Budding Flower Business has Landlord Woes

| News | June 4, 2020

Stories abound online about landlords demonstrating generosity toward their tenants in COVID-19 times. Vivian De Leon thought she was going to experience the same thing.

Then she got the lawyer’s letter demanding on-schedule payments.

De Leon, the owner of the recently opened Vivian’s Flower Market on Sierra Highway in Canyon Country, has been able to come up with the rent despite not having much business in the first nine weeks of the county’s safer-at-home order.

She said business has been looking a little better, but the insecurity remains.

“The letter was demoralizing,” she said.

De Leon, a Canyon Country resident and single mother of a 6-year-old, said it was a dream to open a flower shop, and she sunk her life’s savings into it. The Feb. 1 opening, in time for Valentine’s Day – one of the two biggest days of the year for flower shops – was one of the happiest days in her life.

“It’s a different concept than your normal flower shop,” she explained. “In most flower shops you have a florist who does 10-15 arrangements and puts them in refrigerators. We’ll have just two or three. When I get called by someone, I get their idea and get to know who they are and what kinds of flowers they like. We personalize their arrangement, even if it’s a bouquet.”

Like any new business, it takes time to build up a client base. The problem was the coronavirus took away that time.

She knew from watching the news that San Francisco was ordering a lockdown. She called her landlord, Mo Monfared, to ask what would happen if the entire state shut down. She said he told her that he would call her back.

The next day, the entire state shut down. On March 16, De Leon had to close her doors. She again called Monfared and pleaded for patience while she tried to get the money. She said he told her that she was like family.

The cancellations poured in: four weddings. The flowers were ready, but with no celebrations, she had to get rid of them. It was March 26.

As she went to throw them out, she saw a letter attached to her door from attorney Marcelo Di Mauro, addressed to “Dear Tenants.”

“This is to inform you that in spite of the difficult times we are living, contracts are still valid and business transactions continue as normal, therefore, we expect our business relationship to continue as it has been and per the terms of our agreements,” it said.

The rent is due on the 5th day of the month. On April 5, Monfared called about the rent. Fortunately, De Leon has another job, as a property manager. She used money from that job to pay her full rent: $3,000 a month.

“The day I dropped it off, he cashed it,” she said.

Calls to Monfared and Di Mauro went unanswered.

The irony was not lost on her: She made deals with many of her tenants to make payment plans.

“I’m telling my 123 tenants they don’t have to worry about it,” she said. “ ‘I’d rather you have food on the table.’ ”

For several weeks, Vivian’s was closed, like so many businesses. De Leon said she didn’t apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan because she didn’t meet the requirements.

“I had to start paying out of pocket,” she said. “The profit margin was small. We’re trying to get our name out.”

But it’s hard to get your name out when your business is closed.

De Leon said the first month of the closure, people were afraid to leave their homes. She spent time at the shop making sure the refrigerators were still working.

“We didn’t get a single order for five weeks,” she said.

By the sixth week, people started ordering arrangements, so she started ordering fresh flowers again. Normally, she gets deliveries every two days.

Fortunately, she was able to reopen three days before Mother’s Day – the other of the two biggest days of the year for flower shops.

It was a challenge. By the time she reopened, distributors didn’t have flowers, causing her to scramble and pay higher amounts, though she insists she wasn’t gouged. She had bought some furniture, which required moving things around to fit it in. Unfortunately, one refrigerator’s temperature had accidentally changed during the moving, causing 500 rose stems to freeze. She had to throw them out.

Because her philosophy is to custom-make everything, she couldn’t prearrange. But since she was the only flower shop she knew to be open on Mother’s Day, she had 10-15 people trying to get flowers at the last minute. She had to complete pre-orders before tending to the line.

“A lot of them were patient. They were willing to wait an hour,” she said.

She was able to pay the rent in May and fully expects to pay on time this month because business is looking up. So will the rent in the fall, to $3,900 per month.

“People are coming, and they’re happy we’re hanging in there,” she said. “We’re glad we could hang on.”

Balls are Not Having a Ball

| News | June 4, 2020

Th11-Paper money

Chris and Krissy Ball said they have given up hope that their former bookkeeper will ever be prosecuted for allegedly stealing more than $1.5 million. They’re now trying to recover the funds through the courts.

But they are finding little satisfaction in their search for money and justice.

“Who’s going to put a sweet, little old lady in jail right now with COVID (happening)?” Krissy Ball lamented. “If anything happens, she’ll get a slap on the wrist or three to four years (of) probation. She’ll be dead.”

“It’s very, very frustrating,” Chris Ball said. “We have sued five national banks and three merchants.”

The Balls allege Neilla Cenci misappropriated, embezzled, converted and/or diverted $1,586,732.06 from their construction business between 2006-18. Cenci, now 71, was arrested and released in 2018 and soon after declared bankruptcy. The Balls almost never use Cenci’s name, instead usually calling her “the criminal.”

The Balls are focusing on spreadsheets, transaction reports, bank statements and 84 canceled checks, copies of which they provided to the Gazette, that they claim shows Cenci didn’t declare $133,433.09 in income she received and deposited into her accounts after filing for bankruptcy. If proven true, that would prevent Cenci from having her debt wiped out and make her liable to the Balls.

Various subpoenas to Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Discover and Chase, plus Home Depot, Best Buy and Macy’s, have produced the proof, they said. They also said these subpoenas show Cenci used stolen money to pay back her 401(k) that she borrowed against to buy and furnish her Avenida Terraza townhouse.

“She has committed perjury. Also tax evasion,” Chris Ball said. “We’re going to pursue that with the bankruptcy judge, the proof that she filed a false bankruptcy declaration.”

Cenci declined comment, saying. “I’ve got nothing to say regarding them. I don’t want to be involved with their back-and-forth. Let him write whatever he wants to write. I don’t care.”
Not that bankruptcy has been a breeze for the Balls. In an attempt to force the five banks’ hands, the Balls sued, alleging that the banks engaged in money laundering by accepting the money Cenci allegedly stole. The Balls claim they have documentation that Cenci deposited between $6,000 and $20,000 in small amounts.

“They accepted my check hundreds of times over a 10-year period,” Ball said. “The banks turned a blind eye. The banks have a duty, and computer, to look for money laundering, and they failed.”

Chris Ball said Discover and Chase attempted to file the matter in federal court but failed, the resolution taking four months. Ball said the banks now are under a 30-day requirement to respond to the suit, although Bank of America already has issued a denial, he said.

“The banks have unlimited resources to defend this case, so we’re expecting all kinds of crap to be thrown at us before the courts force them to pay damages,” Ball said.

The Balls also have attempted to have Cenci prosecuted by the county district attorney’s office.

“This case has been trial-ready for a year,” Chris Ball said. “We have been completely unable to get any prosecution or arrest. Meanwhile, we are the victims of a crime, and our rights under the California Constitution are being trampled by the laziness and incompetence of (District Attorney) Jackie Lacey’s office.”

The attorney in charge of the case, Adewale Oduye, does not have any contact information on the D.A.’s website. The Gazette requested the media relations department forward an email to Oduye; no response came.

“He’s a gutless, cowardly civil-service employee who doesn’t want to be found,” Chris Ball said. “He’s a cockroach under the rug.”

Ball also has complained to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office with no success. In fact, Deputy A.G. Michael Keller wrote a letter in January stating he believes Lacey’s office is handling the case “with diligence and professionalism.”

“Although I understand your frustration that the criminal case has not been filed yet, embezzlement investigations often take longer than a member of the public would likely expect,” Keller wrote. “This is especially true when the embezzlement occurred over a period of years.”

Krissy Ball has done much of the research and documentation. These include bank statements, credit card statements, emails, attachments, computer files and social media posts. From these, she’s aware of Cenci’s happenings. For example, Ball knows where and when Cenci gets her hair cut, that she recently had surgery, that a granddaughter recently graduated Saugus High.

“Trust me, I monitor their social media like a hawk,” she said. “I’m on top of it. It’s a daily thing for us.”

And it hasn’t stopped for two years, even as the hope dwindles.

Henry Mayo: Pandemic Woes

| News | May 28, 2020

The layoffs at Henry Mayo Hospital are understandable, but had the two highest-paid employees cut their pay further, it could have prevented more pay cuts, one nurse alleged.

The hospital announced that starting May 31, all non-union staff would have their salaries cut by 10%. Each staff member also is being furloughed one day a week until May 30. The hospital previously laid off nine management-level employees and several other unnamed staff positions.

The nurse, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being fired, said if hospital President/CEO Roger Seaver and Senior Vice President Larry Kidd would just cut their salaries 10% more, it could save 100 non-union employees from having to take a pay cut for three months.

She based that on the following: Seaver and Kidd earned almost a combined $1.5 million, according to the hospital’s 2017 tax forms, the most recent ones available. Ten percent is almost $150,000. The average non-union salary is $15,000 for three months; 10% of that is $1,500, or one-hundredth of $150,000.

“You’re barking up the wrong tree” in requiring this across-the-board pay cut, the nurse said. “Why don’t you ask the top two to take a pay cut to save your employees?”

Hospital spokesman Patrick Moody said he couldn’t confirm that the nurse’s salary numbers were correct because of the time it would take to calculate it. Seaver made it clear during a May 13 employee forum that he wasn’t interested in cutting his salary further. In a YouTube video widely circulated through Henry Mayo but password-protected to the general public, Seaver responded to a question about why he isn’t taking a larger pay cut.

“Why should I do that? My gosh,” Seaver muttered before answering that the dollar amount he is forfeiting is larger than anyone else’s. “I understand your question. I’m not sure I can answer it to your satisfaction,” Seaver said on the video.

Moody said Seaver regrets making that statement during the four-hour forum, and Moody said he regrets that the video has been circulated, which was why it became password-protected.

The nurse also said that a 10% pay cut for an employee making $13 an hour would drop the pay below the state-mandated $12 an hour minimum wage. Moody said all employees would make at least minimum wage.

The nurse said the two unions, the California Nurses Association and the Union of Auxiliary Workers Local 1004, have suffered 94 layoffs, including 35 nurses. Moody said he cannot comment on personnel matters.
The fact remains that the hospital, like so many around the country, is struggling. The nurse said she knows why: People are afraid to go to the hospital out of fear of catching COVID-19 there. She told of a patient who came in suffering from abdominal pain for nine days. It turned out the patient’s appendix had burst; had the patient come sooner, complications could have been averted.

It’s an issue Moody said management is currently addressing. The hospital website’s home page announces that all elective surgeries are once again available, but Moody said it’s going to take time to get the numbers of patients back up to where they were pre-pandemic. Hospitals make about 48 percent of their revenue from these surgeries, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Henry Mayo’s tax form said it brought in about $360 million in non-contribution income in 2017. Forty-eight percent is about $172.5 million.

The nurse said in her department, there are typically at least 15 elective surgeries each week. Now, it’s more like six.

Moody said that next week the hospital would launch a new campaign to try and get people to feel safe enough to come when needed. Called “Safer in Our Care,” it will include banners, social-media posts, print advertising, short videos showing the safety precautions the hospital takes as well as other to-be-determined tactics.

The nurse said she hopes no more jobs will be lost, but it’s an uphill battle.

“I don’t know how to get people to trust the hospital,” she said, adding she’s heard people say nobody has caught the virus inside the hospital, though she can’t verify it herself. “If it’s true, it’s a great testament.”

Likelihood of District Elections in November Grows Slimmer

| News | May 28, 2020

The chances the city council will hold district elections in November became very unlikely Tuesday after the council did not vote to adopt a schedule that would have completed the process by June 30.

Instead, by a vote of 3-2, the council delayed setting a schedule until after the county Department of Health Services OKs large gatherings.

Its justification was Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order he issued in March that freezes the timeframes a city is required to meet to remain in compliance with the California Voting Rights Act and not be subject to litigation.

For example, a city normally has 90 days to hold the necessary five public hearings required by law. City Attorney Joe Montes told the council that since Newsom’s order came one day after the council voted to move to district voting, it technically has 89 more days to complete the process.

Councilmember Bill Miranda, who voted with fellow members Laurene Weste and Bob Kellar, said there was no way to hold all the public meetings, approve the map and submit it to the county registrar-recorder by June 30, the date the county set to ensure the ballot could be properly printed and distributed in time for the Nov. 3 election.

Miranda said if the council tried to do things quickly, citizens might sue the city over a lack of public participation. If it does nothing, Scott Rafferty, the Northern California attorney who threatened legal action in the first place on behalf of a group called Neighborhood Elections Now, likely would file suit.

“We’re gonna get sued if we do. We’re gonna get sued if we don’t,” Miranda said during the council meeting. “So, since we’re gonna get sued, let’s do it right.”

Mayor Cameron Smyth, who with Marsha McLean voted against the decision (although McLean quickly said she wished she could change her vote), reaffirmed the city’s commitment to moving to district elections. “We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Rafferty called the decision “comically irresponsible. This is going to backfire on them. They know they can’t pay me $400,000 to go away like last time. I’m not going away. I’m not giving up.”

Before the council’s decision, Rafferty expressed confidence that virtual meetings would be more flexible and effective in allowing people to participate if they can’t (or aren’t allowed to) get to City Hall for a council meeting. Zoom provides a method for the public to submit comments, thereby meeting the public-participation requirement, he said.

Now, the council seems to have forced Rafferty’s hand. He could go to court, but the courts are closed until at least June 10, according to the Superior Court website. Since the county’s stay-at-home order does not have an expiration date, there remains the possibility the courts also won’t open.

The courts are subjected only to Newsom’s executive order.

“My client doesn’t intend to challenge the governor’s ability to close the courts, but that could change,” Rafferty said. “What if the courts reopen … after June 1 but before Election Day?”

The election is going to happen Nov. 3, but courts typically declare the results null and void and order a special election. It happened in Palmdale in 2012 after a judge found the city in violation and ordered a new election; it took until 2016 for that case to be settled.

It also happened in October 2008 when a judge ruled in that the Madera Unified School District board election would not count. The seat was decided the following May.

“That’s not what we want,” Rafferty said. “That’s the only outcome. (But) I’m not rushing to court.”

In fact, Rafferty said, he has had settlement talks with Montes that included deferring district voting until 2022 provided an independent districting commission is put in place. Montes didn’t return calls to confirm.

“Joe Montes has been honest and straightforward,” Rafferty said. “There’s still a basis to negotiate. Obviously, they’ve got a high card. I’d rather it happen in 2020.”

Jonathan Ahmadi, who heads the 11-member Santa Clarita Independent Districting Committee that drew up three potential district maps before deciding on one, said he would support the city creating an independent districting committee.

As for the council’s decision Tuesday, Ahmadi called it “reckless and irresponsible and really unnecessary. … They potentially put themselves in a worse legal position.”

The council’s actions seemed to make moot local activist Steve Petzold’s intent to circulate a ballot measure calling for at-large elections in November.

Petzold has long favored district elections, but he said he was doing this because he wants other issues addressed as well: a directly elected mayor, council primary elections and term limits. “A comprehensive approach to government reform in Santa Clarita” is how he termed it.

“I don’t believe a judge is going to let an attorney sue the city and get fees if the people want (an at-large election),” Petzold said. Rafferty currently is entitled to $30,000 if the city moves to district elections by November; that amount would increase if the city doesn’t.

The council could have placed the question of moving to district elections at any time but chose not to. Asked if he would lead a charge to put the question on the November ballot, Kellar said Wednesday, “If I could cause that to happen, I would do it in a heartbeat.”

Smyth said he welcomes the policy discussion but refused to bring it up himself because it’s a low priority. “I’m going to run in whatever the election looks like.”

Besides, he said, since city council candidates don’t have to file until July, there remains time to put the district-election question before the voters. But he warned it would be non-binding.

Rafferty, naturally, opposes this. Since this is a presidential election, turnout is expected to be much higher, and those elected will have a say in drawing district lines for the next decade. “They can perpetuate the status quo,” he said. “You can’t have politicians elected in the 20th century decide city district lines until 2030.”

Wilk Urges Governor to Let Locals in LA County Call the Shots on Reopening

| News | May 21, 2020

Senator Scott Wilk, representing the 21st Senate District, and Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R, Palmdale),on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, submitted a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom urging him to give north county cities in Los Angeles County the ability to create their own Regional Recovery Plan and move to the next stage of his Resilience Roadmap and reopen.

Wilk issued the following statement:

“One size does not fit all when it comes to COVID19 and the communities it has impacted. The governor already acknowledged that reality when he allowed counties to create their own recovery plans. Today we are requesting that the governor apply that same logic in Los Angeles County – which is the size of Michigan. The high desert portion of the County, which we represent, is being unfairly impacted by LA County’s continuing stay at home order.  The cities of Lancaster, Palmdale and Santa Clarita are more rural and sprawling then their highly populated counterparts to the South and should not be held hostage while the City of LA works to get control of the virus. The Resilience Roadmap lays out a path for safe and responsible reopening of the state. North LA County should be able to use this Roadmap and call the shots on a safe and responsible reopening.”

Assemblyman Tom Lackey issued the following statement:

“I support a balanced, science-based approach to managing the consequences of this severe pandemic. The high desert portion of Los Angeles County is dramatically different than the basin in the landscape, transportation considerations, and population density. Our region deserves a separate timetable for reopening.”

Leona Cox Teacher of the Year

| News | May 21, 2020

Marisa Rosenblatt firmly believes that all children should be fully included in education, regardless of ability. The sensory garden and rock path within Leona Cox Community School in Canyon Country – and the honor she received from her peers – indicates she has support.

Rosenblatt, a pre-kindergarten teacher specializing in mild to moderate disabilities, led the building of a sensory garden to help her kids learn about the smells, sights and textures of various plants, but it ended up helping everyone better understand that all children are entitled to the same educational opportunities.

As a result, her fellow teachers selected Rosenblatt as her school’s Santa Clarita Valley Education Foundation teacher of the year. Her principal said the vote was close to unanimous.

“I’m a preschool teacher on an elementary school campus,” she said. “I didn’t expect it. Preschool is different. I was very touched.”

Rosenblatt, 38, has a master’s degree in early childhood special education and aspires to be an inclusion specialist in a state preschool program. She overcame learning disabilities dyslexia (reading disorder), dysgraphia (difficulty learning how to write) and dyscalculia (informally known as “math dyslexia”).

She has been at Leona Cox for 11 years, and she said it has the Sulphur Springs School District’s largest special-education population.

She said she was hired specifically to increase the amount of inclusion between the special-education kids and the typically developing ones, but desire only goes so far. Teachers have to be trained in how to seamlessly integrate children with special needs into the regular curricula; and money, or lack of it, is always a factor.
Rosenblatt knew there used to be a garden on campus that was built by an Eagle Scout, but it had lain dormant for many years. She decided a sensory garden would work. It would include garden beds, a sensory hopscotch pit and a sensory wall, among other features.

The project got a real boost last year after the Saugus High shooting. Life Scout Tyler Nilson got a group of classmates to volunteer with the designing and building of it as part of his Eagle Scout project.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place last year. There are three raised garden beds that grow various flowers, plants and bushes to help kids use their senses of smell and touch. The largest bed is the “mini-orchard” that grows fruits.

The sensory wall features all kinds of fabrics and toys that introduce kids to various textures and help develop fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination. It also helps children relax when their minds focus on one sense.

Rosenblatt also got a bunch of rocks donated and turned them into a painted path in a dirt patch near the front of the school. Each teacher received enough rocks for each student. While the students painted, they were given a questionnaire with the theme, “What makes you, you?” Students paired up and answered one question based on a die roll. She said she hopes the project becomes perpetual.

The garden opened early this year, and its effect went beyond the intended group of kids. A group of fifth and sixth graders regularly work in the garden. Others just go sit there and relax.

“You would assume they would screw with it, but they find peace,” Rosenblatt said.

Many of them visit her class during recess or lunch and ask why her kids behave the way they do, or what disability they have. She calmly explains, and then they later bring a friend and explain what they learned.

The end result is more kids have an understanding of such conditions as autism, which breeds acceptance and understanding.

Principal Heather Drew said she’s a believer in a proactive approach, so if some older kids are having trouble, they can go to Rosenblatt’s class and work with her kids by acting like role models.

The end result is the behavior changes. Drew told of four fifth-grade girls who took turns being mean and alienating to each other. After Drew put them in Rosenblatt’s class, they not only helped the pre-kindergartners, they learned how to respect and trust each other.

“If we saw an issue, by providing a positive opportunity, that’s when we’d pull Marisa in,” Drew said. “They pay it forward by being a role model.”

Rosenblatt’s fellow teachers noticed. When it came time to vote for a teacher of the year, an honor the SCV Education Foundation bestows on one teacher in each of the 53 area public schools, she got almost every vote, Drew said. Only the teachers vote; the administration has nothing to do with it.

The principal even devised a creative way to tell Rosenblatt that she’d won. At a staff meeting, she told everyone she had given everyone the same gift, so everyone should open his or her gift bags at the same time.

Everyone pulled out a white T-shirt, except Rosenblatt, whose shirt was black. Drew even recorded the moment. At first, Rosenblatt looked confused, but then it dawned on her as many shrieked in delight.

“She’s a great person overall,” Drew said. “She cares about her kids, and her (kids’) parents.”

Crazy Otto’s Canyon Country Opens … and Closes

| News | May 21, 2020

For one day last week, Crazy Otto’s in Canyon Country operated like a real restaurant. Then came the threatening phone call.

Co-owner Adam Finley couldn’t take the chance and went back to take-out only.

“We had one good day,” he said.

That was Saturday. Finley, 37, knew that the Valencia Crazy Otto’s, an entirely different franchise owner, had opened with inside dining, choosing to ignore county and state guidelines out of economic necessity.

“I got a family of four, and one on the way,” Finley said. “This is killing me.”

With his sales down 85%, Finley knew he had to do something, even though he said that 15% was enough to pay the bills for now. So, he tried a different approach to his Valencia counterparts.

He opened his restaurant to outside dining. Tables were at least six feet apart. Staffers wore masks and served food in to-go boxes and to-go cups. All the tables and menus were nonporous and were cleaned and disinfected after each party left.

“Even if we’re open 25% of capacity, you know how much that will help us,” he said before admitting that the outside dining was probably closer to 10% of capacity.

The staff was excited. Two customers thanked him.

And then came the phone call.

Finley said it was an anonymous person threatening to close the place if it stayed open. He didn’t know if the caller had any connection to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Services.

He also didn’t want to take any chances. On Sunday, Crazy Otto’s in Canyon Country was back doing take-out only.

It could have been worse. The county completely shut down the Valencia location the same day. A health department spokesperson said it was because the restaurant committed social-distancing violations by offering inside dining, not having the staff wear masks and not having the tables set up at least six feet apart.

The county spokesperson also said she had no report about the Canyon Country location.

Finley said he made the decision to rescind outdoor dining unilaterally. Of his other two partners, he said one took issue and one was fine with it.

But he’s still worried about the future. He wishes there were better guidelines in place, and that those guidelines would be updated faster.

“If L.A. wants to make this last until July, a lot of businesses are going to go under,” he said. “I’m worried. We’re drowning.”

Children’s Bureau Offering Online Foster-Adoption Orientation – Urgent need for Resource Families to Help Children in Foster Care

| News | May 14, 2020

May is National Foster Parent Appreciation Month. Children’s Bureau is inviting the community to celebrate by applying to become a resource parent and fostering or foster-adopting siblings. Children’s Bureau is now offering an online foster-adoption orientation for individuals and/or couples who are interested helping children in foster care while reunifying with birth families or to provide legal permanency by adoption.

The current health crisis has accelerated the need for resource parents (foster and adoptive) to help local at-risk youth stay in their communities. In Los Angeles County alone, the foster care population exceeds 21,000 children with 200 of those foster children waiting for an adoptive family. Many of these children are siblings in need of families who are willing and able to keep them together. In fact, Children’s Bureau turns away at least 10 sibling sets weekly due to lack of families.

“Being a resource parent lets you help someone in their time of need. You’re the support system for a child and for their parents,” said Brittany, who with her husband Jeremy, foster-adopted two sibling children. The couple has three biological children and knew that fostering was something they wanted to do. “Children’s Bureau has been there to help get us through the challenging times and to celebrate the special moments, especially when the adoption of our two children was finalized,” Jeremy added. See their story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfGZvaVDihE&feature=youtu.be

Children’s Bureau welcomes every individual regardless of race, age, religion, disability, marital status, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression to become a resource for children. Qualifying families receive training and support throughout their journey. For questions and/or to get started, call 800-730-3933 or visit the website https://www.all4kids.org/programs/family-foster-care-and-adoption to complete a quick inquiry form.

Since 1904, Children’s Bureau has been a nonprofit leader in protecting vulnerable children through prevention, treatment and advocacy. The agency helps more than 50,000 at-risk children and parents each year throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties with services that include school readiness, parenting classes, family resource centers, support groups, mental health counseling, foster care and foster-adoption and more. To learn more about the agency and/or its foster care and adoption program, visit the website https://www.all4kids.org. Licenses: Los Angeles FFA 197805422, Palmdale FFA 197800281, Adoption (All) 197805428.

Garcia Wins

| News | May 14, 2020

Now that Republican Mike Garcia won the May 12 congressional special election over Democrat Christy Smith, Garcia will only have about six months to prove to the voters he should win a full two-year term.

College of the Canyons political science professor Lena Smyth said Garcia has one major advantage when the two face off again Nov. 3.

“Incumbency has the most advantages,” Smyth said before the election, “because whomever gets elected is now the incumbent. That seat is labeled. The (Republicans) will want to protect the incumbent, even if it’s only six months.”

Garcia is the first California Republican to flip a House seat since 1998, giving the GOP more than enough motivation to try and hold it.

Smyth said that Garcia, as the representative, and Smith, as Assemblywoman, have records to run on – or one the other can criticize. For example, House Democrats have proposed a $3 trillion stimulus package that Republicans find too expansive and expensive; how would Garcia vote?

He released this statement Wednesday: “For too long, the people of our district have not had representation, and it’s time their voice is heard in Washington. These are difficult times, and too much is at stake – our small businesses, our workers and our families need all the help they can get.”

Smith already has a voting record as Assemblywoman, and Garcia used that in his attacks. But with the state expecting a $54 billion budget shortfall, Smith might have some difficult votes to make regarding how to close that.

“Both have decisions to make that will be difficult, and that will follow both to November,” Smyth said.

It’s also likely Smith will attack Garcia for being closely aligned with President Donald Trump. Although the president’s name is largely absent from Garcia’s campaign website, Trump endorsed Garcia and tweeted words of congratulations on his apparent victory. Also, Garcia often invoked Trump’s name and support for him in speeches.

In her concession statement to Garcia, Smith hinted at the points on which she plans to campaign: “This is only one step in this process, and I look forward to having a vigorous debate about the issues in the upcoming November 2020 election, from healthcare access to job creation, aid for working families, investments in local classrooms to wildfire protection, women’s rights and more in the months ahead.”

How likely the GOP holds the seat also depends on the winning margin. Smyth said the smaller the margin of victory, the more likely the Democrats will pump more money into the race to try and retake it in November. Too large a margin of victory might cause the Democrats to decide to commit resources elsewhere, perhaps in Alabama to help Sen. Doug Jones keep his seat.

“If he holds (the lead) in double digits, in a plus-six Democratic district, that’s cause for concern for Christy,” Smyth said. “I think that will cause the party to pause.”

That isn’t to say Garcia is guaranteed to prevail in November. Smyth said much could happen between now and then. A close election certainly gives the Democrats hope, but it also depends on what’s happening in the country: How did Trump handle the COVID-19 crisis between now and November? How did Joe Biden fare?

“Down-ticket races are very affected by presidential races,” Smyth said. “Trump’s not going to win California, but the Republican Party is going to get out the vote to give Mike Garcia a chance to be elected.”

The same could be said about the Democrats getting out the vote to help Smith. Presidential elections always mean higher voter turnouts. Smyth said that means more people vote, but they aren’t as educated about the issues. Midterm elections typically are smaller, but the voters are more in tune with the issues and candidates, Smyth said.

What does that mean for this race? Smyth isn’t sure.

“Political science is not an exact science,” she said. “It’s a science of interpretation. We make our assumptions, we make our theories based on knowledge, but we don’t know until Election Day.”

But she is sure in the advantage of incumbency.

“I don’t see a negative to winning in May,” Smyth said.

Future of Patriots Luncheon is Uncertain

| News | May 7, 2020

Bill Reynolds thought he was going to own and control his beloved Patriots Luncheon. Instead, his ire with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce leadership, specifically John Musella, grew.

Reynolds, a Vietnam War veteran who wrote about veterans for The Signal and now does for KHTS, said he felt he had a handshake agreement that his organization would take over the annual summer luncheon that honors local veterans. But the memorandum of understanding he received required it being licensed from the chamber, and he turned it down.

“We were dumbfounded by the MOU Musella sent over,” Reynolds said. “We were getting ourselves cranked up, figuring out where we’d have it, what we’re going to do. We won’t be buying a table this year.”

Musella emailed a statement: “I do not pretend to understand why the Veterans Memorial committee chose not to take ownership of this event to honor Veterans. But what I can tell you is that it will continue to be the Chamber’s honor to salute our Veterans.”

The chamber, in coordination with the nonprofit SCV Veterans Memorial, Inc., of which Reynolds has been president for the last five years, put on many of the nine previous Patriots Luncheons.

Reynolds was deeply involved in the first seven. He said he typically helped nominate and select honorees, preferring combat veterans, and secured participants such as honor guards, military bands or bagpipers and national-anthem singers.

For the 2018 luncheon, Reynolds missed the message indicating a venue change from a committee member’s office to the chamber headquarters, so he went to the old location and there received a call wondering where he was.

It took about 15 minutes to reach the chamber, but by the time he got there, the honorees had been chosen.

“Isn’t this a selection meeting?” Reynolds said.

“‘Well, you were late,’” Reynolds said Musella told him.

It appeared to Reynolds that Musella wanted to honor veterans associated with Homes4Families, a nonprofit that builds affordable housing for low-income families, including veterans. It regularly sponsors the luncheon. One of its major benefactors is the state Department of Veterans Affairs, or CalVet, and CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani served as honorary luncheon chairman that year.

“I was stunned,” Reynolds recalled. “(The list of honorees) was pre-selected before (the meeting) started. There were 20 nominations, if not more. I voiced my disapproval at their kicking some of my nominees to the curb.”

That night, still fuming, Reynolds wrote what he called “a scathing email to everyone in the selection process.” Musella responded by offering to meet for coffee in a few days.

Having calmed down by then, Reynolds recalled Musella promised him that the 2019 luncheon would be different.

When it was time for the committee to meet, Reynolds couldn’t attend because he was on a cruise. Then the date got changed again, causing several other committee members to not attend.

“Everyone’s vote on the selection committee is treated equally and everyone has an opportunity to speak and share their thoughts,” Musella said. “If a member of the selection committee is not able to attend the meeting in person, we make calling in an option, as well as providing the committee your thoughts and suggestions in writing in advance. It is a committee member’s responsibility to actively participate in the selection process.”

Later, Reynolds learned from the luncheon chairman that people in then-Rep. Katie Hill’s office were invited to attend the meeting, and they were involved in choosing the honorees, and he was not happy about that.

One of those people was Jonathan Ahmadi, Hill’s district representative. He said he received an invitation from luncheon Chairman Peter Warda, vice president of Evolve Business Strategies, which manages the chamber (Musella is a partner, and Musella’s husband, Ivan Volschenk, is managing partner).

But invitations also were extended to Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith and Republican state Sen. Scott Wilk’s offices. Ahmadi said he attended, as did Ryan Valencia from Smith’s office, Warda, Volschenk, luncheon Honorary Chairman Fred Arnold and two others, although Ahmadi couldn’t recall if Musella was there (no one from Wilk’s office attended, Ahmadi said; Musella said he was there).

Ahmadi said he received a packet from Warda that included a list of nominees and an explanation, from either the nominees or the people who nominated them, why they should be chosen. He said the committee tried to pick honorees from every available war, and the seven chosen included veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War and Iraq War.

Reynolds said two of his nominees, Mario Aquilani and Toshiaki Watanabe, were selected, but Veterans Memorial committee member Bob Kellar’s nominee, Mike Garcia, was not (Garcia now is running for Hill’s seat against Smith; Musella said chamber policy forbids honoring any candidate actively running for any political office).

“Since this was a chamber-sponsored event, we looked at how they gave back to the business community and how they were involved,” Ahmadi said. “We tried to do the best job we could in the selection committee based on the criteria the chamber provided.”

But Reynolds, again annoyed, wrote a scathing email. A couple of months later, Musella called offering an informal chat about the 10th Patriots Luncheon.

The two met for coffee on Sept. 16, and Reynolds said Musella told him that he didn’t understand why the chamber had this event, that it was important for a veteran’s organization to run it, and would he like to take it over?

Reynolds said he had to ask his organization, which said yes enthusiastically. Then Musella said he had to get chamber-board approval, which he got but came with two conditions: Reynolds’ group would return the luncheon to the chamber when it no longer wanted to operate it, and Reynolds would sign a memorandum of understanding to that effect. Reynolds said he didn’t need his organization’s permission to agree.

He expected a simple one-page document; in February, he got three pages of legal language that said the chamber would own the event and license it to Reynolds’ organization.

“Wait a minute. This is supposed to be a gentlemen’s agreement,” Reynolds said. He reviewed the document with Kellar, who agreed it should not be signed. Instead, Reynolds sent Musella an alternate MOU that detailed his version of their conversation. Musella said the board couldn’t accept that.

Musella said the chamber “simply sought to protect the long-term success of the event. We didn’t ask for any financial benefits, nor did we request the event continue to be branded as a Chamber event.”

Reynolds thought this showed a lack of trust between his veterans group and the chamber. Kellar only said, “They put in parameters that did not fit. … It would’ve been a nice fit for the Veterans Memorial committee, but then again, I understand the chamber came up with it, and it’s a great program.”

The date for the 10th Luncheon has not been announced, though it’s typically the second week in July. Musella said in an email it’s being rescheduled due to COVID-19 and promised unspecified changes.

“He misled me. I feel I was misled right out of the gate,” Reynolds said. “Retaining ownership, that wasn’t part of the conversation. … I wished it didn’t go down that way.”

Local Family-Owned Business Seeks to Aid Pregnant Mothers During Pandemic

| News | May 7, 2020

Stay-at-home orders, layoffs, and social distancing have affected millions of Americans over the past few months, and the Santa Clarita community has felt this disruption first-hand. Plans have been postponed and events cancelled, but for those who are expecting a child during the threat of COVID-19, some things cannot wait.

Insight Ultrasound, a family-owned elective 4D Ultrasound facility in Newhall, is looking to give back to families in the community who are pregnant during this time of uncertainty.

“We are offering a simple free 10-minute scan given during the month of May, to allow families to meet their little ones post safer-at-home and before their scheduled OBGYN prenatal appointment. Muse Health was also amazingly generous in donating bottles of hand sanitizer, in an effort to keep our staff and clients safe as we provide a way to help,” said Wiley Oscar of Insight Ultrasound.

Insight ultrasound has been providing services to families in the community over a decade, giving expectant mothers and their families the opportunity to see their babies in a fun, engaging process. The company hopes to ease the load on local physicians by having a few less anxious patients.

We are purely joy and non-diagnostic. We do require moms be currently under the care of a physician before an appointment with us. It’s named the Peek-a-Boo package on our website

“We just feel it’s our way of helping to bring happiness and comfort to parents and families that have endured this time of the COVID-19 pandemic without being able to hear or see their babies, three months in some cases.”

Inside Ultrasound is located at 23942 Lyons Ave #206, Santa Clarita, CA 91321. For more information about Insight Ultrasound, visit Insight4dUltrasound.com or call us at 661-888-1157.

Virus Leads to Layoffs at Henry Mayo

| News | May 7, 2020

The optics might be bad, but the move reflects a harsh reality: Health care is a business, and business is bad thanks to COVID-19. As a result, hospitals nationally, including Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital locally, are laying off people.

Henry Mayo President and CEO Roger Seaver announced last week that nine management-level positions were cut, and other staffing cuts are expected in the next two weeks.

Hospital spokesman Patrick Moody declined to specify which management positions were cut, and he refused to make Seaver available to address the incongruity of having a hospital eliminate positions during a pandemic.

Moody offered only the same statement he gave to The Signal last week: “As has been widely reported, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant negative financial impact on every hospital in the country, as a result of sharply reduced surgical volumes and substantially lower emergency department visits.  Henry Mayo has not been immune to these same financial pressures.  To maintain our financial and operational strength, we had to make the difficult decision to reduce our workforce. While such a decision is painful at any time, it is especially so now, given that all our employees have performed so heroically responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We sincerely thank all our departing employees for their dedicated service and wish them the best in their future endeavors.”

Local doctor Gene Dorio, who specializes in geriatrics and internal medicine, said organizations such as the California Hospital Association and the American Hospital Association are aware of the negative optics. “The spin has been the hospitals are empty. The volume is low right now,” he said. “I think it’s fear of getting coronavirus.”

One way to help with the optics, Dorio said, is to let people visit their loved ones in the hospital. He told of a couple, that he has treated for more than 30 years, who got sick, probably with COVID-19, and they opted not to go to a hospital because they could not see each other. Fortunately, both survived, he said.

“What they have to do is allow families to go in and be with loved ones,” Dorio said. “Give them equipment, masks and gowns and gloves, and teach them hygienically to be safe. But let them in.”

Hospitals are hurting everywhere primarily because elective surgeries have been put on hold in the face of COVID-19. These include knee and hip replacements, exploratory surgeries and plastic surgeries, which typically bring in billions of dollars annually.

Additionally, the pandemic, coupled with people’s fears of catching COVID-19 at a hospital, are staying away. They’re not scheduling appointments, not even for true medical emergencies.

The Los Angeles Times, citing federal labor statistics, said healthcare job losses are second only to the restaurant industry. Millions of Californians lost their jobs and therefore their health insurance due to the pandemic, the Times said. Those people will likely remain uninsured or will switch to Medi-Cal or Covered California, coverage options that bring in less revenue for providers than do commercial insurance programs.

Congress also has been aware of this and tried to pass bills to help the hospitals, but the parties haven’t been able to agree. Democrats tried to replace an interim package meant to help small businesses with their own proposal, which would have given hospitals another $100 billion, according to Business Insider. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected.

Then Republicans offered a $250 billion standalone bill; Democrats wanted more help for states and hospitals, so they objected.

It spells bad times for hospitals.

Support Essential Workers Through the ‘Hearts for Heroes’ Campaign

| News | April 30, 2020

The City of Santa Clarita has teamed up with the community to show support and gratitude for our essential workers who are on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic. The #HeartsForHeroes campaign allows residents to decorate and place hearts around the community as visible signs of appreciation. Now you can also purchase a t-shirt to wear your support for our heroes.

Via Promotionals will be taking orders for t-shirts featuring the official Santa Clarita #HeartsForHeroes template. Shirts are available in toddler, kids, women and men sizes.

A portion of the proceeds from each purchase will go to the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Foundation to help provide necessary resources to their medical staff.

These t-shirts can be decorated, tie-dyed and even given to your own personal hero to show your support for the work they do. To purchase a #HeartsForHeroes t-shirt you can visit heartsforheroes.orderpromos.com/. The link is also available on the city’s emergency website at SantaClaritaEmergency.com. To download a heart to decorate, visit santa-clarita.com/heartsforheroes.

District Voting Updates

| News | April 30, 2020

A new districting group has surfaced

Jonathan Ahmadi originally sought a seat on the city council, but once the city decided to move to district elections, he found it more important to be involved with drawing the boundary map.

His campaign lasted less than three months. Now, he heads the Santa Clarita Independent Districting Committee. It’s currently a four-member group but will expand to 11 voting members by early next week.

“To me, the process of how we elect our representatives can be more important than any one person holding the office,” he said. “I want to be part of that process.”

Since outside groups or individuals may submit their own maps for consideration, Ahmadi’s attention currently lies there. He previously served as a Santa Clarita field representative for then-Rep. Katie Hill, so he has an extensive number of names and phone numbers.

He used that network when starting his committee. Its intent he said, is to draw a map of five council districts for use in the upcoming election, drum up support for that map and engage the wider public in participating in the whole process.

Originally, he said, he wanted six core members: two liberals, two conservatives (not Democrat and Republican, he said) and two academics. Those six would have voting rights and, in turn, invite five others to join, for a total of 11 voting members.

Phil Gussin from College of the Canyons joined first, and he introduced Ahmadi to Jason Bergdofer, which filled the academic spots.

Ahmadi would take one liberal spot, and he reached out to Diane Trautman because of her city experience, having served on the planning commission.

Trautman said she had hoped the city would create an independent districting committee to help draw districts. When it didn’t, she joined with Ahmadi.

The liberal bloc was full, but finding conservatives proved difficult. Ahmadi found people committed and then backed out or never responded.

Alan Ferdman said he was approached (not by Ahmadi, Ahmadi said) but declined because he considered the group “an independent committee of Democrats” and “I did not want to participate if it was a partisan activity, and I got the impression that it was.”

“I was disappointed by the responses,” Ahmadi said.

So, he adjusted his plans and decided the four would invite five more, and he set about announcing his intentions with press releases, stories in local media and an announcement on the Santa Clarita Community Facebook group. Anyone who lived, worked or attended school in the city was eligible, and everyone had to submit an application that included name, gender, ethnicity, city location and an explanation of why they wanted to be part of this.

Fifty-five people responded, so he again adjusted and decided the four would conduct interviews and select seven, giving him the 11 members he wanted.

To pare down the 55 to a manageable number to interview, Ahmadi looked primarily at what he called “the strength of the application, not the census information.” He said he had friends who he knew would be valuable assets that didn’t make the cut because their applications were weak.

In the end, 17 won interviews, which were to be conducted Thursday and Sunday. Ahmadi said there is a wide range of ethnicities, ages and areas of residence among them.

The 11 members will be tasked with drawing the map that the committee will submit to the city, even though the city retained Glendale-based National Demographics Corporation to draw a map as well, making it the one most likely to be chosen.

Ahmadi said he isn’t sure that his committee’s map would differ significantly from the NDC map, assuming everyone uses the same requirements the city has set forth and uses the same map-drawing tools that will soon be released.

And he hopes everyone who isn’t selected for his committee will nonetheless stay involved, perhaps through social media. It’s a sentiment that Trautman agrees with.

“We are one community,” she said. “We should be working together.”

District voting schedule update

Mayor Cameron Smyth said this week that the if the stay-at-home orders are extended past May 15, there is a real possibility the city would be unable to meet all deadlines related to holding city council district elections in November.

“It starts to become much more difficult to put a public schedule together, to meet all map requirements by statute and to get maps to the county registrar,” Smyth said.

That isn’t to say it’s impossible, and Northern California attorney Scott Rafferty, who on behalf of a local group called Neighborhood Elections Now threatened the city with legal action on if it doesn’t hold district elections Nov. 3, said he is taking the city at its word.

At first, he said, “I’m pleased things are moving forward.” After being told of Smyth’s comment, he said, “It sounds like I need to have a little more conversation with the city attorney.”

The process to district elections requires a number of public meetings in which people can give input about, among other things, maps of the actual district boundaries. The city retained Glendale-based National Demographics Corporation to draw the map, but independent groups also may submit their own.

Regardless, the final map must be approved by the city council and submitted to the county registrar-recorder no later than 125 days before the election, which is June 30.

If the process isn’t complete, the city could hold at-large elections, but Rafferty would surely file a lawsuit.

Did you know Mike Garcia was a fighter pilot?

| News | April 30, 2020

It is widely known that Mike Garcia being a former Navy fighter pilot figures prominently in his congressional campaign. It also has been ripe for parody, newspaper questioning and comment from the Christy Smith campaign.

The satirical Santa Clarita Advance Post Times posted on its website what it called “an advanced copy of a devastating new ad for Mike Garcia for Congress. This rad video … is going to absolutely crush Christy Smith in the election with its pure kickass awesomeness. Did you know he was a fighter pilot? Hell yeah he was a fighter pilot.”

The two-minute video shows footage of Navy pilots flying, some of which appears to be straight out of “Top Gun,” mixed with footage of Garcia smiling, walking at Vazquez Rocks and inspecting what looks like a template for a wall at the southern border.

The soundtrack is filled with hard-rocking guitar riffs, and the lyrics include 37 F-bombs.

The Gazette also has noticed the Garcia campaign’s propensity for using “Naval fighter pilot” and has asked what that has to do with his running for Congress. The campaign has said it is important for the district representative to have a seat on the Armed Services Committee.

In fact, the last three representatives, Katie Hill, Steve Knight and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, served on the committee, with McKeon rising to chairman.
The Garcia campaign also put out a press release saying some veterans objected to the words in the Los Angeles Times’ endorsement of Smith.

The editorial’s only mention of Garcia’s military career is, “We can see why Republicans might be attracted to Mike Garcia. The former Navy pilot and Raytheon executive has an unusual resume and a nice backstory as the son of a Mexican immigrant. But having a good origin story doesn’t translate into legislative competence.”

Garcia campaign spokesman Lance Trover said he objected to “unusual resume.”

“I think saying that about someone who served our country, flew 30 missions in operation Iraqi freedom is a disparagement,” Trover wrote in an email.
The conservative Washington Examiner posted a 45-second YouTube video that shows Smith saying of Garcia, “Did you know he’s a pilot? That had escaped me.”

She also said on the video that, referring to their respective backgrounds in last week’s virtual candidate forum, “He’s got pictures of planes behind him. I’ve got Constitutional law books … The irony of it.”

Smith spokesperson Kunal Atit said, “Christy Smith was born in an army hospital and grew up in a military family. She has the deepest respect for the service and sacrifice of our veterans and their families. Without question, Christy respects and deeply appreciates Mike Garcia’s service to our country.”

Crime in the Time of Coronavirus

| Community, News | April 23, 2020

As Pat Warford stood in line at the fish counter at the Granary Square Ralphs, she noticed a man about 15 feet behind her talking loudly on his cell phone. She thought it strange but dismissed the thought quickly.

Then another man came up to her and moved her cart just a foot or so. Then he walked away.

Later, when Warford reached the cashier, she realized she didn’t have her purse, meaning she didn’t have her ID, money, credit cards or cell phone. It had been in a big bag in her shopping cart, but she realized the purse’s handle must have been visible.

She had been the victim of a purse snatching, but it wasn’t until the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s detective arrived and everyone looked at the security-camera footage did Warford realize there was a third person, a woman, who grabbed the purse.

Nor did she realize the man on the phone was calling the shots and the man moving the cart was an accomplice.

Warford said the footage showed the three left the market together. All wore face masks, “which we are supposed to do,” she said, and hoodies, making it harder to identify them. The footage showed they got into a red car.

She tried to cancel her credit cards but not before three of them were charged $437.06 to a local Target and another in North Hollywood.

“So many people are doing wonderful things,” Warford said. “So many people are taking advantage of the elderly.”

Warford, 75, was the 1997 SCV Woman of the Year selected by the SCV Man & Woman of the Year Committee. She said she suffers from osteonecrosis, a disease caused by reduced blood flow to the bones and joints, causing her to break bones more easily than others.

She has come forward to tell this story in hopes others will watch their belongings. She said a neighbor thought the same trio ran the same scam at a Home Depot.

The sheriff’s department is aware of Warford’s victimization, Public Information Officer Shirley Miller said. She referred to the department’s Facebook page, which said, “We have seen some reports come through where women are having their purses and/or wallets taken from shopping carts. In the latest incident, a woman was in a Valencia grocery store on the frozen foods aisle, retrieving items when person(s) unknown took her purse. There are a lot of things going on right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, remembering to wear a face covering, washing your hands, etc. Despite distractions, please remember to watch your personal items.”

People on Facebook expressed disappointment at what befell Warford and offered tips to avoid a similar fate. The most common suggestion was to wear a crossbody bag. Many others said don’t bring anything except your driver’s license, car keys and payment method.

“Invest in a pair of overalls,” Sarah Cohen suggested. “Pockets in all the right places.”

Another option is to follow Sharon Davenport’s advice: “(M)y son now shops for me.”

Unfortunately for Warford, these tips came too late. She had to have her Toyota Prius rekeyed (at a cost of $500, she said), her house locks changed (“You don’t feel safe in your house”), a new cell phone ordered and her eight credit cards reissued.

Several of her Citibank replacement cards got stolen off her porch. She was on the phone for six hours with Citibank trying to find out which ones had been delivered so the bank would know to cancel them. By the time she was transferred to the business office, it was closed.

“(On Friday), I was angry. I’m feeling better,” she said. “I try to be careful, but as you get older, you get a little more naïve.”

Reaction to Arrest

| News | April 23, 2020

Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency board members expressed mostly surprise at the news that one of their fellow members had been arrested on domestic abuse charges.

“Wow. I’m shocked,” Ed Colley said upon hearing that Dan Mortensen had been arrested last week and charged with inflicting corporal injury on his spouse, Morgan. “Everything I know about him is he’s a good person.”

Mortensen was booked and released on his own recognizance after bail was set at $50,000, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Station inmate information center.

He later told The Signal, “We have a system in this country that has a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and I would appreciate it very much if people would take that presumption very literally. I would say don’t think that this couldn’t happen to you. My reputation is my reputation and I don’t think there is anyone out there that thinks ill of me.”

Like Colley, Bill Cooper also hadn’t heard and said, “Oh no. Dan? That’s very surprising. I would not expect that of Dan at all. That’s too bad.”

B.J. Atkins hadn’t heard and declined comment except to say that Mortensen “was a stand-up guy. We’ll see.”

Maria Gutzeit said she had heard of the arrest before the Gazette called but had not received confirmation. She said she enjoys working with Mortensen but acknowledged she doesn’t socialize with him (Cooper and Colley also said they don’t socialize with Mortensen).

“It’s tragic if it’s true,” she said, “and I wish him the best.”

One board member who didn’t seem surprised was Lynne Plambeck, who said she has seen Mortensen make “harsh remarks toward women” in public before. Yet she also said she has seen Mortensen interact with his family “and they look loving.”

Stacy Fortner, who is running for a board seat in November, also said she wasn’t surprised, having seen Mortensen’s behavior at July 4 parades and during water board meetings.

“This could be his chance to make positive changes and hopefully serve as a wake-up call and not another poking of the bear, so to speak,” Fortner said. “I hope his wife finds the courage she needs to get the help she needs, and I pray she is OK. (I’m) also hoping Dan gets the help he needs to become the best version of himself.”

This is not the first time Mortensen has been arrested. Los Angeles police booked him for vandalism in 2016, according to online police records.

Q and A with the Candidates

| News | April 16, 2020

With the May 12 special election approaching, The Gazette posed the following questions to the Christy Smith and Mike Garcia campaigns. Their emailed answers follow.

1.What is your reaction to The Cook Political Report’s latest categorization of the CA-25 race from “Leans Democrat” to “Toss-up”? Why do you think it happened?

KUNAL ATIT, Smith campaign spokesman: Not concerned by the rating change. Cook had rated this a toss up when Katie Hill won by 8 points.

LANCE TROVER, Garcia campaign spokesman: It’s not a surprise voters are recognizing the difference in the two candidates and choosing Mike Garcia. Mike Garcia’s record as a decorated Navy fighter pilot who wants to lower taxes speaks for itself.  The more people learn of politician Christy Smith’s liberal voting record and the fact she did nothing as chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management on the Coronavirus, the more they know she is wrong for Southern California.

2. How is the campaign planning to get out the vote on May 12 when COVID-19 is causing so many problems with the usual ways of getting out the vote?

ATIT: We have a multi-pronged turn out plan. So far, voters are excited and looking forward to voting 5/12.

TROVER: Mike Garcia has more than 400 volunteers who are helping spread his message of lower taxes, protecting our veterans and fighting homelessness.

3. How are you raising funds in the time of COVID-19? You can’t have face-to-face meet-and-greets, so how is the virtual fundraising going? How are you doing it?

ATIT: Fundraising is going really well, but we are being very mindful and respectful of the fact that economic circumstances have changed for a lot of people.

TROVER: The campaign is utilizing many forms of technology including phone calls, text messages, and virtual town halls that have had thousands of people join. The fact is May 12th is coming fast and the campaign continues engaging in traditional methods of fundraising mostly utilized via phone and email.

What Could Garcia or Smith Accomplish Until November?

| News | April 9, 2020

The Christy Smith and Mike Garcia campaigns seem to realize that after one is elected to complete Katie Hill’s term on May 12, there isn’t much time to get things done as the 25th congressional district representative before having to face the same opponent in November.

The Gazette asked both campaigns what their candidate could realistically accomplish in less than six months and received general responses. Smith texted to say her primary focus “will be on measures to ensure economic recovery for everyone impacted by the pandemic, getting the country back to work to the extent it’s safe, and looking ahead to fully equip and prepare our healthcare system in the event the virus has a resurgence in the fall as some have predicted.”
Garcia spokesman Lance Trover said in an email his man “will be a vote for helping our veterans, lowering the tax burden and getting our economy moving again.”

The Garcia campaign has accused Smith of being beholden to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership. Garcia does not directly mention President Trump on his campaign website, but he has mentioned in at least one stump speech the importance of Trump’s re-election.

It seems possible that either candidate, once elected May 12, would follow the party leaders. Meanwhile, both would probably solidify their bases before November. Asked if there is a difference between the two, neither campaign answered directly.

Smith spokesman Kunal Atit touted Smith’s record.

“Throughout her time of service to her community, Christy has been an independent voice for those she has served and represented,” Atit wrote in an email. “Christy enjoys productive working relationships with every local elected official, regardless of party, due to her long tenure as a public servant in this community.  As it has been in Sacramento, Christy’s sole mission in Congress will be serving the best interest of her constituents, not playing the political games of Washington.”

Trover stressed Garcia’s Navy background and outsider status “who has never run for office and believes taxes in California are out of control. Mike supports the 2017 Tax Cuts but also believes the state and local tax deduction limit is hurting Californian’s and should be repealed.”

Trover also attacked Smith, writing she “is a locked vote for higher taxes and single payer health care.”

Additionally, the Garcia campaign changed its scarysmith.com to sacramentosmith.com after Garcia supporter Torunn Sinclair tweeted a statement from the Smith campaign that said Smith would “fight for us in Sacramento.”

“Christy doesn’t even know what office she’s running for!” Sinclair wrote.

Sierra Highway Right-Turn Lane Project Prompts Road Closures

| News | April 9, 2020

On Monday, April 6, 2020, developer Trammell Crow Company began a project to construct a right-turn lane on Sierra Highway at Newhall Avenue. As part of the Needham Ranch industrial park project, street improvements are required to enhance traffic flow and safety at this intersection.

Until May 4, vehicles traveling through the intersection will experience one lane closure on eastbound Newhall Avenue for traffic heading to SR-14 and the closure of one left-turn lane on northbound Sierra Highway. These lanes will be closed continuously until construction is complete.

Drivers are asked to be aware of the lane closures and to plan their routes accordingly. Electronic message boards will be posted in each direction to inform motorists of upcoming lane closures. Drivers are reminded to please reduce their speed through the construction zone.
The City of Santa Clarita stated that all measures will be taken to complete the project in a safe and timely manner. ­­­While work is scheduled to be completed by May 4, inclement weather may cause construction delays.

For questions or concerns, contact City of Santa Clarita Senior Engineer Amalia Marreh at (661) 255-4363 or by email at amarreh@santa-clarita.com.

What to do, 38th Democrats?

| News | April 9, 2020

Back on primary election night, the local Democrats gathered at Christy Smith’s campaign headquarters to watch returns, cheer the successes and listen to speakers.

They heard from numerous Democrats: local leaders and candidates such as Smith, who’s running for Congress, and Kip Mueller, who’s challenging Scott Wilk in the state Senate.

Conspicuously missing was anyone running for Assembly. That’s because two Republicans, Suzette Valladares and Lucie Volotzky, finished in the top two and will face off in November.

Several county central committee delegates reached for this story knew why this happened: Smith announcing her congressional candidacy caused a chain reaction, and the floodgates opened. Five Democrats stepped in, splitting the vote and allowing the two Republicans to claim the spots.

“It was too late for Democrats to organize and get behind one candidate,” Patti Sulpezio said. “People say the party should get people not to run. That’s a false hope. Party leaders might have a private conversation, but they can’t mandate that.”

It also didn’t help that the county central committee’s bylaws don’t allow it to endorse any candidate for state office. It can only ratify the state Democratic Party’s endorsements.
Additionally, local Democratic clubs could endorse a candidate, but the Democratic Alliance for Action of Santa Clarita’s requires a 60-percent majority vote to endorse, and no one got that.

“Everyone thought they were all good candidates,” Lynne Plambeck said. “It was a strategic error we hope not to duplicate.”

So, what can Democrats do?

“Whatever they want,” Stacy Fortner said.

Her tone was slightly flippant, yet she spoke reality. Voters are free to choose either candidate or not vote in that race. It’s just that they won’t get recommendations because, as several delegates said, the committee can’t endorse a Republican.

“I don’t know if we have a plan,” Plambeck said, adding the committee’s April meeting has been canceled and she isn’t sure about a May meeting. “I don’t think they will be doing anything about that race.”

Fortner said she would hope the candidates would reach out to demonstrate they’re really interested in representing the entire district, but so far they haven’t. Volotzky declined comment for at least a month while she finalizes her platform. Valladares’ campaign didn’t return calls or emails.

Valladares received her party’s endorsement, but that doesn’t guarantee election. The Ventura County Central Committee endorsed Tony Strickland in 2014, but fellow Republican Steve Knight won 53 percent to 47 percent (the L.A. County Republican Party does not appear to have not endorsed in that race).

“We’re thrilled we’re going to be taking the seat back,” Los Angeles County Republican Party Chairman Richard Sherman said.

Sulpezio said the only way to elect a Democrat would be a write-in campaign. “It would be extremely difficult to pull off,” she said. “It’d take an incredible amount of work to educate the voters.”

She said the party would be better served by focusing its energies on getting Democrats elected, starting with Smith on May 12 and again in November but also George Gascón for district attorney.

Fortner is taking a different approach. “I am going to support the political process,” she said.

Election in the Time of Coronavirus

| News | April 9, 2020

The May 12 special election to decide whether Christy Smith or Mike Garcia represents the 25th congressional district until November will occur as scheduled, with everyone receiving a mail ballot and nine voting locations opening May 2 throughout the district, a county official said.

Mike Sanchez, the county registrar-recorder public information officer, said more details will be made public this week, but the plan is for everyone to start receiving their ballots next week. People will have a choice to either vote by mail, submit the ballot to one of the voting locations or cast their vote at a location between May 2-12.

“We encourage by-mail voting,” Sanchez said.

The polling stations will be announced soon, Sanchez said, but they will be split among the three valleys that comprise the district. People who choose to vote in person will be required to follow all social distancing guidelines, he said, and poll workers will be required to wear masks and gloves and clean the touchscreens after each voter.

Garcia Secures Endorsements of All Mayors in the District

| News | April 2, 2020

Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth and Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer Endorse Garcia

Mike Garcia, former Navy fighter pilot and Republican candidate for CA-25, the endorsement of Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth and Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer. These endorsements come on the heels of endorsements from the other three major city mayors in the 25th Congressional District.

“I am excited to endorse Mike Garcia for Congress. As a highly decorated Navy fighter pilot and long-time Santa Clarita resident, I have no doubt Mike is the right person to send to Washington D.C. and fight for our community,” Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth said.

“Palmdale and our surrounding communities are being crushed under the weight of high taxes,” Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer said. “I am endorsing Mike because he is an outsider who doesn’t want California-style polices to destroy America.”

Mayor Smyth and Mayor Hofbauer join Mayor Keith Mashburn of Simi Valley, Mayor R. Rex Parris of Lancaster and Agua Dulce Town Council President Don Henry, meaning Garcia has secured all five major city endorsements in the 25th Congressional District.

“Our campaign continues gaining momentum because people agree that our taxes in California are out of control and we must lower them,” Garcia said. “Christy Smith is a Sacramento career politician who wants to take California’s dysfunctional tax-raising policies to Washington, and we can’t let that happen.”

Mike Garcia Steps up the Attacks

| News | April 2, 2020

Maybe it’s because the May 12 special election draws near, and maybe it’s because going negative is a common move that has paid off in the past, but the Mike Garcia campaign has ratcheted up the attacks on Christy Smith.

In addition to the usual swipes via press release or campaign website, the Garcia people have created a website (scarysmith.com) to attack Smith on her voting record and her priorities.

Garcia campaign spokesman Lance Trover said the point is to highlight the differences between the two candidates.

“Mike Garcia is a former Navy fighter pilot who believes taxes in California are out of control and wants to lower the tax burden on Californians, while career politician Christy Smith stands for higher taxes, jobs killing bills like AB5 and taking the Sacramento dysfunction to Washington D.C.,” Trover wrote in an email.

It’s not that the Smith people haven’t been attacking Garcia, either. On Twitter, they have painted Garcia as a pro-life extremist and a Trump acolyte who doesn’t trust science.

“Mike Garcia’s out-of-touch, partisan attacks in the midst of this crisis demonstrate he’s not a good fit for this district,” Smith Deputy Campaign Manager Kunal Atit wrote in an email. “Christy is currently focused on her work as this community’s public servant, ensuring state response to local constituents and connecting people with essential information, services, and resources. Christy will be just as dedicated to our community once she is elected to Congress, working with members of both parties, putting service first and politics last.”

The Cook Political Report changed its assessment of the race from “Likely Democrat” to “Leans Democrat,” leading the San Francisco Chronicle to conclude that the seat is not guaranteed. It has been 22 years since a Republican picked up a House seat in California, the Chronicle reported.

Steve Knight also endorsed Garcia, saying on Facebook, “I believe Mike will be successful in his run against Christy Smith in May. Mike worked hard in this campaign and will continue to do so until the final votes are cast.”

The Signal, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, former Governor Pete Wilson and former Congressman Buck McKeon are among the 13 organizations and 45 individuals who also endorsed Garcia.

Smith counts 57 organizations, 23 federal and 46 individuals among her endorsements, including the Los Angeles Times, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

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