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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.

The Red Elephant in the Room

| News | September 27, 2018

Everywhere they look, red is turning purple, possibly on the way to blue. Unacceptable, they say, and so they fight in the way they know how: by educating, empowering and electing.

This is a strange time to be a Republican in California, and Terri Lovell knows this. Yet she and her fellow Santa Clarita Republican Women Federated (RWF) members don’t give up as they try, in their own way, to stem the tide of any kind of blue (read: Democratic) wave.

“We can see all around us California is being taken over by leftists, for a long time, as more and more people with those kind of leanings move into our district,” Lovell said. “The reason we still have hope is that there are a lot of Republicans in California.”

As an example, she said she attended a conference after the 2016 election and learned that more Californians volunteered, gave more money, worked more phone banks and pounded the pavement more than residents of any other state.

Additionally, more than 4 million Californians voted for Donald Trump; only Florida and Texas cast more votes. Whether that’s a function of California’s population can be debated, but it tells Lovell that the group shouldn’t give up just because the state won’t be giving its 55 electoral votes to a Republican anytime soon.

“I don’t think California is a lost cause,” she said. “California is worth fighting for.”

So, the Santa Clarita RWF sticks to its mission of registering Republicans to vote, educating people about conservative philosophies such as limited government and individual liberty, and electing people who share those philosophies.

The group, which started in 1951, meets the third week each month at The Oaks Club; one month for a Tuesday lunch and the next month for a Saturday breakfast. The meetings usually include updates from representatives of Republican office-holders (locally, that’s Steve Knight, Dante Acosta and Scott Wilk) and a guest speaker. That guest speaker could be someone local (Gazette publisher Doug Sutton spoke last month) or someone seeking a more major office (gubernatorial candidate John Cox came; Lovell said she invited Travis Allen, too, but he was double-booked).

Members often attend county, state and national conferences – Lovell heard her preferred presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, speak at one – where they get updates from elected leaders and attend workshops on such topics as leadership and writing ballot propositions. They also often meet with Knight, Wilk and Acosta in their offices to discuss issues and voice concerns.

During the city council debate about sanctuary cities, members turned out, and they currently are working hard in favor of Proposition 6, which would repeal the gas tax the Legislature passed last year.

Lovell named several members who are involved in specific areas. Linda Paine founded the Election Integrity Project, a non-profit dedicated to ensuring the integrity of voter rolls and stopping voter fraud. Donna Basail is a force within the Yes on 6 movement. Gala Cruz organized a Make America Great Again rally last year.

The group also involves itself with other outside conservative organizations, such as Young America’s Foundation, which commits itself to individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values; and Turning Point USA, which combats what it sees as on-campus discrimination of conservative-leaning speakers.

Members participated in the recall of Josh Newman, a Democrat who represented the 29th state Senate district but was ousted because he voted in favor of the gas tax. Lovell points to that as a victory and an indication that the fight must continue.

“What keeps us going: We may not be able to have a huge impact, but we do get little victories,” Lovell said. “Keep chipping away. That’s the only choice we have. When we get those victories, good. Then maybe we can get another one. I don’t see anyone in my club with slumped shoulders. We have a really positive attitude. You want to fight for your state. As long as I’m here, I’m going to keep fighting for California and maybe one of these days, it’ll turn around.”

RAM PRCA California Circuit Finals Rodeo Returns to The Antelope Valley

| Community, News | September 20, 2018

The RAM PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) California Circuit Finals Rodeo Committee and the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds proudly announces the return of the RAM PRCA California Circuit Finals to the Antelope Valley Fair & Event Center on October 5 -7.

This year’s event will once again host the top twelve California rodeo contestants who will compete in all seven rodeo events, including bareback riding, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping and barrel racing.

“We are thrilled to once again bring California’s best Rodeo professionals and the top animal ‘athletes’ to the Antelope Valley. The California Circuit Final Rodeo is one of the most competitive and exciting spectator sports,” PRCA California Circuit Committee Chairman Johnny Zamrzla said. “All of the rodeo events will surely thrill the most seasoned and new rodeo fans alike. We are fortunate to have tremendous partnership and community support that makes this caliber of event possible and I hope our local residents come out in droves to enjoy this affordable family-friendly event.”

In addition to great rodeo, the annual Craft Fair, featuring hundreds of crafters and shopping, returns to the H.W. Hunter Pavilion. Craft Fair shopping hours are 12 p.m. – 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Entry to the Craft Fair is free on Friday and Saturday. Sunday Craft Fair hours are from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. Entry to the Craft Fair on Sunday requires either a Rodeo or Lancaster Flea Market admission ticket.

The Van Dam Barn Dances will also return on Friday and Saturday night, immediately following the Rodeo. Dance the night away under the stars at the Corona Cantina, located right outside the grandstands. Live music on Friday night will be provided by Jake Nelson and the Tone Wranglers. On Saturday night, John Spear and The Runaway Train will entertain fans.

New to the event this year, will be the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Flea Market and Car Show on Sunday, October 7. Paid admission tickets to the Flea Market include free rodeo matinee admission. Flea Market tickets are available for purchase at the box office on Sunday, October 7.

Rodeo festivities kick off on Friday, October 5, with Patriot Day. Active, retired and former military men and women and their dependents receive free admission. Free admission will be available at the box office on Friday evening only. All other fans are encouraged to show their patriotism by wearing red, white and blue. Gates open Friday at 12 p.m. and the Rodeo begins at 7 p.m.

Saturday evening Rodeo will open with a special ride in by Ride for the Pink, an organization dedicated to raising money for Breast Cancer research, awareness and treatment. Rodeo fans can show their support of finding a cure for Breast Cancer by wearing “Pink.” Gates open Saturday at 12 p.m. and the Rodeo begins at 7 p.m.

On Sunday, gates open at 7 a.m. Rodeo Matinee begins at 2 p.m. Sunday Rodeo or Flea Market tickets are $6. Sunday tickets include entry to both the Rodeo and Lancaster Flea Market.
According to AV Fair and Event Center CEO, Dan Jacobs, “This is going to be a fantastic fall weekend, a great venue and great events, Rodeo, Crafts Fair and the renowned Lancaster Flea Market and Car Show. An all-American sport, shopping, live music, dancing and more. It’s truly affordable family entertainment all weekend long with Rodeo tickets starting at just $25, and we offer $10 on-line promotional codes for Friday and Saturday Rodeo tickets. Sunday tickets are $6 and include access to the Flea Market, Craft Fair and Rodeo.

Ticket and parking information is available at avfair.com. For Rodeo details go to cafinalsrodeo.com. Visit lancasterchamber.org for Flea Market information.

Pre-Election Events

| News | September 20, 2018

An important part of filling out the November 6 election ballot will be casting votes to fill the three vacant seats on the Santa Clarita City Council. To help the public make an informed decision, two pre-election events are being held. With each of these events, everyone is welcome to attend and admission is free.

It is the intent of the sponsors, College of the Canyons’ Civic Engagement Steering Committee, the Santa Clarita Valley League of Women Voters, and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee, to provide a venue informing the public of the issues, and the candidate positions.

Monday, October 8 is the COC Candidate Forum, hosted by the College of the Canyons’ Civic Engagement Steering Committee, the Santa Clarita Valley League of Women Voters, and the Canyon Country Advisory Committee. The event will be held in the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center, located on the College of the Canyons’ Valencia campus. All 15 candidates have been invited to participate. Mingle with the candidates and other attendees from 6:30 to 7 p.m., and then watch the forum from 7 to 9 p.m.

Wednesday, October 17, 7 to 9 p.m. is the second CCAC Meet and Greet to be held in the Mint Canyon Moose Banquet Room, 18000 Sierra Highway in Canyon Country. Attend this event to see and hear City Council Candidates Jason Gibbs, Bill Miranda, Sandra Nichols, Marsha McLean, and Laurene Weste answer questions asked directly by the audience.

Acton-Agua Dulce Bond Measure Questioned

| News | September 20, 2018

The text of the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District current bond measure, Measure CK, is misleading and should have been rewritten, opponents claim. The bond proponents, meanwhile, insist the language is legal and meets state-law requirements.

The measure asks the voters to approve $7.5 million in general obligation bonds to renovate or modernize Agua Dulce and Meadowlark Elementary schools, High Desert Middle School and Vazquez High School, plus the charter school that currently sits on the site of Acton School that the district still owns. The list of projects includes upgrading electrical systems, painting, lighting, sewer and septic systems; fix, repair or replace leaky roofs, air conditioning, heating and ventilation; get new security cameras, computers, hardware and software; construct or improve athletic facilities, bring everything up to Americans with Disabilities Act standards; and repair, replace or improve paving, roadways, access ramps and landscaping.

The voters need to pass the measure with a 55-percent majority to enact it.
“If it doesn’t pass, the community is missing out on a huge opportunity,” Superintendent Larry King said.

Despite its enrollment numbers of just 10,016 students as of 2016-17, King says the district is suffering from overcrowding, the result of having to close Agua Dulce due to low enrollment and turning Meadowlark into grades K-4 and High Desert into grades 5-8. The plan was to reopen Acton but the state didn’t allow it, King said.

Steve Petzold, principal officer of The Center for Truth in School Bond Measures, is the bond measure’s primary opponent, having written the argument against the measure and the rebuttal to the argument in favor of it. He raised several concerns over the course of several interviews.

“This (school) board has an obligation to the voters to give them the facts up front so they can make an informed decision,” Petzold said.

First, Petzold claimed, the text of the bond question violates Proposition 39 (2000) because it requires “a specific list of school projects to be funded,” but the current list is vague. King says the district’s San Francisco-based bond counsel, Jones Hall, advised on the wording. “We did not get super specific because we wanted bond flexibility,” King said.

To which Petzold replied, “It’s very honest, but how the hell can you make it general?”

Bill Kadi, a Jones Hall shareholder who said he was one of a team that advised, wrote and reviewed the measure, said he is satisfied it meets all statutory requirements.

Petzold also said the language does not meet the requirements of Section 13119 of the state Elections Code that requires the ballot question to be written, “Shall the measure (stating the nature thereof) be adopted?” The bond question is not written in that format, but Kadi said it’s not applicable because it’s a bond, not a measure.

The law also says the wording applies, “If the proposed ordinance imposes a tax…” Kadi disagreed, saying, “We don’t believe it’s applicable to a school bond.”

Richard Michael, who runs the website Big Bad Bonds and spoke to Petzold about Measure CK, said county clerks violate this law all the time. His website lists 25 of them, including Los Angeles County’s Dean Logan. Petzold sent Logan a letter, a copy of which he provided the Gazette, in which he lists six examples of how the bond measure isn’t written according to state law. One of those is Section 15122 of the Education Code that requires the words “Bonds-Yes” and “Bonds-No” in the ballot question, which are currently absent.

Petzold also forwarded an email from Julane Whalen, constituent services coordinator with the County Registrar-Recorder/Clerk’s office. “The Code does not compel this Office to take any action based on the demands listed in your letter,” she wrote. “At this point, we have reviewed these requests and no further action by this Office will be taken at this time.”

This didn’t surprise Michael. “Nobody is going to unless somebody sues,” he said.

Kadi said the final text would include the required wording, although the version currently available on Michael’s website doesn’t.

A final concern with the wording is that the ballot question says the bonds would be sold “at legal rates” instead of listing the actual interest rate, which Michael said is currently a maximum of 12 percent. He thinks the rate isn’t mentioned because the bond measure is more likely to be rejected if people see the interest rate. His research shows only four of 1,243 bond measures since 2001 stated the interest rate, and all failed.

John Greenlee, managing director at Emeryville-based Caldwell Flores Winters, Inc. who also advised on the bond, said the “legal rate” is currently 12 percent.

This isn’t the first bond measure the district’s voters have had to consider. They previously approved Measure CF in 2008, which allowed for $13 million in bonds that allowed the district to primarily replace portable classrooms with permanent ones.

Petzold said that some of the issues he has with Measure CF affects the district’s credibility regarding Measure CK. For example, Proposition 39 requires a school board to conduct annual, independent financial and performance audits until all bond funds have been spent to ensure that the bond funds have been used only for the projects listed in the measure. On the district website, an audit is combined for the years 2009-15, along with audits for 2016 and 2017.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Lynn David said these were done before she arrived a year ago and doesn’t know why they were combined. “All audits are clean audits,” meaning all funds have been spent only for the purposes stated in the bond measure.

Petzold also wondered why Measure CF was for $13 million, but latest audit says $15.9 million. Greenlee said that’s because the bonds were capital appreciation bonds in which no interest was initially paid. When the payments come due, accountants list the interest as additional principal, he said.

Petzold also pointed out that Measure CF’s estimated property taxes was $25 per $100,000 of assessed value but in reality became $38 per $100,000 of assessed value. Greenlee said that since bonds are issued over 30 years, the assessed value has to be estimated because it’s impossible to predict what will happen over 30 years. In this case, the demise in the real estate market affected the value of homes, so the dollar amount went up.

Knight Returned Two NRA Checks

| News | September 20, 2018

When Rep. Steve Knight told the “Talk of Santa Clarita” podcast that he had not taken any money from the National Rifle Association, it wasn’t true, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

As reported by the progressive magazine Mother Jones, the Knight campaign accepted $5,000 from the NRA in a 13-month span: $2,500 in July, $1,500 in May and $1,000 in July 2017 (this on top of $3,000 he accepted during the 2016 election cycle). These contributions appear in the NRA’s FEC filings but not Knight’s because political action committees must file monthly; candidates must file quarterly, and the third quarter ends Sept. 30.

Knight (R-Palmdale) campaign consultant Matt Rexroad said the campaign returned the two 2018 checks, although he acknowledged the $2,500 was deposited before being returned.

As for the July 2017 check, Rexroad said, “He made his statement publicly and we’re trying to live up to that standard. July 2017, we’re not dealing with that.”

Knight’s opponent for the 25th congressional district seat, Katie Hill, who has criticized him for taking NRA money, told the Gazette she was surprised when she first heard Knight say on the podcast, “Well, we haven’t taken any funds from the NRA lately.”
“It’s just another indication he will say one thing when it suits him, but if he gets in front of gun lovers, he’ll say he gladly takes from the NRA,” Hill said.

The NRA has endorsed Knight and given him an A rating. The NRA Political Victory Fund gave him the same rating in 2016 for his “proven pro-Second Amendment record and is committed to protecting your gun rights!”

Rexroad said Knight’s record on the Second Amendment “is what is it, and I imagine it will continue.”

Mother Jones reported that gun violence prevention groups object to Knight’s co-sponsoring a bill that would force states to recognize out-of-state concealed-carry permits, as well as his votes that would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration from sharing individuals’ mental-health records with the background-check system that is used to determine whether individuals are eligible to purchase weapons.

Furthermore, Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), who founded a gun-control group, has spent $12,000 in digital ads opposing Knight’s re-election, Mother Jones reported.

Tickets on Sale Now for the State of the City Luncheon

| News | September 14, 2018

This year’s State of the City Luncheon will be held on Thursday, October 25, at 11:30 a.m., at the Hyatt Regency Valencia. The theme for this year is Santa Clarita – City of the Arts. Guests will get to explore the artistic renaissance that is growing in our city, thanks to our talented pool of local artists, additional live theatre opportunities, music, public art pieces and so much more.

As always, the State of the City Luncheon will be an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments over the last year and look forward to what the future holds for the City of Santa Clarita. Guests will get to enjoy live performances from local artists, hear updates from the city council, watch video highlights filled with the latest on city projects and much more.

“I look forward to the State of the City every year, but this year is extra special,” said Mayor Laurene Weste. “I am a passionate supporter of arts in our community and look forward to sharing more about future public art pieces, new programs, updates on arts funding and a special commemorative gift that will bring out the artist in you.”

Tickets are $40 per person and $400 per table of 10. Ticket price includes luncheon and a commemorative gift. For more information, call the City of Santa Clarita at (661) 255-4939.

Obama Stumps for Hill

| News | September 14, 2018

Former President Barack Obama came to Orange County last week to stump for several Democratic congressional candidates, including Katie Hill. It was the first time someone so prominent spoke for somebody running for the 25th district seat.

Hill couldn’t be there, having committed to attending the Los Angles County Labor Federation in Acton.

“Making the decision to miss the event with President Obama wasn’t easy – like so many of you, I have a deep respect for President Obama and it is an honor to have his support,” Hill said in a statement. “However, I chose to stay in my district because I made a commitment to our community months ago to be there, and keeping my commitments to the people of the 25th district is the very reason I am running for office.”

Obama spoke Saturday at the Anaheim Convention Center in support of Hill and six others. He said of Hill, “Even though Katie Hill can’t be here today – she’s at another event for working men and women in L.A. – but if you’re from her community, you already know Katie: Daughter of a local nurse and a police officer, educated in the public schools, she’s running to take the values of her community to Washington and make real change.”

Since the district was drawn in its current boundaries, no one with such status as Obama ever stumped for a candidate. Buck McKeon didn’t need the help; neither did current two-term incumbent Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), whom Hill seeks to unseat.

“It’s hugely significant,” Hill said of Obama’s stumping. “This shows how important this district is across the country. It’s a must-win district for the Democrats. We know the fate of the Congress depends on who wins the House. This is what we’re seeing. Republicans are doing what they can to keep Steve Knight in. Democrats are doing everything they can to make sure I win.”

Knight campaign consultant Matt Rexroad said Obama coming some 75 miles away from the district to stump changes nothing, and he didn’t read any significance into it.

“We’re just rolling along,” he said. “I think you’re the only one calling us about it.”

Legal Battle Between Council Candidates Continues

| City Council, News | September 13, 2018

Brett Haddock will have his day in court Sept. 27 when his appeal of the restraining order fellow city council candidate Sean Weber secured against him will be heard in the state Court of Appeal.

Haddock said he had hoped that the court would stay the order on First Amendment grounds without a hearing, but the court’s tentative opinion backs Weber.

“We are inclined to find the appellate record inadequate to evaluate his constitutional claims,” the appeal said. “While Haddock may be allowed to publicly criticize Weber online, other evidence in the record showed a course of private harassing conduct directed at Weber and his family that justified the order.”

Weber said in a statement: “There is a group of online bullies (aka internet trolls) who try to shut down anyone who threatens their traditional power base. These groups of trolls (some paid) participate in and run social media forums targeting opponents for the sole purpose of harassing them.”

Haddock said his attorney told him it’s normal for an appeal court to come out with a tentative opinion that upholds the lower court’s ruling. Weber secured a two-year restraining order that expires July 2019, citing his fears that 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.” Court documents showed 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.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Laura Hymowitz issued the restraining order despite saying, “Most of what Mr. Haddock is doing just doesn’t quite reach the standard.”

Haddock provided the Gazette with a copy of his appeal and an amicus brief filed by two members of the UCLA School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic. Haddock claims the court erred in issuing a restraining order against him because the actions he took – he has said Weber objects to his calling him out for what Haddock sees as bullying – were protected under the First Amendment.

“Most importantly, he effectively concedes that he sought the Order because he viewed Mr. Haddock’s political speech as illegitimate,” attorney Kenneth White of the Los Angles firm Brown White & Osborn wrote. “He … sneers that Mr. Haddock – a citizen, privileged by the First Amendment to write about what he sees fit – ‘had made something of a second career of “shedding light” on people who displeased him.’ What he does not show is substantial evidence of harassing conduct …”

Haddock also sent the Gazette a screen shot of what he called “a defamatory website” that was up for one day in July. The page calls Haddock “charlatan, bully, fraud, abuser.”

Haddock said his attorney sent a note to Weber’s attorney, and the site went down.

Weber said he didn’t know anything about any website. “My attorney never said anything,” he said.

“He’s being pretty relentless,” Haddock said, “and he’s got his cronies coming after me, which is always fun.” Two people he named were Jeff Martin, who has said Weber inspired him to run for a William S. Hart Union High School District board seat, and Nick Rowin, a friend of Weber’s who owns a plumbing business.

Martin couldn’t recall ever having spoken to Haddock and guessed that his vocal support of Weber has caused Haddock to put him in that group. Rowin said it sounded like Haddock, who Rowin incorrectly called “a sitting council member,” accused him of online bullying, which he denied doing by saying, “absolutely not.”

He did, however, say he spoke to Weber about the case and posted an article on Facebook on Sept. 6 that included the transcript of the hearing.

“The intent Mr. Haddock had is pretty mean,” he said.

Weber provided an online plea from May 4, 2017 asking people to “please stay away from the negative direction some have gone. They want to drown out our voices with intimidation. Don’t be baited into a negative tone. I want their support too. So, please select your words carefully, showing intellect. Minds can be changed. Notice that the only ones that say anything negative about m also state that they don’t know me. Get to know each other. We are the community.”

For now, the restraining order stands, but Haddock said it has not yet affected his council campaign, although he expects Weber to “show up at my events and be as disruptive as possible.”

“People are aware of it,” he said. “The feeling I get is a level of admiration for weathering the storm for standing up to Sean Weber and his cult of personality. My fear is people won’t see it for what it is: calling out Mr. Weber. My hope is that it’s transparent.”

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