Being a senior, every now and then I sit back and think about all the good times I have been afforded over my lifetime. I have truly been blessed, being married to my wife Pam for almost 56 years, and having two great sons and five beautiful grandchildren. Both my wife and I have been employed by companies which truly cared about their employees and helped both of us advance in our chosen careers. Now, being comfortable in retirement, I have reached the conclusion that the best age to be is the age you currently are. Every age has advantages and challenges, considering how we and the world change over time. If I were to discuss today’s challenges, which I feel are less than pleasant, I would talk about becoming aware of all my family and friends who pass on and are no longer with us.
Just last week, I received an email telling of Mr. Herb Abrams leaving this world while on a trip to Florida. Herb was approximately 20 years my senior, and we met shortly after the beginning of my employment at Litton Guidance. He was the Vice-President of Product Assurance and I worked for him, off and on, for almost 40 years. He was intelligent, fair, and caring. He was a person I was proud and happy to work for, and I learned a great deal just by my interaction with him.
I vividly remember that whenever a meeting was not going the way he felt was appropriate, he would pause for a moment, remove his glasses, bow his head, and rake his hands through his hair. Then after a moment of silence, he would sit up straight and provide his assessment of the issue. During one of the first times I was present to witness his signature method of showing concern, he rose to remind us, “a person’s perception is their reality.” When I gave him a questioning look, he went on to tell me, “You cannot change a person’s perception with words alone. You must lay out indisputable facts and exhibit a behavior which will allow an individual to discover the truth themselves.” His advice and coaching that day left an indelible impression on my career and life-long attitude in dealing with others. Unfortunately, the last time I saw Herb, he did not recognize me, as his mind was no longer sharp. I tried a little levity by saying, “Herb, it’s me, your favorite employee.” To which he asked, “I was a good boss, wasn’t I?” I responded, “Yes Herb, you were the greatest.”
It was some 20 work years later when Herb’s words helped me gain far better insight into how even unintended behaviors might cause a lasting perceived conflict. By this time, I was a Department Manager and was sitting in for my director who was out of town, when the phone rang. It was Herb’s secretary, who told me Herb was out of town, at a customer’s facility, and wanted to know if I could attend a meeting for him. She went on to tell me the time and place, and that all senior staff members had been invited to attend. But when I asked about the subject, the answer came back, “I do not know.” Well, no problem, I replied, I’ll handle it.
I thought about the meeting and decided to arrive a few minutes early. Hopefully, there would be someone there who could clue me in on the subject matter. All was going according to plan when I arrived at the appointed conference room and started in the door. As I looked in, I could see three people had already arrived. As a long-term employee, I knew each of them, what they did, and the departments where they worked. As none of them were in management, I was concerned the meeting may have been moved. I’ll admit, not knowing the subject, I was embarrassed to ask questions. I thought about pulling my head out of the doorway and going down the hall to ask Herb’s secretary if I was in the right place, when I heard, “Hi Al, glad you could join us.” I sat down next to those already there, engaged in small talk and waited for the room to fill.
I found out was I had been invited to attend a “Cultural Diversity Seminar.” The three employees, who were already there, were the guests of honor. They were going to present their impressions of what it was like to be black and work at our company. The first young lady got up in front of the room and stated, “If I am alone, I will never go to a meeting early.” After a moment of silence for the audience to take in her statement, she went on to say, “If I arrive at a meeting early and I am the only person in the room, other attendees would stick their head in the door, and when they see only me in attendance, would leave and not return until later.” She was convinced that the reason they left was “because she was black,” and nothing anyone subsequently said convinced her otherwise. I remember feeling great admiration for this young lady, who displayed enough inner strength to share her feelings with our senior management team. It was a gamble, as she had no idea how her comments would be taken, or what might happen after the meeting concluded. It was one of those times where nothing risked equals nothing gained.
I personally was taken aback, as I almost did that very same thing. But not because she was black. First, a lack of knowing the subject matter made me hesitant to ask questions. As a Department Manager who spent many parts of a day running from meeting to meeting, it was not unusual to get to the next gathering, observe the meeting was not ready to start, and leave to get some coffee, make a quick phone call, or take a trip to the rest room. I now realized that my behavior might be interpreted by some individuals as a personal affront. If she felt that way because of her race, what about individuals of other heritages? Could some feel disrespected just because of their job function or position within the company hierarchy?
I quickly inwardly vowed to never do that again, but I also did not think that would be enough. In my department, I held weekly staff meetings with all my employees. It was an opportune time to share what I learned and ask everyone to be sensitive to the feelings of others. All I asked was for my guys to say something if they needed to leave for a short time and accomplish anything prior to the start of a meeting. The purpose was simply to ensure any individual remaining did not get the impression they were leaving because of them. I also put the subject in my reminder file to be discussed periodically.
Today, it seems a lot of people are spending a great deal of effort looking for examples of discrimination. I fully realize racial and religious prejudice has not been eliminated and still exists within a part of our population. But wouldn’t it be better for us all if we spent more time and effort looking inward for ways to show our friends and neighbors that we are all on the same team? To that end, I ask you to remember Herb’s words when he said, “a person’s perception is their reality. You cannot change a person’s perception with words alone. You must lay out indisputable facts and exhibit a behavior which will allow an individual to discover the truth themselves.” His advice is as relevant today, as it was when I first heard it, so many years ago.
Responding to Carrie Lujan, City Communications Manager
In last week’s Gazette, Ms. Lujan indicated the purchase of streetlights with conversion to LEDs represented a $30 million savings during the first 30 years. Where did that estimate come from? The published Staff Reports indicated the savings were $22 million and the cost of bond repayment was $26.5 million, both projected over 30 years. Unless she is using “gamblers math,” there are no savings.
She further emphasized residents would be able to ask questions, and extensive community outreach would be accomplished before any further changes to the Streetlight Districts would be presented. How about a commitment from the city to answer the questions that residents ask? For example, I responded to her invitation and called in questions on December 21, then put my questions in writing on January 17, and since reminded her twice. Yet, no answers have been received to date.
Carrie Lujan, Communications Manager, City of Santa Clarita responds:
- The $30 million in estimated operational savings is the current estimate resulting from favorable bond interest rates at the time of bond issuance. The $22 million in savings identified to City Council in May 2017 were net of expenses and based on bond market conditions at that time. When bonds were issued a year later (May 2018), bond interest rates were more favorable, yielding additional forecasted savings.
- Mr. Ferdman had several questions and misunderstandings in regards to this issue. Deputy City Manager Darren Hernández was directed by the City Manager to answer Mr. Ferdman’s questions at the February 12, 2019, City Council meeting. Mr. Hernández spoke with Mr. Ferdman and pointed out the inaccuracies in his statement. Mr. Ferdman had additional questions he wanted answered, but refused to speak further with Mr. Hernández, who is the expert on the issue. To ensure we were extending every professional courtesy, Mr. Hernández even offered to sit down with Mr. Ferdman to review the documents to clear up his confusion. This kind offer was rejected on multiple occasions.
Since Mr. Ferdman is insistent on having a response in writing, please see his questions and answers below:
Please explain the assertion, “Some LMD zones, finance local park maintenance with funds from their LMD assessment and their property tax. This two-tiered funding created an inequity”. How are they paying with both their property tax and assessment?
Property owners within these local LMD zones previously supported the maintenance of City parks through their annual LMD assessments and general property tax contributions.
For example, upon creation of the Northbridge LMD by Los Angeles County, one intent of the zone was to fund maintenance of Northbridge Park. In addition to funding maintenance of their neighborhood park through assessment revenues, parcel owners residing within the Northbridge community also contribute general property taxes used to fund maintenance for parks throughout Santa Clarita.
What is the inequity?
All 13 parks are accessible to all residents of the City. Property owners Citywide fund park maintenance through a portion of their general (1%) property tax. In addition, property owners in certain areas also funded park maintenance through a special assessment for landscape maintenance in conjunction with funding park maintenance through a portion of their general (1%) property tax.
Is the maintenance of these parks specifically disclosed in their LMD Assessment Special Benefit analysis and Engineers Report?
Name the 13 parks referenced by the ballot information and provide their location.
Circle J Park
Copper Hill Park
David March Park
Duane Harte Park
Fair Oaks Park
Golden Valley Park
Valencia Glenn Park
Valencia Meadows Park
West Creek Park
Are these parks all open for public use?
If Staff believes this situation is unfair, why hasn’t staff proposed an appropriate reduction in assessment fees to the council, as it could be accomplished without a property owner vote?
It cannot be accomplished without a property owner vote. The permanent modification of a special assessment rate authorized by the Landscape and Lighting Act of 1972 must be approved through a protest ballot process among all affected property owners.
Previously, when you explained the $4.5 Million transferred out of the Lighting district Assessment figures, documented in the Engineers report, you spoke of the amount necessary to fund the Tanko contract, but failed to mention what happened to the remaining $58,990 which you did not account for?
The amount represents the Streetlight Assessment Fund’s annual required personnel contribution towards retirement health benefits ($4,506) and pension liability payments ($54,484).
Also, why was $464,352 transferred-out of the Ad Valorem Account and then moved to the assessment accounts?
The City Council approved a transfer of $4,444,513 from the Ad Valorem Fund to the Streetlight Assessment Fund as part of the 2018-19 Annual Budget. This transfer was necessary to correct budget appropriation of bond proceeds supporting the City’s streetlight acquisition project.
When will the Engineers report be corrected to show revenue and costs associated with Lighting District 1 and 2 individually?
The engineers report is correct and does not require correction. The City of Santa Clarita has one (1) lighting district funded by a special assessment. Streetlight maintenance services are funded through a blend of assessment revenue and property taxes. The engineers report is related to the levy of special assessments. There are two assessment rates for streetlights: $12.38 (referred to as Zone A for identification purposes) and $81.71 (referred to as Zone B for identification purposes). Property tax revenue is transferred into the streetlight assessment fund to cover the gap between assessment revenue and the cost of streetlight maintenance.
The cost of the Revenue Bonds to purchase and upgrade the streetlights to LEDs has been included in one, or both, of the lighting Benefit District (District 1 and 2). Why does staff feel is appropriate to add payment of the Revenue Bond debt to the District(s) without a property owner vote of acceptance?
The pledge of special revenue, including the existing street lighting revenue, to repay the financing issued to purchase the streetlight system does not require voter approval.
City staff never intended to give property owners a landscape assessment reduction.
Under the rate modification process that was terminated, seven (7) of the twenty one (21) proposed reductions would have reduced the maximum assessment rate below the actual rate assessed for Fiscal Year 18-19. In addition, the rates for five (5) other landscape zones proposed for a reduction of the maximum rate were assessed $0.00 for FY 18-19, two (2) because the costs were shifted to another funding source and three (3) because of surplus reserves are being drawn down. Two (2) zones were slated for increase, one (1) because of the request of a developer to increase the level of maintenance and one (1) because of a cost shift related to a reduction in an overlapping zone.
A scope addition was mysteriously added in the current engineers report without approval by a vote of the ratepayers. This language should be deleted and the purchase of the streetlights should be paid by the General Fund.
The engineers report as prepared by the independent “registered professional engineer certified by the State of California” was drafted by the professional engineer, and was approved by the City Council following a duly noticed public hearing, in full compliance with Proposition 218 and State Law. Proposition 218 does not require a vote of property owners in order to make the modification to the annual engineers report that you referenced. Also, Proposition 218 does not require a vote of property owners in order to issue financing that is repaid by special assessments.