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Knight Non-Committal

| News | March 23, 2017

by Lee Barnathan 

The House is expected to vote today on the American Health Care Act, the Republican plan to replace former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Congressman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) recently told the Gazette that healthcare is complex, but said, “If the bill doesn’t work, I won’t vote for it.”

On Tuesday, Knight refused to commit either way. In a statement, he said, “The future of our nation’s healthcare is extremely important and warrants thorough examination and discussion, which is why we will continue to carefully review the recent proposed changes to the bill and discuss its impacts with members of our community.”

On Tuesday, President Trump basically threatened the Republicans that failing to pass the AHCA would cause them to lose their majorities in the House and Senate.

In Congress, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy favors it, as does Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

Opposing it include Republican Reps. Justin Amas (Minn.), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Mark Meadows (N.C.). Several Republican senators oppose it as well, including Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mike Lee of Utah, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

No Democrats have come out in favor of it, and now a Fox News poll said only 34 percent of the public favor it and 54 percent oppose it.

The Boys are Back

| News | March 23, 2017

by Lee Barnathan 

Among the seven people seeking to be appointed to the William S. Hart Union High School District board are two people whose names should be familiar for those who followed the city council appointment process: Kenneth Dean and former councilmember TimBen Boydston.

They join Ann-Marie Bjorkman, Noe Garcia, Cherise Moore, Hilary Schardein and Teresa Todd as the finalists. All seven are vying for the Area 3 seat vacated by Robert Hall after he accepted a job in Singapore. All will subject themselves to interviews at the March 29 board meeting where, according to Dean and Boydston, each candidate will have a maximum of 10 minutes to answer questions and provide a closing statement.

Some might believe these two are serial appointment wannabes, that they seek these offices for the power or the desire to be in the spotlight. Boydston said he doesn’t think there’s much power in an elected school board or city council seat. Dean said he hasn’t been able to run for school board because a teacher cannot be on the board at the same time. But since his interior design class got canceled at Saugus, he’s free to seek the seat (District spokesman Dave Caldwell confirmed that a district employee cannot serve on the board).

However, Dean inadvertently slipped after listing his education bona fides: He has taught in the Hart District for 17 years (15 at Valencia and two at Saugus) and in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 10 years before that.

“I’ve got a good idea of a student’s needs,” Dean said, “and an overall view of what makes a good school and a good district. That’s why I’m running for city council – I mean school board. That’s what you call a Freudian slip.”

Boydston also has ties to education: his daughter attends Valencia, and his wife, Ingrid, has been a schoolteacher for 25 years.

Some might believe that it’s a step down for Boydston after having been a councilmember.

“I do not consider it a step down,” he said. “I want to do it as service to my community. I do enjoy serving the public in a public agency, if that means anything to people.”

Boydston repeated a belief from his council days: He prefers elections to appointments, and if he’s chosen, he will serve out Hall’s term and not seek election until an entire term has passed.

Boydston said he has the experience dealing with school budgets after having dealt with the city’s budget.

“Once you learn how to work in government, I don’t see it as a bad thing,” he said. “People that are qualified and ask questions, which by reputation I’ve always done. People appreciate that.

“The more you do it, the better you get at it.”

 

It’s a Little Early, Don’t You Think? No, They Don’t.

| News | March 18, 2017

Dante Acosta and Steve Knight have been in office only a few months — Knight since Jan. 3 and Acosta since Dec. 5 — and the next election won’t be until Nov. 6, 2018. Yet, they already have opponents.

Christy Smith has announced she will again seek Acosta’s 38th state Assembly seat; and Katie Hill, executive director and deputy CEO of the non-profit PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), has stated her intent to challenge Knight in the 25th Congressional district.

“Why so early? The biggest thing is I am an unknown name,” Hill said. “It’s going to take me a lot of time to build up that name recognition.”

Hill said she expects the 25th to be one of the most hotly contested districts in the country, as it was in 2016 when Knight (R-Palmdale) defeated attorney Bryan Caforio by 16,300 votes and seven percentage points.

Hill said she has reached out to Caforio, and she hopes to talk to him next week. She also has reached out to Smith, who didn’t return numerous calls. Hill said Smith also declared early because “It’s a tough race and (she wants) to get going.”

Acosta defeated Smith by about 11,100 votes and five percentage points.

“I need to start fundraising right away,” Hill said. “I need every bit of the time and money to win it.”

Through a spokesperson, Acosta declined comment. “He’s focused on doing the job that the district elected him to do,” Chief of Staff David Creager said.

Knight political consultant Matt Rexroad said in a statement, “Last election Nancy Pelosi and the folks in Washington DC imported a Beverly Hills trial attorney. They wasted millions of dollars. We don’t know Ms. Hill but look forward to the upcoming election cycle.”

SCV Chamber Eliminates President/CEO Position

| News | March 17, 2017

The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce today announced a leadership reorganization with the elimination of the position of President and CEO.

“As we continue to move the Chamber forward, it was necessary to reorganize the leadership of the Chamber’s staff in order to reduce overhead expenses,” said John Musella, Chairman of the Board of Directors.

“Like many non-profits and service organizations in our community, we have been faced with difficult decisions as we reorganize to best meet the needs of our members and our business community,” said Musella.

Musella continued, “I have personally known Lois Bauccio for a number of years, both in her recent role with the Chamber, and her previous tenure at the Child and Family Center.  She has been a friend to me and a great asset to the entire Santa Clarita Valley community.  This was a very difficult decision.”

The Executive Committee will be managing the Chamber with the remaining support staff, while reviewing various options on how to reorganize the Chamber to further the interests of its members.

“Tough decisions are never easy.  However, this change will allow the Chamber to focus on member services and promoting the Santa Clarita business community.”

ABOUT – SCV CHAMBER

Founded in 1923, the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce is the leading business advocacy organization in the Santa Clarita Valley.  Covering the third largest city in the County of Los Angeles, the SCV Chamber has more than 1,000 members, focusing on local, state and national issues that affect the business community.

Santa Clarita Valley Station has New Chief of Police

| News | March 16, 2017

A local sheriff’s lieutenant who has served the Santa Clarita Valley for several years was chosen to become captain of the Santa Clarita Valley station. Captain Robert Lewis was recently selected to be Santa Clarita’s chief of police, bringing 31 years of law enforcement experience to his new post.

“The City of Santa Clarita is thrilled to have someone of Captain Lewis’ experience, commitment and knowledge of our city in this role,” said City Manager Ken Striplin. “We look forward to working together and building upon the top-notch public safety services our community enjoys on a daily basis.”

Robert Lewis is replacing Sheriff’s Captain Roosevelt Johnson who was recently promoted to commander. Johnson served as the chief of police for the Santa Clarita Valley Station since 2014.

Lewis began his law enforcement career right here in Santa Clarita as a law enforcement intern. Since then, his career has taken him throughout Los Angeles County, with stints in Malibu, West Hollywood and Altadena. He has also spent several years at the Santa Clarita Valley Station, which he will now oversee, most recently from 2007-2014. He has spent the last year as a lieutenant at the Training Bureau, in the Advanced Officer Training Unit. Lewis has a bachelor’s degree in Science, Vocational and Occupational Studies from California State University, Long Beach.

“I have always sought assignments which would maximize my knowledge to benefit the community I serve, the Department, as well as further my own personal growth,” said Captain Lewis. “I am certain that the knowledge, skills and abilities I have gained will allow me to be an asset to the Santa Clarita community.”

Captain Lewis lives in the Santa Clarita Valley with his wife and three daughters.

Wolitarsky Could Be a Great Catch for NFL

| News, Sports | March 16, 2017

As a 2013 graduate of Canyon High School, Drew Wolitarsky already had his name in the history books for record-breaking football stats. He cracked the ceiling on total receiving yards and total number of receptions among all California high school football players that came before him.

He continued to perform as a University of Minnesota Golden Gopher, where he finished his college career at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27. It was Wolitarsky’s 26th consecutive game, with a catch that put him among the top 10 receivers in Gopher history for that category.

The season for NFL scouting starts in late February with the Combine, where football players show their abilities to scouts. After that invitation-only event, each of the larger colleges host their own Pro Days, drawing scouts to their schools to showcase their best players.

Last week, Wolitarsky was one of 10 players who performed for approximately 46 NFL scouts representing 26 teams at the University of Minnesota’s Pro Day. They ran pretty much the same drills as the Combine, timing their speed and testing their strength.

“They literally just jot things on their clipboards and go to the next Pro Day,” explained Drew’s father, John Wolitarsky, who attended the event. “For the next three weeks or so that’s what they’ll be doing … fact-gathering.”

What it means is that Wolitarsky’s a contender.

After the Holiday Bowl, the University of Minnesota senior began training with Bill Welles, the personal trainer for Larry Fitzgerald, an All-Pro NFL wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. The trainer’s indoor facility is about 30 miles from the university.

Drew Wolitarsky, who turns 22 next week, spent eight weeks doing intense training there, all leading up to Pro Day. Part of the demonstration for scouts includes bench pressing, where they put 225 pounds on the rack and see how many times the player can bench it. Wolitarsky did 14 repetitions of the 225 and then he ran a 4.67-second 40-yard dash.

The players also completed two other drills, which are important for receivers: the 3-cone drill, which Wolitarsky whizzed through in 6.88 seconds, and the shuttle drill, which took him 4.22 seconds.

“It was an amazing experience to remember when Drew started playing flag football at seven years old to now watching him perform in front of a bunch of NFL teams,” John Wolitarsky said.

He began with Santa Clarita Parks & Recreation football and later joined the Canyon Country Athletic Association Outlaws team before joining the Canyon Cowboys and on to Minnesota.

“Then to play in the Big 10 with a fantastic senior campaign, ending it all in San Diego at the Holiday Bowl—it’s been fun to watch the journey,” John said.

Now on spring break, Drew will return to train right through the NFL Draft April 27, because if his name is on a roster, the Gopher grad will have to head to camp right away, according to his dad.

Santa Clarita is convinced Wolitarsky is a great catch. In another month, we’ll know if he’s also caught on with the NFL.

Who Cares About Sierra Highway?

| News | March 16, 2017

Bob Kellar estimates he drives on Sierra Highway “10 times a week” and sees how stretches of it are poorly maintained – potholes, cracks, garbage and faded lines. It’s enough to frustrate anyone, let alone a city councilmember.

“So many roads, at a point in time, they will all find themselves in a state of disrepair,” Kellar acknowledged.

So, why doesn’t the city do something about it? Back in the fall, parts of Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country were paved as part of the city’s Road Rehab Project. Kellar said the city spends between $8 million and $10 million (the city’s website puts it at about $9.5 million) annually on slurry seal and overlay road preservation to improve roadways and extend their lives.

Sierra Highway, however, is different because although the road runs right through the city, it is mostly Caltrans’ responsibility and has been for decades.

“We don’t own it as a city,” Kellar said.

Sierra Highway has been in bureaucratic limbo ever since the Antelope Valley Freeway was built in 1971. Before that, Sierra Highway was designated state Route 14, and parts of the road that run through the city never lost that designation because the state never finished decommissioning Sierra as SR 14. City Director of Public Works Robert Newman said the stretch from 500 feet north of Newhall Avenue to Friendly Valley Parkway is still officially State Route 14U (for “Un-relinquished”).

Since before incorporation, Newman said, Caltrans and Santa Clarita have been in talks to have Caltrans relinquish control of Sierra Highway to the city.

As is often the case, state law, specifically the Streets and Highways Code, makes this perhaps harder than it has to be. Secs. 73 and 27 of the Code say that the street in question’s condition must be at a certain standard, vaguely called “state of good repair,” before it can be relinquished.

Newman said this happened about 15 years ago, when the city took over parts of San Fernando Road and Magic Mountain Parkway. At a cost of $5 million, which the state paid to the city, the roads were repaired and restriped. San Fernando Road was later renamed Newhall Avenue and Railroad Avenue.

The city has its eyes on a .7-mile stretch of Sierra Highway between Golden Valley Road and Friendly Valley. Newman said that in the past, Caltrans has hesitated relinquishing small stretches and would prefer the city to take the entire portion of Sierra that runs through the city, but Kellar and Newman said the city doesn’t want to take control of a stretch between Golden Valley and Newhall Avenue because of “geologic issues” (Kellar’s words) along the slope. Specifically, Newman, said, the dirt on the slope keeps sliding into the street, and grading is needed to stop that.

“Ultimately, you have to throw in liability, but money (is the real issue), unless the state is willing to come up with the money,” Kellar said.

Alan Ferdman, chairman of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, said Newman once told him it would cost $30 million to adequately repair Sierra from Friendly Valley south to the city line.

Ferdman said the city already is in charge of that stretch of Sierra between Friendly Valley and Via Princessa, and that it wants the Golden-Valley-to-Friendly-Valley segment because “it has been developed on both sides, so grading issues are not a factor.”

City Public Information officer Carrie Lujan said in an email that Caltrans owns Sierra north of Soledad Canyon.

Help might be on the way in the form of legislation co-sponsored by Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) and state Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita). Introduced in February, Assembly Bill 1172 would authorize the California Transportation Commission to relinquish all or any portion of Sierra Highway from Friendly Valley to Newhall. It also would end the 14U designation.

“AB (SIC) 1172 relinquishes control of a section of the Sierra Highway to the city of Santa Clarita,” Acosta spokesperson David Creager said in an email. “This was requested by the city due to the state’s inability to maintain the section of highway. The city wishes to take over responsibility for the section in question in order to make sure that the highway doesn’t fall into any further disrepair.”

Newman said the city wants the bill amended to read that the relinquishment would be only that stretch of Sierra between Golden Valley and Friendly Valley, but state law doesn’t allow any bill to be amended until 30 days have passed since introduction. Newman said city staff is working with Acosta and Wilk’s offices to get the bill amended.

Newman said that not only must this bill pass, but also the state and city need to negotiate the standard the road must reach before it can be relinquished and any monies that need to change hands, and then the CTC has to approve the funding and relinquishing.

“It will still be going on 12 months from now,” Newman said.

Foster Children to Benefit from Assembly Bill

| News | March 10, 2017

Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) introduced a bill this week aimed at covering costs for foster children. If passed, Assembly Bill 754 will create the California Foster Youth Enrichment Grant Program to provide funds for activities to enhance their skills, abilities, self-esteem and overall well-being.

“Picture a foster child overcoming huge odds to graduate high school, then not getting to walk in the ceremony because they can’t afford a cap and gown. This is a real situation for far too many and I won’t allow our state to accept this status quo,” said Acosta. “This grant program will give foster kids the ability to participate with their classmates in activities that cost small amounts of money, but come with a huge impact on their life.”

AB 754 will require the State Department of Social Services to convene a workgroup to develop an implementation plan for the California Foster Youth Enrichment Program. This program would provide grants of up to $500 for things like attending field trips, cap and gown costs and other life enrichments.

Assemblyman Dante Acosta represents the 38th Assembly District stretching from Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce to the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, which encompasses the communities of Santa Clarita, Porter Ranch, Chatsworth and Northridge.

Steve Knight Town Hall

| News | March 10, 2017

Steve Knight has read the Constitution and knows the lawmaking body is the Congress, not the president. Yet, until this week, when the House of Representatives unveiled its healthcare plan, it appeared that Congress was ready to cede its legislative responsibilities to Donald Trump and his executive orders.

Since Jan. 20 when Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President, the public has heard about numerous executive orders – Fox News listed 18. They include withdrawing from trade agreements, banning federal money to pro-abortion international groups, reviving two oil pipelines, authorizing the building of the wall along the Mexican border and a travel ban from six (previously seven) Muslim-majority countries.

Knight (R-Palmdale) said he understands why people believe Congress is shirking its duties. “The last two presidents have jumped on executive orders a bit quickly,” he said, but he added the legislative process takes more time. That is why the pieces of business he has sponsored – an aerospace act to fund NASA and space exploration; designating the site of the 1928 St. Francis Dam disaster as a national monument; and treatment programs for veterans with PTSD – have not yet reached Trump’s desk, but Knight fully expects Trump to sign all three. The latter two he thought would reach Barack Obama’s desk, but didn’t.

In the meantime, there is much to address. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Knight listened intently to Trump’s address to Congress last week and heard the president’s desire to beef up military spending by $54 billion.

Knight favors increased spending, but “We don’t know how he’s going to get $54 billion.”

Knight also spoke about healthcare during the 29-minute phone interview with The Gazette on Friday. He said it is a complex issue. Just keeping the Affordable Care Act or repealing it entirely is not happening.

“The ACA’s got a lot of problems, and we’ve got to change a lot of them,” he said, “but certain things are working very well.”
Two aspects he likes: allowing children to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26 and insuring people with pre-existing conditions (the House Republican plan unveiled Monday keeps people with such conditions insured).

Other problems: the price and availability of healthcare in other states. Knight said California is one of the few states where costs have increased slowly, less than 10 percent annually, he said. But Arizona’s costs went up 116 percent, he said, and some states have only one or two plans. That’s not much choice.

“California’s been the best, but problems have come from other states,” he said. “We know they’re (problems such as cost increases) coming and we can’t stop them. California can’t just break off. It’s connected.”

Knight said something has to be done about healthcare because in six or seven years, he said, the government will be forced to spend $1 trillion on Medicaid, the government insurance program for persons of all ages whose income and resources are insufficient to pay for healthcare. It’s at $413 billion this year, he said.

“If the (Republican) bill doesn’t work, I won’t vote for it,” he said.

Other topics Knight commented on:

•Trump’s desire to eliminate two regulations for every new regulation: “It’s politically a good sounding board. It’s really for people to not write a lot of regulations. It’s a simplistic way of looking at it. … If regulation is needed, we can do it. We can go through the Congressional process.”

•The wall, which is estimated to cost $20 billion: “I don’t see where you’re going to get $20 billion. I said we needed stronger security along the border. I didn’t say we needed a 795-mile continuous wall.”

•The travel ban: Knight said there is nothing wrong with additional vetting for people in countries where we don’t have records or information about the people. But he opposed Iraq being on that list, because “We’ve been dealing with them for 17 years. We have a lot of background on them. I think (Trump) jumped the gun on Iraq. I was talking to the prime minister of Iraq last week, and they are very upset with it.”

Trump’s updated ban eliminated Iraq, but it still didn’t include Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. Knight said he could talk “for two hours” on why Saudi Arabia should be on the travel-ban list.

 

There Goes the Neighborhood

| News | March 2, 2017

In some ways, Nati Braunstein has lived in what you might call a horror movie for much of the past year. Call it “The Ravenhill Terror.”

It started serenely enough. Braunstein and his family left the crime and noise of North Hollywood and moved into a house on Ravenhill Road in Sand Canyon.

“The house looked lovely and the neighbors looked lovely,” he said.

Looks deceived in this case. Just a few weeks after moving in, one of his next-door neighbors started allowing recreational vehicles and trailers onto the property – as many as five trailers housing as many as 18 people, he said.

“My neighbor, she can’t make the mortgage,” Braunstein said. “She said she screened the people carefully.”

Not carefully enough. Law enforcement has made several appearances. There have been shouting matches, drug-related arrests and even a registered sex offender living there, Braunstein said police told him.

“They look like what you expect, single men living in a trailer park, vagrants,” he said. “Dirty, grungy-looking folk.”

One of the vehicles was parked right by the fence abutting the Braunstein property. Now, he has privacy concerns.

“I asked her a week ago. She promised to close the windows and move it as soon as possible,” he said.

The trailer has moved to the other side of the property. Braunstein wrote in an email that he thinks it’s because of his Feb. 25 Facebook post which, in part, reads, “I’ve asked them to move the trailer they have parked right on the fence. It’s (sic) windows overlook our backyard where my kids play as well as a few bedrooms, the kitchen, and living room windows.”

Braunstein is not alone in his antipathy. Another neighbor has anonymously written two letters to the city detailing the complaints. Besides the trailers, the letter-writer alleges people are living in makeshift shacks and in two barns; the owners have illegally graded the land that changed the flow of water so that it floods the neighbor’s property; they have found needles, syringes and alcohol bottles at the nearby bus stop; and several dogs have escaped and wander the neighborhood.

“(T)he City has all of these great guidelines in place to prevent this from happening and going this far. Why can’t we implement them????” the second letter reads.

It turns out, the city is aware of it. Councilmember Bob Kellar, who has lived on Ravenhill for 38 years, “about 150 yards” away, knows the story.

“His concerns are extremely warranted,” Kellar said of Braunstein. “I will be responding to him.”

City Community Preservation Manager Daniel Rivas said a notice of violation was issued in January against the owner of the property. Rivas said because the matter is ongoing, he can’t name the actual violator or code violation without the consent of the owner; the second of two neighbor letters to the city state that the property owner is Kacia Keegan and she has placed ads on Craigslist seeking “caretakers” for “trailer living.”

How soon Braunstein’s “horror show” will end remains to be seen. Rivas said it depends on how cooperative an owner is. It could take as few as 30 days (not in this case) to more than a year.

Rivas said the process works thusly: A city official inspects and investigates, filing a notice of violation if warranted. The notice describes the actual violations, whether of the city’s municipal code or various state codes, includes actions that must be taken to correct the situation, and a timeline to complete it.

What then would follow is a re-inspection, Rivas said. If the violations still exist, an administrative citation is issued. Three of these could be issued before the case is referred to the city attorney, who could file criminal or civil charges, or could perform a nuisance abatement, which would allow the city to hire a contractor to do the necessary work to fix the problems – at the property owner’s cost.

“Our goal isn’t to start down that administrative-citation path,” Rivas said.

All Braunstein wants is for this nightmare to end. Next week will be the first anniversary of moving to Ravenhill.

“I’m going to have to buy a gun now, which my wife is unhappy about,” he said. “I’m absolutely uncomfortable living next door to transients.”

What Diversity Means to the City Council

| News | February 23, 2017

SECTION 1. The City of Santa Clarita reaffirms its status and commitment to be an inclusive community.

SECTION 2. The City of Santa Clarita recognizes, values, and will support the rights and privileges of all members of our diverse community.

These 40 words, part of the anti-hate resolution the City Council unanimously passed last week, could mean different things to different people.

The current political environment, in which people march in protest of President Donald Trump’s policies, particularly his desire to build a wall along the Mexican border and limit immigration, might have weighed on some.

Councilmember Bob Kellar, who brought forth the resolution (although he said city staff wrote it), and Mayor Cameron Smyth said he was aware of the possible political overtones but insisted it had nothing to do with that.

For Kellar, it was promises kept to some community members who had come to him and expressed fear about increased hate crimes, though they were not personally victims.

“I said I would give it some serious thought,” Kellar said. “We have never, as a city, stood for anything but responsible behavior.”

Kellar said he made verbal statements similar to the resolution last year as mayor, “but that wasn’t enough to satisfy some people, so the best thing to do was put it in writing,” he said.

Having it in writing, and thereby reaffirming the city’s position, was exactly the resolution’s point for Smyth and Councilmember Marsha McLean. “It did nothing more than put into language the policy of the council,” Smyth said.

McLean said, “The city has never tolerated bigotry or intolerance. In my mind, the words are no different than the way we have conducted ourselves all along,” and if having it on paper makes people feel better, that’s fine.

Smyth said this sentiment goes back to at least Sept. 11, 2001. Following the terrorist acts of that day, Smyth said, the council (on which he served) moved to assure any skittish residents that the city didn’t want them to feel unwelcome or targeted.

Although he didn’t recall the council passing any sort of resolution then, he felt the council had made it clear even then that “we are a city that is open and welcoming, and we are not going to tolerate bigotry and discrimination at any time.”

Councilmember Bill Miranda also thought the resolution reiterated the city’s policy, since the city has “diversity of race, diversity of culture, diversity of thought, so we welcome that. … I feel, personally, I represent diversity on the council, so I feel strongly that we should embrace it.”

But he had more on his mind when he cast his vote.

“It is February. It is Black History Month. It is Women’s History Month. These things will always come to mind this time of year,” he began, forgetting that Women’s History Month is in March. “We just celebrated President’s Day. It’s a chance to look back on our history and see what ones embraced diversity and who didn’t. I think you’ll find embracing diversity works. That’s one of our core strengths of our country, and we want to make sure we don’t lose it. The history of the world and the history of the United States of America is filled with threats to diversity, starting with colonial days. Certain people were allowed and certain people were kept in the background: women, men of color, some religions. In this country, if you were Catholic, it took a while for you to be able to come to the table. Al Smith (first Catholic presidential nominee) didn’t happen until (1928). JFK in 1960. The biggest issue wasn’t his youth and inexperience, it was that he was Catholic.”

Miranda also recognized diversity of thought as part of the First Amendment. “Many times, if we disagree with people, we tend to shut the other person’s opinion off, and that’s not right. There’s freedom of speech. We might not like it, but it’s in our Constitution. We must allow it.”

Threat of Church Violence Triggers Concern

| News | February 23, 2017

It’s widely known that Jewish and Sikh temples, as well as mosques need increased security given the world today. But very quietly, Christian churches have had to start doing the same thing.

Whether it’s fear of radical Islam, or more close-to-home worries, such as kidnappings or shootings, churches are no longer bastions of safety and sanctuary.

“It’s kind of an upswing, maybe because of the political climate, as well as different agendas,” said Casey McMichael, an Elder at Heart of the Canyons Church in Santa Clarita.

“Christians are humans, too,” said Tom Hollenbeck, head of security for Valley Bible Fellowship in Bakersfield. “This is the world we live in. It’s just an unfortunate situation.”

According to an article on the website preparedchristian.net, the incidence of violence at churches from 2005 to 2010 increased by more than 1,000 percent, from 10 to 118. And in 2008, there were more than 24,445 crimes committed at churches/synagogues/temples, said an article by the Christian Security Institute. While this combines various houses of worship, the article’s author, Chuck Chadwick, wrote, “I am willing to concede that not all are going to be Christian churches, but the majority would be.”

The larger the church, the easier the target, Hollenbeck said. His church has 15,000 members. Contrast that with tiny Cornerstone Church, which has no building of its own and meets in a Valencia warehouse. “We don’t have assets,” youth pastor Colin Dorsey said. “We don’t have anything to protect, except our people.”

The reasons for increased security vary. Some think bad economic times make people more desperate, and churches need to safeguard against that. Others, such as Hollenbeck, believe a church is an ideal place for an estranged parent to try and kidnap a child.

Dorsey said there is a political divide between evangelical Christians who supported Donald Trump and other branches who didn’t. “The church is fighting internally, and all of us are trying to be faithful to the word,” he said. “We’re preaching the radical word of Jesus, yet the church hasn’t experienced much security concerns. Everything is going to hell, so the church gets some backlash. That’s part of being Christian.”

Associate Pastor Bob Lininger of NorthPark Community Church in Valencia and Hollenbeck say Islam is a huge issue.

“I don’t see that as racism as much as religious,” Lininger said.

“Christianity to them is just an abomination.” Hollenbeck said. “They’re cowards and they have to do mass destruction to innocent people.”

So, what are churches doing to safeguard their congregants? As McMichael said, “It’s better to be proactive, but be ready if something happens, not that anything has happened.”

At most churches, all people who work with children are screened, whether it’s through FBI background checks or fingerprinting. At Heart of the Canyons, which meets at La Mesa Junior High, volunteers walk the grounds to ensure that anyone who isn’t supposed to be there isn’t wandering around. This is to protect the children who are in the classrooms, away from the main service in a multi-purpose room, McMichael said.

At Valley Bible Fellowship, people check backpacks, perform aisle sweeps and have in place plans for locking down the church and what to do if a shooter appears, Hollenbeck said.

“We confront with love and grace, then if they don’t respond, we try to stop that,” Hollenbeck said, “and we’ll meet resistance with resistance. We try not to escalate unless we have to.”

They don’t publicize, and perhaps members don’t realize it (which is how Lininger likes it), but NorthPark has had a security team in place for between seven and eight years, Lininger said, consisting of off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officers and sheriff’s deputies who are also church members. There also are several EMTs to help if people get sick or injured. All security personnel carry radios during Sunday services.

“It’s not a matter of fear, it’s a matter of being wise,” Lininger said. “We want to be wise. We don’t want to walk in fear, but at the same time, we don’t want to be stupid.”

District Follows City’s Example, Chooses to Appoint

| News | February 16, 2017

An appointment process again rears its head in the area, this time in the William S. Hart Union High School District. How cooperative the district will be about publicizing who applies remains to be seen.

The district is using two court cases as justification for keeping the applications private, but the district board president wants to make public as much information as possible.

“We have every intention of posting the names and basic information,” President Joe Messina said. “Who’s running and who wants the seat. You’ve got my word. Nobody (other board members) seemed to be bothered by it when we talked about it.”

The appointment to the district’s Trustee Area 3, where Canyon and Golden Valley high schools and Sierra Vista and La Mesa junior high schools are located, became necessary after Robert Hall accepted a job in Singapore. Hall resigned effective Feb. 1, leaving the remaining board members to decide whether to hold a special election or appoint.

The board voted 3-1 to appoint. Steve Sturgeon opposed because, he told the Gazette on Monday, he didn’t feel he had an adequate explanation of how much a special election would cost or when it could be held.

He said he has since learned that the election would have cost around $200,000 (the cost to have it consolidated with to a countywide election) and the election would be held in November during the next countywide election (the March 7 election was deemed too soon). This changes his opinion; he now favors appointment.

“I don’t think we could be without a board member that long,” Sturgeon said.

The first step in the process is for applicants to submit an application, which can be found on the district’s website. It’s six pages long, with four dedicated to conflicts of interest. There are paragraphs citing state law and 15 questions mostly dealing with whether a person, spouse, child, relative, business or employer conducts, or might conduct, business with the district.

Sturgeon listed the job description: attend meetings on the first and third Wednesdays of each month; attend various finance, facility and trustee association meetings and conferences throughout the year; read all materials pertaining to all meetings and conferences; and meet with administrators from all district schools, not just the ones in Trustee Area 3.

“It’s a commitment, and you do it for $400 a month,” Sturgeon said. (Messina later corrected the amount to $421 a month.)

Community activist Steve Petzold said he had been told that attorneys representing the district have decided that the information contained within the applications is exempt from public disclosure. District spokesperson Dave Caldwell cited two state appeals-court cases as legal justification. The first, Wilson vs. Superior Court of Los Angeles County (1996), found that then Gov. Pete Wilson did not have to grant the Los Angeles Times access to documents which described or contained the names and background information about the persons who applied for an Orange County Board of Supervisors seat made vacant by resignation.

The second, California First Amendment Coalition v. Superior Court of Sacramento County (1998), held that Wilson did not have to give similar information about the vacancy caused by a death on the Plumas County Board of Supervisors.

However, Messina said, he fully expects that once the March 15 deadline elapses and all applications are vetted, eliminating those who don’t meet basic requirements, such as living in the trustee area, the applications will be made public, minus any information that lawyers say must be redacted. Messina said he expects that to mean addresses and phone numbers, but little else.

“I’m 99 percent certain we will put them up,” he said, “but not until legal tells us what we should and should not redact.”

Petzold’s response: “I generally find that to be reasonable.”

 

Castaic Schools to Consider Sanctuary Strategy

| News | February 16, 2017

A typical school board meeting packet runs hundreds of pages and includes a series of documents pertaining to the various agenda items. For the Castaic Union School District’s Feb. 16 meeting, the packet is a mind-numbing 331 pages.

However, anyone that reads pages 156-7 might notice that the events in Washington have crept into this little burg.

The school board is considering a resolution that would declare the Castaic District a “Safe Haven School District.”

Similar to “sanctuary cities,” which protect unauthorized, undocumented and illegal immigrants by not prosecuting them for violating federal immigration laws and by ensuring that all residents have access to city services, regardless of immigration status, Castaic is seeking to protect children of these immigrants. According to Politico, at least 37 cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Oakland, Phoenix, Boston, Seattle and Washington have declared themselves as such, opposing President Trump’s immigration policies.

According to Board President Susan Christopher, the purpose is not to act political, but to assure families that their students are and will be made safe and free to learn.

“Our intention is a clear statement of what our legal obligations are,” Christopher said, “and we have procedures in place in case chaos hits our district.”

Christopher stressed that should any law enforcement come onto a district school, including the feds, officials would cooperate with them. “If they were to come into our community, we will know exactly what to do and what our obligations are,” she said. “They can show up and we won’t send them away.”

But, she insisted, the schools will honor their obligation to provide free public education to all students regardless of immigration status. “We’re not going to turn you away,” Christopher said. “We don’t want to lose students.”

The resolution cites the 1982 Supreme Court case of Plyler v. Doe, which affirmed an appeals court decision that a Texas statute denying free public education to illegal aliens violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Discrimination on the basis of immigration status did not further a substantial state interest, the Court ruled.

Castaic is the first district in the area to bring about such a resolution, but far from the only one in the state. So far, at least 26 districts in Southern California, including Los Angeles, Hacienda La Puente, San Bernardino, Alhambra, Pasadena, Santa Ana, Santa Maria and West Covina have adopted similar resolutions. These follow State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson’s urging in December that districts declare themselves safe havens. Torlakson’s move followed Sacramento city making the declaration.

Locally, only Newhall joins Castaic in currently considering a resolution.

Newhall board member Christy Smith said her district’s attorneys are examining similarly worded resolutions to see if they pass muster. “It’s too early to say” if Newhall will ultimately pass a similar resolution, she said, although she would vote in favor of one.

“I think it’s reassuring to our families,” Smith said. “The fear is real, the fear these families might have to leave the country.”

A spokesperson for Sulphur Springs Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi and William S. Hart Union High School District spokesman Dave Caldwell said they were unaware of any such movements within their districts. Saugus Union board member Paul De La Cerda said he is aware that Castaic is “looking at something like you said,” but it hasn’t yet been placed on a Saugus meeting agenda.

“As a grandson of immigrants, I think we need to look at this,” De La Cerda said. “Many on our board know it’s an important part of why we were elected: to look at issues like this.”

Hart District President Joe Messina said he has reached out to other school districts about writing a letter to the local paper affirming the commitment “to keep our campuses a safe place for our children to come and learn. None have responded, he said.

“We don’t need to send a resolution. We already do it and we already resolve to do it,” Messina said. “Policies and procedures are in place. I just don’t get it. Why are you on the school board if not to keep children safe?”

The city, in its meeting Tuesday night, passed a vaguely worded resolution reaffirming its “commitment to a diverse, supportive and inclusive community.”

Safety Stats Questioned

| News | February 9, 2017

How low is the crime rate in Santa Clarita? It depends on whose statistics you believe.

It should be simple: Tally the number of crimes as they come in and then make an end-of-year report. But it’s not. According to crime analyst Yvette McClain of the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station, the numbers are based on actual reports written by deputies and given out by the station’s operations unit. So, there were 55 rape reports last year, six homicides, 485 vehicle thefts and 813 thefts.

The FBI compiles its own stats through its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, which “collects information on crimes reported by law enforcement agencies regarding the violent crimes of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, as well as the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson,” according to a press release.

Santa Clarita participates in that program, McClain said, but a year’s final numbers aren’t submitted until March or April.

For the first six months of 2016 (the most recent available stats), the FBI reports that Santa Clarita had two murders, 19 rapes, 56 robberies, 86 cases of aggravated assault, 293 burglaries and 122 vehicle thefts.

It gets more confusing. Different websites quote different FBI statistics. For example, neighborhoodscout.com puts the number of homicides at seven, with 314 vehicle thefts and 659 thefts.

“We read about crime every day in The Signal and the Gazette,” Councilmember Bob Kellar said, “but the other side of the coin is, we are still a safe community. Is it perfect? No. But I will tell you, having worked in Los Angeles, what a difference.”

Indeed, regardless of the stats, one could conclude from every report that it’s still a safe place to live. For example, neighborhoodscout.com says the chances of becoming a crime victim in Santa Clarita is 1 in 62, compared to 1 in 38 for the state and 1 in 24.9 nationwide. And city-data.com says that, as of Tuesday, there is just one registered sex offender living in the city.

“Regardless of what stats you draw from, Santa Clarita is still headed in the right direction,” Mayor Cameron Smyth said.

But how safe is the city? Again, it depends on whom you ask.

“If you’re using raw numbers, that’s going to be misleading, because a population of 200,000 versus a population of 50,000, it’s going to be a difference,” Smyth said.

An article on lawstreetmedia.com says the FBI in 2015 ranked Santa Clarita as the fourth safest city (200,000 minimum population) in the country. But the 2016 SafeWise Report (safewise.com), which ranks all 366 California cities with populations of at least 11,000, puts Santa Clarita at 40th overall, down from 38th the year before.

“We look at myriad issues. We never accept the status quo,” Kellar said. “You always look to see how you can make it better.”

Part of the problem is in the reporting. According to McClain, numbers get fudged when the initial report gets changed. For example, a case that might originally be called “suspicious circumstances” might be investigated by Special Victims Unit and determined to be a rape. Or a case that looks like a homicide really is a suicide.

“It might mess up our numbers,” McClain said.  “It’s kind of the nature of how police departments work.”

Kellar, who retired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 1993 after 25 years of service, said differences could come from reporting periods. Are the stats from January to December, or do they start from a different month? Are they 12-month periods or less?

Also, Kellar said, stats might differ because the agencies evaluate crimes differently. For example, the FBI might look at crimes that were prosecuted, as opposed to just reported to law enforcement. However, Kellar stressed, this is a hypothetical; in reality, he said he doesn’t know the FBI’s criteria.

However, the FBI press release cautions about using the stats. “These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, tribal area, or region,” it says. “Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents.”

 

Austin Dave: Multimedia Man

| News | February 9, 2017

Much like the objects he works with so closely, Austin Dave is a machine. The multimedia journalist and head of digital operations at The Signal newspaper spends close to 20 hours a day on the job, working as video journalist, writer, techie, mechanical whiz and, at times, plumber. He even does windows (the kind on a computer screen, at least).

And the same way Americans rely on their computers to work non-stop, turning to them for information – anytime they need them – Santa Clarita’s daily newspaper looks to Dave.

A cup of Peet’s Coffee is first on Dave’s list every day, but nothing ranks above Dave’s commitment to serve the best interest of the citizens of Santa Clarita.

“We listen to what people are saying. We work for them,” Dave said. “We take what people in the community say seriously. We can use our power for good.”

His service to the newspaper – and the public – is mobile. He keeps a car load of equipment ready to go: his MacBook (always charged), his iPhone (“It’s the fastest camera I have”), his Digital Single Lens Reflex camera and his Electronic News Gathering camera. He even has a brush coat (fire resistant jacket) in his car.

NBC gave a credit to @AustinDave last month, when the news agency obtained its footage of the Fox Feed fire from Dave’s tweet. Sitting in the drive-thru at Everest in Canyon Country at 1 a.m. on a Saturday, he heard about the blaze on his emergency broadcast radio and almost drove away – food or no food – to get to the scene ASAP. He initially tweeted video from his iPhone, then grabbed his more sophisticated cameras to follow the story.

“I will tweet out something if we’re the only ones there,” Dave said. “But we try to find out the details. It’s not ‘Let’s get this first.’ Let’s actually develop this. It’s really a team effort. All of us come together to form the full picture.”

Katharine Lotze and Austin Dave cover the Sierra Fire. Photo by Skylar Barti

 

Once an extremely quiet child, who remained shy into his teen years, Dave’s nature is to share his glory with others around him, such as fellow journalist Katharine Lotze, whose 26th birthday was just one day before his. And like most millennials, both Lotze and Dave seem acutely aware of the fast-moving nature of technology and the importance of social media in the current journalistic climate.

“Information is more accessible now,” Dave said. “It’s just knowing where to go get it.”

His job involves making The Signal’s digital products appealing and informative. When asked how his employer’s online sites are doing, he said, “We’re really far ahead of everyone else. Engaging with the public – giving them what they need to know.”

Originally from Los Angeles, Dave lived in Nevada until his mid-teens with a goal to someday become an attorney. But a presentation at Las Vegas High School inspired him to change his course. “It was a digital journalism program,” he said. “I was really intrigued by it.”

Unfortunately, his mother announced they were moving to Santa Clarita, but good news came in the form of video production instructor Charles Deuschle at Golden Valley High School. Entering as a junior, Dave quickly accelerated to the role of co-producer with another student, and Deuschle created an atmosphere that further ripened Dave’s abilities.

“He gave me carte blanche,” Dave said. “He said, ‘This is your sandbox. Plant whatever seeds you want and grow some crops.’”

Dave saw further growth when watered by the mentorship of Dave Brill, chair of the Media Entertainment Arts Department at College of the Canyons. The practical education he got there led to employment at SCVTV, and his connection to COC continues today, as Dave offers his services in the form of teaching and consultation.

That kind of cross-pollination is a hallmark of Austin Dave’s modus operandi. He shares his video footage with local and regional news services and they, in turn, offer him helicopter videos and contact him to tip off The Signal when stories break.

Dave wakes up at about 5 a.m. and tunes into his emergency scanner. If something is “interesting or suspicious,” he investigates it.

“The goal is to find a story, or have a story, before we come in,” he said. “If it’s a threat to public safety it’s best to let the people know.”

When you talk to this master of metaphor you’re likely to hear him compare his mind to a freight train, or say that a website should “sing.” It’s no wonder that he considers his greatest strength “video-based storytelling.”

The motherboard of Austin Dave’s brain is probably investigating, writing, repairing or tuning right now – and for a very long time, if the newspaper has its way. He rarely unplugs and one can only assume that any news in the SCV, or any drama with computers, radios, monitors or anything else, will continue to be tended by him.

After all, Austin Dave seems hard-wired to do so.

LGBT Community Activist Installed as Chamber Chairman of the Board

| News | February 2, 2017

The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce installed new officers, as it has done for 94 years. This time, however, the new chairman of the board of directors, John Musella, is making headlines as the first openly gay individual in the top spot.

“This is just one more demonstration of how the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber is representing a diverse and growing business community,” Musella said. “We have created one of the most diverse (boards) of directors in the organization’s history and I believe it positively reflects the changing community and world we live in.”

In addition to being a business leader in the Santa Clarita Valley, Musella has also made his mark on the LGBT community. He most recently served as the chairman of Log Cabin Republicans California, the largest state-wide Republican LGBT organization in the nation. While at the helm, he is credited for the organization’s historic recognition by the California Republican Party and for amending the party’s platform to be more inclusive of the LGBT community.

As well, Musella was actively involved with the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, which is the only program in the world devoted to preserving LGBT moving image media lost to deterioration and neglect. The UCLA Film Archive is housed in Santa Clarita.

Musella, who lives in Valencia with his husband, Ivan Volschenk, owns his own public relations firm, representing several high-profile businesses in the SCV and Los Angeles. His company, The Musella Group, is a full-service public affairs and corporate communications firm, serving a broad array of industries, with a core practice area of real estate land use development and entitlement support. The Musella Group’s offerings encompass media relations, community relations, government affairs, crisis communications, strategic planning, executive and brand positioning, event coordination and management and message development.

The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce has a growing presence in the SCV and is continuously reaching out to support businesses of all sizes through development, advocacy and networking. The Chamber is also helping lead the way in the development of future business leaders via its annual leadership academy and professional networking groups.

“Since I began as president and CEO of the Chamber, I’ve had the privilege to see John work tirelessly for our business community this year. He will be a great asset to the Chamber, the city and the entire valley as its 2017 chairman,” said Lois Bauccio, president and CEO of the SCV Chamber.

Shattered Expectations

| News | February 2, 2017

Fifty people applied to be appointed to the Santa Clarita City Council, so 49 others were bound to be disappointed to some degree.

Some entered the process with idealized expectations that the process would be fair, open and honest, that they would be judged fairly on their merits.

But when Bill Miranda won the post, some people, such as the three mentioned below, found themselves disillusioned at the process.

PAUL DE LA CERDA

Paul De La Cerda

There were people who believed that, as a Latino man born and raised in Santa Clarita who has professed love for the city and has shown his devotion by serving elsewhere (in his case, Saugus School District board), De La Cerda was the pick.

He thought so, too. De La Cerda said he “campaigned” for the position, although he said it was not “a normal campaign.” He spent time talking to “as many people as possible” to find out all he could about what the councilmembers sought. He asked people what they thought of the city, what works well and what needed improvement.

“I had a 1-in-50 chance,” he said. “Not one person I spoke to said they didn’t support me.”

But although he was one of the 10 finalists, he wondered if his being on the school board hurt his chances. Had he been appointed to the council, there would have been a vacancy on the school board that would have required another appointment.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Was that a concern? I heard that from some individuals. Was that a factor? I don’t know, though they did bring that up. Mayor (Cameron) Smyth did. I thought I answered it honestly.”

Nonetheless, De La Cerda was disappointed.

“I put in a lot of energy,” he said. “I’d love to serve the city in a broader way. This time around, it wasn’t my time. I accept it. (It’s still a) privilege to serve the community (on the school board).”

KENNETH DEAN

Kenneth Dean

Dean was the first person to apply and was one of the 10 finalists. But as the councilmembers began interviewing each one, he felt they were wasting his time.

He was asked if he had voted. “Two others were asked that question. Of course we voted,” Dean said. “Silly questions. They were all insignificant. They didn’t mean anything.”

Dean called Miranda’s appointment “backroom politics. They knew all along who they’re going to pick,” he said.  “It was wrong, and I’m very disappointed in how they did this.”

Dean also expressed frustration that the council selected someone who did not fill out The Signal’s questionnaire, attend The Signal’s forum or be interviewed on KHTS (Dean said he did all three).

The process bothered him so much that he and several people have met and discussed re-forming the Santa Clarita Civic Association. According to a public records search, this organization was incorporated in 1983 but is now inactive.

Dean said the organization used to meet monthly in the city manager’s office and discuss civic matters. This time, the plan will be to work toward three goals: term limits for councilmembers, district voting and the direct election of the mayor. He said he and others are doing the necessary paperwork to re-incorporate. Then they will create and circulate petitions to get these on a future ballot.

“People are unhappy, particularly with this last thing that happened,” he said.

RICHARD HOOD

One of the lesser-known applicants, Hood nonetheless had served four years on the Castaic Town Council, so he felt he had the right experience.

“This sounded like a great opportunity to get involved,” he said. “I know it sounds schmaltzy, but to give back. It’s like jury duty, if you’ve got to do it, so I applied.”

But as the process went on, Hood found himself souring on it. It started when the council refused or didn’t answer the public’s questions to his satisfaction, specifically, why not hold an election or just appoint the person who finished third in the election?

“Looking back, their excuses didn’t seem to hold much water,” he said.

He began to wonder if the council had “a hidden reason” for not holding an election beyond the estimated $354,000 cost or for appointing TimBen Boydston. “It wasn’t spoken out logically,” Hood said of the council’s comments.

As a result, Hood called the county clerk’s office and withdrew his application before the Jan. 17 special meeting.

“I didn’t think it was quite right. It sounded like he (Boydston) was getting the shaft,” he said. “They were dodging questions. They didn’t address (the public’s) concerns head-on, and I didn’t want to get on there at someone else’s expense.

“I don’t want to be a part of an action that would deprive someone else of their justice. … It seemed like too many loose strings. It smells bad.”

Council Denies Weak Vetting Process

| News | February 2, 2017

When he decided to run for Santa Clarita City Council, Alan Ferdman did an internet search of his name to see if anything would come up that could affect his candidacy. He found no major hidden surprises, so he let it go.

Had the four councilmembers done even the smallest amount of research on Bill Miranda, they would have found some information that might have been worth asking about.

Specifically, that on the Latino Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 federal income tax form 990-EZ, Miranda was listed as having worked an average of zero hours a week, yet was paid $17,000.

Furthermore, a business search on the California Secretary of State page shows that in 2014, the Franchise Tax Board suspended Miranda’s limited liability company, Our Valley Group, for failure to meet tax requirements.

Granted, had the council known these things – or if Miranda had been more forthcoming about them – it might not have changed anything. Miranda might still have been appointed; and these two pieces do not indicate anything illegal or criminal. But, none of the councilmembers reached by the Gazette – Mayor Cameron Smyth, Bob Kellar and Marsha McLean – knew these two pieces of information.

And it’s summed up by Councilmember Laurene Weste’s comment to The Signal: “We don’t have a responsibility to do background checks.”

What is a governing body’s responsibility to vet a person who might serve on it? There doesn’t seem to be much law about it. In fact, the Constitution is clear that the various bodies – Senate, House, President, Supreme Court – do not get to decide who will join them. The eight justices will not be deciding Neil Gorsuch’s fate; that’s the Senate’s job. When Barack Obama left the Senate to assume the presidency, Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich was tasked with appointing a replacement (that he solicited bribes for the vacant seat is another matter).

Closer to home, City Manager Ken Striplin said in an email that the background-check process used for city employees varies by position.

“All employees go through an application and interview process,” Striplin wrote. “Once selected as a final candidate, they are subject to past employment verification, reference checks, education verification, and Dept. of Justice Livescan (sic) fingerprinting. Some candidates, depending on job responsibilities, may be subject to drug screens and physicals. These processes are subject to state law.”

Striplin further wrote that city councilmembers are employees, but the requirements differ. “State law defines the criteria to be an elected official. I am not familiar with any state law that authorizes background checks, physicals or drug screens for council members. Council members are designated as employees for purposes of benefits. They are not subject to competitive service, bargaining agreements or the city’s personnel rules.”

Smyth wondered what “background check” means. “Are we looking into someone’s financial history? Someone’s criminal history? I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said. “I looked deep enough.”

Miranda explained that the LLC filed late and, as a result, and to the best of his memory, incurred a penalty of less than $500. “We are in the process of making it go away. We are in negotiations with the state,” he said. “It will go away shortly, within the next few months.”

As for the zero-hours-for-$17,000, Miranda said he was a consultant for the chamber, not an employee, and was paid a rate of $1,000 a month. He said the chamber often paid slowly, which was why he received $17,000 instead of $12,000 (the 2011 form says he worked an average of 15 hours a week and was paid $8,000; the 2013 form says he worked an average of eight hours a week and made $12,000; the 2014 form is currently unavailable, but a chamber spokesperson said she’s looking into it).

However, the form shows Miranda’s title: CEO. Typically, a CEO is an employee of the organization. Miranda insisted, “That was just a title. We didn’t have any employees. We had mostly volunteers.”

Brian E. Koegle, a partner at Poole & Shaffery, a firm that has represented the chamber since 2015, said it is common for agencies and businesses to hire CEOs and CFOs on consultant contracts. But he found it strange that the chamber would list a CEO, because the chamber doesn’t have a CEO position, only a board and an executive director (in fact, the chamber’s website shows a chairman, an executive committee and a board of directors).

As for working zero hours, Miranda referred that to the person who completed the form. That was Robert Pacheco, listed on the form as president. Pacheco did not return calls.

Koegle said he was confused by the zero hours. “Zero hours is not uncommon if they are an exempt employee,” he said. After consulting with partner Hunt Braly and John Shaffery, Koegle said Miranda could show zero hours on form 990 “if he didn’t render any services for that year. That would be the argument for zero hours. But Bill was always a chamber ambassador. I think it’s a typo.”

Miranda said he did not bring these pieces of information to the council before being appointed, nor does he think he should have. “Why would I have regrets that I worked my ass off for five years and walked away with a thousand dollars a month?” he said.

Community activist Steve Petzold said he emailed the council these two pieces about Miranda on the morning of Jan. 24, the day Miranda was to be sworn in. In the email, addressed to “Mayor Smyth,” Petzold wrote, “You are employed by a large company and certainly know that individuals in executive positions are thoroughly screened, their credentials and background are investigated because mistakes are very embarrassing and expensive. Because the council agenda for this evening is structured to swear in Mr. Miranda before public comment, I need to make this note my ‘speak now or forever hold your piece’ moment. While vetting Mr. Miranda using legal resources available to all of the public and press, this is information I was able to discover and find troubling.”

Smyth said he didn’t see the email until after the council meeting and has not spoken to Miranda about the matters. “Forgive me, but an email from Mr. Petzold, I don’t always take what Mr. Petzold said on face value. If Councilmember Miranda wanted to bring it up, he could.”

None of the councilmembers were concerned about them, and McLean was annoyed that it was raised. She said she did not believe the council was lax, and it’s not the council’s job to “go out and do investigative reports on them, especially when they’re known in the community.

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

McLean also expressed frustration at people who are trying to make a story out of nothing. Although she declined to name them, she said, “Everybody knows who they are.”

Councilman Bob Kellar

Mayor Cameron Smyth

Councilwoman Marsha McLean

Local Women Marched

| News | January 26, 2017

Stacy Fortner figured that, since the train would leave at 7:20 a.m., if she and her party arrived at the Santa Clarita station at 6:50, she would have time to buy tickets and relax.

Instead, she was greeted by a platform completely full of people with the same idea – everyone was going to the march for women’s and others’ rights last weekend in Downtown Los Angeles.

An estimated 750,000 people took to the streets between Pershing Square, Grand Park and City Hall to protest Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency as well as the issues he has favored. One aim was to call attention to Trump’s statements and positions – defund Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade are two that have been regarded by some as anti-women, or in other ways reprehensible.

If the estimates were correct, the march in L.A. was the largest in the world, but just one of more than 400 worldwide, as people in Washington, Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Denver, St. Paul, Minn., Portland, Ore., Seattle, Toronto, Sydney, Paris and London and many others took to the streets.

Fortner said she has marched a few times, even in Washington, but this one awed her.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “This was extremely different.”

For Christy Smith, who unsuccessfully ran for the 38th assembly District seat, this was her first march – and the first for one of her daughters.

“I was born in ’69, so I never got to be a hippie,” she said. “This was my one shot.”

The reason she went, she said, was “to demonstrate to my daughters my commitment to their future, their freedoms, their opportunities for equal pay, their opportunities to be in a harassment-free environment, their opportunities to have reproductive freedoms, and this administration has indicated they will not be supportive of the gains we have made.”
Fortner’s reasons were similar: “to stand up for women around the U.S. and around the world. We have voices and we will be heard; and to show my daughter that her future is not a future of silent acceptance. Just accepting things you can’t change instead of being part of the changes you can’t accept.”

Back at the train station, the sheer humanity was where the awe began for Fortner.

“It was just incredible, and the line was so long for tickets, we were afraid we couldn’t get tickets,” she said. “Everybody got on.”

At the next stop, the Newhall station, Smith encountered similar crowds. “We could tell the trains were packed,” she said.

In fact, things got so bad that at 7:56 a.m., Metrolink sent the following tweet: “ALERT: DUE TO SPECIAL EVENTS IN LA, SB AND OC LINES ARE AT MAX CAPACITY AND CANT ACCOMODATE ANY MORE (sic) PASSENGERS DUE TO SAFETY CONCERNS.”

“By the fourth stop,” Fortner said, “it was standing room only, and they were packing them in like it was a Japanese train.”

While on the train, Fortner circulated a petition in favor of the California Disclosure Act (Assembly Bill 14), which would change political ads to show exactly what organizations and/or people are giving money. But she couldn’t walk down the aisle to obtain signatures, so people passed the petition around (she said she did the same on the train ride home but didn’t while marching). She said she collected at least 440 signatures, although they still need to be verified.

Smith and Fortner took the train to Union Station then transferred to the Red Line and exited at Pershing Square – to another throng. Moving was difficult, if not impossible.

“We got out of the subway … at 8:15, and we didn’t move until 11. There was no room to move,” Fortner said.

Smith said they moved slowly and got close to the main stage but weren’t able to hear the people, which included Jane Fonda, speaking.

“It sounded like the Charlie Brown classroom,” Smith said.

People mostly walked and talked, Fortner said, but many carried signs. A favorite: “Prevent Unintended Presidencies.”

Smith said her favorites were the signs made by 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds: “Fight Like a Girl,” “Run Like a Girl,” “I’m Going to be President.”

“I think it has awakened this portion of the country that felt isolated and are not finding each other,” Smith said.

Overall, Fortner said, the scene was peaceful, clean, happy and respectful, “and I didn’t see one police officer on the march route.

“People were happy we could come out in such numbers,” she said. “How would you like to be the man who brought out all these people?”

Assemblyman Responds to 2017 State of the State Address

| News | January 26, 2017

Following Gov. Jerry Brown’s annual State of the State Address, local Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita) responded to the words delivered by California’s top political leader.

“There are two Californias: a wealthy California flush with opportunity, healthcare, great schools and smooth roads, and another California that is being left behind, drowning in the cost of healthcare, with underfunded schools and streets riddled with potholes and traffic. While the governor has rightly acknowledged that ‘democracy doesn’t come from the top,’ he does not seem to accept that the majority has forced a command and control style top-down economy that has been a main driver of middle and working class struggles.

“Decades of Democratic policies have given us the highest poverty rate in the nation. The wealthy are doing fine, but the rest of California is burdened by impossible housing prices or rents that eat up too much income, sky-high fuel rates, and the ballooning cost of education.

“The governor talked a great game today, but he missed the opportunity to call out his own party, which has overseen the state for decades with a policy agenda that preaches compassion, but routinely ignores the problems that truly drive poverty.

“I call on the Governor to join with me and my fellow Republicans and progress-minded Democrats to push policies that will increase organic growth in housing for renters and first time homebuyers, address the healthcare needs of all Californians, fix our crumbling roads, and educate our youth without saddling them with debt. Let’s stop playing games and fix the real problems our state faces with bottom up solutions and not chase pie-in-the-sky wasteful spending.”

Assemblyman Dante Acosta represents the 38th Assembly District stretching from Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce to the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, which encompasses the communities of Santa Clarita, Porter Ranch, Chatsworth and Northridge.

Rick Drew: Bridge Construction ‘Kind of Illegal’

| News | January 26, 2017

Construction of a pedestrian bridge that falls within the contaminated 996-acre Whittaker-Bermite site does not violate a longstanding agreement to delay any developing until the site is completely decontaminated and cleaned, a city official said.

James Chow, the city’s senior planner in charge of the site, acknowledged that the condition of approval called Development Services (DS) 12, which he had said in October had lapsed, remains in effect. However, after researching the matter and talking to the city attorney, “In our opinion, there is no conflict” because the bridge is “an off-site public improvement for the Villa Metro project,” formerly known as Soledad Village.

“It’s an infrastructure project” and does not fall within the parameters of DS12, he added.

Rick Drew, head of the Whittaker-Bermite Citizens Advisory Group, blasted the decision as “doublespeak.”

“It’s like alternative facts,” Drew said. “There’s rules. Why does everybody get to circumvent the rules? I don’t think this should be (built) until everything (pertaining to decontamination and cleanup) is done. DS12 is still in effect.”

Another group member, Alan Ferdman, said, “It’s just another example of being told one thing and doing another.”

Whittaker-Bermite was roughly bounded by Soledad Canyon Road to the north, Golden Valley Road to the east, Railroad Avenue to the west and Circle J Ranch Road to the south. The area was used by the Department of Defense to manufacture munitions, but as a result was contaminated with pollutants such as uranium and volatile organic compounds such as perchlorate, which interferes with the thyroid gland’s ability to uptake iodide salts.

So, since 2007, the soil has been subject to decontamination and cleanup, paid for by Whittaker Corporation’s insurance carrier and overseen by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. The perchlorate also got into the water supply; that decontamination and cleanup, expected to take as many as 30 years, will begin after the soil is completely clean.

DS12 resulted following the City Council approving the Porta Bella Specific Plan and accompanying development agreement, a massive project that called for 2,911 residential homes, 96 acres of commercial business/office park uses, 407 acres of open space and 42 acres of recreational use. Citizens expressed concern about people interacting with contaminants, so the council included DS12 as a condition of approval.

It was Drew who first alerted the Gazette to the situation. He had noticed a fence up on the property near the Santa Clarita Metrolink train station. Then he noticed trees were being cut down. A couple of days later, he noticed construction equipment. Then an opaque fence went up.

He later discovered that the city had granted a permit for constructing a pedestrian bridge that would connect the train station to the nearby Villa Metro development.

“Construction on the (Whittaker-Bermite) property is kind of illegal,” Drew said. “I called James Chow and he didn’t know anything about it.”

He also spoke to Jose Diaz of the DTSC, who hadn’t heard anything, either.

Chow said the city granted a permit to FivePoint (formerly Newhall Land) to build the bridge. Director of Marketing Caryn Spencer referred all questions to the city.

Chow also said the fencing is typical of construction projects. The opaque fencing serves two purposes: to prevent dust and trash from blowing off site and to not distract drivers.

As for whether the soil near the construction site is completely clean, Chow said, “This isn’t an area of concern.”

Ferdman said he objected to this permit on grounds the city council had not approved it.

“It’s (city) staff setting policy,” he said. “If they wanted to make an exception, they should have gone to the council. I can’t believe the council didn’t know about it, but it happens quite frequently and the council ignores it.”

Miranda Gets the Rights

| News | January 19, 2017

In late November, Bill Miranda told the Gazette that he had no interest in applying to be appointed to the Santa Clarita City Council. Yet, on Tuesday, there he was in council chambers accepting the offer to serve.

Miranda, consultant, publisher of Our Valley Media, former CEO of the SCV Latino Chamber of Commerce and current SCV Chamber board member, beat out 49 other hopefuls to become the fifth councilmember, joining Mayor Cameron Smyth, Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste (who nominated him), Marsha McLean (who seconded the nomination) and Bob Kellar.

Miranda replaces Dante Acosta, who left midway through his term after winning election to the state Assembly, forcing the council to appoint for the second time. The first time was 10 years ago, when Smyth left to serve in the Assembly and TimBen Boydston was appointed following a process that included a citizens committee nominating a person and the council rejecting it.

This time, the four members decided to appoint a new member themselves. Miranda had been receiving calls urging him to apply. After a conversation with the Gazette in which Miranda made it clear that, in the words of William Tecumseh Sherman, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected,” Miranda spoke with his wife, Virginia, and began to reconsider.

“After I hung up, my wife and I started talking,” he said. “So many people had called, maybe (I) should (go for it).”

Miranda still hesitated because he had a couple of people in mind he would like to have seen apply, so he decided that if they didn’t, he would.

By the morning of Jan. 6, those people had not applied, so Miranda spent the day getting his papers together. He easily met the two stated criteria: He was a resident and was older than 18, but he still needed his personal statement and three letters of reference.

“It took all day to get my papers together,” he said. His letters of reference included one from state Sen. Scott Wilk, who called Miranda “(a) leader in every sense of the word.”

“I believe Bill’s collaborative nature, business acumen and deep community roots complement the current members of the council and make an already strong team even stronger,” Wilk wrote.

Miranda submitted his papers at 3:16 p.m., the 34th of what became 50 people to do so. Later that day, one of those people he had in mind did apply, but Miranda declined to name that person.

Miranda was one of 10 to be called up a second time (each of the 40 who showed Tuesday night got three minutes to make their pitches). These included two failed council candidates, Boydston and Kenneth Dean (who applied first), retired FBI agent Brent Braun and attorney Ronda Baldwin-Kennedy.

Weste, who said she knew Miranda “peripherally,” said she was particularly impressed with Miranda when he talked about merging the Latino chamber into the SCV Chamber.

“There were three or four that, if we had to go on, I could support,” Weste said. “I started with who I thought would be best.”

McLean agreed. Kellar favored Braun and, in the opinion of candidate Alan Ferdman, was “upset.” Kellar denied that Wednesday, reminding that he told Miranda that he was a “a fine man, but I’m going to vote no.” Miranda said that afterward the two of them spoke and Kellar “was gracious. He and I will work well together.”

Smyth cast the deciding vote, but he took a dramatic pause that reminded some of a reality TV show. Smyth said he was having an internal dialogue: “Should I say something or should I let my vote speak?”

He had spoken up in favor of Ana Dwork, but she was one of several he would have supported. “I certainly felt comfortable supporting Bill, as I did with other candidates. I think the end result was there were several eminently qualified people the council felt comfortable with,” he said.

Had Smyth voted no, the process could have taken much longer, perhaps as long as it took 10 years ago (the council previously had announced that, if needed, the process would extend to next week’s regularly scheduled meeting). Smyth said he wanted to avoid that, but he wasn’t just going to vote yes for somebody just to keep the meeting shorter.

Not everyone welcomed Miranda’s appointment. Ferdman and Boydston repeated their objections to the process, saying there should have been a special election (the council balked at the estimated $354,000 cost).

“It stole the election away from the people,” Ferdman said.

Community activist and Saugus realtor Steve Petzold called Miranda “a safe choice,” but pointed out, “He’s never run for City Council. He’s never run for a school board position.”

“Bill doesn’t bring anything new to the council, other than he’s new,” Petzold later said. “He’s not going to rock the boat.”

Ferdman also had predicted the council would appoint what he called “a cheerleader,” somebody who would say, “how great everything was.” Weste responded, “He didn’t sound like a cheerleader to me. He sounded like a person who has dedicated his life to good works.”

It’s not known if whether Miranda’s appointment would result in another California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit. Attorney Kevin Shenkman, who has filed against the city before, wasn’t reached. Weste and Smyth said they weren’t concerned.

“I don’t think it will make a difference,” Smyth said. “If someone wants to file a CVRA lawsuit, they’re going to, regardless of who we appoint.”

As for Miranda, he will be sworn in Tuesday, and then it’s time to get to work.

“Number one, you’ve got to listen and learn,” he said. “I’m not going in thinking I have a mandate. I’m here to listen and learn and get up to speed. Once I get up to speed, then I can work within the council system” toward the issues he’d like to address. These include homelessness, a senior center and a Canyon Country community center.

“We have to do a lot,” he said. “The city is not just Valencia. It’s a lot more.”

Bob Kellar: ‘Sweet Lord! I Anticipated Half That Many’

| News | January 12, 2017

After Friday’s filing deadline for the vacant Santa Clarita City Council position, each of the four sitting members received a packet containing all 50 applications.

“Sweet Lord!” Bob Kellar said he exclaimed. “I anticipated half that many.”

Don’t misunderstand. Kellar only was reacting to the number, not the amount of work that lies ahead. Like the other members reached for comment (all but Marsha McLean), he was pleased to have such a large number.

“It’s great we had such a huge turnout to the vacancy,” Mayor Cameron Smyth said. “Certainly more than anyone would’ve seen if we’d had a special election.”

Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste said several times she was “delighted.”

“I’m delighted an open process brought out so many,” she said. “I’m delighted. It means they’re paying attention and they’re engaged, and I’m delighted.”

The council isn’t scheduled to meet with any of the candidates until a special meeting Jan. 17, when each will get three minutes to make a pitch. But that doesn’t mean the members are waiting until then. Smyth said he planned to attend The Signal’s forum on Thursday, provided no family or work considerations take precedence.

“It’s on my calendar,” he said, but if he attends, he wasn’t sure if he’d sit in the back or take a more active role.

Weste was non-committal, opting instead to wait until after Tuesday’s regularly scheduled council meeting, when she expected some of the candidates or supporters would use the time for public comment to make their pitches.

Kellar said he had no plans to attend, opting instead to “work with the process on the table,” meaning reviewing the applications and deciding only when the council meets.

“I can tell you, there are some people I am very impressed with: their backgrounds, credentials and what they accomplished in life,” he said. “The companies they’ve worked with, the size and magnitude of their responsibilities, with huge budgets. Impressive decision-makers. Some very, very strong people who have applied (and) I have never met.”

Although the council received 50 applications, not all met the basic requirements of living within the city limits and being at least 18 years old. Two, Philip Olivero and Sheryl Ann Lima, live outside the city.

When Olivero submitted his application (he was the 13th to do so), the city clerk noticed his Castaic address and told him she didn’t think he lived in Santa Clarita.

“Can you believe it? I was just flabbergasted,” he said. He attended Castaic Union School from grades 3-8, Saugus High School and The Master’s College (now The Master’s University), all of which are in the valley. “Thirty years I thought all the towns in Santa Clarita were a part of the city of Santa Clarita.”

Another applicant, Bradley Grose, submitted his too late and was not considered. Finally, Jennifer Keysor (41st to apply) and Radomir Luza (35th) have no voting record at their addresses, which means they have to register to vote to be eligible.

Keysor withdrew, because she’s Kellar’s niece. Kellar said he didn’t know she had applied and couldn’t believe it. Had she not withdrawn, Kellar said he feared he would have had to recuse himself from the entire process.

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