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Santa Clarita Ranked in the Top 5 Percent of Cities in State Auditor’s Fiscal Health Analysis

| News | 17 hours ago

The City of Santa Clarita was ranked in the top 5 percent of fiscally healthy cities according to a recent report from the California State Auditor. The report analyzes the fiscal health of 470 cities based on 10 financial indicators. Santa Clarita received a low-risk designation and received perfect scores in the categories of liquidity, general fund reserves, and in both pension and other post-employment benefits obligations, receiving a total combined score of 92.77.

“Under the leadership and financial stewardship of our City Council, we pride ourselves on fiscal responsibility, and we continue to maintain a healthy and sustainable budget,” said City Manager Ken Striplin. “This report demonstrates that we have been successful. There is no doubt that the City is in good financial standing and we will continue to do all we can to ensure that it stays that way through our conservative budget practices.”

As part of the state’s high-risk local government agency audit program, the state auditor aimed to identify cities that could be facing fiscal challenges by assessing their levels of risks using various financial metrics primarily found in each city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year 2016-17. Some of these metrics included cash position and liquidity, debt burden, financial reserves, revenue trends, pension and other post-employment benefits obligations, among others.

Using information published by each city, the auditor placed high-, moderate- or low-risk designations on each city with regard to fiscal confidence. The analysis concluded with 18 cities receiving high-risk designations, while 236 cities received moderate and 217 cities received low-risk marks.

SCV Water Celebrates 25th Anniversary of its Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant

| News | December 5, 2019

It was 25 years ago this December when the former Castaic Lake Water Agency completed the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant. The plant had an initial capacity to treat 30 million gallons per day. This more than doubled the capacity the agency had at the time — 25 million gallons per day — from the Earl Schmidt Treatment Plant, located near Castaic Lake.

Both plants treat imported water. Providing roughly half of Santa Clarita’s water supply, imported water flows from the Sierra Nevada mountain range through the Delta in Northern California before travelling through the California Aqueduct to reach the Santa Clarita Valley. The Rio Vista facility treats this imported water before it enters the distribution system and is served to customers.

Here are a few interesting facts about the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant:

In 1991, the former Castaic Lake Water Agency held a ground “blasting” ceremony to mark the beginning of construction of the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant.

In 2011, the plant expanded its capacity and doubled the amount of water that could be treated per day from 30 million gallons per day to 66 million gallons per day.

It took 876 days (April 27, 2009 – Sept. 19, 2011) to complete this expansion.

If needed to meet demands, SCV Water has the land and capacity to eventually double the Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant capacity again, to 120 million gallons per day.

The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency (SCV Water) is responsible for ensuring that Santa Clarita’s drinking water (imported and groundwater) meets all standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California state regulatory agencies. Annually, their water quality staff performs over 20,000 tests and analyzes samples from 64 drinking water sources for more than 285 drinking water contaminants.

Customers can see how well their water performed against the federal and state standards in the annual Consumer Confidence Report, which can be found at https://yourscvwater.com/waterquality/.

COC Refunds Bond Debt

| News | December 5, 2019

College of the Canyons refunded $31 million of outstanding general obligation bond debt. The district’s taxpayers will have cash flow savings of $8.3 million over the next 23 years. This represents an overall savings of 12.96 percent of the bonds that were refunded.

“The Santa Clarita Community College District worked quickly to take advantage of the current low interest rates to refund the bonds and save local property owners money in the process,” said College of the Canyons Chancellor Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook. “Due to the college’s solid credit ratings, our bonds always attract interest from strong and stable investors.”

The Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees, which oversees the college, voted on Wednesday, Nov. 6 to refund these particular general obligation bonds from Measure M. The sale was completed on Thursday, Nov. 14.

This is the third time in six years the college has refunded bonds in an effort to lessen the tax impact on property owners. A 2016 refunding yielded $35 million of savings, which represented more than a 23 percent reduction. That refunding also lowered taxes for area property owners.

The Government Finance Officers Association, a national non-profit organization dedicated to providing guidance to improve government management, advises that agencies should consider refunding bonds if they can save taxpayers at least 3 percent. The college district’s overall savings of 12.96 percent of the bonds that were refunded indicates how advantageous it was to refund now.

“The Measure M and E Citizens Oversight Committee applauds Chancellor Dr. Dianne Van Hook and the college’s staff for their efficient actions to maximize the bond funds to improve the college’s two campuses,” said Nick Lentini, chair of the bond oversight committee. “Their proactive approach in working with professionals in the bond management industry has repeatedly provided savings to Santa Clarita Valley taxpayers.”

Measure C, which local voters passed in 2001, funded a number of significant facilities improvements at College of the Canyons, including the cost of acquiring 70 acres of land on Sierra Highway to build the Canyon Country Campus, and constructing the Hasley Hall classroom and computer facility, the Aliso Hall and Aliso Lab science facilities, and the Pico Canyon Hall performing arts classroom and rehearsal spaces.

The funding provided through Measure M, approved by voters in 2006, helped the college complete a number of facilities projects, including construction of all the initial buildings at the Canyon Country Campus. It also qualified COC to receive state matching funds used in building the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center that now offers more than 40 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Other key projects included the Culinary Arts building, the Mentry Hall classroom expansion, The Library and Learning Center expansion, the Applied Technology Education Center at the Canyon Country Campus, and the Canyons Hall student services center.

Together, Measure C and Measure M qualified College of the Canyons to receive $56.2 million in construction funds from the state. Colleges that have local bond funds available are given priority when applying for state funding.

COC ADA Compliance Update

| News | December 5, 2019

College of the Canyons has completed 95 percent of the first of three phases of its Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan, officials said. The remaining five percent is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Most of the first phase dealt with issues disabled people might encounter daily, said architect Greg Sun, managing partner of Pasadena-based PBWS Architects. These include, doors, grasps, certain bathroom features and furniture.

Sun made his comments at an October 30 update, which was originally scheduled for August but was delayed so all principals could attend. The Gazette viewed a video of the meeting last week.

The repairs were necessary because of a lawsuit the school settled in 2015 that required it to make 1,769 ADA-related changes. The school then took it upon itself to find other examples of non-compliance and found approximately 5,000 more.

All three phases are expected to cost between a combined $10 million and $12 million, college attorney Terry Tao said. College spokesman Eric Harnish said in an email that it would be paid for by Measure M and Measure E bonds.

The amount pleasantly surprised some audience members as well as Tao and Kirstyn Bonneau, a PBWS associate partner and architect, “especially for a campus with such significant ADA challenges,” Bonneau said.

Bonneau said there were 356 times the school had to make doors compliant by doing such things as using the right locks or removing non-compliant knobs. Another 604 issues dealt with adjusting door pressures so they’d be easier to close.

“We literally have four or five pictures of every single door on campus that had deficiencies listed,” Bonneau said, estimating that to be 2,600 photos. “We have to go and we have to find it, we have to look at it, we have to look at the context around it, we have to take photos, we have to measure, we have to make sure we understand how best to correct it.”

According to a PowerPoint presentation by school Contracts, Procurement and Risk Management Services Director April Graham, COC corrected 61 incidences in 12 buildings, plus two outside areas and the coffee kiosk, in which the furniture was not ADA compliant. Thirty-six more fixes in three buildings are expected to be completed by Dec. 31.

“This takes care of furniture issues, period,” Graham said. “We really try to look for cost-effective solutions in this. We weren’t just out to go buy new furniture.”

Bonneau said Phase 1 took 17 months to get state approval, in part because the state Division of the State Architect (DSA), one of the agencies in charge of overseeing ADA compliance, wanted to see the buildings’ original drawings. “We didn’t have all those,” she said. “DSA had them in their archives, but we had to get them.”

Furthermore, DSA only allowed six requests at a time, leading to bureaucratic delays, Bonneau said.

Phase 2 will focus on travel paths from parking lots to buildings and from buildings to buildings, crosswalks, loading zones and signage. The process actually began earlier this year with officials walking the campus to look for non-ADA compliance issues. Bonneau said they found 1,475 examples, of which 200 are addressed in other ongoing projects. She said she will submit construction plans to DSA in the first quarter of 2020.

Specific targets in Phase 2 include changing signs, seating in outdoor areas, outdoor handrails and stairs, curbside ramps and ramps to buildings, paving and striping parking lots and early childhood play equipment, Bonneau said.

Phase 3, which covers 3,007 incidents of non-compliance, will address building interiors, including locker rooms, restrooms, handrails, stairways, ramps, signs, drinking fountains, travel paths, work stations, service counters, lecture halls and administrative offices, Bonneau said.

Several issues weren’t addressed:

  • Projected completion dates for the final two phases. The original transition plan book in the campus library listed completion dates as late at 2030. Harnish said that book will not be updated, the school instead opting for public information sessions.
  • The Canyon Country campus. The lawsuit and transition plan refer only to the Valencia campus. Harnish said DSA has noted areas the school needs to address to comply. These include replacing some drinking fountains, converting lights over building doors to have battery backups, and changing ADA parking near Quad 2. “We are in the process of making those changes,” he said.
  • What to do about buildings that would be too difficult to bring into ADA compliance. The Oct. 30 meeting mentioned Bonelli and Boykin halls, which are not part of any of the three phases. The previous information meeting, Feb. 21, 2018, mentioned those two plus Towsley Hall and West PE.

Harnish said West PE is currently undergoing modernization, which updates and upgrades the building. “When the project is complete, it will meet all current ADA requirements,” Harnish said.

Harnish also said that a Towsley retrofit project is planned, and DSA will review the plans before any work is done. If DSA finds ADA-compliance issues, Harnish said, they would be added to the retrofit project.

That leaves Boykin and Bonelli. Harnish said the exterior concrete corridors have slopes from one edge of the walkway to the other edge that are greater than 2 percent, which violates ADA. The buildings will have to be demolished and rebuilt to address that issue, he said.

Tao said he hopes the state will pay for new Boykin and Bonelli halls.

“There’s a lifespan for these buildings, and as part of a lifespan for these buildings, every couple of years, the community college chancellor will come through and say, ‘We’re going to do certain types of buildings.’ One year might be gymnasiums, one year might be science buildings, one year might be administration buildings,” Tao said. “We’re hoping in this cycle those older buildings will end up getting replaced.”

Bonneau added, “If they’re not replaced, we’ll put on our thinking hats and come up with creative solutions.”

Bruce Fortine, a former college board member, said he was unconcerned that there was no plan for the two halls because the state has been holding monies (he estimated $250 million) from past ballot propositions and will eventually release some to rebuild Boykin and Bonelli.

State voters have approved five such bond measures since 1998, most recently Proposition 51 in 2016, which called for, among other provisions, $2 billion for acquiring, constructing, renovating, and equipping community college facilities.

Fortine said he liked what he heard from the presentation.

“The staff is really diligent in what they do, and I have confidence in them,” he said.

Current board member Edel Alonso also was pleased with what she heard, especially about her concerns regarding fixing the bathrooms.

“I’m glad I got any sort of report. I feel like I’d been waiting to get it,” she said. “I wish I’d gotten the answers a year ago, but OK.”

Kathy Hunter Named Assistant Superintendent of the Hart District

| News | November 27, 2019

The William S. Hart Union High School District Board of Governors unanimously voted to appoint Kathy Hunter as assistant superintendent of educational services. Hunter will move into the new position once Superintendent Vicki Engbrecht retires. She will replace Mike Kuhlman, who was named superintendent-elect by the governing board on Aug. 22, 2019.

Now in her twentieth year with the district, Hunter taught students with emotional issues at Valencia High School before becoming a special education program specialist at the district office. She also served as principal at Sequoia School before starting her current position as director of student services nine years ago. She also has worked in the private sector with IBM for seven years and another eight years as an educational specialist in psychiatric hospitals.

“I am honored to have this opportunity to serve the district as the assistant superintendent of educational services,” Hunter said. “My focus, as always, will be on students. Under the direction of the superintendent and the governing board, I hope to continue our efforts to support teachers and staff, increase parent engagement and increase overall physical, emotional and social wellness of each and every student.”

“We are so very pleased to welcome Ms. Kathy Hunter to the position of assistant superintendent once the transition in leadership happens for the Hart District,” said Mike Kuhlman, the current deputy superintendent. “Ms. Hunter has authored many of the signature programs for out district and has built critical relationships with key people and organizations throughout our community. Her leadership has been indispensable recently as we have faced the traumatic events of this past week. I’m thankful and optimistic for our district and our community.”

Ms. Hunter has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and Education from West Texas A & M, and a Master of Science degree in Counseling from the University of La Verne. She and her husband, Bobby Zameroski, a teacher at Valencia High School, live in Castaic. They have one child and one grandchild.

The William S. Hart Union High School District consists of 17 schools and serves over 22,000 students in grades 7-12, plus an adult school.

Katie Hill: “…this isn’t just happening to me…”

| News | November 27, 2019

Former Rep. Katie Hill said the ordeal she endured was “one of the darkest things you can experience” and found it completely dehumanizing and an out-of-body experience.

“You really can’t understand until you’re there,” she said Sunday on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.” “As a public figure, you’re used to attack, but when it gets to the level of these threats, you’re not seen as a person anymore, and the dehumanization is something people can’t really understand unless you’ve been there. … We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard and recognize that no matter how despicable we think someone is, they’re still a human. You really can’t dehumanize them like this.”

Hill resigned Oct. 27 after allegations surfaced through articles and photos in conservative blog RedState that she had an affair with a congressional staffer and a campaign staffer, causing a Congressional Ethics Committee investigation to be opened. Hill denied the relationship with the congressional staffer, which would be a violation of House rules, but admitted to the affair with the campaign aide, which is not.

Additionally, the British tabloid Daily Mail published nude photos without her consent. She has claimed her estranged husband is behind the photos and has vowed to advocate for victims of revenge porn.

“What we have to think about is this isn’t just happening to me,” Hill said. “This is happening to women and girls across the country. I was asked about this all the time on the campaign trail by really young teenagers and girls who experience cyber-bullying in different capacities and who are saying ‘What are you going to do about this?’ and we don’t have an answer for that, so we need to figure out that fight.”

Hill also took swipes at the right-wing media in general for attacking her in an attempt to silence her and other women. She named two witnesses in the impeachment inquiry, Fiona Hill and Marie Yovanovitch.

Fiona Hill, a former member of the U.S. National Security Council, testified that Ukraine had nothing to do with the meddling in the 2016 election, a conspiracy theory Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has put forth. She also said the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, was involved “in a domestic political errand” of the president trying to get Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President and current presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Fiona Hill’s testimony led to Sean Hannity questioning her Ukrainian expertise. And Emerald Robinson, a correspondent for the far-right One America News Network, pointed to Hill’s British accent and questioned if she was a real American. Hill was born in England but became a citizen in 2002 and served under Bush and Barack Obama as an intelligence analyst.

Yovanovitch, President Trump’s former ambassador to Ukraine, testified that she was fired from her post after Giuliani and two associates ran a smear campaign against her.

Trump took to Twitter to attack her. “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” he wrote.

Katie Hill said these attacks are the new normal.

“We also need to see it as a tactic that is constantly used by the right,” she said. “I think that’s something that we see on attacks against women, not just high profile women but women across the board. These kinds of attacks are meant to silence you, demean you, and show that you do not have power, so for me it was important to show that that’s not going to work.”

Local Liberals Weigh in on Presidential Candidates

| News | November 27, 2019

Local Democrats weighing in on the Democratic presidential campaign and debates have expressed almost as many opinions as there are candidates.

“We have a good group,” Assembly candidate Brandii Grace said. “The really small differences don’t matter.”

Everyone surveyed had something nice to say about just about every candidate. Most hadn’t made up their minds yet. Those that had decided looked to other candidates
as possible running mates.

To be sure, all are vested in choosing a candidate that will defeat Donald Trump next year. As far as Stephen Daniels, the host of “The Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast, is concerned, anyone is better than Trump.

“I’d vote for my foot over Donald Trump,” he said. “I like my foot. I trust my foot. My foot doesn’t lie.”

But Daniels also wondered what many probably are thinking.

“Should we go with a moderate candidate or a more progressive candidate?” he said. “Who can beat Trump?”

There are plenty of moderates and progressives from which to choose. Two individuals surveyed, Saugus school board member David Barlavi and Grace’s communications director Kyle McCormick, are supporting Bernie Sanders.

“He definitely has the best chance to beat Trump,” Barlavi said. “And the icing on the cake is that he has the best policy platform: Medicare for all – he wrote the damn bill – a $15 minimum wage, free state and community college.”

Barlavi also likes that Sanders opposed wars in Iraq in 1991 and 2002, recognizes that for there to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, both sides must recognize the human rights of the other people; and he wants to “cut the fat out of the military industrial complex and put that towards education and health care and infrastructure.”

McCormick, who said he supported Sanders in 2016, too, credits the Vermont senator with broadening his base and, following his recent heart attack, loosening up on the campaign trail.

“He seems to have learned lessons from his previous run,” McCormick said. “He’s livelier and more present. He doesn’t revert back to his stump speech. He’s more willing to go into his own narrative, and he tells more jokes.”

So, who would they like to see join Sanders on the ticket?

Barlavi favors Andrew Yang because “he’s a populist like Bernie,” he said. He also would be OK with Elizabeth Warren but feels she would decline because “she’s got too much skin in the game.”

“If your goal is to win the general election, Bernie-Yang has the best chance,” Barlavi said.

McCormick favors Warren joining Sanders because she would balance the ticket stylistically if not ideologically. “Warren is popular with the establishment Democrats and Bernie is not,” he said.

Other local Democrats followed what Stacy Fortner said of the candidates: “They all deserve to be heard.” This could be a problem if what Fortner saw on Facebook comes true: The Democratic National Committee might change the criteria to qualify for the next debate, Dec. 19 in Los Angeles, scrapping the required number of small-donor donations.

“That benefits (Tom) Steyer and (Michael) Bloomberg,” Fortner said. “It doesn’t benefit (Julián) Castro and (Amy) Klobuchar.”

Another problem is in the format. With 10 candidates on the debate stage, it becomes difficult to get words in edgewise, which was probably why candidates did so much interrupting in the early debates.

Grace likened the debates to watching a sporting event and offering armchair analysis. Daniels agreed.

“I find it overall a little stupid that those little sound-bite moments (are) idiotic,” Daniels said. “That’s not what a president does. The idea that, ‘Ooh, he really got her.’ That’s just stupid. Some of the best candidates are not being recognized because the debates are overshadowing how they would be as president.”

A summary of what people said about the candidates, alphabetically:

JOE BIDEN
McCormick worries that the former vice president’s penchant for spoken gaffes affects his credibility and would be an easy target for Trump in a one-on-one debate.

“(Trump) would waste no time belittling him,” McCormick said. “It concerns me to have a candidate that has a very visible weakness go against a candidate who is utterly shameless, a bully.”

Then again, George W. Bush became president.

CORY BOOKER
McCormick thinks the New Jersey senator comes across in debates as “reasonable” and “impassioned.” Daniels thinks the debate format is not helping Booker, who he finds “pragmatic about his approach to politics and how to get things done.” Daniels also likes Booker’s optimism.

PETE BUTTIGIEG
McCormick wouldn’t mind if the South Bend, Ind., mayor was a vice president pick. “He’s comporting himself well, getting his message across well,” McCormick said. He also thought that other candidates should go after Buttigieg more now that he’s leading in at least one poll in Iowa, and that his being gay “will seem like a bigger thing if he starts winning.”

TULSI GABBARD
Of all the candidates, the Hawaii congresswoman drew the most ire.

“Gabbard needs to go away,” Fortner said. “She’s taking up space. She’s a horrible excuse for a candidate.”

McCormick said he thinks Gabbard’s point that our foreign policy toward regime change needs examination is valid, but he objects to her seemingly cozy relationship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi is a member of a Hindu nationalist volunteer organization that seeks a Hindu nation in which Muslims and Christians are second-class citizens, according to the online news website The Intercept.

“It concerns me to have close relations to someone so dictatorial,” McCormick said.

KAMALA HARRIS
“On paper, she makes sense, but it doesn’t seem to be working out in practice,” McCormick said. “She’s trying to thread a needle that isn’t there to thread.”

McCormick also sees Harris as waffling on issues, which hurt her early-debate momentum. She co-sponsored Sanders’ Medicare for all bill, then later reversed her position.

AMY KLOBUCHAR
Of all the candidates, the Minnesota senator drew the most opposing viewpoints.

One side, there was Daniels, who finds her very pragmatic. On the other side is McCormick, who objects to her we-can’t-have-nice-things approach.

“I can handle political moderation in some forms, but the specific brand of hectoring, ‘You’re being dumb. You can’t do that’ really grates on me,” he said.

TOM STEYER
“I am not glad he is there,” McCormick said of the billionaire. “I don’t like he is a extremely rich guy paying money into a vanity presidential run. Every time they cut to him (in a debate), I was like, ‘Tom, what are you doing?’ ”

ELIZABETH WARREN
Daniels said he likes the fact that the Massachusetts senator seems to have a plan to tackle all problems. “That, to me, speaks to somebody who should be president.”

And yet McCormick worries that Warren’s political instincts are problematic. She has claimed Native American ancestry, even going so far as using it on a State Bar of Texas form, but in February she apologized for that.

Sulphur Springs School Board Approves Putting Bond Measure on the Ballot

| Community, News | November 21, 2019

Voters in the Sulphur Springs Union School District will have the choice to approve a $78 million bond measure in the March primary election. The school board approved placing the matter on the ballot during its meeting last week.

As written, the measure’s project list includes: upgrade and replace roofs, heating and air conditioning units, repair and upgrade playground equipment, repave parking lots, improve landscaping, drainage and irrigation, improve ADA access and upgrade safety and security systems.

As for the dollar amount, board President Denis DeFigueiredo said, “It’s what we need.” He explained that the district created a facilities master plan five years ago, and these are the current priorities.

Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi said the heating, ventilation and air conditioners are old, and the coolant the AC uses isn’t made anymore. The classrooms need modernizing because “The way our children are being educated, it’s different than 30 years ago.” She mentioned classroom furniture has changed. Gone are the hardwood chairs and desks. Spacing and storage considerations are different now than in the past.

“When are things aging out?” she said. “We have very old buildings. Some buildings are 30, 40 years old, and we need additional support.”

And, DeFigueiredo said, bonds are the only way to fund these projects.

“There are many paths to get monies. We exhausted them,” he said. “We used (2012 Measure CK) bond money. We go out for grants, get matching funds from the state. This is the only way to do it.”

Yet DeFigueiredo also said that the list is general to give the district as much flexibility as possible. “If we get too specific and tie our hands, we have money left over we can’t do anything with,” he said. “We have ideas of what we want to do.”

To pay for the bonds, voters would be assessed a property tax of approximately $22 per 1,000 square feet of assessed value. But that’s an estimate; the measure’s language says “at legal rates,” and no one can predict what the assessed value will be over time. Kawaguchi said the district could have charged the maximum $30 per 1,000 square feet but is trying to keep costs down.

It’s those kinds of cost concerns that have given the district an increased bond rating, Kawaguchi said. According to Moody’s, the district’s rating went to A-1 in June, indicating general financial strength.

Steve Petzold, principal officer of the Center for Truth in School Bond Measures, said he opposes the bond, in part because some of the project list, such as the parking lot repaving, appear to be maintenance, and he doesn’t believe districts should use bond funds for maintenance.

“They’re backfilling their general fund with bond money because they’re deficit spending,” Petzold said. “They’re not properly budgeting for maintenance and repairs.”

DeFigueiredo acknowledged some of the projects might look like maintenance, but he and Kawaguchi insisted they are not. DeFigueiredo said in the case of the parking lots, the root cause was poor engineering years ago, the problems coming from deeper underground.

Petzold also criticized the district for its previous failure to comply with the terms of the Measure CK bond, specifically that it did not have the required citizens’ oversight committee.

“Why can we trust them on compliance for this bond when they can’t maintain the old bond?” he said.

Indeed, the district’s website has no record of any oversight committee meetings between Sept. 6, 2016 and June 17, 2019. DeFigueiredo said the issue was the committee didn’t have a quorum. Once it did, the committee went through every transaction and expenditure if that time and approved everything.

“This is not an easy committee to staff,” DeFigueiredo said. “We need a business person, we need a senior citizen involved with some organization that advocates for senior citizens. We need someone in a taxpayer organization.”
The measure requires at least a 55-percent majority to pass.

School Districts React

| Community, News | November 21, 2019

The shooting last week at Saugus High School did not cause other nearby districts to take stock of their policies and procedures because they were doing it anyway. Meanwhile, mental-health professionals insist mental illness is not the cause of the shooting.

Sixteen-year-old Nathaniel Burhow shot and killed Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15, and Dominic Blackwell, 14, before shooting himself with the last round in his .45-caliber gun. He also shot and injured three others: Mia Tretta, 15, who came home Monday from Providence Holy Cross Medical Center; Addison Koegle, 14, and an unnamed student.

On Tuesday, students were allowed to return to campus to retrieve belongings, one student telling The Signal the experience was “surreal.” The school was scheduled to be open Wednesday and Thursday for voluntary activities, which William S. Hart Union High School District spokesman Dave Caldwell said will including playing games or singing or hanging out with friends.

“For some, they need to be with other people. They need to be with their friends. They need to be at school,” Caldwell said. “For those that don’t want to go back, that’s OK.”

Some who attended these events no doubt wondered if they’d ever feel safe there again. At other local districts, safety remains a top priority.

“Kids are kids, people are people, and we have to provide a safe environment,” Sulphur Springs Union School District Board President Denis DeFigueiredo said, “whether it’s an elementary school student or a high school senior.”

Sulphur Springs Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi said two years ago, she implemented drills and training in case of an active shooter.

“We are taking a proactive stand to make sure our children are safe,” she said.

Over at College of the Canyons, spokesman Eric Harnish emailed to say officials are constantly evaluating emergency prevention, preparedness and response efforts, and adjusting based on training and experience.

“For us, it is a collaborative process, and we seek to engage faculty, staff, and students in our efforts to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in making our campuses as safe as possible,” Harnish wrote. “As law enforcement investigators continue their work, and more information comes to light, we will certainly use any lessons learned to inform the college’s emergency prevention, preparedness and response efforts moving forward.”
Newhall School District Superintendent Jeff Pelzel said the district already has a facilities master plan in place and regularly seeks feedback from the parents, so he knows safety is their priority. The district shares that concern and has a letter on its website saying as much. The letter mentions the recently completed projects of placing fencing entirely around the perimeters of all 10 schools, conducting lockdown drills, keeping the campuses locked during the day and on weekends, and cooperating with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Department.

In fact, the district was supposed to meet Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Lewis last week to go over procedures, steps taken and lessons learned from the recent fires, but the Saugus shooting canceled that. Pelzel said the meeting is now scheduled for Dec. 6 and likely will include information from the shooting.

The school districts are not islands unto themselves, either. Pelzel said the district superintendents regularly meet, and he expects the Hart district’s Vicki Engbrecht to share some lessons learned at the next gathering.

However, Pelzel said, fencing is just a first step. The good news is the district is expected to receive $10 million in Measure E funds. The bad news is that’s not nearly enough to pay for cameras at all campuses.

“We will determine what the needs are,” Pelzel said. “Safety is always a top priority. Too many incidents have been occurring.”

Many believe that a shooter has to be suffering from mental illness to carry out such a destructive and violent plan. However, the New York Times reported in 2012 after the Newtown, Conn., shooting that the American Journal of Psychiatry found only 4 percent of violence in this country could be attributed to people with mental illness. In 2004, the Safe Schools Initiative Report found that only 10 percent of attackers who were receiving treatment for their mental illness failed to take their prescribed medication.

The Gazette reached out to five mental-health professionals, of which three responded. None of them had ever met Burhow.

None of them felt mental illness was a factor in the Saugus shooting, although Encino Marriage and Family Therapist Sherry Warschaw said it was possible Burhow had issues with impulsivity, “but that’s not necessarily mental illness. The majority of people who are mentally ill do not commit crimes.”

She did, however, say impulsive behavior could be a component of mental illness. If a person feels so down and sees a future bereft of hope, he or she might make decisions that prove fatal.

“Impulsive people don’t think clearly. They act on feelings,” Warschaw said.

Woodland Hills MFT Judi Lirman said it appeared Burhow was unable to deal with the traumas in his life: the death of his father, who had been involved in spousal abuse and alcohol abuse, as well as the custody battles that took place between his parents when they divorced.

“He seemed to be a good kid who ended up in a situation he couldn’t handle,” Lirman said. “He needed to explode like a volcano. He was exploding his pain at the other five students.”

Lirman and Jaelline Jaffe, a Sherman Oaks-based psychotherapist, said access to guns is more of a factor than the shooter’s mental state. Lirman said a gun allows somebody to kill from a distance, making it easier to depersonalize the situation and convince yourself “”You’re not shooting at a person so much as a target.”

Jaffe said that the Saugus shooting took 16 seconds and “you can’t in 16 seconds kill six people with knives. You can fire off a lot of shots.”

Over at the Hart district, Caldwell said the shooting happened too recently for there to be a serious evaluation of what can be done differently, but those will be part of the next steps.

“We’re focusing on the care and support, and providing the students and staff everything they need,” Caldwell said.

Saugus High was closed Monday and will be closed Friday, Caldwell said. Then the school will take its previously scheduled full-week Thanksgiving break.

When classes resume Dec. 2, Saugus students will have had six fewer days of instruction than at other district schools. State law requires high school students to have 180 days and 64,800 minutes of instruction. Caldwell said he believes the school is on pace to meet the required minutes.

Mike Garcia: In it “Until We Win or Lose”

| News | November 21, 2019

While Steve Knight’s entrance into the 25th congressional race has caused two Republican candidates to drop out, Mike Garcia insists he is in it “until we win or lose.”

Garcia said former candidates Mark Cripe and Angela Underwood Jacobs, who cited Knight as the reason they quit, left because they weren’t raising enough money (Cripe made that point in his withdrawal announcement).

“Since Katie Hill resigned, we’ve seen a spike in fundraising and support, and (with Knight’s entrance) it’s similar,” Garcia said. “The visceral reaction to Steve Knight getting in the race is very negative.”

Garcia said none of the people who endorsed him before Knight got in have switched allegiances. That includes people who backed Knight in his previous three congressional campaigns, against Republican Tony Strickland and Democrats Bryan Caforio and Hill.

He also said his campaign recently conducted a poll of sample district voters of all parties that showed he would defeat Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith but would lose to Knight based on Knight’s name recognition. But the poll showed a little bit of messaging could put Garcia ahead of Knight.

Garcia said he has not been pressured by Knight or any person or organization to step aside. In fact, he said, Knight told him he was entering before he announced. He also knows the National Republican Congressional Committee is closely watching this race.

The district’s voters will be asked to elect a representative to finish Hill’s term as well as vote for a 2020 candidate in the regularly scheduled primary on March 3.

The top two vote getters will face off in a runoff election May 12. In the event a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote on March 3, then, he or she will serve out Hill’s term.

“Having Steve out of the race would make it a lot easier to win and skip the runoff,” Garcia said.

In the regular primary, the top two vote getters will advance to the Nov. 4 general election.

Hart Budget Issues

| News | November 15, 2019

At first glance, the numbers appear alarming: The William S. Hart Union High School District budget shows a spending deficit of more than $15 million for this year.

But before anyone fears that there won’t be enough money, look closer. The district has a large reserve that it’s using to offset the deficit. Granted, the fund is dropping from $39 million down to $24 million, so everything isn’t rosy, and it takes tremendous effort to figure out how to make the dollars work best. But the district remains financially solvent.

For now.

“The challenges are more common,” Hart school board member Joe Messina said.

He explained: Districts cannot raise taxes. Eighty-seven percent of the budget goes to salaries and benefits. The state is still among the lowest in per-student funding. The district provides mental-health services for students without reimbursement.

“They are making it harder,” Messina said referring to Sacramento.

It doesn’t help that the state’s spending per student ranks 41st nationally, according to the California Budget and Policy Center and the National Education Association.

It also doesn’t help that the federal government funds special education, but not at a rate that fully covers what the district spends on in-class aides, transportation, legal fees, and speech pathologists and occupational therapists, Hart District Teachers Association President John Minkus said.

The state also requires districts to increase its contributions into the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) without any reimbursement, district spokesman Dave Caldwell said.

Nor does it help that the state requires districts to file budgets in odd ways. The process includes a first interim budget, a second interim budget and something called “unaudited actuals,” which is akin to the real money a school district has.

When Messina first joined the board a decade ago, the spending deficit was $8 million. He said the board spent three months tackling the budget line by line, trying to cut here or increase there.

“You can’t run a business this way,” Messina said, “but the state asks us to run a school district this way.”

Unlike in other school districts, the teachers’ union is an equal partner. In fact, Minkus said, the union has made suggestions to fix the deficit. These include taking unpaid furlough days, accepting no raises last year and increasing class sizes by one student, to 37, which Minkus estimates would save the district $2.4 million.

“If there is a problem, we’ve sat down with the district and gone through ways we can save money,” he said.

Another possible solution is a ballot proposition that would alter Proposition 13 to tax businesses that make more than $3 million. Minkus estimated that would put $12 billion into the state’s coffers, of which 40 percent would go toward K-14 education. A similar initiative already has qualified for the November 2020 ballot.

The only bone of contention comes from the district’s five-year projections. Currently, the district believes that in 2023-24, the savings will be gone and the district will be almost $13 million in the red. Minkus is skeptical.

“We don’t believe a five-year analysis is viable or feasible or close to accurate,” he said. “It’s too far in the future and there’s too many unknowns.”

Caldwell acknowledged the future projections, based on data collected and provided by Riverside-based Davis Demographics, are impossible to predict. “No one has a crystal ball,” he said.

But the point, Caldwell said, is that “continuing the way we’re continuing will cause problems.”

Minkus agrees. “If we continue to deficit spend, it’s a logical conclusion that we’ll go into a budget deficit,” he said.

New Dem Enters Assembly Race

| News | November 14, 2019

A Democratic tech startup founder, actress and video game designer/developer has announced she is running for Assembly. A Saugus school district board member might soon join her.

Brandii Grace, 39, announced Nov. 5 on Facebook that she is running for the seat currently held by Christy Smith, who is running for Congress and has not resigned her seat. She wrote that she filed papers the day before. She joins Republicans Suzette Valladares and Lucie Volotzky in the race.

“This is me trying to step up and continue what Christy Smith is doing,” Grace said, alluding to her own behind-the-scenes political experience as a delegate in the state and local Democratic parties as well as her standing on the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council and her time working with the AFL-CIO to pass stronger federal-worker protections. She said she wants to emphasize education as Smith has, particularly for special-needs students.

Grace has no campaign website yet. She told the Gazette her priorities include improving air quality, ending medical price gouging, affordable housing and permanently shutting down the site of the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas leak. The leak, from an underground storage facility owned by the Southern California Gas Company, sent millions of tons of methane and ethane into the atmosphere.

On her LinkedIn page, Grace lists herself as: co-creator and co-founder of “Neil DeGrasse Tyson Presents: Space Odyssey,” a game designed for players to explore science and technology in the universe; a board chair of the Los Angeles chapter of the International Game Developers Association; and a consultant for Engaging Designs. She said she no longer is part of the “Space Odyssey” project.

She also has an Internet Movie Database page that lists her as an actress in two films, including the 2009 Robin Williams-starring “World’s Greatest Dad,” as well as two credits for being on video game crews. And she teaches at the New York Film Academy in Burbank.

Saugus board member David Barlavi called Grace “terrific,” “fantastic” and “a very strong Democrat, a little bit left of Katie Hill and Christy Smith.”

Barlavi also is considering a run, saying on Facebook on Nov. 4 that he’s “still only 97% sure” he’s going to run. On Sunday, he reiterated that percentage hadn’t changed and that he would make a final decision by the end of the month.

“It’s not an easy decision,” he said. “I’ve got to see who else jumps in and evaluate them. I don’t want to step on the feet of someone that’s better than me. I like to win but I don’t like competing against our own.”

That didn’t stop Barlavi from posting on Grace’s Facebook page, “How do you expect to overcome Coach Dave’s incredible handsomeness?”

Grace, who said she recognized Barlavi’s humor, responded with a wink emoji and this comment: “By being super well informed with great policy ideas and empowering an amazing community of people!”

Barlavi then posted a picture of Homer Simpson saying, “D’oh!”

Will Knight Split the Republican Vote?

| News | November 14, 2019

As expected, former Rep. Steve Knight announced he’s attempting to retake the congressional seat he lost to Katie Hill. Unexpectedly, one of his would-be opponents dropped out.

Knight, who many believe ran a lackluster campaign in losing to Hill by nine points, released a statement that began, “I have always answered the call to serve and today is no exception.”

Reached Monday, Knight vaguely explained who called on him to serve: “A lot of friends, a lot of elected people in D.C., a lot of people in all three valleys. This wasn’t just me deciding.”

Knight announced on Saturday. That same day, Mark Cripe announced he was ending his campaign, citing on Facebook “deep concerns over splitting the Republican vote in a crowded field” and low fundraising totals. Cripe had previously told the Gazette he was staying in the race.

Another Republican candidate, Mike Garcia, said he was “disappointed” that Knight decided to enter the race. “We have no reason to change our course of action and I am set on winning the primary regardless of who joins the race,” Garcia wrote on Facebook. “Knight’s decision to run represents a missed opportunity for a senior statesman and a party to fully unite behind a winner and send a clear message that CA-25 does still belong to the people.”

Two other candidates, Democrat Christy Smith and Republican Angela Underwood-Jacobs, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Wilk Calls for Special Session to Investigate the Public Safety Power Shutoffs

| News | November 7, 2019

State Sen. Scott Wilk, representing the 21st Senate District, has requested that the governor and legislative leaders authorize a special session of the legislature to investigate the Public Safety Power Shutoffs conducted by the investor-owned utilities (IOUs). “California is the fifth largest economy in the world, but when the wind blows, the power goes out for millions of Californians. That is a totally unacceptable scenario, yet, according to the IOUs, it will be the new normal for the next decade,” said Wilk. “Last week, a teacher in my district watched her home burn to the ground. Without power, her well was inoperable and there was no way to even pump water to a garden hose. How anyone could accept this as the ‘new normal’ is beyond me. I am calling for a full audit so we get to the bottom of the policies that put this in place.”

Power shutoffs can eliminate the ability to pump water or operate life-saving equipment like ventilators, sleep apnea and dialysis machines. Disabled individuals can also be left immobile once their battery packs run out.

Wilk is requesting a special session of the legislature in order for the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to meet and approve an audit of the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) guidelines and investor-owned utilities’ (IOUs) practices concerning the Public Safety Power Shutoffs. He wants the investigation to determine whether these power shutoffs are being conducted in a manner where they are necessary, whether less burdensome alternatives are being ignored, and whether the IOUs are simply choosing to shut off the power to avoid any costs of maintenance or lasting investments in their infrastructure.

“Calls for the PUC to investigate these shutoffs is like asking the fox to audit the hen house. The investigating agency must be completely independent from undue influence of both the administration and IOUs,” said Wilk. “The state auditor has a proven track record of independence and thoroughness in her investigations.”
Sen. Wilk represents the 21st Senate District which includes the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor Valleys.

The Plight of the Brights

| News | November 7, 2019

Like the main characters in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” or Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” David and Mel Bright find themselves in a confusing, absurd situation where answers are not forthcoming.

The Brights own Rio Groceries on Soledad Canyon Road, between Agua Dulce and Acton. They have run afoul of the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning’s zoning division. Specifically, the county has them in violation for selling alcohol without a conditional use permit (CUP). The Brights maintain the county delayed the need for it and then failed to explain what has to be done to secure it.

“I don’t get it,” said David, 63. “I just don’t get it.”
Late Wednesday, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office reached out and explained: The Brights need only complete and submit the application they never finished and pay $1,100 and attend a hearing in which the department would decide to grant the CUP or not.

“All the county needs to see is some sign that he is showing progress toward compliance,” said Edel Vizcarra, Barger’s deputy in charge of planning and public works.

Back in 2010, the Brights applied to renew their permit. They submitted their application and $10,000 as instructed. But they were told to wait because Santa Clarita was finalizing its new General Plan, commonly known as “One Valley, One Vision,” a joint effort between the county and the city of Santa Clarita that would create a single plan within the county and city’s jurisdictions for growth and preservation of natural resources. That included various areas being zoned certain ways. The plan was adopted in 2011.

According to Bright, the county “graciously” re-zoned the store into its own commercial zone (it originally was a resort-recreation zone because it served the various nearby campsites going back to 1965) in return for waiting for “One Valley, One Vision” to be completed.

The Brights waited for the county to contact them, which took three years. Once they were contacted, they were told that their permit had expired and they were operating without one. “Well, you guys told me to wait,” Bright said he told them. “It’s nothing but a bureaucratic paper mess.”

Bright said the county’s zoning officer told him to resubmit a floor plan to indicate the amount of commercial space in which alcohol would be sold. He said the total was less than 900 square feet.

Some time later, a second zoning officer came to the store, verified the floor space and told the Brights they had to attend a hearing, fill out a land-use application and pay $500. Bright asked what the land-use application was and was told, “It’s not my department.”

He also told the officer he couldn’t attend any hearing because he had undergone eye surgery. He said the zoning officer “got pissed off” and started an investigation into the store’s lack of CUP, which had expired in 2011.

“She threatened to take my alcohol license away,” Bright said. The license to sell alcohol, granted by the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, had not been cited in the entire 19 years the Brights have been licensed to sell alcohol, he added. However, Vizcarra said, the county also must sign off on a business in its jurisdiction selling alcohol.

Then the Brights got a notice of violation, from Regional Planner Thomas Dearborn, warning them that continuing to sell alcohol without the proper CUP could lead to jail time, and that they owed a non-compliance fee of $798 and $2,793 for “collection of further administrative and collection fees.”

The Brights have not paid those fees. They were told if they did not comply with the zoning ordinance by Oct. 20, they would face more fines. They did nothing, and the county has not come after them.

But their frustration levels have grown.

“All they have to do is approve it (original application) and we’re done,” Bright said. “I don’t know why they keep dragging this out.” Bright suspects the county wants him to start over, but he already paid $10,000.

“Nothing’s changed,” he said. “Why do you keep trying to start over from scratch? You have my money. Why don’t you sign me off? What’s the land-use stuff? Why are you trying to sneak it in?”

Tony Bell, Barger’s spokesman, told the Gazette the goal is to get the Brights into compliance. He also was interested in what happened to the $10,000 the Brights paid the county in 2010. “We still have the record for that,” Mel Bright, said, and Bell said late Wednesday that he found the payment.

For now, the situation remains unresolved, but Vizcarra has spelled out a roadmap. The $1,100 is for the county sending out notice of a hearing to nearby businesses, he said, and to hold the actual hearing.

“It’s just frustrating, the business with L.A. County,” Mel Bright said. “We’re already tired. We’ve had the store for 19 years. Never had a problem, never had a violation. Nothing.”

An Update on the Laemmle Theatre

| News | November 7, 2019

The seven-screen Laemmle Theatre is set to open sometime in the first quarter of 2020, only about three months later than the city originally planned, officials said.

According to Economic Development Manager Jason Crawford, construction continues at the corner of Railroad and Lyons avenues in Old Town Newhall. Concrete for the floors has been poured in the last couple of weeks, Crawford said, and the sides of the building are expected to be in place by the end of the month.

The project continues despite the news from three months ago that the entire Laemmle chain might be up for sale. “There has been no confirmation or denial in our conversations with the Laemmle people,” Crawford said. “It’s full speed ahead.”

Mayor Marsha McLean said she spoke to City Manager Ken Striplin, who told her Laemmle is in “ongoing negotiations” with “an upscale theater chain.” Laemmle can’t sell the property without the city’s consent, McLean added.

On February 9, 2016, the city council approved $3,420,525 in financial assistance to help Laemmle bring a multi-screen theater to the area. Laemmle owner Greg Laemmle told the Gazette back then that the project would not move forward without it.

Many people praised the project, saying they looked forward to the high-quality art-house films Laemmle is known to screen, and it would increase the likelihood they would spend time dining in and visiting a revitalized Old Town Newhall.

But not everybody was on board. Then-councilmember TimBen Boydston thought the money could be better used elsewhere, and Josh Heath wrote in the Gazette, “How will a local Laemmle Theater end up differently than the many art-house cinemas across the country currently struggling to keep up attendance?”

One example came from Claremont, home to the Claremont 5 Laemmle, located near the Claremont Colleges. A recent article in the school paper, The Student Life, quoted Eddie Gonzalez, a 2004 graduate: “But between 2007 and now, streaming has obviously become a thing. It’s devices over cinema. Kids just don’t go.”

A big bone of contention was the millions the city gave Laemmle. But Crawford pointed out that Laemmle doesn’t pocket all that money. The city paid for the land, valued at $440,525, and $400,000 in development fees. It also reimbursed Laemmle $600,000 in site-preparation costs.

However, $1,980,000 will go directly into Laemmle’s coffers once the theater opens, but with that comes an operating covenant that guarantees that Laemmle will operate there for 15 years. Six screens are required to be opened for the first six years. In year seven, the chain could reduce to four screens and convert the rest to retail or office space.

Laemmle would have to repay the city a portion of that money for each year it doesn’t operate under the covenant’s terms. Closing in the first year would get the city back almost all of the $1.98 million; it becomes less with each passing year.

“It will continue to be an art-house theater,” McLean said. “We are looking forward to having an art-house theater. That’s what Laemmle promised, and that’s what we’re going to get.”

Katie Hill’s Open Seat Up for Grabs

| News | October 31, 2019

Just because Steve Knight might enter the race for Congress in the wake of Katie Hill’s resignation doesn’t guarantee he will win, or even automatically advance out of the primary. So says a group of local residents, mostly veterans, who insist they will continue to support Mike Garcia.

“I’ve communicated with Steve Knight on Facebook. Love you, guy, but this is unacceptable,” Bill Reynolds, a local Vietnam veteran, said. “All of my veteran pals are going to stick with Mike.”

Even Knight, who appeared on Monday ready to jump in, took a step back.

“We’re looking at the whole thing,” Knight said on KHTS. “We want to take back the seat. If that means me jumping into the race, then that’s what we’ll do, and if not, that’s OK.”

The news that Hill will resign her seat has created a ripple effect that Trish Lester, president of Santa Clarita Republican Women Federated, called “some musical chairs going on.”

Not only has Knight considered a run, Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita), who told the Gazette last month she considered running for Congress but decided she could get more done in Sacramento than Washington, announced she is also running for Hill’s seat, pleasing some Hill supporters.

Stacy Fortner, a Democratic activist, said on Facebook she’s doing “the Christy dance” with the hash tag “if you know, you know.” And podcaster Stephen Daniels said he doesn’t know a Democrat who knows policy better than Smith.

For their parts, Garcia and Angela Underwood-Jacobs said they would not leave the race even if Knight enters it. Both said they would challenge for the seat in the special election that is required to fill the seat for the rest of Hill’s term, as well as the regular primary in March (a third candidate, Mark Cripe, didn’t return numerous phone calls).

A Smith campaign spokesman also said she would run in both and maintain her Assembly seat “until she is elected to Congress.”

Then late Tuesday, former Trump aide George Papadopoulos, who was sentenced to 14 days in jail and served 12 for his role in the Russia probe, filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission.

A source said Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who was considering a run, is staying out.

According to the Constitution, House seats can only be filled by election. Once Hill leaves office – and as of press time, this date has not been announced – state law says Gov. Gavin Newsom has 14 days to call for a special election to take place on a Tuesday between 126 and 140 days after he calls for it. If Hill leaves Friday, as many believe she will, the earliest date would be March 10. The regular primary remains scheduled for March 3.

Smith’s exiting the Assembly race has left Republican challengers Suzette Valladares feeling eager and Lucie Volotzky feeling giddy.

Valladares said in a statement that she’s willing to debate the issues with anyone. “While I was looking forward to the debate of ideas against Christy Smith, I’m ready to stand up for the people of this district and challenge anyone that the Sacramento political class recruits to fill her seat,” she said.

Volotzky called Smith’s departure “a big plus.” She added, “People will pay more attention to the newcomers and what we stand for.”

Garcia, is also a newcomer, this being his first race. And he’s not going away. “I’ve been in this race since the beginning regardless of who else is running and will continue to do so,” Garcia said in a statement he texted to the Gazette. “Steve Knight served our country honorably, and he has previously earned my vote. He’s a good man, but we need a fresh voice to shake up Washington.”

Many Republicans contacted by the Gazette, some of whom live outside the area but within the 25th district, expressed similar themes: They admire and respect Knight but believe it is Garcia’s time. Many pointed to Knight’s showing in the last election, in which Hill defeated him by nine points.

“Of course, Steve Knight should not get in the race,”

Palmdale resident and veteran John Smith said. “Steve Knight doesn’t have the fire. If Katie Hill can beat him, anyone can.”

Former Congressman and Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly, who once represented the area before redistricting, thinks everyone should “execute their constitutional rights and vote.” But as for him, “I worked hard for Steve Knight and got him elected. I’m supporting Mike Garcia.”

Saugus Realtor Steve Petzold said he’s looking for a candidate in the mold of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) who would support the president, and believes that is Garcia. “Steve Knight was more reluctant to support Trump doing the Russia investigation,” Petzold said. “Papadopoulos is more of a carpetbagger.”

Lester expressed concern that too many Republican candidates could fracture the community as she saw happen when Knight ran against Tony Strickland in 2014. “To have two, three, four strong candidates, I don’t think it does anybody any favors,” Lester said. “It’s going to get uglier, and it makes me sad.”

Alan Ferdman, head of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, summed it up this way: “Both parties are going to do the same thing: Select the person they consider the most electable and pressure everyone else not to run.”

Local Woman Joins Newsom Recall Movement

| News | October 31, 2019

In the spring, Teresa Guzman, 51, became so fed up with Governor Gavin Newsom that her blood pressure started to rise. Her husband suggested she do something about it, so she typed “Gavin Newsom recall” into her internet browser.

Now, the Stevenson Ranch resident is fully committed to removing Newsom from office, much like Gray Davis was recalled in 2003.

“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” she said. “My mailbox is packed. My email, too. My text messages.”

Guzman has joined the recall movement started by author and former U.S. Senate candidate Erin Cruz, who unsuccessfully challenged Dianne Feinstein in 2018. A second recall movement, headed by La Jolla physician James Veltmeyer, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2016 and 2018, also has been approved for circulation.

For either effort to trigger a recall election, supporters have 160 days from the date the secretary of state approves circulating the petition to collect 1,495,709 signatures, or 12 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Cruz’s movement has until February 13th; Veltmeyer’s has until March 5. Guzman pointed out online signatures are not accepted.

Newsom in August filed a statement with the secretary of state saying, in all capital letters, “THIS UNWARRANTED RECALL EFFORT WILL COST CALIFORNIA TAXPAYERS $81 MILLION DOLLARS! IT IS BEING PUSHED BY POLITICAL EXTREMISTS SUPPORTING PRESIDENT TRUMP’S HATEFUL ATTACKS ON CALIFORNIA.”

Guzman said she wants Newsom out now because she opposes the governor’s redirecting monies collected from the gas tax into rail projects. The Sacramento Bee reported earlier this month that Newsom signed an executive order in September ordering Caltrans to hold $61.3 million in reserve to “reduce congestion through innovative strategies designed to encourage people to shift from cars to other modes of transportation.”

Guzman said her job keeps her on the road a great deal of time, and she can’t always tell if she’s in the proper lane because so many places need paving and marking. She named Interstate 5 southbound approaching the 14 Freeway as an example she encounters daily. Meanwhile, she said, the roads in Topanga Canyon, near Mulholland Drive, have been entirely repaved and it’s “absolutely gorgeous.”

Another issue Guzman has with Newsom is his commitment to California being a sanctuary state. At his inaugural in January, Newsom promised “sanctuary to all who seek it.” The American-born, Republican-registered Guzman, the youngest of nine children who married a Mexican-born native with dual citizenship, doesn’t think people in this country illegally should receive the same treatment as American citizens.

“His inclusive ideology, that bothers me,” she said. “We’re supposed to be open for Americans, not illegal aliens. I haven’t heard him say one thing that benefits the American people. The Democratic Party has blurred the vision of what we started this country about.”

Political Community Reacts to Katie Hill Controversy

| News | October 23, 2019

Mostly silence from the Democrats. Outrage and concern from the Republicans.

Such was the local reaction to the stories of Rep. Katie Hill’s relationships with a campaign staffer and, allegedly, a congressional staffer.

The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday said it would investigate Rep. Katie Hill over her having a sexual relationship with a congressional staff member.

“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Katie Hill may have engaged in a sexual relationship with an individual on her congressional staff, in violation of House Rule XXIII, clause 18 (a),” the committee statement said.

In a statement Hill (D-Santa Clarita) sent to constituents, Hill denied she slept with a congressional staffer, which the conservative media outlet RedState identified as former finance director/current Legislative Director Graham Kelly.

But Hill acknowledged she was involved “in a relationship with someone on my campaign. I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment. For that I apologize. I wish nothing but the best for her and hope everyone respects her privacy in this difficult time.”

She added that she would fully cooperate with the ethics committee and would not further comment until the investigation is complete.

Before the committee’s announcement, local Democrats were mostly silent, while local Republicans expressed outrage, concern and careful analysis.

RedState first broke the news last week. Hill is in the midst of a divorce from her husband, Kenny Heslep, who had known and apparently sanctioned the relationship with the female campaign staffer (RedState didn’t name her but said it was a three-way relationship). Heslep filed for divorce after he came to believe Hill was also allegedly sleeping with Kelly, RedState reported.

The House passed a resolution in February 2018 prohibiting sexual relationships between lawmakers and their employees, which include congressional staffers. The rules say nothing about relationships with campaign staffers.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a 2020 presidential candidate, sponsored a bill in December that President Trump eventually signed that mirrored many of the points in the House resolution, including an automatic referral to the chamber’s ethics committee once a complaint has been lodged.

Hill on Tuesday denied to various national media outlets that she slept with Kelly, and that the relationship with the campaign staffer was inappropriate.

“The fact is I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me,” Hill said in the statement. “I am disgusted that my opponents would seek to exploit such a private matter for political gain. This coordinated effort to try to destroy me and people close to me is despicable and will not succeed. I, like many women who have faced attacks like this before, am stronger than those who want me to be afraid.”
Politico reported that sources close to Hill and Democratic leadership aides dismissed the RedState report as coming from GOP operatives in California seeking to hurt the freshman lawmaker politically.

Of the 20 liberals and Democrats contacted for this story, three went on record. Diane Trautman, a former City Council candidate who attended Hill’s election-night party in November, first expressed shock and then skepticism, but also hoped that “we can get to the bottom of this for the benefit of anyone that feels wronged, and we can know the truth. I want to know the truth before I condemn anybody.”

She also asserted, “Anyone who sleeps with a staffer, it’s inappropriate, absolutely.”

Local podcaster Stephen Daniels, host of “Talk of Santa Clarita,” said he’s frustrated that the RedState articles combine the issues of Hill’s impending divorce from an alleged relationship with a congressional staffer into one story that confuses people.

“There’s no evidence of their relationship that would be a violation of ethics, except for a bitter ex-husband and some texts,” Daniels said. “Katie has denied it. I take her at her word unless something else comes out.”

Saugus school district board member David Barlavi texted that he wouldn’t comment until after Hill does. Once Hill issued her denial, Barlavi said, “I fully support Katie’s comments in the Politico article.”

None of the other 17 on the left commented. Only five answered their phones. The other side of the aisle, however, had no trouble commenting.

All three Republican congressional candidates weighed in. Angela Underwood-Jacobs said Hill’s behavior crossed an ethical boundary and called on her to resign now. “Why should Katie Hill be held to a different standard than anyone in the House?” she said.

Mark Cripe expressed sadness that the story broke the way it did and that he was only concerned with the ethics.” You represent the people, and you’re asked to be put in a spotlight,” Cripe said. “You represent a wide range of people that come from all walks of life. There’s a level of professionalism you’ve got to stick to.”

Cripe said he expected an ethics investigation, so to call for it seemed redundant to him. “She’s going to have to account for her decisions, and ultimately, the voters are going to decide,” he said.

Mike Garcia texted to say the allegations are “very serious and concerning. We should hold our representatives and elected officials to the highest standard. We expect them to conduct themselves with the utmost integrity and respect for the office and their constituents.”

Garcia also called for an investigation and texted, “The fact that our own representative is even subject to questions of inappropriate behavior while in office is concerning for our district. We expect and deserve better.”

Knight, whom Hill defeated in November, suggested there should be an ethics investigation if it’s proven Hill slept with a staffer. Even if it’s consensual, it poses a perception problem, he said.

“A sexual relationship changes how you deal with these people,” Knight said, adding he didn’t know of this happening with anyone he hung out with in Washington. “It starts to make the whole staff and the whole office uncomfortable.”

Trish Lester, president of the Santa Clarita Republican Women Federated, said paying a staffer you’re sleeping with “looks really bad” and that Hill should be punished if an investigation proves she committed ethics violations.

Bill Reynolds, a noted Hill critic, likened Hill’s situation to that of former President Bill Clinton.

“This is akin to Bubba Clinton having sex with Monica Lewinsky,” Reynolds said. “Here, you have a person in power with a staffer.”

Reynolds, talk-show host Joe Messina and CPA/Libertarian Matt Denny expressed concern that Hill could be subjected to blackmail, as there are photos of Hill with the female staffer. Hill currently serves on the Armed Services Committee, which affords her access to sensitive, secretive and national-security-related information and documents.

Denny wondered if this could cause Hill to lose her clearance, which would possibly hurt her aerospace-industry constituents. Reynolds said she should lose her clearance and her committee seat.

And Messina wrote on his The Real Side website, “With her lack of regard for rules and respect for the position she holds and her inability to really secure her information, can we really trust her to keep America safe?”

Eric Early Attempting to Unseat Adam Schiff

| News | October 17, 2019

Saying Rep. Adam Schiff has lied, abused his power and led a witch hunt against the president, Eric Early has announced he’s running for Schiff’s seat.

Early, who often speaks to conservative groups in Santa Clarita, previously ran for state Attorney General and then tried to have the AG removed from the ballot. He was unsuccessful on both, and he recognizes the long odds he has to unseat Schiff (D-Burbank), who has served in Congress since 2001, won his last election with 78 percent of the vote, currently chairs the House Intelligence Committee and is one of the leaders of the impeachment inquiry.

Just don’t call Early’s campaign quixotic.

“That’s your interpretation,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of U.S. Senators who have major power. Nobody gave them a chance in hell. We have a president nobody gave a chance in hell. It’s not quixotic. We’re beyond the word quixotic.”

He does have the backing from the county and state Republican parties as well as former county supervisor Mike Antonovich. And since the top two vote getters from the March primary advance to the November general election, Early likes his chances. Beside Schiff, Independent Jennifer Barbosa, Republican Jon Hollis and Democrat Maebe A. Girl are running.

Early continued, “I don’t want a Congressman who has totally politicized his office and the intelligence committee and turned it into an arm of the Democratic Party. I don’t want a Congressman who cares nothing about our district, who has totally turned his office into a machine just to stay in political power and to try and increase his standing among those for whom he’s carrying water. This guy needs to be removed from office, and the way you remove people from office in our society, short of pretext and made-up things that Schiff is all about, is you vote them out of office. I want him out of office. I want him out of government. I think he’s a danger to our country in many respects. I want him out of office.”

Early said Schiff has done nothing to help the district’s constituents. He said homelessness has increased and nothing is being done to address the mental-illness component.

“Mr. Schiff has ignored it completely,” he said.

Early said Schiff has done nothing to help Californians receive benefits under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, even though Schiff voted against the bill.

“Fighting for a district to continue to allow tax increases that affect our constituents is not fighting for the district,” Early said. “I don’t want our constituents to pay more and more taxes. I’ll do everything I can to help lower the tax burden on our constituents.”

Early said there are infrastructure and immigration problems that must be solved, and Schiff is doing nothing to help.

“We have a guy now, Mr. Schiff, who has never done anything on any of those issues for the constituents. You look at his record and it’s appalling. He’s Exhibit A of a professional politician who gets in and his biggest concerns are doing what it takes to stay in power, to stay in political office and to increase his political standing among those in his party,” Early said. “The moderate Democrats and certainly many of the independents, the do-not-state votes, they want to see a Congressperson helping them in their district, and they don’t want to see somebody in Congress who has been doing what Adam Schiff has done for the last three years, which is fabricate stories to get personal attention for himself and try and destroy a duly elected president.”

Steve Knight Life After Politics

| News | October 17, 2019

On one hand, Steve Knight said he misses being in Congress. But there are aspects of the job he definitely doesn’t miss.

“My first year, I got asked what was the toughest part of working in (Washington) D.C. It’s the travel,” Knight said this week in one of his first interviews since Katie Hill unseated him in November. “It really is the toughest part.”

He added that his blood pressure’s down, his back doesn’t hurt and his schedule is his. But his desire to serve might not have been completely extinguished. Although he ruled out running for office in 2020, he said beyond that, “Life is very fluid.”

In the meantime, he has started Knight Consulting, in which he helps companies and organizations navigate the halls of state and local government.

He didn’t specify what companies, organizations or industries except to say he would like to work in aerospace. He did say that his clients are mostly from the contacts he has made over the last 10 years.

“It’s got a lot of plusses,” he said. “I work with people I’ve worked with. I set my own schedule. I don’t travel unless I want to. I go to Sacramento about once a month.”

And yet, Knight said there are times he wishes he had won re-election because he witnessed a major change in government: the rise of social media.

As he sees it, social media has created more divisiveness and has made it harder for the two parties to work together to get anything done. An elected official can look at hundreds or thousands of comments; Knight said Abraham Lincoln had to answer to just his cabinet.

He also thinks the amount President Trump uses social media is the new normal.

“President Obama started it. President Trump took it to the next level,” he said. He believes the next president will have to build on that in his or her own way.

And while Knight did not point to any one reason why Hill defeated him, he alluded to social media as a contributing factor.

“Social media hurt me because I wasn’t good at it,” he said. “Much of my work is person-to-person. I average about 10 emails a week, and those are catch-ups and follow-ups. … I was a cop, and cop work is face to face, and I really like that.”

Even now, his consulting firm is not online.

Meanwhile, Hill ran what she called the “most millennial campaign ever,” and she still tweets most days.

Naturally, Knight’s loss hurt, he said. “I was one of the few who thought I was doing a good job,” he said. The first couple of months saw him shocked, sad and unsure just what to do next.

“Soon after, you figure out this is America. I need to make money,” he said. “Let’s get going.”

It was his wife that suggested consulting as a way to play to his strengths of helping people solve problems. It was something he couldn’t do in government because bureaucracy moves so slowly.

But as a one-man operation working out of his Palmdale home, Knight admits he has as many clients as he can handle. But since he wants more, he knows he has to bring in a partner and then someone to run an office.

He is looking at office space in Lancaster, five miles from his home. It’s a far cry from the 2,668 miles to Washington.

“I don’t sit on an airplane 11 hours a week,” he said.

Vaping Controversy – Smoke Screen?

| News | October 17, 2019

The recent news regarding lung problems and death from vaping has several store owners annoyed because, they claim, one important piece of information either goes unreported or is overlooked.

Most of the lung problems can be traced to marijuana, specifically the psychoactive ingredient THC.

“It’s fear mongering,” said Fred Deen, owner of Smoke Depot & Vapor Lounge in Valencia. “Media’s just making people afraid. Our politicians just want to do something that looks good on TV. They’re just banning everything. Why don’t you just ban vaping THC, man? Why are you jumping on the vaping nicotine that isn’t hurting anyone? Of course it is stupid. Of course we are against it, but what can you do?”

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that much of the lung illnesses linked to vaping products are from THC cartridges purchased illegally. NBC News had a similar report two weeks ago that said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking into THC laced with Vitamin E acetate, a solvent used to help cannabis work in vape pens, as a primary cause.

Vaping, two store owners said, is not killing people but is a method to stop smoking.

“It’s made for cigarette smokers that don’t want to smoke anymore and wean themselves off nicotine,” said one owner who refused to be identified for fear of economic and possible physical reprisals. He said his stores carry cartridges of varying amounts of nicotine, the idea being one uses decreasing amounts until they’re weaned entirely.

Many of his estimated 250 clients are on the program using vaping to reduce nicotine, with varying degrees of success. He, for one, was a smoker but has seen his energy levels in the gym increase since switching to vaping; although he also admits he hasn’t seen a doctor.

“Hundreds of them switched, and then they stopped smoking,” he said. “They all want to quit smoking. Some do, some don’t.”

He said education is critical, and he and Deen quoted and referred to several studies and articles that demonstrate how much safer – though not completely safe – vaping is.

According to the Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, vaping is using an electronic cigarette (or e-cigarette) to simulate smoking but without burning tobacco. The tool is a handheld battery-powered vaporizer; hence, the name “vaping.”

The user has an inhaler with a heating element that synthesizes a liquid solution made of several ingredients including nicotine but not tobacco. What is expelled is water vapor, not smoke.

The benefits and risks are uncertain because no long-term studies have been done, but the store owners know this: Smoking anything is harmful, but Public Health England, an agency of the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care, said vaping is 95-percent less harmful than cigarette smoking.

PHE also found that between 65 and 68 percent of smokers who tried quitting via vaping succeeded. The New York Times reported that two UK hospitals have allowed an e-cigarette company to open vape shops on their premises.

The store owners also know minors are drawn to vaping products, especially the flavored ones, and they said they refuse to sell to them. Deen said he knows the industry is willing to have technology implemented that would prevent anyone under age 21 from entering a store.

“I understand it’s bad, whether for kids or adults. They shouldn’t be doing it. I’m 100-percent sure kids should not be using it,” the unnamed store owner said. “I know for sure it’s way better than regular cigarettes.”

Added Deen: “It’s like you found bad lettuce in the sandwich and you’re banning the sandwich. This is like a nightmare.”

Lucie Volotzky Runs for Assembly

| News | October 10, 2019

Saying she doesn’t like what she sees in Sacramento, and needs to be a voice for those not represented, businesswoman and former model Lucie Volotzky announced recently she’s running for Assembly.

Volotzky, 64, is the owner of two Blissful Sleep mattress stores in the San Fernando Valley. She is a Republican originally from Montreal but naturalized in the 1980s. She modeled in Canada and most recently competed in the 2011 Ms. Exoti-Lady pageant representing her native country. She bemoans what she sees as too much partisan division and wants to run what she calls “a different type of campaign.”

“I’m running to bring facts and say ‘enough is enough’ to what the government does to us,” she said in a thick French-Canadian accent. “They pass laws (and) they don’t think what will affect the other side. That’s the problem. They have no balance.”

As Volotzky sees it, California is in a sad state. She sees freedom of speech eroding and too much anger on both sides. “You need three things: head, heart and soul,” she said. “A soul to believe, a heart to give and a head to do the right choice.”

Among her platform points, which she provided, are quoted below:

Less taxes, “enabling families and Millennials to have more time to enjoy what they can spend from wages earned.”
Less regulation, “which strangle small business owners and limit hiring more employees.” This includes decreasing the number of forms needed to start and grow a business.
Safe neighborhoods.
Faith-based or charitable solutions to opiate and opioid addiction.

She said a representative should be the method to improve the quality of life in the district, not protect a political agenda. “I feel I’m more of a messenger to opening doors,” she said.

Volotzky is the second Republican to challenge incumbent Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita), joining Suzette Valladares, who dropped out of the 25th congressional district race to challenge Smith.

Christy Smith Looks Back on Her First Year

| News | October 3, 2019

Local leaders often complain that Sacramento makes it difficult for local governments to get things done. After spending one year in the Assembly, Christy Smith sees their point.

“I think there’s nothing more valuable than service at a local level to understand what that means and how decisions that are made in Sacramento impact communities and city municipal governments to do their job,” she said. “I made a point to consistently remind myself of that.”

Smith (D-Santa Clarita) completed half of her first term last month. She secured more than $1.5 million in funding for 38th District projects, including $450,000 for the senior center to complete its capital campaign, $700,000 for Simi Valley’s free health clinic and $397,000 to modernize College of the Canyons’ Boykin Hall.

She authored 14 bills, 12 of which either became law or are on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk awaiting his signature.

“The upper limit of what a member of our house can introduce is 50 bills, which I find too much,” she said, “and so I wanted to focus on quality and impact over quantity, and so I’m happy with this quantity.”

Smith said she maintained her legislative focus “on the issues I campaigned on, which is good governance and government transparency.” Several bills dealt with education.

She created the Golden State Scholarshare College Savings Trust, which provides financial aid for post-secondary students. She wrote legislation that benefits COC nursing-school faculty, expands dual enrollment for high school kids who might want to take advantage of community college course work, helps low-income students pay for Advanced Placement tests, and requires high schools to conspicuously post in bathrooms and locker rooms written policies on sexual harassment and how to report charges, in addition to posting in the already-required main administration building.

She also wrote a new law that allows unclaimed property to be directly returned to the municipalities that might have monies in the state controller’s office. And she honored her late mother by co-authoring a Senate bill that set more ideal nurse-to-patient staffing ratios in hospitals (Smith’s mother was a critical-care nurse and also worked in transitional care, she said).

Along the way, she enjoyed many memorable moments, starting with the swearing-in.

“I kept it together and kept it together, but because this has literally been my life’s goal and my life’s dream, to be in elected office at the legislative level, we got off the floor after swearing in and I was being interviewed on camera and started I started to tear up a little bit,” she said. “The significance of the moment hit me.”

She met with constituents – registered Democrats and Republicans alike, and at least on one occasion wrote legislation because of it. Assembly Bill 1507, which requires a charter school to be located within the jurisdiction or geographic boundaries of the chartering district, is an example, she said.

“That’s one of the unique privileges and responsibilities of serving a district like this is we have this nearly equal balance between conservative perspectives, liberal perspectives, and a large portion that is the most quickly growing segment of our voters is no party preference,” she said. “All three of those groups combined want to see effective government. My ability to connect across whatever the political divide is and really get to the heart of what an individual constituent’s issue is and how the government might be able to serve them better is really what the work is about, regardless of political party.”

Smith said she wants to introduce a similar number of bills in the second half of her term. Included in her package are bills that would set credentials for someone to be called a “special education advocate,” that would help regulate the costs to clear a teaching credential, that would help make the recycling industry attractive to entrepreneurs, and that would help make housing affordable. The Assembly reconvenes in January.

“We’ve got a lot of young professional people,” she said. “We’ve got teachers and firefighters and law enforcement officers, all of whom find themselves priced out of the housing market and these are individuals who should be able to buy an entry-level home, and so we need an all-of-the-above strategy where we’re looking at below-market housing solutions to meet that homelessness crisis but also making sure we’re building enough supply so that hard working people can afford housing, can have that American Dream, can contribute to financial and future security by purchasing a home.”

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