Ken Dean cannot fathom the idea that the various City Council members don’t read the local newspapers.
“I don’t believe it,” said the Canyon Country resident, past City Council appointment candidate and member of the citizen group Advocates of Santa Clarita. “I think they read it and don’t acknowledge it.”
Dean’s comments came after the Gazette polled various council members about some of the ideas Dean called for in an opinion piece The Signal published on Nov. 17. Mayor Cameron Smyth, Bob Kellar and Bill Miranda had not read the article (Marsha McLean couldn’t be reached, and Mayor Pro-Tem Laurene Weste said she’d call back but never did; subsequent calls to reach her failed).
If it’s true, Dean said, “I think it’s negligence and I find it offensive. … They should read the local newspapers. You have people that make valid points. It’s important. The minute you stop doing that, you lose touch with the constituents, the very people that voted them into office.”
Dean’s piece called for term limits, district voting, increased manning of the city’s traffic monitoring system and a revitalization of Canyon Country similar to downtown Newhall.
Dean didn’t specify in the article how these things should be done, but told the Gazette that the citizenry needs to collect signatures to place term limits and district voting on a ballot.
“The City Council’s not going to put it on an agenda,” he said.
Of the current five council members, only Miranda is new. Weste has served since 1998 (four terms; she is expected to seek an unprecedented fifth term next year); Kellar since 2000 (four terms); and McLean since 2002 (three terms; she will run for a fourth next year). Smyth served from 2000-06, then left to serve in the California State Assembly. He was elected to the council again in 2016.
“Our city is not a stagnant city; it is alive and needs new leadership, not because the current leadership is necessarily bad, but because it is never a good idea to be complacent with the same leader or group of leaders,” Dean wrote.
Only Miranda has come out in favor of term limits. He said he believes three terms is enough, although he added he hasn’t decided if he’s OK with serving three terms, sitting out a term and then running again.
Kellar took the view that term limits already exist in the form of elections.
“People need to pay attention, and if somebody’s doing a good job, keep them. If not, get rid of them,” he said.
Smyth said he was “agnostic” about term limits and district voting, having served in the city with no term limits and in the state Legislature with term limits. He said that if the voters decide to make the changes, he will accept.
“The voters are educated enough in Santa Clarita,” he said.
Miranda said he believes district voting is coming, like it or not, although he isn’t sure when.
“It’s the wave of the future, and we have to accept it,” he said. “If you look around the state, that’s the trend. Most elected officials are selected by district.”
Kellar said he sees problems with district voting: representatives spend more time fighting and less time governing and compromising.
“Go to Los Angeles. Go to other cities where they have district voting. All they do is fight for their piece of the pie,” Kellar said, adding that Santa Clarita’s system is “not broken.”
Smyth acknowledged that “traffic flow is the No. 1 issue in the city,” which is why the city received millions of dollars in grants to implement a traffic signal operations center in City Hall. Dean called the system, which uses cameras around the city to watch traffic patterns, “a great system” but said it isn’t regularly staffed.
All three council members interviewed disagreed with Dean, Smyth insisting that the traffic engineering division staff “is consistently monitoring” the situation, although Dean said he twice visited the center during afternoon commute and found it empty.
Miranda acknowledged that no one’s in the room 24 hours a day, but people regularly go in and out to check traffic. “It’s not a room that runs itself,” he said.
Beautifying Canyon Country
Another improvement Dean wrote he would like to see is a beautification of what he called “downtown Canyon Country,” which he defined as the stretch of Soledad Canyon Road between Whites Canyon and Sand Canyon roads (the city has not officially designated a downtown Canyon Country).
Dean said that many buildings on Sierra Highway between Sand Canyon and Soledad Canyon Road need refurbishment, and he would like to see the city beautify the area, like Newhall.
“Downtown Newhall looked like Dumpsville until they put new faces on the buildings,” Dean said. “That’s what we need to do. The only attractive part is where the (movie) theater is. That area is nice. (The rest) is old and needs to be rejuvenated.”
Miranda enthusiastically agreed with Dean, yet he, Kellar and Smyth pointed to three projects that each believes will contribute, and they all mentioned them in the same order: Vista Canyon, the Sand Canyon Plaza and the Canyon Country Community Center.
According to city documents, Vista Canyon is a massive residential and commercial development south of Highway 14 and east of Sand Canyon. The Sand Canyon Plaza calls for 145,000 square feet of commercial space that includes 60,000 square feet of retail space and a maximum-140-bed assisted living facility; 312 residential apartments, 149 townhomes and 119 detached condominiums.
The community center opened Jan. 12, 2013 on Flying Tiger Drive and offers various programs and services for various ages.