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City Council Not Required to Adhere to City’s ‘Code of Ethics’

| News | July 20, 2017

Bob Kellar absolutely loves being a city employee, even if he didn’t realize he was, at first.

“It has been a privilege and an honor, and I hope I’ve done well,” the city councilmember said. “I had no idea when I was elected that it provides for being a city employee.”

It is true: City council members are immediately considered employees, which entitles them to a salary (in this case, $1,832.57 a month) and benefits, according to city spokeswoman Carrie Lujan. They have to go through the same training as everyone else, but they also have to undergo state-mandated training through the Fair Political Practices Commission every two years. Lujan confirmed that all five current members have completed that training.

(Lujan accidentally gave the Gazette the ethics code dated Aug. 15, 2008 with former City Manager Ken Pulskamp’s signature on the bottom. She said there is a current version with the only changes being City Manager Ken Striplin’s signature and replacing Carl Newton’s name as city attorney with Joseph Montes.)

Councilmember Marsha McLean said that calling councilmembers city employees “is a misinterpretation of what we are and what we do.” They’re only considered city employees, she said, for the purpose of “receiving stipends.”

But she also admitted that they are employees in the sense that they answer to the electorate.

The six-page copy of the city’s Code of Ethics and Conduct given to the Gazette lists “all elected officials of the City” as “Persons Governed by Policy.” It enumerates 17 points to adhere to, including integrity/honesty, accountability/responsibility, respect, fairness, conflict of interest, and act in the public interest. Also, it says, “There are no exceptions to the above stated guidelines without City Council approval.”

Does it have any teeth? It says that anyone who thinks a councilmember has violated the ethics code must report it to the City Council.

In a bizarre scenario, that means a councilperson could report his or her peer. Hunt Braly, an attorney with Poole & Shaffery, said, “Any citizen could include a member of the city council.”

So, can a city councilmember be fired under this code?

“No,” Lujan said.

Was it illegal to hold an appointment process instead of an election the two times the council chose to do that? No, says Braly.

“The law allows an appointed process. The law allows an elected process,” Braly said. “(The city’s code of ethics) does not trump what election laws allow you to do.”

McLean said having a written code of ethics doesn’t matter, because “I would hope every elected official would be happy to adhere to ethical standards. Putting words on a piece of paper means nothing. You have to be an ethical person.”

Kellar said he thinks that in certain instances of criminal wrongdoing, it would be wise for a councilmember to step down or recuse himself or herself. He gave “embezzlement” as an example.

“It can be an awkward situation,” Kellar said. But he also reminded, “Your fellow councilmembers are not judge and jury.”

Former councilmember TimBen Boydston finds the code lacking. He was on the council – and voted to approve these standards – in 2008.

“I voted for half a loaf rather than no bread at all,” Boydston said. “It was disturbing for me we did not have an ethics code.”

His main criticism of the code is its lack of an independent ethics committee that would operate outside the city manager’s purview. Currently, anyone alleging an ethics violation must report city staff to the city manager; or to the city council if they believe a councilmember or city manager has broken the code.

“However, there was no support on the City Council for that idea,” Boydston said. “As a practical matter, if someone on the council, someone who is an employee of the city, wanted to speak to someone about unethical behavior, they end up going to their boss or taking the extreme measure of trying to engage the district attorney’s office.”

 

Weeding Out the Possibility of Pot

| News | July 20, 2017

by Blair Bess

Cannabis cultivation is raking in the green for a growing number of California communities. In the City of Santa Clarita, however, a moratorium that has been in effect since last December has delayed any serious consideration of cannabis-related businesses within the city limits until the end of this year. Officials have made clear, however, that no matter what conclusion they reach, approval of retail dispensaries is highly unlikely.

 

While California voters got behind legalization of medical marijuana in 1996, and last year supported Proposition 64, which allows for recreational cultivation, manufacturing, use, sale, and distribution of marijuana, regulation of businesses engaged in the cannabis industry is left to the discretion of individual municipal bodies. Revenue generation is typically at the core of their deliberations.

 

Fiscally, Santa Clarita is far more stable than many of the communities in the state that have welcomed the cannabis industry. A spokesperson for the city says a conservative approach to the budgeting process has kept the community on an even footing since its founding 30 years ago.

 

Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth says the council needs to make a more educated decision about whether controlled growth of cannabis is worth discussion. He does not, however, see retail sales of medical or recreational marijuana as something the city will be permitting, due to it still being considered a Schedule One drug under federal law. Mr. Smyth also points to the issue of public safety, noting that the city would be opening itself up to increased criminal activity and violent crime.

 

“The industry is very nuanced,” said Mr. Smyth. “Growth of medical marijuana and manufacture of its derivatives is a little bit different than retail sales. We’re waiting on staff to bring us a recommendation, but there’s still a lot of research to be done. It’s worth hearing what other cities are doing.”

 

Many of the communities that have found themselves deeply in the red or on the brink of insolvency see cannabis-related businesses as a means to climb out of deep troughs of debt and increase city coffers. It’s not as though the opportunity to do so isn’t there.

 

Kevin Tamura, an executive vice president based at DAUM Commercial Real Estate’s Valencia office, says he gets two or three phone calls a week from cannabis growers looking for industrial space. Most of them are willing to pay as high as double the rental rate landlords are asking.

 

“There’s high demand,” said Mr. Tamura. “If medical cannabis facilities were legalized and landlords were willing to lease to cultivators or manufacturers, there’s no doubt there’d be interest.”

 

Southland cities like Adelanto, Desert Hot Springs, and others have not only seen revenue growth since passage of medical cannabis ordinances; they’ve also witnessed the price of vacant real estate increase by as much as fivefold. Not all that property is slated for cannabis-related businesses. Adelanto is in the process of transitioning from a dusty desert drive-thru to a boom town. Increased commercial and residential projects are either underway or in the planning stages.

 

According to Adelanto Mayor Richard Kerr, there are already 250 houses under some stage of construction in the community of 33,000 residents with more development on the horizon. The city has also approved plans for three hotels, a medical corridor, retail shops, and two-to-three more gas stations.

 

“The cannabis industry saved the city from bankruptcy,” Kerr said. “We had a $2.6 million deficit as of (November 2014). As of last week, we were $400,000 in the black, and that number is going up.”

 

For a community that had been teeter-tottering on the edge of extinction, those numbers are impressive. Currently, owners of grow facilities pay a tax of $5 per square foot in addition to a sales tax ranging from zero-to-five percent of revenues. Adelanto will have between 70-75 grow facilities by the end of the year, with 30 percent of those currently in operation and more soon on the way.

 

Though the mayor says the city isn’t banking on medical cannabis for its general fund, Adelanto’s budget has increased from its current $11 million to $18 million next year as a result of medical cannabis taxation. Kerr says that given the near-disastrous condition he inherited when he took office, he intends to keep the city on a more conservative fiscal footing.

 

Right now, there is no limit to the number of facilities used for cannabis-related cultivation or the manufacture of cannabis derivatives within the city limits. Adelanto also permits, but has strict limits on, the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries. Kerr notes the city will evaluate whether to approve dispensaries and grow facilities for recreational use once state legislators and regulators put laws governing non-medical cannabis production in place; that’s expected to take place next year.

 

“I want to make Adelanto the Silicon Valley of medical cannabis production,” Kerr said.

 

Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar doesn’t believe the prospect of enriching a city’s treasury is reasonable justification for instituting ordinances for marijuana sales or production. Kellar sees the entire idea as making money from something that hurts people. He cites his 25 years as an officer for the Los Angeles Police Department as validation of this feeling. Kellar says he’s seen too many people who have died as a result of overdoses, and he points to research that suggests marijuana can be a gateway drug for some abusers.

 

“Using economics as an argument is absurd,” the councilman said. “I think it’s an unfortunate day when we give in to this malarkey about increased tax revenues.”

 

Kellar did, however, cite an experience that leaves him open to discussion of products or derivatives for medical use as a means of compassionate care. He recounted a conversation he’d recently had with an acquaintance about a three-year-old girl suffering from a terminal illness. He was told that medical marijuana would lessen her pain. Kellar says he’s not a doctor so he can’t make those judgments, but he understands the rationale behind those beliefs.

 

Many of the municipalities that have been receptive to medical marijuana growers and manufacturers of cannabis derivatives, including oils, tinctures, and edibles, however, share sentiments expressed by Mr. Smyth and Mr. Kellar regarding retail sales: Not in our community.

 

When the City of Lancaster recently approved the commercial cultivation of medical marijuana, they did so with the caveat that the city would not allow the establishment of dispensaries. Discussions before the Planning Commission and the City Council often touched upon topics as diverse as the law, morality, and commerce. Compassion was also an argument brought forth by proponents of the ordinance.

 

The commission held five meetings before a recommendation to permit indoor cultivation facilities was presented to the City Council, and voted on in March. Of Lancaster’s five Council members, three were in favor of the ordinance, with one dissenting, and one member absent. City officials note that their ordinance also contains some of the most restrictive provisions in the state when it comes to banning outright recreational cultivation and cannabis sales.

 

Unlike Adelanto and Desert Hot Springs, the Lancaster ordinance limits growth and production to five enclosed facilities, with very stringent public safety requirements in place; those include 24-hour onsite security, security cameras that are monitored by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and secure fencing around the perimeter of the facilities. All cultivation and production is confined to industrial zones within the city, which is similar to other communities where cannabis businesses are permitted.

 

The cannabis industry has also proven to be a windfall for Desert Hot Springs, where revenues are garnered from taxes ranging from $25 for the first 3,000 square feet of space, with a tax of $10 per square foot above that. The first cultivation facility in Desert Hot Springs opened last October. The city’s ordinance permits cultivation, manufacture of cannabis products, and distribution and transportation facilities. And like Adelanto, Desert Hot Springs permits the retail sale of medical marijuana within the city limits.

 

As was the case with Adelanto, the city had been plagued by fiscal issues and was on the verge of insolvency when cannabis-related ordinances were put into place in 2014. Desert Hot Springs has learned from its past economic crisis and has no intention on planning future budgets based on projected revenue generated from the cultivation, manufacture, or sales of cannabis products.

 

“We’ve taken a very conservative approach regarding revenues,” said Doria Wilms, the city’s deputy city clerk and public information officer.

 

Wilms says the cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers setting up shop in Desert Hot Springs aren’t just commuting to work and taking advantage of legalization. They’re relocating their families and making the city their home. Wilms says that the cannabis industry has gone out of its way to be good neighbors and that the Cannabis Association Network, a local growers trade group, has contributed to a number of community events.

 

Facility owners and growers also have provided funds for street improvements and infrastructure upgrades as well. Desert Hot Springs has also experienced a real estate boom, with property values tripling since the cannabis ordinances were enacted in 2014.

 

Though Wilms says the city’s leaders are happy with the results so far, not everyone was initially onboard with the decision to open the door to the cannabis industry. In an interview last year with the Los Angeles Times, Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Dale Mondary said that he was philosophically opposed, from a law enforcement standpoint, but feels that the voters of California registered their approval and laws are in effect. Wilms says Chief Mondary has played an active role in having a say, in terms of cannabis operations, security, and enforcement; and it’s now “all hands on deck.”
Whether officials in Santa Clarita ultimately decide to permit medical marijuana cultivation and the manufacture of cannabis derivatives in the city is still questionable. The opportunity and promise of a financial windfall may have already passed the city by.  Cannabis production is currently a growth industry in the state, but skeptics believe that this California Green Rush is unsustainable due to potential over-saturation of the market.

 

As more cultivation and manufacturing facilities are established and coming online, growers’ expectations of significant financial returns may be disappointing in the long-run, as supply may eventually outweigh demand. Many in the industry expect a market correction to take place at some point in the future, but for would-be cannabis entrepreneurs looking in from the outside, hopes remain high and the grass still looks greener.

 

 

KHTS Seeks SCV Homeowners’ Emails

| News | July 20, 2017

Last week, Carl Goldman, co-owner of KHTS, attended the Sand Canyon Homeowners Association (SCHOA) board meeting, following up on his proposal to the group that they give KHTS their list of approximately 800 residents’ emails.

If passed by SCHOA, the emails will be placed on the KHTS email blast list, sending emails to homeowners six days a week. Goldman told the SCHOA board that his “campaign” to attain the email list is for “informational,” not “marketing” purposes, though the email announcements are news teasers leading readers to the KHTS website.

“I don’t like the idea of any private lists being shared for any reason,” said Michael Hogan, Sand Canyon resident. “If any organization wants to send an email through HOA inviting people to join, that’s fine. Then the homeowners have a choice.”

SCHOA sent an email announcing the decision to accept Goldman‘s request for the emails, offering residents the chance to “opt out” within a six-week time frame.

The Santa Clarita Gazette received emails from dozens of Sand Canyon homeowners who underscored Hogan’s opinion that the list should not be handed over to the radio station, but that residents should instead have the opportunity to “opt in” if they choose. Many offered opinions, which Gazette staff chose to keep anonymous.

“Making it an ‘opt out’ means that someone must reply to express their disinterest. Email lists are too viral; we need to be selective to our own objectives,” said one community leader.

Several SCHOA members asked why it was not handled with the ease of an “opt in” method, rather than threatening a breach of privacy by handing over the emails unless they “opt out.”

“There is no way to know who did not receive notification, which could result in sharing of emails of those who do not approve,” one homeowner said.  A large number of the Sand Canyon residents said they never saw the email. One respondent said, “I just scan the homeowner emails … so if you have to ‘opt out,’ most of us wouldn’t be or aren’t aware.”

Another Sand Canyon woman who said the move is an invasion of her privacy, added that she responded to Ruthann, “asking her NOT to forward my email, as I do not prefer to receive KHTS daily news blasts and have heard no guarantee that the list would be protected and not further disseminated.”

The goal of Goldman’s campaign, he said, is to eventually attain the email lists from all Santa Clarita Valley homeowners’ associations, so that KHTS will be the single hub of communication, particularly during emergencies.

 

 

Something’s Goofy at Disney Ranch

| News | July 13, 2017

Development of the Walt Disney Company’s Golden Oak Ranch studio complex in Placerita Canyon was given the green light by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors nearly four years ago. The City of Santa Clarita was supportive, the community was supportive, but since plans were approved in August, 2013 ground has yet to be broken. After repeated attempts to find out why, Disney did not return calls to provide an answer.

The hold-up has mystified residents and community leaders who were wooed by an aggressive marketing barrage that extolled the virtues of having a large media complex in their backyard. It was not a hard sell. Those living in the area immediately surrounding Placerita Canyon, where Golden Oak Ranch is located, appeared to be comfortable with the idea of a years-long construction project near their homes.

While several environmental groups had expressed apprehension over the project’s impact on air and water quality, as well as its effect on plants and wildlife, Disney came up with a solution to allay their concerns. Preservation of the integrity and biodiversity of the property would be protected by the planting of over 1,600 saplings to replace 158 trees, including 16 heritage oaks that stood to be removed during development. That solution seemed good enough for former County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and the rest of the Board of Supervisors. The project was unanimously approved by a vote of 4-0.

Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who had previously served as Mr. Antonovich’s chief deputy, shares the support expressed by the board four years ago. Barger’s communications director, Tony Bell, tells the Gazette that the supervisor visited the filming location last week in the wake of the Placerita Canyon fire that destroyed three production set buildings at Golden Oak Ranch.

“All I can tell you is the supervisor’s happy about the project, the County’s happy, the City of Santa Clarita is happy. You’d have to ask Disney about the hold-ups,” said Bell. “These things take time.”

Enthusiasm for the Golden Oak Ranch project was also expressed by state officials. Runaway production has cost the California economy hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. Generous tax incentives offered by states including Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, and Texas have long had a negative impact by drawing away film and television production. Sacramento attempted to stanch the exodus by tripling the amount of tax incentives available to qualifying productions which, in 2015, totaled $330 million in annual rebates. Those efforts have paid off.

Twelve qualifying television series have relocated to California in the last year. One of those shows is HBO’s “Ballers,” starring Dwayne Johnson, which moved from Miami and now calls Santa Clarita home. The show will have its third season premiere later this month. In addition to “Ballers,” other programs, including “NCIS” and the “Santa Clarita Diet,” continue to call the city home and have had a significant impact on the local economy.

Evan Thomason, Economic Development Associate for the City’s Film Office, says there were over 1,300 shoot days last year, generating nearly $31 million in revenues. Much of that money is spent with businesses in the community, in addition to the dollars going directly toward production-related costs.

“Even though Golden Oak Ranch is part of the County and not the City of Santa Clarita, there’d be spillover for location shooting and much of that would likely be near the studio. That would be a benefit all around.” Thomason says.

Golden Oak Ranch was slated to occupy 58 acres of the Disney Ranch and be home to over a half-million square feet of studio space, sound stages, offices, a commissary, and other production and support buildings. The presence of the complex was expected to be a boon to the local economy, bringing in over 3,152 construction jobs and, ultimately, employing 2,854 more people in full-and-part-time positions based on the company’s projections.

The studio complex would also have helped alleviate another major hurdle for producers looking to remain in the state: lack of sufficient studio space. Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission, tells the Gazette that one of the biggest challenges for producers is finding soundstages, due to high demand.

“The tax incentive plan has been extremely successful in keeping production here and bringing production back. That’s undoubtedly contributing to the lack of space,” she said.

In the past, approximately 70 percent of stages in the Los Angeles area were in active use by production companies. By some estimates, occupancy is currently hovering around 90 percent. The scarcity of production space has been felt most in the television industry.

Historically, successful television programs usually had consisted of 26 annual episodes, but in recent years orders are oftentimes limited to 13 episodes at a time. One result of this is that companies are now signing long-term leases for soundstages even when programs are on hiatus, allowing producers to retain guaranteed access on an ongoing basis should orders for additional episodes be made. In many instances, stages remain dark as much as they are open and in use, although many studio owners attempt to squeeze in other productions during downtime.

The advent of increased original programming from emerging platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu has further contributed to the lack of available space. This doesn’t include additional demand for soundstages by producers of television commercials.

Golden Oak Ranch would not only have provided a tremendous financial boost, it would have opened more opportunities for physical production. Though owned by Disney, rental of the facilities would be an option for any production in search of soundstages, back lots, or close access to locations, be it film, television, or commercials.

Santa Clarita has long been attractive to filmmakers as it falls within the “30-Mile Zone” or “studio zone” for filming in Los Angeles. By staying within this production zone, television shows and film productions do not need to pay travel time and mileage to members of the entertainment unions. It’s one of the reasons there hasn’t been expansion into Riverside or San Bernardino Counties, despite those counties having wide swaths of open space suitable for the construction of studio facilities.

“I couldn’t tell you why they haven’t started construction,” says the Film Office’s Thomason. “We’d really like to see it happen. There’s definitely a need.”

In the meantime, the promised “$533 million in annual economic activity throughout Los Angeles County,” Disney continues to tout on its “Studios at the Ranch” website is still in question. And the “Mouse that Roared” is strangely silent.

 

Council to Examine Chamber Lease

| News | July 7, 2017

Although the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce receives widespread support from the City Council, that alone does not guarantee the city will continue to let it keep its rent-free digs at City Hall.

Granted, the chamber is ensconced in Suite 265 until Nov. 30, giving the council plenty of time to decide what to do, but at least three members have indicated the council will not give the chamber carte blanche just because it has in the past.

Mayor Cameron Smyth made it clear he wants to examine the lease that brought the chamber to City Hall in the first place, since he wasn’t on the council when the two parties drew up the agreement.

“The city needs to take a real fine look at whether the city wants to extend it,” he said. “When the lease comes due, I would expect the council should take a close look.”

The lease agreement, which the city provided to The Gazette, was for 12 months free rent, although the chamber has to pay monthly utility charges or $342.29, or $4,104.48 over the 12 months. Additionally, the chamber has to pay for its own telephone, internet and insurance.The lease agreement, which the city provided to The Gazette, was for 12 months free rent, although the chamber has to pay monthly utility charges or $342.29, or $4,104.48 over the 12 months. Additionally, the chamber has to pay for its own telephone, internet and insurance.

Furthermore, should the chamber remain there after Nov. 30, it would have to pay $5,000 a month in rent for the 1,048 square feet it currently occupies — that’s if the city allows it to stay. The terms say the city has the right to boot the chamber out on Nov. 30.

The other councilmembers who want to take a look at everything are Marsha McLean and Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste. Both ardently support the chamber and appreciate its purposes and functions “for a number of generations,” Weste said.

“At the end of the year, we need to take a look and see if they’re doing what we hope they’re doing,” McLean said.

McLean also said she is “not ready to see the chamber go away because it’s such an important tool for small businesses,” including her window-cleaning business. When she moved to the area in the 1970s, she joined the chamber and said she held various positions on various committees over the years.

Although she said she is no longer a chamber member, “I want to see the chamber succeed,” she said.

Councilmember Bob Kellar said he thinks it’s too early to decide the chamber’s fate, but he made it clear he is a big supporter and would do just about anything to keep it alive, including letting it continue to stay at City Hall.

“I have no issue with making their home at City Hall a while,” Kellar said. “We had the space available, so why not? When we help the chamber, we’re helping businesses as well.”
The city also currently commits $40,000 to the chamber every year. None of the council members interviewed (Bill Miranda didn’t return calls) indicated they want to change the financial commitment in any way.

“At this point, I am still comfortable maintaining the city’s (financial) involvement,” Smyth said.

Latino Chamber Founder: ‘I Tried to Warn Them’

| News | July 6, 2017

As far as Bob Pacheco was concerned, 2014 was a great year for the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Chamber of Commerce. In a letter to the chamber board of directors, Pacheco wrote, “We made a profit of $10,000 for the first time on the GALA (sic) and I obtained an $8,000 (actually $10,000) grant from SoCalGas. Why give up now?”

Pacheco wrote these words in January 2015 before the Latino chamber board, led by chamber CEO Bill Miranda and treasurer Marlon Roa, voted (Pacheco recalls by a 7-5 margin) to merge with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce. Pacheco resigned in protest and has had no contact with either man since.

“Because I was the founder, I thought, since we made such a huge impact on the community, I thought it was wrong to end,” he said. “I tried to fight it.”

The mystery of where the money went when the chambers merged remains unsolved. Miranda didn’t return calls and Roa referred all questions to current Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO John Musella, who didn’t return calls.

But there is no doubt what became of the grant: Most of it never reached the chamber.

“I tried to warn them, but they assumed it would be easy to keep the grant,” Pacheco said. “They didn’t realize this was a unique project, and they assumed their contacts would help them keep the grant.”

In 2014, a grant Pacheco applied for came through: The Latino Chamber was to receive $10,000 from Southern California Gas Company for its Advanced Meter Program (Musella was never part of this, but Roa wouldn’t explain why he would refer calls about this to Musella). According to the SoCalGas website and accompanying YouTube video, the program adds a communication device to all residential and business gas meters that transmits the information electronically, thereby eliminating the need to have someone come by and read it.

The two-year grant was to help get the word out to the Latino community in advance of the actual meters being installed, Pacheco said. And the Latino chamber did some of that, he said.

“We did some outreach, had meetings, mentioned it at all our events,” Pacheco said. “Letting the Latino community know about the meter changes. Our mission was to get the word out to let the Latino community know that these changes were coming.”

Not widely known was that this grant was for ethnic chambers. When the Latino chamber ceased to exist, the award stopped. Pacheco estimates the Latino chamber received less than $2,500 for the six months it existed while receiving the grant.

“They assumed they’d be able to continue with the grant,” Pacheco said. “That was part of the plan. It was something they thought would happen.”

It didn’t. What’s more, Pacheco said he wasn’t involved with Miranda and Roa’s move to merge, but he wrote a letter, a copy of which the Gazette previously obtained, which outlined his objections to the board of directors:

• No one asked the members what they thought
• Pacheco was unaware of any agreement with any officer of what he calls “the big chamber”
• The vote to merge was non-binding by chamber bylaws
• The board did not have the power to dissolve the chamber
• The Board of Advisors, people who had contributed the largest amounts of money, had not weighed in and deserved a refund of their monies if they objected to the merger
• Any action taken that isn’t keeping with the bylaws exposes board members to liability

“I knew the Latino chamber would die under the big chamber,” Pacheco said.

When the vote to merge became official, Pacheco resigned almost on the spot, and he took with him the knowledge of how to file Internal Revenue Service forms. This fell to Roa and Miranda, and Pacheco got the sense those two were overwhelmed with the task of filing tax documents, as well the necessary ones to dissolve the chamber. Pacheco recalled former chamber CEO Terri Crain promising to assist, but in the end, Crain, Miranda and Roa passed responsibility to others.

“Nobody knew how difficult it was,” Pacheco said. “They thought it was a one- or two-hour matter to handle.”

The final IRS Form 990 was never filed, and Roa previously said he and Musella are trying to complete it now.

When Pacheco resigned, he also separated himself from the Latino chamber’s education foundation, which was formed in 2013-14 and, according to a Sept. 23, 2014 article in The Signal, received $5,000 in pledges at the 2014 gala.

That education foundation is now called Santa Clarita Latino Education, Inc., according to a statement of information filed March 30, 2017. The officers listed are Miranda as CEO, Pacheco as secretary and Roa as CFO.

Although Pacheco has not spoken to Miranda or Roa in two years, he is unconcerned that his name is still listed.

“My resignation effectively removes me. It doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “My resignation supersedes whatever is there. I resigned in 2015. I’m not an officer. I have no responsibility.”

There was one additional reason he didn’t keep fighting: his health. He had suffered kidney problems and was not strong enough.

Now, he’s healthy and has taken a new turn in life. He’s retiring from his CPA career and transitioning into wellness and holistic medicine. He is president of the Santa Clarita chapter of the Holistic Chamber of Commerce. According to its website, it’s “a growing group representing local holistic professionals, practitioners and businesses. We encourage and promote healthy living, and support the professionals and businesses that make it possible.” The group’s next meeting is July 18 at the Persia Lounge.

Although he has had no contact with Miranda or Roa, Pacheco says he doesn’t hate them and would shake their hands and say hi if their paths crossed.

The Latino Chamber of Commerce is but a memory.

“It seemed like a waste to do the merger and lose our identity,” Pacheco said, “but no one was as passionate as I was.”

 

Santa Clarita Cracks Down on Illegal Fireworks

| News | June 29, 2017

Local leaders want to send a message to residents of Santa Clarita: There is zero tolerance for illegal fireworks. As Fourth of July approaches, the City of Santa Clarita, in partnership with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station and the Los Angeles County Fire Department, has launched a fireworks safety public education and enforcement campaign to drive the message home. The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station will also be conducting multiple fireworks operations between now and Fourth of July.

In the City of Santa Clarita, it is illegal to possess, sell or use fireworks in the city limits. Fireworks include those labeled “Safe and Sane,” such as sparklers, snaps and smoke balls, and any item that explodes, rises in the air or moves about the ground. Fireworks are a violation of the Santa Clarita Municipal Code, Health and Safety Code and Los Angeles County Fire Code. Those found guilty of a violation will be cited and have their illegal fireworks confiscated by the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

“I want to remind residents that as citizens we must protect our community, (which) means looking out for each other and reporting illegal fireworks,” says Mayor Cameron Smyth.

The public is encouraged to report illegal fireworks anonymously by calling the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station at (661) 255-1121. Residents may also report illegal fireworks to the sheriff’s deputy assigned to their zone. Information can be found online at scvsheriff.com/zone-leaders.

“We are taking enforcement very seriously and will be monitoring hot spots known to have a history of illegal fireworks use,” says Captain Robert Lewis of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station. “Violators can receive a fine from $500 to $1,000 and face misdemeanor prosecution.”

Fireworks are known to cause burns, serious injuries and even death.

“Besides causing physical harm to our citizens, fireworks greatly increase the risk of both structure and wildland fires,” warns Assistant Fire Chief Gregory Hisel. “Fireworks can cause fires that amount to millions of dollars in property loss.”

Precipitation the city experienced earlier this year produced an abundance of growth in easy to ignite grass and light fuels. As a result, this year’s brush fire season is predicted to be very active, fast moving and dangerous.

“We just want Santa Clarita residents to enjoy a safe and responsible Fourth of July,” Smyth said.

The City of Santa Clarita and public safety officials are encouraging residents to leave the show to the pros and enjoy one of the many fireworks displays offered locally, including the city’s annual Fourth of July show taking place at the Westfield Valencia Town Center at 9:15 p.m. More information on the show can be found at santa-clarita.com. Starting Wednesday, June 28, residents may also access a list of local fireworks shows in and near Santa Clarita Valley at fire.lacounty.gov/fireworks-safety.

 

Caforio’s Trump Strategy

| News | June 29, 2017

It’s a strategy the opposition party has used since the early days of the Republic: linking the incumbent to an unpopular president of the same party.

Bryan Caforio is employing this strategy now, 16 months before the next congressional election. He’s attempting to link Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) to President Donald Trump.

But will this work? While the election is far off and so many things can change between now and Nov. 6, 2018, a recent Los Angeles Times article says this strategy is not working now.

“Trump is so distinctive a politician that it’s hard to persuade voters that other Republican candidates are carbon copies of the president,” the Times wrote. “Trump’s outsized persona makes even those Republicans who share his views seem more moderate.”

The Times points to five special elections that were held to replace people who resigned to work in the Trump Administration. Republicans won four of those races, including Georgia’s 6th district, the most expensive House race in history. The fifth was in blue-state California.

“Simply going into the district and trying to tie them to Trump is not going to be enough to defeat them,” California-based strategist Katie Merrill told the Times.

In the four races, Democrats gained votes, including 10 points in Georgia, but still came up short. When Caforio challenged Knight in November, he also gained 69,181 more votes than Tony Strickland got in 2014, but still lost by the same 53 percent to 47 percent. (Knight, incidentally, received 77,908 more votes than in 2014; Strickland declined comment through a spokesperson.)

“If I move our race (10 points), I’m going to win,” Caforio said.

Caforio’s current strategy is to remind voters that Knight has voted along party lines 22 times. These include the American Health Care Act, the House’s version of the repeal and replacement of Obamacare; and the Financial Choice Act, which would roll back parts of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a consumer protection law passed in response to the financial crisis of 2007-08.

“It’s not enough to say ‘Donald Trump,’” Caforio told the Gazette. “Steve Knight has voted with Donald Trump 100 percent of the time, so it’s impossible not to talk about them.”

According to Caforio’s website, he has posted a press release equating the two a total of three times since Caforio declared he’s again running for Knight’s seat.

The first was March 31 about health care: “While our own congressional representative, Steve Knight, avoids facing his constituents who are concerned about their health care, we now know that Trumpcare will cause at least 46,400 people right here in the 25th District to lose their health insurance. That’s unacceptable.”

The second was May 17 about the Russia investigation: “After learning about the potential obstruction of justice from President Trump and his attempt to end a vital FBI investigation, there should no longer be any doubt that we must have an independent investigation. If Congressman Knight is ready to put his partisan politics aside and get the American people the answers they deserve, he will sign onto the discharge petition.”

The third was June 1, about Trump exiting the Paris climate treaty: “I am disappointed to see Trump abandon the landmark Paris climate agreement and the progress we have made to combat climate change. … As Steve Knight continues to take tens of thousands of dollars from dirty oil and gas corporations while putting their profits above the health and safety of our community, I will stand with the families of our district who want the peace of mind to know that the air they breathe and the water they drink is safe.”

Caforio isn’t always equating Trump and Knight. He has attacked Knight five times and touted his various endorsements seven times.

“I’m not a politician. I’m an attorney going after corporate interests,” he said. “When I see Steve Knight, who just voted to roll back Dodd-Frank, I’m going to talk about it. … Maybe Steve Knight one day will look out for his community. My job is to communicate my message.”

 

Football Star Finds True North in Canada

| News | June 29, 2017

When Drew Wolitarsky broke records as a wide receiver for the Canyon High School Cowboys, fans knew he was going places. But what they probably didn’t expect was that it would be Canada.

“I was trying for the NFL draft, but when that fell through and I did not get picked up by a team, I decided that the best thing I could do next was to submit a player form for the CFL (Canadian Football League),” Wolitarsky said.

Joining a team out of the country was no illegal procedure (pun intended), especially for Wolitarsky, thanks to his bloodline.

When Drew Wolitarsky broke records as a wide receiver for the Canyon High School Cowboys, fans knew he was going places. But what they probably didn’t expect was that it would be Canada.

“I was trying for the NFL draft, but when that fell through and I did not get picked up by a team, I decided that the best thing I could do next was to submit a player form for the CFL (Canadian Football League),” Wolitarsky said.

Joining a team out of the country was no illegal procedure (pun intended), especially for Wolitarsky, thanks to his bloodline.

“In order to play in the CFL and have a better opportunity to stay in the league I needed to get my Canadian citizenship, and as my mother was born in Montreal I had the access to my citizenship in Canada,” Wolitarsky said. “So, once we got all of that figured out, my agent started contacting teams and letting them know that I was eligible to play in the CFL.”

A humorous detail in the process was the fact that Canadian immigration received Wolitarsky’s application on May 31 and accepted him on June 1—just one day.

“You do not have to be a Canadian citizen to play in the CFL, but it is a large advantage to be Canadian because there have to be a certain number of Canadians on the field at a certain time,” he explained.

On Tuesday, June 27, the recent University of Minnesota graduate took a call from the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who confirmed they drafted him.

“Before then it was really up in the air, as the supplemental draft had not yet had a definite date time,” Wolitarsky said. “I head out next week sometime and prepare for the remainder of the regular season. We still have to set up my contract and living situation and I have to find a car pretty soon so I can drive up there and have that with me.”

There are many Americans playing in the Canadian Football League, said Wolitarsky, who did not give up his American citizenship in the process. He described the game in the CFL as having many different rules, but the same basis of scoring and receiving first downs remains the same.

 

 

Miranda Backs Out: Councilman Reneges on Commitment

| News | June 22, 2017

As head of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, Alan Ferdman works at securing speakers and subject matter for his organization’s monthly meetings. That often means scheduling city councilmembers.

Ferdman has tried to get newest councilmember Bill Miranda for the past two months, but each time, Miranda has committed, only to back out.

The way Miranda backed out of Wednesday’s meeting struck Ferdman: He canceled on Monday via his secretary, who told Ferdman that something had come up.

“That pisses me off. He did it last month, too, except he gave more notice,” Ferdman said. “This time, it was in the 11th hour. Rather crappy.”

Ferdman said it’s unusual for people to cancel so close to the date, but when it happens, they usually call him personally. (Miranda did not return phone calls to explain what came up.)

“It’s not normal to call the day before and say something came up,” Ferdman said. “It’s unusual to have a secretary call me. Usually, there’s more mutual respect.”

Had Miranda appeared, the Gazette would have asked him to account for where the Latino Chamber money went when it merged with the SCV Chamber, or if he had seen the two checks (or copies of them) that Chamber head John Musella said he had that proved there was no wrongdoing. Miranda has for months claimed he has the documentation but has never proffered it. Former Chamber treasurer Marlon Roa recently gave the Gazette the statement of financial income and expense from July-December 2014, which was in his possession, not Miranda’s.

Ferdman said he would have welcomed the questioning. “If he’s that thin-skinned, then I don’t know,” Ferdman said.

Ferdman said he knows it’s possible that something really did come up; he believes that Miranda’s actions show a lack of respect.

In the past, when people cancel on the CCAC, Ferdman said, he tries to reschedule with the person. Sometimes, it takes a few months before that person can appear. Ferdman said he hopes Miranda will appear soon.

 

Albert Einstein Academy Struggles to Remain Open

| News | June 22, 2017

As far as Rabbi Mark Blazer is concerned, the system is rigged and it’s difficult, if not impossible, for a charter school to exist, let alone thrive; also, the emotional toll it places on educators, parents and students is exacting and frustrating.

That is what Blazer, founder of Albert Einstein Academy of Letters, Arts and Sciences, believes as his creation struggles to remain open beyond next year.

“People are very emotional. It’s a very horrible experience, fighting when you realize how little is under your control,” said Blazer, who leads Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita. “Charters provide a huge amount of control back to parents, to students. It brings education back to accessibility, and makes it real, and makes it tangible. … The education system in California is a monolith that’s inaccessible, unfeeling, distant and disconnected, and charter schools allow parents and students to be close to the operations. When people are close to something, and they find that those relationships can be yanked away, it’s a horrible feeling.”

Those horrible feelings might have been mitigated a bit because the 450 students in grades 7-12 will have a place to go for the 2017-18 school year. This happened after the school filed an injunction against the William S. Hart Union High School District and the Los Angeles County Board of Education, which both voted against renewing the school’s charter, which expires June 30. The hearing is July 13 and will determine if the school can set aside the denials until the state Board of Education can hear the petition in mid-September.

“There will be a school next year,” Blazer declared.

When Blazer set about to create Einstein’s charter, he knew he would face widespread area resistance. The five area school districts – Hart, Saugus, Newhall, Sulphur Springs and Castaic – had little motivation to accept a non-public, non-religious school in their midst. One reason was money: The state gives public schools money for each student each day the student comes to the public school. Blazer said each child nets a school (and its district) $7,000. Multiply that by 450 students and that’s $3,150,000 not going to the district’s coffers.

Also, fewer babies were being born during the Great Recession. According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, births fell 4 percent in 2009. That means there are smaller numbers of kids now in elementary school, meaning less money coming into the districts. For example, The Signal reported that the Saugus Union School District enrollment fell by 500 kids between 2009-13. The website says the district has 10,100 kids, meaning it’s fallen by another 100 students since 2013.

According to KHTS, Sulphur Springs endured a round of teacher layoffs in 2015 due to lower enrollment numbers, and Castaic’s superintendent spoke about lower enrollment in his district in 2016.

Furthermore, Blazer said, housing development in the area slowed during the Great Recession, so fewer younger families could afford to move into the area and put their fewer numbers of kids into the area schools.

As expected, Blazer said, Hart declined to charter Einstein in 2010. Newhall School District quickly denied Blazer as well, board member Christy Smith saying at the time, “There isn’t a need for a charter school to come in and help students perform. The purpose of a charter school is low performance, and we don’t have that.” (Smith, who is currently running for state Assembly, didn’t return calls seeking an update to her comments.)

Blazer strongly disagrees with Smith and points to Sec. 47601 of the state Education Code: “It is the intent of the Legislature, in enacting this part, to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure …”

“Charter schools exist for myriad reasons,” Blazer said.

Saugus denied Blazer four times. Discussions with Sulphur Springs and Castaic led Blazer to believe those districts weren’t interested, either.

It took Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District to finally grant the charter as a K-12 school, although Einstein continued to operate grades 7-12 under the Hart District (Einstein has a K-6 school that is unaffected by all of this). The Hart District board has never granted a charter and unanimously denied the renewal this time around, citing concern for the school’s finances and governing structure.

“We need to exercise our fiduciary responsibility for the rest of the Santa Clarita Valley for whom pays the cost associated to the other 22,000 students and their families and their relatives and friends,” board member Steve Sturgeon said at the time. “I’m going to move that we deny this petition. I apologize for that from the bottom of my heart, but we need to move forward for the whole community.”

The County Board of Education also denied the renewal, by a 4-3 vote, after its education staff reported that Einstein presents an unsound educational program for students to be enrolled in the school, is unlikely to successfully implement the proposed educational program, and does not provide a reasonably comprehensive description of all required elements in a charter school petition.

Also, The Signal reported, there were concerns regarding the school’s racial and ethnic balance, performance among all student groups, unrealistic financial and operational plans, delinquent audits and a lack of transparency with the school’s involvement with the larger Charter Management Organization AEALAS, Inc.

One member who voted in favor was Doug Boyd, who told the Gazette, “I voted to grant the appeal. Their problems were on the way to being resolved, and the education was sound for the children.”

Blazer isn’t giving up the fight, although it’s clearly taking a toll on him.

“Watching families go through the heartache is very frustrating for me,” he said. “We have no control over things. There’s nothing I can do. We’re taxpayers. You’d think we could do something.”

 

Chamber Refuses, Still No Proof of Finances

| News | June 22, 2017

The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce chairman made it clear he will not be providing proof that the Chamber’s audit of the Latino Chamber was clean.

In a one-word email reply, John Musella said, “No.”

The Gazette had called Musella seeking to see the checks (or copies of them) that Musella claimed cleared the Latino Chamber of any wrongdoing when it merged with the SCV Chamber in January 2015.

Musella previously wrote in a press release that two checks the Latino Chamber paid to the SCV Chamber on March 7, 2015 matched the checking and savings accounts’ ending balances.

“The Latino Chamber financials were prepared by a qualified bookkeeper, managed by a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and overseen by the treasurer of the Latino Chamber’s Board of Directors.  … I’ve seen a lot of non-profit financials over the years and the Latino Chamber’s financials were some of the most organized and well prepared I have seen. Clearly they were a well-run and well-managed organization.”

Musella did not name the bookkeeper, CPA and treasurer, although Bob Pacheco is a CPA who handled earlier Latino Chamber tax forms, and Marlon Roa was the last treasurer of record (Roa referred all questions to Musella; Pacheco has steadfastly refused comment).

The Gazette originally reported back in April that monies collected from the 2014 Latino Chamber gala and when the two chambers merged were missing. Bill Miranda, then-Latino Chamber CEO and current Santa Clarita City Councilmember, said on a radio show that he had the documentation but refused to provide it, even accusing the Gazette of racism in its dogged pursuit of the proof. This led The Signal Publisher Chuck Champion to publicly castigate Miranda at a council meeting.

According to documents provided by Roa – documentation that he, and not Miranda, had – and Gloria Mercado-Fortine, who along with Henry Rodriguez co-chaired the 2014 Latino chamber gala, as much as between $7,000 and $12,100 could be missing.

One reason for the missing monies was poor bookkeeping and a passing of responsibility. No one associated with the Latino Chamber filed the necessary Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for 2015. Roa previously said that since the two chambers had merged by June 30, 2015, it would have fallen to then-SCV Chamber President and CEO Terri Crain to ensure the documents were filed.

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

Rodriguez has said Miranda would have taken care of it. Miranda previously said Roa would have given the figures to Pacheco and Pacheco would have been responsible for filing. But Pacheco had already left the Latino Chamber in protest of the merger.

Roa has said he is now working with Musella to try and locate the documentation to complete the Latino Chamber Form 990 for 2015, but it might be difficult since so much of the Chamber’s papers are in boxes, the result of moving from its Tournament Road digs to a much smaller place in City Hall.

 

The Cost of Castaic High School

| News | June 15, 2017

Steve Sturgeon has wanted a high school in Castaic since 1999. It’s coming closer and closer to reality, as grading is complete and construction has started.

“It’s going to be a great high school,” said Sturgeon, a member of the William S. Hart Union High School District board.

But at what cost? Estimates run in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but the possibility remains that it will not put the Hart District in the red.

“We won’t be over. We won’t be dipping into the (district’s) general fund,” Hart School Board President Joe Messina said.

Still, it’s not yet clear exactly how much the project will cost. What is clear is the following:

The school is being built by Castaic High School Construction, Inc., owned by Larry Rasmussen of Spirit Holding, Inc., at a cost of $126.2 million, Hart District spokesperson Dave Caldwell said. The district awarded the contract in October. The money covers all the construction of the physical buildings and the landscaping.

“That is the guaranteed max contract, no more, no less,” Caldwell said.

The grading of the site was completed beforehand at an estimated cost of $43 million, Sturgeon said. There are costs associated with permits, architect fees, and various county and state costs that could total as much as $35 million.

Sturgeon said the district has set aside as much as $3 million in the general fund for furnishing the buildings with desks, chairs, etc., as well as library books and cleaning/mowing costs. (This differs from Messina’s claim about not dipping into the fund, in that the $3 million has been set aside for a specific purpose; Messina referred to having to spend money not allocated for the project.)

Assuming the above estimated costs are correct, that means it will cost about $203 million. But that doesn’t take into account any unforeseen costs along the way. For example, the state Department of Education typically changes its rules regarding school design annually, and should major changes occur, it might cause changes in the building plans. Also, construction costs rise annually at a rate of about 5 percent, Messina estimated, although Caldwell said the construction contract is set, which should mitigate that.

The funds for building the school came courtesy of Measure SA that the voters approved in 2008. That measure provided $300 million in bonds for various school construction and upgrades, and Caldwell said in an email that the district is using the remaining estimated $95 million for the performing arts centers at Canyon and Saugus high schools, a two-story addition and infrastructure upgrade at Hart, and classroom additions at Placerita and Sierra Vista junior highs, among others.

The reality, Messina and Sturgeon said, is that the various district-wide projects could push the total budget to more than $300 million, but if that happens, the district can tap into state matching funds made available by Proposition 51 that the voters approved in November. Messina said as much as $61 million is available.

Another thing to consider: The scope of the Castaic High School project has changed over the years. Messina said the original idea was to use the same plans for West Ranch and Golden Valley high schools and build a third identical school in Castaic.

“If we used the original plans, it would have cost $180 million,” Messina said.

But over time, different people wanted to include different things in the school. For example, Messina wanted (and got) what he calls flex-tech buildings, in which different technologies could be taught from one year to the next. Solar power could give way to wind turbines without having to change the physical structure of the buildings.

Someone else wanted (and got) a performing arts center, and suddenly the land chosen for the school (Romero Canyon) wasn’t big enough. Fortunately, Messina said, the developer found a piece of land that was in foreclosure. Now, there was enough room.

The first class is scheduled to enroll for the fall 2019 semester.

 

State Law Mandates Enrollment for Illegals in Hart District

| News | June 15, 2017

Some believe it is easier for a child to enroll in school while here illegally than if he or she legal residents.

That’s what Joe Messina said he discovered as he tried to help a family here legally try to get their children enrolled in the William S. Hart Union High School District, the board of which Messina sits as president.

He tells the story this way: A couple came to this country to work securing the necessary visas to do so, and deciding to live in the area. They thought it was a short-term project, so they left their children in their home country, which Messina would only describe as “overseas.” But the project was extended by two years, and the couple felt they no longer could leave their kids thousands of miles away, so they brought them into this country and secured visas so they could legally live here and attend school.

But somewhere along the way, somebody checked the wrong box or somebody gave somebody faulty information, and the children were given the wrong type of visa to register and attend their home public school.

“The kids were in a kind of education limbo,” Messina said.

Private school, charter school or home schooling remained options, but none were really viable due to costs and logistics. Messina received a call to see what he could do.

He found out it would take between four and six months to fix the problem. “It’s government bureaucracy at its finest,” Messina said.

He tried contacting Rep. Steve Knight’s office and was told it would take about the same amount of time. Finally, somebody tipped him off: If the parents go to a different school in the district and say they are here illegally, “it all stops,” Messina said.

No more questions, no more bureaucracy.

The reason: The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe. The Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that all illegal immigrant children between grades kindergarten and 12 cannot be denied education.

Hart District spokesperson Dave Caldwell confirmed, “That’s the law. We must accept all children. That’s my understanding.”

Furthermore, Messina explained, a family would have to go to a different school because every school has its own registrar, so the school that first denied the child already knows that the problem is the wrong visa, but other registrars don’t know.

The irony is not lost on Messina: “Do it legally and it screws up, so lie.”

 

McBean Pkwy Bridge Replacement Begins

| News | June 8, 2017

The City of Santa Clarita will begin a three-month bridge replacement project on Friday, June 9, 2017 on McBean Parkway between Gamble House Court and Arroyo Park Drive. The existing pedestrian bridge there will be replaced with a pre-fabricated steel truss bridge. The project is part of a plan by city leaders to sustain public infrastructure and replace existing pedestrian bridges made of aging and decayed timber. The project is expected to take approximately 12 weeks. Most of the construction will take place between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.

Residents are asked to be aware of planned road closures and to plan their routes accordingly. The project will kick off on Friday, June 9 at 10 p.m., with the removal of the existing bridge. During this time, for the safety of motorists and pedestrians, a full road closure between Del Monte Drive and Arroyo Park Drive will be required. Another full road closure and night work will be required during the installation of the new bridge at the beginning of August. Temporary lane closures will be necessary during construction. There may be some other work completed during night hours as well. Electronic message boards will be posted to inform motorists of upcoming closures. Reduced speed through the construction zone will be enforced for the safety of the public and the contractor’s employees.

All measures will be taken to complete the project in a safe and timely manner. For questions or concerns, contact Julia Regan from the City of Santa Clarita’s Public Works Department at (661) 255-4301 or at jregan@santa-clarita.com. For more information about the City of Santa Clarita, visit Santa-Clarita.com.

Caforio Gets Early Start

| News | June 8, 2017

The 2018 congressional election is more than 500 days away, but that hasn’t stopped or slowed Bryan Caforio.

Caforio, an attorney who unsuccessfully tried to unseat Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) in the 25th congressional district just six months ago, is in full campaign mode, attacking Knight and President Trump, reporting polling numbers and trumpeting the various endorsements he has received.

The most recent: Christy Smith, Newhall School District president who’s again running for the 38th Assembly district seat (she lost to Dante Acosta in November). The most prominent: California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, on June 1.

Caforio also announced a poll that showed he is in a statistical tie with Knight, who beat him by 15,019 votes (54 percent to 46 percent) in the last election. And Caforio took Trump to task for backing out of the Paris climate accord, saying in a statement, “With the Porter Ranch Gas Leak, the contamination at Santa Susana, the Chiquita Canyon dump expansion, Whittaker Bermite, Cemex, and so much more, the residents of California’s 25th District know the devastating consequences of politicians turning their backs on the environment all too well. As Steve Knight continues to take tens of thousands of dollars from dirty oil and gas corporations while putting their profits above the health and safety of our community, I will stand with the families of our district who want the peace of mind to know that the air they breathe and the water they drink is safe.”

But since the election is some 17 months away, does any of it really matter? To Caforio, the answer is yes.

“You put it all together and it builds on the energy we had in the last election,” he said. “We have 17 months to make it happen. … In the next 17 months, I will talk to as many people as possible, defending Social Security and Medicare, continue to build on our broad-based coalition, showing there is a better way.”

Press Release Attempts to Clarify Merger Finances

| News | June 8, 2017

The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce leadership has completed an audit of the Latino Chamber and concluded nothing is wrong with the accounting.

“There is no proof of wrong doing (sic),” Chamber chairman John Musella wrote on Scvbeacon.com. “We’ve reviewed the financials and all is in order.”

On Tuesday, Musella wrote in a press release, “The Latino Chamber financials were prepared by a qualified bookkeeper, managed by a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and overseen by the treasurer of the Latino Chamber’s Board of Directors. … I’ve seen a lot of non-profit financials over the years and the Latino Chamber’s financials were some of the most organized and well prepared I have seen. Clearly they were a well-run and well-managed organization.”

Musella did not respond to an email request to name the bookkeeper, CPA and treasurer, although Bob Pacheco is a CPA who handled earlier Latino Chamber tax forms, and Marlon Roa was the last treasurer of record (Roa referred all questions to Musella).

Musella also wrote in the release that two checks the Latino Chamber paid to the SCV Chamber on March 7, 2015 matched the checking and savings accounts’ ending balances, but he did not provide proof or indicate that he would be providing copies of said checks.

The Latino Chamber did not complete an Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for 2015, and Roa previously told the Gazette he’s trying to find the documentation to complete the form. Musella alluded to this in his release: “We have the records of the Latino Chamber financials being transmitted to the SCV Chamber staff, but no record of the 2015 Form 990. We are now in the process of making that filing on behalf of the former Latino Chamber and will share the 2015 Form 990 with interested parties as soon as it’s available.”

The Gazette has a copy of the SCV Chamber’s Form 990 from 2015, the year the Latino Chamber merged with the SCV Chamber, and there is nothing that shows any monies coming over from one chamber to another, although according to Matt Denny, whose limited liability partnership prepared the SCV Chamber’s 2015 Form 990, there wouldn’t be.

The form is prepared, Denny said, “based on accounting records provided by the chamber. … The tax return is a summary of the year.”
The Gazette originally reported back in April that monies from the Latino Chamber were unaccounted for when the two chambers merged. According to documents provided by Roa and Gloria Mercado-Fortine, co-chair of the 2014 Latino Chamber gala, as much as between $7,000 and $12,100 could be missing.

Denny added that not completing a form, which could be seen as “a lack of transparency,” is of greater concern. “Where are the returns, or where are the records?” Denny said. “There are pretty substantial penalties (for failing to file).”

Denny, who wasn’t responsible for preparing the Latino Chamber tax forms, also said he wouldn’t be surprised if the IRS waived the penalties once the Latino Chamber filed the 990.

In an email, Musella said, “Matt Denny no longer handles the Chamber’s taxes, does not represent the organization and is not authorized to speak on our behalf.”

Media Fallout: Article on KHTS Website Results in Pushback

| News | June 8, 2017

What started as an examination into chamber of commerce leadership has turned into a he-said, they-said situation, pitting media outlets and their sources against each other.

On one side is the Santa Clarita Gazette, which started things by running a series of stories that, while not the original intent, shined a spotlight on some of the leadership problems that have plagued the various area chambers.

Naturally, the other side is the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and its current leader, John Musella, who spoke to KHTS owner Carl Goldman during a commercial break on the May 12 radio show featuring Councilmember Bill Miranda and Gazette publisher Doug Sutton.

In that show, Sutton challenged Miranda to show the documentation he claimed he had two weeks earlier, when Miranda and Scott Wilk sat down with Goldman. Miranda countered by accusing Sutton and the Gazette of racism.

This week, the Chamber also went on Facebook and attacked Sutton and the Gazette.
“Recently, a couple people have publicly made wild accusations about the Latino Chamber’s finances from when they merged with us two years ago. They are meritless,” the statement said. “The Latino Chamber merged with the SCV Chamber in February 2015. The publisher of the Gazette, Doug Sutton, who has run multiple stories about the alleged financial mismanagement of the Latino Chamber merger, was a member of the SCV Chamber Board and Executive Committee at the time of the merger. Sutton voted in favor of the merger.”

Sutton has admitted publicly he does not recall much of the matter, including his vote.
On Friday, June 2, Perry Smith posted an article on the KHTS website entitled “SCV Chamber Responds To ‘Baseless Claims’ By Mercado-Fortine In Local Classifieds Section.” It was Gloria Mercado-Fortine, former Latino Chamber board member, who provided the Gazette with numbers that show as much as $7,000 to $12,100 unaccounted for, although Musella sent out a press release Tuesday saying an audit of the Latino Chamber revealed otherwise.

Multiple parties engaged in a discussion in the comment section following Smiths article, beginning with Sutton, who seemed to take offense at KHTS referring to his publication as a “local classifieds section” (The Gazette’s full name is Santa Clarita Gazette and Free Classifieds).

“Claims, comments or anything written regarding this was published in the Santa Clarita Gazette, not sure what ‘local classifieds section’ you are referring to?” Sutton wrote on the KHTS website. “Is this fake news?”

Sutton added another post on the website and others followed up with their opinions, recorded here verbatim:

Doug Sutton

June 2, 2017 – 5:33 pm

To clarify, I do not recall voting on the matter. Somehow this has become about me, with everyone missing the point: There was not and has not been a legal tax filing for the last year of the Latino Chamber’s existence. Until that occurs all of this back and forth does not mean a thing. Perhaps someone will address this issue.

 Bruce Fortine

June 2, 2017 – 6:29 pm

Perry, I am very surprised at your sloppy journalism in this article. Shame! Even the article title is incorrect: “SCV Chamber Responds to ‘Baseless Claims’ by Mercado-Fortine in Local Classifieds Section.” I doubt if the SCV Chamber has authorized this response by John Musella of “Baseless Claims” because there were no claims. Unfortunately, you refer the Santa Clarita Gazette as the Local Classifieds Section, another put-down of a competitor. To my knowledge, the Gazette has never accused anyone or organization of not properly managing funds, Doug Sutton just asked “where did the money go?” when Carl Goldman interviewed him on KHTS. Gloria has never even asked that question because she and other board members resigned shortly after the gala because of disappointment with management. When you say “the former Latino Chamber has been accused of not properly managing funds when the group merged with the SCV Chamber” Gloria was not even a member. John Musella and you have asked for copies of Gloria’s information which she gladly offered to provide. She would have given you copies at the same time as the Gazette, but you didn’t ask. You have made Gloria the center of your article which is wrong. She explained to you that all she did was provide information that was requested by the media. You and John Musella should check the facts before launching tirades. “The evidence will lead you to the truth.”

 Ken W.

June 2, 2017 – 7:49 pm

I would like to see our local leaders start acting like adults. Sit down with Carl as an neutral party, present all of your documents and move on.

 Stephen Petzold

June 3, 2017 – 6:12 am

I lost faith in Carl Goldman as a neutral party after his sit down interview with Doug Sutton and Bill Miranda. Carl was in studio several weeks before interviewing Wilk/Miranda when Bill pointed to a stack of papers and indicated that he had the numbers. Truth was Bill did not have them and sent the Gazette reporter on yet another wild goose chase. During the interview with Sutton/Miranda Carl should have told Bill to give the papers he had to Doug on the spot. Instead, he rushed out of the studio, placed a call to Chamber president (pro tempore) John Musella who we are led to believe told Carl that Bill’s numbers sounded about right. We still don’t know what that number is, and later in the interview Bill rhetorically pondered what difference it would make even if the money was flushed down the sewer.

 

The focus of Gazette stories is not on the Latin Chamber. It is on whether Bill Miranda properly discharged his duties and responsibilities as the paid CEO of the Latin Chamber prior to, during, and after the merger of the chambers. Why? Because the narrative story the evening of his appointment was that he had successfully negotiated the merger of the two chambers. That is indeed in question.

 Here are some facts.

 The Internal Revenue Service does not have record of receiving a closing Form 990 for the Latin Chamber of Commerce. Fiscal year July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 is not of record. This document would go a long way to determining where the money went.

 The 2015 Form 990 for the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce 2015 annual year (merger year) makes no reference to the merger of the two chambers. No line items, no notes.

 We are told that the merger took place in February 2015, but Marlon Roa filed an amended Statement of Information with the Secretary of State in May 2015 naming William Miranda as CEO. himself as Treasurer, and Byron Alvarado as Secretary. Why? They had been merged in February.

 In October 2016 dissolved the Latin Chamber with the Secretary of State’s office by Marlon Roa. Just one problem.

The Franchise Tax Board has no record of receiving the closing form 3500 that is required and necessary to dissolve a non profit entity.

 All of this time, Bill Miranda was the Chief Executive Officer of the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Chamber of Commerce.

 All funds received and disbursed by the Latino Chamber from July 1, 2014 are unaccounted for at this time. That includes membership dues, special events, and corporate grants.

 We still do not know how much money the Chamber of Commerce received from the Latino Chamber.

 Why does KHTS feel that it is necessary to investigate and disparage Doug Sutton and Gloria Mercado-Fortine rather than have one of their reporters l(Perry Smith ?) do the hard work of a thorough investigative report?

 I guess it is easier to piggyback and criticize the hard diligent work of others.

 We ask, what does “move on” mean?….Be quiet, shut up, sit on the story when a false narrative may have been used to appoint Willian “Bill” Miranda to a vacant council seat despite a paucity of, and questionable qualifications for a position of leadership and financial stewardship.

 Doug Sutton and his reporter Lee Barnathan have courageously pursued a story that is difficult to report in a an insular community like Santa Clarita. In my opinion , they are worthy of praise and admiration not scorn and disparagement by another media outlet.

Part of this story written by Perry Smith is incorrect. In at least two articles in recent editions of the Gazette I was quoted regarding being on the board at the time and not recalling much of the merger. Once in an article written by Lee Barnathan and once in my own column.

 Stephen Petzold

June 3, 2017 – 12:39 pm

Should we know if Johm (sic) Musella resigned from the Governing Board of the SCV Chamber when he took over day to day operations?

 Should we know that William “Bill” Miranda sat on the Chamber’s Governing Board when he sought the council vacancy? Should we know whether William “Bill” Miranda is still a member of the Santa Clarita Chamber?

 Should it be noted that one of John Musella’s clients, namely Chiquita Landfill was the major sponsor of the 2014 Gala?

 

 

Stuck in the Middle – Roa: ‘I just want to be forthright’

| News | June 1, 2017

Marlon Roa is a man caught in the middle, trying to do what’s right and sometimes feeling frustrated as a result.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to do with this.”

This refers to the tale of what documents City Councilmember Bill Miranda had and when he had them. Miranda has said as far back as April 28 that he had the documents that show how much money the 2014 Latino Chamber of Commerce gala made and how much money came with the Latino Chamber when it merged with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber in January 2015.

On May 25, Roa said that Miranda asked for documentation and Roa found the statement of financial income and expense from July-December 2014, which he then forwarded to Miranda, who approved and sent it back.

“Bill asked me for them. I had to go scrape for them. I had to go look for them. Bill did not have them. I gave (the statement of financial income and expense) to him,” Roa said. “When he (said he) had the documentation, he didn’t have this.”

But Roa said he isn’t exactly sure when Miranda called him.

“I don’t know what day I gave these to him, but I went searching for them. When he asked, ‘Do you have anything?’ Then I looked and I found those,” Roa said. “Timeframe? I don’t know. I just know that they asked, I looked, I found, I gave. I’ve been looking for anything for a while, when you first talked to me about the gala (the Gazette first asked in March). I didn’t think anything of it. He called me. He asked me, ‘Is there anything that you have?’ I said, ‘Let me look. Let me go in and see if I can find anything.’ I found this (statement of financial income and expense), gave it to him.”

Roa’s documentation, which he said is an estimate, shows the Sept. 19, 2014 gala grossed $34,440 against approximate expenses of $27,504. But Gloria Mercado-Fortine, who co-chaired the gala, provided the Gazette with actual numbers that show she got them in an email from Roa dated Oct. 1, 2014. These numbers show a gross of $36,075 against approximate expenses of $21,232.

Mercado-Fortine said she asked Roa for the numbers because she wanted to ensure the people she got to come to the gala actually paid.

Roa’s documentation shows the Latino Chamber netted $9,034.87 from July-December; Mercado-Fortine’s show the gala made $14,842. Assuming the numbers are correct, there is between $7,000 and $12,100 unaccounted for, because former SCV Chamber president Terri Crain and Roa previously said the Latino Chamber brought between $1,000 and $2,000 when the merger occurred.

Crain, who did not return phone calls, previously said any monies would have been deposited into the SCV Chamber’s general fund; in this case, however, she recalled that money instead was put into membership to help fund the Latino members who were now SCV Chamber members.

The matter could be resolved if there were income tax documents available, but no one took the responsibility of filing Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service, and this is the other side where Roa feels trapped. He knows the IRS forms need to be completed and filed, and he has taken it upon himself to finally do it, but it’s pretty impossible without the documentation.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to see, if I can do it, because I want to make sure, first, that it wasn’t done; (second), where are the documents, because I’m going to need some of those things to go back and do it,” Roa said. “I’m going to need some of these original documents so going back by this (statement of financial income and expense), it’s going to be extremely hard.”

Roa believes the documentation he needs is with the SCV Chamber, but no one can find anything, he said, because when the chamber moved out of its building on Tournament Road, everything got packed up.

“Everything’s in boxes right now. You came from, what was it, 3,000 square (feet) to 1,000 square (feet),” he said. “Sure, they’re maybe somewhere. Where? I don’t think they’re trying to hide anything. They would’ve given it to you. They’re out there doing what they got to do. They just don’t know. They don’t have it.”

Roa said he’s working with current Chamber President and CEO John Musella to find the papers. Musella didn’t return calls, but has said he isn’t taking the time to find the information.

“I have seen no proof for these baseless claims. As such, I have no reason to spend valuable time digging out the evidence to prove otherwise,” Musella previously said in an email.

Meanwhile, Roa continues to struggle to find the numbers. He’s finding it’s tough doing it alone.

“I just want to be forthright. I want to show you guys everything that I have, the copies, ‘cause these are stuff that I just kept and have copies of. I don’t have the originals,” he said. “Whatever you guys ask for, I’ll give you. You ask a question, I’ll give you the answer. Whatever you guys want, I’ll give you.”

Roa Confirms Miranda

| News | May 26, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water Merger Update

| News | May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Invited to Touch-A-Truck Fundraiser

| News | May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Childcare Center to Close Unexpectedly

| News | May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signal Publisher Confronts Council

| News | May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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