Passage of Bill to Save Canyon Country Homeowners up to $155 Million

| Gazette, News | November 8, 2013

By Michael Naoum
This is part 1 of a 2-part series on Assembly Bill 182 and how it affects Measure CK, which was passed by Canyon Country voters in June, 2012.
On October 2, Governor Brown signed AB 182, which had been passed unanimously by the California State Assembly and Senate. AB 182 limits the total debt service to principal on elementary, high school and community college Capital Appreciation Bonds to a ratio of 4 to 1. This series will discuss:
• Why the Bill was passed and the benefits to taxpayers
• The Districts response to the potential impacts
• Whether major campaign donors have subsequently been hired by the District

Why was this Bill passed?
State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Los Angeles County Treasurer Mark Saladino and other county treasurers supported AB 182, which placed limits on the ability of school districts to use long duration Capital Appreciation Bonds (CAB’s) for borrowing. These CAB’s create expensive and long lasting tax obligations for homeowners in two ways. They are often structured to only make payments late in the life of the bond and they have longer durations (40 years) than 25- to 30-year traditional bonds.

Treasurer Saladino, in a letter to L.A. County Supervisors, said that Capital Appreciation Bonds had unusual bond structures that dramatically increased total debt service when compared to more traditional structures. His office also identified several troublesome new trends and practices that served to provide small and often questionable benefits to the school districts at the expense of the taxpayers, who would have to repay the debt.

Lockyer and others also wanted to require maximum terms of 25 years for CABs, but school districts lobbied and that provision was not included in the bills’ final language. There have also been concerns that potential advisors and consultants for bond measures were the primary financial backers for these school bond campaigns, which created the potential for “pay to play” situations. Assembly Bill 621 would prohibit financial advisors, legal advisors and bond underwriters from being hired if they have contributed to or provided services in-kind to the campaign for the passage of the bond measure. That bill has passed the Assembly and is currently in the State Senate.
The Poway School District provided a shining example of what is wrong with CABs. District leaders borrowed $105 million and will have to pay $982 million to extinguish that debt.

What does this mean for Canyon Country Residents?
In June 2012, voters passed measure CK, which would have raised $72 million for the Sulphur Springs School District. The measure passed with 58 percent of the vote (55 percent was needed for approval). The amount borrowed was predicated upon using three CABs with 40-year lives and one with a 34-year life. The ratio of debt service to principal projected by the district was between 6.49 and 7.65 for the 40-year CABs and 2.56 times for the 34-year CAB. The District indicated that total payments for the $72 million borrowed would have been $357 million with payments extending to the year 2064 – 52 years from the passage of the bond measure. Not only would our children be paying off these bonds, but their children would also.

With the passage of AB 182, Sulphur Springs will not be able to borrow as much money and that money will need to be repaid in a shorter time period in order to meet the 4 to 1 ratio. When asked to provide how much could now be borrowed given the passage of AB 182, District Superintendent Dr. Robert Nolet declined to comment, despite repeated inquiries.

Based on the district’s projection of tax revenues, it would appear the most they would be able to borrow is $52 million in principal – a $20 million reduction. Projected interest savings are $135 million (a 7.75 ratio). By comparison, the calculated interest on $52 million totals $149 million (a 3.87 ratio). Essentially, AB 182 will eliminate the most expensive borrowing.

Part 2 of this series will discuss the District’s spending plans, major campaign contributors and their retention by the District and proponents of Measure CK.

Michael Naoum is a 26-year Santa Clarita resident who follows local politics and authored the Arguments against Measure CK.

Help the Children Partners with Local Business

| Gazette, News | November 1, 2013

A food drive at local grocery stores will offer the public a real opportunity to support SCV families. Help the Children Santa Clarita, a local nonprofit relief organization, will be partnering with local businesses and churches to raise food, funds and awareness for the many families in need in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Local Ralphs, Albertsons and Food 4 Less stores will be hosting the food drive on November 2 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., making it convenient for shoppers to purchase much needed food items there, which will be given directly to Help the Children.

Velvet Cupcakes, located on The Patios at Westfield Town Center mall in Valencia, is hosting a fundraising event from November 4-8, where a 25 percent donation for every cupcake purchased will be given directly to Help the Children. Print out a flyer from www.helpthechildren.org. Flyers must be presented at the time of purchase.

Wreaths for the Christmas season are being sold by Alpine Farms, where a portion of the proceeds will be given back to Help the Children for all purchases over $25 with the code HECA1 used at checkout. The wreaths can be purchased at www.alpinefarms.com/shop. Shipping is free in the U.S. for orders over $20.

Many local churches, who have been supporting the efforts of Help the Children in Santa Clarita for years, are spreading the word about the food drive and hosting fundraisers in the church community, providing a push to come together and make a difference for those in need in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Other local businesses, such as Office Max Santa Clarita and FastSigns, are contributing by donating Help the Children banners to be displayed at the November 2 food drive.

With so many ways for Santa Clarita residents to participate, Help the Children food shelves will be filled, funds to run the warehouse will be secured and more families in need can be served throughout the year.

Help the Children (HTC) is a nonprofit Christian humanitarian relief organization dedicated to helping alleviate the suffering of children and their families throughout the United States and around the world. Help the Children’s mission is to increase self-sufficiency by providing food, clothing, personal care items and medical supplies without regard to political affiliation, religious belief, or ethnic identity.

Michael Santomauro
25030 Avenue Tibbitts, Suite L
Valencia, CA  91355
Phone (661) 702-8852
http://www.helpthechildren.orgA food drive at local grocery stores will offer the public a real opportunity to support SCV families. Help the Children Santa Clarita, a local nonprofit relief organization, will be partnering with local businesses and churches to raise food, funds and awareness for the many families in need in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Local Ralphs, Albertsons and Food 4 Less stores will be hosting the food drive on November 2 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., making it convenient for shoppers to purchase much needed food items there, which will be given directly to Help the Children.

Velvet Cupcakes, located on The Patios at Westfield Town Center mall in Valencia, is hosting a fundraising event from November 4-8, where a 25 percent donation for every cupcake purchased will be given directly to Help the Children. Print out a flyer from www.helpthechildren.org. Flyers must be presented at the time of purchase.

Wreaths for the Christmas season are being sold by Alpine Farms, where a portion of the proceeds will be given back to Help the Children for all purchases over $25 with the code HECA1 used at checkout. The wreaths can be purchased at www.alpinefarms.com/shop. Shipping is free in the U.S. for orders over $20.

Many local churches, who have been supporting the efforts of Help the Children in Santa Clarita for years, are spreading the word about the food drive and hosting fundraisers in the church community, providing a push to come together and make a difference for those in need in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Other local businesses, such as Office Max Santa Clarita and FastSigns, are contributing by donating Help the Children banners to be displayed at the November 2 food drive.

With so many ways for Santa Clarita residents to participate, Help the Children food shelves will be filled, funds to run the warehouse will be secured and more families in need can be served throughout the year.

Help the Children (HTC) is a nonprofit Christian humanitarian relief organization dedicated to helping alleviate the suffering of children and their families throughout the United States and around the world. Help the Children’s mission is to increase self-sufficiency by providing food, clothing, personal care items and medical supplies without regard to political affiliation, religious belief, or ethnic identity.

Michael Santomauro
25030 Avenue Tibbitts, Suite L
Valencia, CA  91355
Phone (661) 702-8852

Chloride Costs Community

| Gazette, News | October 31, 2013

By Perry Smith

Chloride costs are bad for business
With a 3-0 vote this week, a county board made up of two Santa Clarita City Council  members and a county supervisor ok’d a plan that’s likely to raise rates for Santa Clarita Valley residents and businesses.

While some say the move isn’t “the end of the world” for local development, it will put the pinch on the ratepayers’ wallets and, in the Santa Clarita Valley, the opinion seems to be nearly unanimous that it’s “bad for business.”

“Any time you have regulation, it’s Economics 101 — it results in an overall reduction in the welfare for that entire group,” said Brady Bryan, who owns a business consulting firm and sits on the board for the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp., an organization that seeks to support, retain and attract local business.

Bryan added that the chloride situation wasn’t an end-all for business, by any means. But the targeted chloride limit, which opponents have referred to as another arbitrary state mandate, makes it that much more important for businesses to know what’s out there and to continue to innovate to stay competitive, he said. And it certainly won’t help local business.

The reason behind the treatment

It appeared, at least from most of the business-advocacy representatives that spoke at Monday’s Sanitation District hearing where the chloride-treatment plan was approved, that a chloride treatment plan was an unavoidable certainty.

“It’s not often business groups are in support of spending money,” said Jim Backer, the JSB Development president who spoke at the hearing as a Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce representative. “If we’re going to respect the rule of law, we need to find the best solution and move forward.”

The state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board, which permits the two local plants that treat local wastewater before it heads downstream to Ventura County, said the Sanitation District, which oversees the plants, must reduce the amount of chloride in that water. Local water has a chloride level of 130 milligrams per liter, and the state said it must lower that level to 100 milligrams.

The problem is, removing salt from facilities that treat millions of gallons of wastewater each day isn’t cheap. The most inexpensive plan that Sanitation District officials could find that also complies with environmental law has an estimated price tag of $130 million. And, it appears more than likely that Santa Clarita Valley homeowners and business interests are likely to be the ones who foot the bill.

The cost of chloride

Many expressed concern that Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District officials only have estimates for the costs that will be paid by ratepayers for the chloride treatment facilities.

Sanitation District officials, such as Phil Friess, head of the district’s technical services department, looked to allay these concerns at the hearing, when Friess presented what the expected costs are.

“For a typically sized 3,000-square-foot restaurant, there will be a 27 percent increase (in connection fees),” said Friess, “with that increase slowly phased in from 2019 to 2039.”

When the plan is phased in, the connection cost, which is what new businesses and home developers would have to pay for new homes, is expected to increase by $4,134 in 2019, and then gradually go up until it reaches $140,565 in 2039. New business won’t see a difference in the one-time cost for connection fees until the plan comes online, because those costs are associated with operations and maintenance, said Dave Bruns, assistant department head for financial management. The construction is expected to be online by the fiscal year 2019, according to estimates from district staff. However, the average ratepayer should expect to see a cost much sooner, which could happen as early as next year, Bruns said, if the Sanitation District Governing Board approves staff members’ current plan.

The increase in rates for the average homeowner, again, if approved by the board, would start at about $30 to $32 a year more than what ratepayers now pay each year.

“Pretty much the numbers that we had run would go in a straight line,” Bruns said, adding “to the degree that we can get any state or federal funding, that’s going to lower that number.”

The current rate for Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District ratepayers is $247, if they use the average amount of water for a single-family home. For a condominium owner, that rate is $203, and the increases are also slightly less. The total cost for ratepayers is expected to bring their total annual bill to $410.

But, either way, building a facility would be cheaper than not being in compliance with the chloride levels in the wastewater, state officials have repeatedly said. The Sanitation District was given the Oct. 31 deadline as part of a fine settlement for previously missing a deadline to come up with a compliance plan. The district was fined $280,000 last year, which district officials negotiated down to $225,000 on the condition that a chloride treatment plan be approved by the end of the month.

At one point in the meeting, Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar asked Sam Unger what fines would be like if the sanitation district fell out of compliance. Unger, who leads the staff of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, said the fines could tally $10,000 each day of noncompliance, dating back to last year, in addition to $10 per gallon each day for each of the 20 million gallons the district treats.

One last hope for ratepayers

During Monday’s two-hour meeting, Sanitation District officials said they had exhausted all of their options in regard to working with Ventura County for a lower chloride limit. It was only because the district had run out of time and support from downstream users that staffers recommended Alternative 2, Friess said.

E. Michael Solomon, general manager for the United Water Conservation District, a representative for the Ventura County water users who were mentioned repeatedly Monday, expressed exasperation with Santa Clarita Valley interests over their inability to reach the state’s chloride level.

“Ventura County stakeholders have been trying to work with you and our staff for several years to try to identify a cost-effective means,” Solomon said. “We appreciate the diligence…we believe they negotiated in good faith. With that said, the (Sanitation District) has only made partial progress toward complying with its legal obligation to halt contamination of the Santa Clara River with excessive levels of chloride.”

Countering that notion, Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, spoke during the public comment portion to offer support for a legislative plan to limit the ability of state agencies to set “arbitrary” limits for contaminants, such as chloride. There’s also an administrative battle being fought by Sanitation District staffers who are looking to the state to fund what they are calling an unfunded mandate. A hearing next year in front of the Commission on State Mandates would negate the cost to Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District ratepayers if they can successfully claim that the state is mandating the chloride limit without  An initial staff report doesn’t seem promising for the Sanitation District’s challenge. The report recommended denying the district’s claim.

That means the cost is going to be passed on to residents, regardless of the business they’re in, Bryan said, describing the situation as unique because Santa Clarita businesses are competing with interests in neighboring areas that don’t have the same costs for chloride treatment.

“(The competition’s) cost is going to remain unchanged,” Bryan said. “When you have that type of selective application in that type of enclosed environment – it’s bad for business.”

Why Can’t You FOCUS??!!!

| Gazette, News | October 26, 2013

By Sue A. Cowling

I have never been formally diagnosed, but I’m pretty positive I have A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder), and most likely A.D.H.D. (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder). I saw a really funny, and very informative, show on PBS called “A.D.D. and Loving It,” and the follow up, “A.D.D. and Mastering It.” It had great information on adult A.D.H.D. and how it is a “real” thing! I highly recommend watching it if you, your child, spouse, or anyone you know has (or think they have) it!

People who have known me for awhile know that if they want to tell me something, they had better get my attention and make sure I’m focused on what they’re saying, or I’ll never remember. Writing it down is even better. I can focus on a project, and I mean really focus! Well, as long as I’m not interrupted, or a bird flies by the window, or I notice a funny spot on the wall, or…, well, then I’m pretty much on to something else, totally forgetting about what I was doing. I saw a T-shirt once that said: “Some people think I have ADD, but I…oh, look! A chicken!” That’s me…chasing chickens. And my friends make sure I know when I’m doing just that!
People who don’t know me well just think I’m unorganized, and some have a difficult time being around me…especially those crazy O.C.D. friends – and they aren’t allowed in my house or office! (Wayyyy too messy for them.) But, I know exactly where everything is! (Um, where did I put my keys???)
I had a very hard time focusing in school, especially in lecture type classes, so didn’t always get perfect grades (Shhhh!  Don’t tell my students that!).  I’m also pretty sure I have auditory discrimination disorder. I can remember things that are written down…very visual learner, but tell me verbally, and it often goes in one ear and out the other!

I really wish that these issues would have been diagnosed when I was a child. Maybe with that knowledge, and help in learning how to deal with those issues, it would have made learning a lot easier for me. Having the opportunity to try a medication to help me focus may have helped me cope better, too. I know, I know, this is a big “no-no” to many people, but watch those PBS shows and you will see that A.D.D. medications have come a long way.

They report that those meds are safer than ordinary aspirin! Giving your child the gift of the ability to better focus and learn could be the greatest gift you could give him/her (and yourself!).

Sometimes kids (and adults) who have focusing issues, such as A.D.D., just need someone to understand and help. Most people who don’t have these issues get very frustrated with those who do. They lose their tempers, say something that makes the person feel stupid or feel like a failure, and then they end up giving up on those with attention challenges. We know it’s hard, but think about how “we” feel! It’s hard work to stay focused, to stay organized, to talk and write in complete sentences!

As Kermit the Frog says, “It’s not easy being green,” or to have any “disorder,” but everybody has something they struggle with. It’s normal to be…well, NOT normal!
Sue A. Cowling/SCV Tutors CARE Learning Academy, CARELearningAcademy.com, 661-255-2223

Ferry to Boydston, “You’re Full of it”

| Gazette, News | October 23, 2013

By Perry Smith

A question to the dais regarding Santa Clarita’s handling of a waste-disposal proposal prompted the City Council’s “sleeping tiger” to again spar with City Councilman TimBen Boydston and verbally attack a resident who frequently criticizes policy at City Hall.
During a public-comment portion of the Santa Clarita City Council’s regular Tuesday night meeting, Cam Noltemeyer asked why the city had no subcommittee meeting on a proposed MRF, or materials recovery facility, since it was on the consent calendar.
“Burrtec was supposed to be putting in a MRF in our community and I was looking for the subcommittee meeting on this and the subcommittee meeting was cancelled,” Noltemeyer said.
“And then I saw it on the consent calendar,” she said, referring to Tuesday night’s agenda. “I tried to find the staff report, and there’s no staff report there, and so where was this decision made?”
Noltemeyer left shortly after making her comments, and therefore was not available to be questioned for this story.
But the discussion of her complaints did not end with her departure.

As is City Council’s normal procedure, city officials began to address the questions raised during public comment about 10 minutes later, when those in attendance had shared their consent calendar concerns.

“I just want to mention one thing,” said City Councilwoman Marsha McLean. “The information on this item (Noltemeyer was referring to), all of the information, was totally available on the City’s website…because that’s where I went to look at it, very carefully.”

Boydston then indicated he wanted to add to McLean’s comments, but it appeared to be the proverbial last straw for City Councilman Frank Ferry, who had verbally sparred with Boydston during a previous City Council meeting.

“I’ll clarify one other thing Mr. Mayor,” Boydston said. “That doing the business of this council, in front of it, and Mrs. Noltemeyer, I’m sensitive to, if Mrs. Noltemeyer is still here…”

At which point, Mayor Bob Kellar pointed out that Noltemeyer had “left some time ago.”

“She doesn’t care about the result, she just wanted to cause a problem and leave, so don’t talk to her,” Ferry said.

“Perhaps she’s watching on (SCVTV),” Boydston said.

“She isn’t,” Ferry said.

“Just in case,” Boydston replied, “there was a subcommittee that was scheduled and it was cancelled due to a personal issue for one of the council members who was on it…I asked for a briefing myself, being on the subcommittee, to get a background on this issue…this is kind of a bigger hearing than…”

As Boydston finished, a clearly frustrated Ferry began to explain his annoyance with the commenter, whom Boydston himself later described as a regular “critic of the city.”

Ferry seemed more exasperated with Noltemeyer than her complaint and questions on waste disposal, describing her as a “toxic” presence who caused problems in San Fernando during her four-year term on that city’s governing board, and accusing her of trying to bring these problems to Santa Clarita.

“Let’s be honest,” Ferry said. “Noltemeyer was a council member for the city of San Fernando, she was a total wreck down there, where they made rules against her, they voted against her…she throws out little bombs or grenades and then leaves without an answer.”

“It has to be said,” Ferry added, when Boydston tried to regain control of the floor, as Kellar asked Boydston to allow him to finish his comments.

“We have to shut her down. You put her as the god and the savior of the city,” Ferry said, pointing to Boydston. “No, you’re wrong.”

As Boydston called for a point of order, Kellar said to Boydston, “Let him finish,” adding, “no one interrupted you.”

“I can only listen to so much before I have to explode and say, ‘You’re full of it,’” Ferry said.

Kellar then gave the floor back to Boydston, reminding him that other people are entitled to the floor.

“The reason I was asking for a point of order, Sir, is because we have rules that we are supposed to abide by here on the dais, and those rules are about common respect for the citizens who come before us,” Boydston said.

Then Boydston followed with an explanation. “My reason for having a point of order is to remind the council that we are not supposed to denigrate, argue with and put down the citizens who come here, no matter how badly we disagree with them,” he added.

Ferry again launched into the explanation behind his attack, during which Boydston asked Kellar if he had the floor five times.

“I don’t know,” responded a now exasperated Kellar. “What do you want me to do, take him out by the stack and swivel?”

Another call for decorum by Boydston led Ferry to argue Boydston only wants it when it benefits Boydston.

The role of someone like Noltemeyer was necessary in a democracy, Boydston said after Tuesday’s meeting, acknowledging that she frequently disparaged city policy and procedure.

The incident was similar to a dais spat the two had in March, when Boydston questioned the city’s use of public funds for a “Mayor Dude” public relations campaign, which featured Ferry, who was mayor at the time.

Noltemeyer was not present to defend herself from the attack, but Ferry suggested residents Google “Cam Noltemeyer” and “San Fernando City Councilwoman.”

Noltemeyer served on the San Fernando City Council from 1982-86.

After serving one term, she was targeted by her fellow incumbents during her re-election campaign, according to an L.A. Times report.

All three incumbents lost, Noltemeyer by the narrowest margin of the three, a mere 45 votes.

City Gets Grant for Gateway Ranch

| Gazette, News | October 19, 2013

Due to recent grant funding, the City of Santa Clarita has an opportunity to support environmentally responsible projects.  The City received a $350,000 grant from the California Natural Resources Agency this month as part of the Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Grant Program (EEMP) for the Southern Boundary Wildlife Corridor Conservation project.

The EEMP funding will be used to help with the acquisition of the 302-acre Gateway Ranch property in the Southern Boundary Wildlife Conservation Corridor. Purchase of this property will help safeguard the habitat and assist with recovery of species impacted by construction and improvements in the area. The Gateway Ranch acquisition is expected to be completed in 2014.

“The City of Santa Clarita is honored to be one of 37 cities to receive funding from the State. Santa Clarita’s grant funds will be used to reduce unwanted greenhouse gases and help protect the region’s natural resources,” said Mayor Bob Kellar.

The Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program encourages projects that produce multiple benefits, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and risks associated with climate change, and demonstrate collaboration with local, state and community entities to protect and conserve natural resources.

“These grants will help balance the impacts of new and improved transportation projects with our natural world,” said California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird. “The funding will go to projects that will offset vehicle emissions, provide roadside recreational opportunities, and allow for the acquisition, restoration, and enhancement of watersheds, wildlife habitat, wetlands and forests.”

This competitive grant evaluated 77 total applicants and allocated a total of $10 million dollars in funding for 37 projects statewide, including the City of Santa Clarita.

For more information, contact Gail Ortiz at (661) 255-4314 or by email at gortiz@santa-clarita.com.

Chloride Options

| Gazette, News | October 17, 2013

By Perry Smith

The Santa Clarita Valley has been faced with science justifying the state’s chloride limit for 10 years – at one point, successfully challenging the government-mandated level, before ultimately losing an appeal to the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.

But many, including Santa Clarita City Councilmembers TimBen Boydston and Marsha McLean, have been vocal advocates of claims that the science that justifies the limit is flawed.

Most opponents cite lobbying interests paid by downstream farmers in Ventura County as the cause for the limit. Regardless of why or how, all five city council members are trying to fight the causes, reasons and outcomes regarding chloride treatment. However, the reality is that Santa Clarita property owners are likely facing a rate hike when construction is expected to be nearing completion in 2020.

The Sanitation District’s governing board is expected to approve one of four options for chloride treatment at a meeting later this month, all of which are likely to have a price tag for ratepayers.

Faced with the potential threat from the state regional board of millions in fines or the loss of local control, SCV Sanitation District officials released an analysis in April on the various ways to make our water reach a chloride level of 100 milligrams per liter. The state-appointed board that oversees the chloride limit for the local Santa Clara River watershed first set the limit more than a decade ago. The limit was set in compliance with the state laws pertaining to the Clean Water Act, a piece of legislation from the 1970s.


“The Clean Water Act mandates that the state sets standards to protect the most sensitive beneficial use,” said Sam Unger, executive officer of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. “The most sensitive beneficial use is agricultural use.”

The RWQCB set the limit at 100 milligrams for chloride, or salt, based on the belief that that’s what it needs to be for the salt-sensitive strawberry and avocado crops, he said.

Shortly after Sanitation District engineers released what they considered the four most affordable options for chloride treatment, Sam Unger, the executive director for the state’s RWQCB, received a scathing rebuke from city officials, including Boydston and City Councilman Frank Ferry. In fact, the council assailed the research behind the state’s chloride limit to the point where Mayor Bob Kellar reminded his colleagues that the speaker was an invited guest.

McLean said she’d been going to RWQCB meetings since 2002, and that the studies were incomplete, and questioned the logic behind the limit.

“Why is a level of 117 milligrams (of chloride per gallon) per day okay, only if a very expensive treatment plant is built?” she asked rhetorically.

Unger said the 117 number was a result of the board being flexible and working with local compliance efforts. But the number would only stay there if local district officials continued to make an effort at compliance.

A claim of faulty science
Boydston said the engineers who were involved in the studies that were reviewed when the chloride limit was set merely conducted a literature review, not field research. Unger said that “literature” included a large number of field studies. Furthermore, the engineers were also employees of the local agriculture interests, suggesting a clear conflict of interest in their findings.

Unger denied these claims, defending the state’s numbers. Ferry said the limits weren’t based on “common sense,” and questioned why Santa Clarita had to buy it at 130 milligrams of chloride per gallon, but discharge it for Ventura County at 100 milligrams.

“Someone has to listen and finally say, ‘You’re right. This does not make sense,’” Ferry said, adding that Santa Clarita was “crazy enough” to spend $100 million to not put a penny into water treatment and, instead, extend Castaic Lake, or look at other projects that would prevent any discharge into the Santa Clara River.

“It’s clear the lobbyists who represent avocado and the strawberry people…influenced the process through money to bring the standard down. Please do not insult this community that that was not what happened,” Ferry said to Unger. “It’s well-documented. They were political appointees who were lobbied. To say anything else is a wrong thing to say.”

Unger replied, “Well then, I guess I’ll choose not to say anything else, but it’s not the truth, though. It’s not the truth.”

“Under federal and state law, the state has ordered the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District to reduce the chloride levels in the SCV’s treated wastewater to below the state’s strict legal limit,” according to the Sanitation District’s executive summary.

The bottom line on brine
Recently, Kellar expressed a resigned frustration with the chloride situation at a City Council meeting, after Boydston asked whether Santa Clarita’s City Council could meet to discuss an official endorsement for one of the Sanitation District’s options.

The governing board for the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District is made up of two members of the City Council, Kellar and Laurene Weste, and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. These three leaders are expected to approve one of four options for chloride treatment at their meeting during the last week of October.

Boydston wanted the city to endorse an option to the board, however, because Weste and Kellar are on the board, the law states the two councilmembers can’t meet before the Sanitation District’s vote to discuss their option.

While Ferry, McLean and Boydston could meet and create a recommendation, Ferry said he would leave it to Weste and Kellar to make the call, because he trusts their opinions. That means that while the city has paid tens of thousands of dollars in outreach to get public feedback, Santa Clarita is not likely to formally endorse an option for chloride treatment to the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District’s governing board.

Right now, the ratepayers are looking at two options before the Sanitation District. Two recommendations were made in a Sanitation District staff report released last week. One, known as Alternative 4, is similar to a $250 million phased plan that was rejected four years ago as being too costly. And the other option, referred to as Alternative 2, would cost slightly less and involved infusing water into our wells with a lower salt content.

For Alternative 4 of the AWRM, the cost to ratepayers, based on the average usage associated with a single-family home, would be about $395 per year if the plan stayed in Phase 1. If Phase 2 needs to be implemented, then the cost would jump to $535 per year.
If Alternative 2, the deep-well injection, is implemented, then the rate would increase to $410 per year.

The Sanitation District is also challenging whether ratepayers should have to pay for the chloride treatment, claiming chloride treatment is a service that’s being mandated by the state, which means that the state should have to pay for it under California’s state Constitution.

The Commission on State Mandates is expected to make a decision on January 24, as to whether the state considers the chloride level an unfunded mandate. However, based on what RWQCB members and state officials have said so far, local officials do not seem hopeful, if Councilman Kellar’s remarks at a recent City Council meeting are any indication. Kellar likened Boydston’s repeated requests for city officials to make a recommendation to the Sanitation District’s “innuendo that we don’t listen to our citizens, and it’s just not right.”

“We might as well be beating our heads against the wall for all (the Regional Water Quality Control Board members) care,” Kellar said, regarding the financial impact for local ratepayers. “Nobody is agreeing to what is happening to the citizens of the Santa Clarita Valley. If you think we’re not fighting a gorilla here, we are.”

Doing What It Takes To Become An Online Entrepreneur

| Gazette, News | October 11, 2013

by Connie Ragen Green
I received an excellent question from Bree, who’s been reading my column here since the very beginning. She wanted to know if I could explain what it really takes to become an online entrepreneur. Thanks for the question, Bree. I am happy to go into great detail here in answering it for you and our other readers.

Becoming an entrepreneur of any type is simply not for everyone. If you are used to having a traditional schedule, weekends off, and a regular paycheck, you may not care for having your own business. If, on the other hand, you look forward to being in charge, having the opportunity to earn as much as you want to, and love taking risks on a daily basis, entrepreneurship could be exactly what suits you best.

I was a classroom teacher for 20 years, and also worked as a real estate broker and appraiser on the side during that time. That meant working six or seven days a week, only taking a vacation every third or fourth year, and never feeling like I was living the life I was meant to live. When I discovered that people were making a living on the Internet with information products, affiliate marketing, and online training, I knew this was for me.

The question I had to ask myself was this: “Am I willing to do what it takes to become an online entrepreneur?”

Over the next six months I was tested time and time again as I worked hard to put the pieces in place. There was no boss or supervisor checking to see what I had done each day. I earned no money in the very beginning, yet I was having to spend money on domains, web hosting, the teleseminar service, and an autoresponder account. Would it all be worth it?

The answer was a resounding “Yes!” And now I teach others how to get started with their own Internet businesses.

In order to build a successful business online you must be willing to do what it takes. This means setting up a quiet workspace for yourself at home, scheduling the days and times you will be at work, creating content for your blog and websites, and connecting with others, both online and in person. Of course, this is after you have chosen a niche in which to specialize and made sure it is one that will hold your interest for at least the next year.

Next, you must find out what your competition is already selling to this market. Competition is to be respected, because this means that people are ready, willing, and able to spend money on a variety of products and services. Join the list of everyone who is currently serving your market to see what they have to say, and become an affiliate for them if they have such a program.

Now it is time for you to make a name for yourself in your chosen niche. Blog as often as possible and say what you think. It’s better to be controversial and speak your mind than to be wishy-washy and go along with everyone else. Read everything you can on your topic, and not just from online sources. Visit your public library and bookstores. See what you already may have on your bookshelves at home. Focus on becoming as knowledgeable as you possibly can on your niche topic, as this is the path to becoming an expert or authority.

The final step is marketing your new online business, and that’s the glue to keeping it all together. I like to market every single day, even weekends and holidays, because it makes my business stronger and increases my income. Remember that a single tweet on Twitter is marketing, and that much of your online marketing can be automated, so it’s not like you’ll be sitting in front of your computer seven days a week.

Have fun with the marketing and it will serve you well. Send out email messages to the people who join your list, including links to your blog posts, affiliate offers, and excellent resources. Be active on the “Big Three” social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), and share your blog posts and other content there as well. It won’t be long before you are thought of as an authority in your niche, and your online business begins to skyrocket. Doing what it takes is your key to success.

Keep your questions coming, and best of success with your online marketing endeavors.

Connie Ragen Green lives in Saugus and has been working exclusively on the Internet since 2006. Her ninth book, “Living the Internet Lifestyle,” was recently released by Hunter’s Moon Publishing and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Find out more by visiting http://HugeProfitsTinyList.com.

Questions? Email Connie at crgreencrgreen@yahoo.com and be sure to put Home Business Question in the subject line. Your question and answer will be included in a future article.

City’s Land Purchase Controversy

| Gazette, News | October 10, 2013

By Perry Smith
In what some are calling an example of the system working, with others questioning the oversight of such purchases, Santa Clarita City Council members approved a fund switch with a 5-0 vote to fix an illegal land buy made last year.

The city purchased hundreds of acres with OSPD dollars that were directed for land that must be within a 3-mile radius of the city.

“Upon further review, it has been determined that the benefit area does not extend with additional open space acquisitions,” said City Manager Ken Striplin at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, reading a staff report. “Consequently, only a portion of the Nominn property is included within the boundary, and the Williams property is entirely outside.”

The solution? City staffers recommending that City Council members approve a dollar-for-dollar exchange of OSPD district funds that are considered “restrictive,” with general fund dollars that lack those restrictions, said Darren Hernandez, director of Administrative Services for the city.

“Typically with each (OSPD purchase), we’ve used a blend of funds,” Hernandez said, naming several sources for grant money.

“The way the issue is being remedied is to exchange funds — the OSPD funds that were used to purchase the Williams parcel and the Nominn parcel that were too far away with unrestricted funds that were used to finance OSPD (purchases),” Hernandez said.

James Farley, a member of the Financial Audit Panel that provides oversight for city purchases for the Open Space Preservation District, caught the mistake and brought it to the panel’s attention.
The Rio Dulce Ranch, also known as the Nominn parcel — east of the city starting at about Agua Dulce Canyon Road — is about a 1,000-acre contiguous parcel of land about 3.5 miles outside of city limits. The Williams parcel was about 50 acres located about 4.5 miles outside of city limits.
Originally, about $1.4 million of restricted OSPD dollars were used for the Nominn parcel, and that figure is now $55,482, about 2.5 percent of the OSPD allocation, because that was deemed the amount of land in the three-mile zone authorized for OSPD purchases.
The Williams parcel was purchased for $178,582, most of which, about $161,084, was used from OSPD dollars.
Farley said he originally became involved in the Open Space Preservation District oversight panel because he didn’t like the idea of the OSPD but, despite the mistake, he has since changed his mind.
“This was an honest mistake on the part of the city in its zealous attempt to preserve this land,” Farley said. “The bottom line is that the system works — the panel brought up the issue and the city made the right decision.”
City Councilwoman Laurene Weste noted the city purchase had lots of valuable natural resources, and while it might have been outside of the three-mile zone, preserving it was an important task.
“I was really refreshed by the response of the city,” said Wendy Loggins, a member of the FAP that reviewed the mistake. “Compare the response of the city to what’s going on in Washington right now. It was not something that had to be dragged out of them kicking and screaming.”
Loggins also noted that in the future, she would like to see preventive measures being taken, although the FAP only acts in an advisory capacity.
To that end, City Councilman TimBen Boydston said he was glad opposition to the city was brought into the mix of the decision-making process. It resulted in a more informed government.
Boydston also questioned City Attorney Joe Montes as to whether the city’s legal counsel should be reviewing the legality of such purchases.
Montes responded that the purchase documents were reviewed, but not the location or the restriction on the use of funds.
“(City staffers) OK purchases all the time,” Montes said. “It’s not typical for us to look at the funds or the use of funds. We usually constrain the scope of our view to the request for services made.”
Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar said he was happy with the outcome.
“I’m proud of staff,” Kellar said. “They came up with a very responsible solution.”

Sip & Stroll at the Wine Affair

| Gazette, News | October 5, 2013

Guests at this year’s Wine Affair, hosted by Soroptimist International of Greater Santa Clarita Valley, will visit more venues than ever before. On Sunday, October 20 from 2-6 p.m. guests will sip wine and stroll along Town Center Drive in Valencia, listening to music and sampling from several eateries. There are 12 stops this year, including: The Hyatt Valencia, Hot Wings Café, Larsen’s, Salt Creek Grille, The Ivy Day Spa, Valencia Wine Company, Blo Out Lounge and Ro,Ma Jewelers. VIP Ticketholders will also proceed to: J. Jill, Thelma’s & Luis, Pottery Barn and Pinot’s Palette.

An acoustic duo made up of members of Dorian Gray & Eternal Youth, a Santa Clarita based pop/rock band, will provide music. Piccola Trattoria Wine Bar and Italian Restaurant in Canyon Country is a Food Sponsor.

SIGSCV is an international organization. The group’s mission is to improve the lives of women and girls, both in local communities and throughout the world.

For tickets to the Wine Affair, visit www.sigscv.org.

Increase in Seniors Using Transit

| Gazette, News | October 4, 2013

More seniors than ever were using public transportation, says a recent report. Ridership among seniors increased 17 percent this year.

“Santa Clarita Transit offers reliable, convenient, and comfortable service and is ideal for seniors, as it provides free transportation to just about anywhere in our community,” commented Mayor Bob Kellar.

One component of the City’s marketing efforts that has proven extremely effective is the Senior Transit Ambassador Program, which works to raise awareness about Santa Clarita Transit’s reliability and convenience. Since its inception in April of 2011, this program has provided a group of ambassadors who are familiar with the local routes, and offer information and opportunities to plan senior-specific excursions to showcase local services.

Santa Clarita began operating local bus service in 1991, assuming responsibility for local transit operations from the County of Los Angeles as Santa Clarita Transit. Today, Santa Clarita Transit provide services seven days a week for seniors and the disabled within the Santa Clarita Valley, as well as for the general public during evening hours.

For more information about Santa Clarita Transit or the Senior Ambassador Program, visit SantaClaritaTransit.com.

Election Lawsuit?

| Gazette, News | October 4, 2013

By Perry Smith

Several lawsuits that literally could change the shape of the Santa Clarita Valley are making their  way through the Los Angeles County court system.

Claiming the at-large elections that local governing boards have used for decades limit access for Latino voters, two Hispanic Santa Clarita Valley residents filed three lawsuits.

Amid widespread criticism and even racist threats, Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser are suing three local governing boards, claiming their rights guaranteed under the California Voting Rights Act are being violated by the governing board elections for the city of Santa Clarita, the Santa Clarita Community College District and the Sulphur Springs School District.

Santa Clarita Valley officials are closely watching a Palmdale suit in litigation by the same attorneys who are litigating the three local lawsuits — which the plaintiffs described as their inspiration for the suit.

The legislation and the claim
The California Voting Rights Act, which was signed into law in 2002,  expanded on the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The federal law provides guidelines for a violation, specific conditions that have to exist in order for someone to file a lawsuit claiming a violation.

However, in California, these terms are much broader, and that’s by design, said Caltech professor J. Morgan Kousser, a CVRA expert who’s testified in more than two dozen such lawsuits, including the Palmdale lawsuit.

“If you can prove that the elections are racially polarized, that’s the first factor,” Kousser said. “And if you can prove that a racially polarized group usually loses, then you have to change.”

By only having these two requirements, the suits become easier to litigate by plaintiffs and defendants, he said.

However, the broad requirements for litigation have been criticized by local officials who claim that it makes it easy for local governing boards to be targeted by these “cash-grab” lawsuits.

“The law does not create an oversight agency or deadline,” according to a report by Paul Mitchell of Redistricting Partners, “but makes it incredibly easy for plaintiffs to sue a district and have the court intervene and draw district lines that would empower the ethnic community.”

Palmdale and Santa Clarita suits
Jim Soliz, a longtime Saugus resident, said he only recently began to notice the problems associated with having a monochromatic City Council and a remedy to do something about it.

After seeing how CVRA lawsuits were changing local governments, and after being near Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar when he made his infamous “proud racist” remark, Soliz wanted to do something.

“At that point, I realized it wasn’t just about undocumented people, human beings — there was something else happening,” Soliz said.

“In all this time since the California Voting Rights Act had been initiated, the city and the community college had made no effort to go out and integrate the board,” Soliz said.

When he heard about the lawsuit against the city of Palmdale being litigated by Kevin Shenkman of Shenkman and Hughes and Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, who has his own law firm and a school in Palmdale named after him, Soliz felt as though he’d found his solution.

Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser, his co-plaintiff, filed a lawsuit against the three local districts.

Jauregui vs. City of Palmdale
Soliz said he reached out to Shenkman after hearing about the Palmdale suit, which is still in litigation.

On June 25, after an eight-day trial, Judge Mark V. Mooney found the city of Palmdale in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

The experts looked at Palmdale’s City Council elections since 2000, during which time only one Latino and no blacks had been elected, and found there was racially polarized voting.

“The failure of minority candidates to be elected to office does not by itself establish the presence of racially polarized voting,” said Mooney, in his six-page finding. “However, the regression analysis undertaken by both experts nevertheless established a clear history of a difference between the choice of candidates preferred by the protected class and the choice of the non-protected class.”

In CVRA cases, the statistical experts look at how a “protected class,” i.e. any minority population or an area — be it white, black, Asian, Latino or any other — votes as a block.

The city of Palmdale’s statistical expert, Douglas Johnson, produced results that were “not stark,” according to the finding, however, “the existence of racially polarized voting could not be denied.”

Palmdale officials have vowed to fight the lawsuit until they can’t anymore, but on Monday, Mooney recently granted an injunction that temporarily halts Palmdale’s ability to hold a City Council election in November.

The local lawsuits
The two Santa Clarita Valley educational districts were served with lawsuits around the same time as the city of Santa Clarita in the last week of June.

Bruce Fortine, a trustee for the College of the Canyons governing board, reacted to the litigation by calling the lawsuit “unfortunate,” and said while districting may make sense in some regions, it wouldn’t benefit the greater good for the Santa Clarita Valley.

“I understand that they have their position and their point,” Fortine said, referring to Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser, who are the plaintiffs in three separate lawsuits. “And in some communities, it’s probably very important that districting happen.

“But in our community, there are no really strong pockets of any race — the folks are spread throughout our valley,” Fortine said. “There are some areas, such as Newhall, that might have a higher percentage (of Latino voters). But, really, that population is valleywide.”

City officials have remained tightlipped on the matter, refusing to comment publicly.

There are different interpretations of what the demographics of the districts would look like.

If a particular race tends to vote in a block regarding issues that affect that race or others, then a pattern of racially polarized voting may be determined.

In the three local cases, the lawsuits cite how voters tended to vote in similar blocks regarding Propositions 187 and 209.

Local backlash
Some of the criticisms leveled at the local litigation focus on the merits of the suit, with one governing board member calling the lawsuits disingenuous, while others have attacked Shenkman for trying to cash in at the expense of local taxpayers.

There is no precedent for a governing board to legally defend a CVRA violation claim, and a case against the city of Modesto resulted in the city having to pay more than $3 million in legal fees.

Hart District Board President Joe Messina, who oversees the governing board for the valleywide William S. Hart Union High School District, said the law goes against the very nature of laws.

“The spirit of any law written is to right a wrong or it’s to protect somebody who can’t protect themselves,” Messina said. “So in the SCV, who was wronged, and did they try a remedy?”

The Hart District oversees junior high and high schools for nearly 23,000 Santa Clarita Valley students.

“No. We went right to letter and lawsuit,” Messina said. “That’s not somebody who wants to work something out.”

The plaintiffs have also been subject to racist letters and threats.

One, which addressed Soliz’ comments in an interview KHTS YouTube page where Soliz questioned the Santa Clarita Community College District curriculum as part of the issue regarding the high Latino dropout, said:

“Why do Latinos not stay in school because their parents are too busy having huge families and don’t have a core upbringing? Why don’t you promote birth control and stop suckikng down beers, ect. (sic)”

As far as the lawsuits only helping an attorney achieve larger legal fees, Soliz said that criticism was “dishonest.”

“Can you really put a price tag on honesty? That’s the question. More importantly, what’s the price of equality,” Soliz said. “This isn’t about money. Money has nothing to do with it. What this is about is desegregating a community — about bringing a community into the 20th century.”

| Gazette, News | October 3, 2013

The Santa Clarita Valley Music Festival – formerly known as the “Jazz Festival” – is getting bigger and better, say promoters John Heys and Don Hubbard.

“There are more genres for people to enjoy,” says Hubbard. “We went from Jazz (the first year) to Jazz and Blues last year, and now we’ve expanded to a “music festival.”

Not only are Heys and Hubbard proud of the upscale performers this year, but the site and sound are also a cut above.

“The quality of the sound, the music, and the layout of the event – the Valencia Country Club is a beautiful setting and it’s a natural amphitheatre – it’s a gorgeous event,” says Hubbard. “And the sound system would challenge the Hollywood Bowl.”

The talent booked for this weekend’s event reflects the expanded variety of the festival. It opens Friday night, October 4 with Neil Diamond’s former manager, Mark LeVang, followed by finalists from TV’s “The Voice,” The Swon Brothers, who perform country rock.

“People are going to love their act,” says Hubbard. “They are brothers from Oklahoma…really nice, humble guys.”

The festival brings crowds back at 12 noon on Saturday, October 5 with jazz, blues, rock and rhythm & blues, including a renowned guitarist, a “Tonight Show” band member and two of the country’s top saxophonists.

“We’re starting with a fabulous guitar player with the El Javi Trio,” says Hubbard. “He’s one of the finest guitar players there is right now. He’s got a Santana kind of sound. It’s called progressive flamenco rock guitar.”

Blues legend and Santa Clarita resident Teresa James will perform second.

“She has a Bonnie Raitt type of sound,” explains Hubbard. “Last year she played early (in the festival). She was amazing.”

“Tonight Show” band performer Paul Jackson and Wayne Lindsay will take the stage next, with rhythm & blues style music.

The first headliner is Eric Darius, a saxophone player, described as having a swooning style. The second headliner is Grammy award-winner Gerald Albright.

“He is the undisputed king of R & B Sax,” says Hubbard.

Promoters Heys and Hubbard are hoping for about 1,500-2,000 visitors each of the two days. They are also hoping that there are no spoilers this year to put a dent in their event, like last year.

“‘Carmageddon,’ hurt us last year,” says Hubbard. “But this year the City’s more involved and sponsors are excited to be a part of it.”

The festival will feature a beer garden, a wine bar, two cocktail lounges, food from Larsen’s grill, which is from Larsen’s Steakhouse, Our Place BBQ. Wolf Creek will be serving its own new craft beer. Plus there will be other food and merchandise vendors.

One thing that won’t change, however, is that the SCV Music Festival will benefit two important non-profit centers: Santa Clarita Boys and Girls Club and the Child and Family Center.

Mindi Abair and her band performed last year

“It’s just getting bigger and better – we have so much talent this year,” says Hubbard. “There is no musical event of this caliber in the SCV.”

Tickets are $45 in advance and $55 at the gate. It is professional seating, where you can bring your own beach chair or blanket. VIP tickets may be purchased for $125 per person, which will include dinner and other amenities.

Visit www.musicfest.com for more information.

Ask the Real Estate Coach

| Gazette, News | September 27, 2013

Dear Coach,

I want to sell an investment property and re-invest the equity in another property. Will I be taxed on the equity from the sale?

Bob from Northridge

Dear Bob,

Your tax advisor or CPA is the correct professional to consult for this situation. Ask about a 1031 exchange.  This is when you take the equity, also known as capital gains, of your sale and defer tax by putting it toward the purchase of your new investment. There are strict guidelines that need to be followed, so do your research before you start the process, and make sure your realtor knows what your end goal is so all paperwork is completed correctly.

If you have a Dear Coach question you’d like answered in this column, email it to dearcoachbecky@gmail.com or contact me at becky@beckysill.com for an immediate response.

Manufactured Home Park Rent Increase

| Gazette, News | September 26, 2013

By Doug Fraser
Manufactured Home Park owners must send out notices of rent increase for the year 2014 by October 1, 2013. Procedures and criteria related to any increases and the notices may be reviewed in the Santa Clarita Municipal Code, Chapter 6.02, Manufactured Home Park Rent Adjustment Procedures.

Specifically, the criteria and procedures related to “Space Rent Adjustments” are listed in section 6.02.090. The section addresses the issues of
Prohibition of Adjustments, Notice;
amount of rent increase in both dollars and percentage of the existing rent
the identity of all affected residents and the spaces they rent
the right of the resident to request a hearing before the City of Santa Clarita’s Manufactured Home Rental Adjustment Panel
that the park owner and the resident shall execute a single document related to the annual rent adjustment, stating that the information required by the section has been received by the tenant.

Additional issues include: Failure to Provide a Notice, as well as Voluntary Vacating of the mobile home by the tenant and Manufactured Home owner, and providing notice to a park owner of the owner’s intent to sell the manufactured home.

The next scheduled meeting of the Santa Clarita Manufactured Home Rental Adjustment Panel is set for 6:00 p.m. on October 15, 2013 at the Santa Clarita City Hall, 23920 Valencia Boulevard, Santa Clarita, CA 91355.

Additional information and assistance regarding this issue can be attained by visiting the Community Housing Association’s website at www.chacsc.yolasite.com.

Vietnam Vet and his Dog

| Gazette, News | September 26, 2013

By Andrew Thompson
Throughout his lifetime, Atticus Hogan has served in quite an impressive list of capacities.

Over the years, he’s been a representative of several veterans’ groups, an ambassador for a variety of well-known organizations, the featured guest at numerous parades and conventions, an Elks Lodge member, a calendar model, an honorary Marine, the Grand Marshal of a special awards show recognizing heroes such as him, and – of course – man’s best friend.

But, in order to fully understand the story of this yellow Labrador retriever, it may be necessary to see Atticus through the eyes of Jim Hogan – eyes remarkable for the very attribute that gave Atticus his life’s mission: they can barely see.

Part I: A Good Sound
That wasn’t always the case.

Born in Wisconsin and raised in California from the age of 10, Jim Hogan enjoyed a normal childhood, except for two relatively minor conditions: he had some difficulty seeing at night, and he often struggled to hear.

The latter problem was deemed serious enough to warrant Jim’s receiving special education at the Mary E. Bennett School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, but when Jim finished school, he was determined that he wouldn’t be defined by the limitation.

“After I graduated, I took my hearing aid off and still survived with everybody else – ‘cause no one really knew I had a hearing loss,” Jim says.

But Jim’s hearing difficulty had a tendency to follow him when he least desired it. Shortly after high school, Jim was drafted by the Army during the Vietnam War, but his hearing loss made him ineligible. In an era in which many were looking for ways to avoid the military, Jim – for reasons he still finds difficult to put into words – was determined to serve.

A couple of years later, when Jim made the acquaintance of a Navy recruiter, he got his chance. The recruiter told Jim he could learn to pass the hearing test by watching those before him push the button as they heard the sounds.

“And I did,” Jim recalls. “And I got caught. So, they put me in a room by myself, and – I’ll be damned. I passed the test.”

Jim had almost made it to the end of boot camp before his disability once again caught up with him. It was then that a recruiter called him out for essentially giving the right answers to the wrong questions and sent him for additional testing. He failed.

Jim distinctly recalls sitting in the office of the chief medical officer, resisting the medical discharge that he knew was inevitable. “I remember very well,” Jim says, “he got up from the chair, gave me a dirty look, opened the door, and he said, ‘See all these guys sittin’ in these chairs? They’re [fools], because they want out. You’re more of a fool – you wanna stay in!’”

While waiting for the bus back to the camp, Jim bummed change for a phone call and contacted his recruiter. When he explained the situation, Jim says, the man basically told him that it would be taken care of.

“Two weeks later I graduated and got orders to go overseas,” Jim says. He never learned what happened, and he never questioned it. In 2001, when he received a copy of his medical records, he discovered that they said he was “unfit for military duty,” an assessment complemented by official stamp.

Nevertheless, Jim somehow managed to make it to Vietnam, where he spent three years serving on a landing ship that conducted a variety of missions, from transporting cargo and Marines to river patrol. Though he didn’t ask too many questions, Jim says he and his crewmates sometimes suspected that their missions were top secret.

“You knew you were doing something, because generally, two weeks before the operation, no mail comes in and no mail [goes] out,” Jim recalls.

Later, Jim completed a nine-month stint aboard the historic aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. Today, he notes the stark contrast between serving aboard the carrier with a crew of 5,000 and serving on the landing ship with a crew of only 40.

“I tend to like the smaller ship better because everybody’s very close,” Jim says. “Where, on the larger ship, I run into people that served on there that I never knew.”

Looking back on his time in Vietnam, Jim finds it strange that his disabilities never raised any suspicions. His lack of night vision in particular led to a variety of complications ranging from the humorous (he recalls being barked at for refusing to face officers he simply couldn’t find) to the serious (he would pass off the night-watch responsibility of tossing concussion grenades into the water because he couldn’t make out the edge of the boat. The action was intended to ward off any swimmers who might want to come aboard the small boat and cut the sleeping soldiers’ throats).

“That was the one thing I feared most,” Jim says. Unfortunately, as was the case for many veterans of the Vietnam War, Jim found that being back stateside presented challenges of its own. He distinctly remembers flying into San Francisco Airport, where he says soldiers were spat upon and called “baby killers.”

“I wanted to get rid of my uniform,” he recalls, adding that he doesn’t think anyone he’s met who served in Vietnam has ever forgotten coming home.

But Jim’s war experiences followed him in other ways, too. In part, his decision to move to Santa Clarita from the San Fernando Valley was prompted by his inability to stand the noise of the L.A. Police Department helicopters that would regularly pass overhead.

“To me, when I hear a helicopter, there’s – there’s something going on,” Jim says. “There’s an incident.”

Jim counts among his greatest accomplishments the time he overcame that response while a fire helicopter was repeatedly landing at a water tank near his home. “I put in my mind – I said, ‘You know what?That’s a good sound. That is a good sound,’” Jim recalls. “Because it’s – they’re here to put out the fire! And it’s [threatening] us!… [I] said, ‘That noise is not gonna bother me anymore.”’

The issue was settled once and for all on the day that a helicopter hired to fly over a Veterans’ Day parade roared by triumphantly. “That sound did not bother me. I really thought it was gonna bother me…” Jim says. “But all the guys in the parade – all the Vietnam guys in the parade – all… you know… gave a big, ‘Yeah!’ And that was a good sound.”

Part II: That Quarter of Pie

Of course, not all of Jim’s life post-Vietnam was centered on overcoming past experiences. On the contrary, it was during that time that Jim’s life really began to move forward. Soon after returning home, Jim met Pam, his brother’s wife’s sister, and the two began to date. It wasn’t until she had all four wisdom teeth pulled and he went to her mother’s house to look after her, however, that things got serious.

“I went to the house [to] take care of her and never left,” says Jim. The couple was so inseparable that it seemed inevitable they would decide to tie the knot. “Everybody was shocked when we made a wedding announcement, because they thought we were married,” notes Jim.

By 1977, when Jim had managed to land a job working as a building inspector for the City of Los Angeles, he had in place both a solid career and a brand new family. The future must have seemed bright. But there were also bumps in the road.

Once, on the evening of a party, Pam chewed Jim out for his rudeness after he had refused to shake hands with nearly every person he had met. Jim didn’t understand.

“Honest, Babe, I didn’t pay attention – didn’t notice!” he remembers telling her.

It didn’t take them long to figure out that it was Jim’s lack of peripheral vision, not manners, that was causing his breach of etiquette. From then on, whenever they went to public events, Jim and Pam held hands.

“She was always sending me signals,” says Jim, recalling how she would alert him to curbs, steps, and offers for handshakes.

But in 1983, when Jim’s vision had narrowed to the point that it was causing him even further trouble, a visit to the doctor confirmed that he had retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative eye disease linked with a gradual loss of vision throughout life. Jim discovered that he was going to continue losing his eyesight, and that what he had already lost already couldn’t be recovered. Beyond that, however, Jim didn’t understand much more.

Jim continued to work, making up for his difficulties as he always had: with hard work and commitment. He was even transferred to code enforcement by a supervisor who needed someone reliable to do the job. When Jim told his supervisor that he was having vision problems, he was urged toward the task anyway, with the understanding that he would let the supervisor know if his vision continued to deteriorate. And so, Jim went to work.

Then, one morning in October of 1999, Jim left for a job in the rain and realized that he simply couldn’t see. He turned around and did something he almost never did in his decades-long career: he called in sick. The next day, he told the supervisor that he simply couldn’t do it anymore. He was transferred to a desk job in the legal department, where he would spend the rest of his career.

Around that time that, largely through his own research, Jim also began to learn more about his specific condition. It was called Usher Syndrome Type II, and it was a disease associated with both hearing loss and night blindness, generally followed by a gradual loss of vision. In 1999, another visit to the doctor informed Jim that, with his field of vision at only 10 degrees, he was already legally blind.

He remembers receiving the letter that made it official. “What do I do with this?” he asked the doctor. The answer he received, he claims, was something along the lines of “Do whatever blind people do.”

“I thought that was a slap in the face!” Jim says today. And it helped launch him on a crusade to help improve and raise awareness about the services available to blind people – particularly other blind veterans. As a result, Jim is particularly passionate about helping his fellow veterans get assistance through the V.A.

“This is important to me,” he says, “very important: it does not make a difference if you have a service-connected [disability] or not; if you served, and you have an honorable discharge, and you become legally blind, the V.A. is the best place to go for [a] source of help.”

Jim, who hasn’t been able to drive since the late 1990s, has also worked with local transportation authorities to improve the access of the disabled to efficient public transportation. He helped create and continues to serve on a special committee that meets at City Hall to address a variety of transportation issues and, while he says he still has some desires he’d still like to see come to fruition, he also feels he’s managed to make a significant impact thus far.

“Never go after the whole pie,” he jokes, referring to his attempts to bring about positive changes in public transportation. “You’re never gonna get it.”

But if you’re patient enough and nice enough, he adds, you might be able to get the pie one piece after another. “I’ve still got that quarter of pie to go,” says Jim.

Part III: To Be a Dog

For all Jim’s work to help his fellow blind and disabled, it took him some time to make use of the resource that would have such a deep impact on his own life: a dog.

The tipping point finally came when Jim and Pam joined a blind friend and her guide dog on a cruise and saw firsthand the advantages the service animal could provide.

“I noticed, when we went out on the cruise ship, she’s gone. Speedy Gonzales. They’re gone. And I’m sittin’ here with my cane, ‘Doot, de doot, de doot, de doot, de doot…’” says Jim. “I thought, ‘Amazing how much independence you have, [with] where you want to go.’”

At long last, Jim’s mind was made up. His subsequent application was accepted by Guide Dogs for the Blind, and, before he knew it, he was flying to Oakland to meet the canine companion that would help to shape his life.

He still remembers sitting in his room, waiting for his animal to arrive after undergoing two full days of training to use the harness and learn the commands. At last the door opened, and in walked the yellow lab.

“Immediately,” Jim says, “he was just on cloud nine.”

The dog was a part of the litter of “A” names being trained at that time, and his name was Atticus. Jim says the number one question people ask him is whether he chose that name.

“No,” he jokes. “I would’ve named him ‘Atta Boy,’ not Atticus!”

Names aside, the pair bonded so quickly that, before they had even left the facility, compassion prompted Jim to break the rules by occasionally letting Atticus off of “tie-down” in his room.

“Sometimes the door would be left open and I would go down the hallway to get something, and here he comes,” Jim recalls.

Still, Jim and Pam learned to be unwavering in teaching their new family member control when he came home at last. In fact, Jim claims that their first month together instilled in Atticus a level of discipline exceptional even among other service dogs. Today, that discipline is perhaps best demonstrated, not only when Atticus is called to duty, but when…well, duty calls.

Atticus has been trained to go on command, and his ability to withhold his urges has become legendary. Once, on a cruise, Atticus held his bladder and his bowels for 50 hours after refusing to use the kitty litter the ship had provided him or even, at Jim’s command, to make “poop deck” a more literal term.

When the ship pulled into port, Jim explains, Atticus was the first one off. He found a large patch of grass and, ignoring the group of buses loading up just beside it, he went. And went. And went – so long that, as Jim tells it, he got something of a standing ovation.

“All right, that’s number one,” Jim says he had joked. “[We’re] waitin’ on number two!”

Jim says that got the spectators back on the bus quickly. Of course, there are also times when Atticus knows better than to do what he’s told.

“They are taught intelligent disobedience, and it has happened a couple of times,” Jim explains. Once, when returning from work, Jim grew frustrated with Atticus for refusing to walk him across the street after being given the command to do so. After repeating the command, to no avail, Jim stepped forward anyway – right into a ditch.

In a similar incident, Jim grew impatient waiting in the rain for Atticus to take him toward the light of their parked vehicle. After a moment, a bystander kindly informed Jim that he should perhaps have his dog take the ramp on the right, lest they step off a six-foot drop.

Jim was sure to give Atticus a cookie when they finally did make it to the car.

Jim says that he truly realized the difference Atticus makes on a day when Jim decided to leave without him for a day in town. During that journey, Jim’s cane struck a homeless man who told him, “I’m gonna shove that stick up your –”

Jim says he took off before the man could finish his sentence.

Later, Jim arrived at a corner and listened for the surge of cars that indicated to him he could cross.

“The light changed, I got the surge, and I said to my cane, ‘Forward,’” he recalls. “And I started [getting] across.’”

Jim made it to the other side of the street – not paying much attention, because he was trusting in the instincts of his absent companion – before he realized what he had done.

“He makes a big difference,” Jim now says, referring to the level of mobility facilitated by his four-legged friend.

But perhaps of equal importance is the degree of communication that Atticus can inspire.

“I can stand on the corner with my white cane – it will be quite a while before someone comes up to talk to me,” Jim says. With Atticus, on the other hand, he’s lucky to get to 30 seconds.

Still, not everyone who approaches the duo is interested in connecting with the human. Once, on a cruise ship, Jim met some children who asked if they could pet Atticus because they missed their own dog. Jim asked Atticus if it was okay, and Atticus walked right over to the boys in order to bask in their affection.

“I know there are two things he loves: food and attention, in that order,” says Jim. Now he always lets people pet Atticus, provided that: they ask him first, it’s an appropriate time, and Atticus indicates that he’s comfortable.

Perhaps it’s his open, lovable disposition that has garnered Atticus all of those special memberships and appearances. Atticus, Jim says, is indeed an ambassador for working dogs everywhere, as evidenced by his recent selection as Grand Marshal of the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. It’s recognition like that which has occasionally left even Jim standing in Atticus’s shadow.

Once, while riding in a Fourth of July parade shortly after the release of an article about the duo, Jim and Pam heard children saying, “Look! It’s Atticus! And the blind guy!”

With such a level of fame, lots of good food, a fulfilling purpose, and plenty of love, Atticus is living the good life, Jim thinks.

“You know,” he jokes, “I’ve always said: if I’m gonna come back – if you believe in reincarnation – I want to be a dog!”

These days, at the age of ten and a half, Atticus has probably put most of his working days behind him. Nevertheless, he’s enjoyed a career filled with experiences that have vastly ranged.

There were times when Atticus was required to work in overdrive, such as that trip through London when he had to learn that cars can come down the other side of the street. There were times when he had little to do but enjoy himself, such as those ski-trip moments when he was able to partake of his favorite pastime: frolicking in the snow.

After all of those experiences together, Jim has come to recognize just how special a companion he’s been given.

“I’ve been blessed with a good dog,” he says. But no one is ready for Atticus to retire just yet.

“I’m not ready to let him change his career. And he doesn’t want to,” notes Jim. “I just can’t get another dog and then say, ‘All right, you’re done.’”

So, if you happen to see Jim in the upcoming days, don’t be surprised if right by his side is his aging yellow lab with the loving spirit, the disciplined mind, and the puppy’s heart.

After all, neither Jim nor Atticus would have it any other way.

Breast Cancer Awareness Special Pricing on Mammograms

| Gazette, News | September 13, 2013

The Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center is offering a special price for digital screening mammograms during October, which is breast cancer awareness month. Patients who are uninsured, have high deductibles, or whose insurance plans are not contracted by Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital can receive a routine screening mammogram for the special cash price of $160.

The best available tool for breast cancer detection continues to be the mammogram. Taken over time, mammograms provide a way to identify changes in breast tissue, such as the appearance of a tumor. The Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center, designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology (ACR), uses digital mammography rather than traditional analog mammography.

Located on Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital’s campus, the Breast Imaging Center has performed more than 73,000 procedures and detected 680 breast cancers through mammograms and diagnostic exams. Appointments can be scheduled Monday through Friday, including lunchtimes and into the evening, as well as some weekends, by calling (661) 253-8822. The Breast Imaging Center is located at 23929 McBean Parkway, Suite 101, Valencia.

October Breast Cancer Awareness Events
During October, the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation and Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center, will bring breast cancer awareness to the community through selected fundraising events in the Santa Clarita Valley. Proceeds benefit the Breast Imaging Center. Your participation in these events will help fund state-of-the-art equipment and ensure women in our community have access to superior technology for breast cancer detection. For more information or to make a donation, please call (661) 200-1200.

Pink Ribbon Month – Oct. 1– 31
In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month, everyone is invited to wear a pink ribbon during the month of October in honor of or in memory of someone they love. Pink Ribbon lapel pins can be purchased from Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital’s gift shop, the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center, and other locations. The pins are available for $5. For a listing of businesses offering the pink ribbon pins, please visit www.henrymayogiving.com beginning October 1, or call (661) 200-1200.

Cobblestone Cottage Brighton Breast Cancer Awareness Jewelry –
Oct. 1–31
Cobblestone Cottage will feature a special Brighton Power of Pink bracelet to promote Breast Cancer Awareness. $5 from each bracelet sold will be donated to the Breast Imaging Center. In addition, Brighton will donate $5 from each sale to a breast cancer related organization. Visit Cobblestone Cottage at 24335 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia. For hours call (661) 253-0209 or visit www.cobblestone-cottage.com.

Eat, Drink and Raise Funds at StoneFire Grill – Oct. 1
Come enjoy a fresh approach to family dining on Oct. 1 at StoneFire Grill, 23300 Cinema Drive, Valencia and help support the Breast Imaging Center, a service of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, StoneFire Grill will donate a generous portion of the day’s receipts to the Breast Imaging Center. The restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. for lunch, dinner, takeout. To order to-go, call (661) 799-8282.

Eat, Drink and Raise Funds at Rattler’s BAR B QUE – Oct. 15
You can have the satisfaction of knowing that you helped ensure women in the SCV have access to superior technology for breast cancer detection as Rattlers BBQ will donate a generous portion of the day’s receipts to the Breast Imaging Center. Rattler’s BAR B QUE, 26495 Golden Valley Road, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Offer valid for lunch, dinner and take-out. To order to-go, call (661) 251-4195.

A Day of Creating Beauty – Nov 1
Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Care Medical Group will donate a portion of their proceeds from this day to the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center.  Please call (661)254-3686 for more information or to make an appointment at the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center, call (661) 253-8822.

ABOUT HENRY MAYO – Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital is a 238-bed not-for-profit acute care hospital serving the Santa Clarita Valley since 1975. Services include trauma, emergency, intensive care, neonatal intensive care unit, maternity, surgery, nursing, wound care, behavioral health, and acute rehab, as well as cancer, cardiology, imaging, lab, digestive, respiratory services and physical and occupational therapies. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital is located at 23845 McBean Parkway, Valencia, CA 91355-2083. For more information,
visit www.henrymayo.com or call
(661) 253-8000.

Residents Want Changes to Municipal Code

| Gazette, News | September 12, 2013

By Andrew Thompson
One of its most important provisions for doing so is the creation of a Manufactured Home Rental Adjustment Panel, which consists of two resident representatives, two owner representatives, and a fifth member, who will be nominated by the City and selected by the four elected representatives. Together, the panel members conduct hearings to determine whether proposed rent increases are reasonable if they exceed the limits established in the ordinance.

Erin Lay

Housing Program Administrator Erin Lay said that municipal code updates like this one are commonplace for the City, but also noted that City staff members have heard many concerns about 6.02, specifically, in the past.

“We said, ‘Well? You know what? It’s time,’” Lay said. “Let’s get out there, start asking the people and really make an effort to update this ordinance so it addresses people’s concerns. We know that it’s fair to both park owners and park residents.”

Monday’s meeting

Monday’s meeting consisted of an informational presentation by Lay, after which residents were encouraged to seek out City staff to ask questions and relate their concerns. Among the most common and pressing, Lay noted, have been: doubts about the three-percent floor set by the ordinance on rent adjustments; various sections of vague language regarding what constitutes sufficient information to give residents about an increase; the strict mediation-background requirement for the fifth member of the Rent Adjustment Panel; and the lack of alternates for the Panel, in the event that a member steps down.

Lay said that the board has occasionally been lopsided in the past when resignations have occurred.

“I don’t think it really skewed the results, but could it in the future? Sure,” said Lay. “And is it fair to have an unbalanced panel? Not really. So, we’re looking at that.”

Doug Fraser, one of the two resident representatives on the current panel, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the ordinance and the City’s enforcement of it. In a separate interview, Fraser decried the ordinance’s vague language, as well as the lack of enforcement by the City when rental adjustment notices distributed to residents lack the information required. Fraser has also called into question the election of one of his fellow panel members, an issue for which he filed a complaint with the City and says he is waiting for a response.

Fraser claims that these problems demonstrate a bias by the City toward park owners.

“They’re business-friendly. They’d rather be business-friendly than… citizen-friendly,” Fraser said.

Ray Henry, another outspoken critic of the City’s enforcement of the ordinance and the current procedures of the Panel, said he had started voicing his opinions after what he claimed was an unfair raising of his own rent. Henry expressed his belief in the importance of residents making their voices heard, adding that he and Fraser had met several times with the City to discuss their grievances.

Henry said he believed Monday’s public meeting was a step in the right direction.

“I’m very hopeful, because we didn’t get here for no reason,” Henry claimed.

Other residents at the meeting raised concerns, including specific issues with the ordinance, lack of park improvements after rent increases, and concerns about park safety, in hopes they would be addressed by City leaders.
Residents of Santa Clarita’s manufactured homes gathered at a meeting to discuss the updating of Santa Clarita Municipal Code 6.02 last Monday, voicing their concerns to City staff about the ordinance that regulates rental adjustment procedures for manufactured-home parks.

The ordinance is intended to strike a balance between protecting manufactured-home residents from unreasonable rent increases and allowing park owners to raise rent enough to recoup their costs and make a fair return on their properties.

Lay said she sympathized with the difficulties experienced by residents as a result of rent increases and encouraged them to provide their feedback throughout the process of review.

“We hope to just make [the ordinance] a lot more workable – a lot less frustrating,” she said, “because it’s very frustrating to everyone in the process right now, and that’s just not right.”

The City will hold additional meetings for park residents on Monday, September 16 at 2:00 p.m. and Thursday, September 19 at 6:30 p.m. The meetings will take place in the Century Room at City Hall. The same information will be presented at both meetings, and Spanish translation will be provided at the meeting on the 19. Meetings for park owners will be scheduled for October. A draft of the ordinance that includes proposed changes is planned to go before the City Council some time in the middle of 2014.

For additional information on the ordinance or the upcoming meetings, visit www.santa-clarita.com/Index.aspx?page=602 or call 661-286-4174.

Helping Aging Parents Through a Healthcare Crisis

| Gazette, News | September 9, 2013

by Charlene Perrone, CSA, Certified Senior Advisor, Owner, Home Instead Senior Care for Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley

We get calls every day from children of aging parents whose loved ones have been hospitalized due to a fall, a stroke or an infection. They’re worried: what happens if my parents can’t live on their own once they’re discharged; if they return home, will they need extra care; how will the care be paid for?

FIRST, STAY CONNECTED…with both hospital staff and your parent’s doctors. Talk to your parent’s hospital case manager and/or social worker. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions you have about their care and treatment, while in the hospital AND once they’re discharged.

YOU’LL NEED TO KNOW…if your parent will be going to a rehabilitation facility for further treatment, or returning home? Either way, will there be follow-up health care in the home once your parent is discharged? Depending on his/her condition, the doctor may prescribe a short period of in-home healthcare monitored by a skilled nurse, a physical therapist, even a home health aide or speech therapist. Many health insurance plans cover this kind of follow-up; if that’s not the case, find out why.

You’ll need to know if there are any post-hospital equipment needs, such as a bed, a bedside commode, a shower-transfer chair or a wheelchair. Again, depending on your parent’s condition, this may be covered by health insurance, but would need to be prescribed by the physician or case manager.

In addition, if your parent is going home, make sure you go over every line of the discharge orders and the discharge medication list. Find out if there are any new prescriptions and make sure they’re called in to your pharmacy or get a copy of the prescription itself. Fill it ASAP.

Finally, you may want to consider a home care provider to help your parent with bathing, meal preparation, etc. while recuperating at home. Non-medical home care is not covered by health insurance or Medicare. However, if your parent has a long-term care insurance policy, so-called “homemaker services” may be included in the benefits. Also, if your parent is a veteran, check with the VA or a Veterans Service Officer about the Aid and Attendant Benefits.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, call Home Instead Senior Care at 661-254-8701 or email charlenep@homeinstead

Disney / ABC Studios at The Ranch Approved

| Gazette, News | September 5, 2013

By Andrew Thompson
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan for the proposed Disney / ABC Studios at The Ranch on Thursday, August 27, marking another major milestone in the years-long effort by Disney to begin development at the site.

The Studios, which would be built in the southwestern portion of Golden Oak Ranch near Interstate 14 and Placerita Canyon, would be used for ABC and Disney productions and feature more than 500,000 square feet of studio space, including six pairs of soundstages, production offices, talent bungalows, a commissary, administration offices, shops, storage spaces, and more. The Studios would complement the company’s current facilities in Burbank, while still sitting within the “30-Mile Zone,” a radius from the intersection of Beverly Blvd. and La Cienega Blvd., outside of which various film unions determine per diem rates to compensate crews for additional driving.

The project is expected to provide significant economic benefits for Santa Clarita, as the city is coming off a record year for film production days in 2012. According to Disney, the new Studios would create more than 3,100 jobs during construction and more than 2,800 permanent jobs once completed, as well as ultimately generating $533 million in annual economic activity throughout Los Angeles County.

County Supervisors approved the plan unanimously by a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Antonovich noting the importance of keeping film production local. Many see the Disney / ABC Studios at The Ranch project as one victory in the fight to keep production in Los Angeles, a region that has seen an exodus, of sorts, by film and television productions seeking the lower taxes and additional incentives offered by other cities and states.

But some at the meeting questioned the environmental impacts of the proposed development, including its effects on air and water quality, wildlife, and the ranch’s namesake oak trees. The Disney plan, for example, would require the cutting down of 158 trees to make way for construction.

Disney says it will plant 1,600 new saplings on the property and take measures to reduce energy consumption, water usage, and the impacts of traffic. It also points out that the Studios would be constructed on just 58 acres of the 890-acre Golden Oak Ranch, less than seven percent of the entire property.

To view the project’s environmental impact report and other associated documents, visit planning.lacounty.gov/case/view/vesting_tentative_tract_map_no._071216_conditional_use_permit_2009-00126_di/.

Disney first leased property at Golden Oak Ranch in the late 1950s, when Walt Disney selected it as a location for the Spin and Marty segments of The Mickey Mouse Club. In 1959, Disney purchased the first of what is today’s Golden Oak Ranch site, a location that has since seen filming for productions ranging from Old Yeller and Little House on the Prairie to The Parent Trap, Pearl Harbor and Pirates of the Caribbean II & III.

For more information on Golden Oak Ranch, visit goldenoakranch.com. For more information on the Disney / ABC Studios at The Ranch, visit www.studiosattheranch.com.

SCV Education Foundation’s “Last Sip of Summer”

| Community, Gazette, News | August 15, 2013

Photos and article by Andrew Thompson
Dozens gathered at Robinson Ranch in Canyon Country for the Santa Clarita Valley Education Foundation’s “Last Sip of Summer” fundraiser event last week, where they enjoyed live music, light snacks, wine, beer, and the event’s golf putting competition – all for a good cause. The event benefited the SCV Education Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to provide support for public schools throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

“A lot of organizations have golf outings…and a lot of organizations have wine events. So, we kind of thought that maybe we would do a mash up,” said Susan Reynolds, a board member for the foundation.

Guests gave $50 to the organization in order to mingle inside the club, where they enjoyed a wine tasting, beer provided by Wolf Creek Restaurant and Brewery, and a silent auction. They also gathered outside on the balcony overlooking the golf course to hear the live music performed by a band called Jonny B. & the Goods, featuring Jonathan LaFrance. An additional $10 won supporters entry into the fundraiser’s putting competition, where they competed for prizes.

The potential consequence of mixing alcohol with a contest involving coordination wasn’t lost on Reynolds, who laughingly pointed out that the quality of putting was likely to decrease as the afternoon progressed.

“I’m going to give it a swing,” she nevertheless punned.

But Reynolds was more serious when it came to the support being provided to the SCV Education Foundation by the event, as well as the support the organization provides for schools in the community.

“As you know, many resources have been pulled away and pulled away from our public education system, so…teachers and the administrators have less and less and less to work with,” Reynolds said. To counteract those difficulties, Reynolds noted, the Education Foundation has worked, in part, to put resources made inaccessible by budget cuts back into classrooms. The Foundation also provides scholarships for students who intend to pursue careers in education, and operates a Principal for a Day program, in which business and community leaders can learn about the challenges facing educators through direct participation. The non-profit program also presents an annual Teacher Tribute ceremony that recognizes outstanding teachers from each of the public schools in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Reynolds called the Teacher Tribute ceremony the “Academy Awards of Santa Clarita Valley teachers” and added that, even though it only honors some of the teachers throughout the local districts, she hopes it might inspire them all.

“What do they say? A rising tide raises all ships?” she asked.

It’s an expression that she found appropriate for the student beneficiaries of the Foundation’s programs, as well:

“I believe in education,” Reynolds said, “and that our youth – if we support our youth and everything that has anything to do with them, then we will raise the entire ship.”

For more information on the SCV Education Foundation, call 661-414-4465 or visit


“Art in Touch” Exhibit in Santa Clarita

| Gazette, News | August 8, 2013

Article and photos by Andrew Thompson

Painting, printing, and sculpture are often classified as the “visual arts,” but one exhibit in Santa Clarita is turning that categorization on its head with a gallery where touching the works is not only permitted – it’s encouraged.

The exhibit is called “Art in Touch,” and it features artwork meant to be enjoyed by everyone, including the visually impaired. All visitors can explore the displays with their hands while listening to iPods to gain additional information about the individual pieces.  Should they choose to do so, guests who are not visually impaired can even put on a blindfold in order to experience the art in an entirely new way.

“The whole thing about it is the texture,” says event worker Kristina Allegra, an arts and events recreation leader for the City of Santa Clarita.

“Art in Touch” has traveled from Kern County as part of a collaboration between Santa Clarita’s Arts Commission and the Arts Council of Kern, as well as a grant from the Black Rock Arts Foundation. The exhibit is now located in Space 125 on Town Center Drive, between the Sleep Number Store and Pottery Barn, near the circle at the west entrance of Westfield Valencia Town Center. The exhibit will remain in Santa Clarita for three consecutive weekends, where it will be open every Friday and Saturday from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., as well as every Sunday from 12 noon to 6:00 p.m. through Sunday, August 18.

Single Mothers Outreach Makes a Splash

| Gazette, News | August 8, 2013

Article and photos by Andrew Thompson

Hundreds of Santa Claritans beat the heat earlier this month at the 3rd Annual SCV Pool Party, a fundraising event that featured everything from food to swimming to paddleboarding lessons, a wide variety of water-based games, a synchronized swim demonstration, and more.

The event, held from 3:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at the Santa Clarita Aquatics Center, benefitted Single Mothers Outreach, a nonprofit that seeks to help single-parent families in the Santa Clarita Valley through resource referrals, job placement assistance, education, and general support.  

“We wanted to do something here in Santa Clarita that was different, that nobody else does,” said Jennifer Kennedy, director of programs and services for the organization, regarding the event. Kennedy noted that Single Mothers Outreach is the only nonprofit she knows of that uses the Aquatics Center.

“We probably had about 350, about 400 people here today, so that’s a pretty good turnout for us,” she said.

One highlight of the afternoon was an exhibition by the Los Angeles Splash, a youth synchronized swimming team whose members performed a variety of routines for their poolside audience. But there was plenty to do throughout the afternoon. In addition to basic swimming, the event featured a wide variety of games and activities for both children and adults, including tug-of-war, an egg hunt, a dunk tank, water golf, and a race of purchased rubber duckies down the facility’s twisting plastic waterslide to determine the winner of a $100 prize and Disneyland tickets for four.

“We put this on every year, and every year it just keeps gettin’ bigger and bigger,” said Kennedy, who added that she and a committee had worked for several months to plan the event. Kennedy said that the Pool Party is just one of many events the organization holds throughout the year to raise support; it’s also noted for its Mothers Day and Christmas programs. But there’s no single season for getting involved.

“Single-parent families need support throughout the whole year,” said Kennedy.

For more information on Single Mothers Outreach, visit www.singlemothersoutreach.com. For more information on the Los Angeles Splash, visit www.losangelessplash.com.  

Hospital Referrals a Mystery

| Gazette, News | August 2, 2013

Steven Skiles

Steven J. Skiles works in a field that most people don’t even want to think about, let alone have to use.  And if broaching the mysterious, uncomfortable subject of cremation with clientele is a challenge, there is another experience causing discomfort. When it comes to the recommendations of certain Santa Clarita medical facilities, Skiles, owner of Peaceful Reflections, a funeral home and cremation care center,  has found it suspiciously difficult to get in the door.

When a patient at a medical facility, hospice, or other place of care passes away, that patient’s family is given a list of recommended funeral and cremation services in the area – or, at least, they should be. But Skiles says that, when it comes to the referral lists of certain Santa Clarita institutions, the names of the local funeral and cremation services providers are inexplicably lacking.

“Instead of using local services, they’re sending [families] to Simi Valley, Palmdale, and making them pay more,” says Skiles. And that’s a decision, Skiles says, that’s bad for the local businesses, bad for many patients, and mysteriously unexplained to this date.

Of course, it’s not a universal problem. Skiles has good relationships with many hospices, from whom he gets most of his clients. But when it comes to other medical facilities, Skiles says he feels snubbed.

According to Skiles, of all the families that come to him, only about 30 percent are from Santa Clarita. Furthermore, Skiles claims that an analysis of cremation data for Santa Clarita has revealed that he’s doing a very small percentage of it.

There are many possible explanations for the latter statistic, of course. Peaceful Reflections is only one of at least three cremation services available in the Santa Clarita Valley, and the smallest one, at that. But there isn’t an explanation, Skiles says, for why research tells them of his presence, when a referral list from a Santa Clarita medical institution had suggested that they drive for an hour to pay significantly more. Skiles, after all, says it’s the difficulty for the families that bothers him the most.

As for the reasons behind his absence on the list, Skiles admits that he can’t be sure.

“I’d like to think that…it’s just their personal preference. That they know somebody at those places and that that’s why they do that,” Skiles says. “But the fact that…they’re truly not doing the family a service by doing that – that bothers me.”

Skiles says he’s reached out to the necessary personnel – contacting them by e-mail, leaving messages on their phones, and families are coming to him only after their own last-minute
even dropping off literature in an effort to make the list, but all in vain.  Still, he says he’s still more than happy to talk to anyone from a facility that won’t refer him, should they wish to call or stop by.
“I have an open door policy, if – if they want to come here and check me out, they’re more than welcome to,” says Skiles.

At Peaceful Reflections, Skiles helps guide people through a sometimes  confusing process that he knows they’d rather not worry about during their earliest stages of grief.  And he attempts to do so with the care and compassion that was so tragically lacking during his own difficult moment.

“[I]got into this business, basically, after the passing of my son, who was seven years old,” says Skiles. In addition to his grief, Skiles found himself frustrated by the sales traditions of the funeral services field.

“We were made to feel guilty…” recalls Skiles. “It was very difficult for us.”

That’s why, when he moved to California from the Midwest and faced an opportunity to get into that very field that had once caused him so much difficulty, Skiles was determined to do things differently. He decided that he would refuse to take advantage of clients at their most vulnerable moments. He would offer them simple, straightforward service. He would give them all the comfort and care that they needed, and he would do it all at an affordable price.

But first, he would spend 17 years working for a large corporation, feeling like he was sliding into the same rut.

One day, he realized that he had lost sight of the goal and decided it was time to make a change. So he left, and he fulfilled his dream at last five years ago by opening Peaceful Reflections, the small, family-owned cremation service that he still owns and operates to today.

Peaceful Reflections, Skiles says, prides itself on providing the personal touch that Skiles wishes his own family had received in its time of need. That touch includes a staff that’s reachable 24/7; an approach that seeks to be calm, compassionate, and understanding; and – perhaps most importantly – a price structure that’s straightforward, void of all the sneaky up-sells, hidden charges, and other tricks of the trade that Skiles believes so often lead families to feel guilty, confused, or simply overwhelmed.

“[For] a lot of people, a lot of places – it’s a business… and it’s all about profit,” Skiles says.  “‘How much can we – how much can we make on this urn? How much more can we charge them for this?’… It’s sort of like buying a used car.”

Skiles says he has sympathy for the families that fall into such traps, noting that they usually end up seeking cremation services at a time when they’re not quite up for shopping around.

“Typically, when someone passes away, you’re not thinking about it,” says Skiles.  “You’re just gonna call the first place you know, or the place that somebody says, ‘Oh, well, call them, they’ll take care of you.  This is what we recommend.’”

In the meantime, he just wants families to know that they don’t have to drive too far or pay too much to see their loved ones receive the proper care. Instead, he says, he hopes they’ll realize that there are multiple services closer to home that are equally available and qualified to help.

“We’re right here. We’re here to help,” Skiles says.  “We’re here to help all the families in Santa Clarita Valley. If they’ve got a – if they’ve got a cremation need, we’re here to help.”

When the assistance he provides means that a family would rather sit with him and reminisce about their loved one rather than simply go on their way, he knows he’s made a difference in their time of need.

Article and photos: Andrew Thompson

Page 46 of 48 1 44 45 46 47 48

Popular Ads Today

Doug’s Rant – Video Edition

  • WatchDoug’s Rant June 22
  • WatchDoug’s Rant June 15