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Saugus Superintendent Retires

| News | January 19, 2018

After 48 years as an educator, with 37 of them spent in the Saugus Union School District, District Superintendent Joan Lucid, Ed.D. has announced her retirement – effective June 29, 2018.

“I have been honored and humbled to have served 37 years in Saugus Union School District … dedicated to elementary education as a teacher, project coordinator, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent,” said Dr. Lucid in a letter to the Governing Board and SUSD Community. “I want to thank each one of you, previous boards, administrators, colleagues and community members, who have encouraged me, supported me and celebrated with me through this absolutely amazing career filled with so many joyous memories.”

Dr. Lucid began her career in 1970 as an elementary school teacher for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where she taught until 1981.

The next 37 years were spent educating children in the Saugus Union School District, first as a teacher at Skyblue Mesa, Highlands and Honby (now part of the Sulphur Springs School District as Canyon Springs Elementary). She then joined the district team as a project coordinator, revising and creating district guides and handbooks, establishing and developing seminars and meetings, and she assisted in writing many of the schools’ state and national award applications. Her hard work was rewarded with the principal’s position at Cedarcreek in 1991, where she served until 1997, when she was promoted to assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. In 2011, she was tapped to serve as superintendent.

“Dr. Lucid has been important part of our district family for many years,” said Christopher Trunkey, president of the Governing Board of Trustees. “We will miss her and her leadership, but she has earned a long and happy retirement. There is still much for us to accomplish before she leaves and we look forward to the community’s input as we start our search for a new superintendent.”

Locals Debate Daca, Wall and Government Shutdown

| News | January 18, 2018

Is another government shutdown in our future, and if so, will DACA or a wall be the cause?

Nobody locally seems to want to see the feds close the doors, and many are tired of the bickering and partisanship.

“It’s time for the country to come together,” said Bill Reynolds, a local Republican and veterans’ rights advocate. “I wish our elected officials would get their act together.”

“The bigger question is how can we get legislators who are that angry to make things happen without playing with something as simple as keeping our doors open,” Democratic congressional candidate Katie Hill said.

Currently, funding is scheduled to run out Jan. 19. In past shutdowns, disagreements arose between what the executive and legislative branches wanted. This time, the issues that could get in the way are the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as the DACA program, and the border wall.

The Democrats want to protect from deportation – as they had been from 2012 until September, when President Donald Trump rescinded the program – the estimated 800,000 people who came to this country illegally as children. (Trump has given Congress until March to figure it out; last week, a judge ordered the administration to continue accepting renewal applications.)

“Congressional Democrats need to see if they want to push back,” said Philip Germain, chairman of California 25 United for Progress (25UP), a nonprofit liberal group dedicated to educating people about the issues, including those that affect the 25th Congressional District.

Trump, meanwhile wants $18 billion for a border wall, one of his chief campaign promises.

“It (budget) has to include the wall,” Reynolds said. “Trump ran on it. It was one of his major platforms. If they (Republicans) fold on that … are we going to enforce our immigration laws or not? Are we going to have a border or not?”

Other issues that could affect budget negotiations, according to news website Business Insider: the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Affordable Care Act, disaster relief and government surveillance.

With the budget needing to be passed, either side could decide to refuse to negotiate and force a shutdown. If that happens, non-essential personnel are furloughed; military personnel are considered essential and are expected to report, although they would not be paid during the shutdown.

“In essence, this is why we can’t get anything done,” talk-show host Joe Messina said. “If the Democrats say, ‘We get what we want or else,’ and it shuts down, it’s their fault.”

Similarly, Messina said, Republicans could play just as stubborn, and the shutdown would be their fault.
Regardless of which side they’re on, locals don’t want a shutdown.

“I don’t like anything being used as a ploy in shutting down the government,” Hill said. “It’s pathetic we can’t get movement on anything.”

Bryan Caforio, another 25th district candidate, took a decidedly Democratic viewpoint.

“These Republicans don’t know how to govern,” he said, “and now they’re desperate in asking Democrats to cross over and help them. Democrats need to stand strong for our core values. One of those is DACA. … If you want us to save (Republicans) from their failure to govern, then you need to protect these people.”

Since 1981, there have been seven instances, totaling 51 days, when Congress and the president failed to pass the necessary appropriations funding to keep the federal government open for business. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan wanted a spending bill that included at least half of the $8.4 billion in cuts he proposed. Congress sent him a compromise bill that was $2 billion short, so Reagan vetoed it as promised, shutting down the government for two days.

President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich sparred over spending, which led to two shutdowns, in 1995 and 1996.

The most recent shutdown, lasting 16 days, occurred in 2013 as the Senate and President Barack Obama disagreed over aspects of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

“The two-week government shutdown in 2013 cost American taxpayers $24 billion and slowed economic growth by .6 percent,” congressional candidate Michael Masterman-Smith said, quoting the financial rating agency Standard & Poor’s. “Government shutdowns are not good business. They are not good governance.”

Getting Some of Our Money Back

| News | January 18, 2018

People who have received their first paychecks in 2018 might be wondering, “Where is that extra money I’m supposed to be seeing?”

It’s true that because of the Republican tax cut that went into effect Jan. 1, people are expecting less money to be withheld and more in their checks.

However, while the new withholding tables are out, the Internal Revenue Service says to expect to see the difference next month.

According to a press release on the IRS website (irs.gov), “Employers should begin using the 2018 withholding tables as soon as possible, but not later than Feb. 15, 2018. They should continue to use the 2017 withholding tables until implementing the 2018 withholding tables.”

Deborah Grandinetti, president of Payroll Providers in Santa Clarita, said she doesn’t have the new tables yet but expects them any day.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of our payroll software updating the records, so we won’t know probably for a couple weeks what, if any, changes there will be to payroll,” she said in a voicemail.

The IRS said the time it will take for employees to see the changes in paychecks will vary, depending on how quickly employers implement the new tables and how often employees are paid, whether weekly, biweekly or monthly.

According to the IRS and Yahoo Finance, the amount of additional money people can expect to see in their checks ranges from an extra $6 in their checks, if they make $10,000 a year, to $1,362 if they make $1 million.

New IRS tax table – based on twice monthly pay periods

Annual income              Net increase in take-home pay
(per pay period)
$10,000                            $6
$25,000                            $12
$40,000                            $31
$60,000                            $56
$80,000                            $81
$100,000                          $124
$125,000                           $155
$150,000                           $187
$250,000                           $377
$500,000                           $728
$1 million                           $1,362

Source: IRS, Yahoo Finance

Rob Paulsen Brings Animation to the Stage at Performing Arts Center

| News | January 11, 2018

He’s the voice in your head.

No, not that one. The other voice(s) you heard as a child: Raphael of “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (in the ‘80s); Pinky in “Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain” (in the ‘90s) and many other animated characters from shows such as “The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest” and “The Fairly OddParents.”

He is Rob Paulsen and he is coming to the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center on Sat., January 20, 2018. He and fellow cast members are bringing a show of combined animation and live action to local audience members called “Animaniacs Live.”

“This is a unique circumstance. The people who wrote and originally performed the music doing it live,” Paulsen said. “It’s not only nostalgic, it’s incredibly entertaining.”

“Animaniacs” footage on a large screen will form a backdrop for music performances by Paulsen, Wakko Warner voice actor Jess Harnell and songwriter Randy Rogel, who mix slapstick humor, pop culture and witty lines onstage. It’s a chance for the public to revisit a favorite show from the past and get a night of fresh entertainment.

“You will ultimately leave from two hours of laughing and smiling,” Paulsen said. “It’s a unique experience not only for the audience, but us … and we always do a Q and A at the end of it – and they love it.”

Paulsen’s heroes as a child included masters of comedy and impersonation  Peter Sellers, Jonathan Winters and Carol Burnett. At an early age he started trying on voices and making people laugh.

“That doesn’t mean I thought I would make any money doing it,” Paulsen explained. “It wasn’t until my 20s that I thought, ‘I really love this, and I really can’t not do it.’”

With some music and theatre experience under his belt, Paulsen moved from Michigan to California in 1978.

“Fortunately, my parents instilled in me a sense of responsibility – they said, ‘You’re on your own,’ but they encouraged me to follow my passion, even though they preferred I finished college,” Paulsen said. “I just couldn’t see myself doing anything else. You’re driven to do something for this deep ‘jones’ of doing it.”

The aspiring actor worked on “GI Joe” and made connections that landed him the voice of “Hadji” on the new “Jonny Quest” series. And while snagging the Ninja Turtles part of Raphael was one of his biggest breaks, he was doubly delighted to play Donatello when the reboot was in production 25 years later.

By far, one of Paulsen’s lowest points was two years ago when he was diagnosed with stage 3 throat cancer, a terrible and ironic illness for a voice actor. His doctor found a lump in his neck where the cancer had spread to a lymph node. He completed radiation and chemotherapy by May 2016.

“I am a very, very fortunate individual,” Paulsen said. “Never did my wife and I have a moment of ‘why me?’ We are very fortunate … the treatment worked.”

The gratitude he exudes is likely one of the reasons cancer couldn’t hold Paulsen back.

“I could not have asked for a better career, and I have a great family and friends,” he said. “I’ve gotten to do this for 30 years. I’m beyond fortunate.”

In addition to touring with “Animaniacs Live,” creating and directing, Hulu picked up 26 more half-hour shows of “Pinky and the Brain.” Also, Steven Spielberg announced a plan for a reboot of the series, which could put even more on Paulsen’s plate.

“I’m a very driven individual,” he said. “It’s a new challenge. Most of my career I’ve been a hired gun. I show up, I do the job and I go home.  Now I’m pitching ideas, going on the road. I’m busier now than I’ve ever been in my life.”

After 30 years creating characters that gained traction with audiences of more than one generation, Paulsen’s work connects him to a growing fan base, which he says spans in age from 8 to 70 years old.

“People say, ‘I watched this and now my kids watch this,’” he said. “All it does is make everybody happy. I’m really enjoying the challenge.”

“Animaniacs Live” will be at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center on Sat., January 20 at 2 p.m. The PAC is located on the College of the Canyons campus located at 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road in Valencia. For tickets, call 661-362-5304 or visit http://www3.canyons.edu/Offices/PIO/CanyonsPAC/animaniacs.html.

View of Metrolink from Both Sides of the Track

| News | January 11, 2018

For 25 years there’s been an agency transporting Southern Californians across seven counties, now carrying 40,000 passengers a day covering more than 400 million miles a year. In terms of route miles, it’s the third largest commuter rail agency in the United States.

If you live in Santa Clarita you’ve doubtless seen it pass by, but you may never have used its services. It’s the Metrolink rail service.

“The average Metrolink rider is a Monday through Friday type commuter,” said Christopher Gutierrez, spokesman for Metrolink. “We play a vital role in providing that transportation, a convenient way to get cars off the road and get people to school and work.”

Ken Chase of Canyon Country has been riding Metrolink to his workplace in Pasadena for two years. Two or three days a week he rides it 50 minutes to Union Station in Downtown L.A., then takes the Gold Line from there.

“I was putting a lot of miles on my car. It was expensive, and I was tired of the grind of traffic,” Chase explained. “It takes longer, but it’s relaxing. I can do work sometimes or personal stuff. On the way home I can take a nap.”

An accountant, Chase calculated the difference in cost when making his decision. He found that driving totals $28 per day, including gas and the wear-and-tear on his car, while riding the train costs about $10 a day.

About 5-6 years ago Chase started riding the Santa Clarita Commuter Bus. He met someone on the bus and they began carpooling until his fellow commuter changed jobs. That’s when he tried the train.

“I found the Metrolink was better than the Commuter Bus,” Chase said. “The train is a little more relaxing.”
For one Santa Clarita resident who’s been riding Metrolink for 25 years, it’s more than just a lift to work.

“I love riding the train, either commuting to work, heading out to dinner in Downtown L.A. on a Saturday night, or a bike ride on Sunday afternoon,” said Andrea Stuart, who works for a Los Angeles law firm. “And I’ve made lifelong friends with other commuters. We’d play cards on the evening ride home to pass the time.”

Stuart also recognizes that not everyone shares her enthusiasm for train transport.

“Seriously, I’m a big fan of public transportation, and in Southern California, you’d think you were asking them to get on a UFO,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

Data shows a slight uptick in college students riding the train, Gutierrez said. But more pronounced is Metrolink’s partnerships around the Southland which enabled the agency to expand its service destinations. For instance, the public transportation agency provides “football trains,” bringing riders to the L.A. Coliseum to see the Rams. And there are trains to see the Angels, plus the new downtown San Bernardino station has a minor league baseball stadium close by.

During the holidays, Metrolink took skaters to the ice rink in Pershing Square, and the city of Riverside contracted with the agency to bring visitors to the Riverside Festival of Lights. There were holiday shopping trains, including a free shuttle bus to the Citadel.

“We aren’t just here on weekdays for workers,” Gutierrez said. “It’s one of the most affordable things you can do.”

One of the most popular trains is Metrolink’s discounted rates to the L.A. County Fair in September.

“Metrolink offers special services to the fairgrounds, to the front gate of the fair for free,” Gutierrez said. “People avoid long lines and parking fees.”

To promote the rail service, last year passengers got to see baby farm animals in a petting zoo at Union Station.

For anyone making Metrolink ridership a part of their New Year’s resolutions, Union Station will likely become a familiar place.

“You can get anywhere from Union Station,” Stuart said. “Sure beats sitting in traffic!”

‘Fire and Fury’ Heats Local Debate

| News | January 11, 2018

The new book about the first year of the Trump administration has led area Republicans to denounce everything that’s in it and Democrats to mostly shrug.

Since Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” came out last week, nobody contacted said they had read it or planned to. But that didn’t stop anybody from weighing in.

“I think it’s right in line with the liberal media constantly hammering Trump,” said Bill Reynolds, a local veterans’ rights advocate who met the president in Vietnam on Veterans Day. “They’re still sore about the election. They were flat-out stunned.”

Reynolds said he found Trump to be genuine, “a down-to-earth guy.” This flies in the face of the opinions of Trump in Wolff’s book (idiot, moron, petulant child, unfit for office, etc.).

“I’m going with what I see on the news: Fox News, CNN, Drudge Report,” Reynolds said. “There are possibly some things (in the book) that are true, but it’s trivial.”

He said he prefers Trump’s description of himself: genius.

Wolff has said he interviewed more than 200 people, including Trump and senior staff, and was allowed nearly unfettered access to the West Wing. He paints an unflattering picture of the dysfunction: various advisors in various camps with various agendas leaking various bits of information to serve their various causes.

Conservative radio talk show host Joe Messina dealt with the book last week and said he’s getting it from both sides.

“If you’re a Democrat or a Socialist, you are a hypocrite,” Messina said, “and if you’re on the hard right, it’s the same thing.”

As far as Messina is concerned, the Democrats “are now the party that cried Wolff.”

Local Democrats, especially those running for elected office, seem either bored by it or are focusing elsewhere.

“Oh God. I’ll pass,” congressional candidate Katie Hill said. “I’ve got a campaign to focus on. From what I’ve heard, it’s saying Donald Trump is everything I thought he was.”

And from Christy Smith, who is trying to win the 38th Assembly district seat for the second time: “My campaign is focused on what we can agree on and good policy.”

Others, such as Michael Masterman-Smith and Jess Phoenix, who are also running for Congress, seemed to question the author’s credibility (Wolff has been referred to as a “media gadfly,” something Bob Woodward was never called; and in his introduction, Wolff said he eventually “settled on a version of events I believe to be true”).

“If Michael Wolff wanted his work to become an essential element that brought the downfall of a president, it falls short,” Masterman-Smith said in an email. “That said, with this president, no investigative reporter with a history of pioneering investigations would get this level of access to this president. So we get Michael Wolff’s narrative.”

Phoenix said she heard there is some sloppy journalistic reporting that undermines the book’s credibility. She said she would tend to believe the information Wolff got from people whose interviews he recorded.

“A lot of the other stuff, I don’t read to see speculation,” she said. “If I wanted that, I can go to the tabloids.”

Bryan Caforio, who unsuccessfully ran for the 25th congressional seat in 2016, said that even if one were to decide 90 percent of Wolff’s book is untrue, “It would still paint a picture of a man unfit to be president, and he is dangerous in that role.”

Therefore, Caforio said, it is important for the elected officials – the 435 congressional representatives and the 100 senators – to perform their constitutionally mandated powers and act as a check on the president.

Musella Group to Officially Run Chamber

| News | January 5, 2018

Last year, when John Musella took over as chairman of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, he set about fixing its financial state. In doing so, he got paid absolutely nothing.

“Everything I did was on a volunteer basis,” he said. That also went for the staff of his public relations firm, The Musella Group, when he called upon it.

But in 2018, that changes. Musella now will be paid to manage the Chamber while it searches for a new executive director.

Incoming chairman Troy Hooper said in a press release, “(T)he Board and I have asked that John’s public relations firm, The Musella Group, to continue to manage the Chamber as we begin our search for a permanent Executive Director. His continued management of the organization will provide important continuity as we launch new programs and business services in 2018.”

Musella didn’t disclose terms, saying people would have to wait until the chamber files its 2018 tax return. But he stated he was not interested in being the next executive director and would not accept the position if asked.

“I’m doing this for the good of the Chamber at the end of the day,” he said. “Running a nonprofit is not something my company wants to do, but it was something my company did.”

In 2017, the Chamber got out from under an untenable lease on which it defaulted, cut staff (including the last executive director) found affordable new digs on Westinghouse Place in Valencia, and started to right its financial house.

Musella added that the Chamber is now on solid enough financial ground that, in addition to hiring an executive director in the third quarter, additional staff would be hired, although he didn’t say how many or in what capacities.

He also said that an executive director could be hired right now, but he wants to wait to show candidates that 2017’s financial health is the new normal and not “an anomaly.”

“In reality, any executive director will want to see strong financials year over year,” he said.

Council Split on Mayoral Voting

| News | January 5, 2018

Then he added, “I’m not going to go out and propose it.”

The next closest councilmember to share Miranda’s view was Cameron Smyth, who said he was “agnostic” about it, but was willing to have a discussion about it.

Mayor Laurene Weste and Councilmember Bob Kellar were much more leery.

“Changing may bring something we cannot predict, and it may or may not work,” Weste said. “There’s always unintended consequences. Santa Clarita is one of the best cities, and I’m proud to live here. I don’t need more power. I have my one vote.”

Weste spent much of the 14-minute phone conversation extolling what she saw as the city’s virtues: the various awards the city has won, it being called the safest city, 85 miles of trails and 34 parks. She also seemed to want to equate directly electing a mayor with district voting, even though they are two separate issues – and neither Ojai nor Goleta has district voting.

Santa Clarita has won awards for planning, public safety, environmental and education projects. It also was named the third safest city in 2014 by Parenting.com and the 37th safest city in 2013 by SafeWise, a website that focuses on home and community safety.

“We don’t have the personal conflicts that seem to plague other cities,” Weste said. “Once you change your form of government, you don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Kellar estimated that it might be fun to directly elect the next mayor, and that he thinks between 75 and 90 percent of the time, things would run smoothly.

“But if a mistake is made by the voters, it is a serious problem for your city,” he warned.

Seven or eight years ago, Kellar contacted city managers and chambers of commerce to inquire about making the change. He said they told him the same thing: “It can be great, but Lord help you if you have a problem.”

The solution, he said, is to be aware of what your city leaders and candidates are doing and standing for, so you can vote intelligently.

It appears that it would be up to the voters to make this happen. If the council doesn’t place the matter on the ballot, the voters can bring the matter via initiative. They would need signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters to place the question on a future ballot.

District Voting Lawsuits Revisited: City Paid $600,000 to Avoid District Voting

| News | January 4, 2018

All Jim Soliz wanted was fairer representation for the city’s Latino voters. That’s why he signed on as plaintiff in three area lawsuits alleging California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) violations.

Looking back almost four years later, Soliz expressed satisfaction at the changes he helped bring. All of the school districts have changed from at-large voting to district voting; and although the city remains the lone district-voting holdout, a Latino has been elected and another was appointed.

“I’m very proud of what we did,” said Soliz, a 37-year Saugus resident. “We accomplished an awful lot.”

The CVRA, passed in 2001, expands on the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for minority groups in California to prove that their votes are being diluted in elections. Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser were plaintiffs in suits against the city, the Saugus Union School District and College of the Canyons.

The attorney, Kevin Shenkman of the Malibu firm Shenkman & Hughes, also sued Sulphur Springs Union School District and the city of Palmdale, and threatened suits against three other school districts: Newhall, Castaic and William S. Hart.

The CVRA, passed in 2001, expands on the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for minority groups in California to prove that their votes are being diluted in elections. Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser were plaintiffs in suits against the city, the Saugus Union School District and College of the Canyons.

The attorney, Kevin Shenkman of the Malibu firm Shenkman & Hughes, also sued Sulphur Springs Union School District and the city of Palmdale, and threatened suits against three other school districts: Newhall, Castaic and William S. Hart.

In March 2014, the city settled for $600,000 – all of which went to attorneys; Soliz got nothing because the law requires civil rights plaintiffs to be monetarily harmed before receiving settlement money, Shenkman said.

“They don’t get paid,” Shenkman said. “I agree (that they should be paid). The law is not that way.”

Additionally, the city moved the election from April to November of even-numbered years and adapted a cumulative voting style in which voters could vote for more than one person. A judge subsequently struck down that provision.

“Our goal is to bring the elections into compliance and end minority-vote dilution,” Shenkman said.

Soliz first got involved because of an unrelated matter. In 2010, he heard about statements Councilmember Bob Kellar had made at an anti-immigration rally. The comment received nationwide attention.

“A moment ago, I mentioned what Teddy Roosevelt said, and he was right on: one flag, one language,” Kellar said (the video is on YouTube). “I brought that up and I read that … at one of our council meetings a couple of years ago. I said, ‘Folks, this is important.’ You know the only thing I heard back from a couple of people? ‘Bob, you sound like a racist.’ I said, ‘That’s good. If that’s what you think I am because I happen to believe in America, I’m a proud racist.’ ”

“That caught my eye,” Soliz said, “but what really caught my eye was the council didn’t call for his (removal or resignation), given his statement.”

Soliz said he began to wonder why the other four white and affluent council members didn’t sanction Kellar. His search sent him examining voting, and he found what he believed was voter suppression against Latinos.

He thought the easiest way to fix the problem was to move to district voting “that reflected the voters’ needs.” He started reading about the 2012 lawsuit three voters brought against Palmdale for alleged CVRA violations.

Soliz contacted Shenkman after hearing him speak in the area.

“Jim is a guy who tells you what he thinks, whether you like it or not,” Shenkman said. “Jim is a fighter. I guess that makes him a good plaintiff.”

Together with Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser, Soliz sued the city in 2013, claiming the at-large election resulted in “vote dilution for the Latino residents and has denied them effective political participation in elections to the Santa Clarita City Council,” according to the complaint obtained by the Gazette following a public records request to the city.

At the time, the Latinos made up about 30 percent of the population, but had never had a Latino elected to the council. Michael Cruz had run in 2006, the complaint said, but was not elected. “That election, like other elections for Santa Clarita City Council, was racially polarized,” the complaint said. “The non-Latino electorate did not support Michael Cruz, for example, while he drew significant support from the Latino members of the electorate.”

“It seemed logical to me that it should be changed,” Soliz said.

All the school districts settled and went to district voting; College of the Canyons settled during the first day of trial. To avoid lawsuits, the Newhall, Castaic and William S. Hart districts voluntarily went to district voting.

“We saw what was going on. Everybody said you’re going to be next,” Hart district board member Steve Sturgeon said. “We preferred to stay at-large. We knew what other districts were spending. I heard the community college spent over $1 million in the settlement. The elementary (school) districts spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. We had no desire to spend that kind of money.”

Said Newhall board member Christy Smith: “We dodged a bullet.”

The city, however, decided to fight, and it appeared to Soliz that certain factions within the city council would rather have bankrupted the city than move to district voting.

“I can’t tell you who, because I wasn’t part of the (settlement) negotiations,” Soliz said. “I’m not willing to bankrupt the city. If you said, ‘Jim, you win it all or you go bankrupt,’ if it’s left up to me, I will be responsible for my behavior. But when you’re dealing with the public, it’s not just you. It’s the people.”

Kellar denied anybody was trying to bankrupt the city.

“We did our best to protect the city and protect the finances of the city,” he said. “We did about as well as we could for our citizens.”

Soliz said he thinks he knows why the city avoided district voting when the school districts didn’t.

“Schools are institutions there to impart our values and norms, our history, good and bad,” he said. “Those people are more involved with human institutions than the political institutions.”

The purpose of the city council, he said, is “not to govern, but to rule. ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ You really have to ask yourself, ‘Where am I? Am I in L.A. County?’ It’s kind of autocratic.”

 

A Reporter Looks Back

| News, Opinion | December 28, 2017

I learned early on that one of journalism’s purposes is to help the little guy and hold the big guy accountable. I have always taken that seriously and have made it an annual goal.

From Bill Miranda and other City Council affairs to reporting on average people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, 2017 was full of stories in which I told it like it was. It was thrilling, rewarding, frustrating and memorable.

In recalling this year, I have to begin with Miranda, as I spent more time writing about him than anyone else. It started with his being appointed to the City Council – after he told me he wasn’t interested. It ended with today’s story, that one of the people who wrote a letter of recommendation for that appointment violated her nonprofit’s 501(c)(3) rules about political involvement.

In between, there was much about the Latino Chamber of Commerce, including money unaccounted for, radio shows, charges of bias, lawsuits, calls for his resignation and an ambush interview.

I didn’t set out to write about Miranda. Originally, this was a series of stories, published in the spring, looking at what appeared to be mismanagement of various chambers of commerce.

I questioned the overall health of the SCV Chamber. I wondered where the monies from the 2014 Latino Chamber gala went when it merged with the SCV Chamber in 2015. I examined the reasons for the end of the Canyon Country Chamber.

Things escalated when Miranda appeared on KHTS with Gazette publisher Doug Sutton on April 28, when he pounded his open right hand on some papers and said he had the proof. I called Miranda many times looking for the documents, but never got them (I did, however, get a statement of Financial Income and Expense from former Latino Chamber treasurer Marlon Roa that covered July-December 2014).

Things got crazier on May 12, again on KHTS. Miranda accused Doug and me of bias in challenging where the money went. This led Signal publisher Chuck Champion to verbally attack Miranda during the May 23 council meeting and to criticize the council for not properly vetting Miranda in the first place.

I did not talk to Miranda for several months after that. He didn’t comment when I called about his being sued by Synchrony Bank, or about his Santa Clarita Education Inc. being sent a notice of delinquency over not filing tax returns and having its nonprofit status revoked.

In the meantime, Sutton called for his resignation from the council.

It wasn’t until November, when I learned he was going to appear at the Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting, that we spoke again. The plan was to attend without his knowledge and ask every question he had not answered – whether at all or to my satisfaction. I asked one question, somebody else asked two other questions that I had on my list, and that appeared to be it.

But to his credit, Miranda went outside with me and patiently answered every other question I had. I asked about various aspects of the Latino Chamber tax returns, the lawsuit, Santa Clarita Education matters, the radio interviews, a potential conflict of interest regarding an ad in his Our Valley Magazine, his definition of “CEO” versus “consultant,” Sen. Scott Wilk and some details about the appointment application process. He admitted fault a few times, denied other things but never lost his cool.

He didn’t give me all the answers that night, but he earned respect.

It will be interesting to see what 2018 holds for him. He is running for election, and I look forward to continuing to cover his activities and campaign.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to comment on the other City Council members. They are four of the most unique individuals I have ever encountered, all with very human emotions, behaviors, frailties and strengths. It’s clear they want what’s best for the city, as they see it, but I often question the methods. Did they do enough to properly vet Miranda? There were, after all, almost 50 applicants.

Are they really powerless to stop the solar panels from going up around Canyon View Estates? Are they going to take control of Sierra Highway from Caltrans? Are they doing enough to combat traffic concerns, and is the Lyons-Dockweiler extension the answer? Will offering $500 for reporting fireworks violations actually lead to a safer city?

Was there any underhandedness in nominating Cameron Smyth to be mayor, even though he had just been elected? Will Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean benefit from holding the mayor and mayor pro-tem titles as they face re-election?

What about directly electing the mayor? Will the council place that before the voters, as Goleta and Ojai did? Is the move to district voting as inevitable as some believe?

It’s never a dull moment with these people, and I fully expect it not to be next year, either.

While Miranda and the council were the main examples of holding the big guys accountable, the best example of spotlighting the little guy was the story detailing what locals experienced during the Las Vegas shooting. With major assistance from Sutton and his wife, Jeannie, I was able to talk to four people who were there, including one who was shot and was to have arm surgery a few hours later.

Stories like this are some of the most difficult. Emotions were raw, and I wasn’t sure how many details they wanted to revisit, and what it would do to them. This was made harder by the fact that I spoke to everybody by phone. It’s different when the reporter is in the same room; he can use facial cues to gauge how comfortable everyone is in talking. I had no such luxury, and if it wasn’t for everybody’s willingness, we never would have been able to tell the stories. I am indebted to them.

Other highlights:

Reporting on all the people who declared they’re running for Assembly or Congress. I was amazed that Bryan Caforio and Christy Smith would declare with about 18 months before the next election. I also was amused that Caforio and seven others want to challenge Steve Knight. I didn’t expect so many. But after the year we had in Washington, I’m unsurprised. I’m also grateful to the candidates who have given me such great access.

Introducing readers to Alex Forester, who couldn’t get a loan because he has no credit history; to Matt Denny, who got banned from Facebook; to Jim Ryan, who fed College of the Canyons’ football team; to Debbie Ames, who had problems with her pest control company, EcoShield; and to Dale Heys, who needs plumbers.

Developing wonderful relationships with contacts that have allowed me to bring better and more in-depth stories to the Gazette’s readers. I look forward to continuing that in 2018.

Former Radio Host Counters With Kindness

| News | December 28, 2017

The co-host of a radio show that Democratic congressional candidate Bryan Caforio blasted as promoting and normalizing hate speech and extremism took to Facebook and said he was tired of fighting and instead wants to “respond with action.”

“I was going to write a long opinion piece to rebuttal (sic) the misinformation, lies, and political rhetoric that local Democratic candidate Bryan Caforio used to try and rally his base,” Sean Griffin wrote Tuesday night. “But after this last year I am just drained and tired of both political sides using fear to do nothing but cause more division in our country.”

Griffin, who previously hosted the paid program “connectingRIGHT” with Dave Goss that airs locally on KHTS, is offering signed copies of the Gazette’s article from last week in exchange for donations to the Domestic Violence Center of Santa Clarita. Goss also will sign the article, Griffin wrote, and Griffin invited Caforio to sign the articles as well, saying, “In the spirit of bipartisanship and to help raise more money, I would like to extend an invitation to Bryan Caforio to sign these as well. I don’t think he cares about anything more than pointless political rhetoric so I doubt he will do this, but I hope he will prove me wrong.”

Reached late Tuesday, Caforio said that while he finds the DVC “a great organization” and hopes it receives many donations as a result, he has no interest in signing the papers and found the post “disingenuous.”

“This is political theater,” Caforio said. “For the same reason I am not going to go on their show … I am not going to sign an article.”

Caforio quietly declined a request to appear on the show. After they attacked Caforio for that, Caforio wrote an editorial in The Signal highlighting his reasons for not appearing: The two are self-avowed “Three Percenters,” a paramilitary group identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League as a group of anti-government extremists; and he didn’t want to give them or their views more of a platform.

Reached via Facebook Wednesday morning, Griffin denied he has ever been a Three Percenter and took issue with Caforio, referring to a comment Griffin made about Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Caforio called out the show for referring to Kamala Harris as a vulgar name, but incorrectly said that was the title of the podcast episode (it was called “The Triggering” and aired June 14). Griffin then credited Caforio’s rival, Katie Hill, for talking to him about it.

“Bryan Caforio chose to use me calling Kamala Harris a “c*nt” in a podcast 6 months ago to make some political point and call himself a feminist while doing nothing to advance the feminist cause,” Griffin wrote. “Katie Hill, on the other hand, called me out and after having an actual conversation with her, I now regret using that word in a derogatory way towards a woman.”

Hill previously told the Gazette that she did not know about the Harris reference until after she went on the show. She later made clear her disgust, and Goss called the comment “misogynistic,” regretted that Griffin said it and explained the context was that they felt Harris acted childishly during testimony by James Comey and Jeff Sessions.

Griffin wrote that, as of about 10 a.m. Wednesday, $1,675 has been raised.

The Gazette reached out to Griffin, who responded through a Facebook message.

Local Talk Show Accused of Being a Hotbed of Hate

| News | December 22, 2017

by Blair Bess

Backlash over a recent opinion piece denouncing two local radio personalities took a political turn this week.

Democratic congressional candidate Bryan Caforio blasted “Hometown Station” KHTS talk show hosts Dave Goss and Sean Griffin in Tuesday’s issue of The Signal, leveling charges that their program promulgates and normalizes hate speak and extremism in the Santa Clarita Valley. Without referring to either of the hosts or the station by name, Caforio castigated the two after they criticized his refusal to appear on “connectingRIGHT,” their weekly radio program.

Both Goss and Griffin are self-avowed “Three Percenters,” a wing of the militia movement that has been identified as a group of anti-government extremists by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.

“The Three Percenters are a dangerous group and I didn’t want to give them a platform by appearing on their show,” Caforio said.

Goss called Caforio’s claim a mischaracterization. He likened Three Percenters to Black Lives Matter, saying that there are probably fringe elements in both groups not representative of the whole.

Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, has been studying these groups since 1994 and made clear that the militia movement is not mainstream.

“Three Percenters are often equated with white supremacists. That’s incorrect, but it’s also incorrect to say they’re not extreme,” said Pitcavage.

KHTS owner Carl Goldman said that so long as the show’s hosts don’t “cross the line,” theirs would be treated as any other program on the station. Goldman defined crossing the line as advocating violent acts, inciting a riot, or referring to U.S. Senator Kamila Harris as a “f***ing c**t” or any other offensive descriptive.

Co-host Sean Griffin used those expletives in his criticism of the junior senator from California during the June 14th episode of the duo’s podcast, “The Triggering.” Goldman stressed that remarks or behavior of that nature on-air would be grounds for immediate cancellation of any show on KHTS.

“connectingRIGHT” is a paid program, neither produced or owned by the station. A disclaimer noting that the opinions and views expressed by the hosts and their guests not being those of KHTS runs prior to each airing. Episodes of “The Triggering” were not produced in conjunction with the KHTS show and are available online.

“The more communication and dialogue that takes place, the healthier it is for all of us in the Santa Clarita Valley, on either side politically,” said Goldman.

Goldman, like Goss, also believes Three Percenters are no more radical than Black Lives Matter, agreeing that the actions of a few outliers doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the entire group. Caforio disputed Goldman and Goss’ representations.

“People are taking radical, racist positions and are emboldened in this political climate,” Caforio said. “They make statements that are fast and loose with truth and facts.”

The ADL’s Pitcavage notes that Three Percenters are not an organized group but, by and large, they support an anti-government philosophy. When told KHTS’s Goldman suggested looking at the Three Percenter website for clarification, Pitcavage stated emphatically that “there is no official website, there are many websites put up online by people who self-identify as Three Percenters.”

One website, thethreepercenters.org, describes itself as “a national organization made up of patriotic citizens who love their country.” It goes on to say that the group “is not anti-government, that they are very pro-government, so long as the government abides by the Constitution, doesn’t overstep its bounds, and remains for the people and by the people.”

The position of the Anti-Defamation League, however, is markedly different. The ADL contend that Three Percenters, along with another group, The Oath Keepers, are both part of an extremist movement that gained significant traction during the Obama presidency.

Goss scoffed at the ADL’s stance and said it was “their opinion.” He insisted that Caforio’s comments were less about ideology and more a politically-motivated response to rival Democratic candidate Katie Hill’s decision to appear on their show.

When asked about her appearance on “connectingRIGHT,” Hill said she believes it’s important to engage those with differing views. Hill noted she was unaware of Goss and Griffin’s being Three Percenters until the day she appeared on the program. Unlike Caforio, Hill wasn’t worried about her participation on “connectingRIGHT” being perceived as a platform. Hill said she went online to familiarize herself with Three Percenters before going on-air.

“I’m not disputing there are Three Percenters who are awful, but you see this across many organizations,” said Hill. “Since being on the show, I’ve gotten to know Dave and Sean and I find them to be decent, well-meaning human beings. I don’t believe either of them is an extremist, racist, or hate-filled.”

“If you self-identify as a Three Percenter then you identify with extremists,” said Pitcavage.

When asked about Griffin referring to Sen. Harris as a “f***king c**t,” Hill said she was unaware of his comments until after her appearance on the show, confessing she was horrified by their misogynist nature. Hill said she confronted Goss and Griffin about the podcast episode and made clear her disgust.

“It was misogynistic,” Goss conceded. “In retrospect, I wish Sean hadn’t said it. The point we were making was that Harris acted like a child during the Comey and Sessions testimony last spring.”

At a time when First Amendment rights are increasingly coming under fire, news organizations like FOX criticized for being extreme in their partisanship, and print journalists and cable networks like CNN accused of reporting “fake news,” local broadcast outlets often find themselves walking a fine line between what constitutes free speech and inflammatory rhetoric. Both sides of the argument are passionate in their efforts to win the hearts, minds, and ears of an increasingly alienated public.

“No one’s suggesting laws be passed to take shows off the radio,” said Caforio. “The Supreme Court makes it clear that people should be able to express their beliefs without limitations, but some of the views being expressed by Three Percenter supporters are dangerous to the community.”

The Night Before the Mayor Rotation (A Singalong)

| News | December 21, 2017

‘Twas the night before Tuesday, when all thro’ the night,
Not a mayor was ruling, not even Cameron Smyth;
The comments were shushed and the picking was “fair,”
In hopes that Laurene Weste soon would rule there;
The council was nestled all snug in their seats,
While visions of Newhall danc’d in their dreams,
And Bill in the chamber, with Bob in his lap,
Had just used the race card to cover his tracks –
When out on the floor there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the driveway I flew like a flash,
Tore open the paper, to locate the cash.
The documents not found and what do you know,
“I have them, I swear” was bolded in quotes.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a worthless tax return from the previous year.
What was I saying about the mayoral clique?
Oh, I knew in a moment just who they would pick.
More rapid than eagles it became time to name,
The next lucky target in which we would blame:
“Now! Laurene, now! Marsha, now! Bob, and Cameron,
“God forbid you give the seat to TimBen;
“To the top of the hill, to “run” City Hall!
“Now throw away! Throw away, voting for all!
Give worth to the mayor or let us decide,
Who the people deem worthy to rule over time;
So up to the podiums the council they flew,
With a plan to shut out those whom they choose:
And then in an instant, I heard on the news
All of the regulars shouting their “boo’s!”
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the Facebook trolls came with a bound:
They were mad, dumb, and funny all at once,
Because everyone online spells “because” like “becuz”;
Then the couple of people who cared were held back,
Due to a post about someone’s lost cat:
His ears – how they ruffled! His paws how merry,
The mayoral rotation was forgotten already;
Will we ever get to vote on a mayor, who knows?
Maybe when hell freezes over, or Santa Clarita snows.

Electing Our Mayor Possible

| City Council, News | December 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise! You Owe More Taxes

| News | December 14, 2017

Debra Goldberg is a bookkeeper and Deborah Grandinetti is president of a payroll company, so they are aware of the dirty little secret employers are reminded of this time of year.

The unemployment insurance tax.

Because California has not repaid the federal government its loan from the Federal Unemployment Trust Account, or FUTA, employers are on the hook this year for up to $147 per employee.

“For me, I’m prepared,” Goldberg said. “I know our governor has been a jerk — can I use those words? — since 2011. I’m aware the percentage goes up, and this year it’s 2.1, and I prepare my clients for it.”

That doesn’t mean anybody’s happy about it. Goldberg has clients who owe $9,000. The Gazette owes $1,029; The Signal about $5,145.

That’s a pittance compared to Chris Angelo, CEO of Stay Green, which offers professional landscaping services. He owes $63,110.93, according to an email.

“It’s frustrating, not surprising,” he said calmly. “We’ve been paying it the last two years. It’s one of many hidden fees we’ve seen.”
Goldberg said many of her clients “are angry as heck and want to know why.” According to Grandinetti and several online sources: When the economy tanked in 2008, unemployment benefits were extended beyond the normal number of weeks. When state monies ran out, 20 states borrowed from FUTA, into which employers already pay. California borrowed more than $3 billion in early 2009 and had two years to pay it back. Because it didn’t — and it’s the only state that hasn’t, although the Virgin Islands also owes — it must pay 6 percent of the first $7,000 of an employee’s gross wages. But that gets dropped to .6 percent after an employer files Form 940 with the Internal Revenue Service.

However, for every year the debt is unpaid, the percentage owed goes up .3 percent, so it’s currently at 2.1 percent, or $147 per employee. Next year, it will be 2.4 percent, or $168.

“When you have 100 people, you’re talking substantial amounts of money,” said Grandinetti, president of Payroll Providers in Valencia. “We have clients who are looking at $30,000. … The federal government is penalizing California businesses because the state couldn’t pay.”
Business owners have until Jan. 31 to pay, she said.

“It’s a tremendous burden for business owners, especially small businesses,” Grandinetti said.

Nonprofits are exempt, said Tom Christensen, CFO of Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers, Inc., but he still called the tax “ridiculous.” Cities are also exempt, said City of Santa Clarita spokesperson Carrie Lujan.

City Councilperson Bob Kellar, who owns a real estate company but has no employees, thinks this is another example of state mismanagement.

“The state is out of their ever-loving minds,” Kellar said. “You wonder why we have all the homeless and all the mess we have out here. … Thank God we run the city better than they do in Sacramento.”

Angelo said he wishes it would be as easy as calling his representatives and demanding the loan be paid, but what he sees as a dearth of “fiscally responsible legislators” makes that unlikely.

Neither Assemblyman Dante Acosta nor Sen. Scott Wilk responded to interview requests, although Acosta told Gazette publisher Doug Sutton last week he didn’t know anything about it, and a representative in Wilk’s office asked for specific details to take to Wilk. Angelo said Wilk is pessimistic that a resolution could be reached soon.

Christy Smith, who’s again challenging Acosta for the 38th district next year, said it’s something that needs to be addressed because small-business owners are paying the brunt, and she thinks it’s not fair.

“We owe it to small-business owners to keep them functioning,” she said, adding she finds it unfair that corporate millionaires and Wall Street tycoons were bailed out, but now the mom-and-pop stores are not. “We need to be listening to their concerns.”

Goldberg said she knows of no clients who are laying off employees to avoid paying the tax, but “I’ve heard of employers tell employees, ‘Sorry, no bonus because I’ve got to cough up $9,000,’ which doesn’t make employees happy at Christmastime; or they get a significantly decreased bonus.”

Angelo said to expect “a significant amount more” in fees for his company’s services.

“It’s not a business state. It’s a pro-union, pro-employee state,” he said.

Rugby Reigns in Santa Clarita

| News | December 14, 2017

Michael Yauch never thought he would see his beloved Occidental College dominate mighty USC in any sport.

Yet, in 1976 Yauch watched the teams play what resembled a schoolyard game in which the object was to tackle the guy with the ball. It’s a game that is known by many names, none of them complimentary to one class of persons, but it’s nonetheless a game Yauch played as a boy.

It turned out he knew the game all along. It was rugby.

“When I saw us beating USC with the same skills I developed as a football player with my friends, I was immediately drawn to it,” he said, and thus began his love affair with a sport that has its roots in England but is more popular in New Zealand.

Yauch, 60, has turned his love into a desire to spread the gospel of rugby far and wide. He has played the game for 43 years, with no concussions and exactly one broken bone, which caused him to miss one game. He’s attended many World Cup tournaments and plans to be in Japan in 2019 for the next one.

Today, he’s the founder and manager of the Santa Clarita Tigers club. The Tigers have six teams, two younger co-ed teams (under-10 and U-12), three male teams (U-14, U-16 and U-18) and one female team (U-18). They all tackle, although modifications are made for younger ages. The 15th season begins in January and runs into the spring. Home fields are Heritage Park in Valencia and Central Park in Saugus.

The Tigers — Yauch chose the name and colors after his alma mater — have been as successful as anyone. According to the website, four have been collegiate All-America, including his son, Brandon, at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania; one has been high-school All-America and 23 play or have played collegiately, including one woman. Many of those earned college scholarships, and a handful play professionally.

“Rugby is the ultimate team sport,” Yauch said. “You’ve got 15 players on the field. You depend on each other. Everyone plays offense and defense. You truly need a team effort.”

In this football-crazed country, rugby takes a back seat, but with the risk of concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) prevalent in people’s minds, Yauch sees rugby as a viable alternative.

One reason is because in rugby, there are fewer concussions. There’s no blocking, and since rules (or “laws,” as they’re called) prohibit tackling above the armpits, players aren’t taught how to use the shoulders, neck or head. Instead, they’re taught how to wrap a player, which is easier since players aren’t wearing pads.

Yauch recruits by going to youth football leagues, talking to those coaches, attending practices and handing out flyers. Each year around Thanksgiving, he holds a demonstration at Rancho Pico Junior High.

He said he looks for an athlete “with an aggressive side because it’s a physical sport,” with good cardiovascular health, although he needs bodies of all sizes because, like football, various positions require various body types.

“You don’t find a lot of wallflowers playing rugby,” Yauch said.

One convert is West Ranch football coach Chris Varner, who played some rugby at The Master’s College (now University) and whose sons play in Yauch’s club. He said rugby is the best for keeping his football players in peak condition, and he has introduced his team to the rugby style of tackling, which has greatly decreased concussions. One Wildcat suffered a concussion during the summer passing-league season; no one suffered any during the regular season, Varner said.

“He’s all about rugby. That’s his thing, and he’s good at it,” Varner said of Yauch. “He’s got me watching it on TV. I have tremendous respect for the game.”

Teen Tech Entrepreneur Links Up with Amazon

| News | December 13, 2017

It’s not too often that a company like Lockheed Martin gets behind the ideas of a 13-year-old. But three years ago, that’s what the aerospace giant did, along with Gantom Lighting & Controls, Rancho Vista Golf Club, Valencia BMW and Westside Union School District in the Antelope Valley. These businesses were investing in the future — in more ways than one.

Niamani Knight, 16, is celebrating the success of her brainchild, S.T.R.E.A.M. Kids Expo, a non-profit event that brings youth and 21st century disciplines together. Through special events, the program promotes science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and manufacturing to students.

“The aforementioned companies and a host of individual supporters took a chance on her in middle school, and we are so happy they did,” said Nia’s mother, Nikia Richards.

It was not as easy as it sounds for Niamani to garner the support she needed.

“I was grateful they’ve stuck beside me and seen where this has gone,” said the Saugus High School junior. “I heard a lot of no’s along the way.”

What began with 400 attendees now draws up to 1,500 people per S.T.R.E.A.M. Kids Expo. Niamani has held these interactive conventions in Santa Clarita, Long Beach and Atlanta, and her upcoming event in Antelope Valley in March is her eighth.

“Through persistence, partnerships, and lots of hard work, S.T.R.E.A.M. is gaining momentum,” Richards said. “As parents or guardians, our jobs are to support our children by exposing them to a little bit of everything positive. It is not our job to dream for our kids, but to cultivate a space that allows their dreams to become reality.”

And while many teenagers are dreaming of success down the road, Niamani is living the dream now. At the S.T.R.E.A.M. Kids Expo in Long Beach she made a connection that was a game-changer.

After a number of mini-interviews, a representative from Amazon asked her to be the keynote speaker for the company’s “Hour of Code,” which she completed last week. She was also featured in Amazon Stories and on the company’s Day One Blog.

“It’s been an honor to work with Amazon,” Niamani said.

According to Richards, Amazon and Niamani are still in conversation about further projects.

“They’re getting a deeper idea what Niamani wants to do,” Richards said. “They like that she’s bringing kids more access to technology.”

Among the unusual experiences the teen has had in the process, she’s gotten an inside view of the vast range of occupations within a company the size of Amazon.

“My access to employers has been incredible,” Niamani said. “Students like me are exploring different options … and sharing with other students gives me joy.”

Her immediate goal is to get local businesses involved in the upcoming expo, as well as schools and community members.

“Businesses not only get exposure, but they get to speak to these kids directly and begin to give them tips to prepare them for jobs in their companies,” the young entrepreneur explained. “The earlier companies are able to connect with them, the better.”

Leadership has always been in Niamani’s skill set. The idea for S.T.R.E.A.M. came to her when she participated in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, a pilot program in the Antelope Valley. She was a peer leader in middle school, played basketball, and is currently the co-captain of Fellowship of Christian Athletes on her campus.

“I love having a leadership role, but also showing other students the possibilities,” she said. “One thing that makes S.T.R.E.A.M. so special is it’s run by a kid, and kids know what kids want.”

Niamani’s Kids Expos are for students from kindergarten through 12th grade, along with parents and teachers who accompany them. Sometimes she coordinates an event called Parent Café that coincides with the Expos. Educators, employers and parents can attend lectures by industry experts to learn about such topics as preparing students for college.

“Expos and Parent Cafes are tailored to each community, so the topics will differ,” she said.

Niamani’s ultimate goal? She hopes to create a permanent center here in the northern suburbs of Los Angeles, where students are exposed to S.T.R.E.A.M. aspects on a day-to-day basis, including parent resources, companies offering presentations and interactive projects with kids.

“We lived in AV when I first started the expo,” she explained. “I didn’t like that students had to drive to Glendale or Pasadena to go to a science center. I’d like to meet the need in as many communities as possible.”

For more information, visit Streamkidexpo.org.

Chamber CEO Selection Delayed

| News | December 8, 2017

A new executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce will not be in place until at least July 1, officials said.

Outgoing chairman John Musella and incoming chairman Troy Hooper said hiring a new executive director is planned for the third or fourth quarter of next year.

“The Chamber’s Executive Committee will continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Chamber and is reviewing plans for how to best manage the Chamber until a full-time Executive Director can be hired,” Hooper said in an email.

The Chamber has been without such a position since CEO Lois Bauccio was let go in March.

Hooper said an announcement would come next week regarding who will comprise the 2018 executive committee.

It’s not known what role Musella will have, if any. He was instrumental in helping the Chamber get on more solid financial ground and finding a new location (on Westinghouse Place) after the city gave it free digs for a year.

He said last summer that by the first quarter of 2018 the Chamber would either have hired a new head or would be actively searching for that new leader, although he wasn’t sure that goal would be met.

Mayor Pro-Tem Selection Approaches

| News | December 7, 2017

The Santa Clarita City Council will hold a special meeting on Tuesday to nominate one of its own to be mayor and mayor pro-tem next year. All indications are that somebody will nominate current Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste to be mayor.

Weste expects as much, because in a brief interview Monday she talked about what she wants to accomplish as mayor next year: focus on the arts. Only twice in the city’s history has a mayor pro-tem not gone on to be mayor the next year: in 2000, when Jo Anne Darcy served a second consecutive year as mayor; and this year, because Dante Acosta left to serve in the Assembly.

As for who will be nominated mayor pro-tem, it will likely be Marsha McLean. In each of the last three times Weste was mayor, McLean was mayor pro-tem and served as mayor the following year, which would repeat if McLean wins re-election for a fifth term in November. There is no indication Mayor Cameron Smyth will be nominated to serve a second consecutive year, and Bob Kellar was the mayor in 2016.

Bill Miranda appeared to take himself out of the running when he said, “It’s my first year, and I can wait. Those are very special jobs, and there are people who have earned the right.”

But is this system the best method for selecting a mayor and mayor pro-tem? It’s clear that no method will please everybody, but that doesn’t mean people haven’t made suggestions.

Carl Boyer, one of the original councilmembers, said he declined the offer to be the first mayor. Instead, he thought the first mayor and mayor pro-tem should be the persons who received the most votes, which is how Howard P. “Buck” McKeon was the first mayor and Jan Heidt was the first mayor pro-tem and second mayor.

Boyer pushed for a rotation in which every position would be mayor every fifth year, taking seniority into account. In Boyer’s mind, a newly elected councilmember could expect to be mayor pro-tem in the fourth year of a four-year term and, if re-elected, be mayor the next year.

This rotation worked smoothly the first five years as each original position took its turn. But in 1993, Heidt became mayor again instead of the more newly elected George Pederson, who had taken over for McKeon. Pederson became mayor the next year, his third on the council. The rotation held for another six years and then was upset permanently in 2000.

Since 2000, Weste and Kellar have served an average of four years in between stints as mayor, Frank Ferry served twice three years apart (although the second time was to fill in for Laurie Ender, who had lost re-election), and Smyth served three years into a previous term and then was sworn in as mayor and councilmember at the same time in January.

Boyer now says that politics has taken precedence over good governance. Smyth disputes how political it’s really become.

Former councilmember TimBen Boydston – one of only three councilmembers to never be mayor (the others are Acosta and Miranda) – also believes the rotation system worked “until politicians got power-hungry in conjunction with lobbyists.” He believes he was skipped because he wasn’t popular, so in his plan, a councilmember could expect to serve as mayor once per term.

But others, such as community activist Alan Ferdman, don’t like the idea of an incumbent running for re-election while holding the mayor or mayor pro-tem titles because it gives them an unfair advantage. In fact, since 2002, a councilmember has been re-elected while mayor seven out of a possible eight times; before that, it happened once, in 1990.

“For some to think it’s happening that way by coincidence or accident is naïve,” Ferdman said. “It’s happening by design, and that’s why it was set up to make Mr. Smyth the mayor so they (Weste and McLean) could be mayor and mayor pro-tem. … As soon as you do that, it puts the girls in line.”

Smyth said he thinks that in all those cases, the candidates would have won re-election even without the titles. “When voters are educated and take the time to get to know the candidates, then the title doesn’t really matter,” he said.

Ferdman, who favors directly electing a mayor, also thinks it’s improper for a councilmember to place on the ballot the title “mayor” or “mayor pro-tem” because he or she was not elected to those positions. The city allows such designations. When Ferdman asked the city why, he said he was told the designation was appropriate, and it would take petitioning the state to force a change.

The state forced Acosta to change his “Mayor Pro Tem, City of Santa Clarita” on the Assembly ballot to “Councilmember, City of Santa Clarita.”

Joe Messina Appears on CNN

| News | December 7, 2017

People who tuned into CNN in late November might have been surprised to see Joe Messina being interviewed.

His friends certainly were.

“Hey, I know that guy!” Patrick Jones posted on Facebook.

“Wow … this is turning into a habit!” Zel Mitzel posted.

Actually, it was the third time Messina was on CNN. The first time was after last year’s vice-presidential debate, in which Messina opined about who won (he picked Mike Pence). On Nov. 10, he was interviewed about sexual misconduct in Hollywood and Kim Jong Un; and on Nov. 29 he talked about the president’s tweeting and the controversy over Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

“Old white guys are in right now,” he quipped. “Now they’re looking for all sides of an argument.”

Because Messina has a nationally syndicated radio show, he is a known quantity. For each show, CNN has topics it wants to discuss and tries to find people who would fit, Messina said, even if some topics might not be discussed – or changed at the last minute, as with the Nov. 29 appearance. For the Nov. 10 appearance, a colleague who couldn’t make it recommended him.

With each appearance, Messina drives to CNN’s Hollywood studios (no flying to Atlanta) and is not paid for his time.

Messina also has appeared on RT (Russian Television) America (“Got to be collusion there somewhere,” he quipped) and Newsmax TV. He said he would like to appear on CNN more often, but his radio show is on from 6-9 p.m. nightly, making him unavailable for those hours.

Former Immigration Attorney to Run for 25th

| News | December 1, 2017

Scott McVarish has never met Donald Trump and probably never will, because he doesn’t play golf and doesn’t consider himself rich enough to stay at a Trump-owned property. He also doesn’t agree with Trump’s policies, especially regarding immigration.

“I oppose his ending of DACA,” McVarish, who spent about a decade working as an immigration attorney, said about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. “He is not a good enough leader, like Reagan, to bring something positive to immigration. That’s not impeachable grounds.”

Collusion with Russia and violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, however, are grounds, and McVarish is convinced these are true, which is why he is running for office on an “Impeach Trump” platform.

But clues to the genesis of his campaign theme – which sets him apart from the other six Democrats seeking to unseat Steve Knight in the 25th congressional district – lies with his father’s failed campaign and his work as a labor attorney and immigration attorney.

All in the family
If the McVarish name sounds familiar to longtime residents, it’s because Scott’s father, Tom, ran for Congress in 1992 as a Republican. That was the first year of the newly drawn 25th district, which had previously been held by Democrat Edward Roybal, who retired. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon defeated Tom McVarish in the primary and went on to win the seat and hold it for six terms.

Scott said he clashed with his father on how to run a campaign. Scott felt his father should highlight how he differed from other Republicans, and there were some marked differences. Tom McVarish was pro-choice, favored lesbian and gay rights, and was in favor of immigrants’ rights – not exactly the platform of today’s Republican Party.

“I felt other Republican candidates were cookie-cutter, all exact duplicates. He should play these up,” Scott said. “He didn’t need a majority of Republicans. He only needed a plurality.”

Scott reasoned that the conservative Republicans would split the vote, allowing his father and his unique stances to receive all the votes from people who liked his views. Instead, Tom ran a similar campaign to McKeon, but McKeon had way more money and won easily.

Still, Scott shares some of his father’s views. He’s pro-choice, but he would like to see fewer abortions, and the means to that end is reducing unplanned pregnancies, which means funding Planned Parenthood and similar agencies.

A teacher and gay rights
He’s also in favor of LGBTQ rights, and he has been on the front lines. As an attorney working with the California Teachers Association, McVarish helped successfully defend teacher James Merrick in 1998-9. Merrick, then 61, was a gay eighth-grade teacher at Rio Bravo-Greeley Union School in Bakersfield who filed a discrimination lawsuit after parents pulled 15 students (10 boys, five girls) out of his science classes, citing his mannerisms and language in front of the students, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In March 1999, the state Labor Commission ruled Merrick had been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, and the parties settled. Merrick, who had won a Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce Teacher of the Year award two years earlier, got his students back and an apology from the school district. Also, the district would not contest the Labor Commission ruling and could never again remove students for reasons relating to ethnicity, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, political or religious beliefs; and the district and Merrick would collaborate on a new district anti-discrimination policy.

“This settlement will be the blueprint for how all school districts in California must protect the rights of gay teachers,” McVarish said at the time. “This decision will stand as an important precedent for gay teachers and other gay employees throughout the state.”

The tale of Mayra Godoy
After spending 10 years as a union attorney, McVarish spent 10 years as an immigration attorney. When he declared for the congressional race earlier this month, one who came to see was Yvonne Miranda, a teacher in Lancaster whose mother, Mayra Godoy, might have been deported to Guatemala without McVarish’s intervention (Miranda posted a video of McVarish’s announcement on Facebook).

According to the McVarish and the New Republic, Godoy fled civil war and came here in 1991. She had no money for an attorney and instead went to a “notario,” people who typically cast themselves as immigration consultants but usually end up scamming the people they are supposedly serving. Due to incompetent representation, her request for asylum failed, and Godoy didn’t receive the notice to appear from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) because it went to the wrong address – even though the INS had the correct address on file. McVarish blames Godoy’s attorney at the time for that.

Godoy found work as a maid, paid taxes, gave birth to Yvonne and never committed a crime or even got a parking ticket. But by failing to appear, she faced deportation and fought it for more than 17 years.

Claiming incompetent representation, McVarish successfully secured residency. Miranda went on to Berkeley.

“She’d never become a teacher, probably would’ve been on welfare,” McVarish said. “This story would have had a different ending.”

It is people such as Godoy and Miranda that make McVarish value his immigration work, and why he wants to effect change in Washington.

“We’ve criminalized immigration to such an extent that immigrants are afraid of being arrested for everyday things like driving or going to the store, so they cluster and isolate,” he said. “We need to take a deep breath. We’ve always had it, always will. The best way to deal with it is to help people already here. … Give them an opportunity to prove they’re playing by the rules. That’s been my goal since day one: keeping families together. There’s nothing more destructive than having a parent, or both parents, deported. There are no positive outcomes when the parent of a child, whether a citizen or not, is deported. Nobody wins.”

Playing the Trump card
Trump’s victory in November “alarmed” McVarish, and the president’s actions since have concerned him. As far as McVarish is concerned, Trump already has in two places committed the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the Constitution requires for impeachment.

McVarish said he thinks there was enough for former FBI director James Comey to investigate Trump, and Trump’s firing of Comey “was a direct interference into that investigation. That one moment is enough for impeachment. It’s obstruction of justice. How do we know? The president said that part of the reason he fired Comey was to relieve himself of the investigation. He also said it to the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office.”

The Emoluments Clause forbids members of government from receiving gifts or titles from any king, prince or foreign state without the consent of Congress. McVarish said that Trump not releasing his tax returns is a sign he is hiding how much he actually has gained from doing business in foreign countries. Plus, not putting his assets into a blind trust and instead letting his children run the businesses indicate he is still gaining from these transactions.

“What we’ve seen is foreign governments are continually doing incredible business in his hotels, his resorts, that he is gaining from it,” McVarish said.

His chances
McVarish entered the race six months after Bryan Caforio declared he again would challenge Knight (Caforio lost in 2016). He also announced after Katie Hill, Jess Phoenix, Diedra Greenaway, Kelan John Farrell Smith and Daniel Fleming.

According to opensecrets.org, Caforio and Hill each have raised more than $440,000 and Phoenix more than $124,000, so McVarish also is behind in money.

But he’s undaunted.

“Almost no voter will make up their minds until May 1,” he said. The California primary is June 5. “There’s a lot of time between now and then.”

Who Gave to Caforio?

| News | November 30, 2017

What appeared to be a contribution to a local candidate from a local union was really a contribution by the union’s political action committee.

The website opensecrets.org and the Federal Election Commission’s website (fec.gov) lists campaign contributions. Both show Bryan Caforio, a Democrat who’s running for the 25th congressional seat currently held by Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), as having received $10,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW.

However, only the FEC site shows it’s from the IBEW PAC, with a Washington, D.C. address. Open Secrets only shows the donation from IBEW. This seemed to confuse SJ Granai of Palmdale on Facebook. She had seen a post that listed who contributed to whom.

“I was kind of shocked when I read that IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electric Workers) had given Caforio a donation. Mainly because I had been told they were going to remain neutral until after the primary,” she wrote. “So I had my discussion with them and Local 11 said that no, they did not have anything to do with that donation. They are sticking with the plan of staying neutral. … I think the article was very misleading. It made it appear as if IBEW backed Caforio. They left out ‘PAC’ after IBEW. Not Caforio’s fault.”

In fact, Caforio campaign manager Nicole DeMont said, Local 11 (based in Pasadena) did not endorse Caforio. It was Local 40, based in North Hollywood (there is no IBEW Local in Santa Clarita; locals 11 and 40 are the closest).

“Labor unions can’t give the money directly,” DeMont said.

That’s not true for federal elections. According to The Morning Call, IBEW Local 98 in Philadelphia has given $25.6 million in various political races since 2000.

But just because a local union endorses a candidate does not mean money is coming. According to DeMont, “99 percent of the time, they give through the national PAC. … It’s totally standard.”

Campaign finance rules allow such an organization to give no more than $5,000 to a candidate for the primary election and $5,000 for the general election. IBEW’s PAC has given Caforio the maximum $10,000, DeMont said.

According to Open Secrets, the IBEW PAC has given more than $1 million to various candidates, including $10,000 to 38 House and three Senate candidates in this cycle.

Council’s Issue With Issues

| News | November 30, 2017

Ken Dean cannot fathom the idea that the various City Council members don’t read the local newspapers.

“I don’t believe it,” said the Canyon Country resident, past City Council appointment candidate and member of the citizen group Advocates of Santa Clarita. “I think they read it and don’t acknowledge it.”

Dean’s comments came after the Gazette polled various council members about some of the ideas Dean called for in an opinion piece The Signal published on Nov. 17. Mayor Cameron Smyth, Bob Kellar and Bill Miranda had not read the article (Marsha McLean couldn’t be reached, and Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste said she’d call back but never did; subsequent calls to reach her failed).

If it’s true, Dean said, “I think it’s negligence and I find it offensive. … They should read the local newspapers. You have people that make valid points. It’s important. The minute you stop doing that, you lose touch with the constituents, the very people that voted them into office.”

Dean’s piece called for term limits, district voting, increased manning of the city’s traffic monitoring system and a revitalization of Canyon Country similar to downtown Newhall.

Dean didn’t specify in the article how these things should be done, but told the Gazette that the citizenry needs to collect signatures to place term limits and district voting on a ballot.

“The City Council’s not going to put it on an agenda,” he said.

Of the current five council members, only Miranda is new. Weste has served since 1998 (four terms; she is expected to seek an unprecedented fifth term next year); Kellar since 2000 (four terms); and McLean since 2002 (three terms; she will run for a fourth next year). Smyth served from 2000-06, then left to serve in the California State Assembly. He was elected to the council again in 2016.

“Our city is not a stagnant city; it is alive and needs new leadership, not because the current leadership is necessarily bad, but because it is never a good idea to be complacent with the same leader or group of leaders,” Dean wrote.

Only Miranda has come out in favor of term limits. He said he believes three terms is enough, although he added he hasn’t decided if he’s OK with serving three terms, sitting out a term and then running again.

Kellar took the view that term limits already exist in the form of elections.

“People need to pay attention, and if somebody’s doing a good job, keep them. If not, get rid of them,” he said.

Smyth said he was “agnostic” about term limits and district voting, having served in the city with no term limits and in the state Legislature with term limits. He said that if the voters decide to make the changes, he will accept.

“The voters are educated enough in Santa Clarita,” he said.

Miranda said he believes district voting is coming, like it or not, although he isn’t sure when.

“It’s the wave of the future, and we have to accept it,” he said. “If you look around the state, that’s the trend. Most elected officials are selected by district.”

Kellar said he sees problems with district voting: representatives spend more time fighting and less time governing and compromising.

“Go to Los Angeles. Go to other cities where they have district voting. All they do is fight for their piece of the pie,” Kellar said, adding that Santa Clarita’s system is “not broken.”

Traffic concerns
Smyth acknowledged that “traffic flow is the No. 1 issue in the city,” which is why the city received millions of dollars in grants to implement a traffic signal operations center in City Hall. Dean called the system, which uses cameras around the city to watch traffic patterns, “a great system” but said it isn’t regularly staffed.

All three council members interviewed disagreed with Dean, Smyth insisting that the traffic engineering division staff “is consistently monitoring” the situation, although Dean said he twice visited the center during afternoon commute and found it empty.

Miranda acknowledged that no one’s in the room 24 hours a day, but people regularly go in and out to check traffic. “It’s not a room that runs itself,” he said.

Beautifying Canyon Country
Another improvement Dean wrote he would like to see is a beautification of what he called “downtown Canyon Country,” which he defined as the stretch of Soledad Canyon Road between Whites Canyon and Sand Canyon roads (the city has not officially designated a downtown Canyon Country).

Dean said that many buildings on Sierra Highway between Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon Road need refurbishment, and he would like to see the city beautify the area, like Newhall.

“Downtown Newhall looked like Dumpsville until they put new faces on the buildings,” Dean said. “That’s what we need to do. The only attractive part is where the (movie) theater is. That area is nice. (The rest) is old and needs to be rejuvenated.”

Miranda enthusiastically agreed with Dean, yet he, Kellar and Smyth pointed to three projects that each believes will contribute, and they all mentioned them in the same order: Vista Canyon, the Sand Canyon Plaza and the Canyon Country Community Center.

According to city documents, Vista Canyon is a massive residential and commercial development south of Highway 14 and east of Sand Canyon. The Sand Canyon Plaza calls for 145,000 square feet of commercial space that includes 60,000 square feet of retail space and a maximum-140-bed assisted living facility; 312 residential apartments, 149 townhomes and 119 detached condominiums.

The community center opened Jan. 12, 2013 on Flying Tiger Drive and offers various programs and services for various ages.

Miranda: ‘I did not, and how dare you say that’

| News | November 24, 2017

Bill Miranda says people might not like the answers he gives when constituents ask him questions, “but you’re going to get a straight answer from me.”

Yet, for months Miranda has been unwilling – or unable – to answer numerous questions the Gazette has posed to him, including where Latino Chamber monies went, utterances he’s made on local radio, his being sued by a bank for nonpayment, and facts surrounding his appointment to the City Council last January.

So, when the Gazette learned Miranda would appear at last week’s Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting, this reporter brought a list of questions for Miranda to answer. Of these, Miranda only answered the first three in the context of the meeting (the Gazette asked the second question and an attendee asked the first and third, denoted by asterisks). Miranda then went outside the Moose Lodge and patiently answered the remaining questions.

Following are the questions, in the order they were asked, and his responses.

*Your limited liability company, Our Valley Group, had been suspended by the Franchise Tax Board for failing to meet tax requirements. What is the status?

 My organization and the Franchise Tax Board came to an agreement. We were short of funds at one point and contacted the Franchise Tax Board, told them we were short of funds, asked them to give us a payment plan. They were very cooperative. They gave us a wonderful payment plan. We’re paying the plan. I feel that I’ve been absolutely transparent, and whether you agree or not, I can’t dissuade you.

On April 28 on KHTS, a video showed you pounded your open right hand on some papers and said you have the proof of where the Latino Chamber money went. Yet, over the next week, the Gazette called you several times telling you to name the time and place to show those documents, which you never did.

Do you have the documents? Do you have the documents?

The only documentation the Gazette ever saw came not from you but from (former Latino Chamber treasurer) Marlon Roa. How do you explain your inability to produce the documentation that could have cleared you?

 I produced the documentation. You have all the documentation. You’ve had the documentations (sic) for a long time. Thank you.

*The Latino Chamber failed to file tax forms when it merged with the main chamber. You were CEO at the time. Why did you not take responsibility to ensure the files were properly filed in a timely manner?

 We had an independent review of both chambers. … It turns out, based on that review, that the Latino Chamber had more accurate bookkeeping than the (SCV) chamber. At the time of the merger, we provided the big chamber two checks for the amount that was left in the Latino Chamber. I think each check was $2,000 – round numbers, OK? Don’t hold me to the exact amount. … Right after the merger, within a month, we provided two checks. Copies of the checks are available. Get in touch with the big chamber. You’ll get all that information. It’s all there.

 So, where you have, in my opinion, an honest argument with me is that, as CEO of the Latino Chamber, I should have stayed on top of making sure that my (Internal Revenue Service form) 990 got filed. For that, I accept responsibility. I should have stayed on top. However, it was not my responsibility to get it filed. The agreement was that the big chamber would file all the closing documents of the Latino Chamber. Why? Because the Latino Chamber had no staff. We had no people, and the big chamber had a staff of eight at the time. So, you could tell which chamber was running well and efficient and which chamber was running bad and inefficient. So, they were supposed to file the papers. They didn’t. That’s on them and not on me. But it’s on me that I didn’t check. You’re right on that.

The Latino Chamber’s 2014 Form 990 lists no membership dues or assessments, but the chamber’s own Statement of Financial Income and Expense (FIE) for July-December 2014 lists $2,050 in membership income. You were CEO of the chamber at the time. Can you explain why the forms don’t agree?

 You’ve gotten a lot of press about that. When are you going to give it up?

When I get the answers. Under “Salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits,” the 2014 Form 990 shows the Latino Chamber paid $3,651. Yet, on the second page, none of the eight officers listed show having been paid. Plus the FIE from July-December 2014 says the chamber paid $6,000 in consulting fees/CEO. You were CEO of the chamber at the time. Can you explain?

 I did explain them to you, but I will explain them to you again. I was paid $1,000 a month consulting fee. … We hired a part-time administrator and that probably is what we paid her.

Under “Occupancy, rent, utilities, and maintenance,” the Latino Chamber 2014 Form 990 shows it paid $15,549. But the Latino Chamber occupied no building. It existed as an entity without a physical space. What occupancy or rent could there be?

 We shared the offices of Marlon Roa, Farmer’s Insurance, on Rye Canyon.

On May 12, on KHTS, you accused publisher Doug Sutton and me of racism, and you used the Rotary Four-Way Test to further insult Doug. Do you regret either of these actions and do you wish to apologize?

 I did not.  Oh, my goodness. I did not, and how dare you say that. How dare you say that. When you listen to the video, you see the video, not once did I use the word “racism” against Doug, much less you. I would never do that. I understand what the word “racism” means, and I would never do that. And by the way, for (Signal publisher) Chuck Champion to come to the City Council meeting and accuse me of having accused Doug of racism is laughable. … (Sutton) took the Four-Way Test. I took the Four-Way Test. If it’s true, OK. It’s called a truth test and if you’re saying something that you know is not accurate then you need to look at the Four-Way Test and ask yourself, “Is this true? Does it benefit all concerned?”

On May 12 on KHTS, you said, “Even if the $2,000 were thrown down the sewer, it doesn’t amount to anything.” What did you mean by that and do you regret saying it?

 That was probably not a good choice of words. Every dollar counts, and whether it’s $2,000 or $1, if it’s misplaced, misappropriated, not accounted for, it’s a bad thing.

On July 11, Synchrony Bank filed suit against you for breach of contract and failing to pay back a credit card debt. The bank seeks $5,002.98. What update can you provide in this matter?

 In business, every company that does $1 million and up is susceptible to being sued. There are supplier and buyer differences. For instance, I buy something from you and it costs $5,000 and you bill me for $5,000. I get the goods and after three months – and by the way, I’m just giving you an example. I can’t talk directly about the case – for whatever reason, I feel I didn’t get my money’s worth. I want part of my $5,000 back. And you say, “No I gave you the product as sold and, no, you’re not entitled to get anything back.” So, now we’re in a disagreement and I can’t get any action from you, so I go to the court to sue you. Why? Because I’m trying to scare you into paying me something back. So, the courts take a look at that and they go, “Hmm. These guys are going to settle, so why are we going to take up court time? They’ll settle.” So, they put the court date out as far as possible because they know we’re going to settle. They don’t want to have to take us to court and go through that whole rigmarole. I don’t know if you noticed, but the court date is 2019. That’s why.

How are you coming on the settlement talks, or aren’t there any, since the trial date is so far away?

 There aren’t any talks right now because need is the mother of invention. As you get closer to where you start paying attorneys, you go, “Whoa! Let’s settle.”

On July 26, the state Attorney General’s office sent a notice of delinquency to the Santa Clarita Education, Inc., in which you are listed as CEO, and threatened fines for failing to file tax returns for 2013-15 and failing to file renewal fees with the Registry of Charitable Trusts. The IRS also revoked the nonprofit status. Any explanation?

 That’s a foundation that we were going to use to give out scholarships, a 501(c)(3). I asked to have it closed and Marlon Roa, who’s also one of the founders of the foundation, wanted to keep it opened because at some point in time we will be able to give scholarships, but since I’ve been on the City Council, I kind of demanded he close it. … We gave two checks. What you came out with, that there was, give or take, $1,500 that was unaccounted for. That was money that was used to start the foundation. So, that was legal fees, and we paid that to Carl Kanowsky, who’s an attorney who set up the foundation for us. You can check with him and he’ll give you the exact amount.

Other councilmembers were effusive in their praise of you when they appointed you. Even Bob Kellar, who didn’t back you, called you “a fine man.” More recently, they declined comment, and some council watchers have told me that you are starting to embarrass the council. Are you concerned the councilmembers are embarrassed by your behavior this past year?

 No. Not at all. We get along very well. That’s how come we’re getting so much done. I think we’re getting so much done. The council, they didn’t want a yes person, but they wanted someone that they could get along with, that could have civil differences of opinion. But I have voted against the majority a number of times. … I’m independent, but what they were looking for was someone that could be civil in their argument and move things forward.

You used your title of councilmember in an ad for Nola Aronson’s Advanced Audiology, possibly violating the Political Reform Act of 1974 that prohibits an elected or appointed official from using his office for personal gain. Nola has placed ads and contributes to Our Valley Magazine.

 What was the mistake was I didn’t check the ad before it went out. Had I seen the ad, I would have said, “Whoa, you can’t do that.”

How do you defend yourself against those who say this is a conflict of interest?

 What I’ve said before, I’ll say again. Nola is a good friend of mine. She supports a lot of causes I support, and she’s been an advertiser for years. She called me up and she asked me for a favor. I said, “Sure, of course.” She said, “Can you do an endorsement?” I’ve endorsed her hearing aids before. I’ve been on video. I’ve got video endorsing her hearing aids. I’ve got print endorsing her hearing aids. So, I said, “Yeah.” She says, “Great,” so I called her marketing person, and her marketing person produced the ad, and I didn’t think to ask her to show me the ad before. That was my mistake. Live and learn, never let it happen again.

The IRS forms for Our Valley Group and the Latino Chamber list you as CEO, yet you have stated that you are merely a consultant. What is your definition of “CEO” versus “consultant”?

 I started as a consultant for Our Valley Group. I was a consultant for them for years, and then we formed an LLC, and then I was no longer the consultant. I became the publisher. … I want to clarify that sometimes companies, especially nonprofits, will give you a title just because you need that title to go out and raise funds, OK? But you’re still a consultant, as opposed to being a real CEO. So, having prefaced it with that, the CEO is in charge, responsible for everything that happens in that company. A CEO is a commanding officer and if … the kids at UCLA got themselves into trouble, you know who people are going to go to? The chancellor of UCLA. “What kind of kids are you accepting into this college?” Now, he’s the furthest guy from there, right? You can blame the coach, you can blame the kids, you can blame the assistant coach, you can blame a lot of people. … Guess what? They’re going to blame the chancellor. He’s the CEO of the university. When I was a CEO, my company in Mexico – Scanmex, it still exists and doing very, very well – the government of Mexico would call me up and say, “You’re responsible.” “What happened” “Such-and-such equipment didn’t work.” “I got three levels of managers you could contact down there, and they’ll get it fixed.” But they call me, and they call me because they know the next phone call is me calling them saying, “What the hell is this guy calling me for?” So, CEO, and you’re absolutely right, he’s the man, or woman, in charge of everything, responsible for everything and needs to be on top of everything. But I prefaced it chamber-wise.

Sen. Wilk wrote a letter of recommendation for your appointment; have you reached out to him to help with your campaign?

 No. Sen. Wilk, I think I mentioned it on the radio show that he was one, he fell off his chair when I called him and asked for his endorsement. He said no. Doug knows this; whether he wants to remember it or not, that’s up to him. I supported Buck McKeon against Sen. Wilk. I am not part of the “Wilk Mafia,” if there is such a thing. Now, Chuck Champion can turn around and create whatever he wants, but Buck McKeon was just here a week or so ago, and he and I spent time together. For anyone who knows the politics of Santa Clarita knows that the Wilks and the McKeons, well, I don’t want to say anything. You’re going to quote me and then … and so I did not contact Wilk before the appointment, other than that one phone call where he said no and then called me back and said, “OK, yeah, I’ll do it.” He’s not involved in my campaign at all. Now, do I hope to get his endorsement? Absolutely. But right now, I don’t have a campaign manager. I have a treasurer, and probably won’t have a campaign manager until sometime next year, when I make a more formal announcement. All I’ve been doing is testing the waters.

The Gazette has called for your resignation. Do you have a response?

No (laughs). You know, not necessarily to that, but just to things in general. There are things that I take very seriously and there are things that make me smile, and that was one of the things that made me smile. It was fun. I liked it. I actually enjoyed reading it.

You say you were the last person to apply for the appointment, but documentation shows you were 36th out of 50. How do you explain that?

 I got in on the last day; I think it was 3:15. I have no idea (what number I was). The city clerk would be the one to give you that number. But I have a hard time believing that 14, 15 people brought in their applications between 3:15 and 5 o’clock. When I got there, there was nobody there. I asked, “How many people have come in today?” She said, “It’s been very slow.” “How many do you expect?” “I don’t know. Very slow.” So, I don’t know.

You had told me that you wanted to wait for somebody else to apply and when they didn’t, you applied. In the interim, though, were you getting those letters of endorsement? The date of Scott Wilk’s recommendation would have been a few days before the Jan. 6 deadline.

 No. It was the day before. All my endorsement letters were either the day before or that day. I picked up one the day before and I picked up two that last day. … At some point in time, I waited and I waited and I waited, and I will tell you – I have to be careful around you, but I will tell you – I’m trying to be as transparent as I can. I don’t think I’ve ever avoided you (reporter laughs). I think sometimes I need to listen to your message, and I don’t really want to talk to you. … I don’t remember the exact timeline, but the person I was waiting to hear from was posting on Facebook stuff that led me to believe that person was not going to apply.

And that person didn’t apply?

 They did! But they had a surrogate come and put in the application. When I applied, that person had not applied. I don’t know if someone applied in the morning and it didn’t get posted until the end of the day. Yeah, the person applied; didn’t get selected.

 

 

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