Last year Jason Gibbs ran for City Council, campaigning on a message of “If you like the City’s direction but think it’s time for a new generation, vote for me.”
He finished ninth out of 15 candidates with just 5.57 percent of the vote. He’s back to try again, and while his message is similar, it comes with a warning: If certain priorities are not enacted, Santa Clarita will cease to be the wonderful place Gibbs has long felt it to be.
“We have a great opportunity to be a thriving city long into the future, but we need to start hitting it right now. Hit it from the mindset that Santa Clarita is a great place, and coming from the mindset that I want to be here in 30 years so that I can say I remember when the city was good, and I can still say in 30 years from now that this city is a great place to live and raise a family,” he said.
Like last year, Gibbs, 38, says he loves the city and believes its leaders have steered it in favorable directions. He cited as examples its financial stability and a small-town feel despite its growth.
“You always hear people say, ‘We left the (San Fernando) Valley because we didn’t want to become the Valley.’ Santa Clarita was the place to escape to. You flash forward to 30 years of cityhood. Santa Clarita is still, when you’re out and about, at the fundraisers for the nonprofits, at the local community events, you see a lot of the same faces, so people still say it has the small-town feel of the people who are actively engaged with the community,” he said. “If you look at our books, we’ve had 20 plus years of a balanced budget. We have 20-percent operating reserves (the city doesn’t actually have a reserve fund). We are paying down our pension debt.”
He also likes the City’s homelessness plan and is pleased at the $375,000 in Measure H funds that will go to buying property for housing and funding a homeless coordinator (the recently hired Gabriela Martinez).
Another difference from his last campaign: Gibbs is vying for an open seat. Councilmember Bob Kellar has said he won’t seek a sixth term and has endorsed Gibbs. Kellar’s support last year didn’t help Gibbs unseat Laurene Weste, Marsha McLean or Bill Miranda, but with only one incumbent (Cameron Smyth) running, Gibbs has as much of a chance as anyone.
“It means a lot for someone who has served this city 20 years to look at you and say, ‘It would mean a lot to me if you sat in my place when I’m gone,’” Gibbs said.
But all is not sunshine, rainbows and unicorns with Gibbs. He’s concerned the state’s public employee retirement system, CalPERS, is overstating its solvency, and he fears cities or employees (read: taxpayers) will foot the future bills. And he knows traffic is a major problem, which he blames on not enough roads and too many people.
“People in Santa Clarita overall are extremely happy. They enjoy living here. They enjoy what the city provides. They’ve done that very systematically,” he said. “But we are a city that’s approaching a quarter million people. There’s talk that when we build out in 20, 30 years, there could be 400,000-plus. … You like what the city has done? Well, here are some things I think we need to implement and start processing if we want to continue to be the success we’ve enjoyed so far.”
First, pay down the pension debt. He applauds the City’s desire to reduce its obligations by 90 percent.
“I’d still like to see 95 to 100 percent in ten years because if those rates drop, the effect on us will be minimized,” he said. “We’ll have more money available because we’re not paying into the pension program, so we will be fully funded and have more money and resources available to put into infrastructure in this community.”
As for traffic, Gibbs’ solution is to develop cross valley connectors at Via Princessa, Santa Clarita Parkway, Magic Mountain Parkway and the Lyons Avenue extension to Dockweiler Drive. In fact, he favors extending the road at 13th and 15th streets but acknowledges it’s likely too expensive and not worth the cost.
“We have Newhall Ranch coming in on the west side of town,” he said, “but part of Newhall Ranch being included in One Valley One Vision (the city’s 2011 General Plan) was to have the roads and infrastructure necessary to accommodate the growth that’s going to come.”
Gibbs also would like to see more economic development in the form of more industries coming here. Right now, he said, only biomedical and movies are prevalent. He hopes the new Center at Needham Ranch, a 135-acre industrial center being built near Eternal Valley Memorial Park & Mortuary, will provide opportunities.
But there’s a catch — these things have to be done now. Or else.
“I worry if we don’t start pushing those things a little harder and we don’t start making it a true priority, we can start going backwards,” he said. “It’s going to be too expensive to live, too hard to commute out, the traffic is going to get worse down that (Interstate 5/14 Freeway) interchange if we don’t bring that business here and allow the opportunity for people to make a good living wage, pay for the homes and the quality of life we have here. It’s going to start to go downhill.”