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Roa Confirms Miranda

| News | May 26, 2017

The former treasurer for the Latino Chamber of Commerce said he now has the documentation for the 2014 gala, confirming what Councilmember Bill Miranda told the Gazette after Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Marlon Roa, who sits on the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber’s board of directors, said Miranda gave him the Latino Chamber’s 2014 statement of financial income and expenses, which includes the gala.

“I know I have it in an email,” Roa said.

On Tuesday, Miranda said he had last week turned over the profit-and-loss statement to Roa.

“He emailed it to me. I looked at it. I said it looks good to me, and I sent it back to him,” Miranda said Tuesday. “I gave it to the people that need to have it.”

Roa said the gala grossed $34,440 against expenses of about $27,504. But he added that included in those expenses was $2,940 for a smaller chamber event, World’s Fair. Roa added that World’s Fair was a break-even event, but the approximate $2,900 in income is not included in the gala’s gross.

“I’m not seeing the breakdown,” Roa said. “It can’t be anymore than what we made.”

This is the second time Miranda has said Roa has the numbers. Previously, Roa told the Gazette he had only estimates that said about $34,000 in income and $27,000 in expenses.

Roa said he would make the documents available to the Gazette later this week.

Still unaccounted for are the documents showing how much money the Latino Chamber brought into the merger with the SCV Chamber, as well as the relevant Internal Revenue Service Form 990.

Water Merger Update

| News | May 25, 2017

The water bill that would consolidate the various water districts into one Santa Clarita Valley Water District hit a small speed bump on the way through the state Senate’s Appropriations Committee, but some supporters are confident it will, nonetheless, get through and move on to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 634, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Antelope Valley) had previously unanimously passed the Natural Resources and Water, as well as the Governance and Finance committees. But in appropriations, it got put into the “suspense file,” which is required for any bill that could cost the state at least $50,000 (Senate bills) or $150,000 (Assembly bills).

The suspense file is like a legislative limbo, a place where a bill can be held until lawmakers can determine if the state has the funds to pay for it. If so, the bill moves to the full Senate (or Assembly) for debate. If not, the bill dies.

According to several online sources, some people object to the suspense file because the bill doesn’t get a hearing or a vote, which is why the L.A. Times and the California Forward website (cafwd.org), say it’s “where bills go to die.”

In the Senate, the Times said, a bill’s author won’t know if the bill died because of money or politics (the Appropriations Committee is five Democrats and two Republicans). Wilk’s office did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

According to the committee report, SB 634 went into the suspense file because the state would lose income tax revenue when the private Valencia Water Company merges into the public SCVWD, estimated at the “low hundreds of thousands annually beginning in 2018-19” (the bill requires VWC to merge within six months of the new water district’s formation). Also, there would be an unknown loss of revenue from property taxes, and the agency that would oversee the water district, the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for the county, would not receive state money.

SB 634 will be heard with the other 259 bills currently in the suspense file on Thursday.

The local water boards, Castaic Lake Water Agency and Newhall County Water District, favor the bill, saying it will lower costs and streamline processes. NCWD president Maria Gutzeit said she is unconcerned that the bill is in suspense.

“My understanding is that is a normal process,” Gutzeit said. “They put all of them in suspense for two weeks, then they move forward. I was told (passing) was automatic.”

Among those that oppose is LAFCO. Executive officer Paul Novak said the agency, despite numerous attempts by CLWA and NCWD to its endorsement, still opposes it until more amendments are introduced. Novak has said he wants the bill to more clearly spell out the new district’s powers as they relate to LAFCO’s powers.

“At the end of the day, it’s a bill by the two water districts that Sen. Wilk has introduced on their behalf,” Novak said. “It’s not LAFCO’s bill. It’s their bill. We want a role for LAFCO.”

Another opponent is Comprehensive Development Consulting, whose president, Allan Cameron, listed 44 “fatal flaws” with the bill. Many of these refer to the lack of an election to determine if the voters want this new district.

Stacy Fortner, another opponent, said one issue is that the bill removes the public’s chance to protest anything. “It’s one more step into water privatization,” she said.

Community Invited to Touch-A-Truck Fundraiser

| News | May 25, 2017

This year’s annual Touch-A-Truck event added a feature to bring in additional money for the SCV Senior Center in Newhall. Admission to Touch-A-Truck will cost $5, with a bonus for fathers who bring children along. In honor of Father’s Day weekend, dads with kids are admitted free.

Touch-A-Truck is coming on Saturday, June 17 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Central Park on Bouquet Canyon Road. Both children and adults are invited to climb on fire engines and operate sheriff’s sirens while enjoying a hands-on learning opportunity with all kinds of other vehicles as well. There will be costumed characters to take photos with and other media draws such as popular movie vehicles.

All proceeds will benefit the SCV Senior Center, which offers such programs as home delivered meals, senior respite day care and supportive services to local seniors.

“Kids love vehicles,” said Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Marsha McLean, who is once again serving as the event chair, “and now they will be able to touch their favorite things on wheels.” She noted that the event will offer a close-up look at a cavalcade of construction rigs, fire engines, sheriff’s cars, military vehicles, famous film industry cars, a TV news van, race cars and “nearly anything you can think of!” McLean concluded.

In addition, the committee is working on such kid-friendly activities as face painting, arts and crafts, bubbles, model building and more — all free with event admission. The City of Santa Clarita’s dump truck filled with balloons will repeat its popular “Beach Ball Dump” just after noon, with free beach balls for all guests.

Food trucks will offer meals and treats to purchase, and costumed characters will be there for photos and interaction with young guests.

Further information and registration forms are available at the event website, http://myscvcoa.org/touch-a-truck/. Event tickets can also be purchased online or at the gate.

Childcare Center to Close Unexpectedly

| News | May 25, 2017

Families with children at Valencia KinderCare Learning Center got some bad news last week, and with little explanation. Despite many of the parents being pleased with the teachers and curriculum at KinderCare, the Valencia location will close its doors in two weeks.

A statement issued by KinderCare’s corporate office said: “Our Valencia KinderCare Learning Center will close on Friday, June 9. We know our center is a home away from home for children and families and we’re honored to have served Santa Clarita families throughout the years. While change is never easy, our goal is to make the process as smooth as we possibly can for our families. We have two other KinderCare centers in the area — Canyon Country and Granada Hills — and both of those centers have openings for Valencia children.”

The Canyon Country KinderCare director, Iliana Faraldo, said she is prepared to accept new families into her program. When asked why Valencia’s facility is closing, Faraldo said, “I wouldn’t be able to give you specific information on why that center would be closing.”

Staff members at KinderCare’s headquarters in Portland, Ore. were similarly quiet about the situation. According to the communications department at headquarters, several of their centers are closing in a process they referred to as “consolidation.”

Rachel McCarthy, a mother of two children at Valencia KinderCare, said she was shocked at the news.

“The staff doesn’t have the details either. They walked in the day after Mother’s Day and were told. They were getting prepared to kick off summer,” McCarthy said. “Multiple families don’t want this school to close. … We want to fight for it.”

Valencia KinderCare Director Jeni Bromberek would not confirm the date that she and her staff learned their location was closing, but did confirm it was recently. Some of the 17 teachers leaving the Valencia Center will transfer to the Canyon Country location, she said. There are 92 children in the program in Valencia, which Bromberek confirmed was not the maximum capacity. Those families are searching for new sources of care for their kids.

“Our parents are amazing,” Bromberek said. “These parents are so supportive of our staff, and sadness is generally what they’ve been experiencing. But overall, they’ve been incredible.”

Bromberek, who lives in Crescenta Valley, has been employed by KinderCare for just five months and hopes to stay with the company. “My plans are still up in the air,” she said. “I’ve been in education for 25 years. It’s my passion. … I just have to figure out my options.”

McCarthy said that several of the parents had called both district and corporate offices, but couldn’t get an explanation.

“If there’s an issue, how can we fix this?” she asked.

There are 1,370 KinderCare Learning Centers across the country, and almost every one of them are accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC. According to KinderCare spokesperson Zibby Pillote, fewer than 10 percent of other childcare centers are accredited. The KinderCare Learning Centers have a proprietary curriculum for children as young as 6 weeks old to 12 years old. For the older students, the program offers care before and after school.

McCarthy gives KinderCare glowing reviews. Before she brought her kids to the Valencia center, her 4-year-old son was showing signs of being on the autism spectrum.

“Now my son comes home every day asking about his teacher. He started using full sentences. He went from having limited speech to this,” she explained. “This particular school has the greatest teachers.”

After 12 weeks at the school, McCarthy could remove her son from the Individualized Education Program, or IEP, at school, because he no longer needed the added assistance. KinderCare’s curriculum was working, which is why she’s so perplexed at the news.

“You made magic now, you’ve got the right staffing. This is where you want your kids to go,” McCarthy said. “I actually changed my job to make sure I could keep my kids in this school.”

Pillote, who is a communications associate in the KinderCare corporate office, was unable to shed light on the reason for closing the doors in Valencia, but underscored the message of the press statement released by her office.

“We’re working with each family to help them find the best solution for their child, regardless of whether that’s at a KinderCare center or another provider,” Pillote said. “Our Canyon Country KinderCare is accepting new families and we have already told families at the Valencia center that there’s availability for them there. We also have a center in Granada Hills that we’re directing them to.”

For parents who were pleased with the whole package in Valencia, it’s little consolation.

“Coming here and finding this community — I want to keep my kids here and keep them thriving,” McCarthy said. “It’s impacted my family greatly.”

Signal Publisher Confronts Council

| News | May 25, 2017

Saying that the city deserves better governance, Signal Publisher Chuck Champion blasted City Councilmember Bill Miranda on Tuesday for repeatedly failing to make available the Latino Chamber gala and chamber-merger numbers he has promised to the Gazette; took offense at Miranda playing the race card against Gazette Publisher Doug Sutton; and suggested the other council members were lax in vetting Miranda before appointing him.

“I have issues with the reasons that you, in fact, put this member on this board. I brought that to (your) attention for you to look into it. Each one of you chose to say it wasn’t your responsibility,” Champion said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “Those monies have still not been accounted for. I am not standing here suggesting that anyone has stolen them. But I do suggest that if you place so much importance on an individual and his acumen to run a business, to be a CEO and chairman, then you should sit there and expect that those monies are accounted for.”

Miranda has repeatedly claimed he has the documentation from the 2014 Latino Chamber gala and the monies brought into the merger with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber, but repeatedly refused to produce them for the Gazette (on Tuesday, he said he had given some to former treasurer Marlon Roa; see sidebar).

He then accused Sutton and the Gazette of bias against Latinos, something Champion found unacceptable.

“That is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, it’s insulting, Bill, that you would dare accuse Doug, who you know so well, to surface this issue because you are Hispanic or Latino,” Champion said, his voice rising. “That’s not true, and that will not go unanswered.”

Councilmember Marsha McLean responded by stating, “For people who know me, they know very well that no one, no one, influences me on any decision that I make sitting up here. I make my own decisions, period.”

After the meeting, McLean said what was going on was “unfortunate.” Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste said, “We have to work our issues out.” Mayor Cameron Smyth said he hoped Miranda would come clean.

“I trust Mr. Miranda will address it, and he will answer the questions that are posed to him,” Smyth said. “I certainly understand the desire to make sure everything is presented accurately and so it doesn’t have to be done incrementally, but again, ultimately, that’s a decision for Councilmember Miranda to make.”

Miranda said nothing in response to Champion and later had no comment.

Outside council chambers, Champion said he regretted the Signal’s editorial stance favoring appointment, questioned why Internal Revenue Service form 990 had not been filed and took Miranda to task for failing to live up to a CEO’s responsibilities.

“I believe any CEO, any competent CEO, would have collected those records and submitted them immediately and eradicated any suspicion. Instead, he goes on the offensive to suggest race,” Champion said. “He claims he was a contractor, which is not true. He is on the incorporation documents. He is the CEO. There is documentation that he ran that organization, that he was responsible for those things, and a good steward would have closed this business in an appropriate way.”

Champion also took time to blast what he sees as state Sen. Scott Wilk’s undue influence. Wilk wrote a letter of recommendation on Miranda’s behalf. The Signal previously published an editorial decrying Wilk’s meddling in non-partisan elections.

“He’s ingratiated himself to all, and at some point, some have distanced themselves, recognizing it’s not good. So, there’s likely people on that board that are not as quote-unquote obligated to him as they once were, but look at what happened,” Champion said of Wilk. “He made calls. He not only wrote letters, he made calls. He lobbied for this individual. And they did nothing to vet that individual, which leads the council to a place where one of the council members is under a cloud of impropriety because he can’t account for, or won’t account for (the monies).”

Saugus realtor Steve Petzold applauded Champion’s comments but also questioned Champion’s timeline.

“He’s right on. I’m glad he’s joining the fight over what happened to the money,” Petzold said. “It’s a real deficiency, not a real vetting process, and that’s a demerit to the city.”

Later, he texted: “Chuck’s statement raises a lot of questions for me. How long has he known, when did he research it, when did he ask city council to consider?”

Champion stopped short of calling for Miranda’s removal from the council, in part because he wasn’t sure how Miranda could be removed (city spokesperson Carrie Lujan emailed that recall or resignation are the only ways).

But he made it clear that Miranda can and should clear this up.

“If he doesn’t successfully and completely present this information, then the council needs to look at who sits next to them. I need to see evidence that he produces,” Champion said. “He claims to have proof. He pounds desks with this hand on top of piles of paper and says, ‘I have the proof,’ and then does not produce it. That is a behavior of an individual that is not the behavior that our council members should engage in.”

Knight in Favor of Investigating Presidential Election

| News | May 18, 2017

Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) has taken a stand regarding the FBI’s investigation into Russia meddling in the last presidential election. According to the L.A. Times, Knight has called for a special prosecutor to take the lead.

“It is time for an investigation of Russia’s intervention in the U.S. election. There is too much at stake at home and abroad to not take this step. There is so much conflicting information from many sources; Americans deserve the opportunity to learn the truth,” Knight said in a statement. “As stated before, I continue to support any efforts done by the House Intelligence Committee and join many of my colleagues in supporting the assignment of a special prosecutor to take over the ongoing FBI investigation.”

Previously, Knight said President Trump had the right to fire FBI head James Comey, but he looked forward to what the Russia/Trump campaign investigation would reveal.

According to the Times, two other California Republicans also are calling for a special prosecutor: Darrell Issa of Vista and Tom McClintock of Elk Grove, although CBS News reported in February that Issa backtracked on that issue.

Bryan Caforio, Knight’s past and future opponent for Knight’s 25th Congressional seat, echoed Knight’s call for an independent investigation.

“If Congressman Knight is ready to put his partisan politics aside and get the American people the answers they deserve, he will sign onto the discharge petition,” Caforio said in a statement. “The fate of our democracy is on the line. For Knight to do anything less is simply lip service.”

War of the Words – Accusations of Bias

| News | May 18, 2017

From conservative budget cuts seen as discompassionate to Barack Obama’s detractors seen as racist, political optics fuel bias — and with 24-hour news, it occurs almost every minute of the day. Individuals in public office soon find that part of the job includes a greater spotlight and higher standards.

Locally, the Santa Clarita Gazette has been embroiled in its own twists on the subject. In April, the Gazette printed  articles addressing leadership of the local chambers of commerce after numerous hours of research and interviews. The process brought Santa Clarita City Councilman Bill Miranda into focus regarding an inquiry into money raised at the 2014 Latino Chamber’s gala.

The Gazette could not determine what happened to the money. No one was accused of embezzlement or misappropriation. The Gazette has repeatedly requested that Miranda provide the accounting of the funds raised, and he has not, most recently on May 12 during a radio show on KHTS that also featured Doug Sutton.

“What, I have to do your writing for you, too?” Miranda said during the broadcast. “Wait, I have to write your articles and proof your articles and edit your articles for you so you can attack me?”

Then Miranda accused the Gazette of bias, more specifically, racism.

“All of a sudden, the Latino gets into public office and the Latino chamber is under scrutiny with a microscope, and with the facts easily attainable, and being told where did the money go?” Miranda said during the broadcast. “What are we, a bunch of hoodlums? Are we perceived as a bunch of hoodlums? ‘Where did the money go?’ How do you explain where did the money go?”

There are no easy answers, and Miranda declined to comment for this story despite having said on the radio show, “Try quoting me a little more often and try quoting (the source who fed the Gazette the original idea) a little less often.”

Sutton was accused of neglecting to look into the Latino Chamber money matter while he served on the Santa Clarita Chamber’s board of directors.
“And I didn’t. To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention,” he admitted.

Allan Cameron has lived in the area a long time. So has Bob Kellar. Both have much experience dealing with the press. Yet neither of them understand why Bill Miranda refuses to show the Gazette the documents that could explain where the monies from the 2014 Chamber of Commerce gala went.

“It’s a strange thing to say, ‘I have it, but I’m not going to do your job for you,’” said Cameron, a community activst.

“Why would you choose to answer that way, I don’t know.” City Councilmember Kellar said, “You’d have to ask him.”

Role of Public Official
Former Hart School District school board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine co-chaired the 2014 Latino Chamber gala. She said Miranda and former treasurer Marlon Roa were ultimately responsible for the numbers.

“We (elected officials) are held to a higher standard because we are responsible for overseeing a huge budget,” Mercado-Fortine said. “(Bill Miranda) doesn’t understand his responsibility as an elected official, in terms of protecting the interest of the taxpayers.” (Miranda was not elected, but appointed.)

Michael Cruz, a Canyon Country resident who ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2006 and later served on the city’s parks, recreation and community services commission, said anyone running for, or appointed to, public office must expect a level of scrutiny.

“You need to get a thick skin,” Cruz said. “I think Bill is in the process of learning that.”

SCV Chamber Chairman of the Board John Musella backed Miranda in saying he doesn’t see the need to “spend valuable time digging out the evidence to prove otherwise.”

“I think the real story should be about why people are spending time spreading rumors about the (Latino Chamber) and the merger (with the SCV Chamber) with no proof of their baseless accusations,” Musella wrote. “What is their end game? What is the benefit to them? If they believe these things, surely they have proof of their claims. If not, the real story should be the source of the rumors and what they have to gain by making such disparaging accusations.”

Hart District Board President Joe Messina, also a radio show host, grabbed onto Miranda’s belief that the entire reason for the stories was because The Signal owners, who have a partnership with Doug Sutton, wanted the stories done. Sutton has denied this, but Messina said the viewpoint exists in the community.

“I don’t know if it’s a truth or a lie. I have heard stories from both sides,” Messina said. “If I’m sitting in Bill’s chair, I don’t know if it’s ever going to work out with me and them.”

Who’s Biased?
“Does the community at large think the Gazette is acting inappropriately, or is there some bias?”

Neither Berta Gonzalez-Harper, who founded the Hispanic Business Committee within the chamber and ran for city council in 2014, nor Mercado-Fortine nor Cruz thought so. Cruz name-checked Sutton as not racist, and Gonzalez-Harper was upset Miranda played the race card at all.

“You mean to tell me that because we have Hispanic surnames, we are judged solely and exclusively by that? Please,” she said.

Newspapers rely on people — leaders, whistle-blowers, activists, concerned citizens, people with their own agendas, etc. — to provide them with information that can more completely flesh out a story. Miranda’s refusal to provide information leads some to conclude he doesn’t have it.

“I still have documents from 2004,” said Gonzalez-Harper. “You’re telling me you don’t have documents. Something is screwy. Something is not right. … You’re going to want to keep copies … There’s no law prohibiting you from being transparent with finances.”

Most people, however, think the solution is for Miranda to produce what he says he has or admit he doesn’t. If he doesn’t put this behind him, Gonzalez-Harper said, it could hurt his chances for election. But nothing will happen as long as Miranda insists on holding on to what he says he has and the Gazette continues to insist he has to prove it.

Experts Weigh In

Political players lie, and many who don’t are accused of lying. The debate over why goes on indefinitely. What theories do mental health professionals have as to why a person would cling to what appears to be a lie or accuse others of bias, such as playing the race card?

Judi Lirman, a Tarzana-based marriage and family therapist, refers to the propaganda technique called “The Big Lie.” In it, people can’t believe someone could lie on such a scale, so they conclude the person is telling the truth.

As for playing the race card, Lirman says it’s a common diversion tactic, similar to what President Trump is doing, and can be explained thusly:

A parent asks Johnny why he hit his baby sister. Johnny replies that it’s because she poked him, so shouldn’t the parent be upset with the girl?

However, when asked about the Gazette’s ongoing dialogue with City Councilman Bill Miranda, Lirman acknowledges that he might have faced discrimination. “There’s a lot more discrimination in our society than what we want to believe,” she said. “He may be primed for that.”

What happens next, Lirman said, is a person’s fight-or-flight reflex kicks in. “As a public figure, he can’t just disappear,” she said. “He repeats it even if it’s preposterous. It’s out of panic. He’s doing an adult version of the temper tantrum in the hopes that you will go away and give him what he wants, which is to be left alone.”

Ron N. Gad, a licensed psychotherapist and Ph.D. candidate with the Beverly Hills Therapy Group, specializes in personal image and identity. “Every culture has that unconscious goal to be a part of the ‘other,’ not to be the ‘other.’”

Gad said he thinks Miranda playing the race card is related. “What you’re trying to do is put down the Hispanic people who are working so hard. ‘You’re accusing us rather than accusing me.’ When he or she looks to support and defend identity, it’s an identity of many layers, on every level. He is trying to stand up and say, ‘You’re wrong and this is why I’m defending my image, the image of my office, the image of every Hispanic person in this community, the image of every Hispanic politician.’”

Radio Debate Interrupted

| News | May 18, 2017

The co-owner of the local radio station said the glitch on Friday’s show featuring a city councilmember and the Gazette publisher was due to “a technical error.”

“Facebook crashed on us,” said Carl Goldman, who also hosted the program that featured Councilmember Bill Miranda and publisher Doug Sutton arguing about their feud over Miranda’s unwillingness to provide documentation of what the 2014 Latino Chamber of Commerce gala made and where the money went.

The debate was spirited. Miranda sounded like he was about to level some charge at Gazette publisher Doug Sutton when the video abruptly ended, causing some concern.

“Let me confirm for viewers (many that have contacted me) that this video is severely edited,” local activist and realtor Steve Petzold wrote on Facebook.

On Monday, Goldman said the entire audio of the show was on the website’s podcast, and the entire video was uploaded in two parts to YouTube. Goldman said every KHTS broadcast is backed up these ways.

“We always have three safety nets, so we know we can always capture it,” Goldman said.

Caforio Announces Congressional Campaign

| News | May 18, 2017

Saying he wants “to harness the unprecedented level of energy we have been witnessing, and to move this community in a direction that aligns with our values — not Donald Trump’s values,” Bryan Caforio announced he again will run for the 25th Congressional District seat.

“For us, it’s about continuing to build what we started in the last election,” said Caforio, who failed to unseat incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) in November, losing by 15,019 votes (54 percent to 46 percent).

Caforio, an attorney, slammed Knight for his vote favoring the American Health Care Act, which Caforio said would cost 46,000 constituents health care and affect 310,000 with pre-existing conditions.

“That’s basically one out of two people,” he said. “Look to your left, and if you don’t have a pre-existing condition, that person has, and if that person doesn’t have a pre-existing condition, it’s you.”

Caforio joins two others who already have declared. Katie Hill, 29, is the current executive director and deputy CEO of the non-profit PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), an organization working to end homelessness. Geologist Jess Phoenix, 35, runs an educational science non-profit called Blueprint Earth that maps the Mojave Desert. She’s running with help from 314 Action, which recruits people with science backgrounds to run for office.

“The Democratic Party is a big party. I think it’s great,” Caforio said of Hill and Phoenix. “Last time, there were as many as seven people running.”

Actually, only five vied in the primary.

Hill said she welcomes Caforio, with whom she has met and talked. “We’re excited for a spirited primary,” she said, “and no matter what happens once the primary’s over, we’re fully committed to unite after the primary and work to have the best representation in Washington.”

Caforio said in a press release that his kickoff on Saturday was the largest in the 25th District. Asked to justify, he responded, “Looking back, we’ve never seen anything like it, going back to the Buck McKeon days.”

He added his forecast for the next election.

“This is going to be the year the public is not voting as the Republican Party,” Caforio said. “Up and down the ballot, people are going to be looking out for their community and not for the donors and corporations, the special interests. … We are in 2017, in the richest country the world has ever known, and healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”

Water Main Break on Bouquet Canyon Road Southbound Lanes Expected to be Closed until Midday Friday

| News | May 11, 2017

A water main break and sinkhole has shut down the southbound lanes of Bouquet Canyon Road between Newhall Ranch Road and Valencia Boulevard. The lanes are expected to remain closed for repairs until approximately noon on Friday.

The water main break was first reported at 12:49 p.m. on Thursday. Drivers reported seeing water bubbling up through the asphalt. The City quickly shut down the effected lanes. By the time repair crews arrived on scene a large sinkhole had formed.

The water line that broke was a 14-inch line belonging to Valencia Water Company. Their crews and contractors arrived shortly after the issue was detected and will be working through the night to repair the water line and patch the roadway. Please plan on taking alternate routes while the road repair is underway.

Santa Clarita Transit route 14 will be on a detour route until further notice. The bus stop at Bouquet/Newhall Ranch is the only stop closed because of the water main break. Riders are asked to plan on boarding at Bouquet/Espuella. Route 502 is also affected, and cannot serve the stops at SB Bouquet/Newhall and EB Soledad/Bouquet. For updates on transit routes please follow Santa Clarita Transit on Twitter @SCTBus.

Political Briefs

| News | May 11, 2017

Bryan Caforio Considers Congress

Bryan Caforio, who unsuccessfully ran against Steve Knight for the 25th congressional district in November, said he might try again.

“I’m overwhelmed with the outpouring of support we got from people asking us to run,” Caforio said, “that my wife and I are seriously considering it.”

Caforio lost by 15,019 votes (54 percent to 46 percent) to Knight (R-Palmdale), who won a second term. Should Caforio enter the race, he would join two others who already have declared.

Katie Hill, 29, is the current executive director and deputy CEO of the non-profit PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), which works to end homelessness.

Geologist Jess Phoenix, 35, runs an educational science nonprofit called Blueprint Earth that maps the Mojave Desert. She’s running with help from 314 Action, which recruits people with science backgrounds to run for office.

 

Knight Staffer Resigns

Dan Outlaw, who served as Congressman Steve Knight’s (R-Palmdale) communications director for the past three and a half years, is leaving his post at the end of the week to return to California, he said.

Megan Dutra already has replaced him, and Outlaw is assisting in the transition.

Originally from Sacramento, Outlaw said he is heading to the Bay Area to work in his girlfriend’s family business, which is making gourmet gift bags.

Outlaw said he does not expect Knight to make a statement about his leaving because “I’m just a staffer.”

Miranda’s Claim Contradicted

| News | May 11, 2017

The former treasurer of the Latino Chamber of Commerce said he does not have the exact figures for how much the September 2014 gala made, contradicting what former CEO and current Councilmember Bill Miranda said.

Miranda told KHTS, “I have all the proof. We have all the numbers.” But when the Santa Clarita Gazette called him and asked him to name the time and place a reporter could pick up those documents, Miranda texted suggesting Marlon Roa has the documents.

However, Roa told the Gazette that he had only projected numbers and that the actual figures were turned over to the SCV Chamber of Commerce.
Roa shared his projections: The gala grossed $34,000 and had expenses of $27,000, leaving $7,000. The Gazette previously published Roa estimating the gala netted between $9,000 and $10,000, with Miranda saying, “That’s a more reasonable number.”

SCV Chamber CEO John Musella did not return a call requesting the documents.

Steve Knight: Everybody With a Pre-Existing Condition Will Be Covered

| News | May 11, 2017

Steve Knight reiterated that health care is difficult and there is much still to do, but he is satisfied with the House of Representatives’ version of the American Health Care Act that narrowly passed last week.

“We need some sort of health care that is affordable and sustainable. If we make a program that lasts years, how is that better, as opposed to a program that works for generations?” Knight said Tuesday during a 13-minute phone interview. “We know the other program (the Affordable Care Act) is dying in four years. You see states that are dead. … Virginia pulled out. Iowa has no coverage. … Is that a success?”

The AHCA includes an amendment (the Upton Amendment) that Knight signed onto that he says will ensure everybody with a pre-existing condition is covered. It calls for $8 billion from 2018-23 that would go into a pool to cover people with the highest-risk pre-existing conditions, people Knight said would “fall through the cracks” and not be covered without this pool.

While Knight (R-Palmdale) didn’t identify which pre-existing conditions would qualify, he did define “pre-existing condition” as “a condition that happens before you’re insured” and if there is a lapse in coverage due to losing your job or bankruptcy.

Despite Knight’s beliefs, Business Insider reported that the amendment does not specify that the $8 billion be used to help people with pre-existing conditions, but instead says the funds are to be used to “reduce premiums or other out-of-pocket costs of individuals who are subject to an increase in the monthly premium rate for health insurance coverage as a result of such waiver.”

This has led to speculation, including an article from Money magazine, that the bill would cover people with pre-existing conditions but at a rate so high that they couldn’t afford the coverage. An AARP report estimates those high-risk people could pay premiums as high as $25,700 a year. The Center for American Progress estimated that 46,400 people in Knight’s district would lose health care by 2026 under the AHCA. That’s the 29th most among the 53 congressional districts.

Area Democrats have come out firmly against the bill and, by extension, Knight. Bryan Caforio, who lost the election to Knight in November but is considering another run, said in a statement, “I could not be more disappointed to see our congressman choose to stand with Trump rather than with the hundreds of thousands of constituents in this community whose health care is in jeopardy because of this disastrous bill.”

Katie Hill, the executive director and deputy CEO of a non-profit that works to end homelessness who already has declared she will run against Knight in 2018, said in a statement, “The ACA always needed significant reform, but the AHCA is not the answer. The AHCA makes it so that people aged 50-64 could pay up to five times as much for health insurance. It eliminates the cap on how much those with pre-existing conditions can be charged for insurance. Yes, it guarantees access, but it does not guarantee affordability.”

Knight said he understands the protests, but insists he’s trying to pass legislation that will work in all 50 states. California and its ACA exchange, Covered California, have been insulated against some of the problems other states have experienced, he said, but it can’t separate from the program completely.

“We’re trying to do the best we can to make a sustainable and affordable healthcare system that can last for generations,” he said.

Hill said she hopes the Senate will produce a more responsible plan. Knight said he doesn’t know what the Senate will do. He criticized some unnamed senators who go on social media as “folks who love to (say) nonsensical things.”

“I don’t know until they start working,” he said. “I’m skeptical because they yell and scream knowing health care is difficult. We’ve done our job of moving forward a healthcare bill that is sustainable.”

And yet Knight acknowledged that there is more to do with health care. He would like to examine how to lower prescription drug costs in the future. “The House’s job is not over,” he said. “There are still a lot of healthcare issues.”

Miranda Disputes Gazette Article

| News | May 4, 2017

City Councilmember Bill Miranda disputed an article in the Gazette last month about the Latino Chamber of Commerce gala, but didn’t provide any additional details when requested.

Miranda took issue with Gloria Mercado-Fortine’s claim that Southern California Edison and the Gas Company each donated $10,000 (Mercado-Fortine previously clarified that statement, and the Gazette published a correction).

“I don’t want to get in a war with anybody, but if I have to, I will,” Miranda said during an interview with Carl Goldman on KHTS AM-1220 last week. “They are trying desperately to create something that didn’t exist. They’re saying the 2014 Latino gala had $10,000 donors. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

According to the video of the interview, Miranda then pounded his open right hand on some paper and declared, “I have all the proof. We have all the numbers. All we ask is, you really want to print something like that? Do your homework, OK?”

The Gazette twice called Miranda asking for those documents, even saying Miranda could name the time and place to give them, or he could deliver them to the Gazette’s offices at his convenience.

Miranda sent a text suggesting former treasurer Marlon Roa has the documents. A call to Roa’s insurance office was not returned.

Water Merger for Dummies

| News | May 4, 2017

Water. It’s a topic as boring as it is important to our existence. Locally, there’s an alphabet soup of water agencies: CLWA, NCWD, VWC, SCW. There are wholesalers and retailers. It’s enough to make one’s head spin and eyes glaze over.

But many things are happening that will affect residents and businesses alike in the coming months. So, here are facts everyone needs to know.

  1. How do people get their water now?
  2. Residents and businesses are currently served by four water agencies: Castaic Lake Water Agency, Newhall County Water District, Valencia Water Company, and Santa Clarita Water. CLWA owns VWC and SCW.

There currently are two types of water agencies: wholesaler and retailers. Wholesalers buy water from the state and sell it to other agencies. CLWA is a wholesaler.

Retailers provide water to customers using either state water it buys from wholesalers or from their own groundwater wells. NCWD, VWC and SCW are retailers.

  1. Have there been problems with having so many water providers?
  2. Too many providers have often meant redundancies, interagency conflicts, regulatory challenges and lawsuits. CLWA and NCWD have sued each other.

 

  1. Ouch. What’s changed?
  2. In late 2015, CLWA and NCWD representatives started to meet to discuss how to settle the lawsuits. In February 2016, then-NCWD Board President B.J. Atkins put forth a plan in which CLWA and NCWD would become one agency, thereby ridding itself of duplicate infrastructure, such as vehicle fleets, computers and desks. The goal, Atkins said, was reducing debt and operating in the ratepayers’ best interests. The agency, whatever the name, would comprise four departments: buying and importing state water, dealing with local ground and well water, focusing on capturing storm water, and water recycling.

After several public hearings, presentations to local businesses and a financial evaluation that determined both agencies were healthy, the CLWA and NCWD on Dec. 13 held a joint public board meeting and voted to enter into an agreement to settle litigation between the two agencies. The settlement agreement includes a commitment to seek state legislation to combine the CLWA and the NCWD into a new public entity.

  1. Why seek state legislation?
  2. Because the water agencies were created by state law (NCWD in 1953 and CLWA in 1962), it requires an act of law to combine into one agency.

 

  1. Is there any state legislation?
  2. Of course. State Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Antelope Valley) has submitted Senate Bill 634, which would create a single water district, the Santa Clarita Valley Water District.

 

  1. What would the new SCVWD look like?
  2. The new district would assume the current CLWA boundaries, meaning it would cover all of Santa Clarita, Castaic and up to the Ventura County line (the community of Val Verde would continue to be a customer, but would not become part of the new district. Also, VWC would become fully part of the new SCVWD within six months).

 

-The new SCVWD would assume the duties of wholesaler and retailer. It would continue to buy water from the state as CLWA did; and it would sell, manage and deliver that water, along with ground and well water, as NCWD, VWC and SCW did. It also would build, operate and maintain hydroelectric, solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy.

-Additionally, the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) must approve the SCVWD. LAFCO is a bureaucratic body formed to ensure local governments are operating efficiently. The bill says SCVWD must submit an application to LAFCO by Jan. 31, 2018, regardless of the bill’s status in the Legislature.

  1. Does the bill say anything about the board of directors?
  2. The bill details the board of directors. There currently are 15 board members between the two districts. That will be reduced to nine by Jan. 1, 2023. Those nine members will come from three electoral divisions, which are defined in the bill. Three people would be elected to the board from each electoral division for four-year terms. These board members would be paid the same amount as the salary the CLWA pays its members as of Dec. 31 of this year. The board must appoint a general manager, secretary and treasurer/auditor.

Between now and Jan. 1, 2025, the board may do the following only with a four-fifths majority: issue debt of more than $10 million and get rid of the independent ratepayer advocate. After Jan. 1, 2025, the board may do these things by simple majority.

 

  1. What is an independent ratepayer advocate?
  2. According to NCWD Board President Maria Gutzeit, it is a third-party expert in water rates that will advise the board on what rate to set. Gutzeit said enough people felt there was a need to bring in somebody who knows how rates are set by agencies of this size. “It’s a learning process for all of us, and we wanted another opinion,” she said.

On or before Jan. 1, 2019, the new SCVWD board will set rates.

 

  1. Bottom line: What is it going to cost me?
  2. Gutzeit and Atkins said combining into one agency means savings of $14 million over 10 years and about $1.62 million a year after that. But how much that means for an individual customer is unknown. State regulations and mandated conservation levels could affect rates. Since the board will ultimately decide how to spend the savings, it depends on who is on the board at the time. The board could use the savings on a host of things, such as technology upgrades, or it could pass the savings to the ratepayers.

Atkins said the current average is between $42 and $50 a month. He expects rates to be stabilized. “Imagine paying 2017 rates in 2030,” he said.

  1. Is there any opposition?
  2. Yes. Ed Dunn, a local water activist, objects to most of the bill, saying the public is not protected and he says, “The legislators must have their heads far up where it’s pretty dark.”

 

Dunn highlighted Sections 4 and 29. Section 4 deals with the debts and obligations of the various entities. Dunn fears that the SCVWD will assume all debts and obligations, and pass them on to the ratepayers. Atkins disputes this, saying that NCWD ratepayers will pay off its debt in 2018 and will not assume CLWA’s outstanding debt.

Sec. 29 says that no public corporation or agency that has the same purpose as the SCVWD can form in the SCVWD area without consent of the SCVWD board. “Whatever happened to government by the people?” Dunn wants to know.

  1. Is all this happening soon?
  2. No. Wilk’s bill is still making its way through the various Senate committees. It has passed the Natural Resources and Water committee, as well as the Governance and Finance Committee. It next must pass the Appropriations Committee before the entire Senate votes on it. Should the Senate approve, it would have to go through the same process in the Assembly before reaching the governor’s desk.

 

 

 

‘Stop the Bleed’ Training at Emergency Expo

| News | April 27, 2017

Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital will offer “Stop the Bleed” training to the general public at the Home and Garden Show and Emergency Expo at Central Park in Saugus on April 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Attendees can visit the Henry Mayo tent and learn how to properly apply a tourniquet for life-threatening extremity bleeding. Additional material will be available, including a free family disaster plan guide. Training sessions will be offered throughout the day and times will be posted at the Henry Mayo table.

“Massive bleeding from any cause, but particularly from an active shooter or explosive event where a response is delayed, can result in death,” said Chad Cossey disaster response planner/ trauma surge coordinator at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. “Our instructors will teach proper bleeding control techniques, including how to use your hands. We also will discuss dressings and demonstrate the use of a tourniquet. Just like learning how to do CPR, people should learn how to do this.”

“Stop the Bleed” is a national initiative designed to provide the public with the tools and knowledge to stop life-threatening bleeding. Uncontrolled bleeding can result from manmade and natural disasters (e.g., active shooters, bombings, train derailments, earthquakes) and from everyday occurring emergencies (e.g., vehicle crashes, plate glass window accidents, power tool accidents, farming accidents). Severe bleeding can kill within minutes before EMS or other public safety providers arrive. The person closest to you may be the only one who can “stop the bleed” fast enough.

Anyone at the scene can act as an immediate responder and save lives if they know what to do. BleedingControl.org supports the U.S. directive for national preparedness (Presidential Policy Directive 8), which targets preparedness as a shared responsibility of the government, the private and nonprofit sectors, and individual citizens. To learn more about Henry Mayo’s Disaster Resource Center, visit Henrymayo.com.

Chamber Cornered by Costs

| News | April 27, 2017

Late last year, The Gazette asked the question, “Is the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce in trouble?” There had been some layoffs, membership was down, and the city was holding fast to its annual financial commitment.

Now, the question can be asked again. The chamber is out of its offices on Tournament Road, the result of a lease it couldn’t afford, and has taken up temporary digs in City Hall. Additionally, the chamber board eliminated its president/CEO position in March, widely believed to be another cost-cutting move. Lois Bauccio, who was interviewed for this story before being let go, had held the position since September.

Is the chamber in trouble? Depends on whom you ask.

Reached after her position’s elimination, Bauccio stood by her original statements.

“We are challenged, but it’s not a lack of wellness,” she said in early March. “We’re not an organization that will ever have large amounts of money.”

However, Councilmember Bill Miranda, who was on the board of directors until he had to resign in January to take his council seat, has a different view.

“The chamber is not financially well yet,” he said. “We need to find a place better suited to running a chamber.”

One of the biggest problems was the lease. Unlike many agreements that call for a fixed monthly amount, the chamber and building owner entered into a 10-year agreement in 2010 that saw the rent increase over time.

According to former chamber President and CEO Terri Crain, the chamber paid a security deposit of between $10,000 and $15,000 and then for the first six months enjoyed a rent abatement, which called for deferred rent for the first six months and half rent the second six months. But after a year, the abatement ended and the back rent came due. Crain said the rent jumped to $8,800 a month in 2011, when she became president.

“When I walked in and realized what the rent was escalating to, I started campaigning the first three or four months, either move or renegotiate the lease because the rent wasn’t sustainable,” she said. She criticized the board as being “apathetic. Basically, they nodded their heads and said yeah.”

The rent increased to $9,000 a month in 2012, then $10,000 in 2013, then $10,500 in 2014. Crain estimated that by the end of the 10 years, the rent would have reached $15,000 a month. And that didn’t include maintenance fees and taxes.

One problem was that the membership numbers were down from the late 1990s-early 2000s high of about 1,800 members. Bauccio said that basic dues are $360, and she put the current membership at about 1,100. Using those numbers, it would lead to $396,000, or $252,000 less than some 17 years ago (although Bauccio said there are other membership levels, which would offset some of that difference).

But the rent would have gone as high as $180,000 a year. Assuming everybody pays the minimum dues, it leaves the chamber with $216,000 to operate, hardly enough. It should make sense that the chamber had to lay off employees, most notably Bauccio (they currently have two; at their peak, they had seven).

They thought they were going to get a membership and financial boost in 2015 when the Latino Chamber of Commerce merged into the SCV chamber. But Crain said only about $2,000 came into the chamber coffers, and the 100 new members she thought she was getting was really more like 30.

“The rest hadn’t paid or were just listed,” she said. “There was always a story.”

Crain also said the chambers believed the merger would lead to more revenue for a single entity. Instead, she said, “That was not how it worked. It was people saying, ‘Yahoo! One less thing to give money to.’ ”

Meanwhile, the lease still had to be paid. Bauccio said the chamber attempted to sublet some of the space, but a deal between the landlord and two private parties fell through. Bauccio saying the chamber had nothing to do with it, and she was looking to sublease the space when she was let go.

“Anybody you know who needs 3,000 square feet?” Bauccio asked. “It’s a constant effort to be the most fiscally responsible chamber.”

The city got involved and gave it free space for one year; personnel moved in Jan. 1, city Economic Development Manager Jason Crawford said. He also said that the city would continue to honor its $40,000 annual commitment to the chamber.

“They have not asked for more, and we don’t intend to provide them more or less,” Crawford said.

Councilmember Bob Kellar, a big fan of chambers of commerce going back to the days of the Canyon Country chamber, said he would like to see the chamber enter into discussions with the Valley Industry Association (VIA) and see “if there is any opportunity to come together. Both are struggling,” he said.
VIA and the chamber share some goals, specifically helping various businesses and business interests connect and collaborate. Both are partners with the city, which gives VIA $8,000 a year.

However, Kellar said, the two groups have not met. “It’s their decision,” he said, “but I would do anything to facilitate.”

VIA CEO/President Kathy Norris declined comment other than to say, “We think the chamber’s wonderful.”

This is far from the first time a local chamber of commerce has been in financial trouble. In the 1990s, the Canyon Country chamber couldn’t pay its bills and became part of the SCV chamber after its executive director was found to have stolen tens of thousands of dollars (see Chamber Chronicles on page 11). And the Latino Chamber of Commerce also merged into the SCV chamber in 2015 amid financial woes.

The current health of the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce also pales when compared to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which receives $200,000 each from the city and county. Many large businesses have fled the chamber for the EDC, although many on the EDC executive committee are also chamber members. But many EDC directors are not, and there are no immediate plans for the EDC to rescue the chamber in any meaningful way, although EDC President/CEO Holly Schroeder didn’t rule it out.

Miranda said the first step toward financial stability is to collect dues and to remind those who resist paying of all the benefits they get with membership. Bauccio said a leadership void (Jim Bizzelle served for three months as interim president between Crain’s April 2016 resignation and Bauccio taking over in September) led to delinquency. Now that Bauccio has been let go, the board’s executive committee, led by Chairman John Musella, is in charge, but whether that contributes to a void remains unknown (Musella did not respond to an email request for comment).

Another potential problem: Crain said that times have changed and chambers face competition from various other networking groups, as well as from people who choose to give their money to their own personal causes rather than to a chamber.

“They don’t care if you go to Sacramento to fight for you,” Crain said of one service a chamber provides. “They need customers in their stores. The rest of what a chamber does is irrelevant to them.”

Miranda said he hopes that isn’t the case.

“What I hope will happen with our chamber is that it would start looking at the other networking groups, find out what they offer and start offering that,” Miranda said. “The chamber’s a networking organization, and if you yield the networking responsibilities, then Terri’s right and there’s no reason for the chamber.”

Highway Hook-Up

| News | April 20, 2017

Sierra Highway. It’s had a life as “El Camino Sierra,” been nationally-known as “U.S. Route 6,” and first made it to the silver screen in the final shot of Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” in 1936.

So, what now?

If you’ve driven north on Sierra Highway from Soledad to Vasquez Canyon Road, you’ve probably noticed a few things, such as deterioration of the roadway, the announcement of a community center, and the presence of tractors up on the ridgeline when you face west.

To inquire about all of those issues isn’t entirely simple, as the City of Santa Clarita doesn’t own all of Sierra Highway. Some of it south of Soledad Canyon Road actually belongs to CalTrans. And a small portion of the road, a .7-mile stretch between Golden Valley Road and Friendly Valley Pkwy, has been a point of discussion for leaders of Santa Clarita recently. Legislation was co-sponsored earlier this year by Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) and state Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) to authorize the California Transportation Commission to relinquish all or any portion of Sierra Highway from Friendly Valley to Newhall.

 Acosta spokesperson David Creager said in an email to Gazette writer Lee Barnathan, “This was requested by the city due to the state’s inability to maintain the section of highway. The city wishes to take over responsibility for the section in question in order to make sure that the highway doesn’t fall into any further disrepair.”

But north of Soledad is not owned by the state. It is owned by the city up to Fox Feed, beyond which Sierra Highway is owned by L.A. County.

“When the Community Center moves forward there will be significant improvements to Sierra Highway going north from Soledad,” city Councilman Bob Kellar said.

The Canyon Country Community Center is planned for the northeast corner of Sierra Highway and Soledad, though the fate of the white, two-story building  located there (photo below) is unclear.

“At this point we are working with all the surrounding property owners for the development of the new Community Center, Caruso’s included. We have had preliminary discussion with the owners,” City Director of Public Works Robert Newman said.

Angie Caruso, whose family owns the building on Sierra Highway where their restaurant, Caruso’s, is located, has been informed about the proposed Community Center, and debunked any rumors that their building would be demolished as part of the plan.

“They contacted us last year that they have plans to build in back of us. That’s okay,” Caruso said. “We have no intention of selling (the building). My grandpa bought that in the 1950s, it’s something my grandfather left us. My mom and dad have no intention of selling it.”

Angie Caruso owns Piccola Trattoria, an Italian restaurant on Dolan Way, around the corner from Caruso’s. She believes both of her family’s businesses are impacted by the state of Sierra Highway.

“We do need Sierra Highway upgraded,” she said. “It’s very dark, very dangerous. We offer valet here because we don’t want any of our customers crossing Sierra Highway. That was one of the reasons we started valet — we didn’t want anything to happen to anyone. They need lights. They need sidewalks.”

That’s where the City of Santa Clarita comes in.

“With the development of the Community Center, street improvements along the property frontage on Sierra Highway will be constructed including sidewalk, curb and lighting,” Newman said. “(It) will include full construction of curb and sidewalk improvements along the project frontage, along with striping changes to include three lanes and a bike lane.”

Newman responded to questions about the current state of the roadway.

“The city has made a number of improvements along Sierra Highway over the years, including widening to two lanes within the city, landscaped medians with development partners and traffic signal enhancements,” Newman said.

And what about where Sierra Highway becomes county-owned, north of College of the Canyons and Fox Feed?

“For residents I would refer them to the local 5th District County Supervisor’s office,” Kellar said. “Other improvements will take place over time on Sierra as new development occurs. The Skyline project is a case in point, with the creation of a new intersection just north of the Backwoods Inn Restaurant.”

The Skyline development, which will all be on county-owned land, is a property of Pardee Homes, with approval for 1,220 total units, all single-family detached homes. According to Dave Little, division president for Pardee Homes, about a quarter of them will be age-restricted units in their own gated section, the same size as Belcaro, a 55 and older gated community in Valencia.

“In conjunction with the development of Skyline we’ll be providing another school for Sulphur Springs, also a nine-acre public park,” Little said. “With our grading equipment up and over that ridgeline, you can see what’s going on across the street from the Backwoods Inn. There’s an inherent inconvenience, but a lot of benefits, in addition to having the equipment out there.”

What they’re constructing is Skyline Ranch Road and will connect Plum Canyon Road to Sierra Highway. An intersection will be constructed in front of the Backwoods Inn.

“At the connection point we’ll improve the intersection there. We’re working with the city to see what they’re doing with improvements right there, so we can see how we can dovetail with that,” Little said. “Vasquez Canyon Road is obviously a sore subject for residents of Santa Clarita. Skyline Ranch Road will offer people another way to get to the Sierra Highway side.”

 

Messy Merger

| News | April 20, 2017

Back in September 2014, the Latino Chamber of Commerce held one of its more successful gala fundraisers. Memories being what they are, people aren’t sure exactly how much it netted. Estimates range from $9,000 to $17,000, but regardless, it was considered a successful event.

How much was really raised, and where that money went, however, remain a mystery. According to activist Steve Petzold, who emailed the Gazette a copy of the letter he received from the Internal Revenue Service, the IRS does not have the chamber’s Form 990 from the fiscal years ending June 30, 2015 and June 30, 2016. This is the form that provides the public with financial information about a nonprofit organization.

All of the involved parties, from the gala chairpersons to the relevant chamber officers, spoke with the Gazette and tried their best to recall. But their reports resulted in several conflicting stories on the record, mostly about the Latino Chamber’s last months before becoming part of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce in early 2015.

 Gala Memories

Gloria Mercado-Fortine and Henry Rodriguez chaired the event. Current city councilmember Bill Miranda was the president and CEO at the time, and he recalled staying out of the planning stages because “Henry and Gloria wanted autonomy and we said, ‘Fine.’”

Mercado-Fortine said the autonomy covered only the program. “We decided on the speakers. We decided on the entertainment,” she said. “As CEO, he attended every meeting, and so did (treasurer) Marlon Roa.”

Regardless, Miranda said, “I remember (the gala) well. We probably had 300 attendees, and the average attendee probably paid $75.”

Roa agreed that the event “went well,” but since it was held at the Hyatt Regency Valencia, “expenses were high,” he said.

 How Much Money?

Based on Miranda’s recollection, the gala grossed at least $22,500; after that, things get cloudy. Mercado-Fortine recalled Southern California Edison and the Gas Company donating $10,000 each, something Miranda disputed.

“I think Gloria is so far off base as to what was raised,” he said. “Ten thousand dollars from two sources? Are you kidding me? That’s more than we ever raised at any gala.”

Roa estimated the gala netted between $9,000 and $10,000. “That’s a more reasonable number,” Miranda said.

Rodriguez said Miranda and Roa were ultimately responsible for the numbers. “We were, more than anything, planning the actual event,” he said. “I wasn’t responsible for the financials of it all. … Bill and Marlon, I didn’t step on their toes over that.”

 Who Should Have Filed with the IRS?

According to CPA Randy Michel, a partner with WongHolland LLP in Woodland Hills, a nonprofit with a fiscal year ending June 30 must file Form 990 by Nov. 15, or Feb. 15 if granted an extension.

But since the IRS has no record of receiving those forms, somebody didn’t do the job. Now it’s hard to find someone to take responsibility.

Roa said that since the two chambers had merged by June 30, it would have fallen to then-SCV Chamber President and CEO Terri Crain to ensure the documents were filed.

Crain said either Roa or Bob Pacheco, a CPA, was supposed to file with the IRS, but it also could have fallen to then-SCV chamber treasurer Steve Chegwin. A source told the Gazette that Chegwin had begun the process, but Crain told him to stop because Roa was going to do it.

Rodriguez said Miranda would have taken care of it. Miranda said Roa would have given the figures to Pacheco and Pacheco would have been responsible for filing. But Pacheco had already left the Latino chamber in protest of the merger (Pacheco has steadfastly refused to comment on any chamber matter).

To this day, it appears no one has filed. “I don’t know what the repercussions would be” for failing to file, Michel said.

According to the IRS website, the penalty for failing to file is $20 a day, with a maximum of either $10,000 or 5 percent of the organization’s gross receipts for that year, whichever is less.

And Finally…

The merger between the two chambers happened around January 2015, or about four months after the gala. According to Roa and Crain, only between $1,000 and $2,000 came over from the Latino to the SCV chamber. No matter the amount, Crain said any monies would have been deposited into the SCV Chamber’s general fund; in this case, however, she recalled that money instead was put into membership to help fund the Latino members who were now SCV Chamber members.

That leaves thousands of dollars unaccounted for, and with no IRS forms to explain, one question remains.

Where’s the money?

 

California United Bank Purchased

| News | April 13, 2017

The parent company of California United Bank, which has a branch in Valencia, announced this week the signing of an agreement whereby PacWest Bancorp will acquire CU Bankcorp, or CUNB. The transaction is valued at approximately $705 million, according to an article on Globe Newswire.

California United Bank on Magic Mountain Pkwy is one of nine branches owned by CUNB, a state-chartered non-member bank, with approximately $3 billion in assets. Pacific Western Bank is the principal operating subsidiary of PacWest Bancorp, and after the merger the combined companies are expected to have approximately $25 billion in assets and 87 branches, the article says.

Chamber Suffers from EDC Effect

| News | April 13, 2017

by Lee Barnathan 

Like many cities, Santa Clarita has a chamber of commerce and an economic development corporation, each with its own functions. The EDC’s purpose is to attract new businesses and industries into the area. The chamber works on behalf of its members to maintain a healthy business climate.

Yet some people believe that these two entities sometimes work at cross-purposes, resulting in the EDC unintentionally contributing to the chamber’s financial woes.

“I would have to agree with that,” former chamber President and CEO Terri Crain said. “My opinion is, by the city and county funding the EDC, it made the chamber seem irrelevant. If you wanted to join the exclusive club, you joined the EDC.”

Not everyone shares this viewpoint. EDC President and CEO Holly Schroeder and City Councilmember Bob Kellar, whose chamber experiences reach back to the days of the Canyon Country Chamber, say the EDC and chamber are complementary.

“The EDC’s focus is in bringing in what we call ‘traded clusters,’” Schroeder said, naming aerospace, biotech and entertainment as examples. “We’re not focusing on whether we bring in a Cheesecake Factory or not.”

EDC origins

There has been a chamber of commerce in the area since at least 1957, but the EDC is much newer. In 2011, in the midst of the Great Recession, a committee of chamber members led by attorney John Shaffery and Bill Kennedy met with College of the Canyons President Dr. Dianne Van Hook and others to discuss bringing some sort of economic development organization into the area.

“We saw an additional opportunity to create responsible business in Santa Clarita,” Kellar said. “The city had an economic development office. We saw an opportunity to bring good, solid companies and good paying jobs into Santa Clarita.”

“We knew we needed to be proactive and drive the bus on that strategy,” Schroeder said.

Together with city and county officials, they examined different models and came up with their own. Then they asked the city and county for startup and continuous funds. The city and county each agreed to pony up $200,000 annually with the understanding that there would need to be private contributions, and these would have to increase over time.

According to City Economic Development Manager Jason Crawford, those private contributions started around $6,250. Contribute $25,000 and you buy yourself a seat on the executive committee, Crawford said. There also is a board of directors that is limited to 50 (there currently are 33).

The hope was always that once the new businesses and industries came to Santa Clarita, they would join the chamber of commerce, and this has happened to some extent. Of the current 14 EDC executive committee members, 11 are also chamber members. But only nine of the 33 directors are chamber members (six others have the organization, but not the person, listed as a chamber member).

Differing viewpoints

There was always inequality from the start, beginning with the amount the city gives each. The EDC gets five times the $40,000 the chamber gets, something that Crain didn’t seem too happy about.

“I joked that you could slap the EDC label on a cow’s behind if it gave money,” she said. “What an incestuous, entitled group of people.”

It continues, said TimBen Boydston, a longtime resident and former councilmember, with the amount of money one must contribute to join the EDC. The EDC executive committee aside, many businesses don’t want to pay big bucks to join the EDC and the chamber.

The inadvertent result, Boydston said, is “The EDC has replaced the chamber. The chamber had different levels. Big businesses pay more, little businesses pay less. When the EDC was formed by the city and the county, they became the big dog in town. It costs a lot to be in the EDC. It takes all that money. The chamber has only the little businesses.”

Said Crain: “Most of them left, or they did very little with the chamber.”

To paraphrase Leon Worden, a longtime resident and head of SCV TV, say you own a flower shop. The EDC’s job is to identify a need and bring in that business. But the little mom-and-pop flower shop that belongs to the chamber doesn’t want more competition being brought into the valley.

Yet, Worden also said, “I don’t know if I’d characterize the EDC as killing the chamber.”

He isn’t alone. Kellar sees a complementary relationship between the two. “There are companies that bring employment opportunities, and those people spend money on mom-and-pops,” he said.

Can the EDC rescue the chamber?

Schroeder said it’s good for the business community to have a strong and healthy chamber to go with the EDC. But, the challenge is how to make the chamber stronger and healthier.

Crawford has said the city has tried to help by giving the chamber a year of free digs at City Hall, which began Jan. 1. Would the EDC help in some way, too, perhaps by making a financial donation?

“That is a great question. I don’t have an answer for it,” Schroeder said. For that to happen, the board must discuss and approve such a move, but as of now, “there have not been any formal (talks) like that,” she said. Nor is there a scheduled board meeting for another month, she said.

She also hasn’t spoken to the 18 board members who are not chamber members about joining, but she said she wouldn’t be opposed to it if the board asked her to.

However, Schroeder said, the EDC has tried to help by telling its businesses that the chamber is “a business resource that is available to join.” Members have also told various businesses that are either moving into the area or expanding that there is space in the chamber’s former building on Tournament Road that could be sublet.

“We haven’t found success yet,” she said.

That building remains vacant, and the EDC remains in far better shape than the chamber.

 

Suicides Stigmatized, Overdose Overlooked

| News | April 6, 2017

 

by Lee Barnathan

What numbers exist are sobering. According to the L.A. County departments of Public Health and Mental Health:

Ÿ Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people ages 15-24.

Ÿ More than half the kids who suffer from depression will attempt suicide, and more than 7 percent will die as a result.

  • Fifty-three percent of young people who commit suicide abuse substances.
  • Firearms are used in a little more than half of all youth suicides.

And yet there are people who believe the numbers of suicides and deaths by drug overdoses are actually larger.

“Oh yeah, very true,” said Deborah Rocha, who heads the SRD Foundation Straightening Reins, a nonprofit in San Francisquito Canyon that specializes in equine-assisted and interactive therapies designed to improve adolescent and teen mental health and well-being.

She should know. Her daughter, Samantha Rocha-Dyer, killed herself in 2011 when she walked in front of an oncoming car on the Antelope Valley Freeway. She was a 15-year-old sophomore at Vasquez High in Acton. Her death spurred Rocha into starting the foundation (SRD stands for Samantha Rocha-Dyer).

“She’s gone, and she’s making a huge impact on other people’s lives,” Rocha said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if she was still here.”

Statistics for suicides and ODs are hard to come by. A deputy at the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station told the Gazette, “Those are unusual numbers to try and figure out.”

But unfortunately, they keep happening. The latest could be 19-year-old Kyle Carranza of Saugus, who died Monday after being hit by a big rig on Interstate 210. Officials are still trying to determine if this was a suicide or an accident.

“We don’t know if he intentionally did this,” California Highway Patrol Officer Josh Greengard told The Signal. “We are getting together with family members to learn more. But, right now they don’t know if it was suicide or carelessness.”

Ed Winter, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner, told The Signal Tuesday that there is no official cause of death yet.

Rocha insists the stigma associated with addiction still exists. “I think parents don’t want to report it,” she said. “They don’t see the red flags until it is too late. … I would like to believe people in Santa Clarita believe every life matters. I’m not sure I do. … I don’t think we understand the full scope of mental well-being.”

She said she saw the signs that her daughter was troubled and was trying to get her help since Samantha was 12.

“She was a great kid, and the system failed her,” Rocha said.

The trick, she said, is to give the kids the tools they need so that when they feel like they don’t measure up – which she says is a common theme among people who might try and take their lives – they can realize, “It’s OK. I don’t need to be like everybody else.”

Cary Quashen, who runs the nonprofit Action Family Foundation and is the executive director of the 23-bed Behavioral Health Unit at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, says most people don’t really want to die; they just want to stop feeling the pain.

So, they cry for help, and Quashen says people need to recognize those pleas, which often come in the form of some of the following: Life’s not worth living; You’re better off without me; I don’t want to be a burden; I feel hopeless; I feel helpless.

“We need to pay attention to it if people are depressed,” he said. “(Saying) ‘Get over it’ is not going to help. You’re discounting their feelings. It can make it worse.”

 

First ‘Dynamic’ Traffic Lane Added to Soledad Canyon at Sierra Hwy

| News | April 6, 2017

When motorists drive east on Soledad Canyon Road approaching Sierra Highway, the far right lane will direct them one of two ways, depending on the time of day. City engineers have programmed the stoplight so the lane becomes a through/right-turn lane during weekday evenings and a right-turn only lane all other times.

Called a “dynamic lane,” the modification is aimed at improving troublesome traffic patterns by increasing traffic flow at the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway. Engineers have calculated the change to increase the number of vehicles passing along eastbound Soledad Canyon Road during peak traffic hours. The dynamic lane is the first of its kind in Santa Clarita and will be implemented this month.

Drivers will be alerted about the lane restriction through a series of electronic signs that will be installed along the eastbound approach to Soledad Canyon Road between Vilna Avenue and Sierra Highway. Restriction hours are subject to change.


“Our data has shown that during certain hours of the day, we have a significantly higher number of drivers going straight than those making a right turn at the Soledad and Sierra Highway intersection. So we see a benefit in making the curb lane a shared through/right-turn lane during those times — it increases traffic flow,” says Traffic Signal System Administrator Cesar Romo. “Traffic flow changes throughout the day. The dynamic lane is an example of how we can use data and technology to be responsive to changing patterns and improve traffic conditions on our streets.”

This project is one of many traffic improvements made by the City’s engineering team to improve traffic flow at that intersection, which is one of the busiest intersections in the city.

Previously completed projects to improve traffic conditions at Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway include:

Northbound Triple Left-Turn Lanes: An additional left-turn lane was added for northbound motorists who travel westbound on Soledad Canyon Road, allowing more vehicles to turn left on a green signal.
Southbound Median and Striping Modification: Striping along the southbound direction of Soledad Canyon Road at Sierra Highway was modified to accommodate an additional left-turn lane and through lane, reducing traffic delay during peak hours. In addition, a rubber median has been temporarily constructed until a new raised median is installed as part of the Canyon Country Community Center project.

For more information about these traffic improvements or the new dynamic lane, contact Cesar Romo, traffic signal system administrator at cromo@santa-clarita.com.

National Pacesetter of the Year Awarded to COC Chancellor

| News | March 31, 2017

An annual award for leadership was presented to the chancellor of College of the Canyons at a national conference early this week.

Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook has been named the National Pacesetter of the Year by the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations, or NCMPR. The award recognizes a president or CEO at a two-year community or technical college who has demonstrated leadership and support in the area of college communications and public relations.

Dr. Van Hook received the award at NCMPR’s national conference held in Charleston, South Carolina.

“I am honored to receive the National Pacesetter of the Year Award,” said Dr. Van Hook. “Public relations and marketing are essential components of our college’s ability to create quality and results-driven messaging that positively impacts our students and defines their experience at College of the Canyons.”

Since 1988, Dr. Van Hook has served as CEO of the Santa Clarita Community College District, making her the longest serving community college CEO in California. Her longevity in that role and emphasis on effective marketing has played a major role in creating and maintaining the college’s brand and ensuring consistent messaging across mediums.

To accommodate its growing student population, COC has increased the size of its facilities five-fold under Dr. Van Hook’s leadership, from 199,000 square feet on one campus to 950,000 on campuses in Valencia and Canyon Country. The Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center, named in her honor, was added in 2009, and the Institute for Culinary Education was opened in 2015.

“We at College of the Canyons are very fortunate to have Dr. Van Hook as a visionary and inspirational leader,” said Steve Zimmer, president of the COC Board of Trustees. “She has been able to oversee the long-term growth of our college and widely communicate our student success story to our local community and throughout the entire state through the effective use of public relations and marketing.”

College of the Canyons was recently ranked among the top 15 best community and career colleges by salary potential in PayScale’s 2016-2017 College Salary Report, which ranked 381 two-year colleges across the nation by post-graduation earnings.

In a continued effort to reduce college costs, College of the Canyons will soon launch the First-Year Promise (FYP) program, a pathway that will provide increased opportunities for new full-time college students to achieve their educational goals, through a $750,000 grant from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO).

Out of 51 community college districts that applied, COC was one of only 14 colleges awarded a CCCCO grant through the California College Promise Innovation Grant Program.

“Dr. Van Hook has always supported effective communication on her campus and has been a leader at the state and national levels to further the mission of California’s community colleges,” said Juan Gutierrez, NCMPR District 6 Director. “I cannot think of a more deserving person to receive this prestigious award.”

Headquartered in New Mexico, NCMPR is a national organization governed by volunteer community college professionals that exclusively represents marketing and public relations professionals at community and technical colleges. NCMPR has more than 1,550 members from more than 650 colleges across the country, including Canada and other countries.

The National Pacesetter Award is presented annually to one of NCMPR’s seven district winners of the regional award.

Dr. Van Hook was named Pacesetter of the Year for Region 6 in September 2016.

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