COC Speech Team Brings Home Medals

| Gazette, News | May 3, 2013

COC Speech Team

The College of the Canyons speech team won five medals during the five-day Phi Rho Pi National Speech Tournament held at the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills last month.

First-year competitor Hillary Phillips won a gold medal in Persuasive Speaking—a first for the team—for her speech about the dangers of button batteries. Phillips was also awarded a silver medal in the Programmed Oral Interpretation category.

“The COC speech team is a place where you can grow as a performer and a person,” said Phillips. “It’s tough, but awesome. It’s just one of the greatest experiences in life to know you gave your all and are rewarded for it.”

Shawn Kern, COC speech team president, earned a bronze medal in Prose Interpretation for performing a short story about a male figure skater competing in the Olympics who is in love with his skating partner.

Jesse Warme also earned a bronze medal in Impromptu Speaking and Derek Isomaki earned the team’s first bronze medal in the Speech to Entertain category for his humorous speech about the “Friend Zone.”

“I’m very humbled to take this journey with the team every year and see how each person grows,” said Michael Leach, director of the COC speech team. “With a lot of hard work, team members continue to have more success and develop some of the most important skills employers seek.”

Phi Rho Pi is committed to increasing knowledge and appreciation of speech and forensics arts. The organization annually offers community college students a national tournament that is consistently one of the largest in the nation, welcoming more than 75 schools and 600 coaches.

The College of the Canyons speech team provides students with the opportunity to hone their public speaking and acting skills through local, regional and national competitions.

Those interested in joining the team next year are encouraged to audition on Friday, May 24. Students selected to join the team will begin preparing for the speech season in the summer. To audition, contact Michael Leach at michael.leach@canyons.edu to RSVP for an audition slot.

Thomas the Tank Rolls into Fillmore

| Gazette, News | April 27, 2013

By Michelle Sandoval

I know all about Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends. I’ve watched hours of the television series, read dozens of books and purchased my fair share of Thomas toy trains. I (begrudgingly) thank my two-year-old nephew for this. When I had the chance to attend Fillmore & Western Railway’s annual Day Out with Thomas event this past weekend I naturally jumped at the opportunity.  So with our conductor’s hats on and our boarding passes in tow, we headed out to Fillmore.

The story of Thomas originated back in 1913, but it wasn’t until 1942 that the stories really took off.  Founded on The Railway Series by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry and his son Christopher Awdry, these books were based on stories Awdry told his son during his recovery from an illness. They all followed the adventures of a group of trains that lived on the Island of Sodor, and many are based on personal experiences. Over the years these books have inspired numerous films and television series.

Every year for two consecutive weekends the Fillmore & Western Railway welcomes Thomas onto their tracks with a fun filled festival and train ride.  Kids have the opportunity to actually take a ride on Thomas and participate in numerous railway themed activities.  Fillmore’s downtown Central Park plays host to this event.

Aside from the actual train ride, which is fun and quite charming, there are plenty of things to keep the little ones entertained. Bouncy houses, arts and crafts, temporary tattoo stations and exotic animal shows are just a few of the events to partake in.  There is also a great Imagination Station where future conductors can play with toy trains and experiment with different tracks. And make sure you have your photo taken with Sir Topham Hatt, the manager of the Northwestern Railway, before you head home.

Need to add more Thomas merchandise to your child’s collection? The Fillmore & Western Railway has got you covered with a huge Thomas & Friends gift tent. Here your little ones will have their choice of hundreds of Thomas themed items, and while most are quite pricey, there is something there within everyone’s budget.

In the end my nephew had a blast at Day Out with Thomas, and there is plenty for the adults to do as well, as the park is bordered by quaint little antique shops and specialty stores.  Thomas is only in town through April 28th so make sure you and your little future engineers steam roll your way over to the Fillmore & Western Railway before Thomas heads back to Sordor!

Tickets for the event are $18, and include a 25-minute train ride and entrance to the festival area.  Thomas the Tank will be in Fillmore for one more weekend this upcoming Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For tickets or information call 866-468-7630 or visit www.fwry.com

Chartering The Course: The Successes and Setbacks of the Albert Einstein Academy

| Gazette, News | April 26, 2013

by Andrew Thompson

From the outside, Santa Clarita’s Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences is almost indistinguishable from a traditional office building.

On the inside, however, the building is alive.  Children take Monday-morning quizzes.  They interact with their teachers during their classes, and they catch up with one another between them. The Einstein Academy is indeed a school, a visitor is almost startled to realize – and, to hear Jeffrey Shapiro tell of some of its successes, a rather impressive one.

“This school was really started because people in this community recognized that they needed an alternative, smaller environment for their children,” says Shapiro, who serves as the Executive Director of the AEALAS Foundation, which developed the academy.  Created when a group of parents eschewed a “one size fits all” style of education, Shapiro says, the Albert Einstein Academy is now working with dedication toward the goal of helping “every student to thrive.”

Structured to serve students from grades seven through twelve, the three-year-old Albert Einstein Academy hosts only seventy-five students per grade, with twenty-five or fewer students in each classroom.  The school, Shapiro notes, is college preparatory, places a strong emphasis on the arts, and provides full sports for students in both junior high and high school.  But several factors also clearly distinguish it.  The Einstein Academy, for instance, has community service requirements for all of its students (fifteen hours a year for students in junior high and twenty-five hours a year for those in high school, which Shapiro says students often exceed).  It also requires all students to take at least four years of a foreign language in order to prepare them, Shapiro says, “to compete and work… in an environment without borders.”

Shapiro cites the cleanliness of the school’s restrooms as one indication of the respect with which Einstein Academy students treat their school.  On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like the school is treating the students half badly, either.  Its cafeteria, for example, offers twenty different choices for lunch every day, with options including everything from hot to cold to vegetarian, gluten-free, and organic.  Sushi, Shapiro notes, is one example of a highly favored dish.

According to Shapiro, the Albert Einstein Academy has earned so much positive attention that parents have even called from other districts requesting that the AEALAS Foundation open additional schools.  In the San Fernando Valley, Shapiro says, parents were so eager to see an Einstein Academy of their own that they went and found a site for it.  A school in the San Fernando Valley will indeed be opening soon, Shapiro notes, along with ones in Thousand Oaks, San Diego, and even Cleveland, Ohio.

“And, hopefully, we’ll also have an elementary school in Santa Clarita,” Shapiro adds.

Shapiro says “hopefully” regarding that elementary school because frankly, so far, it hasn’t looked promising.

In fact, anyone who happened to be just about a mile from the Albert Einstein Academy at the Saugus Union School District’s Board meeting on Tuesday night would have found out that not quite everybody is welcoming the Einstein Academies with open arms.    At that meeting, the Saugus Union School District Board rejected the AEALAS Foundation’s petition to establish a school within the District for a fourth time, with a very different picture painted by the information presented from its findings report.

According to the findings presented at the meeting, the AEALAS petition presented “an unsound educational program for the pupils to be enrolled.”  Specific areas of concern included the school’s proposed methods for teaching both English and Mandarin Chinese, its ability to properly provide for special education students, and its failure to provide “reasonably comprehensive” descriptions of several of its plans and procedures.  The report stated that “the petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the AEA charter petition,” claiming unreasonable goals, unrealistic projections, contradictory and misrepresented information, an inadequate number of signatures, and inadequate descriptions of procedures among the reasons, while further stating that  “the AEA Charter Petitioners are unfamiliar… with the requirements of law that would apply to the proposed charter school.”

At the meeting, one speaker commended the Board for assessing the petition without bias despite occasional criticism.  Comments made by Board members regarding the AEALAS petition drew attention to the fact that the Board had spent “considerable time and resources” assessing the petition, while Board member Rose Koscielny commented dryly that she had said everything she wished to “the first three times.”  Her comments drew chuckles from some in the crowd, in which opinion of the AEALAS petition seemed to be split at best.  No one at the meeting, when given the opportunity, asked to speak in the petition’s favor.

Shapiro wasn’t present, but said beforehand that he didn’t expect the petition to be approved.  Instead, Shapiro noted, he hopes that the process will go before the Los Angeles County Board of Education on appeal.

Still, he argues, he doesn’t think the Saugus findings add up.

Shapiro points to the positive feedback he’s received from other educational bodies and individuals as explanation for why he says he finds the Saugus Board’s denial puzzling.  Shapiro says, for example, that the Ventura County Board of Education told him AEALAS had “the cleanest, most complete… and most compelling charter petition ever to come before them,” and adds that the superintendent of a San Diego County district that recently approved a K-12 school praised the Einstein Academy as “a place where students want to be” and called it “a place I would send my sons.”

Shapiro says he thinks that many of the specific findings reported by the Board are specious.

“It’s kind of difficult to truly say we have an unsound educational program when you look at the success of the school,” Shapiro argues, pointing to what he says are actually the achievements of the current Einstein Academy in terms of its diversity, special education, and finances.

The current Einstein Academy, however, was chartered under the Hart Union High School District.  The elementary school districts as a whole, Shapiro says, have been less open to AEALAS, although Shapiro also points out that the local elementary school districts have never approved a charter school.

At the Saugus Union School District meeting, Board President Judy Umeck made clear that the Board’s decision regarding the petition will be open to public inquiry.

“If you have questions about this, please feel free to contact the Board members of the Saugus Union School District – not necessarily others who may have their information third hand,” Umeck said.  “We will absolutely be delighted to explain to you our rationale and to point you to where our information is.  Our district office is open.”

Meanwhile, despite the denial, Shapiro is not the kind of person to be deterred.  After all, Shapiro notes, he’s a mission-driven person at his core.

“When I really believe in something… it matters to me,” Shapiro says.  Then, referring to the Einstein Academy as a whole, he adds, “This is something I very much believe in.”

For more information on the AEALAS Foundation or the Albert Einstein Academy, please visit www.aealasfoundation.org.  For more information on the Saugus Union School District and to read the findings regarding the AEALAS elementary charter petition, please visit www.saugususd.org.  

Canyon Country Merchants Association

| Gazette, News | April 20, 2013

A Typical Meeting

By Andrew Thompson

Diane Southwell has been involved with Canyon Country for more than half a century.

“In the early 1960s…the Mint Canyon Chamber of Commerce telephone rang in [our] home,” she says.  “That tells you how small of a community we were; we didn’t have…an answering service, or anything.”

In those early days, Southwell says, Canyon Country was a special place. It was an area full of future promise – it formed the foundation of what would eventually become Santa Clarita – and yet, it also managed to stay true to its pioneer roots.

“We had frontier days,” Southwell says, recalling the time when many Canyon Country residents owned horses and the community featured themed events. “It was wonderful family entertainment…now we don’t have room for things like that, but we still have the same family…feelings, here.”

Canyon Country Merchants Association members: L-R Kim Kurowski, Diane Southwell, Alan Ferdman, RJ Kelly, George Thomas, Doug Sutton, Patty Kelly

Canyon Country may have maintained its family feel, but the fact is that the landscape of the Valley has drastically changed. Canyon Country has joined with several other communities to become the single, incorporated City of Santa Clarita. The focus of developers has largely shifted to the west side, with newer residences and vast commercial centers having sprung up in areas like Valencia. The Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce has merged to become part of the broader Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce and, ultimately, some residents have been forced to face a hard truth: many of their fellow Santa Clarita residents believe that, while other parts of the Valley are now flourishing, Canyon Country had been left in their dust.

“We kind of got lazy about it, I guess,” Southwell admits, referring to the growth of Canyon Country, relative to that on the Valley’s west side.

But many still feel like the current perception of Canyon Country (lovingly referred to as the “stepchild” of the Valley by some who live there) is somewhat unfair.Southwell contends, Canyon Country has much to offer.

“Canyon Country is a wonderful place,” says Southwell, “and we need to be doing more about promoting all our businesses and all our events, and our activities, and creating more activities.”

A little more than a year ago, Canyon Country residents and business owners George Thomas and R.J. Kelly were thinking much the same.

Thomas, the owner of a restaurant called Route 66 Classic Grill that regularly holds bike nights, classic car shows, and other community events, had decided to investigate what needed to be done to put more of an emphasis on events in Canyon Country. When he spoke with a City official, the advice he received was clear: Thomas would need to get people organized if he wanted a better chance of winning the City’s ear.

Meanwhile, R.J. Kelly of Int’l Tax Network – Thomas’s friend and occasional business associate – was also becoming aware of the importance of organizing to promote the interests of some of his fellow merchants.

“We felt that…there wasn’t a lot of communication between the City, the Chamber, and other organizations regarding Canyon Country, and Canyon Country is one of the largest suburbs of the city,” Kelly says. “And…we kind of felt like we were getting slighted over on this side of town, and we wanted more involvement.”

One day, while discussing their shared interest in helping the Canyon Country business climate and community as a whole, the two men decided that it was time for something to be done.

“[We] sat down one day and put our heads together and said, ‘Yeah, we – we need to move on this,’” Kelly recalls. “We agreed that we just need to band together as business owners, or managers, and…try to get some support from the City and organize amongst ourselves to improve the business climate in Canyon Country.”

They decided to act. The result was the formation of the group that would come to be known as the Canyon Country Merchants Association.

“We just kind of put out the word, and ended up with about 10 merchants that all got together,” Kelly says.

One of the merchants they first approached with their idea was Doug Sutton, a 15-year resident who owns Valley Publications, another Canyon Country business.

“I think, for me, it rang a bell,” Sutton says, recounting the surprise he experienced when he first moved to the area and discovered both the negative perception of Canyon Country and the lack of travel to the area by many other Santa Clarita residents.

Sutton says he has friends from Valencia who claim they can’t even remember the last time they traveled to the eastern part of the Valley. “They think it’s been two or three years since they’ve been to Canyon Country,” he says.

That’s a trend, some members of the Merchants Association believe, which must be changed. “We wanna get some folks to come over here…” Sutton says. “And we can show – ‘Hey,’ you know, ‘we’re a nice community, we’re a family community, we’ve got lots of good businesses – come check us out once in a while.”

Since coming on board with the Association, Sutton has gone on to become its Chairman. As a board member of the Chamber of Commerce, Sutton also serves as one of the representatives of the Chamber, under whose umbrella the Canyon Country Merchants Association operates.

But the Merchants Association’s meetings include several other prominent Canyon Country figures as well. Alan Ferdman, another longtime resident who also serves as the chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee and has recently announced that he will be running for the City Council, is one of the meetings’ regulars.

“It really is true…the Valley is really not two sides of the Valley, it’s really one Valley,” Ferdman says. “It’s a really good thing to see if we can get synergy across the Valley in…making everything work,” he adds. “And that’s another goal of the Merchants Association.”

Kimberly Kurowski, a Saugus resident, has found a benefit to working with the Association to forward a cause of her own. “I believe in getting everybody to shop local,” she explains, “and Canyon Country is part of our ‘local,’ so I want to do what I can to help.”

Lupe Hafner of Doctors Express, Santa Clarita – a medical clinic also located on Soledad that opened only eight months ago – has attended just three meetings, but says she certainly likes what she’s seen so far. “I think you need to go to these meetings so that you can get to meet people and see – you know, how you can work together, and help each other,” Hafner says, noting that she has made a variety of helpful connections by doing so herself.

There are other regular Association attendees – including that original Mint Canyon Chamber of Commerce associate and 54-year resident Diane Southwell. But, perhaps just as noteworthy as the merchants and other members, have been some of the Merchant Association’s recent guests. Organizing has, in fact, gotten the City’s ear. Recently, representatives of the government of Santa Clarita have attended Merchants Association meetings regularly to coordinate with the committee, and have expressed their desire to work with the Association in the creation, execution, and publicizing of Canyon Country events.

Other attendees have included representatives of institutions such as College of the Canyons, as well as the Sheriff’s and Fire Departments. Ed Bernstein, a director with the Old Town Newhall Association and the owner of the membership discount card 25Score, has also attended and expressed his interest in working with the Association to promote local merchants. And one of the most important regulars is another representative of the very organization under which the Association currently works: Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Terri Crain.

“Terri Crain has really been a valuable asset,” Sutton says. “She doesn’t live in this part of town, but she recognized the need for what we’re trying to accomplish, and she bought into it, and she’s really been a big help.”

(Taste of Canyon Country, one of the important upcoming events Association members are organizing, is actually one of the official events of the Chamber of Commerce.)

Yet, for all the commitment of City officials, organization presidents, and more, most of the Association agrees that an absolutely essential key to the future of the Association will be the growth of the membership itself.

“All are welcome,” Sutton says. “We would love to have anybody – even if you’re not a business.”

Sutton points to Southwell as someone who is not a merchant, but still is committed to helping the Association work toward its goals. And one needs not even be from Canyon Country to attend.

“Anyone…even outside of Canyon Country who is interested in helping us promote Canyon Country is welcome to be on the committee,” Kurowski states.

“We welcome the merchants to give us a phone call,” Kelly says, “…to come and spend an hour with us, and bring some problems to solve, and bring some questions to ask, and possibly bring some solutions.”

The Canyon Country Merchants Association meets at 10:00 a.m. on the second Thursday of every month at the Sulphur Springs School District Office, located at 27000 Weyerhauser Way, off Via Princessa. For more information, contact Doug Sutton at doug@scfree.net or the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce at 661-702-6977 or info@scvchamber.com.

Veterinarian’s Corner – Snake Season

| Gazette, News | April 18, 2013

It’s that time of year again! The sun is shining, temperatures are heating up, and critters of all kinds are awakening to the beautiful days of spring. What better way to welcome spring than to take Fluffy for a nice hike along one of Santa Clarita’s many gorgeous trails?

However, before packing your sunscreen, bottled water for you AND your four-legged companion, and your cell phone, you might want to make a detour by our hospital. The reason is that, along with the natural beauty that surrounds us everywhere in Santa Clarita, the variety of native wildlife we share our community with includes an often unpleasant neighbor: the rattlesnake.

A native species in our community, rattlesnakes can be found year-round, though spring and summer tend to be the peak seasons. Rattlesnakes are the only venomous snakes in California. There are eight species of rattlesnakes, and three of these are native to California. The Western Diamondback is the most commonly involved in bites and, unfortunately, the most poisonous on a venom-by-pound basis. The Mojave Green Rattlesnake’s venom is by far the most dangerous, as it is not only cytotoxic, but neurotoxic, causing respiratory muscle paralysis, in addition to the more common circulatory, clotting, and blood abnormalities. The only rattlesnake reported to inhabit the Santa Clarita Valley is the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, though the Mojave Green Rattlesnake has been, in recent years, suspected of being involved in fatal bites to pets, and at least one person in our community.

Although dogs are, by far, the domestic species most commonly involved in rattlesnake bites, cats can also be bitten by these critters. In my experience, about 1/3 of the cases I have treated were bitten while on hikes, and 2/3 of the cases were bitten in their own yards or local parks.

When a dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, the bite may or may not be initially obvious. If you suspect your pet may have been bitten, particularly if you actually see the rattlesnake, the best course of action is to bring them immediately to the vet. Dismissing the possibility of a bite because you can’t see bite marks may cost your pet precious time, and will be more expensive for you, as animals treated in the later stages of rattlesnake envenomation often require much more intensive care, and have a much worse prognosis.

It is impossible to initially determine whether a bite is “dry,” meaning that no poison has been delivered by the snake. Approximately 20 percent of all bites are “dry,” according to the literature. In my personal experience, only one dog out of the couple of hundred I have treated did not develop the anticipated symptoms, and was presumed to have suffered a “dry bite.”

There are varying opinions as to whether smaller, younger snakes, deliver more poison than bigger snakes, and whether bites to the limbs carry a better prognosis than bites to the body or the head. We do know that the smaller your pet, the more poison on a per pound basis he is likely to have received, and the more guarded their prognosis becomes. This also means that, in general, smaller dogs may require more antivenin than a larger dog.

The treatment of rattlesnake envenomation is directed at trying to stabilize the pet’s cardiovascular parameters (circulatory shock is the first life-threatening symptom of rattlesnake envenomation), addressing the pain associated with the bite, neutralizing the poison with antivenin, and treating clotting and blood abnormalities with plasma, and blood transfusions, if needed. Some veterinarians also treat for the possibility of infection with antibiotics.

The use of steroids to treat rattlesnake envenomation and its effects is highly discouraged by the majority of the experts.

Rattlesnake bites are often medically, and especially financially, difficult to treat. The expense associated with the antivenin ($600+ per vial), the hospitalization, and tests performed to monitor the progression of the envenomation, along with the treatment for the secondary complications mentioned above, can easily run into the thousands of dollars.

There is a rattlesnake vaccine available for dogs and, although the efficacy of the vaccine has not been fully evaluated by independent research, it is a very safe vaccine. It is given as a series of  2-3 boosters according to weight, and at Advanced Care Animal Hospital we recommend boosting every six months for high risk dogs. The purpose of the vaccine is to buy time to get your pet to the hospital, and to hopefully reduce the amount of antivenin needed, and thereby the cost, to neutralize the poison. The vaccine is NOT, however, a substitute for prompt veterinary care should Fido get bitten.

Snakebite kits, homeopathic cures, and other myriad “alternative treatments” for rattlesnake envenomation marketed through some disreputable outlets are, at best, useless and, at worst, could significantly adversely affect the outcome of the snake-bitten dog.

Dr. Amanda Gillen
Advanced Care Animal Hospital
19406 Soledad Canyon Rd
Canyon Country        (661) 263-4334

Conference Center Presentation Sparks Debate

| Gazette, News | April 18, 2013

By Andrew Thompson

Council members at recent meeting

A presentation on the proposed Santa Clarita Conference Center ignited a lively discussion at last Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, with tensions among some of the councilmembers apparently coming to a head.

The presentation, made by a representative of a firm called Kosmont Companies, related a variety of findings regarding the location, cost, and other details of the conference center’s proposed development. The speaker estimated that the facility would cost approximately $40-$65 million to build, plus additional operating costs, all of which could vary, depending upon a multitude of factors, such as the center’s size and what measures would be taken to offset those expenses.  Councilman TimBen Boydston questioned the speaker, suggesting that the City would never be able to recoup the costs from an increase in sales tax revenue alone.

“We need to look out for the taxpayers in Santa Clarita by killing this completely, well, and 100 percent,” Boydston said,  calling the conference center a “loss leader” and “corporate welfare” – terms that seemed to touch a nerve with some in the Council Chambers.

“I don’t see it that way – it’s an investment in our city,” said Chamber of Commerce Chairman Fred Arnold, addressing the Council. Arnold said that the Chamber supports continued investigation into the opportunity.

“We’re not looking for corporate welfare,” Arnold added. “We’re looking for opportunities to bring our guests into town…so they can see our great city, so when we build [up] Newhall Ranch and Vista Canyon and all of the other developments, we become a world-class city.”

Speaker addressing the meeting and council

Another speaker at the meeting expressed concern over the review’s survey methodology, the discussion of locations for the center, and the cost to taxpayers. A third, who said he had worked in the hotel industry in the local area, said he supports the idea of the center because he has seen hotel business turned away. He also urged the Council to continue pursuing a public-private partnership.

James S. Backer, a Chamber of Commerce Board member and the head of JSB Development (the company behind the design of Vista Canyon), said in a separate interview that he agrees the City has been doing a good job of handling the issue so far, but also noted that he believes the City needs to be “prudent” as they consider how to proceed.

“[The center] really needs to be grounded in the market, and in our ability as a community to support it,” Backer said. He also noted that, while he approves of the idea of a public-private partnership, he’s also aware it’s unlikely any private company would be willing to collaborate on a project predicted to lose funds. He said he wants the City to be sure that Santa Clarita is economically ready for the center before it makes any final decisions.

At the Council meeting, most of the members seemed to concur that no final decision needed to be made.

“I don’t think we’re – by receiving this report – we’re not obligating ourselves to anything except for information,” Councilwoman McLean noted.

But Councilman Boydston pressed the issue, igniting a debate.  In one instance, he tried to begin a point by asking if Stockton had a conference center.

“Who the hell wants to go to Stockton?” Councilman Ferry interjected, annoyed by the apparent comparison. Councilman Boydston clarified, saying that he didn’t believe Santa Clarita taxpayers or citizens want Santa Clarita to emulate other cities in its economic decisions.

“But saying, ‘Kill this today?’  That is irresponsible,” Ferry argued. “I mean, I get you don’t want any growth, and you want us all to drive a horse and buggy…I get it – I appreciate [it], you’re very consistent,” he said.

At one point, Ferry sought to end the debate by calling the question. Some confusion followed as to whether there could be any further discussion, with Boydston objecting to having been cut off. Kellar allowed Boydston to continue, but urged him to make his point so that the Council could vote.

“I don’t think we want to emulate other cities,” Boydston said. “And I think this is the wrong proposal.”  Boydston called the project a drain on taxpayers, stating, “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“There is no project, for heaven’s sakes!” Councilwoman McLean countered, pointing out that the Kosmont presentation was merely a report.  “You can’t just ‘kill’ something like that,” she said.

The Council moved to a vote on whether to continue the search for a public-private partnership opportunity for the conference center’s potential development. The vote passed four to one, with only Councilman Boydston opposed.

The next Santa Clarita City Council Meeting is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, April 23 at 6:00p.m. The Council meets in the Council Chambers on the first floor of City Hall, located at 23920 Valencia Blvd., in Santa Clarita, CA.

Arts Watch

| Gazette, News | April 17, 2013

Uncommon and Amazing Techniques

Marjorie Sarnat will demonstrate mixed media art under the title of Uncommon and Amazing Techniques Workshop at the June 17 meeting of the Santa Clarita Artists’ Association (SCAA). This event is free and open to the public. SCAA meets at 6:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 23630 Valencia Boulevard.

Author-artist Sarnat enjoys success as a fine artist and professional designer. In the design field, her experience includes designing collectibles, children’s books, paper dolls and more. Her award-winning “Project Runway® Designer Dolls,” a creative craft for kids, was licensed to a major manufacturer. In addition, she’s an experienced textile artist, designing fashion prints for fabrics.

As a fine artist, Sarnat actively exhibits in galleries and juried shows, winning numerous awards for her work. She’s a member of Women Painters West, Collage Artists of America, and other local art groups. She’s an alumna of The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and teaching credentials from Eastern Michigan University.

She studied under acclaimed artist Joe Abbrescia and was an instructor in his art school near Chicago. She also served as the editor-in-chief of Arts & Activities Magazine. Today, Sarnat offers mixed media workshops based on techniques in her Art Studio Secrets series of books. View her art on http://www.sarnatart.com/.

There is expected to be standing room only by 6:30. Visit www.SantaClaritaArtists.org for more information.

COC Canyon Country Campus to Host Spring Star Party

| Gazette, News | April 16, 2013

How big are the stars? What do they look like? Many astronomers throughout history have sought the answers to these questions by looking through a telescope. But even with the aid of telescopes, these far away pinpricks of light remain mysterious.

The ever-expanding universe and its stars — the double star Regulus in particular — will be brought into focus at the College of the Canyons Canyon Country campus’ spring semester Star Party in May.

The spring Star Party will take place from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Friday, May 3, in the Canyon Country campus’ Carl A. Rasmussen Amphitheater. Admission is free of charge and open to the public.

At the event, guest speaker Dr. Gerard van Belle, currently an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory, will share his findings and research on optical interferometry.

A novel approach to star gazing, optical interferometry involves the simultaneous use of small telescopes to create a single large telescope, which provides astronomers with high-resolution images of stars.

“We are very excited to hear Dr. van Belle’s findings on stellar astronomy and direct imaging,” said Ryan Theule, dean of the Canyon Country campus. “This will be a great chance to learn about the universe and a rare opportunity to do so from an expert such as Dr. van Belle.”

While an instrument architect for the Keck Interferometer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. van Belle made the first-ever direct measure of non-spherical stellar shapes, which won him the first annual JPL Award for Outstanding Research in 2001.

After van Belle’s presentation on direct imaging of the stars, he will lead a Q&A session with the audience.
Members of the college’s Physics/Astronomy Club, The Local Group Astronomy Club of Santa Clarita and the Burbank Astronomy Group will also set up telescopes aimed at any celestial bodies that are visible, which attendees can view.

In relation to Dr. van Belle’s presentation, COC astronomy professor Teresa Ciardi will lead a demonstration with the aid of star models, which children in the audience can take home.

“I will also be setting up two hands-on science tables where K-12 students and their families can play and discover some physical properties that we utilize in astronomy,” said Ciardi.

Though some seating will be provided, Star Party attendees are encouraged to get to campus early with blankets, lawn chairs and picnic baskets, to enjoy a festive outdoor atmosphere as the sun begins to set and the night sky emerges.

Food and beverages will also be available for purchase at the event through the Canyons Café on the Canyon Country campus. A portion of the concession sales from the Star Party are being donated to the Dr. Ram Manvi Memorial Scholarship to benefit students who are majoring in the fields of mathematics, science or engineering technology.

Dr. Manvi was the former Dean of Math, Science and Engineering at College of the Canyons and was instrumental in launching the campus’ initial Star Party event in 2009.

On May 3, the COC Canyon Country campus annual spring Star Party will take focus on the ever-expanding universe and its stars by utilizing state-of-the-art optical interferometry technology to create high-resolution images for all to view. Attendees are encouraged to visit the campus and enjoy a festive outdoor atmosphere as the sun begins to set and the night sky emerges.

For more information about the College of the Canyons spring 2013 Star Party, please call the Canyon Country campus at (661) 362-3801.

Santa Clarita Valley Chamber to Hold Mixer in Canyon Country

| Gazette, News | April 15, 2013

The Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a business mixer at the College of the Canyons Canyon Country Campus (CCC) on Wednesday, May 15.

Attendees will have the opportunity to network and learn about various businesses and services offered throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

“It is very exciting to hold the SCV Chamber Mixer once again at the Canyon Country Campus,” said Ryan Theule, dean of the Canyon Country campus. “This is a great opportunity to showcase the facility and the fantastic student programs we have to offer to the community.”

The Chamber previously held a mixer in 2008 at CCC, a few months after the campus first opened.

Aside from learning about the campus’ highlights and achievements during the past five years, attendees will also have the chance to learn more about the college’s Career Technical Education (CTE) program, which provides students with academically rigorous and relevant education and content in high-wage, high employment potential industry sectors, as identified by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Intended as a “taste of Canyon Country,” this year’s mixer will feature food samples from approximately 15 local restaurants for attendees to enjoy. During the event, students from the college’s Fine Arts division will provide musical entertainment. Student representatives from the college’s Culinary Arts program will also be on-hand to highlight the exciting developments of the successful program.

The mixer will be held from 5:30 to 7: 30 p.m. at the Applied Technology Education Center (ATEC), Quad 7.

Non-SCV Chamber members who wish to attend the mixer can purchase tickets at the door for $20. The cost for SCV Chamber members is $15.

For more information about the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, visit www.scvchamber.com. To RSVP, call (661) 362-3802.

Women in the Workplace Man on the Street interviews

| News | April 12, 2013

By Jonanthony Etrio

Santa Clarita Gazette and Free Classifieds took a “man on the street” type of poll last week. Random residents were asked to respond to the recent release of a book by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, called “Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” She writes that women make up only 14 percent of executive officers, 18 percent of elected congressional officials and 22 of 197 heads of state. Sandberg is challenging the idea that women have made true progress in corporate America. She urges women to “lean in” as a method of asserting themselves at work and at home.

Passersby were asked at the Westfield Town Center Mall in Valencia whether or not they agreed with her theory and why. People’s responses were categorized into two groups, older women/men and younger women/men (under 30).

Among the older women, 85 percent agree with the statement, stating women are not making much progress due to the lack of networking and also not being assertive, but rather complacent.

However, with the older males, the results were more divided — about 50 percent on each side of the issue. Those who agreed cited the same concerns over networking and not being assertive in the workplace, kind of taking a back seat. The 50 percent of males in the older age group who disagreed stated that women have made more progress in the last couple of decades than in the previous century. The same argument was true for the 15 percent of older women who disagreed with the statement.

With regard to the groups of younger men and women, the results were much more divided. A total of 85 percent of younger women interviewed disagree with the statement made by Sandberg, citing the argument that there has been tremendous progress made by women in the last couple of decades. The 15 percent who agreed stated that women need to be more aggressive in both the workplace and at home. They need to lean in. They also need to network like men do.

The younger men had some similar results, as 85 percent of them also disagree with the theory touted by Sandberg. They state that women have made terrific strides in the past couple decades. They are doing everything that men are doing, including boxing and football. The 15 percent of younger men who do agree with the book’s message state that women need to be more assertive and each woman should seek to become more of a “go-getter.”

Check the Gazette in the future for another Man on the Street report.

Local Man’s Journey from Iran

| Gazette, News | April 12, 2013

By Andrew Thompson

Persia Restaurant







When Homayoun Daryani took over ownership of Santa Clarita’s Persia Restaurant, he wanted to make the cuisine as authentically Persian as possible. At the time, less than one percent of his customers were actually Persian, so Daryani and his wife worked to overhaul the restaurant’s menu to correct the nuances of some dishes that their Persian customers knew were just not right.

“After our change, now we [get] all the Persian customers,” Daryani says. “Because they come, they know the food, they are comfortable… they are happy with it.”

Daryani was able to fine-tune his restaurant’s menu, in part, because the very cuisine he now provides is the same cuisine with which he grew up.  Daryani, after all, was born and raised in Iran.

For the most part, Daryani looks back on his experiences in his home county with nostalgia.

“Always, when you look back to everything, everything looks like a…good experience,” Daryani says of his childhood.  “Everything looks like fun.”

But Daryani’s youth was far from idyllic. In 1979, while Daryani was in his early teenage years, revolution hit Iran.  Shortly after, when Iran and Iraq became embroiled in an eight-year war, Daryani mostly managed to avoid the conflict because he attended college.  However, all that changed just before his final semester, when the government made an emergency decision: anyone who wanted to graduate from university would have to serve.
“When they called me back…at the beginning, of course, you are scared, you don’t know what to do,” Daryani says. “And, emotionally, you are attached to your family, to everybody.”

Daryani, photo by Robyn Preston Photography

But Daryani says his fears melted away when he actually arrived at his post.

“That was a complete different feeling,” he explains. “Because then they teach you that you are a savior of your country. You are fighting for your country, for your people, for your beliefs.”

Because of his engineering background, Daryani was sent to work on the naval craft that would ultimately patrol the rivers near the border. He says he derived particular enthusiasm from the fact that he had a higher rank (as a former university student), and was therefore able to lead and guide the other soldiers who were entrusted to his care.

But not all of Daryani’s memories were so pleasant.  There were also times when he was forced to see firsthand the brutal effects of the war.

“We would see the missiles coming, and [they] would destroy a whole block,” Daryani recalls. He adds that bombs sometimes dropped within five hundred feet.

“We used to run there and see what can we do [to] help – because the emergency system is not that great – so people would go and find other people, bringing them out of the…[rubble] and everything.”

Fortunately, peace was declared seven months after Daryani was called. Daryani was able to finish his degree, then complete the remainder of his military service working in factories.

When Daryani first attempted to acquire a visa to come to the United States, his application was denied, so he returned to his life in Iran. He worked, he married, he even had children; but it was while raising his first child, a daughter, that Daryani decided that it was time to try again to head to the United States – this time for good.

The move actually involved several trips and took a few years, but eventually, the entire family ended up in America. In 2003, they settled in Santa Clarita and purchased a Middle Eastern market. Then, in 2006, they bought Persia Restaurant. The couple has owned the restaurant together ever since.

Like many business owners, the Daryanis were hit hard by the recession. Their market closed after more than 10 years, and even their restaurant has struggled, at times. The difficulties can be particularly hard, Daryani says, when he thinks back to the quality of life he once enjoyed with his family back in Iran.

“We had a very nice and relaxing life. But…we basically left that,” he says. “I came almost with nothing to this country…hoping for the best,” he adds.

Still, Daryani doesn’t regret his decision.

“When I look back…I miss those [days] back in Iran,” Daryani says. “But I am not sorry for my move. Because now, the opportunities that…[are] upon us…in front of my kids, are…wide open.  And also, for ourselves…starting from zero, to here – I think this is a big grow. And I would never be able to do that in Iran.”

Even amid the hard times, however, Daryani and his family have managed not only to keep their restaurant in business; they have actually grown it through their determination.

“I think the only thing that made us to stay in business…was our hard work, being behind it day and night, working it as a family business,” Daryani says.

Daryani gives particular credit to his wife, who he says has been a true partner. He also says that, in addition to being a family-run business, Persia Restaurant has many employees who he considers to be family, as some of them have worked at the restaurant for several years.

“They have been very patient with me,” he jokes.

But Daryani’s commitment to his customers and to his quality are perhaps equally responsible for his restaurant’s success.

Daryani points out that, even as the prices of many ingredients have doubled, he has managed to keep his food prices relatively consistent.  Daryani also takes care to ensure the quality of those ingredients, and regularly uses expensive items like saffron, the most expensive spice in the world.

Darnyani also touts the flavor and health benefits of his restaurant’s cuisine. His rice, he says, is prepared in a special two-step process that makes it extra-fluffy and removes starch. Also, his restaurant almost never uses frying products; he only uses healthy oils like olive oil, and his dishes are often high in protein (his boneless chicken tenders and lamb dishes are particular specialties).

Persia Restaurant hosts events, including live music every other Friday, a belly-dancing show on Saturdays, and a buffet every Monday through Saturday from 11:30 to 2:00 p.m. But Daryani says that Persia Restaurant is perhaps most distinguished by an additional service that he literally goes the extra mile to provide. Persia Restaurant caters, and Daryani says he has made deliveries to areas as far as Bakersfield, Santa Barbara, and Marina Del Rey. Meanwhile, he has earned a reputation for being able to serve up to 500 people with food that is of the same quality as that which customers would receive in his restaurant.

Kabob Trays

Daryani recognizes the challenge of gaining new customers in a country in which some styles of cuisine reign supreme and many people seem wary to try new things. Nevertheless, he’s sure that no one who tries his dishes for the first time will leave disappointed.

“That’s impossible, [for] someone to not like our food,” he says.

Still, Daryani admits that customers will have to see for themselves what it is that he’s offering.

“People have to come and try it,” he says.  “Until then, they don’t know…what they’re missing.”

Persia Restaurant is located at 27600 Bouquet Canyon Road, Suite 100, in Santa Clarita. The restaurant can be found across from Haskell Canyon Road and the Albertsons shopping center.  For more information, visit www.persia-restaurant.com or call the restaurant at 661-513-0077.

Triumph Foundation’s 2nd Annual Wheelchair Sports Day

| Gazette, News | April 11, 2013

Saturday April 20, 2013 from 9am-5pm.

Featuring wheelchair hockey, basketball, quad rugby, handcycling, racquetball, and more.


Santa Clarita Sports Complex Gymnasium

20870 Centre Pointe Parkway

Canyon Country, CA 91350.

Come participate in this FREE event.  We will have many extra sports wheelchairs and equipment to use, coaches and clinic instruction to teach you how to play the games, and lunch for all athletes.

OPEN TO ALL!  No matter who you are or what your ability, everyone can get in a wheelchair to participate in this fun-filled day bringing awareness, inclusion, and excitement to the community.

Check out our Facebook Event page here:  http://www.facebook.com/events/527327553977584

Real Estate Q & A

| Gazette, News | April 6, 2013

Getting Your Offer Accepted In Today’s Market
Dear Coach, 
I have written multiple offers on properties and I cannot seem to get an offer accepted. Is my agent the problem?
Dear Consumer,
It depends. In today’s market, where inventory is so low, it is challenging, at best, to get an offer accepted. There are anywhere between 10-27 offers being submitted, on many properties, the first day they are listed.  With only one house to sell, one family will get a home and the other 9-26 will keep looking. The most I’ve heard so far is about someone who wrote 27 offers before making a purchase. It is probably not the agent’s fault. However, there are things the agent can do to ensure a solid offer is written, as well as things you, as a buyer, can do to make sure you offer the strongest terms possible. 
First of all, don’t nickel and dime the seller to death. Pay for your own termite inspection.  It’s less than $100. You can also pay for your own home warranty, which will cost $350-$450, depending on the size of the property.  With the current competition, a “low ball” offer will not accomplish your goal. Of course, if the property is listed too high, your agent should advise you accordingly. In addition, make sure you have chosen an agent who is well connected in the real estate community. Sometimes it’s a matter of working with a listing agent who will give you first rights on a property before it is marketed to the public. A full-time professional is important in this market and he/she should be willing to write letters to homeowners in the areas of your search asking if they have considered selling, and then follow up with a knock on the door.  
Becky Sill is a local real estate coach. You can reach her at (661) 373-3875

New Fire Chief for Santa Clarita

| Gazette, News | April 5, 2013

Assistant Fire Chief Dean G. McGuire has served in the Los Angeles County Fire Department for 33 years. Chief McGuire was born in Los Angeles, and attended Inglewood High School and El Camino College, where he majored in accounting and minored in physical education before deciding to become a firefighter.

After working as a paramedic for 10 years, Chief McGuire served as Captain of several fire stations in the Santa Clarita Valley, where he became well acquainted with the natural fire hazards in the community.

Chief McGuire was promoted to Battalion Chief in 2006, and worked for three years serving the communities of East L.A., as well as two years as the Chief of Homeland Security. Before his promotion to assistant chief, McGuire again served the Santa Clarita Valley as a Battalion Chief in the Battalion 22 office in Canyon Country.

The Assistant Chief has responded to numerous fires and emergency incidents impacting the Santa Clarita Valley and beyond, including the Station Fire, the Buckweed Fire, the Simi Fire, the Calabasas and Marple Fires, the Cooper Fire and many others. McGuire has served as a Strike Team leader, responsible for 140 firefighters protecting and saving homes in many of the incidents mentioned.

Chief McGuire elected to continue his career as the assistant chief in the Santa Clarita Valley over other offers to serve closer to home. “I have a great regard for this community. I am well acquainted with the vulnerabilities our residents face in the fire prone areas, and it is a pleasure to work with the highly skilled firefighters who live and work in this valley.”

Six Things You Should Know When Looking for a Web Designer

| Gazette, News | March 29, 2013

By Warren Schulz

Most business people know they need a website, but have no clue how to go about putting one together. How do they even find a web designer? Are web designers the same as graphic artists? Do they need to hire a separate person for that? Do web designers help with writing the web site? So many questions; where do you go to find the answers?
Here’s a quick guide to finding a qualified web designer to create your site:
Have an idea of what you need on your website. How will you use your website? Many people use theirs as the main link to their company. Others use their site as a complement: You’ve met me, now check out my site. How many pages do you want on your site? What will each page say? Do you have any ideas about how you want each page to look?
Freelancer or large firm? Do you want to work with a freelance developer or a large firm? There are positives and negatives to each. A larger firm has employees with varied skills and a large body of work; however, they often charge more and tend to be more bureaucratic. A smaller firm, or a single freelancer, usually offers lower prices and better one-on-one communication, but their body of work is generally smaller, and if they have a large backlog of orders, your project will have to wait.
Referrals. If someone you know recommends a web developer, check it out. Find out what it was that they liked about the web designer and see if that developer meets your needs. Don’t let the fact that the developer isn’t local be a stumbling block. The Internet and telephone are wonderful inventions.
Check out the developer’s site.
Its look. Is it attractive? Easy to navigate? Organized logically? Are there any broken links (that don’t work)? How quickly does the site load? Look at the portfolio on the site. Do you like what you see? Does he or she only design websites or can they do software development and database design? The best developers know how to create a site, maintain it, market it and promote it. Does this developer do it all?
Testimonials. What do the customer testimonials say? If person’s full name or company name is included, contact them and ask what type of experience they have had with the developer.
Communication. Don’t just rely on email to contact the web developer. Speak to them directly to gauge their personality and see if they are willing to bounce ideas between the two of you. Ask as many questions as possible and see if you like the answers. For example, who will own the website? (Hint: it should be you — not the web developer or a third party). Who will maintain it, and at what cost?
Find the best price. Many web developers don’t post their prices online, but that shouldn’t stop you. Contact them directly. Give them a few parameters or specifications, so they can provide an accurate estimate, which you then can either accept, refuse or counter offer. The developer also has the option to reject your counter offer. You’ll also need to know when the project costs are due, if a percentage of the payment is due up front, and your payment options.
Read the fine print. Insist on a contract; it protects you and the developer. Make certain the contract includes:
Deadline guarantees
Developer’s availability
How much more you’ll pay for changes to the project
If the developer will take care of any programming bugs you may find once the work is done
Again, that you are named as the website owner
The computer language it is to be written in (for example )
All legal and compliance issues if you are a part of a regulated industry.
Once you’ve chosen the web developer you are going to use, make sure you keep the lines of communication open. Remember, you are the one who is going to have to live with the website, so make certain it’s what you want and represents your business the way you’ve always envisioned it would.
For more information on how to find the right web developer contact Warren Schultz at warren@tapsolutions.net or call him at 818-281-7628.

G.I.’d Go (for Some Frozen Yogurt…): Catching a Local Business Owner on the Silver Screen

| Gazette, News | March 28, 2013

By Andrew Thompson
Santa Clarita residents who see G.I. Joe: Retaliation this weekend may be in for a surprise if they happen to venture into Valencia’s Planet Yogurt. After all, they just might find one of the characters from the film looking back at them from across the counter.

That’s because the movie’s “Israeli President” is actually Brooklyn-born actor Robert Catrini, who owns the Valencia frozen yogurt store.

G.I. Joe was “a terrific shoot,” Catrini says, and he has plenty to compare it to: Catrini has acted in dozens of films, and recently wrapped up his 50th guest-star role on network television. He also regularly does voiceover work, and even boasts experience on the stage.

This wouldn’t be the first time that one of Catrini’s roles has led to public recognition. He recalls one experience in which a grocery store cashier caused a scene while scolding him for throwing Buffy (of vampire-slaying fame) out of his classroom in a recent episode of the famous T.V. show. Catrini says he explained to her that it was only television, and that he had merely done what the script had called for; the woman couldn’t be consoled. (Hopefully, those who recognize him in his store in the coming weeks won’t be quite so committed to suspending their disbelief.)

Despite his numerous successes, however, Catrini remains humble. He constantly points to others as contributors to his good fortune, and seems to keep his career in perspective with no trouble at all.

“I’m a kid from Brooklyn who catches a break every now and then,” he says. “And people in Hollywood have been very

Catrini with Actress Paula Malcomson at the Bow Wow Event in Beverly Hills

nice to me.”

That kindness, coupled with Catrini’s dedication to his craft, have undoubtedly led him to his unusually high frequency of work today. Yet, Catrini never had the advantage of an early start. Growing up, in fact, Catrini kept his interest in acting all to himself.

“It was something I wanted to do all my life…but I never said anything to anyone,” he recalls.

It wasn’t until one night at the movies in 1993, when he recognized the name of a stand-up comic from New York at the beginning of a film, that his lifelong interest received that final, necessary push.

“Heck, if [he] can do this, I can,” he remembers thinking to himself. When he left the theater, he decided to see if his wife agreed.

“I asked her – I said, ‘What would you say…if I decided to become an actor?’” Catrini says. “And she didn’t even bat an eyelash; she said, ‘I think you’d be great!’”

Knowing that he had his wife’s support, Catrini began to take the necessary steps to launch his acting career. First, he found a drama coach, whom he still considers his mentor today, and whose support in those early days had a great influence on him.

“She essentially told me, ‘If you give this up, you’re a fool,’” Catrini recalls.

So he didn’t.

After years of study, Catrini began to audition regularly. He booked his first stage part before he even had a headshot or resume, and from there he proceeded to land 13 other leading theater roles in a row. Commercials and extra work followed, as Catrini spent time gaining on-set experience while paying his dues.

At last, however, Catrini found himself so focused on his acting career that he and his wife decided to take a drastic step: they sold their successful New York deli so that he could focus on getting his SAG card. Once he had achieved that (in a relatively quick nine months), all Catrini had left to do was to make it onto some of New York’s biggest shows. After he won roles on both Cosby and Law and Order in the same week, Catrini knew that it was time to face the inevitable: it was time to head for L.A.

In California the acting successes continued, as Catrini maintained his steady level of work. But it wasn’t long before Catrini and his wife began to feel that familiar entrepreneurial itch.

“We wanted to do something and create something,” Catrini says. “We just didn’t really feel like doing another New York deli, like we had back east.”

One day, while enjoying frozen yogurt at a store that had a line out the door, Catrini had an important realization: the business was not only immensely popular, but also easily run by a small crew. Intrigued by the possibility of being able to manage a new business while still having the flexibility to go on auditions and take acting jobs, he decided to do some research into the concept himself. After more than a year of consideration, it was decided: Catrini and his wife were going to open their own frozen yogurt store.

But Catrini didn’t want to be “just another yogurt shop” in the already populated market. Instead, he sought to elevate the concept, taking every element of his business to a higher level of health, taste, and comfort.

As a result, Planet Yogurt only serves Dannon’s YoCream, which Catrini says he believes is both the best-tasting and the healthiest frozen yogurt around. He emphasizes the importance of his yogurt’s probiotics, proudly displaying on the wall of the store the National Yogurt Association’s Live and Active Cultures Seal – an honor that recognizes the yogurt he sells as exceeding a minimum requirement of 10 million cultures per gram. And Catrini takes additional measures to ensure the quality of his yogurt by keeping it pure. He refuses, for example, to adopt the practice of pumping his yogurt up with air.

Yet, Catrini’s commitment to providing a quality experience extends beyond just his product. His store contains five large TVs offering a variety of selections, from news to sports to Pixar and DreamWorks films for the kids. He has made coffee, tea, and hot chocolate available in response to customer requests. The interior of the store includes a small table with children’s games, and Catrini says he’s working on putting chess and checkers boards outside. For those chillier nights, Planet Yogurt offers patrons blankets to keep them warm if they choose to take their place on the store’s expansive patio, which features comfortable camping chairs rather than the usual metal or plastic.

“We wanted something so comfortable that people could sit there and stay for hours – and that’s exactly what happens,” Catrini says.

It’s all part of creating a welcoming environment, Catrini explains – and perhaps it’s appropriate given his two-career devotion that he sums up his store with an analogy from the television world he knows so well.

“You know, Cheers – the place where everybody knows your name – we wanted to create the Yogurt experience equivalent of that,” Catrini says. “We want to be the yogurt shop where everybody knows your name,” he adds with a smile.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation hits theaters March 28, 2013. Planet Yogurt is located in the Promenade Town Center Plaza (the shopping center around Pavilions) on the corner of McBean and Magic Mountain Pkwy, between Tilly’s and zpizza. To contact the store, call 661-254-2471.

Calling all Performing Groups

| Gazette, News | March 24, 2013

Are you part of a band, jazz group, dance group, or singing group? Looking to perform at a venue for 100 – 300 people? There is an open invitation to all local performing arts groups to join the SummerFest at Rivendale this July and August.
The SummerFest includes local theatre, music and dance performances and is hosted by the Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival.
Rock bands, singers, a capella groups, theatre performances, jazz groups or dance groups are invited to join the stage for the festival, which will open July 12 and run through August 4. There are still performance dates available for local groups that are interested in performing for an evening outdoors.
So far, this year’s SummerFest includes performances by The Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival, The Tribe Theatre Company, SCV Concert Band, and the SCSF Apprentice Company. Other possibilities in the works include a series of children’s programming and other music performances.
“We’ve been performing Shakespeare in the Park for the last three years at Rivendale and are now inviting other local groups to join us for a bigger festival,” said David Stears, Executive Director for SCSF. “We hope to make Rivendale a place for a full summer cultural festival here in our valley.”
The Festival will be held at the Rivendale site, located at the entrance of Towsley Canyon and is co-sponsored by the City of Santa Clarita. Groups interested in participating in the SummerFest should contact SCSF at info@scshakespearefest.org.
For more information about SCSF visit www.scshakespearefest.org or follow at facebook.com/SCShakespeareFest
SCSF is a 501(c)3 non-profit public benefit organization

Henry Mayo News

| Gazette, News | March 23, 2013

New NICU Receives Award

The Kim and Steven Ullman Neonatal Intensive Care Unit team at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital was honored recently with a Santa Clarita Elks Lodge Community Service Award. The award recognizes outstanding service organizations in our community. The hospital is one of the life-saving organizations that the Lodge honors, along with the Sheriff’s Department, CHP, Los Angeles County Fire Department and others.

Since Henry Mayo’s new $6 million state-of-the-art NICU facility opened in June 2012, the highly-trained staff has responded to the special needs of 105 tiny patients. The 11-bed, 4,369-square-foot NICU features highly-specialized equipment and ensures that critical care for newborns is available in the Santa Clarita Valley. The NICU team of neonatal nurses, respiratory therapists, and support staff is led by a board-certified neonatologist.

“Our highly-trained staff of neonatal nurses, respiratory therapists, nutritionists, social workers and doctors works as a team to deliver measured care to babies at a critical juncture in their early lives,” said Sukshma Sreepathi, MD, the unit’s medical director. “We are in constant communication with parents to ease their anxieties and keep them informed of their baby’s treatment regimen.”

Patients have made statements that validate the choice of the award recipient. “The nursing staff at the NICU has a mother’s touch and soothed our nervous hearts,” said Elizabeth and Charles Perez, parents of baby Justin, one of the NICU’s first patients. “They provided our new family with a healthy, happy and beautiful new beginning.”
For more information on Henry Mayo’s Maternity Services, call (661)253-8227.

Grief Support Group

Each person responds differently to the death of someone who has been important to them. And although grief is a normal and necessary process to help one adjust to a loss, it’s not a process that has to be endured alone. For that reason, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital is hosting a Grief Support Group to help all those who are mourning and grieving the death of an adult loved one.

The purpose of the group is to offer a safe environment for people to share their feelings, discuss their fears, learn more about the grieving period, and begin the healing process. Elizabeth Tarantini, LCSW will be the facilitator. The group will meet the first and third Wednesday of each month. The first meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 17 from 6 to 8 p.m., in the HR building, Room 2, at Henry Mayo. Some of the topics to be explored during the sessions include:

•Factors that make the grief experience unique
•Typical myths about grief and mourning
•Ways to help you heal from the pain of loss
•Feelings and reactions to a significant loss
•How to handle special days and holidays

Admission is free. For more information, call (661)200-1306.

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 in Valencia.


| Gazette, News | March 21, 2013

You may have heard of the annual TED conference, which brings together high profile thinkers, such as Bill Gates, Jane Goodall and former President Bill Clinton. Ideas worth spreading – that is the mission behind TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), and now, other independently organized ventures known as “TEDx.” Created in the spirit of TED’s mission, the TEDx program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue locally,” according to www.ted.com/tedx.

This spring, College of the Canyons will make its first venture into the world of TEDx with TEDxCollegeoftheCanyons, an independently organized event licensed by TED and focused on the topic of connectivity. Held on April 18, 2013, the focus will specifically center on how connected communities can increase the well-being of individuals and, as a result, improve global welfare.

“At COC, we have a culture of connectivity within the campus and throughout the community,” said Jia-Yi Cheng-Levine, COC professor and TEDx faculty advisor. “The purpose of this conference is to reach a new level of human well-being worldwide, by challenging humanity to promote the increase of intellectual discussion and to develop new approaches and methods of connectivity.”

TEDxCollegeoftheCanyons will follow TED’s well-known format of 18-minute presentations from various speakers, as well as other performances and demonstrations. Attendees will also have opportunities to view acclaimed TEDTalks videos of past conference speakers, as part of the day’s activities.

Dr. Satinder Dhiman, author of “Seven Habits of Highly Fulfilled People,” will be speaking at the conference on the topic of connectivity in relation to oral tradition and sustainability. Other speakers will include John Makevich (Director of Distance and Accelerated Learning at College of the Canyons), Barbara Goldberg (Founder of Wells Bring Hope), John Milburn (Director of the Employee Training Institute at College of the Canyons) and John Lewis Parker (award-winning songwriter, producer and music executive).

TEDxCollegeoftheCanyons will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, April 18 in Mentry Hall Room 305, located on the college’s Valencia campus.

Conference admission is $15 for students and $25 for non-students, if registered by Saturday, March 30. Beginning on Monday, April 1, admission will be $30.

TEDxCollegeoftheCanyons is hosted by the college’s TEDx Club and is sponsored by COC Associated Student Government (ASG), the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Young Entrepreneurship Program (YEP) and Logix.

To register in advance for TEDxCollegeoftheCanyons, please contact Jia-Yi Cheng-Levine at (661) 362-5806 or visit www.TEDxCollegeoftheCanyons.com.

At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)

About TED
TED is a non-profit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Started as a four-day conference in California 25 years ago, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives. The annual TED conference invites the world’s leading thinkers and doers to speak for 18 minutes. Their talks are then made available, free, at TED.com. Speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Isabel Allende and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The annual TED Conference takes place each spring in Long Beach, California, along with a TEDActive simulcast in Palm Springs; the annual TEDGlobal conference is held each summer in Edinburgh, Scotland.

TED’s media initiatives include TED.com, where new TEDTalks are posted daily, the recently launched TED-Ed platform for students and educators, the Open Translation Project, which provides subtitles and interactive transcripts as well as the ability for any TEDTalk to be translated by volunteers worldwide, and TEDBooks, short e-books by speakers that elaborate on a single idea originally presented on TED’s stage. TED has established the annual TED Prize, where exceptional individuals with a wish to change the world are given the opportunity to put their wishes into action; TEDx, which offers individuals or groups a way to host local, self-organized events around the world, and the TED Fellows program, helping world-changing innovators from around the globe to become part of the TED community and, with its help, amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities. Follow TED on Twitter or on Facebook.

For more information about the TED conference concept or to watch videos of past presenters, please visit www.ted.com.

Held in Long Beach, Calif., the annual TED conference is traditionally focused around a central theme or idea, and has featured a wide range of high-profile and influential speakers in its history. Renowned in academic and intellectual circles, TED conferences have been described by attendees as “the ultimate brain spa” and “a four-day journey into the future, in the company of those creating it.”

New Faces in City Council Race

| Gazette, News | March 21, 2013

Danta Acosta at press conference and rally on March 18 in front of City Hall

Dante Acosta has officially thrown his hat into the ring for City Council. At a press conference and rally held in front of City Hall on Monday, March 18, he briefly outlined why he is running for office. Before a crowd of about 30 friends, family, veterans groups, seniors and local media, Acosta formally announced his run, claiming a desire to “serve the community that has so graciously served” him and his family. He added that he feels that “it’s time for new energy and a new perspective at City Hall.” Acosta said he wanted to keep his speech brief and outline his policies at another meeting. (photo by Christopher A. Weaver)

The election to determine new Santa Clarita City Council members is over one year away and there are three seats up for re-election. Sitting Councilman Frank Ferry will not seek re-election, therefore, two of the seats will have incumbents running against challengers. The incumbents, Marsha McLean and Laurene Weste, are expected to seek re-election.

Alan Ferdman is a longtime Santa Clarita resident and community advocate who recently announced that he will be running for Santa Clarita City Council next year. Ferdman moved to Canyon Country in 1965, and has a consistent history of community involvement and volunteering. As the chair of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee since 2002, he said he is running for City Council to be instrumental in maintaining Santa Clarita’s family friendly lifestyle, reducing traffic congestion and bringing high end jobs to the Santa Clarita Valley. Ferdman strongly expresses a belief in open government and wants to hear from the community. He can be contacted at electalanferdman@gmail.com or 661 713-9344.

First in a Series Featuring Members of our Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors

| Gazette, News | March 8, 2013

Jon Gardner

by Andrew Thompson

As a young man, Jon Gardner never even thought about entering the insurance field. Instead, shortly after earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing from California State University, Northridge, Gardner found himself working as a retail manager.

“You know how you work retail in college,” Gardner jokes.  “I did, at least.”

But that job came with one major drawback that simply couldn’t be ignored: “I just got tired of working every weekend,” Gardner explains.

So, when the opportunity arose to interview for an insurance position that worked a typical Monday-to-Friday schedule, Gardner decided to go for it.

“They basically brought me in to be a claims adjuster,” Gardner recalls. “They said, ‘Well, you might be going down to downtown L.A. and trying to convince these guys that are, like, six-foot-four, three-hundred pounds to give you information – how does that make you feel?’”

His answer was simple: “It feels like I don’t want to be a part of this at all!”

Indeed, Gardner decided to turn down the offer.

When that same company called him again two weeks later – this time offering him the position of underwriter – Gardner faced uncertainty of a different sort.

“I had no idea what an underwriter was,” Gardner admits. “But, I’m like, ‘Alright!’  So I went down and interviewed for that, and I got the job.”
(“And it’s basically the person who looks at policies and says, ‘Yeah, we’ll take it,’ or ‘No, we won’t,’” Gardner clarifies.)

Even Gardner acknowledges that the story of his getting into the insurance field is a funny one, but the story goes from merely amusing to fascinating when one considers the current state of Gardner’s career. Over the last 24 years, Gardner has not only continued working in the field that he basically happened into all those years ago; he has also become one of the most respected professionals in the Santa Clarita Valley.

For thirteen years, Gardner worked his way up the ladder in the corporate office, gaining knowledge and earning some impressive credentials along the way. (Gardner currently holds a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter designation – which required the passing of 10 national exams – and an MBA.)

Then, in August of 2002, Gardner decided to start his own agency. In the 11 years since, Gardner has built that agency up from the ground, all the while establishing himself as one of the most successful insurance agents in the city; Gardner has been voted the “Best Insurance Agent” in the Santa Clarita Valley by The Signal four years running.

The reasons for his success are many and varied, but there are perhaps a few that stand out. For one, Gardner says, he believes he developed a steady work ethic, thanks to the influence of his parents. For another, he claims, he has always recognized that he has a responsibility to those who depend on what he does. Thirdly – and perhaps most importantly of all – Gardner says that he has developed a somewhat unique approach, which focuses on helping and informing individuals however he can, rather than simply trying to make a sale.

“I’ve turned to a lot of people, and I say, ‘You know what? I can’t do better than what you’ve got,’” Gardner explains. “But, if I can’t…here’s changes you might make on your current policy with another company…you might look at this, this, and this, ‘cause I can see those as weaknesses in what you have.”

That willingness to be of assistance by sharing his knowledge has gone a long way toward helping Gardner build a special trust with so many of those who have sought his advice. And it’s a trust that’s especially important, Gardner says, in a community like Santa Clarita.

“This Valley wants to do business with people who they know, and they want to build a rapport with you,” Gardner explains.

For that reason, along with others, Gardner believes he has greatly benefited from his involvement with the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce. Gardner became a Chamber member in 2003, and he has grown more and more involved with the organization ever since. In recent years, Gardner has served as a Chamber Ambassador and even worked his way up to the position of Ambassador Co-Chair before finally being asked to serve on the Chamber’s Board of Directors – primarily, he believes, as a representative of small businesses.

“The Chamber is about 85 percent small business, so I think they wanted…to have some more representation there, and that’s just kind of a passion of mine,” Gardner says.

But Gardner’s list of contributions to the organization goes on. He also, for example, currently chairs the Chamber’s Micro-Business Group, a meeting group for business owners with five or fewer employees that explores a variety of topics related to the management of a small company.

“I’m actively involved in what the Chamber does – [I] wholeheartedly believe in it,” Gardner stresses. “I mean, when you think about it for a small business…you see all the opportunity to meet other people – plus the education aspect of it, which is pretty much free… how can a business not be a part of it?” he asks.

Yet, not all of the benefits of Chamber membership are strictly business-oriented, Gardner notes. In fact, Gardner claims that being involved with the Chamber has made him a part of not only a vast professional network, but also a community of people that includes individuals whom he now counts among his closest friends.

“[There’s] nothing more fun than walking around and saying, ‘Oh, hi, so-and-so!’ ‘Hi, so-and-so!’” walking through the mall or a restaurant,” Gardner says, referring to the connections he has made through his Chamber involvement.

“My kids even make fun of me,” he adds. “They’re like, ‘Daddy, you don’t know somebody here?’  You know?  And it’s like, ‘Well, I don’t know somebody everywhere.’”

Still, Gardner says, the value of such a network is not lost on him.

“It’s kind of cool,” Gardner states. “It’s fun to work and live in the same town.  So…that’s kind of…the good part of doing what I do.”

To get in touch with Gardner, please feel free to contact him at jon@jongardnerinsurance.com. For more information on the Santa Clarita Chamber of Commerce, please visit www.scvchamber.com.

Developer Jim Backer Plans for Local Development 2nd in a 3-part series

| Gazette, News | March 7, 2013

Last week in the Gazette & Free Classifieds we looked at Jim Backer, “The Man” behind JSB Development’s proposed project in Canyon Country – specifically, his background in history. It’s a point that is especially relevant, considering Backer’s plans to begin construction at one of the most historic locations in the Santa Clarita Valley.

II. The Plan

In 1860, Thomas Mitchell became the first permanent white settler in Santa Clarita when he decided to call a ranch in Soledad Canyon his home. Today, standing by what’s known as the Vista Canyon site – a vast expanse of dust and ragged bushes, rabbits and the occasional roadrunner darting by – you can almost imagine Thomas and his wife, Martha, forging their way on the same unforgiving desert land. That is, if you can ignore the sound of the cars whizzing by on Highway 14 behind you.

You can also imagine, if you try hard enough, how the land will look as the massively ambitious Vista Canyon community, a development complete with homes, stores, hotels, a town center, a corporate campus, four miles of trails, a 10-acre park, a new Metrolink station, and a community garden – all of which JSB Development plans to build there.

It’s a plan that JSB Development has been working on for quite some time, but seeing that it becomes a reality has not always been simple. The process of acquiring the land took many years, Backer says – and even when the entire property had finally been purchased in 2006, the company’s plans for it were not yet fully cemented. In fact, Backer admits, his company’s original intentions for the land were not nearly as grand.
“Our initial plan for Vista Canyon was…just homes,” Backer says. “Homes and maybe a little park and some trails, and that was it.”

But when they presented their plans to the local residents, recalls Backer, he and his colleagues realized that Canyon Country residents were ready for something more.

“They said, ‘You know, what we really don’t have over here is, we just don’t have a center and we don’t have a place to eat and we’d like some more restaurants and we’d like a few shops closer to us,’” Backer explains. “They just said, ‘Hey, it’d just be nice if you kind of looked, you know, a little more broadly.’”

They did, and over time, the current Vista Canyon plan was born. But Backer says that the involvement of the community in the design of the development didn’t end there.

“There are probably – I don’t know – half a dozen to a dozen things that I can directly point to you in this plan that came directly from a meeting with the communities,” Backer says. “And we had almost 80 community meetings, in one form or another…(and) all of them involved Vista Canyon and what it was going to be and what it could become.”

One of the important suggestions of the community, explains Backer, had to do with the development’s overall look and feel. “They kept saying, in Canyon Country, ‘We want this to reflect our community,’” Backer recalls. And that meant something clear: a more rural design that honored the area’s pioneer history, rather than the Mediterranean style used in other developments, such as Valencia Town Center.

Other community suggestions led to the development of a road pattern that both directs commuter through traffic away from the rural Sand Canyon Road and leaves the adjacent Santa Clara River open to view. In fact, traffic and transportation considerations were one of the major issues JSB Development faced. That’s partly why the company, at the request of the City, agreed to take advantage of the development’s proximity to the Metrolink tracks by relocating the Via Princessa station to the development.

“A lot of what, you know, downtown L.A. and parts of L.A. are trying to do, they’re trying to create these – these centers around Metrolink stations,” Backer says. “Well, we get to create it from the ground up.”

But to paint the project as all about urban planning would be to ignore the obvious history of the site – something Backer would never do. That’s why he emphasizes the importance of measures such as keeping the graveyard overlooking the land, in which its early tenants rest, intact. Backer also hopes the community will make use of the planned River Education Center.

“(The Center is) kind of another way to, again, draw upon the history of the area and feature that,” Backer explains, “but give the community something that they can use forever, which is a meeting center, a meeting area.”
It’s just one of the many aspects of the plan that the company is hoping will both honor the past and be of additional use to the development’s future population. The project could be “shovel ready” as soon as this spring, Backer says, when it wraps up the few administrative and other tasks that remain uncompleted. And with the economic climate looking the way it does today, Backer believes that the time is right – that local residents are ready for Vista Canyon to arrive.

But Santa Clarita, Backer is sure to point out, is also special for its California history. “This area has really participated in just about every California boom there’s been…gold, oil, railroads, the movies, freeways…” Backer says. “So, it’s got a very rich history, I think.”

And that’s where, for both Backer and the city, the past meets the present. Because Backer always considers the history of the places in which his company builds.

“Real estate has nothing if not history,” Backer says, commenting on the appropriateness of his original degree. “Nothing. Real estate is all history.”

But the decision about when construction will begin may not be in the company’s hands at all.

Next Week: What are we waiting for?

To view the project, visit www.jsbdev.com or www.vistacanyon.com.

Vet or Vampire?

| Gazette, News | March 1, 2013

I love blood. Blood is fascinating stuff! Blood tells the story of what goes on on the inside of our pets’ bodies. It’s an “insider’s glimpse” at how everything in their bodies is working.

I have to admit, some days I feel more like a vampire than a vet. Sometimes it seems like we draw blood samples all day long! It got me thinking about how far we have come in veterinary medicine when it comes to the detection of diseases early in the process. What a huge difference that can make in not only the quantity, but, more importantly, the quality of life of our pets.

Blood also helps us plan for and prevent anesthetic complications before they happen. At Advanced Care Animal Hospital, any patient that will undergo an anesthetic procedure, regardless of their age, must have pre-anesthetic blood work. The type of test is going to vary depending on the age of the pet, the health status, and the procedure. For example, a young dog, under a year of age, undergoing an elective anesthetic procedure, such as a spay, will have a small blood panel run to check her liver, her kidneys and her red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. This allows us to confidently anesthetize her, and rule out some of the more common congenital diseases that pets can be born with. Those include liver shunts in small breed dogs, polycystic kidney disease in some breeds of cats, etc.

If your pet is middle aged or older, a more extensive panel and urine test will be required. Pets age much faster than we do, so their natural organ degeneration and age-related diseases take place much more quickly in them. It is very important for me to know if your middle aged or geriatric pet has any mild liver, kidney, or heart disease, which may not be apparent on physical examination or in their behavior at home. This allows me to tailor the anesthetic protocol that’s best suited to them. For example, a pet with mild kidney dysfunction might benefit from anesthetic drugs that are not metabolized by the kidneys, and a longer post-operative time on intravenous fluids, along with very careful monitoring of their blood pressure while under anesthesia. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug would probably not be a good choice as part of the analgesic, or pain management plan, for that pet’s surgery, and a more “kidney-friendly” drug would be used in its place.  A pet with elevated liver enzymes would probably benefit from an anesthetic drug that is metabolized mostly in the lungs, and intravenous fluids that contain dextrose, while under anesthesia. The pre-anesthetic testing that we perform has very important information that helps us better ensure a successful, and non-detrimental anesthetic procedure for a pet.

In addition to its value for anesthetic considerations, the yearly blood and urine panel we recommend for pets over five years of age is tremendously important to know how things are “on the inside” of your pet. I often hear clients say, “He doesn’t need a blood test, he’s healthy!”. While we certainly hope that that is in fact the case, and that their blood test is completely normal, or “boring,” most chronic diseases start with minor changes in a pet’s “baseline.” A dog or cat in the very early stages of chronic kidney disease will most likely not show any symptoms at all. However, early detection of kidney disease can greatly improve both the quantity and the quality of a pet’s life, with relatively minor changes – a different diet, perhaps a supplement, or an antacid. Those are medical interventions that have little impact on the day-to-day life of your pet, and your wallet, but can make a huge difference.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a pet in the end stages of a chronic disease, who could have had a much longer, much higher quality of life, if only the disease had been identified and treated in the early stages.

The cost of a yearly comprehensive baseline blood and urine profile for a middle aged or geriatric pet is under $200, and worth a great deal more than that in the value of the information it will provide. For about the cost of a candy bar a day, you will be providing your veterinarian with an “insider’s look” at your pet, which goes well beyond what our eyes, ears, and hands can tell us from a physical exam.

So, the next time your pet comes in for a check-up, and I recommend a blood test, please don’t think I’m a vampire! I just like blood!

Dr. Gillen and staff

Dr. Amanda Gillen is the owner of Advanced Care Animal Hospital in Canyon Country. Contact her at (661)  263-4334 or visit www.advancedcareanimalhospital.com.

Developer Jim Backer Plans for Local Development 1st in a 3-part series

| Gazette, News | February 28, 2013

Part 1, The Man

By Andrew Thompson

“Yeah, I’m a big fan of Lincoln,” admits James S. Backer, and the evidence seems to support his claim.  A sketch of the 16th President greets guests in his office. A quote from the man welcomes visitors to the website of his company. If you ask him, both Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field “really captured the essence” of their characters in the recent film – and with his history degree from Stanford, he should probably know.

But it’s not through his knowledge of history that Backer is making his mark. Instead, James Backer – Jim, as he’s called by those who know him – is being recognized for the way that he’s shaping his own community today.  After all, Backer is one of those rare individuals who can honestly say he’s helped build a city – from the ground up.

Backer is the founder and president of JSB Development, a real estate development company headquartered in Valencia. Among his impressive contributions to Santa Clarita is his involvement in the development of Valencia Town Center, Valencia Commerce Center, Centre Pointe Business Park, River Court, and Tourney Place – to name a few.

Backer has been shaping the Santa Clarita community for more than 28 years, but this city hasn’t always been his home.  Though a native Californian by birth, Backer spent much of his early life in the Midwest; Omaha, Nebraska, was his childhood home.

“I had a lot of interest in art when I was growing up,” Backer says, reflecting on how his childhood experiences may have led him toward his current career. His drawing skill has come in handy, he says, considering the importance of design in his field. “We essentially try to buy dirt and create something that people want to buy or lease from it,” he jokes.

Backer has always enjoyed working with people, he says. From an early age, he tended toward positions that involved leadership or problem solving, including heading his high school newspaper and interning at the Senate while in college. But it wasn’t until late in his Stanford career that a fateful meeting with a university trustee, who happened to be the chief executive officer of the Newhall Land and Farming Company, placed Backer on the path toward a career in real estate development.

“We got to talking, and about a month later I was flying down here (to Southern California) after I graduated,” Backer says. When his parents asked him what he expected out of his journey, Backer prophesied correctly. “I think he’s gonna offer me a job,” he told them, “and I think I’m gonna take it.”

That job landed him in Santa Clarita in 1984, and he’s been a part of the community in one way or another ever since. During the course of his tenure at Newhall Land, Backer learned as much as he could about his industry as he helped the company gradually shape Valencia. There were other stops for Backer along the way, including extensive travels both domestically and abroad, an MBA program at UCLA, a two-year stay with another L.A.-based company, and a job overseeing a large project in Sacramento – but it all led up to one thing: the founding of his own company in 2000.

For the last 13 years, JSB Development has played a major part in bringing project after project to fruition, gradually forming the modern landscape of the Santa Clarita Valley.  But Backer’s building of the community includes more than simply putting together brick and mortar. Backer has also been actively involved with a number of non-profits, including the SCV Education Foundation and the Foundation for Children’s Dental Health.

Whatever work he does in his career or for his community, Backer admits his Christian faith and love of family are what truly drive him. And, although his career and nonprofit work would seem to make him a busy man, Backer is especially devoted to spending time with his three kids.

“I get the pleasure of, you know, going on campouts with my son and coaching my son in baseball, and…trying to make sure (my daughter) gets to ride a horse once in a while,” Backer says with a laugh.  “That’s the…the treat of life.”

And in Backer’s eyes, Santa Clarita is a rather unique place to raise a family. “I think people (in Santa Clarita) have a lot of focus on their kids, and…I think family is important out here,” he says.  “It’s a pretty small community,” he adds, even going so far as to say that in some ways, the city has an almost-Midwestern feel.

Next Week: JSB Development’s
upcoming project

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