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

The Reel Story: Canyon Country Businesses Question Limited Film Selections at Local Theatre

| Gazette, News | February 21, 2013

By Andrew Thompson
It’s the weekend, and you’re finally looking forward to unwinding with a little entertainment on a Friday or Saturday night. There are plenty of options, but you know just what you want to do: at last, you’re going to go see that movie that everyone you know has been talking about.

Anticipation builds as you begin to arrange the evening, but sinks as soon as you go to purchase the tickets – your theatre, somehow, is not showing that blockbuster film that all of your friends and coworkers have already seen.

It’s an occurrence that some local residents are saying has become all too common at the Edwards Canyon Country Stadium 10 on Soledad Canyon near Sierra Highway. And, while it can perhaps be marked down as a mere inconvenience by your typical moviegoer, some local business owners say that it has developed into a significant problem.

George Thomas is the owner of Route 66 Classic Grill, one of several restaurants in the shopping center that share the theatre’s parking lot. He says he has been observing the effects of the theatre’s selections since he opened his restaurant in the 1990s, with the results most evident in the drastic changes between crowd sizes from one weekend to another.

“In our center, we notice a correlation between lack of sales, lack of business – on Friday and Saturday night, we’ll say – versus, when there is a big motion picture that came out…that does play here,” Thomas claims. “And it’s really kind of sad, because this goes on pretty regularly.”

Thomas says that when a popular film opens at the Edwards 10 theatre, the local businesses and restaurants enjoy the patronage, not only of Canyon Country customers, but also of residents of Valencia who appreciate the Canyon Country theatre’s relatively easier access to parking and somewhat less chaotic crowds. But he argues that the effect is reversed when a film only opens at the Edwards Stadium in Valencia.

“When a big picture comes out and it’s only playing in Valencia, we’re like a ghost town that weekend,” Thomas says. “And for a couple weeks after that.”

Kevin Bodeau, the general manager of nearby Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing Company, says he’s aware of the issue as well. “The movie theater out here usually gets stuff that, I would say, [is] not the best,” says Bodeau. He, however, doesn’t appear to be quite as concerned by the impact on his own restaurant.

“Weekends are our busiest time, so we’re usually a packed house,” Bodeau says. “But, I mean, we have seen a little tail off.”

As far as he can tell, Bodeau says, the problem doesn’t seem to affect as many of the large films as others seem to believe. “If it’s a super, super big movie…they’ll play it at both theatres,” Bodeau claims.

There are, he admits, some notable exceptions. Lincoln, one of the most talked-about films of the Academy Awards season, has never played at the Canyon Country theatre, according to both Bodeau and Thomas. Neither has the recent Denzel Washington film, Flight. Also, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Les Misérables, and Zero Dark Thirty are all currently showing in Valencia only.

Of course, there is the occasional film that plays in Canyon Country, but not in Valencia. Argo is one current example, although that particular film did play in the Valencia Stadium at a previous time. “We have a tendency to get some of the bizarre movies,” Thomas says. “The, uh, 3D movies, the, um… kids’ movies that are fantasy-type movies – we seem to get all of those.”
The blockbuster films geared toward adults are what the theatre most regularly lacks, Thomas claims, and those are the films that he believes would draw the largest crowds for his restaurant.

Thomas says that he has spoken with one of the theatre managers regarding the issue, and states that the manager confirmed the theatre itself has no input on the choice of films offered there. “It’s done by the corporate office,” Thomas says, “and, you know…they probably have a formula to figure this out.”

Managers at the theatre were contacted for comments during the writing of this story, but ultimately all questions were referred to the media department of the corporate office. That corporate office belongs to Regal Entertainment Group, the company that owns both the Edwards Canyon Country 10 and the Edwards Valencia Stadium 12 theatres, as well as 538 other theatres across 38 states and the District of Columbia. Representatives of Regal were contacted as well, ultimately resulting in the release of the following statement:

“Regal theatres offer a wide variety of film options, from blockbusters to limited release selections. Our theatres also feature various technology formats, including IMAX, RealD 3D and RPX. The availability of seats and screen count also factors into the variety of film selections we can offer at each location.”

Still, Thomas – who hadn’t heard the statement at the time of his speaking – feels like he’s simply left guessing when it comes to the company’s reasons for not always showing the biggest films.

“I can’t imagine them saying, ‘Well, it’s not worth it for us to show it in both theatres,’ because that doesn’t make any sense,” Thomas says.

He says he’s even convinced that films would do well if released in Canyon Country after a short delay. “Lincoln, from what I understand, was busy in Valencia up until the day they pulled it,” Thomas says. “And, probably, if Lincoln was playing here – we would probably get a decent turnout even though it’s already been playing in Valencia for several weeks.”

It’s particularly frustrating, Thomas says, considering the kind of promotion that he sees for that particular film. “It’s not only the advertising,” he says, “it’s all the…shows that, you know, talk about the making of a picture like that.”

Thomas laments that he still hasn’t seen the film, unable to catch it at the theatre across town. But he’s not giving up on the matter. Instead, he says, he’s even asking the local Chamber of Commerce to get involved on behalf of the restaurants and other businesses in the area.

“Maybe we can get the Chamber to throw in their weight to try to convince the corporate office to throw us a bone and, you know, have some of those good movies play here,” Thomas says.

Until then, Thomas jokes, he guesses he’ll just have to catch films like Lincoln on DVD.

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