As quite a few Gazette readers are already aware, I’ve spent the better part of two months researching and writing about the recently doomed Landscaping and Lighting District ballot process. In addition, I have been speaking about it at city council meetings because I am of the opinion the council members should answer questions themselves, rather than just having the city manager, or a staff member, do their talking for them. But, I will admit, when I get involved in issues such as this and report back to you, I tend to get a little too detailed. It is just the engineer in me coming out.And so, for a wrap-up, I decided to hit the high points, using plain English. Yet, if you want to see where I got my information, I added footnotes.
So, let’s get started. Prior to Santa Clarita City formation, Streetlight Services were provided by a “Special Benefit District” administered by the county. At that time, all streetlights were funded by Ad Valorem property tax. (A part of the 1 percent of your property’s assessed value). Beginning in 1979, a second district was formed to cover new streetlights added, which was funded by assessments. As of July 1998, all streetlights within the city boundaries were under the jurisdiction of the City of Santa Clarita, which was now responsible to levy assessments required in support of streetlight operations. Streetlight District 1 is funded by assessments, and the original District 2 is funded by property tax, with the amount set by the County Auditor and State Board of Equalization. 
Fast forward to 2007, the city added a section in the Engineer’s Report indicating the proposed assessment rate for District 2 parcels would be $12.38, which is the maximum rate previously approved prior to 1997 by the county, and the city increased the District 1 assessment rate to $52.56. 
Hold on, because in May of 2017, this story really begins when our city council approved the purchase of SCE Streetlights for $9.5 million and conversion of all Santa Clarita Streetlights to LEDs for $5.6 million. All the while, staff did not indicate how they intended we would pay the bill.  But, there was a behind-the-scenes plan in place. In June 2017, staff decided to consolidate all the Landscaping and Lighting Districts in a single Engineers Report. What was called “Special Benefit Districts” became known as “Zones” of a single district, but the concept of charging fees for services within an area of special benefit, or zone, did not change. Not only did the terminology become fuzzy, but a paragraph was mysteriously added, indicating approval of using 30-year revenue bonds for the “acquisition” of the streetlights. Interesting, staff didn’t make their plan known at the time. Of course, those additions allowed the streetlight zones to take on additional activities and debt. As a property owner, I do not remember voting on the change as required by Proposition 218. 
Then, in January 2018, the city council approved a $4.4 million contract with Tanko Lighting to convert all of Santa Clarita’s streetlights to LEDs. They paid for it by borrowing from the streetlight property tax fund provided by the county and committed to repay the amount when permanent financing became available.  In February, the other shoe dropped when the council approved the borrowing of up to $17 million, using revenue bonds, to pay for the streetlight purchase and retrofit cost. But, the real reason for the purchase became clear in the staff report which stated, “The City may lease up to approximately 4,500 poles …. to telecom companies for internet and phone usage. Leasing poles will generate income for the city.” 
Next, in November 2018, our city council approved staff initiating an “Assessment Ballot Process” to modify Landscape Maintenance District and Streetlight Maintenance district assessment amounts. Why? Because staff claimed it is improper for the property owners in Zone 2 (now called Zone A) which includes a portion financed by property tax, since they are not paying the same assessment as Zone B, which has no property tax funding associated. Next, staff indicated a desire to correct a disparity for 13 LMDs, which are paying for parks in their assessments, when the other 22 city-owned parks are financed by the general fund. The vote count and public hearing was planned for January 22, 2018. 
The general public became aware of the election process in late November, when the city mailed out a letter informing affected property owners they would receive a ballot. But the letter never mentioned different versions would be going to certain property owners, dependent on if they were in an LMD, as well as the streetlight zones. Yet, we all got the same deceptive voting instructions indicating that a “Yes” will indicate you support maintaining streetlight services in your neighborhood, and marking the ballot “No” indicates you are opposed. Then came the ballots themselves, with different versions, as well. Some indicated that there would be a proposed decrease in the property owners LMD assessment fee to offset the increase in the Lighting District fee. The information sheets showed that changes to every zone would be the result of a combined vote. Individual property owners’ votes would be weighted by their property’s assessment amount. Decisions made by property owners voting in one zone would directly affect other zones.
Pushback by the residents started almost immediately. Some were confused by the result of a yes or no vote. They asked, does this mean if we vote “No,” our streetlights will go out? Some were put off by the proposed 500 percent increase in the Zone 2 assessment fee. Some wanted to know the justification for the decision being made by a combined vote, rather than an independent vote of their zone. But some started to notice the LMD proposed reduced rate was more than they were currently paying. 
Well, all the pushback caused the city council to cancel the ballot process on January 8. They blamed the confusion on the public not being sufficiently informed. The letter cancelling the ballot stated, “Over the next year, the city will undertake outreach … to determine how to proceed.”
In my estimation, the way forward, would be for the council to start getting more actively involved, and ensure each item which comes before the public is presented in a clear, transparent and honest way. When the public reads a staff report or listens to a staff explanation, there should be no question that what was presented was factual and in plain English. It would be refreshing to hear a Councilmember explain exactly what happened in this case, and what corrective action has been implemented to prevent a similar problem from recurring in the future.
While we have been told this issue is coming back at a future date, I do not believe it. Why? Because, someone at city hall got exactly what they wanted. They inappropriately added authorizations to the Landscaping and Lighting District Engineer’s report to justify a $15-million loan in order to put the city in the business of leasing streetlight poles to Cell Sites and Transmitters – in your neighborhood.
This is not the way to run a railroad. It looks like we might need some new blood blowing the horn.
 City of Santa Clarita Streetlight District No. 1, Engineers Report 2006/7, Page 2-1, Paragraph 2.1, Introduction of SMD No. 1.  Final Engineer’s Report For City of Santa Clarita Streetlight Maintenance District No. 1, Fiscal Year 2007-08, Page 12, Assessment Rates.  City Council meeting May 23, 2017 Agenda Item 15, Staff Report  City Council Meeting June 13, 2017, agenda Item 15, Staff Report. City of Santa Clarita Engineer’s Report, Santa Clarita Landscaping and Lighting District Fiscal year 2017/2018, Page 10, third bullet.  City Council Meeting January 23, 2018, Agenda Item 11, Consent Calendar, Staff Report.  City Council Meeting February 27, 2018, Agenda Item 6.  City Council Meeting November 13, 2018, Consent Item, Agenda Item 8.  Always Advocating Alan, Scams, Shams and Property Tax, 012719.
City of Santa Clarita Responds
by Carrie Lujan, City Communications Manager
Thank you for the opportunity to offer clarifying information. City staff has made numerous good faith attempts to explain this matter to Mr. Ferdman; unfortunately we do not appear to be on the same page.
The City of Santa Clarita is one of no fewer than 22 cities in Southern California that over the past five years has made the decision to purchase their streetlight system from Southern California Edison. The benefit of acquiring our streetlights and converting them to LED technology will generate approximately $30 million in operational savings to the community during the first 30 years of ownership.
The Municipal Revenue Bonds, which funded the purchase of the streetlights, were authorized at the February 27, 2018, City Council meeting, a noticed Public Hearing. The action taken met all public disclosure requirements outlined by California Senate Bill 450, was reviewed by two different law firms and rated by Standards and Poor’s Corporation.
The City purchased the streetlights from Southern California Edison to reduce the current and long-term cost of providing streetlight services for the community.
Per State and Federal law, cities are required to provide access to telecommunications providers in the public rights of way.
Prior to leasing space on any City-owned streetlight pole, the City Council will develop a formal policy for how telecommunication companies can use our poles. This policy will appear on a future City Council agenda, at which time residents will have an opportunity to ask questions or raise issues before the Council takes any action.
Before any future, potential modifications are made to the streetlight maintenance district, the City will conduct extensive community outreach. In addition to engaging residents, staff will work closely with members of the City Council to develop an approach that balances community feedback and the need to create equity among the assessment amount for streetlight services paid by property owners throughout Santa Clarita.