Matthew Sheridan, History, Rio Norte
-Monica Lunde, Mathematics, Saugus
-Teri Rodriguez, Special Education/Mathematics, Sequoia
-Stephanie Caneday, English, Sierra Vista
-Brenda Monteleone, English, Valencia
-Linda Cox, Business, West Ranch
-Marci Gabriel, ESL, Golden Oak

Selection criteria included personal growth, commitment, personal attributes and professional skills.

The California Teacher of the Year program, which began in 1972, has brought recognition to exemplary teachers, paying tribute to their resolute efforts. With the District staff takes pride in identifying and honoring its own heroes of Hart District classrooms.

Hart District Wants the Dough

| News | September 7, 2017

At some point, Dave Caldwell estimates, the William S. Hart Union High School District will receive $83 million in state funds from November’s Proposition 51.

Caldwell, the district spokesperson, has a list of needs on which to spend the money. These include new construction and modernization at Canyon, Hart and Saugus high schools, the new Castaic high school and Placerita and Sierra Vista junior high schools.

When the district will get those funds, however, is anybody’s guess.

“Now, we have to wait for the state to say what they’ll release to us and when,” Caldwell said. “We don’t have any control over that. They (the state) may say we can receive 50 percent of that in 2019 and maybe (the rest) at a later date.”

One of the problems stems from a 2016 audit by the Office of State Audits and Evaluations that documented problems with how funds are doled out.

The report, cited in Gov. Jerry Brown’s annual budget report, found instances in which school districts inappropriately used school-facilities-bond funding to purchase vehicles, tractors, tablets, golf carts, mascot uniforms, and custodial/cleaning supplies.

“They were outlandish,” said Richard Michael, who runs the website Big Bad Bonds, which is dedicated to providing strategies to defeat local bond measures.

As a result, the governor wants the State Allocation Board and the Office of Public School Construction to revise policies and regulations to implement front-end grant agreements that define basic terms, conditions, and accountability measures for participants that request funding.

“Once these measures are in place to verify that taxpayers’ dollars are appropriately used, the Administration will support the expenditure of Proposition 51 funds,” the governor’s report concludes.

Michael says that could mean wealthier districts such as Hart could receive less.

“The larger they’re taking, the more likely they’ll be bypassed by more needy schools,” Michael said.

Proposition 51, which passed with 55 percent of the vote, authorized the state to sell
$9 billion in school construction bonds. However, the Sacramento Bee reported, the state has sold just $400 million as of mid-August.

“The last time voters passed a statewide school bond, state matching funds were available within 30 days,” the Bee editorial said. “On average, more than 90 percent of bond funds were committed within four years of the passage of previous statewide school bonds.”

The Bee estimated that $20 billion is needed over the next decade to fully repair and modernize the 70 percent of classrooms that are at least 25 years old and the 40 percent that are more than 50 years old. That would include all the schools (except Castaic) for which Caldwell said the funds would be earmarked.

As for Castaic, Caldwell said those Proposition 51 funds would not be needed to complete construction in time for the school’s scheduled fall 2019 opening.

“Measure SA provided funds for Castaic High School,” Caldwell said of the 2008 bond issue that authorized the district to borrow $300 million. “Additional funds based off of Proposition 51 we can use. We are building Castaic High School. We have the funds to build Castaic High School. It’s going to be built.”

 

Upon Further Review – Latino Chamber Finances Still in Question

| News | September 7, 2017

Back in 2014, the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Chamber of Commerce announced in its September gala program the formation of the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“The mission and purpose of the Foundation is to support children, youth and families by providing effective, high-quality educational programs, workforce readiness programs and college readiness programs,” the program ad said. “The programs include scholarships, mentoring, leadership training, career day involvement, business workforce readiness, college preparation training and other services that benefit youth in the community.”

It received at least a $1,045 loan from the Latino Chamber, according to the Latino Chamber’s 2014 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 Schedule O. Since current City Councilmember Bill Miranda was at the time CEO of the chamber and the foundation, it appears the chamber loaned itself the money. That same form shows the chamber finished with a negative $2 in net assets.

Yet, the Latino Chamber’s final return, in 2015, lists on a Form 990 Schedule N with $8,281 in “cash and receivables.”

Miranda did not return calls for comment to explain the discrepancy. SCV Chamber Chairman John Musella, who took responsibility for filing the final Latino Chamber’s tax returns, explained it in an email as, “That was the loan that was written off.”

Take away the $1,045 from the $8,281 and that leaves $7,236 unaccounted for. The 2015 tax forms do not indicate where that money went. In fact, every number on the form is a zero.

Pressed further about that money, Musella responded in another email, “As I said, that figure includes the loan, accounts receivables, assets, etc., that were written off, donated or disposed of.”

According to GuideStar, an information service specializing in reporting on U.S. non-profits, the IRS has revoked the non-profit status of the foundation, now called Santa Clarita Education, Inc., for failing to file tax forms for three years, 2013-15; and on July 26, the state Attorney General’s office sent a delinquency notice.

“Late fees will be imposed by the Registry of Charitable Trusts for each month or partial month for which the reports are delinquent,” the note says. “Directors, trustees, officers and return preparers responsible for failure to file these reports are also personally liable for payment of all late fees. Charitable assets cannot be used to pay these avoidable costs.”

According to a statement of information filed March 30, the officers listed are Miranda as CEO, Bob Pacheco as secretary and Marlon Roa as CFO. Pacheco previously distanced himself from Santa Clarita Education, Inc.

This raises additional concerns, according to Steve Petzold, a Saugus realtor who has been a vocal critic of how the chambers conduct their business.

“The Latino Chamber should have attempted to recover the money from itself,” he said. “You just can’t write it off. You have to attempt collection. Look at the procedures. The board is supposed to sit down and account for the assets and attempt to collect. Bill was dealing between himself and the Latino Chamber.”

Musella wrote in an email, “It is my understanding that it is being (or has been) shut down as they never got it fully off the ground. It has nothing to do with the SCV Chamber and we were never responsible for anything related to it.”

There are other aspects of the 2014 Form 990 that remain unanswered.

The form lists no membership dues and assessments. There’s a discrepancy, considering the Latino Chamber’s own Statement of Financial Income and Expense (FIE) for July-December 2014 lists $2,050 in membership income. The FIE form is the same one Roa gave the Gazette in May after Miranda told Roa to find some numbers. Roa found the FIE, submitted it to Miranda, who approved it, leading to the question, where did that money go?

Under “Salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits,” Form 990 the Latino chamber paid $3,651. Yet, on the second page, none of the eight officers listed show having been paid.

Furthermore, the FIE shows $6,000 paid to the CEO, but the Form 990 does not show Miranda as having received any money.

Finally, under “Occupancy, rent, utilities, and maintenance,” Form 990 shows the Latino Chamber paid $15,549. But the Latino chamber occupied no building. It existed as an entity without a physical space. What occupancy or rent could there be? Is it related to the $14,378.63 it paid the Hyatt for its Sept. 2014 gala?

Environmental Groups Challenge Board of Supervisors over Chiquita Canyon

| News | August 31, 2017

Several local groups filed a lawsuit challenging a decision made by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on July 25 to accept a recent environmental report advancing a plan to expand the Chiquita Canyon Landfill on Hwy 126 adjacent to Val Verde. The Val Verde Community Association, Citizens for Chiquita Canyon Landfill Compliance and the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, or SCOPE, are demanding closure of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Val Verde.

“This landfill must be closed as promised in 1997,” a press release from the organizations said. “It is time that the nearby residents are relieved from this detrimental project immediately adjacent to their neighborhood.”

Objections by the groups are outlined in a petition arguing that the environmental document:

*Fails to adequately disclose or analyze all of the Project’s potentially significant direct, indirect, cumulative and growth-inducing impacts, including, but not limited to, impacts on air quality, climate change, biological resources and visual resources
*Fails to adequately analyze the project’s potentially significant impacts on minority and/or low income populations
*Fails to adequately describe the current landfill’s air quality impacts because it relies on data from monitoring stations that are located too far away from the landfill to be reliable indicators of the landfill’s actual emissions
*Fails to adequately analyze the efficacy of proposed mitigation measures, particularly mitigation measures intended to address the project’s air quality emissions and odor
*Fails to adequately describe and analyze the project’s predictable health impacts
*Fails to consider a reasonable range of alternatives

 

“The expansion will greatly increase these negative air quality impacts on their community for decades to come,” the press release states. “More than 10 schools and 13,000 students are within (a) five mile radius of this polluting project whose waste is trucked in from all over Southern California.”

The petition can be accessed at vvcivic.com.

“With the approval of this expansion, Chiquita Canyon Landfill will take in as much trash as some of the largest landfills in the United States, making the Santa Clarita Valley a dumping ground for much of the Southland’s trash,” said Lynne Plambeck, SCOPE president. “While everyone appreciates the Board’s decision to raise fees on out of area trash, the health impacts of air pollution and potential water pollution from this landfill, located immediately adjacent to the Santa Clara River, are enormous. In its approval of a motion obviously written before public testimony was even heard, the Board failed to acknowledge these serious health issues facing our community.”

For more information, visit Scope.org.

The Canyon Santa Clarita Opens Doors in October

| Entertainment, News | August 31, 2017

Westfield Town Center Mall is getting a life — a nightlife, that is, beginning next month.

The attraction? The opening of The Canyon Santa Clarita, a food-and-concert venue that’s music to the ears of local residents.

Sterling Venue Ventures is taking up seven former retail store spaces in the Westfield Town Center Mall with a nightclub not unlike some of the company’s others, which include The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills and The Rose in Pasadena.

Approximately 1,000 guests will be able to fill the concert venue, where food and drinks are served to add a flavorful backdrop for the musical performances.

The corporation’s owner Lance Sterling developed the gold standard in nighttime entertainment since he ran operations at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.

“Treating a customer well used to be looked down upon,” Sterling told the Gazette in January. “We had to explain we were a concert entity, but we did things differently. Now, at Canyon Club, it’s acceptable to go to a venue and have dinner.”

October 5 will feature Get the Led Out, a Led Zeppelin cover band, and many of Sterling’s “regulars” will appear at the new venue in the coming months. They include names such as Jefferson Starship, Kenny Loggins, and the Gin Blossoms.

It is clear the business owner has it down to a science, considering he was pretty much “spot on” in estimating construction time.

“We’re doing well. The city’s been great — everybody’s pushing me along as best they can,” Sterling says.

Sterling gets some deja vu by including CaliBurger in the plan, a restaurant also at The Rose, and he has worked with Westfield in the past.

“They called us in and showed us locations in the mall. It was amazing that a city actually asked us to come,” Sterling says, underscoring Santa Clarita’s readiness for such a newcomer.

Sterling’s son, also named Lance, will be general manager of the new location. He had moved to Santa Clarita and felt the area was economically ready for the company’s brand. In addition to music, The Canyon Santa Clarita will host comedy and murder mystery events, as well as private parties.

For tickets, go to The Canyon’s website, Wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com.

WANTED: Plumbers

| News | August 31, 2017

Dale Heys is convinced working with your hands is a dying art.

“Kids nowadays, they’re so used to apps and computers, not like 20, 30 years ago when they fixed bikes, fixed skateboards,” the co-owner of Heys Plumbing in Valencia said. “They’re not used to that anymore. … Every bike a kid owns is $99 at Wal-Mart, so if you break it, parents buy them another one.”

Heys, 44, has been in the plumbing industry for 26 years, having learned at the side of his father, John. In that time, he has seen a dearth of new plumbers coming into the industry. Most of his company’s plumbers are in their 30s, and two trucks sit outside his office because he doesn’t have the personnel to use them.

“I was talking to my dad, ‘Man, I just don’t get it,’” Heys said. “He can’t give me any advice.”

Heys remembers the days when he’d place an ad and get at least a dozen responses. Now, he’s lucky if he gets one or two.

“You won’t find another plumbing company in the area that isn’t hiring,” Heys said. “You look online and there’s tons of openings.”

Heys then demonstrated by going to indeed.com and typing in “plumbing opening” in the search bar. Up came 333 new jobs and 401 pages of listings.

When people call, he sometimes has to tell them he doesn’t have anyone available to come out today.

It’s gotten so bad, Heys said, that it’s common for plumbing companies to raid the competition and try to steal plumbers away.

“My guys can be on a job site and there’ll be another plumber working the neighborhood,” Heys said. “They’ll solicit my guys. … If I see a plumber walking down the street, I won’t solicit him.”

The shortages aren’t limited to plumbers, Heys said. Electricians, welders, air conditioning technicians and “anything having to do with building a building or a house” are also in short supply, he said. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for masonry workers is expected to grow by 15 percent by 2024. The need for electricians is expected to grow by 14 percent over that same time, roofers by 13 percent and plumbers by 12 percent.

Heys said today’s millennials favor instant gratification, and plumbing doesn’t offer that. A person interested in plumbing must first serve an apprenticeship of two to three years, and then comes another three to four years of experience before really being able to call himself “plumber.”

Most millennials want regular 9-to-5 jobs and weekends off, he said. Plumbers are in demand seven days a week, 365 days a year.

It’s dirty and sweaty work, too. Starr Tomlinson, co-owner of The Drain Co. in Northridge, says, “It’s true that the younger generation doesn’t want to get their hands dirty. We’re constantly looking for someone we can train. This generation wants to work behind computers or on the phone, something (where) they won’t break a sweat. It’s not a sexy job.”

Contrary to the stereotype that blue-collar jobs pay less than white-collar jobs, plumbing can be lucrative. Heys said plumbers with six or seven years of experience can make between $80,000 and $100,000.

“If you need extra money, you can go on call. You can take an extra shift,” Heys said. “Most people need to take second jobs. Here, you just go on call. The first emergency call comes in, you make more.”

For emergency calls, he said, plumbers can charge time-and-a-half or double-time.

Heys thinks one of the problems is today’s youth aren’t exposed to the industrial arts. According to William S. Hart Union High School District spokesperson Dave Caldwell, Canyon, Hart and Saugus have auto shops, Saugus and Placerita Canyon Junior High School have wood shops, and Canyon has a welding shop.

However, Caldwell said, the lack of apprentices is a statewide problem that educators are trying to resolve. “What are we doing to educate productive members of society so they can be successful?” he said.

To that end, Saugus, Canyon and Valencia are moving toward having something called makerspace, which is a workspace where people with common interests can go and collaborate.

Castaic will also have this in the form of “flex-tech” buildings, in which the rooms can be altered for various technologies to be taught. This will be part of the district’s Career Technical Education program. “The goal is to have Career Technical Education that would be beneficial to kids, once they get out of high school, to learn a trade,” Caldwell said. “How deep that will go, I don’t know.”

College of the Canyons has a Construction Management and Technology department that will offer a certificate or associate degree in construction management. Although there is no specific class devoted to plumbing, Heys said plumbing will be included.

So, despite the current low numbers, Heys actually is optimistic about the future.

“We’ve got to get back to people working with their hands,” he said.

‘We Have Rights’ Small Business Owners Want Money for Move

| News | August 31, 2017

Comparing it to life in communist Vietnam before she escaped more than 30 years ago, one local business owner believes that being forced to move the location of her hair salon is a reversal of the American freedoms she became a citizen to obtain.

“I have a shop beginning in 1986,” said Kim, owner of Hair Wave on the 18300 block of Sierra Highway. “I work two jobs to build (my) business. (Now) they drive me out.”
Kim and other tenants in the building received notices in the spring ordering them to move out of the building by the end of the year. At least two buildings are being purchased and razed by the City of Santa Clarita to build the proposed Canyon Country Community Center.
Negotiations are taking place between the city and attorneys for the Caruso family, owners of the building since the 1950s. They also own two restaurants — Osteria Caruso in the same building as Hair Wave and Piccola Trattoria around the corner. But the Carusos’ tenants argue that after decades building their businesses at the site, there are both emotional and financial costs which are being minimized by the parties involved.

“I believe we deserve fair compensation for all the distress and for the future financial hardship that awaits us when we move,” said a written statement by Joe Chavez-Trejos of Joe’s Shoe Repair, next door to Hair Wave. “The City of Santa Clarita isn’t giving us a right to just compensation for the nearly 20 years that we’ve been in business. They should consider the fact that we are being torn from our established businesses for their interest and convenience. For that, all we ask is to leave our business in a fair manner, as it should be. We have to move and re-establish ourselves again and it will be difficult. What the city is offering is not fair enough at all.”

Two individuals from Creative Perspective Strategic Implementation, or CPSI, visited the business owners. They were hired to assist the tenants in finding new commercial locations and communicate offers by the city of financial support in the process. It just wasn’t enough, said Chavez-Trejos and Kim.

The prospective rental properties suggested by CPSI were either too expensive or too far away, Kim said. They showed her a space at 26836 Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus, for instance — 6 ½ miles from Hair Wave.

“I need my customers,” Kim explained. “The customers are like my friends. I don’t want to go far away.”

When it was suggested to Kim that she simply rent a station rather than open another salon of her own, she used a metaphor to communicate her rejection of the idea: “I have a car; they give me a bicycle.”

Currently, Kim pays $850 per month for rent, while the Bouquet Canyon space is $2,557 per month, she said. The CPSI consultants told her she would receive the difference in rent of $1,707 for 24 months. The problem, she said, is that she needs $20,000 a year of income, and she would be starting from scratch building a client base.

“I support my family,” she said, which includes two sisters, as well as financial help she gives nieces and nephews for their education.

She also said she spent $45,000 on such upgrades as electricity, water and lighting, which she can’t get back with the current offer. By Kim’s calculations, she could afford to relocate and open a new salon if the city paid her $125,968. That’s $40,968 for two years of the difference in rent, plus $40,000 for two years of income she said she needs, plus $45,000 for the money she spent on upgrades.

“I need to speak out so people know how I feel. Sometimes I wake at midnight with nightmare that I lost my business,” she said. “The communists took everything (from) my father and mother. I escaped by boat in 1980. We lost everything. Now they take everything here.”

Kim pointed to a flag that sits atop the desk at the entrance, a backdrop for her thoughts.

“I’m so happy in USA,” she said. “I love this country so much.”

Joe Chavez-Trejos wants fair compensation as well, enough to cover the bump in rent plus the loss of income.

“I believe we have rights,” he said. “They claim that we have no rights and that the time and many, many years we’ve invested in our small businesses don’t matter, as long as they can get us out of here. They aren’t being just or comprehensive at all, in any way.”

 

Why No Override? Gov. Brown Vetoes Majority

| News | August 24, 2017

A bill co-sponsored by State Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Antelope Valley) and Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) passed with a supermajority in both houses, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

There is no indication that the houses will override the veto, despite having more than enough votes to do so.

Senate Bill 341, which doubles the number of two-year terms that a member of a local school bond citizens’ oversight committee may serve— from three to six consecutive — passed 34-0 in the Senate on Mar. 30 and 74-0 in the Assembly on June 29, only to be vetoed by Brown on July 17.

The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Bakersfield) and Assemblymen Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) and Randy Voepel (R-San Diego).

In vetoing the bill, Brown wrote, “This bill is a statewide solution to a limited problem. Although a few school districts cite difficulty (in) recruiting members to serve on their bond oversight committee(s), this bill could create fewer opportunities for community involvement statewide. This is contrary to the goal of the bond oversight committee, which is to ensure that taxpayers have the opportunity to provide proper oversight of these funds.”

To override the governor’s veto, 54 assemblymen and 27 senators would have to agree, but as of July 17, there has been no movement to do so. In fact, on the state legislative information site, it only says “July 17: In Senate. Consideration of Governor’s veto pending.”

The Legislature reconvened Monday after a month-long recess.

Neither Wilk or Vidak responded to the Gazette’s queries of whether there is any chance of overriding the veto. Acosta referred the question to his spokesperson who speculated that the Democrats aren’t willing to go up against Brown.

“They’re willing to vote for it on face value. However, a lot of members worried that (override) will upset the governor, and that might affect their legislation,” the spokesperson said.

Several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and San Diego Union-Tribune, have noted that no California governor has had a veto overridden since 1979, during Brown’s first terms. The U-T reported that neither house has seriously tried since 2009.

As perhaps an instructive example, the U-T told of a time in January 2016 in which Sen. Joel Anderson (R-El Cajon) sought to override a veto of a bill that passed with zero “no” votes. It was a bill that would have made it a felony to possess certain date-rape drugs without a prescription (it was passed in light of the Bill Cosby scandal).

Brown vetoed it Oct. 3, 2015.

Anderson called for an override, but Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) said Anderson had no standing because he wasn’t the bill’s author. Anderson argued that any senator could call for an override. In the end, Anderson could only get seven votes to override against 17 to oppose (the other 16 senators didn’t vote).

“We’d love to get it passed, but we can’t do it alone,” the Acosta spokesperson said. “There seems to be a reticence to overturn.”

Varner: Everybody Wants a Stadium

| News | August 24, 2017

Some area athletic directors think the high schools don’t need their own football stadiums, but some coaches know different.

“Everybody says it,” West Ranch coach Chris Varner said. “Everybody in the community, everybody in the program. Everybody wants a stadium. I have people daily asking me.”

And this from Golden Valley JV coach (and athletic director) Mike Edwards: “Anyone who visits our field would (agree), ‘Man, it would be an outstanding place to have a stadium.’”

So far, the six schools in William S. Hart Union High School District use three stadiums. Hart and Saugus play at College of the Canyons (and receive only about 5-10 percent of concession monies, Hart AD Linda Peckham told the Gazette last week); West Ranch shares with Valencia; and Golden Valley shares with Canyon. Each team keeps the concession monies during home games.

So far, the six schools in William S. Hart Union High School District use three stadiums. Hart and Saugus play at College of the Canyons (and receive only about 5-10 percent of concession monies, Hart AD Linda Peckham told the Gazette last week); West Ranch shares with Valencia; and Golden Valley shares with Canyon. Each team keeps the concession monies during home games.

District spokesman Dave Caldwell said that if schools want to build their own stadiums, they’d have to pay for it themselves, as there is no state funding for such things.

The reason, he said, is that schools receive state funds for physical education classes, not for sports, so fields (and a gym) are required for P.E. classes. “A stadium is a separate cost item,” Caldwell said. “The school has to pay for that. Valencia and Canyon did that separately with no state funding.”

In fact, Valencia athletic director (and first football coach) Brian Stiman told the Gazette last week that the reason his school has a stadium is because a big donation allowed for lights to be installed first. The stadium didn’t open until 2004, a decade after the school opened (Valencia played its home games at Canyon before that).

Knowing lights are the key, Varner said his program is actively raising money for lights. He said it would cost between $500,000 and $600,000.

“That is doable,” he said before adding, “We’re not even close.”

Over at Golden Valley, Edwards said there are no fundraising-for-lights going on, even though he can see the competitive advantages of having them. For example, a school with lights can have teams practice under them, thereby more accurately simulating game conditions (high school football games start at 7 or 7:30 p.m.).
“Other schools can stagger practices. We can’t,” Edwards said. “All our games and practices have to be done by 5, when it starts to get dark.”

Edwards said he can bring in portable lights, but it’s not the same.

Nor is it just the football teams that are affected, he said. Soccer teams practice and play in the winter, when the days are the shortest. “Other schools stagger soccer practices in the winter,” he said. “It’s not a great option for us.”

Edwards said Golden Valley and West Ranch were built to accommodate football stadiums, even though one side of Golden Valley’s field is on a bluff and one side of West Ranch abuts a housing development.

“We would love to have our own, and it’s a beautiful location,” he said. “(But) a lot of things are outside of our control.”

Varner said he thinks that winning will make it more likely his school will one day play their home games under the lights where Valencia Boulevard ends. He’s even tried to get temporary lights for his team’s annual homecoming game so people can see permanent lights could work.

He previously had been told that Golden Valley and West Ranch had to get lights at the same time. He now knows that is a lie.

“We can raise it, we can build it,” he said.

Steve Knight on the Gas Leak

| News | August 24, 2017

by Blair Bess

Methane leaks at Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility may not have been limited to the San Fernando Valley community of Porter Ranch. Aliso Canyon is a hop, skip and a jump over Pico, East and Rice Canyons to the south of the Santa Clarita Valley; and the environmental impact of the leak could have implications for its residents as well.

In October, 2015, the facility accidentally released the largest methane gas leak in U.S. history. Over 100,000 metric tons of methane and other chemicals poured over Porter Ranch and the San Fernando Valley. Given the facility’s close proximity, it’s been suggested that the methane dump may have affected an even wider area, including parts of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Last month, state engineering and safety enforcement experts cleared the reopening of Aliso Canyon despite concerns voiced by the former head of storage at the facility, James Mansdorfer. In an email sent to the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources, Mansdorfer expressed his belief that the facility’s close proximity to earthquake fault lines presented the possibility of a catastrophic loss of life, should the facility be allowed to operate in the manner it had prior to the leak.

Despite the County of Los Angeles being granted a temporary restraining order to halt the resumption of operations at Aliso Canyon weeks ago, a state appeals court judge overruled the decision, setting in motion Aliso Canyon’s reopening.

During a recent interview with the Gazette, Representative Steve Knight, whose 25th Congressional District includes Porter Ranch, was asked whether the ruling caused him any concern.

“California has some of the most stringent environmental laws and regulations in the country” said Knight. “If state regulators believe the facility is safe enough to be put back online, I have no reason to doubt them.”

Knight also pointed out that by keeping Aliso Canyon offline, there would be an economic toll on Southern California by having an insufficient amount of natural gas to meet the region’s energy needs. He says the public needs to have faith in the government’s system of checks and balances.

But some question whether his contention is on ground that’s as shaky as that of the Aliso Canyon facility.

As part of his overall restructuring of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has aggressively pursued the rollback of Obama-era environmental regulations, including the Methane Rule, which placed significant restrictions on the release of methane emissions into the air. The Methane Rule requires that oil and gas companies must begin measuring waste methane emissions from both new and existing sources so leaks and faulty equipment could be repaired. The rule, which was part of last year’s Clean Air Act, met with push-back by the Trump administration, which moved to suspend the rule’s enforcement. Pruitt’s attempts to do so were denied last month by a federal appeals court.

“I don’t think Scott Pruitt is going rogue,” said Knight. “I just think the previous administration overreached their authority. I’m not arguing about Aliso. If everyone wants it shut down, good. But we have to look at what our energy use will be in the next 10-20 years.”

Knight believes there is a trade-off in arbitrarily deciding to close the SoCalGas facility and that a plan needs to be put in place to safely administer gas storage. He says there’s a delicate balance between environmental and public health concerns and access to a much-needed energy resource. Knight was unaware that SoCalGas tapped Aliso Canyon twice earlier this year with higher demand for gas due to cold weather this past winter.

SoCalGas had been prohibited from gas injection since early 2016, and the company has said it’s made extensive upgrades to its infrastructure, technology, and safety standards since the leaks at Aliso Canyon were detected. Their statements have not instilled confidence in some of those concerned about seismic activity, safety, further compromises to the facility, and health concerns. They include thousands of displaced Porter Ranch residents and members of the medical community who treat them for a variety of chronic illnesses they claim to be a result of the leak’s toxic effect on the area surrounding Aliso Canyon.

While it has not been publicly stated, suggested, or acknowledged that the extensive methane cloud that blanketed Porter Ranch and northern portions of the San Fernando Valley made its way over the Santa Susanna Mountains and into Santa Clarita, the possibility that an event comparable to the leak at Aliso Canyon does exist.

SoCalGas has been operating a similar facility in Santa Clarita since 1976. The Honor Rancho Natural Gas Storage facility is situated across from the Walmart Supercenter at the corner of Newhall Ranch Road and West Rye Canyon Road, which is the nearby Alquist-Priolo Fault Zone. It is the company’s second-largest gas storage reservoir; the Aliso Canyon facility being first.

The Honor Rancho’s website states that SoCalGas “occasionally vents natural gas during storage operations and maintenance work.” The website goes on to say that during venting activities the company carefully monitors the amount of natural gas released to comply with air quality regulations and ensure safe operation. Similar practices were in place prior to the Aliso Canyon methane disaster.

The administration’s attempts to hammer away at regulatory protections could pose the biggest threat to Knight, and his response the biggest opportunity for his opponents when he seeks re-election next year. Knight acknowledged that all politics is local and the community is where his interests lie. The substantive environmental challenges facing his constituents may prove to be the ultimate test of his beliefs.

Hart School District Hires CFO and Classified Personnel Director

| News | August 18, 2017

Last week the William S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board approved the hiring of two new employees. Ralph Peschek will become the chief financial officer and John Muraki will be the new director of classified personnel.

Peschek has worked with, and for, school districts since 2001. He was general manager for Sodexo School Services in Maryland for almost 11 years before taking a position with the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach, California. Peschek took the same position with Pasadena Unified School District and, in addition to oversight of all Food and Nutritional Services staff, budget and compliance, he worked to establish an ASB financial and operational system and develop the Business Division’s strategic plan. He was also a member of the district negotiating team, superintendent’s strategic planning team, compensation review committee, and he worked extensively with the facilities department specifically on the Facilities Master Plan.

Peschek has a bachelor’s degree from Washington State University and school business management certificate from USC Rossier School of Business.

Muraki has worked in human resources since 2003, both in the private and public sector. Most recently he held the position of personnel director, and prior to that, personnel analyst for Bassett Unified School District in La Puente, California.

Muraki has a bachelor’s degree from Occidental College and a master’s degree in organizational psychology from St. Mary’s University.

Sheriff’s Department Warns Drivers to Slow Down

| News | August 17, 2017

The City of Santa Clarita is partnering with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station to remind local drivers to slow down. As kids return to school at this time of year, they want residents to remember to obey the speed limits on city streets.

“I know how hectic it can be this time of the year,” City of Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth said. “But we are urging drivers not to speed. The danger is too great, because this is our community and our families are the ones in the car next to you and in the crosswalks. Please slow down.”

To help impress this important message on local drivers, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station is putting an emphasis on proactive enforcement. There is an increase in motor deputies on city streets to make sure people are obeying the speed limit and refraining from distracted driving.

“Every time you get behind the wheel of your car you are making a choice to drive safely or not,” said Sheriff’s Captain Robert Lewis. “It is your choice to speed, your choice to text, your choice to not focus on who could be crossing the street in front of you. What you don’t have a choice in is the outcome. It could be something as minor as meeting one of our deputies and getting a citation to causing a traumatic fatal car accident. We ask you to make the safe choice.”

The Canyon Comes to Town

| Entertainment, News | August 17, 2017

In the three decades since Santa Clarita was founded, the community’s never grown a reputation for notable nightlife. That could change by October. Sterling Venue Ventures is nearly ready to open the doors to Canyon Santa Clarita, taking up seven former retail store spaces in the Westfield Town Center Mall.

Approximately 1,000 guests will be able to fill the concert venue, where food and drinks are served to add a flavorful backdrop for the musical performance.

The corporation’s owner Lance Sterling developed the gold standard in nighttime entertainment since he ran operations at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.

“Treating a customer well used to be looked down upon,” Sterling told the Gazette in January. “We had to explain we were a concert entity, but we did things differently. Now, at Canyon Club, it’s acceptable to go to a venue and have dinner.”

Many Santa Clarita residents have made the trip down to Agoura Hills to go to Sterling’s concert site The Canyon Club. He says the newest site will resemble the Agoura venue and The Rose in Pasadena, another one of Sterling’s clubs.

Most bands are “regulars,” playing every year at one or more of Sterling’s venues. They include names such as Pat Benatar, Kenny Loggins, Willy Nelson, and the Gin Blossoms.

“We have standard operating procedures — the bands expect a certain thing and customers expect a certain thing,” Sterling says.

It is clear the business owner has it down to a science, considering he was pretty much “spot on” in estimating construction time.

“We’re doing well. The city’s been great — everybody’s pushing me along as best they can,” Sterling says. “We’ve given ourselves 3-4 weeks of just stuff happening, and only one of those four weeks has been eaten up.”

Sterling gets some deja vu by including Caliburger in the plan, a restaurant also at The Rose, and he has worked with Westfield in the past.

“They called us in and showed us locations in the mall. It was amazing that a city actually asked us to come,” Sterling says, underscoring Santa Clarita’s readiness for such a newcomer.

Sterling’s son, also named Lance, will be general manager of the new location. He had moved to Santa Clarita and felt the area was economically ready for the company’s brand. In addition to music, The Canyon Santa Clarita will also host comedy and murder mystery events.

The grand opening bands will be a surprise, but tickets for fall concerts can already be purchased on the Canyon Club website. Visit Wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com.

Candidate Roundup

| News | August 17, 2017

Even though the next election isn’t for another 15 months, the candidates are out and about, raising money and occasionally slamming their incumbent opponents.

What they’re rarely doing is going dirty against each other. The closest is Zack Czajkowski, campaign manager for Katie Hill, who’s trying to defeat Bryan Caforio so she can take on incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) in the 25th congressional district.

“Bryan, he’s a known candidate, but he lost by six, and Hillary won by seven,” Czajkowski said. “We know this is a tight race. We know Caforio is the front-runner. But I think we’re starting to build momentum.”

More common are comments such as this one from Czajkowski: “Every Democrat I’m impressed with. No matter who wins, it will be a strong Democrat. Whoever gets out of the primary will beat Steve Knight in November (2018).”

A look at the candidates and one incumbent:

BRYAN CAFORIO
Having already run against Knight gives Caforio name recognition, which has helped him raise a great deal of money fast. Campaign manager Nicole DeMont bragged that Caforio raised $223,018 in the second quarter, and he didn’t start campaigning until May.
Most of those contributions were less than $200, a press release said.

Also, Caforio opened an Antelope Valley office, in Palmdale, in late July and a Santa Clarita office on Railroad Avenue near Saugus Café more recently. DeMont said the AV office’s opening is significant because it’s the earliest a candidate has ever opened a field office. It’s important, she said, because the Antelope Valley is more liberal than other areas within the district.

“We’ve got to run up the score in Palmdale and Lancaster to make up for the more conservative parts of the district in Santa Clarita and Simi Valley,” DeMont said.

DeMont admitted that the Santa Clarita office hasn’t had any kind of opening ceremony yet. “Right now, we’ve got some folding chairs, Red Bull and three desks,” she said. “Having two offices this far out from the election shows how much energy and momentum our campaign is seeing.”
Caforio has received numerous endorsements so far from elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome, and several labor groups. The most recent was Aug. 2 when the United Steelworkers Los Angeles and Orange County Legislative Education Committee endorsed him.

Finally, DeMont said, the National Republican Congressional Committee is running an attack ad against Caforio and Josh Harder, a Democrat challenging incumbent Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) in the 10th district. Denham, like Knight, is considered vulnerable. However, the ad doesn’t mention either Democrat by name; it does prominently mention Nancy Pelosi and the term “single-payer” when referring to health insurance.

“Doing that 15 months before the election not only shows that Knight is vulnerable (we all knew that) but also that they know Bryan is the candidate who can beat him,” DeMont wrote in an email.

NRCC spokesman Jack Pandol told the Los Angles Times that Caforio and Harder are the targets of the ad because they “aren’t being up front with the progressive base and mainstream voters about their position on single-payer. They can’t escape taking a position on this forever.”

KATIE HILL
Czajkowski also trumpets his candidate’s fundraising acumen, saying Hill, executive director and deputy CEO of People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH, a statewide organization that provides homeless services and develops housing, has received donations from 1,400 people, compared to Knight’s 40.

“It shows you really have a people-powered campaign,” he said. “Katie has taken zero dollars from PACs. This is more grassroots. Forty donors is pretty abysmal. It also shows (Knight) doesn’t care about local donors. Steve’s not even making an effort.”

Czajkowski also believes that Caforio’s number of endorsements might be a bit misleading when one considers the possibility of dual endorsements. He said that Hill isn’t yet as well known as Caforio, but if Hill has another strong fundraising quarter, she might start receiving endorsements from people who also have endorsed Caforio.

Hill’s latest endorsement, coming July 31, was from Laurie Friedman, assemblywoman from the 43rd district, which covers Glendale, Burbank and parts of Los Angeles.

CHRISTY SMITH
Just because Smith is running for Assembly (she’s again challenging Dante Acosta in the 38th district after losing by six points last year) and not Congress doesn’t mean money isn’t an issue. She said she has raised close to $98,000, with about $70,000 of that available as cash on hand (the rest has been eaten by expenses, she said).

“We’re on track to raise enough to cover our budget and do some outreach,” she said.

Smith also said she was proud that she has 270 in-district donors, most giving no more than $25.

STEVE KNIGHT
With the Congress in recess until the beginning of September, Knight has been visiting the district, talking to various groups and hearing from constituents. One thing Communications Director Megan Dutra said would change as a result of these meetings is improving the content of Knight’s regular newsletter to include bigger-picture issues. Example: North Korea’s threatening Guam. Dutra acknowledged that “North Korea is legitimately frightening to the district,” so Knight will be making more statements about such things, Dutra said.

Dutra said she hadn’t spoken to Knight about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s decision not to launch missiles at Guam or President Trump’s statements about the violence in Charlottesville, Va., but said the congressman fully supports Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Once the House of Representatives reconvenes, Dutra said, its priority will be to overhaul the tax code. She said one has to go back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency to find the last time the code has been changed.

Dutra said Knight’s priority would be taking a look at the corporate income tax, which makes sense, considering he’s on the Small Business Committee. “He always tries to include small-business aspects that will definitely come out of the (debate),” Dutra said. “He has full faith the House will pass something and create more growth for our country, but then there is the Senate. It’s not easy.”

As for his Democratic opponents, Caforio and Hill, raising large sums of money now, Dutra said, “They’ll always be there, but his concern is making sure he can do his job. That’s his main priority.”

No Friday Night Lights

| News | August 17, 2017

In many places, high school football stadiums are a big deal. Last year, Sports Illustrated ran an online feature highlighting 13 of them. Many were in the South, and many cost millions to build. Alamo Stadium in San Antonio was $35 million, Bazemore-Hyder in Valdosta, Ga. cost $6.5 million for its most recent upgrades, and Eagle Stadium in Austin, Texas cost $60 million and seats 18,000.

Around the same time SI ran its story, the New York Times reported that voters in McKinney, Texas have given the go-ahead to spend nearly $63 million on building a high school football stadium after months of contentious debate in the suburb north of Dallas.

No one is saying Santa Clarita is as football-mad as in the South, but it’s still a pretty big deal. Yet only two high schools, Valencia and Canyon, have on-campus stadiums. The other four schools don’t. Saugus and Hart play at College of the Canyons; West Ranch typically plays at Valencia; Golden Valley’s home games are at Canyon.

Why is this? The area’s certainly not poor. Why does each school not have its own on-campus home? District spokesman Dave Caldwell found it an interesting enough question to look into it, but he didn’t call with his findings before the Gazette’s deadline. He guessed it had to do with a lack of clamor.

In talking to the schools — and their athletic directors — it seems Caldwell was partly correct.

“There’s not a big push,” Valencia athletic director and former football coach Brian Stiman said. “We got it covered with three stadiums.”

But money and space also are factors. Still, for now, the ADs seem satisfied with the current setup.

Saugus athletic director Jeff Hallman said it’s been this way since he was at Hart 40 years ago. “It’s pretty special to go over to COC,” he said. “For Hart and us, you’re not going to get a nicer venue.”

Hart athletic director Linda Peckham concurred, but mentioned one drawback: The college keeps the vast majority of concession monies. “They give us five or 10 percent, which is nothing compared to the other schools,” she said. “They make thousands while we make a few hundred.”

Stiman pointed out that space is a factor, and space includes parking. If people were to take a look at the four schools without stadiums, they would see the spatial problems. Saugus, West Ranch and Golden Valley have plenty of parking, but Saugus’ field is up against the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Golden Valley is on a bluff and West Ranch has houses nearby; there’s no room to build stands or put in lights for any of them.

Hart has the acreage but lacks parking; there’s no room to expand parking lots without taking away from the large grassy area that overlooks Hart’s turf field.
Stiman said Valencia got a stadium because a large donation led to installing lights. The stadium came later, opening in 2004, 10 years after the school opened.

“It certainly would be nice if everybody had their own stadium,” Stiman said. “God forbid COC were to say the (William S. Hart Union High School) district can’t use the stadium.”

Perhaps it is unreasonable to assume a football stadium at every school would be possible when none of the school’s gyms have air conditioning. Stiman said the district has a policy of equity: If one school has it, all must have it.

Hart District board president Joe Messina found it an interesting enough question to look into why none of the gyms have A/C. He guessed it had to do with money.

“Who’s going to pay for it?” Messina asked.

He’s right. Take Hart. Peckham said that after the 1994 Northridge earthquake destroyed the school’s gym, it was rebuilt to have air conditioning. But to put the air conditioning unit on the roof required the roof to be reinforced. Suddenly, what looked like an affordable $30,000 job became a way-too-expensive $250,000 project.

Stiman reminded that it won’t be long before a seventh school, Castaic, will open (it’s scheduled for fall 2019), and upkeep and repairs to air conditioning units haven’t been figured into any equation.

But Stiman raised one question: “Why isn’t the stadium issue an equity issue? I don’t know.”

Questions About Latino Chamber Tax Return

| News | August 10, 2017

After much delay, the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce last week filed the 2014 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for the Latino Chamber. As far as SCV Chamber Chairman John Musella is concerned, the matter is closed.

“The issue has been resolved and the chamber has no further comment on the matter,” Musella wrote in a press release last week. Later last week, he repeated that after the Gazette analyzed the form and found inconsistencies.

An analysis of the form revealed it answered some questions and left others unanswered. Largest among the unanswered questions: Where is the money that came over from the Latino Chamber when it merged with the SCV Chamber?

The tax forms show a net loss of two dollars, so how could between $1,000 and $2,000 – the amount former SCV Chamber CEO Terri Crain recalled – have come into the chamber coffers? Crain told the Gazette back in March that the money went toward membership for the Latino Chamber members who were now SCV Chamber members.

Speaking of membership dues, the Form 990 lists no membership dues and assessments for 2014. There’s a discrepancy, considering the Latino Chamber’s own Statement of Financial Income and Expense (FIE) for July-December 2014 lists $2,050 in membership income. The FIE form is the same one Latino Chamber treasurer Marlon Roa gave the Gazette in May after CEO Bill Miranda told Roa to find some numbers. Roa found the FIE, submitted it to Miranda, who approved it. Where did that money go?

Under “Salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits” on the Form 990, the Latino Chamber paid $3,651. Yet, on the second page, none of the eight officers listed show having been paid.

Finally, under “Occupancy, rent, utilities, and maintenance,” Form 990 shows the Latino Chamber paid $15,549. But the Latino Chamber occupied no building. It existed as an entity without a physical space. What occupancy or rent could there be?

Actually, there is a possible answer: The FIE shows that the Latino Chamber paid the Hyatt $14,378.63 for its Sept. 2014 gala. Could this be it? If so, what about the $1,170.37 difference? It’s hard to know, since Musella won’t comment.

Things That Check Out
Much of the return deals with the expenses from the September 2014 gala, and thanks to the FIE, it is easy to see that much of what is on the FIE matches the Form 990. In fact, five items match exactly and four others are within a dollar. Only one item, office expenses, has a greater amount on the FIE than the Form 990 ($108.15 to $68).

There are only two that are way off: Advertising/Promotion ($885 on Form 990, not listed on FIE) and Networking Mixer ($689 on Form 990, $255 on FIE, but again, the FIE is for six months).

Also, the tax return shows the chamber raised $36,760 under “program service revenue including government fees and contracts.” According to the FIE, the 2014 gala grossed $34,440, so this is close (although it’s not certain the numbers are the same, as no one at the chamber’s commenting).

Under “Professional fees and other payments to independent contractors,” the Latino Chamber paid $11,768. The FIE shows Bill Miranda was paid $6,000 for the second six months of 2014. Assuming he received the same in the first half, that’s only a $232 difference.

Also, under “sponsorship income,” the numbers match: $1,500 on each form.

 

 

Chamber Finds Financial Feet

| News | August 10, 2017

John Musella admits the SCV Chamber of Commerce hasn’t been on solid financial ground for “at least five or six years, if not longer. It could have been close to a decade.” Blame it on economic downturns or incompetent leadership if you wish, but the fact remains that the current chairman (don’t call him CEO; that position doesn’t now exist) has skillfully maneuvered the chamber into a more solid financial place.

“Chamber bills are being paid in less than 30 days,” he said. “We’re current with everybody. … The SCV Chamber will be 100 percent debt free in the next 60 days. This puts us into a very strong position financially to allow us to move forward.”

When it appeared bankruptcy was the likely option, the 41-year-old Musella didn’t go there. Instead, he followed a time-honored plan: Put your financial house in order first; then start researching what the people really want, and then give it to them, just as long as the financial goals stay met.

“John clearly understood the challenges the chamber was facing and was willing to make the difficult decisions to do what it takes to get the chamber back on track,” Mayor Cameron Smyth said. “Not everybody has that ability or wants to take that responsibility.”

But Musella did, starting with that infamous lease that soon proved impossible to pay. Not only that, but he decided the space in the building on Tourney Road was more than what the chamber needed.

“The office space was more than double the size the chamber needed because, like every other business that went through the Recession, they downsized and remade themselves for where the market is today,” he said during a 45-minute interview at a local Starbucks. “The chamber needed to do that, too. We didn’t need that big of an office space, and we certainly couldn’t afford to pay that kind of a rent.”

Although the SCV Chamber defaulted on the lease and ended up owing $700,000 in unpaid rent, broker commissions, related charges, the unpaid lease balance and interest, Musella was able to reach an agreement with the landlord to settle the matter. The terms are confidential.

“I’m sure there’s lots of people who are curious and what’s involved with that,” Musella said, “but we’re restricted by the terms of the agreement, and 99.99 percent of legal settlements are confidential.”

Musella also made some difficult cost-cutting moves: eliminating the CEO position and cutting staff. Even he isn’t being paid for his 25 hours a week he estimates he’s giving to the chamber.

Then he did to the chamber what he does to his own public relations firm.

“I look at every dime I spend, and I went into the chamber office and I started looking at every dime spent at the chamber, and there were things we were spending money on every month that were … unnecessary,” he said. “For instance, we had two storage units. We were paying roughly $120 a month on each of those storage units. I understand people accumulate things and have to store them, but at the same time, there’s a value to the items in the storage unit, and at some point the cost of the storage unit becomes more expensive than the value of its contents. And so we went and emptied the storage units. We got rid of a bunch of stuff, took the important files back to the office and got rid of those expenses. That’s $240 a month times 12.”

Another example: centerpieces. Musella said people wanted centerpieces for the installation dinner, but he wasn’t going to pay for them. Somebody would have to donate them. Somebody did.

“When you run a small business, people look at every dollar you’re spending because you’ve got to respect the people who are providing you your income and you’ve got to look at every dollar,” he said. “All those small costs start adding up.”

Once the financial situation became clearer, Musella started the second phase of his plan: a questionnaire sent to members and non-members (the Gazette received an emailed copy, too). The questions include what events have people participated in, barriers to participating more, understanding of the mission statement, and ranking the chamber’s effectiveness and importance.

“We want to hear from people as far as what they thought about the programs today and what they think we should be doing or could be doing,” he said, “because what I think may or may not be actually relevant to … the people that enjoy the chamber. … So, I want to make sure we’re hearing from everyone, members and non-members, because we always want to increase membership in addition to maintaining our membership.”

This survey closed Friday. Musella emailed to say that he, some chamber members and business leaders will be analyzing the responses ahead of the third phase of this plan: a strategic planning session Aug. 25 at Princess Cruises to be led by Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

Musella said the all-day session – open to the board of directors only – is the first step toward setting short-term and long-term goals. One goal is beefing up membership from 955 now to 1,300.

“We’re going to start at the very basics of the planning session: What is the mission of the organization and does our mission statement accurately reflect where we’re at and where we want to go five years from now,” he said. “Once we establish the mission statement, it’s a matter of going through and talking about how do we implement that mission statement to provide value to the membership and then how do we provide that value to membership while making sure the financial income is there to support the mission of the organization.”

Schroeder, who said she is pleased to help, thinks Musella is a good communicator who will assess the situation and then communicate it to the chamber board.

“John Musella has been a godsend to our chamber,” Councilmember Bill Miranda said. “He took over the reins at a most precarious time and has been able to achieve an unprecedented turnaround. I attribute that to his leadership abilities and his willingness to take problems head-on.”

Musella has a few other tasks to accomplish before his term ends Dec. 31. One is to find another location. The city has given the chamber free digs in City Hall until Nov. 30. Musella said he’s confident the chamber will be gone by Nov. 1, giving him a 30-day cushion.

“We have some office space leads,” he said. “It takes time to find that space because the square footage we’re looking at is the 1,300- to 1,400-square-foot range. … Most offices are 2,500, 3,500 square feet for a small office. That’s where a lot of vacancies are at, so to find something in that 1,000, 1,500-square-foot range is a challenge. There’s just not that many options. We’ve found some and we’re working on a deal.”

Then he has to choose the next board chairperson, and he hopes that by the first quarter of 2018, the chamber will either have hired a new chamber head or will be actively searching for that new leader. He isn’t sure that last goal will be met.

If that is the only goal that he fails to reach, his winning percentage will still be very high.

“I’m very appreciative he has the talent to do the job,” former chairman Curtis Woods said, “but also he has the time away from his business to get everything settled.”

City Purchases Sierra Highway Buildings

| News | August 4, 2017

For three decades the doors of certain small businesses on Sierra Highway have fed families, groomed pets, repaired shoes and much more. But between now and December, countless customers will have to look elsewhere for those services.

The building on the northeast corner of Sierra Highway and Soledad Canyon Road, as well as the building just to the north of it on the 18300 block, are being sold to the City of Santa Clarita to make way for the planned Canyon Country Community Center. The owners of Joe’s Shoe Repair, Hair Wave, Doggie Den and Osteria Caruso received letters from the city ordering their eviction by December, 2017. Each business now has to find a new location, because construction is set to begin next year.
“I was crying about it. I’ve been sleepless,” says Amy Chavez, whose father owns Joe’s Shoe Repair. “I just feel for my dad. He can practically lose everything.”She has been researching potential new spaces, where owners are asking $2,000-$3,000 for a down payment. Plus, rent is higher everywhere, partly because Joe’s Shoe Repair has been in the same building for 20 years, and a decade longer than that under a different name.

The space where Joe Chavez Trejos has done business for decades totals about 800 square feet and costs about $1,300 per month.

“It’s the fact we’ve been here so long is why it’s so cheap,” Amy Chavez says.

Hair Wave’s owner, who goes by “Kim,” has been in that retail space for three decades. The city has suggested a space in Saugus for the hair salon, but it’s expensive, she says. An even bigger problem, however, is keeping her customer base, who she predicts will say they will follow her to the new location, but will not really do so in the end.

City leaders have suggested that Kim relocate her salon closer to her home in Valencia.

“It doesn’t matter where I live,” she says. “It matters where my customers are.”

 

Joe and Amy Chavez live in Palmdale and people have asked them why they don’t open their doors in the Antelope Valley.

“It’s dead out there,” Amy says. “There’s no business.”

Renters in the building heard rumors for many months that changes were coming, especially when maps of the planned Canyon Country Community Center showed no sign of their building. But, when they reached out to the city, they w

ere assured they weren’t going to lose their spaces. Amy laments that if the city told them about the move last year it would have been easier, because for some reason, there were a lot of vacant commercial spaces in the area.

“Now it’s out of the question—it’s all taken,” she says. “We don’t want to move. We haven’t found a place financially suitable.”

To begin again and build a new customer base it takes about a year with no profits, Amy explains. Then, as if on cue to illustrate her point, a loyal customer enters the shop, and she calls him by name and walks straight to his two pairs of motocross riding boots. They speak in Spanish, trading “Gracias” across the counter.

No one expected this timeline. Angie Caruso told the Gazette earlier this year that this building, which was purchased by her grandfather in the 1950s, would stay put and not be sold. The family even completed a makeover and renaming of their restaurant, Caruso’s, which is now Osteria Caruso. And tenants like Joe’s Shoe Repair just signed a five-year lease.

“They were talking to us at the end of April, but we’re not handling it anymore. Our attorneys are handling it,” Angie Caruso says. “We were hoping they wouldn’t need it. It’s for the better of the community — we hope.”

The City of Santa Clarita Parks Planning Manager Wayne Weber confirmed the compulsory move with a prepared statement to the Gazette: “The City has hired a relocation consultant to provide relocation services to all businesses impacted by the future Canyon Country Community Center.  Discussions with property owners and tenants have been ongoing and will continue until businesses have been relocated or other settlement agreements reached.  The construction of the Canyon Country Community Center is currently scheduled to begin in mid to late 2018.”

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