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Always Advocating Alan – Counting Eggs and Chickens

| Opinion | April 11, 2019

I am a great fan of Aesop’s Fables. One of my favorites is “The Milkmaid and Her Pail.” One version goes something like this:

“A Milkmaid had been out to milk the cows and was returning from the field, with a shiny milk pail balanced nicely on her head. As she walked along, her mind was filled with wondrous plans for the days to come.

“‘This good rich milk,’ she mused, ‘will give me plenty of cream to churn. The butter I make I will take to market, and with the money I get for it, I will buy a lot of eggs for hatching. How nice it will be when all have hatched, and the yard is full of fine young chicks. Then, when May Day comes, I will sell them. With the money I receive, I’ll buy a lovely new dress to wear to the fair. All the young men will look at me, and when they come near and try to kiss me, I shall very quickly send them about their business!’

“As she thought of how she would settle with these young men, she tossed her head scornfully, and down fell the pail of milk to the ground, and as all the milk flowed out of the pail, with it went her plans for butter, eggs, chicks, and a new dress, along with all the milkmaid’s pride.”

I hope you enjoy this fable as much as I do. Most of the time, the moral of this story is stated as, “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” While it is certainly the case, I believe Aesop might have had an additional, much deeper moral in mind. Because while there are many different versions of this fable, they all seem to conclude the milkmaid’s display of head movement was to show distain for those who would have taken advantage of her. In fact, she appeared to be celebrating her future conquest over them, long before it would happen. So, a little deeper meaning might be, “Don’t celebrate your victory over others until you are actually successful and win.” Or, as Yogi Berra would put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

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I see nothing wrong with Aesop’s Milkmaid formulating what in today’s world would be considered a business plan. She thought of her raw materials, how to initiate a manufacturing process, and implement a marketing plan. A good business strategy is paramount to starting a successful business venture. It allows the business owner to anticipate problems and formulate “work-arounds” in advance. Unfortunately, Aesop’s Milkmaid sabotaged herself by being pompous and cavalier.

As I sit and think about the truth contained in this fable, I can’t help drawing an analogy to the city’s 20-year Cemex battle. It seems like we were always celebrating, but we never obtained victory. For example, do you remember the celebration in 2006, when 13 “Thank You Buck for HR5471” banners flew over Santa Clarita’s major arterials, plus one on Valencia Boulevard in front of City Hall? Ms. Ortiz, then the City of Santa Clarita Communications Manager, let the air out of the party when she was quoted as stating, “The banners were intended to broadcast that neither the mine project nor the bill’s outcome are final, and are part of a campaign to thank McKeon, pique interest in the issue and garner support for the bill. About 150,000 sets of postcards voicing support for the measure …. will be sent to all Santa Clarita Valley households and to some in the Antelope Valley. The $5,000 cost for the banners and thousands spent on the postcards comes from the city’s general fund.”

Sometime later, on December 11, 2014, SCVTV published a City of Santa Clarita Press Release telling us, “Santa Clarita received an early Christmas present today from Congress, when Rep. Howard ‘Buck’ McKeon’s HR 5742 unanimously passed on the floor of the House of Representatives as a stand-alone bill.” Then, Councilmember Weste commented, “This is a tremendous victory for our community, protecting us from large-scale mining and is as important to the protection of the Santa Clara River.” Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Kellar stated, “In my 15 years on the City Council, this is by far the best day.  Enough cannot be said for the huge effort put forth by so many to bring us to this point.”

Sadly, the bill did not stop the mine or end the story.

Even later, on August 21, 2015, it was reported that the Bureau of Land Management cancelled the CEMEX mining contracts, “based on Cemex’s own inaction.” BLM California State Director Jim Kenna wrote in a statement the next Friday, “The BLM can no longer support the continued and prolonged delays and lack of progress in fulfilling the terms of the contract.” Unfortunately, Santa Clarita’s euphoria was short lived, and on September 30, 2015, ARI reported, “Cemex has appealed last month’s Bureau of Land Management decision to cancel its mining contracts in Soledad Canyon.” Cemex accused the BLM of an “improper decision” and “arbitrary actions,” noting the company has devoted “considerable time” and money working with stakeholders over the past several years for a resolution to the dispute between the mining firm and the community opposed to the mine. City Councilwoman Laurene Weste acknowledged what was happening by saying, “Filing an appeal would be the normal standard response I would expect from a company.”

Just recently, the latest celebration took place during a city press conference, as reported by KHTS, on March 21, 2019. The Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled one of Cemex’s contracts remained valid. Based on their decision, CEMEX retains mining rights through July 2020. Mike Murphy, the Intergovernmental Relations Manager for the City of Santa Clarita said, “The ruling technically leaves Cemex with one of two contracts still valid, but without much time remaining … The practical implications of this ruling are that Cemex is left with a 16-month valid contract for a mine, but they don’t have any of the permits in place.” Mr. Murphy went on to clarify the situation when he stated, “There is no practical way that Cemex can obtain the permits it needs to begin mining … They would have to get a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and that takes a minimum of between 18 and 24 months … They would also need permits from the (California) State Water Resources people.” Mr. Murphy emphasized, “I am 100 percent confident that this (ruling) is going to stick.”

“This is a landmark decision, and a landmark day,” Councilmember Weste said. “I’m just glad I lived long enough to see this come to fruition.” Councilmember Kellar “then went on to explain the decision reached by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA), terminates the contracts that Cemex has in Soledad Canyon in July of 2020 … This means that mining will never take place in our community.”

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed Councilmember Kellar and Mr. Mike Murphy are correct. Santa Clarita residents would not benefit from having a large-scale mining operation on our doorstep. But Cemex may have some inside track on permits, or they could take the IBLA’s decision back to court. So, I agree with Councilmember Kellar who went further and said, “We must continue to be vigilant in our efforts over the next 16 months.”

Aesop’s lesson is relevant to this situation, and if he was here, he would advise Mr. Kellar to walk very carefully, as none of us wants to hear Santa Clarita spilled the milk, because as Yogi Berra put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Then, when it is over and our community has won, I will celebrate.

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