Katie Hill’s Head Start

| News | November 30, 2018

Katie Hill won’t officially become a member of Congress until Jan. 3, but she isn’t waiting to get involved.

She and fellow California Member-elect Mike Levin, from the 49th congressional district in San Diego, circulated a letter two weeks ago declaring support for Nancy Pelosi to be re-elected Speaker of the House.

Now, 18 other freshman members from 15 states have signed on.

“I ran for office so that I could start to deliver for our community as quickly as possible,” Hill said in a statement. “I believe, and many members of the incoming class believe, that the best way to deliver is under tested leadership committed to bipartisan work that doesn’t compromise our values. Nancy Pelosi brings that leadership to the table, and I wanted to do everything I could to ensure we are able to start getting to work on day one.”

Hill and Levin’s original letter, addressed to “Members of the 116th Congress and fellow Freshman Class,” said that Pelosi (D-San Francisco) would be best able to help them tackle the issues their constituents want, including better health care, a better tax plan, reducing the role of money in politics, increasing transparency and accountability, and getting things done in Congress.

A shorter but substantially similar letter signed by the other members was released Tuesday.

“The incoming class of first-term members is younger and more diverse than ever before. A proven leader like Leader Pelosi will be a valuable resource as we, ourselves, step up to lead, and as we work to make life better for the people we represent,” the new letter said.

Pelosi previously served as the 52nd Speaker of the House from 2007-11. The Speaker is third in the line of succession for the presidency.

Christy Smith Assembles

| News | November 29, 2018

Although she never declared victory, her opponent conceded, so 38th Assembly District candidate Christy Smith has begun the process of becoming Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita).

She’s been in Sacramento since Tuesday and will be there through at least the Dec. 3 swearing-in. But between now and the Jan. 7 start of the legislative session, she has much to do.
This includes finding office space, assembling a staff, attending orientation and training sessions, and taking meetings with various local business and governmental leaders.

She’s getting a late start because it took some time after the election for it to be clear that she had defeated Dante Acosta (the latest total, according to the Secretary of State’s website, has her ahead by 5,164 votes, or 2.8 percentage points; the final totals won’t be certified until early next month).

“I’m in sort of this limbo transition stage at this point until I’m official-official,” she said Monday. “Because my race ended later because we didn’t know the final result, some of the newer members have already gone up for training, so my situation is a little bit unusual.”

That “training” includes how to find office space, which is no easy matter, she’s discovering. She can’t automatically assume Acosta’s former office because it depends on the lease, she said. There also are budgetary concerns, human-resources issues and staffing to figure out, but she’s learning that the Assembly’s Committee on Rules governs various operational and logistical aspects.

She’s also learning about the legislative process, which includes writing legislation. She said she did some of that as a Newhall School District board member.

She just started assembling a staff (one person’s helping her, she said) but won’t have anything finalized until her training is complete.

Smith said Acosta has been “very generous in offering his support. At some point, I’ll have the opportunity to do a transition meeting with his staff.”

She also plans numerous meetings with various city councils, economic development corporations and chambers of commerce to hear their concerns and desires; some of those have already been scheduled, she said.

Regardless of these meetings’ outcomes, Smith said the legislative issues she’s ready to tackle immediately are: stopping CEMEX, mitigating any environmental impacts of the high-speed rail project, and ensuring there can’t be another gas leak like in Aliso Canyon in 2015.

She said she chose the Santa Clarita designation because “It’s the city where I live. There are so many different named communities in the district, I hate to leave anybody out. Santa Clarita’s my hometown, so that’s what I’m going with.”

Santa Clarita Lacks Wildfire Prevention Plan

| News | November 29, 2018

The Woolsey fire killed three people, burned almost 97,000 acres, destroyed 1,643 structures and caused some 295,000 people to evacuate. Can a similar fire devastate Sana Clarita in the future?

It’s something community activist Alan Ferdman wonders, especially after reading City Manager Ken Striplin’s article in Sunday’s Signal describing what people can do to prepare for such disasters.

“Well, what are you going to do to prevent it from happening?” Ferdman, the chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, asked. “They purchased a lot of open space around the city, especially here on the east side, and it just creates a bunch of fuel for brush fires. What is the city planning to do to help keep our side of the city safe?”

The city has more than 4,000 acres of open space surrounding it. As Ferdman pointed out, “If you have open space and you don’t develop it out here, all it does is it creates a large amount of brush that grows in the winter and becomes dead in the summer, and a spark sets it off.”

Two years ago, the Sand fire killed one person, burned two buildings and ran through more than 41,000 acres. One thing that and the Woolsey fire had in common was the abundance of dry brush, specifically chaparral.

In September 1970, winds pushed several fires into a solid 20-mile-long wall from Newhall to Malibu. Ten people died, 403 homes were lost and more than 435,000 acres were burned. The Los Angeles Times called this fire “Southern California’s worst ever.”

Members of the city council seemed at a loss to explain what the plans are.

“It’s a good question,” Mayor Pro-Tem Marsha McLean said. “Obviously, it’s extremely important to have plans in place.”

McLean mentioned that no homes can be built in the open space, which she said would help curtail loss of property. But she also acknowledged that fires don’t limit themselves to just undeveloped areas, and winds can send sparks into residential areas.

Councilmember Bob Kellar said he knows of no plans to clear the brush. “We have thousands of acres now of open space in total. I will tell you it’s not likely we’re going to put Rain Birds out there,” he said. “We are at the mercy of Mother Nature, largely, when it comes to that circumstance. I don’t see anything different in that regard other than trying to be as prepared as we can.”

Mayor Laurene Weste is a big proponent of open space, as her bio on the city’s website says she would like to see additional open space acquired. Yet when this reporter called to ask about the city’s plans for fire prevention, she said she was on another call and abruptly hung up.

According to city spokesperson Carrie Lujan, the city manages vegetation around all roads, access points and trailheads, reseeds fire breaks with fire-resistant foliage, and trims and removes brush and grasses in open-space areas that abut neighborhoods. Additionally, the Los Angeles County Fire Department routinely assesses defensible spaces around neighborhoods to ensure proper brush clearance and, if necessary, recommends other methods of vegetation management, she said.

“Fire crews also have plans in place to fight fires in hard to access open space locations. This includes the best access routes, which roads the water tenders should take, where they can fill up, as well as local helispots for helicopters to pick up water,” Lujan said in an email. “As the City continues to acquire land, we continue to review management of our Open Space.”

As far as Ferdman is concerned, the plan doesn’t say anything.

“Are they going to cut fire trails? Are they going to put in piping for water in case the Forestry Service needs it?” he asked. “What’s their plan?”

Ferdman said he planned to discuss it at Wednesday’s Canyon Country Advisory Committee meeting, and query the city council at its next meeting.

Registration Underway for Winter Semester

| News | November 21, 2018

Registration has opened for College of the Canyons’ winter semester, with more than 350 class selections currently offered for students.

The winter schedule of classes, beginning January 2, primarily consists of general education “core” classes that all students need to either graduate, transfer to a four-year school and/or meet course prerequisites associated with their immediate educational plans.

Running from January 2 to February 2, the winter session will be especially robust with the addition of newly popular online Career Skills courses featuring the following eight courses that provide employees with key skills in:

Time Management
Business Writing
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
Best Practices in Customer Service
Negotiating and Collaboration
Personality Styles & Difficult Relationships
Successfully Managing & Developing People
Communication Strategies for the Workplace

COC is also gearing up for the spring semester, which will offer more than 1,900 class sections for students in a variety of formats at both the college’s Valencia and Canyon Country campuses.

Registration for spring 2019 will begin Tuesday, Jan. 2. The spring semester will run from Monday, Feb. 4 to Thursday, May 30. Registration for winter and spring will be ongoing at both the Valencia and Canyon Country campuses until classes are full. For more information about registration and class offerings, visit the college’s website.

To learn more about Associate Degree for Transfer programs and accelerated pathways offered at the Canyon Country campus, visit the campus’s web page.

New Smartphone App Provides Bicycle Detection at Signalized Intersections

| News | November 21, 2018

The City of Santa Clarita in partnership with Sensys Networks Inc. is piloting GiveMeGreen!, a new smartphone app for bicycle detection at signalized intersections. This initial deployment is a pilot program to improve safety for cyclists and travel convenience for all motorists in Santa Clarita.

The initial pilot is deployed at three intersections along the Chuck Pontius Commuter Rail bike trail, parallel to Soledad Canyon Road. The system consists of the GiveMeGreen! smartphone app which allows the bicyclist using the app to be automatically detected up to 300 feet in advance of the intersection. Once detected, the signal applies the normal pedestrian-crossing signal timing function. This will allow pedestrians and bicyclists to use the same signal phase and will not cause any delay for motorists.

There are also new signs that illuminate only when bicyclists or pedestrians are detected to warn turning motorists on Soledad Canyon Road that bicycles or pedestrians will be crossing the intersection. Finally, the system includes a bicycle-only light at each intersection along the bike trail which confirms to the bicyclist that they have been detected.

“This free app will greatly benefit both bicyclists and motorists by providing better information about the presence of bikes at these intersections,” says Cesar Romo, Traffic Signal System Administrator for the City of Santa Clarita. “GiveMeGreen! not only improves safety, but also improves the ride experience for Santa Clarita’s legions of cyclists with automatic and reliable advance detection.”

This pilot system demonstrates the flexibility of the Sensys Networks Inc. platform, as it integrates with third-party signs and city traffic controllers.

“We are delighted to be working with the City of Santa Clarita on this pilot program,” says Amine Haoui, CEO of Sensys Networks. “GiveMeGreen! is the first of many connected traveler apps to be released by Sensys Networks Inc. in the coming months. These apps all use the same infrastructure at the intersection, and allow Cities to easily tailor the services they want to provide for bicyclists, pedestrians, truck drivers and many other travelers. This Infrastructure to Everything (I2X) system for connected and autonomous travelers will improve safety, decrease congestion and improve the travel experience for many different types of connected traveler.”

For more information about GiveMeGreen! in Santa Clarita, contact Cesar Romo at cromo@santa-clarita.com or at (661) 286-4002.

Family Promise Asks for Community Support

| News | November 21, 2018

Roché Vermaak believes people are good. As executive director of Family Promise of the Santa Clarita Valley, he sees people doing good all the time, and he derives tremendous satisfaction in contributing to the good.

He will see all the good on display Dec. 15 at the Valencia United Methodist Church when his organization, dedicated to helping homeless families, will put on its second annual holiday shopping event. More than 400 homeless people, up from 174 last year, are expected to come to this event and shop for free for needed items such as toilet paper, cleaning supplies, diapers, soap, shampoo, canned food and clothing as well as gifts, toys and gift cards.

But for this event to be as successful as last year’s, the community has to come together and help so everybody can have a joyous holiday.

The holidays are a time for family, for giving and a time for gratitude, and Vermaak wants community members to recognize how good they have it – and how some aren’t as fortunate. Homelessness is never easy, especially for families, many of which are fronted by single mothers who simply don’t make enough, have what Vermaak said is “all the stress in the world on them” and can’t provide a traditional Christmas or holiday celebration.

He said now is the time to help.

“I believe that with Thanksgiving and the holiday season and Christmas and New Year’s, people feel like, ‘I’m blessed, my life is good, I’ve got a family to go to,’ and they want to serve and make a difference in the lives of people that don’t have that, who don’t have a family to go to over Christmas or Thanksgiving, who don’t have a meal,” Vermaak said. “And they just want to say, ‘I’m a human being just like you.’ We hear about all the shootings. We hear about all the fires. We hear about all the hatred in our country. Let’s do something that binds people together across the lines of ethnicity and the lines of income. You don’t often get that.”

According to the 2017 Homeless Point-In-Time Count, conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority, it is estimated that approximately 331 residents experience homelessness on any given night in Santa Clarita. The city said on its website it is committed to addressing this growing concern, but organizations such as Family Promise are on the front lines, partnering with religious congregations, youth groups, PTAs and other school groups, auxiliaries and secular groups such as Elks, Rotary and Boys and Girls Club to help make the holidays a little bit better for homeless and low-income families.

Vermaak said he started work on this event in October, a month earlier than last year. As of last week, more than 30 people have signed up to volunteer for 157 out of 327 available slots (48 percent).

According to the online signup list, a Girl Scout troop and families from Skyblue Mesa and Highlands Elementary are manning the donation location on Valley Street in Newhall. People have signed up to sort gifts, wrap gifts, transport supplies, decorate, assist families with shopping, set up tables, serve food and beverage, and clean up.

Last year, a company donated 3,000 half-used toilet-paper rolls. A then-8-year-old, Cayden Tyler, and his grandmother collected clothing. During the actual shopping, mothers helped mothers. Four-year-olds helped other 4-year-olds.

People donate gift cards from such places as Target or Shell. Dining establishments such as Bagel Boyz and Little Caesars Pizza donate food. Vermaak said his phone and email are regularly ringing and buzzing with requests from people wanting to help.

“This is a community event,” Vermaak said. “We love that so many individuals and organizations and churches and schools are saying, ‘You know what? Being poor and being homeless over this holiday season is not acceptable.’ It’s a small thing we do, but you know what? Sometimes, it’s the only thing a child needs, just someone that shows (that) I care for you in the season … you play with your toys, your parents are able to give you a good plate of food, and there’s some clothing, and somebody cares for you.”

“It’s not Family Promise. It’s the community.”

How can you help? Donate!

Gifts: Toys for all age groups 0-18. Smaller gifts preferred since we allow families to shop for about 3-4 gifts per child. Gifts for adults (smaller size). Puzzles and games

Gift cards: Gas, food, restaurants, Walmart, Target, 99c store, Dollar Tree, grocery stores, prepaid phone cards. $25 per family under four persons, $50 per family over 4 persons.

Supplies: Diaper (especially size 4-6), baby wipes, diaper cream, feminine hygiene products, cleaning supplies, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, soap, bodywash, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, toothpaste, toothbrushes, make-up and beauty products, body wash, bath towels, queen and twin bedsheets, pillow cases standard & king, disposable razors, shaving cream, zip lock bags, trash bags, plastic cutlery, paper towels, paper plates, paper bowls, napkins, school supplies.

Clothing: Underwear for boys, girls. Socks for all ages and genders. Shirts, pants, shorts for children.

Volunteer opportunities: Sign-up here to donate or volunteer

The Family Promise Story

In 1982, Karen Olson was a marketing executive who developed promotional campaigns for consumer products. One morning, on her way to a meeting, she saw a homeless woman, someone she’d seen over and over again on her way to work.

She decided to buy a sandwich for the woman. The stranger accepted the sandwich but asked for something else—a moment to be heard, to be comforted, and to be considered as more than a mere statistic on a cold street corner.

Soon, Karen and her two young sons began frequent trips to New York to hand out sandwiches to the homeless. As she came to know some of the city’s homeless people, she began to understand the profound loss and disconnection that homelessness causes. That understanding turned into an enduring commitment.

The First Interfaith Hospitality Network
Olson learned that there were hundreds of homeless people, including families, in her home community of Union County, New Jersey.

She turned to the religious community for help, convinced that there were many who shared her concern and that together they could do what they couldn’t do alone. Within ten months, eleven area congregations came forward to provide hospitality space within their buildings. The local YMCA agreed to provide showers and a day center for families. A car dealer discounted a van.

On October 27, 1986, the first Interfaith Hospitality Network opened its doors.

As word spread, ten more congregations formed a second Network. Programs for transitional housing, childcare, and family mentoring followed—outgrowths of increased awareness and involvement.

The Network Goes National
The success of the first Networks led other congregations to seek help in developing similar programs. In 1988, National Interfaith Hospitality Network was formed to bring the program to other areas where neighbors could work together to help homeless families.

To date, Family Promise has established 149 affiliates in 39 states, using the services of more than 125,000 volunteers and 5,000 congregations.

The IHNs provide shelter, meals, and housing and job placement support to more than 45,000 homeless family members annually, 60 percent of them children.

Witnessing firsthand the obstacles that low-income families face, Family Promise leaders and volunteers have been motivated to do more. Affiliates have seized the initiative to create additional community programs, such as housing renovation, job training, and healthcare programs.

As a way of helping at-risk families avoid homelessness, Family Promise began training volunteers to advise and mentor families, helping them achieve and maintain self-sufficiency.

To foster a greater understanding of the root causes of homelessness, Family Promise launched the Just Neighbors educational curriculum.

In 2003, the organization changed its name to Family Promise to reflect a broader range of programs and reaffirm its core commitment to helping families realize their own potential.

And although 40 states and 125,000 volunteers now define the breadth and depth of the organization, Karen’s mandate remains in place … if you can strengthen one family, you can strengthen a nation.

Top Rated
As a national organization, Family Promise has been awarded a 4-star Charity Navigator designation for the fifth year in a row. Only 9 percent of nonprofits achieve this, and it reflects our commitment to transparency, good governance, fiscal prudence, and strategic growth.

Locally you can find more at http://www.familypromisescv.org/family-promise-of-scv/, (661) 251-2868

Shut Down the Stolen Collection This Holiday Season Protect Belongings from Theft

| News | November 15, 2018

‘Tis the season to shop, gift and give. It is also the season when would-be thieves are on the lookout for an easy target. You can make sure your holiday purchases end up under your tree and not part of the Stolen Collection by following simple safety tips.

The City of Santa Clarita continues to receive recognition as one of the best places to live and do business. A decline in criminal activity in 2018 is due in part to the vigilance of residents who report suspicious behavior, hide valuables from sight and lock their vehicle and home doors. It is also important to not forget cell phones, purses and other high value items in vehicles.

“Thieves are always on the lookout for an easy target,” says Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Captain Robert Lewis. “By leaving gifts, boxes, bags and packages where crooks can see them – may leave you a victim and set you back financially to replace these items. Take a few extra seconds to ensure that your items are hidden and locked up.”

Thieves have bad motives; they want your gifts, too. If they get their way, you’ll be saying “boo-hoo.” So follow these tips; there’s a very good reason. And shut down the Stolen Collection this season.

Lock valuable items, shopping bags and packages in your trunk and out of sight when your car is parked.
Avoid putting your Christmas tree in front of a window where thieves can see it and your gifts.
When possible, require a signature for any delivery you are expecting.
Track package deliveries via text or email so you know when they will arrive.
Have packages shipped to your workplace, or someplace where someone can receive it, so it doesn’t remain on your porch while you aren’t home.
Consider installing a home surveillance camera

To get more information on how you can keep your items from becoming part of the Stolen Collection, visit SCStolenCollection.com.

Agua Dulce Measure CK Fails

| News | November 15, 2018

Having been on the Acton Agua Dulce Unified School District board for a decade, including three terms as board president, Ed Porter knows the difficulty of getting a bond measure approved. Voters have defeated five of the last six bond measures that came before them.

Porter was not the least bit surprised when Measure CK went down to defeat last week. It needed 55 percent of the vote but only got 40 percent.

Not that he was disappointed with the result. In fact, he said he voted against it.

“I’m not saying I told you so,” he said. “The vote speaks for itself.”

While the vast majority of school bonds pass – the online California Local Government Finance Almanac said voters approved 89 of 112 (79.4 percent) this election cycle – Acton Agua Dulce found itself in the minority.

And Porter thinks the answer begins in 2008, when the voters narrowly approved (by .76 percent) Measure CF, which let the district sell $13 million to primarily replace portable classrooms with permanent ones.

“(In) the community out here, and I don’t necessarily disagree with them, the saying goes, ‘Look, we were reluctant about the previous bond. We knew once we passed that, you’re gonna ask for more bonds,’ so this became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy,” Porter said.

Secondly, he said, the voters loathe paying more property taxes, and they know that, although bond funds are repaid through the state’s General Fund, property taxes go into the General Fund. Also, very few renters live in the district, he said, and renters are more likely to vote for bonds that they don’t have to pay for.

Then there are people he called “pragmatic people that actually study this and say, ‘Look, you’re not supposed to be paying for paint and grass and carpet with bonds.’ ” These are the same individuals who were skeptical that the district would be able to secure another $3.4 million in Proposition 39 matching funds if the bond passed.

“Having been one of four districts out of 1,100 districts to get the match for our high school bond, we’re unlikely to get the second match,” Porter said of Measure CF.

Porter also objected to the district sending out notices on district letterhead asking for yes votes, a violation of state law. But his objections to the bond go way back and were well documented on Facebook.

In his long post from Oct. 29, Porter said he and late board member Larry Layton preferred a $1.5 million bond that would complete the renovation of Acton School and resolve some overcrowding issues.

Porter wrote that he and Superintendent Larry King figured the additional property tax would be $2.79 per $100,000 of assessed value, meaning the average homeowner would pay an additional $12.58 per year, below the self-imposed maximum of $15.

So, what happened? “Suddenly all caution was thrown to the wind and the pragmatic approach to passing a bond that would specifically tailor it to the community’s tolerance was forgotten!” Porter wrote. “A feeding frenzy – for a lack of a better term – was initiated on the part of staff, special interest groups and our bond writers in order to first include various projects that are NOT customarily paid for by bonds, at least not by AADUSD historically.”

This included paint, grass and tennis courts, and the $1.5 million suddenly became what Porter said Layton called “a dream bond” that ballooned to $5.5 million, then $7.5 million, the number needed to qualify for Proposition 39 matching funds.

“Sadly, this is how bureaucracy and unchecked public education funding works when bonds are seen as an easy method of funding project as opposed to finding prioritized solutions and practicing responsible stewardship of public money,” Porter wrote. “I also believe that while many good intentioned folks are pushing for this bond, there are groups and individuals that are involved in its development and promotion that pose a conflict of interest, if not legally, certainly morally, in my opinion and in that of many others and the credibility of the bond suffered a great deal as a result of this.”

Layton died in May. At a school board meeting subsequent to this death, the matter of school bonds arose. Porter made a motion to place the $1.5 million bond before the voters but did not get a second.

“I felt that my fellow board members had already made up their minds due to various reasons, to include pressure from the louder voices in the community and from our own staff,” Porter wrote. “Mind you, they didn’t have to vote for the smaller bond, but I feel that they should have at least allowed my case to be presented publicly for the community’s sake. I was simply baffled at the lack of critical thinking in determining what was best suited to be included in a prioritized approach, the lack of concern for the community’s tolerance of the bond amount and the casual approach of allowing and approving various items on the long list, many of which should never be paid for by a bond.”

Another board member made a motion to place the $7.5 million measure on the ballot. Had Porter voted no, he would have prevented it from appearing on the ballot. Instead, he voted to let the voters decide.

As a result of the failure, King said, some projects at Vazquez High will be put on hold. These include improving outdoor tennis and basketball courts and lighting standards. However, he said, there is enough money from other sources to complete the work on the softball field, the track and the concession stand/restrooms near the football stadium.

“Without the bond in place, we will just have to go to those funding sources and address the most crucial needs and be prepared for the unforeseen as much as we can,” King said. By “unforeseen,” he meant leaky roofs, asphalt falling apart and unsafe fields.

Throughout the 18-minute interview, Porter never gloated and always sounded sad at the outcome. But his resolve also never wavered.

“They didn’t understand the complexities of getting a bond passed here,” he said.

Bookkeeper Under Investigation

| News | November 15, 2018

Chris Ball hired Neilla Cenci as his bookkeeper in 2005. She was responsible for, among other things, all matters related to accounting, accounts receivable and financial record keeping for Ball Construction Management, Inc.

Cenci was one of only a handful of employees for the small Canyon Country business. Working in close quarters, Cenci was like every other worker: She smiled every day, always said, “Good morning,” was cordial and friendly, did her job and was, so Ball thought, loyal.

Thirteen years later, the Internal Revenue Service randomly audited Ball’s company seeking documentation for $37,755.48 in payments to a Discover credit card for tax year 2015. After receiving the 20 checks from the bank, Ball and his wife, Krissy, were shocked to see that Krissy’s signature had been forged. Krissy said she recognized Cenci’s handwriting.

“One safeguard we had was that only my wife and I could sign checks,” Chris Ball said. “The only way to get money from us is to commit a crime. I didn’t think my employees would commit a crime.”

Further investigation led the Balls to believe that this was just the tip of the iceberg, and they have filed a lawsuit against Cenci alleging she misappropriated, embezzled, converted and/or diverted $1,586,732.06 going back to 2006. They seek that amount, plus whatever punitive and exemplary damages and court costs the court would grant.

“She stole more than her net worth while she worked for us,” Chris Ball said. “She stole checks and forged our signatures.”

Cenci, 70, did not return phone calls seeking comment, but she was arrested Sept. 6 in connection with the $37,755.48 the IRS audit revealed. An arrest report from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Department showed she was granted $20,000 bail. No charges stemming from that arrest have been filed, and Krissy Ball said friends have told her that Cenci has told people the Balls dropped the charges because it was a big misunderstanding.

The Balls have not forgotten.
“It’s been a range of emotions: shock, anger, embarrassment, frustration,” Krissy Ball said. “Knowing her and having been her friend, like a sister to me. It hurts.”

Chris Ball started his business, which supports attorneys who assist homeowners in suing builders for construction defects, 25 years ago. At its high point, Ball employed 20 people, but after the 2008 recession it shrunk to two inspectors and four office employees plus his wife.

According to Ball’s personal declaration, which he said he wrote to assist law enforcement, insurance companies and his attorneys, he hired Cenci Feb. 28, 2005, and she worked for Ball until her arrest. Typically, it was Cenci who collected and opened the mail, wrote checks, made bookkeeping entries, reviewed bank statements and reconciled the accounts using QuickBooks accounting software (Cenci was the only one who knew how to use QuickBooks).

Ball alleges Cenci embezzled money by presenting him with an invoice and company check to sign, then repeating the process with his wife. One check was mailed to the Ball’s Visa account or another merchant such as Home Depot, the other to a different account.

Ball also alleges that the way Cenci covered her tracks was to write checks printed from QuickBooks, usually with the last four digits of a payee’s account number in the memo field. After printing the checks, she would delete the last four digits in the memo field in QuickBooks. But the last four digits remained on the canceled check. The money would be deposited into various Cenci accounts. Ball alleges Cenci used between 31 and 40 different personal accounts.

To hide expenses, Ball alleges Cenci made bookkeeping entries for false expenses in multiple accounts so the entries would be small and precise, and the theft would be virtually undetectable in profit-and-loss statements.

“I would carefully review quarterly P&L and Balance Sheets, but I foolishly did not review bank statements or the check registers,” Ball wrote in his personal declaration.

It wasn’t until the IRS audit that Chris Ball suspected anything. He said he thought the money was in the bank.

“The money she stole basically represents the savings of 25 years of running my business,” he said. “We were betrayed.”

At first, Discover was of no help, but thanks to examining the 20 canceled company checks from Union Bank, coupled with the sheriff’s station pressuring Discover Financial Services to cooperate (Ball said he could never get Discover on the phone), the Balls learned that Cenci had deposited the $37,000-plus into her accounts.

In Chris Ball’s personal declaration, there is an example of a forged signature and Krissy Ball’s real signature. She said when she saw it, it was “like a punch to the gut.”

The same day Krissy confirmed to deputies that her signature had been forged, Cenci was arrested at work.

“I had to pretend nothing was going on,” Krissy Ball said. “She’s crazy. … She knows we know the full extent now. There’s no way around it.”

In the first 30 days following Cenci’s arrest, the Balls obtained online access to their accounts and discovered payments to Wells Fargo, Macy’s, Barclay’s, Best Buy and other accounts unknown to them. All told, they found 805 checks totaling almost $1.2 million. Most of that went into accounts at five banks or credit-card companies: Visa, Discover, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America.

In the next 30 days, they found another 200 checks totaling more than $300,000.

Since Cenci’s arrest, Krissy Ball has been documenting everything she could. These include bank statements, emails, attachments and computer junk files, and the Balls have hired a CPA to download everything from the computer Cenci used.

“It’s maddening. It’s been my obsession, and it’s killing me,” she said, “and it shouldn’t. I’m a grown woman. … My son is mad at me. This is all I do. I’ve got piles and piles of documents I want to go through. What other ways did she swindle us?”

Ball said Cenci has appeared in her dreams. In one, she’s helping Ball work on spreadsheets. In another, she blames Ball’s sister for the missing money (Chris Ball’s personal declaration said his sister-in-law has been helping with the documentation).

Also among the documentation are social media posts from the various vacations Cenci, her daughter and grandchildren have taken: Hawaii, Florida (twice), Las Vegas, Texas, Georgia and four cruises. Krissy Ball also has seen posts about the gifts the grandchildren have received. She’s convinced it’s the Ball’s money that is paying for all of this.

Although the Balls have not seen Cenci since her arrest, Krissy said she has friends who keep a lookout. Friends saw Cenci at a yard sale Nov. 3 and reported to her that “she looked awful, drugged on meds,” Krissy said. “She has her ailments.”

The next day, friends went to an open house at Cenci’s condo in Valencia (Krissy Ball also believes stolen money paid for the upgrades) and learned that not only was she trying to sell the home, she wanted to move out of state. That caused the Balls to quickly file a Notice of Pendency of Action on the property to stop the sale, meaning any prospective buyer must be notified that there is pending litigation against the property. Chris Ball said he did that “to maintain the status quo until a court can decide.” In the meantime, the home is off the market.

Chris Ball said he does not believe Cenci will ever be able to repay the $1.5 million. Her final salary was just shy of $63,000.

He declined to say what final outcome he seeks. His wife made it clear what she wants.

“I want to see her in prison,” she said. “I want to see her mug shot. I want that satisfaction.”

Santa Clarita Kicks Off 4th Annual Innovate Santa Clarita Campaign

| News | November 8, 2018

Recently named one of the “5 Emerging LA and OC Tech Areas to Watch in 2018” by Built in Los Angeles, Santa Clarita is home to companies that are innovating the tech marketplace. This November, Santa Clarita kicks off its 4th annual Innovate Santa Clarita series. Innovate Santa Clarita is both a digital campaign and a two-week series of events celebrating creativity, innovation and the spirit of entrepreneurship.

This year, the Santa Clarita Business Incubator, in partnership with Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation (SCVEDC), Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), College of the Canyons, the Chamber of Commerce, Techstars Startup Weekend, Google’s Startup Grind and the Steamwork Center, will host a variety of workshops, activities, learning opportunities and networking events aimed to help and inspire entrepreneurs.

Along with a calendar of events spanning a wide variety of entrepreneur-related topics, a new website, InnovateSantaClarita.com, was recently launched as a way to connect to Santa Clarita’s startup community. The new site is designed to help entrepreneurs find a network of local community events, resources and opportunities to stay engaged in Santa Clarita’s entrepreneurial community.

Follow along on social media during Innovate Santa Clarita using #InnovateSCV and #MadeInSCV and share the new online hub of resources with the community.

This year’s Innovate Santa Clarita series runs from November 2 – 16, 2018. Innovate Santa Clarita is part of Innovate LA, a countywide celebration of innovation and creativity throughout the region. Led by the LAEDC, this effort aims to support and inspire entrepreneurs across all sectors.

For more information about the Santa Clarita Business Incubator and the listed events, visit InnovateSantaClarita.com.

Katie Hill Makes History

| News | November 8, 2018

Fox News declared the Democrats were on their way to retaking the House of Representatives before the polls closed in California. Within the first hour after the polls closed, it had become official.

Several hundred people gathered at the Canyon Santa Clarita on Tuesday night to see if Katie Hill would join the numerous Democrats (many of whom were first-time candidates and women) in turning at least the lower chamber blue.

Although the totals aren’t official until the Secretary of State certifies the election next month, Hill led Rep. Steve Knight by 4,117 votes (51.3 percent to 48.7 percent), and Knight conceded via voicemail around 10:30 a.m., a press release from Hill’s people said.

Santa Clarita has voted Republican since it first could cast votes. That changed.

“We’re at a moment of history,” Hill told her hundreds of supporters Tuesday night when the race was still too close to call. “We really, truly are at a moment where … Americans are standing up, where young people are standing up, where women are standing up. And where regular people who say it is not OK for us to have a political system that only represents the wealthiest people in our country and big corporations and special interests and partisan politics, and it leaves the rest of us behind.”

The next day, it still felt surreal to her.

“I still feel like a regular person,” she said. “It’s just bizarre, but I guess that’s what it’s supposed to be, right? You want to have people there (in Washington) who aren’t politicians but are there to represent the people, and I know I can do that.”

What mattered to those assembled was that they finally have a representative that city council candidate and county Democratic Party delegate Logan Smith said “will represent the best interests of the district.”

“We want representation of our values,” said Stacy Fortner, member of the Democratic Part of the San Fernando Valley. “We don’t want Trump’s agenda shoved down our throats.”

That means get ready for investigations into various Trump-related activities and issues, from collusion with Russia and protecting the Robert Mueller investigation to subpoenaing his income tax forms. But since the Republicans kept their Senate majority, a split Congress means more gridlock.

That didn’t matter to Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who made an appearance at the Hill party.

“It doesn’t matter if we have an 11-seat majority, a 16-seat majority or a 20-seat majority,” Sherman said. “I need an ally to work with on local issues. We have got to compel the federal government to issue natural gas storage regulations.”

But on Tuesday, everything seemed secondary to Hill. She told the crowd that this campaign let people who didn’t feel like they had a voice be heard.

“We’ve let people know that their vote matters, and that we’re counting on them, and the only way we can make change happen is if we are the change,” she said to wild applause. “What we do know is no matter what the outcome is, this is only the beginning of the fight. We have to continue this. This is a moment where we have to win for the people, people that have been sitting silent on the sidelines because they don’t think their voice is going to be heard no matter what.”

For many of those people, it felt good to be rid of Knight, who they felt didn’t represent them.

“I don’t think he has a sense of direction,” city council candidate Diane Trautman said. “I think he just follows. I think Katie will stand up for things. Steve Knight is a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy.”

Volunteer Elise Levine, who doesn’t live in the district (she splits time between Brentwood and Chatsworth), said Knight is “unavailable to his constituents, playing hide and seek like other Republicans, and this district doesn’t deserve another term of that.”

On Tuesday, before it was official, Hill made it clear that she wanted to win as part of a big national Democratic Party victory.

“The biggest thing is that if we go in with a mandate, if we go in with a big victory, it shows that the United States people are ready for a serious change, and that change is the way we’re able to approach things, so I really hope to go in with a strong victory … and that means we’ll be able to get to work,” she said.

On Wednesday, she sounded very similar.

“What this is all showing is it is a changing of the dynamics and the makeup of Congress, and that’s what’s going to allow us to start making changes,” she said. “I’m proud to be part of the first wave of something that is truly making a major shift that is going to last for generations.”

Street Closures for 2018 Santa Clarita Marathon

| News | November 1, 2018

The City of Santa Clarita will host the 2018 Santa Clarita Marathon, presented by Parkway Motorcars, this Saturday and Sunday, November 3 and 4. The public can expect minor delays and rolling road and parking lot closures periodically both days to accommodate the races. Detours will be provided for major road closures and residents are asked to plan ahead to avoid delays.

The majority of Santa Clarita Marathon events will take place on city multi-use trails to reduce the amount of street closures, including West River Trail, South Fork Trail, Chuck Pontius Commuter-Rail Trail, Valencia Paseos and San Francisquito Trail. Residents are encouraged to adjust their trail usage until after the conclusion of all events to avoid interfering with runners on the course.
The following closures will be in effect for Saturday, November 3:

Magic Mountain Parkway from Tourney Road to Valencia Boulevard will be closed from 5:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Use Valencia Boulevard or Bouquet Canyon Road as a detour.

McBean Parkway from Creekside Road to Valencia Boulevard will be closed from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Use Creekside Road to Valencia Boulevard as a detour.

Estaban Drive between Sandalia Drive and Covala Court will experience intermittent delays from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.

The following closures will be in effect for Sunday, November 4:

Magic Mountain Parkway from Tourney Road to Valencia Boulevard will be closed from 5:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Use Bouquet Canyon Road/Railroad Avenue as a detour.

McBean Parkway from Creekside Road to Valencia Boulevard will be closed from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Use Creekside Road to Valencia Boulevard as a detour.

Westbound Valencia Boulevard from Magic Mountain Parkway to Tourney Road will be closed from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. Use Bouquet Canyon Road/Railroad Avenue or Creekside Road as a detour.

Northbound Tourney Road will be closed from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.

Eastbound Copperhill Drive from Avenida
Rancho Tesoro to McBean Parkway will have one lane closed from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.

Estaban Drive between Sandalia Drive and Covala Court will experience intermittent delays from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station personnel will control intersections for residents living in the affected areas.

For more information about road closures as a result of the 2018 Santa Clarita Marathon, as well as details on all events taking place, visit SCMarathon.org. To learn more about the Santa Clarita Marathon, contact City Arts and Events Supervisor Pat Downing at (661) 250-3783.

Do Election Endorsements Matter?

| News | November 1, 2018

On candidate websites, endorsements get their own page. In the 25th congressional district, incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) lists 19 individuals and 11 organizations that approve of him. Challenger Katie Hill lists 75 individuals and 32 organizations that favor her.

It’s all very nice, and it generates some positive buzz and momentum as Election Day grows closer. But does it really matter? How much difference does it really make that people or organizations – some of whom don’t live in the district and can’t vote for either – come out and say, in effect, “Vote for this candidate?”

“I don’t think it does that much,” Hill said.

Matt Rexroad, Knight’s campaign consultant, concurred.

“I don’t know if it guarantees any votes,” he said.

Endorsements, acts of giving one’s approval or support to someone or something, can matter. According to University of Arizona Department of Communication and School of Government and Public Policy Professor Kate Kenski, endorsements can act as what she calls “a cognitive shortcut for voters, so voters who are trying to decide between many different candidates in many different races oftentimes … need some kind of shortcut to make a determination about who they should vote for.”

However, as Kenski told Arizona Public Media, that can backfire. “If someone is not trusted, if someone has burned bridges in certain ways, them offering their support can be a signal to people who don’t like that person that whoever they are supporting, is someone they don’t want to support.”

There was a time when endorsements mattered. Wichita, Kan., television station KAKE ran a piece that said endorsements meant a certain number of votes as recently as the 1970s; now, voters don’t want to rely on the word of somebody they’ve never met.
“Endorsements like this are a big deal historically, but they’re not a big deal electorally,” Russell Arben Fox, Wichita State professor of political science, told KAKE.

Rexroad, co-founder of the Sacramento-based strategic consulting firm Meridian Pacific and veteran of more than 100 campaigns, said endorsements are really effective when a candidate isn’t well known, but since Knight and Hill have “near 100-percent name recognition,” the value of any endorsement is less.

Rexroad identified various types of endorsements: political, media, individual, celebrity, organization and political party. Of these, the political party’s backing is what he considers most important, because a party can put its infrastructure and financial resources behind a candidate. For example, if a mass mailing would cost a candidate $30,000, the party might be able to do it for $20,000 because it’s a nonprofit and can command lower rates, Rexroad said.

The flip side to that, Hill said, is people too often go down the ballot and mark a name based on party affiliation.

“I’ve had Democrats say they don’t know what party I’m with, and they’re not going to vote for me because they didn’t know I’m a Democrat,” she said.

Hill said organizational endorsements help if the voter favors a particular issue and is looking for what a particular group says. But the drawback to that is that groups typically skew toward either Democrat or Republican, and she would like more people to vote not based on politics but on ideas.

“So many vote whether you’re a D or an R. I’d like to see that change during the course of time,” she said. “It’s hard to make that happen.”

Rexroad is confident that the district is filled with enough voters who are taking the time to read about the various people and issues on the ballot and will make educated choices.

“The 25th district will make decisions based on what you know,” he said.

Endorsements be damned.

Casting Controversy Over Voter Roll Credibility

| News | November 1, 2018

When Jim Lentini didn’t receive his elections material, he called the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder.

“You’re not going to like this,” a woman on the line told him. “You guys are not in the system.”

Lentini and his wife, Susan, are longtime voters, regularly walking to nearby Sulphur Springs Elementary School to cast their ballots, although Susan suffered a stroke and did not vote in the primary. Now, he was being told that he would have to travel to a Sylmar library to re-register her.

The problem was that the deadline to register to vote Nov. 6 was Oct. 22.

Public Information Officer Mike Sanchez said both are registered and are able to vote next week, but since they are listed as “vote by mail,” they must bring their ballot to the polling place and surrender it in exchange for an in-person ballot. No trip to Sylmar is necessary.

It is these kinds of mysteries that make Mark Meuser incensed. Meuser, running for Secretary of State, said he has found numerous examples of problems with voter rolls. These include people listing businesses or post office boxes as their residences, non-existent resident addresses and people failing to list dates of birth on voter registration forms that are accepted by county registrars.

“It’s been so lax, we don’t seem to care that we don’t have accurate state registration roll,” Meuser said by phone from Anaheim earlier this week.

And he blames current Secretary of State Alex Padilla for failing to maintain the rolls. One of the office’s primary duties is to act as the state’s chief election officer.

When people think of “voter fraud,” they probably mean “voter impersonation,” in which a person not eligible to vote votes under the name of someone who is eligible, votes more than once or pretends to be another eligible voter.
It was for this kind of fraud that Donald Trump, soon after taking office, went on Twitter and called for “a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered in two states, those who are illegal and even those registered to vote who are dead.” He claimed that this fraud was the reason he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

In fact, this kind of fraud is extremely rare and has never been proven to affect an election’s outcome. But there are other worries surrounding elections, such as the reliability of accurate voter rolls.

Mark Meuser. Photo by: submitted.

According to Meuser, the problems have little to do with whether a person can prove their identity. Rather, he said, the state needs to do a better job at verifying citizenship (only American citizens can vote), residences, and that the address listed is actually a residence.

An area he said should be examined is jury-service summons. He said he found some 449,000 people returning jury summonses saying they’re not American citizens and, therefore, aren’t eligible to serve on juries. They’re also not eligible to vote, but Meuser wonders how many of these people ended up voting.

In fact, Padilla’s office announced this month that between April and September, 1,500 people who signed up for driver licenses at Department of Motor Vehicles offices accidentally were registered to vote because of DMV employee errors. Some of those people are non-citizens. The Los Angeles Times reported that Padilla canceled those registrations upon discovery, but he couldn’t say if any had voted in the June primary.

Meuser also found from looking at statewide databases (access the Gazette does not have and, therefore, cannot verify), 23,108 people with a birthdate older than the recognized oldest person in the state (birthdate: July 24, 1906) were registered to vote, and 16,780 voted in the 2016 election.

“There are two explanations: Somebody has fraud going on or the county registrar is failing to uphold the law,” Meuser said, adding that state law requires registration forms to include a date of birth; forms are to be returned if it’s missing.

Meuser also found that 75 people listed a fictitious address in Malibu when they registered to vote; 15 of those people actually voted. “OK, where do they really reside?” Meuser said. “What’s going on? We don’t know.”

Furthermore, he said, 10 people listed a jewelry store in San Diego as their residence; six voted. Twelve listed a miniature golf course, 31 listed a check-cashing store in Gardena, and 16 listed a non-existent Long Beach hotel.

“They are diluting the vote of the people who live in that district,” Meuser said.

None of these numbers are very large, and many might argue that such infinitesimal numbers wouldn’t affect and election. Meuser acknowledges that a major race such as president or governor might not be affected, but down-the-ballot races could.

“Bernie Sanders won his first race (mayor of Burlington, Vt.) by 10 votes,” Meuser said. “Seventy-five people in a precinct could flip a mayoral race, a city council race, a supervisor race.”

The solution, Meuser said, is to have the Secretary of State do a better job comparing registration rolls with Social Security rolls, DMV records, property tax assessments and information credit card companies use. “When you see problems, you need to flag them for investigation,” he said.

The other thing people can do is vote. Meuser said the more people who vote, the less special interests can turn an election.

“The best way anybody can guarantee representative government is to get out and vote,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re a progressive Democrat or a Tea Party Republican. Massive voter turnout beats a well-planned fraud every single time.”

Evan Patlian: Bringing School Board to Surface

| News | October 25, 2018

Evan Patlian knows that school boards in general are not highly valued. The trustees are not as well known as other people running for other elected offices up the ballot. He seeks to change that as a candidate for the District 1 seat on the Saugus Union School District board.

“School-board members are valued and respected members of the community because they are actively working for the right reasons, which is the betterment of our children and for the one common goal of excellence in education,” Patlian said recently over lunch at Scorpion Internet Marketing, where he’s an internet marketing manager. “I think perception comes off as negative when an individual or group of individuals allow for outside factors to start to play in the business of education, whether that be political party lines, business advancement, money.”

According to a 2015 Education Week article, school boards risk dysfunction because of the need to compromise and collaborate – and failing to do so. “While a board member independently calls the shots in the campaign, the job itself demands collaboration, a willing exchange of ideas, and acceptance of the school system’s framework for advocating change,” the article said. “When these practices of good governance are not upheld early on, relationships within the board and with administrators become strained.”

This is what Patlian seeks to avoid as he vies with David Barlavi and Jesus Henao for the seat Paul De La Cerda chose not to seek because he’s getting his doctorate in education at USC. He has De La Cerda’s backing as well as the endorsements of current board member Dave Powell, Newhall district board President Phil Ellis, the Saugus Teachers Association and the California School Employees Association.

But he’s not resting on that. Instead, he’s calling for better communication between board members and among the board, the schools, teachers and students.

“It’s been seen and talked about quite a bit that maybe the communication is not where it needs to be between the five members of the board,” he said. “I hope to change that, and the only way you can effectively change something is to model it yourself. I am going to openly communicate and listen and be willing to hear everyone’s point of view as well as give my own, and hopefully we can come to an accord.”

Too often, he said, the board tends to communicate in ways that puts the members in the best possible light. “We need to be more honest and open about what’s going on. Solutions are going to be bred from that,” he said. “You can’t always just promote the good. You have to be honest about everything.”

He also wants to model behaviors a different way: “Why not have the five school-board members go to a school site and participate in a physical event with the students? If we’re asking teachers and parents and students to do something, we should be able and we should be willing to do it ourselves. I’m a big fan of if I want something done, I’ve got to do it myself and show it as an example.”

There are two people he especially wants to be an example for: his two children, one of whom already attends a district school, one who will when old enough. To Patlian, it makes perfect sense to serve in a community in which he lives. If he’s going to do right by them, then he’ll do right by the other approximately 9,900 district students.
“I can relate with the parents that send their kids to our classrooms every single day,” he said. “The decisions that the board makes are not just going to affect the Saugus school district. They’re going to affect my home.”

To do right by them, he believes, the district has to address five student needs: educational, physical, mental, emotional and psychological development.

Educationally, he would like to see fewer acronyms. He ticked off several: LCAP (Local Community Accountability Plan), ESL (English as a Second Language, which he initially incorrectly called ELS), ECFF (Education and Community Funding Formula), 504 (a special-education plan under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973).

“When there’s too many acronyms, they all start to blend together,” he said. “If you tell someone English as a Second Language, that’s not hard to remember, but you put ESL along with LCAP and all these other ones, they all start to sound the same – even for someone who’s trying to get on the school board and should know all this by heart.”
He said he would like to see a database on the district website that explains all the acronyms as well as any relevant sections of the state Education Code. Written in layman’s terms so the average parent could understand, too.

But Patlian also emphasized the need to help a child’s inner self. While suicide is not prevalent in elementary schools, depression is on the rise, whether from bullying or neglect.

“We’ve got to do a better job of fulfilling a core value in children, which is – and they already know this – genuine kindness,” he said. “We need to be better as adults, as stakeholders in their lives, be better at seeking opportunities to show we care for people, that we’re kind to others. That impact on our kids is going to be tremendous, and they’re going to start to model that behavior to their classmates and to other adults.”

De La Cerda said Patlian’s ideas, passion and the fact his kids are or will be in the district are reasons he endorsed him.

“It’s important to have parental voices,” De La Cerda said. “Evan has longevity ahead of him. His ideas are innovative.”

Weber Wins in Court

| News | October 18, 2018

City council candidate Sean Weber had his two-year civil harassment restraining order against fellow candidate Brett Haddock upheld, meaning the order is in effect until July 19.

The state Court of Appeal ruled 3-0 that Haddock “has been engaging in a course of conduct, harassment and stalking by posting, sending, delivering harassing and derogatory electronic messages to (Weber) and his family and friends, in public and private forums who have asked him to stop to no avail.”

“Today is a great day for my family and the legal system,” Weber said. “The court spoke loudly when it issued the unanimous decision.”

Haddock had argued a First Amendment right, retaining a prominent First Amendment attorney and receiving support in the form of an amicus brief from the UCLA School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic.

But while the court agreed Haddock has the right to criticize a candidate for public office, “The problem with his argument is that he has not included a sufficient appellate record for us to evaluate his claim. Even on a sufficient record, however, we would reject his argument because the evidence before the trial court demonstrated that Haddock also engaged in a course of private harassing conduct toward Weber and his family, which justified the restraining order notwithstanding any claimed protected speech.”

Haddock seemed aghast at the ruling.

“They referenced Mr. Weber’s claims, and his claims were not supported by any evidence,” Haddock said. “To fabricate an entire case, produce no evidence, and have a court uphold it is not an acceptable outcome for our legal system, and it’s a very dangerous precedent to set.”

He said he is considering further appeals but will hold off until conferring with his attorney, which he said was to occur Wednesday. The next level would be the state Supreme Court, but according to one of the justices, the Court hears an average of 83 cases from an average of 8,600 petitions.

“I’m willing to take this as high as I can,” he said. “It’s just a grave injustice.”

Weber filed for a restraining order for himself, his mother, father-in-law and brother May 9, 2017, according to court documents. In the original complaint, Weber said protection because he feared Haddock was going to “kill my family” because online posts from 2015 show Haddock talking about going on a “murderous rampage” and that Weber is Haddock’s “target.” Weber’s attorney also said Haddock posted some of Weber’s easily identifiable information such as address, date of birth and car’s license plate.

Haddock’s attorney has said the “murderous rampage” quote was aimed at an insurance company.

In court documents, Haddock said that during the appointment process, Weber “threatened people with libel, slander, defamation for indirect quotes, but still had the spirit of what he was saying. He has engaged in – it really comes down to bullying. … I believe I have a morale (sic) obligation to stand up for people who abuse their public citizens. … I am not a violent person. I am adamantly a pain in the ass, but I’m just using my First Amendment rights to stand up for people that are being bullied.”

Court documents also said Haddock posted an article on his blog entitled, “Sean Weber: Charlatan, Bully, and Criminal” with the text, “As my friends and family can attest, I’ve made something of a second career helping to expose frauds and bullies.”

Superior Court Commissioner Laura Hymowitz, saying she finds it unusual for a private citizen to appoint oneself to go after bullies, issued the restraining order despite saying, “Most of what Mr. Haddock is doing just doesn’t quite reach the standard.”

Weber said he considers the matter settled and just wants to move on. He said he has no immediate plans to seek civil damages as long as Haddock continues to abide by the terms of the restraining order.

“It’s now clear Mr. Haddock’s case was frivolous, and I look forward to putting this behind me,” Weber said. “If he continues, that’s on him.”

Coach Varner Makes Comeback – From Cutting Teeth with Cowboys to Wildcat Winning Streak

| News | October 18, 2018

Many know the name John Wooden; fewer can name the coach who succeeded him.

West Ranch football coach Chris Varner looked it up and found it was Gene Bartow. After Wooden retired in 1975 with 10 national college basketball titles at UCLA, Bartow stepped in for two seasons and guided the Bruins to a 52-9 record and an NCAA Final Four appearance (Wooden was 54-7 in his last two seasons).

As a former Bruin said in a 1990 Los Angeles Times article, “Any college in America would give its teeth to have a coach that would take them 52-9 in two years. That wasn’t good enough at UCLA.”

Varner can relate: He replaced Harry Welch at Canyon High. Maybe people don’t know who Welch was, but once upon a time, Welch did more than anyone to put the area on the map. He coached the Cowboys to five sectional titles in two stints, including an upset of mighty Concord De La Salle to win a state title. The stadium at Canyon is named for him. He even has his own Wikipedia page.

Four years after taking over, Varner stepped down to spend more time with his family. It would be five years before he coached again.

“The thing I loved most at 21, I hated most at 31,” he said. “I didn’t think I would ever coach again.”

Obviously, he returned, and West Ranch is better for it. The Wildcats are 8-0 with two games to play, their best start ever. One more win will set the school record for most Foothill League wins in a season. With wins Friday at Hart and next week against Valencia, the Wildcats would win their first Foothill League title. West Ranch has beaten Hart once; it never has beaten Valencia.

“Obviously, we’re satisfied on what we’ve done so far, but we’ve got more to do,” Varner said. “It feels good to win.”

When it comes to winning in football, very few locally were as successful as Welch. Well known for getting the most out of his players, Welch guided the Cowboys to three Southern Section titles (1983-85), and a then-record 46-game winning streak in his first stint, which lasted 12 seasons. He returned to Canyon in 2001 and won two more section titles, culminating in the state title in 2006.

Varner, who played at Buena High in Ventura before coaching the freshmen there for three seasons, had wanted to be a head coach by the time he was 30. With no prospects in Ventura or Oxnard, he looked elsewhere.

While taking classes at The Master’s College (now University), a professor knew Varner was a coach. “Next thing I knew, I got an email from someone I didn’t know,” Varner said.

That someone was Welch, who was looking to fill a vacancy. Varner did some research and learned about the win streak but also about a 1989 incident in which Welch, after his team lost in the playoffs at Santa Barbara, broke a glass trophy case in a postgame tirade after believing Santa Barbara received an additional down after time had expired with Canyon ahead 21-14 (the Cowboys lost 28-27 in overtime; the Los Angeles Times also reported that two doors, a blackboard and a drinking fountain had been broken or dismantled, but Welch admitted to breaking the trophy case).

Varner also asked his coach at Buena, Rick Scott, who coached at Hart at the same time Welch started at Canyon, about Welch. “He said, ‘Harry is a winning coach, but some people don’t like working for him,’ ” Varner explained.

Varner took the job in time for the 2003 season. He thought he was going to be on the varsity staff, but instead coached the freshman team defense after Welch asked him to. He did that for two seasons, which coincided with the Class of 2007 entering Canyon – the same group that later won state.

Along the way, Varner heard stories about Welch. His program was accused of running an illegal after-school practice, causing the Southern Section commissioner to suspend him for a year, resulting in Welch suing and winning a case by claiming his due process had been denied. Varner heard about run-ins with parents and boosters. But other than asking Welch about the trophy-case incident – and hearing Welch regret it – he kept his head down and did his job, becoming the junior varsity coach and helping where he could for the eventual state champs.

“As much as I admired him, I didn’t grow up here,” Varner said. “I had been in the Army. I had done things. I was not a blind follower. I was not drinking the Kool-Aid.”

That win against De La Salle was the last game Welch ever coached at Canyon. He resigned to take a job at St. Margaret’s in San Juan Capistrano, where he won 30 in a row, three more section titles and a state title in three seasons. From there, he went to Santa Margarita for three seasons and won another section and state crown.

Welch announced his resignation from Canyon on April 27, 2007 at age 61, causing the school to scramble to find a replacement in time for spring football. Varner was the only on-staff person to apply for the job.

He was 29. “I was following a legend much older than myself,” he said.

Almost immediately, Varner discovered that the program might have been his, but he couldn’t do what he wanted. Despite 18 starters being gone for the 2007 season and retaining most of Welch’s staff, the prevailing opinion was, “We won state. Why would we want to do it differently?”

Asked why he didn’t insist on his way, he said, “It was a lack of confidence in myself. I wasn’t ready for the job. It was trial and error, trial by fire.”

He also quickly learned that being a JV coach, where he was accessible, was different than heading the varsity, where accessibility could be interpreted as weakness, and what was praise before could quickly turn to criticism.

Canyon went 4-6 that first year, 5-5 the next year and 2-9 the year after that. But it wasn’t just the losing records that got to Varner. It was the fan reaction.

His house got egged. He had to change his cell-phone number because of the harassing calls.

He said he suffered chronic insomnia. His goatee turned white (even now, he dyes it). He didn’t eat, stopped exercising and lost 35 pounds, to 175.

“I became a shut-in. I didn’t want to wear Canyon stuff,” he said. “I made a mistake in going on those anonymous message boards and reading the comments. I got anonymous letters.”

But he couldn’t escape the status of being the Canyon football coach, sometimes at close range. To get to the football office, one has to walk off the field and pass the concession stand and restrooms before coming to the gym – plenty of time and space for people to gather and make their feelings known.

Varner got booed. He heard the shouts of “Varner sucks!” People put papers on windshields accusing the program of going backward. Once, somebody hired a plane to fly a banner that attacked then-Principal Bob Messina, “MISS HARRY YET? THANKS BOB.”

Up in the stands, Varner’s wife, Candice, who played soccer at Canyon and was Welch’s teaching assistant for a time, also heard the shouts. One time, she was with their son, Austin, who was 5. She would ask the shouters to stop because their son was here; they responded with F-bombs. Their son cried and asked, “Why is everybody mad at Daddy?”

“It was then I knew I wasn’t long for Canyon,” Varner said.

Despite an 11-20 record after three seasons, Varner didn’t quit, in part because coaching was what he wanted to do, and because he knew his fourth season was going to be better because of the talent.

Sure enough, the Cowboys went 10-2 that season. Boos turned to cheers. As he walked off the field toward the football office, Varner recognized people who had booed him but now were nice and complimentary.

“I didn’t forget. I didn’t want it,” he said. “I needed a break. … I was young. I made mistakes. Had I been head coach at Hueneme and making those mistakes, it wouldn’t have mattered.”

He quit to spend more time with his family, although he maintained his teaching load at Canyon (he taught history). He coached his sons in flag football and baseball. His brother died of bladder cancer in Riverside, and he was there for the family.

“If I was still coaching, I would’ve missed it,” he said.

Despite having two kids, the Varners wanted a third, but Candice had suffered miscarriages. She was in her third trimester when Chris stepped down, but was unable to carry to term again.

At that point, they looked into adopting. After a long process, they found a child who had been rescued from a meth den but who had a younger sister. Not wanting to separate the pair, they adopted both.

All five of the Varner children are Wildcats this year

Then came the miracle: Candice got pregnant and delivered a daughter. In a year, the Varners went from two to five kids.

Although not coaching, he nonetheless stayed in football by doing commentary for SCVTV and Fox Sports West. And he got more involved with psychology when he was asked to teach the Advanced Placement course at Canyon in 2011.

“Since 2010, I did a lot of soul searching, introspection. Why did everything have to go so bad for me? I’m a good guy, a good coach. Why did things have to happen?” he said.

He found a quote often attributed to Tony Robbins but really came from a 2014 commencement speech actor Jim Carrey gave at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa: “Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you.”
There’s also a poster that hangs on a classroom cabinet that mentions an unknown author’s Seven Rules of Life. At least four of these could apply to Varner and what he experienced.

No. 1: Make peace with the past so it doesn’t affect the present.
No. 2: What others think of you is none of your business.
No. 3: Time heals almost everything.
No. 6: You are in charge of your happiness.

These also could apply to the recent struggles that have befallen the family. His son Austin was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008, and his daughter Audrey has cystic fibrosis.

“You try and push forward and live,” Varner said.

Of course, football and coaching never left him. In 2015, he helped his replacement, Rich Gutierrez, the last half of the season. He said he thinks that if the West Ranch job didn’t open up, he’d still be teaching at Canyon and helping Gutierrez.

But in 2016, the West Ranch job did open up. He was wiser about the fickleness of mankind and decided that if he didn’t like it, he would quit at the end of the season. Still, West Ranch had no football tradition.

“West Ranch was a good place to put Varner’s brand of football. It was a good chance for me,” he said.

He took some of what he learned from Welch. The coach was famous for his attention to detail and the process that went into it. So, Varner knew the team could score a touchdown, but if a player missed a block, there needed to be some examination as to why. “That could cause us to lose games,” he said.

Welch also was excellent at selling the sport and making people think that they were the most important person in the world at that moment. So, Varner went out and got T-shirts for all the teachers.

He also does things differently. Primary is his desire for flexibility. Not all kids can be coached the same way. Some respond to negative reinforcement just fine; others need praise. How he disciplines depends on the situation. He can jump, scream and get in a player’s face; but if he does it too often, it becomes white noise and the players don’t respond. Also, lengths of practice and off-season weight training can vary.

Most of all, everyone should have fun. Unlike at Canyon, kids don’t play football at West Ranch so they can say they play football at West Ranch. “Kids would rather play a different sport or play videogames or hang out by the pool,” Varner said. “You’ve got to get them to believe in themselves.”

The Wildcats are 8-0. Think they believe?

“Everybody fails before they succeed,” Varner said, fully aware of the wisdom behind those words.”

The Price of Safety

| News | October 11, 2018

Al Hunt sells a school security system he believes in. But he’s having a difficult time convincing school districts they need it.

The reason: the cost. The Hunt Communications School Emergency Notification Bridge, powered by XOP Networks, runs about $25,000 per school, including installation. That’s $250,000 to equip all 10 Newhall School District campuses, and $375,000 for the Saugus Union and William S. Hart Union High School districts.

“That’s the biggest thing that’s held it back,” Hunt admitted, “but you can’t give something away for nothing.”

Indeed, the website (emergencynotificationbridge.com) offers details about the system. Hunt highlighted some features: During an actual emergency, such as a school shooting, administrators can use the phone system to call everybody who needs to know what’s happening, from teachers and on-campus security personnel to fire, police and ambulance. Parents can receive phone calls or texts and district officials can alert principals. The system also can be wired to security cameras that police can access.

Hunt estimated that the price per student is only about $30.

Hunt said the system exists at airports such as John Wayne and Lost Hills-Kern County, and the company is bidding for a contract at Los Angeles International.

School districts, however, are another matter. When Hunt approached someone at a school district in Huntington Beach, he said, “If it was up to them, they’d write the check right then and there.” (He also said he would provide a list of districts that use the system but didn’t.)

None of the local districts have the system. In fact, Hunt hasn’t taken any meetings. He said he has no contacts for Castaic and Newhall school districts, didn’t know Sulphur Springs existed and tried numerous times with Saugus but got no reply (Hunt said he’s only been selling this system for about six to eight months).

According to Saugus board member Chris Trunkey, the normal procedure calls for district staff to evaluate any system that gets pitched. Only when the district determines a system is worthwhile does it get sent to the board for approval. Trunkey said he can’t recall the board approving a new security system in the last couple of years, but he knows the board regularly approves contracts that have to be renewed.

Saugus district Director of Safety & Risk Management Keith Karzin didn’t return a phone call.

The procedure is similar in the Hart district. Hunt said he contacted his friend, school board member Joe Messina, about the system.

Messina said the Hart district gets pitched often about many things. He said he told Hunt that if he really believed in the system, he should talk to district staff.

“You go through the proper channels, and I’ll look into it,” Messina said. “Calling a trustee is not a proper channel.”

Hart district spokesman Dave Caldwell said he wasn’t sure if Hunt ever contacted the district, but even if he did, he would have had to go through a bidding process.

Hunt is not dissuaded. In fact, he said, if every parent wrote a check for $30 to the school district, the system would be paid for.

“If you look at it per child, it’s not prohibitive,” he said.

Contamination Cleanup Completion Given ‘The Bird’

| News | October 11, 2018

In November 2016, Hassan Amini, the project coordinator in charge of directing and coordinating the cleanup of the Whittaker-Bermite property, said the soil cleanup and decontamination would be complete by Sept. 28.

That obviously didn’t happen. Blame a bird and federal bureaucracy for the latest delay.
According to Amini and others interviewed for this story, the Whittaker Corporation was in the process of applying to renew a federal permit to clean soil in a dry streambed when a visitor to the site in September spotted two California gnatcatchers within the property, but not in the streambed area.

The gnatcatcher is an endangered species (the Audubon Field Guide blames housing developments for its endangered status), causing a quandary. Agencies need to be informed when an endangered species is present, but the birds were not interfering with the current areas being cleaned.

Acting cautiously, Amini reported the incident to the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues the permit, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the endangered species program under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The two agencies have 135 days to consult and issue an opinion. Amini estimates that means the agencies will inform him by the end of January.

Amini said this bureaucratic delay does not affect current areas being cleaned up, “but we are (almost) done with those,” he said. “If we do not clean additional areas we need to go to, we’ll be sitting on out hands, shutting down until they (ACE and USFWS) go through this. It’s really a disaster to our schedule and this project.”

The 996-acre Whittaker-Bermite site was used by the Department of Defense to manufacture munitions using a chemical called perchlorate that is harmful to humans. In rocketry’s early days, it was common to spread the excess perchlorate on the ground and let it evaporate – except too much of it seeped into the soil and groundwater, thus contaminating it.

The water decontamination is scheduled to start once the soil is cleaned and will last as long as 30 years. The soil cleanup has been going on for nine years, with various agencies often having said the completion is on schedule and then pushing back the completion date. Amini said this week that despite the Sept. 28 target completion date, he was shooting for the end of November. Now, that’s also unlikely.

Rick Drew, head of the Whittaker-Bermite Citizens Advisory Group, said this is just business as usual.

“It goes along with what I’ve been saying: three to five years,” Drew said. “We’re still three to five years (away). I’ve been involved with it 10 years now.”

Amini hopes that the two agencies will realize that this permit is not for developers but for the good of the community and issue the permit quickly.

“If I have the permit in my hand on Nov. 15, I should be done with the project within the January-February time frame,” he said. “I’m optimistic (but) I have no idea. It’s a hope, not a promise.”

SCV Man of the Year Donation

| News | October 4, 2018

Nick Lentini, a past president of the Santa Clarita Valley Rotary Club, was selected as 2018 SCV Man of the Year during ceremonies held in May at the Valencia Hyatt Hotel. Nick will now serve as 2018-19 chair of the Man and Woman of the Year committee with 2018 Woman of the Year honoree Gloria Mercado-Fortine. The annual event, which started in 1964, recognizes outstanding volunteers whose names have been submitted by various charitable and service organizations in the Santa Clarita Valley.

From those ranks, a man and a woman are selected for special recognition. The Man and Woman of the Year committee is comprised of former recipients. They make the selections each year based on the nominees’ years of community service (not work related), “sweat” equity, and the impact of service to both the nominating organization and multiple local organizations.

Included in the honors that the 2018 Man and Woman of the Year received the night of the event were checks, which can be donated to their charitable or service organization of choice. Nick chose to donate his $2000 to the Newhall Rotary Club Foundation and made the check presentation Wednesday, Sept. 26, to current club president Tom Cole who then handed the check to foundation chair Mike Berger.

Rotarians who have received the honors over the years include: Rev. Sam Dixon, Ed Bolden, Jack Boyer, Steve Hall, Dan Hon, John Fuller, Clyde Smyth, Steve Schmidt, Frank Kleeman, Linda Pedersen, Mike Berger, Greg Nutter, Harry Bell, Mary Ann Colf, Steve Sturgeon, William Lively, Sue Endress, and Jim Lentini.

The Newhall Rotary Club Foundation is a not-for-profit, public benefit fund, which was started in 1977 during the presidency of CalArts executive Jack Clark to benefit local charities in the SCV area. Its board includes the current club president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer with six at-large members selected from the club. The group meets at designated times during the year for treasurer’s reports and nominations for that year’s recipients. The foundation corpus includes investments in the S&P 500, bonds, and CDs. Interest earned on the corpus is used for the annual donations to local charities.

From ‘Fighting Fascism’ to Running for School Board

| News | October 4, 2018

In person, he’s “Coach Dave” running for a non-partisan seat on the Saugus Union School District board. Online, however, he’s a liberal-leaning activist fighting what he sees as fascism in this country.

These are the two sides of David Barlavi. He wants to “Make American FUN Again” (his campaign slogan, and he has a website, teamMAFA.com) yet rails at Donald Trump, calling him “a treasonous president” and “Cheeto.” He refers to Republicans as “Repuglicans” and posted a picture of himself flipping off a person dressed like Trump in a striped jailbird costume.

He admits he has no idea how to run a campaign, but has definite ideas about how a school (and a district) should be run.

“Everything in life should be FUN and enjoyable, including politics,” he said on his campaign website. “This is especially true when it comes to the education and well-being of our kids, grandkids, teachers, and school staff & administrators.

But in recent years, we’ve lost the FUN of America.  Fortunately, we can get America’s FUN back with a new attitude toward our neighbors, communities and public service.”

In the course of a 56-minute interview Monday at The Paseo Club, Barlavi focused on his love of children, their importance and his history of coaching them, which helped formulate his platform. He also expressed conviction that his liberalism is the side that’s right and helpful, and the conservatism practiced in Washington today is harmful and on the side that’s wrong.

First, however, came the kids. Barlavi, 49 and an attorney, said he has coached more than 100 youths, including his children and grandchild, over 13 years in basketball, flag football and soccer (he also volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters). Some of that coaching took place at Bridgeport Elementary after a teacher who feared she was ill-equipped to teach football to her fifth graders reached out to him (Barlavi played football at Grant High in the 1980s.).

Running for school board, he said, is just a different way to help children. His platform centers on children being safe from what he calls the three Bs: bullies, bullets and bias.

“Bullying is counterproductive to education and learning,” he said. “We need to make sure kids are having fun.” Also, teachers need to be safe from bullying administrators.

“It’s a fear of open and honest communication that might lead to repercussions,” he said. “Teachers fear being able to express themselves in the classroom. … The board can be a leader in saying open and honest communication will not be punished.”

Barlavi said he is concerned with the “epidemic of school shootings,” reminding that a severe one happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. “There are steps we can take to make schools safer,” he said, including visitor photo-ID badges, searching bags, a full-time security guard at every school, cameras and motion detectors. He opposes metal detectors, however. As for bias, Barlavi said he’s worried about Muslim, immigrant and non-white children coming under scrutiny. “I want to make sure kids don’t feel uncomfortable at school and teachers feel welcome and comfortable,” he said.

Other platform points include:
•Working to increase state funding by creating ways that teachers, parents, business leaders and other stakeholders can directly pressure state representatives to make school funding a priority.
•Increase sports, music and the arts in the schools. Barlavi wants to hire physical education teachers, partner with the city and private leagues to ensure kids can participate, and ensure anyone who wants to play an instrument or engage in drawing, painting, sculpting or any other art can. He said he knows this costs money, which is why there needs to be an increase in school funding. He credits West Creek Academy for introducing African and Central American music and wants that to spread across all 15 district schools.

•All board members should be fingerprinted.
•Board members should serve no more than three terms (12 years).

Barlavi’s activism goes back to the 1992 beating of Rodney King. He has especially stepped up the rhetoric after Trump won the presidency.

An example comes from a July 22 Facebook posting: “90 percent of registered repuglicans are still trumpanzees, and their support for cheeto did not falter even last week with cheerio’s lips firmly on Putin’s rear end on world television. How will we be able to move on as a country like this? Even when we take our democracy back, these open bigots will still be among us? How will we deal with their undying support for fascism?”

Barlavi has his supporters. Meghan Rafferty posted that she would vote for him.

Scott Ervin, while not coming out and saying he supports Barlavi, played devil’s advocate when he posted, “So why CAN’T he be on the school board? Everyone knows DB is very supportive of ‘the children.’ His personal views, outside of being a (potential) school board member shouldn’t preclude him from serving on the board … right?”

But there are also people such as Wendy Garcia, who posted, “David Barlavi is a scary man. Anyone with children in the Saugus school district, I suggest you get out and vote. Stop thinking it doesn’t affect you, it does!”

And from Betty Arenson: “This type on a school board? NOOOO!”

To which Barlavi responds, “If you don’t feel my outspokenness and my beliefs don’t qualify me for serving, then don’t vote for me.”

It remains to be seen if he can defeat Jesus Henao and Evan Patlian and win the seat Paul De La Cerda chose not seek again.

Traffic Improvements at Sierra Highway and Golden Valley Road

| News | September 27, 2018

The City of Santa Clarita and Caltrans engineers have partnered with Caltrans to provide traffic enhancements. These enhancements will improve evening commute times at the busy intersection of Sierra Highway and Golden Valley Road.

Striping has been revised at the intersection to provide dual left turn lanes for northbound traffic. These improvements will allow twice as many vehicles to make a left turn on each cycle of the traffic signal. The update will also reduce delays and vehicle backup while improving safety at the intersection.

This project is one of many enhancements being completed in this area. In addition to these traffic improvements, Caltrans is working on repaving Sierra Highway between the Interstate 5 – State Route 14 interchange and Friendly Valley Parkway. City staff is also continuing work on the Sierra Highway Pedestrian Bridge and Street Improvements Project. For more information, visit santa-clarita.com/CIP.

For more information on these traffic improvements, contact City Traffic Engineer Gus Pivetti at gpivetti@santa-clarita.com, or at (661) 286-4047.

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